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Friday, September 12, 2008

A McKnight in Battered Armour

Jim West has responded to me on the book with Bird on Christian origins and makes some very interesting, helpful and critical comments which I actually enjoyed reading. I’ll respond in due course to Jim (he may be surprised to know that I don’t always disagree with some of his theological ideas but that’ll have to wait…).

Jim West has already pointed out just how seriously problematic McKnight’s apparent response to my side of the Bird book is (plus some bonus criticisms of McKnight’s reconstruction of Christian origins). Despite my better judgment, I’m reluctantly going to add more and I am going to focus on McKnight’s lack of argumentation. McKnight claims to find (though barely argues) about my supposed faulty logic. So in the spirit of things I am going to focus on McKnight’s logic, or rather lack of it.

McKnight opens by saying that he was ‘annoyed’ that I claimed Bird’s evangelism ‘was a bias’ while ‘he [Crossley] simultaneously claimed his view was more objective’. Then comes the killer line,
‘Yes, I know Crossley “states” that his method is no more objective, but I would like to have seen him tip his hat at times to the outworkings of his own biases…Crossley’s method, in other words, suffers from bias too. His attitude suggested to me he didn’t see his bias.’

Isn’t that interesting? Yes, if you want to learn more about McKnight than me and witness an explicit example of self-contradiction. First and foremost, I have never, ever said I was ‘more objective’ than anybody and never, ever said it in the Bird book. McKnight never gave a single quotation from me making such a ‘claim’ and no reference from me making such a ‘claim’ which is no surprise he’d never have found me making such a ‘claim’. To ram to point home: McKnight has simply invented this ‘claim’ in relation to me. His qualification is bizarre because he then seemingly contradicts himself when he acknowledges that I “state” otherwise. What? So do I claim ‘more objective’ in one place then ‘state’ otherwise? I’ll give the basic answer if the point isn’t made hard enough already: no to the first, yes to the second.

And why the scare quotes? Did I not really ‘state’ it? Did I sort of ‘state’ it? Was I meaning something else when I ‘stated’ it? I have no idea what he is getting at here but I think I can assume that there is some doubt being cast on me. Let’s see what I actually said:
‘To anticipate a certain type of reaction, I am not arguing that my secular perspective is “more objective” or somehow inherently superior to an evangelical or indeed any other approach, though, obviously, I do think my explanation is, to the best of my knowledge, a better account of the evidence, just as, presumably, Michael Bird thinks his account is better than mine.’ (p. xvii)

I mean, I did ‘state’ it by any normal sense of the word ‘state’, so why the scare quotes? Was I…lying? I can’t help but think that with McKnight we are dealing more with dirty tactics right now and NOT fair representation. Let’s state it more strongly: McKnight has just invented something about me.

The closest we get to something I said is a reference to ‘attitude’! What has happened is that McKnight has effectively replaced what I said with something as vague, sort of unverifiable, and general as ‘attitude’. He has seriously misread me now because I am very much in favour of a kind of methodological libertarianism or anarchism, if you like, at least in the sense that every perspective can potentially provide insight, including overtly non-believing perspectives such as my own. The more perspectives the better, at least in academia. Moreover, I have made a big and, it would seem pointless, fuss about the importance of partisanship in Why Christianity Happened (ch. 1) and in an article elsewhere on historical practice in the humanities. More on this shortly…but McKnight has actually flatly contradicted what I actually believe in his reference to ‘attitude’.

As for outworking of bias, well that was my contribution to the Bird book!! As I said in the book, and as McKnight must know, I wanted to provide an explanation based in the humanities that does not resort to the supernatural. That’s my main bias. I obviously cannot explain all the complex biases that make me the person I am (I’m no psychologist) but I did provide the kind of explanation I said I would. I might be wrong but I’m perfectly aware and open that my work is the product of my environment and biases.

Of course, perspectives can interfere too much and I think they did with Bird at times and so I argued that his arguments were problematic where it seemed his perspective was dictating things too much. I would not obviously argue such things of myself because I thought I was right (and still do). But it is perfectly plausible that my own perspectives have blinded me to things. Of course, in that book, it would be odd if I performed such an act of self criticism. That’s up to Bird in the book, not me. I may change my mind in the future, who knows? Then I can try and see if my biases were a problem. This is also a basic but crucial point and one worth mentioning to clear up any confusion (like I’ll be that lucky!).

We even get the annoying descent into aloofness:
There was a day when Geza Vermes could pretend to sit down with Gospels, open them up, and claim he could write a sketch of Jesus ‘with a mind empty of prejudice’ and study the Gospels ‘as though for the first time’. Those days are gone. Not only did Bultmann warn us all of Vorverständnis (‘pre-understanding’), which should have been warning enough, but sitting within the walls of Nottingham University, the home of Crossley’s doctoral work, is the world’s expert on hermeneutics, Tony Thiselton, and his voluminous writings should forever prevent the idea that we do not each bring our own agendas and ‘bias’ to the text. Crossley’s method, in other words, suffers from bias too. His attitude suggested to me he didn’t see his bias.’

For what it is worth, I was brought through the academic system with issues of presuppositions discussed left, right and centre. Naturally enough, when doing a theology degree, we covered Bultmann. *If* McKnight was aiming his Interpretation 101 at me as well as Vermes, it has no argumentative value against me whatsoever. *If* he was aiming Interpretation 101 at me, the reference to Thiselton would be a pompous, pointless (well, intellectually pointless), and silly argument for several reasons. Thiselton actually taught me at Nottingham when I was an undergraduate. As a postgraduate, we were both present at the postgraduate seminars. Both of us presented papers at the postgraduate seminar. I did some proof-reading for him. We even co-ran a module on Paul together. Thiselton even wrote references for me (for which I am eternally grateful). *If* McKnight is implicating me as one of those who act as if there were no Bultmann or Thiselton (though he does not mention the pioneering work on this was done outside theology!!) he could then have asked me about this instead of going down what could then be labelled an intellectually useless route of pompous academic condescension. His opinion on this matter would, if aimed at me, be all rhetoric and little, if any, argument. But perhaps he wasn’t implicating me with Vermes (or rather, a caricatured Vermes) so the reading public can thank him for a very basic point already raised in the book (we all have biases!) and *hopefully* see that I’m not to be included in those who pretend we don’t (when reading it, I still think I’m implicated but, hey, I may have given him a way out).

And just in case I was implicated, let’s add a few more points. In other work, I used work by Haskell, Hobsbawm and others on how biases and presuppositions have made contributions to the humanities and sciences. I made a lengthy point that it was in fact the biases and presuppositions of people like Vermes and Sanders which helped them make major contributions to the field. I had sections such as ‘The Importance of Partisanship’. In a co-edited volume on Writing History, Constructing Religion I made more general points on the issue of objectivity and neutrality. *If* aimed at me, McKnight’s comments on Bultmann and Thiselton would be, as I said, intellectually useless and could further have been avoided by simply checking the basic evidence. Instead, *if* aimed at me, we would be getting the pompous condescension which would then say more, I suspect, about McKnight’s presuppositions than it would about mine. But, again, *if*…

McKnight thinks it ‘singularly odd’ that I make two contradictory claims: 1) my claim that my work is more sociological etc. instead of theologically driven; 2) I give theologically shaped and lack a thorough socially shaped method. McKnight could have been saved the surprise given what I wrote:
‘This will involve looking at broader social and economic trends, combined with individual decisions, that led to the emergence of Christianity as a distinctive religion…But…I too have a heritage that I cannot (and will not) totally shake off, namely, the various approaches advanced in biblical studies and even – heaven forbid – theological approaches. Indeed the very thematic structure of this book is one of classical studies of Christian origins grounded in theological approaches to the ancient texts. This is hardly a surprise, as theology is deeply embedded in its historical context, and theology too, as we will see, plays a part in the emergence of Christianity, even if it has been massively overstated.’ (p. xviii)

