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[XTalk] Meier's Criterion

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  • Brian Tucker
    Please provide a critique of this summary of Meier s criterion below. 1991:167-195. In the quest for the historical Jesus, five main criteria have proved
    Message 1 of 11 , Dec 30, 1999
      Please provide a critique of this summary of Meier's criterion below.
      1991:167-195.

      In the quest for the historical Jesus, five main criteria have proved
      useful:

      1. The criterion of embarrassment

      Pinpoints the Gospel material that would hardly have been invented by
      the early church, since such material created embarrassment or
      theological difficulties for the church even during the NT period.

      2. The criterion of discontinuity

      Focuses on words or deeds of Jesus that cannot be derived either from
      the Judaism(s) of Jesus' time or from the early church.

      3. The criterion of multiple attestation

      Focuses on sayings or deeds of Jesus witnessed in more than one
      independent literary source (Mark, Q, Paul, John). Also, more than one
      literary form or genre (a saying of Jesus about a certain type of
      miracle plus a story about the same type of miracle).

      4. The criterion of coherence

      Brought into play only after a certain amount of historical material
      has been isolated by other criteria. The criterion of coherence holds
      that other sayings and deeds of Jesus that fit in well with the
      preliminary "data base" established by the other criteria have a good
      chance of being historical.

      5. The criterion of Jesus' rejection and execution

      Instead of focusing on individual sayings and deeds, this criteria
      looks at the larger pattern of Jesus' ministry and asks what words and
      deeds fit in with and explain his trial and crucifixion.

      Secondary Criteria

      These can serve as secondary, supportive criteria, reinforcing the
      impressions gained from one or more of the primary criteria.

      1. The criterion of traces of Aramaic - Traces of Aramaic vocabulary,
      grammar, syntax, and rhyme in the Greek saying point to authenticity.
      2. The criterion of Palestinian environment - Sayings that reflect
      customs, beliefs, practices or conditions in 1st-century Palestine
      point to authenticity.
      3. The criterion of vividness of narration - Concrete details may
      indicate eyewitness account.
      4. The criterion of the tendencies of the developing Synoptic tradition
      - Seeks to determine the redactional tendencies of each evangelists and
      to mark those sayings or deeds that are infused with vocabulary of the
      evangelists.
      5. The criterion of historical presumption - Who has the burden of
      proof? Those who deny historicity or those who affirm it?

      What are the weaknesses with this approach?
      Is it a good starting point for exposing students to the nuts and bolts
      of HJ work?
      If you were going to include this in a teaching setting, what you do
      different?

      Thanks
      Brian Tucker
      jbtucker@...
      Riverview, MI
    • Steven Carr
      In message , Brian Tucker writes ... As a general rule, are these criteria ever used when writing biographies
      Message 2 of 11 , Dec 30, 1999
        In message <84g1bk$1dfg@...>, Brian Tucker
        <jbtucker@...> writes
        >Please provide a critique of this summary of Meier's criterion below.
        >1991:167-195.
        >
        >In the quest for the historical Jesus, five main criteria have proved
        >useful:

        As a general rule, are these criteria ever used when writing biographies
        of the 12 Caesars or other ancient historical personages and events.

        >1. The criterion of embarrassment
        >Pinpoints the Gospel material that would hardly have been invented by
        >the early church, since such material created embarrassment or
        >theological difficulties for the church even during the NT period.

        Sometimes it is hard to know what the early church would have been
        embarrassed by.

        >2. The criterion of discontinuity
        >Focuses on words or deeds of Jesus that cannot be derived either from
        >the Judaism(s) of Jesus' time or from the early church.

        Sounds like an argument from silence to me. Do we really know eveyrthing
        that every group of Jews believed?


        >3. The criterion of multiple attestation
        >Focuses on sayings or deeds of Jesus witnessed in more than one
        >independent literary source (Mark, Q, Paul, John). Also, more than one
        >literary form or genre (a saying of Jesus about a certain type of
        >miracle plus a story about the same type of miracle).

        Showing independence is a problem. Strictly speaking, if they do go back
        to a historical Jesus, the sources couldn't have been entirely
        independent :-)



        >4. The criterion of coherence

        >Brought into play only after a certain amount of historical material
        >has been isolated by other criteria. The criterion of coherence holds
        >that other sayings and deeds of Jesus that fit in well with the
        >preliminary "data base" established by the other criteria have a good
        >chance of being historical.

        The total picture has to fit together, agreed.

