Jesus Puzzle: A Summary

Now we will take a brief look at five "fallacies" that Doherty places upon the shoulders of NT scholarship and those who have commented on his work so far. Ironically enough, these alleged "fallacies" themselves in some ways embody the fallacious aspects of Doherty's work. They also, to some extent, overlap and/or repeat each other.

"The First Fallacy," he writes, "is the idea that Jews, both in Palestine and across the empire, could have come to believe-or been converted to the idea by others-that a human man was the Son of God." In other words, the idea that Christianity is true is itself fallacious.

But this "fallacy" is in itself exemplary of Doherty's own fallacious methodology. It is circular reasoning, for it assumes the very thing that it must prove: That Christianity is untrue.

"To believe that ordinary Jews were willing to bestow on any human man, no matter how impressive, all the titles of divinity and full identification with the ancient God of Abraham is simply inconceivable."

And so it would be: UNLESS it actually happened, and that "human man" proved himself to be the Son of God. Doherty's first "fallacy" amounts to an argument in favor of Christianity. (I develop this idea further here.)

Doherty's second "fallacy" asserts that "Scholars are faced with a bewildering variety of expression in earliest Christianity" and goes on to criticize the idea that Christianity sprung from a central source. Rather, we are told, the evidence of a movement "whose earliest manifestation is nothing but diversity" requires a "common sense" conclusion that "the new faith arose in many different places with many different expressions."

This objection is itself exemplary of another fallacy, that of black-and-white thinking. We have written elsewhere of the "diversity" of early Christianity: Doherty has failed to allow for the "acceptable pool of diversity" that writers like Dunn and H. E. W. Turner have spoken of.

Doherty's third "fallacy" is merely a restatement of his assertion that the epistles do not contain any reference to a historical Jesus who walked the earth. We have seen that this assertion rests entirely on misunderstandings of the purpose of the epistles, false expectations, misapprehension of the evidence, and above all, upon circular reasoning.

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 (whose own credentials in this arena are decidedly under par) 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 failed to meet.

His fourth "fallacy" is essentially a restatement of the third, in which Doherty criticizes the "no interest" explanation for Paul's alleged "silence" on the historical Jesus. We have seen that the explanation for this alleged "silence" is far more involved and not exactly a matter of "no interest".

Doherty's fifth and final "fallacy" is stated as follows:

If this man Jesus had had the explosive effect on his followers that is said of him, and on the thousands of believers who responded so readily to the message about him, such a man would have had to blaze in the firmament of his time. That impact would have been based on the force of his personality, on the unique things he said and did. There is no other way.

We agree to an extent, although Doherty would do well here to temper his assertion with the "marginal Jew" advice of John Meier. But even then, Doherty thinks that the impact is not evident, and this is a faulty interpretation of the evidence.

"The blazing star," he tells us, "immediately drops out of sight." "No contemporary historian, philosopher or popular writer records him."

If by contemporary Doherty means "living at the same time," then we have seen elsewhere that Philo is the only one whose work is left to us who might have had an interest in making a record. Indeed, since Doherty finds so much in common between Paul and Philo, the silence of Philo on Christians is just as "strange" under Doherty's thesis.

"There is no sign of any tradition or phenomenon associated with him."

There is no sign of what Doherty thinks ought to be recorded; for example, when he says further, "Not a saying is quoted. Not a miracle is marvelled at.", he fails in the first instance to recognize the development of the Jesus-tradition within the epistles, and furthermore the practices of citation for the time; he fails in the second instance to show any relevance for such marveling, presuming instead upon the epistle-writers a low-context understanding of the world around them. In no case has Doherty shown any compelling interest or need for the mention of the things that he has suggested within the contexts that he has suggested, and the "high context" societal setting completely refutes any idea that such a mentality would exist to begin with.

If Doherty seeks a "blazing star" to follow, then he may perhaps consider that the Christian church itself, the body of Christ, is Jesus' legacy as a man who walked the earth. This is more relevant than it may seem, for Doherty has nowhere come close to satisfying the burden of proof that would be required to show that the Christian movement evolved from the point of a spiritual Christ, which I daresay would hardly have left the church in its wake as we now have it.