Some questions can’t be answered

by Richard on July 25, 2012

Larry Hurtado is reluctant to engage with those who argue that Jesus never existed

I was emailed last week by someone asking why scholars don’t engage the “mythicists” (as they are called) on the issue. Were we afraid that we’d be out-gunned in an argument? Did we secretly know that the denyers had it all? Were we being elitist?

For me, it’s a matter of having a good many prior commitments… But another reason for feeling it less than necessary to spend a lot of time on the matter is that all the skeptical arguments have been made and effectively engaged many decades ago.

Of course, having expressed this reluctance, he’s then obliged to engage the question in his comment thread. I know how he feels. There are some questions that are so framed as to prevent reasonable conversation. You know in advance that any answer given will be dismissed by the questioner. In those circumstances, what is the point of answering?

One such question was persistently and pointedly put by commenter “Adam”

Why is the Methodist church boycotting Jews who live in Judea and Samaria, and not Hamas?

The persistence* of the question annoyed me, I admit — not because there is no answer, but because asking the question that way suggests that the questioner has already decided that no answer is possible (and, therefore, any answer given will be dismissed out of hand). Oh, and because I was irritated.

But let’s put that to one side. Let’s assume for a moment that I’m not irritated, and that the question was genuine and not merely rhetorical. What then?

The first thing to say is that Kim and I have already considered a very similar question, which resulted in a full and frank exchange of views. The opinion I expressed then remains my opinion and I see little point in going over old ground.

Secondly, the question as put has at least one very banal answer: the Methodist Church has not supported a boycott of Hamas because that question has not been put to the Conference. The Conference can only answer the question it is asked! There’s a serious point here. There are a few voices within the Methodist Church that took serious exception to the Conference debate in 2010. Silly threats of legal action were made. There was a bit of noise on the internet. But no serious effort was made to engage the structures of the church to broaden and deepen the question. Posturing is of course the easier option, but it achieves nothing.

Thirdly, and perhaps even more banal, I’m obliged to ask what a ‘boycott of Hamas’ would mean. The truth is that the boycott of Settlement goods which the church commended in 2010 is largely symbolic. I’m not aware of ever having seen any such products in the supermarket since then. Boycotting goods from the Palestinian Authority, even if it were thought desirable, would be equally empty. Total imports from the PA into Europe came to only €12m in 2011, which kind of suggests that finding products to boycott could be a lot of work. In any case, the boycott of the Settlements is called for because the Settlements are illegal. That’s an entirely reasonable position to take, in my view. Boycotting the PA would would be against the economic interest of the Palestinian people — and unless the people themselves call for such a boycott (as the South Africans did in the 1980s) there can be no justification for it.

* The question was repeated many times, but most instances were removed for the sake of keeping the thread readable

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Was the Historical Jesus on Facebook?
07.26.12 at 3:39 am
James McGrath is Finally (Almost) Getting It! « The Musings of Thomas Verenna
07.26.12 at 2:57 pm

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Kim 07.25.12 at 5:50 pm

Great parable.

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