McGrath’s Review of Brodie’s Memoir: Incompetent or Dishonest?

Filed under: Brodie: Beyond Quest,James F. McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 8:15 pm
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While preparing the next step of my posts on Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, a Google search brought to my attention a review of this same work by James McGrath back in February this year. It also recently came to my attention that McGrath is to present a paper on academic freedom and that he has chosen to use Brodie’s experiences as he describes them in this Memoir as a case study.

So I read McGrath’s review of Brodie’s book, expecting to find a much more professional treatment of a scholarly peer than he had ever bestowed upon the amateur Earl Doherty. In “reviewing” Doherty McGrath explicitly defended his refusal to explain Doherty’s arguments because he did not want to lend any respectability to mythicism. When I asked McGrath why he sometimes claimed Doherty wrote the very opposite of what he did write, or accused him of not addressing themes and arguments that he clearly did address and at length, I received in return either no reply or an insult.

I did not expect to find the same treatment of Thomas Brodie. But that’s exactly what I found. One difference is that McGrath couches much of his language in tones of condescension whereas he was belligerently abusive towards Doherty.

I will write a complete response to McGrath’s entire review in a future post. However, for now I am incensed enough at his outright incompetence (or is it plain old intellectual dishonesty?) and failure to write a straight and truthful account of Brodie’s Memoir that I will address just one of his remarks.

McGrath writes in his second paragraph:

Brodie indicates that . . . his inability to find a publisher very early on was a result of things like poor grammar, lack of footnotes, refusal to accept criticisms of and feedback on his claims and interpretations, and attempting to find a Christian publisher for what he wrote on the subject (pp.32,35,40,42).

I am singling out this section because it directly relates to a section I was preparing to write up in my next blog post so registers most strongly in me at this moment. What McGrath has written here is not at all what I recalled from my reading of Brodie so I checked the page references. (Like Joel Watts, it seems McGrath assumes that it does not matter if he leaves bogus citations; that if he doesn’t follow up such things then no-one else will bother, either.)

Page 32 makes no reference whatever to a publisher or any attempt by Brodie to have anything published with the exception to say that a work of his was published in 1992. Rather, this page refers to Brodie’s studies for a Diploma. (more…)


Why the Church Does Not Want Jesus — ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ chapter 4

Niels Peter Lemche is the author of the fourth chapter of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’, “The Grand Inquisitor and Christ: Why the Church Does Not Want Jesus”. He frames his case around the parable in Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, that tells of Christ being arrested on his return to earth in the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The Grand Inquisitor informs the imprisoned Christ that he will have to be burned at the stake because he is a danger to the Church. But there is a subtle twist in the parable which is the key to understanding the paradoxical argument that follows.

But before starting, let me point out that this post is different from earlier ones discussing chapters of this book. Rather than sequentially paraphrasing the argument I take some core arguments in Lemche’s chapter as a springboard for discussion of my own observations. (So I omit all reference to the origins of historical-critical scholarship, liberation theology and third world exegesis, Philipp Gabler‘s famous lecture on the conflict between historical theology and ecclesiastical dogmatics, the various ways both Catholics and Protestants have historically controlled the reading of the Bible, Marcion’s and von Harnack’s complaints about the inclusion of the Jewish scriptures in the Christian Bible . . . . , that Lemche covers in this chapter.) Now back to the parable. . . .

Ivan Karamazov (John Malkovich)

The parable is told by Ivan Karamazov who appears to side with the Inquisitor in objecting to the Jesus Christ who walks straight out of the pages of the Gospels and begins performing miracles etc just as he did there. (There is much more to the original story, but let’s roll with the details Lemche selects for his analogy.) The irony for Lemche is that this same Ivan also represents those who in other ways question the Church. The Grand Inquisitor thus turns out to be something of a double-edged sword. “Perhaps there are more layers represented in this novel than appear at first sight.

For Lemche, the Grand Inquisitor represents “the position of the well-educated clergy of the Church“. The threats it faces come from two opposing sides, and one of these sides finds itself in an ambiguous position:


Threat #1 — the pious laity with their Bible

Yes, there is the threat from “the pious laity having read too much of the Bible”:

The difference between the Christ of the Church and the Jesus of the Gospels becomes dangerous when explained to the laity. (p. 77)

Elsewhere Lemche has argued that pious people should not be allowed within a hundred metres of the Bible. “Reading the Bible has not done them much good.” Some who would follow in Christ’s footsteps have been rendered harmless by being incorporated into the constraints of the Church itself (e.g. the Franciscans). Others have gone down in history as suicide cults. I and many others would add a vast array of dysfunctional mental, physical, financial and social legacies among too many of the faithful. (more…)


So What If Bart Ehrman Did Not Read the Books? His Peers Excuse Him

Filed under: Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Neil Godfrey @ 11:00 am
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Many of us have seen Dr James McGrath’s statements that Bart Ehrman was quite within the bounds of acceptable New Testament scholarly procedure not to read mythicist books that he was reviewing for the public:

It doesn’t strike me as inappropriate that someone who has graduate assistants make use of them, especially speaking as someone who has plowed through significant amounts of mythicist literature and can testify that it is a frustrating waste of time. If Ehrman was able to get assistance that left him with more time to do actual scholarship, good for him! (Blog comment)

McGrath even proudly boasts that he needed only to read the first few pages of Earl Doherty’s 800 page Jesus: Neither God Nor Man in order to write a review of the entire book for public consumption on Amazon.

He has also denounced Thomas L. Thompson’s arguments for mythicism without having read The Messiah Myth. He doesn’t need to since, he says, TLT’s expertise is in the Old Testament, not the New.

Several of Bart Ehrman’s “friends and fans” on his Facebook page (I can’t get my ahead around the idea of biblical scholars having “fans!” — is this another of those “only in America” things?) have also strongly supported the idea of him not having read Doherty’s work, at least. (more…)


Appendix to my “concluding response” — that ca.4 letter word MIDRASH

This is tiresome, but I forgot to mention one more tiresome detail in Dr McGrath’s “review” (isn’t a review supposed to inform readers of what the book being discussed actually says??) —

McGrath compares Doherty’s use of the word “midrashic” with how a related word is apparently used by Barbara Thiering and John Shelby Spong. McGrath even links Thiering and Spong together as if they have a similar approach to New Testament studies.

McGrath has the ignorance, the gallstones, the ignorance (one is not allowed to use a word that relates to “truth-telling” or “lying”) to compare Doherty’s — and now Spong’s too! — use of the word “midrash” to that of Barbara Thiering’s use of another word, pesher.

It’s a pity Dr James McGrath was not sitting beside me when I attended a session where John Shelby Spong was the main speaker and at which he was asked about the works of Barbara Thiering. He would have learned that any similarity in thought between the two scholars could only come from the most creative cartoonists Hollywood has produced.

It’s also a pity that Dr James McGrath has not had the time or interest to familiarize himself with any of Spong’s scholarly background or publications. If he ever does get the chance to do so he will learn that Spong is Michael Goulder’s successor of sorts, and is advancing Goulder’s arguments, with refinements more or less. (Has Dr McGrath even ever heard of Michael Goulder? One only has limited free time when one’s teaching curriculum requires so many hours of watching Dr Who! and contemplating each program’s “intersects” with religion).

But back to this use of the word “midrashic” that McGrath takes such strong objection to.

I have said enough and do not want to repeat myself. I simply invite Dr McGrath (Is he sticking his fingers in his ears right now and shouting “La La La, I can’t hear you!”?) to review what Jewish scholars of midrashic literature themselves say about the Gospels containing or even being “midrash”, not to mention his very own New Testament scholarly peers! —

Midrash and the Gospels 1: Some definitions and explanations

Midrash and the Gospels 2: debates in the scholarly sphere

Midrash and Gospels 3: What some Jewish scholars say (and continuing ‘Midrash Tales of the Messiah’)

Messiahs, Midrash and Mythemes — more comparisons with the Gospels

McGrath actually wrote the following bollocks: (more…)

Concluding my response to Dr McGrath’s “review” (sic) of chapter 10 part 2

Dr McGrath’s “reviews” (sic) of Earl Doherty’s book are what you get when a reviewer has made up his mind beforehand that he is going to read nothing but nonsense — except for any tidbits that happen to be repeats of mainstream scholarly views anyway — written by an ignorant charlatan whom he (the reviewer) is convinced has never engaged with the scholarship, is poorly read and only ever uses scholarly works tendentiously and dishonestly.

