James Crossley's blog Contact: jgcrossley10 - AT - yahoo - DOT - co - DOT - uk

Friday, November 30, 2007

The welcome return of Danny Z

A run in with Danny Z. Always fun. Here goes.

But I must agree with James in part on this — the belief in the miraculous takes us out of the realm of historical inquiry. I am in partial ignorance on this subject as I did not hear the ensuing discussion, but have read Bauckham’s book and Crossley’s paper. I appreciate Crossley’s ‘though experiment’ as it were, and think it has validity to it. But in my mind, he is specifically asking us to move from history to theology.

Actually I was not quite doing that in the paper. I wasn't asking anyone to move anywhere. I was asking for an answer as to how history should now be seen if Bauckham was right.

And so...
When you force Christian scholars to make that move, don’t be mad if they answer they believe miracles can occur — you have asked them to move from a historical judgment to a philosophical/theological judgment! I nowhere got the impression in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses that he is claiming miracles are real — only that we need to trust that this is what the eyewitnesses believe they saw happen.

Indeed. I'm not remotely mad if Christian scholars believe miracles (I don't remotely care either - for the philosophical issues, that is) can occur. And, of course, no such claims about the miraculous were made in the book. But it is still a big claim to imply eyewitnesses to miracles. If true (and hence what if) then what did they see? Did they all really believe they saw water turn into wine, a man walking on water and calming the elements and so on? Or was something else going on? But I also added - and this is important - this question: could eyewitnesses have made stories up about e.g. the miraculous. After all, this kind of creative storytelling seemed to be common enough in the ancient world.

Having admitted that discussion of miracles is out of the realm of history proper, it is likewise just as disastrous, in my opinion, to let the secular world-view dismiss them. These are still solid and well attested historical happenings in the Jesus tradition.
Oh no you don't! I would word this differently: they are well attested and therefore early. That does not equal historical happenings.

Want even more?
And stop comparing these miracle stories to other ancient ones. Yes we have some examples, but do we have such a high concentration of miracle stories in various forms surrounding one individual? Not that I am aware of.

I'm not sure if this works at all. We stop comparing similiar issues in the ancient world because they are not 100% like-for-like? And does it mean that the higher the concentration of miracles stories are, the more likely they are to be...what?...genuine miracles? What about the figure with the second highest concentration of miracles in the ancient world?

Can we all get over the fact that someone gave a whooping call after Bauckham said his bit on miracles? It happened, so be it. That person doesn’t represent all of us Christians, nor did it represent Bauckham. The person vocally agreed with Bauckham, big deal. Everyone who knows that person already knew their faith bias, now a whole room knows.
Firstly, I don't know of anyone who said this person represented Bauckham or all (!) Christians. It certainly does not represent the evangelicals I know from conferences. A certain kind of Christian, maybe. But it was more than this. Several people in the audience noted the strange (to people like me) audience and the support. The hardcore evangelical mentioned on a previous post noted it too. It wasn't just one. The worry for me is that there were people present (see previous post) who have no concern for critical approaches and that excludes not only me but people like Danny too. Now, hopefully (I'll admit that much) these people are only a minority but if not then that is a worry in terms of the impact on the discipline.

And so...
I am mortified by some of the things I hear from Hector Avalos, but I don’t assume James Crossley or Jacques Berlinerblau thinks the same thing and therefore dismiss them because of it!

I'm not quite sure what this parallels. Given the above, I certainly don't think that one over enthusiastic evangelical represents Christians or evangelicals!

I went to the secular section that James Crossley read at for the previous SBL. I heard quite a bit of laughter and ‘vocal’ smirks at some of the jabs the presenters took at evangelical scholars in general and particular (*cough cough* N. T. Wright *cough cough*). Was this professional just because all of the presenters took the “high ground” of the secular world-view and therefore were justified in the unprofessionalism? Of course not.

I still think there needs to be some answer to the idea of dead saints rising and living etc and it is hardly surprising that a secular group found this very bizarre. But that's not the point. I keep firing at people such as those who think critical scholars (in this case those who opposed Bauckham) are vultures (for merely disagreeing - though I didn't even go that far). Now the chances of openly non-believing scholars influencing scholarship are slim at the moment I think it is fair to say. The chances of evagelical influence are much higher. True this needs proof (I'd endorse Jacques Berlinerblau's call for a census to see if we can find out). If there were utter secular dominance on the horizon then that would have a serious impact on the discipline. But it just isn't.