As for his comments on socially shaped method, he is wrong again. I based the arguments in this book on issues such as the urbanisation projects in Galilee as Jesus was growing up and how such projects can lead to social unrest etc. I tied this in with the rise of the Jesus movement. I also discussed broader trends in monotheism and the macro-sociological argument that ties such monotheistic developments in human history with developing agrarian societies and the rise of major empires. This was tied in with issues of how social disputes led to a distinctive Christian identity constructed over against Judaism and ‘the world’, grounded in broader discussions of the construction of identity. I also discussed the importance of social networks in conversion and how this contributed to shifts in observance levels. This is what could reasonably be called a social historical method underlying what I wrote. I didn’t give masses of social scientific data and secondary literature because this is an intro/pop book. I did, however, make reference to other work where I have given such material and I did make reference to social historians who have collected and analysed such material. I was quite clear about this and I summarised such arguments. In an intro/pop book I think that is a reasonable decision to make. We should add that there is plenty of work done by social historians that does not have an explicit theory or method at the fore but is obviously a work social history and is regarded by people as social history (E. P. Thompson immediately comes to mind). Again, McKnight is replacing things I have actually said and done and does not seem to understand basic issues of social history.

Most entertainingly he makes the link with Marxism and this may, perhaps, explain why he misunderstood certain things about me:
‘he connects his views to a Marxian historiography…Crossley begins on what I thought would be a social reconstruction of the Jesus movement that would explain things in a Marxist vein, but instead those insights fell through his hands and he began instead to deconstruct theology…’


I’d have to know what McKnight means by my deconstructing theology before I could answer but the Marxist/Marxian claim is, to steal a McKnightism, singularly odd. All I did in the book was say this:
‘This will involve looking at broader social and economic trends, combined with individual decisions, that led to the emergence of Christianity as a distinctive religion. In this respect, the famous pre-inclusive language statement of Karl Marx is worth recalling:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” [Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte] (p. xvii)

This is a common quotation from Marx, reflecting a very basic point, and a very basic point widely agreed upon in the humanities over the years, irrespective of Marxist or other persuasions. Historians use it often enough and so it is no surprise to find it used in introductions to history such as Richard Evans’ In Defence of History. In fact wouldn’t most of us agree that individuals can make their own history but under circumstances not of their choosing and that the past dictates present circumstances etc? I mean, that is a very obvious point, right? Quite why this would tie me in with a Marxist or Marxian approach, I do not know, other than the mention of the name Marx which is not good enough. Just for the record, and this is a special treat for readers of this blog, I find bits and pieces of Marxist approaches useful and bits of Marx useful. I do not self-identify as a Marxist and I do not have a self-consciously Marxist methodology, even if I draw on some work I suspect has Marxist roots. I’ve also used evangelical stuff and that does not, believe it or not, make me an evangelical. I’ve used countless other approaches and borrowed from countless other perspectives. Frankly, I’m happy to steal anything that I think might work.

I do like the next bit:
‘Crossley’s claims to be a “historian” lack an articulation of historiographical method. Perhaps he has fully laid out his mind on this issue in another context, but it is more than a little presumptuous for him to make the routine claim to know how historians operate, that Bird evidently does not, and not provide for us at least a fair-minded and comprehensive sketch of what his historiography looks like.’

Hmmm, where do we begin? Firstly, notice the lack of quotation from anything I said. I’ll find one and I think it is fair to say that I said something pretty tame:
‘I will provide some fairly conventional approaches developed by historians outside theology and biblical studies and sometimes fruitfully applied to the historical study of Christian origins. This will involve looking at broader social and economic trends, combined with individual decisions, that led to the emergence of Christianity as a distinctive religion…What I do want to do is provide an explanation for the emergence of Christianity that is not heavily grounded in theology, the supernatural… (p. xvii-xviii)

(Notice, GROUNDED). I think that is pretty tame and somehow not quite as arrogant as McKnight represents. With fear of sounding too arrogant now, I do think it is fair to say that, as a solid generalisation, historians don’t really rely on the supernatural and do explain things with reference to social, economic, etc trends. If you don’t believe me, try any primer on history. Try looking for the use of supernatural too: Carr discussed it in the 1960s but dismissed it as a waste of time for the historian. And he had to give his examples from theological contexts! Others don’t even bother with issues of the supernatural. This may all be wrong but I think it is a pretty accurate representation of the discipline of history. I really hammered this point home in relation to the issue of proving the historicity of the resurrection:
‘If people want to come to this as historians, there is no serious evidence in favour of the bodily resurrection really happening. If there were a similar story in the ancient world and if we were applying the conventional standards of historical research to this story, no one would take it seriously as a historical account of what actually happened…What a debate over the historical accuracy of the resurrection often boils down to is two different approaches to history that are close to being irreconcilable. To give this a contemporary slant, do we want to find whatever naturalistic causes are possible in historical explanation, leaving questions of the divine completely to one side, or do we want to take the pseudo-scientific route of Intelligent Design or Creationism and say the supernatural can be shown to be directly intervening in historical change in the study of history?’ (p. 63)

McKnight doesn’t mention that I emphasise this issue in the context of the resurrection in his criticisms of me apparently knowing how historians work. It is a crucial point. Historians RIGHTLY OR WRONGLY do not really tend to use explanations such as the miraculous or supernatural to explain historical change. Sad but true.

But better still concerns me not laying out my method. Firstly, in an intro/pop book is it really fair to include loads of methodological questions of historiography? Well, maybe. Is it fair to do so when designated chapters are on ‘the historical Jesus’, ‘the resurrection’, ‘the apostle Paul, ‘the Gospels’, and ‘earliest Christianity’? I really don’t think so.

But then, this issue: perhaps I laid out methodological stuff elsewhere (McKnight proceeds to give Historical Method 101)… I wrote a book, Why Christianity Happened, which includes a lengthy comparison of the disciplines of history and NT studies (chapter 1). In one sense, the book itself is an exercise in historical method. I have also co-edited, with the sociologist Christian Karner, a book on history, theory and religion called Writing History, Constructing Religion with scholars from a variety of disciplines in the humanities. In this book I wrote an article on…historical method and the ways in which history is practised etc., from narrative history to ideology, from theory to social history. I’ve written bits and pieces elsewhere but for now to answer McKnight, yes, I have laid this sort of stuff out elsewhere, and in some detail.

Interestingly, McKnight says in a footnote,
‘I am aware of Crossley’s book [WCH], but haven’t been asked to assess that book; instead, I have been asked to assess the sketches in this book.’
Does ‘aware’ imply that he hasn’t read it? Well, my educated guess is that he hasn’t read the first chapter at least, which is all on…history and the discipline of history! He probably hasn’t read ch. 3 either: see below.

Before I get into some more of McKnight’s faulty logic, we should just pause to reveal McKnight’s ultimate counter-argument to my portrayal (compare with Casey’s detailed rebuttal of Bird’s points):
‘Crossley’s sketches above, in my judgment, fail to offer a compelling string because, and now I drop my sword, they ignore too much of the data and facts.’

Not the most devastating sword, I must say.

