Wednesday, October 07, 2015

I'll come to your freethinker meeting and PROVE the Resurrection for $145!

A scholar named Richard Miller wrote a book earlier this year proposing a supposedly "new" theory on how that delusion about Jesus rising from the dead arose.  It involves our friend Romulus, legendary founder of Rome.  The book costs $145. 

Here's an interesting and well-written review from Amazon, by one Simon Albright, which predicts that the book will excite frenzied and worried opposition from the ranks of Christians.  Then following that, my somewhat shorter response. 

"If you've ever interacted with any number of atheists online, there is a vocal contingent of them that spread a meme pointing out a number of identical events in the lives of Horus and Jesus. For example, according to the meme, Horus was born of a virgin and he was also born on December 25th. He was visited by Three Wise Men, and baptized. Likewise, he had 12 Disciples, walked on water, was "transfigured" on a mount, and was resurrected, etc.

"In response, Christians do something extremely logical and straightforward (or even just other atheists who aren't as hoodwinked by conspiracy theories): they simply ask for the original quotes in the original Egyptian documents of these amazing parallels with Jesus. Of course, the quotes are never forthcoming because it is all made-up, and it illustrates that atheists are just as likely to be misled by false information as religious believes who don't research facts for themselves.

"A slightly different, but very similar, phenomenon is on display when parallels between Romulus and Jesus are pointed out. Here at least there is peer-reviewed scholarship to rely upon—Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables In Classical Antiquity, by Richard C. Miller—that is published by a reputable academic journal—The Journal of Biblical Literature 129, no. 4 (2010): 759-776, and reading this article is how I personally became aware of Richard C. Miller and his scholarship.

"According to Miller, there are no less than 20 separate parallels between Romulus and Jesus, including any number of the most prominent details in their respective lives, and this book—Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity—is a book-length fleshing-out of the original article seeking to make this case, although applied to many more Hellenistic figures than just Romulus. When brought to the attention of Christians, however, just as with Horus, they balk at accepting that there is any similarity between a number of them—and the reason they give is most interesting. According to them, since the parallels are not absolutely identical in every respect, the parallels are not valid. That is (of course, in an ad hoc fashion—without any research), they argue that, in order for there to have been any mimetic copying going on, or direct influence from a common stock of ancient Hellenistic literary tropes applied to Jesus, the authors of the Gospels would have needed to have fashioned the life of Jesus in a strictly identical fashion to that of other ancient demigods such as Romulus. Since they didn't do this, there was no borrowing going on. The question is: does this assumption of the needed exactness of the borrowing stand up to scrutiny?

"According to Miller, no. To quote his direct words: "One thus accurately adduces such instances of the syncretic language in early Christian theology as indicating a Christian adaptation of antique Greco-Roman forms. Could any fresh, third-party observer not immediately perceive the pattern: a Judeo-Christian version of Zeus-Jupiter, with his own storied demigod son born of a mortal woman?" (Section 1.3; I'll give quotations in sections since I bought the Kindle version and I don't have the page numbers)

"Miller goes on to argue that, although each individual instance of a heroic demigod or storied human translated to heaven had differing characteristics and varying sub-themes, the ancient Hellenistic audience would have understood the commonalities as all drawing upon a common wellspring of mythological literary tropes—and so the composers of these fables would have known what they were doing in their production of them as well. Again, to quote his exact words, he states: "What precisely were the signature traits of the convention, and what meaning did such biographical endings impress upon their ancient readers? While the convention displayed a seemingly endless multifarity of manifestations with several linguistic permutations (signifiers) in subthemes and cultural-literary adaptations, the basic import (signified) of the 'translation fable' trope manifested a durable consistency over a thousand-year period in the ancient Hellenized world of cultural instantiation. This stability, as such, reflects the customary and ritualized use of the convention within a common semiotic grammar of Hellenistic language in antiquity…. The gallery of translation fables, therefore, not surprisingly, possesses no common, explicit thread, characteristic, or requisite set of features. Rather, one observes a cluster of various recurring formal traits or signals" (Section 2.2).

"Miller then sets out 15 separate "Translation Subthemes", including a vanished/missing body, and postmortem translation. Personally, the most interesting to me is "heinous or ignoble injustice rectified by translation"—if only because I have spent the better part of my life listening to Christians say that the only way the Gospel authors would have written about a crucified savior is because it really happened. They would never have made up something so dishonorable, and so by the Criterion of Embarrassment, it is far more likely to be historically true than false. Except now, in the "Gallery" of examples analyzed by Miller, this is a prominent subtheme—and no one bases their lives upon any of the other mythological characters translated to heaven after an injustice. To be clear, in the other cases, the "injustices" were not absolutely identical as in the case of Jesus—namely, crucifixion by the Romans—but that doesn't mean the ancients wouldn't have immediately perceived it to be another in a long line of mythological parallels–and it is long indeed. The Gallery analyzed by Miller consists of an overview of—by my count—77 separate ancient Hellenistic translation fables of both historical personages and non-historical invented characters.

