2013-03-14

Scholars Rationalizing and Paraphrasing the Christian Myth

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by Neil Godfrey

Craig S. Keener has written a book 869 pages long entitled The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. The primary aim of this book is

to investigate how much we can know from the best sources available, and to offer examples of how these sources provide us more adequate information about Jesus than many scholars think we have. (p. xxxvii)

869 pages might sound a lot, and it does beat by a whisker the longest book by N.T. Wright (836 pages), but it still falls short of Volume 1 of Raymond Brown’s tome, The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave (904 pages). (The only mythicist publication that comes close gets no closer than 814 pages so I guess the historicists have at least 55 pages of more arguments to make than the mythicists.)

The length of the book is a plus in eyes, because I like the thought that I am getting a thorough and detailed set of arguments and updates on what the academic community has to tell us what can be known about the historical Jesus. The main text is only 349 pages with most of the remainder being taken up with appendices and endnotes. That’s good — I often find the details I’m seeking in endnotes, bibliographies, etc. I think, too, that I was attracted by the erstwhile atheism of the author. Surely here is a work that will cover the basics and leave no stone unturned in the argument for Christianity beginning with a man called Jesus.

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A profile of an historical Jesus scholar

Craig Keener introduces himself:

I try to do my historical scholarship as a good historian. . . .

When I was an atheist (largely for what I thought were scientific reasons), one of my central (albeit nonscientific) objections to believing anything about Jesus was that eighty percent of people in my country claimed to be his followers, yet most of them apparently lived as if it made no difference to their lives. . . .

I reasoned that if I believed there was truly a being to whom I owed my existence and who alone determined my eternal destiny, I would serve that being unreservedly. . . .

On a personal note, I cannot agree with a mind-set like that. It sounds robotic. I would first want to know something about such a being. Prima facie, from what I know of the world, I would suspect such a being was not worthy of unreserved service and it would be immoral to sell my soul to that being.

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A Jesus scholar who believes Jesus is still alive today

When I . . . encountered the risen Christ in an unsolicited and unexpected personal experience, hence came to the conviction that he (not to mention the God with whom he was associated) was in fact alive, I understood that the reality of Jesus rises or falls not on how successfully his professed followers have followed his teaching, but on Jesus himself.

Such an encounter will naturally be dismissed as purely subjective by those disinclined to accept it, and admittedly, I did not have a physical “resurrection appearance.” I offer this information as an explanation by way of full disclosure, not as an argument, since it functions outside the epistemological criteria used in normal academic historical Jesus work. (pp. 384-385, my bolding)

I have problems with vague claims of religious encounters like this. Vagueness suggests to me a justifiable lack of confidence that others would be convinced if they knew the details. But this is an aside.

More to the point, what would the scholarly community think if one of their peers wrote a biography of Muhammed and explained that he was doing so after being persuaded of Muhammed’s place in history by an “unsolicited and unexpected personal encounter with” the now immortal Muhammed himself. Or substitute any name you like.

Surely such a biographer or historian must, at one level at least, be considered a bit cracked and his scholarship would be somewhat suspect. But in a Christian culture, even those scholars who do not believe in such post-mortem experiences engage with those who do as if there is nothing amiss with any of this — at least with respect to the study of Christian origins.

Presumably this is because Jesus was given an historical setting and an earthly career to explain the inauguration of his cult and to symbolize the tension between the divine and the human — much like the god Dionysus. (The counter argument here is usually that the Gospels were written within a generation of the supposed time of Jesus. This is nothing more than fanciful conjecture, however, based on the assumption that the earliest possible date must be the actual date they were composed. The earliest evidence we have for the existence of our Gospels is in the middle of the second century. Besides, there can be no problem with the idea of a fictional life forty years before the calamity being acclaimed as the reason for Jerusalem’s fall by anyone writing in the wake of that wholesale destruction.)