Approaching a book with this conviction will make it impossible to read the book on its own terms. One will be expecting to find rubbish and this expectation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will lead the reviewer to jump scornfully on sentences here and half paragraphs there and scoff before he has even taken the time to grasp what anyone else without “attitude” would read.

I know. I have done the same myself.

When I was beginning to leave a religious cult I picked up a book on how cults psychologically manipulate their members. I was still sensitive enough to be offended by such a suggestion and I read the book with hostile intent and wrote all sorts of objections in the margin. Years later I picked up the book again, with my pride having mellowed, and shook my head in amazement at how my notes betrayed a mind that was completely shut to what the author was really saying. My notes were testimony to my closed mind, not to any inadequacies in the book at all.

I list here McGrath’s objections to Doherty’s work with quotations from Doherty’s book that belie anything McGrath thinks he sees in it.

A year ago I posted the Ascension of Isaiah and highlighted the passages that demonstrate the thrust of Earl Doherty’s argument that this text is an example of the sorts of beliefs we find in Paul’s letters about Christ not being crucified on earth. Interested readers of this post will find that earlier post of some benefit in understanding the argument that follows. It is a complex subject and it is good to have some clear overview of the basics before one takes on the opposing arguments.

One man’s picture-frame is another man’s scaffold

McGrath begins by misinforming readers that the Ascension of Isaiah is “central” to Doherty’s argument that the crucifixion of Jesus took place in a dimension beyond earth and history.

Also central to Doherty’s argument is a work known as The Ascension of Isaiah . . . .

This brings us to the crux of Doherty’s views. Doherty’s entire argument for mythicism can be viewed as an attempt to regard some parts of the Ascension of Isaiah as both the key to understanding the New Testament, and the fountainhead of what eventually became Christianity.

Wow, now that makes the Ascension of Isaiah really critical. Surely sounds like if the AoI goes so does Doherty’s entire argument.

But read what Doherty’ himself says about the place of the Ascension of Isaiah for his argument and wonder how McGrath could so fundamentally misrepresent his use of this text. (more…)


Response #1 to the good doctor’s “review” (sic) of a bit of Earl Doherty’s chapter ten

Scene from the first (Jewish) part of the Ascension of Isaiah. (Imagine Dr McGrath sitting on the side watching that mythicist being sawn in half ;-)

(belatedly — about 50 mins after original posting — added quotation from ‘The Origin of the Samaritans’ concerning the date of AoI)

Coming hard on the heels of Dr McGrath’s public display of professional incompetence over his failure to understand the elementary principles of the Documentary Hypothesis, this is a double embarrassment for the professor. He demonstrates total confusion about the date of the composition of the various parts of the Ascension of Isaiah and in the end resorts entirely to the one passage many commentators are agreed is a late Christian interpolation and that has no relevance at all as a rebuttal to Earl Doherty’s arguments about the earlier portions of the text. For good measure he concludes with a swipe at Doherty’s use of the word “midrash” (yes, again) despite the fact that his use is in complete accord with what Jewish scholars of midrash themselves, not to mention a raft of his own New Testament colleagues, say about the Gospels.

Dr McGrath misleadingly titles his post Review of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man chapter 10 part two. It is not a review of the second part of the chapter by any means, and Dr McGrath effectively admits this. He left off the review of the first part of this chapter after covering the first 12 pages. But now he skips across the next ten pages to focus on the last 7.

I’ve finally found some time to post my second blog entry about  chapter 10 of Earl Doherty’s book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus. Here’s a link to my first post about this chapter. Ironically, even though I have written far more already on the first 1/6 of the book than one would ever find written about an entire book in a printed review, some mythicists have still complained that there are details in the book that I have not addressed.

To paraphrase an expression Dr McGrath has himself used often enough himself: Just writing lots of tirades against a book chapter by chapter does not mean that one has addressed anything more than one or two points per chapter. I have in past posts demonstrated with a comparison of Dr McGrath’s “reviews” and Doherty’s own words that McGrath has chosen to entirely overlook the central arguments and key points of chapters, and even baldly claim that Doherty does not say or reference things that he most certainly does say and reference. The fact is, the complaints against Dr McGrath’s reviews have focussed on the intellectual dishonesty that runs through them all in that they regularly accuse Doherty of not saying or addressing things he clearly does say and address, and of creating completely misleading ideas of Doherty’s arguments by omitting entire arguments that belie McGrath’s false allegations.

Since those complaints are a smokescreen trying to distract from the fact that the book’s shortcomings are so bad that they undermine anything positive that could be said about the book, presumably there is no point in trying any longer to be as comprehensive as possible.

One has to ask for whose benefit Dr McGrath has been writing these reviews. He says here the complaints “of a few mythicists” have led him to change his approach. Was he really doing these reviews all along primarily for the benefit “of a few mythicists”? I doubt it. I suspect McGrath has finally tired of attempting to maintain the appearance of comprehensive chapter by chapter reviews — efforts that were regularly rewarded with prompt exposures of his incompetence (one dare not suggest dishonesty) with each review — and now is going to select bits here and there in the book he feels he can use as a springboard to attack mythicism.

In other words, if readers of his reviews were given a completely false impression of Doherty’s book till now, from now on they will not be given any overview of the chapters at all.

I don’t know how such an exercise can possibly be called “a review”.

What good points there have been in the book thus far have typically been things that one can find in other books which consistently use a scholarly approach. And so from this point onward readers of this blog can expect me to focus entirely on the book’s many shortcomings, and can look elsewhere for other information.

Dr McGrath appears here to be saying that there is absolutely nothing Doherty has written that is “good” that is not found in other authors. Everything original Doherty has written is “bad”.

I have always thought it a truism that when you start to find nothing good or nothing bad in another then that is a sure warning signal that you are letting prejudice dictate your outlook. One is reminded of book-burning rationales. Anything bad in the book deserves to be burnt; anything good is redundant so the book should be burnt anyway.

This chapter at long last brings into the foreground something that is central to Doherty’s book: the question of where Jesus was believed to have been crucified (on earth vs. in a celestial realm). Also central to Doherty’s argument is a work known as The Ascension of Isaiah, which some have regarded as originally having been a Jewish text which Christian redactors made additions and changes to in order to adapt it to a Christian viewpoint, while others would say that the work is better viewed as resulting from the combination of Jewish and Christian works originally composed separately.

Dr McGrath appears to be confused here. There is no either-or of which I am aware. Scholars are agreed that the first 5 chapters are primarily an early Jewish text; subsequently Christian texts were written of the Vision and later still other Christians combined these and interpolated additional Christian passages into both halves.

That is, the first 5 chapters are virtually unanimously believed to be a first century Jewish text about the martyrdom of Isaiah. The remaining chapters are a compilation of later Christian additions. They speak mainly of the Vision of Isaiah. When these Christian and Jewish texts appear to have been combined into a single work a Christian redactor interpolated a sprinkling of verses throughout the Jewish section and added a large section, chapters 11:2-22, to the earlier Christian account of Isaiah’s vision. That is a very simplified but essentially correct overview. McGrath himself later says the textual history is very complex, but actually Doherty does address and explain the complexity very well — a pity Dr McGrath did not take the time to learn from him.

It is easy to overlook Dr McGrath’s apparent confusion at this stage of the post but later on we will see that it should be taken as a warning indicator that there is much more to come. Dr McGrath clearly has never seriously studied the AoI before and there is much evidence he is struggling to make a coherent argument. (It took me quite some time and re-reading many commentaries before I could be sure I could grasp the many references to the various manuscripts in the different languages, of the AoI, but the basics are not difficult to follow.) In the end Dr McGrath will rely for his own “rebuttal” of Doherty entirely on the one passage all scholars declare to be a very late second century forgery that is completely irrelevant to Earl Doherty’s argument.

