What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed

by yaddayadda 57 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Blueblades

    Your welcome lovelylil, Misquoting Jesus would be my first choice. For those of us who are interested in the wording of the New Testament you will find this book to be fascinating.


  • peacefulpete

    Blueblades the Jesus Papers is entertaining reading but like the DavinciCode its seriously unreliable. Ehrman is a conservative scholar who generally ties to keep with the field.

  • peacefulpete
    But that in itself does not mean that the Jesus accounts were totally made up.

    No of course not, it most certainly is not evidence it was historical though. As my comment to yaddayadda ended, its a convergence of evidence from many lines of logic that leads many to conclude that the Gospel stories are OT midrash and mythic narrative written for sectarian use. It would be foolish to say none of the stories occurred to somebody as we do know from Josephus that at least two bloody attempts were made to storm the well guarded Temple to "cleanse" it by Zealot activists in the general time period. Its like Narkissos said there were many such rebels/reformers/activists crucified in those days, but the composite character depicted in the Gospels is a work of creative writing. If there was a man named Jesus (not too surprizing) who was killed for something he said or did, he was not the Jesus of the Gospels.

    Your analogy of differing eyewitnesses does not parallel the process of literary revision and editing. First none of the anonymous writers claim to be eyewitnesses, even the baseless traditonal names attacted to the books by the Catholic Church are persons who would not have been eyewitnesses. If eyewitnesses deliberately manipulated the facts so as to lead a jury to a desired conclusion the y way the Gospel writers did, they would be in contempt and purjury,

    Jesus is a prop for the message. Think about it, nothing is in the Gospels that wasn't necessary for the plot. No description of his appearance his casual interests, his family life other than what is needed to relay a moral or stage an object lesson. He's a character in a play.

  • lovelylil


    I can understand why people feel the way you do. There does seem to be a lot of information about Jesus missing for instance in his day to day life. If we had more information then we could conclusively prove that he did exist or not exist. The only answer I have and this is just conjecture is that Jesus day to day living was not important to his deciples in that they felt their mission was to only record information to prove Jesus was the promised Messiah.

    To be fair, we know the Apostle Paul and Peter existed but do not have much personal information about them either. The time and death of Paul has been debated back and forth by scholars also. I would love to know for sure if he really was beheaded and when.

    I can understand if I put myself in a skeptics shoes - that it would seem dubious to me that this information is missing. Was it recorded and then lost? Or, was it just never part of the ancient records? I can understand why people feel it was made up to back up the early Christians theology.

    One of the things that keeps me on the side of the believers is that it is beyond me that Paul and Peter, and all the other probably thousands of Christians would go to horrible deaths for believing in Jesus when in fact they knew he was a made up character in a play. They even let their own children be murdered for the cause, and why? There was no benefit to claiming to believe in or seen Christ during that time period. If all you had to do was admit the lie and you and your children will live, how can you not do it? And we know that Paul and Peter are known to be actual historical people. They both claimed to being eyewitnesses of Christ. Peter during Jesus life claims to have walked along side him and Paul claims to of had a vision of Christ and that he was spoken to.

    Even though many accounts of Jesus were written by those who were not eyewitnesses - why would the Apostles, many who were eyewitnesses go along with it? Many who claimed to have seen Jesus were still alive when the first writings were done. I just can't understand why they would not stop it.

    I would like someone to tackle this Q in a book. I would definately read that one. Anyway, thanks for your time - you made some really good points and I know there are a lot of people who feel the same way you do. Lilly

  • lovelylil

    My point of the accident story which I think was not clear is this. Suppose I wrote my account first and then the other person wrote her account a year later. If much of the details are the same and although a few changes in wording, on the whole it was the same account, would it be fair after the fact to accuse the other person of simply copying my report and putting her name on it?

    Maybe there are striking similarities because we both experienced the same event. And if I told my account to someone else and they recounted what I told them years later, that does not mean it did not happen either. And it does not mean they copied from me as they are pasing the story along as I stated it. I have no problem with bible accounts being passed along orally and written at a later date. They all still seem to be almost identical. Lilly

  • Narkissos

    A big difficulty in this discussion is that most readers, believers and unbelievers alike, miss the fact that the historical Jesus is not a religious issue. The Jesus historians are discussing is not the Lord and Saviour of mankind. He is neither Paul's heaven-sent Son of God, nor Mark's miracle-working godman, nor Matthew's ultimate rabbi, nor John's heavenly redeemer. If he exists, he is just a man with many ideas of his time and a few of his own (which ones, that is the question). The Christian faith, as Schweitzer and Bultmann already concluded, has little to do with such a man. It is based on texts in the broadest sense (including oral and written stories), not history.

    From this perspective, the mythical Christ hypothesis is not only a possible conclusion of the debate: it belongs to its very starting point. Historians (even Dunn here) are not looking for a virgin-born, storm-calming, sea-walking, dead-ressurrecting character. They first put the obviously mythical stuff apart and look for what may be historical -- and their differences of appraisal depend on whether they are content which what may be historical or dig further to find what needs be historical. But what is essential to faith is set apart right from the start. One can argue (as fundamentalists often do) that ruling out the so-called "supernatural" is an unwarranted presupposition, but history simply has no other way of working. Without such a methodological rule, no historical criticism of any legend in the world is possible.

