Let’s cut to the chase. If all you have are the gospels then what can you say about the historicity of Jesus?
If all we have is a story that has no corroboration external to the narrative itself to attest to its historical status, then at the most basic level we have no way of knowing if the story has a historical basis or not.
Some biblical scholars have liked to compare what they call their historical methodology to courtroom testing of evidence or detective investigations. Well, they would know that anyone’s “self-testimony” normally requires independent corroboration in order to carry any weight. An alibi needs to be checked out. (Of course, we are talking about “independent” corroboration. Where there is suspicion that several witnesses have come from the same community, room, club, family and thus had time to share and exchange stories, we can hardly call any of these “independent”.)
If there is no independent witness to corroborate a story then that alone by no means can be used as evidence that the story is not true. Of course not. It simply means we have no way of testing the claims of self-testimony.
In other words, at this purely logical level, self-testimony cannot be used as evidence for historicity or nonhistoricity. The most we can say at this formal level is that we simply don’t know either way.
But that does not always mean we are necessarily left in the clouds. Continue reading “When all you have is a story what can you say about history?”