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Flowchart: On alleged literary devices

Flowchart%2002.jpg

This is just the first entry in which I intend to display this flowchart. You'll be seeing it again! Here I want to discuss the flowchart itself and how it applies both to biblical and to non-biblical texts. The intention is to provide a framework for evaluating the claims of Richard Burridge, Michael Licona, and various Roman history scholars concerning the alleged presence of fictionalizing "literary devices" in an ostensibly historical work.

To begin with, I should explain what I mean by "fictionalizing literary devices," since the phrase is my own. In broad terms, I mean by that phrase an author's deliberately including in a putative historical work incidents, details, or speeches which he has (at least) no reason to think are accurate or even knows are inaccurate. I also mean, if the action is to count as a literary device as opposed to ordinary truth embroidery, deception, etc., that such an act of fictionalization was something the author believed he was allowed to do without violating the expectations of his readers as to his accuracy and truthfulness and (moreover) that he was right about that--that there really was such a convention in the social context in which the author was writing that this type and degree of fictionalization would have not caused surprise or consternation among the majority of the readers of the work, because it was expected of that type of work. Here are a few definitions from Licona's own book that provide paradigm examples of what I mean by fictionalization:

Transferal: When an author knowingly attributes words or deeds to a person that actually belonged to another person, the author has transferred the words or deeds.
Displacement: When an author knowingly uproots an event from its original context and transplants it in another, the author has displaced the event.

I note in passing that most of the time, though not with perfect consistency, Licona uses the term "displacement" to refer to cases where he is alleging that the author definitely implies or even states that an event took place in a different context from its original context. In other words, most of the time he is not talking about cases where, according to him, the author merely narrates events out of chronological order. The distinction is crucial, and Licona's failure to admit the importance of the distinction and to maintain it creates some confusion. In one egregious instance he says that there is "displacement" when Plutarch literally pauses to tell the reader that he is jumping forward in time to narrate an event that happened later and fit together topically with what he was talking about. Licona then speaks as if this is "displacement" and so are cases where, he alleges, the author deliberately made it look like the event really took place at a different point in time from the time that it really happened.

Conflation: When an author combines elements from two or more events or people and narrates them as one, the author has conflated them.

(All of these definitions are from p. 20, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels.)

Another example of fictionalization would be simply inventing a speech for an historical character when one has no reason to believe that the character either said those specific words or expressed those ideas in something approximately like those words.

Obviously, "crafting" an entire scene or incident counts as fictionalizing. So would making up a detail, such as a number or a name, that one has no reason to believe is accurate, and inserting it into the story just to make the story more vivid or interesting.

But here I want to emphasize again that, although I would count any of these as fictionalization, it doesn't follow that I would count them as "literary devices" even if they occurred, since they might just mean that the author was careless about truth or liked to embroider his tale or engage in propaganda.

Here are a couple of things I do not consider to be fictionalization:

--What Licona calls "literary spotlighting." Kindle tells me that "literary spotlight" and cognates occur 36 times in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels. It comes up a lot in the book. But it really isn't particularly literary at all, and it doesn't deserve to be categorized with the above acts of fictionalization. "Spotlighting," despite being made to sound like some sort of technical thing, is really just focusing on one thing, person, etc., in a scene rather than another. So if one author says that there was a man present at a scene who made a certain statement, and it turns out that there were really two men, the author was simply discussing one of the men who was there. That's all that is meant by "spotlighting," and it is so banal and so non-literary that it should not be used to inflate the numbers of "literary devices" in historical works or testimonies.

--Micro-trivial differences of wording. If one author says that Peter was "standing" by the fire and another author says that he was "sitting" by the fire, this wording variation doesn't count as a "literary device," and frankly, shouldn't even be mentioned. One of the most frustrating aspects of Licona's book is that he fills page after page with this sort of micro-trivia. It is not that he is claiming that all of these, or even many of them, constitute contradictions, but he does treat them as worth mentioning and as "changes" that the authors allegedly made to their "sources" as opposed (apparently) to their just naturally telling a story as a normal person does (perhaps even an eyewitness) in their own words. This habit of Licona's makes such micro-trivia sound like deliberate redaction, and it further increases the impression that, say, Matthew didn't actually witness any of the events he relates and tell them naturally as he remembers them. To Licona's credit, he tends to leave out this sort of itty-bitty trivia in his lectures (see here and here), which for that reason are better representations of his approach than the book itself. See two of my earlier posts critiquing Licona's talks here and here.

--Some degree of approximation or paraphrasing in telling what people said, as long as the author has good reason to believe that this really is approximately what the person said at that time, is not fictionalization as I'm using that term.

With my use of the term "fictionalizing literary device" clarified, on to the chart. The flowchart is meant to show how difficult it should be for a reasonable person to conclude that there is a fictionalizing literary device in a text where the author provides no clue that such a device is being used. In a post last year I stressed that a characteristic of the "devices" that Licona and others claim to find in Plutarch and the gospels is that there are no such clues in the text. This is important to remember. The authors do not give you a "heads-up." Instead they "write as if" things are a certain way. This creates all sorts of empirical difficulties with drawing this conclusion. The flowchart shows that there are many hoops one has to jump through before reaching the conclusion that something so complex is going on.

Most of the claimed instances of such "devices" given in New Testament scholarship and (in Licona's book) concerning Plutarch and other ancient authors don't even make it past the first step: Can the accounts be harmonized without undue strain by traditional methods?

Naturally, each person's concept of "undue strain" will be slightly different, so (as they say), your mileage may vary. But New Testament scholars are the most sensitive of plants when it comes to the idea that a harmonization is strained. They pretty much consider the most obvious ideas to be strained. They start with a wooden reading of the text, often a strong over-reading, and then they proceed to create some sort of "tension" between that text and another text, and they then resist the sensible suggestion that one needn't read the texts as saying that at all. On other occasions there is some degree of prima facie tension between the accounts, but it can be pretty easily resolved with a little intelligent imagination--something we do all the time, quite rightly, in dealing with witnesses in daily life. All of this is mis-calibrated in certain disciplines. Cases that shouldn't even be thought to require harmonization at all are treated by these scholars as real head-scratchers. Cases that are somewhat more puzzling are automatically treated as irreconcilable differences. I plan to illustrate these points in later posts, and I plan to begin with Plutarch, because I was interested to see how few of the Plutarch examples of supposed "literary devices" even got to first base. I came away from my study with a much higher view of Plutarch's care and accuracy than I'd ever had before!

The second question is an even more difficult hurdle for the proponent of fictionalizing literary devices to get over: Why should we think that the author was deliberately introducing data contrary to fact into his narrative? This is an especially pressing question when the point in question is a matter of detail, timing, the name of a person, etc. There are so many other possibilities, far more probable: The author may have made a good-faith error. The author (if he himself told the story twice, in ways that seemed to imply two different sets of facts) may have obtained additional information in the meanwhile. Nor does the fact that the accounts weren't published very far apart refute this suggestion. One can obtain new information in a single day! The author may have had information he was justified in considering reliable that was slightly different from the information that another author had, which the other author was justified in considering reliable. Two people may have remembered things slightly differently, if they were both present when an event happened. An author may have simply lacked information and written in a way (true as far as it went) that reflected this lack of information. (E.g. When Luke 2:39 says that Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth after the purification in the Temple, leaving out the flight to Egypt, this may simply mean that Luke hadn't been told about the flight to Egypt.) And so on through near-infinite variations on the many ways that people get information and try to relate it truthfully. Remember too that we're talking here about secular documents as well as the New Testament. Even if you shy away from saying that John made some minor error (but I don't think you should), why shy away from saying that Tacitus did so? And I would add that attributing deliberate fictionalization to John is a far heavier and more serious matter than attributing a trivial error to him, as I have discussed before.

