Printed from http://tektonics.org/.php
On this page, we will collate and collect responses by Earl Doherty to criticisms by Tekton and a couple of others. When it comes to responses to me, though, you won't find Doherty offering much of substance, as he primarily takes refuge in psychologization (e.g., referring to things that "threaten [my] personal confessional stance"). In this I think it is very clear, having now looked back on these matters after several years, that Doherty was simply contriving an excuse for not being able to reply.
Indeed, throughout the first series of articles, Doherty was treated with the utmost deference overall; my tone at the time was winsome, not aggressive in the least, and as I look back upon my replies, I find myself amazed at how thin Doherty's individual arguments truly were, even as then I knew so little of things like patronage and brokerage, typology, etc.
Much else that Doherty has in his reply as preface is out of date -- and has been for many years now, referring to material as presented over ten years ago. One wonders whether Doherty even minds these matters; indeed, his response contains a link to a website host address that I dispensed with more than a decade ago, and he has still not as of this editing (May 2009) changed it.
I offer this point: Doherty admitted early on the validity of my criticism that he did not provide enough supporting documentation for his arguments. The counter-consensus nature of Doherty's position practically requires detailed source-work in order to have credence beyond a tight and agreeable circle. Unfortunately, all those years ago, Doherty offered "no guarantees" as to when he wouldl make such detailed updates as my criticisms indicate - for he had "other pursuits in life."
More than 12 years later, he has still not updated his material. I believe that speaks for itself.
We will now quote Doherty's criticisms of my rebuttals -- what few there are -- and answer in turn.
Another comment is that he will not be examining my material on Philo, the Ascension of Isaiah and the Odes of Solomon (the latter two being documents from the so-called Jewish Pseudepigrapha), since "we deem them irrelevant." They are anything but irrelevant, of course, but these are complex documents and perhaps not within Mr. Holding's parameters of expertise-or rebuttal style.
However, in no way does Doherty in any sense go on to actually prove that these documents are relevant in the course of his reply - referring to them again only once (as we shall see). Our only issue, at any rate, was to assert that the NT itself does not support Doherty's position.
I offered 12 years ago to address the material in question if anyone desired -- and no one has taken me up on it in that time.
I should also point out that in his critique he never (that I can see) orients the reader to the specific location on my site for the quotes he uses, never provides the titles of the articles he is excerpting. He also never gives the URL of my site, let alone a link to it. Perhaps he would rather that his readership be shielded from such things and have access to my views only through his filter.
Quite honestly, I found Doherty's site so disorganized that I resorted to simply pasting all his articles into a single document and working from there. So, in the process, all location-markers were lost. I offer no regrets unless Doherty can somehow prove that in doing this I misrepresented him. But I rather doubt that that has happened.
As for the other - the niceties of linking pages was something I left in the hands of the manager of my previous website residence 12+ years ago (whom Doherty, I perceive, does not realize was a person other than myself). But even so, what of it?
- The readers of my rebuttal are assumed to have already read Doherty's material, and therefore would not need a link.
- Others are assumed to have no interest, since they do not know who Doherty is, and if they are of the closed-minded sorts that Doherty alludes to derisively elsewhere, then adding a link hardly makes any difference.
- If they are "open-minded" (as he might say) then they certainly know how to use the search engines.
As it is, I had plans to add a link to whatever reply Doherty might offer; but now, I see no reason to do so, as there is no need to advertise for those who cannot reach an audience with quality material.
On 1 Cor. 2:8
Holding accuses me of the 'Most Scholars . . .' sin, whereas in fact I discuss at length in my Supplementary Article No. 3, 'Who Crucified Jesus?' (from which he has taken his quotations) several scholars who hold this position.
Several, yes, but "several" is not equal to "most" without further verification. Furthermore, as I note, but to which Doherty deigns no specific reply:
As above, Doherty appeals to majority opinion, stating that: "...my tally indicates that over the last century a majority of commentators, some reluctantly, have decided that (Paul) is referring to the demon spirits." This is an interesting observation, but hardly reflects anything in and of itself: What was the "score" of this tally? How did the arguments fare pitted against one another? Are members of the "majority" simply following previous views uncritically? These are the things that truly count, and constant appeals to alleged majority views means nothing. (Just for kicks, though: My own tally indicates the balance for this century in favor of the "earthly" interpretation. Perhaps I am not being selective enough in my consultations.
o again, what about answers to these questions?
As for one of the supporting documents I offer here, the Ascension of Isaiah, he has already, as noted above, dismissed it as irrelevant.
It is hard to see why this document should be relevant; it was not written by the apostle Paul, and was written much later than 1 Corinthians, in a different social and literary context. Why should be give it any attention in this regard? The superficial similarities Doherty cites are hardly sufficient.
In his own defense, Holding quotes a long passage, 1 Cor. 1:17-2:16, highlighting all the phrases which have any reference to things 'human' in them, as though these, by some form of osmosis, render the "rulers" phrase automatically human, too.
Osmosis? No: Context. Nine times in the passage I cite, Paul refers to human wisdom; what reason, other than for the sake of supporting his theory, can Doherty give for suggesting that Paul suddenly switches gears and in the phrase in question, in the midst of a discourse on human wisdom and its inadequacies, now wants to plug in a word on the wisdom (viz., the lack thereof) of supernatural beings?
"Unfortunately," Doherty tells us, I have "failed to find, in Paul's discussion here about the wisdom of the world vs. the wisdom of God, any reference to a human Christ and the elevation of a human man to divinity."
Not in the least. Paul refers in the passage to the crucified Lord of Glory, crucified as a human by earthly rulers; if this is not the same crucified Christ that he refers to as crucified and as divinity elsewhere in his letters, who is it?
"Rather than 'supernatural rulers (being) out of order here,' human wisdom, in the field of religion, has always been concerned about divine and heavenly things."
Is Paul speaking here as a specialist in the field of religion? No, he is not. At the same time, there is a category difference between "those who are purveyors of wisdom" and "what the purveyors of wisdom have to offer and talk about" - Doherty is confusing the two, and his attempt to get out of the obvious reference to earthly rulers fails.
Our next step is regarding two passages which Doherty regards as interpolations. But first:
...Mr. Holding makes the suggestion that Paul himself was the first to collect his letters (thus postulating the first Pauline corpus around the year 60!), and that in any case Paul had made copies of them for his own files at the time of writing, all to guard against the very possibility that some "misfit church" would dare try to doctor them. Such wishful speculation, the like of which I have never heard before, is completely unfounded and is simply an attempt to provide himself with ammunition to discredit the very principle of interpolation; whereas the modern viewpoint (see The New Testament and Its Modern Interpreters, p.205f) that such a corpus was not formed before well into the 2nd century leaves plenty of time for earlier interpolations to have left no contrary manuscript evidence, especially in 1 Thessalonians which has no pre-corpus attestation.
The "suggestion" here, the likes of which Doherty has "never heard before," may be found in the works of David Frobisch, a Pauline scholar of considerable erudition who has made an extensive study of the process of letter collections in the ancient world and deduces that the gathering of the Pauline collection was the result of the same sort of process - not necessarily as either Doherty or I would see it, but along the same lines, with Paul forming the initial collection and guarding it from disgrace, and someone else, perhaps Luke or Timothy, finishing the collection.
Now of course, these "modern" interpreters (as if attaching "modern" to your position actually gives it any credence!) as a rule divorce the NT from its social context as much as possible: If they treated the NT like any other ancient document they would be forced to concede far more than they are willing.
So then, if Doherty or others wish to enter a special plea on behalf of their theories, and say that the process of the Pauline collection was radically different than that of every other letter collection of the time, so be it. The social and textual data plainly do not support his contentions.
On the first alleged interpolation, 1 Thess. 2:15-16, on which I wrote some six pages of material, Doherty has only this single paragraph in reply:
His arguments against the claim that 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 is an interpolation are not entirely without merit, but that this is a "quaint notion" is belied by the long lineup of modern critical scholars who support it-many of whom I quote in my article.
That is all he has to say -- with not one actual argument in reply. It ought to be noted that the "long lineup" tends to work upon the backs of two previous interpolation-proponents (Schmidt, 1983; Pearson, 1971) - both of whom, at least by the standards of our Information Age, may be suitably described as "quaint" even in a non-ironic fashion. Not only that, but why has Doherty failed to interact with the "long lineup" promoting the opposite view?
Now to the second charge, regarding 1 Tim. 6:13:
...Mr. Holding fails to point out that I qualify this by saying that the Pastoral epistles come from the 2nd century, so that even if authentic, the reference does not disprove my position.
Actually, I do point this out, though indirectly, when I write:
Now naturally, Doherty does not believe that the Pastorals were authored by Paul, and he alludes to all of the same old arguments that we have dealt with in Tekton 2-2-5: Vocabulary, teachings, church organization, lack of inclusion in P46, etc. He does not explicate upon these arguments, nor does he deal with counter-objections - and I would not expect him to do so. Of course, he could no doubt argue for interpolation of our specific verse anyway.
Tekton 2-2-5, at the time this article was first written, was the designation for my article on the dating and authorship of the Pastorals (named using a format designed by my former webmaster). So here, I quite clearly point out that Doherty is in the "late date" camp for the Pastoral epistles.
Here it needs to be pointed out that Holding will in no way accept that the Pastorals are not by Paul, going against the vast majority of critical scholars today who firmly reject Pauline authorship and date these epistles post-100. This and other similar examples of his apologetic conservatism clearly place Mr. Holding's scholarship at a "neolithic" level, and automatically put his overall exegetical powers and integrity under the deepest suspicion.
Actually, if Doherty had bothered to look further, he would have discovered my affinity for the idea of Luke as the Pastoral author, writing with Paul's authorization. As for the dating bit, calling the position names, and leaving it at that, is not answering the arguments.
On a positive note, Doherty admits "misinterpreting (his) notes on Kelly's analysis" of 1 Tim. 6:3 and issues his apologies to Kelly. But regarding my actual arguments for the utility of 1 Tim. 6:13, he offers nothing.
