Friday, August 6, 2010

RD Extra: Which Jesus?

The following is a lecture entitled "Which Jesus: Examining Diffrences in the Gospel Narratives" by Jeremy Beahan recorded at CFI Michigan. A pdf file of the PowerPoint slides for this lecture can be downloaded here.

Description:
Christian apologists spend time and ink trying to smooth over the many contradictions within the Gospel narratives. But according to biblical critics, such discrepancies hold the key to understanding how stories of Jesus evolved. This lecture will examine some of the methods used in redaction criticism and the patterns they reveal when applied to the gospels.

To download this or any previous Reasonable Doubts episodes click here. Find the episode you want and right click the "play now" link and select "save target as..."

13 comments:

Spurll said...

Hey, Jeremy.

You probably won't be able to answer this, but I'm just wondering why iTunes has your last three podcast episodes dated 13, 14, and 15 December 2010 (you know, several months in the future). Just struck me as weird.

I'm sorry that I don't have anything much substantive to say. Keep up the excellent work, all of you. Oh, and you may be pleased (or indifferent) to know that I really enjoyed your discussion with Don Johnson with regard to determinism. I think that you acquitted yourself admirably.

Many thanks for continuing to be the best irreligious podcast out there!

Shane said...

This was a really nice lecture, Jeremy! The discussion on how Matthew edited/redacted Mark is fascinating. I've been having a discussion (a couple actually) over on my Answers In Genes blog about the donkey conundrum on Palm Sunday. To my mind this is the perfect example of what Matthew was trying to do in his alteration of Mark, although my friends have different perspectives (feel free to drop by, folks - I could use the traffic ;-)

One wee q - do we really know that Luke wrote Luke? And apart from the Colossians thing, do we even know this dude was a doctor?

The interesting thing is that the gospels probably tell us more about their authors/editors than they do about Jesus. And we don't even know their names!

Lausten North said...

Excellent summary. I have heard much of this, but hearing it in this condensed form was enlightening. I think Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, and my past pastors would all agree. (They would tack on something about Jesus' love still functioning in the world today, but I will let you off the hook for that :)

Ahab said...

Sounds interesting! I need to download this ASAP.

Josiah said...

I was introduced to your podcast by some friends (yes, they were helping me become a recovering religionist at the time) and have been listening for a while now. I had already downloaded and listened to the two previous podcasts where you were talking about this same topic, but this was just an excellent presentation. Hell, I even took notes! Well done.

Aaron said...

What happened to my comment??
I thought it went through ok - I saw it pop up among the rest of the comments...

Shane said...

Aaron, that is odd, because I was going to rebut it, and couldn't find it on the site, yet the blogspot thingy had emailed it out. It might have been the spam detectors, because I think the same post was submitted 3 times (probably sluggish network).

Anyway, your point I think was that the different gospel writers were focusing on different aspects of Jesus; this is a fairly common suggestion, but doesn't hold water. The basic problem is that we have very little historically useful information about the subject (Jesus the Nazarene) apart from what is written by the hagiographers. Furthermore, when these gospel writers refer to the *same* event using the *same* documentary source (i.e. ur-Mark in the case of teh synoptics), you can see where they introduce embellishments and frills that clearly contradict the original.

In other words it is not that they are emphasising different aspects of Jesus's life (none of them ever met Jesus, remember) - they are morphing Jesus to fit what they think he *should* have said or done.

Yes, they were writing for different audiences - the notion that their works would be collected into one volume (the NT) would not have been on their radar.

Mark does contain some crazy stuff, but much less than, say, Matthew. But you can see where Matthew introduced his little fibs - e.g. the guard on the tomb, the undead prowling the streets of Jerusalem etc.

There are real and proper contradictions there - the gospels are human documents, written by humans with imperfect understanding for humans also with imperfect understanding. They are not "scripture".

Cheers,
-Shane

[Guys, can you get Aaron's post back do you think?]

Aaron said...

Yeah, I kept submitting it because I got an error message each time I tried - seeming to indicate that it was too long, so I kept shortening it.

When it finally showed up, I stopped hitting "submit."

Aaron said...

Shane,

You are pointing out some of the differences in the same stories that each gospel recounts.

That was only a minor point in Jeremy's talk.

His main point seemed to be on who Jesus was in the mind of the writers - and what the writer was trying to convey about Jesus' nature.

I was pointing out that even Mark has several references to Jesus' deity - which Jeremy didn't seem to be aware of - or at least he doesn't agree with my rationale.

I think that's the most common criticism of the gospels by those who don't believe Jesus was God - especially Muslims - that Mark portrays him as a regular guy, but it took until John's gospel until Christians began to see him as God. I don't think that argument holds water.

If Jesus was God and man (which I believe he was) then he is already multi-dimensional, so it shouldn't be difficult to understand how each gospel writer could record the same events but highlight different aspects of his nature.

Jesus was a suffering servant.
He was also the anointed one - or messiah.
He was also God in the flesh.

I don't think any of these are contradictory. Each was necessary to accomplish his mission.

Why don't you think Matthew and John were written by Jesus' disciples?

Shane said...

