Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Instant obituaries

Joan Sutherland died on Sunday. I read a couple of fairly detailed, overnight obituaries. And this is typical. When a celebrity dies, we are treated to instant obituaries which detail the childhood, career, and retirement years of the celebrity (unless they died young). Cradle to grave, along with the intervening high points and low points.

How do we account for such rapid turnaround time between the death of a celebrity and the publication of a detailed obituary?

Well, I don’t write for a newspaper, so I can’t say for sure, but I think the explanation is fairly obvious: these obituaries were written years before the celebrity died. They may have been updated from time to time, but they’ve been sitting on ice until the celebrity dies. At that point the only thing to add are the immediate circumstances surrounding the death of the celebrity.

And I say that to say this: liberals and outright unbelievers usually dismiss the reliability of the gospels on the grounds that these were allegedly written decades after the fact. Now, even if that were true, that wouldn’t make them unreliable. Lots of us remember many things perfectly well that happened when we were young.

But I want to make a different point: when a biography was published doesn’t really tell you much about when it was written.

Back to my illustration. A music critic may be assigned to write an obituary for a diva. He’s given that task because he’s been writing about her for years. He’s written reviews of her performances. Written about her childhood. Her rise to fame. Maybe he’s interviewed her. He’s also kept tabs on her retirement.

In writing her obituary, he doesn’t start from scratch. Rather, he draws on many preexisting sources of information, including his own research.

And I expect he writes an obituary years before the diva dies. He keeps his draft obituary on file so that he can send it in as soon as she dies, at his editor’s request. He may update it now and then. And when she dies, he will update one more time, by adding a little something about the circumstances of her death. That new material will be tacked on to older, preexisting material. Just a little ad-on to bring it up to the present. He doesn’t revise the whole thing.

So even though the final edition of the obituary was written years after many of the events it relays, much of it was written long before she died. Or else it incorporates sources which were written long before she died.

And that’s something to consider when we consider gospel criticism.

35 comments:

  1. The opening of Luke's gospel refers to many accounts already in circulation. The notion of gospel authors trying to remember or piece together events from a few or several decades earlier, without much effort at preservation having been made before then, isn't accurate. Not only were there early attempts at preserving information, but there were even "many" of them (Luke 1:1-3). Whichever gospel author wrote first didn't have a blank slate or even anything close to a blank slate. He would largely have been repeating what was already widely known.

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  2. Absolutely "on point".

    The objection to the veracity of the Gospels is that they "were written" years / decades after "the fact" contains the inference that human memories are faulty and repeated re-tellings had added the taint of embellishment.

    What's more the predominant struggle of the post-Nicene church was the adjudication of the numerous candidate documents for inclusion in the NT canon. It's not like the Church suffered for lack of testimony.

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  3. Very perspicacious!

    It was so then. It is so today.

    Human inclinations have not changed one bit with this regard.

    I recall being asked to come see Alexander Haig some years ago.

    I flew into Reagan, then Washington National. I was met at the door and brought to his office suite for a 2 o'clock meeting.

    I arrived 10 minutes ahead and was brought to a conference room. About 10 after his son Alex P. walks in offering me a soda or coffee and an explanation.

    There was a frontline crew in Haig's office interviewing him and his son thought it wouldn't be much more time before he was done with that interview.

    About 10 more minutes goes by and the General comes into the room.

    First impressions sometimes leave lasting impressions. I had never met the man personally until then so all I could go by was photos and T.V. spots either live, as when Reagan was shot or canned when watching an interview he was involved in on CNN, Fox or PBS. I thought him to be a bit taller than he was. I am taller than he and he smokes, yuck!

    His answer to the delay was he was being interviewed for a retrospect chronicling the late President Richard Nixon.

    Now Haig is gone and I suppose some camera crews, producers and directors are gaining momentum towards doing canned interviews of eyewitnesses of Haig at historical periods of his life, soon perhaps? I am sure someone is typing away at a word processor now, as I am, writing a biography or some nuanced story or two so the national record is complete? It will be interesting to read, watch and listen to the next chapter of his gospel according to them about him?? There has already been a lot of ink on him so one wonders what could be coming next?

    One should not imagine his gospel story being written to be told about him and his exploits to be anything close to His? :)

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  4. Early Christian mythography (in the form of "gospels", "acti apostolorum", or sayings collections) all registered within a specific modality vis-a-vis the broad array of other Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Syriac literary works. The generic and modal signals within the New Testament gospels inform and orient the ancient reader toward a mythographic aretology aimed at such outcomes as ethical and political gravitas, entertainment, and socio-religious propaganda (particularly in the wake of the 70 C.E. Jerusalem crisis). One finds a developmental trajectory from the earliest strata of Q, to the rhetorically potent, mythological embellishments of Mark, to their fusion and further embellishment in the compilations Matthew and Luke, concluding with a third creative work, i.e. John. We really do not have any surviving historiography or biography from earliest Christian prose (from the first 3 centuries of the common era). They are all mythographies. Jesus and the apostles are used as literary vehicles propped up in various compiled episodes, composed for their rhetorical performance articulating the socio-political and philosophical distinctions and contestations of these early subaltern movements and communities. For instance, to embroider Q with a mythic birth and then a postmortem raised ascension was to decorate the tale with the standard honorific embellishments granted to others said to have been demigods. Here one thinks of the virgin birth of such towering individuals in the Greek orient as Alexander the Great (Plutarch et al) and the road appearances of Romulus, Aristeas, Proteus, et al. I have an article appearing in JBL in the fourth quarter that more fully documents the primary accounts. Since the gospel authors continued this mode and genre into the subsequent centuries (Luke-Acts, btw, was not known by Papias and does not turn up until the mid second century, the actual time of its composition), it is unacceptable for the modern historian to assign the Gospels any serious value as accurate renditions of Jesus or his earliest movement. These texts, rather, inform us indirectly regarding the needs of subsequent generations as we see refracted within them the rhetorical-social propaganda of subsequent disparate communities. Without, for instance, Mark indicating that the missing body of the narrative's hero should be distinguished from the conventional protocol of hundreds of other prominent figures in classical literature, the ancient reader would have certainly read Mk 16:8 as a mythic salute to the narrative's protagonist. This plain conclusion has nothing to do with liberals or conservatives or believers or unbelievers. This is solely a matter of literary, historical critical analysis, requiring deep familiarity with the most cherished and common conventions of classical Mediterranean literature.

