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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but deserves to be treated with caution., 3 Sep 2007
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This review is from: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Hardcover)
This is an important, scholarly and absorbing book. It should be read by anyone involved in New Testament studies. Yet its central thesis deserves to be treated with caution. The thesis might be summed up in Bauckham's own words.
The "period between the `historical' Jesus and the Gospels was actually spanned, not by anonymous community transmission, but by the continuing presence [sic] and testimony of eyewitnesses, who remained the authoritative [sic] sources of their traditions until their deaths" .
As a historian I have many reservations about the way in which Bauckham deals with evidence especially eyewitness evidence which is traditionally treated by historians with caution especially when it is first recorded many years after the event. It is a sad fact that eyewitnesses seldom remember what historians want them to have remembered! His concept of `testimony' is also difficult to deal with as it seems to imply than the evidence of anyone who heard Jesus is somehow more reliable than eyewitness accounts of other events. Yet the emotional drama surrounding many of Jesus' reported activities, large crowds, open disputes, apparent miracles and the trauma of the crucifixion are precisely the kinds of events which do not get reported accurately. Participants are hardly likely to maintain the level headed approach needed for accurate reporting. One sees this everyday in the press!
Bauckham talks of the `continuing presence' of eyewitnesses. Excavations of burials at the Qumran community suggest that few men lived beyond forty in this period. Someone who was the same age as Jesus was more than likely to have been dead by AD 40, someone ten years younger by AD 50. The likelihood of any eyewitness surviving into the 70s, let alone the 80s and 90s, is certainly remote. Those close to Jesus appear to have suffered a high rate of martyrdom and others alive must have perished in the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70. Even if there had been a few survivors they would not necessarily have been the best eyewitnesses and their memories would have become distorted with time. Two useful books here: D. Draaisma, Why Life Speeds Up as You Get Older: How Memory Shapes the Past, 2006, David Patterson, Sun Turned to Darkness, Memory and Recovery in the Holocaust Memoir, Syracuse, 1998. (This last book is important in view of Bauckham's attempts to link Holocaust memories with those of the gospel eyewitnesses. Holocaust testimony is not as accurate as he would suggest.) There is a mass of evidence relating to the ways in which memory distorts with time. A lot of it comes from diaries which have not been read for many years. There is often an enormous discrepancy between how an event was recorded at the time and how it is remembered many years later. Rather too much of Bauckham's thesis appears to rest on the maintenance of accurate memories over long periods of time.
Other points 1) Bauckham assumes the gospel writers were more immersed in Greek culture, specifically that of history writing , than any evidence from their own writing suggests. Where can one find in Mark, Matthew and even Luke much evidence that they had read widely in Greek literature or know of any Greek historians? Read, for instance, Plutarch's Lives (early second century, a few years after the gospels) which show just how sophisticated a leading Greek scholar of the day was in dealing with his sources in comparison to the gospel writers. Readers should make their own comparison but if they do I think few would be convinced by the argument that the gospel writers compare favourably with the more highly educated Greek historians. Plutarch, and his predecessors, Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius (The Rise of Rome), all reflect on their sources, point out their strengths and weaknesses, and then explain their own conclusions. The only example I know of a gospel writer doing this is to be found at John 19:35 where the writer vouches for the testimony of an eyewitness.The evidence suggests that the gospel writers were writing within the traditions of Greek-speaking Jews, not highly educated upperclass Greek speaking pagans. The Greco-Roman empire was culturally very diverse, different schools, followers of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicurus , tended to develop their own traditions. I felt that Bauckham had rather too rigid a definition of Greek culture. It was also difficult for anyone without considerable resources to accumulate more than a few literary sources as each would have had to be copied out by hand. The vast majority of literate Greek speakers would have had no access to the long, and therefore very expensive classic texts,although they may have heard some of them recited at fesitvals if they attended them.
2) Papias' memories. Doesn't Bauckham assume too easily that the reminiscences that Papias attributes to a Mark recording the sayings of Peter are the same as the gospel that Irenaeus attributed to Mark (which is the gospel we know today as Mark) ? (Irenaeus' attribution is probably c. 185 and many scholars believe that the names he gave to the gospels were somewhat arbitrary.) Papias had heard from an elderly Christian informant that a Mark took down Peter's sayings but not in order: Peter `used to adapt his instructions to the needs of the moment but not with a view of making an orderly account of the Lord's sayings.' Papias goes on to suggest that his Mark's account is rather lengthy -'he made it his aim to omit nothing he had heard'. This is just what one might expect from Peter, a man of little education but brimming, of course, with powerful memories, contributing his reminiscences to a devoted scribe, which is why Papias might well be a reliable source. If he was, his Mark seems very different from Irenaeus' Mark's taut narrative. The 'Papias Mark is 'our' Mark' thesis also assumes that Peter spoke good Greek- Mark is not a translation from Aramaic. This view is sometimes sustained by the view that Bethsaida, Peter's home' was a Greek colony. Twenty years of excavation at the supposed site of Bethsaida by the University of Nebraska have found only fragmentary remains of building in this period, but much evidence of fishing activities. The real importance of the site was much earlier, in the Iron Age. In fact the archaeological evidence (as it exists so far) for this New Testament period seems to support the lonely place mentioned in Luke (9:13) as a fishing village (other gospel references) . So it is unlikely that Peter would have picked up Greek in Bethsaida or anywhere else. It stretches the imagination to believe that Peter spoke good enough Greek to provide eyewitness material which Mark could use in the relatively sophisticated way he does. On balance the identification of Papias' `Mark's gospel' with that of Irenaeus Mark's gospel ('our' St Mark's gospel) seems very unlikely- they appear to be two different documents. It is, however, a central thesis of Bauckham's book that they are the same. (The tragedy is ,of course, that we have lost Papias's document. Think how much our knowledge of the 'historical' Jesus would have been enriched if the reminiscences of Peter as Papias describes them had actually survived! We all (except, I assume, some fundamentalists) live in hope that early documents such as these will be found one day in a cave. ) The more I read the more I felt that Bauckham's thesis, although not impossible, rested on very shaky foundations . If Papias was an accurate recorder then 'his ' document does not seem to be what we call Mark's gospel, if he not an accurate reporter then why rely on him at all?

