Thursday, July 19, 2012

What do historians think of the reliability of the Gospels?

Here is a discussion of this.

HT: Bob Prokop

49 comments:

cl said...

"He had scorn for the Jesus Myth idea, writing, “if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.”

I always get such a chuckle from stuff like this. We've got all these New Atheists and self-touted "freethinkers" running around endorsing Richard Carrier's crackpot history, while ignoring the lot of more competent and clearly less-biased historians who say the Myther hypothesis is demonstrably bunk.

On a side note, we're blowing it. It's folks like Carrier, Loftus, JT Eberhard, et al. who are out there in schools brainwashing the youth, while we sit around and banter online. We need to seriously step up to this crap.

Papalinton said...

It is no surprise that conservative scholars claim the historical nature of the canonical gospels. The writers noted in the article predicate their argument through treating the existence of a historical Jesus, and the historicity of the gospels as an axiom. And it is from that basis that they confirm that historicity. Therefore it is not surprising that some of the most influential hsitorians, the likes of the great Rudolph Bultmann, theologian and New testament scholar, are conveniently relegated by Fr. Longenecker to the sidelines, for no other reason than Bultmann and other significant scholars do not fit the narrative attempting to be scripted.

The Bultmann school of exegesis [Form Criticism] clearly demonstrated the Gospel stories are a product of faith and not of history - although there are elements of history of places lived by the writers woven into their fabric. For example, simply because the gospels mention Pontius Pilate does not a historical account make.

The many scholars of the Bultmann school, [and indeed Bultmann himself a true believer], undermined "both the historicity of the Gospels and the doctrine of Divine Inspiration of scripture as the Catholic Church has always understood the charism." [Wiki] He succeeded in demythologizing the gospels and uncovered the scantiest of historical content.

The best that christians can hope to subscribe to, is to imply that the four canonical gospels are 'an accurate and authoritative representation of the life of jesus. There is simply far too much disagreement among all NT scholars, pros and con, to claim a consistent pattern of acceptably agreed historicity.

Christianity traditionally places a high value on the four canonical gospels, which it considers to be revelation from god and central to its belief system. But that perspective is not a substantive claim for historicity.

As Robert W Funk, Bible scholar, and Chairman of the graduate department of Religion, Vanderbilt University, noted:

"If the evidence supports the historical accuracy of the gospels, where is the need for faith? And if the historical reliability of the gospels is so obvious, why have so many scholars failed to appreciate the incontestable nature of that evidence?"

No mention has been made of the plethora of scholars who question the historiity of the gospel; Burton Mack, Bart Erhman, Dominic Crossan, Earl Doherty, John Shelby-Spong, Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Thomas L. Thompson, etc etc.

cl said...

In case anyone cares for pertinent details omitted above:

Burton L. Mack is not a myther. Bart Ehrman is not a myther. Dominic Crossan is not a myther. John Shelby-Spong is a devoted Christian, certainly not a myther. Robert Price has stated that he is agnostic about Jesus' existence, certainly not a myther. Earl Doherty, the least educated of the bunch who only has a Bachelor's, is a myther. And, Carrier. So we see that there is at least one Christian amongst this arbitrary sampling of "skeptical" NT scholars, and the "mythers" are still in the fringe. I've never seen a principled distinction from any myther explaining why the reject the existence other ancient figures that have less historical evidence than Jesus.

But something tells me none of this will matter to committed atheists looking to vaunt the perceived intellectual superiority of their own position.

B. Prokop said...
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B. Prokop said...

It's extremely amusing when skeptics discount an historian's views in favor of the historicity of the Gospels on the grounds that he's a Christian. Well, of course he would be! Why on Earth would any intelligent, thinking, and professionally competent person, after carefully examining and evaluating all the evidence, and coming to the conclusion that the Gospels were indeed, beyond all rational doubt, reliable, accurate accounts of real events not decide to become a Christian?

The skeptics' objections on this score are analogous to someone complaining that an historian of WWII, after sifting through all the evidence and concluding that the Holocaust actually happened, did not remain a Holocaust Denier!