        >5. The criterion of Jesus' rejection and execution
        >Instead of focusing on individual sayings and deeds, this criteria
        >looks at the larger pattern of Jesus' ministry and asks what words and
        >deeds fit in with and explain his trial and crucifixion.

        Explaining why Jesus was killed is necessary. Students of the historical
        Jesus have to hope that that the motives for his execution were directly
        related to his ministry, rather than being a random crackdown by Pilate
        on religious 'extremists.'


        >Secondary Criteria
        >These can serve as secondary, supportive criteria, reinforcing the
        >impressions gained from one or more of the primary criteria.

        >1. The criterion of traces of Aramaic - Traces of Aramaic vocabulary,
        >grammar, syntax, and rhyme in the Greek saying point to authenticity.

        Who so, if Jesus was partly trilingual? As many early Christians could
        speak Aramaic, this does not help distinguish Jesus from his followers.


        >2. The criterion of Palestinian environment - Sayings that reflect
        >customs, beliefs, practices or conditions in 1st-century Palestine
        >point to authenticity.

        At least they don't rule themselves out as being inauthentic.



        >3. The criterion of vividness of narration - Concrete details may
        >indicate eyewitness account.

        That seems to validate large chunks of 'War and Peace'.


        >4. The criterion of the tendencies of the developing Synoptic tradition
        >- Seeks to determine the redactional tendencies of each evangelists and
        >to mark those sayings or deeds that are infused with vocabulary of the
        >evangelists.

        Things are indeed less likely to be authentic if we can show that they
        are expressions of the evangelists. Perhaps John's Gospel is the
        clearest case of Jesus speaking with the voice of the evangelist.

        >5. The criterion of historical presumption - Who has the burden of
        >proof? Those who deny historicity or those who affirm it?

        Yes :-) (ie it should be on a case-to-case basis)

        >What are the weaknesses with this approach?
        >Is it a good starting point for exposing students to the nuts and bolts
        >of HJ work?
        >If you were going to include this in a teaching setting, what you do
        >different?

        I would also point out how secular historians look for primary sources
        (eg eyewitnesses, letters, inscriptions, coins, statues) and see how
        secondary sources treat their sources - criteria which seem to be very
        difficult to apply to study of the HJ.

        I would also point out what we would expect to find in Paul's letters
        (primary sources!) if he felt that God had become Incarnate and worked
        miracles and preached in parables a few years earlier, and see if that
        is what we find in his letters.

        --
        Steven Carr
      • David Heald
        Brian, Are you asking for a critique of this [presumably yours] summary of Meier s criterion (that s what your request actually asks), or a critique of
        Message 3 of 11 , Dec 30, 1999
          Brian,

          Are you asking for "a critique of this [presumably yours] summary of Meier's
          criterion" (that's what your request actually asks), or a critique of
          Meier's criteria? Crossan gives a critique in _The Birth of Christianity_ ,
          pp. 143-146, including some of the limitations of the criteria, and the fact
          that a list of criteria does not a method make.

          Sukie Curtis
          Cumberland Foreside, Maine


          -----Original Message-----
          From: Brian Tucker [mailto:jbtucker@...]
          Sent: Thursday, December 30, 1999 11:31 AM
          To: crosstalk2@...
          Subject: [XTalk] Meier's Criterion

          Please provide a critique of this summary of Meier's criterion below.
          1991:167-195.

          In the quest for the historical Jesus, five main criteria have proved
          useful:

          1. The criterion of embarrassment

          Pinpoints the Gospel material that would hardly have been invented by
          the early church, since such material created embarrassment or
          theological difficulties for the church even during the NT period.

          2. The criterion of discontinuity

          Focuses on words or deeds of Jesus that cannot be derived either from
          the Judaism(s) of Jesus' time or from the early church.

          3. The criterion of multiple attestation

          Focuses on sayings or deeds of Jesus witnessed in more than one
          independent literary source (Mark, Q, Paul, John). Also, more than one
          literary form or genre (a saying of Jesus about a certain type of
          miracle plus a story about the same type of miracle).

          4. The criterion of coherence

          Brought into play only after a certain amount of historical material
          has been isolated by other criteria. The criterion of coherence holds
          that other sayings and deeds of Jesus that fit in well with the
          preliminary "data base" established by the other criteria have a good
          chance of being historical.

          5. The criterion of Jesus' rejection and execution

          Instead of focusing on individual sayings and deeds, this criteria
          looks at the larger pattern of Jesus' ministry and asks what words and
          deeds fit in with and explain his trial and crucifixion.

