Bart Ehrman's "Triumph of Christianity," Part 2

In the past week, I made my way through another 40 pages of this book, and if that seems slow, it's partly because of my limited time to read, yes. But it's also because Ehrman isn't as interesting as he usually is. Credit where due, Ehrman is a decent writer, and he's usually a fast-paced one. But in this tome, he seems a little more ponderous than in the past. It's harder for me to get interested in this one than his past works.

But that's a side issue; what about the arguments and facts since last time? Well, Ehrman is still up to some of the usual silliness of his, saying things like, "Clearly we are dealing wit narratives molded for literary reasons, not with disinterested historical reports." [51] Ehrman's skull has yet to be hit by the brick which makes him realize that "molded for literary reasons" and "objective historical report" are not mutually exclusive options. Indeed, in a social setting where so few people could read, it was an absolute necessity to do some literary molding in order to aid retention of the material. And there was no reason why a qualified author could not do that and not also be true to historical fact. This is not a binary equation, Bart.

On the upside, Ehrman concludes that the best explanation for Paul's conversion is that he honestly believed he had seen the Risen Jesus [52], thereby dispensing with any silly conspiracy theories so popular among the fundy atheist crowd. Ehrman also realizes how difficult it would be to convince anyone in that social setting that a crucified man was worthy of being followed and worshiped. [53] He also realizes how hard it would have been to turn pagans away from their gods. [65] So how does he think Paul ever convinced anyone to believe as he did? Ehrman's answer is so naive as to be absurd, and more reflects his inherent condescension than anything else: He supposes that Paul's "conviction" [67] was sufficient to create converts. Really? I'd like to see Ehrman try that sometime. After he gets the stones out of his ears, maybe he'll have a "conversion" of his own about how "conviction" isn't enough to persuade anyone of anything so radically at odds with what is assumed to be just, right and fair. This is the resort of the denier who is over-enamored of his own  intelligence and finds it hard to believe that anyone could possibly believe anything as fact that they think is stupid. 

Ehrman also affirms that he thinks miracles [70] helped persuade people. This indeed is one of my own arguments, but in what will undoubtedly be a disappointment to the atheist crowd, Ehrman declines to engage the question of whether actual miracles occurred [71]. 

Beyond that, up to page 89, Ehrman does not engage in any discussion of why he thinks anyone became a Christian. We'll see if any of that sort of discussion is forthcoming.


Jason Pratt said…
His dichotomy about "disinterested historical reports" seems a tad disingenuous for other reasons, too: very few, if any, historical reports, whether modern or ancient, are "disinterested"! The authors at the very least have some type of interest in the topic, and unless they're writing a purely personal journal they assume an audience that shares (at least) their own interest(s), whatever that is. (An audience might have interests other than the author's, too, which the author may or may not anticipate.)

It's a false dichotomy of an odd sort: the dichotomy itself, between "disinterested historical reports" and "narratives molded for literary reasons", seems true enough, if true at a bit of an angle for comparison. (i.e. disinterested historical reports wouldn't be molding narratives for literary reasons, because the categories are quite distinct.) The dichotomy is only false because it's falsely applied to the situation. Even in ancient history, there's a big difference between a logistic officer reporting back to the capital on how many skins of water the northern garrison used last week, and a commander reporting on garrison activities (whether in a personal diary for reminiscence, or to rookies for training on what to expect, or in a letter to his wife back home, or to his superior officer back in the capital.)

Historians make use of all such surviving data -- regardless of how mundane or how colorful -- and so have to find ways of assessing how much any literary molding (if any, but usually there will be some degree of this) is rendering the historical-claim report inaccurate, in what ways, to what degrees, and on what topics, also keeping in mind that no report is omniscient (and couldn't be reported if it was). This is a main reason why historians (I'm tempted to include myself with "we") work at testing harmonization of sources.

Still, I don't have Dr. E's text, so even though as an induction from past experience I expect him to be conveniently disparaging here, maybe he's only trying to say something similar, and is just being sloppy about it. (...conveniently sloppy. {wry g})


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