Vridar Returns (and a Review of a Review of a Review)

Vridar Returns (and a Review of a Review of a Review) June 29, 2013

Before Vridar had been shut down as a result of a copyright complaint from Joel Watts, I had begun to respond to something Neil Godfrey wrote there. Now that his blog is back (at the different address of Vridar.org), I will do so. But let me first direct readers to some discussion of the events that unfolded resulting in the blog being removed by WordPress. In addition to my own post (where much came to light in the discussion thread), see Ian’s post about Joel’s copyright complaint and his attempt to remove the Creative Commons notification on his posts after the fact, as well as Neil Godfrey’s and Joel Watts’ own posts on the subject. This incident, and the issues it raises, need to be given serious attention in its own right..

So now, let me return to what I was in the process of saying before this whole debacle: Neil Godfrey (once again, as usual) accused me of being either incompetent or dishonest.

The latest instance involves his discussion of the book review I posted here back in February, of Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery.

As an academic, I know that the research we work on as graduate students forms the basis of what we then try to publish, whether while still students or soon after. And so when Thomas Brodie said that he submitted work to his academic supervisor which lacked proper citation of and interaction with other scholars, and in the same section of the book says that he had difficulty finding a publisher for things that he wrote, the biggest but not the only reason being his view that there was never a historical Jesus, it seemed that the two were connected and that the other reasons were precisely the things that Brodie himself mentioned within a few pages of the statement.

I am perfectly open to the possibility that my inference may have been incorrect, or that I may have run together, because of their close proximity in the book, things that Brodie intended to have viewed as completely separate (although whether they truly were separate is, as it were, a separate issue). When I have time (when preparing my SBL conference paper if not sooner), I will look into the relevant passages again.

But I think it should be clear that only a perversely hostile (or dishonest, or incompetent) reading of my review would lead to the conclusion that I was being either dishonest or incompetent. The point I was making in that section of my review was about the fact that Brodie drew a conclusion about whether Jesus was a historical figure even before learning how to do scholarship in the appropriate manner. I can tell you that I myself had all sorts of ideas that I thought were brilliant, publication-worthy insights as an undergraduate. Few withstood the testing to which I subjected them in my ongoing studies. Brodie, on the other hand, appears to have been so gripped by an idea early on, that it came to dominate his thinking in a manner that has led him to defend an implausible view of how early Christian literature was produced, rather than revising his views in light of criticism.

I approached Brodie’s book hopeful that it would offer what I have long said mythicism needs: a serious scholarly presentation of one possible case for mythicism, one that could be discussed in detail on its merits, rather than being littered with misdirections, careless errors, and misunderstandings of the sort that characterize internet-based and self-published mythicist works. Although it is a memoir, Brodie does offer his reasoning and discussion of his methods. And those methods seem to me to be an exercise in parallelomania, something for which Brodie has a reputation as a result of his previous publications.

Brodie did work on the Gospel of John, which I consulted when I was myself working on my dissertation on the Gospel of John. I found occasional nuggets of insight, but largely found Brodie to be creating connections between the Gospel of John and other texts, rather than discovering them. And so his work seemed to me to be mostly unpersuasive. Nothing since then has changed my mind, and much has reinforced that impression.

As for Neil Godfrey’s claim, “When I asked McGrath why he sometimes claimed Doherty wrote the very opposite of what he did write, or accused him of not addressing themes and arguments that he clearly did address and at length, I received in return either no reply or an insult,” longtime readers will already know that that does not describe actual events. Newer readers are invited to read back through the discussions and fact-check it. Such allegations do not support mythicism, but they do illustrate a point made by mainstream historical scholars: they show that sometimes human beings are indeed capable of not merely offering a mild reinterpretation of events, but completely distorting them.

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