Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ben Witherington on Ehrman

BW: One of the problems however with some of Bart’s popular work, including this book, is that it does not follow the age old adage--- “before you boil down, you need to have first boiled it up”. By this I mean Bart Ehrman, so far as I can see, and I would be glad to be proved wrong about this fact, has never done the necessary laboring in the scholarly vineyard to be in a position to write a book like Jesus, Interrupted from a position of long study and knowledge of New Testament Studies. He has never written a scholarly monograph on NT theology or exegesis. He has never written a scholarly commentary on any New Testament book whatsoever! His area of expertise is in textual criticism, and he has certainly written works like The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which have been variously reviewed, not to mention severely critiqued by other textual critics such as Gordon D. Fee, and his own mentor Bruce Metzger (whom I also did some study with). He is thus, in the guild of the Society of Biblical Literature a specialist in text criticism, but even in this realm he does not represent what might be called a majority view on such matters.


Ilíon said...

So, the problem with Ehrman is that he's not a properly credentialed expert?

Please excuse me, Mr Witherington, while I guffaw as you appear to behave just as 'atheists' far too often do.

Joel said...

It's important to add to this that Witherington's problem with Ehrman is not just that he is not really an expert, but that his citation of contemporary scholars is quite sparse.

normajean said...

Illion, you're just mad at Witherington because he spanked you once. Caught you =)

Witherington is solid!

exapologist said...

What's bizarre is that you can't get more middle-of-the-road than Ehrman on his view of the historical Jesus. When compared on these terms, it's Witherington who has the position who has the less mainstream view.

normajean said...

Exapolo: by "middle-of-the-road " I take it you meant, far left!


exapologist said...

The view that Jesus was primarily an apocalyptic prophet of an imminent eschaton is dead center and the mainstream (Sanders, Allison, Fredriksen, Ehrman, Vermes et al). Spanning out from the middle toward the left are the Jesus Seminar folks (Crossan, Mack, Borg, et al). And spanning out from the middle toward the right are those who want the cred of the middle-of-the-road questers (Wright, Witherington), but who do everything they possibly can to downplay Jesus' false predictions about an imminent eschaton (Wright says all that talk about gloom and doom applied only to the destruction of Jerusalem (Willam Lane Craig has called him on that in print). Witherington handles it by saying that Jesus really meant to say that the end might be at hand). Meier just cuts all that talk out as inauthentic. Allison bites the bullet ("Yeah, Jesus was dead wrong. But so what?"). Further right, you get way out of the mainstream and into inerrancy-ville. That's the lay of the land that the apologists will never tell you.

Ilíon said...

NormaJean, Witherington didn't spank me ... he *ignored* what I said, while pretending to address it. But, even had he "spanked" me, perhaps you're projecting in imagining that I'd act as you might?

Joel, again: so what? That's just another way that self-reinforcing experts try to fence out the competition.

If we will not accept such an "argument" from Jesus Seminar types (and we will not, will we?), it hardly behooves us to do the same when the shoe is on the other foot. It's not intellectually honest.

Now, I'm sure that Mr Witherington can make substantive criticisms of Mr Ehrman; I'm fairly certain that I've read one such. But this that Mr Reppert has reproduced is just expert-mongering and assertion of (his own) authority -- this boils down to: "Mr Ehrman just doesn't know what he's talking about ... as proven by the fact that his views are those of the minority in his own field and that he's not an expert in the field in which he has spoken."

That's bilge. It's bilge when 'atheists' do it, and it's bilge when Christians do it.

Anonymous said...

"Do everything they possibly can" to downplay? As opposed to Ehrman and company who "do everything they possibly can" to overblow and misread? If we're going to get into colorful descriptions of motivations, well, it's a game that everyone can play. (I also notice that somehow, going too far right gets you out of the mainstream - but what about too far left? Hrm.)

As for what apologists tell - my experience is that most, when they get on this subject, will happily talk about the span of views and why those of the perspective Ehrman and leftward offer are incorrect. It's not some big secret that there are views akin to Ehrman's out there, though Ehrman does seem to be the loudest of the number.

exapologist said...

If you could point me to one apologetics book that argues against the mainstream view, I'd very much appreciate it. If you point me to a critique of the Jesus Seminar, you've missed it. For the Jesus Seminar doesn't hold the mainstream view. What we need is a book like Boyd's Cynic Sage or Son of God? (which is his lengthy critique of the Jesus Seminar), but aimed at the mainstream view instead. Boyd spent two or three hundred (or so) pages carefully laying out the views and arguments of the leading figures of the Jesus Seminar, and then critiquing each one.

The apologists need to do the same thing for the arguments of Allison, Sanders, Fredriksen et al for the view that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet of an imminent eschaton. Until then, orthodox Christian theism has a defeater of the sort Plantinga mentioned in his Warranted Christian Belief: a cogent de facto objection.

Anonymous said...

You're already aware of at least some arguments against the view (Is it mainstream? That I'll reserve judgment on) about Christ teaching an imminent eschaton. You may not find them convincing, and that's fine. Myself? I find them to fit what we know of Christ, the apostles, and Christ's ministry vastly better than what you're suggesting.

And in case you want me to spell it out: The view that what was taught wasn't that the event was absolutely imminent, but could well be imminent - and to live one's life with such an understanding. In order to seriously arrive at the conclusion that Christ was preaching an absolutely and certainly imminent eschaton, one has to render a tremendous amount of both Christ's teachings, the NT writings, and perhaps more as bizarre - teachings that stress how to live life among sinners, how to live life in hostile surroundings, etc, etc. Basically tremendous stress on living, belief, and otherwise that makes sense in our pre-Second-Coming world, and makes far less sense if that world is certainly and immediately coming to an end.

So it's closest to Witherington's views among others, and there is no Plantinga-style defeater present. A mainstream view does not a defeater make even if it IS mainstream, and the specific argument on this point is weak in the sense that there are fantastic answers to it. I'm an amateur, of course, but I stand by what I provide here.

Ilíon said...

... also, NormaJean engaging in "Bulverism." Whodda thunk?

normajean said...

I'm just having fun. Sorry for the jab.

unkle e said...

I am an interested layperson who has to rely on experts for my information, and knowing which experts to trust is an important element of this.

Ben Witherington says:

"A quick perusal of the footnotes to this book, reveal mostly cross-references to Ehrman’s earlier popular works, with a few exceptions sprinkled in—for example Raymond Brown and E.P Sanders, the former long dead, the latter long retired. What is especially telling and odd about this is Bart does not much reflect a knowledge of the exegetical or historical study of the text in the last thirty years."

Is anyone able to say, fairly, who are the pre-eminent scholars of the new millennium, those most respected and at the centre of scholarship?

I would really appreciate that information please.

Ilíon said...

Unkle e: "Ben Witherington says:"


But Mr Reppert appears not to have thought that the significant part of the criticism. And the part of the critique that Mr Repprt has duplicated here can at best be spun as being wasted space, though it is truly much worse than that.