"Likewise, according to Miller, there was a prominent "eyewitness" tradition in many of the other cases of either emperors or generals or heroic characters translated to heaven. In fact, under Imperial Rome, the eyewitness was a crucial part of the convention of deifying emperors—so even the claims of the Christians to have "eyewitnesses" (that are not on display in either Paul or the earliest Gospel—Mark) were not unique, but rather only conforming to the general pattern of such literary tropes.

"Through a detailed linguistic and literary analysis, Miller thus argues that the inclusion of so many subthemes of a general convention of translation "implied the mode of fable" rather than history (Section 2.4). Thus, drawing upon an already existing set of literary conventions for aggrandizing heroic figures, the Gospels are only the "romanticized, mythic…literary-rhetorical vehicle of the earliest Christian movement(s)" (Section 3.1) that had precious little to do with the actual historical Jesus.

"Miller provides a grand summary of the implications, including a condemnation of vast swaths of scholarship that seek to somehow remove Jesus from his ancient Mediterranean context and set up brackets around him to say that he and his movement were a strictly Jewish phenomenon (including also the very idea of there being "Biblical Greek"—as though it alone were sui generis and partitioned off from the larger Greek dialects of the ancient world). I myself have been influenced by (or victimized by) this widespread scholarly point of view, as when I was in college, I took a class named "Jesus the Jew", the main thrust of which was to seek to cast Jesus and his followers as the product of an exclusively Jewish milieu. It's amazing that it took this long, but this book by Richard C. Miller admirably corrects this mistaken view. Miller also provides an overview of a strain of evangelical scholarship that (risibly, in light of Miller's analysis) seeks to somehow claim that the shorter ending of Mark—where the body was implied to be missing or vanished—is really a truncated form of the longer version that was preserved in Matthew. The reality is that the fact that the body was missing was precisely what would have clued the ancient reader in to the fact that it had been translated, since a body that was still visible and hanging around would have been a major impediment toward supposing it had been translated to heaven. And likewise, far from being an attempt at history, the stories that arose in the later Gospels of the New Testament concerning what happened to the body of Jesus after it went missing were merely composed in order to guide the intuitions of ancient readers into making the proper judgments about its ultimate translated fate. He ate fish, so he couldn't be a revenant ghost, he wasn't merely still alive since he could teleport through walls, etc.

"It should be noted that Miller ultimately concludes that Jesus was a historical character, although he has been so thoroughly mythologized that we don't see much of him in the Gospels. Also, although himself a historicist, Miller praises mythicists for properly classifying the New Testament portrait of Jesus as one that was not even meant to be historical.

"The bottom line is that this book is too important to languish in obscurity merely because it has been priced out of the reach of a great many readers. It should also be noted that one reviewer claimed this book is less than 200 pages, but this is not accurate.

"Another review noted, "I'm hoping Dr. Miller can translate this into a Bart Ehrman style popular work for the masses." This type of comment is inevitable, because this is an academic work aimed at scholars versed in the relevant background fields, not a popular work aimed at the lowest common denominator. And that should serve as an advisory comment for any potential readers: this book was not exactly written in a colloquial register. That said, it is not that difficult to understand, especially if you are even passingly familiar with semiotics or linguistics.

"On the one hand this book is extremely straightforward to review. Placed in the proper perspective, the comparisons between other translation fables and the Gospels are valid, and they are extensive. The question is: if this analysis is so straightforward, why hasn't this been done before? Miller himself provides the answer by cautioning that the Gospels are one of the main foundations of what became Western Civilization and so they are formidably resistant to deconstruction.

"In any case, it is quite easy to predict that this book will be vehemently opposed, and ruthlessly criticized, by Christians. And Christians will do this—not because they can contradict Miller's conclusions with linguistic and sociological studies regarding how the gospels would have been received by their earliest readers (the only methodology they could employ that would matter)—but merely on account of how this book's conclusions conflict rather violently with their dogmas (and so, according to Christians, the book must ipso facto be misguided). Nevertheless, if you fancy a good read, and one that will contribute solidly to placing Jesus in his wider Mediterranean context, I recommend this book very highly."

Here's my reponse:

Well-written and informative review. But having dealt with myriads of such critics, honestly this line of attack seems a bit ho-hum to me. I've READ Livy on Romulus, and frankly, if that's the best the critics can do (and apparently it is), this book strikes me as little more than a very expensive white flag.

For one thing, it is childishly easy to find 20 common qualities between any two literary or historical figures about whom much is written.  I wrote a similiar list comparing Gandhi to Mao, two very different men, and it was a pretty convincing list, I think.  But that's the wrong way to go about things.   (I am presently writing a book debunking Aslan, Carrier, and Ehrman, and they ALL make the same mistake.)   You need to begin by dispassionately analyzing one text, setting down all major characteristics that define it, only THEN begin analysis of its resemblance or not to other texts. Otherwise your comparison is ad hoc cherry-picking. 

