Friday, October 26, 2007

The "historical" Jesus

Scholarship about the so-called "historical Jesus" wouldn't be so bad if it weren't quite so ridiculous.

I say this as someone who has just a bit of experience with the field: at Harvard, I took a course called Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospels which was taught by Helmut Koester, who himself was taught by Rudolf Bultmann, the famous demythologizer of Christianity. That course gave me the strong impression that the field of historical Jesus scholarship consists largely in proving that the miracle stories in the Gospels must have been made up, by starting with the assumption that miracles are impossible.

It's not this brand of airtight logic that I take issue with, however. I do think it's a valid intellectual position to believe that miracles do not occur. Now, to prove that they didn't by assuming that they can't doesn't seem like the most intellectually satisfying undertaking to me, but that's really none of my business.

But here's what got me going today. I stumbled across the lecture audio for a Stanford University course called Historical Jesus on the relatively new iTunes U service and started listening to the first lecture (Call Me Yeshua). For whatever reason, the professor, Thomas Sheehan, conveys the unmistakable impression of having a major ax to grind with orthodox Christianity, which seems to lead him, at times, to go a little bit overboard in trying to shock the faith out of anyone in his audience who might have any. At 37:15 into the lecture he says this:

"Here's the point: over the last four decades -- I said that the real turning point is 1800 -- but since World War II, historical scholarship on Yeshua and on his times -- and it doesn't matter who conducts the historical scholarship -- whether Jews, or Christians, or Muslims, or non-believers -- has arrived at a strong scientific consensus about what this undeniably historical figure said and did -- how he presented himself and his message to his Jewish audience."

Alright, fair enough, so far. But then he drops -- in a very pompous and self-satisfied voice -- what you can tell he thinks is a real bombshell:

"Jesus had nooo intention of being a Christian."

Oh, really? Jesus had no intention of being a follower of Himself? I'm positively scandalized!

But he's not done. He pauses dramatically for a couple of seconds and then adds, snidely:

"Not even a Catholic."

Come on! Who is this clown? A very bitter man, apparently, whose bitterness is clearly coloring his scholarship to the extent that, for some reason, he's insinuating in an academic environment that Catholicism isn't Christian.

Now that is ridiculous.

UPDATE: In fairness to Sheehan, I will acknowledge that his "Not even a Catholic" quip is sufficiently vague to support a number of interpretations, not all of which would imply that Catholicism is not Christian. All the other possible meanings of his remark are, however, equally obnoxious.


Tim said...

this kind of ignorance would be at least somewhat excusable if it weren't A PROFESSOR AT STANFORD TEACHING A COURSE ABOUT JESUS. my goodness. what the heck. and i never yell in capital letters.

Anonymous said...

Who is ignorant? You take that Sheehan quote literally and out of context. The point Sheehan makes is that Jesus intended to be a normal Jew and not the founder or main focus of a new religion. He did however intend to "improve" his religion.

Wrong or right, that's what Sheehan means.

Anon2 said...

You also conveniently ignore the fact that Sheehan is a self-confessed Catholic. The historicity of Jesus, however you want to interpret it (fact/myth/whatever) does nothing to reduce the impact of the message of Yeshua.

It is impossible to ignore the inconsistencies in sacred scripture. When will we stop pretending that they are recorded history?

guitar3369 said...

I too thought Sheehan was agressively anti-christian after listening to his first lecture. I said so to my wife. I'm now in the fifth lecture and have changed my mind.

Now I think he was trying to defuse strong reactions from his students, i.e., scare off those who would be extremely offended by higher criticism of Scripture.

You might give him one more try...

djelliott said...

I've read the book and listened to the lectures. You are being unfair to Sheean and you are the one taking cheap shots.

jesus said...

Hi wholly catholic, just read your post about the historical Jesus lectures. I understand you wrote this back in 2007, sorry if I'm a couple of years too late. I too was also shocked by the first Sheehan lecture, I am not a religious person but I grew up in a Christian family/community.

My personal opinion about religious scholarship is that, whenever it is taught in an academic institute like Stanford, one cannot help but apply the disciplines and methods from the other sciences that are also taught in the institute. Because of this cross-pollination, miracles will always be viewed from the vantage point of doubt. Not to say that it's bad. It's really not. Science scrutinizes everything, so why not religion?

