Creationists, Biblical Scholars, and Rhetoric
A couple of days ago on The Loom, Carl Zimmer discussed some of the rhetoric used by creationists:
“Creationists try whenever they can to claim that Darwin was directly responsible for Hitler. The reality is that Hitler and some other like-minded thinkers in the early twentieth century had a warped view of evolution that bore little resemblance to what Darwin wrote, and even less to what biologists today understand about evolution. The fact that someone claims that a scientific theory justifies a political ideology does not support or weaken the scientific theory. It's irrelevant. Nazis also embraced Newton's theory of gravity, which they used to rain V-2 rockets on England. Does that mean Newton was a Nazi, or that his theory is therefore wrong?”
As in science, so in biblical studies. In The Symbolic Jesus, Bill Arnal criticizes scholars who have used similar rhetorical tricks in defending a Jewish-pleasing Jesus against a more Hellenized figure. Arnal cites Sean Freyne’s critique of Crossan’s work:
“To water down the Jewishness of Galilee... has the potential for anti-Semitism, as Walter Grundmann’s 1941 book on Jesus the Galilean shows...” (p 16)
But any potentials for another Aryan Jesus (whether real or imagined) are irrelevant. If Jesus was in fact less Jewish than we imagine, then it’s the historian’s duty to say so. If the resulting portrait ends up being pressed into bad service, that’s a completely different issue. I happen to believe that scholars like Sanders, Fredriksen, Allison, and Freyne are much closer to the truth than the Hellenized crowd, but not out of fear that I would be condoning an anti-Semitic view of Jesus if I didn’t!
With all of this in mind, I too am anxious to read Mark Chancey’s The Myth of a Gentile Galilee, mentioned by Michael Bird. I suspect I’ll agree with much in it. But let’s read with open eyes, and if we endorse its arguments do so for the right reasons.