And now, to the secular references to Jesus. Here again Doherty appears to be unaware of my other articles on the subject - mainly in this case, here, which I quite clearly refer the reader to, along with Glenn Miller's article on Thallus. Even so, Doherty's reply on the subject is minimal; only one topic is broached, re Josephus:
I would, however, ask who are the "Josephan scholars" who have "decided" that Origen is confusing Josephus' account of James death (the famous Antiquities 20 passage), with some (lost) reference in Hegesippus?
The data may be found here which affirms my position; it's worth quoting extensively since it is an answer to Doherty:
A more likely explanation is that Origen simply read into Josephus’ statements about James an earlier, independent Christian tradition--as attested by Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandra--linking James’ death with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. After all, writing to explain the war was one of Josephus' purposes. And such an approach to Josephus would be consistent with Origen’s exegetical and writing styles. He is notorious as an imaginative reader of texts. Josephus’ writings were not an exception as Origen tended to read Christian traditions into Josephus’ writings. Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus, at 17-18.
Furthermore, the placement of the martyrdom of James in Antiquities would have given Origen all the reason he needed to read the account of James' martyrdom in light of the destruction of Jerusalem. The martyrdom is described just before Josephus begins to discuss the problems that lead to the war with Rome, whose legions destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. Just a few lines after describing James' death, Josephus writes, "this was the beginning of greater calamities...." Ant. 20.3. A few lines after that, Josephus writes, "And from that time it principally came to pass that our city was greatly disordered, and that all things grew worse and worse among us." Ant. 20.4. While Josephus was referring to other events, the proximity to the killing of James must have proved irresistible to Origen. It is also possible that Origen conveniently confused Josephus' explicit statement that Herod's execution of John the Baptist lead to God's judgment with the High Priest' execution of James leading to God's judgment.
Origen elsewhere shows that he is willing to read Josephus loosely but recount it as something stated by Josephus. In Fragment 115 of Origen’s Commentary on Lamentations, Origen comments on verse 4:19 (“Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles of the sky; they chased us on the mountains, they waited in ambush for us in the wilderness."), stating that “Josephus reports that even the mountains did not save those who were trying to escape.” There is no such explicit statement in Josephus’ writings, though it may be an inference from both of Josephus’ descriptions of the fall of Jerusalem. As Wataru Mizugaki notes, “by citing and using Josephus to his own purposes, Origen interprets [Josephus’] historical account from his theological viewpoint and adapts it to his interpretation of the Bible.” Mizugaki, “Origen and Josephus,” in Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity, at 333.
That Origen took Josephus' broader purpose of explaining the causes of the Jewish War, read nearby statements about the beginning of troubles and calamities a little loosely, and read into the account of James' martyrdom the existing Christian tradition about James' death being a cause of God's judgment, is the most likely explanation as to the origins of Origen's comments about James and judgment in his Commentary on Matthew and Against Celsus.
And I would point out that if Josephus is indeed citing a known 'title' attached to James as "brother of the Lord", it means nothing that he does not use the word "brother" in the sense of member of a brotherhood anywhere else in his text. As to whether in fact such an interpretation of the phrase is a "mind-numbing absurdity," I might ask if Holding interprets the "more than 500 of the brothers" of 1 Corinthians 15:6 as siblings of Jesus (rather, they are clearly part of an organized sectarian group), or how he personally would translate "ton adelphon en kurio" (brothers in the Lord, where Paul is also referring to a group) in Philippians 1:14 without implying some kind of "brethren/brotherhood" meaning.
- Re "it means nothing" - it very well DOES mean something, if we are attempting to foist a novel interpretation upon our writer. For that one needs a better reason than, "It supports my theory".
- Re 500 brothers, etc. - no, I see these as "spiritual" brethren, but what Doherty misses here is that the phrase used by Josephus is "the brother of" - it is an individual possessive. It is not "of the brothers" which contains no possessive; nor is it "my brothers" indicating a personal collective, but it is an entirely different phrase that only by the most arduous stretching can be interpreted to refer to "brother" in the sectarian sense - as indeed the others could only by arduous stretching be made to refer to sibling connections in their contexts.
If Doherty can produce even ONE instance in ancient literature where " the brother of" is used in a sectarian sense, and without any further qualifiers, then he MIGHT have the beginnings of a case - but as he cannot even show such usage by Josephus, except by assuming what needs to be proven, the argument remains a dead end for him as it stands, and Josephus remains as powerful, independent proof of a human Jesus. (Along with Tacitus, Thallus, and Lucian, whom he does not even touch in terms of a reply.)
In terms of the thesis of NT silence, note that I added material on high and low context that was not present when Doherty responded to the essay. Even so, the bulk of his reply here consists of nothing more than restating his original case. My arguments are barely answered at all; they are mostly repeated as though they may be plainly seen as fallacious simply in their reading. Only the most minimal efforts are put forth in reply; not a word is said about the key issues of OT and/or ancient citation methods, about the use of allusion versus direct quotes, about missionary preaching.
Instead, former arguments are simply repeated, as though somehow, by creating expectation and then astonishment, the argument can be won:
- "Was it 'trivial' that Jesus' death was the outcome of a trial, one in which he had been falsely accused, a murdered innocent? Not one epistle writer breathes a word of it."
Actually, the charges against Jesus were NOT false, in a technical and legal sense (!), but even so, we still ask: Where is the context or necessity to make mention of this in the epistles? Why should the subject be brought up? There is no evidence until Ignatius that anyone doubted any aspect of the historical scenario.
- "Was the contrast between the Jews' screaming for his blood and Pilate's magnanimous attempt to set him free of no interest, nor the betrayal by Judas, nor the actual extent of Jesus' ordeal, the crown of thorns, the scourging, the anguished cries and other words from the cross, the stupendous reaction of nature to his death, the tearing of the Temple veil?"
Again, as I state VERY clearly, the issue is NOT "no interest" at all, but no NEED. Where is the NEED for these items to be mentioned?
- "What of the host of lesser details: the freeing of Barabbas, the denial by Peter, the thieves crucified with Jesus, the presence of his mother at the scene, the vinegar drink?"
What of them? These are all things that the churches written too should have been taught of long before the epistles were written; they have no relevance to what is being written, and Doherty has not shown any relevance for them, not now, nor in his past articles.
Why doesn't Doherty tell us about his mother, his friends, and his family in his articles? Are they trivial? Why doesn't he mention his hometown, his homemade nacho recipe, or his favorite baseball team? Is Earl Doherty a myth?
But again, little is directly responded to in terms of my reply; here is a minor exception:
Mr. Holding addresses each point (though by no means all of the above) as though it were there in isolation, but he misses the more telling consideration that there are a host of these things which need explaining, all of which must be reduced to triviality, to irrelevance, to a lack of need. It is the totality of the silence that is the most devastating, and here, as I have said elsewhere, any logic in his kind of reasoning breaks down.
Totality of silence? Well, 200 times zero is still zero; and if Doherty fails to secure his case in each individual argument, or in a sufficient number of them, then the collective fails. The key is whether any of the individual arguments can be defended; but all we are given is this sort of rhetoric:
In his dissection of the individual silences I raise, he is often at pains to produce an "apples and oranges" analysis. In these he creates the most strained distinctions and niceties of definition so as to remove the necessity, indeed the very possibility, that the writer could have brought in the Gospel element which seems to us most germane and compelling of mention.
But any specifics to offer? Here's one, regarding whether Paul knew about the Lord's prayer in Romans:
"Paul is talking about content; Jesus is talking about method," goes one explanation. (Shades of the sophisticated subtleties of Burton Mack!)
Yes, that's the whole answer! No: Labeling the argument "subtle" does not answer the question of the argument's validity. Doherty is simply refusing to recognize a clear distinction between content and method.
One other exception:
Mr. Holding takes a number of tacks to deal with the silence in the epistles concerning any attribution of earthly teachings to Jesus. He suggests that we do not, when quoting well-known words from Shakespeare, or Kennedy, or other famous people, always insert the attribution when it is obvious to the reader or listener who said the words. Fair enough, but the situation in the epistles is more often than not one of debate, of urging the reader to a certain course of action, where mention of the "author"-especially when he is the Son of God-would be a natural impulse to give added weight to the argument. (At least some of the time, surely!)
This argument passes right by the issue. "Surely" -
why? How does the name of the person cited "add weight" when the recipient already KNOWS who the speaker is? And if this is true, then why was the same process not followed to the letter for OT cites, which were also used in situations of debate - even in places where God is the speaker?
Surely if what Doherty says bears out, then there would be absolutely no avoiding the "natural impulse" to cite God as the speaker to add weight to the argument. But again, this "natural impulse" is merely Doherty's own invention -- as a low-context writer.
And if the purpose were to praise Shakespeare, or to show why he was so great (as the epistle-writers' purpose was to sell the people on Jesus), we would hardly tend to leave out the fact that Shakespeare was indeed the author.
The epistle-writers were not trying to "sell the people on Jesus" - they were addressing people who had already been "sold on Jesus" for a decade or more. Nor in fact is it true, re Shakespeare: Again, the name itself adds no more authority than it would if merely assumed to be known; as he said himself: "What is in a name...?"
Looking back to his article D02, he said this about the observation that the epistles seem to imply, and often state explicitly, that God is the source of Christian teaching, with no mention of Jesus and his ministry: "God (is) the primary source; Jesus (is) the Word of God, His mouthpiece. Not even Jesus took credit for the content of his own preaching, but identified the Father as his source." Evidently, every Christian epistle writer made the same respectful bypass and ignored Jesus the teacher, refusing even to refer to him as such. Is this really a feasible explanation?
Certainly; why not? Posturing in astonishment is not a valid form of argument, and will not serve to counter the bare fact that citation methods of the time, especially in terms of allusions, simply did not employ the sort of "precision" that Doherty is demanding of the epistle-writers. (And again, as I note elsewhere, Doherty has already provided a way to explain away a reference to Jesus as a teacher, so what difference does it make?)
