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They Are Not True Stories. But They Are Stories That Are True. Debate between scholars

#1 User is offline   AmyLong 

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Posted 18 May 2010 - 11:32 PM

They Are Not True Stories. But They Are Stories That Are True.
From: John S. Kloppenborg
To: Alan F. Segal and Larry HurtadoPosted Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005, at 4:37 PM ET

Slate Magazine

Larry Hurtado is professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology in the University of Edinburgh and director of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins. He is the author of How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?: Hisorical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus and Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. John S. Kloppenborg is a professor at the University of Toronto in the department for the Study of Religion. He is the author of Excavating Q and The Formation of Q, the co-author of the Critical Edition of Q, and the editor of Apocalypticism, Antisemitism and the Historical Jesus. Alan F. Segal is professor of Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University, and occupies the Ingeborg Rennert Chair for the Study of Judaism. He is the author of Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West, Rebecca's Children, and Paul the Convert.

Who Are These People?

When three scholars, all trained in generally the same mainstream critical methods, debate an issue such as this, perhaps it isn't much of a surprise that the disagreements aren't great.

Alan emphasizes the problems in deriving any historically reliable data from the infancy accounts in Matthew and Luke, problems that Larry readily acknowledges—even though he would like to argue that the tradition of the virginal conception is earlier than the Matthew and Luke accounts, which were composed in the last quarter of the first century (or, in Luke's case, I think perhaps even later). Alan also stresses the force of the criterion of dissimilarity, in reducing quite severely what critical scholars can say with any confidence about the historical Jesus. His list—that Jesus was baptized by John; that he held views about the coming of the kingdom (I'm rephrasing Alan here, since the "end of the world" really isn't an apocalyptic notion); that he opposed the Temple in some way; and that he was crucified by the Romans—is not only very short and mostly uncontroversial but also doesn't include anything about the details of Jesus' birth.

I'm fully in accord with Alan's conclusion that good historical reasoning should make us cautious about the historical claims that are implicit—or that seem to be implicit—in religious claims. Larry is not in principle in disagreement with this conclusion either, though he would like to make a bit more of the tradition of the virginal conception as at least "early" and of Jewish-Christian rather than pagan provenance. Given the character of both Matthew's and Luke's infancy accounts, with their rich evocation of themes from the Hebrew Bible, this seems a perfectly reasonable conclusion. This we can say as historians of tradition.
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