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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

More on 'authenticity' and Rafael is soft

Ok, so Rafael dared to respond! There's not much disagreement I have with what he's said so I'll restrct myself to where Rafael is wrong, aside from the cruel and demeaning comments on Michael Bird's blog which has pierced my heart and left me a broken man (well not quite as much as the gun).

But the question, I think, is whether we can positively (or even probably, or even usefully, for that matter) distinguish between newly interpreted and newly created traditions. (The interesting discussion in the Jesus seminar [not Seminar] at the BNTC re: the Son of Man/son of man between Maurice Casey and Andy Angel is an example of the difficulty we have in this regard.)

Just questions here: can a line be drawn here? If Jesus used a standard Aramaic idiom and it meant just man and was sort of tranlated in a similar way into Greek and had no reference to Daniel is that as useful for understanding the historical Jesus as a saying which (say) the early church found when reading Dan 7 and linked it to the second coming. Let's just assume that's right for the sake of these question: would both be of equal usefulness in reconstructing the life of Jesus? Or would one be of greater use?

And this:
There is no philosophical discussion about whether or not Jesus could have proclaimed a present kingdom, an imminent one, a future one, or any combination of the three. But this is precisely the first step in addressing the authenticity/historicity of the resurrection: Could the historical Jesus have experienced bodily resurrection? I think the difference is obvious; I apologise if it isn't.

Yes they are different but the authenticity question remains exactly the same, even if there has been a slight modification by Rafael here to experience: Did the bodily resurrection happen or not? Did Jesus preach a present, future, or future/present kingdom? I wouldn't argue that the resurrection is a question of could it happen but rather did it happen or not. The whole of the gospel tradition is a level playing field as far as I'm concerned. It just so happens that the resurrection didn't happen but that's another story...

(NB: James asks, 'Why is that so different from the analysis of any other miraculous event?' First, Jesus' teaching about the kingdom or a future coming Son of Man isn't miraculous. Second, I've yet to hear anyone seriously suggest that death was a psychosomatic condition that Jesus could 'heal' or 'be healed of' [unlike healing the blind or the lame], though some of the old resuscitation theories tend toward this.)
Actually, for what it is worth there are cross cultural parallels to people coming back from 'death' a bit like the girl who was only 'sleeping' in Mark 5.39 but that I know is not quite the point. More to the point, I think Rafael is again working with the question of could it happen... I say: did it?

Oh yeah . . . one last point. It seems to me that questions such as, 'Would the same degree of openness towards authenticity be extened to non-Christian traditions?', aren't very helpful. On the one hand, Evangelical scholars are said to be credulous because they suppose the gospels (or at least the synoptics) are reliable sources for the historical Jesus, but on the other they are criticised for not being credulous enough (for refusing to accept all the sources as reliable). I understand James' point (and, as he is fond of pointing out, our disagreement here is rather minor) and agree that why some of us prefer the canonical or synoptic gospels as historical sources should be a subject for analysis. But a preference for certain sources can be the result of critical reflection (granted that, nevertheless, it frequently isn't).


That's not quite what I was getting at. I'll put it this way: would an early miraculous story about Alexander the Great, some pagan magician or a great rabbinic authority be treated with the same degree of critical respect? Let's say they are very early, perhaps even by eyewitnesses, would they not be put down to a general world view where people saw no problem with making such stories up?

To broaden things out beyong the debate between me and Rafael, there has been a lot of debate on the blogs about authenticity and I think one good way to put things to the test is to steal a tactic from Jim West here (there are certain parallels with theHebrew Bible/OT debate on the blogs) and ask the open questions: did Jesus really on water or not? Did he multiply the loaves or not? Did he turn water into wine or not?


NOTE: in case of misunderstanding 'soft' was a schoolyard taunt for not being tough or hard. Not that I'm implying he's academically soft mind (if there is such a thing!!). Oh, it's just a silly joke, ok?

17 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

James,
First, I'm fascinated by this discussion between you and Rafael. It does have some similarities to the "historicity" debate between myself and Cathey and others. I suppose because historicity is important. The "happened-ness" of biblical stories being terribly significant to those hell bent on "proving" the adequacy of faith (which is, as you will know, something of an immense oxymoron).

I note in your final paragraph that a word has fallen out- and I think that word must be "walk" (as in, did Jesus "really walk" on water?

