Steve Black wrote:
>Bill, I have been enjoying your line of reasoning in this thread, it
>is very persuasive.
Thanks very much -- I'm glad there are some folks who think this sort of
thing is important.
>I wonder if there might be particular examples where a NT author made
>up / created material, and also (perhaps rather implausibly from our
>epistemological point of view) believed that it actually happened. An
Hmmm, I have several rejoinders to this. 1) One is that the question
probably can't be determined. We might make -- VERY, VERY carefully, and
only after the most exhaustive hermeneutical and social investigations --
inferences about an author's state of mind, but I'm just not sure that we
have the data to do this in any reasonable way for the folks behind ancient
Christianity. It's the kind of thing, I think, that requires masses of data,
and is much better with living subjects than dead ones, never mind dead ones
who left almost nothing behind but the very text we're trying to understand!
2) Another rejoinder is that even if this WERE possible, for historical
purposes it may turn out to be not very interesting. What we really have is
a text, and to understand it properly, I think we need to know what
functions it served, how it was composed, what impact it had (or didn't
have), and so on. The author's state of mind does not seem to impinge on any
of this. To put it as bluntly as possible, if Matthew tells untrue story "x"
and it is received positively, what possible difference does it make whether
Matthew KNEW it to be untrue or not, or, if he did know it to be untrue,
whether he thought of himself as lying. Yet another dorky Bill-analogy for
all this that's been bugging me for some days is one of the damn Yanks (as
opposed to us excellent Canadians) once wrote, many years ago: "All men are
created equal," and indeed wrote this in a document of monumental historical
significance. Now it happens that we know (which we will NEVER know for the
author of Matthew, by the way) this is particular damn Yank was a slave
owner. So at SOME level, the "plain sense" of his beliefs failed to accord
with his behaviour. What can we conclude from this? -- that Jefferson was
blindered by his time or other prejudices so as to miss the human character
("all men") of black slaves? or that he was a hypocrite? or a liar, and
didn't really believe this claim, but was willing to use it against King
George? or that he understood that historical contingency sometimes
interferes with the implementation of eternal truths? or what? MY question
would be: what does it matter? The important thing is that he DID write
this, that he was ABLE to write and own slaves, and that it was
well-received by particular slave-owners and non-slave-owners alike.
3) A third, rather toss-off, comment. If I were forced at gunpoint to answer
your question, I'd toss out Matthew 3:14-15. This is an excellent candidate
for a "made-up" passage, but I would imagine the author's sense of what
appropriate behaviour for John and Jedsus would HAVE to be, that he
genuinely believed something like this MUST have taken place, and that is
precisely WHY he "made it up."
But 4) I would STILL be reluctant to talk this way because it imagines
(counterfactually) that I already understand the way Matthew regards the
facticity of the whole gospel story. I don't. Does he think IN GENERAL that
he is "recounting what really happened," or is he trying to adapt an
important "story" to his own special needs. Or any number of other
alternatives. Off the top, I just don't know, and so I fear my answer #3,
above, is somewhat dishonest (see, now *I'M* writing stuff I don't
believe!). I do think Matthew "made up" 3:14-15, but I don't know WHAT he
thought -- or even IF he thought -- about the actual facticity of the very
narrative he was using as a source!
>example Matt 27:62-66; Matt (in my reading) creates this rather
>implausible story of Pilate agreeing to set a watch of guards over
>the tomb of Jesus. It seems likely to me that Mt was simply trying to
>provide some "evidence" against an accusation that Jesus wasn't
>risen, but that his body has simply been stolen. The story, as I see
>it, is obviously fiction.
This brings up the question of the SENSE in which a statement is "true" or
not (and hence illustrates my objections to supposed "literal" readings of
the texts) -- this story may be "true" in several senses, just like "I am
Italian" is true of me in some senses, but not in others. "Matthew" may have
known that this set of events didn't happen as described, but if their only
point was to ILLUSTRATE that the body wasn't stolen, which I suppose he
really did believe (i.e., that the body was NOT stolen), then he's telling
>invented this tale) - we have two general possibilities. 1. Mt knew
>the story was untrue, but useful rhetorically. 2. Mt somehow believed
>that the story WAS true *even though* he had just made it up.
Right. But I'd qualify this in two ways: 1) the two options may not
necessarily be sharply separable: "rhetorically useful" in some contexts may
equate to "true"; 2) your second option is multiple -- that is, it doesn't
require mutliple personalities or self-delusion or anything -- it can be a
question of multiple senses or perceptions of "true."
>Now I can't "prove" either choice - but I find the epistemological
>issues found in the latter choice to be fascinating. To be so caught
>up in one's rhetorical activity so as not to "see" what one is doing
>as one does it.
YES! I think this happens a LOT -- maybe most of the time.
>Believing the reconstructed "memories" as always
>being there , although if one were to reflect upon it (which
>presumably never happened) one would know full well that these were
This happens in daily life, though, doesn't it?
>This is a truly strange state of affairs, if accepted. So strange
>that we might be tempted to rule it out of court. Yet, doesn't this
>manufacturing and subsequent belief of history happen all the time.
Yes, I think it does.
By the way, an apology in advance if I fail to reply to any future posts on
this thread -- this is taking up WAY too much energy at the moment, and
there are a gazillion other things that I should be doing.
Department of Religious Studies
University of Regina
Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0A2
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