I have now gone through Michael Licona's entire book, and every single example that he gives from Plutarch and the Gospels fails, in my opinion, at either the first or second step. As already mentioned, most fail at the very first step. In a few cases (either biblical or non-biblical) I can see serious difficulties with harmonization, leading to the possibility that there is some inaccurate information in one or the other account involved. But in no case where harmonization seems implausible between accounts does Licona argue persuasively that the author did it on purpose. Indeed, he usually just asserts it. He hardly even seems to realize that he needs to argue at this step in the chain of reasoning, that it is far more complex to assert that Plutarch, Tacitus, or John the evangelist deliberately inserted non-factual material than to conclude that he just got it a bit wrong at some point or just remembered it differently from someone else or from his own earlier version. One is claiming to be getting inside the author's mind and to be able to tell that he did this on purpose--a strong claim. Therefore, there should be some pretty robust argument that the fictionalization was deliberate. This is so obvious an epistemic point that I find it a little astonishing that it needs to be made explicitly, but apparently it does. Nor is Licona the only scholar to have this problem. In fact, he seems to be picking it up from others.

Burridge does slightly better (Four Gospels, One Jesus, pp. 169-170) when he argues that Tacitus probably invented the speech including the famous line "solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant" and attributed it to the Scottish chieftain Calgacus, who (if nothing else) almost certainly didn't speak in flowing Latin parallelism. Tacitus presumably knew that as well as we do and therefore probably knew that he was including an invented speech. If he wrote the speech himself, he of course knew that he invented it himself. And we know that Polybius complains about people who invented speeches in historical books, so it was something that was done, though it was (as Polybius's own complaint shows) not universally accepted as a harmless device. But as I pointed out in an earlier thread, Tacitus is known to be quite accurate in his narratives, which shows that we shouldn't jump to conclusions about an author's "license to invent" across the board even within his own writings, even if we decide that in some given, circumscribed aspect of his writings (such as speeches) he probably did invent.

But Licona's examples concern names, places, events, and (perhaps most often) chronology. These are the types of facts that one could easily report (or imply) without realizing that one was not getting them quite correct or that one was giving one's readers an incorrect impression. That such simple hypotheses receive such short shrift in these disciplines is a sign that something is very wrong. One is tempted repeatedly to ask why in the world a scholar would jump to the conclusion of deliberate fictionalization when so many more common options exist.

If one manages to get this far with a given example, another problem looms, one which I hinted at in my previous post. If we (somehow) know that the author deliberately inserted false information, why not just call him a liar rather than assert that he's using a "literary device"? In fact, even finding quite a number of examples of "fake news" in the ancient world would hardly suffice to justify the conclusion that these were "literary devices" and accepted as such by audiences. Would that be the correct conclusion in our own culture, if a later historian found numerous cases in which news sources fudged their facts, reported with extreme carelessness from unreliable sources (and hence got it wrong), or outright made stuff up? Of course not. The correct conclusion is that these news outlets, which should care about truth and whose stories are supposed to be taken as factual, are insufficiently concerned with getting it right. That they are liars, or play fast and loose. That they are propagandists. These are all well-known phenomena in human experience. It is far more probable, if (say) Josephus at some point really fudged his facts, that he did it as a sinful man than as a literary lion.

Note, too, that the fact that some people, even many people, know that one does this sort of thing still doesn't make it a "literary device." Maybe the common man on whose emotions one intended to play does not realize that it is made up, but some other people have tumbled to the truth. Cynicism doesn't create fancy literary devices. Even if I realize that the Huffington Post is sometimes unreliable in ideologically freighted areas, it doesn't follow that they are doing something perfectly licit and "literary" when they bend the truth. It just means that I am justifiedly cynical.

Once again, when scholars are alleging "literary devices" and even making explicit statements about what readers would have expected, they rarely seem to bother to argue for this thesis beyond producing the examples themselves. The simple question never gets asked: Even if this author did this on purpose, why should I not think he just liked to make stuff up?

A more lighthearted example here will help to illustrate. All my life I have greatly enjoyed the memoirs of the late Gerald Durrell, a naturalist who traveled all over the world collecting animals for zoos. In his childhood, Durrell lived on the island of Corfu for five years, and his beautifully written (and hilarious) books about that time are among those I've re-read so often that I nearly have them memorized. The most famous is My Family and Other Animals, and if you've never read it and need an enjoyable and relaxing book for your next vacation, I cannot recommend it too highly. If you like it, try the sequel, Birds, Beasts, and Relatives. Don't look for deep insights. Just amusement of a mid-20th-century British variety that treats drunkenness, homosexuality, and the incompetence and melodramatic temperaments of Greek peasants as comedy fodder. I've read that Durrell said that his childhood in Corfu unwound before his eyes like a film when he went to write about it, and his descriptions of the island are incredibly vivid.

But later, as I got to thinking about it, I came to have my doubts about the truth of some of the anecdotes. It wasn't just that I assumed that Durrell constructed dialogue he didn't remember clearly, for basically factual scenes, to make the dialogue sound novelistic, detailed, and seamless. That might really count as a 20th-century "literary device" that an audience fully expects. (No, I don't think there's any reason to believe it was a 1st-century literary device, much less that the authors of the Gospels engaged in it.) It was rather that I started thinking that some of the stories he tells are too fantastic to be true. Also, I read a few scattered stories about Corfu and about his family that Durrell wrote later in life, and those read like pastiches of the earlier stories. This caused me to put a bit of a question mark over the earlier stories as well. Did he really have a hunch-backed tutor who lived in a fantasy world where he repeatedly saved damsels in distress? Could that same tutor really have had an elderly mother with long, undying red hair who believed that she could hear flowers talk? Did the Belgian consul in Corfu really shoot starving, feral cats from the window of his house with an air rifle (as a form of euthanasia) while trying to teach French to young Gerry? Did the Durrells really use rare postage stamps to bribe a philatelist Corfiote judge to decide a minor court case in their favor? And so forth.

Now, maybe all of that really happened. Truth, they say, is stranger than fiction.

But let's suppose that my suspicions are correct and that some, at least, of those incidents are made up. Is that a "literary device"? Heck, no. Nothing so high-falutin'. It would just mean that Durrell was a mischievous guy, a great raconteur, that he made his living and funded his animal collecting trips by writing books and was very good at it, and that he didn't have qualms of conscience about mixing fiction with fact to make a better story. It doesn't matter all that much if he did so, but the reason that it doesn't matter has precisely zilch to do with "literary devices." Instead, it has to do with the intrinsic lightness of the subject matter. If Durrell were asking me to commit my life to a religion, I would be rightly indignant at his fictionalizing in the service of that goal.

And then there is the final node. I admit that the distinction between this node and the previous one is not sharp. I included the final node for the sake of completeness. How plausible is it that the author himself believed that he was using an understood "literary device" but that, as it turned out, most of the members of his intended audience had no way of knowing about such a device, unbeknownst to him? But I suppose one can imagine something like this, using the previous example: Suppose that Durrell inserted fictional tales among his true memoirs, and suppose that he thought to himself, "I bet that everybody understands that this is the sort of thing that an author like me does. Surely people will realize that the fantasizing, hunchbacked tutor is too weird to be true." In that case, he was, as it were, trying to use an agreed-upon literary device but being too subtle about it, and for most people he probably failed. I don't think I'm atypical in that regard. I certainly took all the stories as intended to be factual for many years.

The assertion that Licona et. al. blithely make about ancient audiences and ancient peoples is incredibly hard to support. I really don't know how they think they can support it for such a wide array of fictionalizing "devices." They might, might be able to support it for some isolated type of thing in a work--speeches, for example, that (upon examination) are "too good to be true." But if so they'd have to show it on a case-by-case basis, and I don't think they do show it even for, say, the speeches in Acts. (Which, by the way, appear to be remarkably accurate even if somewhat paraphrased.) If this could be done for some isolated aspect of a work, it would be similar to showing that most 21st-century American and British readers realize that a person who writes his memoirs will often change the names of various people involved so as to protect their privacy. Audiences realize this in part because books will occasionally even say this in an introduction, but even when they don't, no one is really surprised. For example, I was not at all surprised to discover that "James Herriot," the Yorkshire vet whose memoirs I have always enjoyed, was really named Alf White and that his partners, who figure so prominently in his stories, had different names as well.

