A Farewell to Vridar and the Gang of Four

St Paul

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  In their curious blend of outdated theory and selective (and frankly not very impressive) modern scholarship, the mythtics have simply lost the plot.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.

G A Wells: The Last of the Gentlemen

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.

Biblical scholar Randi

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.

Bart Ehrman, taking stick from both fundamentalists and mythtics for being so wrong about Jesus

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.

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28 thoughts on “A Farewell to Vridar and the Gang of Four

  1. Dear Dr. Hoffmann,

    I hope this message finds you well.

    Consider this. Paul and Elijah both set out to purge the enemies of the “true” faith, the prophets of Baal for Elijah (1 Kings 18) and the church for Paul (Gal 1:13,23).

    Elijah is turned aside (1 Kings 19:3) as is Paul when he encounters the risen Christ (Acts 9).

    Now here is the key part; Elijah immediately goes to Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:8). Likewise, Paul turns aside into Arabia (Gal 1:17), where Mount Sinai is supposed to be located (Gal 4:25). It is on the Mount that Paul would naturally receive his alleged divine revelation, Gal. 1:12. (Mount Sinai is placed in “Hagar country.”)

    After that, both Elijah (1 Kings 19:15) and Paul (Gal.1:17) go to Damascus.

    History or midrash (loosely defined) based on the tales of Elijah?

    Best regards,
    Jake Jones IV

  2. Pingback: Mythicism around the Blogosphere

  3. Yeah, I learned this awhile back that talking with Vridar is fairly pointless, It is like Pee Wee Hermans, “I know your are but what am I?” game. after they get to the end of their disassembling, they start right back at the begining of the conversation like all the dialog in-between never took place. Talking with them does clerar away doubts Jesus existed. between them (and none of them are very imaginative) and their favorite “theorist” like Carrier Price and Doherty what they have shown that their is really no intelligent argument that jesus did not exist. Carrier made a big pretence that this hadn’t been examioned properly and he would applyu real historical method to the question, but his own theories are ridiculouse. He may as well argue that Abraham Lincoln hunted vampires.

  4. I don’t understand the “Paul never existed” meme. I have no problem thinking that Paul could have been dishonest (in my opinion, he was at least deluded), and I have a healthy skepticism about the accuracy of anything in Acts, but why would he be invented? I’ve never been able to get that at all. It seems to be part of a conspiracy theory some of them have that Christianity was invented whole cloth by Constantine. To me, that’s as kooky as Bigfoot and UFOs, but they tie themselves into knots trying to argue it.

    • The final stage of mythticism is this: The book on the table called The Bible doesn’t exist. So watch carefully. If it is still there after an hour, you are deluded, or a religious fanatic.

      • I’ve been tempted, on the FRDB forum I moderate (which has a lively community of mythers, including Doherty, Carrier, Acharya as well as a large contingent of followers for the above) to start a satirical thread asking for the proof that Eusebius and Constantine existed, and wondering if, perhaps, everything was an invention of Erasmus, but they don’t have much of a sense of humor there. I fear they’d take it seriously.

      • You are safe, in general: But they may try to question your existence, and if that fails to confuse you, the very forum itself. If they start saying to you, “John…John, you remember when you were president don’t you…., John.” Run.

    • Paul could be invented for the same reason that Jesus, Peter, John and the rest were invented: ancient church theologians are not interested in historical reality. They are interested in projecting ideas onto reality, hoping that their interpretations become accepted and thereby assuring them a certain power, spiritual or otherwise. The fact that at least five letters that say “it’s me your old friend Paul” are in fact *not* by the same person or persons who wrote the others is a screaming clue that we are not dealing with people carefully preserving the words of an important founder.

      • andrew: Thank you for a remarkable, eye-opening post. I always wondered why I became an historian. Now I know. My imaginary friend Paul rhanks you too. He would write himself but the person who made him up hasn’t been himself lately.

  5. Thankfully, I’ve never been to the site. From what I gather I’m not missing much(if anything).

    You both have it wrong, George W. Bush is a vampire.

  6. It’s too bad that some mythicists aren’t listening to at least SOME of your (Hoffmann’s) arguments; like your present one. Since if (as you hint Deiter Georgi suggested in his famous book The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians), Paul himself was “marginal,” ostracized and angry? If Paul was so angry and “jealous” of many traditions (including conservative Pharisaic Judaism)? Then you seem to hint that perhaps Paul didn’t mind … attacking and modifying their historical traditions. And if so? Then Paul might be open to simply inventing an historical, biological Jesus therefore. Or inventing his good Jewish “mother,” or a God father, and so forth.

    So that? In the Georgi/Hoffmann reading, Gal. 4.4 would not merely be an “interpolation” by anyone; it could be genuinely by Paul himself. But? It could simply have been a simple lie by him.

    Amazingly therefore, your argument complements the Mythicism argument in at least one way. You might to be sure disagree with a radical mythicism that says that even Paul did not exist. But you seem willing to suggest that however,a very real, but angry and jealous Paul, was not above simply … lying. Or inventing things.

    Including perhaps, inventing a biological and divine heritage to Jesus?

    This kind of thing happened now even in the Bible. As can be partially confirmed by a look at the rest of the Bible and what scholars say about its “geneologies.”

    The invention of a good Jewish mother wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve seen an invented geneology in the NT, it seems.

    Thanks therefore for your interesting work on Gen. 4.4..

    • Interesting how words matter: Paul was certainly not a myth, but he was an unsuccessful mythicizer himself. The gnostics more so. The historical Jesus became quite flat, dull and unconfirming for their projects. As I said in my piece for TJP, the early second century Jesus was a dirigible that the church struggled to keep anchored to history when it threatened to pull away. They didn’t make the blimp, however; just adjusted the gas. As to VRIDAR, humbly suggest its master consider pumping a bit of gas into his acronym–maybe Veritably Ridiculous and Invariably Dumb Alternative Readings. It has the advantage of being honest and above board. And if it fails, he can just post limericks.

      • Garcia: No serious critical scholar denies that Paul was not marginal (as was Christianity), nor that he was a human being with emotions (and hangups) or that he didn’t ‘embellish’ things or that he didn’t have a personal agenda. Neither do they claim that he is a reliable or useful source for the life of a historical Jesus. With all things it is close analysis of the texts and contexts to decide, and with Jesus, the main sources are the first three gospels. I agree with Joe as most other critical scholars would. I would not impose a modern understanding of “lying” Brett, on any of the NT authors, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t create things. Bart Ehrman did and he was wrong. As with many things. He has become anachronistic.

    • Paul could not have altered Jesus’ ontological status from whatever it already was in the Jerusalem church. The Pillars would have noticed.

    • Seems part of the key to an understanding is that when one looks back one is looking at myth making minds getting started on a new religion.All those minds aren’t going to agree on the same thing, which of course can confuse matters.

      For the most part, that is how I proceed through the Gospels when I pick them up from time to time. They’re important reads, not because they’re true(they’re not all false) but because they have generated a tremendous amount of influence on Western culture.

  7. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to bid a similar farewell to the tiny gaggle of sneering amateurs at Vridar. Many moons ago I had the effrontery to intrude on their mutual back-slapping sessions with some dissent from their party line. This is never appreciated. I seem to have got under the librarian, Neil “Mr Furious” Godfrey’s, skin, because he felt the need to lie about me and then silence me. He accused me of inventing a quote from the unemployed library assistant Richard “Artie Ziff” Carrier. When I came back to respond with the quote in question and a link to where Carrier had said it, I found Godfrey had banned me for .,. you guess it, for lying about Carrier.

    Bizarrely, Carrier did the same thing on his blog – linking to where I had supposedly changed a quote. Except anyone who follows the link can find no trace of any change or any clue as to what Carrier is talking about. This has been pointed out to him, but the link and the accusation have never been removed or explained. It’s also been pointed out to those who have held this up as more evidence I am a “liar”, and they have never explained why they didn’t bother to check Carrier’s accusation by following the link.

    These Mythers seem to have never abandoned the Manichean view of the universe they absorbed when they were still Christian fundamentalists. People who disagree with you can’t simply be wrong, they must also be EVIL. And, preferably, silenced. Once a fundie always a fundie it seems.

      • Thanks, but I have a hide like a hippo’s. I’ve spent more time exposing the stupidity of the Mythers to my fellow atheists than is actually healthy and you can’t do that without sustaining this kind of pathetic attack – they don’t seem to be able to help themselves. I was simply noting that abject lying is one of their tactics.

        That said, I do have a small amount of sympathy for Godfrey. A friend of mine escaped the bizarre Worldwide Church of God as an adolescent and he readily admits the warped world view of that cult will afflict him for the rest of his life. Apparently Godfrey was a fanatical Armstrongite well into adulthood, so it’s hardly surprising he’s still a bit odd and not a little obsessive, poor man.

      • Apart from Godfrey & Co. who seem to project their own therapeutically-challenged selves onto others, I have similar concerns about the persona of the American Republican presidential candidate: when I watch his facial expressions, his body language, his gestures, and hear his hollow, disconnected laugh I only see a Mormon missionary who got financially lucky but who never got out or grew up. I suspect you pay a price for any kind of religious training, but some have paid too much.

      • They’re all pitiable, Tim. Widowfield “escaped fundamentalism” (Nazarene Church), when he was 15, Bob Price did, etc etc. and on it goes. As you said ‘once a fundie, always a fundie’. As also said a friend of mine N.T. Wrong. They just swop one set of convictions for another, similarly without coherent argument or evidence (or learning), just an illusion they’re now ‘self critical’. Of course they don’t understand when they describe the process of their change of heart (please don’t take that literally), that what they’re describing is a conversion experience, because with their narrow literal thinking tools, they think it only applies to ‘Damascus Road’ revelations… which is biblical, therefore repulsive, and not part of their personal lives.

  8. You should have known better than to go poking around the mythicist nest that is Vridar: Jesus deniers are at their most shrieky and tedious when they sense their natural habit being threated by outsiders.

    Neil did once post something quite interesting about barking owls though:

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/barking-owls/

    I wish he’d do more of that sort of thing: I can’t help thinking that ornithology’s loss is pseudohistory’s gain.

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