3) Bauckham's view that John the Elder was the eyewitness responsible for John's gospel is already subject to dispute in website discussion. There are too many other possible 'John" candidates even if it was a John who actually wrote the gospel ( was it simply another case of Irenaeus putting an authoritative name to an unnamed document?). Again the lateness of John's gospel, ?90 AD, perhaps ten years later, makes it very difficult to argue that a surviving eyewitness would have been able to contribute a direct oral record.

It always takes three or four years for a book of this importance to find its niche.There does seem a lot to argue about and the enthusiastic and perhaps rather uncritical reception this book has received in some quarters may prove premature when scholars have reflected on its claims. A historian testing the historical accuracy of the gospels would hope that as many eyewitness memories as possible were recorded as soon as possible after the events so that the recorder could have a hope of checking accuracy and resolving discrepancies while the eyewitesses were still alive. Then the results would need to be written down before they became distorted in the mind of the recorder. This is what the Greek historians hoped to do even if they did not always have access to the eyewitnesses they would have liked. If this is (contra to what Bauckham argues) had happened then one might be able to trust the historical accuracy of the gospels as Bauckham believes we should. Again as with the Papias thesis, Bauckham's view that these very later eyewitness testimonies ( if such they were) would lead to an accurate record, goes against the assumptions with which mainstream historians work.
One looks forward to seeing how the debate unfolds. I have simply set out here some obvious objections to the thesis of this book which need further discussion. It in no way reflects my admiration for the breadth of Bauckham's scholarship -it is just that I feel that his central thesis might all too easily crumble under pressure from other biblical scholars and readers should be warned of this. I am only giving a historian's response to his thesis.
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Showing 51-60 of 68 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on 16 Oct 2012 10:06:04 BDT
Dr. ' I am not a historian',Jeynes. I am meant to be at work! Well, i AM a historian and as a professional historian i am judging a book that CLAIMS TO BE HISTORY and found it wanting. I have set out some reasons above, I hope clearly enough. You can judge my credentials by clicking into the Yale University USA website, find my A New History of Early Christianity and read the reviews especially those by professional scholars in this field. So far as I know from having kept an eye on this book for some time, professional historians have ignored it, perhaps for some of the reasons I have suggested above.
Please don't tell me what i should and should not write about. It is a major problem in studies of the Resurrection that few accounts discuss the wider issue of resurrections in history and a book such as the one I proposed is sorely needed for the vast number of people who are interested in Christianity and respectful to Christians, without being committed to Christianity.
Anyway as I have at least two years work ahead of me already signed up, the decision does not have to be made just yet!

