Book Plunge: Christobiography

What do I think of Craig Keener’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Remember decades ago when there was a much talked about book called “Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask?” Now Craig Keener has published Christobiography and it could just as well be, “Everything You Wanted To Know About The Gospels As Greco-Roman Biographies But Couldn’t Even Think To Ask.” It’s hard to imagine a more thorough treatment and yet Keener somehow did it in only 500 or so pages of content. (If you think saying only 500 is something, keep in mind his Acts commentary has four volumes of around 1,000 pages each, his commentary on John is 1,600 pages, and his two-volume Miracles is over 1,100 pages.

So what do we have in this book? We have an expounding on the work of people like Burridge and Licona and Aune and others. It is a look at what is meant by the Gospels being Greco-Roman biographies. Too often, it is thought that if they are biographies, they should read like modern biographies, which just doesn’t work. The past is a funny place after all. They do things differently there.

Reviewing a book like this is so hard because there’s just so much. At the start, Keener looks at what these biographies are and then gives a case as to why the Gospels are these kinds of biographies. He looks at other considerations like novels and other fictional writings to show that the Gospels are quite different from those kinds of works.

After looking at some biographies from the ancient world and what kinds of biographies there were, he looks at what ancient audiences would have expected from a biography. If you turn on the TV to watch a sitcom, you expect an entertaining show but nothing that will be a real drama or that gives a historical account. If the ancients thought the Gospels were Greco-Roman biographies then, what did they expect?

How did biographies approach historical information and what was expected of a history in the ancient world? Keener looks at this. Were they expected to give intricately detailed accounts? How were they to be written? How did one do the research when writing a history? Also, what sources are used? This is relevant since so many people say the Gospels didn’t cite their sources. Keener deals with this kind of objection.

He also looks at what was allowed when writing these kinds of works and how flexible one could be. In one part, he looks at three different lives of Otho to show how there were differences and similarities on key points. Then he looks at what kinds of flexibilities could be allowed in the Gospels.

There are objections that can be had? What about miracles and what about John? Keener has written profusely on both of these so he doesn’t give much here and encourages looking elsewhere, but the information here is still quite good.

Then we get to sections on memory and eyewitness testimony. This is a favorite of many skeptics, but Keener makes a good case for the reliability of eyewitness testimony and why we should trust not just memory but especially community memory. He has much to say about oral tradition as well. These sections I found incredibly helpful.

As you might have guessed, this is just being a brief summary. Why? Because there is so much in this book that anyone who wants to take the Gospels seriously needs to read it for themselves. Nothing I say can do a volume like this justice. Go get it today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Biographies and Jesus

What do I think of Keener and Wright’s book published by Emeth Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Richard Burridge caused a revolution of sorts in Gospel studies in the 20th century by making a thorough demonstration that the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies. Today, most scholars would agree with that. Still, that is the start of the journey. We now have to ask what difference it makes. Is this just knowledge that will answer a question for us on a game show, or are there some ramifications for this?

In this volume, Keener and Wright have brought together several students doing graduate level research at Asbury to talk about the issue. There are some chapters by the editors of Keener and Wright and one by Licona, but for the most part, this is done by students, which I find refreshing. It’s good to see new faces rising up and taking on the task of serious scholarship.

The students look at what difference it makes to say that the Gospels are biogarphies. One at the start is that we have spent so much time trying to trace the communities that received the Gospels that we forgot the point of the Gospels. The point of the Gospels is to tell the story of the life of Jesus. An average person in the pew might not consider this much of a shock, but it does affect how we read the Gospels greatly. The Gospels don’t have a community and then they shape the story. The story is written in such a way about Jesus and telling about Him that hopefully it will shape the community.

Helpful also are notes about the dating of the Gospels. We can accept testimony about historical figures on far weaker grounds than we do the Gospels. Too often, it’s easy to dismiss all the evidence that is there for one position and then say that there is no evidence of the position. It needs to be realized that bias cuts both ways and we must all make sure prior worldview assumptions aren’t changing the way we view the data.

One helpful source in here are the comparisons across other biographies. Those who say the Gospels are unreliable because of differences in the accounts should see differences in other accounts of the same event. Very rarely would we reject the primary event because the secondary details are disputed. Sadly, this is done with the Gospels constantly.

Also helpful to readers will be Keener’s section on oral tradition. He points out problems with the idea of telephone and shows how memorization was taken extremely seriously in the past. Again, this is often a case of a double standard. The Gospels are looked at through one set of lenses and all other ancient history is looked at through another set.

Keener and Wright have put together excellent material that will be helpful for any student of the Gospels. To have new minds going through the material and presenting their thoughts is an excellent treat and as far as I’m concerned, they certainly wrote like professional scholars. I look forward to more research like this being done.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response To Bob Seidensticker on oral tradition

Were the Gospel stories corrupted before writing them down? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently in a discussion on oral tradition I was given a link to an article by Bob Seidensticker. Now this is someone that as soon as I saw the name, I decided to move on at the time. I’ve responded to his stuff before and found it incredibly lacking, but in the interest of being thorough, I’ll take the time now.

Bob asks us to begin with a story about being a merchant and a traveler stops and asks for some lodging. You have him in and tell him about Jesus. He likes the story and asks you to repeat it. You instead ask him to repeat the story. You all go over it a few times and then make any necessary corrections and the next day he’s on his way to share the story himself.

It’s a nice story, but sadly, that’s all it is. A story. Bob has not consulted any works on scholarship to find out if this is how it would come about in the ancient world. There is no looking at the groundbreaking research of Perry and Lord. There is nothing from Bauckham, Bailey, or Dunn. At the least he could have cited Bart Ehrman with Jesus Before the Gospels, but no.

So at the start, I’m wondering why I should take this account seriously. These stories were not told in isolation but in group settings. This is still the way things are done in the Middle East. These stories were told repeatedly and this in a culture where people had far better memories.

We’ll see why this matters soon.

Bob is willing to grant twenty years of history before the Gospels are written down for the sake of argument. He notes that this is a pre-scientific culture. Of course, we’re left wondering what this has to do with the price of tea in China. That a culture does not have science does not say anything about the reliability of oral transmission. We might as well say textual transmission isn’t reliable today because your newspaper can still have the horoscope in it.

He also says the account is about the creator of the universe coming to Earth. Of course, scholars have different responses to the idea of early high Christology, though it is interesting that Bob is probably unknowingly siding with the conservatives. What has to be asked is how this changes the content of the stories or the means of memorization.

Let’s state some aspects that need to be stated.

To begin with, Jesus was an itinerant speaker. I do public speaking. Many people do. If you’re a public speaker, you often tell the same story many many times. If I was asked to speak at a church some Sunday and it was Saturday night, I would go with a stock sermon that I have. Jesus was in many towns and cities and spoke to many different people. Are we to think that every great story He had, He only told once?

Second, many of Jesus’s sayings were aphorisms. These were simple sayings that were easy to remember. Some of them could go on a bumper sticker today. It is better to give than to receive. Turn the other cheek. What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?

Third, Jesus often told parables. These stories were easy to remember. Many of us could tell the parable of the prodigal son. The stories were not long and had “gotcha” endings many times. We could relate it to how many of us can tell jokes after hearing them just once.

Fourth, Jesus did live in an orally-based culture. In this culture, memorization was taken far more seriously. James Dunn has this in his great work on the topic Jesus Remembered. Jesus sent out his own disciples two by two and they were to pass on His teachings. Obviously, He would make sure that they knew these teachings.

Fifth, many of the events of Jesus’s life would be what we call flashbulb moments, such as are described by Robert McIver. Many of you remember where you were when you first heard about 9/11. Those who are older remember when they first heard that JFK had been shot. This would be the same for if you were suddenly healed of leprosy or paralysis or something like that. There’s a huge gap between giving an encouraging pep talk to a blind man and opening the eyes of a blind man.

Of course, Bob says nothing about any of this. The rule apparently is that if you’re an atheist on the internet, reading on a topic isn’t necessary and definitely you don’t need to read anything that disagrees with you. Just tell a story about how you think it probably was, and that’s enough.

Bob then compares the accounts to Bernadette in 1858 who had visions that were investigated and concluded to be true a year and a half later. One wonders what the parallel here is. I do not know if the accounts are true or not, although I would say an interesting look can be found in the second section of this book.

From there, we have numerous references to Wikipedia and alleged copycats. Wikipedia is, of course, a bastion of scholarly research where the best minds go to for their information. Perhaps Bob should also read The Death of Expertise and learn a little bit about why Wikipedia should not be trusted on something like this.

If it’s not Wikipedia, he refers to only himself. With the copycat claim, he admits in the article that he does not possess the expertise to comment. He also points out that there is a Christian web site that will offer $1,000 to anyone who can prove that the lists of parallel gods is actually true. Obviously, Bob hasn’t cashed in because he doesn’t think it is, but apparently that doesn’t stop him from spreading the claim anyway. Naturally, you won’t see any interaction with scholarly material like this.

