Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Embarassing to Who?

On p29 Habermas and Licona argue that the criteria of embarrassment supports the claim that Jesus must have predicted his own resurrection. This is because as recorded in the Gospels, the disciples response to these predictions portray them as dunces. They, having heard Jesus predict his own resurrection, and having seen him perform miracles already, and then discovering the tomb is empty just as Jesus predicted, they're just too stupid to figure out that maybe he rose just as he said he would. This must be all accurate history, because it is unlikely that they would be portrayed in such an unfavorable way if this were mere invention. They would have been portrayed as heroes. The author must have simply recorded what to him was an embarrassing, but true fact.

What's surprising to me is that this kind of reasoning was ever persuasive to me. It is obvious to me now that these are all clues to the fictive nature of these stories. I discussed this at some length at Triablogue, and the point was really never grasped by my opponents. This is over the top buffonery. Jesus performs miracles. He predicts that he will be betrayed, tried, scourged, killed, then he would rise on the third day. So what happens? The disciples watch as he's betrayed, tried, scourged, then killed. Then when they hear reports that the tomb is empty it doesn't occur to them that perhaps he's performed another miracle, not unlike miracles he himself had performed previously (Lazarus)? Is that realistic? No. But it is quite a bit like fictional stories that we often hear. For instance, Watson is the dunce foil for Sherlock Holmes. Holmes has no need to verbalize his explanation for what happened at a crime scene. He has it all figured out and has no real need to tell anyone. But the reader wants to know. What to do? Insert a dunce that asks the questions, so that Holmes can explain for the reader's benefit what is really "elementary." Mt 16 would be one example. "Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees." "Oh crap. He's mad that we forgot bread." "No, you stupid idiots. Do you think I care about bread. I just fed thousands with just a couple of loaves. How stupid are you people? Let me explain what I mean." Etc, etc. This is a plot prop.

But back to my main point. Supposedly this would be embarrassing to the author. But is that really true? We need a little more information to know if this would be embarrassing to the author. First of all, we need to know who the author was so that we can determine what his attitude towards the disciples was. Do we know this? Absolutely not. Habermas and Licona have not defended traditional authorship as far as I can see (I've read through page 164). They are not defending every disputed point that Christians believe. This is about minimal facts accepted by the majority of scholarship and the conclusions that they think follow from those minimal facts.

We simply don't know that the gospel authors had a problem with embarrassing portraits of the disciples. We do know that Marcion was not a big fan of the disciples. He thought they completely blew it, and Jesus had to start over with Paul. Marcion was very influential in the early church. Could Marcion have influenced the Gospel of Mark? Could Mark and Marcion be one and the same person? That is a question I can't answer. But I can say that there does appear to be Marcionite content in the gospels. That will have to be a subject for a later post.

Bottom line, the criteria of embarrassment only works if we know the author would have been embarrassed. We don't know that. So we can't make judgments about the historicity of these claims on this basis.

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