Quick Joe Smith said...

Your premis is flawed, B. Prokop.

How on Earth would anybody, after evaluating ancient anecdotes, conclude beyond all rational doubt that these unprecedented events involving magicking water into wine, bringing people back to life, walking on water, commanding nature and coming back to life all took place because somebody said so.

Intelligent, thinking, professionally competent people would not conclude beyond all rational doubt that these events took place.

Your assessment is analagous to somebody making false analogies.

Papalinton said...
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B. Prokop said...

Joe,

Your posting is based on the unfounded assumption that such things cannot happen. Your statement means nothing to someone who does not share that assumption (and that's all that it is).

Papalinton said...

"Burton L. Mack is not a myther. Bart Ehrman is not a myther. Dominic Crossan is not a myther ...."

That is the substance of my point. Some of these scholars are mythers and some aren't. Some are agnostic. Some are believers. And as they all point out the level of historical certainty is simply not there. They infer that those who can draw a definitive case for the historicity of the gospels are exhibiting an unwarranted and unsubstantiated case of wish-listing, a case that is not backed up by evidence.

And despite Bob Prokop's protestations, to run the defense that the majority of scholars believe the historicity of the gospels simply takes no account of the fact that the majority of biblical scholars are themselves bible-believing christians with a deeply personal vested interest. Consensus itself is insufficient as a condition of proof. The strength of the evidence must also meet the criterion of falsifiability. Clearly, the continuing level of contention has not lessened, and indeed has increased as we sort through the myriad of apologetical historiography.

The comment below best exemplifies the current debate on the historicity of the gospels:

"Bart Ehrman points out that historians try to determine which events most probably occurred.[51] Even if Jesus' followers did find his tomb empty, any improbable explanation for its being empty is historically superior to the explanation that Jesus rose from the dead, which would be a virtual impossibility.[51] Some scholars think that the story of the empty tomb is a late development and that Mark's account of the women telling no one explains why the story had not been widely or previously known.[141] However, Michael Grant wrote: "[I]f we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty".[142] Still, scholars Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz conclude that "the empty tomb can only be illuminated by the Easter faith (which is based on appearances); the Easter faith cannot be illuminated by the empty tomb." [Wiki]

No, historical efficacy of the gospels has not been resolved, not by a long chalk.

Papalinton said...

"Your posting is based on the unfounded assumption that such things cannot happen."

Unfounded it is not.
Assumption it is not.

And yes, such things are clear cases of magicking, just as riding a winged horse, manna from heaven, a staff turning to snake, a talking burning bush is magicking. They were magicking when first promulgated and they are magic today.

Or are these magicking because they happen to be recorded in the Old Testament whereas those illustrated by QJS are not because they appear in the NT?

Quick Joe Smith said...

B. Prokop

"Your posting is based on the unfounded assumption that such things cannot happen."

Such things that violate basic laws of physics and chemistry, and furthermore have never been demonstrated to even be possible. It's your contention that my rejection of such claims stated in ancient manuscripts is unfounded, but your acceptance of them is founded?

On what? The voices in your head?

rank sophist said...

Such things that violate basic laws of physics and chemistry, and furthermore have never been demonstrated to even be possible.

To butt in, apologies to B. Prokop:

What is a law of physics or chemistry but an abstraction? Scientific "laws" represent our understanding of phenomena based on x amount of observed data. The "law of gravity", for instance, is a summary term for our best current science related to gravitation. Issues connected to dark matter (or some other, unexpected discovery) may in the future cause us to revise this law, just as the previous version was revised after the formulation of general relativity.

However, in that case, there can't be violations of laws--only the appearance of data that is incongruous with our models. Appealing to a law to rule out data incongruous with that law (such as resurrection) is question-begging. In order for your argument to be valid, the data must be discredited on its own terms. A good bet might be to appeal to probability theory, in order to demonstrate that a resurrection is incredibly unlikely. But there's another problem--namely, the one to which B. Prokop was referring. To get the result you want from the probability calculation, you first have to disbelieve in a God who would be interested in resurrecting Jesus. Otherwise, the probability of his resurrection, given the historical reliability of the New Testament, becomes quite high indeed.

