Friday, March 9, 2012

NT Pod 60: The Criterion of Embarrassment

NT Pod 60 continues the series on Historical Jesus criteria and focuses on the Criterion of Embarrassment. It is about 12 minutes long.

NT Pod 60: The Criterion of Embarrassment (mp3)
NT Pod 60: The Criterion of Embarrassment (mp3) (Alternative location)

Key texts: Mark 15.34 // Matt. 27.46, Luke 23.46, John 19.30, Mark 7.24-30, Mark 1.4-8.

Feel free to leave your feedback below or on Twitter or on our Facebook page.

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


  1. Mark:

    I thought I had posted a comment here a few days ago, but I guess it didn't take. Let me try this again...

    Thanks for another excellent podcast. Very stimulating. I listened to this holding my new infant daughter in my wife's hospital room just hours after she gave birth. (She was resting). This was so much fun to listen to--I hadn't slept in two days but this woke me right up!

    A few thoughts:

    1. I agree whole-heartedly with you about the fact that "embarrassment" is a problematic word. Your uses of Sanders' "against the grain" is excellent. Colin Brown has also used this as a criterion. See Colin Brown, “The Jesus of Mark’s Gospel,” in Jesus Then and Now: Images of Jesus in History and Christology (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 2001), 26-53. If you haven't read that piece, you might want to check it out. Not too many scholars use Sanders' language, but I agree--it is better than "embarrassment".

    2. A growing number of scholars recognize "embarrassment" as just another form of "dissimilarity from Christianity". I think this is right. See, e.g., Brian Han Gregg, The Historical Jesus and the Final Judgment Sayings in Q (WUNT 207; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2006), 30: “The criterion of embarrassment is a heightened form of the criterion of dissimilarity.” Many of the major articles on the criteria and many of the major Jesus scholars have also echoed this point. To cite a few, see Dennis Polkow, “Method and Criteria for Historical Jesus Research,” SBL 1987 Seminar Papers (ed. K. H. Richards; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987), 341 [336–56]; Tom Holmén, “Doubts about Double Dissimilarity: Restructuring the Main Criterion of Jesus-of-history research,” in Authenticating the Words of Jesus (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 76 [47–80]; Stanley E. Porter, The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research: Previous Discussion and New Proposals (London: T & T Clark, 2000), 110; Craig A. Evans, “The New Quest for Jesus and the New Research on the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Jesus, Mark and Q (ed. M. Labahn and A. Schmidt; London: T & T Clark, 2001), 165.

    3. It seems that ancient Jews used the first line of a psalm as its title (cf. m. Tamid 7:4). That Mark has Jesus citing the first line from Psalm 22 suggests he is evoking the entire psalm. Since it ends with the psalmist being rescued (vv. 22-31), it seems Mark portrays Jesus as quoting a psalm that anticipates his vindication. How is that embarrassing?

    4. You seem to suggest that historians can dig out the historical from the "interpretations" of the evangelists. But as many, e.g., Le Donne (e.g., The Historiographical Jesus), are arguing, this seems problematic. Are you suggesting there is "uninterpreted" core? How would you respond to Le Donne?

    Thanks again for this episode. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to the next one! (Particularly, your treatment of multiple attestation!)

  2. ' It seems that ancient Jews used the first line of a psalm as its title (cf. m. Tamid 7:4).'

    We do the same thing. 'Voi che sapete', 'La donna e mobile' are the first lines of those songs.

    I agree that the author of Mark did not find his own words an embarrassment.

  3. Many thanks, Michael, for your interesting and very helpful comments, and many congratulations on the birth of your daughter!

    Like you, I am surprised that the good sense spoken by Sanders is not picked up by more people. I suspect that it is in part because it is tucked away at the back of Studying the Synoptic Gospels. I am not familiar with Brown and will have to look that up.

    That's a good point about it being effectively a heightened form of dissimilarity. I am thinking about taking on dissimilarity in my next podcast.

    I agree on Psalm 22, and it's interesting that the allusions to the psalm are woven into the fabric of both Jesus' sayings and the narrator's words.

    I certainly wouldn't go for the idea of digging out some kind of unvarnished, uninterpreted historical core. I'm hoping to write a bit more about this in a forthcoming book on the passion narrative. More anon.

    Thanks again for your really helpful and interesting comments.

  4. Sir --

    Thank you, just discovered your podcasts, have been following your blog for a long time (why do I feel like one of those callers to a sports talk show saying "Long time listener, first-time caller"?)

    Anyway, criterion of embarrassment: You ask, several times, why the authors would include a story if they were so "embarrassed" by it. The answer I've learnt -- primarily in relation to the court history of David, but elsewhere in Hebrew scripture as well -- is that they couldn't leave it out, because *everyone already knew it*. How can your readers believe that you are narrating a correct history of Jesus if you leave out stories they already know -- from oral narratives, from now-lost early written traditions, from friends of friends of people who were there?

    Now, perhaps this is less of an issue in the Gospels? Were the Evangelists writing for an audience outside of Judaea, who would not have known other narratives? Perhaps you can address this somewhere on your blog or podcast, you'd have at least one very interested audience member!

    Thanks again,

  5. Thanks, Eric, for your helpful comments. I am inclined to agree with what you say, but I suppose that the thing that gives me pause is that the evangelists all clearly do omit a lot of material and so we know that they did not feel themselves obliged to include certain things. It's interesting that John, for example, narrates John's encounter with Jesus in such a way as to suggest that he is familiar with the baptism story, and yet he does not tell the baptism story. And so this gets to my point about the incompatibility at times between multiple attestation and embarrassment. Sometimes it is the singly attested traditions that are the most likely to be historical.

  6. Dear prof. Goodacre, could you please cite some of the historical Jesus studies which uses criterion of embarrassment on Mk 15:34 in the way you explained? Thanks!