And the Bauckham session wasn't an evengelical or Christian session (that would be the better analogy to the secular session). It was a critical review of a work of critical scholarship. Now if it were in a church setting or an apologetics session then I could hardly complain. But it wasn't and some of us are just worried that sections of the strange audience were not a one off.

Getting near the end...
Let’s get a dose of reality — we are all human beings with opinions and presuppositions that always will taint our work to some degree and even activate our vocal chords in (gasp!) professional settings on occassion.

Doesn't everyone agree on that old question of presuppositions these days? It's not really about vocal chords it is about what Danny says elsewhere: the ways in which presuppositions are tainting or influencing a professional context. I also suspect that there was a bit of shock on behalf of those like me who are not used to what sounds suspiciously happy, clappy churchy (well, you know what I mean, add the technical term yourselves)...

As for the epic Meier quotation, I'll be brief:
no matter what the evidence may be, a particular action of Jesus could not possibly have been a miracle is a philosophical judgment, not a historical one. And the agnostic has no more right to impose his or her philosophical worldview on the whole conclave than does a believing Catholic or Protestant.

Well, fair enough but just for the record I have never once advocated the imposition of a secular, agnostic, atheist or whatever worldview. That's why my arguments in the past have not been about banning, censoring or anything like that but about getting different perspectives in to add questions and challenge assumptions.

Just to be cheeky:
And stop comparing these miracle stories to other ancient ones.

Who is imposing here?!!

As ever, over to you Danny

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The problems with eyewitnesses

More blog reports of the Bauckham session have come through and again there is this strange reporting about my paper being an attack on miracles themselves. Now I have my views on miracles and people may know or guess them but I never discussed this in my paper in SD. This is particularly interesting because it shows some contemporary insight into the ways in which eyewitness testimony works. A good example is on the Upper Register blog, where Lee Irons gives an account of the session. It is available here.

Irons says,
Collins and Crossley both made a big deal out of the fact that if we accept the gospels as containing eyewitness testimony, then we are forced to accept the miracles as literally true events which cannot be explained by scientific reasoning, and that’s unacceptable.

It vaguely represents me but not quite. I simply asked questions: if gospels contain eyewitness testimony did they see the miraculous? If they saw the miraculous then presumably we have to revolutionise the discipline of history. I never once mentioned anything about acceptable or unacceptable. Already, then, eyewitnesses are adding significant details to what I genuinely said. Now isn't that interesting?!!! Did they get the gist? Sort of, I suppose.

And this:
Basically, the debate was over form criticism.

Was it? My own memory may be faded but I'm not so sure (others present feel free to correct me). There were some comments but it hardly dominated the debate.

Then it continues:
What’s fascinating is that the three respondents seemed to admit that Bauckham had made a strong case, and that form criticism had lots of problems. But they still wanted to believe it: (a) because it has to be true since there’s no other explanation for the formation of all these fanciful stories about Jesus, and (b) because if we accept the reliability of the gospels then we have to believe in miracles, and we modern people can’t do that.

I did mention problems with FC and praised Bauckham on this but it was more a debate between AYCollins and Bauckham, and one in passing. On b) I made no comments about what we modern people can or cannot do.

And again:
It was the old debate over the historical critical method which rules out supernatural divine intervention in history on a priori grounds. That’s just the way history is done, and if you want to play that “game” you have to play by the rules. Bauckham clearly had these people a little scared because he wasn’t playing by their rules and yet he was making some pretty good points that they couldn’t answer.

Well there's a statement. I did mention the ways in which historians act (I quoted Carr on history as a game played without a joker in the pack) and that if Bauckham is right then his book challenges the very rules of academic history (don't we all agree on that?). I never said what HAD to be done. I never said what was right or wrong. I was very explicit about this.

But I really like the running scared bit!!! I didn't notice anyone running scared on any side quite honestly. All seemes a nice debate with not too mcuh in the way of polemic. As for not being able to answer his points, I have no idea what is going on here. The very format meant that Bauckham answered the 3 of us and then we asked one question each to Bauckham before opening questions to the floor. Given this it wasn't even possible for the 3 of us to answer! That is just plain hero worship, it has nothing to do with the session. But it was witnessed.

Hmmm Mk 2:23-28. Jesus defeats opponents in in argument, or at least they cannot answer his point so it would seem. So the opponents just kept quiet, right? Not quite an exact parallel but there's something in there...

Now to make things even more interesting there is another blog report reporting the eyewitness report. And embellishments too!
It's really great to hear that Bauckham was able to defend his thesis with such clarity and conviction in light of such a high profile and rigorous attack. I wonder if there are any other straws that these critical scholars can grasp at. Right now, it doesn't look very promising...

