What do I think of the second chapter of McCormick’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
As we come to the second chapter, we get to the history of the Jesus story. Now I have to say that while the first chapter gave me some hope, pretty much everything else from then on goes downhill and it keeps getting worse and worse. Every night when I close my Kindle, I go to sleep astounded that someone could just be so unbelievably uninformed of what they write about.
To begin with, at location 482, when it comes to Jesus, McCormick tells us that the existence of such a person is an active point of some disagreement.
Sure. If he wants to say the age of the Earth or the idea of evolution are also active points of disagreement. Now I’m sure he’d say those are settled questions, but you will find more authorities in the field who question those claims than you will find those who question the existence of Jesus. Still, McCormick buys into the idea that there’s some debate going on about the existence of Jesus. As Jonathan Bernier says
And on those matters Carrier fails, as has been shown repeatedly by various NT scholars, professional and amateur, here on the interwebs (which, one should note, is just about the only place that this “debate” is taking place. It’s certainly not taking place in the academy. Kinda like what fundamentalist Christians euphemistically call the evolution “debate”; the debate, it turns out, exists primarily in their heads).
Unfortunately, as we go through this book, we will see more of the same. Regularly McCormick will speak of events like the alleged crucifixion and such. Most of us back in reality have realized that when someone is open even to mythicism, they’re pretty much entirely unreliable on history.
McCormick will also say the Gospels were not by the people attributed to them and they do not contain eyewitness testimony. Of course, it would be good to have claims like these to be backed. I realize there are many scholars who would hold to this, but McCormick doesn’t even bother making an attempt to name any such scholars. Instead, it’s just thrown out there. One would think that if you were making a case, you might do something bizarre like, I don’t know, make a case.
McCormick tries to respond to the idea of Jewish oral tradition and says the problem with saying the Gospel stories were handed down that way is that Jesus was seen as a radical new teacher so why would His teaching be preserved in Jewish oral tradition. It’s simply amazing that someone thinks that this is an argument. Did the Jews use a different rule for memorization with their tradition than they did for anything else? Are they not aware that rabbis would quote teachings from other rabbis and who they received them from? Is McCormick not aware that even in non-Jewish societies oral tradition is still a reality and even in some parts of the world today still is? Oral tradition is not married to Judaism. Judaism uses oral tradition, but it’s not the case that oral tradition uses Judaism.
Instead, Jesus’s teachings as a rabbi himself would be memorized the same way. It’s also fair to say that Jesus as a traveling teacher would give the same parable or sermon more than once. Just this month, I have spoken at two different churches and given essentially the same talk. Of course there are variations in what I say, but the talk is still the same. Are we to think that something like the Prodigal Son was told only one time and that was it? Jesus was completely different from every other teacher in that He taught a message once and never repeated it?
Jesus also used aphorisms. These are short pithy sayings that are easy to remember. Judge not lest you also be judged. What profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? These are short sayings that would be readily remembered.
Not only that, there’s also the point that in an age without post-it notes and computers to recall information, that people will rely on memory more and have better memories. A good researcher would have interacted with memorization at the time of Jesus and in oral traditions. Unfortunately, McCormick does not do this because he is not a good researcher.
At 512, McCormick says it’s relevant that none of the original Gospels or any other NT documents have survived. For people who don’t know a thing about ancient history and the transmission of documents, this can seem like a powerful point. For anyone who’s read anything on the topic, it doesn’t matter at all. Reality is I don’t know of a single original ancient document we have. All we have in every case is copies. If McCormick wants to know how the NT stacks up with relation to copies in comparison to all other ancient manuscripts, we have far more manuscripts and such of the NT, in far more languages, and far closer to the time of the original writing than any other ancient document bar none.
Of course, don’t count on McCormick to tell you this. No. McCormick is simply a popularizer of tired old canards that only appeal to uninformed atheists that want something to make them think they have a stumper. They don’t. It’s quite sad that McCormick quotes Ehrman’s book on the NT and how we have copies of copies of copies and thinks he has a point. McCormick. Did you read to the end of the book, like I did?
In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.
McCormick also says that even if we talk about the preponderance of documents later on, that doesn’t prove their accuracy and more than a million copies of Sherlock Holmes proves he was a real person. Could someone please find the scholar who is arguing that because we have multiple copies of the NT that it must be true? Please let him know he’s doing us a disservice.
Oh wait. That’s not being said at all. All that’s being asked by textual criticism is “Do we have what was originally written?” Whether it is true or not is completely irrelevant at this point. Once again, someone informed on the topic would know this, which is why McCormick doesn’t.
