Posts Tagged ‘Historical Jesus’


Jesus, if the Jesus tradition contained in the synoptic gospels is at all a reliable witness to the Historical Jesus, proclaimed the arrival of the kingdom of God and also issued a warning of the judgement which would soon fall, on the nation, the city and the temple. We follow George Caird and Ben Meyers in stressing that Jesus’ message, like John the Baptist, and that of his disciples, differs considerably from contemporary evangelism.

The disciples [and we may add Jesus and John the Baptist] were not evangelistic preachers, sent out to save individual souls for some unearthly paradise. They were couriers proclaiming a national emergency and conducting a referendum of national survival. 1

It is historically out of the question that John [and Jesus] conceived judgement along the individualistic lines characteristic of later Western thought. Rather, he conceived of judgement in collective, or better, ‘ecclesial terms’. ie. in terms of God’s people Israel. To miss this is to miss the context-a massive tradition- in which John [and Jesus] consciously and publicly situated himself and out of which came his every word and act.’ 2

All of this can be said without actually turning to the eschatological discourse of Mark 13. However, when we do, anticipating the interpretative task that follows, we see that Jesus announced that the coming destruction and downfall of Jerusalem and its temple would be followed by a time of blessing in which the Messiah, as the embodiment of YHWH, is vindicated (Mark 13:26-27) and the elect, arguably the exiled people of God, are gathered together. In other words, the cities destruction is part of the necessary tribulation which must take place before the arrival, in some sense, of the eschatological age.

In this last sentence I use the word ‘tribulation’3 deliberately to denote a second temple eschatological concept and not simply as a substitute for the words ‘suffering’ or ‘hardship’.

Brant Pitre’s recent doctoral thesis republished as Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of Exile4, demonstrates that this concept of tribulation is firmly established within the texts of late second temple Judaism and that it is plausible that Jesus, along with many of his contemporaries, shared such an eschatological view. Pitre reaches this position by studying a variety of texts composed between 200BC to 30AD such as Epistle of Enoch, Testament of Moses and several documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls5. From his analysis of these texts Pitre draws together a number of aspects of the concept of tribulation in late second temple Judaism.

1. The tribulation is tied to restoration of Israel and the End of Exile.

2 . A righteous remnant arises during the tribulation.

3. The righteous suffer and/or die during the tribulation. This sometimes includes the suffering and/or death of a

messianic figure.

4. The tribulation is tied to the coming of the Messiah, sometimes referred to as the ‘Son of Man’

5. There is a tribulation which precedes the final judgement.

6. The tribulation is depicted as the eschatological climax of Israel’s exilic sufferings, often through the imagery of the

Deuteronomic covenant curses.

7. The tribulation has two stages (1) the preliminary stage, and (2) the Great tribulation.

8. The tribulation precedes the coming of the eschatological kingdom

9. An eschatological tyrant, opponent, or Anti-Messiah arises during the tribulation.

10. Typological images from the Old Testament are used to depict the tribulation

11. The tribulation is tied to the in gathering and/or conversion of the Gentiles.

12. .The tribulation has some kind of atoning or redemptive function.

13. The Jerusalem Temple is defiled and/or destroyed during the tribulation.

14. The tribulation precedes the resurrection of the dead and/or a new creation

Pitre is to be applauded for his significant study which offers contributions to both Second Temple scholarship and New Testament studies. However, it is problematic to sketch out a second temple view of ‘tribulation’ on texts from late second temple Judaism (200BC – 30 AD). Firstly, we do not not actually know how mainstream these non-canonical books were, and whether there content was known by the general population. However, we do know, with a relateviely high degree of confidence that signifcant parts of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets,) were widely read by the population at large. Would it not make more sense, therefore, to look, not only at texts from late second temple Judaism, but also at tribulation themes within the Old Testament? Secondly, and more positively, I suggest that a thorough study of ‘the day of the Lord’ should take place alongside an Old Testament study of tribulation6 for the concept of the day of the Lord has the potential of bringing together the bi-polar themes of judgement and blessing, and may be an appropriate tool, like that of tribulation, for bringing a coherency to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom and his warning of imminent catastrophe.7

It is my belief, alongside Pitre, that Mark 13 and Mark 10:35-45 are further examples of this tribulation theme and will be studied in this, and the following, chapter. In the light of Pitre’s study I want to suggest that the concept of tribulation, and the related theme of the ‘day of the Lord’ are part of Jesus’ narrative world, and that any attempt to understand Jesus’ kingdom proclamation or his forecast of the imminent catastrophe which is to befall the nation, without paying due attention to the eschatological narrative world of tribulation is a historiographical and exegetical mistake.

