The first contributions to The Jesus Process are Now Available

The New Oxonian

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  1. Well, if the intention was to overwhelm the lay audience, I congratulate you and you colleagues on a resounding success. There is far too much here for an average lay person of middle age to take up seriously without discarding more important aspects of life.

    On that note, I bid a fond farwell and will depart the same as I arrived before learning of your work: a soft atheist.

    • It certainly wasn’t our intention to overwhelm readers. The methods and approaches to history being critiqued here, certainly haven’t been created by soft atheists. So I hope you return to read further essays of Joe’s and remain among the New Oxonian audience.

    • I echo your observations.
      Simply stated….it’s all shop talk.
      Sort of like ducking into the local Best Western to get out of a rainstorm and finding yourself in the middle of a plumber’s convention, where everyone is talking about wall hydrants, trap seals, wax rings, and basin wrenches. Before you know it you find yourself muttering “Watson, the needle.”

      • That’s ok Ken: all I can get from your comment is that when you want to get real information about the Bible, don’t call a plumber. The underlying assumption that biblical studies is EZ PZ (no relation to Myers) is a basic misconception about the field and one that makes Jesus denial and mythicism possible.

  2. For what it’s worth I greatly appreciate the “shop talk”. I don’t see how it could be avoidable when countering mythicist fallacies.

  3. Pingback: Neil Godfrey’s response 2: @ Stephanie Fisher « Vridar

    • I think Neil is a little bit miffed my brief essay wasn’t all about him. Like Carrier he has gone to great lengths to contradict a slight allusion. Perhaps he was just too irrelevant. He thinks his ‘skills’ in analysis ought to have been celebrated and I’m a little astonished he still doesn’t quite grasp his abuse of Schweitzer. Never mind – he has his own soap box.

  4. Thanks very much. This was great material to work through over the long weekend — my version of beach reading I suppose? There are of course a number of arguments here, and all strike me as being worth engaging seriously and at length. I hope it won’t too badly distort Dr. Hoffmann’s argument if I pull out one line of reasoning that I found particularly interesting. I took one theme in his essay to be that early Christian’s ideological orientation toward making real historical claims about their founder was unusual in the environment of the time and should be seen as significant evidence in favor of a real historical Jesus.

    If that seems a reasonable enough summary to be getting on with, I’d remark that I find this idea plausible and interesting. At the very least, it seems a compelling argument against the idea that these very people were knowingly engaged in an effort to historicize a myth. Yet I am deeply uncomfortable about the idea of trying to push a line of argument from worldview and discourse back to the nature of antecedent events. Surely in political contests of identity and ideology causal connections between events and world views are loose? To draw an example from a very different domain, Republicans in the U.S. preside over the generation of record-setting budget deficits — and so the discourse and worldview of base Republicans immediately becomes one in which cutting deficits is the highest priority and a goal that is only stopped by that other group of outsiders. In general, it seems to me that leaders have a great deal of flexibility in how they frame events, and that flexibility can lead to significant surprises in the relationship between events and subsequent world views. But such flexibility means that evidence about early Christians’ historical orientation relative to contemporaries in surrounding communities can show us the dynamics of identity politics at that time, but not necessarily anything earlier.

    As a final point, have mythicists never heard of Occam’s razor? Which hypotheses does more to multiply entities, the view that Jesus was one of many broadly apocalyptic preachers in his time and place, but one whose story grew after his death as followers retold it — or the view that some group deliberately invented Jesus, conspired to keep that invention secret, and succeeded completely in their own time to the point that even their worst enemies never found out, only to be foiled by clever maverick researchers a couple of millennia later?

  5. Neil complains that I haven’t drawn attention to his main focus which he claims is the question of Christian origins. I was drawing attention to his misuse of Schweitzer as an atheist blogger in my essay which is about flawed methodology among people who reject critical evidence and argument for historicity. The point is that Vridar’s questioning of Christian origins involves contradicting and misrepresenting scholarship and a high degree of manipulating evidence out of context. While he expresses dismay that I haven’t discussed him in depth in my essay, he is ultimately irrelevant and not its subject. He is merely an example of an atheist blogger demonstrating mad method and incompetence.

    Neil claims I say historical arguments can’t be summarized honestly which is of course, misrepresenting what I’ve said. It is Neil I have criticised for misrepresenting historical arguments. His comment on James Crossley was: “Any one of these arguments, Crossley admits, may not be persuasive for all readers, but together they become an argument of “cumulative weight” and therefore much stronger. The maths proves it: 0+0+0=3.” This is obviously not a summary of anything which James ever wrote, but a deliberate attempt to make him look stupid. This is basically what is wrong with Godfrey’s summaries. The problem with summaries in general is only that they are summaries and can never be proofs. Godfrey does not seem to understand that difference either. None of us has every suggested that no-one should summarise arguments accurately, or that even an accurate argument is a substititute for a learned proof. Neil is incapable of summarising historical arguments with conclusions he disagrees with. He merely mocks and invents silly analogies and misrepresents. And now he misrepresents me on his blog post and claims I never demonstrated his misrepresentations. But then he has denied that all along the way despite evidence to the contrary.

    Neil says ‘I have pointed out on numerous occasions that the very reason I quote Schweitzer’s statement on historical methodology is BECAUSE he is a “historicist” and “not a mythicist”. His words would hardly have any force for my own particular point, otherwise. Stephanie is simply flat wrong when she says I am “oblivious to the fact that nobody suggests that mythicists pretend Schweitzer was a mythicist”.’

    Yet Neil just confirms what I said. Yes indeed Neil, nobody is accusing you or other mythtics of pretending Schweitzer was a mythicist. We know you know he believed in a historical figure. I can’t believe Neil’s failure to comprehend something so simple, and quote it and still interpret it as the opposite to what it says. So yes we all agree that Schweitzer did believe in a Jesus who was historical, and he followed Weiss, as I pointed out in my essay: Schweitzer was a committed German Lutheran Christian. What mythicists don’t understand is that Schweitzer like Weiss DID think we could use historical methodology to demonstrate it in historical terms because they quote him out of his own historical context and I pointed this out in my essay which Neil fails to comprehend. As such, Schweitzer believed that salvation was by faith, not by works, and historical research was merely a ‘work’.

    This is what he considered ‘uncertain’ about all historical research. It has nothing to do with what decent present-day historians or incompetent bloggers mean when they think that something is ‘historically uncertain’, which normally indicates that it may or may not have happened. It is well known that Schweitzer followed Weiss in supposing that Jesus expected the kingdom of God to come in his own time, and was mistaken. He commented,
    His Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, published in 1892, is in its own way as important as Strauss’s first Life of Jesus. He lays down the third great alternative which the study of the life of Jesus had to meet….either eschatological or non-eschatological!….The general conception of the kingdom was first grasped by Johannes Weiss. All modern ideas, he insists…must be eliminated from it; when this is done, we arrive at a kingdom of God which is wholly future….He exercises no ‘messianic functions’, but waits, like others, for God to bring about the coming of the kingdom by supernatural means….But it was not as near as Jesus thought. The impenitence and hardness of heart of a great part of the people, and the implacable enmity of his opponents, at length convinced him that the establishment of the kingdom of God could not yet take place….It becomes clear to him that his own death must be the ransom price….
    The setting up of the kingdom was to be preceded by the day of judgement. In describing the messianic glory Jesus makes use of the traditional picture, but he does so with modesty, restraint and sobriety. Therein consists his greatness….
    The ministry of Jesus is therefore not in principle different from that of John the Baptist….What distinguishes the work of Jesus from that of the Baptist is only his consciousness of being the Messiah. He awoke to this consciousness at his baptism. But the messiahship which he claims is not a present office; its exercise belongs to the future….
    …Reimarus…was the first, and indeed before Johannes Weiss, the only writer to recognise and point out that the teaching of Jesus was purely eschatological….But Weiss places the assertion on an unassailable scholarly basis.[1]
    Now where has all the supposedly historical uncertainty gone? It was never there! In this second passage, Schweitzer was discussing what really happened, and he had no doubts about that at all. His apparent doubts in the much quoted passage above are not historical doubts, as Neil understands them, at all. They are entirely due to his German Lutheran conviction that salvation is by faith, not works, and historical research is a ‘work’ which does not bring salvation. Neil says, ‘I have always in discussions stressed that the methodological principle is NOT an argument for mythicism. It is an argument for an understanding of what constitutes a valid historical methodology.’

    Once again, Neil misses the point and has taken Schweitzer out of his historical context, and deliberately persistently fails to acknowledge it, to make him sound like people he had never heard of him. Moreover, the whole idea that the judgement of anyone more than a century ago can be treated as if it were a judgement on the work of Sanders, Vermes and competent scholars who have written since then shows a total lack of historical sense.

    For all Neil’s trumpeting of holding a degree which includes modern history, he failed to learn something we all learned in stage one if we weren’t already aware of it. He fails to put people in their own modern historical context. He does this with Fredriksen’s regrettably unhelpful analogy which he took out of historical context and applied to ancient history which is a clear abuse of her demonstration. No he is not implying that “Fredriksen’s point meant that Jesus was a myth.” I never said that he implied that. He is abusing her analogy out of context. Neil does not understand context and the implications of context. Neil also refers to Fredriksen as “a naughty schoolgirl who has no interest in the content of the lesson, believing the teacher to be a real dolt, and who accordingly seeks to impress her giggly “know-it-all” classmates by interjecting the teacher with smart alec rejoinders at any opportunity” and me as “a vampire declaring an outrage if someone shows it the sign of the cross” and biblical scholars as “silly detectives” etc: all completely ludicrous.

    As for identification of Neil as an ‘atheist’ blogger: Neil wonders why I haven’t called him a “Caucasian licensed automobile driver Neil Godfrey” or “Bushwalker and blues-lover heterosexual Neil Godfrey”. Obviously the ‘atheist’ epithet is significant in view of ‘Christian origins’ and his bias, just as he would refer to a Christian scholar or atheist scholar etc. I never identify people by their race or sexual orientation like Roo Buckaroo. It’s irrelevant here or anywhere. Does Neil regularly identify people like that?

    As to his final sentence in his post, I can’t resist repeating it because it is a clear example of his malice and spite ‘But if “The Jesus Process (c)” aspires to make a serious contribution to the “required debunking” of the Christ-Myth it is going to have to refrain from diluting their efforts with the uncomprehending Stephanie Louise Fisher.’ Neil has already pronounced that the copyright symbol is “unnecessary but pretentious”, demonstrating his ignorance of the necessity of litigation processes, and now, in addition to his malice and spite, he demonstrates a complete lack of comprehension of the purpose and aims of the Jesus Process.

    I suspect Neil has found criticisms of me while gazing at himself in the mirror.

  6. Oh my Stephanie. If you wish to verify your claim that I somehow quoted Schweitzer our of context, would it not be appropriate to discuss the actual quotation of Schweitzer that I used? The context of the words I quoted were his 2 chapters on mythicism in the later edition of his book. I have generally — as I am sure you are aware — added to S’s own words supporting quotations from biblical scholars before and after Schweitzer. The words express nothing more than what ought to be an obvious truism of logic and method, a principle that applies (or ought to) to almost every area of life.

    As for labelling people, no, I don’t label others as “Christian” or “atheist” or whatever. So your claim that I “would” label people the way you label me is a little misdirected.

