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« on: December 02, 2011, 03:19:35 AM »

Greetings all. I'm currently enrolled in a "Historical Jesus" class offered by my university's religion department. I come here asking if anyone else has had any experience with these classes or theories. The class here is an easy A, but I took it upon myself, with permission of my professor, to do a bit of independent studying as some of the issues brought up were personally a bit ... troubling. Of course I'm an Orthodox Christian and believe in our tenants of faith, and place the faith above human knowledge and evidence, but something just feels a bit strange to me. While I believe in our teachings, I want to feel comfortable as well in logically responding to some of the claims with counter-evidence, rather than with just traditions.

Do we have any patristic sayings or any orthodox sources explaining:

  • The differences in Christ's genealogy (I argued one was Joseph's, another Mary's - professor shut that down; pretty sure that's our perspective)
  • The chronology and little details of the Pascha events (how many roosters crowed, what time they crowed, the cleansing of the temple - palm sunday evening or monday, how many women went to the tomb, what time did they go, who saw first, etc)
  • St. John the Baptist's importance, and his doubt in prison (professor tries to argues that he and Jesus had two different messages with St. John being more apocalyptic. He also states that St. John the Baptist is not mentioned as much b/c the apostles or "whoever wrote the NT wanted to take away any focus on St.John" - he used the Acts in support as Paul found a group of people which only knew of St. John and not Jesus.
  • Pantera, the Roman soldier present in Judea during the time of Jesus' birth and present in the town Jesus visits "secretly".
  • Role of Mary Magdalene
  • The "lost tomb of Jesus" found in the 70's - the discovery channel documentary which found a tomb with ossuaries (caskets) with inscriptions of Jesus, Maria, Mariamne, Joseph, Simon, James son of Joseph brother of Jesus, and a few others of Jesus' "family"
  • The "differences" between James and Paul's theology
  • The "differences" between Paul and Jesus - professor argues that if Jesus were alive today, He would be shocked and repulsed on what Paul has done to the teachings, as Paul "completely nullified the law, while Jesus made the laws even stricter"
  • The "contradictions" of the gospels


Again, while I know how the church would respond to all these, I would just like to attempt to address these concerns academically. If anyone has anything to share please do.
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« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2011, 07:36:50 AM »

It's a game where the only rule is that Christianity has always been wrong.

Quote
Pantera, the Roman soldier present in Judea during the time of Jesus' birth and present in the town Jesus visits "secretly".


Jewish invention.

Quote
The "lost tomb of Jesus" found in the 70's - the discovery channel documentary which found a tomb with ossuaries (caskets) with inscriptions of Jesus, Maria, Mariamne, Joseph, Simon, James son of Joseph brother of Jesus, and a few others of Jesus' "family"

I remember hearing about at least one of the inscriptions as being fake, I believe it was James.

Quote
The "differences" between James and Paul's theology

This is a Protestant invention later renounced by its own inventor.
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« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2011, 08:42:41 AM »

The main *academic* critique of historical Jesus research is that much of it (especially until recently) suffers from a naive view of what history is. No history is pure "fact," but rather an accounting of how something has been remembered and why. Thus, contradictions are a necessary reality of history and their existence in the Jesus tradition has no bearing on its truth. For more on historical hermeneutics, see the work of Gadamer.

For critiques within the Christian tradition itself, see the work of NT Wright and Richard Hays. You can watch a couple of lectures by them on the topic of the historical Jesus here: http://www.wheaton.edu/WETN/All-Media/Lectures-and-Conferences/Wheaton%20Theology%20Conference?page=3
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« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2011, 09:38:34 AM »

Greetings all. I'm currently enrolled in a "Historical Jesus" class offered by my university's religion department. I come here asking if anyone else has had any experience with these classes or theories. The class here is an easy A, but I took it upon myself, with permission of my professor, to do a bit of independent studying as some of the issues brought up were personally a bit ... troubling. Of course I'm an Orthodox Christian and believe in our tenants of faith, and place the faith above human knowledge and evidence, but something just feels a bit strange to me. While I believe in our teachings, I want to feel comfortable as well in logically responding to some of the claims with counter-evidence, rather than with just traditions.

