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Author Topic:   Reconstructing the Historical Jesus
Grizz
Member (Idle past 2968 days)
Posts: 318
Joined: 06-08-2007


Message 1 of 560 (462630)
04-06-2008 10:03 AM


The historical figure of Jesus is it's own story, the only factual story that can be told about who Jesus was. The stories themselves are also history as they present a factual historical record of what the story tellers believed Jesus to be. How do you separate the story that is actual history from the story telling? This is a very difficult task, as the only documentary evidence available was written down a generation following the death of Jesus and there are no independent secular documents to work with.

To put the challenge in context:

If you are a Christian, look back to the last sermon you heard. You could certainly present the theme and content of the conversation but it is highly doubtful you would be able to repeat verbatim the actual words that were spoken. Now imagine not just one sermon but many, spread out over a period of three years or more.

After a while, the preacher gains public popularity and the content of the prior sermons are shared verbally among the populace by those who were present. This verbal information slowly works its way around the city then into neighboring cities. This continues for a period of fourty years, at which time someone decides to record the content of the sermons in written form. In addition to the sermons, the populace also circulates information about the preacher himself - his life, his death, and activities. As the written form becomes more popular than the spoken word, others come along and do the same. Pretty soon you have not one document but twenty. Subsequent authors use information in the first document while adding information from the verbal accounts not previously recorded.

After time, one notices that the older the document, the more content it contains. In addition, one notices that not only has new information appeared, this information sometimes is so wildly divergent from the information and content contained in earlier documents that one has reason to suspect it's authenticity.

Two-thousand years later, you, the historian, now have the unenviable task of extracting the reliable details of the sermons and the history of the preacher from the documentary evidence that survives. The preacher himself has left no documentary evidence.

This is not a thread about Theology or one's personal religious beliefs regarding the nature of Jesus. How does one extract reliable History from the surviving documentary evidence available to reconstruct the Historical figure of Jesus? There is also a very small minority who believes the evidence available points to Jesus never existing.

What methods, sources, and approach do you use to reconstruct the history from the story and answer the question 'who was Jesus'?

Please, no preaching. Present whatever argument you wish as long as it is reasoned and based on historical evidence - from any source.

Edited by Grizz, : No reason given.


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Message 2 of 560 (462638)
04-06-2008 12:35 PM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.
  
Blue Jay
Member (Idle past 195 days)
Posts: 2843
From: You couldn't pronounce it with your mouthparts
Joined: 02-04-2008


Message 3 of 560 (462654)
04-06-2008 4:11 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Grizz
04-06-2008 10:03 AM


The Four Gospels
You definitely make a rational and well-thought-out point, Grizz: it's likely that verbal storytelling causes stories to be exaggerated or innocently mistaken over the years.

I think the strongest support of the veracity of Christ's story comes from the Four Gospels. Each one tells essentially the same story as the others, with several parts different here and there (John says a lot of stuff that nobody else does, though). What's interesting is that each Gospel tells the same stories in different words, even quotes Jesus differently, thus comfirming your assertions that verbal storytelling tends to distort the details. However, the strong convergence between the Gospels is good evidence that the Gospels were recorded before the major distortions you alude to occurred.

If we assume that the Four Gospels were written independently*, they would serve as four independent witnesses. Therefore, whatever the four have in common is most likely to be most accurate; whatever three have in common is next most likely, etc. You could also see which of the four has the most parts in common with the other three, and thereby decide that that Gospel is most likely the most accurate of the four.

However, like I said, you'd have to prove that they were truly independent documents. You'd also have to demonstrate that the way John retold the story hadn't influenced the way Luke told it, etc. How you would do that, I have no idea.

*I don't think the Four Gospels were told independently: the Gospel of Luke, for instance, is a secondhand account (Luke probably wasn't converted before Christ's Resurrection).


I'm Bluejay

Darwin loves you.


