New Book on Mythicism: ‘Is This Not The Carpenter?’

New Book on Mythicism: ‘Is This Not The Carpenter?’ November 4, 2010

HT to Jim West for announcing this forthcoming book from Equinox Press, ‘Is This Not The Carpenter?’ The Question of the Historicity of Jesus, edited by Thomas L. Thompson and Tom Verenna.

Here’s the table of contents provided by the publisher:

Introduction: Thomas L. Thompson and Thomas Verenna

Into the Well of Historical Jesus Scholarship
1. Roland Boer (University of Newcastle) – The German Pestilence: Re-assessing Feuerbach, Strauss and Bauer
2. Jim West (Quartz Hill School of Theology) – A Very, Very Short Introduction to Minimalism
3. Lester L. Grabbe (University of Hull) – “Jesus Who is Called Christ”: References to Jesus Outside Christian Sources
4. Niels Peter Lemche (University of Copenhagen) – The Grand Inquisitor and Christ: Why the Church Doesn’t Want Jesus
5 Emanuel Pfoh (PhD student) – Jesus and the Mythic Mind: An Epistemological Problem

Paul and Early Christianity: Historical and Exegetical Investigations
6 Robert M. Price (Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary) – Does the Christ Myth Theory Require an Early Date for the Pauline Epistles?
7. Mogens Müller (University of Copenhagen) – Paul: The Oldest Witness to the Historical Jesus
8. Thomas S. Verenna – Born Under the Law: Intertextuality and the Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus in Paul’s Epistles

The Rewritten Bible and the Life of Jesus
9. James Crossley (University of Sheffield) – Can John’s Gospel Really Be Used to Reconstruct a Life of Jesus? An Assessment of Recent Trends and a Defence of a Traditional View
10. Thomas L. Thompson – Psalm 72 and Mark 1:12-13: Mythic Evocation in Narratives of the Good King
11. Ingrid Hjelm (University of Copenhagen) “Who is my Neighbor?” Implicit Use of Old Testament Stories and Motifs in Luke’s Gospel
12. Joshua Sabih (University of Copenhagen) – Born Isa and Baptized Jesus: The Quranic Narratives about Isa
13. K. L. Noll (Brandon University) – Investigating Earliest Christianity Without Jesus

I’m intrigued, both by the contents which seem to indicate that the book will reflect a variety of viewpoints and include contributions by excellent scholars, and by the description, which may be an attempt by the publisher to generate hype but nevertheless remains problematic:

For some time, New Testament scholarship, particularly in its conservative and evangelical wings, have avoided direct questions regarding the historicity of Jesus. Many have followed Rudolf Bultmann, who had suggested that “The Jesus Christ who is God’s Son, a pre-existent divine being, is at the same time a certain historical person, Jesus of Nazareth…” (1941). This has become a mantra, which, today, is accepted and hardly questioned by most scholars, who, accordingly, have lost sight of the context of the literature of the New Testament, ignoring the theological emulations, allusions, and edifying functions of many of the Gospel narratives, the epistles, pastorals, and the book of Revelation. The presupposition of historicity supports an historical interpretation of the texts and makes alternative explanations for allegories, edifications, eponyms and allusions unnecessary. With the assumption of such figures as Jesus, Paul and the disciples as historical, significant intentions which are implicit to our texts are frequently ignored or misunderstood and whole subtexts are created which might never have existed in the past

We are faced with an endless production of works on the historical Jesus, without a clear engagement of historical methods and little discussion of the central question of the function of these texts. This study presents a dialogue, which raises the question of historicity directly, much as the so-called Copenhagen school successfully raised similar questions as to the historicity of the figures of the patriarchs and other origin traditions of the Hebrew Bible. The volume questions of the value of current trends of historical Jesus scholarship, presents a new perspective regarding the exegesis of the books of the New Testament (and primarily Paul as our “earliest testimony” to the figure of Jesus) and outlines the implications of the literary function of the rewritten Bible.

The problem I had immediately with this brief description on the publisher’s web site is that it simply is not the case (except for the conversatives mentioned at the beginning) that the view that Jesus existed results in scholars having “lost sight of the context of the literature of the New Testament.” Neither has it resulted in us “ignoring the theological emulations, allusions, and edifying functions of many of the Gospel narratives, the epistles, pastorals, and the book of Revelation.” Mainstream scholarship which concludes that there was a historical Jesus is chock full of recognitions of material as spurious, ahistorical, of dubious or uncertain historicity, allegorical, “Scripture historicized,” and so on. It is certainly a false antithesis to suggest that there are only two camps – those who uncritically accept the historicity of Jesus and all stories about him, and those whose critical scholarship leads them to conclude that Jesus is a fictional character. There is a full spectrum in between, and there have been plenty of scholars (like Bultmann, who gets mentioned) who concluded that the Gospels are full of legendary and fictional material, and that it nonetheless makes sense to view the legends and fictions as things that arose from or are based on an actual historical figure.

Be that as it may, I hope I’ll have the opportunity to read and review the book. It certainly looks intriguing!


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  • Anonymous

    Hold up, Jim West is a Mythicist?

