Piece No. 8: A SINGLE STORY OF JESUS
All the Gospels derive their basic story of Jesus of Nazareth from a single source: whoever produced the first version of Mark. That Matthew and Luke are reworking of Mark with extra, mostly teaching, material added is now an almost universal scholarly conclusion, while many also consider that John has drawn his framework for Jesus' ministry and death from a Synoptic source as well. We thus have a Christian movement spanning half the empire and a full century which nevertheless has managed to produce only one version of the events that are supposed to lie at its inception. Acts, as an historical witness to Jesus and the beginnings of the Christian movement, cannot be relied upon, since it is a tendentious creation of the second century, dependent on the Gospels and designed to create a picture of Christian origins traceable to a unified body of apostles in Jerusalem who were followers of an historical Jesus. Many scholars now admit that much of Acts is sheer fabrication. [See "Part Three", and response to Victor.]He tries to pin the whole of the whole of the Jesus story upon Mark alone as the single source, as though having a single original unified source is somehow invalidating. Of course if there were several different versions than you know darn well he would be saying "why are there so many different versions? That's a contradiction!" But clearly there are different versions in terms of the small details, and they come form different sources. First, he makes a major contradiction when he says Mark was written first than copied by Matt and Luke with different teaching material. He has no way of proving that Q didn't' come first. Moreover, Helmut Koester in Ancient Christian Gospels Identifies a Pre-Markan source that is not Q and which is very early. The four canonical Gospels and The Gospel of Peter all share in it. This very early proto Gospel source ends with the Empty tomb, and the various epiphanies come from many different sources. What all of this spells out is several different sources. Koester also finds that the Gospel of Thomas and Egerton 2 have some authentic early material. So we have a variety of sources all offering the same material (Q, proto-Mark, Mark, Thomas, Egerton 2 and the epiphanies sources, however many there might have been). They all agree on the general events but offer different details to flesh out the picture. All of this spells an authentic evidential support for the events of the Gospels. Furthermore, the Johonine Gospel, even though it too draws upon the Proto-Markan material, has its own independent source none of the others share, which is clear since the material can be seen not to be found anywhere else. This material represents the ferment of a separate community, the Johonine community and their collective memory of the events. See Ernst Kasemann The Johonnie Circle. Doherty could not be more off the beam when he makes his ignorant remarks about Acts. Here his amateurish nature truly shows. First of all, the vast majority of scholarship no longer assigns any of the NT books to the second century. Secondly, many liberals and all conversatives assign Acts to roughly the same period as Luke, which was part of the same account, around A.D. 80. See Luke Timothy Johnson, (The Writings of the New Testament) F.F. Bruce (The New testament Documents: Are They Reliable). The New Oxford Annotated Bible and Cornfeld (Archaeology of The Bible) both assign the work to Luke (these are two very liberal sources). Johnson and Bruce do as well, and Johnson especially is the more liberal of the two. Luke is the most trusted historian of any biblical writer, and his historical details is proven right down to the name of minor Roman officials which would not have been known in the Second century (see Resurrection page). My own theory is that the Gospels were produced by the communities, each following their own witnesses, and perhaps basing it on works by Peter and Matthew. The Witnesses to the Resurrection lived in those committees and fanned out among them after the original events. This is why the epiphanies seem to come from many different sources.