I will bypass specific comments on 1 John, only referring the reader to our article on this subject, and noting this section:
When 1 John 3:21f and elsewhere fails to assign to Jesus the great love commandment, the centerpiece of his Gospel preaching, but identifies it as coming from God, Mr. Holding explains it this way: "The answer should be obvious. As Johannine theology most explicitly equates Jesus with God, and refers to Jesus as God's Logos...then obviously-expressed in terms of the Father/Son christology-even if these words did come from Jesus' mouth, they in fact ought to be attributed to God." The same explanation is offered for similar silences in Hebrews. This kind of reasoning is characteristic of the theologian, and I suggest that the great majority of us who do not dance on the head of a pin are still left unsatisfied at this determination on the part of all the epistle writers to adhere to such esoteric considerations.
Nevertheless: We are dealing with subjects related to God, and so theology MUST enter the picture. No amount of barring the door against it can keep it outside: The issue is how the 1 John writer viewed things, not how we modern readers do.
Doherty closes by saying, "On the whole, we are left dumbfounded at (the epistle-writers') overall 'lack of need' to refer to Jesus himself, his life's words and deeds, amid their constant proselytizing, their struggles against rivals, apostates, skeptics and heretics, and amidst the simple love and respect they must have felt for their vividly remembered Master, the Nazarene whose name hovered, silent and kept in check, on their pursed lips and the tips of their pens. "
Well, perhaps a little closer study of social and literary context (especially "high and low context") will alleviate some of that "dumbfoundedness." Ironically enough, "dumbfounded" is a description high-context peoples like the French might readily use to describe low-context persons like Americans and Canadians (e.g., Doherty) who would insist on the repetition of so much detail already known.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of my points against Doherty's keystone piece remained unanswered; and we would hardly agree that pursed lips and pen tips had Jesus' name and all of these details hovering about their orifices. We argue, rather, that that name, etc. had long since PASSED those places - and were no longer needed for support. But, if Doherty is so inclined, here's one argument I really want an answer to:
Doherty's Christ of the sublunar realm, this spiritual being that he alleges Paul believed in, he acknowledges to have undergone certain earth-like details in his life in the sublunar regions. This Christ was born of a (sublunar) woman, offered a few teachings, ate a meal with his disciples, was crucified, and died.
My question is simply this: What ELSE did this Christ do in his life? Presumably he was not crucified shortly after his birth; certainly he did something with his life.
The point being: Doherty's "spiritual Christ" is "suffering" from the same sort of "gaps" in the record that the historical one does - and therefore poses just as much of a "problem". This is something that he has utterly failed to recognize or address, and no wonder, for it renders his entire myth-thesis pointless.
I would ask Doherty: Why should we accept his thesis, when it has just as many gaps in the record as the traditional "alternative"? If this question can be answered successfully, then we may get on the road to giving Doherty's thesis a modicum of credibility - otherwise, it fails on the very same major point he uses as a bludgeon.
Now in terms of Doherty's use of circular reasoning, we begin with a technical issue:
One of Mr. Holding's most vociferous complaints against me is that I often draw on a certain observation by a quoted scholar (e.g., Burton in regard to Galatians 4:4 or Barrett on Romans 1:3) when that scholar does not himself go on to draw from his own observation a conclusion identical to mine. This criticism is a red herring. Naturally, I realize that Burton does not use his own observation in the same way I do. But the observation is still made. And I have every right to call attention to it, even if I take it in support of a different conclusion. Nor am I duty bound to point out that his conclusion was different from mine-an assumption which the reader is likely to make in any case.
As to being "duty bound" to point out the differences in conclusion - it seems rather rude to use someone's material in this way if they don't agree with you, lest the reader be impressed with the idea that the cited person supports your position in entirety on that specific. This is simply academic good manners.
By way of analogy, a creationist may point to some natural phenomenon and draw a conclusion that a Creator is responsible. I, as a Darwinist, can surely quote him, but apply it to my own conclusions about evolution.
And by analogy, I find such conduct just as reprehensible. Using someone else's material for your support, without making it clear that they do not agree with your own ultimate point on the subject; or, citing the problems that a writer brings up, and applying your own solution without answering or at least noting their own solutions to the problems (or simply dismissing them without saying what they are!), especially to the magnitude of those whom Doherty has cited, is unprofessional.
But now again to specific arguments. Regarding the "battle of the prepositions" over 1 Cor. 11:23, the Last Supper scenario, and Paul's specific use of a preposition that would indicate a historical recollection over a vision as the source of his data, Doherty replies:
I find it ironic that whereas (Holding) and others are often at pains to make the point that Paul and the other letter writers are producing "occasional" (meaning informal, dashed-off, etc.) works, so that they should not be held to principles of comprehensiveness and exactness, here Paul is not subject to Moulton's qualification of "in daily speech" because Paul had a "much more precise and intelligent mind than the average person . . . and would be unlikely to suffer from such inexactness of speech." (I wonder what Holding makes of the garbled sentence in Galatians 2:6?)
- Re "occasional" - My "pain" here is caused exclusively by Doherty's equation of "occasional" = "informal/dashed off". Where has he gotten this from? "Occasional" equals not "informal/dashed off" but "written for an OCCASION" which has nothing to do with how formally, or how quickly, an epistle was written.
Perhaps he is confounding here the idea of "occasional" with my arguments re "rhetorical brevity" - but even this does not equate with informality or speed, but rather with economy and clarity. The point is that my or any other person's point about "occasional" letters provides no support for Doherty's attempted pointer against Paul's precision and care in writing.
- Re the "garbled" Gal. 2:6 - well, if Doherty wishes to break open this topic: Galatians 2:6 is garbled? Admittedly, commentators in the past have accused Paul here of ambiguity and/or carelessness in composition, but recent detail-studies by Betz and Longenecker have now come to the opposite conclusion, finding here, rather, a very carefully-crafted expression that brings across a very precise point from the pen of the apostle Paul. .
Here is a place where I most specifically charge Doherty with misusing a scholar, Barrett, regarding Romans 1:1-4.
In his reaction to my analysis of Romans 1:1-4, I refer the reader to my comments above about quoting scholarly observations. Barrett (whom I never labelled a Platonist) offers a translation of kata sarka as "in the sphere of the flesh." By this he means, of course, earthly flesh. My appeal to Barrett was more to the concept of "sphere" which he thinks could here be taken from kata. From there one must go on to enquire what could be included, according to the various philosophies of the day, within that "sphere of flesh". I cover this quite thoroughly in Supplementary Articles 3 and 8.
Let's start by looking at how Doherty originally used Barrett:
The term "in flesh" (en sarki, or kata sarka) is also a stereotyped phrase in the early Christian epistles. If we take into account C. K. Barrett's suggestion in his translation of Romans 1:3, it may simply have signified the entry of Christ "into the sphere of flesh," which included that lower celestial realm where Satan and the demon spirits dwelled and wreaked their havoc on the material world.
Now read plainly, this passage clearly invokes the authority of Barrett and indicates that his "sphere" phrase is being defined as including the "lower celestial realm," etc. - an idea that never crossed Barrett's mind. No, Doherty did not label Barrett a Platonist directly; nor do I say he does, but in taking term and applying his OWN loaded meaning to it, WITHOUT stating Barrett's own reasons for the phrase, Doherty is cheaply usurping the authority of Barrett for his position. (Not to mention using the phrase itself for a purpose that is entirely foreign to its conception.)
One is not at all free to "go on to enquire what could be included, according to the various philosophies of the day, within that 'sphere of flesh'," because Barrett did not compose that free-translation phrase with the "various philosophies of the day" in mind at all. Nor did Paul have any such notion in mind, although Doherty once again tries to say so:
And of course, (Holding) has already rejected the very notion that Paul (coming from Tarsus-birthplace and capital, I might add, of the Hellenistic Mithraic cult from the 1st century BCE on), or other early Christian circles such as those in Antioch, Asia Minor and Greece, could possibly have suffered any inroads of Hellenism into their pure Jewish "mainstream" thinking (if, indeed such a creature can be found, especially in the Diaspora, during this period).
This is not quite what I say: What I do point out is that geography has marginal relevance as far as what we can assume has "influenced" a person, and that one must prove first that such "inroads" have occurred and are uniquely the result of such influence.
In light of the work of W. D. Davies in the past and E. P. Sanders more recently, who have found nothing in Paul that cannot be found in Jewish mainstream thinking, we must ask WHY (aside from a theoretical need to support a theory) we must assume that Hellenism is behind Paul's ideas, especially to the extent that Doherty proposes.
Moreover, that Paul was BORN in Tarsus hardly equates with his having spent any significant portion of his life there; if he rose successfully in Judiasm beyond his years as he says in his letters, there is a high probability - and Acts serves to confirm this - that he spent most of his formative educational years in Jerusalem.
But it doesn't matter anyway; as I show here, Mithraism and Christianity aren't even related.
After this: More explaining my arguments without answering them, as though by astonishment can the matter be decided. Then:
"Calvary, for purposes of denying any possible parallel between itself and Mt. Sinai, has had its topographical profile reduced, but I still suspect that any dispassionate observer would regard Mt. Sinai, where the first covenant with God was established, and non-Mt. Calvary, where Jesus' blood sacrifice (as stated by Jesus himself at the Last Supper) brought the new covenant into effect, to be clear and inviting parallels."
"Suspect" or not, no Gospel writer ever granted Calvary any topographical significance of this sort; nor again does the parallel he establishes hold, no matter how many word-parallels he attempts to draw, and no matter how hard he tries to confound the blood sacrifice with the giving of the covenant terms, which are two entirely separate events. My charges of circularity in his reasoning remain standing.
We move now to comments on J.A.T. Robinson's Gospel-date arguments, we find no more again that the usual derisive labelling that characterizes "rebuttals" to Robinson's thesis: My championing of Robinson is "evidence of (my) ultra-conservative exegetical leanings," Robinson's stance is "on the distant right wing of New Testament scholarship" and at odds with "the most fundamental insights of the last century in critical NT research." Not a single rational argument to be found in any of this.
"The huge discrepancies between Acts and what Paul tells us in his letters are reduced to 'minimal' and 'easily recognized as rhetorical/polemical.' "
Well, what of it? Doherty himself barely said two sentences on the subject? But since I first wrote that, I wrote also and article here on this subject.