          Secondary Criteria

          These can serve as secondary, supportive criteria, reinforcing the
          impressions gained from one or more of the primary criteria.

          1. The criterion of traces of Aramaic - Traces of Aramaic vocabulary,
          grammar, syntax, and rhyme in the Greek saying point to authenticity.
          2. The criterion of Palestinian environment - Sayings that reflect
          customs, beliefs, practices or conditions in 1st-century Palestine
          point to authenticity.
          3. The criterion of vividness of narration - Concrete details may
          indicate eyewitness account.
          4. The criterion of the tendencies of the developing Synoptic tradition
          - Seeks to determine the redactional tendencies of each evangelists and
          to mark those sayings or deeds that are infused with vocabulary of the
          evangelists.
          5. The criterion of historical presumption - Who has the burden of
          proof? Those who deny historicity or those who affirm it?

          What are the weaknesses with this approach?
          Is it a good starting point for exposing students to the nuts and bolts
          of HJ work?
          If you were going to include this in a teaching setting, what you do
          different?

          Thanks
          Brian Tucker
          jbtucker@...
          Riverview, MI


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        • Neil
          ... I have never followed the logic of this one. Is it not asserting that we know A would not have invented X simply because B, C & D were embarrassed by X?
          Message 4 of 11 , Dec 30, 1999
            Brian Tucker wrote:

            > Please provide a critique of this summary of Meier's criterion below.
            > 1991:167-195.
            >
            > In the quest for the historical Jesus, five main criteria have proved
            > useful:
            >
            > 1. The criterion of embarrassment
            >
            > Pinpoints the Gospel material that would hardly have been invented by
            > the early church, since such material created embarrassment or
            > theological difficulties for the church even during the NT period.

            I have never followed the logic of this one. Is it not asserting that we know
            A would not have invented X simply because B, C & D were embarrassed by X?


            Neil Godfrey

            (Toowoomba, Qld.
            Australia)
          • Brian Tucker
            ... Crossan s conclusion In summary, criteria, no matter how good, do not constitute a method unless they are organized on some theoretical basis into some
            Message 5 of 11 , Dec 30, 1999
              David Heald wrote:

              > Crossan gives a critique in _The Birth of Christianity_ ,
              > pp. 143-146, including some of the limitations of the criteria, and the fact
              > that a list of criteria does not a method make.
              >

              Crossan's conclusion "In summary, criteria, no matter how good, do not
              constitute a method unless they are organized on some theoretical basis into
              some operational system that can be used by anyone." 1998:145 After his critque
              he provides a discription of his interdisciplinary method. It seems to me that
              Meier was not attempting to present a complete method in chapter 6. As a matter
              of fact, it is possible that Crossan rightly critques Meier, but fails to
              realize Meier had already stated (1991:4-6, 9-11) that a full scale method was
              not in his pervue, but that he would use those tools, tools similiar to
              Crossan's interdisciplinary method. Occam may help us when determining
              methodology. It is a source of frustration to me that there is not a more
              clearly defined agreed upon method for HJ studies. If there is one that is
              epistemologically sophisticated and widely held, I would be happy to know what
              it is?

              What is the difference between criteria and methodology? Crossan and Meier,
              obviously differ, but is it semantic because they both seem to prescind from
              methodological naturalism.

              Thanks
              Brian Tucker
              jbtucker@...
              Riverview, MI
            • Sukie Curtis
              ... Actually, the e-mail slipped out under my husband s address; it was actually from me, Sukie Curtis. ... [snip] ... I don t pretend to know what
              Message 6 of 11 , Dec 30, 1999
                Brian Tucker wrote:

                > David Heald wrote:

                Actually, the e-mail slipped out under my husband's address; it was actually
                from me, Sukie Curtis.
                >
                > > Crossan gives a critique in _The Birth of Christianity_ ,
                > > pp. 143-146, including some of the limitations of the criteria,
                > and the fact
                > > that a list of criteria does not a method make.
                > >
                [snip]

                > It is a source of frustration to me that there is not a more
                > clearly defined agreed upon method for HJ studies. If there is one that is
                > epistemologically sophisticated and widely held, I would be happy
                > to know what
                > it is?
                >
                > What is the difference between criteria and methodology? Crossan
                > and Meier,
                > obviously differ, but is it semantic because they both seem to
                > prescind from
                > methodological naturalism.

