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On Competence, Scholarly Authority, and Open Discussion

August 2, 2012

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.

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  1. Sean du Toit permalink

    For what it’s worth, Dr David Capes prepub article “Jesus Tradition in Paul” from Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus, ed. Craig A. Evans (Routledge Press), is available online: Stephen Bedard also has an article on Paul and the Historical Jesus looking at the evidence from 1 Corinthians:

    My own view suggests that the devotional language Paul used for Jesus indicates more than a cursory interest in some arbitrary person. His zeal and dedication to Jesus, at great personal cost to himself make it highly likely that Paul desired to know all he could about Jesus and would take every opportunity to find out more about Jesus.

    Furthermore, Paul often appeals to Jesus as an example to be imitated. Doesn’t that suggest an assumed interest in the details of Jesus’ life and teachings?

    Sean du Toit

    • I am sorry I didn’t pay attention to these links the first time around and glad that Sean included them and I read them. Providing a link to an article that discusses the current topic is such a low bar for requests to provide evidence of claims, that it is frustrating that it isn’t done. [This applies to both sides]

      Anyway, these two articles are laughable examples of reading the Gospels into Paul. The first paper isn’t worth citing (I would wonder whether it got published, but the title of journal seems to imply it would have) but it is hard to pick among the many examples in the second paper, which was actually published in a respectable journal, if coming from an evangelical perspective. Ultimately, I went with this: “It seems clear that Paul had Luke 10 (or the tradition behind it) in mind when he wrote 1 Cor 9, with 9:14 only being the most obvious example.” *

      While the parenthetical and weasel word “seems” show some … sophistication, the mere mention that Paul could of had Luke 10 in mind is ridiculous. And I have to include this delicious sentence a bit before it: “There has been much criticism of Fjärstedt’s work, as his proposed allusions have proved to be too allusive.” Oi vey! But the very next sentence is: “However, Dale Allison believes that Fjärstedt has demonstrated his case with 1 Corinthians 9. [New Testament Studies 28 (1982) p. 9]”

      Keep ’em coming, boys!

      * For the record, 1 Cor 9:14 “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” and Luke 7:10 “Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages.” (NASB)

  2. 1 Thessalonians 2 says flat-out that the Jews killed Jesus.

    Mythicists should be put on the spot and asked to explain how the Jews killed somebody who did not exist.

    Although, I’m sure they will simply chant the ‘interpolation’ mantra, when they come across a Biblical passage that does not say what they want it to say.

    But this passage in Paul does say the Jews killed Jesus, and mythicists will have to deal with it without their usual ‘interpolation’ get-out-of-jail card.

  3. Larry,

    As a physicist, I can certainly empathize with your position: On one occasion, a guy insisted that he knew more about relativity than I did, but he simultaneously was mad at me for not teaching him enough about relativity so that he could correct his errors! He was sure that, if only I would teach him enough physics, he could prove he knew more than me. I never could get him to see the irony in his position. Another guy insisted that he had the magic answer to go beyond superstring theory, but that it was my job to work out all the details for him, since I actually knew physics and he did not.

    And so on.

    I’ve read a fair amount of the mythicists, and, while I think they occasionally raise interesting question, it does seem to me that they simply violate Ockham’s razor too often: they have to explain too many passages as interpolations, or by using strained interpretations, etc.

    On the other hand, there have been enough bizarre, unforeseen revolutions in human thought, that, as an outsider, it is hard for me to say with absolute certainty that they are wrong.

    There is an interesting broader question here: how can an outsider judge if any community of scholars in any discipline is really legit? There certainly are illegitimate intellectual communities: astrology, for example.

    We natural scientists can simply say: “If we are really completely corrupt fools, how can it be that cell phones, computers, lasers, etc. – all based on our ideas – actually work?” Of course, it is harder for scholars in the humanities to simply answer such challenges: I hope you will continue to address this broad question.

    For what it is worth, I myself am following up on some of the readings you have suggested and am learning from your blog, so your efforts are not in vain, even if you do, understandably, feel frustrated on occasion.

    All the best,

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  4. Bretton Garcia permalink

    (Editor’s note: I publish here the response of Bretton Garcia to my queries to Neil Godfrey, marked “BG”, with brief comments from me marked “LWH”. I can only say in general, meaning no offence but only candor, that his responses rather well illustrate the sadly ill-informed basis of some protagonists in the current discussion.)

