A Farewell to Vridar and the Gang of Four
Vridar’s coterie of four can’t seem to decide what (beyond questioning my state of mind) they can use against my central contention–that Paul in Galatians 4 is arguing for the legitimacy of Jesus, with Hagar and Sarah on his mind, and so must have considered Jesus historical.
It seems to me that Paul’s interest in the legitimacy of Jesus is proved beyond reasonable doubt by Gal 4.4,5 and its comfy fit to the total argument of Galatians 4, and as such demolishes completely one of the standard props of mythicist arguments concerning Paul. I explore other reasons for Paul’s reputed “silence” about the historical Jesus, for anyone interested to read it, in my contribution to the Jesus process. Essentially, the mythtics have shown gross ignorance of one of the central “discoveries” of Pauline scholarship, the “Opponent’s Controversy” eloquently laid out by my former teacher Dieter Georgi as early as 1957. In a nutshell, Paul had every reason to eschew historical tradition because he was on the margins of legitimacy himself. The language of Galatians, especially chapters 1-4, is significant and explicit evidence of Paul’s state of mind. In their curious blend of outdated theory and selective (and frankly not very impressive) modern scholarship, the mythtics have simply lost the plot.
Serious discussion on the Vridar site is always drowned in (flubbed) point-scoring come-backs as though scholarship was an endless slanging match. Attempts to correct, explain, amplify or inform are slapped down by a cult so hysterically self-righteous that they must spend the time they don’t use making mistakes (limited, to be sure) high-fiving each other for insult. It is less like a meeting place for serious debate than an animal house food fight. No wonder the site is relegated–not that it matters–to the “Fringe dwellers and conspiracy theorists” locker in Biblioblogs, which I hasten to add is not a serious measure of anything.
I first became aware of this site when out of the blue its host, Neil Godfrey, suggested that I had impugned his poster-boy myth theorist Earl Doherty by suggesting that Doherty was ”a disciple of (George)Wells” who “has rehashed many of the former’s views in The Jesus Puzzle (Age of Reason Publications, 2005) which is qualitatively and academically far inferior to anything so far written on the subject.” Doherty himself acknowledges Wells’s influence (Wells now rejects Doherty’s thesis) as well as the dependence of his study on discredited earlier sources.
When pressed to explain what they think Paul is doing in Gal. 4.4,5 the Vridarians, or more precisely their leader, demur that they didn’t exactly say it was an interpolation (a later addition to a text by someone other than the author), they only “think” so, or have reason to think so; or ask for “proof” that the verse is as important to them–as an unbroken succession of mythtics from van Eysinga onward have made it; or change the subject to the much more obvious defeater–that Paul hated Jesus’s biological brother James. When this proves tricky, they bring in (perhaps reluctantly, but beggars can’t be choosers: they also have highlighted the biblical expertise of magician-comedian-debunker James Randi) their rear-guard–the Paul-deniers who say that the author of the letter has been invented lock, stock and tent. It is not clear when, or why.
Why what Paul said matters to a crowd that variously thinks he didn’t say it or never existed to say it I have no clue. In fact the smorgasbord on the site is so arranged that sane views are sacrificed to a range of opinions that the host can then plausibly say do not (exactly) represent his own entirely responsible views on any given topic. In politics, this doctrine is called “deniability.” But in scholarship, the doctrine is called … Sorry, it isn’t called anything.
I doubt they will miss the minor credibility my occasional skirmishes there confers. In fact, I have the feeling my unannounced drop-ins had spoiled a private conversation, so private that many of them were surprised that their opinions were not widely shared by very intelligent people. Think Garp among the Ellen Jamesians. (I would have said Think Jesus among the Pharisees, but immediately they would have said, Hoffman [sic] thinks he’s Jesus!)
Perhaps they will take away two things from having become a band of cheerbrothers with no expertise, Bible for Dummies-level acquaintance with the texts they are claiming to know at a “professional level, and no hermeneutical skills: as new atheism is to atheism they are to taking the question of Jesus seriously. In fact, the scent, argumentative stance and petulance are imported directly from the Rational Response Squad manual, a group of atheist militants with a mission and a message: Religion is evil, and any scholarship that supports it needs to be knocked down. God is a myth and Jesus is a fairy. The distinction between atheism and Jesus-denial is put aside, for strategic purposes–in the name of “Reason.” I did try to offer some sensible (I thought) observations on this a few years ago, but Ajesusism was far too cancerous by then to be saved from its mistaken assumptions.
I am one of a very few scholars who has actually said that the question of the historical Jesus deserves a hearing, but Vridarian noise is making it impossible for anyone to hear. In the gay bar environment they have created (without prejudice to the population of gay bars–just the noise levels), serious discussion cannot happen. Just gunfire and bitch-slapping. Their dogged commitment to “debate,” lecture, appear knowledgeable, and harangue rather than discuss raises Paul’s question anew, ποῦ σοφός; ποῦ γραμματεύς; ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου; οὐχὶ ἐμώρανεν ὁ θεὸς τὴν σοφίαν τοῦ κόσμου; doesn’t it?
I suppose it comes partly from having moved too quickly from loving Jesus in their fundamentalist infancy to feeling that religion had deceived them and then latching on to mythticism, too quickly, as a cure. That is presumptuous, I know; and who knows? They do a lot of psychoanalysis on the site, so I suspect they will now want to work more towards developing a group therapy solution to the Jesus question.
Sadly, they are now the fringe of a fringe, ranging from disingenuous postmen-provocateurs like Godfrey and his minim to absurdists like Kenneth Humphreys and cultists like Carrier, Doherty and Acharya S. aka Dorothy Murdock–who seems to think my willingness to listen to her arguments was a proposal of marriage. Let me assure her publicly here: No men of God are coming with a wagon to take you away.
Their error is not so much in defending the talking points of an earlier generation, the good old days of radical criticism–mythicists like van Eysinga and Arthur Drews and J.M. Robertson–but in missing the fact that very liberal and sympathetic scholars like Conybeare and Goguel did the old girl in a hundred years ago. And not out of any religiously-vested interest or absolutist confidence in the sources. It took me a few times through the books of the leading lights of mythticism to see how error-riddled their premises were. I am not saying that to advance any argument against their major premises (which differed widely) but to warn people about error-riddled premises.
At any rate, I regretfully conclude after attempting a dialogue on Vridar that discussion in the interest of clarity is not wanted. It is over. Time to break up and slink home in abject failure. I will not sully your marshy playing field again. Though sullenly I think, ימח שמו Not that it has been a waste of time: nothing has persuaded me more completely that Jesus really existed than the arguments of the Vridarians. Nothing.