Mythicists at Long Last Ready to Embrace Mainstream Historical Methods Like Divination?

Mythicists at Long Last Ready to Embrace Mainstream Historical Methods Like Divination? January 22, 2013

There have been a couple of amusing posts over at Vridar. In one of them, Neil Godfrey discusses Daniel Boyarin’s claim (in his book The Jewish Gospels) that there may have been an expectation about a suffering Messiah prior to Christianity. Whatever your thoughts on this (the view is not unique to Boyarin, but neither is it a view that most find compelling), what is really interesting is to see a mythicist apparently embracing mainstream historical reasoning.

Boyarin is quoted as saying,

My reasoning is that if this were such a shocking thought, how is it that the rabbis of the Talmud and midrash, only a couple of centuries later, had no difficulty whatever with portraying the Messiah’s vicarious suffering or discovering him in Isaiah 53, just as followers of Jesus had done? (pp. 134-35)

If one agrees with Boyarin that the Talmud can give us a sense of what Jews believed centuries earlier, when studied critically with use of deductive reasoning, then one cannot be consistent and deny that the same can be done with the Gospels, especially given the much shorter time between them and the historical Jesus. Of course, Godfrey has yet to show that sort of consistency, but one can hope. Who knows? He might even, if he finds Boyarin persuasive, come to share Boyarin’s view that there was a historical Jesus!

In the other of his recent posts that I alluded to above, Godfrey cites a book I have mentioned in discussions with him and other mythicistsFrom Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods. One reason I love the book is perhaps because mythicists seem not to be able to find any phrase they can latch onto in it, in a vain attempt to argue that mainstream historians would support their own case, without ending up accomplishing the opposite.

Godfrey offers the following quote, among others:

It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that one of the historian’s principal tasks is to uncover the original purpose of functions of the relics of testimonies that have come down to posterity, to divine what use they were intended to serve and what purposes they actually served at the time they were created. (p. 18)

Note the reference to the need to “divine” the intention and purpose of texts. I assume that one need not have a degree in religious studies to know what divination is. The use here is metaphorical, of course, and in that usage denotes the use of intuition and deduction to puzzle out meaning. Exactly the sort of work that historians have done on the Gospels to deduce their context and setting, which mythicists consistently ignore or even denigrate.

One of the great things about the internet these days is how many books are available online in at least preview form. From Reliable Sources is one of them, and so I encourage readers interested in the historical figure of Jesus to have a read of the section from which Godfrey quotes. Read the relevant pages around the quote offered above. But also don’t miss p.141, where they refer to Christ as a historical figure!

One could read both of Godfrey’s posts and never realize that he is quoting mainstream scholars whose methods and conclusions are incompatible with the claims of mythicists. You might not realize that the impression one gets from reading those books is very different from the impression you’ll get reading snippets of them embedded in and filtered through the lens of a mythicist blog post. And so I encourage you to check the sources and read them for yourselves. If you do, I am confident you will understand why I continue to find mythicism thoroughly unpersuasive.

Elsewhere on the web of related interest:

Joseph Hoffmann responds to Jerry Coyne.

Paul Regnier discussed denialism.

Andrew Perriman is reviewing Richard Horsley’s recent book.

One news source is reporting that Thomas Brodie is being disciplined by the church for his mythicist views.

Jeremy Myers shows just how much conservative Christians despise historical-critical study of the Bible.

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