Vridar

2012/08/09

Sayings Manufactured For Jesus

Filed under: Jesus — Neil Godfrey @ 5:00 pm
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Jesus Outside the Gospels is a small volume compiled by R. Joseph Hoffmann and published 1984. He argued that various sayings of Jesus found across a variety of sources (not only canonical ones) “put it beyond doubt that the church was capable of generating sayings to suit new situations, and did not hesitate to invent new “words” of the Lord”.

“Sayings” of Jesus—which might better be termed traditions about the sayings of Jesus—are not confined to the Gospels canonized in the New Testament- There exist scores of sayings (logia) for which there are no parallels, or only distant ones, in the Gospels. Collectively, these go by the misleading name agrapha—unrecorded words. As this title prejudices their analysis (the Gospels do not present a verbatim record of Jesus’ words), it is best to designate them “extracanonical” sayings or sayings-traditions. The significance of these sayings, it should be emphasized, is not that they present a more reliable picture of Jesus than the one given in the Synoptic Gospels. Rather, they put it beyond doubt that the church was capable of generating sayings to suit new situations, and did not hesitate to invent new “words” of the Lord in furthering their missionary work. The questions of proselytes and the accusations of enemies of the sect were the most prominent but by no means the only situations addressed by these sayings. (JOTG, p. 69)

Hoffmann was not saying that no sayings went back to Jesus himself, but that it was clear that any such sayings were adapted (revised, mutated) according to the needs of the church. This has long been a widely held view among scholars. It is also clear, though, that many sayings were invented and attributed to Jesus himself to give them added weight of authority. Earl Doherty argues that even the Q sayings evolved in a way that they were attributed to Jesus relatively late in their life-cycle.

I think some readers would be interested in seeing a list of some of these extra sayings attributed to Jesus by the early church writers, and the samples following are taken from Hoffmann’s book. I am including here only those sayings found among the “proto-orthodox” Church Fathers and omit those found in Gnostic and other literature.

He begins with sayings of Jesus that appear in Paul’s letters. (more…)

2012/07/10

Reply to Hoffmann’s “On Not Explaining ‘Born of a Woman'”

Filed under: Galatians,The Jesus Process — Neil Godfrey @ 6:00 pm
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What a response R. Joseph Hoffmann writes to my critique of his thesis (Hoffmann’s Manzer-Jesus solution) about Paul’s “born of a woman” phrase in Galatians 4:4!

  • He makes the most fundamental errors over the meaning of the Greek word involved — errors that anyone can correct by consulting any Greek concordance or dictionary —
  • and even makes flat wrong claims about what words are found in all the manuscripts.
  • He ignores my arguments as if I wrote nothing about the complete irrelevance of his point to mythicism
  • or the historical problems his “solution” raises,
  • and attributes to me arguments I have never made.

One does begin to wonder about the legitimacy of Carrier’s belief that something tragic has happened to Hoffmann that enables him to respond with such incompetence and falsehoods.

Hoffmann published an essay under the aegis of The Jesus Project (C) arguing that Paul was mindful of a rumour in his day that Jesus’ birth was illegitimate when he wrote “In the fulness of time God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). I decided to address what I considered were some critical flaws in his argument. I also had wondered if this might be a test case to see if and how The Jesus Project would engage with critical arguments from an amateur. Hoffmann’s reply is not from The Jesus Project. So far, then, it appears that TJP is not going to engage in dialogue with this quarter at least.

Hoffmann is clear. He has no need or interest in engaging with any mythicist arguments, period. Mythicist arguments have all been adequately addressed in 1912 by Shirley Jackson Case, he informs his readers. His loathing for mythicists is transparent by his regular use of his derogatory epithet, “mythtics.” “Ticks” fits comfortably into his denigration of mythicists as “disease carrying mosquitoes” and “buggers”.

Damascus Road Conversion

Hoffmann, who once sat comfortably with mythicism, has had his Damascus Road conversion and now seeks to destroy that which he once entertained. (See, for example, the way R. Joseph Hoffmann has turned from hot to cold in his dealings with D. M. Murdock.)

