Last night at Southern Evangelical Seminary, there was a dialogue between Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. James Tabor over the question 'whether Paul transformed Christianity'. Dr. Tabor recently authored a book titled 'Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity'. The following post is simply a reflection on some of the things that occurred during last night's discussion. I wasn't entirely sure where to put this post, and since it was something that actually took place and I was there for it, I decided to put it in the 'real stories' section of this blog.
What stood out to me immediately was the attitude Tabor had towards conservative scholarship. As Dr. Brown asked him why he seemingly ignored a broad range of scholars concerning certain facts–particularly about the dating of particular books–Dr. Tabor responded with a remark to the effect that evangelical scholars really don't count in the sum total of serious scholarship. This was in keeping with his approach throughout the entire discussion. Dr. Tabor admitted at the front end that he has several points of departure from the consensus of scholars (at least those that he would admit to being scholars). This opened the door to an appropriate question during the Q+A time. The question, asked by Dr. J. T. Bridges of Southern Evangelical Seminary, was how Dr. Tabor decides when to break from consensus and when to stand by consensus. His answer was that we need to take it on a case-by-case basis. Which leads me to want to ask him why he dismisses conservative scholarship outright if we should be looking at things on a case-by-case basis? The points that Dr. Brown was making–when he wasn't being interrupted–were consistently dismissed by Dr. Tabor. It seems to me that he is not consistent with his own methodology.
The second thing that stood out to me was the similarity between what Dr. Tabor was promoting and what Robert Eisenman writes about. There is a lot of similarity between the two, including the radical disjunction between what Paul taught and what Jesus taught, the directing influence of Paul on Christianity away from the traditional apostolic teaching, the dismissal of Lucan literature (Luke-Acts) from giving accurate descriptions of the apostles, and the original Christianity being found in sects like the Ebionites and Nazarenes.1 After the dialogue I asked Dr. Tabor if he was aware of the work of Robert Eisenman and whether or not he had any influence of the former's work. His face lit up at the mention of Eisenman, and he responded that they are in fact good friends. He denied that Eisenman had any influence on his work. His answer confirmed for me the connections that I thought I saw earlier. I now am considering studying this further and demonstrating the connections between the two.
All in all the night was very productive. It gave a good glimpse of how difficult it is for an evangelical to be heard in the broader academic community. There is an attitude that exists that if someone is evangelical, he/she must be biased toward current academic issues. What those who demonstrate this attitude overlook is their own bias toward certain tendencies. The areas of importance that were highlighted for me were: the critical approach taken by current scholarship,2 the dating of the books of Scripture, textual criticism, and early church history. These are all areas which affected the dialogue last night, and which we would do well to be acquainted with.
With my synopsis and reflections complete, I would like to point out that I appreciated both of these gentlemen taking the time to do this. It was a fruitful time. I respect Dr. Tabor for being willing to enter a 'hostile' environment, by doing an event at an evangelical seminary. I was impressed by the breadth of knowledge that Dr. Brown demonstrated, and found his knowledge to be a challenge to myself, that I need to be more broadly aware of certain topics. I would encourage any of you interested in these kinds of issues to attend as many discussions/debates you can. Southern Evangelical Seminary often sponsors these kinds of events, so watch out for them.3
1I treated some of these issues in my response to Paul Oh, which is posted on this blog. You can find it here: Perspectives III.
2I deal with this issue in a paper on the documentary hypothesis. I have not posted this paper, but may do so in the future.
3You can find information about future events at the Southern Evangelical Seminary website.