    BG: 1) Explain the sudden eruption of a Jesus movement c. 30 AD. Dozens of traditional responses to this. One is that a) were are not sure there was any such thing; the best information we have is from fully two fatal decades later, with Paul, fl. 55 AD.
    LWH: Paul’s LETTERS are from ca. 50+CE, but his own acquaintance and reaction against the Jesus-movement dates back to ca. 30-35 CE. There obviously was a Jesus-movement that got up his nose and against which he directed strong opposition as a zealous Pharisee.

    BG: To be sure, I’m not satisified with this quick answer myself; so b) note that the whole Jewish world was constantly under the thumb of occupier nations; and ready to follow a home-rule revolutionary at any time. This tremendous climate of expectation – and a long history of would-be messiahs, from the days at least of the Mac revolt – “accreted,” they say, into the rather firm vision, of an ideal Jewish leader or Lord, who would be saving them “soon.”
    LWH: Well, finding your first attempt to answer the question unsatisfactory is at least a positive sign! But the second option is really beside the point and no better. That there were various eschatological movements in the ancient Jewish setting (e.g., Qumran) is to some extent true but doesn’t answer the question. And “accreting” in fact is not what happened. All evidence indicates a instead a prompt, early, rapid movement in which claims about Jesus’ messianic status and heavenly exaltation were central.

    BG: 2) Saul was apparently indignant abuot this PERENNIAL movement – because it was always there. (And as a highly Hellenized Jew he supported the oppressors, the ROman, as much as anyone).

    3) Why Paul’s focus on the crucifixion? HOffmann suggests it is because Paul simply wanted Jesus dead; so Romans could be emphasized.
    LWH: I simply don’t understand what you’re trying to say here, but also how do you know so much about Paul that the rest of us don’t know? Do let us in on the secret cache of information on which you draw.

    BG: More moderately, I suggest that it is because Paul’s main orientation, was to apologize for the weakness of Judaism; its defeat over and over by foreign empires. To to this? The concept of the MARTYR, the HERO, the man who dies for his country – and turns defeat into victory – was useufl.
    LWH: Again, Bretton, where on earth do you get this secret insider knowledge of Paul denied to the scholarly world?

    BG: 4) Why did Jesus tales have a Palistinian flavor? Because they were largely made up in or about, Jerusalem; where the main Temple was.
    LWH: Oh, I see. Hmm. Gosh, thanks for that, Bretton. Once again, you seem to have such fascinating knowledge of things that I’ve never seen presented in the large body of Pauline scholarship with which I’m familiar. Gee, Bretton, how come??

    BG: 5a) Why, in the midst of many objections to Christianity, didn’t anyone just say he never existed? Because in the many wars, burnings of information (and nonbelievers, dissenters), there was not much evidence that he did not exist; only the ardent assertions of zealots.
    LWH: But we do know that there were critics (e.g., Celsus) who sought to discredit Christianity. So, why didn’t he/they even make the claim that Jesus was a myth? I don’t see an answer to my question in your statement.

    BG: 5 b) Why was Paul interested in meeting James in Jeruslam, if he had no interest in the details of Jesus’ life (if any)? Paul wanted the seal of approval for his religion, from Jerusalem. Which only authorized him however, to speak to “Gentiles.”
    LWH: You’re confusing the meeting and interview in Gal 1:18-19 with a later Jerusalem visit that Paul recounts in Gal 2, Bretton.

    BG: 6) Why did Paul seem so convinced there was such a person? Paul, as an extremely Hellenized Jew, was in love with the image and romantic message, of The Martyr. The Hero who dies for his country. He ws in the grip of a romantic vision.
    LWH: Hmm. Gee, Bretton, you’re so sure of your statements, which have scarce support in the actual evidence of Paul’s letters. That’s actually a problem for you.

    BG: 7) Why did early Christians refer to an early crucifixion, if it never happened? First a) we are not sure that early Christians DID refer to it; we have no extensive early corpus … except for Paul, f. 55 AD. Better: b) there had fairly recently been many crucifixions of Jewish sons and lords; (including by one account the crucifixion of 3,000 in Damascus?). The memory of dying, crucified sons of God – and the desire to memorialze them – was extremely vivid in the minds of Jews in the region.
    LWH: To this mare’s nest of assertions, a few comments. All evidence indicates an emphasis that God had raised Jesus from death, and that his death had been by crucifixion. We have no contrary evidence, and no evidence of anyone denying this. Again, the earliest TEXTS are Paul’s letters, but these incorporate earlier traditions that take up back much earlier. In fact, Romans didn’t go about crucifying people for the hell of it, at least not in peacetime, and we don’t have evidence of frequent or larges-cale crucifixions carried out in Jesus’ time. We do have the important remains of a first-century crucified male from Givat ha-mivtar, but that’s hardly a massive number. On crucifixion, read, e.g., Martin Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977).
    So, in sum, Bretton, your responses are often based on incorrect data or are simply assertions that are both a bit strange and without basis. If you care about the matter, I’d recommend re-examining them.

