History: Like a Civil Trial or a Criminal Trial?

As many readers will know, I have in the past compared what historians do to what a jury tries to do in a criminal case: prove matters “beyond reasonable doubt.”

Today I reported for jury duty. In the end I wasn’t picked to serve. “Many are called but few are chosen.” During the preliminaries, the judge emphasized the difference between a civil case, in which the standard of proof is “more probable than not,” and a criminal case, in which the standard is the higher one of “beyond reasonable doubt.”

I found myself sitting there wondering which is the better analogy for the level of certainty historians not only seek to achieve, but can reasonably expect to, especially when dealing with matters related to the distant past.

What do you think? Is “beyond reasonable doubt” not only inappropriate in a civil trial, but also unrealistic and/or inappropriate in a historical investigation?

  • Boz

    It’s not one or the other – both approaches can be used.  So we can say: “We are very confident that X is true.  It is likely that Y is true, but there is some doubt.”

  • Beau Quilter

    A critical difference between a civil trial and a criminal trial is the effect of the verdict. A civil trial verdict can result in monetary damages, but never imprisonment or death. A criminal trial verdict may result in a fine, but can also result in imprisonment or death.

    When punishments as severe as imprisonment and death are at stake, it makes sense that a greater burden of proof be required for  a guilty verdict.

    So, in the case of history, what is at stake? 

    In the case of bibliobloggers, what is at stake in the case of biblical history?

    I had a related experience recently. I was called to jury duty and was also not picked to serve. However, the judge happened to be the spouse of a colleague. I knew him personally and had joined him for many social occasions. I found myself wondering if this would present any bias for me in a trial. How much would I be biased if I knew the defense lawyer, the prosecutor, or the defendant.

    What constitutes bias for a religious historian? Is a historian biased in his search for evidence of the resurrection, if he was raised from childhood to believe in the resurrection?

  • Jerry Smith

    I believe those courtroom standards are a lot of hogwash to begin with, and should be dispensed with entirely. The best reasoning will assign a degree of certainty that lies anywhere along a continuum from arbitrarily near “zero” to arbitrarily near “one”. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    The beauty of history is we aren’t depriving or subjects of life, liberty, or property, so the historian need only report what could and most likely occured. Hence while the courts say Stacy Anthony must go free, no historian need report that her kid was killed by mysterious forces.

  • Robert

    I think the answer depends on the quality of the evidence. For instance, there are three different accounts of what happened to Edward II after he was deposed, and the historian has nothing to go on but their own judgement. It’s not satisfying, but it’s all we can do.

  • Anonymous

    It seems that if one is equating validity to an argument that has various interpretations, then, one has to make a value judgment. A civil trial has a different bias, than a criminal one. A criminal trial has already determined that a crime was committed,  and it is a matter of determining guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

    The civil trial is more tolerant toward the probablities than the doubts.

    The realist could not support what was beyond a reasonable doubt, while the idealist could, as the “ideals” are probable realities. I think the argument would correlate to the half empty or half full way of viewing reality. One can’t dismiss what is missing, in the half empty glass, while the other points to what is there in the half full glass!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

    Neither standard is appropriate. The legal reason to have these standards is that, in an uncertain world, actions must still be taken and the rights and obligations of people must be determined … now, not later. There has to be a certain finality in the law. Historians, like scientists, have no “final judgment” to make. They can lay out the arguments and evidence and let them speak for themselves. If new evidence emerges, they can integrate those facts into the study of history and argue over the import of them without having to take any action that impacts the rights or obligations of others.  

    Historians can certainly opine on the strength of the evidence … the existence of Julius Caesar may be beyond reasonable doubt … but that is not a standard historians need to meet. They merely need to honestly and fairly lay out the evidence they are relying on, so that others can judge it.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    What do you say in response to James Crossley when he writes that “fact finding . . . stands in contrast to the ways in which historical reconstruction
    has been practised in other disciplines in the humanities . . .” or when Anthony Le Donne writes “History, as a discipline of knowledge, is not what happened in the past,
    it is an accounting of how the past was remembered and why”?

    In what other fields of history do historians expend as much effort attempting to establish what a person did or said to degrees of probability “beyond reasonable doubt” or less?

