Wednesday, February 22, 2012

NT Pod 59: Historical Jesus Criteria

NT Pod 59 discusses Criteria in Historical Jesus research. It is twelve and a half minutes long.

NT Pod 59: Historical Jesus Criteria (mp3)
NT Pod 59: Historical Jesus Criteria (mp3) (Alternative location)

Key texts: Mark 1.4-8, Matt. 3.11-17, Luke 3.21-2

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Thanks to Ram2000, Me and You, for the opening theme, released under a Creative Commons agreement.


  1. Mark:

    This was one of my favorite podcasts yet! It's so good to have you back!

    I especially loved the pairing of embarrassment with multiple attestation. Clever. I also liked the analysis of the criteria as helpful for training people how to look at the Bible historically.

    In addition, I always appreciate the way you make mention of the introduction to the Gospels by Sanders and Davies. That book is a gem but it is far too overlooked. (Probably in part because the book has got one of the ugliest covers ever!)

    As you probably know, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the historical Jesus and the cult at Fuller and I'm currently in the process of revising it for publication. The problem is that everything in the field is in flux right now. In particular, Le Donne's book on the Historiographical Jesus has really blown me away and I feel like i have to make some significant revisions in light of it. And I'm just dying to read that new book on the demise of authenticity you mentioned on the blog.

    However, one problem with Le Donne's approach is a problem that also plagues "multiple attestation": to use it one must proceed with a supposed clear understanding of the literary relationship of the Gospels. I think we have to be pretty cautious here, otherwise we're building castles on clouds. To that end, I was surprised that you didn't say more about the problem of assuming the existence of Q in the criterion of multiple attestation.

    I'm hoping these podcasts will give me some idea of where your thinking is going. Keith, Allison, and many others are really challenging me to think about how we do historical Jesus research.

    Anyways, great stuff! I hope the next one goes up soon! Thanks for this podcast!

    1. Thanks very much for your encouraging and helpful comments, Michael. Agree with you on several fronts here. I am looking forward to engaging further with Anthony Le Donne and Chris Keith and others on the issue of the criteria in the conference on the issue at Lincoln Christian University next October. I too have profited from Anthony's book (and Chris's writings too).

      I will get to the role that Q plays in multiple attestation in one of the next podcasts in this series. Even if I believed in Q, I would be sceptical about its use in this criterion because it ends up prejudicing the most problematic set of data in the Synoptic Problem, the Mark-Q overlaps. That's been a huge mis-step. (I wrote the essay on multiple attestation in the forthcoming criteria volume, so more anon!).

      Thanks again, Michael.

  2. Regarding the criteria of embarrassment and criteria of multiple attestation contradicting each other: could it be that maybe an event, despite having embarrassing implications, had so much significance that its importance trumped the urge to avoid the embarrassment by omitting it? Looking at the baptism event you were talking about, the possible implication of it may have been uncomfortable, but it evidently had prophetic significance in the minds of early Christians as part of John the Baptist's "preparing the way"; the Markan author links John the Baptist with Jesus using the Hebrew Scriptures right at the beginning of his book (1:2-3), and the Matthean and Lukan authors evidently agree because they cite the same passages of Scripture while borrowing from the Gospel of Mark (Matthew 3:3, 11:10; Luke 3:4-6, 7:27). Though there was reason to avoid talking about the baptism, there was also good reason to include it, which could be why it is multiply attested despite the embarrassment.

    Sorry if this is a dumb suggestion. I'm no scholar -- just a high school student.

    1. I think that's a great point -- thanks very much. Yes, I suspect that that's how things must have been -- the emerging story is actually too good not to tell even though it comes with the more troubling possible implications. It may be that my problem with the criterion is more to do with describing it as "embarrassment" than anything else. More on this anon.

  3. Is Jesus's birth in Bethlehem multiply attested?

    1. No, not really. If you think that Matthew and Luke are independent of one another, then it has double independent attestation. However, if Luke knows Matthew then that is not the case.

    2. I don't understand.

      On page 78 of 'Did Jesus Exist?', Bart Ehrman explains that Matthew and Luke can be considered to be independent of each other.

  4. Another problem with multiple attestation would be the circular reasoning involved. It's quite common for scholars to use this logic:
    1) Story/quotation/pericope XYZ is in both Matthew and Luke.
    2) Hence, XYZ must come from the same source (either they both used Q or one copied the other).
    3) Because XYZ is from the same source, there is no multiple attestation.

    This goes back to your statement about scholars using the various criteria to confirm their own subjective opinions. Like a story that is repeated in more than one gospel? Great! Argue that it meets the criterion of multiple attestation. Don't like a story that is repeated in more than one gospel? Fine...argue that the similarities betray a common source, it which case it fails the criterion of multiple attestation.