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After all this time, still flirting with the mumbo-jumbo

Keener also engages at the end of his chapter titled, What Really Happened at the Tomb? Nestled in Keener’s opening paragraphs of this chapter is the following:

What happens when divine causation is the most plausible available explanation? While conventional rules for historical discussion may keep us from asking the question . . . . they do not mean (much less prove) that the question is philosophically illegitimate. (p. 379)

There follows the predictable / all too commonly printed essay on the arguments for and against methodological naturalism that concludes with the standard complaint that a rejection of a supernatural explanation comes down, ultimately, to unreasonable bias against the supernatural. N. T. Wright (who argues for a literal resurrection) makes a notable appearance in the discussion. Pinch yourself. This really is the twenty-first century.

So now you know where Keener is coming from and it is to his credit, as it is with other scholars like Borg, Crossan, Spong, Hurtado, McGrath et al., that he makes no attempt to hide the nature of his religious faith in Jesus. Historical inquiry has an obligation to take into account the arguments of friends and foes alike. It is a mark of integrity that each contributor makes his bias known. I do not denigrate Keener or any other scholar of Christianity because they are committed Christians. Nonetheless, it is also fair and right, when we find ourselves asking questions about the way they handle evidence and the sorts of questions they ask and don’t ask, to recognize that their faith may at times be clouding their judgment.

In this post I focus on Keener’s discussion of the written sources of the Gospels. Let’s see if his argument addresses all the evidence without confessional bias.

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The Written Sources of the Gospels

The written sources of the Gospels are one of my favourite studies so I could not be Keener to learn more about what his chapter 9 (The Gospels’ Written Sources) had to offer.

Keener begins well. He raises awareness of scholars who lay aside “concrete evidence” and advance hypotheses about the Gospels “on the basis of relative silence”. What springs to mind here are the ten written sources (and those are “just the ones we know about”!) that Bart Ehrman is sure were used by the authors of our Gospels (see part 8 and part 9 of Doherty’s response to Ehrman.

But then Keener steps outside of New Testament studies and makes a very odd analogy. He points out that classicists recognize the weaknesses of their sources — and in a footnote he draws special attention to Livy and Josephus — without being overly sceptical. So Livy is known to be uncritical but classicists don’t throw his work in the bin because of that. Keener believes historical Jesus scholars “are at their best when they follow the same approach.”

Not even Livy or Josephus would read the Gospels the way they read works of history.

He wants readers to approach the Gospels with the same balance between faith and scepticism that they would bring to a reading of Livy and Josephus.

One would have to be naive to read the Gospels the way one reads ancient historians. Livy, unlike the unknown authors of the Gospels, can write about virgins claiming to give birth to sons of gods, and heroes being zapped up into heaven, with a sceptical wink at the reader. Livy draws his subject matter from events and persons known from other sources to have had a historical reality. Not always. But we have enough such independently attested persons and events to have at least some measure of confidence where he is flying solo.

Something interesting happens, however, if we ask Livy or Josephus what they might think of the admonition that the Gospels should be read in the same way as their own historical works.

Livy indeed tells us what he does think of such an idea on the opening page of his history:

The traditions of what happened prior to the foundation of the City or whilst it was being built, are more fitted to adorn the creations of the poet than the authentic records of the historian, and I have no intention of establishing either their truth or their falsehood. This much licence is conceded to the ancients, that by intermingling human actions with divine they may confer a more august dignity on the origins of states.

So works like the Gospels that mingle human and divine actions (miracles, spirits, prophecies) should be read like poetry, not history. Not even Livy would read such works as if narrating true events or false, but as something quite different from history.

It may be objected that Livy is confining his view to the stories inherited from long ago. But Livy, and likewise Josephus, rarely if ever writes of a supposed miracle or divine intervention without either expressing some reservation or appealing to reported eyewitnesses to justify his account. So after relating the miraculous accounts of the death of Romulus, and in particular of the report of his “post-resurrection appearance” to a follower, Livy remarks:

It is marvellous what credit was given to this man’s story, and how the grief of the people and the army was soothed by the belief which had been created in the immortality of Romulus.

The Gospels speak of miracles with a matter-of-factness characteristic of ancient novels and myths (e.g. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” — Luke 24:36), a frequent difference being that the Gospel miracles can be explained as theological metaphors so they are not offered the benefit of narrative realism even by ancient standards. Compare, for example, the healing of the blind in the Gospels of Mark and John which are widely understood as metaphors for Jesus removing spiritual blindness (e.g. Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. — John 9:41) with two healings by the emperor Vespasian as told by Tacitus:

So Vespasian felt that his destiny gave him the key to every door and that nothing now defied belief. With a smiling expression and surrounded by an expectant crowd of bystanders, he did what was asked. Instantly the cripple recovered the use of his hand and the light of day dawned again upon his blind companion. Both these incidents are still vouched for by eye-witnesses, though there is now nothing to be gained by lying.

