The Latest on the Historical Jesus and the Gospels

The Latest on the Historical Jesus and the Gospels May 31, 2020

There has been so much of interest related to the historical Jesus and the Gospels recently that a collection of links with a few quotes and discussions seemed in order. Let me start with something that initially seems only tangentially related. This fascinating article on Josephus’ references to “Galileans” suggests that he viewed them as a distinct ethnos from the Jews of Galilee, to be found primarily in the urban centers. Is that the right way to understand Josephus’ terminology? If so, what might that mean for our perception of the historical Jesus?

Tim O’Neill writes:

Mythicists have plenty of ways to reinterpret these bothersome passages or find other ways to dismiss them. The problem is that their arguments are, as usual, contorted, ad hoc or rely on dubious readings and so have been found unconvincing by the vast majority of scholars, Christian or otherwise. But the reference to Jesus as “descended from David according to the flesh” has proven a particularly thorny problem for Mythicists and they have had to work hard to jam it into the framework of their theory. Their efforts are varied but none of them are convincing and one prominent effort in particular is so ridiculously convoluted as to be quite laughable.

You should definitely read the entire thing, as he goes into a lot of detail about what Earl Doherty, Richard Carrier, and various other mythicists have to say. For instance:

But no-one can say Carrier lacks conviction or bravado. Despite this “cosmic sperm bank” idea being one that even his most ardent disciples find less than compelling and other Mythicists find downright embarrassing, Carrier is tireless in defending it. And, in doing so, he gets increasingly dogmatic and shrill about it. So he defends it here. And here. And, again, here. And each time he becomes more strident and insistent. You almost have to wonder if he is really convinced himself.

Jesus Mythicism 6: Paul’s Davidic Jesus in Romans 1:3

There’s a book manuscript draft that has been shared by Christopher Hansen on, The Quest of the Mythical Jesus. He discusses my work at length, and summarizes it thus:

James F. McGrath has been one of the most active voices in speaking out against Jesus Skepticism in the academic world. He has been voicing his concerns both in public venues, such as Patheos, and then also on more academic forums as well. Of many of the current academics in the debate, he one of the most extensive bibliographies of critiques. His work has been particularly influential as a result of the publicity and awareness he has spread on the issue of Jesus’ historicity.

There’s a lot of discussion of a new book that I too am eager to read, Helen Bond’s latest, The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel:

Five Questions with Helen Bond

Genre Matters: The First Biography of Jesus

Helen Bond’s– The First Biography of Jesus Part One

Helen Bond’s The First Biography of Jesus— Part Two

Helen Bond’s The First Biography of Jesus– Part Three

Helen Bond’s The First Biography of Jesus— Part Four

Reading Mark’s Gospel as a Text from Collective Memory

Demonstrating Justin’s Literary Dependence on a Gospel

Why Did Justin Martyr Call the “Gospels” Memoirs?

John’s Knowledge of the Synoptics: Mark Goodacre vs. Chris Keith

What you need to know about Jesus, the poor, and class struggle

Reading Mark in Context – Table of Contents

From prophet to king: how and why Jesus laid claim to David’s throne

The prophet returns: Jesus as Elijah redivivus

Kevin Scull launched a new YouTube channel:

Ears and Eyes at Nazareth

Matthew as the “Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ”: Chris Keith, Patrick Schreiner, and Thomas Aquinas on Matt 1:1

Jesus Research, Historical Methodology, and the Temple Conflicts in Acts: A Note from Eyal Regev’s New Book

Were the Gospels Generally Written for “Communities” of Christians: Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

Who is my Mother?

Gary Greenberg is starting a blog series about his new book making the case for a proto-Gospel used by the authors of Mark and John. Here is the first major installment.