In addition, this line of attack seems (at least from your review) to simply by-pass the reams of evidence for the historicity of the gospel accounts that various scholars, including myself,  have uncovered. 

Still, I'd be inclined to buy a copy of the book and include it in my analysis, if it didn't cost $145. Nor do I find such language as the following all that attractive:

"While the convention displayed a seemingly endless multifarity of manifestations with several linguistic permutations (signifiers) in subthemes and cultural-literary adaptations, the basic import (signified) of the 'translation fable' trope manifested a durable consistency over a thousand-year period in the ancient Hellenized world of cultural instantiation."

I think one could translate that into normal English without losing much:

"While this genre came in different forms marked by different terminology, for a millennia, the basic type held essentially true to form within the Greek cultural sphere."

Maybe Miller would have to sell a book that used ordinary English for a mere $20, but I don't think much would be lost in the translation, and much gained in time.

Heck, I'll come to your church or free thought meeting and prove the resurrection of Jesus in person for $145, if you're in my neighborhood.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Sam Harris Saves the Atheist World from Sin.

What do you do if you hate theism and want to blame it for most of the world's ills?  But unfortuantely, people who share your own view of God just got done murdering a hundred million innocent people, enslaving a couple billion, and destroying the priceless cultural heritage of China (just for starters)?  You might try Tweeting as Sam Harris just did:

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Arrogant Ehrman, Error-Plagued Ehrman

If skeptical Jesus studies is a Good Cop, Bad Cop routine, then someone like Richard Carrier may appear in the role of Bad Cop, while Bart Ehrman is cast as his opposite number.  Personally, I think Marcus Borg or John Crossan played the part more convincingly.  But one can't deny that Erhman often comes across as soft-spoken and reasonable, or that he has piled up a mount of original books in Jesus scholarship, that have made him something of a star in this field. 

Or, perhaps, puffed up like a balloon.  A balloon that has been huffed and puffed beyond its tensile capacity, and is ready to burst. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Did Jesus Really Liberate Chinese women? Response to Patrick and Loren.

Two frequent visitors, Patrick and Loren, expressed questions and doubts yesterday about my on-going series claiming that Jesus and the movement he inspired have liberated "billions" of women around the world.  I appreciate the challenges, which will allow us to look more closely at a few interesting details.  So here's my response.  

I. Patrick: "What do you mean by 'liberation'?  I didn't see any definition listed so it is difficult to tell what is or isn't a good example of women being liberated outside of the examples you presented.  When you discuss a woman who is liberated what would her status be in that society with family and the society around her once she is liberated?"

Timely Slogans for Every Candidate

(Note: lower-tier candidates, please call direct for volume discounts)

Hillary Clinton:

"Because Charm, Truthfullness, Kindness, and Concrete Positive Achievements aren't Everything."

"Make me President, and I promise I'll obey the Law."

"You can Never have enough Spare Body Parts!"

"Frankenstein was the Real Feminist: Stop the War on Women!"

"Yeah, right.  So you tell me what were you doing on the night of September 11, 2012!"

"Yes I am human!  See!  This is a smile!"

Donald Trump: 

"The Brokest Country Ever, a Real Estate Heir who went Bankrupt Three Times: What Could Go Wrong?"

"Elect a President who will be as rude to America's enemies, as he is to Female Reporters and Ex-Wives."

"Isn't it time EVERYONE hate America?"

"Because America needs more Vulgarity!"

"Facts?  Yeah, well you're ugly!"

"Don't Vote for those Inauthentic Phonys!  Elect the Real Deal!"

Berry Sanders: 

"Because Taxes are Still way too Low!"

"Why Shouldn't We Follow Europe Down the Drain?"

"Twenty Trillion in Debt?  Let's try throwing money at the problem!"

"We Need Our Grandkids' Money More Than They Will!" 

"Obama was a reactionary!"

"Where has Socialism ever not worked?"

Joe Biden:

Creepy Biden © Michael Ramirez,Investors Business Daily,joe biden,creepy,hands,touch,joe-biden

"Because you know I'll get a paycheck from you, anyway."

"Stand up, America, and take a bow!  Don't be shy!  What are you doing in that Wheelchair after Eight Years of Obama-Biden, anyway?"

"My Party Went to Philadelphia and all they got was this Lousy Political Hack!" 

"Because we ran out of Democrats!"

Ben Carson: 

"Why Don't We Elect Some Nice Guy at Random and See What Happens!"

Jeb Bush:

"No, Seriously, This Really is 2016!"

Carly Fiorina:

"Come on, Guys.  You KNOW you've always wanted a Strong Woman to Boss You Around."

"So NOW why would anyone vote for Hillary?"

Lindsay Graham:

"My good friend John McCain came in second, didn't he?  That's not bad, in such a Big Country!"

Bobby Jindal:

"Let's Count Votes from ALL the World's Democracies, This Time!"

Marco Rubio:

"Don't Blame Me Just Because I'm a Freshman Senator, Too!" 