What about Josephus? I addressed what Josephus himself would think of such an idea — reading works like the Gospels with the same credulity as one might read his own historical narrative — in What Josephus Might Have Said About the Gospels.

Furthermore, Livy and Josephus write with “historical plausibility”. There is nothing plausible in the Gospel of Mark, however. God and demons are real (i.e. speaking) actors in the narrative, Jesus speaks to confuse his listeners but attracts a large following nonetheless, crowds who adore him in one scene are used to call for his lynching in the next, disciples who are told plainly what to expect are confused when it happens, Pilate who attempts to appease the crowd by killing Jesus places a sign above his body that would only have angered the crowd, and so forth and so forth. Scholars can only establish historical plausibility by getting rid of the Gospel story as it is writ. That’s not how they read Livy.

In previous chapters Keener argued that the Gospels were written as biographies within two generations of the events they narrate and thus “would” contain much genuinely historical material.

There is no way of knowing that the first Gospel really was written within forty years of the death of Jesus. Many scholars would argue that this is the earliest possible date for Mark (given that it speaks of the destruction of the Temple that occurred in 70 CE). But to leap from treating an earliest possible date as a near-certain date is an act of faith. The earliest evidence we have for a knowledge of the Gospels is the mid second century, as stated above. It is from this point that one must assess the most probable date. See Scientific and Unscientific Dating of the Gospels.

But stop and think even if it could be established that the first Gospel was written within two generations of the time of Jesus. That is a very long time as far as human memory goes. It is also a long enough time for stories to be fabricated (yet believed as true by some) even with the best of motives. Evidence today that emerges a whole forty years (even only twenty, or ten, years) after an event would normally be held suspect unless some guarantee of preservation and accuracy could be established.

Keener discusses the way ancient historians used sources, but the Gospel authors wrote as theologians, not historians.

Keener continues with an interesting discussion of the way ancient historians used various sources, especially written sources. This is all very fascinating and well worth bookmarking for a time when a student is looking for material on a related high school project about ancient historians, but the authors of the Gospels did not write as historians (they wrote theological tracts) and Keener can find only the most slender of links to make it relevant to the Gospels:

We should not underestimate the research sources available to ancient writers, especially since (as in Lk 1:1) they often explicitly mention the existence of such works. Clearly an abundance of contemporary sources existed then that are no longer extant; for example, Pliny the Elder . . . notes that he surveyed about two thousand volumes . . . (p. 129)

Just when we thought our author was about to speak of New Testament sources he reverts to Pliny the Elder’s testimony about his sources.

But Keener picks up that link again in the ensuing section:

One of the Gospels, Luke, openly attests to the existence of a number of sources available before he wrote. Luke’s original prologue (Lk 1:1-4) probably introduces the entire two-volume work . . . . At least for his Gospel, Luke claims the availability of “many” written documents covering the same events that he covers (Lk 1:1). (p. 129

Here is where the length of Keener’s book begins to disappoint. He does not justify the argument that the Prologues to Luke and Acts were original to those works beyond supplying an endnote to point out that this is “the majority view”. No doubt even a book this long cannot cover every aspect of every question.

But the whole question of whether Luke’s preface has anyting to do with eyewitness reports has been thrown wide open by John Collins: see What Did Luke’s Eyewitnesses See? I am not suggesting Collins himself suggests this, but it does appear to me from his article that the traditions to which Luke is referring are potentially ultimately from any source — their origins are impossible to know. The prologue has far less in common with those introductions of historians who made mention of their various sources than we have liked to think. See also Luke’s Prologue — Historical or Historical Illusion?

They cannot see the sources of the evangelists even when they are bound in the same book as the Gospels.