Mark 13: Hypothesis, Dialogue and Verification8

Those familiar with the exegetical and hermeneutical landscape of Mark 13 will no doubt realise the serious challenges which are to be faced by the interpreter. The literature is vast, the issues are complex, the battle lines have been drawn,and, of top of all this, it cannot be studied in isolation from other biblical minefields9. However, the complexity and length of this study is curtailed by focussing our attention on an overarching hypothesis10. Our hypothesis is,

Hypothesis: ‘In Mark 13 Jesus prophecies, amongst other things, the coming destruction and downfall of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This suffering is part of the eschatological tribulation—the negative side of the Day of the Lord—which precedes the arrival, in some sense, of the eschaton, in which the messianic Son of Man, as the embodiment of YHWH, is vindicated and the exiled people of God are gathered in’.

This hypothesis does not take place in a scholarly vacuum but is in dialogue with a number of scholars. In agreement with R.T France11 and N.T Wright12, who emphasise the prophecy has its focus on the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, I reject the interpretation of Mark 13, followed by Edward Adams13, Beasley-Murray14 , the modern day Schweitzer, Dale Allison15, and the historical Schweitzer16, in which Jesus is predicting a global apocalyptic cosmic catastrophe and his own literal parousia. However, I part company with Wright and France in their understanding of the ‘coming of the son of man’. They are right,in my opinion, to reject the mainline scholarly ‘visible parousia’ interpretation but are misguided, in my opinion, to simply interpret it as vindication. In contrast to both of these positions, I seek to put forward and defend the view that Jesus believes that after the destruction of the temple he will re-visit the nation, in some sense, as the embodiment of YHWH—for the Day of the Lord has arrived!

It is now time, given we have a hypothesis and suitable dialogue partners, to wade into the exegetical waters of Mark 13, with the hope that we may emerge with a fish or two, namely plausibility and coherency, as verification.  To be continuued…..

1 Caird, G. B. “Jesus and the Jewish Nation.” Athlone, London (1965). also Wright JVOG 320-339,

2Caird, “Jesus And The Jewish Nation,”also see N. T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (London: SPCK, 1996), 320-339.

3 Within Biblical Scholarship this concept has lacked some conceptual and terminological clarity. It is referred to in various ways such as ‘the final ordeal and confusion’(Emil Schurer), ‘Messianic Woes’ (R.H Charles), ‘prelude to the messianic age’ (Joseph Klausner), ‘preliminary time of Evil’ (Hartman). It is Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Baker Academic, 2006)., and to a lesser extent Dale C. Allison, End of the Ages Has Come: Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (Fortress P.,U.S, 1985)., who bring precision and conceptual clarification to such scholarly disorder. See JTEE 1-31

4Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile.

5 The full list is 1 Enoch 93:1-10;91:11-17, 1 Enoch 91-107, The Book of Daniel, The Book of Dreams , The book of Jubilees, The Third Sibylline Oracle, the Psalms of Solomon, The Testament of Moses, 1QH, 4Q171, 4Q174 & 4Q177, 1QS, CD, 1 QM, 4Q246, 1 Enoch 37-71

6For our current interests of Mark 13 we may note in the judgement oracle against Babylon found in Isaiah 13:6,9 makes reference to the day of the Lord ( éåÉí éäåä,? ?μέρα κυρίου LXX) On this day, which will come upon people like a woman in labour, the Lord will come and strike Babylon with his wrath and fierce anger, on this day the stars will not give light and the sun will be dark, (Is 13:10). Similarly, in Mark 13 the destruction of the city will is described in terms of a cosmic catastrophe (Mark 13:24-25) and of birthpangs (Mark 13:8). This will be discussed again later in this chapter, but for now I simply want to make the point that the concept of the day of the Lord may prove a fruitful a area as the distinct but interrelated study of tribulation by Brant Pitre. We may also note, as a supportive argument, that Mark, in his prologue brings together Ex 23:20, Is 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 with the introduction ‘As is is written in the prophet Isaiah’. Joel Marcus and Rikki E Watts have demonstrated that this is not a error but the author of Mark is trying to make a theological point, namely, that the gospel, and Jesus’ ministry, are to be understood against the backdrop of ‘the way of the Lord’. We simply note in passing, whilst agreeing with the thrust of Watts and Marcus, that the ‘way of the Lord’ (Marcus) or Isaiah’s new exodus(Watts) is tightly related tot he concept of the day of the Lord. Malachi 3:1 is set in the context of the day of the Lord (Mal 3:2) and YHWH’s comign in judgement against his temple, whereas Is 40:3 is also about YHWH coming to his people in mercy and restoration (Is 40:9-11). We see that Mark, like Jesus’ kingdom proclamation and warning of imminent catastrophe, has brought together the twin themes of YHWH’s return, that of judgement and restoration. See R. E. Watts, Isaiah’s new Exodus and Mark (Mohr Siebeck, 1997), 4; Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord (T.& T.Clark Ltd, 2004), 2.

