Tom’s Questions on Mythicism and the Historical Jesus

Tom asks several questions, two of which interest me:

  1. What parts of the Gospels are historical and which are tradition and what methods do you use to determine which is which?
  2. Which testimony, from Christian sources, from outside the canon, do you find to be the most relevant for determining the historicity of the figure known as Jesus?

via Defining Mythicism: A Few Questions for Historical Jesus Scholars « The Musings of Thomas Verenna.

While I am not up to date on the issue as James McGrath is (see here, here and here) For question one, I would have to ask, besides some obvious narratives, why are we considering ‘history’ and ‘tradition’ as a dichotomy? The historical sources of the Gospels, or rather Mark and John (with Matthew and Luke adding to Mark), I believe are ‘real’, although they may not be as historical as events in 1776 (although…) Granted, I am still finding my academic footing here, but in doing a scrape of research on Mark and his historical sources, as well as noting the way authors of the time wrote of heroes, then I would say that a historical person, Jesus, lived, which could only be the reason why mnemonic/mimesis orality worked for the first audiences.

For question two, this book helped a lot,

Click to Order

This book’s aim is promising: to evaluate the evidence we have, outside of the Christian scriptures themselves, for the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Van Voorst is a capable guide to this territory, which ranges from citations in Roman correspondence to the early Christian writings often called the “New Testament Apocrypha.” His lucid and judicious account of the state of scholarship will be most helpful to seminary students and others beginning to engage this material. Unfortunately if inevitably, the different sources are treated unevenly, with the very well-known classical quotations from Tacitus, Pliny and the like receiving extensive treatment while the more lengthy–and debated–proto-gnostic texts receive scant attention. Van Voorst devotes a surprising amount of energy to refuting the idea that Jesus never existed. He also includes a long and inconclusive chapter about what we can learn from the assumed sources of the New Testament itself, which is more a tutorial in 20th-century scholarship than evidence from “outside” the New Testament. Seminary professors will want to consider assigning this book, but those looking for revelations about Jesus of Nazareth will be disappointed, since after much scholarly muckraking the author himself concludes that the New Testament is our best evidence after all. Better to turn to works like John Meier’s A Marginal Jew for more fully considered and provocative accounts of the historical Jesus. – Publisher’s Weekly

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3 Replies to “Tom’s Questions on Mythicism and the Historical Jesus”

  1. Joel, thanks for taking the time to respond. I am a little concerned about the statement, ‘noting the way authors of the time wrote of heroes, then I would say that a historical person, Jesus, lived, which could only be the reason why mnemonic/mimesis orality worked for the first audiences’. This seems to me to depend on the genre (still disputed, but Mark Vines and Thomas Thompson have suggested that it is Jewish fiction writing/aka the rewritten Bible which we see a lot of during the period from the Hellenistic age to late antiquity), the terminus a quo of the Gospel (we’re talking sometime after 70, and he was using Paul as a source), and what the purpose of its composition was (‘because it happened’ is not sufficient; as you well know there is a rhetorical drive in Mark, as in all Gospels, and that drive represents the reason). We also do not know who the first audiences were; we speculate, but we don’t know. It might have been read aloud to a community, or it might have been reserved for initiation rites–something you might be familiar with–or it might be a collection of earlier written initiation rites about different positions in the church. Or it might have been written as part of a exegetical practice by a Christian. There are no details, so we cannot state with any authority ‘which could only be the reason’ or not.

    Also, it depends on the hero. Was Romulus a hero who must have lived? What about Horatius Cocles? Lycurgus, founder of Sparta? Moses? Abraham? Job? Tobit? Judith?

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