Piece No. 9: THE GOSPELS AS (FICTIONAL) "MIDRASH"
Not only do the Gospels contain basic and irreconcilable differences in their accounts of Jesus, they have been put together according to a traditional Jewish practice known as "midrash", which involved reworking and enlarging on scripture. This could entail the retelling of older biblical stories in new settings. Thus, Mark's Jesus of Nazareth was portrayed as a new Moses, with features that paralleled the stories of Moses. Many details were fashioned out of specific passages in scripture. The Passion story itself is a pastiche of verses from the Psalms, Isaiah and other prophets, and as a whole it retells a common tale found throughout ancient Jewish writings, that of the Suffering and Vindication of the Innocent Righteous One. It is quite possible that Mark, at least, did not intend his Gospel to represent an historical figure or historical events, and designed it to provide liturgical readings for Christian services on the Jewish model. Liberal scholars now regard the Gospels as "faith documents" and not accurate historical accounts. [See "Part Three", the John Shelby Spong book review, and responses to Jan and Johnson.]My Reaction: yea, so? That is basically what I believe. I fail to see how that prevents Jesus from being a real historical figure or how it means the events didn't' happen. Yes, the Gospelers tried to write Midrash. Yes they "pitch" the story to portray Jesus as the New Moses and so on. That is in no way to suggest that they are not based firmly upon real events. Midrash is not lie. Midrash does not mean that the story is "made up." Luke Timothy Johnson also supports the notion that many passages are Midrash in The writings of the New Testament, and he doesn't believe that this negates in any way their reality in history. This really shows what I've always said about these Internet skeptics, they are merely the negative of the fundamentalists. Take a picture of a "fundi" and look at the negative and you have a picture of Doherty or Wells or Farrell Till. They can't understand the liberal framework, they think it's just like the Evangelical framework but with no faith. They are totally wrong, it's just a different set of assumptions, but 9 times out of 10 it also includes a strong faith in God!
Piece No. 10: THE COMMUNITY OF "Q"
In Galilean circles distinct from those of the evangelists (who were probably all located in Syria), a Jewish movement of the mid-first century preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God put together over time a collection of sayings, ethical and prophetic, now known as Q. The Q community eventually invented for itself a human founder figure who was regarded as the originator of the sayings. In ways not yet fully understood, this figure fed into the creation of the Gospel Jesus, and the sayings document was used by Matthew and Luke to flesh out their reworking of Mark's Gospel. Some modern scholars believe they have located the "genuine" Jesus at the roots of Q, but Q's details and pattern of evolution suggest that no Jesus was present in its earlier phases, and those roots point to a Greek style of teaching known as Cynicism, one unlikely to belong to any individual, let alone a Jewish preacher of the Kingdom. [See "Part Three" and the Burton Mack book review.]First see my Canon and Revelation page for details on the alternative to Q (all the way at the bottom of the page).The leading proponent of that view is William Farmer, and the view is called the Greiesbach Hypothesis. This is still a live option. There are no textual fragments of Q. Everything they have done on Q is total guess work as to what they expect to find there. So if one finds "no Jesus in Q" it is probably because one was trying to find no Jesus in Q. And since no serious historian has ever taken the "No Jesus" theory seriously, it is highly doubtful that any Textual critics do (Other than Mack). There is good reason to assume that Q came from another community and was put together in Syria, with Markan material to make Matthew. But from there Doherty just goes wild and leaps the grand canyon in Logic to the astounding conclusion that therefore there was no real historical basis in events. This is all coming from the Fundamentalist mind set which cannot grasp the liberal view and so imagines it to be a Testimony of doubt rather than real scholarship.