Do we have any patristic sayings or any orthodox sources explaining:

  • The differences in Christ's genealogy (I argued one was Joseph's, another Mary's - professor shut that down; pretty sure that's our perspective)
  • The chronology and little details of the Pascha events (how many roosters crowed, what time they crowed, the cleansing of the temple - palm sunday evening or monday, how many women went to the tomb, what time did they go, who saw first, etc)
  • St. John the Baptist's importance, and his doubt in prison (professor tries to argues that he and Jesus had two different messages with St. John being more apocalyptic. He also states that St. John the Baptist is not mentioned as much b/c the apostles or "whoever wrote the NT wanted to take away any focus on St.John" - he used the Acts in support as Paul found a group of people which only knew of St. John and not Jesus.
  • Pantera, the Roman soldier present in Judea during the time of Jesus' birth and present in the town Jesus visits "secretly".
  • Role of Mary Magdalene
  • The "lost tomb of Jesus" found in the 70's - the discovery channel documentary which found a tomb with ossuaries (caskets) with inscriptions of Jesus, Maria, Mariamne, Joseph, Simon, James son of Joseph brother of Jesus, and a few others of Jesus' "family"
  • The "differences" between James and Paul's theology
  • The "differences" between Paul and Jesus - professor argues that if Jesus were alive today, He would be shocked and repulsed on what Paul has done to the teachings, as Paul "completely nullified the law, while Jesus made the laws even stricter"
  • The "contradictions" of the gospels


Again, while I know how the church would respond to all these, I would just like to attempt to address these concerns academically. If anyone has anything to share please do.
One of the things is the difference between the Gospels (which are set in a rural setting, and presupposes a peasant's background-note all the agricultural images) and the Acts and Epistles (which presuppose an urban lifestyle).  The Gospels were written after the epistles (and coterminous with Acts), but it would be hard to explain why an urban movement (which the Church was in the Epistles) would write its story in a pastoral stage unless it was drawing on original material.  Another point is that the Gospels have Christ use the phrase "Son of Man," but it is not used anywhere else in the NT, nor is it used much in post NT material. It would seem difficult to explain why such a term not used in Christian writings (much) would end up in its central writing, were it not for the fact that Christ used it.

The Gospels are not witnesses statements (though they are based on them, and two witnesses wrote them): they are narratives which have literary devices as any narrative does.  For instance Matthew ends on a Mountain, Luke ends in the Temple.  If you look and compare, you will see the role Mt. plays in Matthew (e.g. Sermon on the Mountain=Moses on Sinai) and the Temple in Luke (e.g. the Finding in the Temple).  Similarly the narrative structure around feasts in John (who was a priest, i.e. in the order of Aaron), who presupposes knowledge of the other Gospels (e.g. Nicodemus speaks of miracles in the plural, when Christ has done only one miracle by that point in John).  Diaries, autobiography, memoires, biography, etc. are all history, but they do not tell history in the same way.
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« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2011, 11:21:01 AM »

Greetings all. I'm currently enrolled in a "Historical Jesus" class offered by my university's religion department. I come here asking if anyone else has had any experience with these classes or theories. The class here is an easy A, but I took it upon myself, with permission of my professor, to do a bit of independent studying as some of the issues brought up were personally a bit ... troubling. Of course I'm an Orthodox Christian and believe in our tenants of faith, and place the faith above human knowledge and evidence, but something just feels a bit strange to me. While I believe in our teachings, I want to feel comfortable as well in logically responding to some of the claims with counter-evidence, rather than with just traditions.

Do we have any patristic sayings or any orthodox sources explaining:

  • The differences in Christ's genealogy (I argued one was Joseph's, another Mary's - professor shut that down; pretty sure that's our perspective)
  • The chronology and little details of the Pascha events (how many roosters crowed, what time they crowed, the cleansing of the temple - palm sunday evening or monday, how many women went to the tomb, what time did they go, who saw first, etc)
  • St. John the Baptist's importance, and his doubt in prison (professor tries to argues that he and Jesus had two different messages with St. John being more apocalyptic. He also states that St. John the Baptist is not mentioned as much b/c the apostles or "whoever wrote the NT wanted to take away any focus on St.John" - he used the Acts in support as Paul found a group of people which only knew of St. John and not Jesus.
  • Pantera, the Roman soldier present in Judea during the time of Jesus' birth and present in the town Jesus visits "secretly".
  • Role of Mary Magdalene
  • The "lost tomb of Jesus" found in the 70's - the discovery channel documentary which found a tomb with ossuaries (caskets) with inscriptions of Jesus, Maria, Mariamne, Joseph, Simon, James son of Joseph brother of Jesus, and a few others of Jesus' "family"
  • The "differences" between James and Paul's theology
  • The "differences" between Paul and Jesus - professor argues that if Jesus were alive today, He would be shocked and repulsed on what Paul has done to the teachings, as Paul "completely nullified the law, while Jesus made the laws even stricter"
  • The "contradictions" of the gospels


Again, while I know how the church would respond to all these, I would just like to attempt to address these concerns academically. If anyone has anything to share please do.

