Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Limits Of Authenticity Criteria And "Recurrent Attestation" (Part 1)

AP: As a counterweight to the criteria of authenticity, and to land a little closer to reality, I think it is helpful to mention here an article by Fernando Bermejo. I haven't quoted it on this blog (AtA) before, but I believe I have a number of times on my personal blog. The title is "La figura histórica de Jesús y los patrones de recurrencia. Por qué los límites de los criterios de autenticidad no abocan al escepticismo," which translated into English is "The Historical Figure of Jesus and Recurrent Attestation: Why the Limits of the Criteria of Authenticity Do Not Lead to Skepticism", which our colleague and friend published in the journal Estudios Bíblicos (70:3 [2012 ]: 371-401). The results are quite interesting if you ask me.

Bermejo writes the following at the beginning of his article . . . I've included the Spanish but included my translation into English immediately after:
"La validez de los criterios de autenticidad para la reconstrucción de la figura histórica de Jesús ha sido repetidamente cuestionada en las últimas décadas, y este cuestionamiento parece recrudecerse actualmente en las obras de un número creciente de estudiosos, que abogan por marginalizar o incluso abandonar esos criterios."
"The validity of the criteria of authenticity for the reconstruction of the historical figure of Jesus has been repeatedly questioned in the last decades, and this questioning seems to be intensifying nowadays in the works of a growing number of scholars, who advocate marginalizing or even abandoning those criteria all together."
Bermejo then promises to summarize the main objections made in recent publications to the use of historicity criteria and then argues that they do not necessarily lead to skepticism: The recurrent existence of "convergent patterns" in available sources, among other reasons, allows researchers to recover with reasonable confidence the historical figure of Jesus.

What exactly are "recurring patterns"? They are themes or repeated motifs that appear again and again in the Gospels, often scattered here and there, which together form a mosaic representing a consistent aspect of the actions or sayings of Jesus. This convergence of "clues" is interesting––once its consistency is proved––because it allows researchers to form an idea of ​​an aspect of the life of Jesus as probably authentic, since the repetition of a determined subject in multiple places of the tradition allows them to conclude that it originated from a reliable source of that tradition and is not a pure invention.

Here are a few examples:
1. Brief mentions of the "kingdom of God" are distributed here and there throughout the Gospels, but together they give us an idea of ​​how Jesus conceived of that kingdom. 
2. Brief allusions here and there about "rich and poor" and their role in the present and the future of Israel. 
3. References to Jesus' "messianism" or "prophetism," which are sometimes unclear in and of themselves, to the role played by the Nazarene in traditional messianic or prophetic conceptions of Israel. When pulled together they can give clues as to what Jesus thought of himself, of his figure and mission. 
4. Allusions to the divine sonship of Jesus and his special relationship with God, which can be properly gathered together to illuminate the self-consciousness of Jesus as the messenger or herald of divinity. 
5. References in the Gospels that help us understand the relationship of Jesus and his followers with the Roman Empire and what role violence could have or could not have in the establishment of the kingdom of God.
Bermejo comments on another example taken from C. H. Dodd in his History and the Gospel (New York, 1938). Bermejo notes how Dodd gathers the data of the following episodes in the Gospels (my translation follows):
"The call of Levi (Mark 2:14); the feast with publicans and sinners (Mark 2:15–17); Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2–10); the sinner in the house of Simon (Luke 7:36–48); the adulteress (John 7:53–8:11); the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4–7; Matt. 18:12–13); the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:10–14); the parable of the children in the market (Matt. 11:16–19; Luke 7:31–35), and the saying about publicans and prostitutes entering the Kingdom (Matt. 21:32)."
And he adds this observation (again my translation follows):
"We have here material extracted from a variety of sources and forms. Although individual incidents are rarely repeated, the general motive does. And this allows Dodd to conclude that the idea that Jesus had an open attitude toward the marginalized corresponds to the historical reality."
This cluster of texts, this reiteration of motives taken from contexts and different literary genres, points to the fact that we are facing an attitude of Jesus with undoubted historical basis. The historian can construct something sure from this gathered data. And if it one arrives at probable conclusions based on such criteria, then absolute skepticism is not an option.

And one last observation. Someone who reads my personal blog wrote me recently, asking, "Why waste so much time on a single person, namely Jesus, and trying to say one thing or another if that Jesus is a fictional person who never actually existed?" My answer is two-fold: This statement is born out of (1) serious methodological oversight and (2) a remarkable ignorance of the nature of historical sources for all persons of antiquity and how they should be treated scientifically.

Allow me to just build on number one here. This serious misunderstanding is not knowing how to separate/distinguish between the man "Jesus of Nazareth" and the "Christ of faith," which the Gospels and the Christian tradition unite almost seamlessly. Naturally, this fusion produces the figure of "Jesus Christ," which is a mixture of a possible historical reality and a theological concept, the "heavenly Christ." And undoubtedly, that product of such a mixture or fusion never existed, because theology is not history, and gluing theology onto a person of flesh and bones leads to the formation of an unhistorical entity. But not to distinguish and affirm that the first part of such a fusion, Jesus of Nazareth, was a relatively ordinary person in the first-century Israel, a carpenter of that century with pretensions to know how to explain the law of Moses, or to be a healer and exorcist, like some other rabbi of the time, never existed is totally baseless and leads nowhere. To do so one would have to deny the existence of the majority of the people handed down to us from ancient history.

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