    Is history really such a trial?http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/is-history-a-trial/

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Both Crossley and LeDonne are responding to a major shift in thinking about history, and encouraging those in the field of Biblical studies (a field in which historical methods are one of the sets of tools used) to participate in this shift sooner rather than later. Fields that depend on methods in particular disciplinary areas have been known to experience a lag between the adoption of new methods in that discipline and their adoption in the field in question.

    As for why there is such a focus on establishing the historicity of matters to as high a degree of probability as possible in this particular field, I would say it probably has to do with, on the one hand, the desire of religious believers for certainty, and on the other hand, the fact that there are those (such as mythicists) who seek to hold matters of history related to Biblical studies to a higher standard of evidence than is applied to any other area of history, or is indeed feasible.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      James, you did not respond to my second question. Was there are reason for avoiding that?

      Q. 1  I asked: “In what other fields of history do historians expend as much effort attempting to establish what a person did or said to degrees of probability “beyond reasonable doubt” or less?”

      I would be interested in those other historical fields you infer are “responding to a major shift in thinking about history”? What are a couple of examples of these fields?

      May I ask another question?

      Q. 2  Would you like to clarify what you understand is the nature of this shift that is occurring in historiography outside the area of biblical studies and that biblical studies must catch up with? (Is my question accurately reflecting what you said?)

      I ask because neither Crossley nor Le Donne give the slightest indication thare are discussing “recent” changes at all but are addressing fundamentals of history as have long been understood — Crossley even quotes historians to support his view who go back many decades! He sounds like he is addressing history the way it has been taught outside biblical studies since the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Do you dispute this?

      Q. 3  Finally, can you avoid dragging in your obsession with mythicism? This question has nothing to do with mythicism. In most discussions I have made on historical method I have attempted to point out that the methods I address are those of historical disciplines as taught and practiced generally in history departments for the better part of a century now. I have referred to other biblical scholars who seek to bring biblical studies up to the standards of history as practiced in nonbiblical fields.

      Q 4.  If unable to answer Q. 3 in the affirmative, can you respond to this one. I have not seen a single argument by anyone anywhere requiring Jesus studies adopt a higher standard than non-Jesus studies, so can you cite a single instance to support your claim?

      • Anonymous

        But the history departments are all wrong, particularly about history of the early first century ‘christians’ and the so-called war against Rome.  So why is that?  And where does it leave you.  A classical historian who is wrong is Martin Goodman in his Rome and Jerusalem. 

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      James, none of the nastiness of our exchange would have arisen, I am sure, had you refrained from having a gratuitous jibe at me in your “such as mythicists” remark to my initial question and following it up with your second reply in which you condescendingly told me in effect I was too lazy or ignorant to understand a proper reply.

      It would also have helped had you responded with clear concise direct responses to my comments instead of writing obfuscating bull. If something is not your specialty then why not have the honesty and humility to admit it rather than go on the attack against me and my character and carry on as if it is beneath your dignity to give a direct answer.

      That would have left me with no reason or interest in calling you out on your ignorance and prevarication.

  • Jchalmers

    E.P. Sanders represents a high standard to repair to. It seems to me that he has a strong hankering after “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and also settles for “merely probable” when he has to. At the end of Jesus and Judaism he comes up with a list where he finds several important assertions about Jesus–most notably, that he was apocalypticist (and one might add, an exorcist)–to be true beyond reasonable doubt.

  • Anonymous

    A civil trial is what history does to facts, while a criminal trial is what a religious believer does to history!

    • Anonymous

      and the “crime” for a religious believer is to distort THEIR FACTS! This is called ‘heresy”. We all know what happens to those that are prone to try those that aren’t “true” to the “Faith”! Civility understands that differences are allowed in free societies and that people will differ in their opinions and commitments to the facts.

  • Gary

    I find it an interesting comparison….civil, “more probable than not”, and criminal, “beyond reasonable doubt”….guidelines given to the jurors, but as I remember, the final verdict is what counts. Civil, I think is about 3/4′s, and criminal is unamimous. So in the legal system, the difference between civil and criminal, is 9 out of 12, verses 12 out of 12 “opinions”. Three votes only. Lucky we do not determine historical truth, or scientific truth, by 9 out of 12, or 12 out of 12. If you happen to get the wrong 12, you might have creationism selected over evolution :-)

    At least we’ve advanced beyond the OT laws, where two witnesses get you stoned to death. Talk about tough love.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Neil, you might want to begin by exploring the background to the shift away from positivistic historiography in the discipline of history. Then you might be able to better grasp what is behind the arguments made by some recent authors such as Le Donne and Allison. They may leave a lot unsaid because they are writing primarily for those who work in these areas and are familiar with the ongoing discussions, the ways things have been done in the past, and the challenges to those earlier ways of doing things. Le Donne’s advocacy for a postmodern approach to history is not something that reflects his own idiosyncratic viewpoint, but is part of a wider shift in thinking about the best practices in historical research.