"The idea that Judas Iscariot was an invention is labeled 'rather peculiar' and seemingly imputed entirely to Hyam Maccoby." Well, it WAS Maccoby's idea; but I suppose there's the off chance that Doherty came up with the idea independently. And again, Doherty said little more by volume that I did on the subject, so what of the brevity of my reply? Finally, what of my question in this regard:
...it should be noted that these is a special problem for Doherty's theories, thanks to his extraordinarily late date assigned to Acts. Elsewhere Doherty maintains standard early dates (50-60 AD) for Pauline letters that he considers genuine. The problem is that most of the data used to fix Paul's letters chronologically COMES FROM the book of Acts. If Acts is not a reliable document, then what grounds are there for dating Paul's letters early? (It will not do to suggest, as Doherty does elsewhere, that accurate bits of tradition have filtered down into Acts - that merely begs the question.)
This is the second question above all that I'd like answered - so how about it?
Now Doherty briefly dismissed the testimony of Papias; I in turn ask these questions:
In what way does the reference "sound as if it was not a narrative work"??? How does he say that "it would seem that Papias had not seen these documents himself"?
Doherty replies by noting that he plans an article on Papias in the future, but 12 years have passed, and we're still waiting. Doherty does however "fill (me) in on one of (my) questions." - the second one above; though I wonder why we can't also answer the first one, where I rather think that Doherty far overstated his case. At any rate, Doherty writes:
On what basis do I say that Papias had not seen the documents he calls "Matthew" and "Mark"? Mr. Holding probably does not accept deductive reasoning, but if Papias did possess copies, he would hardly have failed to deal with some of the Gospel sayings of Jesus in his now-lost work Oracles of the Lord Interpreted. And if he had, the several later commentators who saw that work, such as Eusebius who is quoting from it in the matter of Mark and Matthew (and on whom we must rely for most of what we think we know about Papias), would surely have referred to them, instead of limiting themselves to some of the ridiculous things Papias is reported to have talked about, such as a gruesome version of the death of Judas. Nor is it likely that if he had full narrative Gospels of Jesus' life, Papias would have disparaged written works and preferred oral traditions, as he is reported to have said.
I do accept deductive reasoning; but I do not accept faulty reasoning, and this paragraph is little but that:
Re "failing to deal with" the Gospel sayings - now of course, Doherty's basis for saying that Papias does not do this is based upon the next argument, that "several later commentators" like Eusebius would "surely" have quoted Papias on such matters, as opposed to quoting him on certain (unspecified) "ridiculous" things.
Being that this is not very specific, I can only say that Eusebius would actually, indeed, be inclined to make Papias look ridiculous: He plainly regards him as someone of minor intellectual prowess.
As for the second bit, re "disparaging written works" - there is neither a logical nor a deductive connection between "disparaging" and "not having possession of" - indeed, one would suppose that one could not "disparage" such works unless they actually existed - but I suggest here that our writer should consult the work of Lentz (referred to in our article here) to understand the point of Papias' comment.
Our next subject area dealt with is the alleged rivalry between Paul and Apollos found in 1 Corinthians. Doherty responds here in some depth.
"...there was no disagreement at all between the two beyond a friendly rivalry based on the Corinthians' preference for one or the other as a public speaker."
Actually, I point out that the issue went a bit deeper: It also involved a congregational rivalry between the rich and the poor, and "smart" versus "dumb" - it was a classic social division with multiple aspects, much like the sort one can find in churches even today.
"For this he appeals to terminology found in two or three scattered verses in the first few chapters."
I appeal to much more than this: Doherty may try to dull the point by using the adjectives "scattered" and "few" - but the passages cited are all within the same argument-sector of the epistles, and are inextricably linked together. Beyond that, I go into some detail about the social background of the problem, of which Doherty says nothing.
"For a 'friendly rivalry' over their respective oratorical skills, the Corinthians have divided themselves to such an extent, that Paul is forced to write this long letter to them to patch things up, in which he discourses on the wisdom of the world vs. the wisdom of God to defend his doctrine of the cross, over which some are 'on their way to ruin'!"
First of all, we have pointed out that the division involved many more factors; but even so, it was not so serious that Paul could not address the Corinthian congregation as a whole.
Second, this "long letter" is not TOTALLY devoted to this problem - only 4 of our chapters out of 16 deal with this issue directly, which amounts to a rather short discussion.
Finally, re "ruin" as is found in some translations - Paul may be being hyperbolic here (in the manner of, "If you keep crossing your eyes, they'll stay that way"), but even if he is not, the situation as I described it could very well lead to "ruin": More salt in the wound, more sore points attacked, and in a trouble-filled city like Corinth, that could be the end of that church for good.
Regarding my material on Paul's use of the word "gospel" - Doherty merely says that he with "let the reader decide" if I have "effectively explained away the blatant contradiction" between Galatians 1:12 and 1 Cor. 15:3. Indeed so: And let the reader not forget to consult my linked reply to Robert Price in this regard, where I have centered most of my material on this subject, which Doherty either ignores or is unaware of.
Now to the issue of 2 Peter. Here we at least have a bit of an answer to one of my key charges. To begin:
When Mr. Holding gets to my discussion of 2 Peter, with its "Transfiguration" anecdote which manages to leave out virtually every element to be found in the Gospel scene from which it is supposed to be derived, he offers the familiar rejoinder: "How would stating the obvious help? What need is there for all these details if the reader is familiar with the story?"
To this, the reply is offered:
Yet this is the very issue under debate. What conclusions do we draw from the fact that the writer of 2 Peter gives us no evidence that the Gospel incident of the Transfiguration is his source for the account he gives, an account whose bare words describe nothing so much as a revelatory vision of a divine figure? My position is that the lack of such Gospel details can be taken as an indication (not proof, of course) that the presumed historical incident in a ministry of Jesus (described in Mk. 9:2-8 and parallels) is not the writer's source, possibly because he knows of no such thing. Holding's position is that these details are missing from 2 Peter because the writer and his readers already knew of them. In the context of an argument over whether in fact 2 Peter knew the Gospel scene, which position stands closer to the fallacy of "begging the question"?
Which stands closer? Doherty's position, by far: We have a written record elsewhere that approximates what is written in 2 Peter, using indeed exact words and phrases; Doherty has - what? Speculation, presumption. Doherty's personal lack of satisfaction with the level of detail provided is no cause for shifting preference to his position.
Just how many details would 2 Peter have needed to include to satisfy Doherty? What would keep Doherty from arguing that these finer details are not also representative of some sort of sublunar experience in a universe just like ours (as he goes as far as to do elsewhere for other details that don't fit his thesis)?
By now, perhaps, the reader is wondering how, if no one ever mentions the details or even the basic data of the events of Jesus' life, if no one ever attributes teachings to him or takes care to preserve exactly what he said, how is it that in fact "everyone knows these things"? Preservation and transmission of oral tradition was supposedly accomplished by continually speaking and writing those things which in fact are so woefully missing in the entire written record outside the Gospels. Is there not a contradiction involved here?
Not at all, and Doherty would know this had he read what I wrote carefully. As I made quite clear, the details and data would have been covered in the missionary preaching of the apostles, some 10 to 20 years before the epistles had been written; preservation and transmission of oral tradition was accomplished at the time of this missionary preaching (and it was not a matter of "continually" speaking and writing, but of sufficiently teaching to whatever degree was needed; and in an oral-based society, "continually" was not at all necessary - the basic memory patterns would be established within a very short period).
This is not contradiction, but process, and here as always, Doherty pretends that there was no Christian contact prior to the epistles, that the epistles represent the total content of all that was ever referred to in the early church.
Our next article is on the subject of the second-century apologists. Doherty tells us that "In some ways, this is the most interesting of Mr. Holding's rebuttal articles, not the least because he manages to reproduce most of what I wrote in my 'Second Century Apologists' article."
Oh? So it is Doherty's material that makes things interesting, eh? But, regrettably, in spite of this backhanded compliment, Doherty avers: "I am not going to comment at length on this article, since it really boils down to a 'Was So - Was Not!' confrontation."
It "boils down" to much more than that, of course, but our readers apparently do not deserve the full disclosure. Much space is devoted to the key issue of Gospel attestation, thusly:
On the matter of when the Gospels are first attested to, one can cite many scholars' so-called "echoes of the Gospels" in the early literature, but such echoes can be interpreted in different ways, and if they all lack clear reference to written documents (and especially when they stand next to other indications which suggest that the writer is unfamiliar with basic Gospel material), then surveys like those of Helmut Koester (in Synoptische Uberlieferung bei den apostolischen Vatern, 1957, and Ancient Christian Gospels, 1990) which tend to regard such echoes as the expression of floating traditions and not derived from written Gospels, become compelling.
That "other indications" bit is simply too vague to respond to; but as for the rest, I would simply point out again that if Koester, et al. are expecting modern citation methods, they are not only begging the question, but also working woefully out of the socio-literary context of our writers. I may ask, what of the similar use of the OT, which likewise often " lack clear reference to written documents"? Are these allusions to be regarded as "floating traditions not derived from written OT books" because they lack the citation standards of our century?
Regarding the apologists, very little is actually said. Doherty tells me that he would "like to assure Mr. Holding that I am well aware of the Roman social context, with its attitudes toward religion, in which the apologists had to operate, and I have taken it into account, as several passages in my article clearly indicate."
Yes, they do; my difference of opinion is, as Doherty does note, with "the weight it should be given when taking other factors into account..." - and I say that Doherty, while KNOWING of the context, nevertheless fails to comprehend or appreciate it: His rosy scenario, that supposes that the Christians could simply have showed what a nice, smart fellow Jesus was, is about the same as saying that Hitler could have been cured of his hatred of the Jews had he only been given an intelligent introduction to the Torah or taken a field trip down to the local synagogue.
