Neil Godfrey has a post in which he once again makes fun of my name (at least more creatively than last time), but also provides an opportunity for himself and his commenters to illustrate once more how mythicism and creationism are similar. He questioned my suggestion that, whereas in a US court of law “hearsay” (i.e. a report from one person which offers an account of what another person said who is not testifying in person in the court) is generally inadmissible, historians will often make use of second-hand or even more distantly removed reports if that is all that they have, and simply note that as a result the reliability of the information is less certain as a result.
The comments which follow the post include not only the usual sorts of false accusations and attempts at labeling and ad-hominem arguments, but even insults against my colleagues in the history department at my university! There is also a description of what religion departments are at secular universities that would dismay members of SBL. I won’t encourage anyone to go over and try to explain mainstream scholarship, since I’ve tried and failed before. But if you’re so inclined, feel free – if you’re lucky, you may get an amusing insulting nickname as a reward!
So here once more are the mythicist-creationist parallels, for those who might be new to this topic.
First, there is the suggestion that, if genuine secular historians offered the opinion that the existence of Jesus is well documented, the historians must be incompetent, or the question must have been phrased poorly, or they misunderstood. “True historians” couldn’t possibly reach a conclusion that does not conform to mythicist orthodoxy, and so all sorts of ad hoc and ludicrous “explanations” are found to explain why the experts do not support the mythicists’ assumptions. Somewhere in the same recent discussion, the recommendation was made to read secular historians’ treatment of the subject, and yet it is clear that apart from a few fringe figures, those engaged in these discussions have not read any such historians, and they do not get mentioned by name. Just like in creationism, there is the assumption that “true science” or “true history” does and must support one’s own views, insults against those who work within the scholarly mainstream of the discipline, and little evidence of having read and understood what mainstream scholarship in the field concludes and why.
Next we have religion departments at secular universities depicted as centers for religious apologetics – a particularly ironic and ridiculous generalization in view of the recent discussions about the mission of the Society of Biblical Literature! Here too we see the similarities with other pseudo-academic movements: centers of research and teaching in this field are said to actually be propaganda machines promoting a unified ideology and ‘conclusions’ that are never challenged or tested. I doubt that anyone who has actually been through such a program – whether in biology or religion – would not feel insulted at the way their education is being demeaned by people who seem not to have benefited from a comparable educational experience.
Finally, we have the usual repeated half-truths and misconceptions of people who are sure Jesus didn’t exist but have not read the earliest sources and have only a vague idea of what they contain. Our earliest source is not an anonymous Gospel, but Paul’s letters, and he refers to Jesus as having been “descended from David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). This statement may or may not be a true one as far as Jesus’ genealogy is concerned, but there is no more straightforward way to understand it than that Paul believed that the Jesus of whom he wrote and spoke was an actual historical human being, a descendant of David. To suggest otherwise, one has to insert a number of ad hoc assumptions and unconvincing interpretations which are clearly aimed at avoiding the plain sense of the text. That’s not scholarship, it is apologetics, and despite all the times they decry apologetics and falsely accuse mainstream historians of being closet apologists for Christianity (even Bart Ehrman would be, by their standards!), what they offer is itself apologetics and not scholarship.
I’ve tried as hard as I can to get through to these people, just as I have tried to do with creationists, because I think that accurate popular understanding of history and of science are important. But I am not going to waste my time in a discussion where false accusations are made without any evidence (even though the mythicists allege that evidence is of the utmost importance to them) and where insults are hurled at colleagues of mine by people who do not know them, have never read anything by them, and in which all respect for other human beings and basic human decency and politeness appear to have been abandoned. But I share the link to the discussion because it illustrates well the character of those who promote these ideas.
As for me, I have written more than once on this topic, and so those who ask the same questions over and over even after they have been answered (another similarity to creationism) can be directed to the earlier discussions. I won’t promise to never write about it again. But as someone who does actual research (on the historical Jesus as well as other topics) it would seem advisable to not risk wasting time that could be spent on such more fruitful pursuits trying to persuade those who refuse to believe that any true historian or scientist could possibly disagree with their assumptions. But I still hold out hope, since I was a young-earth creationist in my teenage years. Genuine science got through to me, and that is why I often engage in discussions that others have long since abandoned as pointless.