The next is about how Paul doesn’t tell the Gospel story, to which the question has to be asked why should he? This would be covered in the oral tradition. Paul wrote to churches to deal with issues in their midst. The truth of the story of Jesus was never an issue. What was an issue was the outworkings of what that meant.

We’re not at all surprised to see that the only real source he has on this is the prominent polyamorous internet blogger Richard Carrier. It’s as if skeptics have an allergy so often to anything that disagrees with them. Instead of getting a scholar that actually teaches at an accredited university, they go for Carrier. Carrier is often the alpha and omega of Biblical scholarship to a skeptic.

Bob will later say that it is often said that people in the first century had better memories. He says that there is no reason to imagine that this is how it was. Indeed, there isn’t. We should instead consult the best scholars in the field. Apparently, it’s okay for Bob to imagine a just-so story about a merchant, but if you say something different about how things went in the ancient world, well you’re just imagining.

He also brings up the canard of perfect accuracy. Perfect accuracy assumes there is one original story. While there was an original event, the story would be told differently. For the parables and such, there could be variation depending on the audience and setting much like any itinerant speaker today. For a story, ancients were fine with the gist of the story being the same even if some secondary details were a bit different. The problem so often is that many moderns approach the ancients and expect them to tell stories according to modern standards instead of ancient ones.

In the end, we conclude that there is no reason to take Bob seriously on this topic. He has not taken modern scholarship seriously and instead relied on Wikipedia and Richard Carrier. In turn, he is not going to be taken seriously. Why respond to this then? Because sadly some people do take this seriously so it is necessary to have something for them.

Hopefully, Bob will crack open a book next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God. Part 1

What do I think of Armin Navabi’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone in an apologetics group I belong to asked if anyone had read this book. Myself, being the type who wants to be there to help my fellow apologists out, decided to get it at the library. Who knows? Maybe I have some masochist streak in me. The book goes through twenty arguments for God’s existence from an atheist who used to be a Muslim.

It describes itself as a thorough examination, yet the book is just about 125 pages long and looks at, as I said, twenty arguments. I have no idea how you can give a thorough treatment with that. In fact, it’s so short that you could easily read it in a day’s time.

Of course, don’t be expecting to find anything of real substance in here. Much of it is the modern fundamentalism relying on today’s atheist heroes who are just as much fundamentalist. If you’re also expecting to have him interact with the best arguments, like those of Aquinas, well you know without my saying it the answer to that.

I have decided to investigate five arguments a day. Keep in mind a lot of these arguments are arguments that I would not use. Still, even when critiquing a bad argument, we can learn much about Navabi’s approach. Let’s go ahead and dive in.

Argument #1: Science can’t explain the complexity and order of life; God must have designed it this way.

Many of you know I’m not one up for Intelligent Design arguments. If I go with design, it’s the teleological design in the fifth way of Aquinas. (btw, Navabi shows his ignorance here by saying Paley introduced the design argument in 1802 when really, arguments of design go all the way back to even the time of Christ.) Navabi starts with a claim that it used to be that many natural forces were attributed to deities. While this is so, I think many atheists make a false assumption here. Since these were explained by deities, the deities were invented to explain these. That doesn’t follow. Why not that the deities were already thought to be there and that they were assigned these by their worshipers in order to explain how they take place?

Many of you also know that as a Christian apologist, I have no problem with evolution. If you just say evolution explains it, I’m not going to bat an eye. That’s because a question is being answered that I think doesn’t answer the main question for Christianity in any way. Before we go to the next question, we have to address the main argument that Navabi puts forward that we were all expecting.

“If complexity requires a creator, who created God?”

This is Richard Dawkins’s main argument and so many atheists bounce around this Sunday School question as if no one in Christian history ever thought about it. When we talk about something needing a cause, what we really mean is potential being made actual.

What?

Okay. As I write this now, I am sitting at my computer. Suppose my wife calls me and wants something from me. If I agree, I will stand up and go to her. I can do that because while sitting, I have the potential to stand. Once I stand, I have the potential to sit, or lie down, or jump, or do any number of things. Actuality is what is. Potentiality can be seen as a capacity for change.

When any change takes place in anything, that means a potentiality has been turned into an actuality. As I write this, my wife is in the living room watching Stranger Things for the third time. The change is happening on the screen because of signals that are being received from somewhere else through Netflix. (Don’t ask me to explain how it works.)

Now many of us could see this cause and effect going on and say it makes sense. (In fact, it’s essential for science.) Still, we might ask about our own actions. Aren’t we the cause? Do we need anything beyond us? A Thomistic response is to say yes. What we do we do because of something external to us driving us towards it and that is the good. We either want the good and pursue it or refuse it and rebel against it.

What does this have to do with God? For us to say God has a cause, we would have to show that there was some change that took place in the nature of God. If there wasn’t, then there is nothing in Him needing a cause. The universe we know undergoes change so something has to be the cause of the change in the universe.

But isn’t God complex? Actually, no. Note that I am talking about complexity in His being. I am not talking about God being simple to understand. In Thomistic thought, God is the only being whose very essence is to be. There is no distinction between being and essence. You and I are all human. There is a human nature that is given existence and then that for us is combined with matter that separates us from one another. Angels, meanwhile, are each all their own nature and that nature is granted existence. There is no matter that separates them so they differ by their nature. God alone is no combination. Because of this, He doesn’t need a cause.

That’s pretty complex. If you want to read more about this, I really recommend the writings of Edward Feser. He’s quite good at explaining Thomistic concepts for the layman, and I’d say much better than I am at it.

Argument #2: God’s existence is proven by Scripture.

Navabi gives many of the same fundamentalist arguments here that we’ve come to expect. Naturally, it begins with talking about inconsistencies in Scripture. After all, many times the way that a Christian approaches inerrancy can be the same way that a fundamentalist atheist does.

A favorite one to start with is creation. After all, no one ever noticed that the sun comes after plants in the creation account. You don’t really need to ask if Navabi will interact with any arguments. Young-Earthers and Old-Earthers both have said something, but for people like Navabi, just raise the objection. That’s enough. For what it’s worth, I prefer John Walton’s stance.

Let’s also look at some supposed controversies on the resurrection accounts. Here is the first one.

Matthew 27:57-60.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

58 He went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.

Acts 13:27-29.

27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.

29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a sepulcher.

Did you see the contradiction?

Navabi wants us to say that in one account, Joseph buries Jesus. In another, the people do. It’s amazing that this one is put forward as anything serious. Joseph was among the people who did crucify Jesus, though he was a secret sympathizer. His action of burying Jesus would be seen as the Sanhedrin providing for his burial. How is this a contradiction?

There’s also how many figures were seen at the tomb and how many women there were. The basic replies work well enough here that some writers chose to focus on one man or angel instead of pointing out two. I think the women mentioned were the ones alive at the time who could be eyewitnesses.

To be fair, the dating of the crucifixion between John and the Synoptics is a live one. I have no firm conclusion on this, but also it doesn’t affect me either way. The basic facts about the historical Jesus do not hang on this. Scholars do not doubt that Jesus was crucified at the time of Passover.

I will have no comment on what Navabi says on the Quran. I will leave that to the experts in Islam.

When we go back to the Bible, Navabi throws out that the writings were based on oral tradition and written decades or centuries later. Well with the New Testament, I don’t know any scholar who says centuries later. Navabi also doesn’t bother to investigate oral tradition and how well it works or how much later other ancient works were then the events they describe. Neither will many of his atheist readers, you know, the people who talk about loving evidence so much. (Except for claims that agree with them of course.)

And then there’s the claim that the books are anonymous and we don’t know who wrote them. His source for this is Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted. I have written a reply to that here. It would be good for Navabi to explain how he knows how other anonymous works in the ancient world were written by the people they’re ascribed to and to actually investigate the arguments for traditional authorship, but don’t be expecting that.

Argument #3. Some unexplained events are miraculous, and these miracles prove the existence of God.

This chapter is quite poor, which is saying a lot for a work like this. A miracle is described as an improbable event. You won’t find any interaction with Craig Keener’s Miracles even though this came out after that did. We’re told that a problem with miracles is that they’re unfalsifiable, which is quite odd since so many skeptics make it a habit of disproving miracle claims.

Suppose someone walks into your church service who has been blind all their life. A member of your church comes forward and says to them “God told me to come and pray for you” and ends a prayer saying “In the name of Jesus, open your eyes” and the person has their eyes open. Are you justified in believing a miracle has taken place? I think you definitely are.

These are the events that we want to be explained. If Navabi wants to say miracles cannot happen, then he needs to make a real argument for that. If he wants to say they have never happened, then he needs to be able to show his exhaustive knowledge of all history. Can he do that? After all, his claim is quite grand and could be hard to “falsify” since we don’t have access to all knowledge of all history.

Argument #4. Morality stems from God, and without God, we could not be good people.

While the moral argument is a valid one, never underestimate the ability of atheistic writers to fail to understand an argument. Navabi’s first point is that morals change. However, if morals change, can we really speak of objective truths? Those are unchanging things. If morality just becomes doing whatever people of the time say is good, then congratulations. We do what we think is good and congratulate ourselves on doing what we already agree with.