As far as specifics, Doherty only says that he finds my methods of " 'explaining' the blatant statements of apologists like Athenagoras, Theophilus, and especially Minucius Felix, thoroughly inadequate." This is a wonderful statement of Doherty's personal opinion, but it tells us absolutely nothing other than that perhaps he considers himself above answering his critics directly, except where trivia like this is concerned:
One note: I did not say that the Dialogue with Trypho represents Justin's early beliefs. I said that the account of his conversion experience, which is thought to have taken place 20 years before he actually wrote the Dialogue, and which is described in the opening chapters, represents those beliefs.
As the account of Justin's conversion is PART OF the Dialogue, one wonders what the problem is here. I certainly make the distinction clear.
Much more time is spent now on response to my essay which is put together by way of conclusion to the first 6 essays:
But then Mr. Holding goes on to give us a genuine fallacy. He says that such an action by Jews would be inconceivable, "UNLESS it actually happened, and that 'human man' proved himself to be the Son of God." This is a far more blatant example of a piece of circular reasoning and begging the question combined, than anything he calls attention to in my work.
This statement by me would, indeed, be fallacious, IF I had said "BECAUSE" it actually happened - but since the statement is conditional rather than definitional, it cannot be fallacious.
My statement about the Jews, that they were not capable of such a thing, is "disproven", he says, because they actually did that. Since they did that, this shows that they were capable of it. Nothing could be more classically circular than this....
We'll stop there, because there is a problem: I nowhere say anything like the above at all. Nor do I use the word "disproven" in my essay - quote marks notwithstanding.
He also applies the term fallacy here: "The idea that New Testament scholarship for the past two millennia has been entirely wrong, and that only the genius of Earl Doherty has just now uncovered the truth, is itself a ludicrous proposition." The two millennia idea, of course, proves nothing. Was Copernicus guilty of a "fallacy" when he bucked millennia of conviction-and scholarly conviction at that-that the sun went around the earth? Does Mr. Holding believe in the existence of Amon-Re because the Egyptians believed in him for longer than Christians have believed in Jesus? And I would like to point out that I have never claimed either "genius" or that I am the first to propose that Jesus never existed. But of course Mr. Holding knows that.
But of course I do. Let's look at what I actually wrote:
Let us offer a restatement of one of Doherty's own fallacies to make a point: The idea that NT scholarship for the past two millennia has been entirely wrong, and that only the genius of Earl Doherty has just now uncovered the truth, is itself a "ludicrous proposition" - one that would require a much higher burden of proof to be believed, a burden that Doherty has utterly failed to meet.
I have indeed applied the term "fallacy" here - because I have said this in order to satirize Doherty's continual fallacious appeals. To put it simpler: I know it's a fallacy; but like all satire, it contains a further point: The two millennia by themselves prove nothing; but the issue - again, for the Christ-myth theorists - is that Doherty is indeed claiming "genius" (though he uses no such word) inasmuch as he has presumed that he is more learned, more intelligent, more fair-minded, and more perceptive than hundreds and even thousands of historians, NT scholars, and others who have determined through their studies that a human Jesus actually walked the earth.
Is this not the one who has asked whether all of Western civilization has been subject to a hoax which only he and a few others have now figured out? This indeed would be a ludicrous proposition - one not impossible; but so unlikely on its face that "ludicrous" serves well for an initial description.
With that, no more is said, save that I have dealt with the rest of his "fallacies" (4 out of 5) "in a very cursory and ineffectual fashion." Not that we will be told how this is so. Next up, my material on Hebrews:
In the quotation of Psalm 8 contained in Hebrews 2:6-7, "the son of man" (this term refers in the Psalm simply to "mankind") is made "for a short time lower than the angels." This is indeed a reference to nothing else but humanity, as Mr. Holding points out. Now, in 2:9, the writer says that Jesus was one who "for a short while was made lower than the angels." Holding claims that 2:9 "refers back" to the Psalm quotation, and since the latter's reference is to humanity, this must govern the meaning of the later verse, making it indicate "nothing else but that Jesus became a man on earth."
I'm not sure what he means by "refers back". They both use the same phrase, "for a short while made lower than the angels," but that does not mean that we can read every aspect of the context of the first verse into the second. The writer may be saying no more than that "mankind in its way was made lower than the angels, while Jesus in his own way experienced the same thing."
We can't read every aspect of the first verse into the second; but we CAN read a sublunar-world Platonic dualism into it, in spite of the total lack of references thereof...? Apparently, for:
Here, many analogies offer themselves. Both Floor 5 and Floor 1 are "lower than the roof", but they are not thereby on the same level, and both may not be inhabited by people of the same nationality.
So where is the evidence that the Hebrews writer was thinking in these terms? The answer: There is no evidence. Once again, Doherty is merely assuming what he has yet to prove. This, and the paragraph that Doherty follows with the above, are merely more exercises in circular reasoning. As with 2 Peter, it is of course POSSIBLE that the evidence should be seen Doherty's way; but to prove this would require so much, far much, more than Doherty has provided.
We are offered this rather interesting explanation - which I take to be Doherty's analysis of why Christianity (as he sees it) moved from the spiritual Christ to the earthly one:
- "It may be that, in order to appeal to a mass audience, the esoteric nature of the Platonic system had to give way to something more understandable, more accessible to the average mind."
We'll look at this in more detail shortly; but we really must ask - is this "Platonic" system Doherty envisages REALLY that "inaccessible"? If so, why? And why could it not also appeal to "unintelligent, uneducated, unsophisticated" people drawn by the very fact that it was beyond their comprehension, and therefore perhaps something to be admired?
- "Paul's audience is largely an intelligent, educated, sophisticated one, as his letters show. Christianity a few generations later was appealing to many more people of all classes, including slaves and the dispossessed, the marginal, the sick and troubled."
One key word here: The best we can assume is that Paul's audience included the intelligent, educated, etc. - we have no warrant to say that they were largely so; indeed, the data indicates (see Meeks' First Urban Christian and Stark's The Rise of Christianity), that although the intelligent, etc. made up an unusual number of the readers, there was indeed a broad spectrum of people in Paul's congregations - including those who were slaves (remember Philemon's letter, and advice to slaves in Ephesians and Colossians?), dispossessed and marginal (remember the fight in Corinth?), sick (1 Cor. 11:30 - no, not really; but how does one tell from the epistles how healthy the readers were? - no matter; by Stark's reckoning, the data shows that there were not many times when ANYONE, rich or poor, was particularly healthy), and troubled (if there was no trouble, there would be no epistles).
This alone defeats Doherty's proposition of a class/intellect connection to the rise of Christianity as a "flesh" religion. But there is more:
- "One of the reasons for this broadening of appeal, I would suggest, was the 'descent' of the spiritual Christ into the material realm, to take up an abode on earth, in human flesh."
This runs into two problems. The first is the combination of the two factors above. The second is this: To move towards a fleshly resurrection would have been exactly the WRONG thing to do to win Gentiles. Remember that the Greeks thought of a resurrection body as a "resuscitated corpse" - to move from a spiritual Christ to an earthly one would have been a death knell for Christian belief, no matter how intelligent the congregations were.
But now to Hebrews again. Here Doherty devotes a great deal of attention to defending his two "smoking guns", Hebrews 10:37 and 8:4. Doherty begins by saying that my work "fails to grapple with perhaps the strongest area of my case: my presentation of many passages in the epistles which give us a picture of the beginnings of the Christian movement, in which no room is made for an historical Jesus."
If I have "failed" to grapple with these things, it is because there is no opponent in the ring: I have maintained that Doherty has failed to show in any place that there is "no room" for a historical Jesus in any given passage.
He says, there is "no room" at the inn of history because the epistle-writers are "presenting their picture of the Christian faith movement as one which was dependent on revelation from God and a study of scripture." And I have shown that this is because of the overarching authority of the OT to the first Jewish and Judaized believers, a point that Doherty has neglected to answer.
He says that the historical Jesus is impossible because Christianity is a movement "which speaks of ancient 'secrets' and 'promises', with the first action on those promises, the first revelation of those secrets, being identified with apostles like Paul or the arrival of 'faith'." I have already dealt with these sorts of passages individually and will not do so again here, except more generally: Doherty is again confusing the ministry of Jesus with the post-resurrection mission, among other things.
"Why is it that no epistle writer ever points to Jesus himself as playing an earthly role in the revelation and carrying out of God's work of salvation?" Every time an epistle writer mentions the cross or the resurrection (or when Paul refers to the Last Supper) he does this: There can be no other way to point to Jesus in this fashion, because the role of Jesus in revealing God's plan of salvation occurred only in these events, as the Gospels are plain to report. The moral teachings of Jesus said little about this subject, and even that done in parables which we do indeed find some allusion to in the epistles.
But what of our "smoking guns" which Doherty continues to insist leave no room for a historical Jesus? Starting with 10:37 - Doherty tells us that "is not yet another case, as Holding claims, that the writer did not feel it necessary to say that Jesus had already been on earth in advance of the coming Parousia because everyone knew that he had." Rather, he repeats his original argument, and tries to reinforce it by analogy, to wit:
It may very well be that I am married, yet write to a friend and not mention it because he already knows it. But if I say to that friend, "next month I'm getting married," it is certainly going to cause confusion and require elucidation on my part. And unless I'm planning to commit bigamy, why would I make such a statement if in fact I already have a wife?
And once again, it is the same reductionist error: Assuming that Hebrews represents the totality of all that the writer knows, and all that his congregation knows. I say again: What of missionary preaching? Does Doherty think that the writer of Hebrews said nothing else to his congregation on previous occasions?
To use that analogy: Yes, it would require elucidation, if you were did not to say something else in between; and this is precisely what we are arguing: That there WAS more than just these letters; that the groundwork had been established some 10 to 20 years prior to the writing. This is an argument that Doherty ignores completely.
A bit is also said on Hebrews 9:27-8. Doherty charges that my work "completely ignores the alternate translation/meaning I offer for ek deuterou" and continues, that my essay "declares that the 'second time' meaning 'is THERE in the text,' accusing me of suggesting interpolation, an idea which does not cross my lips."
Actually, what I did here was ask for clarification: I said, "It is THERE in the text; is Doherty suggesting some sort of interpolation?" - A fair question, I think, since Doherty used a very strong word, "intrusive". So now we have clarification, but still no good answer. He also offers no parallel for his "alternate" translation of the Greek phrase in question, which is what we would really like to see in order to significantly move his strongly counter-consensus argument.