7 See the article in ABD 2:82 by Richard Heirs in which he breaks the ‘day of the Lord’ material into the following categories.

1) YHWH’s judgement of the foreign nations

  1. YHWH’S judgement against Israel, Judah or the Jewish People

  2. Future deliverance or Blessing for Israel, Judah, other nations, and all creation.

8From a methodological point of view opt for a hypothesis-verification approach to historiography. I follow N.T Wright, contra to naïve or positivist realism, in seeing knowledge of the past is achieved through a method of hypothesis and verification. A hypothesis: ‘is essentially a construct, thought up by a human mind, which offers itself as a story about a particular set of phenomena, in which the story, which is bound to be an interpretation of those phenomena also offers an explanation of them.’

For a historical hypothesis to be a good hypothesis, and receive verification, it must

1. must include all the data [evidence]

2. must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture

3. prove itself fruitful in other areas

N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God v. 1 (SPCK Publishing, 1992), 99-109.

9 A useful literature survey and history of scholarship has been provided by G.R. Beasley Murray. His latest book on this topic is George R.Beasley- Murray, Jesus and the Last Days: Interpretation of the Olivet Discourse (Paternoster P., 1994).which is based upon his earlier works, G. R. Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen (Macmillan, 1957); G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future (London: Macmillan, 1954).As scholarship does not stand still we must add to this the more recent contributions of R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: a commentary on the Greek text (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002); N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (SPCK Publishing, 1996), 339-367; E. Adams, “The Coming of the Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel,” TYNDALE BULLETIN 56, no. 2 (2005): 39; TR HATINA, “The Focus of Mark 13: 24-27: The Parousia, or the Destruction of the Temple?,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 6 (1996): 43-66; T.J. Geddert, Watchwords: St.Mark 13 in Markan Eschatology (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement (Continuum International Publishing Group – Sheffie, 1989).

10I will not focus any attention on issues raised from either source or form criticism. I treat Mark 13 as a literary whole and seek to interact with it from a literary historical perspective. Questions of original form and composition history have been taken up by other scholars, including my research supervisor. D. Wenham, The rediscovery of Jesus’ eschatological discourse (JSOT Press, 1984). Lloyd Gaston, No Stone on Another: Studies in the Significance of the Fall (Supplements to Novum Testamentum; Leiden: Brill, 1970), 41-64.

11R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament: his application of Old Testament passages to himself and his mission (Regent College Publishing, 2000), Appendix A; R. T. France, Divine Government, 2003; France, The Gospel of Mark.

12Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God.

13Adams, “The Coming of the Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel”; Edward Adams, The Stars Will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe and the World’s End in the New Testament and Its World (Library of New Testament Studies): Cosmic Catastrophe … Its World (Continuum International Publishing Group – T & T C, 2007).

14Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen; Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future; Murray, Jesus and the Last Days.

15Dale C. Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come: Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (New Ed.; T.& T.Clark Ltd, 1987); D. C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: millenarian prophet (Fortress Press, 1998); “A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology,” http://www.jstor.org/stable/3266712.

16Albert Schweitzer and Walter Lowrie, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and Passion (London: A. & C. Black, 1925).


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Here is an essay which I am working on concerning the methodology of N.T. Wright. It is a work in progress. Comments and critique would be gratefully appreciated.

Read this document on Scribd: N T Wright’s Methodology

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Just been reading the opening chapter of McKnight’s Jesus and his Death

I seek to follow a method known as critical realism which seeks to avoid the pitfalls of a modernist approach whilst not allowing a full postmodern position such as that espoused by Keith Jenkins.

