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Monday, December 19, 2005

Luedemann's Christmas: a mild defence

As everyone seems to know, Gerd Luedemann has officially ruined Christmas by telling us all it didn't happen as we were brought up. It's on the biblioblogs and it's also here.

Ok, some points. Firstly, let's get things straight Luedemann does make some bad arguments and many of them are countered by bloggers with ease. But personally I don't have too much problem with the general issue of not believing that a virgin woman gave birth because the holy spirit did something special. It seems like a pretty standard invention in the history of religions. My big problem is this: would the language being used by those studying Christian origins really be taken seriously by other departments in the humanities? How much time is wasted (and I include myself here) trying to prove/disprove stories of the variety that would so obviously be treated as fiction in other disciplines. And here's one question that I think must be answered (I keep asking it but rarely get a response): is it fair that the Christian miracles are taken seriously as actually happening whilst miracles from the Greco-Roman world (and by implication any other religion) are not? Are miracles done by rabbis to be given the same degree of respect? or are they so obviously made up?

And why shouldn't a secular historian turn around and say, 'I will take the virgin birth, resurrection, miracles etc. seriously once you take stories of the birth of Alexander, rabbinic, ANE and Greco-Roman miracles, and sightings of Elvis etc. seriously'?

I once had a big discussion with a sociology professor about the discipline of theology. He said it really was an illegitimate subject for a university because he thought it was all about God and miracles and all that. I defended theology as a discipline but sometimes how easy is it really to defend these kinds of debates? I'm not casting an opinion here but it is an issue worth seriously thinking about.

Unlike some bibliobloggers I have no problem with Luedemann's tone. Many from the 'other side' can be just as condescending and some far worse. NT Wright has his problems with the bullies of the Enlightenment. I know of several secularists in biblical studies who received disgraceful and far, far worse personal (verbal) attacks for their overt non-belief than these deliberately provocative comments of Luedemann. And Luedemann has had his fair share of abuse too let's not forget for his remarks on (among other things) the resurrection not happening (hardly a weird conclusion to arrive at).

And anyway hasn't Luedemann succeeded in provoking?


Anonymous steph said...

Absolutely positively perfectly put.

December 19, 2005

Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

The "same degree of respect" is an interesting point because I'm finding Luedemann's "press release"--as he called it--to be so dripping with contempt ("canard," "fairy tales," "spread lies") that the same terminology would be very much out of place in scholarly treatments of Greco-Roman and Rabbinic miracles.

December 19, 2005

Blogger James Crossley said...

Thanks for that Stephen and I quite agree that the language is harsh and dripping with contempt, no doubt about it, but it is not uncommon in popular discussion (it was released on the web). The phrase 'spreading lies' is completely inaccurate and confuses modern concepts of truth with ancient ones. The language may well be out of place in scholarly treatments of non-Christian miracles in the ancient world but is the sentiment? I mean they are hardly treated with the same degree of respect as the stories of resurrection and virgin birth by many NT scholars. They are not usually thought to have had the slightest chance of ever happening. So ok there are not slandered in the way Luedemann does but they are discredited for simply being not in the NT and non-Christian.

Also we should not forget what has happened to Luedemann for his beliefs over the years: it is no doubt hostility from his Christian opponents which has contributed to his use of such language. I'm not justifying Luedemann's language here but I think it cuts both ways.

December 19, 2005

Blogger Mark Anthony said...

The elephant in the middle of the room, of course, is faith. I suspect that you would find people within the Orthodox Judaic tradition who have difficultly accepting the stories of Rabbinic miracles perfectly plausible. Much less crediblity is given to Greco-Roman myths because very few worship Apollo any longer.

Scholarship can only go so far, obviously. The ancient stories of virgin births, healing miracles, ascending heroes, all must be taken into account. Yet all the info in the world on them will not disprove them.

Personally, I accept what the stories of the Bible mean, fully aware that a videocamera outside the tomb of Jesus might have recorded nothing unusual. It is the phenomena of "second naivete."

I spent a good amount of time in conversation with my 14 year old and 18 year old, talking about the scholarship of the Christmas stories and the theologies arising from them. Hopefully, they will continue to see the beauty (and ultimate truth) of a babe in the manger and angelic visitations, even if they must realize that the versions of things as we have them are not historical.

As for theology not being a suitable subject for university study, it is an endeavor of the human mind and certainly has its place. Would this professor get rid of philosophy too?

December 19, 2005

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the issue here is the nature of the miracles. If someone wants to equate say, Israel's deliverance from the Egyptians with the tooth fairy, go for it. But don't be surprised if someone questions the basis or soundness of such a comparison. Same goes for Apollo and friends. It's not the similarities but the differences which demand an explanation.

December 20, 2005

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No James, this really does not help me with my sermon preparation for Xmas Eve... Perhaps I believe the biblical stories and I know Santa lives in Lappland but yet there are many unbelievers...
What will be left of the XMAS after Luedemann? Xmas dinner and the Queen's speech. We-hey! Have a nice one!

December 20, 2005

Blogger James Crossley said...

Er, and how do differences prove anything Anonymous???? Sorry but virgin births by the holy spirit or things like that are not likely to convince a sceptic anymore than fairy tales or miracles in any other religious tradion no matter how different. Difference proves difference not that it happened.

Not the Queen's speech for me thanks! A Bond film, maybe. Doctor Who, probably. Luedemann changes nothing about this pretty tiring time of year.

Mark Anthony, I have no idea of the views of this professor on philosophy but I think there may have been a problem with there being was is effectively a faith based discipline in secular universities. Like I said, I had my problems too but I can see the argument even if it is not necessarily mine. But of course faith is the issue and of course commitments of believers is the key. My problem is that there is a real tension doing this stuff academically and biblical studies AS AN ACADEMIC DISCIPLINE can invoke the divine to explain things historically. I would feel very uncomfortable writing a history of Christianity and saying the divine caused this, that and the other to happen. No other academic discipline would do this.

December 20, 2005


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