Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Neil Godfrey's High Context Bungle Jungle

To be a Christ myther requires either casual arrogance, appalling ignorance, or some mixture of both. A blogger styled “Vridar”  aka Neil Godfrey is typical of the sort of mixture of both that makes the Christ myth  able to find places to reside in the intellectual cracks of society. I challenged Vridar to debate me on the issueof the authenticity of Paul’s letters here some time ago, and as is also typical of the Christ myth crowd, he ran with his tail between his legs, yowling like a scalded dog. I expect little different this time, even as I issue a fresh challenge over the subject today.

Vridat recently put that combined arrogance and ignorance to work with an address to what he supposes to be a “misapplication” of the concept of high context cultures to the point that Paul does not mention certain life details of Jesus in his epistles. Although I have been positing this point for years now, Vridar has now been apparently been so stung by Maurice Casey’s adoption of the argument that he cannot help but reply – no doubt thanks in good measure to the substantial beating Casey (and Stephanie Fisher) have been administering to him lately.

Vridar, I might point out, is the sort who wouldn’t know a “misapplication” of such things if it bit him on the rear end, and it speaks for itself that the best he can do in reply is appeal to airline pilot Kris Komarnitsky’s attempt to skittle around the issue of high context:

JP goes on to argue that the “high-context” society Paul and the Corinthians lived in can account for Paul’s silence on the discovered empty tomb. But as JP admits, even in high-context societies “repeat of detail would . . . occur if some need were present to repeat.” This just leads us back to the question above. If Paul is trying to defend Jesus’ resurrection, he definitely has a need to repeat information. And in fact that is exactly what we see Paul do. He repeats the basic community creed that Jesus was raised and that this has been confirmed in the scriptures (1 Cor 15:4). He lists those who Jesus appeared to (1 Cor 15:5-8) which, being an already established Christian community, the Corinthians must have heard about before. Drawing on the authority of these witnesses, Paul then challenges the Corinthians, “Now if Christ is proclaimed [by all of these people] as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor 15:12).

Here, Komarnitsky’s error is twofold. First, Paul is not “trying to defend Jesus’ resurrection” in 1 Cor. 15. What he is answering, rather, is a Corinthian deviancy in which it is doubted that humans can be resurrected, and in that regard, he makes use of Jesus’ resurrection as a precedent. 

Second, the rhetorical purpose of 1 Cor. 15:3-11 also points to a specific need to fulfill: Composing his argument according to the principles of Greco-Roman rhetoric, 3-11 consists of a narratio, which would include testimony like this as part of the building of an argument. Thus it is rather simple to demonstrate the “need” present to offer these details in context. This is the sort of detailed explanation Earl Doherty needs to reproduce to validate his 200 alleged “silences” – but as it stands, my analysis of those 200 showed that in each case he failed to provide anything of the sort, mostly appealing vaguely to “common sense” or else using low context reasoning.

Thus it is that when Vridar points out this or that detail reported by Paul seems to contradict the high context thesis, it is clear that it is he – not I or Casey – who misapplies, misunderstands, and misuses Hall’s presentation. His use of Komarnitsky – as opposed to a serious scholar of anthropology or the social sciences -- typical of those in the Christ myth camp who are unable to properly process complex ideas like these from anthropological scholarship.

That leaves a few comments made to this rather dawdling entry by Vridar. Most of his crowd slavers obediently and says nothing of value, but here are a few points worthy of addressing if only to emphasize the intellectual dementia typical of Christ-mythicism.

An oblivious user styled RoHa asks a list of questions:

I still want to know (a) how they know the society Paul was writing to was a “High Context” society…

This is the finding of credible and reputable social science scholarship and is the result of decades of careful research and study. That RoHa lives in a shell is not a reason for it to be otherwise.