Anyway, I’d prefer to respond to actual points made against me. I also particularly enjoyed this one:
‘Crossley’s obsessions are obvious: dating Mark’s Gospel in 40 CE, besides being methodologically impossible to verify at anything more than a speculative level…’

Well, obviously dating such material is inevitably speculative but I’ll leave that to one side. I’m curious that this is one of my ‘obsessions’. If McKnight is referring to the present book (he also mentioned monotheism and the law in the same footnote and they were my main points in the book as a whole and he does make an issue of only commenting on what I wrote in the Bird book so I suspect it is aimed at this book) then we can do some fun things. As far as I can remember this is about as much as I said on the date of Mark in the entire book:
‘There are some of us who would not date Mark so late but let us assume the late date is true for the sake of argument.’ (p. 55)

If I said anymore, then it is negligible. Given that I wrote, say, 40% of the book, this is hardly the ranting of an obsessive by any reasonable standard. But if it is to be deemed obsessive this means that Bird, who wrote more than me on the subject (in this book), including what I previously said on the subject in my doctoral thesis, and McKnight, who *may* have written a touch more than me on the subject in this book are more obsessive than me! And if I’m obsessive what does that make them???

Perhaps McKnight may be talking about my career in general. I certainly did write a PhD on this issue (though the majority was on Law to be fair). That may make me obsessed if we all agreed that anyone doing a PhD is obsessed. A fair point perhaps, but then it is a point that is too banal to be of any use other than a cheap shot because pretty much all academics would be obsessed. Bird must be obsessed with Jesus and gentiles and McKnight with whatever he did his PhD on. As it happens, after my PhD, I left the topic and only mentioned it here and there, but then so do many people with ideas from their PhD. At this stage of my career I have moved on to different things. After my PhD and publishing the stuff on Mark, I wrote a book on Jesus, Christian origins, historiography and shifts in Law observance. I have a book coming out in November (Jesus in an Age of Terror – more on that in the weeks to come) on the political location of contemporary scholarship (including bloggers!) and how dominant themes in Anglo-American foreign policy have influenced NT scholarship since the 1960s. This also includes lengthy chapters on contemporary politics and political rhetoric. Needless to say, I do not discuss the date of Mark. More recently, I have worked on the Bible in popular culture and on reception history, including a very enjoyable (for me) paper on the Manchester music scene between the 1970s and 1990s. There is more of that to come but I am not planning on including the date of Mark in that piece of research.

As far as academics go, I think I have a pretty diverse range of interests and to say that I am obsessed with the date of Mark is weird and an invention of McKnight unless he means the utterly banal point that anyone who does a PhD is obsessed with their PhD topic. Here I drop my sword: McKnight has ignored too much of the data and facts, virtually all readily available to him.

Remember McKnight saying he was ‘aware’ of Why Christianity Happened? Well, it seems he hasn’t read chapter 3 either. McKnight says,
‘Crossley’s contention that “sinners” refers to economic oppressors (see page 5) deserves consideration, but I remain convinced that J. D. G. Dunn’s study is more compelling…’
Now this is interesting. I did indeed mention in passing the economic aspect of the phrase on page 5 (and 4). I didn’t mention there that I also AGREE with Dunn’s portrayal and I have given more examples to back him up too! But I did this in WHC ch. 3 in a very detailed chapter which looked at the different words for sinners in Jewish literature in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac, from the Hebrew Bible/LXX to sometime in the rabbinic period, before an analysis of the gospel texts. Whenever social status/class is mentioned, they are oppressive rich. They are, at the same time, regarded as behaving beyond the law or in a way perceived to be beyond the law. I suggested that we cannot see the sinners of the gospel tradition as ‘common folk’ (and recall their association with tax collectors – notorious for being oppressive rich) and that they should be seen (or better they were seen) as wealthy and oppressive if we want to look at them in terms of class/social status. At the same time, they would probably have been perceived as law breakers of some kind too. The gospel tradition is probably identical to masses of Jewish evidence in holding the two together, otherwise it is unique. Given that it is assumed that we should all know who the sinners were in the gospel tradition and that Jesus and his opponents were talking about such people without much in the way of explanation then it is pretty obvious that the gospel tradition too stands in this massive tradition.

How is Dunn’s thesis more persuasive then? Only on the basis of some passing comments in a intro/pop book but those comments were only there to make one economic point and it is very unfair to set up passing comments on one angle of the problem against a detailed research piece by Dunn. If McKnight had read WCH ch. 3 he would see that I am not in disagreement with Dunn at all. McKnight’s point is very unfortunate because he has again unfairly represented me. It makes be very suspicious of his use of ‘aware’ too.

I have little more to say on this. Like McKnight, I am very annoyed (well, relatively speaking). I am NOT annoyed at polemic (if I were I’d never have published my next book). Polemic is fine as far as I’m concerned, but I’m much less forgiving if it is just hot air (or whatever the literary equivalent is) with unsubstantiated opinion flying. Yet I am not just annoyed at being personally misrepresented. I am also annoyed because I didn’t want this book to descend into cheap, unsubstantiated, misleading, pompous digs that characterises much of the debates between non-believers and evangelicals (or whatever) and I’m afraid that is how I read McKnight’s response in light of my above criticisms.

It is also worrying that Mike Bird says, ‘Let me say that Scot McKnight's rejoinder to Crossley is worth the price of the book alone!’ Well it depends what you want. If you want cheap jibes then yes; if you want an intellectual counter-argument then it isn’t. Quite why Mike gets so giddy, I don’t quite know, but I really hope he isn’t seeing this in terms of some bitching contest than intellectual engagement!

54 Comments:

Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

"the annoying descent into aloofness"

Surely you can only ascend into aloofness!

On a more serious note, a very thorough fisking of McKnight. I shall be interested to see if he or Mike Bird respond.

September 12, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

J West wrote about McKnight: "He goes so far as to suggest that Luke 4:18-19 is the 'famous inaugural sermon of Jesus' (p. 174) and he doesn't even hesitate in saying it. As though we have in that passage the very words of Jesus himself and not Luke the theologian's! 'If this text is paradigmatic for Jesus...' he says, without
realizing that it is in fact NOT paradigmatic for Jesus but for Luke!"

Never mind "about paradigmatic for Luke", isn't West simply saying that Luke was in the game of making the words up? If he is, then I would agree.

September 12, 2008

 
Blogger Jim said...

in the same way that luke constructed the sermons in acts.

September 12, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

cheap jibes remind me of Sarah Palin and Tintin.

I don't think McKnight is any more than just "aware" of any of your other work. I doubt he's even read your thesis as the "date of Mark" was just consequential rather than it's main focus. His main interaction with you is with his invention of you and it seemed almost as if he wasn't any more 'aware' of your contribution to the book than all your other work.

September 13, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

As a United fan, from the poverty stricken north, I can understand your Marxist leanings. But do you look like the poor girl made good Victoria Bekham from the East End? Because if you do you just might be related to Marx himself. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1041751/Poshs-proletariat-past-Victoria-Beckham-descended-Communist-comrade-Karl-Marx.html

All the best comrade Crossley. Don't let the so-and-so's get you down. "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes"

September 13, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Victoria may be descended from the hairy Carl Heinrich Pfaender, a close comrade of Karl Marx. I misread the article - you can read what you want to, a bit like Luke writing what he imagined, if that is what Jim means by 'constructed' - an ambivalent word, typical theologian's speak, don't you think?

September 13, 2008

 
Blogger N T Wrong said...

Jolly good post, old chap!

September 14, 2008

 
Blogger mhelfield said...

As usual, Prof. Crossley, you express yourself very clearly. I am in full agreement with you, and I think your views will be of paramount importance in future seminars on approaching Early Christian History. A professor of mine once explained, with reference to the Jewish 'history vs theology' issue (viz. Rabbinic literature), that historians and theologians simply have to very different standards of evidence. Namely, for conclusions to be authoritative for historians, they must be arrived at in such a way that they can potentially be refuted by other research. This is not necessarily true in all cases for theology, which naturally tends to take certain conclusions on faith.

