Hurtado Again on Did Jesus Exist


The “Did Jesus Exist” Controversy–Encore
by larryhurtado

Well, in the four days since I posted my weariness with being asked to engage erroneous statements and often re-treaded claims by a new mini-circle of people attempting to deny that there was a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, there has certainly been some lively interest. I’ve tried to engage serious comments and queries, but it remains to be seen whether those to whom I’ve responded are really interested in considering matters patiently and with respect for historical method. A few further observations here on the discussion:

We’ve had examples of the erroneous, but confidently asserted, claims on which the “mythicist” stance seems to rest. E.g., no evidence of Nazareth as a real village (cf., e.g., J. L. Reed, Archareology and the Galilean Jesus, 131-32; J. L. Rousseau & R. Arav, Jesus and His World, 214-16); or that a figure called “Jesus” was an object of religious devotion before early Christianity (no evidence of this at all); or that statements in Paul’s letters about Jesus’ brothers were later interpolations (no text-critical support or in scholarship on these texts), etc.

Perhaps the most puzzling claim, that would be amusing were it not apparently asserted so seriously, is that sometime in the 1980s a massive conspiracy (by “New Evangelical” interests) engineered the appointment of scholars in departments of Religion, Classics, Ancient History, etc., and that it managed to skew scholarly opinion, even among Jewish scholars and people of n0 religious affiliation, to support the historical existence of a Jesus of Nazareth. Hmm. That’s right up there with the notion that the Twin Towers were destroyed by the CIA! (Is there something in the drinking water nowadays in some places?) Certainly, many of those who have engaged the current “mythicist” issue (e.g., Maurice Casey) would be surprised to learn that their views have been shaped ingeniously without their knowing it by this “New Evangelical” cabal eager to prop up traditional Christianity!

It’s Friday, and I’ve still got to finish that essay I mentioned earlier this week, so I won’t linger. But it’s an interesting sociological (or pycho-social) question as to what makes some people feel the need (and it does seem to be a need) to exert such efforts to go against the rather solid judgement of qualified scholars in the subject, whatever their religious persuasion. What is it that leads some to prefer the assertions of people with no established scholarly reputation or recognition in the disciplines in question? And why the zeal and fervor of some of those who buy into these assertions? Perhaps a good question for some graduate student in sociology.

Anything is open to question, of course. But to engage the sort of questions involved in this discussion really requires one to commit to the hard work of learning languages, mastering textual analysis, text-critical matters, historical context of the ancient Roman period and the Jewish setting of the time, archaeology, and more. And we know when someone has done this when they prove it in the demands of scholarly disputation and examination, typically advanced studies reflected in graduate degrees in the disciplines, and then publications that have been reviewed and judged by scholarly peers competent to judge. That is how you earn the right to have your views taken as having some basis and some authority. I’m not an expert in virology, or astro-physics, or a number of other fields. So, I’ll have to operate in light of the judgements of those who are. Why should I distrust experts in a given subject? Why should I term it “intellectual bullying” if scholars in a given field asked about a given issue state the generally-held view in a straightforward manner, and ask for justification for rejecting it?

Anyway, as I say, it’s Friday. So, got to get some work done on that essay, and then . . . home for a gin & tonic and an evening relaxing with my wife . . . and our mischievous cat.

  • Jon Altman

    Outside of some very rarefied academic circles, is this even a real question?

  • Laura Kollar

    Ben,
    Just read the blog about Mormonism not being a form of Christianity. Thanks for this.
    While on the Navajo Reservation, Bill and I encountered many new Christians who had been presented with the notion that Mormonism is just another denomination of Chritianity. (Needless to say, most Navajo do not see the point of having several Christian denominations.) So, yes, it is a real question, and one begging clarification, especially for those new to the faith. Perhaps it is just as important for some who have forgotten Christian history or those for whom doctrine has become blurred. Thanks again.

  • Ben Witherington

    So nice to hear from you Laura. Hope you and Bill are well. BW3


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