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Sources for Our Knowledge. Of the Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth Part 2: Other Sources. Methods to Explain the Similarities and Uniquenesses of the Gospels. Literary Criticism Identification of written or oral sources behind the gospels.

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sources for our knowledge

Sources for Our Knowledge

Of the Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth

Part 2: Other Sources

methods to explain the similarities and uniquenesses of the gospels
Methods to Explain the Similarities and Uniquenesses of the Gospels
  • Literary Criticism

Identification of written or oral sources behind the gospels.

The most natural conclusion from examining the gospel documents is that Mark, and possibly one other source called “Q”, are the written sources behind the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

John appears to share no discernible written sources with the “synoptic” gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

methods to explain the similarities and uniquenesses of the gospels1
Methods to Explain the Similarities and Uniquenesses of the Gospels
  • Literary Criticism

Identification of written or oral sources behind the gospels.

  • Form Criticism

Analysis of why these stories and teachings were preserved in these forms by the early church.

form criticism
“Form Criticism”
  • This approach contends that the events and sayings preserved in the gospels were drawn from the teaching and personal devotion of the church. The “forms” of the sayings and stories were adapted to the church’s needs in evangelism and instruction of disciples, and were shaped according to their usefulness in these tasks.
  • In this approach, it is considered unimportant whether the events recorded were historical.
  • What appears to be literary dependence may sometimes simply be the preservation of the common memories of the church, adapted through constant retelling to the differing situations in different settings in the empire as Christianity spread.
  • Each gospel represents a distinct “life situation” in the early church, and uses material that varies according to its unique original audience.
answers to skeptical form criticism
Answers to skeptical Form Criticism
  • Although form criticism does help to explain some of the content of the gospels, it is often championed by scholars who believe we have virtually no historical information about Jesus (i.e., the “Jesus Seminar”).
  • These scholars contend that the “Jesus legend” was a product of the bereaved early Christian community, who needed Jesus to be who they thought he was.
  • How to answer this point of view?
answers to skeptical form criticism1
Answers to skeptical Form Criticism

Several evidences argue against the gospels as community legend:

  • The presence of eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2, 1 Cor. 15:6).
  • Jesus’ rabbinical teaching methods with emphasis on verbatim recall.
  • The common historical material at the core of stories that have been recast.
  • The absence of the parables and most other of Jesus’ teachings in the earliest records of the church’s preaching, the letters of Paul and others.
  • The complete absence of the known words of early Christian teachers (such as Paul) being “put into the mouth” of Jesus.
  • The consistent transmission of material that was either embarrassing or easily misunderstood, such as Jesus’ attitudes toward women, Gentiles, and children
  • The preservation of teachings that could be attacked as untrue, such as the promise that the kingdom of God would come within the present generation (Mark 9:1).
methods to explain the similarities and uniquenesses of the gospels2
Methods to Explain the Similarities and Uniquenesses of the Gospels
  • Literary Criticism

Identification of written or oral sources behind the gospels.

  • Form Criticism

Analysis of why these stories and teachings were preserved in these forms by the early church.

  • Redaction Criticism

Analysis of the theological viewpoint of each individual gospel author.

redaction criticism
“Redaction” Criticism
  • Similar to Form Criticism
  • Emphasizes purpose of each author in communicating with his intended audience.
  • We will engage in redaction criticism (without calling it that) in the next section of the course.
earliest witnesses to christ letters of paul
Earliest Witnesses to Christ: letters of Paul
  • Paul uses sources: Peter, James, the Jerusalem Church (see Galatians 2)
earliest witnesses to christ letters of paul1
Earliest Witnesses to Christ: letters of Paul
  • Paul uses sources: Peter, James, the Jerusalem Church (see Galatians 2)
  • Paul distinguishes Jesus’ words from his own:

1 Cor 7:10-12 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband … 12To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.

