Author Archives: Richard Barrett

Bock on Ehrman: “One has to wonder when an author admits to providing nothing new in a book what the motive is for writing”

With a tip of my hat to Baptist Bible Seminary’s Dr. Rod Decker, Dallas Theological Seminary’s Dr. Darrell Bock on the latest in UNC Chapel Hill’s Dr. Bart Ehrman’s <verb>-ing Jesus series:

Bart Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted by his own admission says nothing new. It packages what scholars have been saying for two decades. Since he learned the historical critical method in place of the devotional method, he discovered the Bible was full of contradictions and discrepancies, a completely human book with Christianity being a religion that is completely human in its origin and development. That is the core thesis of Bart Ehrman’s new book, who has become a one man marching band to make clear what everyone should know about the origins of the Christian faith. We cannot speak of the divine in any of this, he says, because historians cannot handle that kind of data. This represents a convenient limitation on what he can speak about (even as he makes all kinds of pronouncements about what is taking place and who is responsible).

One has to wonder when an author admits to providing nothing new in a book what the motive is for writing. Informing? Apparently not. Crusading? Perhaps. But to leave the criticism on this point would be to ignore the case Ehrman tries to make. The conservative writers Erhman apparently wishes to challenge (and mostly ignore) have engaged on all the “non-new” points Ehrman makes, even highlighting themselves the “human” side of the Bible’s production. But partly by caricature and partly by setting rules where God cannot be invoked in a historical discussion, Ehrman proceeds. God is not even able to be brought into the possibility of an interpretive spiral, because “miracles are not impossible,” just very much unlikely and a least likely explanation (read a “next to impossible” category). I think what is most bothersome in this book is the way it sets up discussions, pursues a topic for several pages, often noting the point is not as devastating as the impression given (usually with a sentence that qualifies things so the author has cover) and then continues to launch in a direction that implies more than the evidence really gives, leaving a greater impression about what is said than the author claims in the qualification.

This is a great response, and worth the read — that said, I don’t know that I wonder too much about Dr. Ehrman’s motives for writing. He sells a lot of books and he appears on media outlets like The Daily Show and Fresh Air. His motives seem reasonably clear to me.


Professor April DeConick: “Should the Historical Jesus matter to people of faith?”

Dr. April DeConick, Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University, has a brief essay on the potential relationship between the “Jesus of history” and the “Jesus of faith” in the minds and hearts of the faithful.

In this post I want to try to respond to one of the comments that was left on my last post on whether or not the historical Jesus can be recovered. I argued that I am quite sure that we can recover very early memories of Jesus, but whether or not these get us to the historical Jesus himself is still open for me because of the way in which social memories are constructed from the get-go (both as a natural process or a conscious plan). I think we would need to look at the picture of the early memories we recovered and then do some evaluating from there, with the caveat that we are treading on very dangerous waters.

The questions left in the comments?

I’m a preacher who has had no anxiety (or little, at any rate) about preaching what has been called the “Jesus of faith.” Can you say what you think the implications of your method of constructing Jesus might have for those who preach, who take” the quest,” as you have described it seriously? Is this something that simply doesn’t belong in the pulpit? Or… do you have no opinion on this, since your project is scholarly and not about faith? There is a long history about this very issue – of faith and reason and whether reason should matter to faith. I leave that to your reading.

For me personally this is very difficult for me to answer because even though my project is not about faith – it is an historical project – the results matter for some people of faith.

I have found that for some Christians they could care less, because for them the Jesus they know is the Jesus of the spirit and the scripture, the Jesus of faith as you put it. There is nothing that an historian is going to say that will make a bit of difference to their religiosity or change their perception of their own experience of God. They are like Paul, the apostle who knew next to nothing about Jesus’ life or teachings, and this didn’t seem to matter one bit to him in terms of his faith which was based on a mystical experience and conversion.

But then there are those Christians who want their faith to be factual, because for them only facts are true/truth. So they want to align their faith with what they understand to be historical facts about Jesus. It is for these people that the Jesus Seminar was so valuable, because it gave them a new “scientifically”-constructed red letter edition of Jesus’ teaching, minus all the supernatural stories and theology.

For me to suggest that the Jesus of history may be lost to us, and all we have are memory constructions of him by Christians writing long after he is dead, can be traumatic for some Christians because we live in a society where truth and fact are equated, and where myth-story-memory-experience (which are definitely not observable empirical facts) are what? Untruth? Highly suspect? False?

So now we see scholars like Richard Bauckham coming to the rescue of these “faithfully nervous”, trying out the argument that the early memory constructions in the gospels must have been those of eyewitnesses (they do?) because the texts make this claim (so what?) and because these eyewitnesses were the apostles (they were?) we can trust them (we can?) because they wouldn’t purposefully lie to us (they wouldn’t?) and we all know that our memories are fairly accurate anyway (they are?).

So I don’t know if this answers your questions, which are honest and good questions. But should this information be distributed from the pulpit? I have found in my classroom when students begin to think critically about the scripture, many become angry and confused, wondering why they didn’t hear about any of this in their churches. To these people, it matters.

The comments are worth reading.


Literacy-chic: “I’m starting to think that I have no business applying to Catholic colleges, since one of my concerns is orthodoxy”

Interesting. We don’t quite have this problem in the Orthodox world, since St. Vladimir’s and Holy Cross/Hellenic College are really it in terms of Orthodox academic institutions in this country, but this is food for thought nonetheless:

I’m starting to think that I have no business applying to Catholic colleges, since one of my concerns is orthodoxy–actual adherence to the Church’s teaching, broadly conceived. What kind of battles will I be in for if I go to a school that violates or disregards Church teaching on life issues, ordination of women, and even questions whether it is just to exclude non-Catholics from the Eucharist? Matters of conscience even get tricky at a secular, state school; how much more so if the administration of a Catholic college where I worked were to promote an agenda opposed to Church teaching? And yet, I interview by phone tomorrow with a college that was founded by an order that ABSOLUTELY supports women’s ordination. Campus ministry reluctantly acts according to the will of the local bishop in refusing Communion to non-Catholics (not the Vatican, you will notice). I even emailed for clarification on this point, and the tone was one of remorse and sad disagreement. I have no idea how this would influence the tenor of the English department, except that the faculty members list the subjects about which they will willingly be interviewed by the press on their web pages–yes, that’s ENGLISH faculty, people. Yet they’re hiring for a position that would, essentially, oversee the school’s orthodoxy, including screening new hires for willingness to adhere to the school’s mission, uphold Catholic identity, etc. This person does not have to be a practicing Catholic.

What to do??

(Tip of the hat to the Pertinacious Papist and his Musings.)