McKnight offers this summary of the two positions.

“If the postmodernist, someone like Jenkins, wants to usurp the Object with the Subject by contending that history is narrative, history is rhetoric, and history is ideology, the modernist wants to blanket the Subject and find the Object, pure and simple and untouched, and build on the disinterested knowledge for a better world. Let this be said before we go further: what the modernist wants to do cannot be achieved in its pure form’ page 19

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Historical Method: Hypothesis and Verification

Knowledge of the past is achieved through a method of hypothesis and verification. A hypothesis s: ‘is essentially a construct, thought up by a human mind, which offers itself as a story about a particular set of phenomena, in which the story, which is bound to be an interpretation of those phenomena also offers an explanation of them.’1 For a hypothesis to be a good hypothesis, and receive verification, it must

  1. must include all the data

  2. must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture

  3. prove itself fruitful in other areas

For Wright the ‘inclusion of data is ultimately the more important of the two criteria’2.

I want to ask, Can we ever include all the data?

A good hypothesis will find verfication from the data. Yet a hypothesis, about anything, cannot make sense of all the data, but makes sense of a selection of the data. This may be illustrated with the example of a detective looking for evidence in a house robbery. A detective may develop a hypothesis about the burglar which includes some data including footprints, a broken window. However bright, methodological or scientific this detective is she cannot include all of the data,but only needs to include the relevant data. The complexity of life, objects and historical artefacts, cannot be be known in totality, nor do we need to have all data available before us before a judgement. Wright is wrong to say that a hypothesis must include all the data for the establishment of data, in an exhaustive sense, is an infinite task. We simply can do history, whether it be historical Jesus research or WWII, without knowing the full, or even the knowable, arithmetic, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic, sensitive, analytic, historical, lingual, social, economic, aesthetic, juridical, ethical or pistic aspects3. In historical Jesus research we may say off hand that we must include all the data, but we quickly realise that we simply mean the relevant data. For instance we may say Jesus must be understood against the geographical backdrop of Galilee4 yet this not mean that we need to pursue to a full extent topological and biotic data.

Wright accepts that the ‘stack of data to be included is vast and bewildering5 and accepts that ‘seeing and assembling the data is a monstrous task’. 6 This assembling, surely involves selection, which brings with it, even at the data level, an amount of subjectivity, for what is relevant data to one community is irrelevant to another.

1NT&POG 99

2NT&POG 105

3Particularly helpful in this regard is the theory of modal aspects developed by Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven.

5NT&POG 100

6NT&POG 101

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N.T. Wright seeks to apply the insights of Critical Realism to the task of doing history which brings with it its own epistemological challenges.

History, which is understood by Wright as the what people write about what happened in the real world, is understood as a ‘kind of knowledge’ which neither proceeds down the road of simply giving bare facts, nor does it fall into the wayside of subjectivity. Instead the task of history is the ‘meaningful narrative of events and intentions’.1

Wright rejects both the ‘pre critical’ and the ‘chastened positivist’ approaches to historiography. These are represented, by Wright, diagrammaticality


Observer                Evidence                 Past Event

———>             ———–>

simply looking at the evidence…..and having direct access to the ‘facts’

N.T Wright is not original in his critique of a pre theoretical or a positivist approach as these matters have long been discussed in courses and books on historiography. E.H Carr, in one of the standard texts for those who are interested in historiography, comments, and then critiques, this ‘common-sense view of history’.

History consist of a corpus of ascertained facts. The facts are available to the historian in documents, inscriptions and so on, like fish on the fish monger’s slab. The historian collects them, take them home, and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him’ 2

There is simply no uninterpreted history,

‘The myth of uninterpreted history functions precisely as a myth in much modern discourse -that is, it expresses an ideal state of affairs which we imagine erroneously to exist, and which influences the way we think and speak. But it is a ‘myth’, in the popular sense for all that. ‘ 3

All mainstream, as opposed to fundamentalists, schoalrs would reject the pre-critical view of historiography but may still adopt a more sophisticated positvist viewpoint, which differs from the pre-critical in the sifting of evidence.


Observer Evidence Past events

———–> ————->

looking at the evidence, sifting it


rejecting some bits


and accepting others

This approach, however, is a dream and does not take into account the subjectivity of the knower. In Historical Jesus research the criteria approach resembles the positivist approach. I offer the following explanatory diagram.

