In my discussion of whether the historian can deal with the category of miracle, I’m now at the point where I can deal directly with the miracles ascribed to Jesus.   This is an issue that I have dealt with in several books, including, most recently, Jesus Before the Gospels.   It will take three posts for me to cover the waterfront here.  This is how I began dealing with the issue in the book.



The Miracles of Jesus

When one discusses the activities and deeds of Jesus, it is very hard indeed to avoid talking about his miracles.   Miracles are everywhere in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life.  He is miraculously born to a woman who has never had sexual relations.  From the beginning of his public ministry to the end he does one miracle after the other, conquering nature, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead.   So abundantly attested are Jesus’ miracle-working abilities that even scholars who are otherwise skeptical of the supernatural biases of our sources sometimes claim that whatever else one can say about him, Jesus was almost certainly a healer and an exorcist.[1]

It has long been interesting to me that such moderate skeptics choose to believe that Jesus could heal people and cast out demons, but do not conclude, as well, that he could perform miracles with nature:  walk on the water, calm the storm with a word, multiply loaves, turn water into wine.   Is it because the healing and exorcism miracles are even more abundantly attested than the nature miracles?  Probably.  But could it also be because these nature miracles are so much harder to believe?  Possibly that as well.

I am not going to discuss the problem that historians have with the category of miracle.  I have already delved into that question at length in earlier books, and feel no need to repeat myself here.[2]  My strong conviction is that whether one is a believer or not, if one wants to discuss what probably happened in the past, it is never appropriate or even possible to say that miracles have happened.  That is not – absolutely is not – because of a secular, anti-supernaturalist bias (as some apologists gleefully love to claim).  I had the same view even when …

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