Friday, February 17, 2006

Forgotten Criteria in the Jesus Quest II: View Common to Friend and Foe

I blogged last week on the first Forgotten Criterion in the Quest for the Historical Jesus, accidental information. This comes from a suggestion made almost thirty years ago by Michael Goulder. The suggestion is that we are on secure ground when someone like Paul gives away material that he is taking for granted, assuming as given between himself and his audience in an argument or discussion about something else. I don't think that enough people have reflected on just how strong the Pauline evidence here is, especially the evidence from 1 Corinthians, and I would like to return to this in a future post. As far as I am aware, no one has developed Goulder's interesting suggestion about this as a criterion in the historical Jesus quest. I suspect that part of the problem there is that Goulder's article was only a sketch, and it appeared in a book (The Myth of God Incarnate) that was notorious at the time for its theological reflections on the incarnation, in which Michael Goulder's comments on the historical Jesus were quickly forgotten. Goulder himself never developed those ideas in print, except in one place, a book review of Ben Meyer's Aims of Jesus, in which he commented on the similarity between Meyer's "indices" and his criteria.

In this post, I would like to bring forward another forgotten criterion in the search for the historical Jesus, the view common to friend and foe. I have looked through several discussions of criteria in historical Jesus research and have not found, yet, a single reference to this criterion, let alone any engagement with it. More is the shame, because here we are on solid ground.

E. P. Sanders and Margaret Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1989):
At first it seems that all the evidence is biased towards jesus. It is, however, extremely important to note that, while we have for Jesus no equivalent to Aristophanes on Socrates, we can discern in the gospels that he offended many and that he was executed on a serious charge. That is, the gospels, though biased in his favour, give us a glimpse of the views held by those who were biased against him.

Once we can discern both favourable and unfavourable portraits of Jesus, we can ask what is common to both portraits and we may have considerable confidence that what is common is historically sound . . . (302).

. . . .The gospels are based on 'propaganda', bias (in this case, in a good cause). We would understand more about Jesus and his impact -- or lack of it -- if we knew what his enemies thought. What friend and foe agreed on is presumably reliable material. Two facets of his career and message stand out as proved on this basis.

1. Miracles. In Jesus the Magician Morton Smith pointed out that we possess the enemies' view of Jesus as a miracle-worker. He was a magician. He could, they granted, cast out demons, but he did so by invoking Beelzebul . . . . (330)

This discussion gets ignored, I would guess, for the same reason that many others of the gems in Studying the Synoptic Gospels get missed (e.g. the best discussion of form-criticism available anywhere, brilliant discussion of the Synoptic Problem). For some reason that I have never been able to fathom, scholars do not seem to read this book. Sanders's second example of this criterion (or "test", as he calls it) is the king / kingdom material, and I am less sure of the historicity of the kingship material in Mark's Passion Narrative than Sanders is, and I don't want to take away from the discussion of a strong criterion by bringing in a less certain example. But I would want to add other elements in the tradition that this criterion helps us with, on which more anon.

Update (Sunday, 17.55): Gary Greenberg emails: "I think this criterion needs stronger controls. The example cited doesn't really show that the foes had the view attributed to them. It is a polemic written long after the event by someone who was not a witness and it may be an invention or misrepresentation of what was said. What I suggest may be more useful is where a view is attributed to a foe contemporaneous with the author, say as in the disputes mentioned in Paul's letters between Paul and the Jerusalem Church or factional disputes in the Churches founded by Paul. While not a perfect control, it seems to exert more pressure on the author to come closer to what the opponent says than if he were writing about someone who wasn't around to respond."

See also the comments. I will comment on these points when I next have a moment.


Michael F. Bird said...

Thanks for this post. The quote is quite helpful for a project I'm working on. You'll also be glad to know that I interacted with this volume (and Sanders 1985; 1993) in my thesis.

J. B. Hood said...

I think Joseph not being Jesus' paternal father is an area where this criterion would come into play, regardless of whether Mk 6.3 is taken to support it, as Joel Marcus (your colleague at Duke?) does.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this series of posts, as a junior historical Jesus scholar, I am really learning some great stuff. Please indulge me;
I thought I would give a quick example and ask you if I am understanding this criterion properly (It did take me three+ try's to figure out what the Farrer theory was after all!).

On the "foe side"- During the trial of Jesus a charge comes against him that he said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days (Mark 14:58 and par.). This later forms part of some taunting towards Jesus (Mark 15:29/Matt27:40)
On the "friendly side"- In John 2:19 Jesus says, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Johannine author adds the note that Jesus was "speaking of the temple of his body."

Would this be an example of this criterion? Friendly-wise, Jesus' words and the evangelist's interpretation of it, and on the foe-side his accusers and taunters use of Jesus' own words? At bottom do we have here evidence of Jesus threatening the Temple and claiming he'll rebuild it in 3 days? Thanks,

Danny Zacharias