    Otoh, whatever historians may conclude about the historical Jesus (whether he did not exist or was some Galilean prophet expecting a political kingdom of God in his generation, for instance; I don't see any religious advantage either way), the sacred texts which faith relates to are left intact. Only the fundamentalistic assumption that those texts are100 % historical is questioned, by the very methodology of historical research.

  • lovelylil


    Thanks for putting that in such an easy way to understand. You are right the matter of faith is another issue entirely. Sometimes they do get mixed up don't they?

    Personally I feel Jesus was historical for obvious reasons (my faith rests on it) but I cannot rule out 100% that some legend, oral traditon, and exagerations or collaboration of details all had a part in the story of Jesus of the bible. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall back then to see for myself that is for sure. Lilly

  • hmike

    How are any ancient historical accounts judged reliable? So much of what we have is dependent on the writings of only one person, or sometimes are based on accounts written down hundreds of years after they happened. What are the rules by which one detail is discarded and another retained?

  • Midget-Sasquatch


    Thats the rub isn't it? Looks like we really are only left with surmises and uncertainty as Narkissos and lovelylily both said.

    There's one book that you and lovelylily might find interesting:The Birth of Christianity by Dominic Crossan. Its a bit of a long read though. He tries to come at the gospels from different and if possible independent angles. Like making use of archeological evidence to give us some feel for the life and times of 1st century Galileans, as well as how Rome was impacting Palestine. The milieu could help us understand what may have spurned Jesus' ministry. IIRC there's also a fair section in it dealing with how oral traditions take shape, so yaddayadda may like that. I personally wasn't won over with his conclusions in this instance.

    As of late, I'm fascinated with the idea that one can get at the historical Jesus by learning all about James the Just.

  • peacefulpete
    To be fair, we know the Apostle Paul and Peter existed but do not have much personal information about them either. The time and death of Paul has been debated back and forth by scholars also. I would love to know for sure if he really was beheaded and when.

    Well to be fair.....actually the Peter of the Gospels and Acts is very likely nothing like any historical Peter. Peter appears to also be a literary composite of a couple characters, Cephus, and Simon. Very little to nothing is known about these characters other than the early protoOrthodoxy felt the need to create a single iconic character using these two different people to support a hierchal structure. The Canonical writings attributed to this Peter are most certainly not the work of a mid first century fisherman. Just as the James of history (a jewish priest killed by rival family) was hardly the James of the NT. His name and reputation have been commandeered by the later protoOrthodoxy to give the new faith a footing in time.

    Paul is a can of worms. There are scholars who feel the person, or at least the writings, of Paul was the creation of Marcion or his school. I'm not convinced of that, but I do feel the generally accepted Paulines have been seriously edited, both by Marcion and then the later Orthodoxy when they eventually annexed/succeeded the Marcionite movement and adopted Paul as a Church icon and the Marcionite Paulines with him. Early prolific writer like Justin Martyr never refer to a Paul or the Paulines. But in time this Paul became enough of an authoritative figure within the church that a number of additional works were produced in his name and incorporated into the Canon. Acts was either first produced at this time of heavily edited to make Paul and Peter out to be comrads rather than rivals as Galations indicates. Paul's death is presented as being for threating public stability. not for simply being a Christian. He had no knowledge of the 4 Gosples as compositions, they were not produced yet, to him there was one gospel his message of a heavenly Christ without an earthly birth or mission. (interpolations aside)

    The bottom line is those literary founding fathers of the faith are themselves of dubious historicity. Their deaths are reported in all fashion of horror and cruelty. Problem is there are even conflicting stories about the deaths of these characters. Here's a partial breakdown:

    Mattius: stoned,burned to death

    Matthew: many attempts to kill him including the time he was to be burned alive but the fire began a dragon and threatened the King, speared to death, Acc. to Clement he died of old age.

    Andrew:crucified , "bound" to death
    Simon the Zealot:sawn in half,crucified,hacked to death

    James son of Alpheus:stoned beaten, crucified
    Thomas: speared by 4 soldiers, killed by Brahmins with stones and darts

    John son of Zebedee,attempts to kill him including his being boiled in oil miraculously failed,acc. to Papias and Origen he was martyred with James his brother, acc. to Eusebius he was martyred later, or died of old age.

    Judas of Thaddaeus: beaten to death,beheaded,stabbed with spear, struck with arrows.

    James the greater:stabbed with sword.

    Philip: crucified upside down, old age.

    Peter: crucified upside down by request, beheaded.

    Bartholomew: many death traditions including skinned alive and beheaded,crucified,speared,whipped to death.

    The Infancy Gospels has Jesus promising 12 sparrows that none of them would be killed, most understand this to a reference to the Apostles of the Synoptics. If so then the writer was himself unaware that any Apostles had been martyred. Justin Martyr in all his writings never once mentions the killing of an Apostle. My point is that these stories are the product of the legend mills of early Christianity. Now to be sure people died for sectarian beliefs. This is true of Christian, Jew and Mithraist. The question is whether the stories of martyrdom of the characters of the Gospels is pious fiction or history. The evidence suggests fiction.

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