He continues: (more…)


Dr. McGrath’s Carnival Game

Filed under: Exchanges with McGrath,Guest Posts — Tim Widowfield @ 2:11 pm
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“Step right up and win a plush toy for the little lady. Step right up!”

Ring Toss

Ring Toss (Photo credit: burakiewicz)

Have you ever gone to the carnival and tried your hand at the ring toss? Ever tried to pop the balloons with a dart, or knock over the milk bottles with a ball? And did you come away suspecting the game was rigged?

Well, odds are the game was rigged. In some cases the game operator can tinker with the target, give you a sharper dart or a larger ring – he can let you win whenever it suits him. However, in other cases, you’re never going to win. It looks as if you could win, but it’s impossible. It’s rigged.

Sometimes real life is like that. It appears as if you could win the argument, or at least get a fair hearing, as long as you could just tick the right number of boxes, develop that airtight case, build on the most relevant scholarship, use the most felicitous language. But you can’t win. The game is “gaffed.”

If you visit McGrath’s carnival, “Exploring Our Matrix,” don’t expect to bring home a teddy bear. The rules won’t allow it. Step right up and read Creationists, Mythicists, and the Schroedinger’s Scholar Fallacy, and you’ll see what I mean. Do you question the validity of the historical Jesus consensus? Then you’re already wrong. What’s that you say? You say you’ve read a whole lot, and while you respect the mainstream scholars, you disagree? Well, you see, that’s not your prerogative. That’s off the table. (more…)


So it’s true: Today’s Biblical Scholars Really Never Have Read Wellhausen

Julius Wellhausen

Julius Wellhausen: Image via Wikipedia

A conservative evangelical student, asked to read Wellhausen and discuss the reasons for his ordering of sources in the Pentateuch, will not want to read Wellhausen and will try, if possible, to escape from the imposition: what he will do is to read a work which will tell him why Wellhausen was wrong. His pastoral advisers, if he has any, will council him to read this kind of book: they will not advise him to read energetically the works of Wellhausen himself, or of de Wette, or of Kuenen. (James Barr, Fundamentalism (London, SCM, 1977), pp. 121-122.)

Below I have copied an article by Tim Widowfield demonstrating the apparent truth of this state of affairs with a response to Dr James McGrath’s remarkable post, The Best Evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis is in the Psalms. Tim, by the way, is a supporter of the Documentary Hypothesis but would rather find company among others who understood what they were talking about. Does a professor of biblical studies really not understand the facts of the Documentary Hypothesis? (Not that Dr McGrath would describe himself as a “conservative” scholar, but he undeniably does have confessional interests and there are such scholars who do find ways to “apologize” for God and the Bible even if their efforts are dressed up in more modern sophisticated “liberal” motifs.)

Before Tim’s post, however, a word about the quotation above. James Barr’s words were used by Niels Peter Lemche to open his 2003 online article, Conservative Scholarship-Critical Scholarship: Or How Did We Get Caught by This Bogus Discussion. One of a number of explanations for this decline in standards, Lemche  suggests, is the shift in the geographic centre of scholarship:

A generation ago the center was definitely Europe, and here German scholarship was unquestionably the flagship. European scholars were all brought up in the shadow of de Wette, Wellhausen, Kuenen, Alt, Noth, and von Rad, and without accepting these scholars as leading stars; nobody would be allowed to enter the temple of academic biblical studies.

That has changed:

Now days, biblical scholarship is dominated by American scholars, presenting a much more colorful picture. Historical-critical scholarship has no monopoly like it used to have in Europe; academic institutions may be — according to European standards — critical or conservative, but in contrast to the European tradition, these very different institutions will communicate, thus lending respectability also to the conservative position.

This definitely represents a danger to biblical scholarship as an academic discipline in the European tradition. Entertaining a dialogue with an opponent who has different goals from the ones of the critical scholar means the same as diluting one’s own position: in the universe of the critical scholar, there can be no other goal than the pursuit of scholarship — irrespective of where his investigations may lead him or her.

Tim Widowfield’s Response to “The Best Evidence for the DH is in the Psalms.”

On his blog today Dr. James F. McGrath makes a startling claim: “The Best Evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis is in the Psalms.” Who would have thought that one could find evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) in the Ketuvim, a collection of works which probably made their way into the canon about seven centuries after the Torah was recognized as canonical? And not just any old evidence, but “the best evidence”? Certainly not me.

Just what in the world is he talking about? And does he have a point? I will attempt to present Dr. McGrath’s argument as fairly as possible and explain why he’s wrong. I welcome any corrections. (more…)


How Historians Work — Lessons for historical Jesus scholars

Recently a theologian kindly advised me to do a bit of background reading on how historians work (specifically to read chapter one of From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods by Martha Howell & Walter Prevenier) in order to come to see that historical Jesus scholars do work by the same principles that all other historians generally use.

As I recall, after the last time you claimed . . . that New Testament scholars working on historical questions use different methods than other historians, or that I had failed to adequately articulate my methods and those of the guild, I referred you to Howell and Prevenier’s From Reliable Sources. Chapter One would serve you well, and get you clued in on the basics that seem to still elude you. (Comment by Dr James McGrath)

But chapter one addresses only the nature of what is widely called “primary sources” by historians (archaeological remains and direct testimonies, including oral reports. This chapter focusses

exclusively on the type of resources that most other research guides call primary sources. (From Review by Ronald H. Fritze in The Sixteenth Century Journal XXXIII/4 (2002), p. 1248)

This is the very evidence we lack for historical Jesus studies.

But chapter two does indeed address in detail how historians should approach the written sources (in this case “secondary sources”) we do have for Jesus.

Misunderstood lesson from Chapter One

Unfortunately my theologian advisor had not read chapter two and insisted that it really was chapter one that I needed to read because, he explained, it mentioned “oral traditions”. Sorry, sir, but that chapter does not as far as I can see use the phrase “oral traditions”, though it does speak of orality as a primary source — that is, it refers to genuinely oral communication as heard by the researcher in the here and now. The chapter thus refers to “oral reports”, “oral evidence”, “oral sources”, “oral communication”, “oral acts”, “oral witnessing”.  HJ scholars do not have any evidence like this for Jesus. The early Christian evidence is all written and literary, not oral, and it is all secondary, not primary. If there had been any oral reports relaying the narratives of Christianity before the Gospels appeared they are all lost now and researchers must rely upon secondary written evidence alone. They may attempt to uncover what they believe are “oral traditions” behind that secondary written source but that is not the type of primary “oral source” that Howell and Prevenier (H&P) are discussing in chapter one. The only sources available are written and secondary.

But even here in this discussion of primary sources a critical principle is stressed: (more…)


“Rulers of this age” and the incompetence of the historicist case against mythicist arguments

It is a sad thing to see scholars who are doctors and associate professors and holders of chairs demonstrate a complete muddleheadedness and inability to grasp the simplest of logical arguments when attempting to gainsay mythicist challenges to the historical Jesus paradigm.

One such scholar continues to insist that Earl Doherty has constructed an argument from a false antithesis: t0 the best of my understanding — and I have asked the scholar many times to clarify his position — Doherty is said to argue that 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 must mean

  1. EITHER that earthly rulers killed Christ
  2. OR that demons themselves directly killed Christ
  3. so the possibility that the verse means demons influenced human rulers to do the dirty deed must be excluded. (more…)


Doherty’s responses to McGrath’s ch.10 (pt.1) review

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man,Exchanges with McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 8:22 pm
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Dr McGrath’s review of the first part of Doherty’s chapter 10 is here. My response is here and between that post and this I have posted a number of McGrath’s defences against my criticisms. Earl Doherty has today posted his response(s) on McGrath’s blog and I copy them here. There are two. The first is what Doherty initially attempted to post but was unable to do so because of tech issues. I have bolded some of the text for quick reference.