But these are isolated types of things, and one can argue for them carefully on a case-by-case basis. I have found no such persuasive argument for the general recognition, by audiences, of the range of "devices" Licona discusses. Licona presents a reference to one brief statement in the work of Lucian of Samosata which may endorse the invention of speeches by historical writers. Lucian says that when a writer of history introduces a speech, he has "the counsel's right of showing [his] eloquence." But Lucian is just one guy, and even the invention of speeches (much less the other "devices"), even in the pagan world (much less by the authors of the New Testament), was not universally accepted. One statement about speeches from Lucian is a thin reed on which to rest the weight of Licona's sweeping claims about the ancient world and a whole zoo of fictionalizing devices.

Besides presenting his Plutarch examples (some of which I'll discuss in a later post) and more or less saying, "Behold!" the longest attempt Licona makes at an argument for the widespread acceptance of fictionalizing literary devices is his deeply flawed discussion of "compositional textbooks." There are many problems with that, beginning with the fact that we have no reason to believe that any of the Gospel authors with the possible exception of Luke would ever have laid eyes on, say, Theon's Progymnasmata. Moreover, it doesn't appear that such "textbooks" were teaching about a societally understood set of conventions for fictionalizing history but rather merely giving writing exercises and trying to teach how to write well, whether the content is fiction or fact. As I discussed in this post, writing advice/exercises and a treatise on fictionalizing history are completely different things--a point Licona doesn't seem fully to grasp. I could say more at length about the confused use Licona makes of Theon, but Theon himself warns against long digressions, so I'll leave it at that for now.

Similarly, Licona quotes (twice) a passage from Lucian about how the historian should try to make his work flow gracefully. Licona then interprets this to mean that Lucian was teaching that it's okay for historians explicitly to change the time when things happened so as to make the series of events flow more gracefully from one thing to another! But Lucian says nothing of the kind in the passage Licona relies on. The passage is merely a more or less vague discussion of writing in a way that is "smooth" and "connected" and in which the various topics fit together like links in a chain. A quotation from Quintilian, used by Licona in a similar way, is similarly vague and also does not support Licona's conclusion (pp. 89-90). I note, again, that it is perfectly possible to narrate events more topically than chronologically while not even implying that one is narrating chronologically, much less implying that one is narrating a different chronology from some other document or from the way things actually happened. Hence, injunctions that might support a somewhat topically arranged narrative order do not go any distance toward supporting changing the chronology of events, which is a completely different matter.

It is therefore worth questioning whether the fictionalizing "literary devices" that Licona lists (transferal, displacement, etc.) even existed in any meaningful sense--a question that makes the last two nodes of the flowchart particularly pressing.

This is another way in which the argument doesn't even get off the ground. Some people to whom I have spoken about these issues seem to think that it's established that there "were these literary devices at the time" and that, then, the only question is whether the Gospel authors would have used them. Certainly the second question needs to be asked! Even if one runs the gauntlet of the entire flowchart for some particular passage in Author A, one is by no means entitled to populate the entire ancient world with authors of this kind, much less assume that some particular other author was also inclined to use such a "device." But I would press the skepticism further, questioning whether "transferal," "displacement," and "conflation" qua literary devices were even hanging around in the corporate mind of society to be used at the time of the Gospel authors. And so much the less for more radical "devices" such as "crafting" the entire incident of Doubting Thomas, suggested by Licona (p. 178). So far, I haven't seen anything that convinces me that such abstract entities existed. The flowchart helps to explain why.

Comments (110)

Your use of the words "fictional" and "fictionalizing" was a little bit confusing to me. Sometimes you use them contrary to their usual meanings.

The difference between historiography and fiction is a lot simpler than people might guess. It's one-dimensional, defined simply by truth-claim: a text is historiographic if it claims to be a true account and is fictional if it doesn't claim that. (Meir Sternberg shows this elegantly in his Poetics of Biblical Narrative.) Of course, truth-claim depends on conventions and on the expectations of the particular readership.

So in particular, "fictional" does not mean false. Something could be fictional and factually true, or historiographic and factually false.

Similarly with "literary device": Literary devices are often used in historiography—writing that makes a truth-claim—as well as in fiction. So re your question, "why not just call him a liar rather than assert that he's using a 'literary device'?", you're right that "literary device" is just a smokescreen. The question is simply whether the text is claiming to tell the truth.

Well, I'm not trying to run counter to some established usage of the term "fictionalizing." But I think I define it pretty clearly. I'm sorry if my usage seems strange to you, but what *I* mean by "fictionalizing" is that one is writing what either is non-factual or what one has no reason to believe is factual. However, if one's work is putatively historical, one may be *presenting* that material as fact. So this is different from your use of "fictional." As I'm using the concept of a "fictionalizing" author, John would be "fictionalizing" if he "crafted" the Doubting Thomas scenario contrary to fact (it didn't happen), even if he presented it as fact. Matthew would be "fictionalizing" if he invented a second demoniac in a story when he knew there was only one (or when, as far as he knew, there was only one). John would be fictionalizing if he definitely presented Jesus as cleansing the Temple early in his ministry when in fact Jesus never did cleanse the Temple early in his ministry. And I would call these "fictionalizing" even though they present these things as having actually happened. Indeed, that's what would make it problematic.

I havent read Licona's book, but its a shame he is going down that alley. He has been very good on the resurrection of Jesus, but once you start effectively saying the Gospel authors made some stuff up but presented them as real events or facts to make a point, I think you're on shaky ground. I doubt the first readers of the Gospels would have understood that is how they should be reading the accounts. The question is of course - if some details are made up, or the words of one person have been placed in the mouth of another etc, how does one know what really happened and what didnt? Luke, in his prologue, specifically says he was writing facts.

It is these sorts of arguments that quite rightly just confirm the atheist position - we cant know what to believe as 'truth' in the Bible, so better dump the whole lot!

There were two different men who dropped atom bombs on Japan, Tippet (Little Boy) and Sweeney (Fat Man). Sweeney wrote his memoire and Tippet wrote his own, with an additional chapter, essentially, calling Sweeney a liar for whitewashing why Nagasaki was bombed instead of the primary target, Kokura.
Likewise, during WWII the two physicists, Niels Bohr and Wolfgang Heisenberg had a conversation in the woods outside of Bohr's cabin that so infuriated Bohr that he, essentially, threw Heisenberg out of the house (the basis for the play, Copenhagen). Bohr and Heisenberg have radically different accounts.
My point is that many people (at least 5000 at one time) saw Jesus, so the details of his public ministry were no secret. If the Gospels were at all fictionalized, you can darn well bet there would have been a written record of people setting the record straight, but there is not even a peep from anyone. There were enough educated Greeks and Romans that something would have survived. In fact, no counter-narratives exist. Such stories were passed down by word of mouth (such as the Roman claim that Jesus's body was stolen), but they did no survive long and were not regarded as being worth of being recorded in writing by non-Christians.
If the Gospels were bring fictionalized, you can bet the Jews would have been all over the text or at least challenging the oral record before the Diaspora.
How does Licona explain this?

The Chicken

Chicken, if I were arguing Licona's side (which of course I'm not) I would guess he'd say a) the fictionalized details in question are mostly too peripheral for it to be worth someone's while to dispute them in an explicit way in order to set the record straight, b) the very discrepancies (as he views it) between/among the Gospel accounts *are* the contrary versions, so we really *do* have differing accounts (just not as dramatic as the ones you mention), and that's why he's making these conjectures about literary devices.

E.g. He'd presumably say that John's account of the cleansing of the Temple or of the day of the crucifixion *is* a contrary account to that in the synoptic Gospels. But he would argue that John doesn't call the synoptics liars, nor did anyone else write at the time calling John a liar, because John's readers understood that he was allowed (literarily) to make alterations to such things as what day Jesus died or when Jesus cleansed the Temple, so nobody was going to make a fuss about it.

The view is that there is this "core" that everybody wanted to remain stable (e.g., Jesus died and rose again), and that a lot of other things are, as it were, literarily negotiable, and people didn't mind if they were tweaked in a fictional way.

Perhaps the most extreme example of this is Licona's theory (which isn't in his book but was given in an on-line debate with Bart Ehrman) that all of the non-overlapping material on Jesus' infancy in Luke and Matthew might be a so-called "midrash"--i.e., made up. But they agree that Jesus was born of a virgin, so what they agree on is the "core." This would mean, presumably, that the wise men, the shepherds, the slaughter of the innocent, and the flight to Egypt are all so-called "midrash," but nobody minded because *somehow* people had ESP (okay, I'm getting a little sarcastic) to recognize this "genre," and the core (the virgin birth) was retained in both accounts. So nobody bothered to write a disputing account calling out Luke and Matthew for their "midrashic" additions. I shd. add here that N.T. Wright has said some very strong things about the abuse of the term "midrash" in exactly the way that Licona is using it for this conjecture about the infancy narratives.

It's at that point that this stops sounding particularly peripheral! Those are whole incidents in the infancy of Jesus.

I suppose I can see why someone wouldn't write separately in the 1st century to clear up whether there were two demoniacs or one or whether the centurion with a sick servant came personally to Jesus or sent his servants. Those might seem not worth "calling out" a gospel author who (in some other person's opinion) didn't get it quite right. But when we get to "midrashing" over half of the infancy narratives, the concept of a "core" vs. a "peripheral detail" wears rather thin.

Hello Dr. McGrew,

Thank you for your work. Do you perceive that the appeal to ubiquitous contemporaneous literary devices can serve for some as a backstop to loss of "faith", in the same way as unexamined insistence on anachronistic inerrancy? Is there a false dichotomy here? Also, do you think that once a scholar starts specializing in a certain aspect of literary criticism, he or she is prone to start seeing those devices everywhere, as an answer to every difficulty in the source? To what degree do we honor the source, especially in conversation with unbelievers, before it seems special pleading to divine inspiration, or the dreaded "mentally gymnastic harmonizing?"

I appreciate your insight.

Do you perceive that the appeal to ubiquitous contemporaneous literary devices can serve for some as a backstop to loss of "faith", in the same way as unexamined insistence on anachronistic inerrancy?

It is definitely supposed to be a backstop to "inerrancy" itself, though a redefined concept. I've had people tell me *explicitly* that they feel they have to take Licona's ideas seriously because it is a way to retain the idea that the Bible gets nothing wrong in what it *affirms*. Basically, you just radically fuzzify the question of whether John was *affirming* that Jesus did this on a certain day, because if it's a "literary device," then none of that counts as "affirming." Therefore, if John *changed* the day, he was sort-of-affirming-it-but-sort-of-not-affirming-it. He made it look like a different day, yes, and he did that on purpose, yes, but because it was a "literary device" of the time, nobody took any of that detail as *serious historical affirmation* anyway, so it doesn't count as being incorrect in what he "affirms."

It's an *incredibly* Pyrrhic victory for "inerrancy," as Norm Geisler rightly saw. One retains the ability to *say* that the gospels are never wrong in what they affirm only by (more or less) saying that they don't really affirm any of the details of their narratives! However realistic they make them appear. Or, if we accept the "midrash" idea for the infancy narratives or John's "crafting" the whole Doubting Thomas scenario, I guess John wasn't really "affirming" that either. Sort of like if I say, "Once upon a time" and tell a fairy tale, I'm not affirming that it really happened. Only unfortunately John doesn't have any cue words like, "Once upon a time!"

So, yes, people use this as a backstop for inerrancy. Let's radically redefine our concept of what the gospels are affirming, and then we can say they never get anything wrong that they "affirm." It's crazy, in my opinion, but it's astonishing how many people are tempted to go that route.

To what degree do we honor the source, especially in conversation with unbelievers, before it seems special pleading to divine inspiration, or the dreaded "mentally gymnastic harmonizing?"

Whoa, hold on. Remember, I think these guys are over-reading *Plutarch* and wrongly attributing fictionalizing literary devices to him, and I don't think Plutarch was divinely inspired!! The flowchart in the main post is for *any* sources. I don't try to harmonize because I'm a "believer" or because I'm pious or anything. I try to harmonize because it's good historical practice.

When it is mental gymnastics and when it isn't just depends on the individual example, and of course people will disagree. But again and again and again, both for Plutarch and the gospels, Licona is ignoring very *reasonable* harmonizations. These scholars don't seem to know a reasonable from an unreasonable harmonization. It's very sad.

And in any event, please, please remember: There are several nodes to the flowchart *even if* you just can't come up with anything you regard as a plausible harmonization. If you think two accounts can't be well harmonized, it would virtually always (always so far in my experience) be far more reasonable to think that someone made a mistake than to think he's engaging in a "literary device."

Also, do you think that once a scholar starts specializing in a certain aspect of literary criticism, he or she is prone to start seeing those devices everywhere, as an answer to every difficulty in the source?

Yes, happens all the time. Craig Blomberg even complains about this to Licona in a round table, quoted in an earlier thread. That Blomberg thinks Licona is seeing these devices under every rock. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, etc. I think too that the problem arises from the intrinsically empirically unverifiable nature of these devices. *Since* there is no indication in the text that they are taking place, and *since* we can always say one is there when we don't like any of the available harmonizations, and *since* the motivations alleged for doing these devices are allowed to be *incredibly* thin and/or vague, then they can be multiplied ad infinitum.

At one place in the book (I am not making this up) Licona literally suggests that Luke may have altered the chronological order of events in order to "change things up slightly"!! That's an exact quote. pp. 166-167. Change things up slightly. My jaw dropped when I read that. That's all it takes. That's all Luke had to have. Just a desire to "change things up slightly." On pp. 182-183 he literally says that most often the authors' motives for making these changes are just "to follow the literary conventions of their day." In other words, they changed these things just because! Just because they could, and because that was a "literary convention of the day." Not even for any clear theological or other motive.

When your standards are that low, even for the putative motives for changing chronology and other details--yeah, you're going to "see" these "devices" pretty frequently.

I just went back and did a quick review of Plutarch's life and works. I am a bit puzzled. Does Licona believe or not believe that becoming a Christian makes a difference in one's life? How can one possibly compare the writing style of Plutarch, a pagan and a priest of Delphi, by all accounts, with the writings styles of the Gospel writers? He might as well be comparing the writing styles of New Age Shirley McClaine (sp?) to Mother Teresa. In order to make a fair comparison, he would have to compare Christian writing techniques against Christian writing techniques of the period. In modern terms, if one looks over the corpus of Christian romance novels, one sees certain common tropes that simply do not exist in secular romance novels and vice-versa. Yes, there may be a certain overlap of techniques, but how does one decide what those are based on a very limited sampling?

Plutach, in his Parallel Lives, for example, seems to have grasp at straws to set up his parallels in certain cases. He used many literary embellishments. What gives Licona the right to think that the Gospel writers did the same thing? It looks to me as if he does not consider the New Testament to be Divinely inspired, except in the most general way.

Christians think differently than pagans. I do not see how one can make comparisons, especially given the different notions of what constitutes sin. While Plutarch many not have thought rearranging text to be a big deal, what evidence does he have that John did not?

In musical terms, since that is where I have some relevant expertise, C.P.E. Bach and J. C. Bach were not only contemporaries, but brothers and, yet, their compositional styles could not be different. They each have similar styles to other composers of the period, so one can establish stylistic groupings of those different schools of composition as such, but just because the two composers esisted at the same time, one cannot, thereby conclude that they used similar techniques.

When one becomes a Christian, certain behaviors change. What does that mean in terms of writing style? I suppose that that is at the heart of the problem.

The Chicken

While Plutarch many not have thought rearranging text to be a big deal, what evidence does he have that John did not?

I strongly agree with this, and I think it has to be kept in mind that we shouldn't make huge generalizations about "the ancient world" as if it were monolithic. (This is a bad habit of another author I have critiqued, John H. Walton. He takes it to an extreme, treating even the "ancient world" of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the pagans, Jews, and Christians as very similar in contrast to...the Modern World. This is incredibly poor historically. And anachronistic, as well.)

