Saturday, August 13, 2005

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.


Blogger James Crossley said...

Yes I agree. If you think the more Jewish Jesus associated with Sanders is along the right lines (I do too) then Chancey is a must read. It really is one of the best books on the subject with a thorough historical knowledge. Sanders himself has written stuff on Galilee (also excellent) influenced by Chancey.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Horsley has done some good work on Galilee too. He does justice to differences between Galilee and Judean without latching onto Hellenism as the supposed root of the diffferences.

Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

The problem with Arnal's book is that, despite some forthright observations, is that it strikes me as an apology for the Cynic-Jesus/Q-Thomas group. A Jesus steeped in Jewish tradition (esp. apocalyptic - heaven forbid) is simply not congenial to the Jesus that many North American Liberals want him to be (I use the term 'liberal' descriptively not pejoratively!). I don't want to be seen to be trying to deconstruct the motives of Arnal and others (I think he is a fien author and perhaps even the "chosen one" of the next generation of Jesus Seminar-esque scholars) and I know I have my own presuppositions and biases: but I think the Cynic Jesus (or the 'California Jesus') is the imaginative construct of North Americans.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Michael, I think you've missed the point here. There are just as many "apologists" for the Jewish Jesus as for the other beloved by Thomas and Q-enthusiasts. One can defend a Jewish Jesus for reasons just as wrong. (Tom Wright comes to mind.) A Jewish Jesus can be pressed into the service of Christian supersessionism, or insulate Christians from complicity in the Shoah, shield against pagan influence, and so on.

This is the point of Arnal's book: that there are agendas on both sides, and that we'd better have good reasons for defending either.

In my own review on Crosstalk a while back, I pointed out that chapter three of Arnal's book is the weakest for his unconvincing attempts to defend Q and cynic theories. And as I said, I do think the "Jewish Jesus" crowd is more in the right. But Arnal helped me see certain agendas from this side which had been opaque to me.


Post a Comment

<< Home