Thursday, January 22, 2009

Crossley on the Jesus Project

My friend and sparring partner, James Crossley, has a thoughtful and careful article in Bible and Interpretation about the prospects for historical Jesus study in light of the purposes of the Jesus Project. James proposes greater focus on the study of the Aramaic behind the Jesus tradition and attention given to socio-historical and anthropological explanations for illuminating the emergence of Christianity. Fair and reasonable points on anyone's score card. Though I would point out to James that: (1) Not all historical Jesus scholars operate with the "great man" view as evidenced by John Meier's "Marginal Jew" and Gerd Theissen's somewhat illusive "Galilean". (2) You cannot "explain" Christianity simply by reference to its socio-historical context and surrounding cultural currents because sooner or later you still need to do business with the text of the Gospels themselves: we need biography and sociology in our historical reconstruction! I assume that James would agree with me here, why else would you learn Aramaic unless you're prepared to go logion for logion and pericope for pericope. (3) I also plea to James to be equally "deconstructive" to the Jesus Project as he is to other bastions of scholarship on the subject matter because he rightly recognizes how theologically and ideologically loaded all historical Jesus scholarship can be.

What bothers me about the Jesus Project is two things: (1) The rhetoric that they will be objective and scientific is simply delusional to anyone who knows the meaning of the word "postmodernity" (and we have to ask what are they implying about the rest of us not part of their circle?), and (2) Does anybody out there really think that they are going to be any less ideologically driven than their predecessors the "Jesus Seminar"? For instance, the fact that they include Derreck Bennett's A Skeptic's Letter to Lee Stroebel on their website (Bennett is not a scholar as far as I can tell and he describes himself as a "pesky Internet blogger" and relies heavily on the work of Robert Price for his conclusions) indicates that this "project" has atheist propaganda as its objective. Look at the other array of anti-apologetics articles here too which don't strike me as disinterested scholars offering a careful and cautious voice in a complex scholarly conversation. You could easily download half of this stuff to internet infidels (a mixture of scholarly and amateur atheism on the web) and no-one would be able to tell the difference.

Where will the Jesus Project take us? Well, we call the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar the "Californian Jesus" (to use Gerd Theissen's colourful term). I suggest that the Jesus Project has a pre-fabricated Jesus ready to go which I will call the "Promethean Jesus", i.e. a Jesus who, if he exists at all, will be conducive and appealing to the editors of Prometheus Press an atheist book publisher.


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Justin J. Meggitt said...

I don't think this is fair Michael. As one of those currently involved in the Project, I have not felt any pressure to conform to any particular position on the historical Jesus and I really doubt that its results are quite as predetermined as you seem to think. The fact that Prometheus Press is an atheist press is no more relevant than the fact that SPCK or SCM or IVP or Westminster John Knox or whatever are 'Christian' - the scholarship stands and falls on its merits. Let's see what happens.

Michael F. Bird said...

Fair enough. Some people I respect (James Crossley and April DeConick) are involved in the project and I'm willing to give credit where credit is due.

But so far the rhetoric and self-representation of TJK has not exactly struck a high degree of confidence in me that this is going to be a non-partisan attempt at Jesus research. The inclusion of amateur atheist apologetics on its website and the claims of disinterested objectivity are, to observers such as myself, disconcerting.

But it is early days yet, so I'll let happily let TJP prove me wrong (or right)!

Justin J. Meggitt said...

Fair enough too. 'Amateur' apologists are an issue though I think everyone who is an independent scholar was part of the Jesus Seminar - and Richard Carrier has a PhD in Classics - something that, frankly, a lot of Biblical scholars could benefit from.

Anyway, let's wait and see what transpires. All the best.

Geoff Hudson said...

"Let's wait and see?" Come on, join the real world! One thing is for sure, Price @ co. will play around with Jesus for ever and a day. It makes good dollars, and dollars will buy us all up if the rate of exhange continues on its present course. Nothing will then rule like the dollar. And the dollar will be proved right, like Bill Gates. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of seeing all the research programmes on TV done by so-called American professors who pontificate loudly down their noses.

derreckbennett said...

Michael F. Bird-

Do you have an actual rebuttal to my article, or is your passing reference to me merely the seed of a pointless ad hominem?