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  5. Richard wrote:

    "For instance, to embroider Q with a mythic birth and then a postmortem raised ascension was to decorate the tale with the standard honorific embellishments granted to others said to have been demigods."

    You've made a lot of claims without giving us much supporting evidence. Your view of the gospels' genre and the general historicity of the gospel accounts is widely contradicted by both the earliest Christian and the earliest non-Christian interpreters. The docetists acknowledge that Jesus appeared to live as the gospels describe, and their opponents respond under the assumption that He both appeared to so live and did so physically. Justin Martyr's response to Judaism assumes a historical reading of the gospels among both Jews and Christians. Etc. My article here discusses some of the relevant evidence and links to other articles that do the same. Chris Price has written about Luke and John in particular here and here.

    Your dating of Luke to the middle of the second century is ridiculous. Such a late dating is far from the best explanation for why the document would be included in gospel harmonies and treated as contemporary with the other gospels by such a diversity of second-century sources.

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  6. Hi Jason,

    Much of my logic above exists at a meta-level and, as such, did not probe some more detailed elements. This is, of course, a blog comment and not a treatise or monograph on the matter of genre, modality, and the NT Gospels. I am happy to engage in thoughtful dialogue with you and respond to your curiosities and questions.

    You initiate your response with a single sentence quotation from me, but appear not to address anything specifically indicated in that sentence. Perhaps I missed something. Did you have a specific question regarding the contents of the sentence? Your second sentence,

    “Your view of the gospels' genre and the general historicity of the gospel accounts is widely contradicted by both the earliest Christian and the earliest non-Christian interpreters.”

    will require primary textual evidence. Justin Martyr, for instance, admits to the proper modal / generic interpretation of the major contours (mythic birth, atonement, apotheosis / ascension) of the gospel narratives (1 Apol 21). He states that the prior writers had written “nothing new” (out ti kainon pheromen) in relation to other demigod narratives. His argument proceeds as follows. “We, O Romans, have produced myths and fables with our Jesus as you have done with your own heroes; so why are you killing us?” Having been raised in Samaria in the first century and writing in the first half of the second, Justin’s confession elucidates what for most disinterested historians is readily obvious. Justin knew what he could get away with in his treatise, and this was his strongest argument.

    Your assertion that there are docetic works that assume the historicity of the Gospels seems interesting to me, particularly since the very emergence of Docetism further demonstrates the literary freedom and elasticity of earliest Christian mythopoeic prose (e.g. Gos Phil, Acts Jn, Gos Pet, not to mention the plethora of other Coptic Nag Hammadi narratives and the Manichaean renditions of Jesus). May I suggest a book? G. Riley “One Jesus, Many Christs” will greatly inform your understanding the topic, imho. Please do share your primary references supporting this statement.

    Regarding the dating of Luke-Acts, you appear to be out of the loop regarding this discourse in SBL. The inclusion of elements of Luke in the Tatian’s Diatessaron does not indicate that Luke was written early. It merely indicates that Luke was valued by Tatian and, presumably, by Tatian’s community. Luke-Acts is the best written earliest Christian Greek narrative. So, to include the work proudly within his compilation makes plenty of sense.

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  7. Richard,

    I did cite evidence for my position. I linked you to articles I had written elsewhere at this blog, and I cited some of Chris Price's material. That's more than you offered in your initial post.

    Your appeal to "the literary freedom and elasticity of earliest Christian mythopoeic prose" reflected in docetism fails to interact with the point I made. Citing docetic departures from the Christian mainstream doesn't explain the areas of agreement between the two groups. I raised an area of agreement that you haven't addressed. And I was thinking more of the earliest docetists, like those Ignatius referred to, rather than the authors of later works like those you've cited.

    I'm familiar with the theme in Justin Martyr that you've mentioned. (I discussed Justin's argument from pagan parallels in an article I wrote a few years ago. See Excursus III in This Joyful Eastertide, found here.) You'll have to explain how Justin's argument allegedly undermines my position. Justin thought there were parallels to Christianity, often highly vague ones, in pagan sources, but he also thought there were parallels in other sources, like the Old Testament. He viewed those sources, the ones that were literary, as coming from a variety of genres. His appeal to such parallels doesn't tell us what genre he placed the gospels in, nor does it tell us what genre we should assign to the gospels. Parallels can come from a non-historical genre or one that's historical.

    Your comment about what Justin thought he could "get away with" is misleading. Justin's First Apology is framed largely in the context of defending persecuted Christians (First Apology, 2-4) and replying to the arguments that were most popular among non-Christians (5, 7, etc.). In that context, what Justin says is going to be determined largely by the priorities of his non-Christian audience. Showing that Christianity is similar to pagan beliefs in some ways had a lot of relevance to the context Justin was addressing. It doesn't follow that the appeal to pagan parallels was the best argument he could produce for Christianity. To the contrary, Justin refers to prophecy fulfillment as "the strongest and truest evidence" (30), and that theme of prophecy fulfillment is emphasized far more in his writings than the appeal to pagan parallels.

    In the same document you've quoted, Justin contrasts the historicity of gospel events and the non-historicity of some pagan accounts (First Apology, 20, 23). He sets a date for Jesus' life as portrayed in the gospels (46), and he appeals to corroboration from other sources (34), both of which are best explained by his reading the gospels as historical accounts. As I said above, one of the major themes of his writings is prophecy fulfillment, especially Messianic prophecy, and the mainstream Jewish expectation was that the prophecies would be fulfilled historically. Justin's appeal to fulfilled prophecy most naturally implies a highly historical reading of the gospels. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies by historically doing what the gospels describe. The early Christian argument from prophecy, which we see in many sources other than Justin as well, is built upon the foundation of the historicity of the gospel narratives. Similar to Justin, Tatian contrasts the historicity of gospel events and the non-historicity of pagan accounts (Address To The Greeks, 21). The many appeals to eyewitness testimony, hostile corroboration, and other evidential categories that we find in sources like Justin and Tatian make far more sense under a historical reading of the gospels than under a reading that sees the documents as belonging to some non-historical genre.

