Thursday, August 16, 2007

Jesus Creed Historical Jesus Series: Jesus Seminar

Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed series on Historical Jesus studies continues with the Jesus Seminar (see my previous comments in Jesus Creed Historical Jesus Series: Bultmann). Under his summary of the criteria used by the Jesus Seminar, Scot writes:
2. If a saying or event is found in more than one of the Gospel sources then it is from Jesus. This like the “more than one witness” element in law. If it is found in Mark and in Q and in “M” (stuff only in Matthew) and “L” (stuff only in Luke) and in John and in Gospel of Thomas etc it is more likely to have been said or done by Jesus. The less sources, the less provable. (Jesus practiced table fellowship with sinners.)
I want to question this. My reading of the Jesus Seminar publications is that they in fact privilege only two alleged sources, Q and the Gospel of Thomas. A given feature can occur in Mark, Q, M and L and still not be red; indeed it will often not be pink. A good example of this is all apocalyptic Son of Man material, which is witnessed in all of those strands, Mark, Q, M and L, but which is never given a red/pink colouring by the Jesus Seminar. For material to get through their filter, it needs ideally to witnessed by Q1 (the earliest layer of Q) and the Gospel of Thomas. A good example is Q 6.20 // Thomas 54, "Blessed are the poor".

In practice, the criterion of multiple attestation is not especially important for the Jesus Seminar. The Parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, is red, in spite of the fact that it is only attested in one, late Gospel source (L).


Anonymous said...

I want to steal the occasion to put a question to devotees of the Jesus Seminar line.

To my liberal-skeptical mind, two things seem evident. First, Jesus did proclaim the imminent coming of the Kingdom--capital K, God's rule, new rules and start over, and coming soon, a good while before the last of us dies. Second, there's no good reason to deny this historical truth, and the only reason that Jesus seminarians do deny it is that they find it embarrassing to call themselves a follower of someone who held views that fit so badly into their ameliorative and largely naturalistic worldview.
So Jesus seminarians, as Mr. Goodacre just possibly barely suggests and I'm saying quite impolitely, stand accused of arriving at ahistorical and poorly supported conclusions only by traducing the canons of interpretation and distorting or ignoring near-overwhelming evidence.
Just to be as mean and nasty as I can, let me add that in comparing the evangelical traducement of the truth to the liberal-Jesus-seminarian variety, there's this to be said in behalf of the former: at least they admit that Jesus did proclaim the coming of Kingdom cum all its (for the liberal) embarrassing encumbrances, and prevaricate and fiddle only the question of timing.
So, Mr. or Ms. Jesus Seminarian, tell me why you're innocent of the charges.

Frank McCoy said...

The JS has their reasons for privileging Q1 and Th.

First, this is their first of four rules of attestation (the Five Gospels, p.26), "Sayings or parables that are attested in two or more independent sources are older than the sources in which they are embedded."

Second, they date first editions of Q and Th to 50-60 CE, making them the earliest known written documents (Ibid, p. 128).

They, they deem Q and Th to be independent of each other (Ibid. ,p. 17).

So, if they are correct in these three things, then sayings attributed to Jesus that are found in both Q1 and Th are, as a general rule of thumb, the oldest versions of sayings attributed to Jesus available to us.

They do allow for, on a rare occasion, the assignment of red to something written down late, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritian--see the fourth rule of attestation, "Unwritten tradition that is captured by the written gospels relatively late may preserve very old memories."

There are two things that I find implausible in their thinking: (1)arguing that Q really did exist when it unnecessary to postulate it to explain the relationships between the Synoptic gospels, and (2)arguing that an early version of Th was in existence by c. 60 CE, yet denying that Th was known to, and used as a source by, later gospel writers like Matthew and Luke.