"Hey, it worked for the Democrats!" 

"You know you want Florida!"

John Kasich:

"You WANT my State!  You NEED my State!" 

Chris Christie:

"Not Nearly as Rude as Donald, Plus I Ran a State!"

"Obama Ate Broccali!  Time for a Change!"

Scott Walker:


Saturday, September 19, 2015

"Jesus is the Answer" -- even on the SAT.

You may remember the old slogan, "Jesus is the answer."  Maybe it comes from a song by Larry Norman.  The usual response was, "to what question?"  But perhaps that misses the point.  Maybe one thing that makes Jesus uniquely the answer, is the plurality of questions to which his life, teachings and works provide the best answer.  

I was thinking about this the other day when I was teaching my students how to take the written part of the SAT test.  I ask them to develop a number of stories, especially true stories and histories, that they can draw on to support their answers to the SAT prompt.   Normally, I good SAT essay is 400 words or more, providing a clear intro, two or so supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion, in 25 minutes -- pretty hard for Chinese young people to write, so they need help in preparation.  So I told them I'd limit myself to just two or three supporting examples -- "Jesus, contemporary Chinese or American society" -- and try to write full essays in half the time.   And they could choose the question for me to answer at the last moment.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sowing Obama, reaping Trump?

The astute historian Victor Davis Hanson has just explained the abject failure of Barack Obama's foreign policy, AND the bizarre popularity of Daddy-made billionaire "As President, I'll be a total, unpredictable, intellectually-incoherent jerk, playboy and clown like I have been for years and I won't ever apologize for it or for calling classy female reporters who ask me hard questions (boo hoo) 'bimbo'" Donald Trump.

Read it and understand human nature.  Then, for God's sake (and the world's), pull yourself together, America, and pick a decent president, this time. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: Chapter Two

Note: This is the chapter in which I make the argument that skeptics have so far mainly reacted against, mainly by misrepresenting it.  Of course that does not make it the most important argument in the book -- it isn't, I save the best for last.  But I still think it works, taken on its own terms, and not misrepresented. -- DM

Chapter Two: “Go Into All the World”

How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: Chapter One

Chapter One: “The Outsider Test for Faith”

The Outsider Test, as we have seen, has become a popular, widely-employed argument against Christianity.  But John Loftus attempts in particular detail to develop this argument, and his name is most closely associated with it.  Let us therefore begin by critiquing his version of the OTF. 

How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story (Intro)

My latest book, How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story, may be the best I've written yet.  It has been compared by thoughtful reviewers to "Mere Christianity" and "Orthodoxy," which as a life-long fan of C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, is praise I treasure highly.  I believe the book has the potential to change how people look at the world, so that they recognize God's fingerprints upon history.  I don't believe you'll look at the story of the human, or the great spectrum of civilizations, the same, after you've read The Inside Story.

So far, most readers seem to have agreed.  All reviews by scholars have been extremely enthusiastic.  For instance, Dr. Ivan Satyavrata, an accomplished Indian theologian who has researched the relation between Christianity and Indian thought, wrote:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"When I was up in Canada"

OK, you Larry Norman fans, here's one for you.
"The rock that doesn't roll" -- Vancouver Island

"In another land" -- Cariboo Mountains, central British Columbia.

"When you are lonely, you're the only one to blame"

"Why should the devil have all the good music?"   

"The sun began to rain" -- John and not-his-bike at an overlook in Jasper.

"Well, I went into the forest and I cut down all the trees . . . " A lake in Jasper. 

"Lead me on, lead me on, lead me on, Lead me on where you're going. You know my body's tired by my heart's inspired My hunger's growing."

Monday, August 03, 2015

Reply to Matthew Ferguson I: On Scholarship and Genre

Matthew Ferguson has now responded to my critique of his analysis of how the gospels relate to ancient literature, in a two-part rebuttal of some 50 printed pages. 

The first part, and fortunately somewhat the shorter, contains his criticism of me.  I don't plan to say much about that.  Ferguson repeatedly says or implies that I'm trying to hide or cover up my faults and errors: let those who are afraid that I am up to such mischief, read Ferguson's critique for themselves, if they like.  I don't really mind.  To tell the truth, I am indeed quite flawed.  Yes, I can be "acerbic," and my intended wit does indeed sometimes flows to rudeness, especially when I'm tired.  On the other hand, I think Ferguson was the first case in which (two years ago) I criticized someone who happened to share a pseudonym and a set of interests with my intended target, in lieu of the target himself, and also the first case in which I mistakenly described someone as a Christ-mythicist who actually was not.  Those are serious blunders.  As for describing Ferguson as "blind as a bat" in relation to the qualities of the gospels, I'm afraid I still think so, so can't apologize for that -- but that is not a "falsehood about identity," it is a perception (accurate or not) about awareness.  (I also think some more advanced and eminent scholars are just as blind, after all.)

