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Re: [XTalk] "Authentic Sayings vs. Fictive Creations"

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  • Brian Trafford
    ... I would agree that there is a great deal of subjectivity of the writers who recorded Jesus words and deeds, as I would agree that readers today (and in
    Message 1 of 82 , Dec 2, 2002
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      --- In crosstalk2@y..., Steve Black <sdblack@t...> wrote:

      > Referring to the "voice" of Jesus is very subjective. So subjective
      > in fact as to be quite unusable as any sort of historical criteria.
      > This is the point I was trying to make.

      I would agree that there is a great deal of subjectivity of the
      writers who recorded Jesus' words and deeds, as I would agree that
      readers today (and in the past) are doing so from subjective points
      of view. The value in comparing different accounts is that we can at
      least see how different individuals understood Jesus' teachings and
      deeds, and how they came to view them as significant.

      >We also have to be honest about the amount of reliable information
      >that can be gleaned from the sources we have. No matter how often we
      >repeat the mantra "multiple attestation, multiple attestation,
      >multiple attestation", it will still not change the fact that even
      >this really only gets us into the right city in which the right
      >ballpark resides! Of course, there are certainly "authentic" sayings
      >which have only one attestation! Even after all of this, how we put
      >together the sources judged authentic also reflects our own bias'.
      >In other words I think we have a lot of reason to be very ambiguous
      >about our "results".

      As I have argued before, I do not think that finding "authentic"
      sayings is really the right goal in any case. All we will have
      evidence for is what his earliest followers came to believe about
      him, what he said, and what he did. And in the case of multiple
      attestation, at least we have such a thing when we consider the
      historical Jesus. In the vast majority of cases when studying the
      ancients, we are fortunate to have even one source, let alone
      multiple ones.

      >The impact Jesus had on his followers is certainly relevant for
      >those who actually had physical contact with the fellow. But
      >unfortunately nobody in the New Testament actually had such contact.

      Setting aside the disputable asserion at the end of your sentence,
      are you arguing that a person can only impact on people he or she
      meets? I would never make such a claim for Martin Luther King Jr.,
      or Ghandi, or a host of other historically influencial individuals.
      People impact on one another all the time, including on those with
      whom we never have any contact at all.

      >So now we must
      >put away any notions of any "impact he had on his followers", and
      >start talking about the impact that the **STORIES** of Jesus had
      >upon the early Xn Mvt. Only in this will we be talking about
      >anything for which we have actual evidence!

      Well, in the case of multiply attested stories, we can have a pretty
      good idea as to how the life of Jesus impacted on specific
      individuals and their readers. This is what redactional criticism is
      all about, for example. In any case, I would not draw the kind of
      distinctions you have presented here, since the impact we have on the
      lives of others comes from our actions, our words, and the reports
      passed on to others about what we have said and done. In the case of
      someone like Jesus of Nazareth, this is especially true. After all,
      how many other people could even hope to generate so much interest,
      discussion and debate 1900+ years after they have died?


      Brian Trafford
      Calgary, AB, Canada
    • William Arnal
      ... I think you ve rather misunderstood my position, or jumped to a conclusion about it. I m not taking that nasty old lit-crit line that all we have is the
      Message 82 of 82 , Dec 20, 2002
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        James Hannam wrote:

        >think this may be a US/UK thing. Some of what Dr Arnal says sounds
        >disturbingly like the worst excesses of post structuralism which made
        >far more headway on his side of the Atlantic than mine. Over here,

        I think you've rather misunderstood my position, or jumped to a conclusion
        about it. I'm not taking that nasty old lit-crit line that all we have is
        the text and there's nothing behind it. I am not arguing that all writing
        should be viewed as imaginary until proved otherwise. ALL I have been saying
        is that a) the Gospels in particular appear to me to be imaginative products
        (a view generally endorsed by nearly ALL NT scholars, and even endorsed by
        Brian Trafford, against whose views I THOUGHT I was arguing); and b) the
        (subjective) intentionality behind any given writing is massively
        complicated, and one cannot take a simple a priori position that "people
        believe what they write to be literally true" -- such a position obscures
        more than it reveals. I don't how either of these positions is typical of
        "poststructuralist excess." Which poststructuralists or pos6tstructuralisms
        do you have in mind?

        >something from the historians' side. Firstly, the basic facts about
        >Jesus are surprisingly uncontroversial to most historians. They tend
        >to state them without much commentary and move on to something more
        >interesting because there is really not much we can say about HJ. EP
        >Sander's gives a list; we can add some more to that if we follow
        >historical method and don't mind offending a few theologians, but
        >half a page will cover what we can know about Jesus. But what is odd
        >is that theologians do seem keen to deny even these basic facts and
        >often for no particular reason.

        This is an unfair and distorted characterization. It homogenizes disparate
        positions. Historians differ on HJ, and so do theologians. On the basis of
        such a litmus test, I'd be a theologian! The historians that *I* know
        *personally* (and the classicists too) tend to take it for granted that the
        gospels are NOT historically reliable literature, even in their outlines.
        They are as puzzled by a "quest of the historical Jesus" as they would be by
        a "quest of the historical Asclepius."

        I further note that the DENIAL of the historicity of specific episodes in
        the gospels is -- as several posters, including Brian Trafford, have made
        clear -- really just about the ONLY solid decisions that can be made about
        the HJ. In other words, it's almost impossible to demonstrate that Jesus did
        or said anything -- the best we can manage with any secuirty is to say, "he
        certainly didn't do this." And so, really, the difference between me and E.
        P. Sanders on, say, the baptism, is that he's asserting (in shorthand):
        "there are no good reasons to see this episode as Christian embellishment,
        so we'll have to take it as being historical," while I'm saying, "yes, there
        are LOTS of good reasons to see it as embellishment." In other words we're
        talking about the same things in the same way, but disagreeing in our
        specific judgments. The difference between theologians and historians in
        applying this approach is simply this: for the theologian the answer is
        somehow normative (often in complex and indirect ways), and for the
        historian it is not. That's it. So Crossan may find it important,
        rhetorically or theologically or otherwise, if "the Jews" killed Jesus. I
        couldn't care less. It has no bearing on my attitude to Jews in general. Or
        again, it may be important to a liberal theologian to conclude that Paul did
        NOT unequivocally condemn homosexuality, or at least to somehow relativize
        the condemnation that's there; it may be importanbt to a conservative
        theologian to determine that Paul DID condemn it. I'm just interested in
        Paul, how he operated, what he said, how he tried to shape his ekklesiai. No
        skin off my nose either way: he's just some ancient dude talking about his
        views on a matter that I made up MY mind about many years ago, and without
        Paul's input.

        I must confess, however, to being in agreement with much of the gist of the
        latter part of your post, to the effect that the HJ i sless historically
        accessible, and for a variety if reasons less historically interesting, than
        he is generally taken to be.

        William Arnal
        Department of Religious Studies
        University of Regina
        Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0A2

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