But worst of all Keener is sucked into the same black hole as nearly every one of his peers. He can see what, for instance, the author of 1 Esdras uses as sources, and I am sure he can see the sources used by the Flood story in Genesis. Thus he writes:

1 Esdras blends Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah with some midrash. . . . (p. 460, n. 24)

Historical Jesus scholars steeped in the conventional wisdom of their discipline can see when other writers are using known literary sources, and even writing creative midrash based upon known literary sources. They can even see when Matthew and Luke use another Gospel, Mark. But they cannot see when the same evangelists use other literary sources of which scholars and lay readers alike are so very familiar. They cannot see them using sources that are contained in the earlier books of the same Bible in which they are all bound as a single book.

Not all. There are exceptions. But many biblical scholars, particularly American ones (and conservative outposts in the UK), dismiss those exceptions as a wee bit “over sceptical”.

But of course the stories of Jesus raising the dead are adaptations of the Old Testament stories of Elijah and Elisha doing the same. Matthew’s nativity narrative is based on the story of Moses and Pharaoh. Luke’s is based on the tales of the patriarchs and heroes in Judges and 1 Samuel. John the Baptist is obviously cut from Elijah. (If there was an historical Baptist Josephus says he came on the scene some years later and had little in common with the Gospel character.) Jesus’ walk to the Mount of Olives is sourced from David’s similar walk there in his darkest hour. Jesus’ estrangement from his family and betrayal by a friend are straight from the Psalms. So also are many of the details of Jesus’ trial, suffering and crucifixion. The tomb burial is taken from Judges and Isaiah. The blind disciples come from the heard-hearted Israelites of old.

Certainly many, probably most, scholars would concede that the evangelists are influenced by the Old Testament in the way they craft their stories. But they cling to the unfounded belief that these literary trappings were used to clothe genuine tales from oral tradition.

That is, they are bound by the same outline as the Gospel myth itself declares. The source of the idea that oral tradition was the bridge between the historical Jesus and the Gospels is the Christian myth itself. It is the myth (again based on Psalms and the Prophets) that tells us the disciples went out preaching the word at the command of the Lord. (I am not disputing that there were preachers who did believe there were messengers from God, by the way.)

All most scholars are doing is paraphrasing — or retelling in their own way — the Christian myth itself.

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29 Comments

  • proudfootz
    2013-03-15 02:34:08 GMT+0000 - 02:34 | Permalink

    “All most scholars are doing is paraphrasing — or retelling in their own way — the Christian myth itself.”

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

  • 2013-03-15 02:55:02 GMT+0000 - 02:55 | Permalink

    869 pages!!! What was Keener thinking? Everyone knows that 814 pages is the absolute limit!

    I eagerly await Roo Bookaroo’s hundred-page ad hominem diatribe against this writer’s sleep-inducing verbosity, overblown confidence in his own scholarship, and assorted other failings of a charlatanistic nature.

    Ehrman, Casey, Hoffmann, McGrath, Keener…. The case for an historical Jesus is undergoing a Renaissance. Can mythicism withstand the onslaught?

    Earl Doherty

    • 2013-03-15 07:05:08 GMT+0000 - 07:05 | Permalink

      I have since learned that Roo himself is tormented with all the self-doubts and disappointments in his own life that he fancifully projects onto you (and also me). He is the classical projector of his own insecurities and sense of failure. When he attacks your prose he is attacking his own prose. He even rationalizes this by explaining that he is imitating your style for effect. He is a sad case.

  • 2013-03-15 04:53:47 GMT+0000 - 04:53 | Permalink

    Thanks Neil for sharing several nice morsels from your work regarding this specific area, with the many excellent embedded links. So helpful! I need to look into Josephus’ description of John the Baptist now.

    I was wondering, when you refer to Mark’s mention of persecution indicating an early second century date for the original version of Mark, whether you meant what is contained in the Parable of the Sower of chapter 4 along with what’s mentioned in Mark 10:30, or if there is anything else that I should look at as well regarding that.

    • 2013-03-15 07:13:02 GMT+0000 - 07:13 | Permalink

      Maybe I spoke of persecution as a date indicator in another post? Early Doherty dates Mark to the 90s on the basis of its context of persecution, but I have doubts about the strength of evidence for historical persecutions at this time. There is less doubt about persecutions in the early second century. But to answer your specific question, I also think in particular of the prophecy in Mark 13. Not to overlook the very motif of the Messiah crucified by Romans itself. As early as the Maccabees martyrdom was linked with a salvific benefit for the wider nation.

