Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Ryan Anderson testified on March 16th before the Commission on Civil Rights.  His comments can be found in his Public Discourse essay Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Are Not Like Race: Why ENDA is Bad Policy.  In the midst of his comments he mentioned Wesleyan College's 15 letter acronym: LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM which stands for "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Asexual, Genderfuck, Polyamourous, Bondage/Disciple, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism."  

After reading this I came across Andree Seu Peterson's column in World Magazine entitled Acronym Absurdity.  Here a few choice comments:
Sometimes I wonder if the inventors of the other LGBT brand are a tad embarrassed. They keep having to add new letters to their acronym, and the more they tack on the weaker their case looks. In simpler days when it was merely an “L” and a “G,” their position seemed stronger because all they had to persuade us of was that some people are born with a hard-wired romantic orientation to the same sex. We were given assurances that if we granted “L” and “G” they would be happy and leave us alone, having achieved total self-actualization and a redressing of offenses against their long-aggrieved identities.
Then “B” came along, and they had to fairly sneak it in when no one was looking, because claiming that you have an orientation that goes both ways sounds a lot like saying you just like to fool around and you don’t care who with. Suddenly we are plunged from the high-minded early visions of ineluctable destiny to the shameful little man behind the curtain who used to cause knee-knocking with his smoke-and-mirror routine. There is a huge gap between campaigning on a manifest biological imperative (early “G” and “L”) and the later ravenous clamor for the right to anything-goes (“B”).
Nevertheless, “T” followed without fanfare, like a bill sneaked through Congress on a Friday afternoon, and I always have trouble remembering the new additions, which are (a quick online search tutors me) LGBTQQIAP. I personally do not agree that the canon is closed with these nine unholy fruits of an unclean spirit, unless you let the “P” (pansexual) also cover pedophilia, and the “B” in the third slot do double duty for bestiality.
In science there is a rule known as “death by qualification.” It is the idea that a theory about something loses its cogency when it gets whittled away by too many exceptions and contrary facts and when you constantly have to tack on new explanations to try to account for inconvenient evidence (evolution theory, for instance). The LGBTQQIAP movement will soon need a wheelbarrow for its alphabet. What started as a self-styled civil rights movement in the grand old tradition of social gains for African-Americans and women has metastasized into a free-for-all with no common denominator but the uninhibited acting out of all impulses and no cohesive agenda but the agenda to rebel against God in any way conceivable.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Culture's Conception of God: Implications and Entailments

There is a fascinating essay over at Public Discourse on how a culture's view of God shapes its view of man, reason, and society.  Samuel Gregg's God, Reason, and Our Civilizational Crisis is profound in its cultural analysis.  Below are a few excerpts....