As expected, Navabi trots out Euthyphro. This is the question of if something is good because God wills it, or does God will it because it’s good. Again, atheists bring up this argument found in Plato completely ignoring that it was answered by Aristotle, his student, in defining what the good itself is. When atheists bring this forward, I never see them define what goodness itself is. We could just as well ask “Is something good because we think it is, or do we think it is because it is good?” Everyone has to answer Euthyphro unless they define goodness separately.

This is followed by the problem of evil. There are more than enough good resources out there for someone wanting more. I am including some interviews I have hosted on my show about the topic that can be found here, here, and here.

Navabi concludes with a natural explanation of morality to the tune that it evolved. Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain things because there has to be a standard of good we have in mind by which we recognize a good action. Goodness is not a material property that comes about through evolution. It is something we discover much like laws of nature or logic.

Argument #5 Belief in God would not be so widespread if God didn’t exist.

This is not an argument I would make, but there are some examples of bad thinking here. Navabi says that if God was revealing the world religions, wouldn’t we expect them to have more in common? Unfortunately, why should I think God is revealing all of them. Could man not believe and make up his own easily enough?

Navabi also says that if these religions are describing the physical world, they can’t all be right, but they could all be wrong. Of course, this isn’t really an argument. One needs to show that all of them are wrong.

Finally, while I don’t use the argument, it does have to be acknowledged that theism is widespread. Given this is the case, why is it that the theistic claims are treated by the atheists as extraordinary claims? Wouldn’t it be the opinion outside of the ordinary, namely that God does not exist, that should be considered as extraordinary?

We’ll go through the next five next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism: The Case Against Christ Chapter 5.

What are my thoughts on chapter 5? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you want any hard evidence that McCormick is uninformed on Biblical scholarship, chapter 5 is exhibit A.

To begin with, McCormick talks about the oral tradition and says that many scholars point to how reliable it is. It’s noteworthy that in all of this, he nowhere cites a scholar of oral tradition. There’s a good reason for that. None of them would support the nonsense that McCormick has in this chapter. McCormick acts as if oral tradition was just used by the Jews in order to pass down the laws of God.

This is just wrong. Oral tradition was used by the Jews to pass down the sayings of the rabbis as well, but even more, it wasn’t just used by the Jews. Every society at the time relied more on oral tradition than they did on written tradition. That McCormick treats this as if it was just a Jewish phenomenon shows us that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. While there was writing of course, the main way of transmitting information and what was seen as the most reliable was the oral tradition.

At Loc. 1645 McCormick says “The Christian who would corroborate the resurrection in this fashion cannot ignore the fact that Jews, rabbis, Talmud scholars, and modern Jewish experts on the Jewish oral tradition emphatically reject the claim that Jesus’s resurrection was incorporated into Judaism in this way.” and “If Jesus’s resurrection and other essential Christian doctinres that overturn Judaism were preserved by a time-honored and hallowed Jewish method, why does Judaism persist and deny the resurrection and those doctrines?”

Yes. He actually says these.

For the first part, of what relevance is this? Jews don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead for the most part. Okay. And? That somehow demonstrates that oral tradition, which isn’t exclusively Jewish, is unreliable? A modern Jewish expert on oral tradition (Which McCormick cites none) could uphold that the traditions of Jesus were reliably recorded in the New Testament but that they were wrong beliefs. That’s not a problem.

For the second claim, again, this isn’t a Jewish method but a method used by Jews. Every society used oral traditions and many non-Jewish societies today still use oral tradition. Why is it denied? Because Jesus was seen as a crucified criminal who failed the prophecies. Again, this doesn’t overturn the historical evidence.

McCormick wants to also paint the tradition in the story of a money bag being used as evidence. One cop passes it off to another and then to another. A corrupt cop can take some money out of the bag and then just change the amount that it’s said to hold and pass it off to the next. Isn’t this how oral tradition works?

No. Not at all. McCormick should have read some scholars like Vansina or Bailey or Sandy or Dunn or Small or anyone else. I have no reason to think that McCormick is really doing research when he doesn’t even consult sources for his claims.

Usually, oral tradition is compared to telephone, but this isn’t how it is. Instead, the stories would be told in groups. In those groups, there would be people who would be in charge of the tradition ultimately who were the gatekeepers. They would oversee the process and make sure the stories didn’t stray too far. Some minor changes were allowed for minor details, but the main thrust of the story had to stay the same.

In the telephone game, a story is whispered once to one person who cannot hear it again and they have to tell the same story to the next. That’s not at all what was happening. Stories were told in groups and kept in check in that way.

McCormick can then go on all he wants about what are the odds that one person did X in the chain, but this still assumes that individuals are involved in the chain and not groups and that there can be no back-checking. Again, it would be nice if he would reference some scholars of oral tradition. Perhaps I should comment on evolutionary theory and how it works and not cite any scientists who write on evolution. It would be about as effective. This kind of thing sounds convincing if you’re an atheist who has never studied the issue. If you’ve spent any time studying whatsoever, you’re being convinced, but of the opposite viewpoint.

Of course, McCormick says that between the events and the first recording, 30 to 100 years have passed and we only have two copies from two centuries later.

Well if he means complete copies, that could be. That number is quite likely changed now though as we’re constantly finding new manuscripts. However, we also do have partial manuscripts and quotations from the church fathers and writings in multiple languages all over the Empire. Does McCormick think all of them were somehow altered? Note also there is a difference between first writing and first copy that we have. For most other manuscripts, it’s several centuries between the writing and our first copy and yet they are viewed with far less suspicion.

Now someone might be saying “But Bart Ehrman says”. Yes. Let’s see what Bart Ehrman says.

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

And

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

McCormick then goes on to say at 1715 that when the story gets written down and then adds “Which we would think would be an even more reliable method of recording” and then goes on from there. Well unfortunately, because we would think it would not mean that they would. In fact, the oral word was more reliable to them than the written word. As Papias said

“I used to inquire what had been said by Andrew, or by Peter, or by Philip, or by Thomas or James, or by John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and what Aristion and the Elder John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For books to read do not profit me so much as the living voice clearly sounding up to the present day in (the persons of) their authors.”

Teachers would often not like to write down their teachings because students could misunderstand them apart from their tutelage. All McCormick has done is show some cultural favoritism. Not only that, writing would reach far fewer people. Oral tradition was something everyone could understand and evaluate and keep in check. Writing was also costly and timely and would only reach readers and those who they would be read to. For a look at costs, consider this.

The cost of writing and rewriting was not free. A secretary charged by the line. Like anyone whose living depended on billing customers, the secretary kept up with how many lines he wrote each time. Although we do not know the exact charges for making drafts and producing a letter, we can make some educated guesses. A rough, and very conservative, estimate of what it would cost in today’s dollars to prepare a letter like 1 Corinthians would be $2100, $700 for Galatians, and $500 for 1 Thessalonians.” Richards, Capes, and Reeves, Rediscovering Paul p. 78

Of course, we have a quotation from Ehrman which ends with the classic “We have more variances in the manuscripts than we do words in the New Testament.” This sounds convincing again to an atheist who hasn’t studied it, but the reason we have so many differences is we have a large work and we have a large number of manuscripts. Ehrman elsewhere does show that most of these variants are inconsequential.

“It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the only changes being made were by copyists with a personal stake in the wording of the text. In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple — slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be incompetent; it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work but were simply the literate members of their congregations who were (more or less) able and willing. (p. 55) (Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman)

McCormick then says that we know some works were not canonized and deliberately excluded. Indeed. A good researcher at this point would want to know what these manuscripts were and why. McCormick doesn’t, because McCormick is not a good researcher. Just tossing out a sound bite is enough.

McCormick doesn’t know apparently that documents included were to have apostolic authority in believing to be from an apostle or the close associate of an apostle, they were to be in line with the oral tradition, and they were to be accepted by the majority of the church instead of a few isolated communities. I invite McCormick to read some of these later writings and then he should know why they weren’t included.

McCormick also has something to say about the miracles at Lourdes in that the accounts don’t stand up to outside scrutiny. Is he not aware that miracle claims always call for outside scrutiny? It’s not just Catholics working in isolation and they error more on the side of caution.

At 1813, McCormick tells us that the Gospels and Q are the only early written sources we have. Completely absent is any mention of Paul which contains the earliest and best material on the resurrection. Again, exactly how out of touch is McCormick with scholarship today?

He concludes the chapter saying it is true the histories and transmission of the information is much more convoluted than the simplified model he has given. No. In reality, the way of tradition as stated is quite simple as I have argued. It is McCormick’s story that is convoluted. Of course, he would know this if he bothered to read any scholars on oral tradition. Unfortunately he does not, and yet he wants us to somehow treat him as an authority.

I don’t have enough faith for that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Book Plunge: Writing The Gospels

What do I think of Eric Eve’s book published by SPCK publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

First off, my thanks goes out to Dr. Eve and the people at SPCK for publishing for being willing to place in my hands a copy of this book for review purposes. I have read Ehrman’s book and I saw a number of people I respect speaking about how they’d rather read Eric Eve on oral tradition. Trusting their judgment, I reached out and got a favorable reply.

