In the process of preparing for my talk about the historical Jesus and the Jesus myth hypothesis, I considered bringing up the difficulty in talking about the subject in an academic setting. Since there is a preponderance of Christians in this area, and they believe in a historical Jesus, which also is at the base of their religious convictions, then that can produce a bias. But that seemed a bit of an ad hominem and a genetic fallacy. But perhaps I should reconsider.
As I have been alerted by Neil Godfrey, who links to an article in the Irish Sun, there has been a significant event in the life of Thomas Brodie. As I had mentioned in my book review of his autobiography, he came out in public for the first time on the side of Jesus being a myth and the Gospels all being fictions. He also called into question the authenticity of all the epistles. Now it seems that he has been removed from the Dominican Biblical Institute, a center which he helped create for research purposes. Brodie is also, according to The Sun, not allowed to lecture, teach, or write while a probe in his order, the Dominicans, is under way, an investigation that is said to possibly be done and known by the end of next week. Brodie was not successfully reached for contact by the journalist. [Update: see here]
So, quite literally, Brodie is being shut up by his order. The book caused a stir, and now he is forced out. This is utterly disgusting. Brodie has been publishing for decades in peer-reviewed journals, has produced academic monographs, and has worked with other scholars such as Dennis MacDonald in advancing the use of memesis and intertextuality in understanding ancient literature, especially Christian literature. He was no hack, and he seems to have been respected by others in his field. He also had students, basically being a good professor.
So is this how institutions are going to deal with ideas they don’t like? Well, unfortunately, that may be so. Bart Ehrman last year when promoting his book Did Jesus Exist? said that the view that Jesus didn’t exist was so wild and against the consensus that no one having that view could get an academic position; it would be like giving a young-earth creationist a university post in biology. As if the evidence for Jesus was anything even comparable to the evidence for evolution and the age of the Earth (and Ehrman’s research was unfortunately poor at best, making his position on Jesus as unfounded as any mythicist’s). James McGrath seems to side with Ehrman and considers the call for academic freedom a creationist tactic. That creates intimidation for anyone who may be persuaded that Jesus was mythical to come out at say so, making an apparent consensus that Jesus was real according to academics, feeding the ridicule of anyone who says otherwise.
And so it seems in the case of Brodie, that intimidation is real. He took a risk in coming out as a mythicist to the public (something he otherwise only intimated in private, according to his memoir), and how he has been kicked out. A disgrace.
But this isn’t the only relatively recent purging of the unwanted. Last year there was the story of the removal of another scholar, Christopher Rollston. He is not mythicist, but a mainstream scholar, respected by his peers. But apparently he was removed from his position. Why? Apparently, it was because the seminary he was at wanted a large monetary donation, and part of the deal was the removal of Rollston. What had he done that was so troubling? Supposedly his article about women in the Bible was not what the donors wanted (it made the Bible look bad), and that was the trigger. He has gotten support for his peers, but he was removed nonetheless.
If we go back just a little further in time, I had talked about another case of witch hunts in biblical studies, though here it was confined to evangelicals/fundamentalists. In that case, Mike Licona was kicked out of the Evangelical Theological Society because he wouldn’t without doubt say that the dead saints coming to life in Matt 27 were really, really, REALLY real. That was enough for Norman Geisler to push for his removal, which was successful. Licona did have supporters, but some would not help him publicly lest they also be the target of persecutions. In that same blog post, I talked about another evangelical removed from his position because he believed in genetics and thus the impossibility of the human population ever being down to a handful of people, as suggested by the Adam and Eve (or Noah) story.
Add all this up, and it looks like there are powerful forces in biblical studies that actively suppresses the views it does not like. Instead of having papers written to rebut claims that are against the consensus, we have the crushing of academic freedom. From the harassment of comparing Jesus mythicists to creationists or Holocaust deniers, to the removal of funds to seminaries not saying the right things, to the actual removal of dissenting voices, there are institutional problems.
This isn’t totally new, either. Back in the 1970s, Thomas Thompson was hounded for arguing that the patriarchs of the Old Testament were not historical, and he could not get a job anywhere (he had to become a house painter for some time). This is a point made by Philip Davies, noting the striking parallels between now and how Thompson’s beliefs were treated (and how it seems to be repeated at Thompson concerning Jesus!). Go back further to 19th century Germany, and you had skeptical biblical scholars like David Strauss losing his professorship; Bruno Bauer, an early mythicist, was also kicked out of his profession. Return to modern Germany, and Gerd Luedemann loses his post for not believing in Jesus.
I think this should bring up the call made by Hector Avalos in his The End of Biblical Studies: the way the study of the Bible is currently done has to change if it is to be a respectable, academic discipline rather than a wing of religious institutions. In the mean time, when the scholars do come to some consensus position, such as on the historicity of Jesus, can we really trust that the reasoning process if valid if we have evidence that dissenters will be hounded and removed? Unless the academy can get its act together, it will lose their authority.