  • 2013-03-15 06:12:59 GMT+0000 - 06:12 | Permalink

    “What happens when divine causation is the most plausible available explanation? While conventional rules for historical discussion may keep us from asking the question . . . . they do not mean (much less prove) that the question is philosophically illegitimate.”

    It’s true that admitting your bias is a good thing to do, but it only makes sense to do so if you are attempting to overcome your bias. It does no one any good to put a spotlight on just where your reasoning skills are being hampered without attempting any corrective measures. This is the improper use of humility.

    Appealing to the supernatural is virtually never a good explanation (I only say “virtually” because I don’t have infinite certainty). Appealing to the supernatural is the sort of rationale that would make me seriously doubt this fellow’s strength of argumentation elsewhere. Of course, I do think that appealing to the supernatural is philosophically illegitimate, mainly because “good explanations” always have a set of things in common:

    1) Mechanism. A good explanation explains more of the underlying mechanisms than bad explanations. If your faucet is leaking and you call a plumber over to fix it, the plumber will be able to explain the underlying mechanism behind what causes the faucet to leak. There’s no mechanism for the supernatural.

    2) Testability. A good explanation lends itself to being testable. Your plumber will be able to reproduce the leak at command if he actually understands the underlying mechanism. And if the leak happens again and your plumber told you the underlying mechanism, you should be able to test his explanation and fix the leak yourself. The supernatural is entirely untestable (well, it is, but it fails every single test).

    3) Simplicity. Good explanations use fewer ad hoc claims — i.e. claims that are not testable and have no mechanism — to support itself. A plumber that does all of the above but then posits that the reason behind the leak is that you haven’t arranged the furniture in your house in a manner that resonates with the frequencies of the Crystals of Andraste is a worse explanation than one that leaves that out.

    4) Precision. Good explanations exclude more possible evidence than bad explanations. Let’s say that you have two friends who collect marbles. One friend collects only black marbles while the other collects every single color marble he can get his hands on. If your plumbing problems started after both friends were over for a few hours, and a black marble was found in your pipes, it’s much more likely that your friend who only collects black marbles caused it than your friend who collects all marble colors; even though it’s known that both friends own black marbles. The supernatural does not restrict the type of evidence would be seen as opposed to more natural explanations so god-belief would be analogous to the friend who collects every marble color imaginable. The more evidence the supernatural allows, the less likely it is that it explains this one particular piece of evidence.

    Maybe in historical analysis it would be hard to give examples of the first two (though not impossible, I would presume), the last two should be easy enough; they’re really just Occam’s Razor and Bayes Theorem. So it’s not just a matter of opinion about what makes a better explanation.

    According to your review, Keener has failed at following this sort of methodology throughout the book. Which he set himself up to do by admitting where his bias lies.

    • 2013-03-15 07:22:30 GMT+0000 - 07:22 | Permalink

      Glad you made these points. There was too much to address in just two pages of Keener’s book for one post. Yes, the arrogance of humility. In fact I was very disappointed with Keener’s book in some major ways, especially since it appeared to promise so much. Unfortunately, when one pores through the detail in the endnotes where much of the argument resides, and then returns to claims that are ostensibly based on such fine-print, one very quickly begins to see the entire tome is little more than a very long regurgitation of the fundamentals of Christian apologetics. Genuinely critical or analytical thoughts are dismissed as either not being in conformity with the views of the majority of scholars or (which amounts to the same thing) are “overly sceptical”.

      I have written before of my belief that anyone who speaks of being “overly sceptical” is speaking from ideology, not genuine intellectual rigour: Two Misunderstandings in Biblical Studies — The Nature of Scepticism and Evidence.

      • 2013-03-15 22:52:32 GMT+0000 - 22:52 | Permalink

        Have you ever come across the term “overly skeptical” or “hyper skepticism” in any other field of academia other than Biblical studies?

        • 2013-03-15 23:47:39 GMT+0000 - 23:47 | Permalink

          It’s a bit like the church’s acceptance of evolution. Yes, we will go along with evolution so we don’t look like complete fools, but we will modifiy it a bit and say God guided it to serve his ultimate plan for humans. We’ll agree with science so long as it serves the glory of God.