A particular religion’s concept of the Divine thus cannot help but profoundly influence the societies in which that faith prevails. The Greco-Roman world, for instance, generally lacked the biblical notion of God as the Creator. Consequently, it did not view humans as “co-creators” working to unfold a still-unfinished creation in human history. This is one reason why the Greeks and Romans, unlike the Jews, viewed manual work and commerce (as opposed to politics and war) as the responsibility of slaves, women, and other non-citizens.
Especially important, however, is the way a religion’s understanding of God affects its appreciation of man’s capacity for reason. This theme was central to Benedict XVI’s discussion of the relationship between violence and religion in his 2006 Regensburg address. If a religion does not regard God at some level asLogos—Divine Reason—rather than just an unmediated raw Will, then that faith’s capacity to dispute the reasonableness of those who, for instance, decapitate hostages, burn prisoners of war to death, gun down cartoonists, slaughter Jews shopping in kosher markets, and then claim religious warrants for doing so is, at best, questionable.
A World without Logos
Once, however, Logos as a prominent dimension of God’s nature starts fading from Western culture’s horizons, what is left? There appear to be three possibilities.
One is “God-As-Will,” but untethered to reason. This is a God who acts arbitrarily, one whom we must simply obey. Freedom is thus found in unquestioning submission, no matter how irrational the divine command. Another is “God-As-Love,” but without reasonableness. This is a being who, like an irresponsible parent, simply affirms his child’s choices, no matter how foolish or evil such decisions might be. A third possibility is “God-Beyond-Reason.” This produces a narrowed understanding of human reason itself: one that confines our rationality to the verifiable scientific method, and thereby declines to permit it to ponder the bigger questions opened by the intriguing possibility that Divine Reason exists.
If any of these conceptions of God prevails in a culture, we can hardly be surprised that attempts to answer why we make particular choices—moral, political, legal, and economic—become reduced to strongly felt feelings, utilitarian calculations, or, more recently, what the philosopher Tyler Burge calls “neurobabble.” Instead of seeking rational resolution of problems, we increasingly defer to reigning majority opinion, panels of experts, consequentialist rationalizations devised to legitimize all sorts of evil, or some type of force—whether expressed though democratically elected temporary majorities or outright coercion.
The Islamic world is struggling with a particularly virulent God problem. For everyone else, this matters, because while we can protect ourselves to an extent against those who want us to submit to a thoroughly voluntaristic vision of a Deity who acts unreasonably, at some point the cessation of Muslim violence is going to require many Muslims to change their minds about God’s nature. Yet anyone who cares about Western civilization should also remember that no matter how materially prosperous and technologically advanced we become or how much we celebrate concepts such as rule of law, the coherence of these achievements will be increasingly tenuous if our culture-forming institutions—ranging from families and universities to synagogues and churches—continue embracing sentimentalist conceptions of the Divine. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

GCC's Critical Dialogues: Some Reflections on the Event

Here a few reflections on the recent Critical Dialogue at Glendale Community College entitled “Is the West the Best?”  The first three speakers provided perspectives on the question itself and then the last two speakers took differing sides on how to answer the specific question.

Pini Ben-Or: Values, Conflicts of Values, and Higher Values
I found Mr. Ben-Or to be thoughtful in his perspective.  He began by analyzing what the question might mean.  What is meant by “West” and what do we mean by the term “best?”  As a good philosopher is prone to do he trimmed the question down a bit.  Surely we don’t mean to say that everything Western is better in every way!  Mr. Ben-Or then moved on to discuss the notion of Western values and how they function as being the best candidate for what is at issue.  He also discussed the reality that values are ranked and that there can be a conflict of values.  He argued that it is more important to make reflective decisions rather than right decisions.  He furthered argued that a better question than “Is the West the best?” is: “How do we make the West and the world better?”  I grant that may be an important question—perhaps a “better” question—but the original question is still important.  Mr. Ben-Or ended with a two points of evidence pointing to the objectivity of values.  First, there is a convergence between utility and principle.  Here he mentioned the issues of torture and capital punishment.  Torture is often seen by many to be principally wrong.  Furthermore, many are also seeing that the utilitarian function of torture is not very good.  This convergence, according to Mr. Ben-Or, serves to evidence the objectivity of values.  The second piece of evidence was the fact of moral progress.  It is recognized that this moral progress is not very smooth but, nevertheless, there is moral progress on various issues throughout history.

John Coughlin: Best West is Just Thumping a Chest: Relativism and Standards of Objectivity in History

Whereas Mr. Ben-Or was deliberate and nuanced in his presentation Mr. Coughlin came out swinging with an aggressive and fast-paced style of presentation.  He began by calling the question “meaningless” and began to mention a quick taxonomy of relativism—descriptivist relativism, meta-ethical relativism, and normative relativism.  He argued that any perceived objective values are merely externalized values of inner subjectivity which we then turn around and impose on ourselves and others.  Although he began with this brief philosophical argument the bulk of his presentation was taken up with a historical list of failings of American culture and politics.  This makes sense in that Mr. Coughlin is a historian.  His argument seemed to be that even if there are objective values the West (i.e., America) has so badly failed to live up to these values that the notion that the West is best fails.  During the interaction period Mr. Coughlin continued this line of thinking.  He referred to America as one massive wealth transfer program that generates resources for the hegemony.  I was not impressed with Mr. Coughlin’s arguments for relativism and he came across as angry.