Papalinton said...

"To get the result you want from the probability calculation, you first have to disbelieve in a God who would be interested in resurrecting Jesus. Otherwise, the probability of his resurrection, given the historical reliability of the New Testament, becomes quite high indeed."

There is nothing wrong with this statement; unless you believe it.

And as Prof David Eller notes, "Religion is not so bad - unless you believe it." He goes on to say that, if one has belief, knowledge is lacking; if one has knowledge, belief is unnecessary.

Quick Joe Smith said...

@rank sophist:

Regardless of what happens in the future, our current laws of gravity will serve us perfectly well under the conditions to which they apply. So, nice try, but fail.

To concentrate on one example: water does not turn to wine. Fermented grape juice does not spontaneously come into existence. If you disagree, feel free to point out to me the relevant scientific literature and I will eat humble pie.

My original point, before you drag this too far off topic, was to take issue with Prokop's assertion that an intelligent person can, using sound reasoning and critical thinking, read the Gospels and be convinced beyond rational doubt that these things actually happened.

If one were to reach this conclusion rationally, the possibility of such events would be supported (or, if nothing else, at least not prohibited) by current knowledge and scientific consensus.

"To get the result you want from the probability calculation, you first have to disbelieve in a God who would be interested in resurrecting Jesus."

Likewise, to get the result you want, you have to believe in a god that can do anything it wants, and at that point probability for anything is entirely meaningless. So why bother?

B. Prokop said...
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B. Prokop said...

"If one were to reach this conclusion rationally, the possibility of such events would be supported (or, if nothing else, at least not prohibited) by current knowledge and scientific consensus."

Where to begin? Where to begin?

You write as though you have never heard of the concept of miracle. By definition, a miracle is an event that occurs outside of the normal course of things - something that cannot be explained by the "laws" (nice anthropomorphic term there, by the way) of science.

I don't recall seeing you on this website before, but you might like to check out the many, many threads on the subject of the miraculous that have been here. Or you might just like to read Lewis's book Miracles (this is a website about Lewis, after all - to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie).

But in any case, your most recent postings merely confirm my original comment. You are basing your thinking on an unfounded assumption - that the miraculous does not occur. Now it's fine to have a priori assumptions, as long as one recognizes them as such. And more importantly, one must not use them in arguments without acknowledging them. Because others probably don't share your initial, unproven premises.

Quick Joe Smith said...

"You are basing your thinking on an unfounded assumption - that the miraculous does not occur."

I am stating that claims of miraculous events should not be accepted at face value.

Your apparent implication that it's somehow more rational to believe in ancient, unverifiable miracle claims (events for which we have zero verified instances to corroborate with) than it is to reject them is complete bilge.

You write as though you have never heard of the concept of the burden of proof.

Papalinton said...

"miracle |ˈmirikəl| noun;
• a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency : the miracle of rising from the grave.
• a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences : it was a miracle that more people hadn't been killed or injured [as adj. ] : a miracle drug.
• an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something : a machine which was a miracle of design.
ORIGIN Middle English : via Old French from Latin miraculum ‘object of wonder,’ from mirari ‘to wonder,’ from mirus ‘wonderful.’"

[All References Library]

As the first dot point records: a surprising and welcome event, that is as yet inexplicable by natural or scientific laws, and by default is attributed to a god-of-the gaps.

The following is the best of the rounded explanations for miracles. It comes form the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"In the final analysis, the relevance of background beliefs looms large. To say this is not to endorse a lazy and unprincipled relativism; rather, the point is that one's considered rational judgment regarding the existence and nature of God must take into account far more than the evidence for miracle claims. That is not to say that they could not be an important or even, under certain circumstances, a decisive piece of evidence; it is simply that neither a positive nor a negative claim regarding the existence of God can be established on the basis of evidence for a miracle claim alone, without any consideration of other aspects of the question.

