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Mythicism and the Mainstream: The Rhetoric and Realities of Academic Freedom

But when it comes to the mythicism proffered by people whose knowledge of relevant languages, historical texts, ancient cultures, and other such data is minimal or non-existent, and whose works consist only of web pages and self-published books, scholars are under no obligation to waste their valuable time on such matters any more than on the countless other topics which web sites and self-published books address, and which a quick perusal shows to be bunk.

By James F. McGrath
Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature
Butler University
March 2014


There are few topics as crucial to the academic endeavors of teaching and research in which most members of our organization are engaged, as the topic of academic freedom. The ability of scholars to draw conclusions that may be controversial or unpopular has become part and parcel of the definition of scholarship itself. And that is as it should be, and must be. In the absence of academic freedom, it is debatable whether real scholarship can in fact take place. This is true on at least two levels. On the institutional level, if a professor cannot draw the conclusions to which her research leads her, then such work can scarcely called research at all, but will resemble something closer to apologetics, as evidence and arguments are tailored to allow the required “conclusion” to be drawn. On the level of the academy, the motto is “publish or perish” (except in seminaries, where the motto is instead “publish or parish”). In order to publish, we must come up with something new, something that argues against another viewpoint, challenges a consensus, or in some other way improves our understanding and extends the boundaries of our knowledge. In the absence of academic freedom, the possibility of doing that is all but undermined. If some already-existing definition of truth is considered the unchanging standard, then the most one can do is find new ways to defend established views, and not genuinely contribute new knowledge.

And so, on the one hand, the attempt to predefine appropriate outcomes by appeal to dogma undermines the value of scholarship as primarily about evidence and rational inquiry.1 And, on the other hand, institutions which do not value and safeguard academic freedom actually hamstring the scholarly reputations and careers of those who work at them.2

If we as scholars need to be vigilant in the defense of academic freedom from direct attacks upon it, we must also be careful to combat the cheapening of the phrase through deceptive appeals to academic freedom. Let me give an example from outside of our discipline. Those who promote Intelligent Design in the realm of biology complain that they cannot get their work published in mainstream scientific journals, and claim that this is because they are experiencing inappropriate censorship. However, the mainstream biologists who serve as the editors and peer reviewers for science journals see themselves very differently.3 Far from censoring legitimate scientific research, they would argue that they are engaging in the main purpose of the peer review process, namely the safeguarding of academia from being inappropriately hijacked into the service of ideology. Not that ideology and viewpoint can be excluded somehow from the academy, as though academics were not human beings with assumptions and points of view. Peer review is not intended to assess the correctness of conclusions, merely that appropriate methods are being used and scholarly norms of rigor and argumentation being followed. And biologists have judged the case for Intelligent Design to be not merely philosophically and mathematically problematic, but also at odds with the evidence that allegedly irreducibly complex features do indeed have precursors.

And so, to the extent that it is quite clear that certain ideologically-driven viewpoints are being promoted as scholarship, when in fact they do not fit any generally-accepted description thereof, we see here how academic freedom is placed in peril on two fronts – and, in this case, by the same forces. On the one hand, academic freedom is nullified by many sectarian institutions and the professors who work at them, when a statement of faith is allowed to predetermine what conclusions research is permitted to draw. And on the other hand, when those same sectarian institutions produce apologetically-driven claims and masquerade them as scholarship, and complain that it is because of a lack of academic freedom in journals and in the academy that they cannot gain acceptance for them, it cheapens the notion of academic freedom itself. It also is profoundly ironic.

There is plenty of room for things to appear muddied and unclear, particularly to those outside of a given field. While the matter seems clear cut to those within fields like biology and genetics, there are those in attendance at this conference who are highly intelligent academics, and yet as outsiders to those scientific disciplines, they may find complaints about censorship in the sciences appear plausible to them. And the situation is reciprocated, as people outside of Biblical studies often find it plausible that our field is one where conservative forces hold sway and exclude even the mere discussion of notions that appear controversial from the perspective of Christian dogma.