Anyway, given two admittedly flagrant errors, Ferguson may be forgiven for thinking me sloppier than I probably am (on major issues, never mind typos).  Fair enough.  I have other flaws Ferguson doesn't know about.  So even if his critique is often off the mark in other respects (as I think it is), let readers conclude, "Marshall is not always so charming as he ought to be," and they'll be more right than wrong.   

As for Ferguson's own cheap shots, he doesn't seem to recognize them as such.  That's fine, too.  What interests me is the historicity of the gospels, and alleged parallels to them.  I have no desire to hide any good analogy Ferguson, Richard Carrier, or Bart Erhman, can offer between the Gospels and any ancient text -- indeed, far from covering such alleged parallels up, I have been searching out such purported parallels and trying to bring them to light.  Read both sides, by all means!  Still less do I wish readers to think poorly of Mr. Ferguson. 

Ferguson has read some interesting materials, as have better-known and more experienced skeptics.  And his theories are generally more reasonable than those of Carrier, for instance, and a lot better than the muck that someone like Raphael Lataster (or that other Celsus, with whom I conflated Ferguson) produces.  No doubt his arguments will continue to improve: as iron sharpens iron: in a perfect world, my critique might help expedite that process.

And I think that's enough response to Part I of Ferguson's critique, the personal criticism.  On to the important stuff.  (As far as I can go today -- I'm leaving for Canada again this afternoon, and probably won't be able to touch on all the important issues before we take off.)

I. Who is Qualified to do Historical Jesus Studies? 

One of the most important initial matters on which Ferguson takes issue with me, is the question of whether I, or some of the thinkers whom I cite, are even competent to contribute to the "search for the historical Jesus."  Our views on who can or ought to contribute to the Jesus debate, and indeed on how scholarship ought to be done, seem to diverge quite sharply.

On a personal level, Ferguson makes it clear that he thinks I'm out of my depth, or meddling in matters I know too little of.  I am an "apologist," after all -- this is the term he uses, again and again, to describe me.  Ferguson describes his own academic credentials, but does not (so far as I have read thus far) say anything about mine.  He also describes me as a "troll," which according to one on-line dictionary, means:

"A person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community . . . with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion."

Ferguson adds that I admit to not reading Latin, and that my Greek is probably not nearly as good as his own. He argues:

"The question of the Gospels' genre, and where they fit into their literary context, pertains specifically to literary developments that had been occurring in the 5th century BCE -- 2nd century CE Mediterranean world, particularly in literature written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (all languages that I have expertise in)."

In addition, Ferguson accuses me of "dropping Richard Burridge's name," which is "one of the keywords that many apologists know when they try to argue about the Gospels' genre."  

Let me answer these first three charges, before addressing broader issues of authority. 

* First, on the "troll" charge.  No doubt my critique of his argument did upset Ferguson, and perhaps some of his readers.  But there was nothing off-topic about my  challenging his arguments, or in flipping them to demonstrate the credibility of the gospels.  And my goal is not to provoke an emotional reaction, but to better understand the nature of the gospels and their relation to ancient literature -- which Ferguson says is also his own goal.  So this description of me is simply false. I am dead serious in my interest in this subject: one would think the fact that I published a book on it ten years ago, and am writing another now, would be sufficient evidence of that.

* As for the value of learning language, I believe I also pegged that right.  I have been studying languages for forty years, and comparing texts in different languages for some thirty-five.  One can pick up many nuances only by learning the original language, and one might say that some poetry, or poetic speech (Shakespeare or Li Bai), simply can't be translated, or that a great deal of the wonder of the original is lost in translation.  But to determine genre or historicity, a good translation will usually do.  So far as I have read his long rebuttal, I haven't noticed any points at which Ferguson claims that language alone betrays any errors on my part.  So even judging by his own argument, it appears that my original comments were correct. One does not need to be fluent in Latin, say, to recognize the genre of Confessions or Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods, so long as these works have been translated with any competence. 

In fact, I don't think facility in three ancient languages has helped Mr. Ferguson recognize what stands out most about the gospels and is most important.  I think my analysis demonstrates that.  But as I said, I would like to avoid (from here on, at least) implying disrespect. We all make mistakes.  We all have biases and blind spots.  And I have offered similar criticism of other scholars who are more advanced and highly credentialed than Mr. Ferguson. So he need not take my criticism quite so very personally. 

* Ferguson is willing to dismiss authorities I cite, anyway, so why complain when I dismiss far less eminent and accomplished authorities?

Section Five in the second part of Ferguson's rebuttal does just that:  

"Marshall's bogus authorities in trying to dismiss the novel and hagiography comparison."

Ferguson writes in that section:

"One of the big emphases of Marshall's response is to claim that the comparison of the Gospels to the ancient novel is absurd.  As Marshall claims: 

"'You also describe the gospels as 'novels.'  This is complete and utter nonsense . . . Anyone who reads the gospels and thinks it's one of those is, frankly, as blind as a bat."  