So all Hoffmann does by way of rejoinder to my post is imply that I merely “use arguments cobbled together from” mythicists. That (false) claim settles the matter in his view, it seems, and means he has no need to address anything I argued. He cannot even bring himself to use my name, so he calls me “Vridar” (– and on his own blog he regularly misspells my name, apparently deliberately, for some curious reason).

In other words, he is not interested in dialogue or engaging with mythicist arguments.

In actual fact I used arguments and quotations from earlier books by hostile anti-mythicist Ehrman, and even Hoffmann’s himself, as a supporting springboard from which to make my own points. At one point I quoted from mythicist Zindler’s unique tackling of the legitimacy of the claims that the Talmudic literature has relevance for genuine traditions about the historical Jesus. If Zindler’s arguments are correct then Hoffmann’s case is seriously undermined. Hoffmann, of course, completely ignored those arguments. I also mentioned in passing a minor point or two by Doherty but I did not present any of Doherty’s own in-depth (chapter-length) addressing various questions surrounding Galatians 4:4.

So Hoffmann ignores or pejoratively labels the arguments in my post and does little more than use his “reply” to repeat his own case and toss more invective at mythicists.

That’s hardly dialogue. And it’s certainly not dialogue with TJP. If we had any earlier misgivings about the tone, intent and tactics of TJP we can begin to have confidence we were not misled.

Hoffmann begins:

Rather than being an exegesis or explanation of the passage, it is predictably–in the style of mythtic assessments–an attempt to show how the interpretation is wrong, using arguments cobbled together from other mythicists, namely Earl Doherty and Frank Zindler and a gratuitous salute to a not very cogent passage from Bart Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. (more…)

2012/06/26

The New Apologists: R. Joseph Hoffmann and friends on a rescue mission for the “Jesus of history”

Filed under: The Jesus Process — Neil Godfrey @ 10:32 am
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Ken Humphreys has posted his response to The Jesus Process (C) trio: The New Apologists: R. Joseph Hoffmann and friends on a rescue mission for the “Jesus of History”. . . .

A trio of Jesus myth denouncers from the world of academe have rushed into the breach opened up by the failure of Bart Ehrman’s final solution to the problem of Jesus’ existence (Listen, he was a small-time deluded doom merchant who thought he was king, so there). Professors Hoffmann and Casey, and a young academic who worked for Casey, Stephanie Louise Fisher, have come to Ehrman’s support with a few dubious arguments in favour of a historical Jesus and a visceral attack on Jesus mythicists as a thoroughly bad crew. . . . .

2012/06/24

Hoffmann’s Ersatz Response to Mythicism

Filed under: The Jesus Process — Neil Godfrey @ 10:51 am
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The opening publication of R. Joseph Hoffmann, the leader of “The Jesus Process: A Consultation on the Historical Jesus”, is a curious puzzle of blended words and concepts that have the power to overwhelm his choir with the sense that they are listening to a view so original, unique and erudite that they are bound to think:

Now here is our prophet! I do not understand what he is saying but it is clearly incomprehensibly deep. I must bookmark this and tackle it again another day when I will not feel so intellectually incompetent if I do not understand his every word. Till then, I will highly praise and recommend it to others . . . .

Unless I have misunderstood Hoffmann’s publication (he speaks of his blog post as an “essay” “now published!” along with much terminological pretentiousness such as “Process”, “Consultation”, copyright insignia) he almost entirely avoids the question of whether or not Christianity began with an historical Jesus. That appears not to be his intention at all. For Hoffmann, the historicity of Jesus is a given. Hoffmann describes his essay

as a preface of sorts to a more ambitious project on the myth theory itself and what we can reliably know – if anything — about the historical Jesus.

The question of what we can know about the historical Jesus has been the starting point of all hitherto quests we have seen for the historical Jesus. Necessarily it begins with the assumption that there is indeed an historical Jesus to know about.

Hoffmann sums up the myth theory itself as

largely incoherent, insufficiently scrupulous of historical detail, and based on improbable bead-string analogies . . . . [guilty of] methodological sloppiness with respect to the sources and their religious contexts . . . . [and] almost entirely based on an argument from silence, especially the “silence” of Paul.

One has to wonder why any such theory is deserving of any scholarly attention at all or how Hoffmann himself can ever justify his own history of support for the mythicist team.

