Secularism in Religious Studies and the Jesus Myth Hypothesis
The primary problem I see in New Testament scholarship since reading about the arguments for a “non-historical” Jesus is one of objective scholarship. This was touched on by a blog post
that Neil Godfrey linked to on his blog
. In that blog post, “Quixie” points out the following dogmas that would surely hinder any unbiased look at any well-reasoned arguments for an ahistorical Jesus:
Are most New Testament scholars Christian?
Yes, by far. I think most do self-identify as such.
Do most of them believe that Jesus was born miraculously of a virgin?
Most of them? … Hmm … Possibly.
Do they believe that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead on that first Easter morning?
Yes, almost universally.
In context, he was talking about things that NT scholars have a “consensus” on, but this consensus isn't one that is arrived at via critical scholarship. To me, this signals a pretty large hurdle that has to be overcome in NT scholarship. One that was also touched on in Hector Avalos' “The End of Biblical Studies”.
The problem is secularism.
In a comment James McGrath makes, he states that not all NT scholars believe the things that “Quixie” listed. I agree (and a book I highlighted in a previous post
pointed out this divide of belief between NT scholars and laypeople). But there most certainly is one dogma that almost all NT scholars believe: That's the resurrection of Jesus. While not all NT scholars believe it as a historical
fact or believe in a physical
resurrection, they do believe the resurrection as some sort of fact nonetheless (McGrath's comment leads one to think of a sort of Christian specific version of the fallacious NOMA
). I don't see how a scholar can be objective and unbiased in his or her approach to the NT while still holding on to this belief.
As far as I know, the only NT scholars that don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus (whose books I've read) are all infidels: Bart Erhman, R. Joseph Hoffman, Robert M. Price, and Hector Avalos. I mean, I have to wonder… if the resurrection of Jesus isn't a historical fact, then what kind of fact is it? (Should what we believe happened in history be restricted to historical facts and what logically follow form those historical facts? I guess that would be another blog post/note altogether).
If all of the other religionist NT scholars believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then a priori there must have been a Jesus that lived and died in the first place. This presupposition largely exists due to the [some other qualifier besides “historical”] resurrection. They all have a fundamental roadblock from travelling the road of any sort of argument against the historicity of Jesus impassionately. Worse yet, I get the impression that this roadblock includes having experiences and encounters with the risen Jesus… possibly every Sunday.
This roadblock is inherently a supernatural event, and thus precludes any pretense at secularism.
Of course, I don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead. What I do think is that the first Christians (whoever they are and whenever they lived) did believe in some sort of resurrection of Jesus. I think that statement would be a statement of historical fact. But their facts are not my – or our – facts. At least, not the facts of a modern secularist. That their facts are not our facts is something that (from what little I've gleaned) Earl Doherty is trying to bring to light.
Out of the list of non-theist NT scholars that I wrote above, only Price is any sort of proponent of an ahistorical Jesus. Erhman is a historicist. Hoffman is, I think, either agnostic or apathetic, and Avalos' position I'm not sure of.
What Is A Christian?
This, I think, brings me to another problem. Can a scholar of the NT still be a Christian if they don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus in some fashion? Besides Robert Price's identification as a “Christian atheist”, I'm not sure. Modern Christianity has as its unifying “fact” that Jesus rose from the dead. Anyone who doesn't toe that line seems to be removed from the Christian religion, either willfully or by the wider community.
From my own point of view, while I was a Christian I considered myself one because I was trying to be “Christ-like”, which ostensibly meant following the example that Jesus provided and following his teachings. But there are plenty of non-Christians who either follow or admire the teachings of Jesus (like Thomas Jefferson and Ghandi) and didn't consider themselves “Christians”.
Historically, not all ante-Nicaean Christians believed in the resurrection of Jesus, since this wasn't the cornerstone of their faith. Many of these Christians also only followed the teachings of Jesus; some of these Christians even made fun of their “orthodox” bretheren for worshipping death because they worshipped a dead man
. It wasn't Jesus' death that conquered death, it was his teaching – ostensibly pointed out by the first line of the gospel of Thomas.
So the question I have is whether a modern Christian could still consider themselves a Christian and be a proponent of an ahistorical Jesus. For me, it seems like a “no”. However, a secularist would be more open to discussing the historicity of Jesus without the added pressure of whether its conclusion would prove or disprove their fundamental worldview. Hopefully in the future there will be more non-Christian scholars of the NT and history who will tackle the issue.
GRE in one month for me, though!