"When citing authorities against this comparison, however, Marshall appeals to a number of outdated and irrelevant persons.  In order to argue that the Gospels are historical in genre, Marshall appeals to Augustine (yes, Augustine), Blaise Pascal, English literature scholar C. S. Lewis, and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, all of whom are almost fully irrelevant to modern Classical and NT scholarship.  Among actual New Testament scholars he lists NT Wright and Richard Bauckham (both minorities in the field), in addition to name dropping Richard Burridge."

There are several misconceptions, here.

* As I explained clearly in that earlier post, my main interest lies not in "genre," but in historicity.  And I do not "argue that the Gospels are historical in genre."  Rather I argue (Ferguson quotes my argument) that they are historical in character.  I mean they tell what really happened, by and large, but I say directly that I don't think they belong to any genre that can be described as "history."  Rather, they are best described as biography.

Ferguson knows this, and we will touch on our disagreements about ancient biography later.  So "historical in genre" is confusing or a red herring: my argument is that they are historical in substance.

* Also, I do not "name drop" Richard Burridge.  (This is the second time Ferguson uses this term.)  Name-dropping means, according to the Oxford Dictionary:

"The practice of casually mentioning the names of famous people one knows or claims to know in order to impress others."

But I do not desire that much to impress Mr. Ferguson: what I care about is the historical truth, or error, of the gospels.  Nor do I ever claim to know Dr. Burridge.  Furthermore, I regard the genre of the gospels, the issue on which I cite Burridge, as secondary to their truth.  

So "name-dropping" is false on every level.  

What Ferguson no doubt means is that I haven't really read Burridge, and am just throwing his name around because other people like me ("apologists") do likewise.  But if that is the case, then why is there a four-star review of his book under my name, written eleven years ago, posted as the lead-off review on Amazon, with 24 of 27 "helpful" votes?  Ferguson often complains about my not reading his entire on-line oevre before commenting: wouldn't it have been wise for him to do a little google-search, before making this false charge?  

But more on Burridge's arguments below, and what they imply for the gospels.  

* More substantially, by dismissing my citations of Augustine, Lewis, and Peck, Ferguson seems to betray a vision of how scholarship works very different from the vision that I long ago came to embrace.   

In my last year of High School, I ran between Russian and journalism classes, which were down the hall from one another, because they both seemed so interesting.  My professors during my BA and MA years at the University of Washington further encouraged me to see different fields of study as informing one another -- indeed, I often tell my own students that this concept is implicit in the term "university."  For my BA, I created my own research classes under the guidance of professors in Russian, Anthropology, and the head of the History Department, to create a major that drew from all three subjects.  My MA was guided primarily by one historian and by the head the Anthropology Department, though I also took courses in Classical Chinese, Art History, and Religious Studies which, again, informed the research I did for my MA papers.  The same was true of my PhD, and such was the vision of holistic scholarship in which different fields inform one another, that most of my fellow scholars seemed to embrace.  

No field of study is an island.  Disparate areas of research can often inform one another profoundly, even when they seem, at first glance, to be separated by oceans.  

This is also commonly recognized in New Testament studies.  Liberal scholars like John Crossan and James Crossley, as well as conservatives like Rodney Stark, are often rightly lauded for helpfully bringing the perspective of other fields of study to bear on early Christianity. (Which means, of course, that deep fluency in a given language is not always crucial to making contributions to a field.) 

So why did I cite M. Scott Peck?  

Peck is a Harvard-trained psychologist, with decades of experience in observing human beings.  I thus noted:

"What is really startling, as M. Scott Peck noted, along with Lewis, is how utterly the gospels fail to resemble hagiographic literature."

Peck approached the Jesus of the Gospels as a psychologist, out of a well of deep experience and scholarship, and wrote with great intellectual force, in my opinion.  He believed that in all his years of studying men and women who make the human mind their subject, Jesus was the "smartest man who ever lived."  Of course no hagiographer could invent the Jesus who appears in the gospels, and none ever did.  Peck's observations, informed by a richly understood field of psychology, and decades of clinical experience, furnish a legitimate way in which one discipline can inform another.  

Augustine would also appear on many informed lists of "the smartest people who ever lived."  He was read more widely in ancient Latin literature, probably, than anyone can be today.  And he knew the process of creating literature from the inside, as author of so brilliant a narrative as Confessions, of so sweeping and widely-informed an argument as City of God.  

Yet Ferguson tosses Augustine's perception aside with contempt.  Seriously?  Augustine?  Yes, seriously: we need to hear from geniuses who produce great literature, and whose genius transcends the mere art of words, especially those who drank in knowledge of the ancients with their mother's milk.  Blaise Pascal was also psychologically astute, and of a deeply logical turn of mind.  The acute insights of all three men, the latter two among the world's great minds, their keen and informed insight focused on literature which they knew inside and out, are not to be tossed lightly away, merely because none of them happened to take any Classics courses at the University of California, Irvine.  (Augustine admitted that Greek gave him trouble.)

What about C. S. Lewis?  

