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Labels, Critiques and Fair Play

October 21, 2014

My posting yesterday in which I simply advocated that scholarly work be engaged before we label it provoked some interest, but also what I regard an ill-considered response from Robert  Myles.  I don’t spend much time scanning the blogosphere, so I usually don’t track what other bloggers may write about me or what I have to say.  But Myles sent a comment indicating that he’d blogged in response on his site:  “The Bible and Class Struggle” here.  So, I read it.

I’m both a bit puzzled and somewhat offended.  I’m puzzled because Myles seems to take my posting (and some earlier publications as well) as if I’m engaged in his own focus on “the class struggle” but on the other side of that struggle.  I’m not . . . not on the other side, trying to keep down the masses, or prevent new and different voices in scholarship, or . . . well, you get my point.  I fail to see anything in what I’ve written that gives reason to think otherwise (although I suspect  that Myles might take the preceding statement as simply indicative of an insufficiently raised consciousness).

Had Myles read my posting more carefully, i.e., with an attempt first to understand what I was saying instead of first pegging me and then filtering everything through this label, he might have noted (among other things) (1) a complete absence of reference to Marxism, class struggle, or any of the various newer  approaches in biblical studies, (2) examples given of “labels” were “conservative,” “liberal”, and my references to the American scene with the often frosty relations between these two camps, (3) my candid acknowledgement that there is no “disinterested objectivity” (contra the impression given in Myles posting that I’m some kind of naïve objectivist), with simply a plea that we try our best to treat with fairness and accuracy the views of others (especially those with whom we think we disagree). It’s also disappointing to have one’s views so curiously distorted.

At one point, Myles states that I’ve been criticized in print previously for my allegedly narrow view of biblical studies, citing an article by James Crossley published in the online journal Relegere here.  But Myles curiously fails to mention my responding essay in the same journal available here,  in which (among other things) I offer some corrections to Crossley’s representation of my views.

(Actually, the story about these two essays is interesting.  Crossley, a UK colleague, wrote and published his essay in which he specifically engaged some of my publications, and I learned of it only because one of my former students drew it to my attention.  When I read it, the unfortunate misrepresentations became immediately apparent.  So, I contacted Crossley, indicating that I thought he’d mis-read me on some points.  Crossley expressed some regret at the situation in which I learned of the essay and suggested that I contact the journal and request an opportunity to respond.  The editors apologized, acknowledging that they should have sent it to me and allowed a response.    And they kindly then invited me to write one.  For the record, before submitting that response, I sent it to Crossley for comments and any corrections to my portrayal of his views.  That’s just the way I ride.)

I’m also offended at some of the statements in Myles’s posting.  In particular, I take exception to the term “disingenuous”, which means “insincere, lacking candour.”  Effectively, to say that someone is being “disingenuous” is to accuse them of duplicity, of veiling their true position.  It’s a character-attack.  And that’s just the sort of inappropriate labelling that is so unhelpful, so misguided, misjudged, and counter-productive.  It is corrosive to the serious issues that Myles would like to pursue.

So, can we please discuss issues without impugning one another?  Could we please try, really hard,  to understand one another as a standard first step?  And how about this:  How about checking out our understanding of someone before we write a critique of them?    Just a thought.


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  1. My position is that even most of religious scholarship is by persons who have, in one church or another, made a faith commitment to Christianity. But there is a problem with that.

    Especially the problem is this: “faith” by definition means following something for which there is no evidence. Or indeed even following things opposed by evidence. But that would be the exact opposite to scholarship.

    As this is relevant here: it would also be very nearly the definition of an ideology.