  5. “I’m still waiting for someone to point to some data, you know, data, that justifies the claims of the so-called “mythicist” advocates”

    The arguments of the ‘mythicists’ are little more than vehicles for a broader point that there is no God and that the story of Jesus was all made up as some sort of primitive ancient comic book. If they have a familiarity with Christianity it is with some reprehensible American evangelical heresy which they use as the basis to the justification of their over-simplification of the very tradition they loathe.

    The only way to uncover evidence for the ‘mythicist position’ is to delve into the tradition of Marcion, the gnostics and I would argue Clement of Alexandria. Of course the argument here is that Jesus was all God, that he was human in appearance only. While this bolsters the argument that there wasn’t a historical individual named Jesus, it does so at the expense of their only purpose for developing any interest in any of these dead and forgotten things – the denial of the existence of God. As such they don’t proceed down this path.

  6. Larry, you say one of the reasons for your blog was “to try to bring to a wider public informed scholarship on the New Testament and early Christianity.” So why not do just that?

    Here’s how you can make a start. Instead of just saying “this is the way we scholars see things” then tell us plainly what it is about the constructions in the Greek etc that support this “way we scholars see things”. (Or if there is some other special training that is the basis of scholarly views, simply explain the direct relationship of that training to the point you are asserting.) I am sure many of your readers will profit from this and enjoy such contributions.

    That way you will put to rest any complaints that your arguments are “naked appeals to authority”. (No-one accused you of “intellectual bullying” — you just made that up solely on the grounds that you saw the words in a larger post of mine that included reference to you, even though those words along with many others in that post clearly did not refer to you.)

    • Neil, I think I’ve done that, both in several of my replies to comments on recent postings, and, still more, in quite a number of publications over 20+ years (e.g., my “How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?”, etc.). To reiterate one small example, I’ve noted that the Greek word in Gal 1:18, “historesai”, rather clearly means that Paul spent 2 wks making inquiry of Peter, not simply batting the breeze. I’ve also replied to a query about how confident we can be that we have a fairly reliable text of Paul’s epistles by giving briefly some facts about the manuscript support. I’ve indicated briefly that and why scholars think that the Synoptics reflect a Jesus-tradition that had been circulating for decades, and why it seems to have its origin in a Jewish Palestine setting (e.g., the literary featues and cultural “color” reflected in the material). I’ve indicated how attention to the chronology of Paul means that his connection and acquaintance with earliest Christian faith and teaching goes back to within the very first year or two after Jesus’ execution. Indeed, unless I deceive myself, I think that I’ve devoted a lot of time (a lot more than I had planned for) in recent days especially responding with concise explanations of what scholars tend to judge and why. (And, whether it was directed to me or not, the accusation of “naked appeals to authority” was used, and in the context of this matter. So, I object to the expression, not simply on my own behalf, but on behalf of scholars in the field in general.)

      • Larry, when you do do it, it works. But you don’t seem to see that there comes a point where you stop doing it and jump over to begging the question of Jesus’ existence. It’s there that the questions arise.

        We can all agree that in Galatians we read of Paul “making inquiries” of Peter. We can all accept that the text is reliable for the sake of argument. (The question has been raised over Tertullian’s failure to appeal to such a passage in his rebuttal of Marcion, but let’s leave that aside for now.)

        But you seem to fail to see that the model that the Synoptics are based on oral traditions going back to the time of Jesus is all based upon the assumption of historicity. This is where the question begging kicks in.

        You then interpret the conversations of Paul with Peter and the reference to “brother of the Lord” from that question begging basis. There is an alternative explanation that does not rely upon question begging but this is what you refer to as “simply urging that there just might be some other way of seeing things if your really put your mind to it.” Not so.