Ferguson persists in identifying Lewis as merely an "English literature scholar."  But as I pointed out, Lewis was extremely well-read in ancient Greek and Latin literature.  He even conducted a correspondence with  Dom Giovanni Calabria in Latin.  (Could Mr. Ferguson do that?)

Why would anyone want to deny so great a literary genius as C. S. Lewis a seat at this table?  Author of a magisterial volume in the Oxford History of English Literature, insightful critic of Milton and Shakespeare, who goaded J. R. R. Tolkien into publishing what many regard as the 20th Century's greatest work of fiction, Lewis breathed ancient Greek for some fifty years, himself creating brilliant works in a variety of genres.  So when Lewis writes:

"I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life.  I know what they are like.   I know that not one of them is like this."

It is wise to pay heed.  

* But even more importantly, my argument for the historicity of the gospels is not mainly an Argument from Authority.  Frankly, I think the analysis I offer in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and to a truncated and preliminary degree in the post Ferguson responds to, goes beyond any of these writers.  That is not, of course, because I consider myself an equal genius, but because I support their true insights with more thorough analysis.  That is how scholarship makes progress -- dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.  What I attempt to do, and I think succeed in doing, is to show that Lewis' concisely expressed analysis of the gospels in relation to ancient literature, is on the money, across dozens of crucial criteria that he did not stop to systematically analyze.  

That such thinkers are giants, and that their insight is highly relevant to NT studies, ought to be obvious.

What about the specialists we cite?  Let's look again at Richard Burridge.

II. What's Wrong with Burridge's Argument? 

What Ferguson fails to notice is that I treat Richard Burridge not as a name to "drop," but as a fellow scholar with whom I partially agree, partially disagree, and whose arguments (like Ferguson's own) do not entirely address the issues that concern me.  Thus, Ferguson cites several other scholars who disagree with Burridge, or who tweak his thesis in various ways.  He fails to recognize that I have long disagreed with Burridge on some of the very same points!  Here is part of my review, eleven years ago:

"I think Burridge proves his case, that the canonical Gospels do belong to the category of ancient bioi, or biography . . . But what does that mean to call the Gospels "biography?" Among the examples of bioi he considers are Tacitus' Agricola, a sober account of a Roman general written by his son in law a few years after his death, and Apollonius of Tyana, a tall tale loosely based on a New Age guru that talks about various breeds of dragon in India, and was written more than a hundred years after the alleged life it portrays.  So the simple fact that a work belongs to the category of bioi, does not prove that it is true.

"Burridge notes however that Apollonius is rather on the fringe of the genre.  In some ways, the Gospels are closer to Agricola.   Having closely compared these two texts with the Gospels on my own, I came to the conclusion that in terms of historical reliability, the Gospels are closer to Agricola, and hardly resemble Apollonius of Tyana at all.  In fact, in some ways the Gospels seem more historical than Agricola.

"But Burridge does not discuss the historicity of the books he reviews directly.  Instead, he conducts a somewhat plodding, but careful, convincing, and I think useful argument that helps one better understand literary genre, ancient literature, the Gospels, and how they all fit together."

I also critiqued Burridge ten years ago, in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus:

"Burridge showed that the gospels are bioiWhat he did not do was explain what genre has to do with historicity.  The water is muddied by the fact that of the works Burridge discussed, most were fairly sober, but at least one might be described as 'science fiction.'"

So I have been well aware of the diversity within the genre that Burridge identified as "Greek biography" for a very long time.  Nothing the authorities Ferguson cites say, comes as a surprise to me, on this topic.  My point, and the point with which I vehemently disagree with Ferguson, is when he argues that the Gospels resemble the less-reliable and more dubious biographies, along with ancient hagiographies and other semi-fictional accounts, more than the better biographies.  In fact, I argue that internal characteristics mark the Gospels as in many ways more credible than even relatively sober ancient biographies. 
But despite the warning in my last post, and the fact that he addresses this issue at length, in my view Ferguson confuses historicity and genre even more seriously in his recent post. 

III. Do the Gospels belong to the same Genre as the Contest of Hesiod and Homer?  

As I said in my first post, I think Ferguson conflates the questions of genre with historicity.  I tried to put this in a polite way, by means of a good deal of circumlocution: 

"Historical" can mean two things: (1) belonging to a specific genre, the genre of historical narratives, or (2) historically accurate, baring truthful content about the past.  The danger in Ferguson's wording here seems to be equivocation, confusing these two meanings of the term.  He does not overtly commit this error, but it seems to lie latent throughout his argument, and must be deliberately avoided."

* The odd thing in Ferguson's rather offended response is that he seems to argue that (a) no, he does not commit equivocation (actually I did not accuse him of doing so); (b) but I do; (c) it should be clear that he was really talking about historicity, because after writing about several ancient works that belong to the historical genre, he then brought in a few biographies; (d) however, I am confused to conflate his pure genre criticism when it comes to The Contest of Hesiod and Homer, with arguments about historicity! 