    • Brettongarcia: You really don’t understand what “faith” (esp. in the Christian sense of the word is). It’s not simply some decision to ignore all evidence to the contrary, or even primarily a cognitive one. But it would take more space than available here to explain further, and I’m not sure it would do any good.
      More to the point, whether a person is a church-going Christian, or synagogue-attending Jew, or Buddhist, or whatever, is scarcely relevant . . . if they’re producing scholarship for the spectrum of people who make up the scholarly academy. Scholars are intensively critical of one another, and quick to spot any special pleading or a priori arguments.
      You really should try reading serious scholarly work on the NT. It would help correct your skewed stereotypes.

      • Many of us whom like myself, were trained in strict Historical method in secular graduate schools, feel that the approach by religious scholars is not strictly historical; but relies far too much on faith. We see this over and over when reading allegedly historical accounts of Jesus. The assertion of resurrection as a fact for example, as has been noted here, would not normally admitted in a secular History department.

        I agree that my quick outline of “faith” is a bit simplistic. But having been raised as a Christian, I know that it corresponds to the doctrine of many churches. Christian faith was often taught as continuing to believe in God say, even say when he does not deliver physical miracles, like the resurrections that were promised and so forth. “Blessed is he who believes,” but who “has not seen” Jesus himself. Paul affirming that we believe in “things not seen” or “invisible.” We “walk by faith and not by sight.” So that rejecting physical evidence seems to be part of the core of 1) much religion. Even more 2) “spiritual” religion especially; since now physical things – including evidence – are now regarded as unimportant.

        This rejection of physical evidence would be a major problem in secular History departments.

      • Brettongarcia: I don’t know what critical biblical scholarship you’ve been reading, but it doesn’t seem to correspond to what I read (or write). I don’t see scholars treating miracles as simple obvious facts, or the claim about Jesus’ resurrection as just another matter to be taken by all for granted. Instead, scholars commonly recognize that the CLAIM that Jesus was raised is a HISTORICAL FACT that appeared early (e.g., Ehrman, who is no exponent of traditional Christianity, contends properly that this conviction that Jesus was raised is the essential starting point for all else in early Christianity). Whether the claim is VALID, is a THEOLOGICAL issue, and so is typically not engaged in critical scholarship today.
        Likewise, “historical accounts of Jesus” i.e., by critical scholars tend actually to stick pretty scrupulously to things that can be engaged irrespective of faith-claims. I don’t know who you’re reading, but obviously not very widely.
        The work of scholars in Christian origins is relied upon and interacted with by scholars in other fields, e.g., ancient Judaism, Classics, ancient history, and I see no complaints that it is “faith-tainted”.
        You’re just out of touch. Perhaps your own (apparently counter-productive) experience with a certain form of Christianity has actually skewed your own thinking.

    • Robert permalink

      In response to Brettongarcia’s statement: “My position is that even most of religious scholarship is by persons who have, in one church or another, made a faith commitment to Christianity. But there is a problem with that.”

      Maybe you could cite some specific examples rather than relying on such a broad generalization. Are you speaking of seminary formation perhaps? My experience of graduate NT programs in universities is that a faith commitment on the part of students and professors is irrelevant.

      • Brettongarcia permalink

        I think many scholars play a sort of polysemic or semantic game with language; using equivocal language to make equivocal statements. Statements that would be open to either 1) a critical understanding, but then also 2) simple pious fundamentalism. (The larger and more powerful audience).

        Let’s take even Larry H’s best example above; where he says that Ehrman for example, acknowledges that the claim or belief that Jesus was literally or physically raised from the dead, was important; 1) without it is said, actually saying that Jesus literally was in fact raised. As it turns out however, Ehrman lately attracted attention for reversing some of his earlier doubts; as he recently affirmed that we “know” that Jesus existed. And I’d like to note, if we look at our present example, the language appears equivocal. If we simply say that “Christians believed that Jesus literally raised,” this 2 )will be taken by some readers , as affirming that belief for many readers. First since it seems to affirm that Christians must believe this. But even more so because of this statement’s position in a current controversy: today even many scholars assert that there could not have been such a quick adoption of Christianity, unless there had been an ACTUAL resurrection, with witnesses. With this background supplying context, Ehrman’s statement will be widely read as affirming resurrection.

