If you have been reading this blog lately, you’ll know that I have been blogging through Earl Doherty’s book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus. Apparently, if the supporters of its “conclusions” are to be believed, it is entirely my fault that I am finding the book unpersuasive. It is simply because I was already disinclined not to find its claims persuasive.
My question is this: How good is a book if it can only persuade those who lack expertise in the area it treats and/or those who are predisposed from the outset to accept its claims?
If I want to persuade other scholars that a conclusion I have reached is correct, the onus is on me to persuade them. I will not, if I wish to accomplish that, write a book that requires a predisposition to accept my claims. I will try to foresee and address possible objections as well as ones that have already been voiced. It may indeed be bias that will be the reason that some reject my conclusions. But we all have bias, and the only way to overcome bias when writing is to point it out and to make a convincing case.
Doherty’s book, however, has been making assertions without justification from the very outset. It seems that the only way that one can find it persuasive is to be predisposed to doing so beforehand, or to not have enough information and familiarity with the field to realize when claims are problematic.
It seems to me ironic to hear that it is my own predispositions that are preventing me from seeing Doherty’s claims as weighty rather than weak. What predispositions I had towards mythicism have been shaped by the presentations of arguments found in Doherty’s book, as they are found in the earlier edition of his book and online in a varity of places. The book thus far doesn’t present those claims more persuasively than the form in which I had encountered them before. Perhaps that is my fault too?
Let me close by asking, simply, “Which is it?” Is it purely a matter of predispositions that keeps people from accepting the claims and arguments of others? If so, how might that apply to mythicists’ unwillingness to accept the conclusions of mainstream scholars? Or is it up to an author to present his or her case in a way that can persuade even skeptics? If the latter, then just as you place the onus on me and other scholars of ancient religion and history to persuade you of our claims, of which you are skeptical, then the onus is clearly also on mythicists to persuade those who find their claims unpersuasive. And the state of the investigation thus far is that mainstream scholarship has been found more persuasive than mythicism by the vast majority of people, and the vast majority of experts.
Whose fault is that?