Free Inquiry into the Jesus Myth–A Follow-up

[Update: see here]

Yesterday I posted about the removal of Thomas Brodie from his position at the Dominican Biblical Institute and his effective censorship by order (link to a repeat of that story here). So far no new details have emerged, though it seems very likely that his removal was due to his expression of support for the Jesus myth hypothesis, arguing that there never was a historical Jesus. In that time, I have not seen too many reactions in the blogosphere, especially focusing on Bible-related blogs. Nonetheless, there are a few responses up, and I want to look at them. Why? You’ll see.

The only two bloggers that I noted who have talked about Brodie’s dismissal (and his scholarship) in a full post were Neil Godrey and Joel Watts. Godrey in response gave the summary argument Brodie used to show the problems with historical Jesus scholarship, and it does illustrate the problems with most of the approaches to the study of the historical Jesus. Neil also links to several other summary posts about Brodie’s arguments concerning the problems with oral traditions to explain the gospels.

Joel, on the other hand, quickly summarized the report, expresses some respect for Brodie’s work (though also thinking he had gone off the rails), but how he ended the short post was surprising. He justifies the removal of Brodie. Apparently it’s okay because his position goes against the mission statement of the institution he was at (oh, which also founded BTW), so his dismissal is allowed. Sure, it’s a shame that Brodie lost his job, but “[t]ough here… really tough.” It also seems to be okay to have him get kicked out because his idea is a conspiracy theory (he says the institute was “taking away the conspiracy theory license”.). Considering that Brodie does not think there was a conspiracy but rather than the first writings about Jesus were not histories but theologies without historical value concerning Jesus rather than a nefarious cover-up of the facts a la Acharya S, this is pretty miserable an excuse. Have an idea most of your colleagues don’t believe? Good enough reason for you to lose your job and be silenced.

There is also the interesting thing that Joel is okay with Brodie’s removal because he didn’t continue to follow the dogmas of that institute. However, part of Brodie’s recent book is to make a theological argument for a Christianity that doesn’t rest of the historicity of Jesus or anything else in the Bible. Part of his argument was that he is still a good Catholic even though the stories of the Virgin Birth are not historical memoirs. But even if Brodie is just too heterodox, is that good reason to be okay with his removal? Would Joel be alright if back in the day Raymond Brown was censored by his church?

Actually, we do have an example of just that with the case of Charles Rollston, which I mentioned previously. Rollston was kicked out of his job at seminary for economic/theological reasons. How did Joel react to Rollston’s dismissal? He wasn’t happy one bit. He showed his angst over this several times (here, here, here, here, and here). The last link I think is the most interesting. Let me quote the part worth highlighting.

The Academic is a critical reader; a critical reader takes Scripture seriously. If one approaches Scripture with an uncritical eye, then the text becomes sullenly humorous.

When Dr. Rollston suggested that many texts, the more so in the Old Testament, marginalized women, he approached Scripture in a serious nature, with a critical eye. He went to Scripture, discovered the importance it still holds, and discussed it. To hide the critical approach to Scripture, to suggest that it is a high crime or other type of misdemeanor, is to take Scripture just just less than serious, but in such a way as one would take a comic book or other pulp fiction alternative.

Approach Scripture with the critical eye, if you want to actually take it seriously.

I wholeheartedly agree. But does this not apply just as much for a serious, academic scholar publishing on the weakness of historical Jesus studies and that the Christ may not have even been a historical figure? Unless Joel wants to saw Brodie does not take the Bible seriously or Catholicism seriously, then the condemnations of what happened to Rollston should be just as strong as condemnations at the Dominicans and their treatment of Brodie.

Similarly, James McGrath had no sympathy for the seminary that dismissed Rollston, nor the other seminaries/universities that have gotten rid of unwanted voices. “If an institution prohibits professors from advocating a particular viewpoint, then even seeming to advocate that viewpoint will be liable to get one in trouble.” And we don’t want that.

Unless it’s mythicism, apparently. While James does say that scholars should be arguing with Brodie, not censoring him, he doesn’t seem to follow that advice. When Brodie’s book was announced, he not only dismissed Brodie’s position but all of his decades of work on the literary relations between the gospels and other texts. And he hadn’t even read the book, let alone shown problems with its logic. Heck, he claimed that arguing for the mythical Jesus would be evidence against the mythical Jesus hypothesis. Right, because adding evidence to one side lowers it’s probability. James elsewhere links to Richard Carrier’s review of Brodie’s book and notes that the argument that Jesus did not exist historically does not necessarily follow from the Gospels being complete myth. However, he completely skips over the fact that Carrier will use Brodie’s arguments for mythicism in a logically sound way, and Carrier thinks Brodie is right about his critiques of historical Jesus scholarship and the use of “oral tradition” as an explanation. So, just skipping the more troubling parts.