If the fear is that a misguided public are ignorantly being persuaded by arguments so inept, then why not present a simple and direct point by point exposure of the sham? Hoffmann would respond to this question by declaring that such point by point exposures have been published since 1912 —

  • S. J. Case, The Historicity of Jesus (Chicago, 1912)
  • F. C. Conybeare, The Historical Christ (London, 1914)
  • Maurice Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene, Myth or History (London 1928; rpt. Amherst, 2008)
  • R. T. France, The Evidence for Jesus (London, 1986)
  • Morton Smith, “The Historical Jesus,” in Jesus in History and Myth, ed. R.J. Hoffman and G.A Larue (Amherst, 1986)

Yet bizarrely the same R. Joseph Hoffmann who writes in his Jesus Process essay that Goguel’s arguments are a “clear refutation” of mythicism, and who in the Introduction in a reprint of Goguel’s book wrote that

Goguel poses real challenges to the theory that Jesus never existed (p. 35)

also wrote on this blog two years ago that Goguel’s arguments were “weak and dated“, that the reprint of his book had “historical interest” but was otherwise “pretty insignificant“, that to demolish his arguments, as Doherty has done, is nothing worth mentioning, and that the myth theory is kept at arms length from academia for reasons other than its intrinsic merits: (more…)

2012/06/09

Blogger Godfrey’s Reply (1) to Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey of The Jesus Process ®©™

English: A view of the cloister garden and sta...

English: A view of the cloister garden and statue of Jesus from one of the walkways at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maurice makes sure I know my place when he twice identifies himself as Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey and nine times identifies me as Blogger (Neil) Godfrey. The “Internet”, for Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey, is a hotbed of “hopelessly unlearned people”, “Christian apologists and determinedly anti-Christian atheists” who are “impervious to evidence and argument”, in “closed-minded” “rebellion against traditional Christianity” and critical scholarship, “uncontrolled and apparently uncontrollable”. So naturally Casey does not write as Blogger Casey but as Emeritus Professor, and does not write a blogpost for a blog but “an essay” for “The Jesus Process ®©™”.

Now I have no problem at all with any person having earned an honourable title, and I do respect the title of Emeritus Professor. But I am quick to lose respect for anyone who indicates they believe they are above public accountability when they (1) willfully denigrate another person in a conversational or intellectual exchange of views, and (2) expect their title to be enough to tilt an argument or assertion in their favour.

And there lies Maurice Casey’s (and his fellow Jesus Processors) problem with the internet. The internet has forced scholars, many of whom once cloistered in their “quite different world” from the rest of humanity, to make a choice: they can seek to remain cloistered and irrelevant to all but their peers or embrace the full implications of the communications revolution. He blanket denigration (echoed by his colleague R. Joseph Hoffmann) can scarcely disguise an elitist contempt for “the masses”, the “public”, for the necessary uncontrolled untidiness of a democratic society. Public intellectuals do have a public responsibility and with the internet the public can make its views known more widely. That appears to be a notion too frightening for some scholars (by no means all) to take seriously. (more…)

2012/05/31

Proving This! — Hoffmann on Bayes’ Theorem

Filed under: Bayes' Theorem,Carrier: Proving history — Tim Widowfield @ 3:30 pm
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Alan Mathison Turing

Alan Mathison Turing: Genius, Computational Pioneer, and BT Fan (Photo credit: Garrettc)

Misunderstanding a theorem

Over on New Oxonian, Hoffmann is at it again. In “Proving What?” Joe is amused by the recent Bayes’ Theorem (BT) “fad,” championed by Richard Carrier. I’ll leave it to Richard to answer Joe more fully (and I have no doubt he will), but until he does we should address the most egregious errors in Hoffmann’s essay. He writes:

So far, you are thinking, this is the kind of thing you would use for weather, rocket launches, roulette tables and divorces since we tend to think of conditional probability as an event that has not happened but can be predicted to happen, or not happen, based on existing, verifiable occurrences.  How can it be useful in determining whether events  ”actually” transpired in the past, that is, when the sample field itself consists of what has already occurred (or not occurred) and when B is the probability of it having happened? Or how it can be useful in dealing with events claimed to be sui generis since the real world conditions would lack both precedence and context?