September 14, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

Yeh! You've been promoted again:-)

September 14, 2008

 
Blogger Leon said...

When Martin Scorsese made "The Last Temptation of Christ", he said in an interview, "Ultimately, it was all a choice between my wrong version, and your wrong version, and somebody else's wrong version." I love Scorsese's films, but not so much that remark. He was just saying all biases are equal and therefore any version of history is equal to all others. At least he was honest about his approach. For over a century now, historical Jesus scholars have used this idea to make sure that history will never be recovered.

I think, James, that you have the right standard in mind: It's all about the evidence — who gives the best account of it, who pays attention to all the evidence, who is busy using an eraser to make sure we don't see certain pieces of evidence. We all have biases and emotions. But some light up the evidence and some keep a considerable amount of evidence in the dark. A bias that reveals evidence is better than a bias that creates darkness about the evidence. That is a good standard for historical or any scientific study.

Despite what one of the people you quote above said, it is possible to read the Gospels with fresh eyes. Those days are not only not long gone, but they have yet to come. Thus, "the antitheses" is a theological bias applied to Matt 5 (You have heard ... but I say) that keeps evidence in the dark. The better approach or bias, because it is more revealing of the evidence, is the one that recognizes that Jesus here is not opposing Jewish tradition, but expressing it, particularly Pharisaic/rabbinic tradition which approached the Torah as a Living Constitution. Jesus is acting like a constitutional lawyer. There is more to be said about this, but this sort of bias reveals both the evidence in Matthew and in rabbinic tradition. Because it sheds more light on the evidence, it is the better historical approach, whereas "the antitheses" is aimed at covering up the evidence.

So I agree completely with you, James, that explaining the evidence is what it is all about.

Leon Zitzer

September 14, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

In her introduction to Vespasian (a tough read), Barbara Levick wrote :

"This is a success story, as medieval traditions about the 'noble Emperor' make clear. In one French, Spanish and Portuguese romance, printed in Lisbon in 1483, Vespasian, a sufferer from leprosy, is cured by the handerkchief of St Veronica, and proceeds to take Jerusalem, avenging Christ and punishing Jews and Pilate; he converts his entire Empire to Christianity."

No doubt this was a bunch of half truths. But perhaps Leon, the extant NT reveals the bias of its Flavian editors. May be there was no 'rabbinnic tradition' at the time of the prophet. May be ex priests were involved in the editorial work of the NT, and we are simply seeing their influence as they wrote or edited under the watchful eye of their Flavian masters. How many priests did Vespasian release? He is supposed to have released Josephus, but I don't believe that for a second. Almost certainly Josephus was a substitute for someone else who was released, such as the high priest Jonathan who of course was killed off in the story. Someone like Josephus who knew the truth about the 'war' would have been disposed of quickly.

I don't know how far James goes in questioning the history, but both Levick and Goodman question the writings attributed to Josephus (upon which most of the relevant history depends) and then blindly cite it as evidence as though they believed it. If a historian quotes those writings as evidence, then one should take it that the historian believes what is cited. In other words one should not allow the historian the luxury of a get-out by prefixing their quotation with something like "according to Josephus", when the historian gives no reason for possibly doubting the evidence.

September 14, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

James,
you have done a wonderful demolition job of McKnight´s faulty logic and arguments. And I can really sense your frustration in dealing with McKnight. As I have said before: enough of these pseudohistorians and charlatans!

September 15, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

How can he be a pseudohistorian and a charlatan?

"Scot McKnight is a widely-recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois). A popular and witty speaker, Dr. McKnight has given interviews on radios across the nation, has appeared on television, and is regularly asked to speak in local churches and educational events. Dr. McKnight obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham (1986), etc.etc.etc.etc.etc.......etc." http://www.jesuscreed.org/?page_id=1137

Better rush out and buy one of his many books! Yet another on the professional circuit promoting himself!

Shouldn't it be http://www.mcknightcreed.org?

September 15, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Amazon say that your book How Did Christianity Begin? with Dr Bird has not been released yet. I have ordered your other book Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins 26-50 CE.

September 18, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Tried to post this on Jim West´s blog but it didn´t get through. Seems like Jim is more interested in just putting forth opinions instead of arguing for them when it comes to really hard questions. Since this might be of interest to James Crossley and others I´ll post it here instead.

Jim,
that thing about "cutting the pork" just popped into my head. Don´t think the phrase will ever get into an english dictionary though. Hehe...
Of course you are fully entitled not to try to persuade me or James as to exactly why we are supposed to let the miraculous into the equation when we reconstruct the birth of Christianity. But I think I am also fully entitled to point out what I think are some fallacies of your argumentation in your otherwise quite excellent review of the book of Crossley and Bird.
One of the major fallacies comes right at the beginning of your review. I am thinking of your claim that Crossley is to fault for "a priori" excluding the possibility of divine activity. The blessed bishop N T Wrong has already pointed out with all clarity that this smacks of a common apologetic ploy. I can´t really speak for James but from what I know of him I don´t believe he is ruling out things a priory with a sleight of hand. As for me I certainly don´t rule out the miraculous a priori, but I have decided to leave it out of my reconstructions of religious phenomena AFTER having studied such disparate things as anthropology, sociology, psychology, parapsychology,brain research and not the least religious texts from different cultures. I have dealt in person with different religious groups. And it is AFTER that that I have come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no evidence for any god or divine intervention in human history. And that is why Jim West or other believers will have to come up with some hard evidence that will stand up for scrutiny as to why secular historians like me or James should take divine intervention into consideration. Maybe Jim will do that in a forthcoming book or some other forum.
In contrast to so many biblical scholars who appear to live in a vacuum where the insights of some of the sciences that I mentioned earlier have never entered and probably never will, I don´t think the same can be said about either me or James.
As for that detestable word "proof" that Jim doesn´t appear to be fond of it is quite true that it is hard to prove or disprove a thing like the bodily resurrection of Jesus or the claim that he is well and alive in the heavenly realms. But I think we secular historians can conclude with near foolproof certainty that the bodily resurrection of Jesus or his precense in the heavenly realms is as much religious phantasy as the claims of the shias that the twelth imam Muhammed is still well and alive in some cave where he hides until his return in glory. And to conclude this a historian really doesn´t need to find the tomb of Jesus or his bones in some graveyard. We can conclude this by looking at the texts the early christians left, seeing the claims made by Jesus and his followers about him and then ask a few commonsense questions. Simple questions like how come that a REAL resurrected master of the universe has one NT writer after another put false prophecies about the endtime and the parousia into books. Childish questions maybe, but I believe that a few childish questions often cut through the maze much more efectivly than a thousand books by Collingwood and his likes.

September 19, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Jim wrote:"he (James) mentions in just a couple of paragraphs, the notion that Jews weren't expecting a suffering Messiah......Crossley's argument is weakened a bit
because he fails to mention, even in passing, the famous Dead Sea Scrolls which do in fact mention a
suffering messiah. Had he presented this bit of evidence he could have completely undermined the argument."

Where is the suffering messiah in the DSS?

September 19, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Geoff Hudson asked:
"Where is the suffering messiah in the DSS?"

Good question! I´ve wondered about that too.

September 20, 2008

 
Blogger andrewbourne said...