          Scepticism is a useful tool — but only in the service of God and our faith, so it can’t be full blown real scepticism like those atheists, those fools in God’s sight, use.

        • 2013-03-15 23:57:29 GMT+0000 - 23:57 | Permalink

          Not to put words in their mouths, but I think their rejoinder would go something like:

          “In other fields of academia you don’t have hyper-skeptical people trying to erase Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great from the pages of history. We Biblical scholars are especially victimized by radical atheists with evil agendas. If other scholars had to deal with these pseudo-intellectuals and ill-informed amateurs, they would be just as outraged.”

  • 2013-03-15 08:18:02 GMT+0000 - 08:18 | Permalink

    To explain the “empty tomb”, one must first assume there was a tomb. To assume there was a tomb, one must first assume there was someone who occupied it. Otherwise, it’s not a tomb but only an intended tomb. Assuming an intended tomb, the tomb has to belong to somebody, a rich somebody. Then you have to assume that somebody rich donated it. Then you have to assume that the whole story about Joseph of Arimathea going to Pilate and begging for the body of Jesus and donating his tomb without being arrested for being a disciple of insurrectionist is true.

    Where are academic biblical scholar’s baloney detectors? I’m assuming they don’t have one ’cause they are assuming way too much.

  • 2013-03-15 14:10:49 GMT+0000 - 14:10 | Permalink

    Neil, regarding historical assertions you are doing great compared to Keener, but that is about as hard as teaching a dogma how to bark up the wrong figurative tree. Yes, the historical evidence for HJ is not very good by modern standards of evidence (the only kind I use). Where we can make good conclusions though is through Literary Criticism of the Gospels regarding supposed historical witness. Not what the historicity is behind the original narrative but how “Mark” presented supposed historical witness as historical witness to Jesus. Literary Criticism tells us that “Mark” presented his supposed historical witnesses to Jesus as not promoting the Jesus he presented. That is a Long Way from evidence for his Jesus. Understand dear Reader?

    “Mark’s” value is not that it is good evidence for MJ, rather that it is not good evidence for HJ. And “Mark” is as good as it gets. All subsequent Gospellers (including Forged “Mark”) try to convert “Mark’s” narrative into historical witnesses who promoted “Mark’s” Jesus. For them to do that tells us they had no better support for supposed HJ than “Mark” (why else would someone use a work which discredits supposed historical witness to try and credit historical witness and attribute it to THE most discredited supposed historical witness, Peter.) Again, not especially good evidence for MJ, just really bad evidence for HJ.

    Joseph

    • 2013-03-15 14:22:56 GMT+0000 - 14:22 | Permalink

      I’m not sure I understand your point in your first paragraph, Joe.

      Certainly agree that the study needs to be at the level of the literary cum theological Jesus since that is the only Jesus we have in the data. That’s what the discussion should be about.

      Is there even any need to address the HJ/MJ question at all?

      We have a literary Jesus and it appears that he has a significant place among the earliest documents relevant to Christian origins. That’s where the discussion belongs.

      The Gospel of John is surely equally as symbolic as that of Mark. Are not Matthew and Luke striving likewise for a revised theological Jesus? They don’t resort to the touches of verisimilitude that ancient novelists (or even historians) deployed. Only alternative theological metaphors.

  • 2013-03-16 00:44:09 GMT+0000 - 00:44 | Permalink

    Regarding your paragraph that mentions John the Baptist near the end of your post, I’m assuming there is only one section in Josephus that mentions that John, in Book 18 of Antiquities, which I have read a few times before and just checked again. The section mentions Aretas and Herod, which are shown to be concurrent with the Gospel’s placement of John chronologically. In your paragraph that mentions John you say “he came on the scene some years later and had little in common with the Gospel character.” Please forgive me if this isn’t a very good question, but what am I missing here by thinking John was in the mix during the time of the alleged historical Jesus?