Eve’s book really deals with a number of misconceptions we can have and this largely because of the way that we live in a text society instead of an oral one. (Although we might have even bypassed text to an extent now as we often more rely on videos.) Often, we take our modern ideas and we put them on to the ancient society and this is just an anachronism. One example Eve gives is one that we don’t think of.

We can often picture the writer of a Gospel or Paul sitting at a desk writing and having piles of scrolls all around and sifting through the material. This is false. People did not sit at writing desks and write out their materials. If they had a scroll, it would likely be just one and the rest of the time they would be working with memory. As I read this, I wondered if this could have something to do also with why many times sources were not explicitly cited as they were today. If all you have is room for one scroll and the rest is memory, you might expect people to catch allusions more than anything else.

Eve also provides good corrective on memory. To be sure, we can make a mistake of thinking oral tradition is infallible, but within a certain time frame, it is indeed quite reliable. In fact, if it wasn’t, we would really have to throw out much of ancient history. Many of the writings of Plutarch date to far after the time of the people that he wrote about.

Speaking of Plutarch, there’s plenty on him and how he did his work and what he wrote about. This is also in conjunction with the discussion of the genre of the Gospels. Readers of mine will know that Mike Licona is himself preparing to release a book on this very topic so I’m eager to see if Licona will interact with any of the material from Eve.

To get back to memory, Eve shows that memory was stressed in the ancient world. It wasn’t just the memorizing of stuff, such as we might expect for a trivia game of sorts. It was also being able to work with the information in one’s own mind. Perhaps you could quote a text backwards for instance. This showed real mastery of the material and would accrue one greater honor in the world.

There’s also a section on the Synoptic Problem. I am one who is more open to Mark Goodacre’s thesis on Q and I’m quite skeptical of it. (In fact, I was really surprised to hear in my recent interview with Richard Bauckham that he’s now skeptical of Q as well.) It still is something I have never really sat down and looked at myself, but I’ve just been suspicious of Q. Eve provides food for thought.

Sometimes I wish Eve was more conservative than he is, but for the most part, this is something that will provide good insights. It is a worthy edition to the library of any student of the New Testament. It is also something I wish more skeptics of the Christian faith would understand who critique a document from an oral-dominated society from the perspective of a textual one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 4/16/2016: Richard Bauckham

What’s coming up Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

How did we get the story of Jesus? How has it come to us? Bart Ehrman has recently written Jesus Before The Gospels, a book that I have reviewed as well. Still, there are a lot of questions that you would like to have a real scholar interact with. What about oral tradition? What about eyewitness testimony? What about the claims that Papias got some things wrong? Is there any scholar who has worked on oral tradition and Papias and eyewitness testimony and could respond to Ehrman and his claims?

Why yes there is. One of the leading ones is Richard Bauckham, and he’s my guest this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast. Who is he?

Bauckham

And in his own words:

I am a biblical scholar and theologian. My academic work and publications have ranged over many areas of these subjects, including the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, Christology (both New Testament and systematic), eschatology, the New Testament books of Revelation, James, 2 Peter and Jude, Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the New Testament Apocrypha, the relatives of Jesus, the early Jerusalem church, the Bible and contemporary issues, and biblical and theological approaches to environmental issues. In recent years much of my work has focused on Jesus and the Gospels. Probably my best known books are Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2006), God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (1998), The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1993) and Bible and Ecology(2010). As well as technical scholarship and writing aimed at students and those with some theological background, I have also written accessible books for a wider readership, of which the best known is At the Cross: Meditations on People Who Were There (1999), which I wrote with Trevor Hart. A recent book is Jesus: A Very Short Introduction (2011), published in Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series, and providing a historical account of Jesus for the general reader. Various of my books have appeared in translation in Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Farsi.

Until 2007 I was Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. I retired early in order to concentrate on research and writing, and moved to Cambridge. For more information about me, see my Short CV. On this site, you will find complete lists of my publications. You can find out about my forthcoming books. You can read unpublished papers, lectures and sermons. You can find out about the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha project (directed by myself and James Davila).

You can also read some of my poetry, and two story books written for children (adults also enjoy them) about the MacBears of Bearloch.

We’ll be discussing Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses as well as discussing Ehrman’s book. This is an interview I have been looking forward to for a long time and I hope you will be listening as well. Be watching for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus Before The Gospels

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest published by HarperOne? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Bart Ehrman has a few characteristics that seem to show up in every book that he writes. One is that he will very rarely interact with those who are his best critics in the field. In Forged, he spends no serious time on the work of Randy Richards on the usage of secretaries, for instance. In How Jesus Became God he barely interacts with Hurtado and Hengel and does not even once mention Bauckham. So it is that in this book, he doesn’t deal with many of the best critics out there, such as the work of Walton and Sandy in The Lost World of Scripture or with the work of Robert McIver in Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels.

The second consistent aspect you’ll see of Ehrman’s work is at heart, he still has a lot of fundamentalist underpinnings. Oh you’ll see him referring to the gist of a message in oral tradition sometimes, but more often you’ll see him suddenly sneaking in an idea of verbatim agreement or word for word testimony. You’ll see him still using ideas similar to a telephone game going on. These descriptions don’t make sense for oral traditions.

I happen to agree with what Craig Evans has said in that Ehrman is on a flight from fundamentalism. Ehrman still seems to think in categories that are more all-or-nothing and there are times I just do not think he’s really handling the data properly because of this background. Let this be a warning to those of you who want to push a highly Westernized and Americanized form of inerrancy.

To show my first example of the extremes, Ehrman says on loc. 184 in the Kindle version that we have ideas of the ancient world where it is thought they had better memories and that “people always preserved their traditions about their past accurately.” Well that would need some qualifiers. What does it mean to say accurately? Do we mean word for word? Well no. Frankly, that’s nonsense. Do we mean the gist of the story? Yes. Does that mean there could be no variations whatsoever on secondary details? No. Does it mean that this is something that’s foolproof? Well no. Of course any tradition could be in error over time and get changed, but the way to see that is to look at the oral tradition itself and I really don’t think Ehrman does that well.

Ehrman also raises the issue of the ‘telephone game’ when he says starting around location 190 that “This was a mysterious period of oral transmission, when stories were circulating, both among eyewitnesses and, even more, among those who knew someone whose cousin had a neighbor who had once talked with a business associate whose mother had, just fifteen years earlier, spoken with an eyewitness who told her some things about Jesus.” It’s hard to read this without thinking about the movie Spaceballs, (“I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate,”) but I digress. Ehrman lives in a world where it’s like these people in the Biblical times really experienced privacy like we do and stayed isolated from the group. No. These things were talked about in the groups. In an age without IPhones and Skype, people talked face to face and in an age without television and newspapers and internet to spread the news, these people met in groups and talked in groups.

At Loc. 207, Ehrman has said all we have are memories and then immediately says “Memories written by people who were not actually there to observe him.” Perhaps they weren’t, but doesn’t this seem too early to be saying what the supposed conclusion is? It will also in fact be my conclusion that Ehrman just does not back this conclusion well.

At loc. 222 he says “When it comes to knowing about the Gospels, and about the historical Jesus himself, it is all about memory. And about frail memory. and faulty memory. And false memory.” None of this is really glowing about memory. Of course, at times Ehrman will say for the most part our memory is reliable, but here it looks like memory is being seriously called into question. At this point, I wonder if Ehrman does this same methodology for history everywhere. In fact, this will be brought up again later on in my look at this book. A great danger is that we often treat the Bible differently from any other ancient text claiming to be historical and as Tim McGrew warned Ehrman about the practice of changing standards and such in his debate on Unbelievable?, down that path lies mythicism.

One scratches one’s head when they get to loc. 266 where he says “The past is not a fixed entity back there in time. It is always being transformed in our minds, depending on what our minds are occupied with in the here and now.” Now if he wants to mean our perception of the past alters, by all means, but it is quite problematic to say the past is not a fixed entity. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t, and nothing can change what already happened. We could get new data that changes our view or we could see something different that changes how we experience our view, but the past itself does remain fixed.

At Loc. 326 he asks “What happens when stories are circulated orally, from one person to the next, not just day after day, but year after year, and decade after decade, among such people, before being written down.” Once again, it’s statements like this that make me think Ehrman is still plugging in a false view of oral tradition, like the telephone game. It was not just one person sharing a story but rather multiple persons in groups sharing a story with people there who could vouch for it.

Note also the emphasis on having something written down. We in the West make a big deal about that. In fact, it’s a common question often asked to apologists when speaking about Jesus that “If all this really happened, why did they wait so long before they wrote it down?” It’s a good question, but it’s also one that can be quite simple. Oral tradition was free, quick, reliable, and it reached everyone who understood the language. Writing meanwhile was expensive (Writing Galatians by today’s standards could cost about $500 and let’s not forget the delivery of the manuscript so think about how much a whole Gospel would cost), slow, not seen as being as reliable since the person who wrote the work was not there to teach about it often, and it would only reach those who could read or have it read to them. In this world, which one are you going to go with?

