Historical Jesus Questions

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soft-...@cup.portal.com

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Dec 7, 1993, 1:36:58 AM12/7/93
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David Mason shares:

>How necessary is believing in the literal interpretation of the
>4 Gospels to Christianity?

I wasn't going to reply to this because I see the old
liberal/fundamentalist debate heating up. But I read ahead and
saw the literal forces building up, and I thought I ought to at
least offer some comfort and support from the liberal side.

To answer the question directly: Not at all.

Interperting the gospels literally leads to viewing God literally
and treating ones fellow man literally--which is the opposite of
what Jesus did (at least that's what you see if you don't take
things literally ;^).

One of the following replies dismisses Gospel of Thomas as a
late Gnostic document (and indeed it has Gnostoc influences in it).
But if you have read it, you see that it appears that SOME of the
sayings of Jesus in it are earlier versions than those that
appear in Mark (with less doctoring to explain things).

...
>3. The only way I have been able to interpret the Old Testement,
> (and keep my sanity) is mythologically, with some history
> scattered about. What's wrong with extending this view to
> the New Testement?

Nothing at all in theory. However, there is a danger in demythologizing
things to the point that Jesus becomes nothing special; and that
conclusion is clearly wrong. The liberal position can degenerate
into little more than lofty words (which in themselves is nothing
to give ones's life for). But it doesn't have to degenerate that way.
I see the key as trying to imitate Jesus in our lives and in the way
we relate to our brothers and sisters and trust in God. This is the
practice which is what's important. The theories are something
to do on a cold winter's evening.
>
>4. Who says the New Testament authors were attempting to portray
> history correctly anyway? Couldn't they have used Jesus' life
> as a skeleton, on which to base myths illustrating their
> theology? (If this is the case I don't think it necessarily
> invalidates Christianity)
>
It's pretty obvious that each Gospel writter put his own slant
on things (with John being the extreme case). But what you will find
in the "historical Jesus" trip is that you can support most any
position you want to. The clever author piles up evidence that
Jesus was this or Jesus was that and the arguments sound pretty
convincing. The problem is that they emphasize some things and
ignore others. I have come to the conclusion that Jesus cannot be
explained simply (either by the traditions of the church or by
literal Bible reading or by liberal speculation).

I'm looking forward to the Jesus Committee's "Five Gospels" due
out this month which tries to separate what Jesus said from what
the early church said. It should be interesting reading (again for
the cold winter evening).

>
>Anyway, I'd appreciate it if anybody can offer some advice [other
>than plugging my ears, closing my eyes and singing very loudly :)
>-- like I said, I'd like to keep what's left of my sanity.]

Stay sane. Remember, the real Jesus is found in our daily lives,
not in a book.
>
>Thanks...
>
--
>------------------------------------------------------------------
>....David A. Mason
>
The moderator adds:
> ---------------
>
>[You won't get any agreement on these issues.

Nope, not one bit.

>However I'd like to
>suggest that you might want to look at a somewhat wider range of
>scholarship. There are certainly plenty of radical critics with views
>like this, but my own evaluation is that there are problems with some
>of these views.

Perhaps "radical" is too pejorative term and not quite fair.

>In particular the idea that Jesus made no special
>claims about his person seems untenable.

"Untenable" is rather strong. If one concludes that much of what is
in the Gospels is the voice of the early church (particularly the
later-written Gospel of John) then I think it is possible. The
adoption model of Jesus's sonship certainly has some support (see
Romans 1:3 for the basic statement). There are any number of difficult
questions in the gospels if one takes the literal Son of God from
birth view (the first: Why did Jesus need to be baptized? and the
last: Why couldn't Jesus raise himself from the dead?).

>I think you can identify
>some kind of Christological claims in every strand of the tradition.
>This does not deny that there's been development -- Jesus certainly
>didn't teach the Trinity in its fully developed form.

Jesus always placed himself subortinate to the Father, which the
Trinitarian view would not. ("if I cast out demons by the finger
of God", "not my will but Thine", "why do you call me 'good'; there
is none good but God?" [notwithstanding the NRSV footnote])

>But there's
>been a persistent claim that Jesus was just an ordinary rabbi, and
>Paul turned him into something else. This is absurd. Several of the
>strongest Christological statements in Paul's letters are generally
>considered to be early hymns that he's quoting, and you can find
>similar things in the Johannine and other traditions.

