Saturday, 29 December 2012

A Spot of Minimal Mything

Just to clear things up right at the start, I'm not a Jesus Mythicist.  It's a term that defies an elegant definition anyway, covering a very diverse bunch of individuals indeed.

And no, I've never read anything by "Acharya S." and, as long as I retain even a tenuous grip on sanity, never will.

But if you're asking about "Jesus Minimalism", the conviction that we actually know next to nothing with certainty about the historical person(s) on which the literary Jesus has been largely fabricated... well, I'll put my hand up on that charge and plead guilty.  Bring out the thumb screws if you must!

Now to confess specifics.  I have two such mythicist minimalist books on order.  Books I hear you ask, haven't you long since gone over to the Dark Side with Kindle e-readers and apps?  Yes, but neither of these tomes has yet made it into e-format, and as hell will probably have frozen over long before either reaches my nearest Paper Plus, I've been forced once again into the arms of Amazon and The Book Depository.

Thomas Brodie and Bob Price have, one suspects, not a lot in common.
Thomas L. Brodie is Director, Dominican Biblical Centre, Limerick, Ireland. After studies in Dublin, Rome, and Jerusalem, he spent thirty years teaching and researching at diverse seminaries and universities in the West Indies, the United States, and South Africa. He is the author of The Quest for the Origin of John's Gospel: A Source-Oriented Approach (OUP, 1992), The Gospel according to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary (OUP, 1993), and, as a forerunner to the present work, The Crucial Bridge: The Elijah–Elisha Narrative as an Interpretive Synthesis of Genesis–Kings and a Literary Model for the Gospels (Liturgical Press, 2000).
And Bob, a.k.a. the Bible Geek, is... Bob.  A prolific author and speaker, he has a PhD in Systematic Theology, and a second in New Testament, both from Drew University.

Both have new books out, the very ones referred to above.  Brodie's is entitled Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery.  Price's is The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul.

I'm not sure how Holy Mother Church will feel about the first one.
In the past forty years, while historical-critical studies were seeking with renewed intensity to reconstruct events behind the biblical texts, not least the life of Jesus, two branches of literary studies were finally reaching maturity. First, researchers were recognizing that many biblical texts are rewritings or transformations of older texts that still exist, thus giving a clearer sense of where the biblical texts came from; and second, studies in the ancient art of composition clarified the biblical texts' unity and purpose, that is to say, where biblical texts were headed. The primary literary model behind the gospels, Brodie argues, is the biblical account of Elijah and Elisha, as R.E. Brown already saw in 1971. In this fascinating memoir of his life journey, Tom Brodie, Irishman, Dominican priest, and biblical scholar, recounts the steps he has taken, in an eventful life in many countries, to his conclusion that the New Testament account of Jesus is essentially a rewriting of the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible, or, in some cases, of earlier New Testament texts. Jesus' challenge to would-be disciples (Luke 9.57-62), for example, is a transformation of the challenge to Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19), while his journey from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and beyond (John 2.23-4.54) is deeply indebted to the account of the journey of God's Word in Acts 1-8. The work of tracing literary indebtedness and art is far from finished but it is already possible and necessary to draw a conclusion: it is that, bluntly, Jesus did not exist as a historical individual. This is not as negative as may at first appear. In a deeply personal coda, Brodie begins to develop a new vision of Jesus as an icon of God's presence in the world and in human history.
When I mentioned Brodie's book in an earlier posting it provoked dismissive snorts from certain quarters, but I for one am eager to see how a priest can embrace such a non-historicist position.

As for Amazing Colossal Apostle, this is the one many of us have been waiting for.  Price has reached some radical (and largely unpalatable) conclusions on the Pauline literature, but has never yet - to my knowledge - drawn it all together in one place.  You can almost hear the wailing and gibbering from saintly scholars as they gather their wagons around the sacred consensus.  Price has fronted at last, but has he carried it off?

Time will tell.


  1. I look forward to seeing what you think of Price's book. I'll be getting it myself whenever Amazon starts getting copies in.

  2. Well, here's hoping that you'll get around to really IMPORTANT authors, like Dr. Robert Thiel.

    He's just started a new church, you know: Continuing Church of God Overseer and successors, a corporation sole.

