Joseph Hoffmann has introduced his latest post with a misguided reference to me and this blog.
The recent uptick of interest in the historical Jesus is fueled partly by a new interest in a movement that was laid to rest about seventy years ago, but has received a new lease of life from a clutch of historical Jesus-deniers. The rallying point for the group is a site maintained by a blogger by the name of Neil Godfrey, an Australian university librarian who, like many others who have assumed the position, comes from a conservative Christian background.
Let’s take this point by point. And let’s see if we can find any indicator to tell us why this scholar cares enough about me and this blog to bother taking any notice at all.
The Christ Myth idea was “laid to rest about seventy years ago”? That’s not what classicist Michael Grant seems to have understood when he thought “mythicist” G. A. Wells’ books in the 1970s were worth notice and response in Jesus: An Historian’s View of the Gospels. Hoffmann himself appears to have forgotten the preface he wrote for one of Wells’ books, a preface that expressed more understanding of the Christ Myth theory than he has displayed recently.
“A new lease of life from historical Jesus deniers?” Deniers? Being in denial is a psychological problem. It means one is irrationally defensive and stubbornly refusing to face up to an idea or situation that one fears is a threat. Was G. A. Wells a “Jesus denier” when he wrote his books arguing Jesus was not historical? Was his eventual change of mind a psychological cure or an intellectual pursuit? Are Thomas L. Thompson and Robert M. Price “Jesus deniers”? Is it impossible to entertain the possibility that Jesus was not historical without being thought of as psychologically damaged? It seems so, in Hoffmann’s world. So if that is indeed the case, one wonders why he is bothering at all trying to construct intellectual arguments to argue for the historicity of Jesus. Surely what is needed is some other form of therapy if Hoffmann is working from a valid model.
The rallying point for the group is a site maintained by a blogger by the name of Neil Godfrey . . . I am at a loss to understand Hoffmann’s perception of my blog and me. “A rallying point for a group”? I don’t know of any group. I enjoy seeing a range of comments expressed on the blog, but they are a very diverse lot and I would be at a loss to tell you what defines them as “a group”. As far as I am aware, only a minority ever express any strong conviction in the Christ myth idea. My co-blogger, Tim Widowfield, as far as I understand (I have never much discussed it with him) is quite open on the question and has never argued against the historicity of Jesus as far as I recall. (He can correct me.) I do know of several commenters who are very clearly fence-sitters on the question and some who disagree with the Christ myth thesis. A poll I have had on the blog for the past couple of years shows that most readers are either believers that Christ was historical or fence-sitters on the question.
I am sure Hoffmann can find many more advocates of the Christ Myth idea on TheJesusMysteries site, FRDB, and RationalSkeptics and such sites.
. . . . an Australian university librarian . . . Yes, credentials are important when you are a professor who is attempting to defend a view that even a layperson can challenge on logical and evidential grounds. (Actually, for what it’s worth, my career in recent years has moved beyond librarianship as I’ve explained in my profile.)
who . . . comes from a conservative Christian background. Yes, it is important to create the psychological profile when talking about those you wish to paint as “Jesus deniers”. But, no, my background was never “conservative Christian” in the sense of what that means to Americans. I was a liberal Methodist for most of my life; I spent too many years in a cult that saw itself as opposed to “conservative Christianity” and that “conservative Christians” themselves emphatically opposed and claimed was not even “Christian”; after that experience I was a very happy liberal Christian fellowshipping with any denomination that was similarly liberal in outlook. I then moved on from that happy position to an even happier atheism. Far from any sort of “reactionary lurches” in my life, I capitalized on my experiences to assist others with cult backgrounds by initiating support groups. It was a positive progression. I never even heard of the Christ Myth until after I had left religion behind.
I once made all of these “facts of my life” clear to Hoffmann and others who have long had me pigeon-holed in some bizarre psychological profile. They were not at all happy for me to shatter their delusions about me. They accused me of even worse things! They want me to be a psychologically twisted Jesus denier! They need me to be one!
It simply will not do to think that their assumptions can seriously be challenged by a quite sane layperson without any agenda relating to the historical Jesus per se.
Now, why all the fuss?
Hoffmann curiously does not address a single argument of mine. But it’s not curious, really, because I simply don’t conform to the profile he goes on to say applies to all “mythicists”. It matters not to me one whit whether Jesus existed or not. I really don’t care. I was a very happy atheist assuming he did exist for a quite long time. I can be one again.
Most posts here are not about “mythicism”. They are about insights into the nature and origins of early Christian ideas and texts, or Jewish ones. If the scholarship discussed lends itself to insisting that the Jesus of these texts be treated as a literary figure primarily, then so be it. Whether or not there is an historical figure there behind the curtains is irrelevant unless evidence or arguments shows us otherwise.
