Friday, May 19, 2006

Blog Brawl: The Politics of New Testament Studies

It started with Michael Turton’s review of Tabor's Jesus Dynasty. Jim West dismissed the review (without linking to it or pointing out who wrote it), which in turn prompted Turton's open letter to Jim West. Then James Crossley jumped into the fray. Read all of these posts, but especially the last two which dig into the politics of New Testament studies. I think Michael makes a fair point that mythicists need to be acknowledged more in the guild (though I take Jesus' existence for granted), but I agree with James that we shouldn't get carried away with the idea that radical views of Christian origins are somehow politically liberating. Radical views often do us nothing but disservice (Baigent is an obvious example).

UPDATE: (1) Michael has removed his posts. (2) In comments below, I explain why I credit mythicist positions over most minimalist ones (though I'm neither).

5 Comments:

Anonymous john said...

Well, with the exception of James Crossley, that wasn't a pretty picture.The words overwrought and hysterical come to mind.


John

5/20/2006  
Blogger Ryan said...

I thought the idea that Jesus was an historical figure was pretty much accepted by every credible historian in the world. How is the mythicist theory getting a hearing in academia any different from Young Earth Creationism getting a hearing in science?

5/20/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Ryan, see what I wrote months ago in Millenialism or Myth? I'm not a mythicist, but I credit the mythicist position over most minimalist positions.

5/20/2006  
Blogger Ryan said...

Loren,

I understand that you feel strongly about millenialism being key to understanding Jesus, but I think you go too far in asserting that mythicism as more right than minimalism. As I understand Turton's mythicism, it asserts that Jesus did not exist - not just that there was alot of myth built up around the historical figure of Jesus (something no one should deny). At least the minimalists have the basic fact of Jesus existence, and many of the events of his life correct.

Isn't there also a Mythical Minimalism category that might be a more accurate designation for scholars who strip away much of the tradition and believe much is myth, but still affirm the existence of an historical Jesus - like that of Mack, Arnal, even Borg?

It seems like categorically denying that Jesus ever existed just has no footing at all in the world of academia. Am I wrong on this? Am I misconstruing Turton's views?

I read your blog and I wasn't impressed with Turton's posts as much as you were. He seemed to just make a bunch of generalizations and assertions. And we read things like this:

"Many exegetes see the challenges over food -- fasting, plucking grain, eating with unwashed hands -- as reflecting history, if not as history outright. But in the Gospel of Mark food-related vocabulary is overwhelmingly figurative. It always functions on two levels. When, in Mark 7:1-5, the Pharisees accuse Jesus' disciples of eating with unwashed hands, the disciples are eating bread that Jesus has created, bread that figuratively stands for Jesus' message of the kingdom of God."

I mean...This just seems wrong on so many counts. Its seems to simplistic and too subjective. This reminds me of an old Dictionary of Typology written by a fundamentalist preacher that I wasted money on years ago and it also reminds me of what you hear alot in conservative churches where the preachers aren't trained. The problem with these kind of hidden meanings is that its just to easy to find a proof text that somehow licenses the meaning, and then project it all over the place, finding some kind of coherence. But everyone keeps coming up with different hidden meanings. For Turton, the bread is the "kingdom". For Crossan, its all a parable with a retrojected post-resurrection theme about how with Jesus present, miracles happen (also the hidden meaning of the miraculous catch). For others, the hidden meaning is that Jesus is the New Moses feeding in the wilderness. The problem arises when we realize that a) there are so many readings that claim to find the hidden meaning, that Mark couldn't possibly have thought of a scenario that interlaced all of these themes, and b) since its so easy to find these themes and the symbolism is often not very obvious or explicit, very elastic, and often very vague, its unlikely that Mark even intended such things.

So we wind up with reason to use extreme caution when considering any of these interpretations -- they're just too easy to project onto the author of the text.

Anyway, that's my two cents worth.

Ryan

5/20/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

I understand that you feel strongly about millenialism being key to understanding Jesus, but I think you go too far in asserting that mythicism as more right than minimalism.

Let me clarify what I'm getting at. I'm not saying that it makes more sense to believe Jesus never existed than to believe he existed but bears little resemblance to the character emerging from the NT. I am saying that on the assumption he bears little resemblance to such, the search is futile and that he may as well have never existed, or existed as a mere "cipher" who had little to do with the founding of the Christian movement.

As I understand Turton's mythicism, it asserts that Jesus did not exist - not just that there was alot of myth built up around the historical figure of Jesus.

Yes, and Arnal's mythicism is a bit different. He thinks Jesus was a cipher, and so he goes searching for different origins of the Christian movement (this gets into his views about "individuals" who supposedly found movements).

Isn't there also a Mythical Minimalism category that might be a more accurate designation for scholars who strip away much of the tradition and believe much is myth, but still affirm the existence of an historical Jesus - like that of Mack, Arnal, even Borg?

Mack and Arnal, yes; Borg, no. When I use the term mythicist, I'm referring to one of two breeds, those who deny he existed (Doherty, Turton) and those who think there’s little if anything we can say about him (Mack, Arnal). I should have made that more clear.

It seems like categorically denying that Jesus ever existed just has no footing at all in the world of academia. Am I wrong on this? Am I misconstruing Turton's views?

You're not wrong, but I do think this will change. My prediction is that we will see more Bill Arnals in the near future, and (yes, cough) even more Dohertys brought into the mainstream. That's my prophecy -- so remember where you heard it ten years from now. :)

5/20/2006  

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