Observer Jesus Tradition ‘Real Jesus’

———–> ————->

Putting the ‘Jesus Tradition’ through a series of criterion


rejecting some bits


and accepting others

For Wright the path of history is to be arrived at by a recognition of the valid role of subjectivity for all history involves selection, a spiral of knowledge in which interpreter and source dialogue. There is no neutral position in which the historian can simply arrive at knowledge or fact for all historians have a point of view, and all histories involve interpretation through a particular set of lenses.4 Wright offers the following summary of his historiographical approach,

‘History, then, is real knowledge, of a particular sort. It is arrived at, like all, knowledge, by the spiral of epistemology, in which the story-telling human community launches enquiries, forms provisional judgements about which stories are likely to be successful in answering those enquiries, and then tests these judgements by further interaction with data.’ 5

1NT&POG 81

2What is History? 9 The positivist position is defended by Leopold Von Ranke ‘You have reckoned that history ought to judge the past and to instruct the contemporary world as to the future. The present attempt does not yield to that high office. It will merely tell how it really was.”

3 NT&POG 85, ‘the Myth of Objective Data or of Presuppositionalist History, and the purpose of my present argument is to challenge it, there is in fact no such thing as ‘mere history’. There are data. Manuscripts exist, even very ancient ones. Coins and archaeological data are available. From these we can know quite a lot about the ancient world, with a good a knowledge as we have of anything else at all. But in order even to collect manuscripts manuscripts and coins, let alone read, translate or organise them into editions or collections, we must engage in ‘interpretation’…My present point is simply that all history is interpreted history’ NT&POG 88 ‘Intellectual honesty consists not in forcing an impossible neutrality, but admitting that neutrality is not possible’ NT&POG 89

4NT&POG 86-92

5NT&POG 109, It is worth reading Wright’s definition alongside Keith Jenkins ‘Re-thinking History’ : ‘History is a shifting, problematic discourse, ostensibly about an aspect of the world, the past, that is produced by a group of present -minded workers (overwhelmingly in our culture salaried historians) who go about their work in mutually recognisable ways that are epistemologically, methodologically, ideologically and practically positioned and whose products, once in circulation, are subject to a series of uses and abuses that are logically infinite but which in actuality generally correspond to a range of power bases that exist at any given moment and which structure and distribute the meanings of histories along a dominant marginal spectrum.’ 26, For Keith Jenkins history is about ‘power’, for Wright ‘knowledge’ and for Von Ranke ‘telling what really happened’.

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Just picked up my latest cd-rom from logos. Its called Studies in Jesus and the Gospels and contains 23 different monographs. I purchased them as a pre-pub and in the process saved myself some money. The idea is that you commit to buying the product before it has been published. As an electronic resource its easy to pull out quotes, highlight the text and they are fully searchable.

I started reading one last night by Sean Freyne which seeks to show Jesus’s ministry in the context of a historically reconstructed Galilee. There is some discussion of Galilee and Roman imperial rule. I found the follwoing quite stimulating.

“‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’—a call to accept Caesar’s rule, or a declaration that only what belonged to God was of any consequence? There seems little doubt about Jesus’ answer to his own question. Unlike some of his co-religionists who belonged to the retainer class, he was not prepared to accept the inevitability of Rome’s rule as expressed in its propaganda (JW 2.348–361). Like other kingdoms, it too was doomed to pass. Despite Rome’s claims, their peace could not be imposed. ‘They make a desolation and call it peace’ are words put on the lips of a British general Calgacus, by a Roman historian, Tacitus (Agicola 30.3–31). Jesus was not prepared to share the violent response to such conditions, espoused by many Jews throughout the first century, which eventually plunged the nation into a disastrous revolt. He believed in the power of symbols and symbolic action because he believed in a God of whom, unlike Caesar, no image could be made, and yet who summoned people to trust in his presence and his power. This was the risk of faith that Jesus was prepared to take. His was a faith that was grounded in a trust in the goodness of the creation as he had experienced it and reflected on its mysterious but hidden processes. It was also a faith that had been nourished by the apocalyptic imagination that this creator God was still in charge of his world and had the power to make all things new again. No human empire could be compared with this power, no matter how dominant it and its agents appeared to be. Caesar could have his image engraved on the coin of the tribute, but he could not control the power of the imagination that was fed by the tradition of God’s mysterious but powerful presence in the world, to which no image could do justice.”