I do not have any vendetta or psychological need to “demolish Christianity”. I know a lot of people who really do need their faith and I really don’t know if they could cope well without it — not without a lot of other variables in their life changing at the same time.
Yes, I do personally believe religion has many negatives, and beliefs in Christianity, like beliefs in other “religions of the book”, have done a lot of harm to countless persons. But I did not join the recent internet campaign against parents teaching their children to follow their religion because I don’t know what to think about that. It’s not something I have thought through seriously. It’s easy to say a child should not be indoctrinated, but we are talking about parents’ faith here. It’s not so simple. Sure there are many abusive cases and many lives are ruined by religion, but I don’t know what the answer is to that except enhanced public awareness and education. I mean public education — not vendettas, not campaigns, not attacks, not assaulting the minds of people where they are most vulnerable.
And I certainly do not believe that anything is to be gained towards “undermining Christianity” by arguing Jesus did not exist. That’s crazy! There are plenty of other ways that I am sure have far more chances of success. But to deny the existence of Jesus is probably the worst way you can hope to make any dent to people’s faith.
So why the fuss?
Hoffmann knows that I often take the trouble to expose what I consider to be irresponsible and vapid “scholarship”. I am not a scholar, so why he or any other scholars care I cannot say. I have posted here many times on what I believe is some fascinating and brilliant scholarship — even among biblical scholars! (Yep, I really do have a lot of respect for the works of many of them. Just have a look at the Index of Topics in the right margin here.)
If I think a scholar is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of his lay readers with nonsense, and I think the scholars should know better, I will say so. And believe me, New Testament scholars seem to be capable of generating an awful lot of arrant rubbish that they wrap up in jargon that fools some of those who are less well read.
I know I have had an above average and quite good education and many opportunities to understand and read more widely than many others. I’ve taken to heart those proverbial adages that encourage anyone with some advantages in life to pay back to society. That may be a comforting rationalization for something I simply love to do by nature. Whatever the reason, I also find myself incensed whenever I see authorities misusing their positions and treating their public shoddily.
Maybe that’s the legacy I have from my cult years. I am alert to authorities pulling the wool over the eyes of anyone else. I cannot sit idly by and let it happen if I feel I can speak out and be heard. I get the impression that before the internet some biblical scholars were quite allowed to get away with laziness, irresponsible claims, ignorance, misrepresentation, hifalutin hogwash and incompetence. So often I seem to come across New Testament scholars massaging the publications of their buddies no matter how vacuous they are. Some seem to be upset that once they come out and blog those days are over.
So when I see Hoffmann and Casey and McGrath and others typing out invalid arguments I will address their words clearly and methodically and demonstrate why they are invalid. In recent years some of these scholars have taken offence and responded with very bitter personal attacks against me. They have not, however, addressed my arguments. So forgive me if, after being the target of their personal vendettas (yes, I exposed Hoffmann’s published falsehood about Doherty; that appears to have been an unforgivable faux pas of mine) I sometimes speak of their more outlandish arguments with a touch of mockery.
Hoffmann’s latest foray into Hegelian philosophy and the debates it generated all in order to come to the conclusion that every historical event is both analogous and unique, and that this somehow is a vital ingredient into the alchemist’s mix to conjure up evidence for the historical Jesus, is utterly risible and exactly the sort of nonsense Stanislav Andreski addressed in the social sciences a few decades ago.
So of course Hoffmann needs me to be a psychologically crazed Jesus denier.
Happily, not all New Testament scholars are like Hoffmann. I was recently very pleasantly surprised by find a cordial comment on my blog by Chris Keith, I think it was, acknowledging my criticisms of postmodernism in historical Jesus studies. He was able to respond with humour to my reference to something I compared with “mumbo jumbo” — I forget the exact words — saying something to the effect that he agreed with “jumbo” but was going to hold firm against “mumbo or something like that — the tone of humorous acceptance of my criticism (which was not an attack, by the way) was most welcome.
This again sits with Andreski’s thoughts. I don’t see much ability to laugh at themselves on the side of Hoffmann and co. Any peasant juvenile out in the mosquito infested slums who shouts out that their emperorships are not wearing any clothes is to be flogged!
There! I got through a whole post avoiding the terms “myth. . ist” and “histor . . ist” — at least without those “what-do-we-mean-by-this-word” quotation marks. Hoffmann should be pleased. I have never liked the terms, either. But as I said recently, I cannot deny that usage does decide meaning. So next time I will no doubt give up being an old fogey stickler for the rules I learned in primary school and get with the times.