Monday, August 20, 2007


Here are three golden rules of science which are practiced in every legitimate scientific or historical field but are constantly violated in historical Jesus studies:

1) Never confuse theories and facts (or data). They must always be distinguished and theories must never be promoted as (false) facts.

2) If a theory is contradicted by plenty of facts, or alternatively if it fails to account for much of the data, then TRY ANOTHER THEORY! In any good science, various possibilities must be tried out. Relentlessly promoting only one that fails to explain the evidence is the worst kind of science and would not be tolerated in any other field.

3) Theories serve the facts, not the other way around. The goal in science is not to come up with good theories. If a theory is really good, its purpose is to serve as a window onto the facts. Seeing the facts more clearly is always the goal. A theory is merely a lens.

The main problem in historical Jesus studies is that the Jewish "trial" of Jesus and Judas' "betrayal" of him are taken to be literally stated facts or data in the Gospels. That is false. They are theories or interpretations of the Gospels, not given facts.

Yet when you read almost any scholar on this, that is not what you get. Thus, Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels in their comments on Judas in the canonical Gospels (in their respective recent essays on the Gospel of Judas) falsely treat his treachery as a stated fact. It is really an interpretation and quite a bad one. It fails to explain why the Gospels use a neutral word to describe his deed, not the word for betray, and why Mark in particular is lacking every detail you would expect in a story of betrayal (motive, conflict, recriminations from other disciples). There is a much better explanation of what happened.

Here are the three fool's gold rules of historical Jesus studies as it is actually practiced:

1) Jesus must be divorced from his Jewish culture.

2) Jesus must be surrounded and done in by Jewish enemies.

3) Except for 1 and 2 above, Jesus must otherwise remain a mystery.

Sticking to first principles which are contradicted by most of the evidence is simply bad scholarship. I don't see any signs that mainstream scholarship is going to change any time soon.

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