    You can find more specifics on his blog site:

    That's quite a thing: A new Apostle! (As if we haven't had enough of them being sent forth from their former cults and founding their own.)

    Let me see if I get this right: CCoGOaSaCS.

    My spell checker just committed suicide.

  3. "Jesus did not exist as a historical individual."

    The seems to be the foreordained objective of modern Biblical Criticism. From my perspective, it all seems teleological. The idea is not to engage in research but to find every dubious predicate for denying the existence of God, Christ and the veracity of the Bible. It is like reading a Marxist critique of the capitalist system. Is anyone surprised that capitalism will be discovered to be deficient and even malevolent.

    I looked at Christ's challenge in Luke and compared it to the challenge to Elijah at Horeb. There are parallels. But does that justify packaging this similarity in principle as "literary indebtedness" and then use it as a paving stone on the path to asserting that there was no Christ? It staggers the imagination.

    I believe it is feeble and obviously tendentious arguments such as this that undermines the credibility of such Biblical critics. On the other hand, I would readily admit that there are similar arguments of vested interest to be found on the other side among advocates of Christianity. Wouldn't be nice if we could shed ourselves of the right wing and the left wing and find the center.

  4. "The seems to be the foreordained objective of modern Biblical Criticism."

    Far from it. Biblical scholars both religious and secular are doing whatever they can to marginalize anti-historicist proposals. With the influence of American Evangelicals in New Testament studies today, New Testament minimalists will have a much more difficult time than even the Old Testament minimalists did.

    "It staggers the imagination."

    It taxes your imagination that someone would make things up and put them in a religious book?

  5. I reckon I'd have to say I'm a mythicist. Not the 'made up out of thin air' mythicist though. I think Jesus is the personification of the 'suffering servant' personification of Isaiah 53 and given the name "Jesus" (Joshua) from Zech. 3.

  6. It's amusing to watch evangelical Mike Gantt cozy up to the Historist scholars on Goodacre blog.
    But how can the Historicists be his friends as they only believe ~5% of NT canon?

    1. Because the Jesus Historicists are actually only another sect of Christendom under the quise of historical academic scholarship.

      Jesus of Nazareth "most certainly did exist" - Bart Ehrman.

      That's dogma.

      This sect of Christendom also has doctrines - That Jesus was from Nazareth, that Jesus was an obscure apocalyptic preacher, that Jesus (contradictorily) was well known to be a Galilean, that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, that Jesus instituted a ritual called the "last supper", that Jesus was betrayed by Judas to the Sanhedrin, that Jesus was turned over to the Roman authority by the Sanhedrin, that Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate, that Jesus was buried in a tomb.

      The only difference between this sect of Christendom and the rest of Christendom is that in the historical Jesus sect, Jesus was only an ordinary man.

      Other sects of Christendom have Jesus as either 100% God manifestation (as in Marcionism) or 50% God and 50% man (as in Arianism) or 100% man and 100% God (as in Trinitarianism).

      Not all that much difference, really, it's the converting of atheists to this new sect of Christendom, called historical Jesus, that's the real bitch.

  7. I'm with Bart Ehrman: the man Jesus/Yeshua/Joshua probably did exist, as one preacher/prophet/healer amongst many at the time, and was later mythologised and deified.

    Gavin -- You've done well to avoid Acharya S. I once reviewed one of her books in Fortean Times, nowhere near as harshly as I could have done. I agreed that she had a perfect right to her view although I disagreed with it, and suggested she might get her message over a little more cogently if she shouted a little less -- it was getting muddied by the low signal:noise ratio in her writing. Methinks she did protest just a tad too much. And then she proved my point perfectly: she responded by sending someone to the next Fortean Times UnConvention armed with a pile of A4 flyers tearing me to shreds in wonderfully vitriolic language, and attacking me as a lackey of the establishment...

    1. I'm with Bart Ehrman: the man Jesus/Yeshua/Joshua probably did exist, as one preacher/prophet/healer amongst many at the time, and was later mythologised and deified.

      Except maybe that hypothesis begs about a thousand questions. One of those questions being, how could Paul have mythologised Jesus as much as he did in only 2 or 3 years? Assuming, of course, that Paul had not drastically changed his doctrines (without anyone noticing) from the time of his conversion until he wrote his epistles.