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The Christian Delusion 10: Jesus: Myth and Method

01/11/2011

Robert Price’s style is pretty amazing, but on the other hand, it’s also pretty confusing. Half the time I don’t really know what he’s referring to. He’s responding to Eddy and Boyd’s work, The Jesus Legend, where Price gets criticized it seems is for his naturalistic assumptions, which he denies he has. He simply believes that miracles, given what we know today, are unlikely. I can understand that.

His acoustic flair is sort of distracting though. He refers to all sorts of works I don’t really know about, so I suspect it will be worth revisiting this chapter later after reading the Eddy book.

Kindle Notes:

What is the task of biblical criticism? It is to advance the understanding of the Bible by applying new methods to the study of the text (3491).

The viewpoint of such a “confederacy of dunces” the authors dub a “democratized epistemology” (pp. 71-72) (3500).

Note: Truth decided by vote?

Troeltsch’s “principle of connection” does not say we know or believe that all events happen according to unbroken, immanent cause and effect. We weren’t there; we don’t know. That is why we have to try to devise methods like this to tell us what most probably happened. All we can do is to assume a cause-and-effect nexus, just like the TV weatherman. We use the only reasonable guide we have. And experience tells us that whenever a scientist or historian has stopped short, shrugged, and said, “Well, Ican’t explain it! I guess it must be a miracle!” he has later regretted it (3510).

I am a good historian when I get home, plop down in front of the TV, switch it on, see an image of a giant creature smashing Tokyo, and do not infer, “Oh! I must be watching CNN!” Is it because I know darn well that monsters do not and cannot exist (3521)?

I would suggest instead that in arguing for a “resurrection” to be accepted as a “supernatural” (not just an anomalous) event, Boyd and Eddy have already smuggled in soteriology (3539).

mythemes, which the rabbis later reinterpreted (explained away) as pagan, were always indigenously Israelite, shared with Canaanite neighbors, not borrowed from them. Thus there is no need to posit some repulsive borrowing from hated paganism to account for easy Jewish familiarity with dying and rising gods (3605).

They follow Bruce Metzger (p. 136, 140), Edwin Yamauchi (p. 144) and other apologists in arguing, absurdly, that the Mystery Religions borrowed the dying and rising god mytheme from Christianity -even though early Christian apologists like Tertullian, Firmicus Maternus, and Justin Martyr admit the pagan versions were earlier (even insisting the devil fabricated the Gospel events long before they happened with Jesus)! Some dying and rising god cults we know for a fact were earlier, so this borrowing can’t have gone the other way around as they pretend anyway (3609).

The crown jewel of the “controlled local oral tradition” approach, the work of Kenneth Bailey (Poet and Peasant, etc.), has been thoroughly debunked by Theodore J. Weeden.1I Boyd and Eddy admit this, but it doesn’t matter to them, since they say it was a crummy example anyway (pp. 238 n. 1, 262 n. 84). They’re just asking you to accept Bailey’s conclusions, regardless (3633).

But then it turns out that these performers cared little for specific wording, focusing only on the general gist (3635).

The problem is that the more completely people’s life stories conform to the mythic-literary form, the less likely it becomes that their stories are genuinely historical (3657).

And as every Wallace historian agrees, the mythical narratives about Wallace, which come closest in form and content to the Gospels, are often wildly inaccurate and invent a great deal, such that if we didn’t have any independent way to check their claims, we would have no idea what to trust in them.12 That’s exactly our situation for Jesus (3663).

the wholesale hadith-forging industry is at least as attractive an option for understanding the developingJesus tradition. It is based on a well-known oral-traditional matrix and matches perfectly the model adopted by Bultmann and the form critics. If oral tradition “really” worked as Boyd and Eddy say it must, we cannot explain the phenomena of the hadith (3693).

Why, for instance, was he not made to mouth someone’s opinion on the issue of Gentile conversion and circumcision? But he was: that must be the point of Mark 7:14-19, where we find a rationalist repudiation of the idea that nonkosher food renders one unclean. That must be the point of Thomas 53: “His disciples say to him, `Is circumcision worthwhile or not?’ He says to them, `If it were, men would be born that way automatically. But the true circumcision in spirit has become completely worthwhile”‘ (3701).

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