2019-02-09

The Problem of the Reconstruction of the Life, Deeds, Words of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Spot the problem here:

The problem of the reconstruction of the course of life, deeds, and words of Jesus Christ is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating issues in modem biblical scholarship. In order to cope with this issue, scholars devised various reconstructive methods and procedures, which are usually presented today under the labels of several ‘quests for the historical Jesus’. In this way, notwithstanding all the differences between various scholarly proposals, a more or less coherent image of the historical Jesus as a particular Jewish religious and social ‘activist’, who lived in first-century Galilee, emerged and became more or less widely accepted in mainstream scholarship.

However, all reconstructions of the deeds and words of the historical Jesus, which were presented at various stages of the ‘historical Jesus research’, were formulated on one fundamental assumption, namely that the Gospels more or less directly refer to the life of the historical Jesus. Even if numerous modem scholars regarded various parts of the Gospel material as most probably unhistorical, this basic assumption concerning the referential character of the Gospels was in fact never challenged. Consequently, scholars still generally believe that the Gospels in an at least fundamental way reflect the features of the life and person of the historical Jesus: his early activity in Galilee, his challenging interpretation of the Jewish law, his clashes with the Pharisees, his travel to Jerusalem, his conflict with the chief priests in the Holy City, etc.

The most recent research on the hypertextual features of the Gospels has revealed that this basic scholarly assumption is not necessarily true. In general, it can be argued that the Gospels were not written with the aim of recording the course of life, deeds, and words of the historical, ‘fleshly’ Jesus. The Gospels are results of hypertextual reworking of the letters of Paul the Apostle and of other early Christian writings, which were regarded by the evangelists as the sources for the knowledge of the real, ‘spiritual’ Jesus Christ, who came to be known to the world in the course of life, in the person, and in the writings of his particularly chosen Apostle, and who still lives in his Church. The research on the historical Jesus ought to take this basic feature of the Gospels into serious consideration.

Consequently, in order to deal with the issue of reconstructing the life of the historical Jesus in a truly scholarly way, the hypertextual features of the Gospels should be properly investigated.

(Adamczewski 2013, 11 f.)

What Bartosz Adamczewski says there is all very fine as far as it goes but there is something vital missing. And it is that missing element that has opened up opportunities for some rather savage reviews of his work.

Yes, it is fine to present the “case for” a proposition. But unless one addresses systematically the flaws in the existing or alternative viewpoint, especially if that alternative is the prevailing conventional wisdom, one is not likely to persuade anyone to jump ship, at least not with justifiable reason. Simply declaring the alternative to be resting ultimately upon unfounded assumptions won’t work any magic unless one accompanies that claim with clear demonstrations.

That won’t persuade most to change their minds overnight; it will probably engender unscholarly responses. But it will at least leave material for other, most likely new, scholars to notice and work with into the future.

 


Adamczewski, Bartosz. 2013. Hypertextuality and Historicity in the Gospels. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften.


 

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10 Comments

  • 2019-02-10 00:02:41 GMT+0000 - 00:02 | Permalink

    Why don’t we find some experienced novelists or story-writers and ask them how they do what they do, how they construct their stories, etc. Then maybe we’ll have a better idea how the gospel writers did it.

  • db
    2019-02-10 02:17:59 GMT+0000 - 02:17 | Permalink

    Paschke, Boris (11 December 2017). “Hypertextuality and Historicity in the Gospels, written by Adamczewski, Bartosz”. Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. 15 (2–3): 347–349. doi:10.1163/17455197-01502010.

    In following the French literary critic Gérard Genette, Adamczewski defines ‘hypertextuality as any relationship uniting a text B (which is in such a case called hypertext) to an earlier text A (which is called hypotext), upon which it grafts itself in a manner that is not that of commentary’ (13). In contrast to all earlier quests for the historical Jesus which were based ‘on one fundamental assumption, namely that the gospels more or less directly refer to the life of the historical Jesus’ (11)…

  • 2019-02-10 13:41:08 GMT+0000 - 13:41 | Permalink

    Well I think it’s good that he’s at least pointing in the right direction. And this is essentially what my book does do. Maybe I’ll try to send him a copy of my book.

    What I’m working on now addresses James E.’s question of “how they did what they did”. The focus of my new book isn’t intertextual analysis it’s understanding the use of prophecy in Jewish and Roman culture around the time of the rise of Christianity, particularly as it relates to literary works. There is actually a wealth of information regarding use of prophecy and whole genres of prophetic writing that are very similar to Mark that were bring produced in Rome at this time.

    It looks very much to me like the author of Mark was a professional writer of prophetic tall tales. There was a thriving industry in Rome of anonymous authors who would write a sell prophetic stories to merchants who would in turn sell them to wealthy aristocrats, senators and emperors for interpretation by scholars to predict the future. This appears to be what Mark is.

  • Joseph
    2019-02-10 17:57:58 GMT+0000 - 17:57 | Permalink

    Typo: “recording the”?

  • Steven Watson
    2019-02-11 04:54:53 GMT+0000 - 04:54 | Permalink

    Just to clarify what Joseph is referring to:

    The most recent research on the hypertextual features of the Gospels has revealed that this basic scholarly assumption is not necessarily true. In general, it can be argued that the Gospels were not written with the aim of recording the [some dropped text?] are results of hypertextual reworking of the letters of Paul the Apostle and of other early Christian writings, which were regarded by the evangelists as the sources for the knowledge of the real, ‘spiritual’ Jesus Christ, who came to be known to the world in the course of life, in the person, and in the writings of his particularly chosen Apostle, and who still lives in his Church. The research on the historical Jesus ought to take this basic feature of the Gospels into serious consideration.

  • Kenneth
    2019-02-11 21:14:08 GMT+0000 - 21:14 | Permalink

    Should be:

    The most recent research on the hypertextual features of the Gospels has revealed that this basic scholarly assumption is not necessarily true. In general, it can be argued that the Gospels were not written with the aim of recording the course of life, deeds, and words of the historical, “fleshly” Jesus. The Gospels are results of hypertextual reworking of the letters of Paul the Apostle and of other early Christian writings, which were regarded by the evangelists as the sources for the knowledge of the real, ‘spiritual’ Jesus Christ, who came to be known to the world in the course of life, in the person, and in the writings of his particularly chosen Apostle, and who still lives in his Church. The research on the historical Jesus ought to take this basic feature of the Gospels into serious consideration.

    • 2019-02-11 23:42:31 GMT+0000 - 23:42 | Permalink

      I have decided to use Occam’s razor to find the simplest and easiest explanation and using the minimum of assumptions necessary to explain the total lack of non-biblical historical information (not so much as a reference or a mention) for ANY of the important religious characters of the New Testament (Jesus, the disciples, the Apostles, and even the so-called named writers of the documents) and I find this simple and easy explanation fits with the Mythicist position perfectly.

      All of the documents of the New Testament are as fictional as all the important religious characters mentioned in it. This solves all the so-called “historical” problems of New Testament study. They weren’t problems, they were just misunderstandings.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2019-02-15 08:03:52 GMT+0000 - 08:03 | Permalink

    Yes indeed — I missed the top line in my copy and paste from the book. I am sorry. And sorry to have only caught up with this glitch only now!

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