On Competence, Scholarly Authority, and Open Discussion
In the furore of recent days after my postings about some recent contenders that Jesus never lived, I’ve derived a few observations.
- Advocates of the so-called “mythicist” position (a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, never lived) who have commented on this site have rather consistently either offered putative bases that turn out to be readily corrected mis-construals and/or mis-citations of texts, or, when confronted with the inferences most scholars in the field make about the data, have simply urged that there just might be some other way of seeing things if your really put your mind to it. Well, yes, if your really want to prefer a particular possibility over what most scholars judge a far more reasonable and likely one, well, OK.
- Then, when confronted with the lack of support among scholars for the “mythicist” position, there comes the accusation of “naked appeals to authority” and “intellectual bullying” and such. And when it is pointed out that, after all, we are talking about texts written in Koine Greek (and so the language ability is pretty important), and that these are texts with a transmission history (and so some ability in textual criticism of these texts would be important in assessing questions of textual reliability), and that the many Jewish texts and the evidence of the larger Roman-era environment requires a lot of study, all this if one wishes to make some kind of soundly-based judgement of matters, one gets complaints about elitism, etc.
- And the same sort of accusations come when one asks that advocates of the “mythicist” position dare to submit their work to refereed assessment, present it at scholarly conferences, etc. You know, the sort of ways that scholars in any field actually submit and have their work tested by scholarly peers. This is tiresome, and begins to sound a bit like special pleading, even whining. Here’s the deal: If you want an idea or claim to be engaged and considered seriously by scholars in a given field, then it should be prepared and submitted for such consideration in the way that any idea or claim is considered, to scholarly conferences, peer-reviewed journals, etc. And it’s no good claiming some kind of cabal preventing anything getting through. Scholarly in Christian origins is fairly seething with controversies, proposals, etc., and lots of people would jump at any opportunity to put across a cogent new idea. It happens all the time. So, it’s no special or unreasonable demand to ask for “mythicist” advocates to do this.
- I’m still waiting for someone to point to some data, you know, data, that justifies the claims of the so-called “mythicist” advocates. Seems reasonable to me. But then I’m one of those mean old scholars in the field who make such demands . . . of ourselves as much as anyone else.