- This group's topical intent is to discuss the Gospel of Thomas and I
apologize for having gotten a bit far afield in pursuing discussions
about Mt. I will refrain from doing so in the future, but welcome any
off-list communications from those who are interested.
As a conclusion to the issue of Mt's Sitz im Leben, I would like to
offer the following comments if for no other reason than to explain why
I so vigorously defend the proposition that it orginated in a
predominantly Jewish community. Once again, if anyone wants to discuss
the matter in more detail, lets do it off list.
There are certain basic presuppositions which direct my assessment of
the gospels. These assumptions are not always consistent with popular
opinion; in fact they are usually quite contrary.
The basic presupposition from which I work is that the gospels are not
eyewitness accounts to what Jesus said or did. All of them were written
at least 40 years after the crucifixion.
The core of each gospel's proclamation is the message that Jesus was
crucified but that he rose from the dead.
Closely connected with that proclamation is the conviction that Jesus
was the Messiah figure who was expected by sectarian Judaism from the
third century BCE onward.
The resurrection conviction and the Messiah tradition therefore are the
foundation of the kerygma and, while they may have once been separate
from one another, by the time the gospels were written they were
The keryma developed after the crucifixion. Prior to the crucifixion,
Jesus was never labeled as the Messiah. Instead, he was simply admired
as a sage and perhaps as a worker of wonders, and then only by a
relatively small number of his followers. Otherwise, he was generally
The gospel writers began their literary work with the kerygma (the
conviction that Jesus had been crucified but resurrected and that he was
the expected Messiah). To that they added stories about Jesus which
pre-dated the crucifixion. The gospels are therefore a composite
description of Jesus the sage and Jesus the Messiah which have
fossilized into an image of Jesus/Christ.
Furthermore, my assumption is that the kerygma (that which was said
ABOUT Jesus) is not the same as what Jesus himself said or did. I am
convinced that it is possible (but not necessary) to investigate the
gospels in such a way as to make the distinction between the textual
evidence that reflects the Historical Jesus and that which reflects the
understanding of the evangelists about the Christ.
Moreover, I am convinced that there was no absolute consistency among
the evangelists in the way they understood or described Jesus as the
Christ. This diversity is present throughout the four canonical gospels,
but is conventionally ignored by most readers who prefer to harmonize
and dismiss the differences when they see them (if they see them at
all). The diversity becomes even more apparent when extra-canonical
gospels are examined and contrasted with those preserved in the New
Testament. It is at these points where those tensions are most visible
that we can identify with most assurance the evidence that a distinction
between the Historical Jesus and the Resurrected Christ is appropriate.
One of the strategies used by the authors of the the New Testament
gospels was to examine the scriptures of Judaism in search of
authoritative statements which could be used to argue for the validity
of Jesus' messiahship. Evidence of this is abundant throughout the
gospel corpus. As a preface to the conclusion that may be drawn from
this, it is crucial to recognize that the scripture of Judaism was
embraced AS SCRIPTURE only by those who were themselves members of the
communities which affirmed the authority of that scripture. Therefore,
the conclusion itself is that the tradition of the Resurrected Christ
originated in Judaism and further, at the earliest stage of the
movement, Christianity was nothing other than one Jewish sect among
Finally, I am in firm opposition to the proposition that the canonical
gospels are immune from the type of rigorous examination that historians
apply to other ancient texts. The proposition which I oppose presumes
that the gospels are part of a scriptural tradition which exhibits the
attributes of (1)Authority, (2)Eternallity, (3)Efficacy, (4)Inspiration,
(5)Facticity and (6)Inherent Unity. These attributes, incidently, are
universally shared by all scriptural traditions, not just Christianity.
Inevitably, because I embrace the presuppositions I have described, I am
accused of being a non-Christian (at worst) or a heretic (at best). If
I were offered my choice of the two condemnations, I would choose being
labeled as a heretic, for I do consider myself to be a Christian. But I
consciously distance myself from the kind of Christianity that basks in
the glory of pious ignorance and that contents itself with pat answers
and quick assurances that it mines indiscriminately from the Bible. The
foundation of my faith is sufficiently solid that it does not face
collapse if it should ever be conclusively proved that, for example,
Jesus was not born in a stable, that he did not walk on water or even
that his resurrection did not involve the resuscitation of a corpse.
With this certainty in mind I therefore am fearless in efforts to
dislodge truth from the obfuscating debris of tradition, doctrine and
pious superstition that has been heaped on the Bible by a well-meaning
but misguided church for the last several centuries. To those who
criticize my point of view I say only that I do not expect to persuade
you or to proselytize you to my conclusions, but on the other hand
remember that you have no exclusive license to truth yourself.
Therefore, do not try to persuade or proselytize me (although I do
welcome and encourage any critique of my presuppositions).