I must assume that Joe has reached his conclusion concerning what he deems to be the proper application of Bayes’ Theorem based on the narrow set of real-world cases with which he is familiar. He scoffs at Carrier’s “compensation” that would allow us to use BT in an historical setting:

Carrier thinks he is justified in this by making historical uncertainty (i.e., whether an event of the past actually happened) the same species of uncertainty as a condition that applies to the future.  To put it crudely: Not knowing whether something will happen can be treated in the same way as not knowing whether something has happened by jiggering the formula.

Different values yield different answers!

I’m not sure what’s more breathtaking: the lack of understanding Hoffmann demonstrates — a marvel of studied ignorance — or the sycophantic applause we find in the comments. Perhaps he’s getting dubious advice from his former student who’s studying “pure mathematics” (bright, shiny, and clean, no doubt) at Cambridge who told him:

Its application to any real world situation depends upon how precisely the parameters and values of our theoretical reconstruction of a real world approximate reality. At this stage, however, I find it difficult to see how the heavily feared ‘subjectivity’ can be avoided. Simply put, plug in different values into the theorem and you’ll get a different answer. How does one decide which value to plug in?

You don’t have to do very much research to discover that Bayes’ Theorem does not fear subjectivity; it welcomes it. Subjective probability is built into the process. And you say you’re not sure about what value to plug in for prior probability? Then guess! No, really, it’s OK. What’s that? You don’t even have a good guess? Then plug in 50% and proceed.

It’s Bayes’ casual embrace of uncertainty and subjectivity — its treatment of subjective prior probability (degree of belief) — that drives the frequentists crazy. However, the results speak for themselves.

And as far as getting different answers when you plug in different numbers, that’s a common feature in equations. Stick in a different mass value in F = ma, and — boom! — you get a different value for force. It’s like magic! Good grief. What do they teach at Cambridge these days?

The proper application of BT forces us to estimate the prior probabilities. It encourages us to quantify elements that we might not have even considered in the past. It takes into account our degree of belief about a subject. And it makes us apply mathematical rigor to topics we used to think could be understood only through intuition. Hence BT’s imposed discipline is extraordinarily useful, since we can now haggle over the inputs (that’s why they’re called variables) rather than argue over intuitive conclusions about plausibility — because truthfully, when a scholar writes something like “Nobody would ever make that up,” it’s nothing but an untested assertion.

Bayes’ Theorem ascendant

If you can possibly spare the time, please watch the video after the page break. In it, Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, author of The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy recounts the story of how Bayes’ Theorem won the day. She tells us how BT is well suited for situations with extremely limited historical data or even no historical data — e.g., predicting the probability of the occurrence of an event that has never happened before. (more…)

2012/05/27

Neil Godfrey’s response 2: @ Stephanie Fisher

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 3:30 pm
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Kakadu Escarpment

Kakadu Escarpment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am continuing here with another quick and easy response because real life distractions prevent me at this time from addressing Hoffmann’s and Casey’s posts against mythicism. I will address both when work and family situations permit. Right now I am relaxing after sharing with family experiences in Kakadu — plan to return tomorrow some time.

I will also probably say more about Stephanie’s criticism of Carrier’s Bayes’ Theorem, too. But for now my response is light and only concerns what she has to say about me.

Stephanie nowhere addresses my arguments about historical methodology. No-one reading her post would know that this is my main focus in any discussion of Christian origins — and that my focus is on the question of Christian origins rather than mythicism per se. (This latter focus is exactly what Hoffmann himself says he wants to see so one would think that I might be given a little credit for seeing eye-to-eye on such a basic point with “The Jesus Process” folk ;-) I will be addressing Hoffmann’s post as soon as circumstances permit.

R. Joseph Hoffmann appears to be wanting to distance his, Maurice Casey’s and Steph Fisher’s “rebuttals” of mythicism from what they appear to see as crass internet blogging for the ignorant masses — (they pour scorn on the internet and blogging community) — and has presented their posts on his internet blog as a corporate “The Jesus Process”, complete with (unnecessary but pretentious) formal copyright notices. (The “creative commons” license is presumably far too common for these elitists.)