echoes of jesus in paul s letters
Echoes of Jesus in Paul’s letters:
  • Luke 6:27-28 But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
  • Rom 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
echoes of jesus in paul s letters1
Echoes of Jesus in Paul’s letters:
  • Matt 17:20 … if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move….
  • 1 Cor 13:2 … if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains….
echoes of jesus in paul s letters2
Echoes of Jesus in Paul’s letters:
  • Mark 9:50 … Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.
  • 1 Thess 5:13 … Be at peace among yourselves.
other christian sources apocryphal gospels
Other Christian Sources: Apocryphal Gospels
  • “Apocryphal” = “spurious” or simply “non-canonical”
  • We know something about approx. 40 apocryphal gospels, although the complete text of only about 12 survives.
  • The two major types of apocryphal gospels are the “Gnostic” gospels and the “infancy narratives.”
gnostic gospels
Gnostic Gospels
  • The two most important are the “Gospel of Thomas” (2nd century AD) and the “Gospel of Phillip.” (3rd century AD)
  • “Gnosticism” (from Gr. “gnosis” or “knowledge”) was an adaptation of Christianity to a system of philosophical dualism prominent in the early centuries of the Christian era.
  • Basic premise: spirit and matter do not mix.
gnostic gospels1
Gnostic Gospels
  • “Thomas” is a “sayings” gospel with no narrative, comprised of 144 “logia” (Gr. for “sayings”), some of which are identical or similar to sayings in the canonical gospels.
  • “Phillip” is eclectic, containing both narrative, polemic, and logia. It is especially concerned with the relation between man and woman as typical of the union of spirit and flesh.
quotes from gnostic gospel of thomas
Quotes from Gnostic Gospel of Thomas

1. And he said, "Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death."

5. Jesus said, "Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.  For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. [And there is nothing buried that will not be raised.]"

15. "When you see one who was not born of woman, fall on your faces and worship. That one is your Father."

22. Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, "These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father's) kingdom."  They said to him, "Then shall we enter the (Father's) kingdom as babies?"  Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter."

quotes from gnostic gospel of thomas1
Quotes from Gnostic Gospel of Thomas

37. His disciples said, "When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?"  Jesus said, "When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the living one...."

77. Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained.  Split a piece of wood; I am there.  Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."

105. Jesus said, "Whoever knows the father and the mother will be called the child of a whore."

108. Jesus said, "Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him."

114. Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't deserve life."  Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."

quotes from gnostic gospel of phillip
Quotes from Gnostic Gospel of Phillip

God created man and man created God. So is it in the world. Men make gods and they worship their creations. If would be fitting for the gods to worship men.

God is a man-eater. For this reason, men are sacrificed to him. Before men were sacrificed, animals were being sacrificed, since those to whom they were sacrificed were not gods.

Jesus took them all by stealth, for he did not appear as he was, but in the manner in which they would be able to see him. He appeared to them all. He appeared to the great as great. He appeared to the small as small. He appeared to the angels as an angel, and to men as a man. Because of this, his word hid itself from everyone. Some indeed saw him, thinking that they were seeing themselves, but when he appeared to his disciples in glory on the mount, he was not small. He became great, but he made the disciples great, that they might be able to see him in his greatness.

quotes from gnostic gospel of phillip1
Quotes from Gnostic Gospel of Phillip

When Eve was still with Adam, death did not exist. When she was separated from him, death was born. If he enters again and attains his former self, death will be no more.

The world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire. For the world never was imperishable, nor, for that matter, was he who made the world. For things are not imperishable, but sons are. Nothing will be able to receive imperishability if it does not first become a son.

There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.

And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?"