Some people, it seems, will believe anything they are told.
Now the really interesting thing here is that I was, I think, very clear that my paper was a 'what if...?' thing. I was clear not to make a judgment on rights or wrongs or what academics should believe. I simply asked two major questions about whether this means there were eyewitnesses to miracles or whether stories could be made up. A few times now it has been reported otherwise. I accept misrepresention happens commonly enough but in such instances I suspect that the dominant questions of the secular/evangelical debate (or whatever you want to call it) in popular culture has interfered too much with in such instances (note the language: 'against the onslaught of three pretty hard-nosed liberals'). I barely made a critical remark on Bauckham's book. But you'd never know it if certain eyewitness testimony were to be believed!

Oh, and Irons did say this:
Judging by the laughter and the clapping, there was clearly a contingent of evangelicals or evangelical-sympathizers at the Bauckham discussion.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Response to a response

Doug Chaplain made a reponse to the previous post. He acknowledges the problem of responding to a paper not seen so let's keep up the oddity by responding back.

Doug says:
I would suggest that if we are talking about doing history, then first of all we need to note that “the miraculous” and “the supernatural” are anachronistic concepts with which we read the stories. They are not the ways in which the eyewitnesses and / or story-tellers narrated the powerful deeds they are talking about. Things attributed directly to acts of God or his messengers, human and angelic, occupy a spectrum that ranges from things we would now explain by other scientific or naturalistic narratives, through to things that we are unable to explain and therefore classify as (possibly fictive) miracles. It is, broadly speaking, we who distinguish the nature of the events, whereas they distinguished the degree of power or divine immediacy.

Yes, of course, and, as noted, there are ancient axceptions. But, those aside, this point is not a major point in terms of 'doing history'. If we are going to write a history of Christian origins and if we include the miraculous then we have to be pretty open that this odd in terms of conventional history, irrespective of 'anachronism' (that only makes the obvious point that the object of study aint 'us'). In terms of historical explanation, it matters little how 'they' read what we call the miraculous or supernatural. 'We' simply have to make the distinction (in terms of historical reconstruction). NOTE: I make no historical judgment here (or in the Bauckham paper).

Doug said:
Let us assume, for a moment, that continuing research into mind-body relationships allow us a better understanding of psychosomatic illness, which might well include such things as skin complaints (leprosy) and back problems (the paralytic). It is also conceivable that other acts of healing might find similar explanations. Our response then would be to move these events from one potential category to another, and what was hitherto thought of as miraculous becomes seen as naturalistic, and therefore “historical” within the post-Enlightenment frame of reference.

I made such a distinction in the Bauckham paper too.

And this...
Now I am not, generally, a fan of seeking naturalistic explanations for miracles. Too many of them seem to belong to taming the difficult and making scripture palatable for a particular philosophy. But it does seem to me that this example illustrates that there is not just a problem with the nature of the material, but also with our (alien) categorisation of it.

Yes and no. Healings and exorcisms do not have to be categorised as miraculous.

And again...
Good history, it seems to me, deals with what people narrate about what they saw, then with how they conceptualised its signification, and only then with how we appraise it. It does seem to me to be difficult, historically speaking, not to attribute the power of healing, for example, to Jesus.

I agree, just like other healers from Jewish, Hellenistic and countless other contexts. But the real question is: did people see the nature miracles?

(Before you say so, I know I haven’t touched on the different and more difficult question of the nature miracles.)

And therein lies the problem.

It does, however, seem to me that historians, precisely as historians,need to recognise that within the culture of the past, we need to see the common acceptance of acts of spiritual power as part and parcel of people’s lives, not as supernatural disruptions of ordinary existence.

I don't know of anyone who denies this as a general idea so is this a significant point?

Anyway, what I should stress again is that my paper was primarily directed at scholarly rhetoric and not whether this or that really happened. All I wanted to find out was whether Bauckham believed that there were eyewitness to miracles and that if this was the case it should be acknowledged that we would have to revolutionise the discipline of history. I was also curious whether Bauckham believed eyewitnesses could invent stories because of the implications this would have for understanding the gospel tradition. I barely offered a single criticism, hence the idea of a thought experiment: what if...Bauckham is right?

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I'm with Jim West on this, this was the best annual SBL, though international SBL in Vienna will take some topping. Good to see friends and meet several new ones. I won't mention names as usual because I don't know if they want mentioning on the internet. Being on the west coast it was particularly tiring and I found myself going for a lie down on more than one occassion. I felt bad for doing so but needs must etc. And it did perk me up instead of completely flattening me for the conference.