      • Neil, what you misleadingly (!) characterize as “question-begging”, e.g., that the Synoptics reflect and draw upon prior Jesus-tradition, is the studied results of analysis of the features of that material. Have you worked through that analysis? Or are you simply reacting to the brief summaries of such analysis that are unavoidably brief in a venue such as this? There’s no leap from data and reasoning in anything I’ve posted, Neil. You just don’t like the reasoning, I suggest.
        I’ll have to turn the tables, Neil, and ask for a superior explanation of the data, among which are the following (and you’re free to be concise also): (1) Explain the eruption of a Jesus-movement about 30 CE, in which the figure of Jesus was central, and among devout Jews of Roman Palestine; (2) Explain Saul of Tarsus’ indignation and sense of obligation to destroy this movement; (3) Explain his focus on Jesus’ crucifixion (if it never happened); (4) Explain the origin the the body of Jesus-tradition in the Synoptics that all seems to have a Palestinian flavor, includes such remarkable stories as some of the parables, etc; (5) Explain how in the numerous indications of opposition to the early Jesus-movement there is no claim that the figure of Jesus never existed (surely it would have occurred to someone to make the charge if there were any doubt); (5) Explain why Paul would have been concerned to interview Kephas and learn from him if he were simply operating on the basis of his own revelations and had no interest in any tradition about Jesus; (6) Explain why Paul seems so convinced that there was such a figure, born a Jew (Gal 4:4) and who operated among the Jewish people (Rom 15:8), and left teachings (e.g., 1 Cor 7:10-11), and was raised from death by God (e.g., Rom 4:24-25, and many others); (7)Explain how and why early Christians referred to Jesus’ crucifixion (when everything was against them doing so) if it never happened, and how a crucifixion of a recent contemporary (which is what they claimed) would have flown if everyone knew otherwise?

        These are just a few things, a very few of the many others, that one would have to provide a superior explanation of, Neil. I’ve seen no hint in the many, many comments from you and others who share your inclination that you have such available. Schoalrs aren’t infallible, by any means, but we work like the dickens to try to get things right as best we can, to make the best sense of the data. So, either point out our obvious errors or lay off.

      • Yes, Larry, I have read quite a lot on the various arguments for the gospels being based on oral traditions. I am not taking cheap pot-shots. I have discussed these arguments many times at length and with reference to the scholarship on my blog.

        But question-begging and various assumptions in arguments are things we can identify and call attention to. It is not a put-down to do so. It is all part of a necessary healthy exploration of the question.

        I have been doing my best to be concise in my responses since your first complaint that my comments were long, so I don’t know how to briefly answer all the question you raise that take a very long comment to ask.

        But yes, the questions you raise are ones I and others — Carrier, Price, Thompson, Doherty, Wells — have often addressed at length elsewhere. And I don’t think most of our arguments are grounded on unsupportable assumptions, nor are they based on any “need” to “be different” or “attack Christianity” or whatever.

        Some of your questions are indeed based on the assumption that certain narratives must necessarily be grounded in historical reality when there are indeed more immediate and simpler explanations — that I have learned from some of your peers. As for the question about the supposed unlikelihood of a religion preaching a crucifixion, that is also one that has been answered many times and is not in the least mysterious.

        But I fear I have used up my conciseness. Tell you what. I’ll answer each of your questions in a separate blog post. I think that would be more appropriate than tackling them in a long comment thread. If I am guilty of logical fallacies or overlooking pertinent facts then you will, of course, be welcome to alert me to my shortcomings.

      • Neil, I don’t expect you to engage adequately my questions in a comment here. But, since you claim to have done so (and, indeed, claim that others have as well), then refer me to the journal articles, scholarly monographs, etc. where this has been done. When you’ve asked for bibliography on things I’ve referred to, I’ve provided some. So, kindly do the same. My questions aren’t in fact based on any assumption, they’re based on data that require explanation. Please ante up or leave the table. Point us all, please, to the putatively persuasive answers to them all that you claim have been produced. If you like, let’s just choose one: How about you explain for us all why it is so unremarkable for early Christianity to have talked about the crucifixion of a figure when it never happened. Could you do that in a comment of a few paragraphs? You say it’s all been worked out, so perhaps a summary would be easy (and don’t forget the data).
        I don’t myself cruise the blogosphere (as so little of it seems worth the time). So do give me the bibliography on the work on which you rely, concisely cite the data that overturns what most scholars think about these matters.

      • Dr. Hurtado,

        It is true that you pointed out that Paul used the word historesai in Galatians 1:18, and my lack of training in ancient Greek does prevent me from saying much about your understanding of the word’s meaning. Nevertheless, I can see that it is a bit of a leap to suppose that his use of the word “rather clearly means that Paul spent 2 wks making inquiry of Peter, not simply batting the breeze.” What it might mean is that some two decades later Paul described the purpose of the visit insofar as it might interest the Galatians as being “making an inquiry.” We cannot suppose from that that we can know that the entire fifteen days were spent making the inquiry rather than a single afternoon followed by fourteen days of other activities. It might even mean that Paul mostly gathered the information he needed simply by observing Peter in his mundane everyday activities, which might well have included discussions of the weather and batting the breeze. There is even the possibility that Paul reinterpreted the meaning of that visit in his own mind in the years before he wrote Galatians and that making an inquiry wasn’t nearly as big a part of it as he came to believe later. There are any number of scenarios that might explain Paul’s use of the word historesai.