Interesting repost I was interested in what your take on Judaisms in the 1 C.E. was in understanding Jesus and Paul. As for your work on `Jesus in an Age of Terror` include any reference to Paul and Empire as I am a MA student presently York St John University looking to a Negotiated model on this subject. I would also like to enquire what engagement with postcolonialism you will take and also engage with Hardt and Negri. I am eagerly awaiting for the book to be published

September 20, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Dr West, I suppose one might see 1QH as containing the moans of some sort of suffering messiah, possibly, I suspect, the high priest and king John Hyrcanus I driven from Jerusalem by a usurper. The writer was having a whinge about 'the prophets of fraud attracted by delusion' (1QH 12:16, Martinez), otherwise, 'lying prophets deceived by error' (Vermes) - classic polemic of a priest against prophets exercising their influence in Jerusalem, presumably over the ruler who had given the writer the boot. This was just the time in the writings attributed to Josephus when all those interpolations of fictitious Pharisees first appear - the editors didn't want us to know that the so-called Pharisees, were in fact prophets.

But the idealised Messiah of the DSS is to be found in 1QSa, The Messianic Rule. There the messiah expected by the Jewish priests is the exact opposite to a self-effacing, suffering messiah of the NT. The language applicable to the Jewish Messiah (there are two) is militaristic and triumphalist, thus:

The Priest Messiah "shall come at the head of the whole congregation of Israel with all his brethren, the sons of Aaron the Priests, those called to the assembly, the men of renown; and they shall sit before him, each man in the order of his dignity. And then the Messiah of Israel shall come, and the chiefs of the clans of Israel shall sit before him, each in the order of his dignity, according to his place in their camps and marches." (Vermes).

September 21, 2008

 
Anonymous John C. Poirier said...

Antonio,

If you really wonder why your post didn't go through on West's blog, it's because he guards the comments section of his blog with a heavy hand. He doesn't let the hard questions go through.

But I must say that I find your confidence in your ability to give evidence with "near foolproof certainty" that Jesus didn't rise from the dead somewhat strange, and all the more so when you tip your hand as to the direction in which you would find that evidence. Do you really think that "[s]imple questions like how come that a REAL resurrected master of the universe has one NT writer after another put false prophecies about the endtime and the parousia into books" are at all probative in this respect? Are you implying that a resurrected Christ must have been an infallible pre-resurrection Christ? This seems to show a fundamental misunderstanding both of the basis of Christ's resurrection (which was that he was raised by God's power, in vindication), and also of the basis of Christ's miraculous and prophetic powers (which were not those of a divine being but rather of an Elijianic deliverer). Neither the resurrection nor the prophecies have anything to do with him being the "master of the universe". (I wonder where you're getting that idea--from Colossians perhaps?) And what's to protect the tradition from gathering all the wrong material in his name, just as happens universally in religious traditions, and just as most commentators suppose to have been the case with the early Christian writings?

September 23, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

John,
yes I had heard rumours before that Jim West rules his blog with a heavy hand, and now I have seen that it is all true.
As for my talk about the resurrected Christ being the master of the Universe, I may have gone a bit too far, at least if we are talking about the theology of Mark, Matthew, Luke and Paul. There God the Father is still master of the Universe and Christ is his appointed viceroy or vezir. And yes, I am certainly implying that early christians like Mark, Matthew, Luke and Paul believed that their resurrected Lord was infallible and allknowing the moment he reached the heavenly spheres. Even the Jesus who walked on earth was almost allknowing, except for not knowing the exact day of the endtime.
And it seems like you are not understanding the logic of my argument. My fundament is the claims of the earliest christians. They claimed that they were constantly in touch (through christian prophets) with the resurrected Lord and that he guided them and gave them truthful information about the present and the future. They also claimed that they were guided by the Holy Spirit (through glossalia etc). By simple logic and a look at the NT texts and a parallel look at the real world I find it hard to believe that claims like that really stand up to scrutiny. We wouldn´t expect real folks from the perfect heavenly spheres to give their followers as much false information as the resurrected Christ and the Holy Spirit has fed christians through the millenia. Which leads me to the conclusion that the resurrected Christ and the Holy Spirit is as much a figment of the human imagination as the shias Mahdi.

September 23, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

"He doesn't let the hard questions go through" - that's a pretty egocentric accusation.

September 24, 2008

 
Anonymous John C. Poirier said...

Steph,

Whether it's egocentric is one thing. Whether it's true is another.

Antonio,

Thanks for the clarification. I'm not sure it counts for much, because the NT view of prophecy within the Church does not hold it to be infallible. Paul well recognized that prophetic messages were filtered through and colored by the understanding (and vocabulary) of the messenger, and that there was no guarantee, in the first place, that a given utterance was even inspired. That's why he said "Judge all prophesyings--hold fast that which is good."

I'm not sure if you're assuming the classical idea of the indefectibility of the Church, and tying that in with the early Christian prophets, but I personally find no support for the doctrine of indefectibility in the NT.

September 24, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

He doesn't prevent "hard questions" from going through. That is your egocentric presumption. Your accusation is both untrue and egocentric.

September 24, 2008

 
Anonymous John C. Poirier said...

Steph,

I don't care one whit if I come across as egocentric. But I do wonder how you can judge the difficulty of my barred questions for West when you don't know what any of the questions were?

September 24, 2008

 
Blogger Jim said...

well john you're right- when the same idiotic repetitions come through i dismiss them. if you and antonio and anyone else who comments has to say the same thing over and over and over you can do it in your own space. i don't have to let you use mine.

i would suggest, though, that steph is right. your whining and antonio's as well are childish. 'my comment wasn't approved... now how will the world know what i think?' here's a tip- start your own blood blogs and spew as you wish. indeed, just cut and paste the same tired remarks over and over again and feel the joy.

oh and one more thing- to prove what a dictator i am, any posts by you or jerez that come in comments will be ignored no matter what their contents from henceforth. that will really give you something to whine about. enjoy yourselves.

September 24, 2008

 
Anonymous John C. Poirier said...

Yikes! Now where can I spend my Saturday nights?

September 24, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

In his "Crossley on Paul", Dr West wrote:

1. "Crossley doesn't make the same error as Lüdemann and insist that Paul is the 'inventor' of
Christianity."

Paul as the inventor of extant 'Christianity' doesn't sound too far off the mark. Rather, I prefer to think of Paul's creator as the founder. But he was not alone. There was undoubtedly a joint effort. This was a large-scale project to convert original prophetic documents to the extant versions. Pauline expansions and interpolations are fairly obvious.

2.Further Jim wrote:"In this section Crossley speaks first of Paul's relationship to the Law, concentrating on the thorny problem of how observant Jews became unobservant Jews who eventually turned the Church
over to unobservant Gentiles. I think he has it right when he sums up the problem thusly: '... earliest
Christianity was faced with the problem of more and more people associated in differing degrees with the Christian movement and not necessarily observing biblical laws' (p. 74). Further, '... if increasing numbers of Gentiles were eating food banned in biblical law [ ] then the movement at Antioch starts looking like a gentile movement and not a Jewish movement' (p. 76)."

Of course the movement in Antioch starts looking like a Gentile movement, because that's precisely the impression the editor wished to create for his history. There was no original meeting at Antioch and there was no original dispute about circumcision or food. If there was a dispute about food then it was about the vegetarianism of the prophets, principally because the prophets rejected animal sacrifices as efficatious. Thus the real dispute between priests and prophets was about animal sacrifices for sins. There was no original mission to Gentiles. All meetings were held either in Rome or Jerusalem between the high priests and the leaders of the Jewish prophets.

Pauline Christianity is not about the 'handing over of the church by unobservant Jews to unobservant Gentiles', it is about the creation of a religion or a cult of Christ Jesus probably by ex Jewish priests and their Gentile Flavian masters, for Gentiles. It was essentially, an imposed takeover, developed from the original prophetic movement.