The day time. The Bauckham session was particularly well attended. Now naughty Mike Bird is in for another telling off from me. Mike claimed that 'James Crossley gave some arguments against miracles figuring in historical studies.' That is not quite what I did. The point of my paper was a thought experiment: 'What if...Richard Bauckham is right about eyewitnesses'. As Bauckham used bits and pieces from eyewitnesses, I pointed out, does this mean they were eyewitnesses to miracles? If they were eyewitnesses to miracles then did the miracles really happen? If so, and given the use of approaches from professional historians and the general rhetoric of 'doing good history', then the discipline of history would have to be completely revolutionised, someting akin to ID replacing/seriously challenging evolution. If the eyewitnesses did not see miracles did they then invent stories. I explicitly did not make a single judgment on the rights and wrongs or accepting the supernatural (lots of 'rightly or wronglys' in there). I wanted to see what the answer might be and what happens next. In direct relation to all this, I also discussed the idea of re-writing history (esp. haggadic stuff but replace that with whatever model you like) and whether eyewitnesses you create fictive stories.

The whole discussion was relatively friendly, I thought. Bauckham seemed happy enough with the idea of the miraculous. There was one memorable moment in this discussion. When Bauckham asked for more humility when discussing the miraculous, someone clapped and 'whooped'!! This was also important (for me) because I had friends in the audience from HB/OT, including one who is a seriously good historian (the others are serious good but generally work in different areas to the traditional discipline of history). They were shocked at this kind of thing happening in an academic context (and glad they weren't involved in such debates) yet at the time it just seemed so normal to me given the kinds of debates I've been involved in over the past couple of years. I'm glad this was pointed out to me because I think I need this sort of reminder regularly (despite always going on about it). I had some excellent discussions with people of a similar mindset to me after the paper (and at the Sheffield/Phoenix), with some expressing great anger at the (anti-) intellectual pressure they face or have faced (I should stress that these were all broader questions of institutional issues rather than anything directly relating to the panel discussion). And in fairness Mike Bird did come up to tell me why I was wrong-ish in the nicest possible way.

My guess is that the allegation that I was attacking miracles is based on what people either know, think they know, or work out about me. Whatever my personal views on miracles are, and whatever anyone else's views on miracles are, the arguments I put forward shouldn't be a problem. I assume we can all agree that if we have serious arguments in favour of the miraculous (eyewitnesses) then the discipline of history (and the discipline of science) will have to be revolutionised. What I wanted to see was some acknowledgment of this situation. I also wanted people to realise that this is not what professional historians call 'doing good history'. That is not to make a value judgment: it is a basic description of the situation. Therefore, is the use of such rhetoric a contradiction?

Incidentally, I think Chris Tilling is going to put up the responses and Bauckham's response on his blog. If not, I'll make mine available here.

The social side, always the best side of conferences for me, won it for me. Several things in the evenings stand out: the meal hosted by the exceptionally generous Jim West (see his header - though minus the photographer and fellow eater Chris Tilling), the Mexican restaurants, that Aussie bar with hanging seats or whatever they were (a particularly fun time), the blogger meeting, the Manchester Grand Hyatt bars, a meeting with Mike Bird and SPCK (despite being utterly tired at this point), the Scottish reception, WJK reception and the countless others I strolled in and out of. See also Chris Weimer's comments on this. This will sound like a lie but it is not: these are the best places to discuss ideas. The Sheffield/Phoenix reception was in a very grand looking room and, as I said, I had some great (academic) conversations with various people, often, though not always about the Bauckham session. I also had plenty of discussions about my forthcoming work on the ideological and political contexts of NT scholarship and it was only on the social side of things that this could really have taken place.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Off to SBL

Title says it all. Long journey begins now. Trains and a long, long, long, long, long flight. Will see some of you there. And don't forget the Bauckham and eyewitnesses panel though for the first time I suspect I don't need to advertise. But I will anyway:


Synoptic Gospels
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: San Diego C - MM
Theme: Panel Review of Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006)

Jeffrey Peterson, Austin Graduate School of Theology, Texas, Presiding
John Kloppenborg, University of Toronto, Panelist (20 min)
Adela Yarbro Collins, Yale University, Panelist (20 min)
James Crossley, University of Sheffield, Panelist (20 min)
Richard Bauckham, University of St. Andrews-Scotland, Respondent (25 min)
Discussion (65 min)