My answer? Historically? No. Theologically? Yes. Now I know, some will take that wrongly and accuse me of some sort of nihlistic anti-historicism. So in my own defense I will just say that in the NT, as in the Hebrew Bible, the focus is not on "Historie" at all- and to make our focus something that is not focus (or purpose) of the author only sets us up for the kind of idiotic, misinformed, and useless readings we commonly encounter.

Finally- "pericula latet" in using any of my tactics. You'll get yelled at! ;-)

Best, and keep up the lively debate.

September 28, 2005

 
Blogger Bilbo Bloggins said...

James wrote "It just so happens that the resurrection didn't happen but that's another story..."

Here's where I'd like to see you attempt an argument, not just assert. And let's see a strong argument for improbability - one *not* based on a presupposition of naturalism (methodological or metaphysical), not an alternative explanation which itself is a mere possibility.

Unfortunately for you, the subject (whether or not God acted in history) is entirely outside of your field (you just don't seem to realize that yet), and you're probably going to get frustrated right out the door when you realize you have to addres certain prior probabilities that the jury is still out on, but I'd really still like to see you give it a try.

Bilbo

September 28, 2005

 
Blogger Jim said...

Now how can comments on historicity be taken seriously when the person making them is a non historical character from a fantasy book? Further, how is it that aforementioned non historical fictional character suggests that James is in over his head (or outside his field) when everything have to do with reality itself is outside the field of fictional characters?

;-)

September 29, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Jim, I have a lot of sympathy with what you are saying and for what it is worth I suspect, as I think you probably would (true?). that a lot of first century readers of the gospels would read such miracle stories the way you have. This is one reason why I also doubt the historicity of such stories.

And Jim remember the saying that imiatation is...

Bilbo: I have done just that in a forthcoming article (I was alluding to it as it was mentioned a short while ago on blogs). No doubt I was influenced by Enlightenment assumptions or whatever you want to call them but the argument was a historical critical one which did NOT use the argument that as I don't see these things happening today then they couldn't happen at all.

September 29, 2005

 
Blogger Bilbo Bloggins said...

James,

And let me guess -- your original work attempts to refute some scholars' arguments for the empty tomb. And you also tell us the resurrection appearances are hallucinatory. You'll have a very hard time convincing me of the former, especially given your early dating of Mark. But even if you can do that, the resurrection (even a bodily one), does not require the historicity of the Markan empty tomb narrative. And hallucinations, certainly the most plausible *naturalistic* hypothesis accounting for the resurrection appearances, simply keep us in the realm of possibility.

I will be glad to review your article as soon as you post it and show you that your argument is an attempt at an alternative possibility, and does not refute the idea that Jesus rose from the dead.

Bilbo

September 29, 2005

 
Blogger Jim said...

In the words of Kierkegaard, "critics are like eunuchs, they know what's supposed to be done, they just can't manage it themselves".

September 29, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Biblo: some good guesses but some not-so-accurate. I'd be very glad for you the review the article when it comes out (Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus: anytime now) and tell me its faults on this blog if you want. It will be much more constructive than trying to predict what I say then criticising that. Instead of discussing it as a possibility how about saying whether it is more plausible than alternatives or not and most importantly WHY.

September 29, 2005

 
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Let me chime in by saying that James' upcoming article (in JSHJ) is yet another fine response to Tom Wright on the matter of the empty tomb, even if I find Dale Allison's response more persuasive.

As for the resurrection, it's 99.99% likely it didn't happen. How's that for philosophical humility?

September 29, 2005

 
Blogger Bilbo Bloggins said...

James,

I'll be glad to do a detailed review of your article and discuss all of the "WHY"s. I have a hint of what you're arguing already from various blogs I've seen you post on. The old "women at the tomb were invented, that's why they don't say anything argument" is very weak IMO. Should've started with Catchpole's famous article in the 70's for a better explanation, and definitely consulted Gundry on why, even if the silence is intended as permanent from Mark's POV, it doesn't help your argument. I'll wait until you post it to dig into the details here.