    “Goes back many decades” is “recent discussion” in the scholarly realm. For the top journals and for books there can be a lag of years between the scholar doing research and writing on a topic, and the appearance of what they wrote in print in one’s library. Scholarly conversations take decades, not months. 

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      James, you are addressing a student of modern and ancient history who is reasonably familiar with debates and discussions in historiography since the 1960′s.

      Instead of responding as if I am too ignorant to be informed of a succinct answer can you please respond to each of my questions in an informative manner? I do not mind at all if you use technical and big words if that is what is worrying you and keeping you from a straight answer. I really think I will be able to understand them or very quickly familiarize myself with any such concepts you have in mind in this field. Those movements you speak of over the last decades you can simply refer to in shorthand by the names of their chief exponents or technical term.

      So can we try again?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Given the Associate Professor’s appalling ignorance about the evidence for the historicity of Shakespeare, I have decided it time to stop overlooking a lot of other little details I have overlooked along the way.

      Another recent one was this professor’s statement:

      Neil, you might want to begin by exploring the background to the shift
      away from positivistic historiography in the discipline of history. Then
      you might be able to better grasp what is behind the arguments made by
      some recent authors such as Le Donne and Allison.

      May I advise the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair that if he makes the least effort to learn a little of historiography over the past 200 years and find out for himself when that “shift” did in fact occur and what has long since replaced it.

      He chastises me for being still stuck in von Ranke days but in fact is making a false accusation, had not even heard of von Ranke till I mentioned his name, and demonstrates by his own reference to positivistic historiography that it is he himself who is still stuck in von Rankeism.

      But I suspect he has no idea what this means so this post will mean nothing to him.

  • Anonymous

    James, you are affirming the method of consensus among scholars? This is not the majoritarianism of popular opinion, which comes to accept a lot later what scholarship finds to be a consensual viewpoint? Does this mean that “new knowledge” is framed differently when one talks about history and that is how history comes to evaluate and change over time? Isn’t it more likely that something is found in archeology that makes an impact upon the re-framing?

    Post-modernity is theologically oriented, not historically, because it is not based in archeology, but in psychology. And such is what mulit-culturalism is about, isn’t it? I don’t see how one can affirm collective society above individual rights. Collectives are what make for ethnic cleansing, genocide, heresy trials and a whole host of problems! I don’t think that “God” is a good beginning, nor is “the human”, as we can’t prove one, and “the human” is still being investigated….

    Individual rights, law, and the nation state is where the West has “rested” and should remain, unless we want to undermine and undo everything that the West has stood for! Tribal identities and mentalities will always exist, but we should never determine our ideals upon these collective opinions…..

  • Mark W Whitten

    I believe that Richard Swinburne has argued that the standard      is “more probable than any competing explanation” - even if      the  ‘more probable explanation’ is NOT “more probable than not.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Neil, if you are familiar with the field of history then presumably you know what I am referring to. In which case, I am not sure why you asked your original question.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      James, the reason I asked my original 2 (TWO) questions was because I find your statements about history strange and inconsistent with what I ready by some other biblical scholars about the nature of history as it is practiced both within biblical studies and beyond. I am referring to names such as Crossley and McKnight, and here to a statement by LeDonne that is NOT addressing “recent changes” in history at all — nor is Crossley. Nor is Crossley addressing “recent changes” in history.

      I put it to you that the reason you refuse to anwer my questions is that as I came to reluctantly suspect some time ago you, like many other biblical scholars, know next to nothing about the practice or philosophy of history as it is understood and practiced outside your special field.

      I do not fault you for initial ignorance but this discussion has been going on for some time and you have had plenty of opportunity to acquaint yourself more fully with the nature of history beyond that backward-pop idea of it being “about learning or finding facts”.

