Posts Tagged ‘criteria’

Within ‘the quest for the historical Jesus’ a number of criteria have been put forth which can be used to ‘sift’ the gospels to find authentic Jesus tradition. In a series of posts over the next weeks I would like to highlight and critique a number of these criteria.


To begin with we have ‘ The Criteria of Double Dissimilarity’(now on referred to as CDD) which can be understood as a criteria which sifts the gospels to find sayings of Jesus which have no correpsondance with either Judaism or the early CHurch. Once a unique standpoint is found we can be relatively certain that it stems from the historical Jesus. This methodological tool was first advocated by Bultman.

‘We can only count on possessing a genuine similtude of Jesus where, on the one hand, expression  is given to the contrast between Jewish morality and piety and the distinctive eschatological  temper which characterised the preaching of Jesus; and where on the other hand we find no specifically CHristian feratures’ ‘Bultman History of the Synoptic Gospels

The CDD, iniated by Bultman, gained the rubber stamp of ‘serious’ schoalrship in the works of Kasemann and Perrin.

Kasemann ‘We can only sketch in a few bold strokes the embarassment of critical research. it lies in this; while the historical credibility of the Synoptic tradition has become doubtful all along the line, yet at the same time we are still short of one essential requisite for the identification of the authentic Jesus material, namely, a conspectus of teh very earliest stage of primitive Christian history; and also there is an almost complete lack of satisfactory and water tight criteria for this material. In only one case do we have more or less ground under our feet, when there are no grounds either for deriving a tradition from Judaism or for ascribing it to primitive Christianity”

Perrin (1967) ”Thus we reach the fundamental criterion for authenticity upon which all reconstructions of the teaching of Jesus must be buillt, which we propose to call the ‘criterion of dissimilarity’. Recognising that it follows an attempt to write a history of the tradition concerned, we may formulate it as follows: the earliest form of a saying we can reach may be regarded as authentic it it can be shown to be dissimilar to charecterisitic emphases both of ancient Judaism and of the early Church, and this iwll particularly be the case where Christian tradition orientated towards Judaism can be shown to have modifed the saying away from its origonal emphasis’

 What do we make of this? I offer the following criticisms.

  1.  This method does not achieve what it sets out to. It merely tells us what was unique about Jesus not what is historically authentic. We would not apply this method when studying the historical Aristotle or the Hitler. If we taek the Hitler as an example and apply  CDD as described by Kasemann, we woudl only be able to have firm historical ground when we find soemthing about Hitler which is differant to Germans living at the time of Hitler, and differant to that which is found in later Nazi writings. Or take Aristotle as an example, we would be on sure ground if, and only if, we find tradition about Aristotle which is differant from the larger Greco culture and differant from later aristotelian philosophers.
  2. This method assumes that we have a detailed undersatnding of Judaism and the early church in all its variety. We simply do not have this information
  3. This method is strongly biased against orthodoxy. Would it not be fair to say that followers of Jesus (early Church) would have sought to have imitated the teaching and lifestyle of their founder.
  4.  Jesus was Jewish. All his teaching and praxis can only be understood as taking place within a Jewish worlview, yes a variation on it, but a Jewish worldview nontheless.

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