                I don't pretend to know what "mehtodological naturalism" is, but I think I
                know the difference between methodology and criteria. Crossan, in that same
                chapter, offers the following: "Method is how you do something.
                Methodology is why you do it that way rather than some other way.
                Methodology is simply the logic of your method." (139)

                For example, he goes on later to say that since he believes, on the basis of
                his own and others' studying of gospel texts, that there is present in them
                at least three strata of tradition, part of his method will be about
                determining which layer is which and which is most appropriate to a given
                set of questions, such as the HJ or early Christianity. So some
                understanding or presuppositions about the gospels drives the method in
                part. One of the first steps of *his* method, then, (at least the
                text-related part of his method) is determining strata of tradition, and
                dependent and independent sources withing each strata, and then building his
                "inventory" of relevant texts from those with multiple independent
                attestation, esp. within the first stratum.

                Criteria could certainly form a part of one's method, but one could
                certainly accept some of Meier's criteria and reject others. And a method
                would presumably attempt to lay out how to apply those criteria, and the
                methodology why one chooses to do it that way.

                Sukie Curtis
                Cumberland Foreside, Maine
                >
                > Thanks
                > Brian Tucker
                > jbtucker@...
                > Riverview, MI
                >
                >
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              • Robert M Schacht
                On Thu, 30 Dec 1999 08:30:44 -0800 Brian Tucker ... 1991:167-195. ... For an assessment of these criteria by Meier in particular, see J. D. Crossan, The
                Message 7 of 11 , Dec 30, 1999
                  On Thu, 30 Dec 1999 08:30:44 -0800 "Brian Tucker"
                  <jbtucker@...> writes:
                  > Please provide a critique of this summary of Meier's criterion below.
                  1991:167-195.
                  >
                  > In the quest for the historical Jesus, five main criteria have proved
                  useful:
                  >
                  > 1. The criterion of embarrassment
                  >
                  > Pinpoints the Gospel material that would hardly have been invented by
                  > the early church, since such material created embarrassment or
                  > theological difficulties for the church even during the NT period.
                  >
                  > 2. The criterion of discontinuity
                  >
                  > Focuses on words or deeds of Jesus that cannot be derived either from
                  > the Judaism(s) of Jesus' time or from the early church.
                  >
                  > 3. The criterion of multiple attestation
                  >
                  > Focuses on sayings or deeds of Jesus witnessed in more than one
                  > independent literary source (Mark, Q, Paul, John). Also, more than one
                  > literary form or genre (a saying of Jesus about a certain type of
                  > miracle plus a story about the same type of miracle).
                  >
                  > 4. The criterion of coherence
                  >
                  > Brought into play only after a certain amount of historical material
                  > has been isolated by other criteria. The criterion of coherence holds
                  > that other sayings and deeds of Jesus that fit in well with the
                  > preliminary "data base" established by the other criteria have a good
                  > chance of being historical.
                  >
                  > 5. The criterion of Jesus' rejection and execution
                  >
                  > Instead of focusing on individual sayings and deeds, this criteria
                  > looks at the larger pattern of Jesus' ministry and asks what words and
                  > deeds fit in with and explain his trial and crucifixion.
                  >

                  For an assessment of these criteria by Meier in particular, see J. D.
                  Crossan, The Birth of Christianity (1998), pp. 143-146. The bottom line
                  is this:
                  "In summary, *criteria,* no matter how good, do not constitute a *method*
                  unless they are organized on some theoretical basis into some operational
                  system that can be used by anyone." (p. 145). Crossan argues that these
                  criteria do not meet the test as used by Meier [or by anyone else] for
                  the following reasons:

                  1. These criteria are not theoretically coherent. That is, even when
                  viewed singly, there are problems with each, and there is no underlying
                  theory to give them coherence.

                  2. They are not operationally organized. What Crossan means by this is
                  that there are no rules for when to use which, and Meier [among others]
                  use them on an ad hoc basis-- now one, then another, with no apparent
                  rhyme or reason.

                  3. They are not "publicly usable." This seems an odd phrase, but what
                  Crossan seems to mean is that they produce different results in the hands
                  of different people. This seems to be the equivalent of the scientific
                  principle of reproducability: given the same data, and the same criteria,
                  can anyone replicate the same results? Crossan's answer: apparently not.

                  Crossan is, to my knowledge, the most deeply knowledgable person I have
                  read on the subject of the philosophy of historical inquiry, as it
                  applies to historical Jesus studies, so I think his critique is worth
                  taking a closer look, as is his proposed solution.

                  > Secondary Criteria...
                  >

                  I do not know of Crossan's critique of these, but if the primary criteria
                  are problematic, then these will not be as helpful as Meier supposes.

                  I intend to come back to these matters tomorrow.

