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Alan Segal on the Criteria of Authenticity and the Existence of Jesus

Alan Segal on the Criteria of Authenticity and the Existence of Jesus December 23, 2010

Larry Hurtado shared a link today to a post by Alan Segal, which was part of a conversation that took place in 2005. I may or may not have seen it at that time, but at the very least I can say that it had definitely slipped my mind. And so I was grateful to have my attention drawn to it.

The post explains why New Testament scholars set themselves such very hard tests like meeting the criterion of embarrassment, why historians believe Jesus existed, and what the purpose of the classic criteria of authenticity is. Here’s a taste:

I have often heard fellow scholars exclaim in frustration that the criterion of dissimilarity yields such meager results that no one could ever write Jesus’ biography based upon it. But that isn’t the criterion’s purpose. It was designed to help sift through the Gospels for indisputable facts so that scholars could be sure that the stories are, at least in part, historical. It seems to me, as a Jew and so as an outsider, that the criterion also has developed a secondary important function: It cautions Christians of different denominations about getting overconfident about their particular beliefs. Almost all Christians see their own beliefs as grounded in the authentic New Testament facts; the criterion suggests that very few facts are actually undisputable.

For all the rigor of the standard it sets, the criterion demonstrates that Jesus existed…

A healthy antidote to mythicism is particularly welcome at this time of year, when stories from the Gospels that are at least mostly mythical are to the fore in people’s minds. 🙂

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