2010-08-22

What if Jesus said not a single word we are told he said?

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by Neil Godfrey

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Historical Jesus scholars are quite capable of discerning when a saying of Jesus has been made up by a Gospel author for narrative effect. But when they explain why other sayings are not likewise fabricated, but are traceable to a real Jesus, I think they are jumping the rails of straight consistent logic.

If a saying is integral to the flow and liveliness of the story, such as “Who touched me?”, “Hold out your hand”, “Pick up your mat and go home”, “Get up”, then it can safely be judged as “suitable only for the occasion . . . not particularly memorable . . . not aphorisms or parables, and would not have circulated independently during the oral period.” (p. 62 of  The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus)

But isn’t there something inconsistent or arbitrary about this explanation?

Sure, I can fully accept that a narrator will manufacture words to be put into any character’s mouth for the effect of adding a touch of life to the story.

But when the scholar declares a more formal saying, such as a parable or aphorism, is different, and by its nature is potentially traceable to the historical Jesus, are we not being a tad arbitrary?

The Gospel author is, after all, not simply narrating a series of little anecdotes with their “Get ups” and “Go forths” and “Feed them” touches. He is also telling the story of a divine man who came to bring a message and introduce a new kingdom. So are not the parables and aphorisms equally there in the story for the purpose of making the story work? Aren’t they even moreso designed to bring the speaking character into the consciousness of the readers?

Of course parables and aphorisms are, by simple definition, capable of being lifted out of the story and finding independent applications. That simple fact of their definition does not mean that they are any more likely to have originated from somewhere or someone long before the author penned them.

On what basis is it suggested that “Blessed are the meek” is any less likely to have been creatively put into the mouth of Jesus by the author than “Get up and go home”? Is it only because “Blessed are the meek” is, by simple definition as an aphorism, the sort of thing it is easy to imagine a real Jesus would have said and that people would have passed on in “oral tradition”?

On what basis is it any less likely that aphorisms or parables or special teachings we find in the mouth of Jesus in the Gospels are the creative work of the Gospel author himself?

If we see a similar saying used in other texts, does that make it logically any more or less likely that the saying really came from a historical Jesus? Authors, like musicians, do copy and adapt from their fellows and other literary works.

More to the point, it is worth noting that there are precious few if any sayings clearly attributable to Jesus in any of the NT epistles. Might not this be considered as evidence of a need to create some sayings by the time evangelists decided to write the Gospels?

In other words, is not the whole notion that any Gospel saying might be attributable to “oral tradition” going back to Jesus himself based entirely on the unsupported assumption that there was an “oral tradition” back to the historical Jesus? It is all assumption. There is no contemporary supporting evidence to indicate otherwise.

And attempting to argue that one aphorism is more likely “historical” than another because of its “dissimilarity” to other sayings, or its coherence within the plot of the narrative (usually referred to as the “historical situation”), or its presumed embarrassment for readers and authors who had different perspectives, hardly gets us any closer to a saying’s “authenticity”.

But if its Aramaic form is used?

If a saying is “recorded” in its Aramaic form then all we have is evidence that a competent author knows how to use an unusual expression to enhance its literary effect. This was a device known to Aristotle, and Aristotle was a mentor of many a Greek writer:

A diction that is made up of strange (or rare) terms is a jargon. A certain infusion, therefore, of these elements is necessary to style; for the strange (or rare) word, the metaphorical, the ornamental, and the other kinds above mentioned, will raise it above the commonplace and mean . . . (Poetics, XXII)

We have thousands of words attributed to Socrates, but I think few scholars believe any of them in Plato or Xenophon are “authentic”.

We have many words attributed to Julius Caesar (one of his most memorable lines was the topic of my previous post) but again I suspect that few scholars would be prepared to bet their houses that any of them are historically reliable data.

Even if we had as much evidence to suggest Jesus was as real as “any other person in history”, we will still have to grapple with the nature of the Gospels as literature before presuming they can be mined for historical nuggets.