                  Bob
                • Lewis Reich
                  ... I m not sure I understand why students of the historical Jesus should hope that the motives for his execution were directly related to his ministry
                  Message 8 of 11 , Jan 1, 2000
                    On 30 Dec 99, at 17:57, Steven Carr wrote:

                    > Explaining why Jesus was killed is necessary. Students of the historical
                    > Jesus have to hope that that the motives for his execution were directly
                    > related to his ministry, rather than being a random crackdown by Pilate on
                    > religious 'extremists.'

                    I'm not sure I understand why students of the historical Jesus should
                    "hope that the motives for his execution were directly related to his
                    ministry" rather than try to investigate whether indeed that was so. Could
                    you explain a bit further what you mean?

                    Lewis Reich
                  • Lewis Reich
                    ... I don t think so; isn t it more like asserting that B, C, & D would not have preserved and cherished writings that contained an embarrassing X unless X
                    Message 9 of 11 , Jan 1, 2000
                      On 31 Dec 99, at 9:39, Neil wrote:

                      > I have never followed the logic of this one. Is it not asserting that we
                      > know A would not have invented X simply because B, C & D were embarrassed
                      > by X?

                      I don't think so; isn't it more like asserting that B, C, & D would not have
                      preserved and cherished writings that contained an embarrassing X unless
                      X were regarded as true and therefore undeniable?

                      Lewis Reich
                    • Steven Carr
                      In message , Lewis Reich writes ... Trying to investige that this was so would be desirable.
                      Message 10 of 11 , Jan 1, 2000
                        In message <200001012228.RAA27009@...>, Lewis
                        Reich <lbr@...> writes
                        >On 30 Dec 99, at 17:57, Steven Carr wrote:
                        >
                        >> Explaining why Jesus was killed is necessary. Students of the historical
                        >> Jesus have to hope that that the motives for his execution were directly
                        >> related to his ministry, rather than being a random crackdown by Pilate on
                        >> religious 'extremists.'
                        >
                        >I'm not sure I understand why students of the historical Jesus should
                        >"hope that the motives for his execution were directly related to his
                        >ministry" rather than try to investigate whether indeed that was so. Could
                        >you explain a bit further what you mean?

                        Trying to investige that this was so would be desirable. My (possibly
                        mistaken) impression was that it was assumed a priori by Meier's
                        criteria - ie something was to be regarded as more authentic if it
                        fitted the criterion that the motives for his execution were directly
                        related to his ministry, rather than having that come out as a
                        conclusion of the investigation.

                        --
                        Steven Carr
                      • Sukie Curtis
                        ... I think Crossan puts it this way--that any reconstruction of the historical Jesus must be able to make sense of the fact that he was both hailed by some of
                        Message 11 of 11 , Jan 1, 2000
                          Steven Carr wrote:
                          >
                          > In message <200001012228.RAA27009@...>, Lewis
                          > Reich <lbr@...> writes
                          > >On 30 Dec 99, at 17:57, Steven Carr wrote:
                          > >
                          > >> Explaining why Jesus was killed is necessary. Students of the
                          > historical
                          > >> Jesus have to hope that that the motives for his execution
                          > were directly
                          > >> related to his ministry, rather than being a random crackdown
                          > by Pilate on
                          > >> religious 'extremists.'
                          > >
                          > >I'm not sure I understand why students of the historical Jesus should
                          > >"hope that the motives for his execution were directly related to his
                          > >ministry" rather than try to investigate whether indeed that was
                          > so. Could
                          > >you explain a bit further what you mean?
                          >
                          > Trying to investige that this was so would be desirable. My (possibly
                          > mistaken) impression was that it was assumed a priori by Meier's
                          > criteria - ie something was to be regarded as more authentic if it
                          > fitted the criterion that the motives for his execution were directly
                          > related to his ministry, rather than having that come out as a
                          > conclusion of the investigation.

                          I think Crossan puts it this way--that any reconstruction of the historical
                          Jesus must be able to make sense of the fact that he was both hailed by some
                          of his fellow Jews as messiah and feared/hated by others and executed by
                          Roman authorities. That some said, "Let's worship him," while others said,
                          "Let's get rid of him." Were his execution taken as a random accident
                          having nothing to do with his life and ministry, our understandings of Jesus
                          would be rather impoverished, and it's hard to imagine his death having been
                          portrayed as so significant. The Romans may have crucified many, but they
                          didn't crucify everyone they wished to get rid of.

                          Sukie Curtis
                          Cumberland Foreside, Maine


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