The Gospels as History

There is quite a bit of modern scholarship that argues for the non-historicity of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.  Much of it is quite excellent, as the standards and methods of inquiry and criticism have improved, not to mention the continued methods and findings of archaeology.  To cover all the ins and outs of the subject is a task that is too vast for this blog, but if you are interested, here is a Wikipedia link for you to peruse at your leisure.

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It is obvious to me that the Gospels are written not so much as scene by scene biography, but in a mythological style that attempts to get the point across about the nature of Jesus in the archetypal language that is appropriate for a “divine hero.”  Something akin to our friend Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey:

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The main question for our purpose, though, is did Jesus actually exist?  Even if the Gospels are seen to be historically inaccurate “propaganda” written to underscore Jesus’ divine mission and elevate his simple human status, it can still be argued that they are at least stories based on the life of an individual who actually lived at a historical time in a historical place.  But the actual historicity of Jesus is now a hotly debated topic in scholastic and religious circles.  At the forefront of this movement is Acharya S. (aka D.M. Murdock), who has written many well documented works.  Although I enjoy her works and find them impecable and fascinating, my problem with her conclusions and others like her is the presupposition that:

1. Because many of the religious and mystical themes that were used to describe Jesus were also used to describe god-men of other cultures…

2. Because many parallel claims are made for these other savior figures that are made for Jesus…

3. Because many of these gods and saviors predated Jesus…

4. Because these myths and stories are used to describe inner, spiritual initiatory processes and not outward history…

…then these evidences are major proofs that Jesus never existed.  Talk about jumping to conclusions!  Since when did applying these religious and theological principles to a historic personality become a complete impossibility?  One may argue that it wouldn’t be likely that literature of this type would refer to a real, living human being, but it certainly COULD.  Whatever the truth, though, the story of Jesus has obviously made a major historical impact.

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Taking the opposite approach from Acharya S., the great European sage Rudolf Steiner believed Christianity was a mystical fact, that Jesus lived and was killed for bringing the teachings of the mystery centers into the open, violating the oath taken not to divulge any of the secrets expounded within. The deed at Golgotha was enacted on the plane of history, saving the earth and mankind from the decent into pure materialism.

Albert Einstein was taken by the force of Jesus’ personality as presented in the Gospels, and accepted the historical reality of Jesus.

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But what does Preston Harold think?  On the page immediately preceding Chapter 1, he lays it out.  I will quote in full…

No concept of Jesus can be definitive if it is contrived by arbitrary dealing with the Gospels, choosing to affirm certain reports that support one’s own theory while dismissing others as falsifications, elaborations, interpolations, or errors deriving from the disciple’s loss of memory.  Casting doubt upon the veracity of reliability of the Gospels renders one report and one Gospel as suspect as another, because it is possible to make a case for accepting or rejecting any part of any Gospel.  Thus, a theory resting upon an unreliability of the Gospels perforce becomes as suspect and questionable as the author holds the Gospels to be.

Whatever may be said about the rest of the Bible, if a concept of Jesus is to have a firm base it must rest upon the conviction that the four Gospels are honest reports, albeit each offers a subjective view.  Therefore, in THE SHINING STRANGER, concomitant with the attempt to draw a true picture of Jesus, the integrity of the four Gospels is dealt with – for example, how each could be so contradictory and different from the others, yet true, and how the memory of each disciple could have been adequate to the task of recording Jesus’ actual words.  Here, it may be pointed out that no one can say when the disciples recorded their reports – information as to the earliest copies in circulation is all that is available.  No doubt some errors in copying and omissions occurred, but such as these do not obliterate or seriously distort the full body of the record of Jesus as given in the four versions, in which the testimony of his mother is incorporated.

It is unlikely that the disciples deliberately falsified or contrived the story of Jesus’ life or His words.  If this were the case, the reports would be less contradictory, certain unfavorable passages would have been omitted, and certain gaps would have been filled.  It is doubtful, also, that the early Christians would have suffered martyrdom to found a religion based upon their own inventions.  For these and other reasons given in the text of this book, the author accepts the four Gospels as basically honest reports, and regards every word in every Gospel as given data with which one must deal in formulating as true and complete a picture of Jesus as it is possible to obtain.

Harold will take the Gospels at face value, realizing their subjectivity and imperfections, but understanding that they were written in good faith in witness to a real individual.  For us to take the journey through his book in good faith, we will accept that these are his conditions.  We may be surprised where this leads us!  Now, onto Chapter 1.  Peace…

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