Agreed.

>
>I personally don't have a problem with understanding that there is
>some level of human interpretation in the Biblical accounts (though
>many of our readers object to that). But when you take this approach
>to the extreme that you deny things like the Resurrection, it's hard
>for me to see what point there is to using the Bible at all. If
>there's one thing every NT writer agrees on, it's the fact that Jesus
>died to save us, and that the Resurrection is a key part of this. If
>you think they were wrong in the basic purpose of their writings, I
>don't understand how you can deny the most basic principles on which
>the NT writers operated and say you're not invalidating their
>message. I would argue that someone who isn't prepared to affirm
>something more or less like the Apostles' Creed ought to consider very
>carefully whether it makes any sense to consider himself Christian.

I agree that the resurrection is a key point. Without that, Jesus is
a moral philosopher and we can disband the churches. Notwithstanding
that, I think there is quite a bit of room to think about exactly
who Jesus was what Jesus remains for us.

>
>--clh]
>


Kevin Davidson, Asst. Moderator AmigaZone Vendor Support - PORTAL
<soft-...@cup.portal.com>
SOFT-LOGIK BBS (PCP MOSLO) (314) 894-0057

Michael J. Bumbulis

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Dec 8, 1993, 4:52:47 AM12/8/93
to
In a previous article, soft-...@cup.portal.com () says:

>
>One of the following replies dismisses Gospel of Thomas as a
>late Gnostic document (and indeed it has Gnostoc influences in it).
>But if you have read it, you see that it appears that SOME of the
>sayings of Jesus in it are earlier versions than those that
>appear in Mark (with less doctoring to explain things).


Since this pertains to me, let me take this opportunity to say that
I am willing to post an article on the Gospel of Thomas and it's
relationship with the NT this weekend. If anyone is interested,
let me know by e-mail. Otherwise, I'll have to rake the leaves.
;)
--
Michael

Circuit Man

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Dec 14, 1993, 1:37:01 AM12/14/93
to
:> [Comment stating Gospel of Thomas contains material earlier to
:> Mark]

Hansel E. Lee Jr. writes:

:I would disagree, there are some scholars which say the material
:listed in Thomas shows traditions earlier to Mark, and some
:hypothize that it is a form of "Q" (the source). However, their
:is much evidence that even if it was, it has been long since perverted
:that we can not get much value from it. I would venture to say that
:almost all of the 114 sayings in Thomas (including those very similiar
:to the cannonized gospels) have been perverted with gnostacism. I
:think it, as a document, may have contained traditions earlier to Mark
:in it's origional form, but after being translated, passed on in Gnostic
:communities, it was altered signifigantly.

From what I understand, what they've been doing, is using what they
know about Jesus from the canonical Gospels, then looking in these
other non-canonical books for passages that are consistent. Every
once in a while, they find something that isn't in the Gospels but is
still consistent with the picture of Jesus they give.

I agree that Thomas is gnostic, but it also possibly has some stuff
that may have come from documents earlier than the canonical Gospels.
IMHO, though it has come from a different tradition, even a remote
chance it gives us more information about Jesus makes it worthy of
study. Just because there's a bit of leaven in it doesn't mean we've
got to throw out the dough! (Parables?... what makes you think I've
been studying parables?! :) )

<assorted stuff amputated...>

H.E.L. Jr. writes:
>>:Be careful when you say "Many Scholars". Many of those scholars
>>:have spent too much time "reading & studying" and not enough time
>>:praying.

D. Andrew Kille writes:
>:Prayer is essential for developing a relation to Jesus, but it is
>:not always the best method for finding historical truth. Do not
>:scoff at the work of "reading and studying" nor impugn the faith
>:or motives os those who work to develop a historically reliable
>:and critically established picture of the events.

H.E.L. Jr writes:
:I agree, however, if you accept that the Bible was written under the
:guide of the Holy Spirit, then to be properly understood it must be
:read in the same way. See Mark 4 where it talks about those on
:the outside vs. those on the inside.