The areas addressed by Doherty are:

Post 1

  1. McGrath’s and some other NT scholar’s mind-reading abilities
  2. McGrath’s criticism surrounding Doherty’s supposed doubts about his own theory occasioned by placing the word blood in quotation marks
  3. The validity of Doherty’s quote from Morna Hooker

Post 2

  1. McGrath’s claim that Doherty contradicts himself over the heavenly-earthly parallel in ancient thought in relation to 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (the rulers of this age crucifying Christ)
  2. The question of Origen’s understanding of 1 Corinthians 2:8 – being the first to introduce the idea that the heavenly rulers worked through the earthly ones to crucify Christ
  3. The question of the Gospels — and their contradictory view of the crucifixion against the epistles: one earthly, the other non-earthly



McGrath’s further defence of his review and responses to my criticisms

Filed under: Exchanges with McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 6:25 pm
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Dr James McGrath has written another defence of his review in response to my discussion of it and I think it would be useful to post it here so it can sit beside my criticisms. I am still trying to understand the hostility towards mythicism as well as the apparent inability of even some of the most educated among us to minimally comprehend what they read in its defence.

At least it must count in Dr McGrath’s favour that he is willing to even look at mythicist works outside his normal scholarly exchanges. At least one other blogger is not even interested in doing that much though he is at the same time quite prepared to denigrate the character and works of authors he has never met or read simply because they are not published in the scholarly arena. And this blogger sometimes murmurs sympathetic noises towards mythicism. It looks like he needs to protect his standing with the scholarly community by denouncing the “unclean” outsiders. Compared with one like that one has to appreciate Dr McGrath’s willingness to at least read Doherty’s book.

But I am coming to believe that there is nothing I can say, or that any mythicist can say, that will in the present circumstances make any dent in Dr McGrath’s beliefs, attitudes, and inability to comprehend what he reads of mythicist arguments. I wonder now if his mind is made up and whatever he reads or hears will only confirm what he believes because that he cannot read or hear a mythicist point any other way. I might be quite wrong since I am trying to reach back into my own experience and nature to understand his. I once read a book that I found myself disagreeing with totally. I wrote indignant notes in the margins declaiming the author’s ignorance and shallow understanding of the issues, etc etc. Years later I looked again and saw how I agreed with everything the author wrote and how incapable I was of comprehending and accepting what he said the first time I read his book. The reason was simple. The book was addressing something that I was still very close to, that had been a core part of my identity for many years. It took me a long time before I could gradually wean myself off my past allegiance to that old self and accept how utterly wrong I had been about something once so important to my identity. The funny thing was that at the time I first read this book I knew I had been wrong, but I did not want someone else telling me just how wrong, or that I was wrong-er even than I could believe. It’s like family. I am free to argue with a close family member, but don’t you dare say a word against them!

Anyway, enough of that. What I write is written for those not trapped in one way of thinking but who are open to exploring new idea and who do not hold to any belief about Jesus (mythicist or historicist) with the arrogance of the ignorant. One thing most people who learn most know is that the more they learn the more they know how little they know.

McGrath’s criticisms and defence (more…)


McGrath’s review of Doherty’s chapter 10, part 1 — a response

Updated with links and headings. 

Dr James McGrath continues with his chapter by chapter review of Earl Doherty’s Jesus Neither God Nor Man by posting a part one review of Doherty’s chapter 10. It will be clear from what follows that McGrath expresses much more about his own intolerant attitude towards mythicism than he does in informing readers about Doherty’s argument.

Losing the thread of the argument

McGrath writes:

Chapter 10 begins part four of the book, “A World of Myths and Savior Gods,” and the chapter itself bears the title “Who Crucified Jesus?” Doherty summarizes the interpretation of New Testament letters he has offered thus far, writing

“In the epistles, Christ’s act of salvation is not located in the present, or even in the recent past, and certainly not within the historical setting familiar to us from the Gospels. . . . “

McGrath has fallen over right at the starting line. The quotation he takes from Doherty simply does not summarize Doherty’s interpretation of the NT letters “he has offered thus far”. Here is Doherty’s explicit summary of a key argument he has offered thus far taken from the opening sentence of the chapter:

The pieces of the Jesus Puzzle in Part Three demonstrated how the New Testament epistles present Christ as a spiritual force active in the present time, functioning as a channel between God and humanity. (p. 97)

What McGrath quotes is not any summary of earlier argument but a summary or what Doherty is about to argue in Part Four of the book.

Between that opening summary sentence and the one McGrath quotes Doherty writes the following to introduce the theme of the new book Part this chapter is introducing:

But there is another, more important role, being given him. . . .

So McGrath, in doing his chapter by chapter reviews, has clearly lost the train of thought that he is addressing. This suggests that he is not bothering to read Doherty with a serious intent to understand the argument of the book he is reviewing.



Even IF “according to the Scriptures” meant “according to what we read in the Scriptures” . . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 8:44 pm
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James McGrath appears to have conceded the possibility that Earl Doherty may (perhaps only theoretically) be right when he wrote:

Even if one granted that by “according to the Scriptures” Paul might have meant “according to what I have read in and derived from the Scriptures,” that would still not be incompatible with his understanding the Scriptures in questions as predictions of or applying to a historical Jesus

Not that McGrath believes for a minute that this is what Paul meant, since he later corrects any possible misunderstanding of his position by adding that the dominant view among biblical scholars is something else:

the dominant view, which is that the early Christians had persuaded themselves, wrongly of course, that the death and resurrection of Jesus were foreseen in Scripture, and that that is what Paul is referring to here.

[Since posting the above James McGrath has expressed concern that I misrepresented his stance, so to avoid any suspicion that I was implying McGrath holds a view he does not hold, let me repeat more prominently what I said just now: 

Not that McGrath believes for a minute that this is what Paul meant . . . .  ]

Surprisingly McGrath does not also explain that the first evidence that Christians came to think that Jesus’ death and resurrection were foreseen in the scriptures appears only quite some time after Paul wrote, and that the argument that Paul himself meant this is entirely an extrapolation from the mainstream model of Christian origins.

But anyway, I found Doherty’s response worth a read. What if Paul did mean to say that he learned about Christ from reading the Scriptures? Would this really impact the assumption that Jesus was historical and not entirely a figure understood through Scriptural revelation? (more…)


Mythicism and Peer Review

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 5:25 pm
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In response to Dr James McGrath’s post on Mythicism and Peer Review Earl Doherty wrote the following:

Jim, you are a piece of work. I only wish that your mindless animosity toward the idea that, just possibly, the Christian record could represent something which two thousand years of hidebound and confessionally-driven tradition could never have brought itself to envision, was a rarity. But you are legion, and such animosity is hardly a dispassionate, scientifically founded position. Your counters to my arguments have been consistently naïve and pathetically lame, misunderstanding and misrepresenting my case, loaded with emotional prejudice and just about every fallacy in the book. And you’ve now added that voice to the farcical question of peer review.

This idea of “peer” review is a joke in NT scholarship. The latter is a closed and privileged club, with boundaries that cannot be crossed (witness the failure of The Jesus Project), and no journal or publisher within that field is going to give mythicism the time of day. There would be no more possibility of an unbiased and effective review of a mythicist’s work than what you’ve given mine, and mythicists know that. You know it as well. The very idea that centuries of scholarship could have been based on a serious misinterpretation of the record is so abhorrent even to so-called critical scholars (there may be the rare exception, Mack or Ludemann for example), that no honest review is possible. You’ve shown that. And considering that people like you represent a good part of the general readership of such journals and publications, no journal or publication would risk the firestorm they would create in accepting and publishing mythicist viewpoints.

An interested party (not a mythicist) in the U.S. several years ago offered The Fourth R publication of Westar/the Jesus Seminar a donation of $5000 if they would devote part of an issue to mythicism, consisting of an article by myself presenting my case and a rebuttal article by any scholar of their own choosing. They turned it down. (more…)


Response to McGrath’s review of Doherty’s chapter 9

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man — Neil Godfrey @ 10:10 pm
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Lxx minor prophets

Lxx minor prophets: Image via Wikipedia

Dr McGrath’s review of Chapter 9 of Doherty’s book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man conveys no idea to the uninformed reader what the chapter is about. So to make up that lack (surely scholarly reviews should give readers some clear idea of what exactly is being reviewed!) I outline the content of the Doherty’s chapter here in the process of responding to McGrath’s review, and in particular to a fundamental misreading on McGrath’s part that resulted in his post being an unfortuante travesty rather than a serious review.