Contradictions: This is good evidence against any sort of conspiracy to propagate a fraud. If they were faking up a Myth they would have made sure their stories were completely consistent. The very fact that we have different people viewing the same events somewhat differently is evidence that they are genuine.

The Lost Tomb: The inscriptions were debunked in only about a year after they were "discovered". The fact that your Professor is still mentioning this  tells you something about her agenda.

Paul: It was Paul who argued for conversion of Gentiles and  dropping the requirement for circumcision? Which Law did he make stricter? Love your neighbor? Love God with all your might??

There is a popular strain of thought within Anti-Christian circles that Christianity as we know it was an invention of Paul and inauthentic. Scratch the surface a bit, especially with an Academic and you may find a Gnostic. Ask her about what she thinks of Elaine Pagles  ( a popular Professor at Princeton who is a central apologist for Gnostic "Christianity"). If she waxing poetic about her, then you will have her properly located on your radar.
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« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2011, 01:03:53 PM »

Wikipedia can be your friend in this sort of thing, as it can at least tell you where to look.

The "Pantera" thing is an example. If you look at the article on Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera you will find that this theory traces back to Celsus and that Origen (who is our only source for what Celsus wrote; the original is lost) thought it was nonsense, and that modern scholars don't think much of it either, and that the usual speculating types (in this case Borg and Crossan) speculate a connection between "Pantera" and "Parthenos". From any rational perspective it's hard to imagine that an anti-Christian pagan writing in the late second century AD had a better line on Jesus' origins than the gospel writers.

Likewise, there are a lot of references in the article on The "Lost Tomb of Jesus" documentary. Here there are lots more problems. The circumstantial evidence is disputed and the conclusions are stretched mighty thin; there are also complaints that certain tests appear to not have been done because their results might have knocked down the whole shaky edifice of speculation and supposition.

Everything else hinges on the thesis that modern interpreters, working with less information due to whatever losses there were over the years, are nonetheless better than the ancients. Obviously put this way, it's questionable. The whole Jesus vs. Paul or Jesus vs. John thing, for example, is unjustifiable without evidence of an ancient dispute which we do not have. All evidence suggests that the mainstream of Christianity, especially including the other apostles, didn't have a problem with Paul's message. Ancient writing of history (and the gospels aren't history in the conventional sense anyway) isn't like modern, so the genre expectations of modern historians aren't valid.

The best thesis about the "historical Jesus" is that you can't get at Him. This goes all the way back to Albert Schweitzer, whom any decent course on the idea of the historical Jesus has to address. When people try to construct a historical Jesus away from the church, they don't have anything substantial to go on except for what comes out of the church, so they have to start sticking in "how the church is wrong" presuppositions that obviously are going to create a idol of the investigator's biases. The current crop, for example, reflects the materialism and skeptical forensics of modern people, and especially the anti-clericalism of the European intelligentsia. But the church materials were not written to address that, and the anti-clericalism is an unsupportable bias. therefore the whole "historical Jesus" thing is essentially a historical investigation of modernism, not something that informs us about ancient Palestine.
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« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2011, 02:11:42 PM »

The Gospels are not witnesses statements (though they are based on them, and two witnesses wrote them): they are narratives which have literary devices as any narrative does.  For instance Matthew ends on a Mountain, Luke ends in the Temple.  If you look and compare, you will see the role Mt. plays in Matthew (e.g. Sermon on the Mountain=Moses on Sinai) and the Temple in Luke (e.g. the Finding in the Temple).  Similarly the narrative structure around feasts in John (who was a priest, i.e. in the order of Aaron), who presupposes knowledge of the other Gospels (e.g. Nicodemus speaks of miracles in the plural, when Christ has done only one miracle by that point in John).  Diaries, autobiography, memoires, biography, etc. are all history, but they do not tell history in the same way.
I always figured the NT wasn't history, but more than history. It is a religious document and must be used in its appropriate context. People looking for the historical Jesus in the NT are missing the point imo.
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« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2011, 02:46:14 PM »