3.Writes Jim:"This bit of Crossley-an evidence is irrefutable: 'If he [Paul] had made Jesus God surely there would also be evidence of Christological conflicts in his writings. That such conflict is not found indicates that Paul does not quite go beyond anything already done in early Judaism' (p. 84)."

Well this all depends on whether or not you think Hebrews has not experienced the Pauline makeover. And it most surely has.

September 24, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

John,
yes, you are probably right that Paul didn´t hold the prophets in his church to be infallible. But the Holy spirit sure was. I guess Paul used the same lithmus test as Deuteronomy to see if the Holy spirit was really at work - if a prophecy about the future proved to be right then it´s the Spirit, if it proved to be wrong then its not the Spirit. A very convenient way of holding on to the existence of a Holy Spirit since there is no way for sceptics like me to disprove a thing like a spirit that is defined in such an elastic way.
That said I think an early christian prophet like the one who wrote Revelation was dead sure that the Spirit of truth was really speaking thrue him when he got a revelation that Jesus would return soon. He would probably have called anybody who questioned the thruthfulness of his revelation a child of Satan. I think me and other sceptics can live with that...
I also believe Luke thought the spirit of thruth spoke through him when he had the risen Christ and his disciples claim that Isaiah and the other OT prophets testified about Jesus. Today some of us know its nonsense (even Joseph Fitzmyer admits it sort of)but that will not hinder believers from repeating the same nonsense in the church creeds week after week until humanity disappears from this planet.
As for Jim West I think you and me should take it as a badge of honor that we have been totally banned from his blogg. We can live happily with that. Jim has certainly lived up to everything that most perceptive of men - Loren Rosson - had to say about him some months ago on the Busybody.

September 24, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

PS

And it is always wise to question the percevtivity on matters great and small from a guy who thinks Johann Christian Bach was a greater composer than his more illustrious father. :)

September 24, 2008

 
Anonymous John C. Poirier said...

Antonio,

I really don't disagree with anything you're saying in your most recent comments. I even agree that it's nonsense to think that "Isaiah and the other OT prophets testified about Jesus". Unfortunately, the so-called "theological exegesis" movement (including Childsians and Freians of all stripes) is holding out to the bitter end on this one, which is allowing a great deal of intellectual dishonesty to fill our library shelves.

September 25, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

DR WEST ON JAMES CROSSLEY ON THE GOSPELS

Dr West wrote:” Still, he may be right to claim '... that there
are no staggering claims made about Jesus being God in the Synoptic Gospels, in sharp contrast to John's Gospel' (p. 126). He certainly didn't need the support of the very, very late Talmudic texts to make that point. The Church has known ever since it accepted John's Gospel as 'scripture' that it was quite different than the other Gospels."

Dr West makes the brilliant observation that the Church has realised for a long time that John's Gospel is quite different from the synoptics. He might have really excelled himself if he had told us how it was different and why it was different.

If we suppose that both Mark's and John's Gospels are edited versions of original prophetic documents, then we might well think that some reasons for differences are because there were differences in the original documents in the first place. For example, we might think that the original Gospel of John was autobiographical, much of it written in the first person by the prophet himself. In that case, we would expect the prophet himself to be expounding his theology and practice. In prophetic terms, it would be a theological document of high Spiritology. Thus the original John’s Gospel would have been about the Spirit as Lord or God, not about Jesus as God. It was relatively easy for a Pauline editor to change the text about the Spirit to one high Christology, or high on Jesus as God. By contrast, original Mark's gospel was written by a follower of the prophet reporting the Spirit’s activities working through the prophet. In other words, it was less theological.

The Pauline editor of John’s gospel wasted no time to deceive his readers. Thus he wrote his blatant interpolation: ‘There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.’ (John 1:6). So what was the purpose of this literary fictitious John? The editor introduced John to tell us who ‘Jesus’ was: ‘I am the voice of one calling the desert, make straight the way for THE LORD’.

I suggest that in John 1:19, priests were not addressing John, but the prophet himself. They already knew who the prophet was. Thus in the first person: “they came to ask ME (not ‘him’ – the editor’s John) who THE SPIRIT was (not who John was). Verses 1:20,21,and 22 are obvious interpolation. Thus the prophet replied in 1:23,
HE IS (not I am) the voice of one calling in the desert, make straight the way for THE LORD.' " (Is.40.3) The prophet was talking about the Spirit and implying that the Spirit was Lord, and thus was to be heard and obeyed. In other words the Spirit of God was Lord above everything else, including high priests and the Law.

Thus John 1:1-5 was originally the prophets theological thinking about the Spirit of God (very much like the introduction to Hebrews where it is Paulinised as in here John). Thus true to Genesis 1, it was the Spirit of God that was in the beginning. (John 1:1) and it was the Spirit of God (Paulinised to Word) that was Lord. This was the first century revolution in Judaism. The Law and the temple cult of animal sacrifices for sins was being superseded by the cleansing Spirit of God.

So Antonio, the Isaiah text was perfectly valid in the prophetic document.

September 25, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

John,
glad that we seem to be in total agreement at last. But I am a bit curious about the kind of questions from you that Jim West didn´t allow on his blog. I have my doubts if they are really as idiotic as Jim West claims.

September 25, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

The modern rabbi would have just as much difficulty accepting the Spirit of God as Lord as did the priests of the first century. The priests and rabii's would have seen or see the Spirit as the power or influence of God, not as God himself, and certainly not the Lord to be obeyed regardless of any written Law or priestly/rabbinic interpretation thereof. The prophetic view of the Spirit as Lord, was partially assimilated into the later Christian doctrine of baptism in, or receiving of, the Spirit, but only after belief in Jesus, Dr West note. But I will comment on Dr West's "divine intervention" and "Christ of faith" in my next post.

September 26, 2008

 
Anonymous John C. Poirier said...

Antonio,

My questions for West mostly had to do with his minimalist view of OT history. I basically asked him, several times, to give us *some* reason for going along with such a far-fetched scheme, other than the very poorly placed burden-of-proof argument that he keeps hiding behind. We can't just pick and choose where we want to put burdens of proof--their placement must have some correlation with intuition and/or reasoning. Most conspiracy theories (like this one) are counterintuitive, which means that we shouldn't give them the time of day if they can't produce any real arguments.

September 26, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Just a quickie. Here is Dr West's "Christ of faith" and its as pauline as it comes. West can't "cut the baby in two" unless he selectively ignores parts of the NT:

Hebrews:
2.9.But we SEE Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour, because he suffered death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
2.10.In bringing many sons to glory it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make
the author of their salvation
perfect through suffering.
2.11.Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

'Jesus made like his brothers' 2:5 to 2:18 is completely pauline fabricated interpolatiion.

September 26, 2008

 
Anonymous John C. Poirier said...

West's estimation of himself may be even more bloated than we thought. I just visited his blog, and in the upper left corner, it now says:

Jim West
The Historical Jesus?

September 26, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

John,
don´t be too hard on Jim West. He is often fun to read. I specially liked his diatribe on his blog against the 33 pastors who want to endorse a presidential candidate. Sounds like the spirit of god has moved into him to make him speak with the thundering voice of the OT prophets. And I also applaud his prophetic denunciations of the greed and avarice on Wall Street that has led to the present catastrophic finacial collapse. May the Lord soon come with his avenging angels and sweep away all those evildoers to the eternal fires of Gehenna -:)

September 26, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Oops, I forgot to comment on Jim West´s biblical minimalism. Yes, I agree that he often takes his sceptiscism about the historicity of parts of the OT a bit too far. I often get the impression that Jim finds some kind of strange satisfaction in debunking the OT while upholding the very bultmannesque motto that no matter what one finds it will have no bearing whatsoever on ones faith.