Peter Lupu: Enlightenment, Autonomy, and the Open Society

Dr. Lupu’s presentation was my favorite.  He began by offering three points:

(1) Objectivity: The are objective values in the realm of the true, good, and beautiful.

(2) Fallibilism: We are not omniscient and what we think we know is vulnerable to refutation.

(3) Knowledge: We believe that we know some things.

Dr. Lupu mentioned that two types of groups reject (2) above: dogmaticians and revolutionary idealists.  The one holds to tradition infallibly whereas the other is willing to throw away all tradition.  Dr. Lupu argued that there is a method that accepts all three premises above—Critical Rationalism as developed by Karl Popper.  Dr. Lupu defined critical scrutiny as the ability to adjust our tradition in light of new problems.  This objective method gets one closer to truth.  This objective method requires an “open society” that has institutions that promote critical scrutiny at all levels.  The more open the society the more open it is to critical scrutiny at all levels.  Next, Dr. Lupu turned to a brief argument against relativism.  He noted that differences of opinion do not logically entail the conclusion that there are no objective standards.  Relativists, on the other hand, reduce disagreements to differences which are neither true or false.  These differences, according to the relativistic philosophy, are simply due to one’s background formation.  This entails that relativism reduces to some form of biological or physical determinism.  Dr. Lupu noted that if we cannot ask if something is true or false then all we have are processes.  Thinking is reduced to the same epistemic level as digestion.

Nicholas Damask: The West Is the Best: Some Persuasive Data

Dr. Damask first defined “best” as that which enabled human beings to flourish.  Starting with this definition he then went on to use the following objective metrics by which to measure the best nations:

a)    life expectancy
b)   nutrition
c)    income
d)   maternity death rates
e)    infant death rates
f)     access to water and electricity
g)    immigration patterns

In light of these criteria Dr. Damask argued that the West is the best at fulfilling human flourishing.  He added that the competition is “not even close” when measured by his criteria.

Jean Saint-Amour: Eastern and Indigenous Worldviews

Dr. Saint-Amour defended a Buddhist/native American worldview in her presentation.  She argued that progress shouldn’t be measured by physical realities but, rather, by how we live and relate to each other.  She denounced the soul/body dichotomy and opted for a worldview of radical monism in which she announced that “all is one.”  In light of this she urged that everything should be treated with respect.  She mentioned, as an example, the podium before her and the trees outside.  Dr. Saint-Amour stated that we need to get in “the flow” of existence.  She urged upon the listeners the values of compassion and harmony.  She sees the West as greedy and pursuing unsupportable lifestyles.  An Eastern worldview would, according to Dr. Saint-Amour, provide a different lifestyle with superior values.

I found Dr. Saint-Amour’s presentation to be the most problematic.  During the question-answer period I asked her about a seeming contradiction at the heart of her presentation.  My question was something like the following:

“I noticed a self-contradiction in your presentation.  You affirm a radical monism is which “all in one” and yet in the rest of your presentation you presuppose a number of dualities.  For example, you mention differences between men and women.  You spoke of the search for truth which presupposes the duality of truth and falsity.  You spoke of some misunderstanding the meaning of Buddha but meaning presupposes the dualities of meaning and non-meaning as well as truth and falsity.  You spoke of the values of compassion and harmony which presupposes the duality of good and evil or, at least, good and less-good.  It doesn’t seem that radical monism can provide the preconditions for the values you want to affirm.”

In her answer Dr. Saint-Amour spoke of how differing worldviews have to use language in different ways to communicate.  She gave examples of how Western missionaries mistakenly imported their notions of deity into certain Native American words for transcendent beings.  When she asked if this helped in answering my concerns I had to answer in the negative.  I responded that I understand the differences between languages and how words can have differing meanings.  My concern was not about semantics but about self-contradiction.  If I were to use philosophy as a means to get at truth then one of first worldviews that I would reject should her viewpoint since at the heart of it there is a major contraction between radical monism and the values she wants to affirm.