    (continued below)

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  8. (continued from above)

    Similar observations can be made about many other sources. Ignatius' response to the docetists involved an assertion that Jesus truly was born of a virgin, truly rose from the dead, etc. Those claims make the most sense if interpreted in a historical manner. Later in the second century, Celsus criticizes Christianity under the assumption of a highly historical reading of the gospels. He offers alternate historical explanations of gospel events (Mary conceived Jesus through sex with Panthera, the resurrection witnesses were deluded, etc.) rather than just appealing to the supposed non-historical genre of the documents. Similarly, Origen responds to Celsus in the third century under the assumption of a highly historical reading of the gospels.

    You write:

    "The inclusion of elements of Luke in the Tatian’s Diatessaron does not indicate that Luke was written early. It merely indicates that Luke was valued by Tatian and, presumably, by Tatian’s community. Luke-Acts is the best written earliest Christian Greek narrative. So, to include the work proudly within his compilation makes plenty of sense."

    I didn't just refer to Tatian's Diatessaron. I referred to gospel harmonies in general and second-century sources in general. Justin Martyr harmonizes Lukan material with material from the other gospels, as do other early sources who harmonized. The inclusion of Luke with three other documents that were considered works of the apostolic era is best explained by Luke's being viewed in a manner similar to how the other three documents were viewed. The inclusion of Luke on the grounds of being "best written" among "early Christian Greek narratives" is a weaker explanation. The gospels weren't viewed as a collection of best written Christian Greek narratives.

    Some sources of the second century and shortly afterward tell us why Luke was included with the other gospels. They tell us that it was an apostolic document, composed during the apostolic era. Nobody I'm aware of says it was included with the other gospels because it was "the best written earliest Christian Greek narrative". When there's such widespread agreement that Luke came from the first century, including among such a diversity of second-century sources, why should we think it came from the middle of the second century instead?

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  9. Hi Jason,

    Thank you for attempting to provide some primary literary evidence for some of your assertions. As a historian and literary scholar, I feel most comfortable dealing with the primary documents, particularly in their original languages. I would thus prefer if you would keep your primary references within this thread and use citations to set forth your points. Your work in this regard is much appreciated and has a higher potential for being engaging if not compelling.

    As I stated earlier, I am more than ready to provide proper references and support for all of my points. I simply cannot anticipate when and where you will have the greatest challenges either understanding or with your familiarity with the ancient literary domain. I did not enter the discussion to avoid any of your honest questions or criticisms. I love the topic and have studied and taught these topics my entire adult life.

    Anent your second paragraph, awareness of the obvious “literary freedom and elasticity of earliest Christian mythopoeic prose" quite directly addresses and fully undermines your claim that the docetists had understood early Christian literary production as being strictly or at all faithful to historical events. Ancient mimesis and paideia in literary tradition decidedly moved in continuity and imitatio with regard to literary modality and genre. The docetists kept the mythographic traditions of prior Christians alive by continuing to produce fabulae in prose narrative form. As for chronological relevance, both the Gospel of Peter and the Acts of John date to the second century. I am, however, still curious to see what Docetic document or text you proffer in support of your claim that earliest Christians variously agreed that the Gospels were historically faithful documents.

    Let’s first address these matters. Then we shall move on to Justin and the dating of Luke-Acts. Does that sound reasonable? The several threads are pulling the discussion in incoherent directions and tending to obfuscate rather than clarify and advance the discussion.

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  10. Richard,

    If you want us to accept your claims on the basis of your background as a scholar, then you should tell us who you are. A scholarly background does add to a person's credibility, but so far you've only identified yourself as Richard. You're free to use whatever screen name you want, or to avoid identifying yourself further, but you can't expect us to assign more credibility to your claims on the basis of your identity if you don't tell us more about who you are.

    You said that you want clarity. I think it would be appropriate, then, to avoid terms like "mimesis" and "imitatio". Some readers will know what you mean, but it makes more sense to write for a wider audience.

    Regarding docetism, I referred earlier to Ignatius' response to their claims. What I had in mind was material like the passages in his letter to the Smyrnaeans where he refers to how Jesus "truly" lived as the gospels describe rather than just "seeming" to (1-2). As Ignatius points out elsewhere (Letter To The Trallians, 10), the same thing the docetists said of Jesus could be said of them. They only seem to exist. Thus, there was an acknowledgement that Jesus had the appearance of being born, being crucified, etc., but a denial that such things physically occurred. Similarly, as Ignatius notes, one could claim that the docetists only appear to exist. Christians and docetists agreed that there was an appearance that needed to be explained. They disagreed about how to explain it. Ignatius places things like Jesus' virgin birth and resurrection in the same category as His Davidic descent and crucifixion under Pilate (Letter To The Trallians, 9), as events that "truly" occurred. As even some of the most radical critics of Christianity admit, sources like Josephus and Tacitus reliably tell us that Jesus was executed under Pilate as an actual event of history. If Ignatius places events like the virgin birth and resurrection in the same category, and his docetic opponents acknowledge that such events appeared to occur, then those are some significant lines of evidence for how early Christianity was viewed and how accounts like those in the gospels were interpreted.

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  11. Hi Jason,

    I did not think that Evangelical apologists acknowledge credentials, except of course those of their own camp. I tell you what. How about we just keep this to a first name basis and allow the quality of our philology to persuade those prepared to study along with our discussion? I do think, however, that our readers have a right to know our individual orientations toward the discussion. In my case, I am an academic and, thus, strive never to allow any of my personal religious sentiments to sway, shape, or direct my research or logic. To me, this is the only way to avoid the conflicts of interest and intellectual dishonesty that so often delude those who approach the complex matters of sacred history and literature. I shall allow you to describe your own vocation in this dialogue. To be frank, I rarely engage apologists because I have found that our objectives, methods, and manner are so very different that such discussions rarely achieve mutual benefit, unlike with my academic colleagues. Most modern “apologists” come to the discussion with the uncanny advantage of knowing the answers before they even know the questions. Remarkable~!

    As for use of technical language and terms, I shall address you and not a supposed readership. Please ask me to clarify any terms you find unusual or foreign. This does not necessarily reflect upon you as being incompetent or ignorant of the subject matter. Each scholar develops her or his own technical language for the sake of methodological sophistication and accuracy.

