I was surprised and intrigued to see the reactions I received to my post in which I responded to Mark Goodacre’s five points calling into question the traditional story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library. In it I pointed out that just because a story changes over time does not mean that the gist of the story is false. If some tellings indicate that the jar was two feet tall and others that it was six, or that there were two people involved or seven, this does not indicate that the story is, at its heart, false, only that it has been changed in the retelling.
A number of readers to the blog reacted by saying that the arguments Mark was making about the discovery of the library are precisely the kind of arguments that I (and critical scholars generally, including, probably Mark!) would make, and have made, against the stories of the Gospels about Jesus. If I want to use those kinds of argument against the historicity of the Gospel accounts, what grounds to I have for challenging them when used to argue against the historicity of the account of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library. Aren’t I showing that my arguments against the historicity of the Gospels are flawed?
Great question! Here are two of the many comments I received along these lines:
Interesting – but aren’t Mark’s reasons some of the ones you have for doubting the historicity of the Gospel stories? Would love to see a discussion of the similarities and differences
I can’t help thinking of how *you* claim that there being multiple versions of the “empty tomb” story (differing in how many women were there, what they saw, what they were told to do, what they later *did* do) makes the “gist” of the story unbelievable!
I think these are terrifically interesting comments and questions! And important. Many thanks to these two, and the others, who raised them.
So let me clarify my view of historical evidence, as it applies both to the Gospels and to the Nag Hammadi Discovery Narrative (let’s call it the NHDN). This can help explicate the value of historical sources.
My view of the matter, in short, it is this:
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