Rob Bowman has posted two new responses to my Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium article from the latest issue of SBL Forum. The first addresses my point that the modern apologists tend to disparage the apocryphal texts as bizarre by seizing upon one or two aspects of the texts despite the fact that much of the texts are otherwise benign (thinking specifically here of Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Peter). I stated in the article: “Such focus on the ‘bizarre’ elements of the texts misrepresents their contents. There is plenty of material in the canonical texts that is bizarre or objectionable but it would be unfair to characterize Acts simply on the basis of the cursing stories, or Luke on Jesus’ disappearing act (4:30) or the sweating of blood (22:43-44), or John on its anti-Semitism.” Rob’s second post deals specifically with Anti-Semitism in John.
Rob’s posts argue that the examples I cite of “bizarre elements” in the canonical texts are not so bizarre and the charge of Anti-Semitism in John is unsubstantiated. He concedes, however, that many readers and commentators have struggled with these issues; and I think that is sufficient for my argument. These are troubling aspects of the texts, whether or not they can be tamed by exegetical athletics. Similarly, some of the “bizarre elements” in Gos. Thom. and Gos. Pet. can also be tamed or explained if one takes the time to do so. It is unfair, I think, to label Gos. Thom. 114 “misogynistic.” For one thing, such an assessment is anachronistic; for another, it is far too simplistic a way to interpret the saying. I won’t attempt to do so here as there are far too many other experts on the text who could do so, and have done so. Unfortunately, the apologists (like Witherington) do not consult these works; they simply draw attention to these sections of the texts that will alarm their readers.
Dan Wallace, co-author with Darrell Bock of Dethroning Jesus (one of the books I mention in the article), has also posted a response to the “Heresy Hunting” on the Parchment and Pen blog. His concern is, again, that I am just as biased in my defense of CA scholarship as the apologists are in their assessment of the CA. One respondent to Wallace’s post commented: “Come on Dan, they’re lost – methodologically, psychologically, and eternally.” Sigh.
Timothy Paul Jones, author of Misquoting Truth, added his voice to the debate in another comment. He states, “What is being exposed is the lack of historically-defensible continuity between the Christian Apocrypha and the historical Jesus…The problem with the Christian Apocrypha was and is that the origins of the claims found therein do not represent testimony from eyewitnesses of the life and ministry of Jesus.” I do not object to the authors’ arguments that the CA say nothing about the historical Jesus; I object to how they make their arguments (e.g., Gospel of Thomas says little about the historical Jesus because it is a second-century Gnostic text dependent upon the Synoptic gospels and other NT texts; okay, but what about the scholarship that is not cited that argues otherwise? Should this not at least be acknowledged?). Jones goes on to say that, my statement on this blog that “Liberals tend to view the texts with neutrality, without needless value judgements or disparaging comments” is the “pinnacle of hubris.” I do not think that liberal scholars are without fault; I think some of them, like all scholars in all disciplines, can be found guilty of bias, particularly in pushing too far in their attempts to establish an early origin to some of the texts. But they begin from the position that the CA (and my point was about the CA not the NT texts) are valid expressions of early Christian thought that should be examined sympathetically.
Jones also objects that I have misunderstood his assessment of the Gospel of Peter. He writes, “I’m also not certain how closely Burke read the books that he critiques—he cites me as disparaging the resurrection account found in Gospel of Peter in a section of Misquoting Truth where I, in fact, contend that Gospel of Peter could represent an authentic strand of testimony to the resurrection of Jesus, albeit one that cannot be clearly traced to eyewitnesses of the risen Lord.” But in the article, my comment was: “However, often the apologists excerpt the texts simply to highlight their differences from the canonical texts. Of course, only those sections of the CA texts that are particularly odd are provided and commented upon. The favorite targets appear to be the resurrection account from the Gospel of Peter…” And that is precisely what Jones does: he discusses only what is different about Gos. Pet. (specifically, the painlessness of Christ’s death, and the talking cross).