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Re: Multiple Attestation (was Various Criteria)

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  • Eric Eve
    ... Quite so. The question then becomes how much more likely is it that something goes back to the HJ because it appears (say) independently attested in two
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2001
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      Ron Price wrote:

      > It doesn't "prove" anything. If you want proofs you should be in maths
      >or science. In historical investigations the best we can expect is to be
      >able to demonstrate that occurrence X is likely, highly likely or
      >whatever.

      Quite so. The question then becomes how much more likely is it that
      something goes back to the HJ because it appears (say) independently
      attested in two documents rather than one, given the reservations that I and
      Steve Black (I think) have expressed, namely:

      (a) What is multiply attested may be due to an accident of preservation
      (this would be much less of a worry, of course, if we found something
      multiply attested in a dozen independent sources, but this seems not be the
      case).
      (b) Independent multiple attestation demonstrates only that something is
      earlier than the documents in which it appears.
      (c) Something may be multiply attested for reasons other than historical
      accuracy (e.g. theological convenience).

      This doesn't invalidate the criterion altogether, it just suggests
      limitations. It also calls into question how far multiply attested material
      should be privileged over against singly attested material (which, for
      example, might also have appeared multiply attested had more sources
      survived).

      Ron Price:

      Let's give an example which should clarify my meaning.
      I take the early sayings source as I reconstruct it (see my Web site)
      to have been independent of the letters of Paul. In both the early
      sayings source and Paul's letters we find several references to "the
      kingdom of God". Therefore this concept was in use before Paul and long
      before Mark's gospel, and therefore was presumably in use by the
      earliest disciples of Jesus. As there is no reason to suspect that these
      earliest disciples introduced the concept, we can be fairly confident
      that it goes back to Jesus. As it happens in this case, the belief that
      Jesus used the term "kingdom of God" is also supported by the criterion
      of dissimilarity, for it was not in common use before Jesus, nor was it
      a key part of the later churches' Christology.

      Eric Eve:
      Fair enough, but then of course you are relying on a second criterion to
      support the first. I think this is all fair enough *provided* we make the
      assumption that something distinctive is most likely to have originated with
      the Historical Jesus. Then, of course, something that is both multiply
      attested and distinctive is indeed quite likely to go back to the Historical
      Jesus. But then the distinctiveness of Jesus (which, as a matter of fact,
      I'm perfectly willing to believe), is probably something we are inclined to
      believe on the basis of the NT witness to Jesus, so that if we are in the
      business of reconstructing the HJ independently of the faith-stance of the
      NT documents, this may be an assumption we're not entitled to. At the very
      least, if we end up reconstructing a distinctive Jesus we ought to recognize
      that this was built into our assumptions!


      >> The fact that hard evidence is such a rarity cannot justify
      >>the claim to have manufactured more of it through a method that is
      logically
      >>flawed, even if it is one of the few methods available.

      > True. But now I really am baffled. If you think the method is
      >logically flawed, surely you *should* be advocating scrapping it ?!

      Fair comment; I was perhaps expressing myself too briefly. The logical flaws
      I had in mind were
      (a) That the criterion of multiple attestation could manufacture more hard
      evidence (but this is not, of course, what you are claiming)
      (b) That the criterion of multiple attestation makes it *significantly* more
      likely that something goes back to the HJ without further presuppositions
      (where 'more likely' means 'more likely than something that is only singly
      attested')

      The reason I don't advocate scrapping it altogether is that, like you, I
      don't think history involves proofs (so (a) is unnecessary) and that,
      probably like you, I'm prepared to make the working presupposition that
      Jesus was pretty distinctive (so that, for example, the 'kingdom of God' is
      more likely to be Jesus' idea than something the sons of Zebedee hit upon
      after the resurrection; whereas logically, the criterion of multiple
      attestation *by itself* cannot distinguish between these two possibilities).
      My point is, if we were using this kind of assumption to build up a picture
      of Jesus 'from scratch' by isolating authentic material using this criteria,
      we should be in danger of smuggling in assumptions that would not be
      consistent with the intention of building up the picture 'from scratch'.


      Best wishes,

      Eric
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