Now, I expect a chuckle at that point from insiders in this field. Among scholars who work on the historical Jesus, we know that, far from protecting Christian dogma, just about every possible interpretation of who Jesus was has been offered, including some quite sensational and downright impious ones. And not only that, but often these have been discussed, explored, and set aside in favor or more persuasive options so long ago, that the discussions may not be familiar to those who have never surveyed the history of scholarship on this topic. The idea that Jesus was a political revolutionary, like the idea that he never existed, may seem exciting and new to someone outside of this field (not to mention any names), and really old hat to someone within it. If we were to combine a number of recent and not-so-recent proposals related to Jesus, we could depict him as a gay hermaphrodite mamzer, conceived when his mother was raped by a Roman soldier, who grew up to pursue multiple vocations as a failed messiah, a failed prophet, a magician, and/or a mediocre teacher of Stoic ethics. From the perspective of traditional Christian dogma, one imagines that for Jesus never to have existed would be slightly easier to stomach (or at least, no more difficult) than some of the claims made by those who are convinced that he was a historical figure, and propose interpretations of the historical evidence which disagree with and even undermine the traditional claims of Christian creeds and piety.

But despite numerous publications giving public expression to these points, much that I have mentioned seems to be unknown to a wider public, or at the very least misunderstood. The academy does not exist in isolation, and so the discussion of what we as academics do by those outside the academy is something to which we need to pay attention. We need not only to work to safeguard academic freedom, but also to safeguard against the use of appeals to academic freedom to drive a wedge into the academy whereby ideas that do not meet scholarly standards of rigor, or which are ideology masquerading as historical-critical investigation, can be inserted into a space in which they simply do not belong.

And that is the question that is at the heart of my presentation today: how do we navigate between the Scylla of safeguarding academic freedom, and the Charybdis of not allowing that freedom to be appealed to by those who wish to give their viewpoint the reputation of scholarship while lacking the substance that ought to define it? To explore this question, I will focus on the recent memoir of Thomas Brodie, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus, in which he revealed his view that there never was a historical Jesus.

I hope that the relevance of Brodie’s book to the broader topic is clear. Brodie himself mentions the difficulties he faced in finding a publisher for his case, and other mythicists outside the academy often use similar-sounding language to assert that their views are ignored or dismissed by academics because of undue Christian bias.

Sectarian scholarship?

Brodie’s life and work unfolded within the context of the Roman Catholic Church. This is an important point to note. I doubt that many people will be as surprised as Brodie apparently was when Catholic publishers proved to have no interest in publishing a case for Jesus’ non-existence.4 Yet our lack of surprise should not be glossed over. We are surely all aware that publications relevant to our interests have appeared both from university and secular academic presses, and from religiously-affiliated publishers. Likewise, within the field of religion, our academy includes not only secular perspectives but also many who are religiously affiliated. There is no simple dichotomy. There are very clearly academics both with and without religious convictions who are determined to follow evidence wherever it leads. And there are those both among the religious and non-religious in the academy whose cherished assumptions color their perspectives in ways that are clearly recognizable to others, if not to themselves. And the fact that so many different assumptions and backgrounds can be brought together into scholarly conversation, with none of them being silenced or excluded, is part of what makes our field so vibrant, and the academic study of the Bible so truly fascinating.

And so we must return to the question raised by our introductory remarks: If scholarship and research require academic freedom, then can there be sectarian scholarship, or is that an oxymoron? If one teaches at a school which requires one to sign a statement of faith, then can one do legitimate research within the bounds of such constraints?

As someone who originally came to the academic study of the Bible in the interest of exploring his own faith, and who has taught at religiously affiliated schools in the past, as well as currently at a secular private university, I would like to suggest that genuine scholarly research both is and is not possible at a religiously affiliated institution, if that institution has a statement of faith (or something similar) which dictates that faculty must hold certain views.

Why do I give a “yes and no” answer to a question that might seem clear cut? Precisely because of the fact that there are genuine scholars with religious affiliations (both personally and professionally) whose publications are not to be discarded lightly – or at least, not all of them. Notwithstanding his qualification that historically speaking there is no way to tell, N. T. Wright still appears to be showing a blatant disregard for historical critical methods when he suggests that Matthew’s zombie apocalypse might have occurred. I cannot, however, simply toss out his books, such as The Climax of the Covenant, a collection of articles about the writings and theology of Paul that I continue to find extremely useful. (And I won’t toss out his new two-volume treatment of Paul’s theology, not least because it could do some serious damage if it accidentally hit someone, as Chris Tilling recently calculated in detail on his blog).5