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Criteria of ‘Multiple Attestation’


The criterion of multiple attestation is a major player in the ‘Historical Jesus’ world and is used, amongst others, by Sanders, Meier, Ludemann and Crossan1 as a method which helps to discern the authenticity of a passage.

‘A passage is more likely to go back to Jesus if it has been preserved in two or more sources which are independent of each other.’2 Sanders & Davies


The criterion of multiple attestation focuses on those saying or deeds of Jesus that are attested in more than one independent literary source and/or in more than one literary form or genre. The force of this criterion is increased if a given motif or theme is found in both literary sources and different literary forms.’3 Meier


Plural Attestation in the first stratum pushes the trajectory back as far as it can go with a at least formal objectivity.’4 Crossan


The criterion of multiple attestation (CMA), as with the CDD, is a criterion which contains two different criteria. As the above quote by Meier illustrates the CMA has to do with whether a saying or action is attested in multiple sources (CMS) and/or whether it is found in multiple forms (CMF). The higher number of attestations the more likely the the saying/action of Jesus is authentic.


Criteria of Multiple Sources (CMS)

CMS, based upon a two source solution to the synoptic problem, was developed by F.C Burkitt5

We need, therefore, a kind of starting point for the consideration of our Lords doctrine, some external test that will give us a general assurance that the Saying we have before us is really from Him, and not the half-conscious product of one school of His followers. Where shall we find such a test? It appeared to me that the starting point we require may be found in those Sayings which have a real double attestation. The main documents out of which the Synoptic Gospels are compiled are (1)the Gospel of Mark, and (2) the lost common origin of the non-Marcan portions of Matthew and Luke, ie. The source called Q. Where Mark and Q appear to report the same Saying, we have the nearest approach that we can hope to get to the common tradition of the earliest Christian society about our Lords words. What we glean in this way will indicate the general impression His teaching made upon his disciples.6

Using Mark and Q as separate sources Burkitt identified 31 sayings of Jesus that were attested in both sources. This multiplicity in witnesses, that is Mark and Q, can increase the confidence, so Burkitt argued, in the saying stemming from authentic Jesus tradition.


As synoptic studies developed a four source hypothesis, using special Matthew and Special Luke as independent traditions, has increased the number of sources . In recent years some scholars have been restricted the sources to that of the synoptic gospels but include Gospel of John, Agrapha, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, etc. This inclusion of apocryphal gospels was discussed in an analysis of the methodology of Dominic Crossan.


Critique of CMS


1) Meier accepts that this ‘criterion cannot be used mechanically and in isolation’7. Meier does not accept the objectivity of this criteria as ‘In an individual case it is not a priori impossible that a saying invented early on by a Christian community or prophet met the needs of the church so perfectly that it rapidly entered into a number of strands of the tradition’8 , or as Stein puts it,


Another criticism of this criterion is that all that one ultimately can be sure of is that, if a tradition is found in all or most of the various sources laying behind our Gospels, that tradition is deeply embedded in the earliest traditions of the early church. Multiple attestation does not prove absolutely that the tradition is authentic! On the other hand the criterion of multiple attestation can, if we are able to establish the existence of various sources lying behind the Gospels, establish the probability that. such a motif is authentic.9

CMS, taking on board Stein’s comment, is a useful tool in uncovering material which is present in the Jesus tradition prior to the source which is being studied. However, to state that a periciope/saying is present in earlier tradition is not he same as saying it authentic. An early date does not of itself guarantee authenticity.


2) CMS does not allow for a study of the authenticity and the trustworthiness of the sources themselves. In a court of law it would not matter if their were multiple witnesses to a crime if all the witnesses were untrustworthy, or if all witnesses were basing their testimony on an earlier inaccurate witness. Likewise one trustworthy witness would be sufficient to bring conviction. This raises the basic question ’Are the synoptic gospels trustworthy? Are the apocryphal gospels trustworthy? In a court of law a trustworthy witness could be someone who has access to the data, someone who had no motive to change the tradition, and a witness whose credibility could be challenged by others if they strayed from other peoples memory of the events.