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PaulK
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Posts: 12969
Joined: 01-10-2003
Member Rating: 3.2


Message 4 of 560 (462657)
04-06-2008 4:38 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Blue Jay
04-06-2008 4:11 PM


Re: The Four Gospels
...are not independent. John MIGHT be independent of the other three, but the Synoptics include a good deal of copying. Contrary to your claims the words are too often the same for it to be otherwise.
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Percy
Member
Posts: 15680
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 3.3


Message 5 of 560 (462660)
04-06-2008 5:31 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Blue Jay
04-06-2008 4:11 PM


Re: The Four Gospels
Thylacosmilus writes:

If we assume that the Four Gospels were written independently*, they would serve as four independent witnesses.

This possibility can be put to rest rather easily. Just look at any synopsis of the synoptic gospels. A synopsis is a book in tabular format where the synoptic gospels are placed side-by-side. Passages relating the same thing are lined up next to each other, even if they don't appear in the same order within the gospels themselves. The large number of identical passages can be easily seen in a synopsis and renders any possibility of indendence moot.

Of course, the synoptic gospels do not include John, which has little in common with them beyond the main outline of the story.

--Percy


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Grizz
Member (Idle past 2968 days)
Posts: 318
Joined: 06-08-2007


Message 6 of 560 (462671)
04-06-2008 7:28 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Blue Jay
04-06-2008 4:11 PM


Re: The Four Gospels
If we assume that the Four Gospels were written independently*, they would serve as four independent witnesses. Therefore, whatever the four have in common is most likely to be most accurate; whatever three have in common is next most likely, etc. You could also see which of the four has the most parts in common with the other three, and thereby decide that that Gospel is most likely the most accurate of the four.

Hey Bluejay, nice icon.

As Percy just alluded to, the popular synoptic Gospels not only draw from one another, but they also tap into the verbal tradition that was not already contained in prior written works. Furthermore, the more recent the Gospel, the more sophisticated and complex is the narrative and information content.

To give you an example, notice the passages below. Take special note of the phrase "And he went out and wept bitterly" in Matthew and Luke. Both of these phrases appear in the original Greek with the same verbage. Historians reconstruct the original verbal Q source by looking at common themes. Notice too that Luke refers to Jesus as 'Lord.' This becomes important later.
........................................................
Mark 14:72:

Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.

Mark 26:75:

Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:61:

Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times". And he went out and wept bitterly.
........................................................

There are common themes in the canonical texts but the overall number of manuscripts and Gospels is quite large. Not everything being said about Jesus in the first two centuries fits in with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

I dropped this in another thread, but here is a link containing a list of all main extant texts in use by NT scholars. For purposes of this discussion it will also serve as a chronology. This list does not include the multitude of partial manuscripts or those yet to be translated from the source material.

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/

Also, here is a summary of the hypothetical verbal Q-Source extracted from the common themes present in parallel structures.

http://www.utoronto.ca/religion/synopsis/

It is incorrect to assume that Early Christianity was a united community. By the late first century, the movement was already giving birth to rival sects. Although most saw Jesus as divine, many of these budding communities told their own stories and attached their own significance to the life and message of Jesus. Some communities placed less emphasis on Jesus's divinity and placed more emphasis on his social and religious criticisms and teachings. A few Gnostic communities even denied that the death and resurrection were actual historical facts. Most Gnostics did not tell the traditional story of the passion and resurrection - Jesus went away, after a while he reappeared to his followers, then mysteriously disappeared again. The number of Gnostic and Coptic manuscripts are quite numerous - these were not tiny, isolated sects. Regardless, by the end of the first century, there was more than one thematic story circulating - there were competing stories.

When the author(s) of John wrote the Gospel, it was not simply meant to be a biographical sketch or list of sayings; rather, it was a Christological story for a community that was beginning to develop a systematic theology while also competing with other theologies that were developing - Coptic and Gnostic. It is clear that the author(s) of John are attaching theological meaning to the events discussed in the Synoptic gospels. Essentially, the author(s) is integrating Pauline theology into the narrative stories.