    Moving on to the matter of how the earliest Christian writers understood the literary mode of the Gospels, whether fictive or historically faithful, first let us note that in none of your references to the letters of Ignatius does Ignatius even mention or quote from the Gospels. Ignatius, bearing Paul’s legacy, shows very little interest in the historical Jesus, rarely quoting or even interacting with his literary person. Paul, you may notice, makes no mention of Jesus’ miracles throughout his letters (apotheosis aside). Isn’t that peculiar, particularly since he and Q are our earliest witnesses? Q, by the way, includes only the most modest miracles, stories more subjective and common to the Near East (healings and exorcisms). This is simply to point out the inchoate strata in the developmental trajectory of Jesus’ mythologization in earliest Christian literature and communities, but we digress.

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  12. To set a proper backdrop to the matter of the palpability of Jesus’ body in early Christian polemic, one must be aware of the broader philosophical arena with which early Christian thinkers engage. The Stoics and Middle Platonists had already been fussing over the materiality of the body, particularly with regard to divine figures and with regard to postmortem existence. The body/soul dualism established by Plato and dominating the subsequent platonic schools of Mediterranean philosophy saw the body as essentially corrupt and a hindrance to achieving transcendental noetic liberation. It was this basic principle that enabled Plato’s Socrates to face his ascetic death with certitude as he drank the martyr’s hemlock. These ideas were center-stage to all major philosophical debate in the classical and late ancient Mediterranean world and fundamental to early Christian asceticism and martyrdom. The earliest Christians enter this arena, staking out their own philosophical position through the use of mythography or storytelling. Jesus thus became the literary vehicle articulating the various responses of disparate early Christian communities. Have you yet noticed, Jason, the shocking lack of interest in supporting or defending the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection in the first 2 centuries? Instead the discussion runs almost immediately toward the aforesaid philosophical fray (e.g. Justin, de Resurrectione; the Coptic Treatise on the Resurrection). The Johannine School and the Thomas School were quite evidently in fierce polemic over these matters (cf. Riley again, Resurrection Reconsidered). Not only is there a gaping lack of support (only conspicuous vis-à-vis the historical claims of modern Christianity, mind you) provided for the historicity of the resurrection—indeed which martyr makes any mention of such a conviction in her or his dying testimony in early Christian prose?—but the topic receives such negligence as to be rendered irrelevant. The earliest writers make no visible effort to distinguish their tales from analogous stories and motifs recurring in the broader classical literary domain, except perhaps in terms of quality or degree of significance, never in terms of veracity or generics. Instead one finds a caustic polemic over the nature of divine and raised bodies.

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  13. Now, turning our attention to Ign. Smyrn. 1-2 and Trall. 10, within this context one finds the same dynamics. Modern readers tend to interrogate such texts, demanding that the real, historical Jesus step forward. Ignatius has no such interest. Both the docetists and non-docetists signify their own literature and storytelling in support of their signature socio-philosophical claims, the very metanarrative or subtext behind their literary works. Neither group appears interested in demonstrating or proving the historical veracity of their respective literatures. Ingatius’s use of alhthws (rendered “truly” or “verily”) instead speaks of the philosophical integrity or certitude underpinning specific points. If I tell you that Neo truly flew into the air with amazing speed once he knew he was “the one”, have I said anything about the historicity of the Matrix? Setting aside Ignatius, I am convinced that the historical Palestinian man Jesus was actually executed in the first century of the Common Era. Ignatius, however, was interested in philosophy and not history, for it is philosophy that underpins asceticism and martyrdom in antiquity, not confident proofs regarding history (cf. 4 Macc for early Jewish analogues regarding philosophy, martyrdom, and “death for sins” rhetoric). In short, it was not ignatius’s intent or effort to comment on the historicity of the Gospels, Jesus, or any prior event for that matter. He merely sought to address the philosophical matter of semblance vs palpability of his hero’s body. Whether fictive or historical is not at issue, much less any discussion of the historical fidelity of what we now have come to know as the New Testament Gospels. I have yet to see, moreover, how what you have presented addresses the matter of docetists and non-docetists agreeing on any historical matter whatsoever. They could quite as easily be fighting over literary renditions and storytelling, which is in fact my position. After all, these were the rhetorical signals delineating earliest Christian social formation. Otherwise, the earliest writers would be forever constructing historical arguments about the veracity of historical claims. That simply is not the case. Perhaps there are more passages that you have yet to introduce to the discussion. People often speak of fictive stories with vivid language as though real, even now. The only candid, direct discussion of the modality of early Christian stories of Jesus’ birth, miracles, death, and resurrection to my knowledge is that given by Justin in the passage we shall next address (i.e. 1 Apol 21). There, his question is precisely our question, i.e. Was there ever meant to be any generic or modal semiotic distinction between these stories and specific analogues in classical literature and culture?

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  14. Richard wrote:

    "I did not think that Evangelical apologists acknowledge credentials, except of course those of their own camp."

    I don't know why you'd reach such an inaccurate conclusion. Evangelical apologists frequently rely on and cite the work of New Testament scholars, archeologists, translators, and other scholars whose theology they don't know or whose theology they know to be something other than their own. It's not as though they only accept the archeological discoveries of Evangelicals or only use Bible translations produced entirely by Evangelicals, for example. What about the widespread Evangelical use of hostile corroboration from non-Christian scholars (Bart Ehrman, Gerd Ludemann, etc.)?

    You wrote:

    "How about we just keep this to a first name basis and allow the quality of our philology to persuade those prepared to study along with our discussion?"

    I don't know why you wouldn't want to tell us more about who you are. As I noted earlier, you've been making a lot of claims for which you've offered little or no support. If you aren't offering that support, and you aren't giving us reason to trust you by telling us more about who you are, then why are we supposed to accept the unsupported claims you've been making?

    You wrote:

    "Moving on to the matter of how the earliest Christian writers understood the literary mode of the Gospels, whether fictive or historically faithful, first let us note that in none of your references to the letters of Ignatius does Ignatius even mention or quote from the Gospels."

    He doesn't have to do so in order for his comments to be relevant. If he refers to gospel events as historical, then the historical genre of the gospels is more likely. If a document narrates events that were perceived as historical, then the document's historical genre is rendered more likely.

