Thursday, May 3, 2007

Canonism and Anti-Apocrypha Apologetic

Tony Chartrand-Burke of Apocryphicity has raised some very good questions in a book review of Ben Witherington's release What Have They Done With Jesus: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History—Why We Can Trust the Bible (San Francisco: Harper, 2006). Thank you for this post!

Professor Chartrand-Burke points to several assumptions that mark this book, the dominant one being the common apologetic attitude that the New Testament texts report the truth and anything that does not agree with these texts is erroneous and/or heretical. This position cannot be maintained academically anymore, at least in terms of historical integrity. Like the dissimilarity principle, it has to go. It is dishonest historically and is nothing less than Christian apology declaring itself history.

The other major assumption is that orthodoxy and heresy were actual borders, instead of inventions of the mid- and late second century Church Fathers. To accept the boundaries that one group created to control the Christian landscape as historical boundaries (rather than polemical boundaries) shows very little understanding of the process of normation. Orthodoxy and heresy, I like to say, are only relative terms. One cannot exist without reference to the other. And who is orthodox and who is heretical depends only upon where you are standing. Let us never forget that Valentinus was lauded as a bible genius even by Tertullian who hated him, and he was only narrowly defeated in the mid-second century election for Bishop of Rome.

Back to Professor Chartrand-Burke's analysis, I appreciate his concluding remarks:
The aim of this post and the larger study of the anti-CA apologetics is not attack to Witherington and his ilk but to bring attention to their technique. What aspects of the texts and the scholarship do they find objectionable? Are they motivated purely by the desire to present history accurately? or are they concerned more about defending Christianity from what they perceive as a demonic attack on its integrity? Are they honest in their assessments of the material? or are they trying to sway the opinion of their readers by intentional deception? In the end I would hope that readers would place more stock in scholarship that holds itself to a high standard of intellectual honesty rather than apologetics that sacrifices honesty in its rush to rescue Christianity from its critics.
Again, thanks for giving us these questions to consider.

1 comment: said...

Chartrand-Burke also wrote (if I am not half asleep):"Reconstructing early Christian history using only the NT will lead to an impression that the church was a harmonious community with all leaders and all communities in complete agreement over the message and mission of Jesus. The hints of discord observable in Acts and Paul’s letters are problematic, but conservative scholars (and Witherington is no exception) tend to minimize these."

I think of 'early Christian history' as the history of the original Christians (anointed ones) who came out of Judea in the period from about 36 CE to 70 CE, during the late reign of Tiberias, then of Claudius, and finally of Nero. These were Jewish prophets (nonsensically dubbed 'Galileans') who came to believe that the cleansing Spirit of God could be received by all who heard and obeyed it as Lord. I have no doubt that the early 'Christian' movement was harmonious, but it was not the movement portrayed by the extant NT.

I also have no doubt that these prophets were persecuted and hunted down by the Flavians - whose ultimate act of vandalism was to ransck and destroy the prophet's sanctuary. Simon, to my thinking a prophet and the surviving brother of James, was led in Vespasian's misclaimed triumph before execution.

During Flavian rule, I would claim that the original prophetic documents of the NT were extensively 'Paulinized', and that much of the Pauline editorial is evident in the logical structure of the extant text.

Originally, there was no Jesus, John the Baptist (despite Josephus) or Paul. Thus in the original Acts, the original leader Judas (who had been stoned to death in Jerusalem)is replaced by James, in Rome around 37 CE. It was James who travelled on the missionary journeys.