I write:

Not to dispute prayerfully reading scripture, but scholars (Jesus
Seminar) believe (and I agree) that the passage you cite in Mark 4 was
added by Mark. Their logic being that Jesus would never try to
exclude anyone like he does in this episode. Otherwise, I agree with
you... But I also agree with D. Andrew Kille. I guess the idea is
finding a balance between reading prayerfully and using historical
criticism. My problem now is trying to figure out if there's a
difference between 'spiritual history' and 'physical history'.
.... (I've just sat here for a few minutes thinking how to define
these, but realized if I could, I probably wouldn't have the
problem...I guess its trying to see one gets a different picture of
Jesus by reading prayerfully than looking at scripture with some kind
of scientific historical method, and if you do, how to reconcile it.)

H.E.L. Jr. writes:
:The fact is, the death penalty was for caliming to be God. If you accept
:Jesus was crucified, you must accept He claimed to be God. There is no
:other reason for it to have happened. His crucifixion was also mentioned
:in Josephus's works. Along with the statement "Jesus, who claimed to
:be the Messiah"

More of my screwed up ideas: I kind of like Crossan's theory that
probably the real reason Jesus was crucified was that he was usurping
the authority of the Temple. One of the main purposes of the Temple
was healing, and people would come from all over to the Temple to be
healed. The monopoly on healing gave the Temple its power. Along
comes this Jesus guy healing people _for free_. Thus, they had to get
rid of him. They used the fact that he claimed to be God as an
excuse.

------------------------------------------------------------------
....David A. Mason

Zen Master in the Fabrication of Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches
& future mad scientist

D. Andrew Kille

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Dec 17, 1993, 3:12:21 AM12/17/93
to
Hansel E. Lee Jr. (ar...@yfn.ysu.edu) wrote:
[many deletions]

: The fact is, the death penalty was for caliming to be God. If you accept


: Jesus was crucified, you must accept He claimed to be God. There is no
: other reason for it to have happened. His crucifixion was also mentioned
: in Josephus's works. Along with the statement "Jesus, who claimed to
: be the Messiah"

The gospels present this as the reason. The problem is that it does not
accord with what we know of the Romans. They did not execute people for
blasphemy; they crucified them for insurrection. Jesus was seen to be
a threat to Roman rule, not Jewish religion. There is no *historical*
reason to connect the crucifixion with any claim by Jesus to be God.
Further, if you read the synoptic Gospels carefully, Jesus does *not*
claim to be God. He attributes his power to heal to his relationship to
God. The allegations of blasphemy are depicted as being trumped up
charges, not true statements of Jesus' claims.

: >:Gospel of Thomas is very Gnostic. It is a possible long term redaction
: >:of the "q" document, but I doubt it.

: >On what basis? Even scholars don't consider it to be based on "Q",
: >but rather on the cluster of orally-transmitted teachings that lie
: >behind the gospels and Thomas.

: I said a "possible" long term readaction. And many scholars do compare
: it to "Q" in that it containes many shared parables between Luke and
: Matthew which Mark does not contain.

It is considered to be *derived* from the oral tradition that lies
behind Q, but there is no attempt to relate the (theoretical) Q
*document* to Thomas.

: Further, is it possible that some teachings
: were preserved *more intact* in Thomas than the canonical gospels?
: Many scholars are convinced that is the case. Is the book of Thomas
: more reliable *as a book* than the gospels? I don't know of a single
: scholar who would argue that position.

: I have seen the arguement. I would direct you to examine each of the
: sayings in Thomas, both shared by the Gospels, and new sayings. I
: is safe to say that the vast majority contain definite gnostic influences
: on gender, secrets, flesh/spirit, light/darkness, etc.

Most of the book is not authentic. Scholars who argue for authenticity
in it point mostly to the *forms* of teachings that also appear in
the canonical gospels. Only one parable from Thomas that does not
appear in the other gospels is considered to be in any way authentic:

Thomas 97: Jesus said, "The Kingdom of the Father is like a
certain woman who was carrying a jar full of meal. While she
was walking on a road, still some distance from home, the
handle of the jar broke and the meal emptied out behind her
on the road. She did not realize it; she had noticed no
accident. When she reached her house, she set the jar down
and found it empty."

This story does not receive a very high rating. On the other hand,
there is some agreement that Thomas' form of the parable of the
mustard seed is *more* authentic than the synoptic versions:

Thomas 20:2: He said to them, " it [the Kingdom] is like
a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds. But when it
falls on tilled soil, it produces a great plant and becomes
a shelter for birds of the sky."


