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Old 08-21-2001, 10:21 PM   #11
Nomad
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First, for Peter, of course one can defend or argue why we should accept a truth as being self evident. Of course, such a defence will require one to accept that some objective and external source of truth exists, and this will produce a very fine kettle of fish. My guess is that the professor Dennis has for this course is a post modernist, and would reject such notions as anachranistic. Yet, in having done this, I wonder why she thinks that many of the things that she will talk about in her course will be beyond debate or dispute from her students. This strikes me as very close minded, especially given the fact that the course is in a university where exploring one's beliefs and assumptions is supposed to be a part of the reason for being there in the first place.

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Originally posted by DennisM:

The main textbook is Understanding the Bible, by Stephen Harris. This is to be supplemented by Primitive Christianity, by Rudolph Bultman, who she considers the leading academic in the modern, critical movement, and The Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity by Gerd Theissen, and readings from the New Testament, of course.
These are, indeed, solid scholars, as are their books. Bultmann is a bit dated (c. 1950's), but still widely influencial, especially amongst liberal scholars, especially in the Jesus Seminar.

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As for the consensus she describes, you can hardly blame her for not covering it all in one class season. I believe it will take the whole course. As an example, however, she is a big fan of the Jesus Seminar, and she cites their conclusion that Jesus probably never said 80% of what was attributed to him as being widely accepted among New Testament scholars.
Yes, I suspected that she is a fan of the JS, and that she even believes that they represent a scholarly consensus. I do not expect you to take my word for it, but I can assure you that they are no such thing. Even within their own group they have faced serious challenges and criticisms, both on their methodology and conclusions. You may wish to familiarize yourself with a couple of its members, perhaps Bruce Chilton or Walter Wink. I can offer books and articles if you wish to pursue them.

My caution here would be that any time you have a prof that promotes a single point of view, and calls it the scholarly consensus (especially in soft sciences like history and religious studies), be very cautious. Much of what passed for conventional wisdom in the past now looks rather foolish, and even Bultmann's belief in using the forms method of Biblical exegesis is widely challenged. Even his a priori rejection of the supernatural and miraculous should be treated with caution in my view, as well as that of many scholars.

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And I think you operate under some misapprehensions. First, it isn't that divine inspiration is rejected, it is that it isn't knowable.
I don't have a problem with this statement, but when it is extended to a whole sale rejection of inspired authorship or interpretation, one is simply going to be left begging the question very quickly. Assumptions should not be treated as truth, and here many scholars are as guilty of breaking this rule as are any religious zealots.

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If I might put my spin on this, what I think she's saying is that you're free to believe that the Bible is divinely inspired. But if you use that presumption to guide your study of the bible, you're not using critical scholarship because you're not free to come to the conclusions demanded by the evidence.
I hope she does not actually believe this, as it would cause her to reject the works of some of the very real giants in NT studies, like J.P. Meier, Raymond Brown, Bruce Metzger, Robin Griffith-Jones and others that do believe that Scripture is inspired, yet have not been afraid to pursue critical studies of the Bible.

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Finally, none of this is "self-evident". The Jesus Seminar has been widely-criticized for their methodology of using colored beads to cast their votes on the authenticity of Biblical quotes. This makes for great PR for conservative biblical scholars, but it also ignores the fact that the scholars were required to state the reasons for their votes, citing evidence to back them up. In short, the consensus has developed not because it was "self-evident" but because the evidence pointed to it.
I am not talking about what the Jesus Seminar believes here. In fact, if this is her idea of scholarly consensus, then I hope that some of the students in her class DO challenge her views. Everyone will benefit from such a challenge.

My question is really about what issues your prof considers to be so settled as to be beyond debate, or inquiry. If you ask her, my guess is that she will try to skirt the issue, but at root, if she thinks that the supernatural and miraculous must be rejected even before honest inquiry begins, then she is not really interested in finding out what happened.

I understand if you disagree with me Dennis, but I do not think even an introductory course (perhaps ESPECIALLY and intro course) in Biblical studies advances the cause of free thought by ruling out any possibilities.

A comment from Raymond Brown in one of his seminal books on the New Testament may help illustrate my point:

In my (Brown's) book on the virginal conception (see The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist, 1973) I came to the conclusion that the scientifically controllable (emphasis in original) biblical evidence leaves the question of the historicity of the virginal conception unresolved. The resurvey of the evidence necessitated by the commentary leaves me even more convinced of that. To believers who have never studied the problems criticqally before, this conclusion may seem radical. To many scholars who have long since dismissed the virginal conception as theological dramatization, this conclusion may seem retrogressively conservative. (And I would shock them more by affirming that I think that it is easier to explain the NT evidence by positing historical basis than by positing pure theological creation.) I hope only that I have presented the evidence accurately enough to have induced the readers to further study and to their own conclusions about the evidence.
(R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, [New York: Doubleday, 1993], pg. 527-8).