In chapter 8 Doherty had argued that Paul’s source for his understanding of the gospel and Christ was primarily revelation through the Jewish scriptures. In chapter 9, the chapter being discussed here, Doherty addresses another influence that guided Paul’s interpretation of those scriptures – the dominant philosophical and theological ideas in the Hellenistic and Jewish worlds of his day.

(Where there are any quotations in bold type that is entirely my own emphasis — not Doherty’s. All or most of the scripture references are hyperlinked to see the full text. )

Greek Philosophy and the Logos (more…)


Doherty’s Chapter 8 in outline & Review of McGrath’s review

11 am 18th July 2011, Revised the section “What the Chapter is about”

James McGrath begins his review of chapter 8 protesting that Doherty is placing a different interpretation on some known and agreed facts in order to argue a mythicist case.

The chapter gets several things right and mentions important information about the context of earliest Christianity – and yet consistently manages to interpret those details as leading to mythicism.

It sounds as if McGrath simply does not want Doherty reinterpreting anything at all in a way that can present a mythicist argument. But that is hardly a sound objection to what Doherty’s actual interpretations and arguments are.

Unfortunately McGrath does not specify which arguments or interpretations Doherty uses are faulty. In fact, as we have come to expect in these reviews, Doherty’s arguments are sidestepped. In their place McGrath reverts to pulling out arguments he has used against mythicism time and again even before reading Doherty’s book. Sometimes he claims to be informing readers of what Doherty argues, but in the following response I will quote passages from Doherty that belie McGrath’s portrayals of Doherty’s lines of reasoning. (more…)


Doherty’s chapter 7 (2): reviewing McGrath’s review

Continuing from the previous post, addressing McGrath’s comments on Doherty’s chapter 7.

I have so often heard scholars repeat, as if it were a truism, that in pre-modern cultures that relied more on oral traditions and story-telling than on stick-it notes people had trained themselves to have remarkable memories. But I was obviously mistaken. McGrath informs us that if the news of the assassination of Kennedy (or let’s say Julius Caesar) were spread as “a tradition”, then by the time anyone came to write it down as a story, they would be obliged to invent a host of imaginary characters and variable settings simply to tell it as “a story”. Maybe some would say the assassination happened in Rome, others in Actium or Athens (or Dallas, or San Francisco). Such basic detail is not likely to have been included in the original oral transmission of the news, so McGrath would have us believe.

Or if we think of tales involving resurrections/reappearances after death, imagine the tales of the death and reappearance of Romulus. He was murdered in the environs of Rome and reappeared there after his assassination according to accounts, but presumably other accounts could well have had him reappear in northern Italy or Syracuse instead. We have no record that oral transmission did leave such details as the geographic setting of the event open to imaginative recreation, but then the absence of such details is most likely evidence that they were all well-known and no-one needed to put such things in writing. (This line of reasoning works for explaining the epistles’ silences about Jesus’ earthly life, so it can surely work here, too.)

McGrath actually equates the recovery of a fundamental geographic setting with the problems a story-teller would have in trying to imaginatively reconstruct story dialogue! (more…)


Doherty’s chapter 7 (1): McGrath’s attack of transient global amnesia

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man,Exchanges with McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 7:53 pm
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Reviewing James McGrath’s “review” of Doherty’s chapter 7. McGrath begins:

Chapter 7 of Earl Doherty’s book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man turns attention to other characters in the Gospels and events that are not mentioned about them (sic) in the epistles: Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial, for starters.

Presumably the first thing to note it that the latter completely undermines Doherty’s argument. Paul refers to encounters with Peter – a real historical individual – and thus if he can be a real individual without stories from the later Gospels appearing in the epistles, then clearly so can Jesus.

This makes no sense. Even the Gospels themselves refer to undoubtedly real people such as Pilate. They also refer to real cities, like Jerusalem. Ancient fiction is also known to include real people and places. The historical Persian King Artaxerxes and his wife Statira appear in Chariton‘s Chaireas and Callihroe, as does the historical general Hermocrates.

So even if we do accept Peter as a historical person known to Paul, this simply does not inevitably force us to conclude that a later narrative that includes Peter must be historical in all its details or other characters.

McGrath continues: (more…)

A Case for Interpolation Does NOT Rely On Manuscript Evidence

Filed under: Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 9:55 am
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James McGrath has ridiculed any reference to an argument for interpolation if there is no manuscript evidence for it. But this simply avoids addressing the actual arguments that are sometimes advanced for an interpolation. By avoiding the arguments he sophistically reasons that if there is a claim for interpolation then he is equally free to say that an editor has removed the evidence that will support his case. One would expect evidence of more learning from an associate professor.

This post looks at arguments by scholars who give us strong reasons to accept the possibility, even likelihood, of interpolations in Paul’s letters despite absence of manuscript evidence.

Richard Carrier has an excellent blog post discussing two clear interpolations in Paul’s letters: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. His conclusion should be seen in the context of what William O. Walker has described as a “culture of interpolations” in that era.

Firstly, Carrier’s conclusion to his blog post: (more…)


A mythical Jesus, or a “nobody” Jesus

Filed under: Earl Doherty,Exchanges with McGrath — Earl Doherty @ 1:42 pm
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A mythical Jesus, or a “nobody” Jesus.

I would like to know why the second would be so much preferable and acceptable to so many here than the first. I would like to have someone who so prefers to present us with the actual evidence for the second which is so much superior to the actual evidence for the first.

I would like to know just how one defines a “nobody” Jesus. Obviously, such a Jesus can be assigned virtually nothing that is portrayed of him in the Gospels, not just because it is now recognized that there is no history remembered in the Gospels, but if he were assigned anything remotely like we find in the Gospels, he wouldn’t be a “nobody.” If he is a “nobody” then he does not constitute the Jesus of Christianity, and would serve no purpose for it.

So why does everyone seem to get all warm and fuzzy for a “nobody” Jesus (at least, that’s what they convey), and foaming at the mouth against those who would postulate a mythical Jesus?

Or is this all a smokescreen? Will James McGrath tells us openly whether he subscribes to and finds acceptable the idea of a “nobody” Jesus? Will Mike Wilson? Tim O’Neill? Anyone else who regularly craps all over mythicism?

Earl Doherty

And by way of rejoinder to McGrath who wrote: (more…)


Doherty answers McGrath and others (continuation of ch. 6 criticisms)

Earl Doherty has responded in detail to criticisms by James McGrath and others over chapter 6 of Jesus Neither God Nor Man. I have collated them in this post, and may add any future ones here, too. (Compare comments on my outline of chapter 6)

Updated 31st May 2011

Brother of the Lord

By now we are all familiar with how much historicists rely on Galatians 1:19 and its “brother of the Lord” to find an historical Jesus within the epistles. It’s one of a small handful of life preservers thrown into the waters to try to rescue Paul from drowning in a mythical sea. I would like to put an additional emphasis on one of the arguments I have used to poke holes in this particular preserver. I have pointed out that Philippians 1:14 uses a similar phrase to Galatians 1:19, namely “brothers in the Lord” (ton adelphon en kurio). This can hardly be taken any other way than meaning “fellow-believers in the Lord” and indicates the usage of a phrase to describe a group of sectarians Paul is acquainted with. The very fact that it is so similar to the Galatians phrase should be a strong argument that the latter is likely to have the same meaning. (more…)


James Brother of the Lord, Porky Pies and Problems for the Historical Jesus Hypothesis

A good reason to accept the theory of evolution is that it predicts what we will find in the fossil record and its predictions have not yet failed. No one has found a rabbit fossil in pre-Cambrian rocks.

If James had been a sibling of Jesus and a leader in the Jerusalem church (along with Peter and John), then we can expect to find certain indicators of this in certain kinds of evidence. If our reasonable expectations (predictions) fail, then we have an obligation to reconsider our earlier conclusions that led to our expectations.

