I continue here with the conversation I had some years ago with evangelical New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, based on my book Did Jesus Exist. In this post, we start getting into some of the key evidence we have for Jesus, not only to show that he actually existed (uh, yes he did…) but also to help us know what we can say about him, about what he really said and did.
Q (Witherington). In the middle portion of your book, you place a great deal of emphasis on what is usually called the criteria of multiple attestation to demonstrate that Jesus surely existed. Would you explain briefly why historians place so much stock in this criteria, and why it is especially important when dealing with the question of the existence of Jesus.
A. Multiple attestation is one of the most important historical criteria for establishing what happened in the past – not just for historical Jesus research, but for any serious historical research. If the sources to a historical person or event are biased, then it is impossible to know if one of them has just “made something up,” if it is our only witness. But if there are several sources available that independently indicate that an event happened (or that a person lived, etc.), then no one of them could have made it up – since they all report it without having conferred with one another. Some scholars see this criterion as the most important one available for establishing what happened in the past.
This is one of the key criteria scholars use for showing what Jesus really said and did, but unfortunately it is commonly misunderstood. To get a handle on it, keep reading. If you’re not a member of the blog, now’s a good time to join! Click here for membership options