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Oct 2012 11:01:32 BDT
Dear Charles, I shall certainly look out your book (and probably review it). I am not telling you to do anything (well, only rhetorically!). But you certainly misread Wright, and, I suspect, Bauckham too. I am interested in what is true, and where a book extends my understanding I give it credence. Qualified credence you understand, only ever qualified credence. Your account of Wright is simply incredible - you have misunderstood him.

It seems to me that you are asking for a judgement of your contribution ad hominem? I don't doubt that you are a respectable historian just as (on the same measure) I am a respectable scientist. But no-one is exempt from error and one's work must always be judged on its merits. And the old and respectable suffer from the subtlest errors ...

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Oct 2012 11:12:34 BDT
Hi J-E! Your position is untenable! How about the historian Eric Hobsbawm who was highly respected across the political spectrum? He was (amazingly) a "fully paid up member of the Communist Party" and he indeed wrote in very acute detail about the Russian Revolution. Is he to be disregarded? Your grounds are entirely specious. Historians always have a point of view, and this always comes out in their writing, one way or another. An historian without a point of view is very boring! When one reads them one naturally takes their point of view into account, this is always necessary.

I am familiar with Finkelstein & Silberman (and others too), and indeed one does need people to re-evaluate evidence. But there are many views, and the evidence is not simple, so that many incompatible positions are valid. The last word is very rarely said on any historical issue!

But I do agree with you in that I also am not interested in self-serving "histories" that are not honest with the evidence.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Oct 2012 20:06:08 BDT
Hi Dr Jeynes
You are nothing if not tenacious! - though I think that we should let Charles Freeman get on with his work now - and this debate has strayed a long way from the original book review in question - so if you want to reply to this, perhaps do so to my e-mail address: jestubbings@yahoo.co.uk

I also have work to be getting on with but there are a couple of points I want to insist on. I did not say that we should disregard the work of communist historians like Hobsbawm - what I said was that we cannot disregard the fact that they are communists when we assess the credibility of their claims. Hobsbawm is a good example in fact and I think you make my point very well for me. Is Hobsbawm respected? Yes generally, though maybe not by some right wing dogmatists. Boring? No - of course not. Knowledgeable? Absolutely. All these things are true - but he is blinkered by his faith in what Raymond Aron called the "Opium of the Intellectuals" - he even stuck to it in the face of all the evidence that it wasn't working and that it was as brutal and totalitarian as Nazism - but he refused to change his position - He consistently failed to acknowledge clear evidence which challenged his 'faith' in communism. He had chosen an ideological position and it was a lifestyle and identity to him. He couldn't let it go. In so many ways he and other die-hard communists demonstrated the similarity between dogmatic adherence to religion and the quasi-religion of communism. Many people still cherish the 'icons' of the Soviet Union etc as decoration in their homes despite the knowledge that mass murder was committed in its name - another similarity with Christianity. Similar arguments might be put in both cases: an essentially 'true' and 'good' ideology was hi-jacked by bad people (Stalin/various Popes and inquisitors etc.)
Historians like Hobsbawm are challenging and entertaining to read - but in my view he was wrong about a number of things, if not facts then at least interpretations. It is also the case that his factual claims are easier to check than those of the Biblical claims for obvious reasons.

We may have to just agree to disagree on my view that some ideological agendas are more deleterious to objective and unprejudiced research and scholarship than others. Sometimes ad hominem judgements are relevant to the credibility of an author on a particular subject. I understand your points about scientists being just as flawed, human and resistant to unexpected findings.

I am certainly not an advocate of 'scientific materialist fundamentalism' or 'scientism' - but if you are claiming that Religion has been more open to radical re-evalutions of its doctrines than science then I'm afraid I will find it hard to take you seriously. When did the Catholic Church officially pardon Galileo? (post WW2 I think).

Finally you say that literalist readers of the Bible read like 6 year olds. Just out of interest, which stories and claims in the BIble do you believe are literally and historically true, and which are allegorical? I take it that you would put the resurrection in the former category and Genesis Chapters 1-3 in the latter - but what about some of the others?
e.g. Joshua's conquest of Canaan?
The Exodus from Egypt?
God giving Moses the 10 Commandments (8 Thou Shalt Nots...including thou shalt not kill - followed a few pages later by a divine injunction to smite the Ammonites, Canaanites and various other non-Jewish tribes)?
Solomon having 700 wives and 300 concubines?
The timeless, eternal, divinely inspired word of God, the creator of the entire universe - or a very site specific set of writings serving the religious and political needs of a particular people in a particular place at a particular time in history? Can you have it both ways?
Jesus born in Bethlehem of a virgin?
Lazarus brought back from the dead? (why was he the only lucky one?)
Approximately 3 hours of darkness during the day as Jesus hung on the cross?

I'm just interested to know where you draw the line between yourself and these 'literalists'.

It is clear from your messages that you are well read and highly intelligent - but that doesn't guarantee sound judgement or the ability to make the logical connections between different branches of knowledge. Clearly some of us just think and interpret the world in different ways, no doubt we all have our blind spots. I sometimes wonder whether to maintain a religious faith you either need to be really rather simple-minded and uneducated, or the complete opposite - so clever that you can do the mental gymnastics necessary to overcome the rational objections to orthodox faith which have become increasingly obvious in recent centuries due to the advances in science, history, archaeology and textual analysis etc. Perhaps you are in this latter category (along with Coleridge, Dostoyevsky, T.S.Eliot, Evelyn Waugh, Rowan Williams etc.) while I'm just somewhere in the middle!

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Oct 2012 05:29:28 BDT
Hi J-E: "well read and highly intelligent - but that doesn't guarantee sound judgement or the ability to make the logical connections between different branches of knowledge." That is right on the nail! I like your post - lots of comment on it but I'll switch to private as you suggest. Later.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Oct 2012 10:04:17 BDT
Dr. Jeynes. I am just off on my travels with a study group so may never see the reply to this but others may be interested.

1) What do you mean by Geza Vermes being a partial historian? I can see why Wright is - he has a position to uphold- but why should an independent scholar such as Vermes who belongs to no school but that of scholarship at Oxford University be seen as partial- for or against whom?
2) Perhaps I have misread your reference to Paul but I don't mention Paul but the Epistle to the Hebrews which was not accepted as being by Paul even in the early church ( e.g. scholars such as Clement and Origen) and certainly not by modern scholarship. (Good overview in Chapter 32 of Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament but in any standard book on the Epistle.)
3) What do you mean by 'being in error'. What specific error or errors, judged by whom?

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Oct 2012 11:48:29 BDT
Charles Freeman asks (18 Oct 2012 10:04:17 BDT): "What do you mean by Geza Vermes being a partial historian? I can see why [N.T.] Wright is - he has a position to uphold - but why should an independent scholar such as Vermes who belongs to no school but that of scholarship at Oxford University be seen as partial - for or against whom?"

"Independent scholar"? Who is truly "independent"? Should they be? Everyone necessarily belongs to some school, even if (as could be argued for Vermes) they started the school themselves. When one writes a paper (or a book!) one always has to outline the context, and where the present work is located in that context. One always defines one's own position in relation to previous positions. Everyone is part of a "school", necessarily! Scholarship is a community activity.