Dr James McGrath demonstrates an unfortunate oversight of this fundamental principle (and also shows a taste for porky pies) when he writes:

It is entertaining to watch mythicists, who claim to be guided by the principle that the epistles are earlier and more reliable, while the later Gospels essentially turned a mythical Christ into a historical figure, jettison that supposed principle whenever it becomes inconvenient. When evidence of a historical Jesus is highlighted in the epistles, they will appeal to Acts, or epistles likely to be later forgeries, in an attempt to avoid the clear meaning of Paul’s reference to James as Jesus’ brother.

Mainstream historical scholarship can be discussed in terms of whether it’s conclusions are justified upon the basis of its methods. Or one can discuss whether the methods themselves are valid. In the case of mythicism, neither is possible, because it has no consistent methods and no conclusions, just foreordained outcomes and the use of any tools selectively that will allow one to reach them.

Or to put it simpler still, why do you trust Acts to indicate what Paul meant by “James” yet reject it when it comes to what Paul meant by “Jesus”?

Firstly, James McGrath knows very well that Earl Doherty at no point based his interpretation of Galatians 1:19 on the evidence of later epistles or Acts. Some readers might even be excused for suspecting McGrath is being a bald-faced friar, so he might like to write a clarification of this comment to dispel any suggestion that he is telling an outright porky about Doherty’s argument. (more…)


McGrath does not read what he claims to be reviewing

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man,Exchanges with McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 5:38 pm
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What else am I to conclude? The evidence McGrath provides for his claim to have read chapter 6 of Doherty’s book is that he can cite names and topics that Doherty uses in that chapter. But at the same time McGrath strongly indicates that he merely glanced at those references and never bothered to read what Doherty was actually arguing. This is surely a kinder criticism than to suggest that McGrath cannot comprehend what he reads or deliberately suppresses what he reads.

(References in this post can be followed from McGrath’s pseudo-review of chapter 6 here, and from my outline of Doherty’s argument in chapter 6 here.)

Example. McGrath writes:

Doherty proceeds to consider details from the Gospels that he considers it (sic) surprising Paul and other epistle writers never mention in their letters. Often his response to the material borders on the bizarre. Why is it surprising that the later and clearly legendary details in the infancy stories in Matthew and Luke are not reflected in earlier literature? It is unsurprising to mainstream historical scholarship, which is familiar with countless examples of the same phenomenon, namely the development of mythologized birth stories around a historical figure.

I would have expected an honest reviewer to at least give a nod to Doherty’s argument. But not McGrath. (more…)

McGrath’s suppression of Doherty’s arguments: Ignatius

I had half hoped that by posting an outline of Doherty’s arguments in chapter 6 ahead of James McGrath’s review of that chapter I would be encouraging him to be honest with the content he claims to be reviewing. Unfortunately, it appears I have misjudged him. For example, the first specific criticism refers to Doherty’s reference to Ignatius. Here is McGrath’s criticism:

Doherty also [sic] notes that Ignatius knows biographical details about Jesus, even though he does not show clear signs of knowing written Gospels such as those that made it into the New Testament (pp.57-58). That these considerations might themselves provide reasons for drawing a conclusion different than the one Doherty is heading for is never considered. (“Also”? McGrath has not stated any earlier argument or point Doherty makes about Ignatius at all, but has only given his own irrelevant argument that Ignatius’s attack on Docetism does not necessarily mean a rejection of historicity.)

All McGrath can bring himself to argue here is that Doherty fails to consider that Ignatius’ reference to biographical details of Jesus might be an argument for historicity! Well, when Ignatius speaks of Jesus’ biographical details, it is understood he thinks Jesus is historical. Doherty is addressing the contrary evidence that McGrath complains Doherty does not address, but faults him for not using it in a way that would support McGrath’s beliefs.

What McGrath actually wants Doherty to say here is left unsaid. McGrath’s own rebuttal of Doherty’s point is nonexistent. The bottom line is that McGrath faults Doherty for arguing mythicism and for not using Ignatius to argue for historical Jesus. But how McGrath would use the evidence of Ignatius to overturn Doherty’s argument is left a mystery. (more…)


Correcting some of James McGrath’s misunderstandings

Added more detail to my "advice" a the end of post: 21:11 pm -- 4 hours after original post.

I have left some corrections to Dr James McGrath’s recent post Overview of Part One of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (with Baloney Detection) on his site, and repeat them here along with a few other points. (A short response by Doherty is also found here on McGrath’s blog.) I conclude with some advice that McGrath has openly requested.

McGrath’s first point that needs several corrections is this:

3. Have the claims been verified by another source?

Neil Godfrey appeals frequently to a seemingly favorable statement by Stevan Davies, but elsewhere in the same discussion forum Davies indicates that he had not read Doherty’s book and describes it as equally nonsense viz-a-viz the dominant scholarly paradigm. And so the favorable statement is about what Davies had been told about Doherty’s stance, not about the actual articulation of it in detail in his book. While Doherty should not be blamed for what one of his supporters has done, this still serves as a cautionary reminder that quotes in favor of a fringe view sometimes are not what they initially appear to be. (more…)


Doherty’s argument in chapter 5, and correcting falsehoods in a certain “review”

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man,Exchanges with McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 11:19 am
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"Apocalypse" or "Apocalypse in ...

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Updated to include link to Doherty's own comments: 1:20 pm, 15th May 2011.

Doherty’s chapter five is titled “Apocalyptic Expectations” and that, indeed, is what the chapter is about.

Firstly, I will address an unprofessional falsehood published by McGrath in a comment added to his review. McGrath in his review cited Hebrews, 1 Timothy and 1 John in a context that suggested he was using them as evidence for what Paul himself wrote. A commenter picked him up on this error, and McGrath then accused Doherty of being the one to lump all the epistles together indiscriminately. The point of such an accusation is to lead readers to think that Doherty’s arguments are sloppy.

Yes, I should have explained that Doherty lumps all the epistles together, for the most part, whereas my instinct is to focus on the authentic Pauline letters as our earliest evidence.

McGrath then excused himself from his own error by saying he wrote the post late at night. But that does not excuse him from his accusation that it is Doherty who “for the most part lumps all the epistles together”.


Doherty refers to passages of Paul in 1 Thessalonians (p. 51) , 1 Corinthians (p. 53, 56), Romans (pp. 55-6) and 2 Corinthians (p. 56) and in each case associates these with Paul’s name.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 . . . Paul informs his readers . . . A few verses later Paul warns . . . .

At the end of 1 Corinthians, Paul makes an urgent plea . . .

But the revealing passages are those in which Paul expresses his eschatological (End-time) expectations. The first to look at is Romans 8:22-23 . . . . Here Paul’s orientation is squarely on the future. . . . Go on to Romans 13:11-12 . . . .

After quoting 2 Corinthians 6:2 Doherty immediately comments: Paul’s quote is Isaiah 49:8. . . It is one thing for Paul to ignore Jesus’ career . . . .

On page 53 Doherty lists 4 scriptures in a row — Philippians 1:6 and 3:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:7 and 1 Peter 1:7 — and introduces this collection with the explanation that they present passages from epistle writers from Paul on . . . .

Doherty is clear throughout his book on clearly distinguishing the different epistles, and sets this out in black and white as early as pages 16-17 of chapter 1. On those pages Doherty spells out which epistles are generally considered authentic to Paul and the various date ranges assigned to each of the NT epistles.

McGrath’s accusation that Doherty “lumps all the epistles together, for the most part”, is clear evidence that he has failed to honestly present Doherty’s arguments.

But what is the chapter about? (more…)


What Doherty really said in chapter 4 (not what he “seemed” to say according to McGrath)

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man,Exchanges with McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 8:56 pm
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Seventy Apostles

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In my recent post I criticized McGrath’s review of chapter 4 of Doherty’s book (Jesus Neither God Nor Man) for suppressing Doherty’s arguments and replacing them with a series of “Doherty seems to be saying . . . ” phrases.

My understanding of a scholarly review is that it should present the argument of the text reviewed, and then include any critical comment or discussion about that presented argument.

So I offer the remainder of this post as a template to help Dr James McGrath write a revised review of chapter 4 of Doherty’s book. He can incorporate what follows — the argument of Doherty in chapter 4 — and then add his own critique in response to these specific arguments. This will mean having to erase his earlier “Doherty seems to say” paragraphs, and to replace them with pertinent arguments that address the details of what Doherty actually says.

