My apologies for the delay in continuing this discussion. Two hurricanes in
as many weeks is a bit excessive, even for this place.
Again, I recognize the tangential nature of much of this material; but Mr.
Turton has, quite legitimately in my opinion, brought up the point that
objective scholarship on the historical Jesus ought to apply the same
standards of historical judgment as that addressing other figures, historical
or not, in other fields. I think that he is correct--although one must
always calibrate for one's subject in accordance with the principles of
comparative research when one uses texts from other cultures, other eras, and
But scholarship in other, closely related fields does not behave as Mr.
Turton suggests. If we treat the gospels as we treat their analogs, we do
not arrive at the conclusion that the figure of Jesus portrayed in them is
purely mythical. Rather, we find the accretion of legend and myth common to
folkloric accounts of known historical figures such as Empedocles, Saint
Catherine, and (yes) Mike Fink.
We've discussed Njalssaga: Scholars hold that while the saga is not an
historical account, Njals and the feud that killed him are historical.
Likewise, we hold that the account of the Battle of Maldon is not historical,
but that Earl Byhrtnoth and his fyrd fought the Vikings at the Panta River
and that Byhrtnoth was killed there. There are innumerable other examples
one could bring to bear.
In short, the near universal consensus of scholarship is that *most* ancient
historical figures have some sort of legendary or mythical qualities attached
to them as their histories are written and transmitted.
In a message dated 9/25/2002 10:35:24 PM Central Daylight Time,
Ed Tyler, originally, discussing the medieval history of Barbarossa:
> >of Ronçaglia, 1158, and The Peace of Constance, January 25, >1183. The
> >material from Josephus and Sallust has no influence at all >here.
> Yes, but this is orthagonal to my point. The use of Sallust and Josephus
> offers reason for heightened suspicion. Of course when you have outside
> vectors, the story can be confirmed, but that was never in question.
But surely you recognize that these "vectors" in the case of Barbarossa are
purely contingent: They had no bearing upon the production of the "Gesta."
We'd have exactly the same text from Otto whether the extant documentation
existed or not. .
Barbarossa provides an excellent example of why we cannot expect these
"vectors." In Barbarossa's case, we have what we have only more or less by
accident. Many of these "vectors" were lost in living memory, in the
destruction of Nurnberg by allied bombing. We just happen to know of them
because they were catalogued. Of course, had the Turks made it to Rome
(which was a real possibility) we'd have almost no such vectors for
Barbarossa from the Vatican. As it is, we have only a few "authentic" scraps
of documentation for him, and the rest are second- or third- or more- hand
histories bloated with the stuff of legend and myth.
And Barbarossa was an Emperor. Comparatively speaking, he'd have left a
paper trail a mile wide. Yet, by your methodology, he should be on the verge
of being discarded as "mythical" because documents of that milieu simply do
not survive very well. Half a dozen fewer scraps of paper in the world and
you'd discard all of Otto's account simply because it contains the sort of
fabrications that almost all such histories contain.
There is a reason that the methodology you prescribe is not widely accepted,
and Barbarossa provides an excellent illustration why.
> >In Otto's "Gesta" of Frederick Barbarossa we have several confirmed
> >instances of exactly what you suggest *cannot* happen in the
> >Gospels: "Midrash" associated with *known* historical events. Your
> >example here is even more damaging to your proposed method than is
> I did not suggest that it "could not happen." The point is that when you
> have midrash, you do not have anything you can point to and say "Oh, that's
> history." Reliability falls. You have a literary creation, a fiction. You
> need an outside vector to confirm that indeed, that is history. With
> Frederick we can locate these. With the Jesus tales we cannot. When and
> where was Jesus executed? None of those writers arguably early (authentic
> Paul, 1 Clement, etc) seems to know.
By this, we can really mean only Paul and possibly the author of Hebrews, as
Clement and the others come later than the gospels. If Clement did not
include such information, it is simply because he chose not to include it;
the gospels were circulated fairly well by the time he wrote. That Paul or
the author of Hebrews did not know is an assumption that cannot be supported
But to get to your point: It works both ways. Without the "vector" to point
to history, one should remain dubious--"agnostic," shall we say--as to
historicity. That is not to jump to the conclusion that the thing is with no
historical basis whatsoever simply because it contains identifiably
ahistorical elements. You need a "mythical vector" to do that. To jump to
that conclusion flies in the face of what we know of the nature of these
texts. One should assume that any case--including that of Jesus--is not
exceptional unless there's compelling evidence to suggest that it is.
> >If we looked at the Gospel
> >accounts of the Crucifixion in the same manner in which we look at
> >Njalssaga and the "Deeds of Frederick" we'd conclude that particular
> >mythic and polemical elements were imposed upon a historical account. A
> >conclusion so commonplace in comparatist studies that it hardly warrants
> That is not correct at all. No evidence prior to Mark says Jesus was
> crucified by Pilate in Jerusalem. In other words, there is a pervasive
> silence in the outside vectors. If these stories had not appeared several
> decades later, there would be no way to even guess when or where or who
> killed Jesus.
> Or to put it another way, let's assume that the silence in the (arguably)
> early writings reflects the actual case: the early Christians had no clue
> about Jesus' death.
But obviously, these early writings reflect that they *did* have a clue.
Paul certainly knows that Jesus was crucified; and he speaks of a personal
visit with Jesus' brother in Jerusalem. Attempts to place the crucifixion
and a visit to Jesus' brother--firmly placed in Jerusalem--into the realm of
"myth" or ahistoricity have been (to be charitable) specious.
What are the odds that the community is not going to > invent a tale of a
> Founding Figure for itself?
Judging from the analogs, virtually 100%. We know of no instance of a cult
that worships a divinity inventing such a founding figure for itself. (There
are of course numerous instances of the opposite--where cults turn their
founders into divinities, just as Christianity did.)
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