Piece No. 11: A RIOTOUS DIVERSITY
The documentary record reveals an early Christian landscape dotted with a bewildering variety of communities and sects, rituals and beliefs about a Christ/Jesus entity, most of which show little common ground and no central authority. Also missing is any idea of apostolic tradition tracing back to a human man and his circle of disciples. Scholars like to style this situation as a multiplicity of different responses to the historical Jesus, but such a phenomenon is not only incredible, it is nowhere attested to in the evidence itself. Instead, all this diversity reflects independent expressions of the wider religious trends of the day, based on expectation of God's Kingdom, and on belief in an intermediary divine force which provided knowledge of God and a path to salvation. Only with the Gospels, which began to appear probably toward the end of the first century, were many of these elements brought together to produce the composite figure of Jesus of Nazareth, set in a midrashic story about a life, ministry and death located in the time of Herd and Pontius Pilate. [See "Part Three" and the Burton Mack and Robert Funk book reviews.]Now this is the most ill-conceived cacophony of disinformation I've ever seen. First of all, most of this alleged diversity is the brain child of modern scholarly (and un scholarly) speculation. Skeptics and Textual critics alike love gaps to fill in and can't resist the allure of speculation. Most of this is the unbridled speculation of would be critics running rampant. There was a lot of diversity, but there is no basic reason to assume that the 12 Apostles were not real people or that the central historical events didn't' happen. This statement totally belies his earlier point about it all coming from one source and all of it being alike! Which is it?Moreover, his statement that the diversity is no where attested to in the evidence is silly and absurd. First there is the passage in Mark where the Apostles find a man casting out demons in the name of Jesus, but they don't know who he is. That in itself speaks to the proliferation of the faith even before Jesus died. Than in Acts we find Pricilla and Aquilia preaching about Jesus but as decibels of John the Baptist, and Apollos who is coming from yet another group, the differences between the Jerusalem church and the Pauline group, the "Judaizing" enemies of Paul (the "super apostles" of 1 Cor.) and the totally Jewish-Chrsitian flavor of Jude (right down to quoting the Apocrypha not once but three times--and the pseudepigrapha) the Johonnie community which is as separate and distinct form the others as is the Pauline circle--the claim is belied by ever book in the NT! There is great diversity in ACTS even in spite of it's gloss on differences. So the diversity of the situation is certainly hinted at by the evidence. But the question is, where else are they getting all of this? It is primarily the assumption of critics. The statement itself is absurd. If there is no hint of it in the evidence maybe it is the fancy of textual critics! But of course there is reason to assume a great diversity, but mot of the total differences were the split between Eboionties and Elkasites and other Jewish-Chrsitian factions vs. The Pauline circle. The real diversity would come in the second century when a full blown Gnosticism gets into the act.
Piece No. 12: JESUS BECOMES HISTORY
As the midrashic nature of the Gospels was lost sight of by later generations of gentile Christians, the second century saw the gradual adoption of the Gospel Jesus as an historical figure, motivated by political considerations in the struggle to establish orthodoxy and a central power amid the profusion of early Christian sects and beliefs. Only with Ignatius of Antioch, just after the start of the second century, do we see the first expression in Christian (non-Gospel) writings of a belief that Jesus had lived and died under Pilate, and only toward the middle of that century do we find any familiarity in the wider Christian world with written Gospels and their acceptance as historical accounts. Many Christian apologists, however, even in the latter part of the century, ignore the existence of a human founder in their picture and defense of the faith. By the year 200, a canon of authoritative documents had been formed, reinterpreted to apply to the Jesus of the Gospels, now regarded as a real historical man. Christianity entered a new future founded on a monumental misunderstanding of its own past. [See "The Second Century Apologists".]Here we have a very peculiar phenomenon. In order to dismiss Jesus as an historical figure, Doherty has to do mythology backwards. Most anthropologists and historians accept the notion that mythology is created around some core event that is "historical" in nature. But over time the mythical qualities build. But here we have a myth starting out as mythological and than coming to be assumed as historical! This is totally illogical. It makes far more sense, forma skeptical view point, to say that the grandiose cosmic doctrine was added latter to the basic factual story of a man who rebelled against Rome, had some nice religious ideas, and was excited because he was misunderstood. It wouldn't be the first time that has happened. But to do it the other way is nonsensical and absurd.Doherty totally misrepresents the nature of Midrash, portraying it as some sort of fiction writing. Midrash employs figurative speech, and often the Talmud employs legend to make points, but that in no way means that Midrashic writing was just fiction writing. Of course when he says that in Ignatious do we have for the first time the notion that Jesus lived and died under Pilate, he is totally ignoring what Joseph's and every other commentator and historian form that era says. Josephus, Thallas, Tacitus all write before Ignatious, although not long before, and 1 Clement also speaks of Christ's' Crucifixion under Pilate, of Peter and Paul being among the Roman Church community which therefore grounds them in historical connection to Jesus himself. Doherty totally dismisses clear and obvious statements which descievely debunk his theory found in alsmost every NT work! He is completely oblivious to the works of Heggesipus and Papias who speak of disciples of the Lord's whom they themselves heard speak with their own ears! (see Bible and Canon page).