What I don't like is how the religious academics seem to be living in a separate world from the preachers. Its like saying, "Yes, we're very comfortable here in our ivory towers. Meanwhile, you priests go ahead and spread your brand of theology to the masses."

David said...

To the last commenter: Sheehan addresses the exact point you bring up. Preachers and priests don't bring up the facts and data that have been discovered in the last few decades. He challenges them to do so.

Chuck said...

Did you listen to the whole series or even the whole of the first lecture? Objective historical analysis reveals gaping holes in orthodox Christian beliefs. I see you skipped all those points in favour of one quick quip Mr Sheehan made. Do you care to address any of his substantive points?

Anders Branderud said...

"Historical Jesus"?!?

Just using this contra-historical oxymoron (demonstrated by the eminent late Oxford historian, James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue) exposes your Christian-blinkered agenda--dependent upon 4th-century, gentile, Hellenist sources.

While scholars debate the provenance of the original accounts upon which the earliest extant (4th century, even fragments are post-135 C.E.), Roman gentile, Hellenist-redacted versions were based, there is not one fragment, not even one letter of the NT that derives DIRECTLY from the 1st-century Pharisee Jews who followed the Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua.

Historians like Parkes, et al., have demonstrated incontestably that 4th-century Roman Christianity was the 180° polar antithesis of 1st-century Judaism of ALL Pharisee Ribis. The earliest (post-135 C.E.) true Christians were viciously antinomian (ANTI-Torah), claiming to supersede and displace Torah, Judaism and ("spiritual) Israel and Jews. In soberest terms, ORIGINAL Christianity was anti-Torah from the start while DSS (viz., 4Q MMT) and ALL other Judaic documentation PROVE that ALL 1st-century Pharisees were PRO-Torah.

There is a mountain of historical Judaic information Christians have refused to deal with, at: (see, especially, their History Museum pages beginning with "30-99 C.E.").

Original Christianity = ANTI-Torah. Ribi Yehoshua and his Netzarim, like all other Pharisees, were PRO-Torah. Intractable contradiction.

Building a Roman image from Hellenist hearsay accounts, decades after the death of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi, and after a forcible ouster, by Hellenist Roman gentiles, of his original Jewish followers (135 C.E., documented by Eusebius), based on writings of a Hellenist Jew excised as an apostate by the original Jewish followers (documented by Eusebius) is circular reasoning through gentile-Roman Hellenist lenses.

What the historical Pharisee Ribi taught is found not in the hearsay accounts of post-135 C.E. Hellenist Romans but, rather, in the Judaic descriptions of Pharisees and Pharisee Ribis of the period... in Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT (see Prof. Elisha Qimron), inter alia.

The question is, now that you've been informed, will you follow the authentic historical Pharisee Ribi? Or continue following the post-135 C.E. Roman-redacted antithesis—an idol?

OPT said...

Anders Branderud...

Thank you so much for clarifying these important truths. I am immediately leaving my faith since you have stepped down to inform me. Please continue trolling the internet and refuting every website you disagree with using arrogant and pompous language, as we are all mightily impressed and will change our opinions.

ܬܡܘܙ ܡܣܲܒܪܵܢܵܐ said...

Miracles didn't happen because people know magic isn't real.
Stanford is far too conservative, though, because 'Jesus' is most likely a purely fictional being invented by the Joshua Cult and Jewish Gnostics.
There's less history in the New Testament than there is the Life of Apollonius of Tyana.

Anonymous said...

Hi there! Someone in my Facebook group shared this site with us so I came to look it over.
I'm definitely enjoying the information. I'm bookmarking and will
be tweeting this to my followers! Exceptional blog and outstanding style and design.

Here is my homepage :: thai restaurants near me

Anonymous said...

Hello it's me, I am also visiting this web page on a regular basis, this web page is in fact good and the visitors are genuinely sharing nice thoughts.

Also visit my web blog - back stretcher bench

Anonymous said...

Great work! That is the kind of information that are meant to be shared around the web.
Shame on Google for now not positioning this submit upper!
Come on over and seek advice from my web site .
Thanks =)

Also visit my website Wilson Golf Balls Yellow

Anonymous said...

Highly descriptive post, I enjoyed that bit. Will there be a part 2?

Here is my web blog - Ping Golf Bags ebay

Anonymous said...

Admiring the hard work you put into your website and in depth information
you present. It's great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn't the same out of date rehashed material.
Fantastic read! I've saved your site and I'm adding your
RSS feeds to my Google account.