: >"Screwed up" by what standard? If you assume that the only legitimate
: >basis for theology is the canonical scriptures, then *by definition*
: >anything that allows for other sources will be "screwed up".

: Sure, but if you pick and choose what you believe, you end up with
: the religion and belief system you want, not necessairly what God gave.
: I prefer to trust that God had His hand in the creation of the bible than
: in my ability to decide what should have been in it, what shouldn't have,
: what Jesus really said, vs. what Paul/John, etc wanted him to say.

If you pick the synoptics as the only valid source, you do not necessarily
end up with "what God gave". You end up with an interpretation that
the church of the fourth century decided was authoritative. I do not
have such unquestioning faith in the accuracy of the church councils
as you seem to have.


: >The Gospel of John is the least defensible from a historical point of
: >view. Its lack of agreement with the other three, its clearly
: >developed sermons (why did the other writers leave out all that good
: >stuff, if it was all part of Jesus' teaching from the beginning), and
: >its late development all make it questionable as a resource for *history*.
: >(I am not questioning its significance for faith.)

: Because each writer had different intents and audiences. John was
: writing to counter Gnostacism, Mark, Matthew, and Luke all had other
: audiences. John said their are many other things he could not include.
: Each author had some discernment as to what to include.

I find it incredible that an author might choose to exclude the clear
statements of diety that John uses, if the community was aware of them
and the understanding of Jesus was so fully developed from the beginning.

--

***********************
D. Andrew Kille
Graduate Theological Union
rev...@netcom.com

VOCATUS ATQUE NON VOCATUS, DEUS ADERIT.
***********************

Hansel E. Lee Jr.

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Dec 12, 1993, 11:27:48 PM12/12/93
to
<Dec.8.04.52....@geneva.rutgers.edu>
Reply-To: han...@freenet.fsu.edu (Hansel E. Lee Jr.)

This message is a Reply to both

soft-...@cup.portal.com
rev...@netcom.com (D. Andrew Kille)

------Message 1--------

soft-...@cup.portal.com writes:

>David Mason shares:

>>How necessary is believing in the literal interpretation of the
>>4 Gospels to Christianity?

>To answer the question directly: Not at all.


>Interperting the gospels literally leads to viewing God literally
>and treating ones fellow man literally--which is the opposite of

>what Jesus did.

What do you mean by treating man literally? When Jesus said that
He is the only way to salvation, was that literal? What does it look
like to treat people literally? And what is the opposite?

> [Comment stating Gospel of Thomas contains material earlier to
> Mark]

I would disagree, there are some scholars which say the material


listed in Thomas shows traditions earlier to Mark, and some
hypothize that it is a form of "Q" (the source). However, their
is much evidence that even if it was, it has been long since perverted
that we can not get much value from it. I would venture to say that
almost all of the 114 sayings in Thomas (including those very similiar
to the cannonized gospels) have been perverted with gnostacism. I
think it, as a document, may have contained traditions earlier to Mark
in it's origional form, but after being translated, passed on in Gnostic
communities, it was altered signifigantly.

>>3. The only way I have been able to interpret the Old Testement,


>> (and keep my sanity) is mythologically, with some history
>> scattered about. What's wrong with extending this view to
>> the New Testement?

>I see the key as trying to imitate Jesus in our lives and in the way


>we relate to our brothers and sisters and trust in God.

Yes, but what you believe about Jesus effects your actions. If Jesus
healed people, do we imitate that? If he didn't actually do it, how can
we? If we immitate Jesus, you have to accept supernatural intervention
into our lives and prayers.

>The moderator adds:

>In particular the idea that Jesus made no special
>claims about his person seems untenable.

[I don't think all of the following is mine. --clh]

>If one concludes that much of what is
>in the Gospels is the voice of the early church

>the first: Why did Jesus need to be baptized? and the
>last: Why couldn't Jesus raise himself from the dead?).

1: So, how do you decide what was interpolated into the cannonized
bible by the first century authors, and what Jesus actually claimed?
What is the test you use to differentiate the two?

2: I don't have enough time to take a stab at the baptism statement.
But as far as raising himself from the dead? the statement "He saved
other's but he can't save himself" is the ultimate irony in Mark. To save
other's he couldn't save Himself. The statement "I will tear down this
temple and rebuild it again in 3 days" COULD imply he had some role
in his ressurection. But in order to be the atoning death for sin he could
not raise himself (I think He physically could if he wanted to but it was
not the Father's will).