        More importantly, the fact that Paul described the visit as making an inquiry doesn’t tell us what the subject of the inquiry was. Had Paul believed that Peter had first hand experiences with the earthly Jesus, that certainly would have interested him, but his use of the word historesai in no way tells us that this is what he believed. Had Paul believed only that Peter had encountered the risen Christ through visions and revelation, Paul might have wanted to historesai about that as well to know whether Peter’s revelation and visions corresponded to his own.

        I do in fact have great respect for academic accomplishments and credentials. My father earned a Phd as have three of my siblings. Unfortunately, my respect for expertise breaks down when someone tries to convince me that theirs equips them to extrapolate with certainty so much precise and detailed information from a single word.

        Vincent J. Hart

      • Vincent, You would be within reason to object to a big case being made on one word . . . but that isn’t what I did. In a number of successive comments I’ve indicated corroborative indications of Paul using Jesus-tradition, and exhbiting knowledge of historical information about Jesus (e.g., Jewish birth, acquaintance with Jesus’ brothers, emphasis that he was crucified and resurrected). It does you no good to distort what I’ve provided, Vincent. With or without a PhD, fair play and accuracy surely are within reach.

      • Dr. Hurtado,

        I’m not distorting anything that you have provided. I am specifically addressing the amount of information that you are trying to extract from historesai. I did not claim that it is your entire case, but let’s be honest, it’s hugely important when it comes to the question of whether Paul gives us evidence of a historical Jesus. I have had this discussion with many historicists, some of whom have the appropriate academic credentials, and almost invariably they will cite that meeting as a vital link in the chain linking Paul to the historical Jesus and they will usually cite Paul’s use of the word historesai. What we can reasonably claim to know about that meeting is a very important factor in determining what we can reasonably say about Paul’s understanding of the earthly Jesus.

        You claimed above that “‘historesai’ rather clearly means that Paul spent 2 wks making inquiry of Peter, not simply batting the breeze.” I certainly don’t appreciate being accused of unfair play for questioning whether that information can be “clearly” extrapolated from that word.

      • Vincent, Gal 1:18-19 is significant simply because it so readily falsifies the claim that Paul would have had no interest or opportunity to learn about a historical figure, Jesus. There’s no basis for questioning the usage/meaning of the Greek verb. You have, however, wondered what Paul may have inquired about, and that’s a fair question. I’ve indicated that (so it seems to scholars generally) that Paul specifically sought to inquire of Kephas (NB: the Aramaic form of his moniker) and other factors (e.g., Paul’s own use of Jesus-tradition in his epistles, among other things) combine to make it most likely that the inquiry concerned Kephas’ knowledge of Jesus and related matters. You’ve proposed various other possibilities. In critical historical study (I say again) the task is to discern more likely from less. To move from simply questioning the dominant view to establishing something superior one has to build a stronger case. Admittedly, that can’t and shouldn’t be done in blog postings and comments. So, you or your allies do the work; publish the results in a venue where competent scholars can assess the matter, and let’s see what comes.

      • In the interest of being concise and dealing with data, I will restrict this question to one small area: Paul’s mentions of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve only found one example that you have cited here, 1 Cor 7:10-11. I would say that’s an awfully strained example, as teaching against divorce seems pretty generic to me. I also wonder about the greek for Lord used there and why it is expressed as a parenthetical. But I would welcome more argument for it being solider than I think. More importantly, is there any other evidence of Paul preaching about Jesus’ teaching?

      • Mark, I’ve several times now referred you to one respected study that focuses on your question, and asked, if you’re serious, to read it and get back to me. This is a test. Are you seriously committed to the inquiry or a village square talker?

      • Larry, you wrote: “Gal 1:18-19 is significant simply because it so readily falsifies the claim that Paul would have had no interest or opportunity to learn about a historical figure, Jesus.”

        Larry, you can’t answer the question “What evidence is there that Paul had an interest in the historical Jesus?” by begging the question and saying that he had an interest in the historical Jesus so we can accept that that’s what he would have spoken with Peter about.

        Fact one is that Gal 1:18-19 says nothing at all about Paul’s interest to learn about a historical Jesus.

        Fact two is that no mythicist argues Paul would not have had an opportunity to learn about the historical Jesus. Your claim to falsify an argument that does not exist is not particulalry valorous.

      • Neil, Attend carefully, please. The claims have been made on comments on this blog site and in other mis-infornmed settings as well that Paul had no interest in Jesus and no opportunity to know about him. I’ve cited places where Paul cites Jesus’ sayings as examples that falsify the first claim, and have cited Gal 1:18-19 as falsifying the claim that he had no opportunity to obtain the sort of tradition about Jesus that he cites.