    (continued below)

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  15. (continued from above)

    You wrote:

    "Ignatius, bearing Paul’s legacy, shows very little interest in the historical Jesus, rarely quoting or even interacting with his literary person. Paul, you may notice, makes no mention of Jesus’ miracles throughout his letters (apotheosis aside). Isn’t that peculiar, particularly since he and Q are our earliest witnesses? Q, by the way, includes only the most modest miracles, stories more subjective and common to the Near East (healings and exorcisms)."

    Paul and Ignatius were writing letters, not biographies, and they were writing to people who were already Christians. You'll have to explain where we should expect them to mention the other miracles you're referring to.

    And you'll have to explain the alleged significance of no mention of such miracles in Paul and Ignatius. If some healings and exorcisms were already part of Christian tradition, as reflected in Q, then the silence of Paul and Ignatius doesn't suggest that such miracles were unknown. By the time Ignatius writes, the miracles would have been mentioned in multiple gospels and in early Jewish responses to Christianity. Other sources around the same time (Quadratus, The Epistle Of Barnabas) mention Jesus' performance of miracles. What is the silence of Ignatius supposed to prove?

    You wrote:

    "Have you yet noticed, Jason, the shocking lack of interest in supporting or defending the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection in the first 2 centuries?"

    No, because there was no "shocking lack". Since the resurrection is one line of evidence for Christianity among others, I would expect early arguments for Christianity to be diverse. I'd also expect early Christian arguments to be determined largely by the arguments their opponents were using, as I mentioned above with regard to Justin Martyr. 1 Corinthians, the gospels, and other early sources present eyewitness testimony and historical narratives in support of the resurrection. The highest church office, that of apostle, required its holders to have seen the risen Christ. The early Christian emphasis on the authority of the apostles was an indirect appeal to one of the most significant lines of evidence for the resurrection (the testimony of witnesses). The prominence of churches like Rome, Smyrna, and Ephesus in the second century was due largely to their historical contact with one or more of the apostles. The early authority structure of the church was built around the evidential concept of historical witnesses, and the resurrection was part of what they were witnessing to.

    (continued below)

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  16. (continued from above)

    You wrote:

    "Instead the discussion runs almost immediately toward the aforesaid philosophical fray (e.g. Justin, de Resurrectione; the Coptic Treatise on the Resurrection)."

    Documents like 1 Corinthians and the gospels predate the sources you're citing. Justin frequently appeals to the testimony of the gospels, which refer to historical witnesses to the resurrection rather than taking a more philosophical approach. Philosophy had to be addressed, since many philosophical objections were being raised, but the historical argument for the resurrection came first, and the philosophical arguments were accompanied by historical ones. The two aren't mutually exclusive.

    I don't know what material of Justin Martyr you have in mind. Are you claiming that On The Resurrection was written by him? If so, why? Paul Parvis rejects its attribution to Justin and comments that only a minority of scholars accept the attribution (in Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, edd., Justin Martyr And His Worlds [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2007], pp. xiv-xv).

    You wrote:

    "Not only is there a gaping lack of support (only conspicuous vis-à-vis the historical claims of modern Christianity, mind you) provided for the historicity of the resurrection—indeed which martyr makes any mention of such a conviction in her or his dying testimony in early Christian prose?—but the topic receives such negligence as to be rendered irrelevant."

    You keep making unreasonable demands. Why would there need to be "dying testimony in early Christian prose"? Christianity, like other belief systems, has multiple beliefs that are considered foundational by its adherents. Followers of those systems don't cite every one of those foundational beliefs when they're dying and arrange to have that testimony preserved in "early prose".

    The resurrection was considered one foundational belief among others (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 15:17). The early Christians suffered and died for a series of beliefs. The resurrection was one of them, but not the only one.

    (continued below)

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  17. (continued from above)

    You wrote:

    "The earliest writers make no visible effort to distinguish their tales from analogous stories and motifs recurring in the broader classical literary domain, except perhaps in terms of quality or degree of significance, never in terms of veracity or generics."

    I've already demonstrated that claim to be false with regard to Justin Martyr and Tatian. The New Testament appeal to historical witnesses would distinguish the Christian claim from accounts that made no such appeal. The Judaism that Christianity came from believed in the falsity of competing belief systems, and the New Testament authors frequently refer to the erroneous nature of pagan religions, the nonexistence of pagan gods, etc. Their claims of historical evidence for prophecy fulfillment, Jesus' resurrection, etc., accompanied by references to the falsity of other religions, assumes that they didn't think other religions had comparable or better evidence. The Judaism that Christianity came out of repeatedly appeals to such evidential differences (e.g., Isaiah 46:5-11). The same sort of reasoning carried over into the New Testament and patristic Christianity.

    You wrote:

    "Both the docetists and non-docetists signify their own literature and storytelling in support of their signature socio-philosophical claims, the very metanarrative or subtext behind their literary works. Neither group appears interested in demonstrating or proving the historical veracity of their respective literatures."

    You're making a lot of assertions that you don't even attempt to support. How do you know what the literature of Ignatius' opponents was in the early second century? In the passages I quoted, the issue isn't the veracity of literature, but rather the nature of events. Did the events occur physically or only have an appearance of happening physically?

    Ignatius is writing letters to Christians on his way to martyrdom. He's not writing treatises on docetism. He refers to the docetists briefly, in addition to discussing other issues. To expect him to show "interest in demonstrating or proving the historical veracity of his literature" in such a context is unreasonable. You keep making these irrational demands of early Christian sources, then you act as though their failure (or alleged failure) to meet those demands is problematic. Instead, the problem is with your irrational demand.

    (continued below)

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  18. (continued from above)

    You wrote:

    "If I tell you that Neo truly flew into the air with amazing speed once he knew he was 'the one', have I said anything about the historicity of the Matrix?"

    Your analogy isn't analogous. The "truly" in your example above is qualified by our knowledge that The Matrix is fiction. Without that knowledge, do we begin with a default assumption that something said to occur "truly" only occurred within a fictional story? No, we don't. What you're doing is adding a qualifier to Ignatius' comments that he neither states nor implies.