        So in the context of the current left/right ideological split on Jesus, the above characterization of Ehrman’s statement, in itself, plays both sides of the fence. It is open to two readings. And one of them is quite fundamentalistic.

        It might be claimed that Ehrman – and countless other scholars – somewhere firmly disambiguate their language. But? As a semanticist, I’d have to say that is far, far more rare than anyone supposes. One might suggest that the rest of Ehrman makes his meaning clear. But judging from this particular example? Ehrman is playing up a bit to the Right, believe it or not. And has recently been taken to task for that.

      • Brettongarcia: It’s no “game” when scholars make historical judgements. If they’re playing about, they’ll get their butts handed to them by other scholars! Ehrman makes the judgement that the Jesus-resurrection claim goes back to the earliest moments of the Jesus-movement and that everything else is dependent on that claim because that’s what all the evidence indicates, not because he’s trying to play a game or be duplicitous, and certainly not because he’s trying to pander to traditional Christians. I really think you need to step down from your supposedly superior standpoint and simply learn something about the historical data and questions involved.

      • Robert permalink

        Brettongarcia: Speaking of games, I asked you to cite some specific examples to back up your position that “most religious scholarship is by persons who have, in one church or another, made a faith commitment to Christianity.” And more specifically I tried to ask/guess if, by religious scholarship, you are speaking of seminary formation or graduate NT programs in universities, the latter a context in which I find your claim irrelevant.

        Your new example (in addition to Larry) is Bart Ehrman, who has no faith commitment to Christianity in any church. And you seem to think that Ehrman previously had doubts about Jesus’ existence, but that is not the case. Ehrman has recently changed his position on early high christology but not on the question of Jesus’ historical existence, which he never doubted as far as I know, either as a fundamentalist training at the Moody Bible Institute or during his later seminary training at Princeton Theological Seminary and later teaching career at Rutgers and the University of North Carolina.

        I do think Ehrman can sometimes be crititiqued for a a post fundamentalist position, but I think we should first learn what his own positions actually are.

  2. Dancing eh? Not a baptist then.

  3. I may never understand why scholars, many working in the same field, must be so mean to one another. Even American football players, decidedly with egos as big or bigger than scholars, have learned to respect one another and “play well with others”……

    • Donald Jacobs permalink

      It’s sometimes been remarked that academic disputes are bitter precisely because the stakes are do small: Sayre’s law.

      • Donald: Anything can seem small to anyone who doesn’t give a damn about it. Says as much about the person so viewing something as it does the something.

  4. Dirk the Invincible permalink

    But you have to admit it is an effective tactic to boost his own blog readership to get into a back and forth with a senior scholar whose blog is far more widely read and who will (out of fairness) be compelled to link to his assailants blog. 😉

  5. I’m interested to know whether you will critically engage in scholarly discussion with Dr Robert Myles. I read his posting and found it to be an insightful analysis as well as a thoughtful response to your previous ideas on labels.

    • Steph: If Dr. Myles will engage the issues that I discuss, rather than trying to place me in some kind of alleged ideological box, I’ll be glad to discuss those matters.

      • The issues on labels in scholarship which you initially drew attention to, were the issues Dr Myles addressed in his post. His post was insightful and analytical and inferred invitation to a continuing respectful discussion with you. He quoted you substantially and examined the ideas you highlighted. ironically your response to me appears to confirm the argument the conclusion reached by Dr Myles, that you are operating out of a conception of ideology called “false consciousness”, the only ‘ideological box’ you demonstrate, which was epitomised in the final paragraph of your blog post. Please reconsider a scholarly response.

      • Gee, “steph”, if you and/or Dr. Myles could help me see (1) what it is that confirms for you my “false consciousness” and “ideological box”, and (2) demonstrate perhaps what the study of NT/Christian origins would be free from these, I’d be most grateful. I’m actually more interested in the origins of Christianity than in skirmishing over ideology. But I’m willing to learn.