Ehrman also makes odd statements about other works of NT scholars. “The more I read, the more surprised I became that so many scholars of the New Testament—-the vast bulk of them, so far as I can tell—have never explored this research, even though it is so fascinating and most immediately relevant.” In fact, when I read about the historical Jesus, I often find these issues addressed. There is nothing new under the sun. Perhaps this is new research to Ehrman, but not to others.

On p. 15 he tells us that “I approach these questions from fields of study that I have never written about before and that many New Testament scholars have simply never explored, including cognitive psychology, cultural anthropology, and sociology.” Again, I wonder how much he’s paying attention and furthermore, if he’s really approaching the text from these areas. For instance, I do not recall seeing Ehrman ever engages with realities like the Mediterranean culture being an honor-shame society. This is an important area of social science for the New Testament.  Ehrman still sees individualism and still often sees literalism.

On page 7, Ehrman tells us that probably the vast majority of modern scholars today hold the view of a Jesus who was an end-times prophet of an apocalyptic nature who predicted the world would end soon and God was going to wrap everything up. Ehrman says he held that view since he was a graduate student in the early 1980’s (I am puzzled that Ehrman wants us to wonder if memory is really reliable but when his memories come up, that’s never questioned). Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a shock since dispensationalism was such a strong view then and filling many of our theological institutions. I have critiqued Ehrman’s book on Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet with my main criticism being again, Ehrman is a literalist with the text and he does not even interact with orthodox Preterism or mention it. As said before, Ehrman still holds a fundamentalist and literalist view.

As we go through, we find on page 11 Ehrman talking about the Acts of Peter, and I don’t mean the book of Acts. I mean an extra-biblical book of that title. Peter does many great feats in there to deal with Simon Magus and Ehrman says no one today thinks these are historical events and no one thinks Peter did these things. Then he adds “But many ancient Christians thought he did. These are the ways Peter was widely remembered, as a great miracle worker who performed spectacular deeds to prove that he was empowered by the heavenly Jesus, the Lord of all.” I can’t help but think we have a bait and switch going on. It is not shown by Ehrman how many people actually treated the Acts of Peter as if it was a historical document and not just Christian fiction. Ehrman cites no source for this claim of his. Does this mean that Peter was not seen as a miracle worker? Of course not. The book of Acts in our New Testament pictures him as such, so one could easily believe Peter had a reputation as a miracle worker and still think the Acts of Peter is just fiction. (In fact, I would suspect most every Christian today does.)

Ehrman does the same thing when he looks at infancy Gospels and stories about Jesus as a child. He says these are not taken seriously today, “But throughout history people often remembered Jesus this way.” (p. 22) They did? Well I would want to see some evidence of this. Do we have any indication that these books were written in some sort of genre meant to be taken historically and not just as something fictional? (It’s worth noting Ehrman nowhere points out the Gospels are written as Greco-Roman biographies and meant to be seen as history as he nowhere interacts with Burridge either.) That a book was written does not mean it was read widely. Even if it was read widely, that does not necessitate that this was something taken as a true historical account.

On p. 31, Ehrman says that it’s a question worth asking about whether any of us has any true memories of Jesus in a technical sense. How would we know? Indeed. How would we know? And this is something that surprises me. Ehrman thinks that these people who were closest to the times could not be reliable in their memories to tell us about the historical Jesus, but Ehrman, writing from nearly 2,000 years later, can tell us about those authors. Sure memories could be faulty, but I think that is something that needs to be demonstrated more. What needs to be shown is not that a memory can be faulty, but that this memory is faulty. Skepticism is not an argument. It is something that must be argued for. If you are a skeptic of a particular memory, feel free to show why.

On p. 49, Ehrman tells us that it is widely known that the authors of the Gospels were writing 40-65 years after Jesus’s death. They weren’t his personal companions. They weren’t even from his same country. Perhaps they weren’t, but again, I think Ehrman is stacking the deck too quickly in advance. I also wonder who it is widely known to. Does Ehrman mean scholars who agree with his approach? If so, then we have Ehrman just saying “It is widely known by scholars who agree with me that the view I have here is the right one.” Not much of a shock. That would be like me saying “It is widely known among evangelical scholars that Jesus rose from the dead.” Of course it is. If one denied this, he would not be an evangelical scholar.

On p. 53, Ehrman says we also have a problem that Jesus’s followers were not passing along Jesus’s teachings and actions as they were memorized verbatim. He later asks “What is the evidence that Jesus’s teachings were preserved word for word the same?” That is a good question from a Western perspective, but it is a false one. Jesus was an itinerant preacher and like other teachers, he no doubt told the same story more than once. It is not a question of the original account but the original accounts. He could change the story depending on the audience. One example we will look at later is the Sermon on the Mount. It is doubtful that this is a word for word teaching of Jesus but likely more of a summary. After all, the whole sermon could be given in about 15 minutes. An example many of us could give is  to have sermons like Peter’s in Acts 2 that can be read in about 2 minutes and get 3,000 converts.

The problem is Ehrman’s hang-up on word for word and verbatim. This shows he is not really dealing with oral tradition. As someone who has spoken at various churches, I have a number of sermons that I can give. I have given the same talk many times but I have never given the exact same talk before because my words are different. There is new research on my part or there are different audience members I want to reach or maybe one is to just a live group and one is to a live group and an online group. It would be just silly to ask for “The original talk” that I gave.

It is interesting that Ehrman shares how he first realized this as he talks about Gerhardsson’ teacher, Riesenfeld coming to Princeton Theological Seminary. (Gerhardsson was a researcher on the oral transmission of the Gospels and memory in Hebrew culture) Ehrman presented a question about discrepancies in the account of the raising of Jairus’s daughter. Ehrman tells us that Riesenfeld thinks that this is describing two separate occasions. Ehrman concludes that this theory of remembering precisely the words and deeds of Jesus did not make sense.

Before we get to the problem with that last sentence, let’s note something. This was when Ehrman was a graduate student at a seminary so let’s put this in his 80’s since he received an M.Div. in 1981 and a Ph.D. in 1985. Thus, we have a memory that is at least 30 years old. We have no other eyewitnesses to this and we could say Ehrman even has a bias in it. Ehrman could say he clearly remembers, but in the book Ehrman will present arguments that we can have clear memories that are simply wrong even if we’re convinced they’re clear.

Yet somehow, we are to believe that Ehrman accurately remembers an event from 30 years ago in a book where Ehrman is arguing about memory not being as reliable as we think it is. I find it problematic for Ehrman to argue in a book regularly that memory is not reliable and yet use his memory as if it is ipso facto reliable. It could be, but it’s just an odd contrast.

But to get to the last sentence, I find it puzzling. I think it’s simple enough to say that there is some compression going on in one of the accounts and the gist of the story is still the same. Ehrman has this idea that if there are any discrepancies in secondary details, then we have a problem with remembering precisely the words and deeds of Jesus. Not at all. This is expected for oral cultures.

Perhaps Ken Bailey has the idea with what he has spoken of in his own observance. He has seen tradition being spread in the Middle East and how it is told in groups and suggests that this is a parallel to what happened in the time of Jesus. Ehrman disagrees, based on the work of Theodore Weeden looking at Bailey and seeing discrepancies.

Well yes, Weeden did critique Bailey. In turn, James Dunn critiqued Weeden. Dunn is no slouch in the area. He has a Ph.D. and D.D. from Cambridge and wrote the book Jesus Remembered. (A book cited only once in the bibliography) Dunn’s critique is awfully biting showing the numerous flaws in Weeden’s critique even saying on page 60 that “So, when he sets up a KB story in contrast to or even opposition to the ‘uncorrupted original account’ of the event being narrated, TW is operating in cloud cuckoo land at considerable remove from the realities which KB narrates.” It’s a shame Ehrman did not avail himself of this. For this reason, I think Bailey’s model still suffices and is an excellent example.

On page 64, Ehrman makes a claim about literacy in the time of Jesus and how many people were literate. He points to the work of Catherine Hezser on this. He has done this before and he has been called into question about it before. It looks like Ehrman prefers the same resource again and again. There is no interaction with Evans’s Jesus and the Remains of His Day. Of course, we could be fair and consider that Ehrman might have just finished this as Evans’s book came out. Evans points out the tremendous amount of graffiti and inscriptions and such found all over the world which would indicate higher literacy and how difficult it is to explain Jesus being a teacher if he was illiterate.

What about Acts 4 where it says the apostles were uneducated? The word does not necessitate that they were illiterate. It just means they did not have any formal schooling of any sort. However, Ehrman will write later about the apostles would not have been capable of the kind of writing done in the Gospels so I will go the harder route for this. I will assume for the sake of argument the apostles of Jesus were illiterate. How do you explain the Gospels being from them then? (Although a tax collector who had to do writing would be literate)

Simple. Scribes. They were used by everyone. Even people who were literate used scribes. Scribes would take the ideas and put them together and probably do so with more writing skill and artistic flair than the original mind behind the writing could, but the writing would still be considered that of the apostle.

