Daily Archives: 2010-11-28 14:24:13 GMT+0000

Nothing the Early Church Would Want to Make Up?

In his newly published Jesus of Nazareth, one of Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey’s criteria for deciding if a Gospel detail is truly historical is that the passage “contains nothing that the early church would want to make up”.

Though I have read very many works of history, I never heard of this as a rationale for establishing anything as a historical fact till I picked up books by biblical scholars writing about Jesus.

Casey does not exclusively rely on this criterion to declare something in the gospels as historically factual. Another test must also be passed. The event must also have a “perfect setting in the life of Jesus.” I leave aside the obvious circularity of this latter point in this post, and discuss a just one particular critical shortcoming in his use of the first criterion — what is essentially a “can’t see why not” argument from credulity.

Avoiding the literary fact 1: Luke 13:31-33

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

Casey writes of this passage that it contains two or three reasons we should accept it as a genuinely historical exchange between Herod and Jesus.

Once again, a Gospel passage has clear signs of translation from an Aramaic source [he is referring here to the use of the words for “jackal” and “reach my goal” (which is sometimes more literally translated as “be perfected”)] just at the point where the traditions in it must be authentic because they have a perfect setting in the life of Jesus, and contain nothing that the early church would want to make up. (p. 324, my emphasis)

But this latter rationale is invalid for a number of reasons. read more »