Hoffmann Cold-Cocks Mythers

R. Joseph Hoffmann has written an excellent and truly thought-provoking essay entitled, The Jesus Process: A Consultation on the Historical Jesus.   He was clearly motivated to write this in response to the way the Gnu atheists and Richard Carrier tried to smear Bart Ehrman.  Yet he only devoted one very dismissive paragraph to Carrier and instead focuses on the larger community of mythicists to successfully refute them.  And he does this not with some contrived “evidence that demands a verdict” posturing, but by sifting through the material as a historian, setting the context and outlining how things are connected.

For example, the mythers make a huge fuss out of Paul’s supposed silence about the teaching and life of Jesus (reminiscent of the way creationists make a fuss about supposed gaps in the fossil record).  In the myther’s mind, this silence must mean that Paul did not know anything about a historical Jesus.  Hoffman’s thinks this is nonsense and his treatment of this argument really challenged some of my preconceptions about Paul and stretched my thinking about early Christianity.

Anyway, it’s a long essay that patiently gathers the clues across time and clearly shows the myther position to be confused in its approach and vacuous in its conclusions.

Toward the end, Hoffman concludes:

The cumulative effect of these considerations drowns the mythicist position, which had its beginnings in the excitement of radical New Testament scholarship in Holland, Britain and America at the end of the nineteenth century, and in Germany before that.  As a connoisseur of these and later mythicist theories, I can safely say, almost no stone was left unturned in attempting to debunk the gospels.  Those stones have now been turned over and over, without much effect and nothing hiding under them.

Despite the energy of the myth school from Drews, Robinson, Couchoud and van Eysinga down to Wells, its last learned, reputable proponent,[124] its conclusions have been rendered wrong by the historical scholarship of the later twentieth century.[125]  It remains a quaint, curious, interesting but finally unimpressive assessment of the evidence—to quote James Robinson’s verdict, an agenda-driven “waste of time.”  Methodologically it disposes of anything contrary to its core premise—Jesus did not exist—in a quicksand of denial and half-cooked conspiracy theories that take skepticism and suspicion to a new low.   Like all failed hypotheses, it arrives at its premise by intuition, cherry picks its evidence in a way that wants to suggest that the ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity of texts and traditions are meaningless inconveniences invented by the discipline of New Testament studies, and defends its “conclusions” by force majeure.    The myth theory, in short, is a dogma in search of footnotes. Most of the ones it continues to exploit in the form of references, problems, and allusions are a century old.  While it is untrue to say that the theory is not taken seriously by responsible scholars, it happens to be true that its most ardent supporters, then and now, have been amateurs or dabblers in New Testament studies and those least equipped by training or inclination to assess an enormously complicated body of evidence.

Even though I am someone who is not an expert on this material and who is new to this debate,  I too was able to sense that this mytherism was indeed  “a quicksand of denial and half-cooked conspiracy theories that take skepticism and suspicion to a new low.” In fact, I also noticed this:

As I remarked in the Sources of the Jesus Tradition, God- denying and Jesus-denying are different tasks.  I do not think the evidence of history is dispositive in deciding the existence of God in the most general sense of that term and apart from its cultural expressions. I think the Bible, both testaments, and all other sacred literature, is collectively unhelpful in settling the question.

But I think the basic factuality of Jesus is undeniable unless we (a) do not understand the complexity of the literature and its context, or impose false assumptions and poor methods on it; (b) are heavily influenced by conspiracy theories that–to use a Humean principle—are even more incredible than the story they are trying to debunk; or (c) are trying merely to be outrageous.  To  repeat Morton Smith’s verdict on Wells, the idea that Jesus never existed requires the concoction of a myth more incredible than anything to be found in the Bible.[134]

In other words, even if we grant, for the mere sake of argument, the mythers crackpot Jesus denial, they clearly move into CrazyTown when they begin telling us their version of what really happened.  I suspect mainstream scholars are appropriately dismissive of the mythers because a) the evidence for the historical Jesus is nowhere near as bad as the mythers insist and b) the myther alternative explanations are clearly kooky.

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