Here is my homepage - Golf Courses In Daytona Beach

Anonymous said...

What's up i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read this paragraph i thought i could also make comment due to this sensible article.

Also visit my website: golf club at cypress head daytona beach

Anonymous said...

Howdy! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and
starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done
a marvellous job!

My web site ... upper back ache during early pregnancy

Anonymous said...

It's really a nice and helpful piece of information. I'm
satisfied that you just shared this useful info with us.
Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

Also visit my webpage - back muscles anatomy

Anonymous said...

Hi mates, how is all, and what you wish for to say on the topic
of this paragraph, in my view its actually amazing designed for me.

Feel free to surf to my web site; upper back spasms from herniated disc

Anonymous said...

I leave a leave a response whenever I especially enjoy a article on a site or if I have something to valuable to contribute to the conversation.
It's caused by the passion displayed in the post I looked at. And on this post "The "historical" Jesus". I was actually moved enough to post a leave a responsea response :-P I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it's
allright. Could it be only me or do a few of these remarks look as if they are left by brain dead individuals?
:-P And, if you are posting at other online sites, I'd like to keep up with you. Would you make a list the complete urls of your community pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

my web blog - Http://reversenumberdatabase.Com

Anonymous said...

Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Spending some time and actual
effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and never manage to get anything done.

Feel free to visit my blog :: hospital for special surgery radiology

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you,
However I am going through problems with your RSS.

I don't understand why I am unable to join it. Is there anyone else getting identical RSS problems? Anyone who knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

Also visit my web site :: Seafood

Anonymous said...

Very good blog post. I definitely appreciate this site.

Keep writing!

Also visit my blog post St Cloud Floral

Anonymous said...

I'm gone to say to my little brother, that he should also pay a quick visit this webpage on regular basis to obtain updated from newest gossip.

Feel free to visit my page - Las Vegas Golf Schools

Anonymous said...

Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you
knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
I've been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

Feel free to surf to my web page golf Range finders reviews golf Digest

Anonymous said...

I was curious if you ever thought of changing the layout of your blog?
Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
But maybe you could a little more in the way
of content so people could connect with it better.
Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images.
Maybe you could space it out better?

Also visit my weblog

Anonymous said...

I'd like to find out more? I'd want to find out some
additional information.

Feel free to surf to my blog post - Chiropractor

Anonymous said...

Hi thегe, just wanted to ѕаy,
I loved this blog ροѕt.
It ωas ρгactiсal. Keep on posting!

My blog; diamondlinks review

Anonymous said...

It's an amazing paragraph designed for all the internet visitors; they will obtain advantage from it I am sure.

My page ...

Anonymous said...

Hi there! Quick question that's entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when viewing from my apple iphone. I'm trying to find a template or plugin that might be
able to correct this issue. If you have any recommendations,
please share. With thanks!

Here is my weblog; gwen stafani

Anonymous said...

If some one needs expert view regarding blogging then i
recommend him/her to go to see this blog, Keep up the pleasant job.

my blog post: lower right back pain early pregnancy

Anonymous said...

Hello to every body, it's my first pay a visit of this web site; this website carries awesome and really fine stuff designed for visitors.

Here is my site; ge appliance repair ct

Anonymous said...

No matter if some one searches for his essential
thing, so he/she wants to be available that in detail,
thus that thing is maintained over here.

Feel free to visit my web-site leg pain

Anonymous said...

Hi there I am so thrilled I found your blog, I really found you by accident, while I was
searching on Yahoo for something else, Regardless I am here now and
would just like to say cheers for a marvelous post and a all round thrilling blog (I
also love the theme/design), I don't have time to look over it all at the minute but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the superb job.

Look into my site; public golf courses in kissimmee fl

Anonymous said...

Cool blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download
it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog stand out.

Please let me know where you got your theme.
Many thanks

Feel free to surf to my blog ... continental golf flagstaff az

Anonymous said...

I think it is fairly clear that you didn't continue the rest of the course. I understand quite well and can empathize with Christians, previously being one myself. I understand he is biased and that produces a whole slew of assumptions however the evidence speaks for itself, and if you were to accept it there is no doubt in my mind you could find a way to make it jive without sacrificing your belief. Leave history to historians, leave the nature of reality to scientists, and leave your faith in Christ. I encourage studying a cognitive bias and a logical fallacy everyday, liberate yourself from the inadequacies of our minds.