I hope in some future posts to explore this with specific references to particular “sayings of Jesus”.

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Neil Godfrey

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  • mcduff
    2010-08-22 15:54:26 GMT+0000 - 15:54 | Permalink

    Eyewitnesses.
    Who are they and where were they when their alleged evidence is quoted either as aphorism or pericopes or speeches?

    Some time ago I had a close look at the scene[s] in which the author “John” describes the interplay between Pilate, JC and the crowd.
    It really is farcical.
    Check the movements of the players in the drama.

    1. The crowd conveniently stays outside all the time.
    But the other two are inside and outside more frequently than a rabbit on a windy night is in an out of its burrow.

    1.The scene starts at 18.28 with JC and Pilate inside the praetorium and the crowd outside.
    2. Pilate goes outside and talks to the crowd, JC is inside.
    3. [8.33]
    Pilate goes inside.
    Pilate and JC have a conversation.

    Who is the earwitness who is the source for this story and how did it get to the author?
    Provenance and credibility are issues here.
    4. [38]
    Pilate goes outside.
    Ever talked to a crowd without modern recording devices? Do crowds speak with one voice when responding to a question?
    Where was the alleged witness?
    5.[19.1]
    “…Pilate took Jesus and scourged him”. Why?
    Presumably we are back inside the Praetorium with Pilate having gone back inside to where JC was.
    6. [19.4]
    “Pilate went back outside again”
    Obliging fella isn’t he?
    Presumably followed by the ubiquitous alleged witness.
    7. [19.5]
    “So Jesus came out”.
    Everybody is outside now.
    8. [19.7]
    ” [Pilate] …he entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus”
    Presumably taking JC with him, why is unclear, the conversation could have occurred outside, artistic considerations I suppose.
    Two inside, crowd outside.
    Lots of to-ing and fro-ing isn’t it?
    8. [9.12]
    Pilate is back outside taking to the Jews.
    Again.
    How many times does that make? That he has shuttled back and forth to be nice to the crowd.
    9. [9.13]
    ” .. he [Pilate] brought Jesus out.
    Now everybody is outside including presumably the same alleged witness shuttling back or forth stylus whatever in hand writing furiosly in the background or, alternatively, the exterior witness as an addition to the interior witness.

    And then Pilate gives JC to the Jews, dunno why.

    I call this constant back and forth, in and out, journalist[s] in tow, by Pilate sometimes with sometimes without JC, a ‘horizontal yo-yo trick.
    Plot the movements on a piece of paper.
    Its ludicrous.

    It’s fiction, its a story told for dramatic purposes and is inherently in-credible given the nature of Roman colonialism in general and what other sources tell us about Pilate.

    Monty python did a more plausible job, at least they had Brian already heading off with his cross while Pilate was considering “Weleasing Woger”.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-08-22 21:30:38 GMT+0000 - 21:30 | Permalink

    Jesus is also stripped and then dressed again a lot of times.

  • newtaste
    2010-08-22 23:16:55 GMT+0000 - 23:16 | Permalink

    mcduff – I have seen Life of Brian a few times and have it on DVD. At no time is there a phrase “Weleasing Woger”. He only ever says “Welease Woger”. Life of Brian is a great movie, I love it! I love reading the Bible and the Gospel of John too.

    • 2010-08-23 05:05:10 GMT+0000 - 05:05 | Permalink

      mcduff was, of course, referring to the original Aramaic oral tradition. If you were a Brian scholar, you’d know that.

      • newtaste
        2010-08-23 17:03:34 GMT+0000 - 17:03 | Permalink

        You just made that up!

  • rey
    2010-08-23 05:40:16 GMT+0000 - 05:40 | Permalink

    “Historical Jesus scholars are quite capable of discerning when a saying of Jesus has been made up by a Gospel author for narrative effect. But when they explain why other sayings are not likewise fabricated, but are traceable to a real Jesus, I think they are jumping the rails of straight consistent logic.”