One may disagree with the conclusions of someone like Brown, but one must also accept that he explores and presents all of the evidence before drawing his conclusions. Nothing is ruled out, and that is how honest inquiry should take place. Any other method runs the risk of producing self perpetuating group think and intellectual stagnation.

Once again I wish you well in your studies Dennis. I hope that you find them interesting and challenging.

Peace,

Nomad
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Old 08-22-2001, 11:41 AM   #12
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Nomad,

If I may make a distinction here, I think that given the class's explicitly secular humanist emphasis, if nothing else it will grant an excellent view of how secular humanist scholarship views the New Testament. Whether or not this is the best way to approach the NT is something that individuals have to decide for themselves.

Since it is an introductory course, I don't think there is any claim that they will be able to pass decisive judgment on the NT in only a single semester.
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Old 08-22-2001, 11:05 PM   #13
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Nomad --

I think you're trying to put her into a box that doesn't quite fit. She's not claiming the critical viewpoint is the only legitimate viewpoint, or that you can't engage in critical analysis if you believe in the divine inspiration of the bible. What she is saying is that you can't let your belief in the inspiration guide your analysis and still come from a critical point of view. This isn't a theology class, and she's not passing judgement on theological beliefs. In other words, it is possible to believe in the resurrection and still hold the academic view that it is not a historical fact. On the other hand, if you're slanting your research or writing to leave the impression that the resurrection is a historical fact, then you're not engaging in critical analysis. It's a secular humanist point of view, but to be a secular humanist does not mean you necessarily have to be nontheist.

I'm going to have to leave that was my last word on this subject. If Nomad and others wish to continue this conversation, I'll leave you to it.
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Old 08-23-2001, 02:31 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by DennisM:
Hi Dennis

I do not think you have understood the nature of my question. Really what I am trying to find out is if your professor is going to take the same position as scholars like Rudolph Bultmann or J.D. Crossan, and simply rule out the possibility of the miraculous even before she begins her inquiry into what may have happened in 1st Century Palestine. My guess is that she will take this route, and as a secular humanist, I suppose that this is alright. At the same time, by leaving a possibility off of the table, she has automatically limited herself, and the end result can only be speculation driven by a priori beliefs.

In your own example of the Resurrection, and Brown's concerning the virgin conception, this means that even if these things did happen more or less as described in the Bible, your professor's assumptions would make discovering the truth of the matter impossible. After all, she has ruled them out before inquiry even begins. To me, this is unfortunate, and a natural consequence of circular reasoning.

In any event, I am sincere in my wish that you do learn something valuable in your course, and wish you all of the best.

Peace,

Nomad
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Old 08-23-2001, 02:34 PM   #15
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A related question: would your professor of Classics rule out the possibility of supernatural acts by Greek and Roman gods?
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Old 08-23-2001, 03:41 PM   #16
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Quote:
A related question: would your professor of Classics rule out the possibility of supernatural acts by Greek and Roman gods?
No fair Apikorus! Only Nomad gets to ask whether skeptics employ double-standards in their analyses of the texts.
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Old 08-23-2001, 03:50 PM   #17
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Let's go one further: do Nomad's Christian instructors rule out the possibility of all miracles from all other religions in an a priori fashion?

Michael
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Old 08-23-2001, 06:57 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally posted by turtonm:
Let's go one further: do Nomad's Christian instructors rule out the possibility of all miracles from all other religions in an a priori fashion?
I won't speak for Nomad, but many of the Christian instructors I've had do not "rule out the possibility of all miracles from all other religions in an a priori fashion." I also know Christian instructors from at least four other academic institutions that do not do so.

Sorry to burst your bubble...

Polycarp
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Old 08-23-2001, 09:23 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally posted by Polycarp:
<STRONG>[b]

I won't speak for Nomad, but many of the Christian instructors I've had do not "rule out the possibility of all miracles from all other religions in an a priori fashion." I also know Christian instructors from at least four other academic institutions that do not do so.

Sorry to burst your bubble...

Polycarp</STRONG>
One hardly knows whether to laugh or cry.

Michael
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Old 08-23-2001, 09:35 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally posted by turtonm:
Let's go one further: do Nomad's Christian instructors rule out the possibility of all miracles from all other religions in an a priori fashion?
Actually, I would be surprised if they did. Personally I do not rule out the supernatural, nor do I automatically connect the miraculous to God, the angels or the devils. That would have to become part of the inquiry.

Nomad
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