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 the Infancy Gospel of Thomas the young Jesus raises kids from the dead or miraculously solves his father’s mistakes in the carpenter’s shop, these look like things drawn from later Christian imagination.  And when in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas Jesus is said to reveal the secret doctrines of gnosis to a handful of followers, this is too closely aligned with gnostic theology to be above suspicion.  But the criterion of dissimilarity is best used not in the negative way of establishing what Jesus did not say or do, but in the positive way of showing what he likely did.

Perhaps the criterion can be clarified by providing a couple of brief examples of where it might work.  As we have seen…

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