Monday, January 24, 2011

Critical Review: David Fitzgerald's "Nailed," Parts 9 to Close

Our final installment on Nailed looks at Ch 9 and the end matter. I won’t look at Ch. 10, because I know of no one who is arguing, as it is titled, “Christianity was a totally new and different miraculous overnight success that changed the world.” Last I checked, it was, “Christianity was a continuation of Judaism that slowly overtook the Roman Empire, and is still overtaking the world even now.” The one thing I will not from Ch. 10 is that Fitzgerald is actually misinformed enough to use the Justin Martyr quote.

Ch 9 is just more of the same as before: A collection of past-refuted canards. Here Fitzgerald offers the theme of early Christian diversity, which is accomplished either by vastly overstating the significance of divisions related in the NT, or by giving credence to fringe, late expressions like the Gospel of Thomas. Fitzgerald also offers the standard error of dating the Acts 15 conference before Gal 2. Most of the rest is simply repetition of arcane theories from Zindler and Price, which we have addressed in various places; two particular oddities come of a treatment of the hymn of Phil. 2:8-11:

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Price is noted as saying that “even death on a cross” was not part of this hymn originally, because it “interrupts the meter of the rest.” That’s quite all right and may even be true, but it goes too far to then deduce that this means early Christians didn’t believe Jesus died on a cross! Besides, what about Phil. 3:18?
Additionally, the early Christ-myther Couchoud is noted as arguing that:

1) The Son was given at death “the name above every name”.

2) “Lord” is not a name, but “Jesus” is.

3) Therefore, this hymn says that God gave his son the name “Jesus” after death, and this in turn is “fatal to the historicity of Jesus.”

No, I don’t see anything but an enormous non sequitur here, either. For one thing, even if this did say the name “Jesus” was bestowed on the death of Jesus, it does not thereby follow that he was not a historical person. The giving of a name at death doesn’t make a person non-historical. Second, Couchoud’s reading is idiosyncratic and neglects the point that “the Lord” is a circumlocution for YHWH in the OT. For that reason, “the Lord” is not merely a title, but also, in effect, a name. (See Witherington’s commentary on Philippians, p. 68.) One wonders why Fitzgerald is using someone like Couchoud as a source when there are so many more qualified and recent commentaries available.

In Fitzgerald’s end matter, he discusses some of the secular sources, and here we will again treat one point as exemplary. For Tacitus, Fitzgerald spends most of the entry remarking on how absurd it would be to suppose that Tacitus would rifle through so many documents just for a casual mention of Jesus in some archive. That’s a “does not follow” in a few ways. For one, Tacitus was a competent enough researcher that he would know where exactly to look among records for what he needed; he wouldn’t need to rifle through “thousands” of documents.

That said, as I note in my article on Tacitus there were plenty of other potential written sources aside from a record of the crucifixion.
For my part, I think Jesus’ existence and death was common knowledge and that Tacitus did not need to do any digging to find out what he reported in Annals 15.44. However, if he did lack any knowledge, he would have done what was necessary to check it and be sure it was accurate – that is shown by his nature and performance as a historian. Fitzgerald prefers to see Tacitus as merely asking Pliny or relying on Christian testimony, but as shown in the article, that severely underestimates Tacitus.

Thus we close our treatment of Nailed. I had estimated that this book would have nothing new in it, and I was even more correct on that count than I anticipated. Nailed seems to be little more than a rather vain attempt to win the “prize” awarded by Salm’s mythicist committee of himself, Price, Zindler, and Doherty by way of appeal to what the intended audience wanted to hear. It’s unfortunate for Fitzgerald that he didn’t win the prize – but nor did he provide what could be regarded as a winning effort.

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