The main issue though is that your stance is irredeemably naive in that you suppose you can get at anything *but* possibility when we're dealing with a few ancient texts. To state "Jesus was not raised from the dead" as if this is some kind of objective statement that can be demonstrated (even inductively) from these texts and the analogy of modern Western psychological/bio-medical categories of hallucination, is, IMO, as nonsensical as Wright's statements to the contrary (which you take issue with). Of COURSE, as you can see from the abundance fo polarized views on the matter, we are getting from possibility to plausibility by virtue of subjective judgements that we cannot agree on. Everyone's hypothesis is "plausible" given their life experience, the background assumptions they begin with, the way they ultimately would prefer things to be, etc. To the every-day Christian, the resurrection of Jesus is "known" through his living presence, and giving us textual or scientificaly naturalistic models for resurrection experiences are not going to have plausibility. The prior probability of the event is confirmed by their present experience. If someone sees visions of the risen Jesus today, which they consider to be as veridical as normal sensory perception (see Wiebe's _Visions of Jesus_), then they are going to be alot more inclined to judge the requisite probabilities different than you (an atheist or agnostic)would.

Bilbo

September 29, 2005

 
Blogger Bilbo Bloggins said...

Loren wrote: "As for the resurrection, it's 99.99% likely it didn't happen. How's that for philosophical humility?"

Though I don't think he's being 100% serious, Loren gives us a perfect demonstration of the problem. He asserts a probability. Let's see a probability *calculation* in Bayesian terms which should be easy enough. Is that too rigorous for an historian? Well then, you don't really understand probability and shouldn't use the word.

And Loren, your statement is about as philosophically humble, sophisticated, and epistemically responsible as the fundamentalist's assertion that you're going to hell for saying that because the Bible says so. If you're proud to be in the same category as the extremists Allison strives to avoid like the plague, then I think you need to reread his book -- this time with an ear to the wisdom he displays in navigating these perilous waters with restraint, humility, and respect.

Bilbo

September 29, 2005

 
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

If you see I'm not being so serious, why do you take things so seriously?

September 29, 2005

 
Blogger Bilbo Bloggins said...

Loren: "If you see I'm not being so serious, why do you take things so seriously?"

Hi Loren.

I'm ultimately not sure if you are or you aren't. But, just in case, I responded to the statement as if it were serious [perhaps only 99.9% serious ;-)], hence, the qualification - "though", "if", etc. If I've pegged you or inadvertently misrpresented you in the process, I apologize.

Bilbo

September 29, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Bilbo, in response to me, who are you arguing with?

"The main issue though is that your stance is irredeemably naive in that you suppose you can get at anything *but* possibility when we're dealing with a few ancient texts."

Thanks for that. I was unaware of my stance but I'm glad you've told me. And with good old debating team tactics and empty rhetoric thrown in for good measure too!

September 30, 2005

 
Blogger Bilbo Bloggins said...

James wrote: "Thanks for that. I was unaware of my stance but I'm glad you've told me. And with good old debating team tactics and empty rhetoric thrown in for good measure too!"

James,

Re: "empty rhetoric" --I thought I was being pretty straightforward, and I didn't mean to offend. I can be a bit wordy. My position is simply that an alternative naturalistic hypothesis that merely accounts for the small amount of data that we have are a dime a dozen in HJ studies, and they do not allow us to leap into certain conclusions about what actually happened (ala Wright and Ludemann), even if we find them to be more plausible than any of the other hypotheses on hand. Thus the need for cautious and admittedly subjective qualifications (e.g. "I tentatively conclude", "*I* find this to be the most plausible hypothesis", etc.). But rather than belabor the point, I'll wait until I see your work and go from there.

Perhaps your argument presents some very strong new evidence that no one else has thus far considered. Perhaps you indeed refute the broad and common Christan stance that "God raised Jesus from the dead", instead of merely refuting the hypothesis that the tomb was found empty. Perhaps in your article, you show us how we can distinguish an authentic ancient divinely wrought vision (or "appearance") from an hallucination, and that the resurrection appearances are clearly instances of the latter.

We'll see. In the meantime, again, I'm sorry if I've come off rude. Even if I strongly disagree at points, I really do enjoy your work and writing (Loren's as well). That's why I frequent your blog.

Sincerely,
Bilbo

September 30, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Don't worry Bilbo! You can be as rude as you like, not that I think you were rude anyway. Or at least I don't feel offended. It's something you believe strongly so just keep firing away. It will be good to hear what you say when it finally comes out.

October 01, 2005

 
Anonymous delilah said...

and seriously, James is actually 100% right, so there

October 04, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Well thank you Delilah. I've been coming to that opinion myself of late.

October 05, 2005

 

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