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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Doubting the Gospel of Thomas Part II

Pardon me for taking so long. I've gotten a little sidetracked by a project and I haven't had much the time to comment lately, but I can squeeze in a quick entry here. Tristan Vick has posted a response to my earlier entry titled Doubting the Gospel of Thomas in which I took issue with both the dating and authenticity of the Gospel attributed to Thomas. You can read TV's entire criticism here.

In order to move the discussion along, I have decided to concentrate a just a few of the points raised in the rebuttal by Vick. I don't wish to become bogged down, debating every jot and tittle and it really doesn't make for very interesting conversation when a debate becomes like that. Should we make progress on these points we can move on to others. However, I think we could all agree that the points I wish to raise to Vick's rebuttal are quite germane to the discussion of the authenticity of the Gospel of Thomas. They cut right to the heart of the matter and if either Vick's or my points cannot be reconciled with the vast majority of those who are/were qualified to write extensively on the subject, then the arguments begin to break down and it can be clearly shown that one of us is not on the side of the clear majority of serious scholarship on the matter. First, TV mentions that...

"I don’t quite see how using GTh (if truly an independent source pre-dating the Gospels) to establish that Jesus was a real historical figure, is in anyway a canard. In fact one would have to question the agenda of any Christian who’d deny the GTh as evidence which supports the claim that Jesus of the Bible may have actually been a real historical person—even as such a claim is on shaky ground."

I didnt state that the document proported to be from Thomas did not support the historical existance of Jesus. I merely raised doubts concerning it's authorship and any early dating assigned to it.

"Although the authenticity of the Jesus sayings of GTh may be in dispute, it should not go overlooked that so are the Jesus attributed sayings in all of the Gospels."

In this quote of yours, you cite Robert M. Price as your source. I specifically requested that "that we take off the table any so-called "expert" that is even loosely affiliated with the highly dicredited "Jesus Seminar"" whose work "is so quirky and so severely criticized by non-Seminar members-probably 90 percent of Gospel scholars around the world."[1]

Even the secular publication The Atlantic stated that the Jesus Seminar "draw[s] on the liberal wing of the New Testament academy." [2]

"As many as 200 scholars participated in the JS over the years, but the final group dwindled to 74. People dropped out for various reasons. Some expressed discomfort with how the most radical fringes of New Testament scholarship were disproportionately represented on the JS. Others voiced disagreement with Funk’s propagandistic purposes of popularizing scholarship in a way designed explicitly to undermine conservative Christian credibility." [3]

"Of the remainder, eighteen had no published papers on the subject at all. Thirty-six of the scholars came from Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Claremont Universities, which were criticised for having the most-liberal New Testament study programs in any university." [4]

One former (JS) Fellow stated that "Although its founding ethos stressed the importance of open, public debate among professional participants, publicity prior to and during meetings often set up findings well in advance of discussion, with results that distorted, not only the conduct of the Seminar, but the way in which its findings were reported. For example, Fellows were known to deny to the press that Jesus had ever prayed; he was portrayed as a Cynic philosopher despite evidence to the contrary that was always overwhelming; and Galilee has been treated as an urban, non-Jewish environment despite archaeologists’ findings to the contrary. Added to all these factors, the drive for results sometimes led to a retaking of votes, both within a given meeting, and from meeting to meeting, producing the effect of a push-poll in an election campaign." [5]

I think that these above statements speak for themselves and there is no shortage of others should anyone wish to look it up.. Either the Jesus Seminar is well accepted as representative of scholarship on the subject of the New Testament, or they are far outside the mainstream of the vast majority of scholars. I will now leave it to you to demonstrate if the latter is true or not.

"...due to the fact that The Gospel of Thomas is at least as old as the Synoptic tradition, perhaps earlier (as we’ll discuss below), then Christians need to account for the similarity in over half of the 114 of the sayings of Jesus which Thomas shares with the Gospels and Johannine sayings."

