Out From Under the Umbrella

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All Bible Scholars Agree . . . Or Do They?

11 Comments

Reblogging the work of others is something I seldom do.  However this is such an excellent article that I thought it was worth repeating.  I’m not sure how many of you read the very excellent blog Vridar. I’m providing a link here so you can go check it out.  I’d encourage you to do so and leave a comment there for Neil.  Neil Godfrey has written a response to the, “All Bible scholars agree” or “Scholarly consensus is” line so often trotted out by apologists with regards to Jesus existence and archaeological evidence.  I’ll let Neil speak for himself:

All Bible Scholars Agree . . . (so what?)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

 

No scholar employed by a major university doubts Jesus existed. 

scholars

One sometimes reads a claim like this by a theologian or bible scholar although generally they will more modestly say only that no scholar employed by a theology or biblical studies department holds this view.

How should we evaluate such a claim?

The intention behind the claim is to persuade us to accept the authority of biblical scholarship in the same way we might accept the authoritative claims of scientists, engineers or doctors.

But the difference should be obvious to all. The sciences are about universal physical facts; biblical studies are a culturally limited and ideological area of interest.

What if we were to read an Islamic scholar saying no scholar of the Koran or Islam at a reputable university believes Jesus was crucified or doubts Mohammad rose to heaven on a flying horse?

Look, also, at the Who’s Who table to see who in relatively recent years have confessed to doubts about the most fundamental claim of biblical scholarship. Highly respected linguists, philosophers and scientists as well as a broad range of literature scholars, psychologists, engineers are on the list.

These are people who do know how to evaluate claims and are not going to be fobbed off with authoritative declarations about what “bible scholars believe”. These are not people who are somehow perverse eccentrics who are just as likely to be found wondering if Young Earth Creationists are right after all.

People know biblical scholarship does not hold the same universal authoritative status as the medical sciences. It is not hard to find scholars in the sciences even mocking the whole discipline of theology for its ill-informed pretensions to accommodation with evolution.

All authority should be held accountable and welcome challenges if it is to validly justify itself.

Everyone knows the study of the bible is far more of an ideological interest than are the sciences. There is no doubt that most scholars who have taken up biblical studies do so out of a personal religious interest. Most are Christians, liberal or conservative.

The token atheists in their ranks for most part acknowledge that they were once believers and that is why they took up their studies. Others who claim to be atheists or agnostics are very often quiet publicly about their past interests so we can only wonder. Past interest is clearly very important in the eyes of a good number of these scholars as we can see from the way some of them are quick to accuse peers like Robert Price (and even Bart Ehrman) of embracing their critical views as a reaction against past fundamentalism. On the other hand no atheists are faulted for the possibility that they continues to believe elements of their old fundamentalist faith in order to cling to some relics of their past and not admit they were totally wrong about everything.

I only know of one prominent bible scholar who had no religious background at all and took up his studies for purely intellectual interests. I’m sure there must be others but surely they are very few. And one thing he and other scholars agree on, both atheists and believers, is the nature of the ideological domination of biblical studies.

But don’t get me wrong.

I enjoy reading a wide range of scholarly works related to the origins of the Bible and Christianity. (Lest you think I’m obsessed I should point out that I enjoy reading on many other topics: in the last couple of months I have also read works on cosmologyevolution, and Chinese history among others.) The main reason I wanted to start this blog years ago was to share some of the interesting things I was reading about biblical studies that I thought many others would likewise find interesting and informative.

The more one reads the more one’s critical skills are honed. One book never has the final word on any topic. One becomes increasingly aware of the biases and assumptions of the different authors. That doesn’t mean we throw their work in the bin but it does mean we can better evaluate their arguments and learn in the process.

But sometimes one finds a bible scholar making a declaration of authority for his/her entire academic guild that strikes me as blind hubris.

_______________________________________________________________________

***Neil Godfrey does not  personally endorse other views on this blog.

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11 thoughts on “All Bible Scholars Agree . . . Or Do They?

  1. Godfrey is excellent. I save most of his articles for future reference.

    This line says it all:

    What if we were to read an Islamic scholar saying no scholar of the Koran or Islam at a reputable university believes Jesus was crucified or doubts Mohammad rose to heaven on a flying horse?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Exactly. Or what if we were to read a Jewish Scholar saying no scholar of the Jewish tradition or Jewish holy books at a reputable university believes Jesus was the Messiah?

      Each tradition has their “consensus”. They can’t all be right.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The claim, I think, misses the point it is trying to make: to believe that Jesus existed and to believe he was in any way “divine” are two completely different things. I am an atheist, and I have no problem believing Jesus existed. I simply don’t believe he was a deity incarnate.

    If one is going to fabricate something, they ought to at least do so in a way that makes sense… :0)

    Liked by 5 people

    • It definitely misses the point. Like you, I have no problem believing there was a real historical figure that the Jesus of scripture was based on. That’s a far cry from believing he was born of a virgin or that he died and was resurrected and ascended into heaven.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the re-blog Ruth. I had always thought the number of scholars in related fields claiming doubts in Jesus historicity was 3 (Carrier, Price, Brodie), but Neil’s “Who’s Who Table” link above shows that to clearly be wrong. Still a very small percentage of scholars but that link is very good. I’ve always felt the same way as Neil notes that consensus in science is very different from consensus in history which is even less certain in ancient history and even less so in ancient history where the vast majority of scholars have degrees from schools that contain words like “theology, divinity, seminary, etc.” I still don’t feel comfortable saying I believe Jesus did not exist, but the certainty level is not as high as so many apologists like to make. unklee is very famous for touting this.

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    • …as Neil notes that consensus in science is very different from consensus in history which is even less certain in ancient history and even less so in ancient history where the vast majority of scholars have degrees from schools that contain words like “theology, divinity, seminary, etc.”

      If the only scholars one is willing to listen to are the ones who share their view then certainly we’d like to think that is the consensus.

      I’m not in the mythicist camp, myself. But this article just goes to show that “scholarly consensus” isn’t necessarily as broad nor as authoritative as those who tout it would like to think – or have others think, for that matter.

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  4. Consensus is one of the things apologists like unklee tout all day long. And he, like so many of his ilk, are hypocrites as they will dismiss consensus when attention is drawn to the scientific consensus that states there is no archaeological evidence to support the Pentateuch.
    Scholars such as Carrier make a point of stating that the methodology regarding biblical historical study is not the same as other historical study.

    Great post. Worthy of the re-blog. Thanks.

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    • As I was reading the article originally that was the name that kept popping into my mind. He does say “scholars agree” and “scholarly consensus” quite a bit, as if that should persuade a skeptic.

      BTW…You have my sympathies. One of your favorite authors passed away today. Rest in peace, Sir Terry Pratchett.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Not sure, therefore I had to encourage myself to ask this forum if my following opinion is true:
    ==Another difference is that consensus in science will cease to exist when the relative hypotesis turns out to be incorrect, whilst consensus in (biblical and other) history will (must, by “consensus”) last forever and ever. ==

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    • I’m not sure I agree that consensus in (biblical and other) history must last forever and ever. It certainly doesn’t have to be that way. It likely is, though, because there are those that for whatever reason(be it belief or investment protection) will insist that the Bible is literally true and find any little piece of evidence to confirm that bias. Enough of those little pieces and it seems they (in their minds) have completed the puzzle.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Right Ruth, “forever and ever” seems exaggerated. I like the image of a (jigsaw) puzzle. A handyman just needs such a saw to shape missing pieces of a puzzel, but they are not the Ravensbuger originals. I mean, you will be able to tell the difference.- Federico

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