And so to the next "smoking gun", verse 8:4. Of this it is written:
As for his rejoinder to my "Smoking Gun" in 8:4, it doesn't work, if only because as Holding presents the writer's meaning, the point is so trivial and so uncritical to the context, that there is no reason why he would have made it. If Jesus had in fact performed a sacrifice on earth-namely on Calvary in his sacrificial death-which is the equivalent to what the high priest now does, what is the point of saying that he wouldn't do it now that he has reached heaven, since there are priests on earth who do such things?
Trivial and uncritical - to WHOM? The verse in question serves to highlight the difference between the superior, heavenly ministry of Jesus and the earthly ministry of the priests. Of course, like any explanatory phrase, one could easily claim that it is "trivial" or "uncritical" - but then again, most explanatory and expansion phrases ARE that way. One could easily run through the sermons of any minister and find phrases and indeed entire paragraphs that are "trivial" or "uncritical" - at the very least in the eye of the beholder. Thus Doherty has no grounds to say that the rejoinder "doesn't work."
If the writer had that recent earthly sacrifice in the storehouse of his knowledge, why would that thought not lead him to words which would reflect such a recent presence on earth? Moreover, he goes on in verse 6 to point out that Jesus' present ministry in heaven is far superior to the earthly one, an idea which takes no account of (and would seem to denigrate) the fact that Jesus recently did have an earthly ministry.
And again we point out: 1) What NEED would there be to reflect on this recent presence on earth, if it was common knowledge? 2) What of the "denigration" of the earthly ministry? We have pointed out quite clearly (assuming that this "denigration" claim is true) that Jesus' earthly ministry, as even the Gospels show, was literally of little account and in terms of the overall picture, and accomplished almost nothing. So, what is the problem here, exactly?
Finally, appealing once again to the presumed Platonic-type basis of this verse, Doherty argues that "if Jesus had somehow operated in both (earthly and heavenly spheres), the contamination would have destroyed their carefully crafted antitheses and required at least some concrete reference to the discrepancy."
One wonders why this is necessarily the case: Rabbinic exercises seldom contained analogies that were completely flawless, and the rabbis (as well as preachers today) seem undisturbed by inexactness in their analogies. Why should the writer of Hebrews have had a care for the needlepoint concerns of a modern critic?
Doherty closes by providing a link to the our page (now 12 years out of date, and broken) and tells his readers "if a reader feels that a specific argument is a good one and warrants pursuing, and I have not covered it above, I have no objection to having it called to my attention and addressing it in normal Reader Feedback fashion."
So this is how it ends, not with a bang but with a whimper, as Eliot puts it.
Nevertheless Doherty had a few things to say in a later essay in reply to my essay on his 200 "silences":
...I have not sought to "disprove" the existence of Jesus, in the sense of offering a mathematical or scientifically unassailable conclusion. That would be unrealistic. Historical research is neither mathematics nor laboratory science. I am seeking to persuade, to commend to the reasonable, unprejudiced person not locked into rigid confessional interests, that the evidence of the early Christian record strongly indicates that there was no historical Jesus.
Call it what you will, but I think Doherty is aware what his typical reader is going to think when they see titles like, "Was There No Historical Jesus?" and hundreds of definitive-toned claims that "there is no room for a historical Jesus here," etc.
Where Doherty begins to address the meat of my reply, he tells us that that I "hardly demonstrated" that all 200 of his claims are off the mark, since I "[have] not troubled to address any of them individually, let alone all 200" and have left my "further proviso, that there are only a certain number of basic arguments...undemonstrated."
Not so: I have addressed each of the claims to the extent that was necessary (even if all that was needed was, "same argument as above, above that, and for the last 7 cites in a row"), and have shown that Doherty's arguments boil down to less than a dozen actual points. i this is not so, then individual refutation of my points (to whatever extent I have deemed it necessary to make them) should be simple.
As it is, it appears we get nothing of a detailed reply. For example, we are told that I have "entirely failed to acknowledge, let alone address, collectively or individually...the silences I have labeled 'positive'-namely, those descriptions of the faith movement and the object of its worship, in which the epistle writers cast things in terms which allow no role for an historical Jesus or even clearly exclude such a figure."
But every one of the examples Doherty gives have been addressed (Romans 16:25-6, Colossians 2:2 and 1:26, Ephesians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 5:5, Titus 1:3) with the possible exception of the 2 Cor. cite, which I do not see that Doherty has addressed (perhaps he means 2 Cor. 5:6-7?).
One of my key arguments regarding the "silence" of the epistle writers was that they do not mention certain details of Jesus' life (such as his birthplace and hometown) because there was no need to do so. As I put it:
Where is the NEED for any reference to such trivial details? What compelling interest would there have been? Ignatius had the specter of docetism hanging over him, and thus a need to refer to historical detail; in what context does Doherty suppose these things ought to have been mentioned by our other writers? Why should Ignatius or anyone else have mentioned Joseph in light of his "non-role" in the conception of Jesus? (He barely makes a cameo appearance in the Gospels and is not mentioned at all in Acts!) All that we have is Doherty's own inferred opinion that these details ought to have been included - yet there is not a shred of hard evidence to support such assertions.
Doherty replies by asking the reader to "consider a basic list (in no particular order) of those things which Holding considers to be 'trivial.' " - but he goes on to "assume, though [Holding] refers above specifically to Bethlehem and Nazareth, that the 'triviality' applies to all the other things on which the first century epistle writers are equally silent."
The context of my remark allows for "trivial" categorization only of those items mentioned. At any rate, I, at least, do not "assume" to be trivial such facts as that Jesus underwent a trial, was crucified on Calvary, was buried outside Jerusalem, etc. - all of these are not "trivial" in the since of birthplaces or residences, but are simply not germane to the contexts of the Epistles (perhaps trivial to the context, but not trivial in and of themselves) - and Doherty has still failed to show that they are; his only reply to my request for such proof is to remark that "the 200 Silences feature has been at pains to supply 200 contexts in which such references might be expected to appear" and that it is "a matter of common sense and the laws of nature, including human ones."
Well, we have all been feeling Doherty's low-context "pains" for the last several years, and we have still yet to see any concrete reasons for these references to appear. Throwing catchphrases like "common sense" in the air isn't going to do the job. Posturing in amazement and throwing out vague generalities ("Can anyone envision how so many writers talking about so many things in so many different documents and situations could so consistently and universally avoid mentioning something about the Gospel story and its central character?" ) doesn't make the case. I have been demanding specifics, but they have been in decidedly short supply from Doherty, and even now, we are offered nothing new and little that is specific. Thus:
If an epistle writer is arguing for the feasibility and reliability of the dead being raised, there is clearly reason-and compelling reason-to refer to the traditions about Jesus having raised the dead to life, or even to his Gospel promises that the dead will be raised, as proof that such a thing is possible and can be anticipated.
I am wondering where it is that someone is "is arguing for the feasibility and reliability of the dead being raised" - despite Doherty, it isn't 1 Corinthians 15 (the purpose of that chapter is indeed to combat Corinthian doubts about resurrection, but it is with reference to the nature of the resurrection body, not resurrection per se, and merely saying "Jesus was raised" doesn't answer that issue; but Paul's appeal to the apostolic witnesses to the risen Christ does). this is simply another example of Doherty failing to understand the purpose of a text.
We have answered this before, and have answered also the idea that "the authority and reliability of rival apostles is in contention," means "there is surely good reason for one side or the other to make an appeal to personal appointment by Jesus."
If a writer is arguing in the face of contrary opinion that there is no such thing as an unclean food, there is very good reason-again, a compelling one-to refer to Jesus' own teaching on this matter, regardless of whether the reader might be expected to be familiar with it.
This is a point I have already answered -- as I said previously:
…(W)e are dealing with apples and oranges here: Aside from the fact that Paul's reference would qualify as an allusion to the teaching in Mark 7:19 (and hence, require no IF!), the issue is no longer clean or unclean foods per se, as regarded by the Jewish law, but meat sacrificed to idols - an issue that Jesus NEVER addressed! In fact, what Paul is doing here is applying Jesus' words to a new context, in good rabbinic fashion - it is an example of the Jewish/Gentile dichotomy in operation!
Doherty had very little to say to this, other than making snide references to my seemingly endless supplies of apples and oranges - is that an answer? No, it is not. This is not a case where Paul's detractors have "forgotten" the teaching of Mark 7:19, or wanted to argue about it, or thought someone had lied or was wrong about it; it is a case where that teaching clearly does not apply - it takes Paul's rabbinic exegetical skills to apply it in principle (not directly, or even logically) to a new situation.
To judge by the extant record, the Christian movement was a sprawling, uncoordinated one covering half the empire in small communities. Why should anyone presume that everything to do with the Gospel story and the life and death details of Jesus of Nazareth would be known by every Christian soul in all these places?
Why? Because the churches (according to the "extant record" in Acts, actually quite the connected group!) being addressed had been in existence for 5, 10 or more years when Paul and the others had written their epistles. They were not (as Doherty supposes, but gives no evidence for) "recently converted"; they were established groups.
Why also? Because this was a high-context society within which a broad background knowledge was assumed, and Doherty reads the texts as low-context documents in accordance with his own societal upbringing. And if the apostles hadn't taught all the Gospel story details by then, what were they teaching? Even Doherty must "presume" that the apostles had been laying out the details of his sublunar Jesus for his theory to work; why is our "assumption" invalid?
Interestingly, Doherty admits of Bethlehem that "perhaps [Holding] has indeed chosen an example of something for which there was never really a clear occasion in any piece of Christian writing outside the Gospels to mention Jesus' birth place." But he goes on to say:
However, I include that element as part of a larger silence on any of the places of Jesus' life: birth, youth, ministry, death and resurrection. The place of Jesus' birth simply joins a long line of sites on which the early writers are totally silent: Bethlehem, Galilee and its towns and villages, Jerusalem itself in connection with Jesus, Calvary as the very hill of salvation, and the empty tomb nearby-none of which seem of the slightest interest to early Christians as holy places or sites of pilgrimage. There may have been "no need" to visit such locations, but does it make sense that no one would, that no one would betray any sign in their correspondence that such places existed?