However, I'm looking forward to showing how over-wrought these ideas are with respect to Plutarch as well--at least as regards the examples Licona gives in his book. I didn't find a single place where I thought he made a good case that Plutarch *deliberately* changed a fact from true to false. It wasn't that I was closed to finding it, though I would still have doubted that it was a "literary device" as opposed to ordinary deception. (See flowchart.) But we didn't even get that far. It was an interesting thing to come away thinking better of Plutarch's literal accuracy than I ever did before. Surely not what Licona intended to be the result of studying his book! Maybe there are such deliberate fabrications on the part of Plutarch out there. I would treat them with a shrug, if so. But I wasn't inclined to think that Licona showed any convincing examples.

I also mean, if the action is to count as a literary device as opposed to ordinary truth embroidery, deception, etc., that such an act of fictionalization was something the author believed he was allowed to do without violating the expectations of his readers as to his accuracy and truthfulness and (moreover) that he was right about that--that there really was such a convention in the social context in which the author was writing that this type and degree of fictionalization would have not caused surprise or consternation among the majority of the readers of the work, because it was expected of that type of work.

I just want to mention one qualifier we need to keep in mind with respect to this aspect of a definition of "fictionalizing": There is at least potentially a matter of degree. For example, in "political speech" in these teen years of the 21st century America, a certain amount of exaggeration, or embroidery, is at least tolerated, even if not simply "accepted". A man who claims he "helped create the Internet," if he was one of 13 co-sponsors on a bill that provided funding fairly early for some elements of what eventually became the Internet will be both laughed at because he inflated his contribution, and tolerated because is not entirely wrong, either. A man who accuses his opponent of being "soft on crime" because he did not vote to increase mandatory sentences is engaging not so much in lying as in "over-stating the case", which is more or less tolerated. Sort of. To a degree, though not simply. That is, we don't hang the politician, or charge him libel, nor do we automatically say "that's it, I can't vote for him because he embroidered the truth here in this tangential matter." On the other hand, we also don't completely shrug it off as if it were good and worthy behavior, as if that kind of embroidery is "the upright and wholesome way to go about being elected" (Trump supporters excepted). We don't treat it COMPLETELY as "a literary device that gets to a deeper truth better than the bare facts would have done, and is therefore preferred over a 'just the facts' account that fails to get the 'underlying truth'." So, there is a difference between toleration and full acceptance.

A lot of this is nuance, a matter of difficult-to-enunciate distinctions that people keep in mind without stating "for the record".

So, the problem with assessing an earlier culture's literature for this matter is in being able to say whether a particular sort of stretching of the truth fell into "tolerated" versus "accepted device", because the kind of evidence that would have distinguished the one from the other is not necessarily easy to locate or identify, especially at a remove of many centuries. Indeed, even if someone (contemporaneously) were to have written explicitly an essay (or, more likely, a polemic) that touched on the distinction in regard to specific cases and examples, we could still have the situation where THAT WRITER's own personal sense of the boundaries were not necessarily quite in tune with the general run of the mill perceptions, or his specific examples might have been controversial even in his own milieu. How would we ever know? Imagine someone a thousand years from now trying to discern whether, in our culture, Trump's comments that have only a glancing relation to truth are "accepted" versus "tolerated".

There is, also, the problem that "the milieu" can be incredibly narrow. What is accepted in my hangout at the gym on 7th Street, and what is accepted in the soiree on Main St., can be quite diverse. What is accepted in 2017 may not have been acceptable in 1997, or 1977. What is accepted in practical politics (campaigns) surely is different from what is accepted in physics, math, or even a political science treatise. These all make it more difficult to be sure of what is tolerated versus accepted.

The problem for Licona and his ilk is that the epistomological presumption must be in opposition to "it was an accepted fictionalization" about any specific example. So they have this enormous burden of proof to overcome, not only in identifying the "genre" of writing, but also of identifying the "accepted standards" for that particular genre WITHIN the milieu in which the author was writing, which might be different from the standards 200 miles and 20 years removed.

My personal take is that the "fictionalizing" theorists have completely mis-identified the genre. Maybe in a verbal account, maybe some of those disciples might have engaged in some exaggerating or embroidering. But these apostles - especially (among the writers,) Matthew - were nothing like an "artiste" in their earlier life. Matthew may have been little more than a thug who was good at sums. When they set out to put those stories in writing, they would have been far more careful in what they put down. And they would not have been part of the milieu of Livy and Ovid and Plutarch who were writing of mundane matters to other scholars. These accounts were read aloud in the assemblies, not to literary folk, but to fishermen and tent makers. Different milieu altogether from the soiree on Main St.

Secondly, the fundamental thrust of the writing, (as with their verbal efforts) was to convince people of astounding truths: God became man! Then He died for your sins and mine! There is, in my opinion, a FUNDAMENTAL incompatibility between an account that knowingly and intentionally rests on an honest account of miracles as convincing evidence of these claims, and then using any kind of fictionalizing in the same account. Any kind at all. Any use of a fictionalizing device at all leads the reader to the possibility that the miracle accounts were fictionalizing devices, and that unwinds the motive for belief to begin with. (This is all the more so when, as Licona says, there was no "pointer" for the parts that were fictionalized versus the parts that were stone cold factual.) It is an unavoidable consequence of using fictionalizing of any sort.

The Device defeats the whole purpose.

But even if it didn't, you still have to run the gamut of the flowchart filters Lydia laid out for us.

By the way: there is adequate proof for my claim that

Any use of a fictionalizing device at all leads the reader to the possibility that the miracle accounts were fictionalizing devices, and that unwinds the motive for belief to begin with.

This is exactly what has happened in colleges and universities for the last 100 years, all across the US and Europe. The students have walked away from Christianity because it lacks any motive of belief, when you look at the accounts as harboring intentional fictionalizing.

That a few theorists manage to withhold from dis-belief even while believing in fictionalizing is an example of "believing 6 impossible things before breakfast". If, that is, you can call their modus operandi "belief", which in some cases is problematic.

Lydia:
I have a problem with your step 1. The flowchart gives the impression that the availability of a mildly strained, but not "unduly" strained harmonization is sufficient to conclude that there was no fictionalizing literary devise (FLD). I suppose your main point is that, in that event, there is no BASIS for the claim that an FLD is present. But even that depends on how plausible we think it (prior to this investigation of a particular text) that the permissibility of FLDs may have been in the ethos for Hellenistic historians. Your approach takes that to be a priori highly improbably so that some heavy burden of proof must be met before concluding that we have an instance of an FLD. I, being more open to the possibility from the start, when I see that accounts are harmonizable only with some strain, ask myself whether the FLD hypothesis is a better explanation than the harmonization. If it turns out (after going through the rest of the flowchart) that the best explanation of a discrepancy is provided by the FLD hypotheis, then to that extent this text is evidence for FLDs. Admittedly, to the extent that the strain of the harmonization is not very great, the presence of a possible harmonization makes this only weak evidence. All I'm asking for is an even handed evaluation of the evidence.

Secondly, in the case of the Bible, I also have a problem with the rest of the flowchart. I think it's a plain fact that the whole church throughout history has taught that the words of the Bible are the very words of God, in a sense that disallows saying "This text, correctly interpreted, says X, and X is false". This may well be called "inerrancy", though I have no very profound attachment to that word, and if it be taken to include an affirmation of "common-sense historicity" (the principle that where informed common-sense would interpret a text as affirming historicity it should be so interpreted) then I simply note that the whole church throughout history has not taught that. Indeed I have found, just recently, in Origin and Augustine statements that seem to strongly indicate they rejected it.