Why did the Gnostic and Coptic traditions differ so vastly from Pauline theology and why did their writings contain content that differed so radically from the canonical gospel accounts? What was the cause for the divergence and where was the Gnostic and Coptic tradition coming from? This is a question historians are still debating. As Johanian theology gained prominence, these groups were eventually labeled as heretics and run out of town, so to speak.

My point here is that when you ignore the Apocryphal manuscripts and only look at the 'official' Canon, you end up short-changing yourself and don't get the entire picture. For centuries, Christians have been seeing Jesus through the filtered lens of the Synoptic gospels.

Combine all extant Christian sources with the secular historical information about the life and times of Judea and Rome(Jospehus, Tacitus, Pliny....) and you can use this as the starting point to begin extracting the history from the story. A lot of assumptions will have to be made, but they are assumptions that are based on a critical reading of the source material and a rational approach to the subject.

Modern scholars have no doubt that Matthew, Luke, and John, and possibly Mark were written after the Jewish revolt and destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Scholars can date manuscripts using a number of methods - textual criticism, style of the prose, penmanship, the type of paper and ink used, or perhaps even a mention of a historical event.

Authorship is unknown in all cases. It is highly doubtfully that the disciples actually penned the gospels. Within Judea, there was a literacy rate of roughly ten percent. In Judea, the spoken word was the norm and writing was something reserved for the cultured and highly educated. All earliest Gospel manuscripts are written in koine Greek and most of them display a sophisticated command of the language and indicate someone with high educational attainment. Based on life expectancy and the fact that tradition indicates many disciples were martyred early on, it is highly unlikely a Judean would have had the time or available resources to learn the language of the gentile - Greek.

Also, it is no coincidence that the written accounts(Gospels) started to usurp the verbal tradition after the sacking of Jerusalem. I will leave this for now as I probably have added too much already.

I should probably give my motive for the thread. I have always been a fan of Greco-Roman history and used to read anything I could get my hands on. I enjoy early Christian History and also have an interest in the textual criticism of the NT. It is kind of like reading a who-done-it novel or piecing together a puzzle. I especially enjoy reading the criticisms of John Crossan and Marcus Borg. My goal in this thread is not to try to negate anyone's faith or 'disprove' the divinity of Jesus. My goal is to try to have a somewhat scholarly and rational discussion on a subject I have always been interested in.

Edited by Grizz, : Correction to content.


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Blue Jay
Member (Idle past 195 days)
Posts: 2843
From: You couldn't pronounce it with your mouthparts
Joined: 02-04-2008


Message 7 of 560 (462677)
04-06-2008 10:05 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by Grizz
04-06-2008 7:28 PM


Re: The Four Gospels
Thank you, Grizz (and PaulK and Percy) for that enlightenment. I suspected as much, but I didn't have the historical background to prove it: I just had a lifetime of Sunday School.

Grizz writes:

It is incorrect to assume that Early Christianity was a united community.

I think the letters of Paul are a good testament to this. E.g. 1 Corinthians 3:3-5:

quote:
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

Grizz writes:

For centuries, Christians have been seeing Jesus through the filtered lens of the Synoptic gospels.

I guess I can't deny that: it is a general teaching of my religion, after all. My religion has the Book of Mormon as an additional account of Christ after His resurrection (He made a brief visit to the people of the Americas, some of whom we claim were related to the Hebrews), and we put less emphasis on the Bible (because we believe it to have been corrupted over the centuries of translation and retelling). We believe the Book of Mormong to have been written by a series of prophets spanning 600 BC to AD 420 (roughly), and to have been translated only once, from its original language to 19th century English (by Joseph Smith)--thus, it's quite a bit easier to understand than the Bible, too.

However, we don't have an archaeological evidence pointing to the historicity or actual timeframe of the Book or Mormon, so I guess my bringing it up here is kind of a moot point.