    Replace your reference to The Matrix with a reference to Jesus' crucifixion under Pilate. Since we accept the crucifixion as historical, a reference to how Jesus was "truly" crucified under Pilate is most naturally taken as a reference to a historical event. As I've documented, Ignatius accompanies his reference to how Jesus was truly crucified under Pilate with references to how He was truly born of a virgin, resurrected, etc. To add the qualifier "in a fictional story", as if Ignatius is saying that such things truly occurred within fiction, is a less natural way of reading the text and, therefore, less likely.

    You wrote:

    "Ignatius, however, was interested in philosophy and not history, for it is philosophy that underpins asceticism and martyrdom in antiquity, not confident proofs regarding history (cf. 4 Macc for early Jewish analogues regarding philosophy, martyrdom, and 'death for sins' rhetoric)."

    A person can be interested in both philosophy and history. They aren't mutually exclusive. And nothing requires all martyrs in antiquity to die for the same reason.

    (continued below)

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  19. (continued from above)

    As I explained above, Jewish concepts like a coming Messiah and prophecy fulfillment involved historical events. If making up a fictional story was sufficient, there would have been no need to wait for the Messiah (or for Jesus' second coming). You could just make up a story. Ignatius repeatedly makes reference to the timing of Jesus' coming, historical figures, and other historical markers (Letter To The Ephesians, 11; Letter To The Smyrnaeans, 1-2; etc.). He refers, for example, to the resurrection of Jesus, "which took place in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate" (Letter To The Magnesians, 11). Your claim that Ignatius wasn't interested in history is false.

    Similarly, a contemporary of Ignatius writes:

    "But the works of our Saviour were always present, for they were genuine:— those that were healed, and those that were raised from the dead, who were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were also always present; and not merely while the Saviour was on earth, but also after his death, they were alive for quite a while, so that some of them lived even to our day." (Quadratus, in Eusebius, Church History, 4:3)

    Again, we see interest in history, evidence, and miracles. The accompanying interest in philosophy supplements the other interests rather than replacing them.

    Similarly, Irenaeus refers to the eyewitness testimony of historical witnesses:

    "I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse— his going out, too, and his coming in— his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received information from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures." (Fragments, 2)

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  20. Jason,

    You appear to be dishonoring my request that we keep the discussion to bite-size topics and not allow it to turn into a gatling gun response gallery. This gives the illusion that you are a formidible discourse partner without your ever actually needing to demonstrate that you can work through a topic or issue with me. You see we already had 5 threads going.... now its up to over 20. Do you have an objective? Because once I respond properly to your 20 issues, then you will respond with 60 more and the threads will perpetually grow in an irresponsibly exponential fashion.

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  21. I shall respond this evening only to the first of your latest entries. First, Ehrman and Ludemann are not strong academic scholars as most understand the vocation. These are loosely within a bundle of individuals that I refer to as "scarecrows", i.e. pop-scholars that Evangelics like to pin up as strawmen opponents rather than doing the real work of engaging individuals like Adella Collins or John Collins or Harold Attridge or Bentley Layton (all Yale academicians and former teachers of mine). J. J. Collins, for instance, site-reads something like 11 languages, Charlesworth 18. I personally read 12 languages, most ancient and teach classical Greek here at the university. No, Evangelicals rarely care much about credentials; just as you are exemplifying, they tend to possess little respect for those well trained unless, of course, that train somehow falls into the service of supporting the signatures claims of their socio-religious group. That is my experience. I have read over some of your other threads here. You typically do not engage those who post on triablogue with genuine admiration and respect. You instead try to shut them down with the typical tricks of the trade. I do not post my name here because I frankly do not want it associated with this blog. No offense. It is just a fragile world and I typically select my dialogue partners with great care. This, rather, is my effort to give back to the community, though at some personal hazard.

    I am insulted that you feel that I expect you to trust anything I have said or that I am delinquent in furnishing proper citations and support for my positions. I am not. I could not have succeed as an academic by conducting myself in such a fashion. I am sure you know that, that is if you have any formal training outside of mere seminaries. You ought instead to believe the best about my ability to handle this discussion. Do you think what I have written thus far are the musings of an amateur?? So, why treat them as such? As I stated quite explicitly, all you ever need to do is ask for primary support or footnotes for a particular point, and I shall happily and respectfully oblige. Instead of asking, you repeat this same accusation, a tacit expression of disrespect for me as your guest. Are you aware that this is how you would likely be perceived based upon those social actions?

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  22. Then your final point is, for me, quite weak. Ignatius does not refer to anything as being historical. He merely indicates what is established in his Christian narrative. Namely that the Jesus as a figure was not to be perceived as merely being a semblance. Many ancients spoke of Odyssues and his voyages and expoits in the Odyssey as though he were an historical figure or as though these stories were literal. That does not suggest that he was or that he was truly perceived as historical, as it were. That merely means that these stories lived in the minds of those to retold them. To apply another analogy, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Davy Crocket all existed in real North American history. Yet when most people mention or think of these emblems of American folktale, the refer not to the actual mundane persons, but to those images produced within the culture, Hollywood renditions and rentions in art, comic books, and literature. The actual historical persons are all but irrelevant to most everyone, as evidenced by the very loose depictions produced by these individuals. They have become owned by a cultures and, as such, are no longer tightly tethered to their original, mundane personae. Given the prolific, characteristically whimsical depictions of Jesus, the Apostles, and Saints in early Christian narrative, not to mention Ignatius's own apparent lack of interest in recovering or preserving historically faithful data regarding Jesus et al, the philologist can safely assume that the nomen "Jesus" for ignatius and his treatments of him are far removed from the actual latrine using, skinny Palestinian peasant of a century prior. He shows not interest in knowing Jesus in such a way. His "Jesus", as that of Paul on most occassions, was that folkhero that avatar of his movement, a myth really quite divorced from any mundane flesh and blood person or any need to comprehend such a person. So, when he parrots the common, banner language of the earliest creeds "suffered under Pilate...." we can safely assume, without his prividing any specific elaboration, that he has in view the constructed Jesus of his own community and not any authentic comprehension of the itinerate peasant from Galilee. As I had, at least in my view, made quite clear, the metanarrative or purpose of Ignatius discussing Jesus in the passages that you selected was not to make any assertion regarding history, but to rally his reader around these creedal affirmations and what he understands to be the proper philosophical disposition over and against his opponents. Ignatius shows no interest in erecting an historical argument (you know, requiring witnesses, proofs, historical evidence, etc.). He has no such designs because the matter is altogether on another footing against the grain of such considerations. So, he merely refers to the storyline.