    Well, I’ve been thinking today about Papias’ testimony concerning the gospels, how that he says Matthew wrote down the sayings of the Lord in Hebrew and everyone interpreted them as they could. This statement seems to mean that the original gospel was just a collection of sayings, not a narrative, and that the narrative was added later as interpretation. If this is the case, and if Jesus is a historical figure, then most likely the historical core is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount which is the least narrative and most sayings oriented aspects of what we now know as the gospel of Matthew. And the deistical sayings here are more likely to be authentic than any other sayings, since presumably the church would have been careful to not overtly contradict the Old Testament in creating fake sayings.

    For example, Matthew 5:44-45 “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (45) That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

    This utterly contradicts the bloodthirsty image of God found in the Old Testament, not to mention the Old Testament’s idea that Israel somehow owns the sun or has more claim to it than other nations. That is precisely what Joshua commanding the sun to stand still so he would have more light to kill his enemies means. Who cares about the guys on the other side of the world, the sun belong to us Israelites and we may command it to stand still for us when we need more daylight to kill the non-Israelites! The church would have had little interest in making Jesus so overtly contradict the OT, so it is likely that actually said this.

    Also the whole bit about doing your alms in secret seems to militate somewhat against doing your alms in and via the church. It undermines the tithe. My alms doing is not to be given publicly to the church lest I get praise from men. No, I must do it secretly so that none know but the poor and God. The church is unlikely to have made this up and more likely to have been stuck with it.

    The church finds very little in the Sermon on the Mount useful. The only thing of use there to them is really the clearly inauthentic statement “Do not think I have come to destroy the Torah.” But inasmuch as the whole context of the sermon is contra-Torah and is quite Deistical, it is clear the church chooses the one part that can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to have not been spoken by Jesus!

    Jesus instructs the disciples to pray for forgiveness, not that he will sacrifice himself for their forgiveness of pay their debt by dying on the cross. No, in this sermon he tells them to pray “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt 6:12) and we know no debt can both be payed and forgiven. If it is payed, there is no reason to ask for or pray for forgiveness. If you can receive forgiveness by praying for it, there is no reason for Jesus to die to pay it! Again, this statement militates against church doctrine when analyzed rationally and when the sermon on the mount is taken as a separate literary unit from the rest of the ‘gospel.’

    The whole fast in secret thing destroys the Church’s ability to impose fasts like Lent as religious duties. The sermon on the mount is quite simply the enemy of the church.

    Matthew 7:1-2 “Judge not, that ye be not judged. (2) For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Yet the church teaches that judgement of others the chiefest of virtues. Judging others for no conforming to the churches beliefs and ceremonies, etc.

    Matthew 7:3 “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” The church employs men professionally to do exactly that!

    Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:” The ability to find God through honest seeking is denied by the church. You can only find God in the Scriptures and the church. If you ask he will not give, nor will he open if you knock. The only way to find him is in the church, not through seeking him. So says the church.

    Rather than believing that Jesus was a mere myth, I am beginning to believe he was a form of Deist who got himself killed because the Jews didn’t want to hear Deism, since it contradicted the insane and blasphemous doctrine of the Torah and its god of hatred and genocide and cruel punishment for ceremonial offenses. And surely the Romans were not need in his death, for Herod killed John the Baptist according to the gospels without any Roman consent, so why not Jesus too? And in Acts Peter says “you slew him AND hanged him on a tree” which fits with the punishment proscribes by the Torah for a blasphemer, that they be stoned and then hung on a tree. So he was a Deist who was stoned by the Jews without Romans consent and then hanged on a tree because he taught a God that was morally superior to the Jewish god. But then he was turned into a god by Paul and friends and used to teach doctrines that would have made him vomit.

    • rey
      2010-08-23 05:48:33 GMT+0000 - 05:48 | Permalink

      Although somewhat disagreement with you, this is also agreement, since hardly anything outside the sermon on the mount seems authentic, and even some sayings in there are clearly not.