  • No, Jim West is not a mythicist. Thanks for this James, I would like to make a few notes if I could.(1) I would not call this book a mythicist book (certainly many of the contributors would not call themselves that–among them Jim West, Lester Grabbe, and James Crossley). The book is indeed fair and openly agnostic about the question as a whole.(2) The book by no means suggests that there is no middle ground. However, the information on the book only means to suggest that there are many scholars who do feel that way about Jesus. The aforementioned James Crossley, for example, is one of those scholars who does not fit into the conservative or mythicist camps. (3) The intent of this book is to reopen the question in academia with a new twist; it does not seek to evince that Jesus never existed, nor does it posit that he did. Its sole purpose is to raise the question, in our own generation, and pose it to the many skilled and brilliant scholars in the Academe.

  • Seems to me that we would want to leave questions like this to people with degrees in history.Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  • Tom, thanks for the clarification. I hope that someone will send me a review copy so that I can review it (hint hint wink wink nudge nudge…)Rich, you are right to point out that mythicists are all connected in some way with theology and fields other than history. But let's not hold that against them, shall we? 🙂

  • Richard Carrier has all his degrees in Classics, Classical Science, and ancient history James. 😉 And, by the by, I plan on getting my BA in Classics as well. =P (PhD…not sure what program I am entering into yet)As for a review copy, I'll see what I can do.

  • I presume you could tell, Tom, that I was ribbing Rich a bit. Richard Carrier is indeed a bright shining exception. And it is a great loss to the internet that his podcast on 'arguments mythicists ought not to use' seems to have vanished.But it remains noteworthy that most of those interested in Jesus, whether on the mythicist or the historicist side, tend to get there by way of theology. And just for the sake of fair and balanced reporting, presumably someone like Michael Grant can be said to provide a genuine historian's perspective that reaches a historicist conclusion. So it isn't like there's only one historian who has looked at the issue and he was a mythicist.But my point was merely simply to give Rich some much-deserved teasing. 🙂

  • Indeed! You are quite correct James! On all accounts. =D

  • Err…you know what I mean. I need to stop posting when I am this tired! I will never learn.

  • Stephen

    Dr. McGrath,though it won't be a boon to the internet, if you were wanting to listen to that interview with Carrier I could send a copy of the file to you.

  • Anonymous

    Degrees are pretty general affairs where I come from. My first degree was in history, classics, psychology, sociology, music and world religions…steph

  • Stephen, thank you! I'd be delighted to have a copy, even if only for my own personal enjoyment.Steph, you are of course correct, and depending on what one is focusing on, someone who studies religion or classics might take courses in historical methodology. And I don't think anyone majoring in either of those areas could bypass such training completely.

  • In Europe traditionally New Testament scholars study classics. At Nottingham Richard Bell even has a second phd in Nuclear Physics (funny – he should be doing the synoptic problem as the Klopp himself says, it's like the nuclear physics of biblical studies). My own interests are quite broad I think yet every discipline depends on the rest. In fact my main interest is history and as such I covered historical methodology in psychology, sociology, music, classics and world religions too. My world religions teachers have all been great generalists – don't think one was ever even remotely religious. I did have an HOD who was an obligatory Jew once, that's all.oh and 'cheers' as they say… is that customary now?

  • oh and of course historical methodology in the history department too…

  • "Cheers" is something Rich puts at the end of posts regardless whether what precedes it, whether it be a friendly remark or an unsubstantiated accusation. It certainly isn't customary to use it in that way. 🙂

  • Stephen

    I am away from my computer at the moment; when I return home (Monday or Tuesday) I'll send you the interview.

  • I didn't notice you say this before James "most of those interested in Jesus, whether on the mythicist or the historicist side, tend to get there by way of theology."That's really funny james because I have never ever studied "theology". I did do world religions and history of religions among so many other things but never theology. And I know alot of people in the discipline of world religions who are interested and work in early christianity, who have never studied "theology" either. I think it might be more a phenomenon in America.

  • Steph, you may be right – although since there are a whole lot of people in the US, I suppose I might be right too. :-)But it certainly seems to me to be the case that, while there is one clear exception at present, mythicists who claim to be concerned about historical methodology and the baneful influence of theology have among their ranks several people with degrees in theology, and next to none with degrees in history. And that was the main reason I brought it up.

  • Then again many historians tend to favor Hegel–Hegel isn't a favorite of theologians. 😉 The argument, though, is that in antiquity, history was far less important–in many cases not important at all–than theology, spirituality, and narrative. Historical methodology doesn't really take that into account because its focus is on something other than theology and the narrative, and more of discovering the historical core–if any–upon which it (sometimes wrongly) assumes the narrative (any narrative) was based. This is the argument I see most often and the one I find most reasonable, in any event.

  • Anonymous

    I have to wonder about the scholarly worth of a book co-edited by and contributed to by someone who plans to get his BA one day. Er, yup. I don't think this one will be on my Amazon wishlist any time soon …

  • ralfellis

    Beware, Tom Verenna likes to pretend he is a scholar, but in reality he does not have a qualification to his name. And this lack of scholarship is reflected in his work.

    Tom Verenna biography:

    http://thomasverenna.blogspot.nl

    • And what are your qualifications, exactly? Are you the author of that self-published pseudoscholarly bit of nonsense claiming that Jesus was the king of Edessa?