Overall, this Critical Dialogue was a great experience.  It is wonderful to see important ideas being discussed in a civil and rational manner.  This kind of dialogue can only be a good thing for the collegiate community and for the larger community around Glendale Community College.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Josephs and Luke: Parallels Between the Emmaus Narrative and the Testimonium

These are the notes from a lecture I gave on Josephus and his mention of Jesus when discussing the historical evidence for Jesus outside the New Testament.  (Note: A few formatting issues are apparent)

Josephus and Luke:
Parallels Between the Emmaus Narrative and the Testimonium

1.     Gary J. Goldberg, “The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus” The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 (1995), 59-77.  Online:

2.     Goldberg compares the Testimonium Flavianum in Antiquities 18.3.3 to a section in the Gospel of Luke—the Emmaus Narrative = Luke 24.19-21, 25-27.

3.     He notes coincidences of structure between the two texts.

A computer search of the New Testament on the vocabulary cluster “Jesus, man, deed” (Ιησοὺς, ανήρ, εργ*), which are the first three major nouns of the Testimonium, reveals that only this passage of Luke shares this cluster. Upon closer examination, one finds this to be only the first indication of a series of location correspondences, nearly synonymous phrases occurring in analogous positions in each text. One can best experience this sequence by reading the text of Luke, halting at each noun or each verb of action, and then looking to the Josephus text for a corresponding phrase at the same location.

Using this method with the Greek texts shown in Figure 1, the following phrase-by-phrase outline of coincident points is produced:

[Jesus][wise man / prophet-man][mighty/surprising][deed(s)][teacher / word][truth / (word) before God] [many people][he was indicted][by leaders][of us][sentenced to cross][those who had loved/hoped in him][spending the third day][he appeared/spoke to them][prophets][these things][and numerous other things][about him]

Each of the nineteen brackets represents a location correspondence and contains the words or summarizes the meaning at each such point. The order of the brackets strictly corresponds to the order that the phrases appear in the texts; it is only within each bracket that the order of two or more words may differ between the two texts. This strictness of order of sometimes even minor phrases forms what I call the coincidences of structure. (p. 6)

4.     In light of this Goldberg notes: “Most interesting is that the two passages of the Testimonium that are often regarded as inauthentic, ‘if indeed one ought to call him a man’ and ‘He was the Messiah,’ do not have parallels in the Emmaus passage at analogous locations.” (p. 6)

5.     Goldberg compares the structure to two other benchmark texts: Justin Martyr’s First Apology 31 and Acts 10.38-43.  Goldberg notes: “the Emmaus narrative more closely resembles the Testimonium in the phrase-by-phrase outline of content and order than any other known text of comparable age.” (p. 8)

6.     How do we explain this similarity of structure?  Goldberg answers:

Since Luke probably drew the Emmaus narrative from an existing tradition, its outline suggests the possibility that Josephus, if he was indeed the author of Testimonium, drew his passage from a similar or even identical source. Consider the two possibilities for Josephus’ construction of the Testimonium.

(1) Josephus created his own description of Jesus from information he had collected. The description is dominated by his selection of facts, as determined by his opinions and reactions to stories about Jesus.

(2) Josephus rigidly adhered to a pre-existing text that described Jesus, making alterations only to suit his written style. His text is dominated by a historian’s motivation to faithfully record a primary source that had come to his attention.

The coincidences with the Emmaus passage tend to support the second possibility. It seems less probable that two authors working independently would coincide to this extent, in light of the benchmark texts; as the Acts speeches demonstrate, even passages by a single author can take a variety of forms. (p. 8)

7.     Goldberg also notes coincidences of “textual difficulties”—unique features that are common to both Josephus and the Emmaus Narrative.

a.     “third day”
b.     “our leaders”
c.      Terse presentation of both texts yet similarities of presentation and vocabulary

                                               i.     “deeds”
                                              ii.     “prophets”
                                            iii.     indictment/sentence/crucifixion

8.     Coincidences of the Arabic Testimonium

a.     Quoted in 10th century work by Agapius (Arab Christian)

b.     Shlomo Pines’ translation:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and his learning outstanding. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. (p. 13)

c.      Goldberg notes the following correspondences:

There are four points that bear directly on this question of authenticity. Let us examine how these appear in the Greek Testimonium (abbreviated GT in the following), the Arabic Testimonium (AT), and the Emmaus narrative of Luke (L).

