. . . I think that there can then be problems when one tries to make historical Jesus criteria like multiple attestation, like the criterion of embarrassment, do too much. When you take them beyond the introductory student level, into mainstream work on the historical Jesus — because after all, historians don’t work with a great big tool bag of criteria. Historians don’t, you know, hold up a tradition and say, “OK, let’s kind of dig into the bag and see if we can find a criterion that satisfies this tradition.”
I just don’t think that’s how historians work a lot of the time. History’s much more complex than that. It’s more nuanced; it’s more detailed. We’re looking at things in all sorts of different ways. And so I think we have to be a little bit careful about the way that we react to these kinds of criteria. They can be terribly wooden. They can be excuses often not to think very clearly.
And worst of all, sometimes what historians of the New Testament — sometimes what historical Jesus scholars do — is they’ll take a tradition they rather like the look of subjectively and then they’ll find some criteria that they can use to make it sound like it’s more plausibly historical. So the criteria are often applied after the fact, rather than before the fact. So there’s sort of the appearance of science, the appearance of a sort of scientific validity to what they’re doing. It’s often just an appearance.
This kind of honest discussion is a breath of fresh air. For years now, Vridar has been the lonely voice in the wilderness, warning that the historical Jesus scholars were using their criteria to do too much. Besides trying to use criteria that were designed to assign relative probabilities to determine absolute historicity, we’ve noted here countless times, again and again, that HJ scholars appear to apply the criteria selectively, after the fact in order to prove what they wish to be true.
Kudos to Dr. Goodacre. Maybe the next time we have another friendly tussle with Dr. McGrath, Mark will come to our defense — you know, on the side of right — instead of coming to the aid of a beleaguered fellow member of the guild who has once again gotten in over his head.
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