N.T.Wright was also an Oxford lecturer, by that measure his is the same "independent scholarship" as Vermes'. These things mean nothing! Vermes has a Jewish background, so he has 2000 years of history justifying a sceptical view of Christian claims. But his book "Jesus the Jew" (1973) was a ground-breaking book which changed the way people thought about Jesus - hence my comment about starting your own school. Vermes is an excellent scholar well worth reading, but he has an axe to grind just like everyone else. And he is doing very well with his series of more or less popular books about Jesus, which have heavily sceptical presuppositions thereby pleasing an important segment of the marketplace. But scepticism is itself a philosophical position. One must be critical, but that is not the same thing as a systematically sceptical view. Ultimately, one cannot prove anything except tautologies, so one can believe more or less anything. And that applies to sceptics just as much as to the credulous.

Charles Freeman says: (16 Oct 2012 08:40:34 BDT): "One must remember ... many early texts such as the Letter to the Hebrews ... have only the smallest of references to the Resurrection - so for SOME Christians it was not seen as a crucial part of their belief", a view he credits to Vermes. This is entirely false. The Resurrection has ALWAYS been a "crucial part" of Christians' belief - one could indeed say that it is precisely the crux of our belief (pun intended)! This is very clear in Paul and also crystal clear in the Book of Hebrews that I have in my text - and everyone agrees that Hebrews is later than Paul! "But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." (Heb.2:9). It is surely only the smallest step of inference to go from "crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death" to "he rose from the dead"? After all, those who go down to the grave do not praise God (cf. Ps.30:9 and many other places). "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God ..." (Heb.4:14) What is the writer intending us to think about what "ascending into heaven" means? Freeman is completely wrong about the Resurrectioin being an optional extra. It thoroughly permeates all the texts, no matter how early they are.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Oct 2012 13:57:16 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Oct 2012 13:09:03 BDT
trini says:
Charles Freeman,

In your comment of 18 Oct 2012 you ask Dr Jeynes: "What do you mean by Geza Vermes being a partial historian?"

Speaking for myself, may I say that Vermes is the most blatantly partial historian that one can quote.

Please see my one-star amazon review of Vermes's book, The Changing Faces of Jesus, which I am sorely tempted to reproduce in full here, because it gives in detail the innumerable instances in Vermes's book which explicitly break the laws of scholarly evidence in favour of the most improbable alternatives which have no other support than Vermes's anti-Christian prejudice.

I shall just give some extracts.