AbE: {My religion's viewpoints are often very different from traditional Christian perspectives, and the Book of Mormon account is one big reason why. The BoM is a lot more direct and uncompromising in the stances it takes, and says things in a very clear, descriptive manner.

Christ is also depicted in the BoM repeating much of the Sermon on the Mount (among other bits of Bible doctrine) to the Americans. This isn't telling the same story as the Gospels, but we hold it as support for them.}

Grizz writes:

Based on life expectancy and the fact that tradition indicates many disciples were martyred early on, it is highly unlikely a Judean would have had the time or available resources to learn the language of the gentile - Greek.

Luke was Greek, and a physician (i.e. educated). Maybe this is a reason why we attribute that Gospel to him? Also, as far as I know, my church still holds on to the traditional view that the Gospel of Matthew was first written in Aramaic before the Greek.

Edited by Thylacosmilus, : Addition


I'm Bluejay

Darwin loves you.


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Percy
Member
Posts: 15680
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 3.3


Message 8 of 560 (462685)
04-07-2008 9:20 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by Grizz
04-06-2008 7:28 PM


Re: The Four Gospels
Hi Grizz, just had a comment about one part:

Grizz writes:

Furthermore, the older the Gospel, the more sophisticated and complex is the narrative and information content.

Consistent with our understanding of how myths and legend build, I think the opposite is the case, i.e., Matthew and Luke both provide more detail than the earlier Mark, and they all provide more detail than the hypothetical 'Q'.

An aside to Thylacosmilus: The BoM's authenticity is problematic in the extreme. There were certainly never any golden tablets, making it highly likely that Moroni, and all that comes with him, is baloney. Consistently, though, the gospels are very likely also made up, meaning that the Jesus of the gospels never existed. Joseph Smith and Paul likely had much in common as mythmakers.

--Percy


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ramoss
Member
Posts: 3030
Joined: 08-11-2004


Message 9 of 560 (462691)
04-07-2008 9:51 AM
Reply to: Message 3 by Blue Jay
04-06-2008 4:11 PM


Re: The Four Gospels
The problem is that the 4 gospels are not independant at all. Mark is believed to be the first of the 4 written by the vast majority of Biblical scholars, and he obviously was not even in Jerusalem , since he got the geography wrong for one thing. Matthew and Luke were both partly based on the Gospel of Mark, so they are not independent at all, and the Gospel of John appears to be totally independent of anything, and disagrees with a lot. It also was redacted several times.

The early church father tradition has Mark being written by a disciple of Peter after Peter died (might not be true). This put the earliest
it could be written to be 65, and probably after 70, due to references to the temple being destroyed.


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ICANT
Member
Posts: 5625
From: SSC
Joined: 03-12-2007


Message 10 of 560 (462694)
04-07-2008 10:29 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by Grizz
04-06-2008 7:28 PM


Re: Greek
Hi Grizz,

Grizz writes:

Authorship is unknown in all cases. It is highly doubtfully that the disciples actually penned the gospels. Within Judea, there was a literacy rate of roughly ten percent. In Judea, the spoken word was the norm and writing was something reserved for the cultured and highly educated. All earliest Gospel manuscripts are written in koine Greek and most of them display a sophisticated command of the language and indicate someone with high educational attainment. Based on life expectancy and the fact that tradition indicates many disciples were martyred early on, it is highly unlikely a Judean would have had the time or available resources to learn the language of the gentile - Greek.

Since the Septuagint was the Bible of the day. It had been in existence for over 200 years. It was in Greek, why would the disciples not have knowledge of the Greek language?

God Bless


"John 5:39 (KJS) Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me."
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iano
Member (Idle past 680 days)
Posts: 6164
From: Co. Wicklow, Ireland.
Joined: 07-27-2005


Message 11 of 560 (462697)
04-07-2008 10:48 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Grizz
04-06-2008 10:03 AM


Grizz writes:

How does one extract reliable History from the surviving documentary evidence available to reconstruct the Historical figure of Jesus?