      I put it to you that the reason you reply twice with a brush-off and refuse to answer the questions is because of your inability to confirm that you do know anything about the debates in history from E. H. Carr to Hayden White. I put it to you that you do not even know anything about the nature of historical practice since von Ranke.

      I never heard of historical method being described in the way you describe it until I began reading works by biblical scholars.

      The quotations I began with from Crossley and Le Donne are NOT addressing “recent changes” but something far more fundamental about the “nature of history” itself quite independently of “recent changes” to the way it is approached.

      It is your obsession with mythicism, I suggest, that is preventing you from engaging honestly in a discussion about method that you fear just might open a gateway to leaving the historical Jesus possibily irrelevant in historical studies.

      • Anonymous

        “I came to reluctantly suspect some time ago you, like many other biblical scholars, know next to nothing about the practice or philosophy of history as it is understood and practiced outside your special field.”  

        It is practiced the same inside and outside the ‘special field’, wrongly, probably because classical historicists (on the outside) are wrong.   An attempt at a more honest approach has been by Kokkinos, The Herodian Dynasty.  Golb has some interesting ideas, one of which is the Jerusalem origin of the Scrolls. 

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Actually, let me suggest that you are now perhaps trying to put a more positive spin on your questions because they inadvertently illustrated a lack of awareness of the current state of the field of history. You don’t seem to have gotten much beyond von Ranke in your approach to history, and I think that is perhaps one reason why you continue to either misunderstand or misconstrue what Biblical scholars have written about history as it relates to our field. At the very least, even though you mention names connected with a post-positivist approach, you still seem to consider those New Testament scholars who embrace such a perspective as reflecting some shortcomings unique to the subject of e historical Jesus, rather than reflecting the broad trend in the discipline of history that it does.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      LOL! Oh James, and this from someone who never seemed to have heard of Von Ranke and certainly never heard of his most famous maxim until after you started discussing this topic with me! I began this discussion with the one philosopher of historiography I cut my own teeth on in my first year of history studies as an undergraduate — see http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/historical-facts-and-the-very-unfactual-jesus-contrasting-nonbiblical-history-with-historical-jesus-sham-methodology/ — and have discussed other major historical figures since.

      If I have misconstrued anyone then instead of just saying I have misconstrued show me where — cite the posts and the manner in which I have misconstrued.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      James, instead of going on the offensive how about just taking a deep breath and a few minutes to answer my questions. Instead of saying I have not got much beyond von Ranke how about addressing the names I did raise in my questions?

      Pick any historian — you choose — since 1961 who has made a significant contribution to the philosophy of history and let’s discuss their views in the light of the issues raised by Crossley or McKnight.

      • Anonymous

        “Pick any historian — you choose — since 1961 who has made a significant contribution to the philosophy of history and let’s discuss their views in the light of the issues raised by Crossley or McKnight.”
        Crossley is a naive literalist if ever there was one.  He is so wrapped-up in Jewish post first century literature, upon which Neusner casts considerable doubt.     

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I am not eager to get in a conversation with someone who has a persistent habit of reading things I never intended into what I write, and assumes I am unfamiliar with things and then quickly moves to treating his assumptions as though they are established facts.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      If you tell me what I misread I will certainly apologize.

      I don’t assume you are unfamiliar with historiography as practiced outside biblical studies — exchanges with you over time have demonstrated your lack of familiarity. A little humility would have saved you embarrassment.

      Meantime, I have decided to do a series of posts on some major historiographical thinkers since 1960 and how they relate to what is practiced in biblical studies. Keep an eye out for them — I am sure you will learn something interesting.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Presumably if you were as well versed in history as you claim, the writings of historians working on the topic of the historical Jesus would not be so impenetrable to your attempts to understand them – unless, of course, you understand but deliberately misconstrue.

    But at any rate, I see no chance of successful conversation with someone whom I know only through the internet and yet who believes that he can interpret my conversation with a friend in the history department more correctly than that colleague and myself who actually participated in it. Unless your confidence in your long-distance mind-reading skills diminishes, pesumably there is no need for me to say anything further to you.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Pity. I kind of hoped you would point out where you believe I do misconstrue — let alone “deliberately”.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Oh Neil, it is ever so emtertaining to watch you offer patronizing advice to others that you would do well to heed yourself.

