Friday, December 13, 2013

Mainstream Scholarship and French Cuisine

I must clarify for the moment that I do not consider myself a 'mythicist' per se.  I don't believe we can ever be certain about whether or not Jesus existed.  My own personal inclination is to suppose that the Marcionites were mostly right about everything and do my best in this short life of mine to figure out what they believed in order to gain a better understanding of this very interesting Jewish sectarian community.  To this end, since I suppose the Marcionites were the earliest Christian sect, I can sound remarkably sympathetic to mythicism.  I basically suppose that the gospel is the story of a supernatural being who came to earth in a specific year - the year 20 CE to be exact - in order to announce the destruction of the temple forty nine years after his apparent crucifixion. 

I am very careful not to develop 'criticisms' of contemporary Christian belief from my research.  I could in fact get along very well with Christian believers because I see all of the oldest surviving faiths as 'neo-Marcionite' (only American evangelism seems to me to be entirely heretical).  Yet at the very same time I am empathize with the manner in which 'mythicism' and mythicists are abused in contemporary scholarship.  Yes their methodologies are unsound and they often seem to only put forward their ideas in order to 'disprove' the Christian faith.  Nevertheless I do believe they are doing scholarship a great service even if they themselves do not act like academics. 

For the mainstream study of religion often seems to be like alchemy.  What I mean by that is that if you were to look at an alchemists laboratory it might strike you as appearing 'scientific' in some manner.  One imagines test tubes and beakers and all sorts of equipment.  However the actual underlying assumptions of alchemy are downright stupid.  Not a single alchemist ever turned lead into gold.  In the very same way one always gets the feeling around mainstream scholarship that beyond the pompous posturing and detailed descriptions of the surviving physical evidence from antiquity (i.e. manuscripts) the entire field has very little substance.

I was reading Bart Ehrman's criticism of Reza Azlan on his recent blog post where he flatly states that Azlan is not qualified to write about the historical Jesus.  Perhaps there is something to Ehrman's over all point.  Yet I wondered to myself whether by the same token whether Ehrman and many other critics of 'mythicism' are qualified to write about the supernatural Jesus (I deliberately avoid the term 'mythicist').  The question here is - does being an authority on manuscripts make Ehrman an expert on the various 'Jesuses of history' - and in particular Marcionite Jesus. 

I really don't think so. 

If Ehrman can argue that Azlan should be disqualified from writing a book about the historical Jesus because he only holds a degree in the sociology of religion, what training can Ehrman demonstrate having for determining whether in fact the understanding of the gospel as a story about Jesus the man of flesh and blood actually developed from a Marcionite understanding of Jesus as a heavenly being descended to earth?  Of course Ehrman never so much as spent a single day of his academic training focused on this particular question.  Perhaps he pondered it while sitting on the toilet after toiling over manuscripts.  But the bottom line is that he has no specific training on this or any issue related to the question of whether Jesus was a supernatural rather than a human being. 

To this end, I started to wonder whether the academic establishment is rather scared of mythicism for precisely this very reason.  It exposes the soft white underbelly of their training in the field.  As my mother used to tell me (she never so much as set foot in a school during her childhood because she was hiding from Nazis) - schooling only limits your focus.  Yes, it is important to focus your efforts on specific tasks, but there is something fundamentally dangerous when the individual who undergoes all this training thinks that he has attained 'all the knowledge there is to know' or all the knowledge that is worth knowing. 

People that went to school and studied 'early Christianity' have for the most part only studied a particular paradigm of what Christianity might have been in antiquity.  They haven't studied 'all of them.'  They don't have a 'tout comprendre' of Christianity as such.  The world is a very big place.  No one should be led to believe that only they know 'good food.'  There people in every part of the world who think that their cooking is the best.  I happen to think French cuisine is the best.  But that's only my opinion.  Perhaps it is an opinion that many people share.  However it is worth noting that many if not most of the best French chefs in the world eager seek out new influences in order to broaden their horizons.  Scholars of early Christianity would be well served to emulate them. 

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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