Sectarian scholarship is not a complete oxymoron. It even has some advantages. If caring deeply about a subject can motivate one to distort the evidence or lean towards predetermined outcomes, it can also motivate one to courageously challenge conventions of interpretation – both in one’s ecclesiastical setting and in the academy – for precisely the same reason. James D. G. Dunn, my own doctoral supervisor, chose to put his credentials as an Evangelical at risk in order to make the case for an understanding of early Christology that ran counter to the convictions of many, but which he was persuaded was borne out by the textual evidence. Of course, he had the privilege of teaching in contexts where his religious views were not a condition of employment. And that is a crucial point to be made. When scholars do not face a potential loss of employment if they draw conclusions that run counter to traditional views, they often do so. But not always. And when scholars are forced to choose between keeping their job or being honest about where they think the evidence leads, they often choose the former. But not always. And so it seems inappropriate to simply ignore scholarship produced at religiously affiliated schools. But the nature of the prior commitments and policies of such institutions ought to be noted, and it is perfectly legitimate to question the usefulness of publications which makes a case for a view that a scholar has no choice but to uphold if they wish to keep their job.

In the particular case I just mentioned, the conclusions drawn by Dunn are noteworthy in relation to our topic. Most forms of mythicism (although not Brodie’s, I should add) adopt the viewpoint that Jesus was first of all a divine being, and only later turned into a human figure. That Jesus was a figure that pre-existed in heaven for Paul remains the majority viewpoint. Yet it is ironic that, at this very point at which scholarship coincides with the teachings of Christian dogma, mythicists, who accuse the academy of being unduly influenced by Christian doctrine, do not themselves take seriously the possibility that on this very point dogma may be a factor, and that the minority viewpoint articulated by Dunn and others might therefore deserve to be considered. This is important to note. If a viewpoint that claims to be unduly affected by a lack of academic freedom actually fails to challenge the consensus on an obvious point where bias ought to be suspected, then there is probably something else driving their agenda.

This is all relevant to the question of mythicism, as well as the broader question of sectarian scholarship and academic freedom. The fact that Christian historians and scholars consistently conclude that Jesus existed has little or no persuasive power when considered on its own. What does carry weight, however, is the fact that even Christian scholars have drawn conclusions about the historical figure of Jesus which were deeply disturbing not only to themselves but to their places of employment and their faith communities. And it will or should seem completely implausible to those of us who have taught at religiously affiliated schools, or know something about them, to imagine that those scholars thought to themselves, “Well, I think Jesus predicted the end of the world within his lifetime and was mistaken, but I bet it will redeem me in the eyes of the seminary board of trustees that at least I still think he existed!” And yet I have encountered that very suggestion from mythicists in my online interactions – that somehow challenging that Jesus was divine, that he was able to predict the future, and that he performed miracles was not going too far for a historian influenced by Christianity, but concluding that Jesus didn’t exist would be. Once one has allowed one’s faith’s historical foundation to be shaken, so much so that you need to radically rethink your entire worldview, the extent to which one has to rethink it may not be an issue any longer. And again, as I have already suggested, for the Christian who is troubled by the possibility that Jesus thought that Canaanites were dogs and said as much, or that he made false predictions, the idea that all such disturbing material was pure invention would not seem significantly more disturbing. Indeed, at times people have taken comfort in the view that disturbing things in the Bible may not reflect historical reality.

So let us return to the specific case of Thomas Brodie’s work. Brodie is not an individual who has been unable to publish his work – except, according to his memoir, in an early period when in fact he was still learning what scholarship means, and had completely omitted essential elements such as footnotes and reference to other scholars’ work.6 Interestingly enough, the kind of study of the Gospels that Brodie considers to lead inexorably to the conclusion that Jesus never existed has characterized his published work for the past several decades. Brodie’s argument, in a nutshell, is that everything in the Gospels is explicable as a direct literary reworking of earlier texts, and therefore stories about Jesus were created through a purely literary process, and not on the basis of historical memories or oral traditions stemming from historical events.

Brodie is not the only one to engage in a study of literary borrowings in the Gospels and other early Christian. Literary criticism in general, and intertextual studies which highlight echoes of earlier texts in later ones, have thrived and increased in the academy during that same period. And yet most scholars and historians find this evidence not to lead to the conclusion that there was no historical Jesus – indeed, many would emphasize the inability of literary methods of inquiry to answer historical questions. Many scholars find Brodie’s scenarios for the composition of the Gospels to not all be consistently persuasive. Many of his alleged parallels with other sources are slim. And evidence of literary borrowing, even when substantiated, does not automatically lead to the historical conclusions that Brodie asserts. One can use Scripture to concoct stories about a figure who existed, and not only about one who never did.