September 26, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

Jack - it isn't really surprising that your arrogant repeated rhetoric, as you have articulated above, wasn't accepted as helpful to any discussion on Jim's blog is it? And don't you remember a certain libellous and unscholarly conversation you participated in on another blog a while ago? This bitching session above is reflective of that. It isn't a bad idea to start your own blogs to let your tongues fly rather than using James' blog to carry on your back stabbing childishness. I doubt James would be impressed. He prefers intellectual engagement to bitching contests.

September 27, 2008

 
Blogger Jim said...

it's amusing that instead of discussing james's comments re- mcknight, tony and jackie are spluttering and splattering about me and my review of the book.

how's this for a suggestion: and i mean it in all sincerity-

when tony and jack and loren have read the book and reviewed it, then we can discuss it. how bout that?

till then, isn't it really the thing to do, my little children, to stick to the point at hand rather than your meanderings?

what you've done here is precisely why i find your comments so pointless as to merit exclusion. you don't stick to the topic at hand- but rather, you use whatever topic you find to launch into your silly agendas.

again, then, get the book. read it. heck, if you do that, i might even let you comment!

i'm not a grudge holder.

though tony's insult against j.c. bach comes close to meriting eternal contempt. i mean, really, say whatever you and your chrissy heardian/ loren rossonian cronies want about me- but leave bach alone.

September 27, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Jim,
I will certainly get hold of the book as soon as possible. Although from what I have read of your review Mike Bird and McKnight only seem to be repeating the old, bad, tiresome apologetic arguments that are inbred in evangelical cicles. And to make things perfectly clear. I think you made an excellent job throughout most of your review. Except for the few squibbles I had.
As for J C Bach I only know one work by him that displays harmonic and rhytmic daring - his sturm und drang symphony in g-minor. Try the recording with Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin on period instruments.
And keep up your work flagellating the Bush administration and all those evildoers on Wall Street. I am all with you on that topic.

September 27, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Dr west Wrote:
"it's amusing that instead of discussing james's comments re-mcknight, tony and jackie are spluttering and splattering about me and my review of the book."

What is amusing to me, is, in effect, your complaint. If you insist on giving others your biased views in a book review, what else do you expect? I mean we now know that you believe in divine intervention in the history of the church. So lets be consistent and assume that God is the same yesterday today and forever, and that he reveals to you today what you should pass down to others. And clearly what is the Christ of faith to you is also the Jesus of faith AND the Jesus of history to others. They justify this, and I don't blame them, using the very same NT that you give the appearance of knowing more about than anyone else. You really don't have a leg to stand on. What many folk cannot stomach, Dr West, is that there was no history behind the NT, when all their gut feelings tell them there was. So it's no use you going-on with your nonsense about the NT being only a theological text. Garbled, editied, obfuscated, filled with interpolation, dissimulation and lies it may be, but within the text is real history.

By the way, you seem to have a problem with your shift key.

And I find your little charade with Antonio really amusing.

September 27, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

I actually think Geoff had some sensible things to say in his latest message. Although I don´t always follow his logic on all subjects I think I do on this one.
Yes, I don´t really understand why we should be scolded for raising a few questions about Jim West´s review of the Bird-Crossley debate. I think those kind of questions also belong on the thread that James has opened on this blog. I don´t really believe I need to have read the Bird-Crossley book to ask a question on a thing like what exactly it is that weighs so heavily that Jim West thinks James should have done better to walk down the path of pseudohistory and taken the miraculous and divine agency into the equation. Despite Jim´s assurances that there is no way to actually prove or disprove the miraculous I actually think there is in a lot of cases. An example. There have actually been made scientific studies on groups of people that try to measure the traditional christian claims about the positive effects of prayer. Strangely enough in one of the studies it turned out believers who were hospitalized got sicker the more people prayed for them than nonbelievers who had no-one to pray for them.
And I am fed up with this charade going on all the time in exegetical circles that a historian must suspend judgement when it comes to a thing like the resurrection of a jewish rabbi 2000 years ago. As soon as the miraculous shows up in some old texts (christian or jewish texts of course...) we should thread carefully, goes the old saying. A historian doesn´t have to and should do no such thing. Just like a historian doesn´t have to suspend judgement on the miracles of Vespasian or the twelth imam there is no need to do it in the case of this jewish rabbi either.
Yes, and I think Geoff is right when he raises the question about Jim West´s insistence that the NT texts are ONLY theology. There is no such thing as only theology in the gospels. The gospel are a mixture of theology and history and they are making both theological and historical claims at the same time. Theology and history stand and fall together, despite Jim West´s very bultmannian claims to the contrary.

September 27, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

In fact one could well judge that the type of reporting of Vespasian's miracles by Flavian historians was symptomatic of how other history of the day was conveyed, including that of the NT and the writings attributed to Josephus. Too many modern writers slavishly quote from the writings attributed to Josephus (I can't simply say "quote from Josephus") as evidence without questioning their veracity or whether they are reasonable or not. In his book Why Christianity Happened, (pages 46,47) James is guilty. Martin Goodman in his Rome and Jerusalem is terrible throughout. Barbara Levick in her cryptic Vespasian, avoids explicit quotations but bases much of her reasoning on literal interpretations of cited texts. This is despite her talk of "a particularly thick overlay of propaganda that obscures the truth about the Jewish War, the Year of the Four Emperors, and the entire reign." (page 3).

But of course we are usually led to believe that the 'Christians' had nothing to do with this war and were somehow isolated from it. Some modern writers occasionally give some hints that the prophet might have been regarded as an insurrectionist by priests and Romans alike, but no-one seems to think that this might all be some kind of obfuscation of the truth,i.e. that the real insurrectionists who hated the Roamans were the priests themselves, led by the high priests, and that the prophets (Essenes) were in fact peaceful types (accepting of Roman rule) who were being persecuted by the priests.

I have come to the conclusion that Vespasian's propaganda was such that he had very little to do with any Jewish war, apart from giving the orders to Titus to remove all the gold plating and other artifacts from the sanctuary in Jerusalem before torching the remaining structure.

http://romeandjerusalem.blogspot.com/

September 28, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

The kind of history I see as being embedded in the New Testament is that of a Jewish prophet opposing animal sacrifice in the temple in favour of the Spirit, making the high priests his enemies. Thus I would see the miracle of the cleansing of the man with a shrivelled hand in Mark 3:1-6 as a garbled story in that original historical context inklings of which can be traced back in the writings attributed to Josephus.

The key words (probably subliminal by the editor) are: "To save life or kill?" (Mk.3:4). This was about the prophet opposing animal sacrifice. The "man" was a priest in the temple (not the synagogue) with a caged lamb (not a shrivelled hand). (3:1) The prophet commanded the priest to let out his lamb (not stretch out his hand).(3:5) The priest let out the lamb so that it was completely free(not restored). The question posed by the prophet was "Which is lawful, to obey the Spirit, or to sacrifice, to save life or kill?" It was the high priests who went out, (not the fictitious Pharisees)to plot by themselves (not with the Herodians) how they might kill the prophet. They were out to kill the prophet because he opposed the temple cult. The Herodians (the Great, Agrippa I, and II) were supporters of the prophets, not the priests who wanted to see the backs of their royal rulers in favour of their priestly messiahs.

September 28, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

I have a question for Dr West. Does he think that the prophet drove out animals, that were being bought and sold, from the temple, or did he drive out 'those' that were buying and selling? (Mk.11:17). I happen to think it was the former. I would then ask the question, was it history or was it theology? My answer would be that it was both. Thus the prophet's theology of opposition to animal sacrifice caused him to act as he did, and drive animals from the temple. So to discover the history of the original New Testament you follow that theology.