      • 2010-08-23 06:32:27 GMT+0000 - 06:32 | Permalink

        What would an authentic saying sound like? How would I recognize one?

      • 2010-08-23 06:47:35 GMT+0000 - 06:47 | Permalink

        What I mean by my questions about identifying authenticity, is: “Just because the third- and fourth-century (or later) church might have been uncomfortable with some of the sayings in Q, it doesn’t mean they go back to Jesus, does it?”

        As with all criteria in the NT scholar’s quiver, the best the arrow of dissimilarity can do is point to an early tradition. Antiquity does not prove authenticity.

        And as far as analyzing the implications of Sermon on the Mound/Plain, it seems to me he is intensifying the Torah. He’s introducing thought crime to Judaism. Do you think murder is bad? Well, guess what? Thinking about murder is doubleplusungood. Later Rabbinical Judaism would even remove intent as a criteria. One shouldn’t throw seeds out the kitchen window on the Sabbath, lest the unexpectedly sprout and make you guilty of unintended farming on the Lord’s day.

    • maryhelena
      2010-08-23 13:38:25 GMT+0000 - 13:38 | Permalink

      rey wrote:

      “This statement seems to mean that the original gospel was just a collection of sayings, not a narrative, and that the narrative was added later as interpretation. If this is the case, and if Jesus is a historical figure, then most likely the historical core is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount….

      snip

      Rather than believing that Jesus was a mere myth, I am beginning to believe he was a form of Deist who got himself killed because the Jews didn’t want to hear Deism”…

      Or another way to look at things – the narrative was added later to flesh out the sayings of a historical figure – but the narrative is the Jesus storyline, the mythological storyline of a non-historical Jesus. It would be the sayings of a historical figure that could have been deemed to have been worth preserving – no salvation in any man but ideas are always potentially powerful….

      Authors like to be able to colour their characters with traits from historical people – it gives the character a more ‘real’ feel. I do think mythicists are on the wrong track if they are going to rule out any historical figure having an imprint upon the creation of the Jesus mythology. It’s not all just imagination – ideas need to have some connection to reality, to real things, if they are to have some relevance to our living in this world.

      Sayings are all well and good – the more interesting question is did a historical figure actually strive to live by these sayings. Did his life exemplify what he tried to express in words, in sayings. And would not such a historical figure be noteworthy for his grasp of a such a moral vision for living?

    • mcduff
      2010-08-23 15:17:44 GMT+0000 - 15:17 | Permalink

      rey

      There are a couple of things wrong with your opening statement:
      “Well, I’ve been thinking today about Papias’ testimony concerning the gospels..”

      Firstly we have very little idea of what Papias, if such a person actually existed, said.
      We only know:
      – what Irenaeus [late – very late 2nd century] claimed Papias said
      – what Eusebius [early 4rd century] claimed Papias said.

      To cite Papias it must first be acknowledged that the only sources we have for his alleged writings are the two above.

      Neither of these late sources are widely regarded for their accuracy and credibility and in fact Eusebius contradicts Irenaeus re the alleged interpretation of what Papias allegedly wrote in part.

      Furthermore the patristic legends are self contradictory which is not surprising since they are largely clearly the product of self serving highly imaginative legend creation.
      For example did the gospel of “Mark” get the approval of Peter before or after Peter’s death [note the difficulty in the latter case]?
      Legend quotes both versions, and other as well as stating that gospel “Mark” was written by a non-witness to the events described.

      If ‘Matthew” wrote in hebrew how come there is no more ‘Hebrewisms/Aramaisms’ than would be expected from a work strongly based on the Jewish Bible via the Greek LXX?
      The language of g”Matthew” is Greek based as well as written in Greek

      If ‘Matthew” was the first to write a gospel, as legend claims, then one of the strongest pillars of modern Christian scholarship, ‘Markan” Priority is wrong.

      If “Markan” Pririty is correct, and it has virtually reached consensus status and certainly I would have thought agreement of a strong majority of Christian scholars, then the legendary status of “Matthew’ as an eyewitness disciple is completely demolished and your citing of his works above adds nothing to the topic.

