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Old 12-19-2001, 06:49 PM   #1
Family Man
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Post Raymond Brown and Critical Historical Analysis

In another thread Layman rattled off list of NT scholars and claimed at I was "out of step" with them. One of these scholars was Raymond Brown, who I know was a Christian and who has an excellent reputation as a scholar. Knowing Layman as I do, I knew that a visit to the library would enable me to show that the manner in which Layman and Nomad presents evidence is simply naive and inappropriate. In fact, the following is a good introduction to my thesis.

On page XLII of his introduction to his commentary on the Book of John, Brown mentioned the following to support his contention that John accurately described the world of Israel in the first century:

Quote:
...the very precise information about the pool of Bathsheba is perfectly accurate as to name, location, and construction
Coming across this, I had a flashback. About a year ago, Layman and I were duking it out over whether we could reliably use the NT to make conclusions about the events of Jesus's life. Layman made the same observation Brown did. I pointed asked how that established any of the events of Jesus's life, and Layman dropped the argument. (Layman drops a lot of arguments.) What is telling here is what Brown says, that Layman didn't.

Quote:
Of course, this does not mean that the Johannine information about Jesus has been verified, but at least the setting in which Jesus is placed is authentic
Guess what? Brown is taking the same line I am. And here's the point that Layman and Nomad fail to understand: true scholarship is cautious in its claims. Layman and Nomad never are. I'm going to give a few more examples from Brown, then compare them to what Layman and Nomad routinely do.

One caveat here: I will need to discuss some of Brown's theories. I do not claim to understand him well, and any misrepresentations I make I assure everyone is unintentional. My interest here is not his theories, but rather manner in which he presents them. If I fumble, I apologize in advance.

Consider whether John was written by an eyewitness. Nomad stated boldly that John is an eyewitness without any qualification. Brown has a more involved theory. If I understand it correctly, John is the source of traditions that make up John, but he is not the author. There are a couple of intermediate stages as the material is developed, then it was written down. (In short, it is second-hand, not eyewitness testimony.) What is interesting is how Brown presents his argument.

Quote:
page CII

Once again, in order to be perfectly clear, we have no illusions that the theory of authorship advanced in this discussion has been, or can be, proved. It is an ad hoc theory, formulated with the intent of doing as much justice as possible to the ancient evidence, the witness of the Gospel itself, and the clear demands of critical scholarship.
Brown had just laid out pages to outline his theory, then he cautions us not to put too much stock in it. That is called scholarly integrity.

Or consider how he handles the resurrection:

Quote:
p. 967

In discussing the narratives in particular, we shall be concerned with isolating the earliest material in these narratives; but we do not think it our task in a commentary to go further and to speculate about whether or not bodily resurrection is possible. Objections to the possibility of resurrection take their origin in philosophy and science and not exegesis, which is our task...There can be no question that the evangelists themselves thought that Jesus's did not remain in the grave but was raised to glory. Yet, even if by comparative exegesis we trace this idea back to the earliest days, we cannot prove that this Christian understanding corresponded to what really happened. That is a matter of faith.
I find such candor refreshing. Brown was a Christian and clearly wanted his readers to believe the resurrection happened. But he wasn't about to sacrifice his integrity to do so. He makes the very correct observation that we can't possibly know if it is true.

Finally, consider his treatment of the empty tomb. He spends pages discussing the merits of whether the tradition of the empty tomb was an early or late development. His judgement was that it was early, but note how he concludes.

Quote:
p. 978

In summary, the Christian claim that the women found the tomb empty has not been proved to be of late origin; rather such a claim may have been presupposed as far back as we can trace the tradition of the proclamation that Jesus has been raised.
After all of his argument, the most Brown is willing to say is that it may be traced to an early date and that the late development thesis hasn't been proved. He never even discusses the possibility that it is historical; his discussion of the resurrection makes it clear that he doesn't.

I could go on, but I believe I've made my point. Now, consider how Nomad and Layman present their arguments. Can anyone imagine Brown saying that 500 anonymous people reported second-hand we could reasonably claim to be eyewitnesses? Or that he would take Layman's line that we can depend on Paul because he is "honest and sincere"?

