There has appeared recently a blogpost critiquing Doherty’s arguments as found on his Jesus Puzzle website. This post has gained some recognition by an Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University as “worth linking to” because it brings Koester into the “debate” and illustrates “so nicely why [the argument for a mythical Jesus] is problematic.”
The blog poster, Metacrock, quotes Doherty from his website:
“Scholars such as Helmut Koester have concluded that earlier “allusions” to Gospel-like material are likely floating traditions which themselves found their way into the written Gospels. (See Koester’s Ancient Christian Gospels and his earlier Synoptische Uberlieferung bei den apostolischen Vatern.) Is it conceivable that the earliest account of Jesus’ life and death could have been committed to writing as early as 70 (or even earlier, as some would like to have it), and yet the broader Christian world took almost a century to receive copies of it? (Jesus Puzzle, part 3:Evolution of Jesus Of Nazareth”
The problem is Koester himself says that people were writing Gospels as early AD 50.(Ancient Christian Gospels)
Moreover he’s already distorted what Koester says. Nowhere does he argue that the early Gospel traditions blew in from non Christian sources, or merely “floating traditions” that found their way in late.
This is a strange criticism. If Doherty had argued that the Gospels were written as early as AD 50 then his point about their lack of impact for such a long time would be even stronger. Metacrock is actually strengthening Doherty’s case with this criticism. Equally dismally, Metacrock has failed to notice that Doherty does indeed allow for his argument to include dates as early as 50 ce when he writes, “or even earlier, as some would like to have it”.
Secondly, Metacrock faults Doherty for apparently distorting what Koester says, and explains: “Nowhere does he argue that the early Gospel traditions blew in from non Christian sources”.
This is a most strange reading for someone who boasts that he is a PhD student. Doherty himself does not say that any “Gospel traditions”, floating or otherwise, blew in from “non-Christian sources”. That is really quite bizarre. Doherty’s whole argument is about the variety of Christian sources that went into the creation of the Gospels. (When Doherty does discuss “non-Christian sources” he identifies them as Josephus and Tacitus.)
Doherty certainly follows Koester and “scholars such as Koester” when they suggest that some Gospel material derived from ‘floating traditions’. I don’t have access at the moment to Koester’s Ancient Christian Gospels and have never read the German work also referenced by Doherty, so I cannot comment on Metacrock’s claim that Koester himself only sees “floating traditions” applying to the post-resurrection narratives. But it hardly matters. It is scarcely a novel or controversial claim that the Gospel authors used some sayings or turns of phrase from what was “in the (church community’s) air”.
I wonder why anyone, especially a mainstream professor of religion, would link to such a critique as containing something “worth” contributing to the discussion.
More on Mythicism also addresses two posts of mine, E.P. Sanders’ test for authenticity of the sayings of Jesus and Engaging E. P. Sanders point by point: John the Baptist.
My post Assumptions of historicity happens to address James’ objections to what I wrote in those posts. Hopefully I have clarified there what I have been attempting to point out all along — and what I have cited other historians as also arguing — that external controls are necessary in order to establish the historical value of the narrative of a text. This is what we have in the case of Josephus, Livy, Thucydides, Curtius Rufus and other ancient historians, but what we don’t have in the case of the Gospels. To assume historicity without external controls is to fall into the trap of “establishing” historicity by circular reasoning.
As for James’ second objection that I failed to show how the Gospels “invented” the figure of John the Baptist. Of course, what I was addressing in that post was Sanders’ strong claim that certain details about John the Baptist “correctly pass unquestioned in New Testament scholarship.” So James’ objection is quite beside the point.
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