      • As I explained, Dr Myles demonstrated this in his post. You demonstrate it quite clearly in that final paragraph, and ‘ideological box’ is the term you wished for an identifying indicator. The point is that ideology does actually influence individual approaches to history. As an example, the idea of separation of ‘theological’ from ‘historical’ issues, which you describe in another comment on this thread: the ‘NT basis for reverencing Jesus as “Lord” etc. is the claim that God has made him thus, and doesn’t rest on what Jesus may or may not have claimed for himself.’ suggests that ideological influence.

      • Steph: I fear that you don’t get my point and so your criticism is . . . well, meaningless. It simply is the case that references to deities are theological statements, and claims about what did or didn’t happen in history are historical statements. And the latter, at least in open discourse across religious, philosophical, ideological lines (the broader scholarly audience that I typically address), have to be framed and based in ways that don’t require a given theological standpoint. So, in the case of Christian belief that God raised him from the dead, this is a theological statement about a posited historical event. No “ideological box” here, just a recognition of the limits of the usual nature of historical inquiry.

      • My name is steph. You will be aware of my name from moderation. I do not think it respectful to trap it in inverted commas.

      • Sorry. I don’t know what “aware of my name from moderation” refers to. Commenters sometimes seem to use nom de plumes for comments, so my mistake. No offence intended, Steph.

      • I understood your point. Your post was about labels, which you dislike, and scholarship. Dr Myles engaged with separate issues you raised yet you claim he did not and instead merely dismiss the idea of an impression of ‘false consciousness’ without engaging with his argument and example of it from your own testimony. As to the latter, as a rationalist, whether or not Jesus rose from the dead is a historical issue. It can’t be purely diverted to ‘theology’, unless one operates from another conception.

        My name in moderation, is my complete name in my email address which will be visible to you, but not public, in moderation.

      • Steph: Just one clarification. The claim isn’t that Jesus “rose” from the dead. The claim is that God raised Jesus from the dead, and exalted him to heavenly glory. How would a historian verify that??
        You see, you have to get a clear picture of the issue before you engage it.

      • I am well aware of the Greek verbs and different gospel accounts. However you have demonstrated my point. You have diverted a historical question, and left it unanswered.

      • Steph: Please be patient with me. What is your historical question?

    • Quite simple really, is Jesus risen from the dead? From dead body to living body, to appear to people as a living person. “As the first fruits of those who sleep.” Leaving behind an empty tomb. Is the belief based on an event of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead?

      • Steph: It’s not simple, not as simple as you (and, curiously, some Christian apologists) assume. If you’re asking a question of historians, and asking them to answer it using methods open to historians, then the question of whether God raised Jesus from the dead is most certainly not “simple”. The NT claim involves the prior claim that the biblical deity is and acted in this instance. How would a historian check that out? Can’t interview God, or check out the heavens to see if one appears.
        An empty tomb wouldn’t prove it either (as ancient sources show), for tombs in the ancient world could be emptied variously.
        And sightings of the risen/exalted Lord can’t be tested by historical method. By definition, the experience of an individual or group of the past can’t be replicated. We can assess them by other means: Do we know/have similar experiences? Is such a claim typically associated with clear other factors? Is this claim really like that made in other cases? If not, then what?
        The belief that Jesus was raised from the dead appears to have erupted on the basis of people experiencing what they took to be the risen/exalted Jesus primarily. An empty tomb comes into it also at an early point, and seems not to have been a matter disputed (though its cause was disputed).
        All that historical inquiry permits us to do is to inquire who made such claims, when, under what reported circumstances, and any other related phenomena.
        The question of whether their experiences were in some way valid reflections of the activity of the biblical deity is, perforce, a theological question, perhaps a philosophical one, but not one that historians can settle . . . at least not without invoking theological or philosophical grounds.