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  23. you see, an entire block out of my last repsonse got eaten up when I tries to post it to the editor. I shall ask you one last time to keep the dialog to a back and forth discussion addressing manageable content with each exchange.

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  24. what survives above merely addresses the final point of your first responding post above. As for my anonymity, that is my choice. I do not need you to take me at my word or as an authority beyond my (hopefully) obvious dexterity in handling the topic. That can speak for itself. I merely ask that you assume the best about me in terms of my fidelity toward honoring the academic policies of providing proper primary support for my claims. Simply because you read a comment of mine and feel it is unsupported, that does not indicate that I am trying to pull something or lack the ability or knowledge to provide a proper footnote. It merely means that I am unaware of when and to what extent you may require such support. In other words, I am honoring your potential ability to run with the discussion without needing a full explanation of my every term or allusion. Whenever you do, then simply ask. You do not need to say (as you have) that my ideas are "ridiculous" or "lack support". You can simply and cordially ask. I suppose this is where the apologist and I are on very different planets. I believe in mutually beneficial discourse where everyone is intelligent, has something to offer, and has something to learn. Whereas the apologist often only wants a spectacle, a dogfight aimed at demonstrating the viability of the signature claims of his socio-religious group. That is why I have chosen to exclude Evangelicals from my academic dialogues. Such loaded intentions typically skew the discussion so pathetically that they end up resulting in hostility, social abuse, and obfuscation of the central issues. I hope, Jason, that you can surprise me by conducting yourself as a gentlemen, thus disturbing my stereotype, should you find it offense or unfair.

    I shall address your points little by little over the next several days as time permits. I have been rather saddened, I must admit, by your seeming lack of congeniality in the discussion. I understand that you disagree with me thus far, but you seem to go further in imagining that my positions are obsurd or grossly misusing the data. Do you really think that is the case? Do you see how my being in dialogue with such an individual immediately downgrades the quality of the discussion?

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  25. Richard,

    You came here with a post that brought up some topics that hadn't yet been discussed in this thread. You then went on to make comments about other subjects that hadn't previously been mentioned (whether Paul discusses particular miracles of Jesus in his letters, the content of Q, etc.). You're not in much of a position to object to my supposedly raising too many issues.

    Changing your analogy from The Matrix to "emblems of American folktale" doesn't address the problems with such analogies that I discussed above. As I said, we don't begin with a default assumption that a person is discussing fiction when he refers to something that "truly" happened and makes references to Pontius Pilate, Herod, the fulfillment of prophecies, and other historical entities. The fact that people sometimes include historical material in a fictional genre doesn't prove that we should begin with a default assumption that fiction is being discussed. The presence of fiction along with the historical references has to be proved, not just assumed.

    If a soldier in Iraq writes a letter to his mother, and he mentions the United States president briefly in that letter, we don't expect him to present a historical argument for the president's existence and actions. I've already explained why your demand that Ignatius argue in such a manner in his letters doesn't make sense. You aren't interacting with what I said.

    (continued below)

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  26. (continued from above)

    You write:

    "To apply another analogy, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Davy Crocket all existed in real North American history. Yet when most people mention or think of these emblems of American folktale, the refer not to the actual mundane persons, but to those images produced within the culture, Hollywood renditions and rentions in art, comic books, and literature. The actual historical persons are all but irrelevant to most everyone, as evidenced by the very loose depictions produced by these individuals."

    You've failed to demonstrate that sources like Ignatius are analogous. You just assert it without demonstrating it.

    And your analogy is problematic for your position. The same American culture that allows for fictional accounts of some historical figures also spends time, money, and other resources to study what is and isn't historical about those figures, to have their history taught in our school system, to publish books about what's historical, etc. We distinguish between a book published by a professor of history and "Hollywood renditions" and "comic books". The existence of movies and comic books doesn't prevent you and others from discerning who the historical figure was. You don't place the history professor's book in the same category as a movie or comic book just because they exist together in the same time and place. Similarly, your reference to the existence of other views of Jesus and other literature in the early Christian era doesn't address the evidence I've cited that distinguishes the gospels from other sources.

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  27. Richard,

    Two of your posts went into Blogger's spam folder, which is something we don't have control over. I've moved them out of that folder, and they've now appeared above. I'm going to respond to those posts now, since I didn't see them until just now.

    You write:

    "First, Ehrman and Ludemann are not strong academic scholars as most understand the vocation. These are loosely within a bundle of individuals that I refer to as 'scarecrows', i.e. pop-scholars that Evangelics like to pin up as strawmen opponents rather than doing the real work of engaging individuals like Adella Collins or John Collins or Harold Attridge or Bentley Layton (all Yale academicians and former teachers of mine)."

    You're changing your argument. You initially said that Evangelical apologists don't "acknowledge credentials, except of course those of their own camp". But dismissing men like Ehrman and Ludemann as "not strong academic scholars as most understand the vocation" doesn't place them in the "camp" of Evangelicals.

    Furthermore, Evangelicals do acknowledge and cite the work of men like Collins and Attridge. To repeat some examples I mentioned above, do you think Evangelicals reject any archeological discovery made by a "strong academic scholar"? They reject all Bible translations, patristic scholarship, etc. done by "strong academic scholars"?

    Your initial claim was ridiculous, and your revised claim is still ridiculous.

    (continued below)

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  28. (continued from above)

    You write:

    "I do not post my name here because I frankly do not want it associated with this blog."

    Then you can't expect us to trust you based on your alleged credentials. And since you've offered so little evidence for the claims you've made, that means you've given us little reason to believe your assertions.

    You write:

    "As I stated quite explicitly, all you ever need to do is ask for primary support or footnotes for a particular point, and I shall happily and respectfully oblige. Instead of asking, you repeat this same accusation, a tacit expression of disrespect for me as your guest."

    I've repeatedly asked you why we should believe particular things you've said, and I've repeatedly argued against your position on particular points, both of which should tell you that I want you to try to support what you're asserting.

