by Neil Godfrey
New Testament scholars have sometimes been pioneers. The attempt to define criteria of authenticity was in fact an attempt to articulate more precisely and rigorously things that in most other areas of history were determined in much the same way, but with a far greater degree of intuition and instinct. (Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis, Jesus and the Criteria of Authenticity Among Friends and Enemies . . . )
In the same post, Dr. McGrath explains that the pioneering method of applying more clearly defined criteria of authenticity can be used to hopefully understand the great mystery that started Christianity:
While it is surely true that an attempt to find an uninterpreted Jesus amid the interpretation of the Gospel authors is implausible, it does not follow that criteria of authenticity are useless. What we seek to catch glimpses of are Jesus as he interpreted himself, and Jesus as his disciples interpreted him prior to the changed perspective resulting from Good Friday, and from whatever subsequent experiences and reflections persuaded them that he had been raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand.
My earlier post complaining about the absence of known facts about the life of Jesus and the consequent need for historical Jesus scholars to try to find some through criteriology was misguided. It appears that historians who are so backward as to seek explanations for known public facts are “fact fundamentalists” and have much to learn from New Testament pioneers.
. . . . . the issues Allison and others raise are fatal for the historical Jesus enterprise, but are fatal for the misguided and futile quest for certainty that “fact fundamentalists” have brought with them into the discussion. (Jesus and the Criteria of Authenticity . . .)
What is one of the issues raised by Allison according to Dr McGrath that is fatal for “fact fundamentalists”?
Even fabricated material may provide a true sense of the gist of what Jesus was about, however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned. (Review of Dale Allison, Constructing Jesus)
I look forward to reading the outcome of future conferences where Dr McGrath shares the pioneering approaches of New Testament scholars with other historians who seek to understand more about the historical Socrates, the historical Hillel, the historical William Tell, the historical Ned Ludd, etc. They have till now relied entirely too much on “intuition and instinct”, according to Dr McGrath. One only hopes they have not shredded all that potentially valuable fabricated material in the meantime.
With thanks to Steven Carr for alerting me to these memorable achievements of New Testament scholars as publicized by Associate Professor James L. McGrath.