For the evidence for a miracle claim, being public and empirical, is never strictly demonstrative, either as to the fact of the event or as to the supernatural cause of the event. It remains possible, though the facts in the case may in principle render it wildly improbable, that the testifier is either a deceiver or himself deceived; and so long as those possibilities exist, there will be logical space for other forms of evidence to bear on the conclusion."


It can be found at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/miracles/

B. Prokop said...

"You write as though you have never heard of the concept of the burden of proof."

Did I not write the following?

"after carefully examining and evaluating all the evidence"

You write as though you do not actually read other peoples' posts before you respond to them.

grodrigues said...

@Quick Joe Smith:

"Regardless of what happens in the future, our current laws of gravity will serve us perfectly well under the conditions to which they apply. So, nice try, but fail."

Nice try but fail. You missed rank sophist's point. Instead of just repeating it, let me be as simple as possible and give just one example: under classical, Newtonian theory of gravity, massive bodies such as stars do not change the path that a photon traces.

Papalinton said...

"Instead of just repeating it, let me be as simple as possible and give just one example: under classical, Newtonian theory of gravity, massive bodies such as stars do not change the path that a photon traces."

Nice try but only half an explanation. Light's path may not bend because it is in proximity of a massive body, but the bending of light can still occur if it passes through the optical interaction with matter comprising the sun's corona -- that is, refraction. And the corona is an integral element of stars.

Quick Joe Smith said...

@Prokop

Your self-quote has no relevance, and is useless as a rebuttal. The context of my remark was obvious, and you've chosen to ignore it for some reason.

Here it is again:

"Your apparent implication that it's somehow more rational to believe in ancient, unverifiable miracle claims (events for which we have zero verified instances to corroborate with) than it is to reject them is complete bilge."

I say apparent because you have repeatedly stated that not believing in miracles is an unfounded assumption, but have pointedly neglected to make the same concession for believing in miracles.

B. Prokop said...

But they are not the same at all, and there is no need to make an equivalent concession, because there is no equivalency.

You have a priori (look it up) ruled out the possibility of the miraculous, yet refuse to acknowledge that. I, on the other hand, have not ruled out anything, preferring to judge events on the evidence. Where is the unfounded assumption that must therefore be acknowledged?

Walter said...

Personally, I don't have an a priori metaphysical problem with the miracle accounts in the Gospels, my problem with them is epistemic. History is filled with tales of the miraculous that we usually categorize as myths and legends. Based upon the Principle of Analogy it stands to reason that the miracle tales found in the bible will likely fall into the same categories -- even despite the fact that they are embedded in an accurate historical backdrop. Could they be the exceptions rather than the rule? Perhaps, but probability seems to favor the opposite conclusion.

Quick Joe Smith said...

@Prokop

You are telling porkies now.

I have been quite clear from the start that I object to your notion that studying ancient anecdotes would lead a rational person to conclude beyond any reasonable doubt (emphasis included again for your benefit) that these miracles were real events.

You keep repeating that I deny miracles are possible; yet nowhere have I said this, and several times I have clarified that this is not my assertion.

You write as though you do not actually read other peoples' posts before you respond to them.

B. Prokop said...
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B. Prokop said...
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B. Prokop said...

I am always left with the strong (indeed, overwhelming) suspicion that the probability argument is a completely inappropriate tool in discussing the miraculous. Again by definition, a miracle will be the most improbable of events. They are in fact singularities - one time occurrences. But that in no way rules out their possibility. It just moves the argument to a deeper, more profound level.

Again and again, it has to be emphasized that we're dealing with a different class of events here. In their most fundamental of essences, they are not going to shoehorned into a naturalistic box.

I'm going to use some very sloppy language here (I'll try to clean it up later), but anything provable would not be a miracle. If you could prove it, it would then be part and parcel of the natural world. This is part of what we mean by the term "supernatural".

So you see, in the end it always comes down to basics. there's a Grand Unity here. You have to "buy the whole package" or walk away. There's no convenient Rest Camp halfway up the mountain. It's all the way to the top, or you fall off the cliff. It's either non-materialism, the supernatural, the soul, miracles, a created universe, and ultimately... God Himself - or nothing.

