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The Jesus Legend 1: Miracles and Method

04/23/2011

Off to a good start. This book is pretty interesting, and definitely strikes some nice skeptical notes, although the application of this well is yet to be seen.

First chapter is just laying down some critiques of a naturalistic historical-critical methodology. The assertion is that the seeking of truth by certain scholars presupposes, without warrant, that miracles and supernatural events cannot happen. They claim that certain historians assume that the universe is solely naturalistic, and from that conclude, circularly, that miracles did not occur.

I can agree that it would be unfair to assume, before any evidence comes in, that there is no chance that supernatural events have occurred. What I am not certain about is whether this circular reasoning is what those cited in this book are partaking in when saying that miracles did not occur. To the extent that they rule out beforehand that miracles can occur, I would agree with the critique. I’m just not certain that one must rule out the supernatural beforehand to come to a strong naturalistic conclusion, and the authors agree that all things equal, a natural cause is more likely than a supernatural one. Equal footing.

There was also a little too much dismissal of “Western Science” and a raising of other cultural modes of discovering truth. This may betray a presupposition of accepting outside claims, although the authors considering this being very critical, and simply applying that criticism to ones own cultural worldview. My view would be that some worldviews and methods of truth seeking are more apt to find that truth, as demonstrated by the results that come about by the predictions that are made. We set some rules down, and find the truth according to those rules. This is universal, and although it is the predominant thought in the West, it applies equally to all cultures. The proof is in the pudding, and science has made progress that other cultural modes, namely faith, rituals, magic, shamanism, etc., have not achieved.

Kindle Notes:

1. Scholars such as Bruno Bauer, Arthur Drews, and G. A. Wells have argued that the Jesus tradition is virtually-perhaps entirely-fictional in nature (289).

2. The work of scholars such as Rudolf Bultmann and Burton Mack suggests that we have enough evidence plausibly to conclude that an actual historical person named Jesus existed.24 But, they insist, the reports we have of him are so unreliable and saturated with legend and “myth” that we can confidently ascertain very little historical information about him (297).

3. An increasingly common view among New Testament scholars today—especially scholars who stand in the post-Bultmannian tradition-is that historical research can indeed disclose a core of historical facts about Jesus. But, they argue, the Jesus we find at this historical core is significantly different from the legendary view presented in the New Testament (300).

To rationally determine whether one has been randomly dealt a perfect bridge hand, for example, one wouldn’t simply add up all the possible alternative hands one could have been randomly dealt and compare it with the odds of getting a perfect bridge hand (1,635,013,559,600 to 1).47 Were this the case it would obviously never be rational to accept that one had been dealt a perfect bridge hand—even if, as a matter of fact, one was holding one (971)!

Note: Deception is more likely than being dealt a perfect hand. The point stands

For all their differences from the modern Western world, ancient people—as well as primordial groups today—were not nearly as uniformly “naive and mythologically minded” as many modern scholars have tended to assume (1042).

The implications of this “new democratized epistemology” are significant for cross-cultural studies (1154).

Note: Reality is not decided by popular vote.

There is, among other things, a supernatural dimension to reality that our naturalistic, scientific perspective on the world tends to blind us to (1169).

Note: Is this presupposed, or supported by evidence?

If we are consistent, we will concede that the naturalistic, scientific, Western worldview is as socially constructed, as culturally myopic, as all other worldviews (1188).

Note: The proof is in the pudding. This method got us to the moon, invented vaccines. It has been reality tested and passed in a way that other methods have not. Science makes good freakin’ pudding.

A central claim of this work is that if one remains genuinely open to the historical possibility that the portrait(s) of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels is substantially rooted in history, then, given an appropriate historical method and the evidence at hand, one is justified in concluding that this portrait is historically plausible, even that it is most probably grounded in history (1352).

One important principle here is that, in one sense, the burden of proof rests upon any scholar making any claim about history, whether it be in defense of, or in opposition to, any particular historical document and—we would add—regardless of whether or not this document contains reports of supernatural occurrences (1390).

We have granted that, all other things being equal, scholars should prefer naturalistic to supernaturalistic explanations. Given the empirical fact that the world generally operates according to natural “laws” (descriptively—as opposed to prescriptively—speaking, of course) of cause and effect, it should require significantly more evidence to convince us that an event has taken place that involves the suspension of these known regularities than it does to convince us that an event has occurred in keeping with these regularities (1442).

Summary The legendary-Jesus theory is significantly rooted in an assumption of naturalism. In this chapter we have offered considerations that we believe demonstrate that this assumption—as an unquestioned presupposition—is unwarranted and inconsistent with the goal of engaging in a truly critical investigation of history that strives for objectivity (1493).

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