When we get to memory, Ehrman gives an example of what he thinks are false memories, alien abductions. Now I have done an interview with someone on this topic so yes, I share his skepticism, but at the same time I would wish to be open. Ehrman points to a researcher named Clancy who concludes that these memories of abductions are socially constructed. We live in a culture where this is more acceptable and that this didn’t start happening until alien abductions showed up on television. It is worth pointing out the experience of the early church was the exact opposite. Christianity was entirely socially unacceptable, including the same of a crucified criminal being the Messiah, and that’s just one such detail.

Ehrman uses an example of a teacher said to do miracles from more recent times, the Baal Shem Tov. Ehrman says these stories are close to the time and said to be by eyewitnesses and attested to. At this point, we want to ask “Why do you not believe them then?” and if the answer is “Because they have miracles” or something of that sort, then it is clear it is not the evidence that is driving the position but the worldview. I think a great reply to Ehrman on the point of the Baal Shem Tov is to look to the work of David Marshall.

Ehrman also does not seriously interact with Bauckham saying on page 85 about his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses that “Outside the ranks of conservative evangelical scholars, very few if any biblical scholars have found Bauckham’s case persuasive.” It’s really stunning to see this said of a Cambridge educated scholar. Ehrman simply points to some people who have critiqued Bauckham’s book. Fair enough, but what Biblical scholar has written a book that has NOT been critiqued? To say it has been critiqued is not to say the critique is valid or that it has not even been responded to, or that it refutes the book as well as is desired. It would also be false to say Bauckham does not say anything about the reliability of eyewitnesses. He has a chapter on it in fact.

Ehrman also asks about the supposed silence of Paul on the earthly life of Jesus. Did Paul not mention it because he found it unimportant? Not at all. He found it unnecessary. How could that be? Paul was writing to Christians who had established churches and who would have already been well familiar with the life of Jesus. It’s a high-context society. Again, Ehrman, who tells us he has done the sociological studies, seems oblivious to this fact and might we add that again, down this path lies mythicism.

For Gospel authorship, Ehrman reminds us that all four Gospels are anonymous. That depends. Does he mean that in the body of the work they never identify themselves? True enough. In fact, aside from my closing in this blog, I never identify myself. Would that mean that since the body of my work has no identification within it that my blog is anonymous? No. You could look to surrounding data, such as if you read this on my blog itself, my picture and information are right there. We could even ask if Ehrman’s book is anonymous.

It’s also important to note if there was a reason for being anonymous. Indeed there is. As E.P. Sanders says

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

It’s a shame to see this thing trotted out regularly about the Gospels being anonymous as if this is some defeater and a major problem. If you’re wondering about the question, the answer is yes. There is no interaction with Martin Hengel at this point. Meanwhile, from the Fathers we have pretty much universal testimony on who wrote the Gospels. Again, if I am to trust Ehrman or those closest to the facts, I choose those closest.

In fact, Ehrman thinks he has a powerful argument on p. 90 when he says that even the Gospel of Matthew has Matthew in there in the third person with no indication that he is talking about himself. Yes. He is in the third person. At this point, we wonder how much Ehrman read Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. As Bauckham says in there in writing about John 21:24:

The narrative has previously spoken of this disciple in the third person and this was a standard practice for authors portraying themselves as a character in their narrative. p. 369

All of these passages refer to him, of course, in third-person language. This is in accordance with the best and regular historiographic practice. When ancient historians referred to themselves within their narratives as participating in or observing the events they recount, they commonly referred to themselves in the third person by name, as Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, Julius Caesar, or Josephus. p. 393

So again, this does not count as an argument against Matthew being the author. To be sure, it’s not a clincher for Matthew being the author, but it’s hardly a strong argument against. Moreover, if Matthew is the author, it would be entirely consistent with the best historiographical practices which would show us how seriously Matthew is taking the writing of the account. Of course, too many of Ehrman’s readers will see this as a firm defeater.

Yet Ehrman on the very same page turns and while Matthew cannot be Matthew because he is in the third person, he then looks at Luke and John and says “The way they use the first-person pronoun clearly shows that, whoever they were, they were not eyewitnesses to what they narrate.” Looks like the Gospels can’t win for losing.

Now looking at Luke, to be fair, it is not an eyewitness account, but it claims to get its information from eyewitnesses. Of course, this does change when we get to the “We” passages in Acts. Ehrman asks that if Luke wanted to show his principal sources of information were the actual disciples of Jesus, why not just say so? Again, Ehrman lives in a world where he thinks everything needs to be spelled out to be true. Luke’s intro is in fact one showing that he is doing thorough research and it would be standard practice of the day to talk to eyewitnesses and in many cases, ancient historians did not in fact cite their sources. Ehrman is treating ancient historians like they should be modern ones.

Looking at John 1:14 and 16-18, Ehrman says that with the we language, it might seem that the author is saying that he himself personally saw Jesus’s glory. Ehrman assures us a closer reading shows this is not the case. Not really. While it is true the us is the people who were the followers of Jesus, that is no reason to think John would not have identified himself. It’s not a clincher to show John wrote it, but it’s not the disproof Ehrman would think it is.

In John 21:24, Ehrman says the author cannot be the beloved disciple because he differentiates between himself and the beloved disciple with the “we” and “his testimony.” I find this to is just not really honest on Ehrman’s part. It’s normally thought that this is something put in by perhaps the elders at the church of the beloved disciple making a statement about the reliability of the testimony. It’s like the argument that Moses could not have written Deuteronomy because it describes his death, without thinking that someone, perhaps Joshua, wrapped it up for Moses after he died..

When he gets to the apostolic Fathers, Ehrman says it’s odd that if they cite the gospels, which they surely did with Matthew and Luke, my not name the authors? Perhaps for the same reason that if I quote a well-known quote from Shakespeare I don’t have to say who said it. If a quote is particularly well-known, an author is not needed. Why did Paul often quote Scriptural passages and not say who wrote them? Does he not want to give them authority? It’s like Ehrman is getting into conspiracy theory thinking.

Ehrman also looks at Justin Martyr’s quoting of the Gospels and says that the quotes are so jumbled that some scholars think that Justin isn’t quoting the Gospels but a kind of harmony, a mega-Gospel if you will. Ehrman takes this as evidence the Gospels were not seen as authoritative. Really?

Now to be fair, I’m skeptical that there was a mega-Gospel at that point, like came later with Tatian, but why would one make a mega collection trying to put together these four Gospels? Could it be that it was because these were the Gospels accepted? In fact, I would think this theory gives more evidence that the Gospels were in fact accepted as authoritative. (And no, there is no interaction with someone like Charles Hill and Who Chose The Gospels?) Ehrman’s entire argument relies on “Well surely if X wrote this, someone would have mentioned it.” No. That doesn’t follow.

He argues that Mark would have been called Mark because there was a Gospel of Peter in circulation already. Does Ehrman have a firm date in comparison to Mark? Does he have any indication that the Gospel of Peter was in wide circulation? (There’s also nothing said about the possibility of a 1st century copy of Mark being found.)

Around p. 122 we start getting into memory. He points to some experiments done on people today and says that these people were highly educated under grads at Cambridge (that little school Bauckham studied at) and says surely the ancients had worse memories. After all, the ancients you know, just couldn’t have been as intelligent and well, we all know that having intelligence means having a good memory. How else do we get the joke of the absent-minded professor? (It’s interesting that when Ehrman talks about the memories of the ancients, he never quotes the ancients themselves on memorization.)

In fact, on page 127, Ehrman says we tend to remember the gist of a story even if the details get messed up. Well that’s the way ancient societies were. The gist was remembered. You were allowed variation on the secondary details. It was expected.

On p. 145, Ehrman brings out the idea of how Matthew saw the prophecies and how he gave a weird fulfillment not knowing about Hebrew parallelism and the idea of the king riding on a colt and then the parallel of riding on a donkey. Matthew supposedly took this and thought Jesus rode on both animals at once. I always find this a silly objection. We can say Matthew might be wrong about the triumphant entry, but he is not foolish. He, like everyone else, knows you can’t ride two animals at once like that. What’s going on, when the animals come, the cloaks of the disciples are sat on one of the animals and when it says Jesus sat on them, it means the cloaks. This is a fair and sympathetic reading of the text. It’s a wonder to see Ehrman talk about Matthew being a literalist while his reading is guilty of what he condemns.

Ehrman thinks it’s a distorted memory since Jesus was not arrested on the spot, but why should he have been? Jesus had done nothing at that time and frankly, until someone led a rebellion, the Romans might not have wanted to bother interfering with Passover. (And besides, if one started, they could easily squelch it.)  Had they done that then, that could have been the activity that resulted in a rebellion. We could say the same for the cleaning of the temple. Jesus is just seen in that case as a nuisance by the Romans, though a greater threat by the Jews.

With the account of his arrest, Ehrman has problems since Jesus is said to be a teacher of submissive non-violence. Doesn’t that hurt the idea his followers were armed? Well first, we all know students don’t always follow the message of their teachers. (And in fact, I would question Jesus being a pacifist) Second, all the more for the criterion of embarrassment then!

