Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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Peter Kirby
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Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Dec 13, 2013 8:15 pm

We can easily distinguish between nine different and irreconcilable approaches to the study of Christian origins, characterized by the amount of intrinsic weight given to the two main sources of ideas that could guide and limit the multiplication of hypotheses:

(1) Statements made by the Christian sources (tradition)
(2) Hypotheses derived from critical reasoning

Largely based on an agenda of what people find important or where they want their studies to end up, different people take different approaches towards the value or importance of respecting either of these sources that could then define the boundaries of a historical study. This is an element of human subjectivity that arises especially from the contemporary importance attached to the investigation and the result.

It is my contention that a low-to-moderate view of (1) combined with a moderate-to-high view of (2) is largely the area of attraction for serious secular academics, but this is a field which is open to other, less academic approaches, whether popular or pious or both.

Minimal Regard for Tradition Moderate Regard for Tradition Maximal Regard for Tradition
Minimal Regard for Critical Reasoning Conspiracy Theory Novelizations Pious Imagination
Moderate Regard for Critical Reasoning Theories about no-HJ Theories about the HJ Resurrection Apologetics
Maximal Regard for Critical Reasoning Minimalist History Bare Historicity of Jesus Inerrancy Apologetics

Even if we limit ourselves to the square of secular academics - theories about no-HJ, theories about the HJ, minimalist history, and bare historicity - only the approach of minimalist history offers the glimmer of hope that we might be able to hammer out a consensus document of what we know and what cannot be said. As soon as we add the modicum of special respect for tradition that seems to characterize even the bare historicity hypothesis, wrapped up as it is with other hypotheses accorded special respect such as the authenticity of the Pauline letters, there is a multiplication of views because people disagree about what parts of tradition to give extra respect and because there is no reasonable way to arbitrate what is inherently not based on reason. Once we loosen up the requirement of holding a high view of the importance of critical reasoning, mutually exclusive hypotheses abound (Historical Jesus Theories).

However, there are not enough people working in the field of the minimalist history of Christian origins to allow them ever to claim enough adherents to represent a consensus. There is something that is deeply unsatisfying--at least, at this time and for most people--to the idea that we could learn several things about Christian origins but that "the stuff that matters" about whether Jesus existed and who he was like doesn't fall into that category.

Because we need to know more than we can actually know, there is not now (and may never be) a consensus about Christian origins.
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

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Re: Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Dec 13, 2013 8:52 pm

Blogged this, with some changes of wording:
http://peterkirby.com/mission-impossible.html
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

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Re: Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Post by Bernard Muller » Fri Dec 13, 2013 10:36 pm

Hi Peter,
only the approach of minimalist history offers the glimmer of hope that we might be able to hammer out a consensus document of what we know and what cannot be said
I do not understand the difference between "Minimalist History" and "Bare Historicity of Jesus", but I think that's where I stand, somewhere in between.
The main reason this position will never be popular is that people (either Christians, non-Christians, anti-Christians) are looking for more exciting solutions in relation with their belief, or lack of. Furthermore, this position will never satisfy Christians or anti-Christians. And non-Christians are not particularly interested by the whole subject.
There is money to be made or attention to be received in the other categories in your table, but certainly not for "Minimalist History" and "Bare Historicity of Jesus".

Cordially, Bernard
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Re: Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Dec 13, 2013 10:47 pm

Bultmann is the most famous example of the "bare historicity of Jesus."

Thomas Thompson may be the contemporary example of "minimalist history."

Their methods are largely the same. The major difference noted is that the former includes the historicity of Jesus and that the latter does not (but also does not include the statement that Jesus did not exist). Each side accuses the other of falling into a bias trap in order to explain the difference between them.
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

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Re: Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Dec 13, 2013 10:50 pm

Bernard Muller wrote: The main reason this position will never be popular is that people (either Christians, non-Christians, anti-Christians) are looking for more exciting solutions in relation with their belief, or lack of. Furthermore, this position will never satisfy Christians or anti-Christians. And non-Christians are not particularly interested by the whole subject.
There is money to be made or attention to be received in the other categories in your table, but certainly not for "Minimalist History" and "Bare Historicity of Jesus".
Exactly. Nobody really wants to hear this this because it doesn't confirm any biases or satisfy curiosity or provide entertainment. The truth can be boring.
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

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Re: Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Post by Bingo » Sat Dec 14, 2013 6:37 am

They said the same thing about the four-minute mile.