Walter said...

It's all the way to the top, or you fall off the cliff. It's either non-materialism, the supernatural, the soul, miracles, a created universe, and ultimately... God Himself - or nothing.

I think you may be setting up a false dichotomy here. The options available to us are not binary, but are more like gradients across a spectrum.

I am always left with the strong (indeed, overwhelming) suspicion that the probability argument is a completely inappropriate tool in discussing the miraculous. Again by definition, a miracle will be the most improbable of events. They are in fact singularities - one time occurrences. But that in no way rules out their possibility. It just moves the argument to a deeper, more profound level.

This highlights my problem with the Gospel stories. Assuming that the miracle parts truly happened, then they are singular, one-off events. If you consider that most miraculous tales found in history are myths and legends that did not truly happen, how do you determine a true miracle out of the vast sea of false ones?

Victor Reppert said...

I do believe that a case can be made for the claim that the Christian story about what happened in the life of Jesus makes more sense of the evidence than any possible naturalistic story, so long as you are willing to allow for a God who might do such a thing.

But here Hume keeps coming back. If you base probabilities on what is most frequently found in nature, and you don't introduce the possibility of a non-human designer, then it looks as if the frequency of dead people who stay dead defeats anything but "extraordinary" (read virtually impossible) evidence for, say, a resurrection.

But, the believer responds, causing the miracles in the life of Jesus seems like something a God might do. It makes sense from a theistic perspective, as opposed to, say, claiming that God caused a bunch of people to hallucinate, or caused a bunch of people to propagate a hoax that would ultimately result in them ending up on the kind of cross that Jesus was crucified on.

But, the reply goes, likelihoods about what a divine agent might or might not do can't be brought in. They aren't based on experience, the way, say, the frequency of dead people who stay dead does.

But, the theist replies, we can draw inferences about possible divine designers from analogy to human designers.

That's why I think Lydia McGrew's paper on design and probabilities is relevant to this whole debate, which I linked to a few days ago.

rank sophist said...

QJS,

Regardless of what happens in the future, our current laws of gravity will serve us perfectly well under the conditions to which they apply. So, nice try, but fail.

Yeah, no. As grodrigues said:

You missed rank sophist's point. Instead of just repeating it, let me be as simple as possible and give just one example: under classical, Newtonian theory of gravity, massive bodies such as stars do not change the path that a photon traces.

In other words, you're just handwaving. Nice try, though.

To concentrate on one example: water does not turn to wine.

Way to beg the question again. We have a pile of data regarding water. A new piece of data incongruous with our data pile is not disproven merely because it does not fit into said pile. If we used this method for science, no progress would ever be made, because groundbreaking discoveries would be refuted ahead of time by existing models.

My original point, before you drag this too far off topic, was to take issue with Prokop's assertion that an intelligent person can, using sound reasoning and critical thinking, read the Gospels and be convinced beyond rational doubt that these things actually happened.

If we accept the following points, then it seems like common sense.

1. The existence of a God interested in resurrecting Jesus.

2. The historical reliability of the Gospels.

Now, you can argue against those two points if you want. Go right ahead.

If one were to reach this conclusion rationally, the possibility of such events would be supported (or, if nothing else, at least not prohibited) by current knowledge and scientific consensus.

You just threw out scientific progress again. If our method for coming to a rational conclusion is connected to the support or non-prohibition of current science, then groundbreaking discoveries cannot be made.

Consider a recent example: scientists suggesting that neutrinos could go faster than light. Now, this was later disproven (on its own terms), but it wasn't pre-emptively refuted just because it violated countless laws. If it had been found to be true, it would have torn the scientific world apart--and yet no one dismissed it just because of that fact.

Likewise, to get the result you want, you have to believe in a god that can do anything it wants, and at that point probability for anything is entirely meaningless. So why bother?

Wait... what? That's a very strange non-sequitur you have there. Care to explain?

Crude said...

Again by definition, a miracle will be the most improbable of events.