The fact of the matter is that the way Layman and Nomad present historical evidence is wrong, disingenous, unscholarly, uncritical, and dishonest. Layman thinks I have a vendetta against Nomad. I couldn't care less what Nomad or Layman think. But I will say this: any time those two present their inane historical analysis on this board, I will be there to challenge them. I sincerely suggest that they emulate Raymond Brown more closely and be more careful in their claims.
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Old 12-19-2001, 07:05 PM   #2
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Bravo to you for reading Brown. So few do. I also can't recommend Udo Schnelle's intro text enough. It has pretty much supplanted Brown's and has more current and up to date scholarship. I would have preferred more detailed examination of the synoptic problem, but you can't have everything.
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Old 12-20-2001, 04:19 PM   #3
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Thanks Cowboy, but I can't in good conscience say I read Brown. I spent a couple of hours in the library reading pertinent parts of his work in other to prepare this post, and was very impressed with his scholarship. But to actually read him the way he deserves to be read, I'm afraid I don't have the time.
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Old 12-20-2001, 04:44 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by DennisM:
<strong>Thanks Cowboy, but I can't in good conscience say I read Brown. I spent a couple of hours in the library reading pertinent parts of his work in other to prepare this post, and was very impressed with his scholarship. But to actually read him the way he deserves to be read, I'm afraid I don't have the time.</strong>

Well in fairness, both Brown's older intro and Schnelle's recent one are more intended as references than books you should read straight through. I read Schnelle's book straight through because I am a very, very sick person. I've only read portions of Brown or Kummel as well as some smaller articles by both in biblical journals.
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Old 12-21-2001, 03:57 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by CowboyX:
<strong>


Well in fairness, both Brown's older intro and Schnelle's recent one are more intended as references than books you should read straight through. I read Schnelle's book straight through because I am a very, very sick person. I've only read portions of Brown or Kummel as well as some smaller articles by both in biblical journals.</strong>
I read Brown straight through. I think he's especially strong at describing the various positions taken by scholars, and especially weak at dealing with anything that is out of an extremely narrow mainstream. He simply ignores entire schools of thought -- the mythicist position, the Paul-forged-in-the-second-century school, etc. He doesn't even take a paragraph to describe them as disproved, they simply vanish. That makes me uncomfortable.

Michael
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Old 12-21-2001, 09:15 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by turtonm:
<strong>

I read Brown straight through. I think he's especially strong at describing the various positions taken by scholars, and especially weak at dealing with anything that is out of an extremely narrow mainstream. He simply ignores entire schools of thought -- the mythicist position, the Paul-forged-in-the-second-century school, etc. He doesn't even take a paragraph to describe them as disproved, they simply vanish. That makes me uncomfortable.

Michael</strong>
That is largely because Brown, like Schnelle, writes for an primarily academic audience. Most would already be familiar with some of the more outlandish theories in biblical criticism. After 150+ years of NT criticism there is little reason to continue to consider ridiculous theories like a 2nd century Paul. It's sort of liek why mainstream physical scientists don't continue to study paranormal WooWoo. Sure there's always the chance that some wildly divergent and radical theory will cause the edifice of modern scholarship to crumble, but such is unlikely enough that it doesn't bear serious consideration anymore than studying whether the sun is likely to rise tomorrow.
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Old 12-21-2001, 10:56 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by CowboyX:
That is largely because Brown, like Schnelle, writes for an primarily academic audience. Most would already be familiar with some of the more outlandish theories in biblical criticism. After 150+ years of NT criticism there is little reason to continue to consider ridiculous theories like a 2nd century Paul. It's sort of liek why mainstream physical scientists don't continue to study paranormal WooWoo. Sure there's always the chance that some wildly divergent and radical theory will cause the edifice of modern scholarship to crumble, but such is unlikely enough that it doesn't bear serious consideration anymore than studying whether the sun is likely to rise tomorrow.
Cowboy X,

I’m only an occasional poster here, not nearly as active as I was many months ago. I gotta tell you that it’s been great talking to you in the few conversations we’ve had.