“I also decided … to write”—Michael Wolter on Luke’s Relationship to his Predecessors

On the Trail of the Beloved Disciple

Book Notice: The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel, by Helen Bond

Ancient Jew Review reviews Matthew Within Sectarian Judaism

Andrew Steck writes in his review of M. David Litwa’s latest book:

Litwa analyzes the gospels as his foundational source material and uses examples from Greek and Roman mytho- and historiography to demonstrate Christian imitation. He uses a wide range of literary examples featuring the important figures of antiquity to make his argument, including leaders, such as Achilles and Moses; the authors, including Cicero and Petrarch; and the thinkers, including Pythagoras and Philostratus. Using such a spectrum of historical figures allows Litwa to demonstrate over the course of the monograph that the evangelists were well-read and knowledgeable about the historiographic and literary traditions of which they were heirs, a fact that is not immediately apparent from the unadorned rhetoric of the gospels. The consistency with which Litwa argues for the sophistication of the evangelists’ education throughout the work indicates that he believes this to be an important paradigm that must be engaged further. His argument inspires questions, perhaps for future work, about the extent to which early Christians who received the gospels, as opposed to writing them, would have recognized contemporaneously that the gospels contained mythic and historiographic elements.

Bill Heroman writes on what he refers to as the Synoptic climax:

The climax of the synoptic timeline–the moment at which the developing actions stop building up from their beginning and begin sliding down towards their end–is when Jesus announces that he is planning to go to Jerusalem and be killed. To be clear, the climactic point is NOT being told that Jesus is going to be killed. That is not our dramatic turning point because nobody in the original audience could have been expected to feel surprised by this revelation. The audience already knew: Jesus dies at the end. Rather, the dramatic surprise is that Jesus knew going in, announced it, and embraced it as God’s plan for his life. When the Gospel writers sat down to communicate, THIS was one of the key talking points they were hoping to establish. THIS was part of their purpose in writing. THIS was their point. THIS was their spin.
I should quickly add, discerning that this was an authorial agenda does not necessarily imply that such spin was in any way contrived or non-factual. To the contrary, often times people spinning the hardest are doing so precisely because they believe passionately that their perspective–their own personal view of the facts–is helpful, insightful, and the proper bias that everyone ought to uphold. On the other hand, just as obviously, the earnestness or enthusiasm of political spin does not and cannot tell us that a version of past events *IS* necessarily accurate, either. We cannot separate “facts” from “interpretation” because, as my advisor Chris Keith and others have shown decisively, “There are no uninterpreted facts.” Therefore, as a point of historical inquiry, we will never know for certain whether Jesus actually predicted his death beforehand and embraced it OR NOT… but our ignorance is not alleviated merely by observing this act of emplotment.
What we CAN do, instead, is enjoy and appreciate the drama. At least for starters, we can recognize that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are depicting a world in which Jesus made this dramatic revelation. Just as “Did Jesus expect his own death?” is an important historical question precisely because it notes the Gospel writers’ agenda(s), so also “Jesus expected his own death” is an important aspect of the story to recognize, for the same reason: precisely because it strikes at the heart of an idea which the authors were aiming to convey.
The Gospels are ancient biographies that have been somewhat emplotted. Their purpose was not just to inform people about Jesus but to cast a particular light onto well known events of his famous existence. For the Gospel writers, it was high on their list of priorities to convey that crucifixion was not a mistake. They were passionate about communicating that Jesus’s death was one event God intended to happen. The story of the Gospels is that Jesus, who had always embraced sacrificial living for the glory of his beloved father in heaven, at some point realized and embraced God’s plan for the ultimate sacrifice.

“I am the way” (John 14): from elitist exclusivism to gracious friendship?

Yung Suk Kim also shared thoughts on that text, as well an article about justice in Jesus’ parables

Craig Keener on Gospels and ancient biographies

Andrew Perriman on Jesus telling his disciples to take swords with them, and the deity of Jesus in a Roman context

Avoiding Anachronism whilst Reading the Gospels

Agapē Isn’t A Magical Word: Why Peter Was Hurt That Jesus Asked Him A Third Time, “Do You Love Me?”

The Three Most Important Women in Mark’s Gospel—All Unnamed

Ongoing online commentary:

Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12

An Existential Comics made a point about people preferring skepticism to construction in philosophy. The same goes for history and science and explains denialism in Christian fundamentalist and atheist circles well. Also related in the same vein:

Holocaust Denial

Romanian speakers may find this series of posts interesting:

Isus din evanghelii (11)

Isus din evanghelii (12)

Isus din evanghelii (13)

And somewhat related, there’s no news about the rumored sequel to The Passion of the Christ.


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