Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Jesus Project Update

Richard Carrier has posted a very thorough memoir of what transpired at the first session of The Jesus Project which was held on the first weekend of December at Amherst and presided over by its chair Joe Hoffmann. I was unable to present a paper because of previous commitments, so Carrier's comments brings us up to date. Worth the read HERE and HERE. Bruce Chilton was also in attendance and HERE are his comments. There was some media coverage HERE.

Joe Hoffmann has just written an article about the Jesus Project posted HERE.


Leon said...

The major problem with any scholarly project on Jesus is that no one will admit they have a fundamental problem describing the evidence. Supposedly one of the goals of this Jesus Project is to agree on what the evidence is. But these scholars cannot do this because they regularly impose their own theology or worldview on the Gospel texts and then claim it is in the Gospels. They love foisting their own theological interests on the Gospel authors. They particularly have a habit of taking what is ambiguous data regarding Jewish leaders and Judas and spinning it in a negative direction without admitting what they are doing. They give us data with spin and pretend this is the pure data.

At a bare minimum, scientific scholarship should give us a clear statement of what the evidence is, but no one in this field can do that. Scholars are obsessed with their agenda (to prove something about Jesus and his Jewish enemies) and twist the evidence to make it say things it never says. They presume to judge the ancient authors while they exclude any discussion of their own designs. The first task of all good scholarship is to openly discuss your own prejudices and to listen when someone makes a more accurate statement of what the evidence actually is. But scholars effectively suppress all debate on this. This will never yield success except the success of power to dominate historical study.

Leon Zitzer

April DeConick said...


I think the move in this project is to say that all of the texts are myths and therefore we can't say that Jesus existed historically. This is at least the vib I have been getting from the materials I have been reading on the project, and from my own very limited involvement in the "pre"-project meeting where the agenda was announced. The logic of the myth argument makes me very wary, and very unsure if I want to fully engage in this project.

Leon said...

You are probably right that they are moving to say it is all or mostly myth. But according to Richard Carrier's blogspot, one of their professed goals is to reach agreement about the evidence. This is something NT scholars have never been able to do because they will not look at how much they slant the evidence while claiming they are just giving an objective presentation of the evidence. What is needed is a conference about scholarly prejudices, not one about the Gospels.

As for myth, one of the golden rules of science is "The bigger your claim, the more evidence you need." The claim that the Gospels are mostly myth or fiction is a mighty big one and would need an enormous anount of evidence to support it. I can already guess that no one is even going to attempt to muster the huge quantity of evidence needed to prove this. They are just going to play some verbal games to make it appear they have an evidentiary argument. How, e.g., could anyone seriously argue that Mark's story of Judas is fictional? It bears not even one earmark of a fictional story of a traitor. No motive, no conflict, no unequivocally negative information about Judas (it is all, every bit of it, highly ambiguous), no use of the Greek word that definitely means betray, and even condemnations from other disciples after the deed is done is missing. By no stretch of the imagination is this the way to tell a fictional story of a traitor. (Judas cannot possibly have been a fictional or real traitor. Something else is going in the Gospel story.) But I am sure that all this evidence will be irrelevant to scholars who are stuck on the theology of myth.

NT scholars remind me of a Texas prosecutor who said that anyone can convict a guilty person, but it takes talent to convict an innocent person. These scholars implicitly make a similar boast: Anyone can engage in rational, scientific study of the Gospels, but it takes real talent to pursue irrational study and pass it off as rational. I have to agree with them. That does take exceptional talent. All the same, I would not boast about it.

Leon Zitzer