Of course, McCormick has something to say about canonization. After all, there was a vast number of works floating around the Roman Empire by Christians and by the heretics as well and such and only a few made it in the canon. In trying to find which ones belonged in the canon and which ones didn’t, McCormick says “A variety of criteria drove this separation.” Now someone who really wanted to know about history and this process would then say “Ah. What were these criteria? Why did the Gospel of Matthew make it in and the Gospel of Thomas didn’t?” These would be good to know. All McCormick points to is ideological and political disputes.
Well for those who don’t know since McCormick hasn’t informed you, let me list some criteria. First, was the text written by an apostle or the associate of an apostle. Now McCormick might think that it wasn’t written by those people, but the question was did the church think it was? Second, was it accepted by the church as a whole? One little community over here liking the Gospel of Peter does not mean everyone thinks it should be canonical. Third, was it in line with what was known to be from the apostles?
These would all be helpful to know about, but of course, McCormick doesn’t mention them. It’s also important to note that the debate also was more cautious than anything. Many books we have today were heavily disputed and claims of authorship are nothing new. These were debated even then.
If he wants to know about the other Gospels, well one thing he could do is read them. If you read through the Gospel of Thomas, you will find that it really doesn’t fit with the picture of Jesus. Also, all of these works are extremely late. All the canonical Gospels can be dated to the first century. The other Gospels come later long after all the apostles have died.
Naturally, McCormick has something about the accounts being written 30-100 years later. (Although I highly question the 100 date.) One wonders what McCormick thinks about the fact that this describes practically every work in ancient history. How skeptical is he of events that are written about when they’re all this late? McCormick also would have you think that the writers had no clue about the story and then just wrote it down. Could it not be that they’re out there teaching about what they’ve seen and then after years of speaking about it decide to write it down? Such ideas never come to McCormick. Again, this is because McCormick is just not a good researcher in this area.
McCormick also quotes Ehrman thinking that it’s astounding that no two manuscripts of the NT we have are identical. Well geez. What’s so scary about this? Most differences we notice are slips of the pen or spelling mistakes. They’re easily detectable. Sometimes, there would be manuscript changes that were intentional and not for malignant reasons. Suppose you’re writing out the text for the sermon this Sunday at your church in the ancient world. You start out with a section about Jesus going into the city and it starts with “He went into the city.” Well your audience might not know who He is, so you just put in “Jesus went into the city.” This is a change that could take place and it’s easily noticeable. McCormick instead thinks like a conspiracy theorist as if there’s some grand cover-up and by noticing that there are differences in the manuscripts, he’s shown the emperor has no clothes. These differences were known from the beginning in church history. McCormick is just 1,800 years behind the times.
Naturally also, McCormick does not interact with 1 Cor. 15 significantly at all, despite this being the earliest account we have of the resurrection story. There is nothing about it being an oral tradition that can date to at the latest about five years after the events. (Note for atheist readers who don’t pay attention to scholarship. I’m not saying the letter of 1 Cor. 15 dates to this time but the material in the creed in this text does.)
McCormick does say that if believing requires more or different scholarship than he has given, then most Christians have ungrounded belief. With this, I agree. I am not saying all Christians need to be reading scholarship constantly, but churches need to be educating their laypeople on what the scholars in the field are saying so that Christians have more than a testimony and a feeling to back their worldview. Of course, McCormick himself has unreasonable grounds for his unbelief.
McCormick also says that what Christians also did is just made a document based on what they already believed and then noted how it all fit together so well. It’s amazing that he says this after talking about all the divergencies in the resurrection accounts. Of course, I’ve already pointed out what went into canonization and there were plenty of works that McCormick could have read, such as writers like Lee MacDonald or Michael Kreuger, but sadly he doesn’t avail himself of those.
McCormick also says that with our sources, we have a disturbingly short list for the most important event in human history. Of course, McCormick says this as someone in a post-Gutenberg culture who believes the written word is the best way to establish anything. One also wonders who else should have written about this? Why should they? McCormick doesn’t answer those questions. He just says we don’t have enough writings. How many do we need before he thinks the case deserves a fairer hearing? If this is the most important event, would a thousand be enough? Ten thousand? How many?
While no doubt not everything in this chapter has been covered, enough has been. McCormick is speaking about matters he knows not. It’s a shame he’s seen as an authority for some reason.
A review of chapter one can be found here.
A review of chapter three can be found here.
A review of chapter four can be found here.
A review of chapter five can be found here.
A review of chapter six can be found here.
A review of chapter seven can be found here.
A review of chapter eight can be found here.
A review of chapter nine can be found here.
A review of chapter ten can be found here.
A review of chapter eleven can be found here.
A review of chapter twelve can be found here.
A review of chapter thirteen can be found here.