Not long ago, archaeologists could agree that the Old Testament, for all its embellishments and contradictions, contained a kernel of truth.. That is no longer the case.
Judaism appears to have been the product not of some dark and nebulous period of early history but of a more modern age of big-power politics in which every nation aspired to the imperial greatness of a Babylon or an Egypt. Judah, the sole remaining Jewish outpost by the late eighth century B.C., was a small, out-of-the-way kingdom with little in the way of military or financial clout. Yet at some point its priests and rulers seem to have been seized with the idea that their national deity, now deemed to be nothing less than the king of the universe, was about to transform them into a great power. They set about creating an imperial past commensurate with such an empire, one that had the southern heroes of David and Solomon conquering the northern kingdom and making rival kings tremble throughout the known world.
Prof. MICHAEL WHITE, University of Texas, Austin: The problem for any historian in trying to reconstruct the life of Jesus is simply that we don't have sources that come from the actual time of Jesus himself.[...]
Prof. MICHAEL WHITE: We have to remember that Jesus died around 30. For 40 years, there's no written gospel of his life, until after the revolt. During that time, we have very little in the way of written records within Christianity. Our first writer in the New Testament is Paul, and his first letter is dated around 50 to 52, so still a good 20 years after Jesus himself. But it appears that in between the death of Jesus and the writing of the first gospel, Mark, that they clearly are telling stories. They're passing on the tradition of what happened to Jesus - what he stood for and what he did - orally, by telling it and retelling it. [...]
Prof. HELMUT KOESTER: [...] One could, for example, imagine that the oldest way in which the early Christians told about Jesus' suffering and death was the hymn that Paul quotes in Philippians 2. [Philippians 2:7-8] "And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Paul quotes this hymn in the early 50s of the 1st century. He quotes this as a hymn that probably was sung in the Christian communities 10 or 20 years earlier. [...suggesting the early oral tradition included hymns as well as stories]
NARRATOR: The Gospel of Mark is the oldest in the New Testament. It was written soon after the failure of the First Revolt [after 70AD] for a community that was struggling to reconcile its expectations of Jesus with the loss of the temple.[...Its author] took disparate elements of oral tradition and a few early written sources and wove them together to create a new narrative.
Prof. MICHAEL WHITE: Mark seems to have a knowledge of at least one and maybe two or three different collections of miracle stories [about Jesus, from the preceding oral tradition]
[...As to other sources that pre-date the Gospels...]
Prof. ELAINE PAGELS: Scholars observed that there's a part of the sayings in Matthew that are exactly identical with sayings in Luke. In fact, they're identical in Greek- sayings of Jesus. Now, think. Jesus spoke Aramaic. So if you were translating Aramaic and if I were translating Aramaic, they'd come out different, these translations. So you would only have identical- you would only have Jesus speaking identical sayings in Greek if you had a written translation in Greek of his sayings. And so scholars suggested that there must have been, besides Mark, something else written down that would have been a list of the sayings of Jesus, translated into Greek. And they called that "Quelle," which means "source" in German. And they call it, for short, "Q." Nobody ever has found this source written. We can reconstruct it because we guess that there was such a written source.
NARRATOR: "Q" was composed before the war [...]
Prof. ELAINE PAGELS: Whoever collected the sayings of "Q" wasn't interested in the death of Jesus, wasn't interested in the resurrection of Jesus, thought the importance of Jesus was what he said, what he preached. Now, other people thought "It's not enough to have the sayings of Jesus. You have to tell about his- about his death and his crucifixion and his resurrection. That's the important thing." Now, somebody put that all together and we call it Matthew and we call it Luke.
Religion is a product of evolution, software suggests
God may work in mysterious ways, but a simple computer program may explain how religion evolved
By distilling religious belief into a genetic predisposition to pass along unverifiable information, the program predicts that religion will flourish. However, religion only takes hold if non-believers help believers out - perhaps because they are impressed by their devotion. [...]
After the fall and expulsion, Adam lay dying. He bade his son to go to the Garden and ask for seeds of the tree of life. His son went and asked of the angels at the gate to be allowed this last request. God looked down and assented. Adam's son was escorted to the Tree of Life and took three seeds. When he got back, Adam had died. He put the three seeds under the tongue of his father as he was buried. The seeds took root and over the grave of Adam three stout trees rose and over many years grew tall. In time they were cut down and timbers were fashioned from them, which were used to make three crosses on which were executed two common thieves and the so-called King of the Jews.
In Sifre, Deut. 357 the periods of Hillel's life are made parallel to those in the life of Moses. Both were 120 years old; at the age of forty Hillel went to Palestine; forty years he spent in study; and the last third of his life he passed as the spiritual head of Israel. Of this artificially constructed biographical sketch this much may be true, that Hillel went to Jerusalem in the prime of his manhood and attained a great age. His activity of forty years is perhaps historical; and since it began, according to a trustworthy tradition (Shab. 15a), one hundred years before the destruction of Jerusalem, it must have covered the period 30 B.C. -10 C.E.
One to whom Jesus is but a miracle-monger, a controversialist on the obligatoriness or futility of the law, or a metaphysical concept, might neglect the study of his Jewish environment. But he to whom Jesus is the great dreamer, the spokesman of the spiritual ideal, the appraiser of the essential values of life, the man who discerned the difference between show and reality, between the fleeting and the eternal, and tried to fix the eyes of his fellow-men on the real and the eternal, — to such, an appreciation of the environment of Jesus is an inevitable prerequisite to an appreciation of Jesus himself.
Before we get a lot of unfortunate comments like this from people who haven't read the article, let's please all note that this scholarship presupposes that the gospels are accurate. It consists in pointing out chiefly that the word used for "crucifixion" in the Bible does not actually appear to mean "crucifixion" but rather "hanging and/or nailing a person on a pole or other tall wooden apparatus."
Now I'm off to see what other links there are there, since the main FPP link is very, very weak sauce.
posted by koeselitz at 11:38 PM on June 27
This is all I meant in my now-infamous "no physical evidence" statement: that through purely physical means, it is not only impossible but inconceivable that we might detect exactly what happened in this or that so-called historical event.
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