      • As a question of history, it stands. My point, is from your perspective, it becomes something it wasn’t originally. That Jesus was risen was a statement of an event. It was based on a belief evolved in a pre enlightened world in which verification or falsification were of no consequence. You can define ‘resurrection’ metaphorically in a post enlightened context, but as an event which contradicts the laws of nature, it can neither be verified nor falsified. We can explore the definition of resurrection according to ancient beliefs but they needed no scientific verification. Like Swinburne’s toys which came out at night to play (which I alluded to in the disappeared comment). NT Wright will wriggle around in the same way, and conclude, ‘it happened’ as a historical event. I’m not assuming anything. I’m interested in the method you apply to answering or not answering a historical question by transforming it into a philosophical one. Historians can demonstrate hypotheses about how beliefs evolved out of the earliest human curiosity and awe of nature. Theologians NT Wright, argues repetitively to death that the ‘historical’ arguments for a bodily resurrection are convincing.

      • Steph: You’re a bit confusing (and confusing!). I’ll try to clarify matters. First, yes, the NT claim about Jesus’ resurrection is a “historical” claim in the sense that it’s claiming an event that happened within the experiences of people in this world. But, as any historian will tell you, our efforts to investigate such claims are limited to the kinds of evidence and tests that we can apply. We can’t necessarily know everything about the past, only what our tools and methods allow us.
        So, e.g., we can’t test historically the claim that there is the deity invoked in the Jesus-resurrection claim. We can’t interview this deity to see if the deity did what is claimed. The question of whether there is this or any other deity is a philosophical/theological one, not a historical one.
        I’m not “wriggling”, just trying to get you to see what seems rather obvious as to historical method.
        Historians can show when a given idea or claim arose, and something of the circumstances. But in the case of a claim such as Jesus’ resurrection historians can’t verify or falsify it, simply because we can show the circumstances under which it arose. To think otherwise is a serious non-sequitur.
        If you have a beef with Tom Wright’s handling of the matter (and I have some reservations too), then take it up with him, and stop confusing me with him.

      • Sorry I confused you. As a historian I know this. This is not a question about whether or not there reality behind ideas of a deity. This is a question of a physical body being raised from the dead. As historians we can explore cultural belief in resurrection, and demonstrate how the belief in Jesus’ evolved by examining the context in which it arose. We can also explore the pre enlightenment cultures in which beliefs were formed and why they were formed, and as historians, we conclude that these beliefs are not based on a real event. You seem to leave it open because it cannot be falsified when in fact the laws of nature and knowledge of science make it implausible and psychological, historical, sociological and anthropological discussions put it in context and evolved enlightened theology, understanding historical the context, reinterpret the claimed event into a metaphorical idea.

      • No, Steph, yours remains the confusion or misunderstanding. First, the early Christian claims isn’t that Jesus was restored to a “historical” existence (which we might be able to investigate), but that he had been raised to a new, eschatological existence that models that held out also to believers. I.e., the claim was that Jesus had been virtually catapulted into life of “the age to come”. We can’t go there to test the claim. Get it??
        Nor can historians (who work within the proper limits of historical method) judge the validity of the claim that the biblical deity worked this event. They can trace the emergence of the claim, the historical circumstances, the effects, etc. They could see whether there were contradictory or alternate views,claims, and then make some analysis of that.
        Finally, we didn’t have to wait for the Enlightenment to know that dead men don’t rise. The ancients knew that as well, and hence the resurrection claim was deemed ridiculous by many in the Roman period.
        As for “laws of nature and knowledge of science,” again, these apply to phenomena within the limits of those observation-based “laws” (which, as any self-respecting scientist would tell you, aren’t “laws” in the legal sense, but merely reinforced observations). But, as stated already, they can’t test an event described as involving a world other than the one we know.
        So, one has to judge on whatever basis one wishes to invoke whether that claim has moral credibility. And that, once again, Steph, is a philosophical/theological judgement, not a historical one.
        I think we’ve now covered the matter. I’m closing this thread.