How about the release of a prisoner in the case of Barrabas? What evidence is there that Pilate ever did that? Well for starters, we could look at the Evans book cited above. Evans points out that if it was so obviously false, it is unlikely that all four Gospels would include it since it could be so readily exposed. He then on page 159 of his book cites several examples of Romans releasing prisoners on special days. (Livy’s History of Rome 5.13.8 or Josephus’s Antiquities 17.204 for instance)

Later in Ehrman’s book on p. 169 he says that in oral performance, there is no such thing as an original version. All performances and accounts are different. The idea of an original is one that comes from written cultures. Ehrman is certainly right here, yet it’s a mystery why he says this here, and then in so many other places speaks of discrepancies in the account or of lack of word for word memorization.

We earlier spoke of the Sermon on the Mount. Ehrman wants to know how everyone could hear him if he really spoke this sermon on the Mount. Well for one thing, many of these places were natural amphitheaters and great places for speaking. Second, we have cases such as when Ezra spoke when the Israelites came back from exile, where there was teaching and then other authorities explained what was being said to the people further passing it on. In fact, this could fit in well with Ken Bailey’s model. Jesus would speak and then others in the crowd would pass it on so that all would get the message.

On p. 187 Ehrman thinks the ending of the parable of the wedding feast is strange since someone is thrown out for not wearing wedding clothes. Well not really. The host would have provided clothing. After all, there are several poor there and all of them apparently somehow have wedding clothes. This man has spurned the offer of the king.

Interestingly, Ehrman thinks this passage and other passages like the parable of the ten virgins makes sense in a post 70-A.D. climate. I find this quite odd. Ehrman would want us to think that Jesus got the time of His return wrong, yet if this was written after 70 A.D. and after a generation had passed, one would think a promise of all being fulfilled before this generation passes would not be in there. Yet there it is, and yet the readers are to think that something Ehrman says did not happen would have already happened by then. Again, the problem is Ehrman takes the Olivet Discourse literally. Ehrman says that Jesus was expected to return right away, but He had been delayed so the people were being exhorted to remain faithful. Well first off, the passage isn’t about the return of Jesus but the coming to His throne, and again, Jesus had been delayed? Why would the Gospel writers have Jesus making a timing prediction and then suddenly saying “But He was delayed.” It’s a false prophecy either way if taken in the sense Ehrman takes it. (We Orthodox Preterists have no problem with it.)

Yet Ehrman insists that the earliest Christians expected the end of the world and so did the disciples of Jesus. What evidence is there? Perhaps he could point to 2 Peter (though of course he doesn’t think that authentic), but how would that even be evidence that all of them thought that? Ehrman’s eschatology is just puzzling. Yet what is also puzzling is what Ehrman says on p. 204.

“My strong conviction is that whether one is a believer or not, if one wants to discuss what probably happened in the past, it is never appropriate or even possible to say that miracles have happened. That is absolutely not because of a secular, antisupernaturalist bias (as some apologists gleefully love to claim). I had the same view even when I was a committed Christian. Instead, it has entirely to do with what it means to establish historical probabilities. Supernatural miracles can never be established as probable occurrences. By definition they are utterly improbable. But again, I will not go into that in this context.”

Wait. Ehrman even as a committed Christian could never say it was appropriate to say a miracle had happened? Then exactly what kind of Christian was he? Did he think the resurrection was a naturalistic event? Of course, his argument is Humean and of course, yes, he does not interact with Keener whatsoever, but this whole section is just puzzling. If he is saying that a miracle can never be established, how is that not an antisupernaturalist bias?

Finally, I want to wrap this up by looking at the end of the book. I agree with Ehrman that the idea is unsettling that if we find errors in the Gospels we should throw them out and move on to other things. This is indeed all-or-nothing thinking. Even if I was convinced of errors in the Gospels, I would not throw out everything as being non-historical. Sadly, Ehrman asks if the historicity really matters.

Does it matter if Jesus really healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead? Does it matter if he himself was raised from the dead? To me as a historian it does. But if these stories are not historically accurate, does that rob them of their literary power? Not in my books. They are terrifically moving accounts. Understanding what they are trying to say means understanding some of the most uplifting and influential literature the world has ever seen. p. 278.

I think it would matter to Ehrman. After all, it mattered according to God’s Problem. On p. 127 there he says

“What if I was right then but wrong now? Will I burn in hell forever? The fear of death gripped me for years, and there are still moments when I wake up at night in a cold sweat.”

Maybe it all just depends on which Ehrman you read….

But yes, it does matter. If I told you a story and you thought it was true of how a kind philanthropist had recently died and left you a billion in your bank account, would you be happy? Sure. Then I tell you it’s just a story and say “But hey, the story is still a good one isn’t it?” Well no. It’s not any more.

As a Christian, the truth of the story matters. A story does not provide salvation. A story does not give eternal life. A story does not solve the problem of evil. A story does not give me hope in the face of suffering. If all we have are stories, then we are just fooling ourselves and trying to deny a bleak reality that the world really is just a pointless meaningless place.

If Christianity is just a story, then as Paul says, pity me. It is a situation in which you should feel sorry for me. However, I am convinced this is not the case. I agree with Peter. We are not following cleverly invented tales. If Jesus’s resurrection is true, it really does change everything. It is the case as Lewis would say of hearing the most wonderful story of all and then realizing that that story is in fact true.

In conclusion, I really think Ehrman’s books are slipping more and more. On the other hand, he is conceding more and more that Christians can agree. I wish Ehrman had availed himself of far better resources and I do still see him on a flight from fundamentalism. Hopefully he will one day realize that the question of it being a story or not does in fact matter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Gospel of the Lord

What do I think about Michael Bird’s book The Gospel of the Lord published by Eerdmans’s?

gospelofthelord

Michael Bird is really just a treat to read. Whenever I read him, I wish more scholars could write like him. Sometimes, we seem to have this idea that scholarly writing should be dry and serious. Yet, I can’t help but think that Chesterton said years ago that funny and serious are not opposites. The opposite of funny is just not funny. I say this because Bird is definitely a serious writer who knows his stuff well having an extensive bibliography in the material he produces, and yet as you are reading focusing on the subject, he will wow you with some funny joke or illustration to make his point.

As an example of this, Bird says that some think Jesus did not preach a Gospel. Instead, this was something added in by the later church and is an anachronism. Bird realizes that this is a prominent position and says of it

“Yes I think that such a scholarly view, dominant and durable as it has been, is about as sure-footed as a mountain goat on a very steep iceberg.”

Yes. Seeing classic lines like that throughout the book give it an excellent approach as you can see that Bird is serious in his stuff and he enjoys it as well. It would be wonderful if many other NT scholars followed the same line. Many of us can see Jesus used humor in his teaching. Why not do the same in our writing?

But let’s get to the book focus itself. If you want to come here and find out what the Gospel of the Lord is and what an impact it will have on your life and what it means to be a Christian, you won’t find much of that here. What is being written about is the idea of the Gospel and how it came to be. What was meant by Gospel? What about the oral tradition? Why was it recorded the way that it was recorded? What about questions like the synoptic problem or the reliability of the Gospel of John? How much of this really traces back to Jesus and how much of it is just material the early church added in?

Bird does rightly state that the Gospels are giving the story of Jesus becoming Lord. This is classic N.T. Wright as well. God is becoming king in Jesus and restoring His Kingdom. Jesus is the agent that God is acting through and acting through in a much more unique way than any past prophet since Jesus is more than a prophet, but God Himself visiting His people. This is the message that rocked the world and it wasn’t some “I met Jesus and He makes me happy and gives me fulfillment and He’ll do the same for you.” Paul’s would have been “I’ve seen Jesus and He’s the risen King of this universe and you’d better get in line because Caesar is no longer in charge.” Paul did not use those exact words, but that is certainly the sentiment there when he proclaims that Jesus is Lord.

We also discuss the question of why the biographical information of Jesus is there. It seems odd that if the early church wasn’t interested in the historical Jesus, that they would put so much into this historical figure. Why not just go with a sayings Gospel that would be revealed much like the Gnostics got their revelations? We could also ask why the early church would invent a Jesus who said nothing about what they were struggling with at the time. The Jesus of the Gospels says nothing about if we should eat meat offered to idols or how church services are to be conducted or how much of the law a Gentile must follow, particularly with regard to circumcision.

Why also would the issues of Jesus be a pre-Easter narrative? Wouldn’t it be better to have the authoritative teachings on the lips of a post-resurrected Jesus? This is something interesting about the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. They’re so lacking in theology. Now you might say God raises Jesus from the dead in them, true enough, but you don’t see any statement really about ramifications. You don’t see any talk about salvation by grace through faith being explained. Jesus does not say “Because I have been raised, it means that God is doing X, Y, Z.” We go to the epistles for that.