    Yes I am an atheist, but I have also expressed much sympathy for religion and the religious. Why would I abuse anyone who is now standing where I once stood myself? I have even explained that my years spent in a less than enlightened religion also gave me a number of positive experiences that I do appreciate. No-one has ever seen any post of mine attacking Christianity per se — though I do take strong exception to some aspects of its applications.

    As for trumpeting my qualifications? Hoo boy, I can’t win. I have tried to be as open as possible about where my background lies. If I said nothing, I would be condemned for that. If I do answer, I am somehow “trumpeting”.

    As for my colourful descriptions of abusive and rude comments, yes, I plead guilty. I think rude and abusive words deserve to be so described.

    As for my knowledge of copyright matters in a digital and online environment, I suspect I know far more than most people who would ever read this. Such knowledge is part and parcel of my job.

    Malice and spite, Stephanie? You know I have tried several times to mend bridges between us. Why you have never taken up my hand of friendship and embraced hopes of cordial communications and disagreements I have never understood.

    Simply shouting your position louder each time is not a rebuttal. And lacing it with personal attacks does no inspire confidence that you are entirely focussed on the issues themselves.

    • Oh my. Shouting? Yes, as you are aware, you express your opinions with malice and spite. Read what you wrote on your blog. I need not repeat here. Explicit identification, accurate descriptions and labels, are helpful to place ideas in their correct context. You deny running a mythicist blog and claim it focuses on Christian origins. It promotes various mythicist views and you are an atheist as opposed to a Christian. Therefore you are an atheist blogger. I think that’s reasonable, don’t you.

      I will repeat for your benefit, what I copied from your blog which includes ‘the actual quotation’ you have used.

      On his blog Godrey writes:[46]

      “”‘Schweitzer understood the limitations of what generally passes for historical method far better than nearly every contemporary historical Jesus scholar I have read: “In reality, however, these writers [those arguing for the historicity of Jesus against mythicists] are faced with the enormous problem that strictly speaking absolutely nothing can be proved by evidence from the past, but can only be shown to be more or less probable. Moreover, in the case of Jesus, the theoretical reservations are even greater because all the reports about him go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even by raised so high as positive probability.” (From page 402 of The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 2001, by Albert Schweitzer.)

      Little wonder that Schweitzer called upon Christians to let go of their faith in an unknowable historical Jesus (whose very existence could not even pass the theoretical norms of positive probability) and ‘turn to a new metaphysic.’””

      This ignores the fact that, like von Ranke, whom Godfrey also loves to quote , Schweitzer was a committed German Christian and was not inveighing against the historicity of Jesus or advocating an end of the search to establish his actual historical coordinates. As such, Schweitzer believed that salvation was by faith, not by works, and historical research was merely a ‘work’. This is what he considered ‘uncertain’ about all historical research. It has nothing to do with what present-day historians or incompetent bloggers mean when they think that something is ‘historically uncertain’, which normally indicates that it may or may not have happened. It is well known that Schweitzer followed Weiss in supposing that Jesus expected the kingdom of God to come in his own time–and was mistaken. Schweitzer deserves to be quoted at length, since his memorable statement of the status quaestiones has dominated serious historical research for a century:… [quote etc]

      Happy Australian bushwalking. I love bush running, especially the Waikaremoana track, Aotearoa. My favourite place, after the sea, the South Pacific ocean. Heaven on earth.

      • Schweitzer was ignoring nothing when he wrote the words translated as ““In reality, however, these writers [those arguing for the historicity of Jesus against mythicists] are faced with the enormous problem that strictly speaking absolutely nothing can be proved by evidence from the past, but can only be shown to be more or less probable. Moreover, in the case of Jesus, the theoretical reservations are even greater because all the reports about him go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even by raised so high as positive probability.”

        He was making a point that you are doggedly refusing to address. You also refuse to address the context of his words — in the two chapters on mythicism that were added to a later addition of his book.