Not really. Not by a reasonable definition, anyway.

Perhaps, "an event unlikely to have occurred by accident". On the other hand, is this post miraculous?

B. Prokop said...

Just watched an interesting documentary, the Star of Bethlehem. (No surprise, considering my interest in astronomy.) Pretty interesting stuff. Seems that Jupiter (the King planet) made three passes by the Regulus (the King star) in the constellation Leo (associated with the Hebrew tribe of Judah) in 3 BC, followed by a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter so close that they appeared to be a single star in the sky.

Now I don't bring this up as any sort of evidence of the truth of Christianity, but it is nice to know that there actually was a Star of Bethlehem. Kind of knocks the legs out from under those who insist the infancy account in Matthew is nothing more than myth. I always suspected that Matthew was relating actual events, and now, thanks to computer software that allows us to accurately depict what the sky would have looked like at any given date, we have more reason than ever to take him at his word.

Walter said...

Now I don't bring this up as any sort of evidence of the truth of Christianity, but it is nice to know that there actually was a Star of Bethlehem. Kind of knocks the legs out from under those who insist the infancy account in Matthew is nothing more than myth.

How does a planetary alignment lead a group of Magi to a particular spot in Bethlehem? This is not a very convincing argument for the historicity of Matthew's account.

B. Prokop said...

No, you are absolutely correct. It is, in fact, not an argument of any sort. But it is most definitely one less reason to think that Matthew is not historically accurate.

B. Prokop said...

And as for the star leading the magi to "one particular spot in Bethlehem", it did not do that at all. King Herod did that. The star motivated the magi to go to Judea. When they got there, they had no idea where to go next.

But having been told by Herod to seek for the child in Bethlehem, the magi must have been comforted by the fact that, at the time of their departure from Jerusalem, Jupiter was exactly over the village of Bethlehem (as seen from Jerusalem). Another intriguing point - Matthew describes the star as "stopping over the place where the child was". Huh? What does he mean by that. Well...

It just so happens that on the 25th of December in the year 2 BC, Jupiter completed its retrograde motion for that year, and appeared for a single night motionless, directly over Bethlehem.

(All planets further out from the Sun than the Earth appear to move in a retrograde fashion once per year, due to the varying speeds which the different planets orbit the Sun.)

But you gotta love the date. Apparently the "Three Wise Men" actually did present their gifts to the Christ Child on Christmas Day!

Walter said...


It just so happens that on the 25th of December in the year 2 BC, Jupiter completed its retrograde motion for that year, and appeared for a single night motionless, directly over Bethlehem.


I still fail to see how an astronomical event can lead a group of people to a particular spot. I also have serious doubt that the historical Jesus happened to be born on the 25th of December. Most Christians today have no problem with accepting the fact that many biblical tales such as Noah's Flood or Jonah's Sea World Adventure were not literal historical events, so why not just add Matthew's nativity tale to the same category?

B. Prokop said...

No, the birth did not occur on 25 December. But apparently, the visit of the magi did! (I personally consider this to be a hilarious coincidence.)

The full sequence of planetary/stellar events which together made up the "Star of Bethlehem" was this:

1. In 3 BC, Jupiter begins a triple pass of the star Regulus in Leo. (This is what would have set the magi to thinking of a royal event in Judea.)

2. Nine months later (now, how interesting it that!?), Jupiter and Venus merge from Earth's point of view into a single star. (The magi would have considered this to be the "birth announcement" - the King and the Woman represented by the two planets in conjunction.)

3. About 6 months later, Jupiter halts over Bethlehem (as seen from the vantage point of someone approaching from Jerusalem) in the course of its completion of its retrograde motion.

BenYachov said...

>I still fail to see how an astronomical event can lead a group of people to a particular spot.

Walter, Bob said "And as for the star leading the magi to 'one particular spot in Bethlehem', it did not do that at all. King Herod did that. The star motivated the magi to go to Judea. When they got there, they had no idea where to go next."

I'm skeptical Jesus was born exactly on the 25th but your kneejerk dismissal here is not convincing to that end.