Chapter 4: Apostles and Ministries

Earl Doherty’s chapter 4 discusses what we can know about the nature of the earliest Christian preaching activities primarily from the evidence of the New Testament epistles, and whether the picture that emerges of these ministries is best explained by the historical or mythical Jesus hypothesis.

He begins by suggesting what we should expect to find on the basis of the historical Jesus hypothesis. With a historical Jesus we should expect evidence of unified point of origin or set of doctrines. We would expect to find: (more…)


McGrath “not paying close attention” in his review of Doherty’s chapter 4

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man — Neil Godfrey @ 3:54 pm
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Probably most of us who have witnessed someone attempting to engage Associate Professor James McGrath in a rational debate will be familiar with his rejoinder: “You seem to be saying . . .”. And those who are familiar with this line of his know he has missed (or misconstrued) the point the other person was making entirely.


I once attempted to illustrate what I meant by independent testimony for the existence of Socrates by pointing to sources from a serious philosopher and a comic playwright. Such disparate sources are clearly independent testimony, while what we have in the New Testament are all from the one source: followers of Jesus. This was the point Albert Schweitzer himself made when comparing the evidence for Jesus with the evidence for other historical figures.

McGrath responded that it “seemed” I was arguing that I believe we should believe philosophers and playwrights in preference to Christians!

So when I read in McGrath’s review of chapter 4 of Doherty’s book the refrain (about half a dozen times) “Doherty seems to say . . . .” then I know whatever Doherty did say is completely beyond his comprehension.

This post is not an attempt to argue Doherty’s case. It is an analysis of a review about Doherty’s book made in the hope that it may alert some to think about what they are reading and that not everything from an academic is of a scholarly standard. (more…)


Is McGrath facing front or back in his review of Doherty’s chapter 3?

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man,Exchanges with McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 5:35 pm
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Doherty laid out the evidence that all knowledge of a Jesus in the historical past was said to have come to the NT epistle authors by revelation. (So much for the “oral tradition” hypothesis!)

McGrath responds in his review of chapter 3 of Doherty’s Jesus Neither God Nor Man that Doherty’s argument falls flat because Jewish literature speaks of future (mythical?) events as coming by revelation!

What does it take to become a professor at Butler University?

See also my comment in response to Steven Carr on the What McGrath Forgot post.

Incidentally, I have been preparing for some time a post on a book by Robert G. Hall, Revealed Histories: Techniques for Ancient Jewish and Christian Historiography (1991). Hint for what is to be included — even “historical events” in the Odes of Solomon and Ascension of Isaiah, such as Jesus walking on water and descending from heaven, are “revealed”.

Where genuine past events are written about, the revelation is exclusively in the “correct interpretation” or “meaning” of those events. But in the New Testament epistles it is the event itself that, as Doherty makes clear, is revealed.

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What McGrath forgot

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man — Neil Godfrey @ 12:55 pm
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The Forgetful Professor

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In his review of the second chapter of Earl Doherty’s Jesus Neither God Nor Man Dr James McGrath faulted Doherty for “deliberately downplaying” or “failing to grasp” that Paul’s letters were not written as treatises for the purpose of laying out all the basics about the life of Jesus:

First and foremost, it must be said once again that the most fundamental consideration is one that Doherty is either deliberately downplaying or has altogether failed to grasp. Paul’s letters were written to Christians, and if there was any teaching that allegedly came from Jesus that was passed on to Christians, we would expect it to be presented to Christians in the process of persuading them to believe in Jesus, and in introducing them to the faith once they came to believe. We should not expect such things to be the major focus in letters, which seem for the most part to have been written in response to unexpected issues and questions for which answers were not readily available in the teaching of Jesus. (my emphasis throughout)

I will show in this post that it is in fact McGrath who is “deliberately downplaying or has altogether failed to grasp” what he has read in Doherty’s book. (more…)


Why is McGrath spending time on Doherty’s book?

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man — Neil Godfrey @ 10:08 pm
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James McGrath once “reviewed” a chapter by Robert M. Price in The Historical Jesus: Five Views. In my estimation at that time, one for which I was censured by several people, was that McGrath was being blatantly dishonest in his reading and presentation of Price’s chapter. McGrath has said on several occasions that mythicists should not be taken seriously, so perhaps that explains why he only skims each alternate paragraph or page of a mythicist publication and on that basis presents a “review” of “the whole”.

So it is with his “review of chapter 2” of Earl Doherty’s book, Jesus Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus.

Here is what McGrath writes in his review of the second chapter of this book, with my emphasis: (more…)


The need to challenge liberal religion as well as fundamentalism

I’ve been catching up (thanks Mary) with other blog posts addressing atheism, in particular the New Atheists and their strident criticism of religion, in particular those appearing in response to R. Joseph Hoffmann’s views and posts by Stephanie L. Fisher. One that has particularly caught my attention, along with its related comments, is The Irrationality of Atheist Opposition to Atheism by Eric MacDonald. Part of my initial curiosity Eric’s post was learning that it was related to a lead post by Stephanie L. Fisher, and that Fisher’s post had subsequently been taken down. This is the second time this has happened recently — presumably on her own requests after others responded critically. (R. Joseph Hoffmann has since explained in a comment below that he removed Steph’s guest post as a matter of routine policy. I am sure Stephanie will like to repost it somewhere where it can have a more stable history.)

I enjoyed Eric’s post enough, and many of the related comments to it, and was incensed enough over assertions by some who like to be called humanists but object to being called atheists (even though they apparently do not believe in god/s), to join the fray with my own thoughts on the importance of atheists publicly challenging religious belief systems. My own thoughts are amateurish and inchoate compared with those expressed by Eric. But one has to start somewhere. Perhaps feedback can help me sort out with a bit more depth and rationality my own ideas. So here goes. (more…)


Earl Doherty’s concluding responses to James McGrath’s Menu of Answers for Mythicists

This is the final installment of Earl Doherty’s responses to James McGrath’s Menu of Answers for Mythicists. The previous two posts in this series are at

  1. Earl Doherty’s Antidotes for a James McGrath Menu
  2. Continuing Earl Doherty’s Antidotes . . . 7 to 12

This post completes Earl’s responses up to McGrath’s menu item #23.

Menu Entrée #13:

“If, as Earl Doherty suggests, the ‘life’ and ‘death’ of Jesus occurred completely in a celestial realm, is the same true of the recipients of Ephesians?”

Something went awry in the preparation of this dish. Has there been any implication that the recipients of Ephesians are said to operate in a celestial realm? In any case, the comparison seems a pointless one. Locating the Ephesians and their struggle with the demons (6:12) as taking place on earth does nothing to prove the location of their Christ’s redeeming death, since the demons operated both on earth and in the heavens. And Ephesians is one of those documents which shows not the slightest sign of an historical Jesus in the background of the writer’s thought, not even in regard to traditions about healing miracles performed by Jesus on earth which would have demonstrated his power over the demons, an issue which would have been of key significance to the Ephesians community. (more…)


“Brother of the Lord” – Doherty versus McGrath

I am copying a comment by Earl Doherty here as a post in its own right. Doherty apparently attempted to post it on McGrath’s blog in response to McGrath’s post, James the Brother of the Lord and Mythicism, but was confronted with word-length issues. James was responding to Earl’s Menu Entree #3 in his Antidotes post.

For ease of referencing I copy James McGrath’s post below, followed by Earl Doherty’s response:

Neil Godfrey has posted a “response” from Earl Doherty that nicely illustrates, as usual, why mythicism is not taken seriously by most people, but more importantly pretty much anyone with actual expertise in history and a genuine interest in applying historical methods to learn about the past.