  • Dr. Jimmy

    Dr. McGrath: As a J.D., with a plethora of courtroom experience in both civil and criminal arenas, and with a Ph.D. in theology, I address your standard of proof query, supra., by stating that history is only as good as the recordation that allows analysis from what ever perspective [systematic] is chosen. If the record is scant, the exegesis must be based on what is there. If posits are based on careful analysis of the evidence, the scales tip in favor of a view.  
    Civil law has less riding on it in terms of the state’s infringement on personal rights and liberty,hence the high degree of proof requirement in criminal cases because the state/government is the plaintiff and the constitutional protections have been developed to protect from violations of our rights as citizens, e.g., 5th Amendment protections. Civil law is based on who tips the scale only slightly in their favor, based on the proof. The quantity issue is minimized since, any proof, is to be received if admissible and weighs in favor of the profferor. However, as to a purely historic assessment, we are not trying to unbalance the judicial cross beam to see who wins the battle of proof; we are trying to assess that which is before us as scientists and not as highly charged advocates for a client.  As long as what we can gleen is trustworthy and has a qualitative meaning, we are satisfied at the method. Historians are not attempting win a judicially sanctioned contest in a courtroom.
    Your question is outstanding, but the context must be clarified, which I have tried summarily to do, supra. History’s purpose is not do decide a winner, it is to glean practical meaning from the examination of evidence, however grand or paltry. We should hence, look to the quality of the historical evidence and not the weight, respectively. Beyond a reasonable doubt is as close to 100% as we can get and fairly unreasonable as history goes as I see it. Moreover, Christian history fails to support many positions that are a fortiori, presuppositions of the faith in light of a/ the lack of evidence on point and b/ the question of authenticity and trustworthiness of what is there. The evidence for the historical Jesus is scant, is my point, yet by faith, we understand what is there differently, that which our scientific buddies cannot fathom for want of revealed inspiration.  This may be less so in other historical investigations, but many of our faith based investigations fall, for reasons only God understands, for want of both quantity and accuracy. Thankfully our pure faith is not based on emperical evidence, but on the revelatory witness personally from the Holy Spirit to man in a way, “past finding out.” Hebrews 11 tells us faith is what pleases God, not science.  While disturbing to the secularists, faith without purely courtroom quality evidence,  still works for over a billion members of earth, does it not?  
    Please contact me at JFJJS@aol.com should you or your bloggers get a bee in the bonnet to comment.
     Dr. Jimmy Jordan

  • Jfjjs

    By the way, as Rodney King once said, “Can’t we all get along?”

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Simply saying what I said to you back to me doesn’t illustrate a comprehension of the field of history, nor constitute an actual criticism of what I wrote.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      You are right, James. Simply saying it doesn’t do either. I have been begging you to demonstrate a little knowledge of historiography. You poo-pooh me whenever I address names and methods, but you never demonstrate the slightest knowledge of historiography outside biblical studies yourself. It is your twin tactic of ad hominem as a response to evidence of knowledge on my part plus silence when called upon to demonstrate your own knowledge that speaks volumes.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    No, that’s not what happens. You mention names, typically from more than a century ago, which for all I know may have been the focus of classes you took at some point, or books that you were able to read for free online, or names you’ve come across on Wikipedia. Whichever is the case, you show little understanding of how the field of history has changed in recent decades, and so misunderstand what mainstream scholars in my field write.

    Feel free to actually discuss the postmodern historiography in which the leading scholars examining the historical Jesus are participants, if you are so inclined. It would make it possible to believe that you are someone with whom one can have an informed conversation about these matters.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      :-) Nice, James. You know I have majored in history and you have referred you half a dozen times to my discussions of Carr, Elton and Hobsbawm and others — you never did take me up on an informed discussion of any of those.  And yes, as for the postmoderns, I do have a few blog posts in the pipeline, with particular reference to postmodernist Le Donne. You have embarrassed yourself over your attempts to bring von Ranke and Hobsbam into conversations. I would not recommend you try anything with the postmodernists.

      As I recently told you, keep a look out for my discussions of historiography — you might learn something.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    As might you by actually reading the things people write, instead of always trying to twist what we say. For instance, when I asked you why you considered that when a friend who is a historian used words that are also used by von Ranke in a sentence, but in a different context and in a different way, he was citing and affirming von Ranke’s approach to history, you failed to understand this as a question about why you made assumptions about a conversation in which you were not a participant, and instead plowed ahead by making more assumptions about what my friend meant and what I have and have no read, and seem to persist in doing so to this very day.