            1. The GT “if indeed one can call him a man” has no parallel in either         AT or L.

            2. The GT “he was the Messiah” has no location parallel with either AT or L.

            3. The AT has “They reported that he had appeared to them”, instead of the GT assertion that Jesus did appear to them. L here is indeterminate, since
      it itself is a dramatization of the report; compare, a few verses later,
      Luke 24:35, “they related the things in the highway.”

                                                4. The AT “accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah:”

(a) The doubtful “perhaps” has no parallel anywhere in GT. Oddly enough, L does frame a doubt, albeit rhetorically, at this point: according to the prophets, “Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?”

(b) In the GT, the word “the Messiah (ο χριστὸς)” appears earlier, not at this location in the text. But L does employ it here, and nowhere else. This seems quite a surprising coincidence.

In regard to these four points, then, the Arabic Testimonium is actually    closer to Luke than it is to the Greek Testimonium. This tends to support the theory that Luke’s narrative resembles the original version of the Testimonium, a resemblance that a later editor disrupted with interpolations. (pp. 13-14)

9.     Conclusions

a.     Coincidences: structural, linguistic, and Arabic Testimonium

b.     Explaining the coincidences:

                                    Three explanations for these coincidences have been considered.

(1) They could be due to chance. But this would seem to gainsay the three independent forms of evidence listed above. In particular, it is difficult to ignore that the only two known examples of the ”third day” as a participial phrase appears in texts with so many other structural resemblances. Some common literary milieu seems mandatory; the question is the form it took.

(2) The coincidences may be due to a Christian interpolator who altered the Testimonium, or forged it entire, under the influence of the Emmaus narrative. This proposal has the weakness of supposing that a writer capable of imitating Josephus’ style and daring enough to alter his manuscript would at the same time employ non-Josephan expressions and adhere rather closely to a New Testament text. A forger of the required skill should have been able to shake free of such influences.

(3) Josephus and Luke may have used similar or identical sources in composing their passages. This explanation appears to be the simplest. It not only explains the series of coincidences, but it also goes a long way toward solving a number of mysteries that have bothered commentators of the Testimonium. What does Josephus mean by calling Jesus a wise man? What was the nature of the accusation by the leaders? If the passage is authentic, why does it approximate to a Christian creed? All these questions fall away if it were true that Josephus did little but rewrite a concise narrative that had, so to speak, crossed his desk. He may have known more about Jesus, or he may have known nothing but what was in his source; in either case, when it came to composing his own passage, it would have been easier and more accurate for him to adhere to a reliable source rather than to piece together secondhand knowledge.  (p. 15)

10. Goldberg’s proposal for what the original Testimonium said:

[T]he original form of the Testimonium as written by Josephus, without the later interpolations, may now be more identifiable. If Luke indeed is similar to Josephus’ source, and if the Arabic Testimonium of Agapius is not too corrupt, then we should be able to approximate the original by a simple “Majority Rule” methodology: accept as authentic those elements that appear in two out of the three texts, Josephus, Luke, and Agapius. Here is one proposal for the authentic text derived using this Rule:

About this time there was Jesus, a wise man. He was a performer of many Jews and many of the Greeks. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to death on a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. They reported he appeared to them spending a third day alive again, and accordingly, that he was perhaps the Messiah, for the prophets of God had prophesied these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the sect of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

This reconstruction differs from that of many commentators in that it retains the entire sentence describing Jesus’ resurrection appearance and the declarations of the prophets. That sentence had been doubted because it was a core Christian belief that seemed impossible for Josephus to assert. Yet it is found in all three of our texts; when cast in the above form, as a report not an assertion, it is not implausible; and, furthermore, it explains why the Christians “did not cease” and have still “not disappeared.” (pp. 15-16)

