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Re: [XTalk] "invent"?

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  • Robert Raphael
    Bob 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
    Message 1 of 6 , Dec 28, 2000
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      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.

      Robert Raphael
      -----Original Message-----
      From: Bob Schacht <r_schacht@...>
      To: crosstalk2@egroups.com <crosstalk2@egroups.com>
      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
      >>us why.
      >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
      >the other.]
      >> 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
      >>historical conclusions.
      >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.
      >>Bob Miller
      >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. Does
      >>quasi-fictional parable or story based on an actual historical context
      >>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.
      >[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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