Unfortunately for any hopes that “The Jesus Process” might be taken seriously by anyone but the Hoffmann (threesome?) choir, the hotheaded Stephanie Fisher has been included. Anyone who has observed Stephanie in action with contrary opinions knows she has nothing more to offer than hyperbolic indignation, personal attack, non sequiturs and a stubborn failure to demonstrate any ability to comprehend the views she believes she has to attack.

Misrepresenting Fredriksen?

Stephanie faults me for supposedly quoting Paula Fredriksen’s words out of context. Stephanie at no point presents and dissects my own arguments that relate to mythicist conclusions. Rather, she dregs out issues that bugged her when she was commenting — and finally trolling — on this Vridar blog in 2010 and picks up where she left off. She has learned nothing since, and has no more grasp of what she believed she was opposing back then. She writes:

Atheist blogger Neil Godfrey, an Australian ‘meta-data’ librarian (sic), thus plucked her brief comments completely out of context, and cited her in favour of the opposite interpretation.

Baloney. I did no such thing. And Stephanie does not even attempt to demonstrate how my quotation was “out of context” or how I cited her words for a view opposed their meaning. She does explain what Fredriksen’s context was, and that it was to highlight the Jewishness of Jesus’ heritage. Fredriksen is suggesting that the naming of Jesus’ brethren was an artifice to serve this ideological function. And I fully accept her explanation. I always have.

It was because of Fredriksen’s context — in exactly the way Stephanie herself repeats it — that I chose to refer to Fredriksen’s words. Fredriksen indicates that the names assigned to Jesus’ brothers are not “natural” but an artifice to support an ideological view of Jesus. So I wrote and quoted: (more…)

2012/04/25

Fight Club! Historical Jesus Scholars Take On the Christ Mythicists!

25-934902-twb030211brophy02_t325Here they come. The advance warning was R. Joseph Hoffmann‘s Mythtic Pizza and Cold-cocked Scholars. He promises that within a week (apocalypse coming!) we will see on his blog “three essay-length responses to Richard C. Carrier’s ideas: The first by [R. Joseph Hoffmann], the second by Professor Maurice Casey of the University of Nottingham, and the third by Stephanie Fisher as specialist in Q-studies.” I haven’t been this excited since I was a little kid in side-show alley at our city’s annual exhibition. Recall the tremors as I came to the tent-boxing pavilion. You knew you were approaching it when you heard the war-like beating of a bass drum. On a raised platform iron-faced and red and gold robed boxers stood in a row beside the drummer yelling out the challenge for anyone to dare enter the ring.

Hoffmann whets our blood-craving appetite by announcing the intellectual weapons to be pitted against each other. Those championing the historical Jesus have “the complex evidence of textual and linguistic studies” and “hermeneutics”. (By “hermeneutics” I think he might mean in particular the full spanner-set of criteriology: the criteria of embarrassment, double dissimilarity, multiple attestation, coherence, etc.) Against these we have the mythicists using scientific method:

these same folk who hold up the scientific method to religionists want to walk past the complex evidence of textual and linguistic studies as though it weren’t there. ”Hermeneutics” for them is just a word theologians like to throw around to impress seminarians . . .

Textual and linguistic studies as weapons for historicity? I think that must include those incisive analyses that identify Aramaic words in the Gospels or lying behind the current Greek words. I wonder how the scientific method will compete against that slam-dunk evidence that the Gospels really were quoting the Aramaic words of an Aramaic speaking historical Jesus? It’s going to be a tough fight. (more…)

2011/07/04

Demystifying R. Joseph Hoffmann, and the war over Bayes’ theorem

Some academic jargon is nothing more than the modern equivalent of a sorcerer’s mumbo jumbo — designed to awe while hiding the fact that there is really nothing meaningful on offer at all

Updated 5th July to add link to Richard Carrier's post taking Hoffmann to task.

R. Joseph Hoffmann has let a crotchety side to his nature show as he publicly attempts to humiliate a younger scholar who, in exchanges with the aging don, has exposed a dint of mediocrity in his intellect.

The casus belli is, at least on the surface, the place of Bayes’ theorem in historical Jesus studies.

Now Hoffmann’s writing is surely more renowned for its thick overlays of esoteric intellectual jargon and rhetoric than for its content. The reason is pure mathematics. More people can read his posts than can understand them. (Stanislav Andreski wrote that this sort of intellectual jargon as the modern equivalent of earlier efforts to bamboozle the uninitiated and impress the elite: various uses of medieval Latin, witch-doctor mumbo-jumbo, etc.)

But on the positive side, one does get a sense that he is thoroughly enjoying himself as he shows off his verbal wit, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone has a right to enjoy themselves (or “oneself”, as I am sure the don would prefer me say).

But what the hell is he trying to say when he burgeons like a Baroque artist doing abstract?

I’m sure he won’t like any attempt at simplification, but then why would any biblical scholar be bothered with a blog like mine when the guild does not even consider it to be an honest discussion of the Bible and Christian origins anyway.

All Hoffmann means to say is that he thinks: (more…)

2011/06/01

Scholars addressing Jesus Myth studies: Richard Carrier’s reviews

Thanks to Richard Carrier for his review of Sources of the Jesus Tradition, and for his earlier coverage of the conference that preceded this book. Having read most of the book I can concur with many of Carrier’s assessments of its (very mixed) quality. R. Joseph Hoffmann, editor of the book, has written a response, and Carrier has in return replied to this. Ah, the refined art of academic throat slitting and knife twisting!

In the course of his review Carrier discusses conference papers that he deeply regrets were not included and that led me to catch up with his earlier blog post on the conference presentations themselves.

So I copy here excerpts of Carrier’s review highlighting the best of what appears in Sources, and collate additional information from his earlier post on contributions that I personally find the most interesting. The Trobisch and MacDonald reviews at the end of this post are my personal favourites. So the following will be redundant for those already familiar with Carrier’s blog and views.

But there is much I omit. I only include my favourite bits here. Do read the very extensive book review and the details of the conference papers as they were delivered.

Note the overlap between Gerd Lüdemann’s and Earl Doherty’s arguments about Paul’s writings, too. (more…)

2011/02/06

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…)

2010/10/21

Goguel’s critique of the Christ Myth. Hoffmann’s response. And Doherty

I discuss here Goguel’s critique of the Christ Myth as seen through the eyes of two biblical scholars, mainly R. Joseph Hoffmann, and very briefly Christopher Price. I conclude with my own understanding of the reason (bias) underlying Hoffmann’s perspective of Goguel in his anti-mythicist arguments, and an alternative perspective from Earl Doherty.

Hoffmann compares this book by Goguel with the one discussed in the preceding post by Case:

Whatever its argumentative shortcomings, this section of Goguel’s work [attempting to show that the theology in Paul’s letters and in the apocalypses presupposes the gospel tradition] is especially important in setting out the assumptions and terms of the debate between the myth theorists and defenders of historicity. Goguel is by far superior to other defenders* of historicity because he is willing to acknowledge the serious aporiai of locating fugitive biographical details in a swirl of theological and mythological embellishment. He does not deny, for example, the missionary purpose of the gospel writers. He does not suggest that the reporting of “objective” fact (“natural supernaturalism”) is a part of any evangelist’s agenda. . . . (p. 32-3)

* In this paragraph Hoffmann footnotes to Shirley Jackson Case’s The Historicity of Jesus in its 1928 edition as an example of “other defenders.” (more…)

2010/07/11

Weaknesses of traditional anti-mythicist arguments

Filed under: Hoffmann: Goguel-Jesus Naza — Neil Godfrey @ 11:39 am
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A painting by Evgraf Semenovich Sorokin (1873)...
Image via Wikipedia

This post addresses R. Joseph Hoffmann’s discussion of Maurice Goguel’s 1926 defence of the historicity of Jesus in response to the early mythicist arguments, initially launched by Bruno Bauer in 1939, and developed in particular by Reinach, Drews and Couchoud. Hoffmann divides Goguel’s defence (Jesus the Nazarene: Myth of History?) into the following  six sections. I have attempted to epitomize Hoffmann’s responses to each of the core arguments of Goguel for historicity. I have clearly indicated where I have departed from my understanding of Hoffmann’s own words and introduced my own comments.

When I started this post I half expected it to become a response to historicist arguments in general, hence I sometimes speak of “some Jesus historicists” where Hoffmann is specifically addressing Goguel himself.

1. The notices of opponents

Goguel suggests that Christianity was recognized by outsiders at least from the time of Tacitus (55-120) and none of its opponents doubted the existence of Jesus.

