Re: [XTalk] "invent"?
I agree that term "invent" in not an appropriate word to use as a
description of the gospel narratives. Perhaps an more precise word could be
"coined" to describe the gospel narratives. Of course, the "gospel"
narratives are not of the genre of a modern historical biography. In the
meantime we should be content to use the word "gospel" (good news) in their
self descriptive sense.
Happy New Year to all.
From: Bob Schacht <r_schacht@...>
To: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sunday, December 17, 2000 6:36 PM
Subject: Re: [XTalk] "invent"?
>First, let me say that I am grateful for the thoughtful responses to my
>post, including these. I am sorry that I have not been able to respond
>immediately, but life can be that way. Now to the discussion at hand:
>At 04:52 PM 12/15/00 -0500, Robert J. Miller wrote:
>>I second Bill's comments on the appropriateness of this word "invent,"
>>but since my use of it has caused such a stir, let me clarify.
>>By claiming that the gospels invent history, I obviously don't mean they
>>were liars (though they might have been). And I don't know what they
>>thought about their sources (though we get some strong hints from how
>>Matthew and Luke felt free to alter Mark) or even what all these sources
>>were. What I meant is that some stories in the gospels report events
>>that never happened. That's all. It's not hubris, or any other verbal
>>trick. It's just trying to be clear and direct in expressing my
>It seems to me that whether or not the events being reported ever happened
>is quite irrelevant to the issue of stating that so and so invented it. If
>the event never happened in any way, shape, or form, then clearly *someone*
>invented it. But we are not usually in a position to know who did it. (More
>on this below).
>>For the sake of discussion, let's consider the story in Matt 27:51-52.
>>It tells us that at the death of Jesus "many" righteous ones were bodily
>>raised from the dead, came out of their tombs after Jesus' resurrection,
>>and appeared to "many" people in Jerusalem. I don't believe this ever
>>happened, and not only because my worldview tells me that it's
>>impossible. If this had really happened, it would be one of the most
>>spectacular events in all of human history, witnessed by "many." Why do
>>no other sources, even Christian ones, report it?
>But this does not prove that *Matthew* invented it. He may only be
>reporting what he had heard. The fact that no other *surviving* sources
>report it, after 2000 years, is not probative. Critical scholarship is
>built on making careful distinctions, and I think this applies just as much
>to the use of the term "invent" as to any other term in the lexicon.
>>Since, in my judgment, this event never happened, I conclude that Matthew
>>(or someone else in his tradition--it doesn't matter who) made it up
>>(hence the word "invent").
>But it does matter how we write it. If you want to write "Matthew (or
>someone else in his tradition) invented it," in the case of this passage,
>I'll accept that.
>>...If anyone believes this event did really happen, please say so and tell
>I don't know whether it happened or not-- although in this case, I am
>skeptical about its historicity. My reason for hesitation is that although
>I believe most things can be explained in conventional ways, I am open to
>the possibility of the miraculous. To me, there is a lot of agnostic space
>between "I believe" and "I don't believe," and I resist attempts to
>polarize the debate. [After all, I'm a good Episcopal mugwump-- I spend a
>lot of time sitting on the fence, with my mug on one side, and my wump on
>> And if you don't believe it really happened, but still object to
>>calling it an "invention," please suggest a more appropriate term. I
>>don't care about the term, but I do care about clearly expressing our
>Thanks. See more on this below.
>And then you added on Sat, 16 Dec 2000 10:38:43 -0500 --
>>Bob Schacht wrote:
>>"I think you (and Robert Miller) are pleased to think that "invention" is
>>an etic, value-neutral expression. I suggest you dig a little deeper. I
>>don't think "invention" is being used in an etic, value-neutral way at
>>all. I am not the only person who takes offense at the way this word is
>>sometimes used in Biblical scholarship, and I think that itself reveals
>>that it is not value neutral."
>>I'll sidestep the straw man about value neutrality and concede what
>>everyone knows: *nothing* that we do is value neutral. That aside, I'm
>>not sure what you are offended at. Is it my use of the *term*
>>"invention" to describe a narrative about an event that I judge never
>>happened? Or is it my *judgment* that some events reported in the
>>gospels never happened?
>Neither. My objection would depend on who you said did the inventing,
>because I don't think you can know the answer to that question (see above).
>>...If the former, I'm open to suggestion for a word that will
>>communicate my historical judgment without equivocation and without any
>>danger of being misunderstood.
>Thanks for asking. Unfortunately, I cannot offer a single word-for-word
>exchange; only a bit of verbosity. This unfortunately does not make for
>attention-getting press releases or punchy headlines.
>In some cases, I like Tony Buglass's (12/12) suggestion:
>>Invented? Or interpreted? The events in the background to Deutero-Isaiah
>>were certainly historical, just given a particular cast by the prophet to
>>show YHWH at work in history. Daniel isn't even recent history, but
>>from an old crisis to give some light on how to survive a new one. Doesany
>>quasi-fictional parable or story based on an actual historical contexthave
>>to be an invention (and by implication, devalued)? Invention and
>>interpretation aren't the same thing.
>My credo of scholarship includes the following:
>1. If you don't know, say "I don't know." This is difficult for many
>experts to say, perhaps because they fear that if they say "I don't know"
>too many times, people will stop treating them as experts. Actually, I
>think this fear is groundless.
>2. Judgment calls or hypothetical conclusions should not be reported as
>facts. In the example you chose above, "Matthew invented 27:51-52" is
>unacceptable because it presents as fact something that is a matter of
>conjecture. I would rather say, "The historicity of Matthew 27:51-52 is
>doubtful." An alternative that is acceptable (to me) but not quite as good
>would be, as indicated above, ""Matthew (or someone else in his tradition)
>probably invented 27:51-52." [Note that I added "probably" ]
>Use of the word "invent" in previous threads was by no means restricted to
>examples such as this where the case for ahistoricity is relatively clear.
>I suggest not that the word be removed from our vocabulary, but that it be
>used more carefully, and only when truly warranted.
>Mahlon Smith has reported to us that the original Jesus Seminar voting
>method proposal included only red and black -- no pinks or greys-- in order
>to 'make people make up their minds' (a paraphrase of Mahlon's words, which
>I don't remember exactly.) Unfortunately, the world of Biblical scholarship
>is full of pinks and grays, and any attempt to force our conclusions one
>way or the other forces people who should know better into presenting as
>fact things that are not facts at all.
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