Having said that, you’re overestimating many of your fellow skeptics who post here at the SecWeb. A huge percentage (majority?) of the skeptics on this BC&A board are Jesus-mythers. They don’t even believe there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth. This was a huge topic of discussion in the past. Does the name “Earl Doherty” ring a bell with you? He wrote a book called “The Jesus Puzzle”, in which he argues that the Jesus of the NT is a completely mythic character. We’re not talking mythical layers added to a historical kernel – all myth. Anyway, the skeptics raved about Doherty and persuaded him to engage in an online debate with Nomad right here at the SecWeb. Here’s the link to that debate <a href="http://ii-f.ws/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=8&t=000003" target="_blank">http://ii-f.ws/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=8&t=000003</a>

I would love to see you address the issue of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, as the Jesus-mythers refuse to listen to the arguments of a bunch of hillbilly, brainwashed fundies such as Nomad, Bede, Layman, myself and others of a similar vein. If you have time to start a new thread attempting to demonstrate the existence of Jesus, I’d gladly join your side in the discussion. I’d start it myself, but I know the mythers would be more prone to listening to you. I’m on break from school for a few more weeks, after that I’ll be absent from the SecWeb. For a sample of what happened when I tried it, see this link <a href="http://ii-f.ws/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=6&t=000429&p=" target="_blank">http://ii-f.ws/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=6&t=000429&p=</a>

The homepage here should give you a clue as to the type of “biblical scholarship” being read. “The Jesus Mysteries”, by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy is endorsed. Enuff said…

Peace,

Polycarp

[ December 21, 2001: Message edited by: Polycarp ]</p>
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Old 12-21-2001, 11:48 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by turtonm:
<strong>I read Brown straight through. I think he's especially strong at describing the various positions taken by scholars, and especially weak at dealing with anything that is out of an extremely narrow mainstream. He simply ignores entire schools of thought -- the mythicist position, the Paul-forged-in-the-second-century school, etc. He doesn't even take a paragraph to describe them as disproved, they simply vanish. That makes me uncomfortable.</strong>
I am of course a humble amateur when it comes to Bible scholarship, but an obvious question springs to mind.

Would you make the same criticism of a chemistry textbook which ignored phlogiston theory, a physics textbook which did not even mention perpetual motion devices, or a geology textbook which did not even bother to rebut the position that the geological and fossil records are the result of a global flood 4000 years ago?
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Old 12-21-2001, 12:22 PM   #9
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Originally posted by Pantera:
<strong>
Would you make the same criticism of a chemistry textbook which ignored phlogiston theory, a physics textbook which did not even mention perpetual motion devices, or a geology textbook which did not even bother to rebut the position that the geological and fossil records are the result of a global flood 4000 years ago?</strong>[/QUOTE]

If it had a section on the history of ideas, yes. But more importantly, Brown does not deal with a whole wing of scholarship on the question of Jesus' historicity. GA Wells is not mentioned. He does mention Spong, though, to sneer at him, and Spong is not a scholar.

To throw your analogy back at you, imagine if a textbook on the solar system had ignored the whole discussion/evidence on life on Mars, neglected to mention the Viking missions, the recent controversy on the meteorites (which I think was finally put to rest this week) and so on.

As for poor Polycarp, I don't know why it is so weird to be skeptical about the mere existence of a Jesus. Other major religious figures are widely regarded as mythical, or at least, that the stories we have about them do not reflect any historical reality. But Nomad, Layman and Polycarp seem to get so exercised when skeptics treat his mythical savior the same way, say, Chinese religion scholars treat the mythical saviors of Folk Taoism or Folk Buddhism, and at his inability to come up with any convincing evidence that the myths of the gospels reflect any historical reality of any historical Jesus.

Michael

[ December 21, 2001: Message edited by: turtonm ]</p>
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Old 12-21-2001, 01:27 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by turtonm:
As for poor Polycarp, I don't know why it is so weird to be skeptical about the mere existence of a Jesus. Other major religious figures are widely regarded as mythical, or at least, that the stories we have about them do not reflect any historical reality. But Nomad, Layman and Polycarp seem to get so exercised when skeptics treat his mythical savior the same way, say, Chinese religion scholars treat the mythical saviors of Folk Taoism or Folk Buddhism, and at his inability to come up with any convincing evidence that the myths of the gospels reflect any historical reality of any historical Jesus.
Don't feel sorry for me, Michael. My therapist says I'm really progressing. Fits of delusion only occur once a day, compared to the four or five episodes from which I was suffering earlier this year.

Besides... It's that time of year when I celebrate the birth of Mithras. How could a guy not be happy about such a joyous occasion?

Peace,

Polycarp
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