    • 2010-08-31 00:05:17 GMT+0000 - 00:05 | Permalink

      The Sermon on the Mount seems to be partially derived from the Psalms:

      Matthew 5:5
      Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth

      Psalm 37:11
      But the meek shall inherit the earth

      Matthew 5:8

      Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

      Psalms 24:3-4

      Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord: or who shall stand in his holy place? 4 The innocent in hands, and clean of heart, who has not taken his soul in vain, nor sworn deceitfully to his neighbour

  • 2010-08-23 11:07:44 GMT+0000 - 11:07 | Permalink

    There’s a lot of noble teaching in the OT mixed up with the cultic and barbaric. And the Talmud traces many of the most “spiritual” or “attitude” teachings back to rabbis in the Second Temple era (in debates over spirit and letter issues), whatever that might be worth.

    I like Thompson’s depiction of the OT god as a godfather. Like the mafia godfather, he poured out blessings on those who feared and loved him, but his ways were always unquestionable and never to be challenged.

    As others have remarked (though the observation hasn’t interfered with the course of historical Jesus studies) the NT epistles do not yield evidence of any interest in any quarter in preserving sayings of Jesus. And the gospel preached in both Acts and the epistles is not about Jesus’ teachings. In fact, one might even think the teachings of Jesus would be a distraction from the gospel message. God incarnate died and rose again to give us eternal life, and by the way, he also taught before all that a lot of things already taught in the Jewish scriptures, like love thy neighbour and God requires mercy not sacrifice and to always have undefiled thoughts. The author of Acts had the wit to see that the two don’t have much to do with each other. But if you’re going to create a story about Christ having a life before he died and rose, the obvious things to fill it up with are a few miracles and noble teachings from the scriptures wrapped up in a bit of spiritual mystery.

    This may sound too weird but there is evidence even additional to the NT epistles and Revelation that it took a while for Christians to develop the idea of a life of Jesus narrative. Even Justin Martyr seems to me to be implying that all of Jesus’ teachings for the church were delivered by Jesus to his apostles after his resurrection. “Unorthodox” gospels have a Jesus delivering his teachings in spirit after his death and resurrection, and this is how Paul also describes he attained to his knowledge of Jesus.

    Price’s explanation that the earthly life — which required a lot of miracles and teachings to fill it out — was a later addition of that branch of Christianity that sought to outdo their rivals by claiming descent from those who had known Jesus even in his pre-spirit state makes sense to me.

    • 2010-08-23 12:44:36 GMT+0000 - 12:44 | Permalink

      Neil: But if you’re going to create a story about Christ having a life before he died and rose, the obvious things to fill it up with are a few miracles and noble teachings from the scriptures wrapped up in a bit of spiritual mystery.

      In general, I agree. In fact, the more details they came up with (usually quarried from the Hebrew Bible, it would appear), the harder it was to maintain any kind of historical coherence with post-Easter Christianity.

      One thing that’s always puzzled me is the Synoptic story of Jesus sending out his disciples on a kind of trial run (Mark 6, Matthew 10, Luke 9). I assume it’s there in order to bolster the Twelve’s credibility and establish apostolic succession. They’re given power to heal, cast out demons, etc.; in other words he’s given power to them, along with the ability either to bless or to curse (“shake off the dust”). In Matthew it seems to be a foreshadowing of bad times to come (“…they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues…”).

      So, how is this supposed to have worked? The disciples have the Savior’s power conferred upon them, they preach the coming Kingdom of God to fellow Jews, they do wondrous works, and then later on in Jerusalem they forget everything, lose all faith, and scatter? And after the resurrection, did they have to go back to all those towns and villages with the new message? “Look, I know you repented a couple of months ago, but it turns out your sins can’t be forgiven unless you believe in our crucified Lord. Oh, and we have a special deal now that includes baptism.” What a confusing message!