This article is not primarily about Brodie’s case for mythicism, but about the broader issues related to its treatment within the academy. Nevertheless, inasmuch as Brodie provides such a case in his book, the question of whether his argument is persuasive cannot be ignored when considering its reception or lack thereof among historical Jesus scholars. And so let me briefly highlight what I consider some examples of serious flaws in Brodie’s case.

First, Brodie’s view of the compositional method used by New Testament authors seems unparalleled, and thus historically problematic. Examples need to be provided of texts being composed in the manner that Brodie posits, where not only are major themes and phrases echoed or quoted, but minor or tangential details and prepositions from an earlier text are utilized as the inspiration for composing a new story, and indeed, a complete new work filled with stories about an individual. Criticisms have been raised against certain views about the composition of the Gospels on the basis of what we know of ancient compositional practices, calling into question some of the assumptions underlying source and redaction-critical views of the Synoptic Gospels. Such questions cannot be ignored inasmuch as they also apply to what Brodie envisages.

Second, the specific claims about the origins of the Gospels, and connections with earlier texts, are in a few instances very clear, but in many more instances extremely impressionistic. When one goes seeking parallels, one can always find them if one is willing to look hard enough and connect dots on as slim a basis as necessary. To provide an example, let me quickly illustrate how one could use the same reasoning to claim that Brodie’s own book is a reworking of earlier texts. If we take the opening sentence of chapter 7 of Brodie’s book, we find that the phrases he uses occur in close proximity to one another in earlier texts. On p.271 of Alarm Management for Process Control by Douglas H. Rothenberg, the words “dear reader” and “long chapter” occur in the same sentence! And on p.108 of Parasites of the Colder Climates edited by Hannah Akuffo, Inger Ljungström, Ewert Linder, and Mats Wahlgren, we find that “microscope” and “second revolution” occur within the same paragraph. Then, on p.72 of the book Academic Callings by Janice Newson and Claire Polster, in close proximity to a reference to “messianic power,” the author uses almost the same phrase Brodie does, “at least one small part of it.” Surely this indicates that Brodie was masterfully illustrating the method he attributes to the Gospel authors by doing the same himself, does it not?

My guess is that the answer to that question is “no,” it does not. But if I wanted to press the case, I could surely suggest that the questions of academic calling, process control, messianic power, and parasitism all relate to religious scholarship, academic freedom, and the historical figure of Jesus. (In case you are wondering, I stopped where I did in Brodie’s sentence because one of the next phrases Brodie uses, “not in the mood right now,” occurs in John Gray’s Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, and I decided that, as much fun as this is, we might all get a little carried away.)

Since I have tried to inject humor into this illustration, I should say that my aim is not in any way to mock, nor to dismiss, but rather to illustrate my point without boring you. Brodie has adeptly identified some instances of probable literary borrowing which are fascinating, and some of them are intriguing but less clear. Some, however, ought to be treated with an appropriate degree of skepticism, because (as I hope I have illustrated) once one is looking for parallels to a given text in other literature, one can almost always find them. Convergences of wording raise the possibility of deliberate echo, but they do not prove it. And even when they are present, they do not in and of themselves demonstrate that the texts in question were the sole source of the new story, without any contribution from memory or tradition concerning historical events. The tendency to conform even historical figures to ideal types is well documented.7

Brodie’s work is (I expect most would agree) not always persuasive. And yet even so he has managed to get it published. This is important in relation to our theme of academic freedom and claims about the suppression of unconventional ideas. There cannot be at the same time a conspiracy to suppress and cover up such evidence, and ongoing scholarly publication thereof. This in turn brings us back again to the question of sectarian scholarship. Much like N. T. Wright’s combination of historical insight, and claims which simply cannot be justified historically, Thomas Brodie has offered commentaries on texts which reveal what almost certainly are genuine textual connections between the New Testament and the Jewish Scriptures, and a range of connections which seem more imaginative and eisegetical than real.

Yet there is a place for taking a hypothesis to its logical extreme in the academy. Indeed, we may all have experienced it. In undertaking doctoral work, it is very common to have a result of the application of one’s method that one is not entirely persuaded by. What does one do in such circumstances? Hopefully couch one’s conclusions in appropriately cautious language. But very often, if for instance we are exploring the applicability of a social-scientific model to early Christianity, we will try to follow through all the possibilities that our chosen approach leads to, even if some are at best only possible. Future scholarly interaction with our work will help to sort out where the application of the model leads to genuine insight of long-term value, and where it leads to dead ends and distortions.