  6. Jim permalink

    I don’t get why people have so much trouble understanding your blog posts. I find them clear and well written. Please keep them coming. There are many who appreciate what you are trying to do with this blog.

  7. Jason permalink

    But Dr. Myles seems to go the other way. Check out his comments in Prof. Hurtado’s blog post Scholarship and “Political/Theological” Labels:

    “For example, in a seminar paper I gave the other day to a secular UK institution, I was accused of ‘intellectual laziness’ for my apparently hasty dismissal of a supernatural bodily resurrection.”

    “There seems to be an interesting double standard here though given your previous (and quite reasonable) dismissal of mythicism as a conspiracy theory. How come the same criteria does not apply to supernatural interventions in history?”

    And again on Dr. Myles’ own blog in the post Biblical Studies and the Hermeneutics of Paranoia:

    “I find Wright’s constant appeals to reasonableness troubling given that so many of his conclusions are, quite frankly, unreasonable (I’m thinking primarily of arguments for the historical accuracy of a supernatural bodily resurrection, for instance).”

    What’s going on here? . . . . For the record, It seems that I’ve seen Prof. Hurtado comment (or at least make inference to) Wright’s “macro-level a prioris” in the past (see the comments in “Beyond Bultmann”: A Newly Published Volume), but regardless of these a prioris we can figure out if a scholar’s premises are sound “by working up from below”. I take this to mean that we shouldn’t judge the merit of a scholar or his work solely by the conclusions he’s reached, but by assessing the ground level work that got him to those conclusions.

    • Jason: Hmm. As to your final statements, I’d put it this way: We should engage scholarly work, taking account of the stated premises (and whether they comprise special pleading or appeals to something that is not readily taken as a premise for scholarly analysis), the adequacy of coverage of relevant data, the skilfulness in analysis of the data, the cogency and force of the argumentation.

  8. Robert permalink

    Welcome to the Internet! Seriously, I just want to say how much I appreciate your willingness to discuss scholarly issues on the Internet. I very much enjoy your blog.

  9. Donald Jacobs permalink

    If you wouldn’t claim the label of “objective scholar”, have you anywhere explained your personal biases in relation to your scholarship? Bart Ehrman for example has explained at the length the relation between his own biography and the positions he’s finally arrived at. The same can be said for many conservative scholars too who are open about where they are coming from. Or do you consider such public self-reflection for the non-serious scholars only?

    • Donald: If I exhibit bias (i.e., unjustified views held without basis in the relevant data), then point it out. I try not to practice biased scholarship, and I’ve not received criticism from those who disagree with me that I do so. They and I may differ over how to interpret something, but I offer a reason for my own views, and don’t invoke some religious or other stance as an a priori.
      As for Ehrman’s repeated references to his own personal story, well, Bart knows very well that this works in selling popular books. It’s noteworthy that he doesn’t do it in his works intended primarily for fellow scholars. I don’t hide anything, and in these Internet days pretty much anything can be found out if one did try to do so. I just don’t see that, e.g., I graduated from North Kansas City High School, or was really good at dancing in my youth, or play the guitar imperfectly, or take part in an Episcopal church, or whatever is relevant to my proposals about Christian origins, one way or the other. So, let’s move on.

      • Good on yer, Larry! Please be encouraged and try really hard to avoid letting yourself be “shut down” in any way, even subconsciously (whatever that may mean), by unwarranted attacks on your methods of communication. That is simply one strategy of those who dislike your kind of message.

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        Professor Hurtado you claim that acholars who disagree with you have not accused you of bias in your work, but what is James Crossley doing here if not that?