        His words are not an argument for mythicism. My quote is not an argument for mythicism. It is one of a constellation of references I have garnered addressing a methodologically valid way to approach sources.

        It does not logically follow from the point S was making that the Gospels’ Jesus is entirely grounded in mythology. But it does follow that we cannot begin with a presumption that the Jesus in the Gospels originates in either historical reality or mythical constructs.

        As for your assertion that you somehow claim to know I am aware that I speak with malice and spite, I find that very sad. Your mind-reading skills are shocking.

      • @neil. Schweitzer had largely lost interest in the question before 1920 and contributed nothing to the discussion during the heyday of Bultmann . He is absent from the dead sea scrolls and later discussion and non existent in contributing to the understanding of Nag Hammadi though he was still alive. His view of Paul is antiquated and of the gospels barely transcends the nineteenth centrury. To focus on this is to focus on church history rather than modern scholarship.

      • Neil, of course Schweitzer was ignoring nothing. You were. What you wrote ignored the fact that Schweitzer was following Weiss and they both DID think we could use historical methodology to demonstrate historicity in historical terms. You quote him out of his own historical context. You say, ‘I have always in discussions stressed that the methodological principle is NOT an argument for mythicism. It is an argument for an understanding of what constitutes a valid historical methodology.’ Of course, but you don’t understand Schweitzer’s context. Schweitzer believed that salvation was by faith, not by works, and historical research was merely a ‘work’. This is what he considered ‘uncertain’ about all historical research. It has nothing to do with what decent present-day historians or bloggers of Christian origins, mean when they think that something is ‘historically uncertain’, which normally indicates that it may or may not have happened. I know you know he is not a mythicist. I have said so in my essay and here. That is NOT the point. As to your denial of malice and spite – you really are quite extraordinary. Just read what you have written honestly.

    • Catching up with responses to my remarks relating to Schweitzer.

      Both Joseph and Stephanie have completely missed the point– or maybe they have got it and must hide it with non sequiturs.

      The point being made was the logic — the timeless truism — of the point expressed by Schweitzer and that is supported before and after Schweitzer by other heads just as reasonable.

      My point of the attachment of the Schweitzer name was, clearly, to draw attention to the fact that the point expressed, the simple logical point that is as logical today as it has ever been, has been recognized or acknowledged by a name well known to all. That ought to attract a bit of notice and make some people think twice before dismissing it as some flippant sophistry from an atheist myther or whatever.

      So what do we find from Steph and Joseph? Arrgghhh — close the curtain on the logic of the point. Quick. Bring out the historical context of S’s thoughts and everything else he said about mythicism and the HJ. Yeh, that should do it. What was the point again? Ha. It’s irrelevant, now, isn’t it!

      The point remains even in the posts where I don’t quote Schweitzer and where I quote others expressing the same logic, and where I don’t quote anyone else but simply point out the same logic in practice and theory.

      • Godfrey: “My point of the attachment of the Schweitzer name was, clearly, to draw attention to the fact that the point expressed, the simple logical point that is as logical today as it has ever been, has been recognized or acknowledged by a name well known to all. That ought to attract a bit of notice and make some people think twice before dismissing it as some flippant sophistry from an atheist myther or whatever.” What clear, simple logical point made by this well known name is that again? That Jesus was not a mythical figure but a stubbornly historical one whose churchly existence shrouded his reality in doctrine? Is that your point? Because that was Schweitzer’s. It has been acknowledged both tacitly and systematically by all critical biblical scholars since his time.

      • Muddling and hiding behing non sequiturs is a projection of a typical mythicist characteristic and is not critical scholarship. Godfrey again exposes his failure to acknowledge historical context and the broader context of Schweitzer’s life work. Instead he ignores this with a persistent illusion that context is limited to and represents what he believes… which is pointless.

  7. Pingback: The Jesus Process Begins

  8. Pingback: The Humphreys Intervention « The New Oxonian

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