·      For more details and defense see:

Jesus Seminar: Some Notes

The hey-day of the "Jesus Seminar" was from the mid-1980's to the early 1990's.  In my Apologetics and Worldview class I lectured on the Jesus Seminar.  The students had to read Craig Blomberg's essay critically interacting with the Jesus Seminar: The Seventy-four "Scholars": Who Does the Jesus Seminar Really Speak For?  Even though the Jesus Seminar is not the head-line grabbing entity it once was Blomberg's essay is worth reading in that he mentions a number of assumptions used by much of non-evangelical scholarship that should be challenged.  One of these concerns the fluidity of the oral history between the time of Jesus and the first written Gospels.  I explained this in class today and mentioned the work of Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition which looks at this issue.

Below are the notes I handed out in class today.  It's not a full analysis but a few introductory thoughts.

Jesus Seminar: Critical Interaction

1.     Oral Tradition/History: approximately from AD 30-50/70

2.     Competing views: fluid vs. stable oral tradition

a.     Jesus Seminar = fluid oral tradition

b.     Jesus Seminar criteria for oral tradition:[1]

                                               i.     O1: In the oral transmission of Jesus’ words, his disciples remembered only the core or gist of his sayings and parables, not his precise words.

                                              ii.     O2: The bedrock of the sayings tradition is made up of single aphorisms and parables that once circulated independently.

                                            iii.     O3: The simpler forms of sayings and parables are more likely to be original with Jesus.

                                            iv.     O4: Hard sayings are frequently softened in the process of transmission to adapt them to the conditions of daily living.

                                              v.     O5: Words are frequently borrowed from the fund of common lore or from the Old Testament and put on the lips of Jesus.

c.      Another list of criteria mentioned by Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd:[2]

                                               i.     The assumption of a purely oral period

                                              ii.     The assumed lack of a coherent narrative

                                            iii.     The assumed lack of biographical interest

                                            iv.     Limited role of eyewitnesses

                                              v.     Assumed “laws” of oral and written traditions

                                            vi.     “Prophetic inspiration” and Jesus Sayings

3.     Some examples

a.     Mark 6.35-44

                                               i.     “…all the words attributed to Jesus are context-bound (N2) and so cannot be used to determine what Jesus said.”[3]

                                              ii.     N2: Quoted speech that is entirely context-bound is probably the product of the storyteller.[4]

b.     Mark 8.31-33

                                               i.     “Since these predictions mirror the ‘proclamation’ (Greek: kerygma) of the primitive church and accord with Mark’s conception of his narrative (W4, W8a), most scholars regard all three as composed by Mark after the events to which they refer (W10).”[5]

                                              ii.     W4: The evangelists frequently compose or revise and edit both sayings and narrative contexts to make them conform to their own individual language, style, or viewpoint, or to make saying and context conform to each other.[6]

                                            iii.     W8a: Sayings and parables expressed in “Christian “ language are the creation of the evangelists or the oral tradition before them.[7]

                                            iv.     W10: Sayings and narratives that reflect knowledge of events that took place after Jesus’ death are the creation of the evangelists or the oral tradition before them.[8]

4.     Challenging the Jesus Seminar

a.     “Though the authors regularly refer to oral cultures, the only actual examples they give come from a very non-oral culture, that of their own modern Western world.”[9]

b.     “The theory that sayings, aphorisms, memorable oneliners, and sometimes parables are the things that survive, whereas stories about Jesus, with his words embedded within them, do not, is clearly promulgated with one eye on the results.  ‘It is highly probable,’ we are told—this, recall, at the introductory level, before we have examined a single saying!—that the earliest layer of the gospel tradition was made up almost entirely of single aphorisms and parables that circulated by word of mouth, without narrative context—precisely as that tradition is recorded in ‘Q’ and Thomas.