..............................................................
"The Changing Faces of Jesus is a sad book, and often a bad (because unscholarly) book. Vermes many times abandons scholarship to make belittling comments. For example (1) on p. 215, discussing the twelve-year-old Jesus debating with the Temple teachers `in his Father's house', where Luke is presenting Jesus as the Son of God, His Father, in a quite unique way, Vermes sees no more than a family story such as every Jewish family tells about its precocious son. (2) When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (in the gospel writers' view showing Jesus as fulfilling Zechariah's messianic prophecy), Vermes' understanding is (in his book 'Jesus the Jew') - that that was the least tiring way. (3) The crucial issue in the split between Christians and Jews was the question of the Messiah. This is reflected in chapter 9 of St John's gospel, where the man who accepts Jesus as Messiah is `put out of the synagogue'. Vermes says (page 30, n.1) that all that that means, as any good `contentious' Jew will understand, is - if you don't like your local synagogue you just go down the road to the next one. (4) Again, speaking of the commandment to love one another, but missing the point of the special Johannine resonances (`as I have loved you'), Vermes says (page 44): "John's Gentile Christians required a course for primary school pupils in which the simplest details had to be spelt out". (5) Vermes tells us that if he were Jesus, things wouldn't have turned out as they did; he would have written his own story, instead of leaving it to his followers, and so on (e.g. pp. 264,269,270). He ends (p. 270) by having Jesus say, "You've been told to expect everything from me. I say, you must save yourselves". This is totally false to the NT, and no less so to the Old Testament. Vermes calls his whole Epilogue (pp 269,270) a Dream. It is simply a triviliazed childish fantasy. The above issues hardly need scholarly refutation. As a serious New Testament scholar, I object to this parody of scholarship.
......
Vermes simply will not accept that to understand the person and the role of Jesus one has to go back to the typology, the prophecies and the history of the Old Testament (including the Apocrypha), as every New Testament author does, and not forward for between two hundred and six hundred years after the life of Christ to the rabbinic teachings which are conditioned by their explicit rejection of the New Testament witness to Jesus as Son of God, Messiah, God. His references back to the Old Testament in Jesus the Jew are less numerous and less significant than his forward references to this much later rabbinic literature. The Changing Faces has no index of biblical references. Vermes' relative neglect of the OT, from which the NT Jesus springs, is indefensible. For some idea of the massive OT sourcing of the Jesus story, see the Index of `Loci Citati vel Allegati' [textual quotations, references, and influences from the Old Testament used in the NT] in Nestle-Aland's Novum Testamentum Graece, which can be expanded indefinitely.
.........................
Yet again: Vermes's comparison between Jesus and the Jewish holy men Honi (mid-first-century BC) and Hanina ben Dosa (first-century AD) simply fails. They may match a St Francis of Assisi, but emphatically not Francis's Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. I quote only one comparison. Vermes (p. 252) sees no difference between the run-of-the-mill `bat qol' to "Hanina `my son'" and the `bat qol's to Jesus at his Baptism and Transfiguration where the heavenly messages are: "You are my Son, the Beloved, the Only-Begotten; with you I am well pleased ... This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him" (Mark 1.11; 9.7, NRSV). These recall Isaiah 42.1, Ps 2.2, Genesis 22.2 (the Aqedah), the Exodus appearances to Moses, Deut 18.15. Is this said to Honi or Hanina? Did they bring in the Kingdom of God? Were they acclaimed as Messiah? Did they rise from the dead? Were they acclaimed as God?
.................
Vermes denies, in the face of the evidence, all of these Christian claims. He is forced to believe this instead: that Jesus, bloodied from the scourging, crowned with thorns, crucified as a deluded messiah/king, dead, "[Jesus] yet rose in the hearts of his disciples who had loved him and felt he was near" (quoting Winter, pp. 174,175). This is incredible and impossible invention on the part of Winter/Vermes by which they seek to explain away the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and the disciples' devotion to preaching unto their deaths the truth of this resurrection. Winter/Vermes are simply lamentable.
.................................................................................

The Messianic foreshadowings found in the Old Testament and in the Jewish Intertestamental literature (say 200 BC to 135 AD) are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and not in any other Jewish holy man. See the despairing and nihilistic book by Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Jewish Messiah, T & T Clark, 1997, and my amazon reviews of The Messiah Before Jesus (by Israel Knohl), and The First Messiah, (by Michael O Wise). Judaism has only ever produced one candidate as Messiah, Son of God, God-with-us - Jesus Christ. Both methodologically and exegetically, the Christian position stands - certainly as against Vermes.

Knohl and Wise both see the Christian claims for Jesus as being all sourced in the OT and the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, they both deny that these genuinely Messianic CLAIMS are FULFILLED in Jesus of Nazareth. Instead they attribute the fulfilment of these claims to two other nebulous (and different!) Jewish characters who palpably have left no messianic legacy behind them. Only Jesus has.

To anticipate an obvious objection, let me state, in one word, a key point elaborated by Fr Raymond Brown in his book An Introduction to New Testament Christology (not his major Introduction to the New Testament): between Cyrus in 2-Isaiah in c. 530 BC and the POSSIBLE attribution of the title Messiah to Simon bar Kochba in 135 AD, no Jewish claimant to leadership, royal or revolutionary, no hoped-for coming saviour, ever claimed, or was ever granted, the title 'Messiah'. Only Jesus.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2012 09:17:08 BDT
Hi J-E: did you get my emails? Have I got the right address?