 (b) whether they have a list of what things would be repeated, and what things would not be repeated, and how such a list is justified

No list. The fact that RoHa requests one shows that he/she fails to grasp the complexity of the concept. A list would be impossible because what is “high context” in a context depends on a shifting of conditions, not on a predetermined list.

and (c) whether any of these guys has actually lived in a high context society?

As if this matters? It doesn’t. But several of my readers do live in such a society, and social science research has been done in the “living laboratories” of actual high context societies. Again, this is not open to debate as a concept.

A lesser intelligence styled muuh-gnu states the “gospel writers obviously didn’t” live in a high context society. 

What this user fails to grasp in the the Gospels, as laudatory Greco-Roman bioi, serve a specific purpose, that of honoring their subject by recounting their words and deeds. Of course, it would take a lot of foolishness of suppose that this is any sense would disprove the entire structure of anthropological scholarship. But the “need” is clearly demonstrated.

The longest comment comes from a user who remarks on another commenter’s posting of the Wikipedia item on high context. The rather idiotic supposition is made that because the article notes rules of behavior and the social setting as part of the context of understanding what high context is, this means that it did not extend to other parts of daily life! This is simply without merit, and an artificial division foisted by the commenter’s tendentious reading of the Wikipedia description. 

The same commenter also offers a peculiar analogy to the rediscovery of the Law in the Temple at the time of Josiah, taking from this that “knowledge of the sacred rules of behavior towards God and his priests were not implicitly taken for granted. Communication by the priests, the prophets and the books was necessary.” How this has any bearing on the issue is hard to say. Per the account, the law had been lost for some time and was unknown to the people. Beyond that, law in particular was a special “needs” case, as it involved rules to live by on a daily basis, with associated penalties for failure. As far as I can tell, there were no penalties for failing to recall such things as that Jesus lived in Nazareth. Furthermore, the law was to be repeated and meditated upon as essential to the keeping of the covenant; the details of Jesus’ life are not part of the New Testament covenant.

The one thing that the commenter does get right – and which I have never disputed, and indeed made clear in my own writings -- is that “high context” is a matter of scale. Some social groups are “higher” context than others, and have to become “lower” in context if they deal with an outsider. But this does not erase the fact that as a whole, the ancient Mediterranean was on the “higher” end, which makes the Christ-myther demand for more detail about the life of Jesus an oblivious one. Furthermore, the seasoned ekklesia – to whom the epistles were all written – would be an example of a sub-group “with autonomous rules of conduct and hermetic professional jargon” which the commenter admits would be characterized as high context.

A commenter styled J. Quinton observes:

It seems to me that the “high context” in Paul’s congregations should have been the LXX, not the life and teachings of Jesus.

Not in the least. Paul’s congregations were a decade or more old; the life and teachings of Jesus, by then, would be as ingrained as the LXX would have been. This is a distinction that many in Doherty’s thrall – including Doherty himself – fail to recognize: They argue as though Paul were addressing new converts with no knowledge. Indeed, in Jesus Neither God Nor Man, Doherty offers an appendix in which he makes this mistake rather obviously.

Vridar himself offers another oblivious comment:

Even when it came to “pivotal cultural values” Paul was quite prepared to spell them out explicitly when he believed it would reinforce his instructions. Recall his “Does not nature itself teach you that it is a shame for a man to have long [or whatever the original meaning was] hair?”

Here again Godfrey’s impenetrable ignorance comes to the fore. Moral teachings are a special “need” scenario, as they affect real life behavior. The function of such teachings as these is moral exhortation, which is in need to stronger emphasis because of the constant social pressure in an agonistic society to conform to group expectations (and the temptation to diverge from them). Obviously this has no bearing on such things as Jesus being from Nazareth. It does have bearing on Jesus’ moral teachings, but as we have argued, those are to be found alluded to in the epistles as is appropriate.

That closes us for now; but we know Vridar to be the sort who does not know when he is in a losing cause, so we expect a reply. However, from here on it will be done at a TheologyWeb thread here, where we challenge Vridar – or any of his sycophants – to defend their ignorance.