      • Mark Erickson permalink

        Larry, please do not interpolate your answers into this comment.

        1. This is not just about me. Do you realize how this looks to the average reader? I’ve got a specific question about two verses, which are your only provided answer to where Paul discusses the teachings of Jesus. For that average reader, the quote is 1 Cor 7:10-11: “10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.” (ESV) To answer my couple of points, you say: “I told you to read this book. I can’t be bothered to discuss this.” For the average person, even the average believer, this looks like you’re ducking the question. For myself, I will try to read the book, it will take awhile I suppose, so I just wanted an explanation about these two verses before reading it. I don’t think that’s much to ask.

        2. I wrote this in response to Joel Watts yesterday for similarly offering an entire book as a proof text. “If you want to argue a point, it is fine to say X writes in Y about A, B, and C or cites evidence a, b, and c. Then, my own reasoning is x, y, and z, so I think H, I and J. How is that so hard to do for something you’ve devoted your life’s work to?”

        3. I think you are quite comfortably secure in your role as professor – you assign texts and then lecture to students. It is quite literally “read this, listen to this and then get back to me.” Fine. But if you want to engage the public with a blog, the paradigm is a seminar. And one that is open to the general public, no prerequisites required. If this is not your thing, fine. But you might be best served by not having comments. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate you giving it the old college try. I do. But many conversations will be unfruitful for all concerned with the lecture class model.

      • Mark,
        I agree that the discussion isn’t simply “about” you. It’s about how to engage in a serious inquiry about an important topic. And the way one does this properly must involve some hard work, some serious and extended reading, some acquisition of languages skills, canvassing texts with care, etc. That’s hard to accomplish in blog comments, or even in blog postings of the sort I provide. You point to seminar-type settings: Exactly. If a student comes to class unprepared, not having read the assigned material, and simply wants to pose arm-chair questions to see if he can be clever, well, he won’t like what happens next.
        Don’t worry about how I appear, it’s how you appear that seems a problem.
        Now to the text in 1 Cor 7:10-11. This isn’t in fact the only text in question, and that’s why I’ve referred you to the work by Dungan, where you have an extended and patient consideration of several such texts. (And I presumed, correctly I hope, that you were keenly interested in having such an extended and competent discussion to consider.) I’m not sure what your question is, Mark. As I’ve pointed out briefly, in 1 Cor 7:10-11 Paul cites a saying of Jesus about divorce, which corresponds to similar teaching of Jesus rehearsed in Mark 10 & Matt 19 (with variations indicative of adaptation to specific circumstances in each case). This suggests to most scholars that a saying of Jesus about divorce was already circulating in Paul’s time and he knew it. Later in 1 Cor 7 (vv. 25) Paul then engages another question (about unmarried people), saying that he knows of no saying of Jesus appropriate, and so he offers his own judgement. This suggests to most scholars that Paul (1) had some kind of body of teaching by Jesus and used it when appropriate, and (2) he did not freely make it up and ascribe it to Jesus, but distinguished between Jesus-tradition and his own judgement.

    • Jonathan Burke permalink


      “Here’s how you can make a start. Instead of just saying “this is the way we scholars see things” then tell us plainly what it is about the constructions in the Greek etc that support this “way we scholars see things”.”

      Neil, this has been done many times. You even commented on one of them, dismissing Larry’s interpretation of the hymn in Philippians 2, despite the fact that he is professionally qualified in Greek and you aren’t.

      “But question-begging and various assumptions in arguments are things we can identify and call attention to.”

      But you make these claims without evidence.

      • Jonathan Burke permalink


        “There are any number of scenarios that might explain Paul’s use of the word historesai.”

        But unless you have evidence for a specific scenario, you cannot propose it as the most probable. Again we find the mythicist problem; appealing to ‘what is remotely conceivably possible even without any evidence’ and treating it as ‘equally likely as that for which there is evidence’. This is simply invalid, and only identifies the mythicist preference for avoiding evidence.

        With regard to the Greek word in question, we find you following the typical mythicist pattern; avoid any reference to any lexical work whatsoever, and avoid attempting to identify what the word actually means. In contrast, the historicist looks for evidence. So let’s visit a few professional lexicons and dictionaries.

        1. “34.52 ἱστορέω: to visit, with the purpose of obtaining information—‘to visit and get information.’9 ἔπειτα μετὰ ἔτη τρία ἀνῆλθον εἰς Ιεροσόλυμα ἱστορῆσαι Κηφᾶν ‘it was three years later that I went to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and get information from him’ Ga 1:18. In rendering ‘to get information from him’ it may be more satisfactory to say ‘to learn something from him’ or ‘to have him tell me what I needed to know.’”

        Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.; New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 452.

        2. “The meaning is “one who knows,” “one who has seen,” “one who is acquainted with the facts.””

        , vol. 3, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament ( ed. Gerhard Kittel et al.;, electronic ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-), 391.

        3. “2. c. acc. pers., inquire of, ask, ἱστορέων αὐτοὺς ἥντινα δύναμιν ἔχει ὁ Νεῖλος Hdt.2.19, cf. 3.77; inquire of an oracle, E.Ion1547; visit a person for the purpose of inquiry, Κηφᾶν Ep.Gal.1.18:—Pass., to be questioned, κληθέντας ἱστορέεσθαι εἰ .. Hdt.1.24; ἱστορούμενος S.Tr.415, E.Hel.1371.”

        Henry George Liddell et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 842.

        4. “2707 ἱστορέω (historeō): vb.; ≡ Str 2477; TDNT 3.391—LN 34.52 visit and get information, get acquainted with (Gal 1:18+; Ac 17:23 v.r. BAGD)”

        James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.; Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

        5. “2477. ἱστορέω historéō; contracted historṓ, fut. historḗsō, from hístōr (n.f.), knowing. To ascertain by inquiry and personal examination. This is the verb from which the Eng. word “history” (historía) is derived. In the NT, to know or to visit, so as to consider and observe attentively and gain knowledge. Only in Gal. 1:18 (“to see,” and hence become acquainted with). In Class. Gr., to narrate.
        Syn.: horáō (3708), to see with the idea of becoming acquainted and obtaining mutual understanding.”

        Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.; Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

    • (Editor’s note: I’ve taken the route again of simply interlacing brief responses to Vincent’s interesting comments below, his comments marked “VH” and mine marked “LWH”)

      VH: I’m very sorry to disagree with you again, but unless we can readily know the topic of Paul’s inquiry, we cannot claim that Galatians 1:18-19 readily establishes what he would have had an interest or opportunity to learn. If the topic of the inquiry is a fair question (as you concede it is), then so necessarily are the questions of Paul’s interest and opportunity. I think the logic of that is pretty straightforward regardless whether I have written any peer reviewed papers on the subject.
      LWH: Well, not so “straightforward” (I’d say not so simplistic) as you say, Vincent. The relevant data include not only Gal 1:18-19 but also all else in Paul’s letters about his contacts and relationship with Jerusalem leaders and church, his references to Jesus and his teachings, the rhetorical situation being addressed in the Galatians epistle (a very defensive piece of writing), etc. And when one takes all this into account (as one is required to do in refereed scholarly publishing), the more likely inference is that Paul went to Jerusalem to inquire about Jesus and the beliefs of Jerusalem leaders, etc. That is the inference widely taken by scholars. Clearly, Paul went to Jerusalem, and clearly specifically to interview Kephas. So, unquestionably he had the opportunity to learn about Jesus from Kephas. The only question is whether he made use of the opportunity, or inquired about something else, yes? For the reasons given, most of us think that the discussions included Kephas’ recollections of Jesus.

      VH: Speaking as an untrained layman, Paul seems to be quite emphatic in the preceding verses about not having learned the gospel from any man and not feeling the need to consult with any of his predecessors in the faith after receiving his revelation. . . . On the other hand, Paul does express a great deal of concern about the preaching of false gospels. That would suggest to me that Paul was inquiring to see whether Peter had the right gospel, not to see whether Peter could supplement Paul’s knowledge.
      LWH: Well, Vincent, two points in response. First, as scholars who’ve worked with the Greek texts recognize, Paul uses “gospel” sometimes (as in “my gospel”, or “the gospel which I preach”) to refer specifically to his message/programme that gentiles were able to become full co-religionists as gentiles, without having to become also proselytes to Jewish Torah-practice. That commission, to enfranchise gentiles en masse, he certainly saw as given to him directly by “revelation”, and that is what he is trying to assert and defend in Galatians (where his authority on the matter seems to have been challenged). So, you mistake his statements as if they were claiming that he never learned anything from anyone. It’s specifically his gentile mission that he’s claiming as given to him by revelation. Second, the Greek term in Gal 1:18-19 is typically used to refer to researching or making inquiry to learn something, not to challenge or prosecute someone. So, he went to learn something from Kephas, not to attach or interrogate him as an accuser. That’s clear. Moreover, although later in Gal (2:11ff.) he
      describes a setting in which he portrays kephas as buckling under pressure from other Jewish Christians from Jerusalem to withdraw from table-fellowship with gentile converts, Paul never accuses Kephas of preaching a heretical gospel, either here or elsewhere. so, we have no basis for thinking that Paul suspected Kephas of such.