Readers may read the posts I originally responded to, and Ferguson's rebuttal to my arguments, and judge for themselves whether Ferguson is talking mainly about genre, or about historicity, or now one, now the other, mixing the two together and conflating them. 

* But again, historicity is what matters to me most, and I suspect to most people: genre is of secondary importance.  It is clear from his posts that Ferguson does think his comparisons bear on the historicity of the gospels, and that that matters to him, too.

* Consider, for example, Ferguson's arguments that the Gospels share many characteristics of the same genre with The Contest of Hesiod and Homer.  

What does the word "genre" mean?  Funk and Wagnall define the word, in part, as follows: 

"A particular sort, kind, or category, especially a category of art or literature characterized by a certain form, style, or subject matter."  

Now observe how Ferguson compares the Gospels to the Contest: 

"If the Gospels are not like the historical biographies of Plutarch and Suetonius, is there a better parallel within the genre of Greco-Roman biography for what they are like?  In my essay 'The Certamen of Homer and Hesiod and the Gospels: Some Comparanda,' I compare the Gospels to the more popular and legendary form, using the example of the Certamen of Homer and Hesiod, which is a kind of dual biography about the epic poets Homer and Hesiod."  

Notice the word "legendary" here, which I have underlined.  It is clear that Ferguson means to mark the gospels as less reliable than some other set of biographies.  (While I argue that the Gospels show much stronger marks of credibility.)  

Now observe how Ferguson actually does compare the Gospels to The Contest (Let's add some numbers to make it easier to keep tract of the alleged points of comparison): 

" . . .their main similarity is based around their language, structure, and storytelling conventions.   These are the kinds of considerations relevant to the genre of a narrative, not necessarily its content.

"The similarities in genre . . . include the fact that (1) the Certamen was an 'open text,' which was redacted through multiple stages of composition . . . (2) they largely circulated anonymously . . .(3)  the language and structure of these 'open texts' are likewise far more simple and fluid.  (4) They include far less analytical elements and (5) are written to a more general audience.  (6) The main emphasis of the text is likewise on stage-setting and scripting, (7) with the biographical elements more at the periphery of the narrative . . . (8) The Certamen scripts Homer and Hesiod to deliver certain lines of poetry, not unlike how the Gospels script Jesus to deliver parables and sermons .  . "

Some of these assertions are, I think, simply mistaken.  Clearly, the "biographical" element in the Gospels takes center stage.  The Gospels are focused on the final days of Jesus, which is not at all true of The Contest.  It is absurd to claim the narrative of Jesus life lies at the "periphery" of the Gospels.  

It is also a little bizarre to say two works are alike, because a poet in one delivers lines of poetry (from works well-known from other sources), while in the other, a teacher teaches (from sermons known originally from nowhere else!).  That a biographer records what is famous about his subject is hardly what one can call a "coincidence:" that is the essence of the biographer's art.  (Thus, shockingly, accounts of Socrates' life "script" him doing public philosophy!   Just so biography of Alexander the Great "scripts" him fighting battles!)   

But the funny thing is, many of the characteristics that the two bodies of work allegedly share, have little to do with the core meaning of the word "genre:"  ". . . characterized by a certain form, style, or subject matter."  (1) How a work was (allegedly) redacted -- a story NT scholars debate, anyway -- does not bear directly on the form, style, or subject matter of a work.  (2) Neither does whether it was written anonymously or with the name of the author on its first page.  The name of a book's author has nothing to do with its genre.  (3) Simplicity of language bears on style, perhaps, but is not usually important in defining genre.  For instance, some ancient novels are complex and sophisticated in language, others crude and rather gauche.  That doesn't prevent them from all being recognized as novels.  (5) Audience is also not generally part of the definition of genre, certainly not according to Funk and Wagnall.  (6) and (7), as we have seen, are simply mistaken.  (8) Poetry does not belong to the same genre as sermons or parables.  

In other words, not a single one of these alleged parallels is both clearly true and clearly bears on genre -- even if that were what we cared about.    

Ferguson has not clearly started with a coherent definition of "genre," with a set number of traits, then compared these works on each characteristic objectively.   Rather, his argument seems to involve the subjective, loose, rather uncritical picking of cherries from a tree of undetermined shape and fecundity.  What these works share in common seems trivial, and not particularly important in marking genre, still less historicity.

In fact, as I showed in my previous post, there is no reason to believe anything like the events in "The Contest" ever occurred at all.   I doubt Mr. Ferguson disagrees.  By contrast, there are dozens of reasons to think that the gospels are largely historical accounts, and attempts to find parallels to them only throw their uniqueness and historical credibility into deeper relief.  

Again, my purpose is not to deride Matthew Ferguson.  C. S. Lewis wrote more than 70 years ago, about how secular "Jesus theories" succeed one another with the "restless fertility of bewilderment."  The novel hypotheses posited by the likes of the Jesus Seminar, Bart Ehrman, Richard Carrier, and Matthew Ferguson, are evidence that that bewilderment, recognized or not, has yet to abate.