------------Second Message Reply---------

rev...@netcom.com (D. Andrew Kille) Writes:

>Hansel E. Lee Jr. (ar...@yfn.ysu.edu) wrote:

>:Be careful when you say "Many Scholars". Many of those scholars
>:have spent too much time "reading & studying" and not enough time
>:praying.

Prayer is essential for developing a relation to Jesus, but it is


not always the best method for finding historical truth. Do not
scoff at the work of "reading and studying" nor impugn the faith
or motives os those who work to develop a historically reliable
and critically established picture of the events.

I agree, however, if you accept that the Bible was written under the


guide of the Holy Spirit, then to be properly understood it must be
read in the same way. See Mark 4 where it talks about those on
the outside vs. those on the inside.

: The key is very clearly that Jesus did claim to be God. Which is why
: he was Crucified. I will go over the texts at the end of this message:

>The problem revolves around whether the texts are *historically*
>reliable. Offering arguments from texts which are under question
>as to their historical value does not advance understanding. It
>avoids the issue.

The fact is, the death penalty was for caliming to be God. If you accept
Jesus was crucified, you must accept He claimed to be God. There is no
other reason for it to have happened. His crucifixion was also mentioned
in Josephus's works. Along with the statement "Jesus, who claimed to
be the Messiah"

>:Gospel of Thomas is very Gnostic. It is a possible long term redaction


>:of the "q" document, but I doubt it.

>On what basis? Even scholars don't consider it to be based on "Q",
>but rather on the cluster of orally-transmitted teachings that lie
>behind the gospels and Thomas.

I said a "possible" long term readaction. And many scholars do compare
it to "Q" in that it containes many shared parables between Luke and
Matthew which Mark does not contain.

>:It has obvious heretical influences
>:which John in the Gospel of John opposes. I would definitely not look
>:at the Gospel of Thomas or any of the other Gnostic gospels for guidance
>:on Jesus. The Gospel of Thomas was estimated to have been written in
>:the 2nd to 3rd century AD whereas Mark was written around 68 AD,
>:Matthew, Luke, and John within 30 years after that. Big difference.

Further, is it possible that some teachings
were preserved *more intact* in Thomas than the canonical gospels?
Many scholars are convinced that is the case. Is the book of Thomas
more reliable *as a book* than the gospels? I don't know of a single
scholar who would argue that position.

I have seen the arguement. I would direct you to examine each of the
sayings in Thomas, both shared by the Gospels, and new sayings. I
is safe to say that the vast majority contain definite gnostic influences
on gender, secrets, flesh/spirit, light/darkness, etc.

>:If you don't, you have to pick and choose what you believe. You get into
>:serious problem areas when you attempt to develop your theology
>:based on extra-biblical documents and your own reason. I know
>:several scholars who work extensively with the Gnostic movement, the
>:Gospel of Thomas and like documents, and they all have EXTREMELY
>:screwed up theologies.

>"Screwed up" by what standard? If you assume that the only legitimate
>basis for theology is the canonical scriptures, then *by definition*
>anything that allows for other sources will be "screwed up".

Sure, but if you pick and choose what you believe, you end up with
the religion and belief system you want, not necessairly what God gave.
I prefer to trust that God had His hand in the creation of the bible than
in my ability to decide what should have been in it, what shouldn't have,
what Jesus really said, vs. what Paul/John, etc wanted him to say.

: Jesus's Deity: off the top of my head:

: Read the Gospel of John.. It's all over

>The Gospel of John is the least defensible from a historical point of
>view. Its lack of agreement with the other three, its clearly
>developed sermons (why did the other writers leave out all that good
>stuff, if it was all part of Jesus' teaching from the beginning), and
>its late development all make it questionable as a resource for *history*.
>(I am not questioning its significance for faith.)

Because each writer had different intents and audiences. John was
writing to counter Gnostacism, Mark, Matthew, and Luke all had other
audiences. John said their are many other things he could not include.
Each author had some discernment as to what to include.

--
Hansel E. Lee Jr., GS-07, USAF han...@freenet.fsu.edu
System Threat Analyst le...@post2.laafb.af.mil
Space & Missile Systems Center DSN Prefix (DSN) 833-
Directorate of Intelligence Office/STU-III (310) 363-1988

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