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Is This Not The Carpenter?: The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus (Copenhagen International Seminar) Hardcover – 1 Jul 2012
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' 'Is This Not the Carpenter?' is an important example of what we need more of: serious scholarly examinations and debates on the historicity of Jesus and what methods to use in resolving it. It includes papers that for specialists are required reading on this topic.' --Richard Carrier, author of Sense and Goodness without God, Proving History, and Not the Impossible Faith
'This well-edited and attractive volume marks an important milestone in the debate concerning mythicism in New Testament scholarship.' --Thomas Bolin, St Norbert College, Wisconsin, USA
About the Author
Thomas L. Thompson is Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen.
Thomas S. Verenna is an independent researcher and student at Rutgers University.
Top Customer Reviews
This is a book for people with a serious interest in the arguments for the myth hypothesis, The contributors provide the all important scholarly references which point readers in the direction of additional source material, or further clarify points the writers are making, or the reasons why. I found it of value that these reference appear at the bottom of the pages rather than be grouped at the read or the papers or the book. A general index would have been of value, although there is an index of references and one of authors.
Essentially, a book intended, I suspect, for hostile academics and one to be read thoughtfully in order to appreciate the impact of its arguments.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Some of the chapters provide background to the scholarship, such as 19th century debates and how the ways things were argued had much to thank from its cultural background. The last chapter provides a research paradigm to discuss the evolution of Christianity whether or not Jesus existed or did any of the things he was alleged to have done. In between we find some of the discussions about the nature of the evidence concerning the figure of Jesus: the letters of Paul and their relation to a historical figure, the non-Christian witnesses to Jesus, and literary nature of the Gospels. While not all of the arguments will be convincing, the chapters showcase some of the best arguments one is likely to see from either side.
Of course, because of the complexity of the evidence, any one of the discussions in a given chapter could be its own book. But that is why this volume needs to be the start of the discussion. Not only on points of evidence but also of method. The approach to the letters of Paul, for example, can produce very different results concerning a historical Jesus figure. Weighing which approach is the better (rather than just getting the desired result) is going to be a major dialogue, but it does well to start it here.
I provide a fuller review here: [...]
Since this volume is now in paperback it is affordable to a large audience. Some chapters may require more background in biblical studies to understand and appreciate, but it seems to me that it is accessible to those that are interested in a subject that almost certainly will remain of interest to scholars and laypeople alike: who was Jesus, if he was at all?
portrayals of Jesus of Nazareth has occupied a strange place in the history of New Testament scholarship.
On the one hand, those who argued that Jesus is a fictional creation of the evangelists were long
ostracized from both the academy and the church (two entities with multiple overlapping constituencies).
On the other hand, the question at the root of mythicist project is the same that underlies much of
mainstream New Testament scholarship, namely how much early Christian theological concerns have
influenced the content of the canonical Gospels.
This collection represents the best discussion of this issue now available. Both established and up
and coming scholars from around the world address the mythicist question from a variety of different
perspectives and methodologies. Most importantly, the individual contributions are not uniform in their
conclusions concerning the historicity of Jesus. Some scholars argue for the existence of Jesus of
Nazareth (e.g., Grabbe, Müller), others against (e.g., Noll, Price), and still others opt not to decide (e.g.,
Thompson, Verenna). Two important features to this collection are the group of essays focusing on the
role of the Pauline corpus in the debate over the historicity of Jesus and the critical interaction in several
of the essays with Richard Bauckham's recent large monograph arguing for an eyewitness tradition
behind the canonical Gospels.
Space prohibits a detailed discussion of each essay, and thus a few remarks on some of the more
particularly interesting and provocative contributions will have to suffice. Roland Boer's retrieval of the
role of history, religion and the state in Germany in the historical Jesus debate in 19th Century Germany
("The German Pestilence: Re-assessing Feuerbach, Strauss and Bauer") makes clear the long shadows
cast by the fierce intellectual conflicts surrounding the Tübingen School. It should be read in tandem with
Michael Legaspi's excellent study of the rise of historical critical scholarship in the Old Testament at
Göttingen in the late 18th Century (The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies [Oxford/New
York: Oxford University Press, 2010) for the proper historical causes of the present shape of critical
biblical studies. Thomas Verenna's analysis of whether Paul need have known anything about a historical
Jesus in order to construct his theology is an outstanding discussion of Pauline texts, relevant Greco-
Roman parallels, and careful historical methodology. Joshua Sabih, a Qur'anic scholar, offers a
fascinating discussion of the material about Jesus in the Qur'an, and makes a well-argued for this material
to be independent of anything in the Christian tradition. Sabih's essay should spur biblical exegetes to do
more in looking at Qur'anic texts alongside the Bible, part of the larger comparative project called for by
Jonathan Z. Smith some four years ago ("Religion and Bible," JBL 128  5-27). The final essay in
the volume, that of Kurt Noll ("Investigating Earliest Christianity without Jesus") is a fascinating exercise
in imagining how Christianity could have succeeded without there being a Jesus. Noll draws upon
Darwinian evolutionary thought, as filtered through Richard Dawkins' notion of memes to construct an
alternative history of the rise of Christianity, and regardless of where one stands on the issue of Jesus'
historicity, Noll's reconstruction will have to be reckoned with.
This well-edited and attractive volume marks an important milestone in the debate concerning
mythicism in New Testament scholarship, and it is to be hoped that others like it will follow.
