The Historical Jesus and the Scientific Study of Religion

Some goofball theologian has a ridiculously mind-numbing discussion of what is left of the old Jesus Seminar over at RD. I’m finally beginning to understand the depths of the frustration that my buddy Mike Humphries (who was a member of the Jesus Seminar/Q  project) felt and feels about the gaggle of committed Christians who completely undermined the entire enterprise and its scholarly value. The Jesus Seminar just celebrated it’s 25th anniversary, and only members of the Seminar who hold fealty with Christianity were invited to the festivities–Mike didn’t get an invite, I don’t think. What is clear from this theologian’s disjointed religious nonsense is that these stupid theological motherfuckers never cared one shitsquirt about the veracity of the texts they claim to be sacred, or about evidence of whether or not Jesus even existed. I’m not talking about a divine beings or virgin births or any of that nonsense, I’m talking about using social and archeological science to discern who the person (or people) were who became a god to millions of people, and to delve into the actual origins of what are now considered sacred texts which are viewed as the literal word of the gods by about 30 percent of Americans. For the liberal theologians, it matters not one bit that it’s all bunk. But it is bunk, and that matters for both the liberals and the fundies.

Coyne and the Gnu Atheists are fond of pointing to the very real conflict between religion and science, and they focus on the hard science questions–the science of virgin births, miracles, the existence of supernatural beings, creation myths, and the like. That’s all well and good and true. But, for my money, the real action against these ridiculous superstitions is to scientifically confront the origin of religious traditions and their sacred texts, not the origin of species or the cognitive origins of religious thought. It’s the sociological investigation of how these groups came to be which is more devastating to the parochial understandings held by devotees.

I’ve been lucky to be stuck in So. Ill with Mike, and he’s instructed me on a few important things:

1. Jesus (esau, whatever) probably did exist, but never claimed to have been born of a virgin or descended from some mythical Judaic kingdom.

2. Much of what is related to Jesus, may actually be related to other psychotic wackjobs of the same period and with whom Jesus held association (eg. John the Baptist).

3. A great deal of what appears in the sacred canon of American Christianity flies far afield from what can reasonably be attributed to Jesus.Jesus was an illiterate, itinerant street preacher who came out of the John the Baptist movement, and who didn’t like and wasn’t welcome in the dominant emergent monolatry we now call Judaism.  Mohamed is another one to come from the same social background and setting.

4. Jesus never claimed divinity. That may have been the trump charge to try to get him on the AX list with the Romans, or more likely it was simply inserted as devotees began to proclaim Jesus the messiah prophesied in several confluent traditions at that time and among those people. The Romans probably killed Jesus ( since the crucifixion story may be false). Nobody did anything in the Roman Empire except the Romans. You don’t fuck with the Romans.  The issue of the crucifixion is non-trivial. The Romans didn’t crucify three people. That’s fucking fiction. They lined the motherfuckers up down a 1k lane on both sides of the road. Maybe some hairbrained heretic was one of the people crucified in one of the many events (the Romans were really cracked down on Palestine after the uprisings), or maybe three of them and the stories merge and shift. Or maybe Jesus got sick and died, or became so psychotic that he ran off into the desert. Still, given the ubiquity of early associations between the Jesus Movement and crucifixes, it is most likely that the key figure of that movement was one of many Palestinians who was crucified by the Roman Empire.

I don’t know. I think “your sacred texts are obvious fabrications” is a whole lot more powerful than “my fossil collection disproves your origin myths, wanna see?”

One Response to “The Historical Jesus and the Scientific Study of Religion”

  1. Hagan Says:

    I am in complete agreement, but sadly neither of then generally override (in their mind) the defense statement of “well you just don’t have faith.” It might work on a few of the (pseudo)intellectual Christ lovers, but the vast masses with their rampant anti-intellectualism will just snortle and say they will pray for you.

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