Forgive me, I don't have time to address your specific question, but just wanted to pass on the following quote from St. John Climacus:

St. John of the Ladder (Ladder, Step 26:152):

"At the beginning, some of the unclean demons instruct us in the interpretation of the Divine Scriptures. And they are particularly fond of behaving in this way in the case of vainglorious people and of those who have been educated in secular studies, so that by gradually deceiving them, they may lead them into heresy and blasphemy. We can recognize this diabolical theology, or rather, theomachy, by the disturbances and the confused and unholy joy which are felt in the soul during the instruction."


It would also be good to read on this subject the critique of Archimandrite Touma (Bitar) on the heretical and blasphemous writings of the pseudo-Orthodox professor Fr. Paul Tarazi who has adopted the historical critical method of the faithfless pseudo-scholars:

http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/fr-paul-tarazi-from-study-to-heresy.aspx

I also found the following to be a helpful summary of the overall problems with this approach to the scriptures:

Their mistakes fall into the following main categories.

1. Assuming that the unexplained is not explainable
2. Presuming the Bible guilty until proven innocent
3. Confusing our fallible interpretations with God's infallible revelation
4. Failing to understand the context of the passage.
5. Neglecting to interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones
6. Basing a teaching on an obscure passage
7. Forgetting that the Bible is a human book with human characteristics
8. Assuming that a partial report is a false report
9. Demanding that NT citations of the OT always be exact quotations
10. Assuming that divergent accounts are false ones
11. Presuming that the Bible approves of all its records
12. Forgetting that the Bible uses non-technical, everyday language
13. Assuming that round numbers are false
14. Neglecting to note that the bible uses different literary devices
15. Forgetting that only the original text, not every copy of scripture, is without error
16. Confusing general statements with universal ones
17. Forgetting that latter revelation supersedes previous revelation

I realize that this doesn't address your specific questions, but I wanted to pass them on because they are applicable to the subject and you may find them of interest.
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« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2011, 03:16:34 PM »

Forgive me, I'm still dwelling generally on the subject of biblical criticism, but if you haven't read it already, the following article by the New Martyr St. Hilarion (Troitsky) says many important things about Protestant biblical criticism:

http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/saint-hilarion-holy-scripture-and-the-church.pdf
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« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2011, 04:49:03 PM »

Thanks jah for your posts, learned something new.
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« Reply #10 on: December 02, 2011, 05:04:39 PM »

Wikipedia can be your friend in this sort of thing, as it can at least tell you where to look.

The "Pantera" thing is an example. If you look at the article on Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera you will find that this theory traces back to Celsus and that Origen (who is our only source for what Celsus wrote; the original is lost) thought it was nonsense, and that modern scholars don't think much of it either, and that the usual speculating types (in this case Borg and Crossan) speculate a connection between "Pantera" and "Parthenos". From any rational perspective it's hard to imagine that an anti-Christian pagan writing in the late second century AD had a better line on Jesus' origins than the gospel writers.

Likewise, there are a lot of references in the article on The "Lost Tomb of Jesus" documentary. Here there are lots more problems. The circumstantial evidence is disputed and the conclusions are stretched mighty thin; there are also complaints that certain tests appear to not have been done because their results might have knocked down the whole shaky edifice of speculation and supposition.

Everything else hinges on the thesis that modern interpreters, working with less information due to whatever losses there were over the years, are nonetheless better than the ancients. Obviously put this way, it's questionable. The whole Jesus vs. Paul or Jesus vs. John thing, for example, is unjustifiable without evidence of an ancient dispute which we do not have. All evidence suggests that the mainstream of Christianity, especially including the other apostles, didn't have a problem with Paul's message. Ancient writing of history (and the gospels aren't history in the conventional sense anyway) isn't like modern, so the genre expectations of modern historians aren't valid.

