Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Historical Nature Of Early Christianity

In another thread here, I've been having a discussion with a person who goes by the screen name Richard. Some of you may be interested in reading the exchange. Richard claims to be a scholar with credentials relevant to early Christianity, yet he refuses to further identify himself. He claims that when sources like Ignatius refer to how Jesus was born of a virgin, resurrected, etc., they aren't making historical claims. Rather, they're making claims about what happened within a fictional story. Thus, for example, the docetists and their Christian opponents were arguing about whether Jesus physically existed within a fictional story, not whether He physically existed in history. Richard makes many claims about the genre of the gospels, what men like Ignatius and Justin Martyr believed, etc. It's a somewhat lengthy discussion, but I think it could be beneficial for those interested in reading it.

Here are some examples of his claims:

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....

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....

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 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.


  1. Of course, Richard is an apologist too: an anti-Christian apologist.

  2. Richard: "That is why I have chosen to exclude Evangelicals from my academic dialogues."

    Post Title: "The Historical Nature of Early Christianity"

    Suggested Subtitle: "The Current Nature of Liberal Diversity, Tolerance, and Pluralism"

  3. Richard has left the discussion. He said that we need psychological help. He also made more dismissive comments about Evangelicals in general. And he criticized us for being so unkind and unprepared for dialogue. Maybe I should have left the discussion just after telling him that he needs psychological help. Apparently, that would be the sort of approach he’d approve of.

    I’ll continue to respond to his claims. His view of early Christianity is ridiculous and is widely rejected even among non-Evangelicals. I’ll probably respond to his claims in some new threads, then link to those threads from the original one.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. To be clear, Steve. I do not have any interest either in the destruction, promotion, maintenance, or adjustment of modern Christian beliefs. Nor have I disclosed my own personal religious sentiments. That is not how proper scholars operate. Know this, however. I am a theist and even consider myself a Christian, despite whatever denigration you may project my direction.

  6. Jason, you cannot "continue to respond to my claims". You do not know what they are. All you have are strings of unclarified, misunderstood (and further misrepresented) statements that I have typed, a.k.a. strawmen.

  7. Btw, I am not a liberal. That is a false continuum (Liberal - Conservative). The proper continuum is Academician - Traditionalist. The academician is disinterested in modern social ideological formation (a defense of catholic orthodoxy et cetera). All I care about is the formulation of the most penetrating questions regarding Christian origins and their most accurate, informed answers. I can care less about modern liberal Christianity.

  8. "uninterested" would be a better word than "disinterested"

    It's the sort of thing that one would hope a scholar would get right. But perhaps English is not your first language (we must keep all possibilities open).

    And yes, the traditionalist RCs label the academics as "liberals" because the academics say things that the traditionalists don't want to hear.

    Whether that label is right or wrong is an intramural RC debate, I suspect.


  9. The Richard in this thread has since been identified as Richard C. Miller. You can read more about him and his unethical behavior here.