Bird also talks about the oral tradition and how it would have been shaped by eyewitnesses. This did not rise up in a vacuum. These people were not just passing around sayings and claiming they came from revelation. They were claiming in the face of those who would have known better, that Jesus really did live at such and such a time and did say such and such a thing. Now this is going to seem foreign to many on the Internet who happen to think the idea that Jesus never even existed is all the rage among scholars. (It isn’t. It’s more like talking about people who believe the Earth is flat.) Yet this is the material that we are dealing with. Richard Bauckham has also done a magnificent job on this in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Of course, this is going to be presented to a crowd that will first say “The Gospels were written late and were not contemporary” and then when you show that say “Eyewitness testimony is unreliable.” You have to keep moving that goalpost!

movingthegoalpost

Also definitely worth highlighting is this statement by Bird that I think should be written in gold and passed on to everyone on the Internet and elsewhere who debates about Christianity any.

“There are two approaches to the Gospels that I ardently deride. First, some über-secularists want to read the Bible as nothing more than a deposit of silly ancient magic, mischievous myths, wacky rituals, and surreal superstitions. They engage in endless comparisons of the Bible with other mythic religions to flatten out the distinctive elements of the story. Added to that is advocacy of countless conspiracy theories to explain away any historical elements in the text. This approach is coupled with an inherent distaste for anything supernatural, pre-modern, and reeking of religion. Such skeptics become positively evangelical in their zealous fervor to prove that nothing in the Bible actually happened. Second, then there are those equally ardent Bible-believers who want to treat the Bible as if it fell down from heaven in 1611, written in ye aulde English, bound in pristine leather, with words of Jesus in red, Scofield’s notes, and charts of the end times. Such persons regard exploring topics like problems in Johannine chronology just as religiously affronting as worshiping a life-size golden statue of Barack Obama. Now I have to say that both approaches bore the proverbial pants off me. They are equally as dogmatic as they are dull. They are as uninformed as they are unimaginative. There is another way”

If only this could be written in gold and plastered on the mirror of every debater anywhere of the historical Jesus. How much better off we would be! I have so often met the former who would think that if you have to admit to a historical Jesus, you might as well go on and commit ritual suicide. I like to tell such people that many atheists admit the existence of a historical Jesus and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives. On the other hand, there are people who put a doctrine like Inerrancy on a pedestal. (We surely don’t know anyone like that around here) Some followers of this school of thought are so convinced that if you show one contradiction in the Bible, the whole thing is false. Unfortunately, this has led many skeptics to think the exact same thing, hence there are some books where the authors actually think they disprove Christianity just by showing Bible contradictions.

Bird treats this study of the historical Jesus so seriously that he goes on to say

“Second, we need to get our hands and feet dirty in the mud and muck of history. Jesus is not an ahistorical religious icon who can be deciphered entirely apart from any historical situation. On the contrary, he could not have been born as Savior of the world somewhere in the Amazon rainforest or in the Gobi Desert. He came to Israel and through Israel, to make good God’s promises to save the world through a renewed Israel. So, whether we like it or not, we are obligated to study Jesus in his historical context. I would go so far to say that this is even a necessary task of discipleship. For it is in the context of Israel’s Scripture and in the socio-political circumstance of Roman Palestine that Jesus is revealed as the Messiah and Son of God. So unless we are proponents of a docetic christology in which Jesus only seems human, we are committed to a study of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth in his own context. That means archaeological, social-historical, and cultural studies of the extant sources as far as they are available to us. It requires immersing ourselves in as much of the primary literature of the first century as we can get our hands on — Jewish, Greek, and Roman — so that we can walk, talk, hear, and smell the world of Jesus. It entails that we go through the Gospels unit by unit and ask what exactly Jesus intended and how his hearers would have understood him. It equally involves asking why the Evangelists have told the story as they have and why they have the peculiarities that they do. Third, we have to explore the impact that the Gospels intended to make on their implied audiences and how the four Gospels as a whole intend to shape the believing communities who read them now”

Did I read that right? Making studying the historical Jesus necessary for discipleship. Yes. Yes you did. And that includes studying him in his historical context. That means not imposing our 21st century ideas on to Jesus. It means doing real work. Again, look at the two groups Bird talked about above. The group of skeptics won’t because they say “If God wanted to reveal this to me, He would have made it clearer to me” as if God is just looking for your intellectual agreement to what He has to say. The second will say “If it’s the Word of God, it will be understandable by the Holy Spirit.” Both groups are just lazy. The first refuses to do any work and prefers their arrogant atheistic presuppositionalism. The second group is just as arrogant and thinks it’s God’s job to make the text clear to them.

Bird also talks about delivering such information on university campuses. While students expect to hear Jesus is a bunch of nonsense, Bird points out that much of their information comes from The Simpsons more than real historical study. This is becoming increasingly a problem when those who argue the most on this topic can quite often do the least reading. If they do any reading at all, they are only reading what agrees with them. That is assuming that they will even read a book. Too many of them will just read what they find on the Internet and treat that as Gospel.

Bird writes throughout the book on oral tradition and the forming of the Gospels and yes, the genre of the Gospels, something I’ve had some strong reason to write on due to certain people having a strong position that the Gospels cannot be Greco-Roman biographies. Bird does place them firmly within this category. However, the information in the Gospels is entirely from a Jewish viewpoint. These works are saturated in the Old Testament and in fact assume a thorough background with the Old Testament and with the area of Israel often times as well. This would show that the early church was also already treating the Old Testament quite seriously.

While I could go on, I think enough has been said at this point. Those wishing I had said more I hope will realize that I leave that to you in getting this book and learning the magnificent information in it. Bird is a wonderful writer with excellent humor and I look forward to reading more by him.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels

What do I think of Robert McIver’s book published by SBL? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

memoryjesusandthesynopticgospels

McIver’s book on the usage of memory in reporting the events of the Gospels is certainly one worth reading. It is meticulously researched and incredibly thorough in its approach and it even has a nice little appendix at the end that describes life expectancy in the ancient world and if the eyewitnesses would have been around for interview or even rebuttal around the time the Gospels were written.

McIver covers how it is that we form memories and what kinds of things memories are. He also goes into what are known as flashbulb and personal event memories. I will give two examples from my own life. I have clear and distinct (To use Descartes’s term) memories about many events that happened on 9/11. I remember sitting in the chapel at Bible college and seeing a professor come in and tell the speaker to announce we should be praying for the people of New York as a plane just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I’m sure most of us thought it was a tragedy then. I remember hearing afterwards that a second plane had hit the second tower and no one thought it was accidental at that point. I remember being in the lobby watching this all unfold on TV and watching the towers fall. I remember walking around outside and noticing no planes in the sky.

For personal event, I remember well when I got married. I remember that I parked my car at the hotel we would be staying at that evening in the morning and pacing around with my tux while I waited for my best man to pick me up. I remember going to the restroom numerous times before hand to make sure nothing happened. I remember one of my groomsmen telling me how awesome Allie looked. I remember seeing her smile at me during the ceremony. I remember hearing my best man’s excellent toast. I remember riding in the limo. I could go on and on. Now note this does not mean I remember every little detail. There could be some things I get wrong. I certainly will not get the major things wrong. I know it was Allie and not Ashley I married. I know it was in the area of Charlotte and not Charleston. I know it was on July 24, 2010 and not on another date.

This is also something important. It’s quite amusing that the same people who complain that the Gospels supposedly weren’t written by eyewitnesses or don’t contain eyewitness testimony will then come and say that eyewitness testimony can’t be trusted. Is it infallible? Not at all. McIver from his research shows that eyewitness testimony tends to be at least 80% reliable and we often hope to have multiple eyewitnesses to further corroborate claims.

McIver also shows that we can generally guess how much of something will be forgotten but after a few years, many memories do reach a sort of locked-in state. Some secondary details could be iffy, but the primary memory itself will usually stay intact, provided of course that there are no major events such as some head injury of some sort or a debilitating condition that affects memory.

To go beyond this, McIver also has information on collective memory. This takes place in oral societies where stories are told repeatedly back and forth. It is often the gist of the story that is the main focus to get right. Minor details in the story can vary. The main information of the story is usually trusted to a few tradents who oversee the process and make sure the information does not get lost.

At this point, I did have one criticism. We do see a lot on how memory is done today, but I would have liked to have seen more on how memory worked in a pre-Gutenberg culture. We know the ancients prized memory more than we do and that they had better abilities of memorization due to not living in a culture where writing was readily abundant and you couldn’t use post-it notes or cell phones to store your data. You had to keep it all in your memory.

In examining the Gospels, McIver sticks to the synoptics and thinks the little aphorisms of Jesus are where we have the best information. Still, his points also about how events would be memorized are important. While there could be mistakes, we would not expect radical mistakes. You do not see someone who is blind being told to be of good cheer and later on think “Well I really think I saw them regain their sight.”

As you can imagine, McIver builds heavily on the excellent research of Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. As I read through, I was wondering what McIver would be thinking if he had written this book after The Lost World of Scripture. The appendix I referred to earlier in this review is also extremely helpful in dealing with claims of many atheistic writers today who do use an argument that eyewitnesses would not be around at that time.

I’m very pleased to see research like this going on and those interested in whether the accounts of Jesus are accurate in the Gospels would be greatly benefited by reading this fine work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters