Ed Babinski Reviews Craig Keener, “Miracles,” on his Claims about Johann Blumhardt and David Strauss

Keener, MiraclesFellow blogger and author of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former FundamentalistsEd Babinski, on Scrivenings has also written a critical review of some of the material in Craig Keener’s Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament AccountsIn particular, Babinski has written about some of Keener’s claims regarding the reputed faith healer Johann Blumhardt, as well as the skepticism of David Strauss allegedly caused by his “worldview.” Ed’s book review is titled:

“Miracles by Craig S. Keener, book review part 1 — “inability to walk?” no. “cured?” didn’t last. Keener’s failure to try & make a famed critic of Gospel miracles look foolish.”

With Ed’s permission, I have posted his review of Keener below:


Craig S. Keener wrote in his book, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2 Volume Set), Baker Academic, 2011:

“David Friedrich Strauss (1808-74) [author of The Life of Jesus Critically Examined] explained early Christian miracle stories as myths depicted as history… Interestingly, Strauss did hear of contemporary miracle claims involving Lutheran pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt, and a friend of his found himself cured of inability to walk after visiting Blumhardt. Consistent with his worldview, however, Strauss apparently dismissed the friend’s cure as psychosomatic.”

Keener makes it sound like Strauss’s friend was incapable of walking, i.e., “inability to walk.” But no source I checked said that, not even Ising’s book that Keener cited as his primary source. So Keener provides a perfect example of miracle enhancement in his summary retelling, or at the very least he has left it to his readers to imagine a worst case scenario of someone with no ability to walk. But that was not the case at all as we will see. Nor did the “cure” last.

The friend of D. F. Strauss who visited Blumhardt was the German romantic poet and pastor, Eduard Morike, see photo below. All three men knew each other in their youth.

According to the book by Ising that Keener footnotes, “Morike can walk only with difficulty.” He did not lack the ability to walk. Ising also adds:

“Morike was planning on a treatment by “magnetizing”–that is, the stroking of hands on the head with inducement to hypnotic sleep, otherwise known as “mesmerizing,” a form of hypnotism to help relieve pain. Blumhardt told Morike that magnetizing was harmful. Later that evening, when Blumhardt accompanies Morike to his lodging Morike says that he senses more strength in his body than usual. Blumhardt smiles. “There is something special in the Mottlingen air; he should remain with Blumhardt here; no where else will he find it better.” The weakness in his backbone that is seen as the cause of his walking difficulties disappears. Morike leaves Mottlingen and Blumhardt to visit hot springs in Bad Teinach for his rhematic pain but returns once again to see Blumhardt, and reports to Wilhelm Hartlaub that now he is able to go on mountain hikes in burning heat. But his improvement does not last. In Feb. 1850 rhematic complaints reappear; in June 1850 he tries a Mergentheim water cure to relieve arthritic pains in his feet and legs.”

SOURCE: Johann Christoph Blumhardt, Life and Work: A New Biography by Dieter Ising and Monty Ledford.

Another scholarly source tells the story this way:

“[Eduard] Morike had back pain and limb numbness. At the end of his weekend with his old friend pastor Blumhardt he received a parting prayer and laying on of hands and soon exuded such energy that physicians believed Morike a healthy man for nearly a year. The two friends, however, viewed the healing less a “miracle” than a “gift” symbolizing Morike’s return to faith after a period of doubt…

The cure stories at [Blumhardt’s church] are not extraordinary for their pronouncement of miraculous causes, located as they are in a century of ecstatic camp meetings, urban revivals and Marian apparitions…

[The accounts of healings at Blumhardt’s church] illuminate… the significance that each of the actors [in the healing stories] attached to the rituals before participating in them. Blumhardt and his penitents approached the confession expecting a profound religious experience. Hence, while there are reports of laymen who expected a sensation that never arrived, there are none to my knowledge of those who were caught unaware…

Blumhardt’s miracles… bolstered the devotion of thousands to the promises of the revival while planting seeds of interest in thousands more, the majority never cured of anything… [And] the exodus of pilgrims from neighboring villages brought the ire of fellow pastors, and stern admonitions… from the consistory in Stuttgart who ordered Blumhardt “to direct the foreigners to the means of edification that are available in their hometowns.”

SOURCE: Daniel Kohler, “Pilgrimage of Protestants: Miracles and Religious Community in J. C. Blumhardt’s Wurttemberg, 1840-1880,” a chapter in Die Gegenwart Gottes in der Modernen Gesellschaft: Transzendenz und Religiose Vergemeinschaftung in Deutschland / The Presence of God in Modern Society: Transcendence and Religious Community in Germany (German) 2006 by Michael Geyer, Lucian Holscher.

Another source notes that “His [Morike’s] health never improved sufficiently to allow him more than a few hours of productivity for weeks or months at a time… His own illness caused him constant pain, and his death on June 4, 1875 was not unexpected.” In context the source reads:

“[Morike] was subject to rheumatic pains and eye trouble, and in 1823 we hear of an undefined ‘weakness in the chest.’ Today we could venture the hypothesis that he was suffering from the aftereffects of scarlet fever, but at his time medicine was not advanced enough to make such a diagnosis… Patiently he tried to show her that it would be wiser to wait for a parish in a climate beneficial to his health [in the mid 1800s there was no pollution control but plenty of smoke stacks spewing black smoke as industrialization took off as well as a lack of proper sanitation in cities making people not want to take a deep breath due to the stink, nor were houses easily climate controlled but still employed fire or coal burning systems and lacked air conditioning, so moving to a different clime could indeed aid a person’s health]… In the meantime, the old struggle with his poor health and his antipathy to preaching also continued in these outwardly idyllic years… In November 1842, his superiors gave him the choice of either doing his work without help or going into retirement on a very low pension. Morike chose retirement; and at thirty-nine he moved with his sister to the spa of Schwabisch-Hall to take the [therapeutic/healing] waters and then at that end of 1844, when the climate still proved too harsh, to Bad Mergentheim… [he was] a poet whose nerves reacted to the slightest change in atmosphere, which he so beautifully depicted in his poetry… It seems tragic, then, that he gained his freedom too late to enjoy it, since his health never improved sufficiently to allow him more than a few hours of productivity for weeks or months at a time… Morke married Margarete November 25, 1851, after they had known each other for seven years. The courtship [that began around 1854] put an end to the two years’ silence of Morike’s poetic genius just after his retirement. The years after 1845 were very fruitful ones for the poet… But his happy home life began to show signs of strain as the poet and his wife became older. Gretchen had always been a very sensitive person and took her illnesses just as seriously as the poet took his… His own illness caused him constant pain, and his death on June 4, 1875 was not unexpected.”

SOURCE: Eduard Morike by Helga Slessarev, University of Cincinnati (New York: Twayne Publishers 1970).

Also, as Ising admits, Blumhardt “does not cover up the fact that there are disappointments; not everybody experiences healing. Among these are people with ‘black star’ [cataracts] or those with congenital blindness or deafness… his prayer also seems ineffective for his mother-in-law.”

Is it any surprise that D. F. Strauss was not impressed when he heard of Morike’s “cure” at Blumfeldt’s church?

Morike at the time of his temporary “healing” was also engaged to a young lady he was excited about marrying, so Strauss added in a letter that it was probably not Blumhardt who cured Morike but “the god of love [Cupid], who alone clearly delivered [Morike]…”

-Edward T. Babinski

This entry was posted in Guest Blogs, Miracles, Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Ed Babinski Reviews Craig Keener, “Miracles,” on his Claims about Johann Blumhardt and David Strauss

  1. robert2016 says:

    hello ed and matthew

    in ancient texts are there stories where the severely persecuted can stand up in front of large crowds and narrate the miracles of their gods?
    are there any indications in acts that peter and others were intensely persecuted and still spoke about the miracles of jesus?

    do hostile environments help the persecuted to continue to tell stories about miracles ?

  2. robert2016 says:

    if what i have said is not understood then i will quote the argument which was made on ehrmans blog

    quote:
    However, I thought he made a valid point about the Christians who told miracle stories were in a different context than the miracles being told about Baal Shem Tov. Paul admitted to intensely persecuting Christians and that was very early on, so it’s not like they were free to say what they wanted without consequences. After Paul’s conversion, the tables were turned on him and he was the one at the receiving end of persecution as he stated in I Thessalonians. Doesn’t that show that their environment was hostile, at least sometimes?

