Re: Multiple Attestation (was Various Criteria)
- Ron Price wrote:
> It doesn't "prove" anything. If you want proofs you should be in mathsQuite so. The question then becomes how much more likely is it that
>or science. In historical investigations the best we can expect is to be
>able to demonstrate that occurrence X is likely, highly likely or
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
(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
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.
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 justifylogically
>>the claim to have manufactured more of it through a method that is
>>flawed, even if it is one of the few methods available.Fair comment; I was perhaps expressing myself too briefly. The logical flaws
> True. But now I really am baffled. If you think the method is
>logically flawed, surely you *should* be advocating scrapping it ?!
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
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'.