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Re: Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Post by Blood » Sat Dec 14, 2013 7:00 am

Bernard Muller wrote: I do not understand the difference between "Minimalist History" and "Bare Historicity of Jesus", but I think that's where I stand, somewhere in between.
The main reason this position will never be popular is that people (either Christians, non-Christians, anti-Christians) are looking for more exciting solutions in relation with their belief, or lack of.
That really strikes at the heart of the problem, Bernard. The search of history is the search for origins -- if we don't have specific names, dates, and places, we can't really do history. The "historical Jesus" paradigm and the rest of the New Testament documents satisfy that need on a basic level. Remove them, and we are at a complete loss as to who, what, when, and where. For the believer, this cannot be allowed, because it would render their religion meaningless. To question the received tradition too much is also a serious problem for the historian, because it impinges too much on the entire legitimacy of the historical method. It turns out that history-like writing is terribly hard to distinguish from history writing -- especially when you have a billion people who insist it is historical.

But religions do not typically provide easy solutions. It wasn't something that was documented. They evolved, slowly and furtively.
“The only sensible response to fragmented, slowly but randomly accruing evidence is radical open-mindedness. A single, simple explanation for a historical event is generally a failure of imagination, not a triumph of induction.” William H.C. Propp

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Re: Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Post by Bingo » Sat Dec 14, 2013 8:18 am

Bernard Muller wrote:There is money to be made ...
That's another good point. Think in terms of survival - evolution and economics.

Which Bart Ehrman is more likely to survive?

The Ehrman who asserts that Jesus never existed?

Or the Ehrman who asserts that he did?

Ehrman has no obligation to humanity to be honest. I’m sure he has a powerful imagination and can even use it to fool himself.

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Re: Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Post by Bernard Muller » Sat Dec 14, 2013 9:19 am

That really strikes at the heart of the problem, Bernard. The search of history is the search for origins -- if we don't have specific names, dates, and places, we can't really do history.
We have specific names and places. Dating of critical texts can be done through internal and external evidence and a lot of attention to details. This is not following any historical method per se, but rather detective work. And no biases to be involved!
The "historical Jesus" paradigm and the rest of the New Testament documents satisfy that need on a basic level. Remove them, and we are at a complete loss as to who, what, when, and where.
Why remove them? They need to be analysed, not only one by one but also between themselves, to sort out the crap and keep the basic backbone stuff. And starting from Paul's epistles which mention a humble poor crucified Jew named Jesus.
To question the received tradition too much is also a serious problem for the historian, because it impinges too much on the entire legitimacy of the historical method.
I have been questioning the received tradition every step of the way, and kept very little of it. Regardless, what is left offers a coherent & comprehensive story on how Christianity began.
It turns out that history-like writing is terribly hard to distinguish from history writing

Yes, that is very hard and that took me many years of research to understand (with evidence) how Christianity started from a not so great Jesus.
About the historical Jesus: http://historical-jesus.info/digest.html
On how Christianity stated: http://historical-jesus.info/hjes3x.html
But religions do not typically provide easy solutions. It wasn't something that was documented.
Exactly
They evolved, slowly and furtively.
Exactly. About evolution of very early Christianity, I put together that table showing the different beliefs of the Jesus groups, starting by Jesus followers & James, the first Jewish Christians, then Paul's followers at two different years:
http://historical-jesus.info/t58.html

Cordially, Bernard
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Re: Why There Is Not And Never Will Be Consensus

Post by Blood » Sat Dec 14, 2013 1:57 pm

Bernard Muller wrote: Why remove them? They need to be analysed, not only one by one but also between themselves, to sort out the crap and keep the basic backbone stuff. And starting from Paul's epistles which mention a humble poor crucified Jew named Jesus.
I don't have much faith that we can simply accept the "basic backbone stuff" to be historically valid, including the Corpus Paulinum, which may itself be just more theological fantasy, a la the Epistle of Jeremiah.
“The only sensible response to fragmented, slowly but randomly accruing evidence is radical open-mindedness. A single, simple explanation for a historical event is generally a failure of imagination, not a triumph of induction.” William H.C. Propp

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