Since the divinity of scripture is something I know to be true, I can't just leave it out of consideration when attempting to discover further truth. And since the divinity of scripture disallows me from saying either that the author mistakenly or deliberately asserted something false (or that he intended to describe non-assertorically a detail when facts about his linguistic community entail that his statement actually does have assertoric force) I end up with only two viable options: harmonization or denial of assertoric historicity. I think I mentioned way back when this topic first came up on this blog that I have some problems with Licona's particular way of doing this, and I don't care for his term "literary device" (or your term, "fictionalize"), but I'll leave that aside for now.

Attributing deliberate fictionalization to John is a far heavier and more serious matter than attributing a trivial error to him.

If you mean propagandistic fictionalization ("fake news") then that's a serious matter, but if we are talking about FLDs then by definition the credibility of the author is not undermined, and the divinity of scripture is not in any way put at hazard. By contrast, it at least presents a real difficulty for the divinity of scripture to suggest that the text is in error in what it affirms (even if you are right in believing that the difficulty can resolved, somehow, and the divinity of scripture can survive the abandonment of inerrancy). You want to say that inerrancy is put at hazard by FLDs:

It's an *incredibly* Pyrrhic victory for "inerrancy," as Norm Geisler rightly saw. One retains the ability to *say* that the gospels are never wrong in what they affirm only by (more or less) saying that they don't really affirm any of the details of their narratives!
But this is the case ONLY IF inerrancy is taken to include a commitment to some kind of common-sense interpretive principle. "Inerrancy-as-Geisler-understood-it" may well be put at hazard in the way you suggest, but that doctrine is not something a traditional-minded Christian needs to feel any great loyalty to. Christians of the past engaged in some wildly ahistorical interpretations, and not only as an addition on top of their commitment to the common-sense historical meaning, though of course that happened too.

Is the the heavy seriousness of attributing FLD to John to be found in the fact that if we say that such-and-such detail is not asserted as historical (absent the more acceptable-to-common-sense reasons for saying so), then we can't say that ANY detail is knowable as historical, and thus the whole gospel-record of Christ's life is not knowable as historical, since we can't tell which details are asserted as historical and which aren't?

But that's like saying that we have no idea what Christ actually said because, apart from very few places where, e.g., he's quoted in Aramaic, we have no way to tell which are effectively exact translations of his speech, and which are paraphrases. A paraphrase is a change in detail, an "inaccuracy" in the sense that something is written as a direct quote, as if Jesus said those words, when that's not exactly what "really historically happened." What really happened is that He said different words with approximately the same import. I think the evangelists chose their words with care when paraphrasing Jesus, and this might well include making the connotations of His speech include truths that He enunciated on other occasions. They didn't contradict Jesus' teaching, but they would have represented him as saying, on a particular occasion, something that includes in its meaning (on the level of small detail) what they had no reason to believe he said on that particular occasion. This surely is within what is acceptable to the common-sense interpretive principle. It's worth noting that there isn't a clear line determining exactly how much variation from exactitude is acceptable, on the common-sense principle. Nevertheless, we can know (assuming that principle arguendo) that Jesus said something close to this on that occasion. The departures from accuracy in some details don't undermine a general intention to say what really happened. If this can be true in the realm of reported speech, it can also be true in the realm of reported events. Or it can be the case in the realm of reported speech that more difference from historicity than our common sense allows was allowed to the gospel authors, without undermining the general historical "true-story" character of the gospels. My present point is not that this WAS the case, but that IF it was, that wouldn't be a great heavy problem for the historical character of the gospels. (To be fair to you, Licona's statements about the birth-narratives do go well beyond the level of detail, and his overwillingness to see FLDs where they aren't goes beyond what I'm OK with; and this criticim of yours may have some bite against him in that regard. But as for the present point: merely claiming the presence of an FLD does not undermine the historicity of the gospels tout court.)

The heavy seriousness is found, if anywhere, in the apologetic implications. You have elsewhere mentioned arguments for the historicity of the resurrection that rely on the details of, e.g., Jesus eating fish with his disciples. Now, I think it's possible to prove that Jesus rose from the dead (in the bodily sense in which the church has always understood that) without appealing to anything in the details of the four gospels. Appealing only to the truth of the ancient Hebrew religion, along with uncontroversial facts of history (that Christianity exists, that the Romans destroyed the temple, etc.), we can know that Jesus was the Messiah, and that God raised him from the dead. I don't say this is the BEST way to make the case for Christianity, only that it can be done. So, I don't take it as a deeply serious thing if your preferred way of arguing would be utterly destroyed by the presence of FLDs. But I don't think it is. You yourself note that we are justified in trusting the accuracy of Tacitus, even after we recognize his willingness, on some occasions, to invent a speech.

Still, at worst, the presence of FLDs undermines one sort of apologetic. The presence of error puts at hazard a basic doctrine of Christianity.

Hi, Christopher. I'm preparing some upcoming talks, so I will be responding to your comment in fits and starts.

I have a problem with your step 1. The flowchart gives the impression that the availability of a mildly strained, but not "unduly" strained harmonization is sufficient to conclude that there was no fictionalizing literary devise (FLD). I suppose your main point is that, in that event, there is no BASIS for the claim that an FLD is present. But even that depends on how plausible we think it (prior to this investigation of a particular text) that the permissibility of FLDs may have been in the ethos for Hellenistic historians.

Christopher, prior probabilities have to come from somewhere. The argument that Licona and company are making, indeed the *only* argument I know of on this topic, is based in no small part *upon* the examples they claim to find in ancient literature (such as Plutarch). It is in large measure an inductive case. One doesn't just have a free-floating high prior probability of the existence of a device in ancient culture which somehow shifts the burden of proof and makes even the mildest need for harmonization into a case, even a decent-ish case, for the presence of such a device in some text. One usually *starts* with the ancient texts. Even Licona calls his case based only upon Theon & co. a "hunch" and then says that this "hunch" is born out by the *examples* he claims to find in Plutarch, etc. Thus if those examples fail epistemically, one is left without a good reason to believe in the existence of these fictionalizing devices.

Moreover, I have attempted to *answer* the supposed case from other texts, such as Theon or Lucian. For the moment I have decided not to write at length about Theon, but if you think there is a strong case from Theon, perhaps you and I can discuss that in direct e-mail correspondence.

In other words, Licona & co. shouldn't ask us and for the most part (fortunately) don't ask us just to have blind faith in the prevalence of such devices in the corporate ancient mind. If they did ask us just to grant this on the basis of their authority, we shouldn't do it. We should be able to look into it ourselves. But they do try to make a case. I'm answering that case.

If it turns out (after going through the rest of the flowchart) that the best explanation of a discrepancy is provided by the FLD hypotheis, then to that extent this text is evidence for FLDs. Admittedly, to the extent that the strain of the harmonization is not very great, the presence of a possible harmonization makes this only weak evidence. All I'm asking for is an even handed evaluation of the evidence.

Actually, in real life we *often* find that harmonizations take a certain amount of imagination and then turn out to be true. This is simply the nature of testimony and of historical investigation. We may find it surprising that two different people with different names but similar backgrounds drowned in the same river, but it turns out to be true. One witness may say that it looks like the suspect didn't have a car while the other witness says he saw him get into his car, and it turns out Witness 1 simply was seeing out of a particular window where the suspect was running across the parking lot and the car wasn't visible. Craig Keener talks about interviewing people in Africa where it seemed like one witness must be wrong when he spoke of the difficulty of walking across some railroad tracks on a bridge when running away from bad guys (I forget the full story), since railroad tracks aren't that hard to walk across, and then he learned from someone else that the tracks had been damaged by explosives and the fugitives had to walk very carefully across a turned-up narrow *edge* of the track. Such stories can be multiplied indefinitely. This is the very texture of *true* testimony and *true* report--that it isn't tidy.

This is why the hyper-sensitivity of historical critics and biblical literary critics is so pernicious. It positively *teaches* people to despair of the accuracy of the narratives far too easily. It *teaches* scholars not to understand what real testimony is like and to regard the least feeling of (what they regard as) "strain" in harmonization as not-too-awful evidence for a *highly* complex literary explanation. It *teaches* them not to take proper account of the complexity of such explanations. It *teaches* them not to calibrate by recognizing the frequency with which real testimony is untidy and actually fits together in literal reality if all of the reality were known.