[A] Plurality of independent sources attesting a particular tradition is no guarantee of the authenticity of a tradition (no matter how numerous such sources may be), but only the authenticity of its age.10

2) The CMS is dependant on a particular solution to the synoptic problem. Usually this has taken the form of Markan priority. Markan priority, although having scholarly consensus, is not without its detractors.11 The objectivity of CMS is removed once it is seen that it is itself based on a highly contested hypothesis. Any change to the priority of Mark and the existence of Q would drastically change the results achievable by the CMS. CMS is used, by, amongst others, Meier, Sanders and Crossan, as part of a classical foundationalist epistemology. Can a criteria which is itself based on Markan priority, which is at best highly probably, provide a sufficient foundation for developing a reconstruction of Jesus.


3) The criteria, at times, is used in a negative way, in that a pericope/saying which is only singularly attested can not be used to form a part of the bedrock of Jesus tradition. This in my opinion, as with Stein, is an inappropriate use of this methodology for ‘to assume the inauthenticity of such a witness is to assume that anyone who testifies to any event without collaborating evidence is to be assumed a false witness.’12

Burkitt himself concedes this point,

Now I am not going to claim that the list of sayings [those that have multiple attestion] which I have read to you are the deepest or the most original of the recorded Sayings of our Lord. It may be very well be that some of the most profound of the sayings of His that have survived at all are recorded only by a single evangelist.13

4) A complete abandonment of the CMS is not needed as, with a recognition of its subjective nature due to its building upon on at best a probable solution to the synoptic problem, it can be used as testimony and corrective against contrasting portraits, as Burkitt affirms

At least it will be useful to us a corrective: any other Portrait of the Lord which we may draw must not be inconsistent with the portrait attested by the mouth of our two witnesses [Mark and Q]


Singly attested sources, if adopting a piecemeal approach to the gospels, can be judged as more likely to be authentic if they do not contradict the multiple attested sources. As with Moule ‘I see no reason to reject a tradition merely because it appears in only one stream, provided it is not intrinsically improbable or contradicted by the other’14. However in the light of point 2 above no claim to objectivity can be made.


5) M. Eugine Boring sought in 1988 to see an expansion of the CMS to include that of the extracanonical sources.

While not so objective as it first appears, this criterion does seem to have some usefulness, but independent extracanonical forms of the sayings must be considered among the witnesses examined. These were all but ignored in the earlier period. The recent resurgence of interest in the extracanonical gospels in general and the Gospel of Thomas in particular, stimulated especially by Helmut Koester and his students, has increased the usefulness of this criterion.15

In theory this may seem like a perfectly appropriate idea but unless it the source is itself trustworthy it is, like criticism two above, of little use.



The Criteria of Multiple Forms


The second and related form of CMA , CMS, was developed by Dodd and sought to affirm the historicity of a part of Jesus ministry by noticing that it is attested in number of forms.16 The example below shows how this criteria is used.




Eg. Did Jesus welcome outcasts and outsiders?17

Dodd answers, in History and the Gospel, this question by appealing to both CMS and CMF. The gospels are understood as being, not only a collection of multiple sources, but also a collection of multiple forms. The gospel pericopes are placed, as with form criticism, in various groupings such as parables, poetical sayings, pronouncement stories. These pericopes are analysed to see how widespread the view of is of ‘Jesus’ welcome of outsider‘ . After analysis Dodd finds the ‘welcome of outsiders’ present across the forms and sources.


This aspect of Jesus’ teaching is found in a ‘great variety of traditional ‘forms’-aphorisms, parables, poetical sayings, dialogues, stories of various kinds [CMF] -taken from all four strata of the synoptic gospels (Mark, Q, Matthew’s Special Source, Luke’s special source)[CMS]18

This method allows Dodd to provide an answer to the above question.


‘We may say surely say, on strictly critical grounds, that we have here [Jesus welcome of outsiders] a well attested historical fact.’19

It is interesting to note that this does not, in Dodd’s opinion, guarantee the authenticity of any of the individual pericopes, but does allow us to speak authoritively on the broad message behind the text for ‘this fact [Jesus welcome of outsiders] stands independently of the historical status’ of the stories used.’20



Critique of CMF


A) CMF proceeds by a form critical method which seeks to place the gospel materials into different form critical categories (parables, pronouncement stories). The use of forms within the gospels is not in itself a hard science, as within form-critical scholarship ‘[N]o universally agreed-upon list of forms exists.21 and even when these categories are in place ‘[M]any passages, however, do not easily fall into one of the primary form-critical categories. Many seem to mix together several forms22. This debate over classification will thus impact the level at which a passage is judged authentic by CMF. Therefore, CMF is not simply a method which givens universally agreed results, the results will be as diverse as that of form criticism.


B) CMF, as with CMS, does not guarantee the authenticity of a ’theme’ and cannot be a criteria in which a passage is judged objective. However, CMF is useful in placing a given theme of Jesus (embrace of the outcast, kingdom of God) into a point earlier than the gospel composition. As with Stein,


The appearance of this motif in multiple literary forms of the materials does not “prove” conclusively its authenticity, but at least ‘the criterion has some value in distinguishing comparatively early from comparatively late traditions, ’23

C) CMF shows that a theme is earlier in the tradition than the date of gospel composition, but it does not, as Dodd noted, allow us to speak any more authoritatively on the historicity of any given pericope. The CMF does not take us back to the ‘voice of Jesus’ but to the overarching themes of Jesus life and ministry.









1 Crossans use of this criteria is discussed elsewhere in this paper

2 Sanders, Ed Parish ; Davies, Margaret: Studying the Synoptic Gospels 323

3 Meier, John P.: A Marginal Jew : Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Vol. 1 The Roots of the Problem and the Person. New York : Doubleday, 1991 175

4 Crossan The Historical Jesus xxxiii

5 Burkitt, F. Crawford: The Gospel History and Its Transmission. 2nd ed. Edinburgh : T&T Clark, 1907

6 Burkitt The Gospel History and Its Transmission 147

7 Meier, John P.: A Marginal Jew : Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Vol. 1 The Roots of the Problem and the Person 175

8 ibid 175 See also G Petzke Die historiische Frage nach den Wundertatun Jesus NTS 22:1975-1976) 180-204, ‘There is no reason to think that something is more reliable historically because it is reported a number of time’ (Mehrfact). Trans by Meier

9 Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” R.T. France & David Wenham, eds., Gospel Perspectives, Vol. 1, Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980. pp.225-263. 222 Also Porter, Stanley E.: The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research : Previous Discussion and New Proposals 86 ‘the point has been raised that multiply attested tradition points to an earlier stage in the tradition, but it does not necessarily indicate authenticity, which must be determined through other criteria.’

10 Theissen and Winter The Quest for the Plauible Jesus 14

11 In support of the Two Source (Greisbach) Hypothesis , Farmer, William R., The Synoptic Problem (Dilsboro, N.C.: Western North Carolina Press, 1964) (2d ed. 1976), McNicol, Allan J., et al. eds., Beyond the Q Impasse — Luke’s Use of Matthew: A Demonstration by the Research Team of the International Institute for Gospel Studies (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press Int’l, 1996)Orchard, Bernard J. & Riley, Harold, The Order of the Synoptics: Why Three Synoptic Gospels? (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1987) also The Case Against Q Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem Mark Goodacre Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002 which seeks to defend Markan priority whilst critiquing and dispensing with Q

12 Stein 232

13 Burkitt The Gospel History and Its transmission 167-168 see also

14 Moule The Phenonomeon of the New Testament 71

15 Charles W. Hedrick, ed ; Charles W. Hedrick, ed ; Society of Biblical Literature: Semeia. Semeia 44. Atlanta, GA : Society of Biblical Literature, 1988 (Semeia 44), S. 13

16 Dodd, C. H.: The Parables of the Kingdom. 1st. ed. London : Nisbet, 1935 26-29 but more fully developed in Dodd, C. H.: History and the Gospel in which Dodd guides us through six examples.

17 The example of the Kingdom of God is given by Stein The Criteria of Authenticity An example of the use of this criterion might be to see if Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom of God was realized in his ministry meets the criterion of multiple forms. Thus we shall see how broadly based such a teaching was in the gospel traditions. In this instance it is evident that this motif is found in: pronouncement stories (Mark 2:18-20; Luke 11:14-22); miracle stories (Luke 5:36-39); and sayings (Matt. 5:17; 13: 16-17).Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 233

18 Dodd History and the Gospel 93

19 Dodd History and the Gospel 94

20 Dodd History and the Gospel 94

21 Green, Joel B. ; McKnight, Scot ; Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1992, S. 243

22 Green, Joel B. ; McKnight, Scot ; Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1992, S. 245

23 Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 233

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