Saturday 18 February 2012

James McGrath on History & Faith

"Why is it that so many today assume that most if not all Biblical literature is straightforward factual description, and treat this as the 'default setting' when reading the Bible?"

It's a great question.  James McGrath, scholar and blogger extraordinaire, poses it in the second edition of his book The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith.  To be honest, I can think of a couple of kneejerk responses, but McGrath isn't finished yet.

"Might stories that feature talking animals be fables, or at least fable-like? ... There are a wider range of options than simply 'inerrantly-recorded history' on the one end and 'pure fiction' on the other."

On the strength of what I've read so far, I've no hesitation in recommending The Burial of Jesus, particularly as - thanks to ebook technology - the cost is a miniscule $3 on Amazon.  Would that all biblical scholarship was this accessible!  This is a book to challenge wooden-headed literalism of whatever persuasion, as well as extreme skepticism.

Link:  The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith?


  1. Yes, we can pretend that all the stories; the creation, the fall, the flood, the tower of Babel, the exodus, the conquest of Canaan etc are all allegories and parables.

    However, that amounts to changing the story about 2500 years too late for all the people who believed it was all literal - including Jesus.

  2. I wonder if the book is available on Itunes?

  3. Someone recently said this about McGrath. Is he also a man of faith?

    ".. Remember, this is the guy that tells conservative christians that he is a christian, but tell(s) academics, that he is not a supernaturalist.."

  4. Minimalist: I'm not sure Christian and non-supernaturalist need any longer be exclusive categories. The old dogmatic definitions of what constitutes a Christian are fading away, except perhaps in the Bible Belt.

    Tom Mahon: It's a good idea not to post a comment when you're spitting tacks. Your comments are insulting and inappropriate. Feel free to disagree, but take a deep breath first.

  5. Wasn't there once a profile on McGrath's Blog or webpage? that helped us understand him by listing his favorite books, music and films. Can't find it now. Why would he take it down? (can someone point me to it if I'm wrong)

  6. Ah, Found Dr McGrath's profile here: where he lists "Bruce Almighty" as a great film. Couldn't believe this endorsement the first time, had to confirm it.

  7. Min, you're going to have to explain the 'Bruce Almighty' comment to me. Why did it surprise you that anyone - theologian or otherwise - might list it as a favorite? I saw the film and loved it, though I enjoyed 'Evan Almighty' even more. They were both great fun.

  8. Well "Bruce Almighty" is not the worst film ever made (that would still be "Lisztomania") and it did gross $500m boxoffice after Siskel & Ebert gave it "Two Thumbs UP"