Sunday, November 06, 2011

Monumental mistakes -- and corrections that open up a new world

"Then I shall sail for another great island which I strongly believe should be Japan, according to the signs made by the San Salvador Indians with me. They call that island Cuba ..." -- Christopher Columbus, log entry dated October 21, 1492
History has been full of mistaken ideas. People -- even those who made a careful study -- have taken wrong turns. And a wrong turn is not necessarily useless, if (sooner or later) someone realizes what we have actually found, rather than what we expected to find.

Columbus expected to find the westward passage to Japan and then to the realm of the Great Khan. He was on the right track, but he was only a fraction of the way there. He firmly expected to find one thing -- and that expectation was part of the reason he did not recognize that he had found something else entirely.

There is an intrepid crew of scholars who are firmly embarked on a mission to discover that Christianity is false. (It has to be; they are sure of it.) And so they seek out every alternative gospel they can find, and run its banner high, and claim that the early church was wrong to ignore these alternative writings.

And one "lost Scripture" after another shows that the alternative materials are of late date, or have edited out Jesus' Jewishness, or have removed Jesus from any recognizable historical context, or make no effort at recording the events of Jesus' life ... or all of the above.

I think that Biblical studies is on the edge of recognizing something monumental: that what they expected to find, and what they were so earnestly seeking (something to debunk Christianity) is not at all what they have found. I think that the discipline of Biblical studies, if they make a fair and objective assessment of the materials, will soon discover that the best sources on the life of Jesus are the earliest ones, the ones with a Jewish Jesus, the ones where Jesus lived in first-century Roman-occupied territory, the ones where he worshiped at the synagogues, the ones that are saturated with people and places that are recognizable context for his life. So far, no writing has come close to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John for material on the life of Jesus.

After a long journey, sometimes you end up back where you started. But that's not a waste of time; now you know so much more than you did before. If you keep a good map, you might even be less likely to get lost again.

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