      How do inerrantists deal with this kind of thing?

      • 2010-08-23 13:45:16 GMT+0000 - 13:45 | Permalink

        I had a post in the pipeline expressing this very point — only from the converse side: Why did Jesus send his disciples to preach one gospel that had nothing to do with salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection, and then after the “christ event” they go out and preach a different gospel.

        You have just saved me a post. 🙂

      • 2010-08-23 13:56:02 GMT+0000 - 13:56 | Permalink

        Neil: You have just saved me a post. 🙂

        Aw, dang it! I still think there are gallons more ink to be spilt on the subject. I find it especially strange that there seems to be no custom of baptism until after the resurrection. Even John, who claims that the disciples were baptizing people at the same time as JtB is quick to point out that Jesus never baptized anyone. Why the anxiety? And how did that state of affairs come to be? Why does Matthew tack on the practice of baptism at the end of his gospel? Is baptism a much later practice than is commonly supposed?

      • 2010-08-23 14:17:21 GMT+0000 - 14:17 | Permalink

        And ditto for the Lord’s supper, with all those indications that many early Christians took it as a thanksgiving meal, or a reminder that Jesus had come in the flesh. Burton Mack is on the right track when he “takes seriously” (I hate that expression!) studies showing that myths arise to explain existing practices. They are post hoc rationalizations, not their foundations.

      • 2010-08-24 10:48:35 GMT+0000 - 10:48 | Permalink

        Actually this question of the different messages taught by the disciples before and after Jesus’ death goes back two and a half centuries to Reimarus. He appears to have been the pioneer of the explanation that the disciples who had been expecting Jesus to set up the kingdom of God rationalized his death by:

        i. appealing to that strand of Jewish messianic thought believed the messiah was first to appear in human lowliness and afterwards to enter is glory and power (evidenced in Daniel, apocalypses, Trypho)

        ii. turning his death into a spiritual redemption

        iii. introducing the “second coming” theme into their new gospel.

        It sounds more reasonable than modern views that seem to deny the evidence for a strand of Jewish belief that the messiah was to first appear without glory and die an atoning death. But it still does not explain the virtually total disappearance of the original kingdom of god message, nor the exaltation of Jesus to the status at least Hurtado acknowledges, let alone to the widespread conversions to this entire baggage.

        It occurred to me this morning that those “historical Jesus” scholars also believe in the Christ myth. They all, well very many, seem to concede that the Christ in the gospels is the Christ of faith — and not historical. Might one not say that they are in effect saying that the Christ of the gospels is indeed a myth?

        If so, then the real argument is not about whether or not Jesus was historical, but about the question of the origin of the Christ myth!

        Christianity has largely rejected Schweitzer’s advice to ground its faith in something more metaphyical than a historical Jesus. McGrath, for example, is most emphatic in his book explaining “NT historical methods” that history is the foundation of the Christianity and absolutely crucial to its faith.

  • mikelioso
    2010-08-23 16:03:21 GMT+0000 - 16:03 | Permalink

    Your last few points are interesting. I’ve started reading Mark with some of your ideas about Jesus starting as a myth in mind. The issues you brought up about baptism and the sending out of the 12 are part of a problem I see in viewing Mark as a work from a mythisist, Jesus seems to have a different gospel than Paul. You would expect Jesus to baptize and preach more on his impending death and resurrection.

    A question to you Neil, do you think John could be earlier than Mark? It seems a better bridge of the gap between a mythic Jesus and a historical one. Even as a hoax to convince other Christians that the Mark group founders were acquainted with the Christ as a human on earth(not Paul, or James, but Peter, with James oddly portrayed as Jesus flesh and blood brother but not a disciple or even sympathetic to his mission), Mark is so different from what we might imagine the original Christ myth to be(if it resembled the writings of Philo or some of the Jewish mystic works the myth seem inspired by)that I have a hard time believing other mythic Christian communities would accept it. John on the other hand or some of the Sethian gnostic text seem much more like what I would imagine the Christ myth to be like.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-08-23 16:06:37 GMT+0000 - 16:06 | Permalink

    The Gospel of John appears to be embarrassed by stories in the Gospel of Mark.