The best thesis about the "historical Jesus" is that you can't get at Him. This goes all the way back to Albert Schweitzer, whom any decent course on the idea of the historical Jesus has to address. When people try to construct a historical Jesus away from the church, they don't have anything substantial to go on except for what comes out of the church, so they have to start sticking in "how the church is wrong" presuppositions that obviously are going to create a idol of the investigator's biases. The current crop, for example, reflects the materialism and skeptical forensics of modern people, and especially the anti-clericalism of the European intelligentsia. But the church materials were not written to address that, and the anti-clericalism is an unsupportable bias. therefore the whole "historical Jesus" thing is essentially a historical investigation of modernism, not something that informs us about ancient Palestine.


Great post. I like what's in bold.
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« Reply #11 on: December 02, 2011, 06:58:02 PM »

It's worth remembering that observations about how the Gospels don't correspond in every detail, and little quirks like that, are not news. St Theophylact in his Explanations remarks on this very fact, and how these little discrepancies do not undermine the truth or authority of the whole of the Gospels.

Otherwise, I think Keble's post was very good.
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« Reply #12 on: December 02, 2011, 07:03:52 PM »

It's worth remembering that observations about how the Gospels don't correspond in every detail, and little quirks like that, are not news. St Theophylact in his Explanations remarks on this very fact, and how these little discrepancies do not undermine the truth or authority of the whole of the Gospels.
And aren't these little inconsistencies more attributed to the scribes who were copying the documents? I always figured it was an error of the copyist when certain things don't match up.
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« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2011, 07:28:10 PM »

It's worth remembering that observations about how the Gospels don't correspond in every detail, and little quirks like that, are not news. St Theophylact in his Explanations remarks on this very fact, and how these little discrepancies do not undermine the truth or authority of the whole of the Gospels.
And aren't these little inconsistencies more attributed to the scribes who were copying the documents? I always figured it was an error of the copyist when certain things don't match up.

Its actually what you would expect if you had four different authors writing about an event. Read any account from several different reporters at different newspapers (not just one source like AP reprinted through different papers) and you'll find a few minor discrepancies. Things like first name, exact addresses, the number of witnesses on the scene, etc. The difference is, we don't automatically discount the account of "Breaking News" just because a few minor details happen to be incorrect.
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« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2011, 07:40:15 PM »

It's worth remembering that observations about how the Gospels don't correspond in every detail, and little quirks like that, are not news. St Theophylact in his Explanations remarks on this very fact, and how these little discrepancies do not undermine the truth or authority of the whole of the Gospels.
And aren't these little inconsistencies more attributed to the scribes who were copying the documents? I always figured it was an error of the copyist when certain things don't match up.

Its actually what you would expect if you had four different authors writing about an event. Read any account from several different reporters at different newspapers (not just one source like AP reprinted through different papers) and you'll find a few minor discrepancies. Things like first name, exact addresses, the number of witnesses on the scene, etc. The difference is, we don't automatically discount the account of "Breaking News" just because a few minor details happen to be incorrect.
Exactly. IIRC I think Lee Strobel uses the same argument, not that he matters in this sort of thing but yeah.

But the oral tradition of the Jews during Christ's time I hear was pretty impecabble as far as transmission was concerned.
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« Reply #15 on: December 02, 2011, 08:36:51 PM »

It's worth remembering that observations about how the Gospels don't correspond in every detail, and little quirks like that, are not news. St Theophylact in his Explanations remarks on this very fact, and how these little discrepancies do not undermine the truth or authority of the whole of the Gospels.
And aren't these little inconsistencies more attributed to the scribes who were copying the documents? I always figured it was an error of the copyist when certain things don't match up.

Its actually what you would expect if you had four different authors writing about an event. Read any account from several different reporters at different newspapers (not just one source like AP reprinted through different papers) and you'll find a few minor discrepancies. Things like first name, exact addresses, the number of witnesses on the scene, etc. The difference is, we don't automatically discount the account of "Breaking News" just because a few minor details happen to be incorrect.
Exactly. IIRC I think Lee Strobel uses the same argument, not that he matters in this sort of thing but yeah.

But the oral tradition of the Jews during Christ's time I hear was pretty impecabble as far as transmission was concerned.

St Theophylact makes exactly the same point about small inconsistencies arguing for the authenticity of the accounts, so I think you're both on the right track. Smiley
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« Reply #16 on: December 03, 2011, 12:34:24 AM »

Here are a couple non-scholarly views on the historical-critical method:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5p9CY976_kw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbUxKURdjmE
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