    • Hey Robert, I have an academic conference that I am traveling to that is out of town, so I’ll have to get back to this comment later. Best, -MWF

    • PCulbert says:

      Re the speeches in Acts, other scholars disagree with Ehrman’s views-

      eg FF Bruce ‘The speeches in the Acts of the Apostles’ & ‘The speeches in Acts – thirty years after’
      Colin Hemer ‘The speeches of Acts I & II’
      CK Barrett
      W Ward Gasque

      As Bruce says ‘For an author who could write such idiomatic Greek as the Prologue to the Third Gospel, the Greek of some of the speeches in Acts is surprisingly awkward.’ Is that because Luke didnt make the speeches up?

      It is also possible that Luke had written sources for Paul’s speeches, for example. As Eckhard Schnadel has said ‘We should not discount the fact that Paul may have written out some of his sermons. Contemporary orators wrote out their public speeches before memorising them.’

      Is Ehrman basing many of his conclusions on the work of Martin Dibelius? If so, Id recommend Gasque’s critique ‘The speeches of Acts – Dibelius reconsidered’.

      • Celsus says:

        Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m super busy right now, but I’ll get back to this at some point in the near future.

      • Celsus says:

        Hi PCulbert,

        My first observation of Acts is that it contains an *overwhelming* amount of direct speech compared to the historiographical literature of the same period. For an analysis of this fact, see this article from Richard Pervo:

        http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0142064X06063243?journalCode=jnta

        Whenever you have a greater degree of direct speech, there will almost certainly be a higher probability that there is also a greater portion of that speech that is inaccurate, embellished, or, well, invented/imagined.

        Second, it’s not just the speeches of Peter and Paul that matter. There are other characters that speak at length in the narrative too, such as Stephen, who has the longest speech in the entire Bible. I find it hard to imagine that a single author (or even a group of authors and/or note-takers) could have faithfully recorded all of them. Even historians like Tacitus imagined many of their speeches, and they include vastly less direct speech than the author of Luke-Acts. On this issue, see “The History of Make-Believe: Tacitus on Imperial Rome”:

        https://www.amazon.com/History-Make-Believe-Tacitus-Imperial-Rome/dp/0520236505

        I should also note that I do not consider the author of the third Gospel to be Luke or an eyewitness of Paul, or even to have likely written in the 1st century CE. I base this conclusion on multiple considerations that are too numerous to discuss here, but I am publishing a peer-reviewed article on this topic, which can be read in draft form here:

        https://celsus.blog/2013/12/17/why-scholars-doubt-the-traditional-authors-of-the-gospels/

        But even if the author of the third Gospel had based his material on Paul’s sermons, I still don’t see how that gets around the consideration that Peter’s speeches appear to have been written in the same style of Greek as those of Paul (suggesting a common author and not two different speakers).

        I wouldn’t put too much stock in the first few lines of Luke. As someone who has studied a vast array of Greek literature (I had to pass a Classical PhD qualifying exam in Greek, after all), they really aren’t as impressive as one might think. They only stand out because most of the Greek of the NT is sub-par Greek, whereas they are perhaps middle-par. The speeches of Thucydides are head and shoulders above them.

        I do not know if Ehrman is basing his conclusions on Dibelius.

    • Hey Robert,

      First off, the orations before hostile crowds in Acts are, for the most part, literary embellishment. It’s very unlikely that either Paul or Peter spoke these orations, especially since they use the same language and style, which would not have occurred if two different people really composed them. As Ehrman (“Exaltation Christology in the Speeches of Acts”) explains:

      “[W]hat is striking is that if you didn’t know who was giving the speech, you’d have almost no way to tell from what is said. That is to say, the lower class uneducated peasant fisherman Aramaic-speaking Peter, in his speech in ch. 2, sounds almost exactly like the highly educated rhetorically effective intellectual Greek-speaking Paul in his speech in ch. 13. Why does Peter’s speech sound like Paul’s speech? Because neither Peter nor Paul wrote their speeches. Luke wrote them both.”

      The earliest Christians met in private house meetings, and most likely evangelized more subtly through friendships and social/trade connections. Orations could be made in court, if Christians were brought there, but they were not made available to the public.

      The closest thing we have to religious persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire are the persecutions of Jews. And, Jews were generally persecuted for refusing to worship Pagan gods. In fact, our one eyewitness source for Christians being persecuted, Pliny the Younger, says that Christians were persecuted for just that, not preaching about miracles.

      There was actually a much more extensive Roman persecution of the Bacchic cult in the early Republic (186 BCE), which was more widespread than any persecution of Christians in the 1st century CE. Livy writes about it in book 39, chapters 8-19. Once more, Christians were not special in this regard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s