Brodie has sought to carry his view of the Gospels as reworkings of earlier texts to its furthest possible extreme. There needs to be a place for this in scholarship, and given the range of doctoral dissertations that continue to be produced, I have every reason to believe that it is still being done. Brodie’s own publications indicate this as well. But we must remember that this is but one of two poles involved in the process of scholarship. The other is the broader academy, to whom we make our case, and which will cast its critical eye upon our proposals. Given that we all depend for our ongoing efforts of publication on critical interaction with other scholars, it is not surprising that criticisms are offered even of brilliantly insightful works. What is surprising is that sometimes we agree, so strong does the evidence seem to be, or so persuasive a particular line of argumentation. Without the second pole in the scholarly process, that of peer review – not just in the sense of the process our manuscripts undergo prior to acceptance, but also the published reviews and responses – scholarship is nothing but a range of possibilities, published because we must “publish or perish.” We all know well that the existence of a scholarly case for something, or the existence of a scholar who holds a particular viewpoint, does not mean that viewpoint is correct. If it did, then scholarship would be a quantum phenomenon akin to Schrödinger’s Cat, with contradictory things being simultaneously true.

All that I have said thus far does not mean that a compelling case for mythicism cannot be made. But it does suggest that Thomas Brodie has not yet made it. And so where does that leave mythicism? Mythicists need – as mythicists did in a bygone era – to participate in the scholarly process, if they wish to have their work be taken seriously. They will almost certainly not work at mainstream Christian seminaries. But to the extent that there are actual academics who find this viewpoint worth pursuing, they need to seek employment at secular institutions and publish them. At that stage, at least the conversation will have really begun, if indeed there is to be a scholarly conversation on this subject. It will not be the end of the discussion. It will not show that at long last Jesus mythicism has been shown to be correct. But hopefully it will bring scholarly methodologies to bear on the subject in an appropriate and even-handed manner. If scholarly cases for mythicism are made, then one of two things may happen. It may fail to persuade more than a few people, in which case it will be like most of our doctoral dissertations – not unscholarly, but nonetheless almost certainly wrong. Or it may convince a small minority, one that keeps discussion of the topic alive, in a manner that parallels the subjects which most scholars consider to be settled, but which conservative religious scholars and institutions continue to focus on. Or perhaps mythicism will persuade a majority. That is when it would be appropriate to treat mythicism as a view that the wider public ought to adopt. But the attempt to bypass this scholarly process, to try to persuade the general public of a view that has not even been given a proper scholarly presentation in living memory, much less a convincing one, is to show one’s view to be not merely ideologically-inspired or ideologically-constrained scholarship, but ideology masquerading as scholarship. And so, if there is a serious danger posed to academic research by dogmatic institutional constraints, the danger of casting aside the scholarly process altogether, by allowing any view to be considered scholarly regardless of whether it is conducted by people with expertise and presented to the scholarly community for evaluation, seems to me at least as bad if not worse.

And so what position should the academy adopt with respect to Jesus mythicism? It is certainly a view that any scholar ought to have the freedom to explore and consider. If institutions with religious affiliations move to censor and restrict such investigations, I am confident that our secular universities will provide a safe haven for scholars who wish to do so. But when it comes to the mythicism proffered by people whose knowledge of relevant languages, historical texts, ancient cultures, and other such data is minimal or non-existent, and whose works consist only of web pages and self-published books, scholars are under no obligation to waste their valuable time on such matters any more than on the countless other topics which web sites and self-published books address, and which a quick perusal shows to be bunk. As none other than Richard Carrier has said, a scholarly consensus is not to be dismissed lightly, and the burden is on those who wish to challenge it, not merely to make a persuasive case, but to do so using the appropriate scholarly methods, and in the appropriate venues.8 Until that is done, the reason why mythicism is not accepted by scholars and historians will be obvious to anyone who understands how academia works. It is not due to a conspiracy or censorship, but precisely because the system which safeguards academic freedom works to keep at bay both ideologically-driven attempts to silence scholars, and ideologically-driven attempts to pass off apologetics as scholarship.