“With the evidence thus well and truly cooked in advance, it is not surprising that the portrait of Jesus-the-quizzical-sage ‘emerges’ from the subsequent discussion.  It could not help doing so.  The theory about what sort of material survives in oral tradition, I suggest, was designed to produce exactly this result.

“Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters.  Communities that live in an oral culture tend to be storytelling communities.  They sit around in long evenings telling and listening to stories—the same stories, over and over again.  Such stories, especially when they are involved with memorable happenings that have determined in some way the existence and life of the particular group in question, acquire a fairly fixed form, down to precise phraseology (in narrative as well as in recorded speech), extremely early in their life—often within a day or so of the original incident taking place.  They retain that form, and phraseology, as long as they are told.  Each village and community has its recognized storytellers, the accredited bearers of its traditions; but the whole community knows the stories by heart, and if the teller varies even the slightly they will let him know in no uncertain terms.  This matters quite a lot in cultures where, to this day, the desire to avoid ‘shame’ is a powerful motivation.”[10]

c.      “Early form critics such as Bultmann took it for granted that folk traditions consisted almost exclusively of short vignettes.  How could longer narratives, to say nothing of epics, be remembered and transmitted intact orally?  While this view is still prevalent today among many in New Testament circles, a significant number of folklorists, anthropologists, and ethnographers over the last several decades have justifiably abandoned it.  The reason for this reversal is that empirical evidence has shown it to be demonstrably wrong.  A large number of fieldwork studies have ‘brought to light numerous long oral epics in the living traditions of Central Asia, India, Africa, and Oceania, for example.’  Hence, as the famed Finnish folklorist Lauri Honko recently noted: ‘The existence of genuine long oral epics can no longer be denied.’  In fact, amazingly, scholars have documented oral narratives whose performance lasted up to twenty-five hours carried out over several days.”[11]

d.     “If the oral period of the early church functioned similar to the way we now know oral communities tend to operate, we should expect that those individuals who were closest to Jesus during his ministry would have played a significant role in the transmission of oral material about Jesus.  This does not in any way deny that the material was, to some extent, shaped by the needs of the early faith communities, for as we have seen oral tradents always shape their performances according to the particular situation of the audience.  But it does at the very least mean that we would expect to see this material being transmitted by, among other ‘strong tradition bearers,’ eyewitnesses from among the original followers of Jesus.  And this makes it much more difficult to suppose that the oral Jesus tradition acquired a significant amount of fictionalized material in the process of transmission during the several decades prior to the writing of the Gospels.”[12]

e.     “The Jesus constructed by the Jesus Seminar is a talking head whose teachings bear no intelligible relation to his death on a cross.  If Jesus said only the sorts of things judged authentic by the Seminar, it is very difficult to see how he could have been mistaken by Jewish and Roman authorities as a messianic pretender who needed to be executed.”[13]

     [1] Robert W. Funk (with Mahlon H. Smith), The Gospel of Mark: Red Letter Edition (Sonoma, Cal.: Polebridge Press, 1991), 35-38.
     [2] Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2007), 237-306.
     [3] The Gospel of Mark: Red Letter Edition, 119. 
     [4] The Gospel of Mark: Red Letter Edition, 48.
     [5] The Gospel of Mark: Red Letter Edition, 137.
     [6] The Gospel of Mark: Red Letter Edition, 41.
     [7] The Gospel of Mark: Red Letter Edition, 42.
     [8] The Gospel of Mark: Red Letter Edition, 44.
     [9] N. T. Wright, “Five Gospels But No Gospel: Jesus and the Seminar” in Crisis in Christology: Essays in Quest of Resolution (ed. William R. Farmer; Truth Incorporated, 1995), 140.
     [10] Wright, “Five Gospels But No Gospel,” 141.
     [11] Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, 252-253.  Eddy and Boyd note that J. Dewey “has pointed out that an oral narrative the length of Mark would take at most two hours to perform, which, as we have seen, is relatively short by oral-narrative standards.” (p. 256)
     [12] Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, 273-274.
     [13] Richard B. Hays, “The Corrected Jesus,” First Things (May, 1994), 46.