I cannot caution you too strongly against going down that path. This is why the burden of proof does lie upon the one arguing for a complex hypothesis such as a literary device, and this is why I worded that first node in the way that I did. Because be it Plutarch or Lydia McGrew telling a story about her day yesterday and someone else telling a story that doesn't fit tidily with Lydia's, it's actually good historical practice to try to harmonize and not to be like the Princess and the Pea when it comes to a feeling of "strain." And certainly not to go haring off after, "Lydia [Plutarch, John] was engaging in a 'literary device' and altering the facts deliberately" without *very* strong evidence. Yes, that is where the burden of proof lies. And a heavy one. I will stick to that.

I think it's a plain fact that the whole church throughout history has taught that the words of the Bible are the very words of God, in a sense that disallows saying "This text, correctly interpreted, says X, and X is false". This may well be called "inerrancy", though I have no very profound attachment to that word, and if it be taken to include an affirmation of "common-sense historicity" (the principle that where informed common-sense would interpret a text as affirming historicity it should be so interpreted) then I simply note that the whole church throughout history has not taught that. Indeed I have found, just recently, in Origin and Augustine statements that seem to strongly indicate they rejected it.

Christopher, perhaps I got twisted around in there without need, but I can't figure what you are affirming and what you are denying. Is it the term "inerrancy", or is it the concept? Or rather, the "allowing" of saying "This text, correctly interpreted, says X, and X is false."

On the chance that what you meant was that the whole church throughout history, and Origen and Augustine, rejected that

"This text, correctly interpreted, says X, and X is false."

could obtain with respect to passages in the Bible, the parts of the flowchart that consider that the author maybe was mistaken or deliberately lying in order to fool people would remain valid considerations for those non-Christians trying to understand (a) what the texts actually mean, and (b) whether they are historically reliable, just like they have to for any other ancient text.

(Admittedly, that analysis would end up looking very different from one that you or I would engage in. However, it might be interesting to find that both of us AND a secular historian think that "John was not using an FLD in assigning the day of the Crucifixion", if the secular historian arrived at that result thinking that at least in some places, John reported various details incorrectly because he just plain got them wrong.)

Whether there is a high(er) or low(er) prior probability of an FLD in the text would not only depend on whether Hellenistic historians IN GENERAL were considered to be "allowed" to use FLDs, but also whether the gospel writers could be classed as "Hellenistic historians" and whether, within the framework of their own special social milieu and what they were setting out to do, the (possible) allowance of FLDs for "Hellenistic historians" would have applied to them - and in what degree. To me, when you consider who they were writing to and what their purpose was, the notion that FLDs were "allowed" dribbles down to very low probability indeed.

In my own opinion, the notion that there could be an FLD that was NOT separated out from the rest of the text with explicit pointers to the effect that "this is not literal here" (such as "Jesus told this parable...", or something like our modern "Once upon a time...") runs very much along the same lines as the notion that John or Matthew could have engaged in out-and-out lying to fool people.

In my own opinion, the notion that there could be an FLD that was NOT separated out from the rest of the text with explicit pointers to the effect that "this is not literal here" (such as "Jesus told this parable...", or something like our modern "Once upon a time...") runs very much along the same lines as the notion that John or Matthew could have engaged in out-and-out lying to fool people.

Tony, hear, hear! I couldn't agree more. Also, very good point about how a non-Christian with no commitment to the error-free nature of the Bible could still read and contemplate the reliability of Scripture on its own terms as putatively historical source material. That is so important. And how, for that person, the attribution of fictionalizing "devices" would undermine reliability (in the ordinary sense), but there would be no theological motivation for him to attribute them anyway.

Christopher,


Secondly, in the case of the Bible, I also have a problem with the rest of the flowchart. I think it's a plain fact that the whole church throughout history has taught that the words of the Bible are the very words of God, in a sense that disallows saying "This text, correctly interpreted, says X, and X is false". This may well be called "inerrancy", though I have no very profound attachment to that word,

I have a lot more to say in response to your long and interesting comment, but here's one I wanted to get out quickly, even if the rest takes me longer:

A case has to be made that such "devices" as you would prefer to have (rather than attributing an error) actually existed at all. I disagree profoundly with the theological priorities you express in much of your comment. But regardless of which of us is right, you can't (epistemically) get what you want here--which apparently are a set of "allowances" for some degree of what I call "fictionalization," which will then free you from feeling pushed to attribute even a trivial factual error to the gospel authors when you are uncomfortable with harmonizations--unless the case is made *first* for the existence of such allowances in the relevant culture. One might try to do that for Jewish culture, though in fact that isn't where the argument is coming, and I know of no such evidence. Licona and co. are trying to do it for Roman/Greek culture and then transport that to the gospel authors. I think they are failing. But epistemically, that argument has to be made *first* without any theological "help" along the way. That is, if one is going to argue that these sorts of devices were allowed in the minds of the gospel authors' audience because of surrounding culture, one isn't going to be able to argue *that* by saying, "Well, in these other, non-biblical texts, there can't be an error, because I'm theologically committed a priori to believing that God wouldn't have let them make an error." Of course God would have allowed non-biblical authors to make errors, or even to lie outright! So you cannot bring in the theological consideration to reject the rest of the flowchart, because you must argue that the "salvation" you're looking for from these devices (or whatever you want to call them) was even culturally *available*. And you're going to have to do that on independent grounds, aside from theological considerations concerning the gospels, specifically.

I'm get the feeling you see the importance of this yourself, but this type of work that is readily accessible is needed at the moment. Especially dealing with this topic.

2 quick (somewhat irrelevant) questions. 1. Are these talks going to be up on YouTube? 2. I've just ordered the dictionary for Christianity and science where I saw you contributed. I'd love to know what topics they were on? (The book's indexing seems to be an issue among many readers!)

This is why the hyper-sensitivity of historical critics and biblical literary critics is so pernicious. It positively *teaches* people to despair of the accuracy of the narratives far too easily.

I very much agree with this. So many critics find strain when there isn't any. And this is really a huge problem within the discipline. And even when strain exists we absolutely must not overestimate it: we must recognize how often in common life things that seem unlikely turn out to be true.

But by the same token that doesn't remove our capacity for recognizing genuine discrepancies. And the presence of strain in harmonization is an indication of lower probability of its truth (one that is easy to overestimate, but real nonetheless).

Tony:

the parts of the flowchart that consider that the author maybe was mistaken or deliberately lying in order to fool people would remain valid considerations for those non-Christians trying to understand (a) what the texts actually mean, and (b) whether they are historically reliable, just like they have to for any other ancient text.
Yes.

1. Are these talks going to be up on YouTube? 2. I've just ordered the dictionary for Christianity and science where I saw you contributed. I'd love to know what topics they were on?

The ones I'm working on now? Not that I know of. Tomorrow evening I'm doing quite a long Skype presentation on UCs for a small Reasonable Faith group in Tennessee. On Saturday I'm speaking at a church women's conference, giving two talks. I believe one of those talks will be recorded (audio) but I don't know what will be done with the audio.

Topic in Zondervan dictionary: Bayes' Theorem in relation to the philosophy of religion. Relatively brief article, as dictionary articles tend to be.

But regardless of which of us is right, you can't (epistemically) get what you want here...unless the case is made *first* for the existence of such allowances in the relevant culture.
Here is the epistemic situation as I see it:

Prior to making a case one way or the other, I ask: How likely is it that among certain ancient societies the conventions for what was acceptable for a person to put into an honest historical narrative, when he doesn't have reason to believe it actually happened just as he described it, were the same as our conventions? I don't find it terribly unlikely that they were different. But neither do I have (yet) any positive reason for thinking they were different in any particular way. For all I know they could hve been be stricter. (Though a priori it seems less likely for an ancient society without the printed word, and without the institutions that inculcate the modern disciplines involved in careful research into historical fact, to be stricter than our own.)