non christian sources
Non-Christian Sources
  • Two Jewish Sources:
    • Flavius Josephus
      • A Pharisee who became a supporter of Roman rule.
      • Wrote extensive histories of the Jewish people and their wars with Rome.
    • The Babylonian Talmud
      • A 5th century compilation of several centuries of traditions of the rabbis.
flavius josephus
Flavius Josephus
  • The hotly-debated Testimonium Flavianum: “About this time… arose Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be right to call him a man.  For he was a doer of marvelous deeds, and a teacher of men who gladly receive the truth.  He drew to himself many persons, both of the Jews and also of the Gentiles.  He was the Christ.  And when Pilate, upon the indictment of the leading men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at the first did not cease to do so, for he appeared to them alive on the third day – the godly prophets having fortold these and ten thousand other wonderful things about him.  And even to this day the race of Christians, who are named from him, has not died out.” – Antiquities XVIII.iii.3
  • Antiquities XX.ix.1 refers to the trial of James before the Sanhedrin, referring to him as “the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ.”
authenticity of the testimonium
Authenticity of the testimonium
  • The problem with the Testimonium is obvious.  Josephus was not a believer, as his second reference clearly shows.  So how did the first endorsement of faith creep into his work? 
  • A third century Christian scholar named Origen, though familiar with Josephus, apparently had not read the Testimonium, for he wrote specifically that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ.  The fourth century Christian writer Eusebius, however, knew and accepted the Testimonium as genuine.  It is hypothesized that a Christian scribe may have amplified and modified the passage in misguided service of evangelism. 
  • One 10th century translation of Antiquities (translated by a Christian bishop from an ancient manuscript) omits the references to miracles and deity in the testimonium, saying that “reportedly” he rose on the third day and demurring that “perhaps” he was the Christ.  Many scholars regard this version as more representative of the original, and more consistent with Josephus’ other writings.  In this line of thought, a Christian copyist must have “embroidered” the text to cast his Lord in a more favorable light.
babylonian talmud
Babylonian Talmud
  • Preserves several unflattering references to Jesus:
  • Jesus, whose formal appellation was Ben Pandera (a play on parthenos, the Greek word for “virgin”), was born out of wedlock.
  • He spent his early years in Egypt where he learned magic that enabled him to deceive the masses.
  • He called himself God.
  • He was tried and condemned by the Sanhedrin as a teacher of apostasy.
  • He was executed on the eve of the Passover by stoning, hanging, or crucifixion.
  • He had five disciples:  Matthai, Neqai, Netzer, Buni, and Thodah.
roman sources pliny the younger
Roman Sources: Pliny the Younger
  • Pliny the Younger (ca. 62 – ca. 113).  A governor of the province of Bithynia , he wrote the emperor Trajan in A. D. 112 seeking counsel about how to deal with the growing number Christians in the province.  He writes of Christians that they assembled to “sing responsively a hymn to Christ as if to a god.”
roman sources tacitus
Roman Sources: Tacitus
  • Tacitus (ca. 55 – ca. 117).  In his widely quoted Annals, he reports that Nero tried to blame the Rome fire of A. D. 64 on Christians.  “Their name,” Tacitus writes, “comes from Christus, who in the reign of Tiberius as emperor was condemned to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate.” – Annals, xv.44
roman sources suetonius
Roman Sources: Suetonius
  • Suetonius (d. 160) wrote a popular history entitled The Lives of the Twelve Caesars while secretary to the Emperor Hadrian with access to the official archives.  He also refers to the persecution of Christians by Nero.  In the section concerning Claudius, he refers to the expulsion from Rome in 44 A. D. of the Jews, “who had been continually stirring up trouble under the influence of Chrestus.”
secondary sources thallus
Secondary sources: Thallus
  • Thallus, quoted by Julius Africanus (3rd century Christian chronicler):

“This event followed each of his deeds, and healings of body and soul, and knowledge of hidden things, and his resurrection from the dead, all sufficiently proven to the disciples before us and to his apostles: after the most dreadful darkness fell over the whole world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake and much of Judaea and the rest of the land was torn down. Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of his Histories, without reason it seems to me. For....how are we to believe that an eclipse happened when the moon was diametrically opposite the sun? “

secondary sources phlegon
Secondary sources: Phlegon
  • Julius continues:
  • “In fact, let it be so. Let the idea that this happened seize and carry away the multitude, and let the cosmic prodigy be counted as an eclipse of the sun according to its appearance. Phlegon reports that in the time of Tiberius Caesar, during the full moon, a full eclipse of the sun happened, from the sixth hour until the ninth. Clearly this is our eclipse! What is common about an earthquake, an eclipse, rocks torn apart, a rising of the dead, and such a huge cosmic movement? At the very least, over a long period, no conjunction this great is remembered. But it was a godsent darkness, because the Lord happened to suffer, and the Bible, in Daniel, supports that seventy spans of seven years would come together up to this time. “
secondary sources phlegon1
Secondary sources: Phlegon
  • Origen (4th century Christian)quotes Phlegon verbatim:
  • “Jesus Christ..underwent his passion in the 18th year of Tiberius [32 AD]. Also at that time in another Greek compendium we find an event recorded in these words: "the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell." All these things happened to occur during the Lord's passion. In fact, Phlegon, too, a distinguished reckoner of Olympiads, wrote more on these events in his 13th book, saying this: "Now, in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [32 AD], a great eclipse of the sun occurred at the sixth hour [noon] that excelled every other before it, turning the day into such darkness of night that the stars could be seen in heaven, and the earth moved in Bithynia, toppling many buildings in the city of Nicaea."