The post is in fact intended to provide an “antidote” some brief responses to mythicist claims that I offered in a post a while back. My own view is that it fails miserably, but I am not exactly an impartial observer. But since brief responses are only persuasive if one is familiar with the wealth of evidence behind them, presumably it may be useful for me to say a little more. Rather than trying to say something about each of Doherty’s points, let me focus on one in this post: how he, as a mythicist, treats the references by Paul to “James the brother of the Lord.” (more…)


Continuing Earl Doherty’s antidotes for James McGrath’s Menu Items 7 to 12

This post is a continuation of Earl Doherty’s responses to James McGrath’s Menu of Answers to Mythicists. The first installment, items 1 to 6, was posted here. Earl Doherty continues with menu item #7, preceding each of his responses with McGrath’s description in bold italics.

Menu Entrée #7:

“Demonstrating the likelihood that someone existed means showing there are good reasons to think that he did, not that it is impossible for anyone to construct a scenario in which it might have been otherwise. Historical study offers probabilities, not absolute certainties.”

Let’s break down this entrée and do a taste test on its ingredients:

(1) Demonstrating the likelihood that someone existed requires showing that there are good reasons for thinking so.

(2) Demonstrating the likelihood that someone existed does not require showing that no scenarios are possible which could suggest that he did not.

(3) The implication is that this particular historical study is able to demonstrate that No. 1 can be shown to be more probable than any counter scenario envisioned in No. 2. (more…)


Earl Doherty’s Antidotes for a James McGrath Menu.

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Earl Doherty has visited James McGrath’s Matrix Restaurant and sampled for himself all 23 items offered on his Menu of Answers for Mythicists. Here is the first part of Earl’s complete culinary report on his experience along with tips for other prospective diners.

Herewith a response to Jim McGrath’s blog feature A Menu of Answers to Mythicists

Dr. Jim McGrath has kindly offered historicists who visit his Matrix restaurant a handy “Menu of Answers” to arguments and claims put forward by mythicists. With his white napkin of pre-washed orthodoxy draped securely over his forearm, waiter McGrath hands diners his menu and wishes them “bon appetit.” The problem is, the entrées on this menu as often as not produce indigestion, since they have not been properly cooked with reason at fallacy-killing temperatures, seasoned with critical acumen or sautéed in clarity, and the accompanying beverage list offers only the cheaper vintages of biased brews. So I would like to offer a selection of antidotes, guaranteed to restore equilibrium to the digestive system and a measure of rationality to the world outside his establishment, since at the end of the day we all have to return to it.

Menu Entrée #1:

Jesus and Entrées at other Establishments (more…)


A James McGrath–Earl Doherty Exchange

James McGrath blogged with reference to the recent interview with and follow up comments by Earl Doherty here, and Earl Doherty has replied here.

For ease of reference I bring the two — McGrath’s post and Doherty’s response — together in this post.

James McGrath’s post

Earl Doherty Believes Paul Existed…For Much the Same Reasons Historians Believe Jesus Existed

Neil Godfrey has kindly posted an interview with Earl Doherty and then Doherty’s response to a question from Evan, who also frequently comments here at Exploring Our Matrix. The question relates to whether and why Doherty accepts the existence of a historical Paul, but not a historical Jesus.

It is a fantastic question.

If mythicism emerges out of a principled stance that literary documents alone, or in particular literary documents all from a particular religious tradition, cannot serve as historical evidence for the existence of persons, then there ought to be no difference in how the two are viewed. The difference of genre between letters claiming to be written by Paul and Gospels claiming to be about Jesus is for all intents and purposes irrelevant when it comes to this question, since there is no more difficulty forging letters from a fictional person than in “forging characters” in a fictional narrative.

Doherty, in fact, believes that a historical Paul makes better sense of the evidence. That is, of course, precisely the stance of historians when it comes to the question of the existence of a historical Jesus.

I am curious whether Neil Godfrey, Evan, and others will criticize Doherty for this or will be pleased with his answer. Either way it should make for interesting discussion.

Posted by James F. McGrath at 10:58 PM

And Earl Doherty’s response:

First let me comment on Jim McGrath’s remarks posted on his blog.

If Jim really believes that there is no difference between the evidence for Paul and the evidence for Jesus (regardless of how they are to be ranked), if he believes that accepting one figure requires that we must accept the other, he has very little understanding about the arguments for mythicism. And he is ignoring the very differences I pointed out in the posting he has quoted from this blog.

I’m not sure what Jim is so excited about, or what point he thinks he has scored. He claims that

“Earl Doherty Believes Paul Existed…For Much the Same Reasons Historians Believe Jesus Existed.

Doherty, in fact, believes that a historical Paul makes better sense of the evidence. That is, of course, precisely the stance of historians when it comes to the question of the existence of a historical Jesus.”

Yes, it may be their stance, but that does not make the two positions necessarily equal in merit, and certainly not for the same “reasons.” Every field of research, or some segment of it, will make a similar claim, that its current conclusion makes the best sense of the evidence. Until, that is, some other research comes along and demonstrates otherwise. And one case of such a claim can hardly be used to prove the legitimacy of some other case. This is a peculiar type of fallacy.

There is no question that historicists claim that the existence of an HJ makes better sense of the evidence. But are they justified in so claiming? Are they being unbiased and free from predisposition? Are they immune from reading one set of documents into another? Are their arguments coherent and free of fallacy? The mythicist position is that they are not.

The fact that we hold respective convictions that we’ve made the best sense of the evidence is not dramatic in itself and hardly proves anything. Jim seems to be suggesting that my acceptance of the likelihood of an historical Paul and my rejection of the likelihood of an historical Jesus is some kind of arbitrary eenie-meenie-minee-moe. Rather, it is a matter of subjecting each case to its own careful and unbiased examination.

One of the major differences I put forward was the nature of the evidence. We have writings purporting to be by Paul, but none by Jesus. Much of the ‘genuine’ Pauline letters have the sound of a real person with all its human emotions and weaknesses, its personal experiences and reactions to real-life situations. The “sound” of Jesus in the Gospels, on the other hand, is a bunch of set-pieces and mirrorings of scripture, almost nothing in the way of an identifiable personality. Even his third-person-related deeds are midrashic rewrites of passages from scripture. On the cross, Mark can give him nothing more to say than a line from Psalm 22. As for the epistles, they ‘recount’ Jesus’ life by paraphrasing lines from passages like Isaiah 53, as in 1 Peter 2:22. This is just one example of the differences between the two ‘records’ and why a conviction of reality in regard to Paul has its own reasons which are quite distinct from the reasons historicists may have for their conviction of reality for the Gospel figure. If Jim cannot recognize those differences and their quality, or chooses to ignore them, it is no wonder he finds the mythicist case so easy to dismiss.

Earl Doherty

Comment by Earl Doherty — 2011/04/05 @ 3:17 am

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Response to McGrath’s circularity and avoidance of the methodological argument

Filed under: Exchanges with McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 8:41 pm
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In a “response” to a recent post of mine about historical method, James McGrath illustrates well the very problem and question begging that my post was intended to highlight.

McGrath’s opening statement affirms that he simply fails to grasp the argument I am presenting.

[Neil Godfrey’s] post begins by stating and commenting on the principle which was the focus of my [McGrath’s] post: “If all we have is a story that has no corroboration external to the narrative itself to attest to its historical status, then at the most basic level we have no way of knowing if the story has a historical basis or not.”

Whether this describes the situation in the case of the Gospels or not is perhaps best left to one side for now. Certainly the Gospels are not without a context provided both by Paul’s earlier epistles and by their reception history.

That second paragraph that I have highlighted demonstrates a failure to grasp the meaning of the words of mine he has just quoted. McGrath says the “context” of the Gospels consists of the early epistles of Paul and their reception history, but this “context” is not the same thing at all as providing external corroboration or controls that can testify to the historicity of the narrative of the gospels. They may indeed provide “context”. But that misses the point. (more…)


Time wasting and “mythicism”

At least one theologian has seen fit to write regular posts about mythicism even though it becomes more apparent with each one of his posts that he has simply never read very much at all by way of publications by mythicists. He certainly never cites his sources or quotes the places where he claims “mythicists say” or “mythicism says” this of that. Such vagueness certainly conveys to me the impression that he is doing nothing more than surmising from some general idea he has heard or skimmed somewhere. I certainly can’t relate his claims about “mythicist” arguments to any “mythicist” publications I have read. His claims are usually straw man parodies. (more…)

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