Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Limits Of Authenticity Criteria And "Recurrent Attestation" (Part 2)

Part 1 is available here.

AP: We turn our attention again to the evaluation of the criteria of authenticity for the reconstruction of historical Jesus. Since a number of scholars are now calling into question its effectiveness, we shall turn our attention to a new system that could serve as a replacement, or at the very least a complement, namely the use of "recurrent attestation."

Fernando Bermejo comments that the use of "criteria of authenticity" often does not serve to construct an image of the historical Jesus starting from scratch, that is, as if the researcher––when he or she begins to study Jesus––had erased from his or her mind all the ideas that he had about this character and began to form a historical image of Jesus on the basis of studying one by one the relevant data in the Gospels, analyzing them by means of the "criteria of authenticity." This never happens of course, a point which Bermejo affirms: The researcher/scholar cannot make turn all this previously acquired ideas into a beautiful blank slate. Instead, he or she must confirm what has been learned, molding these ideas and sometimes changing them altogether, based upon what he or she learns from an analysis of the relevant data. Before that takes place, though, that person already has an idea of what Jesus was like. The criteria of authenticity are helpful to identify with critical eyes those previous notions that a person already has about Jesus, but it does not help him or her find new ideas or images . . . well, ideas that are really new. Therefore, these criteria do not serve as "heuristic" tools (a word derived from the Greek verb εὑρίσκω "Ι find," from which comes the exclamation Eureka! I've found it!) in the search to discover new things. They can only confirm what already exists or lead someone to discard beliefs that are not substantiated.

Bermejo enthusiastically joins in the proposal of Dale C. Allison, an American researcher and Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. Allison has been the major proponent of "recurrent attestation." Bermejo supports the use of this tool stating that the use of the "criteria" alone is certainly not enough. He writes:
"It is to be feared that (the use of) the criteria (of authenticity) is not so much a guarantee of objectivity as a means of rendering appearances of objectivity, and a means of channeling the subjectivity of each scholar. The fact is that the numerous inconsistencies in the use of the criteria seems to be a good proof of this."
The next step was to confirm this idea. The first step addressed the "subjectivity in the use of criteria." The second, a variant, addressed how it is "not worthy as a "heuristic" tool. "It is not always possible to arrive at a certain conclusion––regarding the sayings and deeds of Jesus––about its authenticity. In many moments the doubt persists without being able to solve the problem."

But Bermejo puts a caveat before substantiating the existence of reasonable doubts about the authenticity of the material about Jesus. He argued that it does not mean we are always in doubt about the historicity of all the sayings and deeds of Jesus. In other words, there is no absolute skepticism, and puts forth the following examples:
1. The very favorable pronouncements of Jesus on John the Baptist show great possibilities of going back to the historical Jesus, for they "blatantly contradict the tendency of the Christian community to subordinate John and minimize his importance with regard to Jesus."
2. The crucifixion of Jesus is a historical fact, as it contradicts what the disciples could think about the end of their beloved teacher.
And conversely: There is material that certainly does not go back to Jesus. Consider, for example, the dialogue of Jesus and John in Matt. 3:14–15, when the Baptist refuses at first to baptize Jesus: "But John tried to stop him by saying, 'I am the one who needs to be baptized by you, and you come to me?' Jesus answered, 'Permit it at this time, for it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness." It is obvious from this passage:
1. that the words of John the Baptist are the work of an editor. In other words, they come from the pen of Matthew and contain Matthew's words and thoughts, not John's nor those of Jesus;
2. the content is not plausible given the situation of John Baptist, the ignorance that he has concerning the identity of Jesus (confirmed by Matt. 11:3, "Are you the we have have been expecting, or should we look for another?");
3. there is a tendency towards the apologetic. This happens––due to early Christian theology––as people sought to present Jesus at a higher level than that of John: Jesus is the messiah and John the Baptist, the forerunner.
And consider this example from Matt. 28:16–20:
"But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'"
It seems very clear that we are dealing with a case of post-primitive Christian theology. The tradition of all that we know of Jesus (his undeniable nationalism and his refusal to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles––remember he only came to preach to the sheep of Israel [Matt. 15:24]) makes this scene impossible. And there's no reason to even comment on the resounding post-primitive Christian theology found in "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth." It seems impossible, therefore, that these words come from the historical Jesus.

Other passages that presuppose the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in the Jewish War of A.D. 66–70 were no doubt written after the death of Jesus. For example, Luke 21:20: "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near," or the parable of the homicidal vine-growers of Mark 12:1–11.

We will pick up here in the next post. Interesting, isn't it?

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