Sunday, 10 June 2012

An extraordinary question

Tim Bulkeley points to a great posting on the whole historical Jesus question by Mark Goodacre
There are so many different reconstructions of the historical Jesus, each one only an approximation of what the historian can know on the basis of the extant sources.  There are lots of historical Jesuses that I do not believe in.  I don't believe in Crossan's historical Jesus because I don't believe in his sources.  I don't believe in Wright's historical Jesus because he believes all his sources.  I don't believe in Morton Smith's historical Jesus because he composed one of his sources.
...  doing ancient history is not like doing modern history.  The vast majority of ordinary punters made no impact on the archaeological record from antiquity.  Their impact, their "existence", if you like, can only be measured in so far as they influenced the memories of those who told their stories, and only in so far as those embellished, interpreted, creative memories ultimately found their way into the texts that managed to survive.
Well worth reading the whole thing.


  1. Behind the sofa, indeed!

    From what I hear, there were plenty of men named Jesus back then. And there were lots of itinerant preachers, all claiming to be sent by God. And, sad to say, there were lots of people getting crucified. So which one was the "real" Jesus? None of them and all of them, I'd say. In those days, historians were rather loose with the facts. Any story might be repeated, improved, embellished,slanted to suit one's viewpoint, etc. Who knew and who cared? The vast majority of people could not read nor write, and most of those who could read or write couldn't do so very well. Those who had this skill set naturally played it to their own advantage.

    Apparently no "Jesus" back then was considered important enough to make it into any official historical records. And clearly the gospels were written not as accurate factual histories but as attempts to promote each writer's specific beliefs. Also very clear is the fact that the gospel writers felt free to shamelessly twist the old testament scriptures any way they wished to make sure their boy was "fulfilling" them.

    Benefits in terms of money and power accrued to those religious leaders who could convince others of the "truth" of their beliefs, back then the same as now. Back then, as now, scriptures worked quite well for that purpose.

    So, what is one to make of it all?

  2. Do you know why Jesus existed? Because he just had to, that's all. It's kind of like Joseph Smith's gold plates, they had to have existed because if they didn't there wouldn't be a Book of Mormon - and no Mormons!

    All the "mountain" of evidence for historical Jesus? Well, it amounts to this: That in the 2nd century there were people called Christians who believed Jesus existed and was crucified by Pontius Pilate.

    Two of those sources of information, Josephus and Suetonius, couldn't even agree on the reason the Jews were expelled from Rome. Suetonius says it was because a Jew named Chrestus instigated riots and Josephus says that it was because 4 Jews pulled a con-game on a high class lady citizen. These dependable historians couldn't even agree on who the emperor was at the time. Tacitus, on the other hand, thought that the founder of the Chrestianos was named Chrestus (Christus, in the revised version). Too bad he didn't know that the name of the founder was "Jesus".