The following is response to a couple of post on a popular Mythicist blog and the counter post at,
I think Neil’s problem (among many) here is that he isn’t really interested in ancient history; he is interested in demonstrating the Bible is fiction. Neil apparently studied history in a traditional Von Ranke setting, where, as one historian put it, history begins with the Peace of Westphalia. I’ve noticed this myself and Vansina and Howell & Prevenier are no exception, that text on the study of history don’t adequately address the study of ancient history. If Neil wanted to argue that the findings of historians of the ancient world are only so many hypotheses and no facts, I wouldn’t be able to disagree. Unfortunately Neil doesn’t want to make that statement because; A. he would like to promote the notion that the historians he disagrees with are only doing apologetics for biblical literalist B. he wants to establish as a fact that the biblical accounts are fiction without historical referents. Note this gem from (http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/confessions-of-a-theologian-bible-scholars-really-do-do-history-differently/#more-23801 ) “One does wonder why if there were as much evidence for Jesus as for any other figure of ancient times (e.g. Socrates, Mohammed) the question of Jesus’ historicity would have arisen in the first place.” Neil acts oblivious even though it has been pointed out to him that both Socrates and Mohammed have had their historicity questioned and those scholars don’t give Jesus myth theories anymore credibility than they do Socrates or Mohammed myth theories.
I do find it interesting that Neil didn’t elaborate on what H&P consider external controls. The findings of anthropologist decades later clearly are not the sort of controls Neil has in mind, and it goes along with his dismissal of “3.The source whose account can be confirmed by reference to outside authorities in some of its parts can be trusted in its entirety if it is impossible similarly to confirm the entire text.” We know that some of the facts presented by the early Christian text are true, so one cannot simply assume the rest is fiction.
Most of Neil’s argument doesn’t seem (Neil isn’t great communicator and is so frequently inconsistent that “seems to say” is a good way to put anything he says) deny that HJ scholars are studying the text with improper methods, but that they have misidentified the nature of the text. Of course all of this is based on minority opinions that have not gained general acceptance. Is someone really doing bad history if their work isn’t based on the fringe views of the field? He goes on to say,
“The first section by H & P that is most directly applicable to the nature of our evidence for Jesus begins on page 62 under the heading “Genesis of a Document”.
The identifications [of time, place, author] provided by the source itself are . . . often misleading. . . . [S]ometimes authors are deliberately faking a source, sometimes they are disguising the real place and date of issuance. (p. 63)
This is not taken from a manual for nihilists on how to reject everything people think they know as false. It is from a manual for budding historians, or really for historians who are embarking on some sort of post-graduate work. Yet when such questions are raised among theologians the response sometimes implies that such scepticism is bad, extreme, hyper.”
HJ scholars have already established many instances of early Christian text being psudographical in one way or another. They do not accuse themselves of hyper skepticism for this. People call Neil hyper skeptical because he readily accepts all sorts of dubious theories for forgery and literary fiction. If he finds these theories convincing, fine, but he should have some respect for the fact that most scholars do not. All history would look different if we accepted all the minority theories presented as true. Just because Neil thinks Mark is a metaphorical, allegorical, Jewish novel, that is retelling the Old Testament and the Odyssey, does not obligate historians to agree. H&P seem open to using hagiographies as a source (Most of the documents that come from the past — whether a law code, a contract, a philosophical text, or a hagiography — are products of an intellectual tradition, and historians using an isolated text must know something about this tradition in order to read their text responsibly. (p. 63)) so surely the Gospels would at least match this level of historical documentation, and it is only if we buy the dubious theories that Neil hawks, often from non-scholarly sources, that we would dismiss the Gospels as a source. Neil seems to deny that HJ scholars have any critical instincts at all, but it is really he that lacks critical thinking, and this leads him to accept the archeological musings of musicians as reliable sources. There is a large amount of work that has been done that can hardly be said to “simply take for granted that what they read in a Gospel must be sourced from an eye-witness or a tradition traced back to an eye-witness.”
Another gem is “#6 is fundamental and has passed the test of time. It works very well for historians of any other event or person. Historical Jesus scholars have squeezed it beyond recognition to make “independent” apply to different points of view within the one religious tradition. This is truly an exceptional use of the principle. HJ studies are truly the exception to the way history is ideally done more broadly.” Our sources must come from different religious traditions to be independent? So if all our sources on Martin Luther are Christian, they aren’t independent? I have never heard this from a real historian.