Answer: YES, it makes perfect sense; if there is no really clear need to mention Bethlehem, Nazareth, etc. individually, the sum of the parts is the same as the whole. Just arguing about "sense" isn't going to do the job - we need to know why these items should have been mentioned. Hard data and argument -- not an ambiguous catch-all like "common sense" -- is what is needed/
In his largest counter, Doherty goes on to address the matter of attributions. I have covered this issue previously and all of what Doherty says here regarding the use of introductory formula (including why there is no parallel for the words of Jesus for the OT formulas such as, "as it is written") I have already answered. Further Doherty comments:
Jesus of Nazareth was supposedly the founder of the movement, he was supposedly the man for whom many believers surrendered their Jewish heritage, their sensibilities about monotheism, their prohibitions against associating humans and human images with God. This status for Jesus far outranks any need or desire to attribute an appeal in scripture to the specific figure of Isaiah or Solomon or David.
Where's the logical chain in this? If this is indeed logical, then one's rank in importance should be reflected pro rata in the amount of times one's name is cited; but if this is so, Doherty has not shown any such pattern to exist, and he will never be able to show it, because it doesn't exist. Nor does this peculiar "desire" to make attributions based on personal importance or status he continues to assume exists show any evidence of existing.
It is furthermore false to claim that I skim over "the fact that Paul does appeal to the words of David, which he directly identifies as such: in Romans 4:6 and 11:9; as does Hebrews in 4:7." I made it quite clear in the section just now linked that there are indeed times that a person is named, but it occurs less than a dozen times out of hundreds of quotations, and never is cited when it comes to allusions (which is what we find with reference to the Jesus tradition in the epistles).
Doherty then tells us:
As for Josephus-an historian who might have had a personal interest in not making it look like he is dependent for his information on all and sundry-he would hardly have regarded his sources with the same veneration as Christians should be expected to have held for Jesus.
This is another inadequate answer. First we are given a hint of conspiracy (where is proof for this "personal interest" by Josephus? -- and for that matter, by all the other writers of the period who likewise showed less "veneration" for their sources than we would), and then the same argument about how veneration and authority somehow requires attribution - we still haven't seen a logical chain established for this, nor any study of quotation/allusion/attribution methods in antiquity.
My point in comparing to modern methods of citation (which Doherty merely dismisses as "strained and hardly pertinent") is that Doherty has started with the assumption that such methods held true 20 centuries previous - and they clearly did not. Until Doherty deals with this context, his case is without support. Merely insisting that "(c)itation and the appeal to Jesus' own authority would have been natural and highly motivated" does not make it so, and Doherty's personal expectations are not a relevant part of the equation.
Finally I made the point that we also lack many details of Paul's life from his own letters. Doherty replies that "the distinction should be obvious" because "Jesus was the object-presumably-of universal Christian worship," was God on earth (actually, the Logos, not God proper; Doherty still hasn't grasped this distinction), did great deeds and miracles, etc. etc. -- in other words, it's just a restatement of the same argument that "importance = required to receive attribution."
If this argument is true, then we should have equal amounts of personal data about Paul, Peter, James, and John, and correspondingly lesser data as we go down the chain; but the fact is that we do not -- there is no pattern that is established, and no critically-discernible reason why relative importance causes a need to make attributions. The mystery remains unexplained by Doherty or by anyone else.
When Doherty says that "truly, there was little or no need for Paul himself or anyone else to give us those things" because they "bore no relevance to what Paul was doing, or to the Christian movement as a whole," he describes, within the epistolary context (not within the context of missionary preaching) the very reason why there was no need to repeat such things concerning Jesus -- as we have shown repeatedly by example.
Doherty closes by saying that I am "clearly in a state of denial" which has led me and others "to make the most untenable claims and rationalizations about the great void on the Gospel Jesus in the early Christian record."
Well, that's the way it goes: If you can't answer your opponent's arguments with hard data, you can always make a career out of being their psychotherapist.
Our next reply to Doherty was inspired by his critique of Mike Licona's review of The God Who Wasn't There, a film in which Doherty had a narrative-interview role. Licona began his review with this:
I found the end of Doherty’s rebuttal interesting where he reports that not even The Fourth R, which is a periodical published by the Westar Institute (from which comes the Jesus Seminar), is interested in discussing his hypothesis. The editor for the periodical wrote that the question pertaining to whether Jesus really existed is not a living discussion among scholars and added, "If someone wants to doubt the existence of Jesus, my experience is that no evidence or argument will change his mind." In spite of the $5,000 offered as an incentive to open the discussion, the request was declined. This is quite a blow to Doherty and his colleagues. It is like a guy who wants to impress his new girlfriend by cooking for her. He prepares an elaborate dinner that seems delicious to him but smells and tastes so horrible to his girlfriend that she refuses to take a bite. In frustration, he puts a little of his food on the floor for the dog, who only sniffs it then walks away.
Licona's comment prompted me to review my responses to Doherty, some 10 years after the originals. I was struck in the main by just how little indeed Doherty replied, and how indeed devastated (to put it mildly) his case was by the retorts.
My reply on the matter of the reasons for the silence, and on the clear references to a human Jesus in the NT and in secular sources, by itself would have accomplished a devastation; and Doherty's replies to the bulk of this amounted to vague appeals to "common sense." He was completely unable (or unwilling) to reply to such things as the detailed case showing why 1 Thess. 2:14-16 is not an interpolation.
Indeed, by this time, I found that there was much to make one suspicious about Doherty. He claims to be degreed in classics and ancient history -- and I previously took for granted that this was the case. I am now suspicious of this claim. Doherty does not bother to tell us from what institution he got this degree, nor is he even clear on what level degree it is, though Internet scuttlebutt rates it as a Bachelorate.
Ironically as well, I concluded that by Doherty's own reckoning of the lack of details about Jesus in the epistles, one would be constrained to suppose that Doherty himself is mythical, for he tells us almost nothing about himself. His websites are registered to another person associated with a Canadian humanist organization. While recently (3/08) reviewing Doherty's material for my book on the Christ myth, I found myself thinking it all the less impressive than I remembered.
The evidence leads to a disturbing conclusion that Earl Doherty -- if such a person even exists -- has no credentials to speak of. If he seems to "win" debates, it is only because no one will take him seriously enough to read all of his material, and so he can point to some other article of his where a critic "missed" a critical point and therefore allegedly failed.
At the time of my own response, I answered nearly all of his material, and left no option for him to reply that way.
At any rate, we turn our attention now to a reply Doherty wrote to Mike Licona's critique of The God Who Wasn't There (hereafter GWWT). Much of it is beyond our subjective coverage; here are some general comments:
- Doherty protests too much about Licona's critique of the film's production values. Such things are a very legitimate target in any full review.
- It seems rather hypocritical for Doherty to suppose that his opponents, because they respond to his thesis, are incensed, or disturbed, or anxious, while promoting the reputed superiority of his own humanism (so enlightened that it resorts to the racist description of the ancient readers of the Bible as "nomadic goatherders") and of course not thinking that his own production of a response does not prove him anxious, or disturbed, or what have you.
Indeed, it does not occur to him further that when he dismisses (but does not answer) replies as "confessionally driven" this can be turned around on him with respect to his "religion" of humanism
In terms of academic content, we have these comments:
- We continue to have no expectation that Doherty will engage with our material on the subject of Q, Marcan priority, and Gospel dates and authorship. On such as these, he is clearly content to rattle the chains of The Ghost of Consensus Present. This is odd for several reasons:
- Doherty contrarily insists that scholars should engage his overwhelmingly counter-consensus positions (the Christ myth, as well as very late dates for the Gospels).
- Doherty objects that Licona did not address the matter of Q in detail, knowing full well that we have, and that he refuses to engage it.
- Doherty offers a non-consensus positionin his suggestion that Luke's prologue was "a later addition." No textual-critical evidence exists to that effect, and Luke's prologue does fit a model of a biographical-historical introduction typical for the period.
It does not matter, as Doherty points out, that "the writer of the Prologue makes no mention of his own identity, or any personal link to important figures involved in Christianity's beginnings." The same could be said of other ancient biographies.
- Doherty still shows no awareness of such matters as the use of probabilities in literary production, as well as of the answers to such matters as Passover timing difference and the difference between the portrait of Jesus between John and the Synoptics.
Answers to all of his points are readily available, and have been for many years.
Licona makes an appeal to our reliance on the histories of many famous figures in the ancient world having been written far longer after the lives of those figures than the Gospels were written after Jesus, even assuming a later dating than the traditional one. This is a common argument, but basically irrelevant. We have to examine each individual case on its own merits, as to the reliability of the writers, our knowledge about them and their circumstances, the nature of their writings. There is no comparison between sober-minded historians like Diodorus, Plutarch and Arrian writing on Alexander the Great and four unknown authors recounting a miracle-working man-god forecasting the end of the world who redact and contradict each other while writing on an otherwise unattested human figure—much less the Son of God—some three-quarters of a century after the 'fact'.
Doherty simply begs the question of what should be regarded as "sober-minded" reportage (he has already declared "miracle-working man-god" off limits); in other words, completely ignoring the critical issue, which is that it was his original view that lateness somehow equated with unreliability, so he now he changes the subject to that of what sort of events are reported.
Thereafter we have a host of "hurled elephants":
- alleged unknown authorship [link above]
- alleged false prediction of the end of the world
- alleged problems in harmonization
- alleged lack of otherwise attestation)
Doherty also remains uninformed of the facts concerning the high Christology of ALL of the NT documents.
While I will say that there are some arguments Licona used that I would not, it remains that Doherty's own replies are little more than things that have already been answered here, in detail. If Doherty wants to rebut our detailed arguments on the authority and authenticity of the Pastoral letters, he is going to need more than comments like, "conservatives are very anxious to try to discredit the mainstream judgment that the Pastorals are second century forgeries written in Paul's name."