Tristan, either you are arguing on a whole other level than me and thus leaving me behind in the dust of my own confusion, or you are demonstrating that you fail to understand this entire subject on a very fundamental level. The vast majority of Bible scholars date the Gospel of John around the year 90 A.D., which of course was a few years after Mark, Matthew and Luke are believed to have been written. The dating of John really isn't disputed in any meaningful way and if it is, it's only by a couple of years. [6] Could you please explain to me how Thomas could possibly predate the synoptic Gospels when it contains material from the Gospel of John which unquestionably was written later? I admit, I'm a bit perplexed here by your method of argumentation along with your unique dating technique and a bit of clarity on the matter would be greatly appreciated in order to move the discussion along.

[1] Strobel, Lee; The Case for the Real Jesus, pg. 31, 2007, Zondervan

[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/96dec/jesus/jesus.htm

[3] http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t017.html

[4] http://www.conservapedia.com/Jesus_Seminar

[5] http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/chilton1.shtml

[6] http://www.carm.org/apologetics/evidence-and-answers/when-were-gospels-written-and-whom


Tristan D. Vick said...

I know you said you're busy, so I won't be too critical, but it doesn't seem like you read the full article.

At any rate, every single question you raise here was actually covered by the citations I listed.

Even the discussion of the textual interplay between Thomas and the Johannine works was supported by the professional quotes I gave. I thought it was pretty straight forward, but I left citations in case it wasn't clear. You may want to re-read the article in full or follow the citations to the primary sources since they do a nice job of answering your questions in full. That's why I listed them in the first place.

Also, it seems strange to dismiss a Biblical scholar simply because of his past affiliation with the Jesus Seminar.

That would be like dismissing you because you share a Christian affiliation which has a philosophy much more slapdash than the Jesus Seminar, and so the problem is apparent, since we already have an established confirmation bias here.

If that's the double standard you're using... anyone who is part of this club gets dismissed but anyone who is part of my club is telling the truth... then you've already shot yourself in the foot. Also, it helps to understand what the Jesus Seminar is/was before you critique it. Instead, it's clear that you're just rehashing rhetoric of those who already are prejudiced against the motives of the Seminar, as these opponents have their own ulterior motives, and so have already painted a biased picture and misrepresented the seminar. I don't think I should have to prove this to you, since if you had an understanding of the seminar in the first place, you wouldn't have used the quotes you did. Instead you're just repeating what others have said.

Instead of just playing follow the leader, I would suggest you try to develop and original thesis, or at least in response, develop and original argument which doesn't simply rehash someone else's.

Another thing I noticed was that the Price article I references was written up in a scholarly journal, accredited, with no affiliation to the Jesus Seminar what-so-ever. So as far as it is a work of academic rigor by a man with two PhDs in religion, it's credible, regardless of the author's past or present affiliation.

To dismiss is simply because a low level apologist disagrees with Price's opinion is the opposite of scholarly. It's conformist and narrow minded.

Last but not least, you might want to address some of the questions I raised in the article instead of simply dodging them and then responding with a flurry of your own follow up questions. In formal debates it is at least proper to attempt to address some of the issues raised, and not just ignore them and demand all your answers be met without question.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time. Maybe if you found some extra time you could rework this response into something more adequate to support your case. Good luck to you.

JD Curtis said...

I can boil my "flurry" of followup questions from my above entry down to 2 if you don't mind.

1) Is the Jesus Seminar representative of mainstream scholarship in the fiels of New Testament studies?

If yes, then a follow up question would be why you would narrow your field of potential sources on such a subject to such liberal-minded scholars and heavily criticized researchers that utilize such intellectually dicey methods?

2) It would appear that you date the Gospel of John to about 170 A.D.. Such a timeframe could possibly be fit to the theory that Thomas predates John. However is such a late dating of John widely accepted amongst Bible scholars or is this considered a small minority view?