Hi Aaron,
I used to think Jesus was the Messiah & God incarnate until I started reading the bible unsupervised :-)

The central problem is this: the gospellers were all writing at different times and for different audiences who did not have access to the source texts. We know that "our" Matthew was not written by the disciple Levi/Matthew because it contains no primary historical details; the backbone is structured on Mark, it is a good bit *later* than Mark, is addressed to uneducated Jews *outside* Palestine. When it initially circulated, like the other gospels, it did so *anonymously*, and the name of "Matthew" only became attached to it in the 2nd century, and even than by a complete looper who would be recognised as such even by Ian Paisley's standards.

Now Matthew the disciple *may* have written something; it has been proposed that he wrote "Q" in Aramaic, which was then subsequently translated to Greek, and the writer of the first gospel used this and the Septuagint (his command of Hebrew idiom was woeful) along with "Mark" to patch together his gospel.

As for John, we know from the end that this was not written by John himself, but one of the Johannine sect some time after John had died.

So not *one* of the gospels is a first hand account. That is of lesser importance to the development of the themes. Yes, Jesus changes as the gospels evolve - the interesting thing is that we see these changes in specific pieces of text (in the synoptics) where the gospellers have doctored the original to try to strengthen the theological point they are trying to make. This is plagiarism with alteration - nowadays you would get a hefty fine for such activity :-)

As I mentioned, my favourite example is the double donkey conundrum in Palm Sunday.

The Jesus we see in the gospels is not "the historical Jesus", but a Barbie Jesus that the gospellers are using to buttress their own fantasies as these develop and pick up momentum in the early Christianoid communities that they were among (and there were several).

Hope that helps - keep reading :-)

-S

Shane said...

Hi Aaron,
I used to think Jesus was the Messiah & God incarnate until I started reading the bible unsupervised :-)

The central problem is this: the gospellers were all writing at different times and for different audiences who did not have access to the source texts. We know that "our" Matthew was not written by the disciple Levi/Matthew because it contains no primary historical details; the backbone is structured on Mark, it is a good bit *later* than Mark, is addressed to uneducated Jews *outside* Palestine. When it initially circulated, like the other gospels, it did so *anonymously*, and the name of "Matthew" only became attached to it in the 2nd century, and even than by a complete looper who would be recognised as such even by Ian Paisley's standards.

Now Matthew the disciple *may* have written something; it has been proposed that he wrote "Q" in Aramaic, which was then subsequently translated to Greek, and the writer of the first gospel used this and the Septuagint (his command of Hebrew idiom was woeful) along with "Mark" to patch together his gospel.

As for John, we know from the end that this was not written by John himself, but one of the Johannine sect some time after John had died.

So not *one* of the gospels is a first hand account. That is of lesser importance to the development of the themes. Yes, Jesus changes as the gospels evolve - the interesting thing is that we see these changes in specific pieces of text (in the synoptics) where the gospellers have doctored the original to try to strengthen the theological point they are trying to make. This is plagiarism with alteration - nowadays you would get a hefty fine for such activity :-)

As I mentioned, my favourite example is the double donkey conundrum in Palm Sunday.

The Jesus we see in the gospels is not "the historical Jesus", but a Barbie Jesus that the gospellers are using to buttress their own fantasies as these develop and pick up momentum in the early Christianoid communities that they were among (and there were several).

Hope that helps - keep reading :-)

-S

Shane said...

Hi Aaron,
I used to think Jesus was the Messiah & God incarnate until I started reading the bible unsupervised :-)

The central problem is this: the gospellers were all writing at different times and for different audiences who did not have access to the source texts. We know that "our" Matthew was not written by the disciple Levi/Matthew because it contains no primary historical details; the backbone is structured on Mark, it is a good bit *later* than Mark, is addressed to uneducated Jews *outside* Palestine. When it initially circulated, like the other gospels, it did so *anonymously*, and the name of "Matthew" only became attached to it in the 2nd century, and even than by a complete looper who would be recognised as such even by Ian Paisley's standards.

Now Matthew the disciple *may* have written something; it has been proposed that he wrote "Q" in Aramaic, which was then subsequently translated to Greek, and the writer of the first gospel used this and the Septuagint (his command of Hebrew idiom was woeful) along with "Mark" to patch together his gospel.

As for John, we know from the end that this was not written by John himself, but one of the Johannine sect some time after John had died.

So not *one* of the gospels is a first hand account. That is of lesser importance to the development of the themes. Yes, Jesus changes as the gospels evolve - the interesting thing is that we see these changes in specific pieces of text (in the synoptics) where the gospellers have doctored the original to try to strengthen the theological point they are trying to make. This is plagiarism with alteration - nowadays you would get a hefty fine for such activity :-)

As I mentioned, my favourite example is the double donkey conundrum in Palm Sunday.

The Jesus we see in the gospels is not "the historical Jesus", but a Barbie Jesus that the gospellers are using to buttress their own fantasies as these develop and pick up momentum in the early Christianoid communities that they were among (and there were several).

Hope that helps - keep reading :-)

-S

Mark G, LI said...

Jeremy; Briefly, Thanks. Your talk was very enlightening and concise. I recently discovered you and the rd podcasts, and am very quickly becomming a new fan. I'm debating sending this podcast to a couple of deeply christians people I know, just to try to open thier eyes to some actual scholarly "bible study". Thanks again.