Herbert Cutner: A Critique

The first thing that might be said about Herbert Cutner is that he was certainly no Biblical scholar. His only professed qualifications are that he is one of England's "leading freethinkers" and author of another book on sexual religious rites.

His work contains practically every error of thought and fact ever asserted by those who say Jesus never existed. For example, he repeats Drews' and Wells' error interpreting the words of Trypho the Jew as meaning that there was an argument in currency at the time of Justin Martyr indicating that Jesus did not exist.

Cutner comes back to this assertion several times in his work, and each time rebuts arguments to the contrary by saying simply, more or less, "I don't care what YOU argue; it is my privilege as a freethinker to interpret it as I say!" And that is how Cutner argues throughout his book: You can cite experts, you can cite facts, but if he likes an argument, then you cannot overthrow it.

I'll offer another example of this sort of thing, concerning an area of study that I've grown quite fond of - the citation of Christ's existence by Tacitus. Cutner supports the view, not even held by G. A. Wells or Earl Doherty, that the Tacitus cite is a Christian interpolation. He surrounds this assertion with a few other minor errors - saying, for example, that there is no other reference to a Neronian persecution (it is actually mentioned also by Suetonius). He cites Drews as an authority, who has in turn cited Dupuis; he also cites Drews' quote of Schiller, who describes Tacitus' research as "astonishingly poor." [Cutn.JGMM, 114]

Those who have read my material on this issue know by now what the deal is: Cutner is citing badly outdated non-authorities to make his points.

Cutner's sources in this matter are 18th- and 19th-century scholars named Taylor, Ross and Hochart. One of these was the scholar whom I alluded to in my article on Tacitus, who claimed that the entire works of Tacitus were late forgeries.

Now I will say this much in Cutner's favor: He correctly castigates apologists who simply assert vaguely that "classical scholars" and other experts do not take Taylor, et al. seriously, without any further backup. On the other hand, let me assert in reply that Cutner is no shining example of careful citation either. Even if he does not like the way the apologists he cites have handled the matter, he is certainly not beyond doing the research himself, and even when he wrote in 1950, there was more than enough material available to refute the Tacitean-forgery position.

"We are not concerned with unnamed 'classical experts,' " he writes, "but with the arguments of men like Ross, Hochart, W. B. Smith and others...Have these arguments been answered?" [Cutn.JGMM, 276]

Yes, they have. But I daresay Cutner shows no interest in finding out.

"This is a free country, and so far we are allowed to express our opinions on many vital matters..."

True enough: Even in Cutner's native England, one is quite free to quote outdated and irrelevant authorities. Just don't expect to gain any credence doing so.

In conclusion - if you are engaged in debate with a skeptic who uses Cutner's book as a source, present the Gospel clearly, and move on to your next prospective discussion partner. People who accept works like Cutner's as authoritative will not be interested in what you have to say.