Sunday, June 11, 2017

Separating Authentic from Inauthentic Jesus Tradition

Over at CADRE Comments, Joe Hinman was responding to "The Bayes Craze" in atheist polemics, and he mentioned a common anti-Christian claim:
"[T]here are no reliable criteria for separating authentic from inauthentic Jesus tradition."
While the claim is fairly common, it is also so badly mistaken that I'd like to respond again, at the risk of being repetitive. I've previously done some research and posted summaries on this blog about objectively measurable ways for evaluating different accounts of Jesus to determine their historical value. These methods can be done by computer and do not depend on the evaluator's preferences. To recap:
  • The real Jesus was Jewish. When evaluating the accounts of Jesus, the more Jewish context there is, the more authentic it's likely to be. This can be measured in the prevalence or lack of reference to Jewish Scripture, Jewish national heroes, synagogue worship, Jewish religious holy days, trips to the Temple, Jewish controversies, Jewish religious traditions, and the like. It can also be measured by loan words from the original context and languages, or phrases recounted in the language in which originally spoken.
  • The real Jesus lived in Judea and the key events of his life took place roughly around year 30 of our era, in Roman-occupied territory. When evaluating the accounts of Jesus, the more we have of first-century Roman-occupied Judea, the more authentic it's likely to be. This can be measured in the prevalence or lack of reference to Roman occupation, Roman officials, first-century money systems in use in that time and place, and first-century events. 
  • The real Jesus lived in the geographical world of that era. When evaluating the accounts of Jesus, the more geography there is, the more authentic it's likely to be. This can be measured in the prevalence or lack of reference to cities, towns, rivers, lakes, valleys, hills or mountains, traveling, modes of travel, neighboring territories, and at the micro-level by reference to landmarks or particular peoples' homes.
  • The real Jesus was a physical human being. When evaluating the accounts of Jesus, the more physical context there is, the more authentic it's likely to be. This can be measured in the prevalence or lack of reference to everyday physical events like eating, drinking, sleeping, hunger, thirst, tiredness, looking at people, picking up things, standing up, sitting down, and all that type of thing that shows a physical context of physical beings. It can also be measured by the prevalence or lack of reference to the physical context of our surroundings such events happening at day or night, the weather being being hot or cold, whether a food crop is in season or not, passing storms, and the like. 
There are other criteria to be mentioned as well, but these are some of the most obvious and most easily measured. Anyone who reads the various accounts of Jesus -- both inside and outside the New Testament -- will quickly come to see that some documents are more grounded in a Jewish context, in first-century Roman-occupied Judea, in a physical world involving physical human beings. In fact, some documents are several orders of magnitude better grounded than others, with a far better claim to authenticity. The more a document's contents are grounded in the appropriate time and place and language and culture and physical world, the more we'd evaluate it as an authentic record of its time and place.

Here's the thing: I've run those analyses, and I know the answers; it leaves me with full confidence in the authenticity of the canonical gospels as the best sources on Jesus. Anyone with a computer and texts of the various documents could do the same. The fact that the scholars of the various Biblical studies departments haven't done a similar study leaves me with exasperated doubt about the authenticity of Biblical studies scholarship.

2 comments:

Martin LaBar said...

In case we needed reassurance that the canonical gospels were authentic . . .

Weekend Fisher said...

Right. The narrative that has been presented for years by anti-Christians is that the canonical gospels are not materially different from the alternative gospels, that the canonical gospels gained their canonical status by being unfairly privileged, and that the others were unfairly suppressed. Which is a claim worth investigating -- and when investigated by the objective criteria explained in my post, it turns out that claim can be debunked so easily that it's difficult to imagine the claim was raised in good faith by anyone with academic credentials who helped launch the narrative.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF