When he was twelve years old . . . . they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:42, 46f)
How might a historian determine if there was any historicity to Luke’s story of Jesus at twelve years old sitting in the temple impressing the teachers with his understanding?
See the discussions at
- The evidence of ancient historians
- An Ancient Historian on Historical Jesus Studies, — and on Ancient Sources Generally
(Another post looking at another scholar’s discussion on the same theme: Ancient Historians: Thucydides, historian of realism, not reality)
Moses I. Finley, a historian of ancient times, confessed to not knowing of any way a historian today could establish the happenings we read about in the works of ancient historians unless we have some independent corroborating evidence from the time contemporaneous to the event. Ancient historians, he said, were faced with huge gaps in their knowledge of the past and very often they simply could not resist the urge to fabricate stories to fill in those gaps. Consequently,
For the great bulk of the narrative we are faced with the ‘kernel of truth’ possibility, and I am unaware of any stigmata that automatically distinguish fiction from fact. . . . .
However, there are biblical scholars who do have the gift of discernment that Finley lacked and who are able to apply it ably to the gospels:
If I may quote my former article (see note 3), I still hold the view there expressed (p. 362) : Jesus shows, in the story in Lk. 2, 42-50, ‘just such self-reliance and intelligent interest in the religion of his country as might be expected in a boy of genius and deep natural feeling. . . . The hero of a folktale would have found his way by some mysterious guidance to the Temple. … A wonder-child in a popular story would have confuted the doctors of the Law, or at least made it clear that he knew all they did and more. … To my mind, the tale cries aloud that it is a perfectly authentic happening.‘
(Page 131 of Rose, H. J. (1938). Herakles and the Gospels. The Harvard Theological Review, 31(2), 113–142. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1508025)
That was in 1938, I admit. Surely scholarship has advanced since then and we would not expect to find such naivety tolerated today, would we?