THIS QUESTION FROM A MEMBER OF THE BLOG QUOTES SOMETHING I SAID IN MY PREVIOUS POST AND THEN ASKS A QUESTION ABOUT IT:
“As I’ve intimated, my own view is that these patriarchal narratives are not historical accounts of people who actually lived and did the things ascribed to them. I see them as highly legendary, narratives told by the people of Israel – after they became the people of Israel (say in the 11th or 10th centuries) — about their “early days.” Stories circulated for years and years in different parts of the land, among different tribes of people who were later said to have all been part of Israel. These stories were then combined and put into the sources, which later were composed into one big narrative (say in the 6th c BCE). I do not see them as historical records, but more as something like “founding legends” that help explain to the people who they are in light of their (imagined) past.”
If that’s the case then why can’t the same be said about Jesus of Nazareth?
That’s a great question! But I think the case is strikingly different when it comes to Jesus . And that’s because of the nature of the evidence in the two cases. The evidence, in my opinion, is incommensurate.
Here’s the deal. For Abraham (to pick the oldest patriarch), we are dealing with someone who would have lived, if he lived, in the 18th century BCE – so say, 1750 CE. We actually don’t know when the J and E sources that later became the book of Genesis were produced (assuming, for the moment, the standard explanation that Genesis is made of these two sources; J stands for Jahwist – since this author prefers the name Yahweh [or in German: Jahweh] for the deity [translated into English as LORD – all caps]; E stands for Elohist – since this other author prefers the name Elohim for the deity [translated into English as God]). The traditional dates indicate that J was produced in the 10th century BCE – say 950 BCE – and E in the 9th century – say 850 BCE. But it’s hotly debated. My former colleague at UNC, Hebrew Bible specialist John van Seters, insisted that J was not written until after the Babylonian Exile, so no earlier than 500 BCE.
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