So it seems that Brodie’s position cannot get a fair shake among academic scholars of the subject, and they also make excuses for why it is okay for him to be removed. And yet James in his most recent post claims that mythicists just have to publish their arguments in academic fashion and they will be taken more seriously. The secular university system will properly analyze these claims. While that is the ideal, James is evidence that that is not what is happening in academia right now. And why would a scholar who is a mythicist publish on the subject if they have to not only fear being removed from their position or denied tenure, but will be insulted by their peers and find no support for when they are wronged, as Brodie has? You have to wonder why Brodie wanted until late in his life to publicly announce a conclusion he reached 40 years ago.

But in fact mythicists have published their arguments in academic arenas. Brodie has been producing papers, book chapters, and monographs in peer-reviewed venues for decades. His most recent book on the mythical Jesus was also through an academic press and was the conclusion of all his years of work on intertextuality. Similarly, Robert Price has produced articles about midrash in various venues as an explanation for the nature of the stories in the gospels. And let’s not forget the book ‘Is This not the Carpenter?’ which has chapters by those that are either agnostic about Jesus’s existence (such as Thomas Verenna and Kurt Noll) or mythicists (like Bob Price). Richard Carrier has published his Proving History through peer-review, and he has two recent articles that are also to be used to support the Jesus Myth hypothesis (one on Thallus, the other on Josephus not mentioned Jesus at all). Carrier’s book arguing overall for the Jesus Myth hypothesis will be out this year, which will also go through peer-review. Let’s also not forget Thomas Thompson’s The Messiah Myth, also an academic book that puts doubt into the process of historical Jesus research. So when James says that the mythicists are not publishing in the proper venues, that is true for some, but not all, not by a long shot. But considering he can just dismiss all the work on intertextuality done by Dennis MacDonald (not a mythicist!), Bob Price, and Tom Brodie in one fell swoop, I guess the publications just don’t exist.

This is also very much a repeat of what happened to Thomas Thompson when he published his doctoral thesis on the ahistoricity of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament. Go and read his story here. He couldn’t even get his PhD at the university he did his research at (Tubingen), he had opposition when he defended his thesis from outside professors when we was at Temple, and he couldn’t get jobs anywhere for years, and the teaching positions he had were short-lived, his tenure was denied, and he was the most strained from his other colleagues (in fact, his career was hampered by none other than the current Pope, Joseph Ratzinger). I’m glad he finally got an excellent professorship in Denmark, but that was one hell of a struggle for his work, and something that most scholars in his field think he was right about all along.

Did the academy give Thompson a fair hearing when he published his results? Doesn’t look like that was the case at first. It took over a decade until he could be respected, even though his evidence has proved to be persuasive now. And considering almost the exact same thing is happening to Thompson now that he argues that the historical Jesus is not a fact but hypothesis, things seem to come full-circle. Philip Davies notes how Bart Ehrman simply treats the position of Jesus mythicism as ad hominem, something that just shouldn’t even be brought up. Add that to Bart’s and James’s claims that mythicism is just like creationism or Holocaust denial and not worthy of academic freedom (noted in my previous post), and Davies is right: “as the saying goes, déjà vu all over again.”

So when you hear that almost no scholars support the Jesus myth hypothesis, remember that there seem to be more social than academic reasons. You can expect such a person to be hounded, lose their job, and excuses will be made to gratify such restrictions on academic investigations.


5 thoughts on “Free Inquiry into the Jesus Myth–A Follow-up

  1. Tag, Herr Detering!

    Thank you for the kind comments. I don’t know if my nail-hitting will affect the academic community any time soon, but with enough of the right noises things may get better. What can I say other than what ‘Jesus’ said: The truth will set you free (Jn 8:32).

    Vielen Dank.

  2. Detering knows what he’s speaking about. In his own case there wasn’t even a Ratzinger with Catholic dogmatism near – protestant peers aren’t any better, at least not in the German speaking world ….

  3. Pingback: Update on Thomas Brodie | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars

  4. To counteract the inaccuracies of this blog, see “The Jesus of History: The Need for a New Methodology”, The Priest Magazine, August, 2006. The Intrducion to a massive study of the Jesus of History, based on intense historical research and a detailed historical exposition of thde Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

    References include 30 appendices, 20 indicies and an extensiv bibliography, a work still in progress. This author is an armchair critic, a religious bigot, whho is attemtpting to infuse historical studies and the Gospels with atheism, an atheism which originated less than 200 yers ago and a methdology called Methodology Naturalism, which was invented by atheists, propagated by atheists, and defended as Science,.

    Religious bigotry, especially aimed at Christianity, is the raison d’etre of these attacks and are lisping as factual the wild imaginings of a coterie of “scholars are using Science to bolster their atheism, which exists only in their fantasies of a world without God.

    .Father Clifford Stevens
    Boys Town, Nebraska

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