>Most Christians today have no problem with accepting the fact that many biblical tales such as Noah's Flood

There is no reason to reject the literal flood(the ordinary magesterium teaches it was a historical fact) but there is no reason to believe it was a global flood. A local flood would due just nicely.

>or Jonah's Sea World Adventure were not literal historical events,

Some Rabbis & maybe one Christian writer suggested Jonah might be an extended parable but just because Jonah might be therefore everything must be a parable.

>so why not just add Matthew's nativity tale to the same category?

Tradition & the ordinary teaching magesterium forbid it. Just because Tobas, Judith, Job or Jonah might have been Theological novels & extended parables doesn't mean everything must be a parable.

Also there is no compelling reason to accept it as one.

In Judith her name means "Jewess" & the book shows a Babylonian King leading the Assrians to try to destroy Israel.

That might be like if I wrote a story how Miss America saved the good old USA by killing Adolph Hitler- King of Russians.

Judith's gentre lends itself toward allegory. The Infancy Naratives not so much since the Virgin Birth is an infallible dogma. Jonah literally existing and literally being eaten by a big fish is not a dogmas.

Walter said...

Ben, your argument is one big appeal to Catholic authority, and I am not interested in the slightest that your Christian Bureaucracy considers the story to be infallible dogma.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

This is impossible to explain as a natural event. It is either another miraculous vision observed only by the Magi, or it is simply creative storytelling by the author of gMatthew. I'd say it's the latter. One of your own Catholic brothers, Raymond Brown, seems to agree that Matthew got a little creative with the infancy narrative.

B. Prokop said...

"I'm skeptical Jesus was born exactly on the 25th"

Et tu, Ben? Dang, you're reading my post as sloppily as Papalinton would. Read it again. I didn't say that Jesus was born on Dec 25th - I said that it's likely the visit of the magi occurred on that date. The "birth announcement" event in the sky (the conjunction between Jupiter and Venus) occurred on June 17th, 2 BC. (Missed it by one day. My own birthday is the 18th!)

But to reiterate. These events are in no way, shape, or form an argument for the historicity of Matthew's infancy account. But they do destroy an important argument against their accuracy - that being the supposed mythological nature of the star. The star was real. We can prove this using software that allows us to see with great accuracy what the skies looked like at any moment in time and from any vantage point.

So if anyone wants to persist in calling Matthew a myth-maker, he's gonna have to look elsewhere. This boat has sailed!

(And by the way, his incredible fidelity to actual, verifiable events in this instance augurs well for us finding he was similarly accurate in other controversial passages, such as Matthew 27:52-3. The outlook for the knee-jerk skeptical position is starting to look truly desperate.)

B. Prokop said...

Walter,

I've already explained how the star did indeed behave exactly as Matthew described. Each year, due to the difference in orbital speeds between the Earth and the outer planets, these planets will trace a "loopy" path across the sky in their movements through the constellations. We call this retrograde motion. (This is the result of the Earth alternately catching up to and then moving ahead of the planet in question.) At the point of maximum retrograde (which occurs once per year), the planet (be it Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn - the only outer planets known to the ancients) will appear to stop dead in the sky relative to the "fixed stars" for a single night.

In 2 BC, Jupiter did precisely that on the 25th of December. From the vantage point of a person heading south from Jerusalem, this would have caused the star to seem to hover directly over Bethlehem at "meridian transit" (an astronomical term which defines a given star's apparent position on a particular evening).

So in objective, verifiable fact, it "stood over where the young child was" (meaning: over Bethlehem).

But again, my point in bringing this up is not to argue for Christ's divinity, but to expel the notion that the Star of Bethlehem is made up. It most emphatically did appear in the sky, just as Matthew wrote.

BenYachov said...

@Walter
>Ben, your argument is one big appeal to Catholic authority, and I am not interested in the slightest that your Christian Bureaucracy considers the story to be infallible dogma.

I am not arguing for anything. I am criticizing your lame skeptical dismissal by kneejerk.