Now ask yourself, Dr West, what theme stands out above all others in the Epistle to the Hebrews? Is it not opposition to animal sacrifice? Does the Epistle major on the idea that animal sacrifice was being superseded? Well, yes it does. Of course the Epistle is heavily paulinised with the idea that the sacrifice of Jesus had supeseded temple sacrifice and that he had become the great high priest up there interceding. The Epistle must have made Bultmann cry in his beer, or should I say bier.

But if you want to know what/who the writer (probably the prophet himself) regarded as superseding sacrifice, then look no further than the few opening verses of Hebrews which closely parallel the opening verses of the Gospel of John. Clearly, in a Jewish context, those verses were not about Jesus the son of God, but were about the Spirit of God "through whom he made the worlds" (1:2) and who was the radiance of God's glory (sanctuary imagery) (1:3), "the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his power." And, "in these last days God has spoken to us by his" Spirit, not by his Son. (1:1). So Dr West can cry along with Bultmann.

September 29, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Here's another historical idea for the good Dr West to ponder. When the prophet called his 'fishermen' friends, did they leave their nets or something else? The editor wouldn't have romanticised the story by any chance would he? I mean fishermen from Galilee is a little rustic, don't you think? How about the prophet calling priests in the temple to leave their sacrifices? That sounds somewhat more historical. So may be the prophet wasn't walking by remote Galilee (some walk) but in the temple by the altar for animal sacrifices. And the call was for priests to leave their sacrifices and join the prophets. Now these guys were not your rustic fisherfolk which makes historical sense given the documents they produced. Again theology dictated action.

September 30, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

I am looking at West on Casey on Bird on the maniacs of the Gerasenes not mentioned by James in his book on Why Christianity Happened. There is surely some significance in an original Jewish context behind this story.

October 01, 2008

 
OpenID gatesofsplendor said...

Dr. Crossely,

Your Methodological Anarchy reminds me much of William James' pragmatism. I think people in the various disciplines need to realize that their conclusions are not as certain as they think. That positions are always subject to be undermined by more evidence, or issues of epistemology.

I am an orthodox protestant, and I think much of the error in evangelical theological circles stems from a hang over debate with the enlightenment. Evangelicals want a certainty that stems from a strong rationalism ("it is wrong every where and all times to believe anything without sufficient evidence."),but this has been dealt devastating blows by epistemological studies, and various strands of postmodern philosophy. It shocks me that Mcknight does not seem to realize this, even though he is waist deep in the emerging church.

In this respect I have to agree with Dr. West. Christianity is based upon faith. The evangelical may respond that our faith comes from the testimony of the New Testament, but that very evaluation of the New Testament testimony is based on a faith that arises out of those documents.

Just my two cents,

Blake Reas

October 02, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Well it seems like I arrived too late for this party... Even Bach is discussed - this has to be the most sophisticated blog going now. But too many questions for me to answer! Did like the Posh Spice-Marx connection though. Anyway, I'll do the decent thing and stand back and enjoy the fighting.

October 03, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

WEST ON CASEY ON BIRD.

Dr West wrote about and quotes Casey's response to Bird:

"Casey also has issues with Bird's definition of 'miracle' and observes in this connection that Mike '... believes in the miracle stories in the four Gospels, and apparently not in any others' (p. 187). 'He appears to suppose that people believe in all the Gospel miracles or none of them' (ibid.). Casey illuminates the rather odd 'miracle' perspective of Bird by showing, conclusively, that, for instance, the story of the Gadarene demoniac doesn't fit Bird's own definition. 'Mark was not concerned about the geography of the Decapolis. Whether this was in the country of the Gerasenes or the Gadarenes makes the difference between whether the pigs had to run 33 miles, or 6 miles, to get to the lake of Galilee! This tale is a warning to be wary of the wiles of storytellers' (p. 188). Bird is deaf to this nuance,however."

My question is: what are Casey and West deaf to in using such a ridiculous story for any argument whatsoever? Never mind about the odd 'miracle' perspective of Bird, what about the odd attitude of Casey and West to such an odd story, that could never have been real. Casey seems to regard the writer simply as a wily storyteller, never mind any possible malevolent intent. He seems to think it was important that Bird had not considered that the pigs couldn’t possibly have run thirty odd miles from modern Jerash (may be Gerasa) to the sea of Galilee. But did West, Casey or Bird believe the pigs could actually run about 6 miles to the Lake from Gadara (apparently to be identified with modern Um Qeis)? May be the pigs flew. Whatever, the whole notion of 2000 pigs filled with evil spirits running down into the lake and drowning is utter nonsense.

But was this the editor's garbled, expanded, romanticised version of some real event in the life of the prophet entirely in a Jewish and local context? Why remote Decapolis? This was surely just the editor’s fabrication of his Jesus on another mission to Gentiles. The prophet never was in the Decapolis.

Further, according to Dr West, it seems that Casey is critical of Bird for not being able to read Aramaic and thus not able to explain Aramaic idiom. This seems completely out of order, given Casey's use of this miracle story without consideration of a possible real historical underlying Jewish context, especially since Casey acknowledges according to West: 'Mark was not concerned about the geography of the Decapolis' – an almost certain indication that ‘Mark’ was ‘constructing’ (as West might say) this somewhat lurid tale? But what was the editor ‘constructing’ from? In Mark, we usually, don’t get something from nothing. Since West is now a minimalist, he might consider that it was a story expanded greatly from very little.

Assuming there was a real underlying event, for starters we can almost certainly say that the prophet was not raking around the Decapolis, but was where he more than likely was most of the time, that is in Jerusalem. The prophet went across something to the region of the Gerasenes (no doubt changed to the more feasible Gadarenes or Gergesenes in other manuscripts – these regions being at what the editors thought were more reasonable pig ‘flying’ distances from the Sea of Galilee). May be the word Gerasenes is derived from a Greek homonym of a Hebrew or Aramaic word. Gera in Hebrew is usually a name associated with members of the tribe of Benjamin. Were Essenes with a reputation for being peaceful descended from Benjaminites who had learned lessons of going to war, and had a reputation along with the prophet Jeremiah for being ‘peaceful’ towards the foreign invader Nebuchadrezzar (as I believe the first century prophets were towards the Romans). So was the region of the ‘Gerasenes’ in fact originally the region of the Essenes, or the Essene quarter of the city? Did the prophet go across the city from the temple to the Essene quarter? i.e. the quarter where the prophets lived.

Significantly there were about 2000 of the so-called ‘pigs’. (Mk.5:13) who were required to receive the many ‘evil spirits’, indicating that there was more than one ‘man’ who came to meet the prophet (Mk.5:2). The number of 2000 would just about agree with the number of priests in two courses, one course on duty in the temple and the other going off duty. So were these ‘evil spirits’ in fact priests? The writings attributed to Josephus indicate the distinct possibility that priests were being starved by the high priest’s who stole their tithes. And now we are into James’ social origins of early ‘Christianity’. I believe we have here one example of a number of feedings of certain groups of starving priests by Essene agriculturalists (prophets) who could feed themselves. So the “demons” (priests) begged to allowed to eat with the prophets who they observed eating (Mk.5:11,12).

The episode probably says something about the editors. They were ex messianic priests, possibly high priests, who regarded prophets and the priests who went over to the prophets before the war as being as unclean as pigs and in need of cleansing (immersing). But no doubt the story delighted their Flavian masters.

October 03, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

Perhaps you ought to read Casey before leaping to conclusions Geoff. In fact even reading the book in question might help a little bit. At the moment, you have no idea.

October 03, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Steph,

I have only commented on Dr West's review. The book is now on order. So it will be interesting to see if my comments would have been any different if I had read the book.

October 04, 2008

 

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