There’s this damned of all sayings—‘a jack of all trades, the master of none’—which haunts me. It presents itself to me in moments of existential crisis. When I consider how so many fields feed into one another, I want to own them all; be the expert in philosophy, science, mathematics, history, theology, biblical exegesis, etc. But is it possible or even reasonable to assume that one can become at the least, say, ‘a master of most trades, a jack of few?’
It’s true that scholars will sometimes write outside of their specific areas of expertise. It just goes to show that you can attain a working amount of knowledge in fields other than your own without a PhD to back it. I mean, there are only so many degrees you can get before you realize that you’re not actually applying your knowledge or advancing any of your areas of particular interest. For the most part it’s a non-issue when a scholar writes on a subject of related interest but isn’t necessarily what he or she specialized in; that is, until someone uses the degree you lack as an argument against you or your proposal.
I’m an historicist. The evidence appears to me to suggest that there was an historical figure (or group of related figures) who is the basis for the gospel narratives. In other words, I deny that Jesus is a myth. My sympathies, however, toward the mythicist position have only deepened through further interaction with its proponents (e.g., our very own Aaron Adair).
Recently Bart Ehrman took up a case against the mythicist denial of a historical Jesus in his book of pop-appeal, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. The erudition you find in works of his like The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture gets lost in a reoccurring ad hominem against mythicists. We learn that the historicity of Jesus is accepted by nearly every expert in the field (p. 4) and mythicists are by and large composed of non-experts (p. 19). Ehrman’s statement to the effect that expert opinion isn’t proof of a claim’s veracity (p. 4) is consequentially negated on a practical plane by his qualifying statements and ad nauseam appeals to authority; effectively poisoning the well against mythicist conviction.
This is my first concession to mythicists—not that there is a second, but who knows what the future holds!—it is clearly battery against the mythicist case (and thus a non-argument) to focus in on academic qualifications to the degree that I can collect an assortment of statements like:
- Earl Doherty’s lack of advanced degrees (only an undergraduate degree in classics (p. 17).
- Richard Carrier and Robert Price as only mythicists to his knowledge with degrees in relevant fields (Carrier’s being in Classics, while Price’s is in systematic theology and New Testament studies) (p. 19).
- The “slew of sensationalist popularizers” who are not scholars (p. 19).
- None of the mythicists are trained scholars in New Testament or early Christian studies working from an accredited academy (p. 2).
- No scholar working from an accredited school—to Ehrman’s knowledge—is a mythicist (p. 2).
- Virtually every scholar of antiquity, biblical studies, classics, and Christian origins in the Western world believes in Jesus’s historical existence (p. 5).
- Bruno Bauer—mythicist and one true biblical scholar—had virtually no followers in the scholarly community (pp. 15-16).
I don’t really care to go on. You can do an Amazon Look Inside! search of the term scholar in Ehrman’s book yourself if you want to see more. You will quickly notice the sheer amount of appeal to scholarship (and how there is a lack thereof) as being far too extensive to simply count as a point-in-passing or a word of caution—it is personal and bombastic.
In conclusion, it should be noted that there is a need to look to scholars for answers in fields outside our expertise; as Ehrman notes, scholars have accomplished the requisite duties to becoming experts in their fields. But as a way of reminder, what we want to critique are arguments and not the people proposing them. To focus so intently on displaying one camp’s lack of specialty degrees while your own is full of accredited scholars is to place the opposing camp in a bad light to readers and comes across as a case of using bad taste to thwart attention to an otherwise lacking argument. I may not be a mythicist, but their arguments shouldn’t be cast into disrepute because too great a focus has been placed on appeals to authority and arguments ad populum.