  • 2010-08-23 17:22:52 GMT+0000 - 17:22 | Permalink

    mikelioso, I think John “could be” earlier than Mark, but there are lots of reasons to doubt it. I don’t think Mark’s gospel was originally meant to be read as history. It is a parable, a tale of a mysterious being who talks with demons and Satan and angels and God who all know who he is, but no human character has much of an idea, unless they are also become like Satan (as Jesus said to Peter when he recognized him somewhat), who talks in mysteries and performs miracles whose meaning is hidden — even from the uninitiated reader in some cases. Also hidden are the meaning of strange characters like that youth at the end who makes an enigmatic double appearance. It is a morality tale warning readers not to be unbelieving like the disciple characters. Galilee and Jerusalem serve symbolic functions. Anachronisms abound. It is written with all the literary conventions of classical epics and tragedies. It is no more history than a Kafka novel. The author never wrote it as history. But there was nothing “hoaxy” or conspiratorial about it either.

    There was no trajectory from Mark through to other gospels. Mark’s gospel was the product of a different Christian school altogether from any of the others. It was first associated with “heretics”, like the Basilideans, it seems, and was a tract to be countered with dramatic revisions by other Christian schools who radically opposed it. (I recall reading one scholar suggesting its mirror reversal gospel, that of John, was written to “spiritually explain” Mark.)

    The canonical historicization of Jesus probably began in the second century.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-08-24 00:57:52 GMT+0000 - 00:57 | Permalink

    A certain Professor, by the name of McGrath , is now claiming he can detect the sayings of Jesus in the Epistle of James.

    That is the letter which pays a lot of attention to events in the life of Job,Elijah, Abraham,Rahab,Isaac and exhorts its readers to follow the examples of the prophets,and attributes not one single teaching to Jesus, and produces not one episode in the life of Jesus – Rahab, yes, Jesus , no.

    According to McGrath,’But it places a great deal of emphasis on the teachings of Jesus, which is where the Jesus depicted in the Synoptic Gospels placed most of his emphasis, too.’

    Which mainstream historian would read a work that attributes not one word to Jesus, and never says Jesus taught anything, and then claim that there is a great deal of emphasis on the teachings of Jesus?

    But Biblical historians can do that.

    Because they are not bound by the old-fashioned methodologies of other branches of history.

    • 2010-08-24 02:12:26 GMT+0000 - 02:12 | Permalink

      A scholar called Dr. McGrath
      Was posting with smugness and wrath.
      “If a saying’s historical,
      or perhaps metaphorical,
      I dunno, *you* do the math!”

  • 2010-08-24 05:06:31 GMT+0000 - 05:06 | Permalink

    There’s a branch of biblical scholarship that makes its living as fraudulently as tarot card readers and astrologers and can get away with it because there’s such a strong demand for its services, and the demand generates its own gullibility.

  • David Hillman
    2010-08-25 00:01:56 GMT+0000 - 00:01 | Permalink

    I think the sayings fit the agenda of the Gospel writer. Mark is about bearing witness (a martyr is a witness) by following the son. Like Paul or many of the Greek, Hellenistic or Roman philosophers it claims that you can only live a full live by being willing to lose it by putting your own beliefs on the line. (Funnily enough that did not stop Seneca serving Nero or Paul saying that the authorities were put there by God). The parables are to flatter us by showing that we understand (after all they are easy enough for those who have ears to hear) while the desciples do not.
    Matthew is not to challenge the Torah except in saying we can do even better. The sermon on the mount is only sublime, and it has inspired some real liberators, if we do not notice the gnashing of teeth, the only potponed hate of enemies (and funnily enough the forgiveness being above all at collaberators with the Roman authorities). All the sayings seem to fit in with the authors agenda and why should the authors not have written them.

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