Jesus in History and Myth

By R. Joseph Hoffmann; Gerald A. Larue | Go to book overview
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Morton Smith

The Historical Jesus

Professor Wells and I have two things in common: first, each of us holds a theory that most scholars in the field declare absurd, and second, each of us thinks the majority's opinion about the other's theory is correct.

Professor Wells may have explained in his paper his reasons for his estimate of my theory. He mentioned some in his latest book. 1 However, I had to write this paper before seeing his, and I don't think the arguments in the book deserve detailed refutation.

I should probably explain this judgment. The fact is that he argues mainly from silence. Essentially, he claims that since the New Testament epistles and the Apocalypse say little about the earthly life of Jesus, their authors knew nothing about it; and since their authors knew nothing about it, it never occurred.

This argument is absurd. Silence can be explained by reasons other than ignorance, and ignorance of something does not mean it is non- existent. So Professor Wells tries to strengthen, or perhaps conceal, his case with a great many trivial arguments. Some of these are accurate; I owe him for a couple of corrections. However, many are incorrect, far too many to discuss in this space. So I must go on to other things, but first I want to make one comment.

The strongest element in his argument is the silence. Though it is not total, it is demonstrated.

The weakest element, which, in his book, he wisely keeps in the background, is the attempt to explain this silence by conjecturing that somewhere, in the very dim past, there were unknown proto-Christians who built up an unattested myth, based on inadequate passages in 2 Isaiah and the Wisdom of Solomon, about an unspecified supernatural entity that at an indefinite time was sent by God into the world as a man

Morton Smith is Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia University.


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