    • 2013-03-16 08:16:45 GMT+0000 - 08:16 | Permalink

      In Josephus John the Baptist has no connection with Christianity at all. Josephus places his execution in the context of the war between Herod Antipas and King Aretas in 36 CE. (See the section, “The Dating of John according to Josephus” at http://www.josephus.org/JohnTBaptist.htm for an outline of the details.) The war of 36 CE was said to be caused by Herod’s rejection of the daughter of King Aretas, which must have happened not long before the war broke out. The Gospels place John’s condemnation of Herod’s marriage arrangements and execution about ten years earlier, before the crucifixion of Jesus.

      (Other interesting questions are raised by Frank Zindler: see Five Reasons to Suspect John the Baptist was Interpolated into Josephus. I am not going to bet my house that this is an interpolation in Josephus, but it is a consideration to keep in the back of one’s mind just the same.)

      • cornbread_r2
        2013-03-16 15:31:00 GMT+0000 - 15:31 | Permalink

        Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but there was an apologist on WEIT (Coyne’s website), promoting Keener’s book on miracles just today. I’d never heard of Keener before and now he’s everywhere!

        Anyway, I was of the impression that the Gospels placed JTB’s death shortly after Jesus’s baptism at the start of his public ministry, or, in other words, within three years of Jesus’s death and not ten.

        • 2013-03-16 15:36:20 GMT+0000 - 15:36 | Permalink

          You missed my comma. 🙂 — I didn’t mean the Gospels placed JtB’s death ten years before Jesus’ crucifixion, but ten years earlier [than it is placed in Josephus], that is, they place it before Jesus’ death. Josephus placed the Baptist’s death in 36, the Gospels place it closer to 26 CE.

          • cornbread_r2
            2013-03-16 16:08:43 GMT+0000 - 16:08 | Permalink

            Indeed I did miss the comma. Thanks for responding so quickly and thanks for all your work!

        • 2013-03-16 15:47:00 GMT+0000 - 15:47 | Permalink

          For what it’s worth, in the Slavonic Josephus the unnamed, wild-man, prophet who seems to be John the Baptist outlives Philip the Tetrarch, who died in 34 CE. If the JTB material in the Slavonic Josephus is a Christian interpolation, I have no idea how it helps the cause.

          http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/gno/gjb/gjb-3.htm

        • 2013-03-16 16:41:58 GMT+0000 - 16:41 | Permalink

          You mention Keener’s take on miracles. I have not seen his new book on that topic (and certainly won’t waste my time or money bothering with it). I love one of his lines in his Historical Jesus book in which he reasons the miracles must be historical:

          Otto Betz regards it as “certain” that Jesus was a healer, a matter that “can be deduced even from the Jewish polemic which called him a sorcerer.” The miracles are central to the Gospels, he notes, and without them most of the other data in the Gospels is inexplicable. (p. 242)

          Don’tcha love it! The Gospels only make sense if Jesus performed miracles, therefore the Gospels are fiction Jesus really did perform miracles!

          • 2013-03-17 02:25:13 GMT+0000 - 02:25 | Permalink

            I came to same conclusion in a few hours, Tim, after I was completely blown away by Neil’s response… and I mean blown away! I know the kind of work Neil and the other bloggers at Vridar must do now, so I know the scholarship on the 36 JTB execution date, according to Josephus, is ironclad. I don’t need to do that kind of in-depth research myself for everything I rely on for constructing my hypotheses about all of this since I can and must rely on the best people who have devoted their entire lives, basically, to exploring such things. My inquiries into all of this comes from a somewhat different angle than most who are also curious about this topic. But without my acquiring concrete data, like the 36 CE JTB execition date, what I’m trying to do wouldn’t too convincing. Therefore I must align myself with what the best people I can find have already done on this, which I think I have now found.

            What I’m basically saying, Tim, is that I agree with you already, after having now slept on it too, that even though the TF, along with that other Book 18’s rather neat unit “who was called Christ”–about Jesus the brother of James, except the wrong Jesus (as I learned here)–are obvious interpolations, there is no reason for someone in the church to have interpolated the decription of JTB (which is also in AJ Book 18) besides the fact that it doesn’t look anything like an interpolation to me either. BTW, I am working right now on a brief explanation of who I think wrote Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, which this new revelation (at least new to me) about the JTB description in Josephus has interrupted; yet everything written on that so far looks as though it can remain the same, that I only need to add one slightly long paragraph at the beginning of what on that is now almost finished.