    You write:

    "You do not need to say (as you have) that my ideas are 'ridiculous' or 'lack support'. You can simply and cordially ask. I suppose this is where the apologist and I are on very different planets. I believe in mutually beneficial discourse where everyone is intelligent, has something to offer, and has something to learn."

    Your references to "Evangelical apologists" and your dismissing of scholars like Ehrman and Ludemann don't allow you much room to object to terms like "ridiculous" and "lack support". You go on to say that you've "chosen to exclude Evangelicals" from your "academic dialogues". You refer to respecting "everyone", then exclude Evangelicals and make comments about how an Evangelical apologist "often only wants a spectacle, a dogfight aimed at demonstrating the viability of the signature claims of his socio-religious group". You object to "social abuse", yet allow yourself to make highly negative comments about those you disagree with and "exclude" them.

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  29. I am more than capable of responding to each and every one of your rejoinders, and I am sure you are aware of that by now, but I do not find discussion with you for the aforesaid reasons, to be mutually edifying or on a proper footing. Best of luck to you.

    Richard

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  30. Richard wrote:

    “I am more than capable of responding to each and every one of your rejoinders, and I am sure you are aware of that by now”

    That depends on what you mean by “responding”. Do I think you can demonstrate your position and refute mine? No. Your position isn’t just wrong. It’s wrong to a large degree. It’s absurd. I’ll continue to demonstrate that fact, even if you want to leave the discussion. I think it will be beneficial to other people to see the absurdity of your position and the strength of the other side of the argument.

    I’m going to have a lot more to say here.

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  31. Richard wrote:

    “This alone should humble each of you, particularly when you realize how horrible disadvantaged you have been and ill informed by reading the English translations of documents compiled by others whom you have no reason to trust.”

    Why should we think we have “no reason to trust” people who translate documents? Did you trust the people who taught you the languages you know? If you go to a country whose language you don’t understand, do you think you have “no reason to trust” any translators who offer to help you? How do you get by in life if you don’t trust the work of others in fields in which you haven’t been highly educated? If there’s no reason to trust English translations, then why do scholars keep producing them and keep referring to how beneficial they think those translations will be to the readers? This seems to be another issue where you disagree with the vast majority of scholars, not just Evangelicals.

    You keep making comments like the ones quoted above, which reflect how poorly you’ve thought through even some of the most basic issues involved in discussions like this one. You may be highly knowledgeable in some relevant fields, but that knowledge can be largely wasted if you’re making bad judgments in other relevant contexts.

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  32. You win, Jason. You are far more familiar with this topic than I am, a genius really who has a brilliant grasp of classical antiquity. So, go on beating your chest. Your Evangelical friends can cheer that they will see another sunset with their faith claims still in tact, fully defended by their gladiator. :-)

    I shall not post again. Best wishes to you, champion.

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  33. Richard,

    I wanted to add two comments to this exchange you're having with Jason:

    1. I completed a degree at NYU in Religious Studies, but I wouldn't expect people to assume I have something intelligent to offer to a discussion by virtue of either this degree or what you perceive to be the appropriate and/or prevailing standards of discourse. In fact, as soon as it comes out of the bag that I believe in God and I'm willing to defend his existence with arguments out comes the ridicule and the disdain; no one cares that I have a degree. This is even before we get to the highly exclusive and apparently deeply offensive claims for the Resurrection.

    I don't know where I stand on the whole evolution/creationism debate, as I haven't analyzed the particular arguments in any detail whatsoever. But just imagine if I went over to Richard Dawkins' website and asked people to engage in respectful dialogue on my belief that creationism is true because I have a degree from NYU and/or proper dialogue requires that my opponents treat my views with decency. I would be laughed off the site--not just my ideas, but my very person. Your expectations of dialogue might need to be revised.

    All that said, I don't think Jason has engaged in ridicule and disdain. He has perhaps one of the most irenic dispositions of any blogger writing on these issues as you'll find. There is a serious difference between calling an idea ridiculous (and I've put forth my fair share of ridiculous ideas in the past, deserving to be called ridiculous), and identifying someone as ridiculous. If you're insulted by how Jason has treated you, perhaps online discourse is not a good medium for you. The scholarly halls of the university are good for at least that, as you won't ever have to hear a dissenting Evangelical opinion voiced with any confidence.

    2. I don't know why you dismiss seminary training as "mere", implying as you have that real academic training is found outside of such institutions. Some seminaries are scholarly institutions; I'll certainly attest to the fact that the work I'm doing now at Reformed Theological Seminary for a Masters of Religion is significantly more difficult and rigorous than anything I had to complete at NYU. And the scholarship we are required to read comes from and interacts with a whole host of philosophical and theological positions, from neo-orthodox to skeptical.

    Related, I don't ever remember reading an Evangelical scholar during my time at NYU. My experience teaches me that the interaction here is a one-way street, suggesting that the evangelicals are the ones willing to engage scholarship critical of their positions, while those at the secular university only have interest in reading material within their own paradigm.

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  34. Richard,

    I didn’t claim to be “a genius really who has a brilliant grasp of classical antiquity”. Rather, I cited evidence that contradicts some of the claims you’ve made, and I cited scholars who disagree with you. There’s a large gray area between knowing nothing about a subject and knowing everything. I don’t have to be at the most knowledgeable end of the spectrum to discern that you’re wrong about some things. As I pointed out above, all of us function with the same sort of reasoning in many areas of our lives. Life would be unlivable if we thought we needed the sort of education you refer to in order to make reliable judgments. If only people with such an education can understand the issues reliably, then why do you keep participating in discussions with people who don’t have that education? Do you refrain from reaching conclusions about Ignatius until you attain the highest level of education in Ignatian scholarship? Do you take the same approach toward Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and every other source? Are you fully educated, or even highly educated, in every relevant field? No, you aren’t. Nobody could be.

    And you’re not in much of a position to be objecting to the alleged closed-mindedness and unkindness of other people. You’ve been making comments about how you “exclude” Evangelicals from your “dialogue”, how people you disagree with need psychological help, etc.

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  35. Some of Richard's posts have disappeared. I don't know if he deleted them, there's a problem with Blogger, or something else occurred. I've checked Blogger's spam folder, and the posts aren't there. Whatever happened, I want to point out that some of my replies to Richard above were written in response to posts that currently aren't visible. He did make the comments I replied to above.

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