In my previous post I listed the grab bag of arguments for the historical existence of Jesus.
One point worth noting, however, is that the existence of Jesus was presumed long before there were scholars who thought to investigate his real historical nature. When scholars and other point to a passage that they say proves Paul knew somebody who knew Jesus, they are demonstrating that it is their assumptions that prevent them from reading the very text they are pointing to. None of their texts says anyone “knew Jesus”. To think that the texts say this is to read Gospel assumptions back into Paul, and to interpret Paul’s passage in the context of the gospels and against his comparable usages of an expression elsewhere. That this assumption has been inbred subconsciously into us is evident when those same people so often react viscerally when it is pointed out to them that they are reading the Gospels into Paul.
In my earlier posts on E. P. Sanders, for example, I showed how the existence of Jesus is not argued, but assumed.
By way of reminder, here are a few pertinent quotations that alert us to the ad hoc nature of the arguments for the historicity of Jesus:
[A]ll the reports about [Jesus] go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even be raised so high as positive probability. (Schweitzer, Quest, p.402)
Twentieth-century scholarship, with its faith in history, assumed a historical Jesus as its starting point. It shared Schweitzer’s personal dilemma: a choice between a Jesus who fits modern visions of Christianity and Mark’s failed prophet. But they always assumed there was a historical Jesus to describe. (p. 7, The Messiah Myth (2005) by Thomas L. Thompson)
So far, historical research by biblical scholars has taken a … circular route …. The assumption that the literary construct is an historical one is made to confirm itself. Historical criticism (so-called) of the inferred sources and traditions seeks to locate these in that literary-cum-historical construct. (Philip R. Davies, In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’, pp.35-37 — in other words, scholars have just assumed that the narrative originated in historical events)
Laziness is common among historians. When they find a continuous account of events for a certain period in an ‘ancient’ source, one that is not necessarily contemporaneous with the events , they readily adopt it. They limit their work to paraphrasing the source, or, if needed, to rationalisation. — Liverani, Myth and politics in ancient Near Eastern historiography, p.28.
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