>When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

So you take an obvious poetic phrase hyper-literally? This is lame. So Walter are you gonna tell me the verses in psalms that talk about YHWH enfolding us in his wings really mean to teach YHWN is literally a giant bird? Seriously?

For a religiously skeptical Deist this is a fundamentalist mentality. Your better than that Walter. We all know this.

We use Tradition to interpret Scripture and Church. That is what Scripture says.

>This is impossible to explain as a natural event. It is either another miraculous vision observed only by the Magi, or it is simply creative storytelling by the author of gMatthew.

So it is impossible in nature to explain poetic language? The star has to literally be hovering over the Stable? It can't be in the sky in the general direction of Jerusalem from where the Magi are traveling? The Star has to be moving literally & hovering literally in some perternatural way? Seriously?

>I'd say it's the latter. One of your own Catholic brothers, Raymond Brown, seems to agree that Matthew got a little creative with the infancy narrative.

Many conservatives Scholars (like the late Fr. William Most) give Brown the business for his excesses. OTOH Fr. Brown is as a semi-"liberal" more conservative then many liberal secular scholars of the NT. Having Sacraments in your soul will do that to ya.

@Bob

I was merely expressing my personal view on the date of birth of Christ. I thought Walters kneejerk dismissal without reading you more carefully was wrong.
I am skeptical of Christ both being born on the 25th and being born in December. I am not closed to the idea either. I've heard good arguments for December and other months. I have no personal preference.

Walter said...

But again, my point in bringing this up is not to argue for Christ's divinity, but to expel the notion that the Star of Bethlehem is made up. It most emphatically did appear in the sky, just as Matthew wrote.

Bob, you have absolutely no way of knowing that the retrograde motion of Jupiter is Matthew's Star of Bethlehem. As a believer in miracles, it could just as easily be explained as a vision that God gave to the Magi. I still lean towards the author getting a little creative in his enthusiasm to show Jesus as something special. Call it kneejerk skepticism all you want.

B. Prokop said...

Once again... (Warning: I'm getting frustrated here over my need to repeat myself.)

I am not, not, not trying to say that these celestial events "prove" the Gospel. What I am saying, as emphatically as I can, is that there is no way anyone can call the Star of Bethlehem a myth, something made up, poetic license (sorry, Ben), or just Good Storytelling. these things happened. We can demonstrate this with 100% certainty. It is as certain as being able to tell at what moment the sun rose on (to take a date at random) November 16, 1989.

By the way, it is hilarious that Ben and I have switched roles here. Usually he's the one defending the historicity of something or other in the Bible (such as did Adam actually exist) while I express my doubts, and here I am defending a literalist interpretation of an event while he's labeling it poetry!

Walter said...

What I am saying, as emphatically as I can, is that there is no way anyone can call the Star of Bethlehem a myth, something made up, poetic license (sorry, Ben), or just Good Storytelling.

And there is no way anyone can say with assurance that your astronomical event was the Star of Bethlehem.

I find it odd that a believer in supernatural miracles is grasping for a naturalistic explanation.

B. Prokop said...

No, I am saying that one cannot deny the objective reality of the naturalistic events. Whatever supernatural interpretation one might put on these events is another matter entirely. But the star was real. You cannot say otherwise.

And in any case, I wouldn't be "grasping" at a naturalistic explanation. Remember that the subject of this particular thread is, in a broad sense, "What is your opinion of the Gospels' historicity?" I am pointing out that, since the advent of software which allows us to duplicate the skies over the Middle East at the time of the birth of Christ, it is no longer possible to say that Matthew's infancy account does not portray actual events (at least as far as what occurred in the heavens).

Now as to whether these phenomena meant what Matthew said they did... that's a subject for another thread.

BenYachov said...

@Bob.

>I can, is that there is no way anyone can call the Star of Bethlehem a myth, something made up, poetic license (sorry, Ben), or just Good Storytelling.

I am talking about how the Star is described poetically in the Gospels.

I certainly believe there was a historic Star.

We need to get on the same page Bob.

B. Prokop said...

These days, I'm happy when someone's on the same chapter!