Oh? May we rebut Doherty by saying that, "Christ-mythers are very anxious to try to discredit the informed judgment that the Pastorals are authentic letters written at Paul's behest"?
Is that an argument? It is not, and nor is anything Doherty has said.
Some comment is in order on Doherty's treatment of alleged pagan savior deity parallels. We of course have a detailed series on this issue here. On the one hand, Doherty clearly doesn't want to deal in such details as, "Did Mithra really die and rise after three days?" On the other hand, he wants to support the principle of Jesus as a myth generally. And so he is left with walking a razor-thin line:
I wish I had a dollar for every time an apologist rattled off this claim that much in the mysteries postdates Christianity and this makes borrowing possible in the other direction. The only accurate aspect of it is that some of the existing evidence for what was contained in the mysteries comes from the second century, a little of it from later centuries, but this does not mean that such features necessarily began only at that later time.
It is amazing indeed how many breaks Doherty wants to cut when it comes to this sort of data; but when it comes to the NT or evidence opposing him, suddenly it is all very late and there is no reason to think it came any earlier. This is an admission the data, as it stands, doesn't give Doherty what he wants, and so he is compelled to make special pleas like these.
How easy is it to follow this methodology? One of our readers put it this way in a rather amusing analogy:
Is Jesus Mehrunes Dagon? Imus Keptic, PhD.
I was playing a new game, "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" when I realised that I had stumbled upon another mythical figure Jesus was ripped off! How anyone else managed to miss it is beyond my comprehension. The following may contain information from the game that you might want to find out on your own, so if you plan on playing it, don't read this.
Jesus claims the world is his and plans on ruling it
Mehrunes Dagon claims the world is his and plans on ruling it
Jesus fights a dragon at the end of the Bible
Mehrunes Dagon fights a dragon at the end of Oblivion
Jesus's followers wore robes
Mehrunes Dagon's followers wear robes
Mehrunes Dagon has four arms
Jesus and the Father have four arms in total
Mehrunes Dagon's cult is called the Mythic Dawn
Jesus's tomb was found empty at dawn
Paul promises Jesus's followers eternal life in paradise
Mankar Camoran promises Mehrunes Dagon's followers eternal life in paradise
Mehrunes Dagon wants to destroy the world and rebuild it.
Jesus wants to destroy the world and rebuild it.
Jesus was dead for three days.
I finished Oblivion in thee days.
There you have it ladies and gentlemen, "Jesus" is actually a carbon copy of Mehrunes Dagon. Even the physical similarities are striking. Can you tell which one of these is Jesus?
Doherty's arguments with Jesus and the likes of Attis and Adonis are nothing more than this. When needed, vast differences are ignored, terms are obfuscated in meaning, and parallels and taken from unrelated contexts. (And yes -- we answered Price's claim in Deconstructing Jesus, the very quote Doherty uses, as it happens).
Doherty calls such efforts a "dubious exercise" (as Licona uses one of Lincoln and Kennedy), based on the circular reasoning that we know that eg, Lincoln and Kennedy are historical. And thus he misses the point: that this can be done so easily with historical figures, undermines this aspect of his argument. By the same token, the fact that my fictional future historian, Phonias Futz, was able to make the same case for a mythical Jesus using a 1970s hymnal, speaks just as well to how easy it is to dehistoricize a historical person by manipulating evidence, using denial or obfuscation (e.g., explaining away clear differences as "variants" on an overbroad, and therefore epistemically worthless, theme), and redefinition (as is done with "resurrection"). So likewise was it done to Lincoln (in jest) by Utley, who was able to use the same tactics to find Lincoln "mythical".
A major factor becomes the nature of the data being paralleled. There is a great difference between the data in the JFK/Lincoln case and the data in the Jesus/savior gods case. Each of the features attributed to Jesus and the other deities we can identify as serving a purpose, and they all form part of a coherent whole within the framework of mythical expression.
Creation of a purpose is a simple exercise; the obvious "purpose" of a JFK/Lincoln parallel (as Futz deduced) was to prop up Lincoln as a wonderful President, as his supporters desired. It is a very simple matter to create out of whole cloth communities of persons with the motives you need for them to have. It is also easy to dismiss the claim that they are "random" for after all they are made to serve a purpose.
The difference need not be theological; it can be political, or laudatory and biographical. This is why in the end Doherty's only real answer is to beg the question by saying, "Well, yes, but we know that Kennedy was historical. Jesus wasn't." All that remains is to restate the thesis.
Doherty continues repeating the same (and here refuted, with little or no answer from him) argument about the secular references, much of which now amounts to "so and so says otherwise" and accusing modern scholars who differed of being on a bandwagon. I think it speaks for itself in that Doherty, who claims to be correcting all on Josephus, has never heard of Louis Feldman, today's leading scholar on Joephus. Let it speak further that he thinks that there "are good arguments for postulating an interpolation" in Tacitus (though he declines to actually take that tack).
That is really all that needs to be said, aside from one thing I would note, for it reflects my work since first addressing Doherty: As a preterist, I have no need to defend the idea that the NT indicates a "return" for Jesus. I read his "coming" in terms of an enthronement in heaven, and so it does not matter to me if texts do not indicate a "return".
So in sum: Far from being the best explanation, Doherty's Christ-myth thesis continually resorts to evasion, redefinition, and circular reasoning to survive. Likewise, far from being the best explainer, Doherty avoids (as much as possible) direct responses to detailed rebuttals of his argument. His explanations are devoid of connections to the relevant contexts (other than Platonism, and the correctness of that connection has been questioned by others as well) and resort time and time again fringe positions which are defended with no more than "he says so". I have to conclude that years ago, I gave Doherty far too much credit as a researcher.
In light of that Doherty's ideas have been recently popularized by TGWWT, it seemed judicious to examine comments made on Doherty's work by someone else that moviemaker interviewed, Richard Carrier. This review was written some years ago, which means it may not fully represent all that Carrier now accepts or believes. But we wish to address certain ideas within which will remain the same regardless, so after this paragraph Carrier's name will not appear in this essay.
- It is found "odd" that the phrase kata sarka is used of an earthly sojourn. In our reply to Doherty we found Barrett's understanding sufficient: in the realm denoted by the word flesh (humanity) [Jesus] was truly a descendant of David.
What is "odd" about this is not explained; it is merely said to be "odd" with no explanation at all. It rather makes perfect sense with the understanding of Jesus as incarnated hypostatic Wisdom, a personage whom would not ordinarily be judged by human standards (here, the all important matter of one's physical ancestry). It is at least admitted, however, that the phrase is "still compatible" with a historical Jesus.
- I have not dealt in the matter of whether Doherty's idea of a "sublunar realm" corresponds with any documented conceptual reality. Nor do I intend to, but I think it is worth while to submit the replies of one of my comrades in doubt, "GakuesiDon", who has written in numerous contexts on this subject: ...Doherty has introduced a concept that simply didn't exist at the time -- that people believed that the gods acted in a "fleshy sublunar realm". But that belief didn't apparently exist: people either thought that the god myths took place on earth (with legendary developments) or as allegory for natural processes.
We recommend a debate between GDon and Doherty here where it is clear that this "sublunar realm" is a mere contrivance.
- I have regarded the high-context nature of the NT world as a devastating refutation of Doherty's "sound of silence" argument, and it continues to be one. Analysis of whether an argument from silence can be valid or not becomes moot under such conditions. It is a case of ) imposing low-context expectations on the tests.
No "argument from silence" based on high-context texts can ever be graded or recognized as significant. It is of no use to argue that Paul "would certainly have known" this or that about Jesus, and would "certainly have made mention of" this or that (even if one does successfully contrive, subjectively, a reason why it is "certain", which Doherty also failed to do in any case) or make vague appeal to what is "natural and human" to do (in a low-context environment, and/or at an early, exploratory stage, perhaps).
Furthermore, comparisons to eg, Pliny the Elder fail on account of NT epistles not being literary parallels to eg, Tacitus writing a history. The genre of the epistles as problem-oriented letters -- not histories or biographies of Jesus -- is consistently not taken into account.
- We now consider tests offered to recognize "The Argument to the Best Explanation" in light of a better-informed view.
- "must be of greater explanatory scope," that is, it must explain more existing evidence -- once a historicist position adds high context considerations to the arsenal, it plainly wins this criteria, especially since Doherty's theory requires a peculiar reversal of ideas (Christ being "fleshified" into a much harder to swallow personage) and the total invention of a special sort of "sublunar realm" otherwise unattested in the literature.
- "must be of greater explanatory power," that is, it must make the existing evidence more probable -- ditto, or perhaps better to say, moot, since there is really nothing to explain. The lack in details is a normalcy, not a problem to be explained away.
- "must be more plausible," based, that is, on established general truths about the time, the place, the context, etc., and the universe generally -- the same considerations as 1) above apply; note especially that what we offer is far more rooted in "the context" than Doherty's explanations.
- "must be less ad hoc," that is, it must contain fewer "new suppositions" that have no other evidential support apart from the fact that they make the theory fit the evidence -- none such are required for the historicist view (eg, silence is explicable by a known social condition), but nothing says "ad hoc" like the "sublunar realm" does (to say nothing of Doherty's constant appeals for things like interpolations, extra-late Gospel dates, Josephus and Paul referring to some group called "the brothers of the Lord," etc.)
- "must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs," that is, it must be less challenged by existing evidence and general accepted truths -- I'd say this is especially a problem for Doherty when it comes to the secular references
- "must exceed [on the previous five criteria] other incompatible hypotheses about the same subject by so much...that there is little chance of an incompatible hypothesis, after further investigation, soon exceeding it in these respects" -- With high context in view, there is no appeal to "bad luck" and nothing ad hoc; it is a reality of Paul's social world that cannot be honestly or rationally denied.
- Re "occasional" - My "pain" here is caused exclusively by Doherty's equation of "occasional" = "informal/dashed off". Where has he gotten this from? "Occasional" equals not "informal/dashed off" but "written for an OCCASION" which has nothing to do with how formally, or how quickly, an epistle was written.