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The Criterion of Dissimilarity

The criterion of dissimilarity. Over the past couple of class periods, I have introduced my undergraduate students to the problems that confront critical scholars who try to reconstruct what Jesus really said and did.  These problems are created by the nature of our materials especially the New Testament Gospels.  This is why I begin my course, which focuses on the historical approach to the New Testament, in something other than the chronological order of events or writings.  Irony! But an irony with pretty compelling logic.  If we began with a chronological order of writings, of course, we would begin the course with the writings of Paul, since these are the first surviving writings from any early Christian. Earlier by 15-30 years than the Gospels.  But it doesn’t make sense to start with Paul (in my opinion) if you don’t know something about Jesus.  And you can’t begin with Jesus unless you know something about our sources for Jesus, our Gospels.  And so for a historical approach to the New Testament, we go out of chronological [...]

2022-05-29T16:47:53-04:00April 8th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

How Do We Know What Jesus Said or Did? The Criterion of Dissimilarity in Practice

The reason I’m explaining the criterion of dissimilarity is because I want to *use* it to talk about a passage in Matthew of relevance to the broader themes of this thread.  But before I use it I need to make sure everyone understands it.  In this post I show how it can be applied usefully; I being by restating the caveat about the criterion that I ended with yesterday (if you haven’t read that post, I’d suggest doing so before reading this one). ********************************************** I want to be perfectly clear about the limitations of this criterion.  Just because a saying or deed of Jesus happens to conform to what Christians were saying about him does not mean that it cannot be accurate.  Obviously, the earliest disciples followed Jesus precisely because they appreciated the things that he said and did.  They certainly would have told stories about him that included such things.  Thus, on the one hand, the criterion may do no more than cast a shadow of doubt on certain traditions.  For example, when in [...]

2021-01-10T00:34:11-05:00October 17th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus and the Historical Criteria

QUESTION: I've seen, somewhere on the internet (I know, great source!) some discussion that modern scholarship is moving away from the idea of criteria (such as multiple attestation, dissimilarity, etc.) and that the use of criteria is becoming seen as outmoded. Is there any truth to this, or were these sources just blowing   RESPONSE: This question is about the criteria that scholars use to establish historically reliable material about the historical Jesus.   For  background: there are several criteria that get used; the two most common are independent attestation and dissimilarity.   To make sense of them, one needs to realize what was happening to the traditions of Jesus as they were being circulated, mainly by word of mouth, in the Roman empire.  It’s a long story.  The short version of it is this:  stories were being changed by the story-tellers and some stories were being made up.  There’s simply no way around this, from a historical perspective.  Just about the only ones who disagree are people who have theological reasons for thinking that every single [...]

2020-04-03T19:20:53-04:00September 29th, 2012|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|
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