Hoffmann responds:

Tacitus, even if his report (Annals 15.44) is authentic, is reporting on the teaching of the cult and not on historical records he is attempting to verify.

None of the pagan critics of Christianity cast doubt on the historicity of Jesus “for the simple reason that after the second century –the first age of Christian apologetics — the story was regarded as a canonical record of the life and teachings of an authentic individual, thus to be refuted on the basis of its content rather than the details of its historical veracity.”

The earliest official report referring to Christianity, the letter of governor Pliny to emperor Trajan (111 ce), “knows nothing of a historical Jesus, only a cult that worships a certain Christ as a god (quasi deo).

Other critics such as Celsus, Porphyry and Julian found the idea of the historicity of Jesus a point in favour of their attacks on Christianity. They could mock the insignificance (not the nonexistence) of the Christian founder.

The inconspicuousness of Nazareth also lends credence to the myth theory. Was Jesus “the Nsr/Nazorean/Nazarene/Nazaraios” (my own variations of the word mixed with Hoffmann’s here) originally a divine name, as in Joshua the protector or saviour? Compare Zeus Xenios, Hermes Psychopompos, Helios Mithras, Yahweh Sabaoth. The evangelists appear to struggle with placing the name as a geographical locality in their gospels. Opponents were happy to associate Jesus with an insignificant town, but Hoffmann’s point is that the confusion over this epithet is embedded in the earliest debates over whether it was a locale or a divine title.

2. The Docetic heresies

The various docetic views held that Jesus was not truly flesh, but a spirit, perhaps only appearing as a flesh and blood human. Some Jesus historicists have argued that when orthodox Christianity combatted these views, they were indeed affirming the historical reality of Jesus.

But this misses the point of what the debate was about. The issue was not whether Jesus had lived in the time of Pilate, but about the “materiality” of Jesus — was he manifest as real flesh and blood or only an apparition.

The existence of such docetic views among a range of Christian groups may well have been vestiges of some “pre-Christian” Jesus myth. But those arguing for the historicity of Jesus have focussed only on the orthodox response to docetic views, without really addressing the full complexity of its implications.

Is is not a myth the church was refuting in attacking Docetism; it was the belief that Jesus was of a different order of reality than the dichotomous reality it attributed to him as both god and man. Church fathers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian will accuse the Gnostics of believing in a phantasm, an apparition, a ghost, a spirit, in order to malign their opponents’ denial of the physical Jesus, but at no point do they accuse their enemies of creating a deception or myth. (pp. 26-27)

3. Paul and the Gospel

Opponents of the mythical Jesus idea have claimed mythicists make far too much of Paul’s silence on the details of the earthly career of Jesus. (more…)

2010/07/10

6 sound basic premises of early Jesus Mythicism — & the end of scholarly mythicism

Filed under: Hoffmann: Goguel-Jesus Naza — Neil Godfrey @ 12:30 am
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Mithras slaying bull (my own pic this time!)

Orthodoxy itself is best defined as the victory of the belief that Jesus had actually lived a full human existence over the belief that he was a mystical being or a man from heaven, greater than the angels (see Hebrews 2.1-18).

And the foundation of this victory was the canonization of the Gospels. Paul’s letters, without the Gospels, could give no case against the docetic and gnostic views of Jesus. As Hoffmann remarks, these letters might even be viewed as sharing those views.

(This post presents an outline of another section of R. Joseph Hoffmann‘s introduction to the newly republished Jesus the Nazarene, Myth or History, by Maurice Goguel.)

Paul’s language of myth

Hoffmann remarks that Paul’s explanation of the way of salvation is described in mythical language. Note in particular Galatians 4.3-6, 9:

So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the elemental spirits of the universe [archontes tou kosmou]. of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, [to be] born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we [too] might receive the adoption of sons. . . .

But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable elemental spirits? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

So in Paul’s view of history, the human race that had long been damned was suddenly liberated from sin by the advent, death and resurrection of Christ, and this Christ “in significant respects resembled the savior gods of Hellenistic religion — especially Mithras.”