    On the subject of Hobsbawm, perhaps if you actually read my post – and Hobsbawm’s book rather than the one pull quote that you like so much – you too will learn something, if not about other things then about how historical methodology is discussed. Hobsbawm’s book in both editions is part of a conversation, and simply pulling a quote from it does not show that you have grasped what historians do, or the very fact that historians disagree at times about the appropriate conclusions to draw on the basis of certain kinds of evidence. 

    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2011/01/eric-hobsbawm-vs-mythicists.html

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Do you grasp that Hobsbawm believes that in some instances, even though there may be a significant divergence between the real bandit and the myth, the individual may legitimately be viewed as historical? You didn’t seem to grasp that point in your post, which obviously undermines any attempt to hijack Hobsbawm into the service of mythicism.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Yes James, I understand that perfectly and that is exactly what I have been saying. Your apparent obsession with mythicism appears to be clouding your ability to read anything I have written.

      Can I repeat it again for the umpteenth time. My argument is not about mythicism but about method and I am no more bringing Hobsbawm into the “service” of mythicism than I am bringing Schweitzer into the side of mythicists with his quote.

      But what you fail to grasp is that Hobsbawm makes a clear distinction between historical bandits who have had the legendary features accrue to them and fictional ones who appear only in novels or folklore. And you fail to appreciate his argument for and reliance upon analysis of sources to make this difference.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    And you fail to grasp which of the two cases Jesus more closely resembles. Or perhaps you don’t, since your arguments are “not about mythicism.” Except perhaps when they are. But of course, you won’t acknowledge using the ploy that is familiar to those who have visited certain creationist blogs and web sites, where the blog author always says that he is “simply exploring ideas” and “not promoting creationism/intelligent design” so that he can quickly disown any argument that seems to be receiving damaging scrutiny.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      No McGrath. There is simply no need for your nasty tone. I am not the first to point out that you have such an unhealthy obsession with mythicism that you see its contours everywhere even where it’s not. You see it in Carrier’s post where it doesn’t exist and you see it often in mine where it is not addressed and you even see arguments in my posts that are simply not even on their radar. And when I point this out to you you insist you are right and I am being dishonest! Your approach is entirely jaundiced.

      I address Hobsbawm for the reason that he makes explicit what he is doing while most others leave such things unsaid. I am all for removing the study of Christian origins from a status of exceptional methods (ones that you even say are “pioneering” in the field of historiography — while at the same time acknowledging — at least implicitly — that historical Jesus studies is still rooted in positivistic Rankeanism and Eltonianism!) and studying it through the same methods historians approach other topics — and documents.

      You recently even suggested I am merely cherry picking from the internet. Is this projection on your part given your own recent public humiliation over your “Shakespeare mythicism” rubbish that was sourced entirely from your own projections in relation to online movie reviews? Or your advice that readers study books behind a web article on historical method when that main book was accepting the supernatural in history? No, if you want to know where my information comes from just read my blog or visit my personal library: http://www.librarything.com/home/neilgodfrey . And yes, it is easy for anyone slightly informed about historiography and even Shakespeare to see through your obsession.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I don’t see how blogging occasionally about mythicism, and addressing the issue of mythicism when interacting with the few people who have expressed their support for it, constitutes an obsession.

    How historical Jesus study can still be rooted in positivistic historiography and yet have key voices advocating a postmodern approach – and be criticized for both by you as you claim that historical Jesus scholars are not using the methods of other historians, is difficult to understand. Perhaps you could clarify how your stance on this is not a self-contradictory one?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Your obsession shows when you so regularly mis-read those posts, books and articles that appear to come close to a particular theme — it is as revealing as a Rorschach test.

      Post modern historiography was not what you were referring to when you spoke of NT historiography “pioneeting” the field.

      Surely your question is unnecessary. You surely know as well as anyone that the field is not monolithic. Why do you even ask such a question? You know very well — and you can name names of scholars in your own field (as well as I can) who write about it — the state of historiographical understanding in New Testament studies is a mixed bag with a certain ignorance of the philosophy and methods outside biblical studies predominating.


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