And yet, despite such statements from Carrier, we still find him offering rude insults on his blog, of a sort that are par for the course in the online apologetics of Intelligent Design and other denialist movements, aimed at Maurice Casey’s recently-published critique of mythicism. Casey may well be wrong about things, and he certainly does not always reflect the scholarly consensus in his volume Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? But he is not a fool.

For a scholar to treat a fringe online viewpoint with disdain is not inherently inappropriate, but it absolutely is inappropriate when the disdain is offered in the opposite direction. There is no reason why a scholar should take a stance particularly seriously when no one has bothered to offer an appropriate case for it in an appropriate venue, or when such a case has been made but has been examined and found wanting. The onus is on the fringe viewpoint to make its case, because nowadays, when a view is widespread among scholars, it will have achieved that status only through the same strenuous uphill effort to persuade and examine that now falls to whoever would challenge it.

If we visit the Facebook page of Robert M. Price, another mythicist, and one of the few who has appropriate credentials, we find that he has embraced climate change denialism just as he has embraced mythicism. When one is open to conspiracy theory thinking about experts in one field, is it any surprise if they fall for it in others?

There are those who think that we are presently on the verge of a momentous occasion, when mythicism will move from beyond the pale to something that is taken seriously in the scholarly realm. I am not yet convinced of this, since the proponents of the mythicist viewpoint, even when they take steps to actually publish appropriately, nonetheless appear to remain steeped in an approach to discussion and investigation that is antithetical to the aims of scholarship. Until that changes, mythicism is unlikely to be widely discussed within the realm of scholarship, much less become part of the scholarly mainstream.9


1 There is an interesting discussion of this topic in Academic Freedom in the Age of the University by Walter P. Metzger (Columbia University Press, 1955) p.26. In early American history, many churches did not consider their stances “sectarian” as long as they were generally accepted Christian views rather than the seriously controversial ones. And, conversely, views which challenged such established “truth” was viewed as “sectarian.” The importance of defining our terms clearly remains. Metzger’s book goes on to indicate the use of creedal statements as weapons in a war of ideas that was waged to the detriment of educational institutions. See also Elizabeth Redden’s article about events at Azusa Pacific, “Academic Freedom, Christian Context,” in Inside Higher Ed It is perhaps also worth noting that the AAUP is less than 100 years old, and the notions of academic freedom that many of us take for granted are nonetheless relatively recent developments in human history.

2 Lake Lambert’s piece, “Theologies of Academic Freedom” in The Cresset, provides a useful indication of the fact that there can be theologies which support academic freedom. And so the matter is not one of religion vs. its absence, but those who espouse, value, promote, and defend academic freedom (religious and areligious) vs. those who do not.

3 See Mark Paxton, Media Perspectives on Intelligent Design and Evolution (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2013) pp.49-51.

4 Beyond the Quest p.35

5 Full calculations of the possible damage can be found on Chris Tilling’s blog Chrisendom.

6 Beyond the Quest p.40.

7 It must be noted at this point that some of the various competing cases for mythicism mutually exclusive. Earl Doherty claims that Paul did not think that Jesus was a terrestrial figure, and that the Gospels subsequently historicized him. Brodie, however, views the creation of Jesus and of Paul’s letters as a literary phenomenon. Both cannot be correct simultaneously, at least not in their present form. This does not mean that one of the cases cannot be correct. But it does suggest that, if someone appeals to both Doherty and Brodie in arguing for the validity of mythicism, they are doing something inherently self-contradictory, suggesting perhaps that the aim of their appeal is ideological rather than principled or based on the finding of the authors in question persuasive.

8 On the subject of seeking consensus among historians and scholars, Carrier writes, “This process cannot be bypassed, as specialists in a field are the most qualified to assess an argument in that field, so if they cannot be persuaded, no one should be (unless their resistance can be proven – not merely assumed – to have other motives than truth-seeking). Conversely, if they are persuaded, everyone else has a very compelling reason to agree (unless, again, their acceptance can be proven – not merely assumed – to have other motives than truth-seeking). This is the social function and purpose of having such experts in the first place” (p.21). Carrier even articulates as a separate axiom that “an effective consensus of qualified experts constitutes meeting an initial burden of evidence” because “it is far more unlikely that an incorrect argument would persuade a hundred experts than that it would persuade only one; and it’s far more unlikely that it would persuade any expert than that it would persuade even a hundred amateurs”(p.29).

9 This article is based on a paper presented at the 2013 SBL Annual Meeting to the “Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship” consultation.