A "reliable history" sounds like a bit of a contradiction in terms to me, to be honest - although I suppose those interested in this field are actually referring to the kind of reliablity that derives from the theoretical/assumptive framework utilised along the way.

I have a passing query which you might answer for me though. Ramoss posted upthread that the gospel of Mark was "probably" (according to one view I gather) written post-AD70 due to there being references at Mark 13 to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem - which actually occurred in AD 70.

Is that an example of the way in which textual criticism is carried out? That is, is it the case that Jesus' being reported as remarking on future temple destruction would be taken as evidence for dating the gospel of Mark post-AD70?

Edited by iano, : No reason given.

Edited by iano, : No reason given.


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GDR
Member
Posts: 4262
From: Sidney, BC, Canada
Joined: 05-22-2005
Member Rating: 3.2


Message 12 of 560 (462698)
04-07-2008 11:23 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by Grizz
04-06-2008 7:28 PM


Re: The Four Gospels
Grizz writes:

I should probably give my motive for the thread. I have always been a fan of Greco-Roman history and used to read anything I could get my hands on. I enjoy early Christian History and also have an interest in the textual criticism of the NT. It is kind of like reading a who-done-it novel or piecing together a puzzle. I especially enjoy reading the criticisms of John Crossan and Marcus Borg. My goal in this thread is not to try to negate anyone's faith or 'disprove' the divinity of Jesus. My goal is to try to have a somewhat scholarly and rational discussion on a subject I have always been interested in.

I also find the study of early Jewish history interesting. For example I find the historical record compelling and I believe there is strong historical evidence for the resurrected Jesus. There were any number of early Jews that claimed to be messiahs but they were inevitably put to death by the Romans and that was the end of their movement. In Jesus' case initially when He was crucified He was seen as another failed messiah just like all the others. That all changed and the same guys that had just gone back to their fishing all of a sudden were prepared to dedicate their lives to Him.

The individual I read most on the subject is N. T. Wright who is currently the Bishop of Durham. Here is one piece that he has written on the subject.

Wright of Historical Jesus

You mention Crossan and Borg from the Jesus seminar. Wright has debated both Borg and Crossan. In fact they have jointly written books debating the "Historical Jesus". I have read the one with Borg and have ordered the one with Crossan.

Wright and Borg

Wright and Crossan


Everybody is entitled to my opinion. :)
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PaulK
Member
Posts: 12969
Joined: 01-10-2003
Member Rating: 3.2


Message 13 of 560 (462706)
04-07-2008 1:41 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by iano
04-07-2008 10:48 AM


quote:

Is that an example of the way in which textual criticism is carried out? That is, is it the case that Jesus' being reported as remarking on future temple destruction would be taken as evidence for dating the gospel of Mark post-AD70?

It's one argument that some people use. Just as others argue that Mark must have been written before 70 AD because he doesn't come out and state that the destruction had actually happened.

Neither argument is taken as decisive and the mainstream dating for Mark covers a range around 70 AD. Before and after.


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iano
Member (Idle past 680 days)
Posts: 6164
From: Co. Wicklow, Ireland.
Joined: 07-27-2005


Message 14 of 560 (462708)
04-07-2008 2:56 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by PaulK
04-07-2008 1:41 PM


It's one argument that some people use.

Jeepers!


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Grizz
Member (Idle past 2968 days)
Posts: 318
Joined: 06-08-2007


Message 15 of 560 (462713)
04-07-2008 5:37 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Percy
04-07-2008 9:20 AM


Re: The Four Gospels
Consistent with our understanding of how myths and legend build, I think the opposite is the case, i.e., Matthew and Luke both provide more detail than the earlier Mark, and they all provide more detail than the hypothetical 'Q'.

Correct. It came out wrong. I meant to refer to subsequent manuscripts that appear later in the progression.


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