So what does Paul’s savior god and lord look like? Here are the descriptors as delineated by Hoffmann:

  • he had no personal biography (or rather the merest of one: “born of a woman under the law”)
  • “the most important events in his sketchless life were his death and resurrection — or rather revelation as a god.” — see, for example, the early Christian hymn quoted in Philippians 2.5-11:
    • he originated as a god
    • temporarily forsook his divinity
    • was born in the likeness of man
    • was killed
    • was restored to full divinity by his Father-god
  • Compare the same story in the “pro-Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl

Paul’s claim is . . . that Jesus was a dying and rising savior God, a “redeemer” given to the Jews in the same way that Mithras had been given to the gentiles. (p.19-20)

Comparing the Mithras beliefs (more…)

2010/05/27

How and Why Scholars Fail to Rebut Earl Doherty

Dunce cap in the Victorian schoolroom at the M...

Image via Wikipedia

Anyone who is familiar with Earl Doherty’s site will probably find this post superfluous.

The mysterious origin of R. Joseph Hoffmann’s views of Doherty

Dr Jeffrey Gibson is on record as saying he has no intention of reading any of Doherty’s books but that did not prevent him from pulling out a critical line from Dr R. Joseph Hoffmann’s preface to a publication reissuing Goguel’s rebuttal of mythicism, and placing it in a Wikipedia article.

A “disciple” of Wells, Earl Doherty has rehashed many of the former’s [Wells’] views in The Jesus Puzzle (Age of Reason Publications, 2005) which is qualitatively and academically far inferior to anything so far written on the subject. . .

To call Doherty a “disciple of Wells” who has “rehashed” many of Wells ideas actually indicates that Hoffmann has never really read Doherty’s books at all. Maybe Hoffmann was relying on something he read by Eddy and Boyd who in The Jesus Legend very often append Doherty’s name to that of Wells when discussing the argument that Jesus was fiction. But read what Wells says about Eddy and Boyd’s confusion:

Earl Doherty belongs unequivocally in category 1 of Eddy and Boyd’s 3 [categories — category 1 includes those who think Jesus perhaps entirely fiction], and they make it easier for themselves to suggest that my ideas seem at first sight strange by repeatedly grouping me with him, even though they are in fact aware that I differ from him significantly. Doherty argues that, for Paul, the earliest witness, Jesus did not come to Earth at all, that, under the influence of the Platonic view of the universe, salvic events such as his crucifixion were believed to have taken place in a mythical spirit-world setting. I have never espoused this view, not even in my pre-1996 Jesus books, where I did deny Jesus’ historicity. (p. 328 of Cutting Jesus Down to Size by G. A. Wells)

So if Wells finds little in common between his arguments and Doherty’s, what does he say about Doherty’s work?

“In spite of our differences, Mr. Doherty has appraised my work generously, and for my part I regard his book as an important contribution…” (From Wells’ summation of a couple of give-and-take articles appearing in the British magazine “New Humanist” 1999-2000)

And again in Can We Trust the New Testament? G. A. Wells writes of Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle:

In this important book [Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle], the whole of this chapter on these second-century apologists repays careful study. But I find his conclusion too radical . . . (p.202)

Anyone who has followed Wells’ books over the years may well come to the conclusion that it is Wells who has come to rely quite heavily on Doherty in some aspects of the mythicist case — particularly the second century apologists. As for the work being “academically inferior”, again one wonders if Hoffmann ever did read the same book that . . .

Professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia University, Stevan Davies, read. Davies said of Doherty’s work:

But in going along with Earl I’ve learned more than by going along with anybody else whose ideas I’ve come across anywhere. . . .

Crossan, or Johnson, Allison or Sanders, can give you slightly different views of the standard view. Earl gives a completely different view. His is a new paradigm, theirs are shifts in focus within the old paradigm. From whom will you learn more? (See Crosstalk #5438 for the full quote)

— Or that Professor of Biblical Criticism with the Council for Secular Humanism’s Center for Inquiry Institute, Robert M. Price, read. Price has the strongest praise for Doherty’s books, especially his recent one in the Youtube video linked at my earlier article on Robert Price’s view.

— Or that Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, Hector Avalos, read. Avalos writes:

Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle outlines a plausible theory for a completely mythical Jesus. (See earlier post Legitimacy of questioning)

Reading Doherty and Wells: the essential difference (more…)

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