        “While there is little doubt that Hurtado has described orthodox Chridtology accurately and that his view of Christ-devotion may well reflect certain late New Testament texts (especially John’s gospel), his view dominates material where little support for his case can be given. A good example of this is his handling of some of the earliest pre-70 CE followers of Jesus where evidence is patchy at best. Hurtado makes it clear that he is keen to distance himself from anything sounding anti-Jewish so he even critisized Hengel’s portrayal of Paul’s message as “misconstrual that shows the tell-tale signs of the influence of Lutheran theological categories of law versus gospel.” However, it becomes clear that Hurtado has his own theological categories for dealing with differentiation from Judaism. In the following examples it is clear that Hurtado’s version of the myth of “Jewish… but not too Jewish” is dictating the argument even when (especially when?) no serious evidence exists to support the case.” (Jesus in an Age of Terror, page 187)

        Isn’t Crossley here saying, not merely that your presentation is wrong, but wrong in such a way that reveals systematic bias?

      • Donald: Perhaps. Disappointing if so. For, instead of making such sweeping assertions (unsupported, so far as I can see), scholars would do better to go to the evidence (and I always offer evidence for my views!) in equivalent depth and then point out specifically where I make an unsupported claim, or mis-read something. I see no need to respond otherwise.

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        Crossley does give his reasons (pages 187-189). In particular he draws attention to your claim that Paul persecuted the early church because of their Christ-devotion despite 1) the an sense of any text which explicitly says Christ devotion was the reason and 2) other explicit factors that already sufficiently account for the persecution, namely conflict over issues of law and ethnicity. Secondly Crossley draws attention to your use of miracles in Mark as showing intense devotion to Christ, despite the fact other first century Jewish figures performed similar miracles. So he does give his reasons with specific examples and evidence.

        Apart from which, it strikes me that if you allow yourself to draw attention to Hengel’s Lutheranism when critiquing his view of the law versus gospel, you can hardly complain if others draw attention to your Christianity when countering your view of early high Christology. Fair’s fair, no?

      • Donald: I haven’t read Crossley’s comments (and he didn’t bother to check whether his representation of my views tallies with what I think I said). First, I *propose* and *likely* among the factors that drove Paul to try to destroy the early Jewish church their claims and devotional practices toward Jesus. I give the data on which that inference is based. Paul doesn’t say explicitly, so ANY proposal (including Crossley’s) is an inference. Second, in fact, Paul never says “explicitly” that “issues of law and ethnicity” had anything to do with his opposition to the Jewish church, and either you’re incorrectly reporting Crossley, or he’s just wrong. I give my bases for my inference, and I stand by it. My inference has nothing to do with any faith stance, which is why, among others, the great Jewish scholar, Alan Segal, bought it too.
        As to your second statement, you (or Crossley) misrepresent what I’ve said. What I’ve said is that the early Christian practice of invoking Jesus to work their exorcisms, etc., is an expression of Jesus-devotion. That’s just . . . well, plain. That other ancient figures are said to have worked miracles is true, but quite beside the point.
        As for my critique of Hengel, again (if you both to read what I’ve written), you’ll see that I cite places where he expresses his Lutheran-influenced theological position. I don’t make general accusations without citing my bases. That’s fair. All I ask is the same. Perhaps especially from other scholars.

  10. Donald Jacobs permalink

    On the one hand what I enjoy about your books and articles is that you write in a clear manner, the footnotes are extensive, arguments straightforward, and presentations of others’ positions can be relied upon. In that sense, yes, good objective scholarship. But still there is something else going on too, so that your persistent refrain of recent years feels haunted by unanswered questions: “really, I’m just a scholar of Christian Origins, seeking to understand what I regard as a fascinating phenomenon.”

    What I genuinely don’t understand (without throwing around words like disingenuous) is how a scholar such as yourself can adopt the position, for example, as I believe you have done, that the historical Jesus may not have regarded himself as divine, yet simultaneously in private hold that Jesus is the proper object of faith because he is the Son of God.