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Oct 2012 16:32:33 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Oct 2012 16:40:33 BDT
Hi Dr Jeynes
I will try to make some reply to your other arguments in an email when I can find the time - but I just want to say a word about Geza Vermes here, as his credibility as a renowned scholar and his objectivity have been brought into the discussion.

Even if we accept your view that no one is, or ever can be, 'objective' - I would argue that there are 'degrees' of that lack of 'objectivity' and that there is a difference between bias and vested interest.

So, for example, a BBC journalist (who takes seriously the corporation's commitment to impartiality) may not be free of pre-conceived/culturally conditioned ideas - but I personally would regard such a reporter as likely to be less unreliable than, say, a government 'spin doctor' whose job it is to present policy or manipulate the way a story is presented so as to be most favourable to his/her employer i.e. a specific political party. The same goes for anyone producing propaganda for any specific cause/ideology/nation etc.
You seem to agree with this by emphasising the fact the Geza Vermes is of a Jewish background, "so he has 2000 years of history justifying a sceptical view of Christian claims". But as I'm sure you're aware, there is a very great deal of difference between someone who has Jewish heritage as in that one or both of their parents are Jewish, and someone who is Jewish by belief, conviction and active observance. (I.e. the contrast between a 'cultural/secular Jew and a religious Jew) The former would certainly have attracted the interest of the Nazis but often barely identified themselves as Jewish - and there are plenty of people (many known to me personally) who desribe themselves as 'atheist Jews' - just as there are Jews who are prepared to criticize Israel - or even argue against its very existence. I must admit I don't know where Geza Vermes stands on these things - you are rather assuming that he denies the divinity and messianic status of Jesus because of some inbuilt/ instinctive collective psychological predisposition to do so - and for no other reason than that one or both of his parents happened to be Jewish. Freud was Jewish - but it didn't stop him from calling into question the most deeply held convictions of 'his people' in books like 'Moses and Monotheism' or 'The Future of an Illusion'. If Vermes has come to certain conclusions as outlined above, that only puts him in the same category as myself, or Philip Pullman, for example, and we were brought up as Christians!

By saying that someone like N.T. Wright has more of an 'axe to grind' - myself and Charles Freeman are pointing out that he is an ordained minister of a particular branch of the church - i.e. his personal convictions are important - but there is also the fact that he represents, promotes, and is employed by an institution whose doctrines he must uphold (so even more biased than Hobsbawm writing about communism then). If Geza Vermes were a Rabbi I might be more inclined to agree with you about his credibility as a first century scholar.

No - none of us are strictly speaking 'objective' if you want to push this to the point of absurdity - but if you ask me to describe a match between Arsenal and Tottenham I will probably be able to give you a more reliable account than certain people because I do not support either of those two teams. Equally I have no vested interest in coming to the conclusion that Jesus was not the son of God, born of a virgin and then resurrected - in fact I would like nothing more than for it to be true and I almost envy those like yourself who are able to shape their intellect to their faith (or vice versa).

As you have said before - with so little 'hard' evidence - it all depends on how you interpret things. 'Trini' (above) says that Geza Vermes always favours "the most improbable alternatives" - but for most educated people these days - a virgin getting pregnant and someone who is dead coming back to life (to say nothing of all the other minor conjuring tricks described in the Bible) is rather more improbable than Mr Vermes' explanations - regardless of whether they happen to share his Jewish background.

For me then - when an event is described in the New Testament which seems to confirm a particular interpretation of something in 'Isaiah' (e.g. the messiah being born in Bethlehem) - I would see the fact that the gospel writers knew the contents of Isaiah's prophesies as leading them to include details which would, they hoped, confirm those prophecies. In other words they become 'self-fulfilling'. To me that's common sense - to you that's anachronistic, missing the point, blind etc.

As I said though, I'm probably just a bit simple minded and don't have sufficient intellect to engage in the kind of apologetics which Christian intellectuals like yourself seem to be capable of.

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