History is not the Past! Proving Jesus’ Resurrection and Other Miracles

Last week I finished a thread on the criteria scholars use to establish what happened in the life of the historical Jesus.  That series of posts raises an important question: what do historians do about the fact that throughout the Gospels Jesus does lots of miracles — and at the end the greatest miracle of all happens, he is raised from the dead as an immortal being, never to die again?  Can such miracles be demonstrated to have happened historically?

That’s ...

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Traditions About Jesus that Are Probably Not Historical

I have been arguing that there are ways to extract historical information about Jesus from the Gospels – even if they were not written to provide disinterested accounts of what he really said and did but were meant to promote faith in him.

So far I have discussed two positive criteria: independent attestation (if a tradition is found in multiple independent sources then that increases the likelihood that it goes back to the life of Jesus, since none of the sources ...

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The Trickiest Criterion for Determining What Happened in the Life of Jesus

Here I continue the thread on how scholars go about establishing which traditions in the Gospels appear to reflect what actually happened in the life of Jesus.   Of all the things I’ve said so far, this is the most controversial.   But after thinking about it for some forty years, I still think it makes good sense, for reasons I try to explain.

 

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What An Odd Thing to Say!  The Criterion of Dissimilarity.

The most controversial criterion that historians use, and often misuse, ...

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An Important Criterion for Establishing What Actually Happened

I am in the midst of a threat talking about how historians can use sources such as the Gospels to know what actually happened in Jesus’ life.  These books were not *meant* to provide disinterested historical information about the past, but were quite intentinally slanted accounts meant to encourage and shape faith in Jesus.  They nonetheless do contain important historical information.  How does the historian determine what his historical and what is legendary in them?

Yesterday I gave some of the ...

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Rules of Thumb for Reconstructing the History behind the Gospels

In yesterday’s post I laid out the “wish list” historians have when it comes to sources of information about persons and events of the past, and evaluated how well the Gospels stack up against the list.  Now I want to move into the kinds of criteria biblical scholars use when trying to extract historical information from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, criteria made necessary by the fact that the Gospel writers were not trying to write objective historical narratives ...

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The Historian’s Wish List

While writing the posts in my thread on the contradictions in the New Testament, I had the impression that some readers thought I considered it virtually impossible to use the New Testament for historical purposes.   That’s actually not the case at all.   I’m going to discuss this issue over a number of posts, focusing on the Gospels.  Oddly enough, it appears I’ve never devoted a sustained thread to this precise end, of explaining how historians go about their business of ...

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Are the Gospels Principally Concerned to Show What Actually Happened?

I will not be going through the entirety of the four Gospels to point out how contradictions between one account and another make these texts difficult to use for historical purposes.  My previous post briefly summarized the situation with respect to the birth narratives, and similar statements could be made for numerous events of Jesus’ life as narrated in the Gospels.  In this post I’ll instead make an overall point about the kinds of problems one finds throughout these books.

Recall: ...

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Why Contradictions Matter for Understanding the Life of Jesus

Realizing that there are contradictions in our surviving New Testament texts matters a good deal when it comes to trying to reconstruct the history behind them.  I’ll devote several posts to this question, a couple of dealing with the life of Jesus and at least one other involving the life of Paul.

The basic issue, of course, is that if you have two contradictory witnesses to an event, then they both can’t be right: they contradict one another!   At the point ...

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The Name Judas Iscariot: What Does It Mean?

Several members of the blog have commented on my posts about the death of Judas by asking about his name itself.  Most interesting, what does “Iscariot” mean?  I deal briefly with the topic in my book on Judas, a book in which I deal at length with the newly discovered Gospel of Judas, but then go on to say what I think we can actually know historically about the man himself, and his one most famous nefarious act, the betrayal ...

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Two Rather Bizarre Accounts of How Judas Died

In my experience, most people don’t realize that there are two different accounts of Judas’s death in the New Testament, let alone that these two are very difficult indeed to reconcile with one another.  Virtually impossible, I would say.  But even more people don’t know that there are accounts of Judas’s death from *outside* the New Testament in other sources.  One of these two almost *nobody* knows about, except for a few specialist scholars.

The first account comes to us from ...

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