The historicity of Jesus is now widely accepted and hardly questioned by most scholars. But this assumption disarms biblical texts of much of their power by privileging an historical interpretation which effectively sweeps aside much theological speculation and allusion. Furthermore, the assumption of historicity gathers further assumptions to it, shaping the interpretation of texts, both denying and adding subtext. Scholars are now faced with an endless array of works on the historical Jesus and few question what has been lost through this wide-spread assumption of historicity. Is This Not the Carpenter? presents a very valuable corrective: a literary rereading of the New Testament.
Introduction: Thomas L. Thompson and Thomas Verenna
Into the Well of Historical Jesus Scholarship
1. Jim West (Quartz Hill School of Theology) - A Very, Very Short Introduction to Minimalism
2. Roland Boer (University of Newcastle) - The German Pestilence: Re-assessing Feuerbach, Strauss and Bauer
3. Lester L. Grabbe (University of Hull) - "Jesus Who is Called Christ": References to Jesus Outside Christian Sources
4. Niels Peter Lemche (University of Copenhagen) - The Grand Inquisitor and Christ: Why the Church Doesn't Want Jesus
5 Emanuel Pfoh (National University of La Plata) - Jesus and the Mythic Mind: An Epistemological Problem
Paul and Early Christianity: Historical and Exegetical Investigations
6 Robert M. Price (Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary) - Does the Christ Myth Theory Require an Early Date for the Pauline Epistles?
7. Mogens Müller (University of Copenhagen) - Paul: The Oldest Witness to the Historical Jesus
8. Thomas S. Verenna - Born Under the Law: Intertextuality and the Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus in Paul's Epistles
The Rewritten Bible and the Life of Jesus
9. James Crossley (University of Sheffield) - Can John's Gospel Really Be Used to Reconstruct a Life of Jesus? An Assessment of Recent Trends and a Defence of a Traditional View
10. Thomas L. Thompson - Psalm 72 and Mark 1:12-13: Mythic Evocation in Narratives of the Good King
11. Ingrid Hjelm (University of Copenhagen) "Who is my Neighbor?" Implicit Use of Old Testament Stories and Motifs in Luke's Gospel
12. Joshua Sabih (University of Copenhagen) - Born Isa and Baptized Jesus: The Quranic Narratives about Isa
13. K. L. Noll (Brandon University) - Investigating Earliest Christianity Without Jesus
With a reasonably sound understanding of mythicism and minimalism under his belt, the casual reader will find some very compelling arguments for this kind of reading of the Bible in section 2. In particular, the essays by Mogens Müller and Thomas Verenna are must-reads. The relationship between the Pauline Epistles and the Gospels is one of the central battlegrounds between historicists, mythicists, and agnostics, and these two essays illustrate the differences of opinion very well (with Müller arguing for the Epistle author's knowledge of Jesus' earthly life and Verenna arguing against it). Neither essay is an easy read for non-historians, nor are they intended to be, but together, they are an important illustration of the differences of opinion regarding methodology. Verenna argues:
In order to avoid the problems associated with this sort of investigation... the reader should be reminded that the question, 'why has this story been written?' can never be answered with 'because it happened.' Some questions need to be asked as a result: (1) 'What is the literature if it is not history?' (2) 'Why is this story being told?' (3) What is the reader required to believe?' and (4) 'Why should it be believed?'
Verenna goes on to argue (convincingly, by this reader's estimation) that Paul's "constant appeal to direct revelation, his desire to infuse Scripture into nearly every theological point he makes, should direct the reader to pause..." before blindly accepting the notion that Paul knew of an earthly Jesus. He addresses Paul's references to Jesus' crucifixion, drawing a distinction between two linguistic subtleties, and whether or not the broad context of passages related to the crucifixion are more parsimoniously explained as a "spiritual renewal or rebirth" or a historical event on earth. He also takes on the "consensus" view that Paul makes a direct reference to Jesus' earthly brother, James, and offers perhaps not a lock-tight rebuttal, but at least a question that must be answered before James can be argued as a proof of Jesus' earthly existence.
Section 3 delves into the Gospels themselves. For the lay-reader, James Crossley's defense of the position that John is a fabrication will be of special interest, as will Thomas L. Thompson's illustration of Jesus' temptation as a moral allegory. Threading through many Old Testament books, including Jeremiah, from which comes the tempter's offer for Jesus to create bread from stones, Thompson clearly articulates the kind of argument common to those scholars who view the Gospels as having little (if anything) to do with history and everything to do with culturally relevant edification through storytelling.
Many "regular folks" may experience minor difficulties with this book for a variety of reasons. As an example, Emanuel Pfoh blithely tosses out an entire paragraph in French, and provides no translation. In an online version with cut-and-paste capability, a reader could easily enter it into Google Translate, but as this book is only offered in hard copy at this time, the average reader will either have to skip the paragraph and infer its content, or take far too much time transcribing it into a translation app, or find a French speaker to read it to them. The language employed by many of the writers is scholarly, and assumes the reader knows a significant amount of historical jargon. These are minor quibbles that may be easily overlooked, since this book is designed for scholars who are generally polyglots.
It's very easy for establishment scholars, when they do leave their ivory towers, to wave their hands dismissively and haughtily espouse the "obvious" nature of Jesus' historicity, which everyone knows. And, of course, everyone thinks they know that Jesus obviously existed. But ask the average American to explain even the basics of the case for historicity (or mythicism, or agnosticism), and there's about a 90% chance they'll get it completely wrong. The average American -- whose religion is founded on the certainty of Jesus' existence -- needs to know what real historians say about it, but they have no idea. They need a book like this.