    Or how you can say that the origin of Christ devotion is a purely historical matter, so that it wouldn’t matter for your Christian faith if such worship developed later, among gentile Christians. Of course it would matter: the historical does impinge on matters of faith. To claim otherwise just seems odd, not objective.

    We wouldn’t want a judge to pass sentence on a relative, or a surgeon to operate on a sworn enemy. In such areas we want objectivity and separation of the personal and the professional. We might like the “idea” of the same in the humanities, but in reality we it is an illusion. In truth the only ones sufficiently motivated to study early Christianity are those who have some sort of axe to grind. Isn’t it better if scholars say openly and clearly what they have at stake in the issue, and then allow others to judge if the arguments stack up?

    You seem to be saying that in private you are a Christian who worships Jesus as the Son of God, and as a professional you are an objective scholar who has concluded that worship of Jesus erupted early and comprehensively on the Christian scene. But there is absolutely no connection between those two facts, and anyone who wants to probe any connection is a troublemaker, attending to their own agenda, or too I’ll-informed and lazy to learn Greek properly or pursue a relevant PhD. All of which may even be true, but still, your constant insistence that you be judged purely as an “objective scholar” and nothing else, leaves more unresolved than it settles.

    • Donald: A brief response (it’s all that’s necessary). First, I’ve stated more than once over the years (e.g., in my book, Lord Jesus Christ, pp. 5-11) how I distinguish historical questions about when, where, how earliest Jesus-devotion was expressed from questions about what one makes of Jesus-devotion as to its validity, claim etc. If you don’t get it, I can’t make it much clearer. But one simple re-statement: The NT basis for reverencing Jesus as “Lord” etc. is the claim that God has made him thus, and doesn’t rest on what Jesus may or may not have claimed for himself. Now whether or not God did do this is a THEOLOGICAL issue, not a historical one (i.e., it can’t be settled simply by historical inquiry).
      As for your last paragraph, it’s another example of your mischievous imputation of things I’ve never said. E.g., I defy you to find places where I’ve labelled those who may disagree with my historical work in the ways you accuse me of doing (e.g., “troublemaker, “ill-informed and lazy”, etc.) I don’t even use “objective scholar” to describe myself! PLEASE: Respect those you disagree with (or think you do) sufficiently to read what they write and reflect it. Straw man argumentation resting on such silly misrepresentation immediately discredits you.
      Finally, as I’ve made historical analysis and reasoning what I do professionally, either refute my evidence, analysis and reasoning as faulty, or assent to it. You won’t get any traction by observing that a given scholar does or doesn’t attend church!

      • Jason permalink

        Donald has made it clear here (and in earlier posts) that he’s not going to be happy about the state of modern Biblical scholarship until there are no people of faith left in the field, or at the very least, that they should not be taken very seriously.

        But of course, if we take his argument seriously, the axe grinds both ways. One can just as easily argue that all NT scholars who are NOT Christian must also be motivated for private reasons. Isn’t odd that one of the scholars Donald has shown some esteem for, the mythicist Richard Carrier, also happens to be the former editor-in-chief of the anti-theist website Internet Infidels/Secular Web? Isn’t he the same guy who wrote in his Testimony “From Taoist to Infidel” that it was his mission to “publish as much as I could to help others like me and to defeat the nonsense and lies that I saw being spread everywhere” in the name of Christianity?

        No one, not even the judge in his analogy, is completely free from subjectivity. Its far wiser to, as you say Prof. Hurtado, respect those you disagree with, and let the work speak for itself.

      • Jason: I think you may be a bit unfair to Donald Jacobs. Or perhaps you’re being more precise and clear than he is! I’m not sure what it is that would make Donald “happy”. It’s not clear that he would want to silence anybody, however. He has insisted repeatedly that he doesn’t think anybody produces anything but stuff reflecting this or that bias. But, in any case, the thread isn’t about Donald, or me really, but about the standards of scholarly discourse and analysis that should characterize the field.

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