            • 2013-03-17 09:02:41 GMT+0000 - 09:02 | Permalink

              I have had to post corrections, apologies and withdrawals. I change my mind. I am sometimes inconsistent. I have sometimes written when very tired and come to regret it. My posts are meant to open up information not always readily available to many others who do not have the same access I have had so we can all use it as prompts for our own questions and explorations. I have far, far more questions than answers.

  • 2013-03-20 08:44:10 GMT+0000 - 08:44 | Permalink

    KEENER IS CLAIMING HE WAS AN ATHEIST?! Maybe he was one as a teenager in high school, but he chose to attend a Bible College right after high school. Education:

    B.A., Central Bible College, 1982

    M.A., M.Div., Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, 1985, 1987

    I’m sure that as an atheist in high school he was not very knowledgeable concerning biblical scholarship and did not make an intellectually informed decision to become a Christian. Probably read some Chick Tracts and a Josh McDowell book. Fear of hell comics, end times books, and maybe a book on creationism converted him. How many well known Christian apologists were not born into a conservative Evangelical family or didn’t convert in their teens? And then spend the rest of their lives trying to bend scholarship in one holy inspired direction?

    C. S. Lewis also became an atheist at around 15 while in his teens, but a year later was into the occult and Fantastes by Christian author George MacDonald (which he claimed “baptized his imagination”), so, a year after becoming an “atheist,” at around 16, Lewis was not exactly an “atheist.” Short lived flirtation at best, nothing to brag about. Not like he was an ordained minister of atheism for years. He went on to fall in love with all sorts of medieval fantasy and Christian literature, Spencer’s Fairie Queene, Dante, Milton. And finally wound up back in the fold he was baptized and confirmed in during his youth. What a surprise! God is amazing!

  • 2013-03-20 08:45:05 GMT+0000 - 08:45 | Permalink

    Keener was only an atheist in high school. Ask him what he read prior to converting to Christianity.

    • 2013-03-20 17:18:09 GMT+0000 - 17:18 | Permalink

      If this is the case then Keener is engaging in that all-too-common Christian misrepresentation about his conversion. Like God telling Moses to tell Pharaoh he would only take the Israelites out for a 3 day picnic. Misleading. False-witness. Playing with technicalities. I feel cheated because the book was advertized as by an author who was an ex-atheist — and of course that implies more than some passing teen flirtation. Hell, I could say I was a Hindu and a Buddhist and a Pantheist and a Methodist and an Agnostic when I was a teenager.

      • 2013-03-21 14:15:04 GMT+0000 - 14:15 | Permalink

        I’d say the vast majority of published well known Christian apologists were either raised conservative Christians in their youth or converted in their teens. N,T. Wright, Mark Licona (though they both add that they underwent ;a temporary period of doubt as undergrads), J.P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Josh McDowell, Tim McGrew, Josh McDowell, etc.

  • 2013-03-21 14:37:30 GMT+0000 - 14:37 | Permalink

    I was reading Keener’s commentary on John and he points out a wide range of possible interpretations, but always adds an aside in which he sides with “such and such” a view which is as conservative an interpretation as he can try and squeeze out of it. So he always assures his reader that the conservative interpretation seems like the best to him. Kind of like creationists do with scientific data and questions. They sound scientific, they have advanced degrees, they present some alternative interpretations, but they want the world to be creationists, and they make it easy for less highly educated creationists to simply point to them and leave further questions behind because “Gish says” or “Keener says,” It’s simply a way for Christians with questioning minds to STOP using them with it comes to questions of origins, or in the case of Keener, biblical scholarship-related questions. So in a way his work is a parody of scholarship. He HAS to be right, or else there’s hell to pay at least in his mind and imagination since he was a teen.

    • 2013-03-21 17:26:44 GMT+0000 - 17:26 | Permalink

      Stop it. I feel cheated enough already. Somehow I was led to his book through the impression that it was the work of one who had been a serious atheist in adult life and who had converted to Christianity relatively recently. Christians — I recall well from my own days in their camp — are adept at the art of misrepresentation in order to sell their faith. Hit by karma. Only I don’t believe in karma either.

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