      • vinnyjh57 permalink

        I hope I am not being overly simplistic, but the approach I learned to analyzing a statement in law school is to start with the statement itself and then gradually expand the context in which you analyze it. The farther you get from the statement, the stronger the reason would have to be to overturn the conclusion suggested by the nearer context. I appreciate that a scholar must look at all the relevant evidence, but it seems to me that if I am trying to figure out what a particular verse readily establishes, I have to start with the verse itself.

        Galatians 1:19 only tells me that Paul went to Jerusalem to make some sort of inquiry . . .Since Galatians 1:19 doesn’t resolve the subject of the inquiry, I would look next look to see whether the immediate context sheds any light on the matter. When I look at the immediate context of the chapter, I don’t see any indication that Paul was looking for information about the historical figure. I might not take Paul to be saying that he never learned anything from anyone, but when he writes “I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me,” it seems pretty clear to me that he doesn’t want the Galatians to think that Peter knew anything that he didn’t know.

        While Paul may not ever accuse Peter of preaching a heretical gospel, the context of Paul’s discussion of both visits to Jerusalem is his discussion of false gospels and false brothers. I think that provides me with more than sufficient basis for thinking that Paul was worried about something fishy coming out of Jerusalem. . . .

        Only after having drawing the best conclusion I can based on the immediate context of Galatians would I look to see whether some other writing suggests some other interpretation. When I look at Paul’s other letters, what i constantly see is his concern that his congregations have the correct understanding of the risen Christ. Nowhere do I see a suggestion that the activities of Jesus during his earthly ministry mattered. There are a couple of commands that Paul attributes to “the Lord” that might conceivably have originated with the earthly Jesus, but Paul makes no claim that they did. Looking at everything Paul writes, I would say it confirms my interpretation that Paul went to make inquiry about Peter’s understanding of the risen Christ rather than his experiences with the earthly Jesus..

        Vincent J. Hart

      • Vincent,
        I’ve posted your views (which essentially reiterate your previously stated ones) so that I can indicate briefly why they aren’t widely shared. Essentially, the reasons are that (1) you don’t correlate sufficient relevant evidence, and (2) you don’t read the evidence with sufficient grasp of the situation in which it originated and the rhetorical direction of it. I’ll aim to explain briefly.
        1) Though each statement or piece of evidence has to be considered in its own right, in framing a conclusion about something so much larger than any one statement (in this case, whether Paul knew about or cared about whether there was a historical figure named Jesus and what he did), one has to correlate all relevant evidence. It’s rather dodgy to make it all hang on one statement. Yet again, I underscore that Gal 1:18-19 shows that Paul had the opportunity to learn about Jesus(from Kephas and James, Jesus’ brother), and that he was concerned to inquire of Kephas (the word means to make inquiry, not to interrogate like a prosecuting attorney, Vincent).
        2) From other texts (e.g., 1 Cor 7) it is clear that Paul had a finite body of sayings of Jesus that he could draw upon when it seemed appropriate to do so. Note, again, that he has some sayings on some topics, but not on others. This suggests that he didn’t simply make mystical inquiries to provide these sayings, but had them given to him.
        3) In Galatians, what Paul is responding to is people who have impugned his apostolic authority, specifically his mission and message that gentiles need not become torah-proselytes in addition to their faith in Jesus to be treated as full co-religionists with Jewish believers. What he’s obviously defending is his commission, his right to act as apostle. What he’s denying is rather obviously that he was deputized by Jerusalem and so has no independent authority to make converts, etc. There is nothing in Galatians that suggests that the issue was whether he learned any Jesus-tradition from Kephas, Vincent. You’re simply not reading the issue in the epistle aright. Surely, your legal training emphasized the need to read texts in context and with sensitivity to the circumstances and issues addressed, and avoid taking individual statements out of context.
        There is nothing, nothing in Paul’s letters anywhere that indicates a disdain for a historical figure, Jesus, or a concern that Kephas was off-pist on the gospel, or any of the other things you propose.

        I think we’ve been round these houses quite enough, Vincent. I’ve stated several times now the reasoning that scholars tend to follow. You haven’t consented to it previously, and I don’t expect you to do so now. But I do hope that you’ll have the good sense to grant that the great body of scholars with whom you choose to take issue aren’t simply stupid or failing to follow reasoning or making special-pleading. Now, let’s move on.

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