So, with that nonbiased attitude I look to particulars, and I am looking both at the Biblical apparent discrepancies, and at Hellenistic sources. In the Biblical case, when I come to a particular apparent discrepancy, I CANNOT assume that what at first appears (given conventions I am familiar with) to be affirmed as happening just as described, was probably allowable at the time. I cannot assume that, for I haven't yet made the case for that. But neither do I assume (as you, Tony and Lydia, are doing) that it was almost certainly not allowable. I just don't know. I weigh the plausibility of harmonization against the plausibility of the hypothesis that what appears to be asserted as accurate in detail is actually not thusly asserted, which requires the hypothesis that the conventions were different in some way. I do NOT consider the rest of the flowchart, because I already know the Bible does not contain error.

A single instance where only a somewhat strained harmonization is possible does not give me grounds to draw any really useful conclusion about those conventions, but I make a cumulative case. And in making that case I also look at Hellenistic sources, where I certainly DO have to take into account the rest of the flowchart. Except not in the case of things like Lucien's statement about "the counsel's right of showing [his] eloquence," for that is not an instance of putative creative invention, but an overt endorsement, which bypasses the flowchart entirely.

After I make the case, I then can be more willing to see an apparent discrepancy as not needing harmonization, depending on the character of the discrepancy; and even if I now think it probably doesn't need to be harmonized, I remain genuinely open to the possibility that a harmonization, even a somewhat strained-seeming one might represent the truth of the matter.

But neither do I assume (as you, Tony and Lydia, are doing) that it was almost certainly not allowable.

Christopher, you may call it "assume", but it is not an a priori assumption. It is based on at least SOME facts. We have read, of not exhaustively, at least extensively in Hellenistic writings. We have read exhaustively in books of the Bible, which were authored over some thousand years and more, and in several different cultural environments. We know the kinds of things that people claim in their accounts of events, some being clearly mythical, some being rather clearly "just the facts", and some being "memoirs". We know at least a little bit about the manner in which the Gospels (and Epistles) were treated in the early Church...which would have had a certain effect on the attitude of the later gospel writers in setting about their task. We know something of the lives of the apostles and their closest disciples, (many of them persecuted and martyred). Without necessarily being able to give absolutely complete analysis of all those factors in detail, but still based on them, I judge that the "prior probability" of the gospel writers thinking of and treating their task as "in the same nature" as those Hellenistic writings that had known and accepted FLDs is very low.

That's on an "assumption" that there really is such a thing (in the Hellenistic historical writings) as "known and accepted FDLs" as such.

If we ask the question whether there was such a thing to begin with (and force Licona and co to justify the thesis properly), ON THAT account, I think we also start with a pretty low "prior probability", i.e. an assumption against.

Here is why I think that: the proposed nature of these FDLs is that they are (all at the same time), (a) known to the author as being counter-factual), (b) have no distinguishing marks in the text separating them out from the simply true parts, and (c) readily accepted by the readership as an approved literary behavior. But the very nature of an "historical account" is, in essence, one of recounting things that happened - i.e. real events. And I think it is universal in humans to want their readers to believe in an account given, when it REALLY IS a factual account just as I saw and heard it. That is, the author naturally wants his readers to believe him when he describes what he saw.

Now, if a man puts down what he saw in 90% of the account, and added 10% non-factual claims, he could do so for one of several reasons. He might be a fraud, and be using the WHOLE account to "get something" from the reader". (Even if what he gets is fame and prestige.) In that case, he wants and hopes the reader believes the WHOLE account, not just 90%.

However, if people found out - after first thinking that X part was true - that X part was false, they will refuse to credit the REST of the account as being factual also, and he will fail to achieve his purpose. So, their coming to the conclusion that "part X is false" does not fall in with his purposes of fraud. His intent is that they accept all of it as fact.

Suppose, on the other hand, he writes 90% "just as it happened", and 10% as filler that is added "for other purposes" (not to fool people), and he really doesn't mind that they don't believe in the 10%. However, in any group of 100 people, different parts are considered to be the "made up" parts by different people, and as a net result, 95% of the people walk away quite wrong about what they think actually happened. In particular, what they might get quite wrong is the internal "sense" of why what happened really happened, because they will attribute different parts of what goes into the "why" as being made up. The net result will be that he tells one story, but what 100 people believe is 100 different stories, none quite true.

That is to say, in having "made up" portions, and in having absolutely no pointers that distinguish them, he is effectively guaranteeing that almost nobody gets "the story" and "the point" the way he intends them, because everybody is busy deciding on the basis of THEIR OWN PERSONAL PREJUDICES which parts are true and which are made up.

Effectively, there is no point to telling a history with accepted FLDs. It becomes indistinguishable from tall tales or mythology, and while you can tell a rip-roaring good story that is both mythological and "based on some fact", there is simply no point in filling the myth with 90% of the truth, with just a few bits and pieces altered, because a person isn't meant to look at a myth as if it were factually accurate.

The universal and natural desire to be believed when you are actually telling the bare facts as you remember them militates against FLDs being an accepted practice in histories, because the readers WON'T believe what you put down that was quite factual. And this motivation cuts across all times and cultures.

Show me a way out of that problem, and I will raise my estimation of the prior probability that FDLs were an accepted practice in Hellenistic histories.

Exactly, Tony. People want to know information. Christians wanted to know information about Jesus. Christopher, your apparent approach of taking it to be, I don't know, 50/50 probability or something of something *so complex* as a fictionalizing literary device is just way too high, because it runs against the grain of human nature. Punting to "it's a different culture" is just way too vague for something as sweeping as this. It's not as though it's totally *up in the air* whether the early Christians were actually *interested* in the question of what day Jesus died on or whether he really ate fish after he rose again. The overwhelming probability is that they were *very* interested in questions of that kind. After all, they created an entire new day of worship based on the day when he rose again! Why should we assume that they didn't give a flip about whether John or some other document, among the documents that were their only written primary sources for information about the life of Jesus, deliberately faked the day he died just for literary artistry or theological symbolism? Didn't care to the point where they would have said, "Oh, yeah, people make stuff up all the time in our culture, so we don't mind if John or Mark made that part up"?

Also, I really don't think you have the order of argument right. We're supposed to be *starting* with evidence *independent* of the gospels to argue that these things really existed in the culture. And to the extent that that is secular documents (which it exclusively is), you can't even get a "cumulative case" off the ground for the existence of such "devices" if a) you don't have anything like enough explicit evidence aside from examples (which we do not have) and b) the examples in secular sources can't pass the flow chart.

*Nobody*, not Licona or anybody else, is arguing from the *gospels alone* or even from the *gospels initially* that such literary devices existed. Nobody. The argument is going the other way: Oh, look, these devices existed. (On independent grounds.) Cool. Now let's see if we find them in the gospels. If the first premise fails, the whole argument fails.

So I'm afraid you can't give the whole argument a "boost" with your theological assumptions about the gospels.

We're supposed to be *starting* with evidence *independent* of the gospels to argue that these things really existed in the culture. And to the extent that that is secular documents (which it exclusively is), you can't even get a "cumulative case" off the ground for the existence of such "devices" if a) you don't have anything like enough explicit evidence aside from examples (which we do not have) and b) the examples in secular sources can't pass the flow chart.

Lydia, are you saying we cannot take into account the historical reliability of the Old Testament in determining if the Gospels are correct? Wouldn't that count as part of their theological culture?

Also, I really don't think you have the order of argument right. We're supposed to be *starting* with evidence *independent* of the gospels to argue that these things really existed in the culture.

Huh?, What? It sounds like you're saying that when seeking to discern cultural things relevant to what John is doing as an author I can't look at Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but must only look at secular sources. But that's absurd. Surely you can't think that? I can understand you thinking the data from Biblical texts don't actually provide any real evidence for my case, but to arbitrarily forbid me from appealing to the Biblical texts in this way just doesn't make sense.

And I don't care whether Licona or anybody else is doing exactly what I'm doing. I am looking at the apparent discrepancies of the NT together with what we find in the Hellenistic sources, because all of that is relevant to what cultural conventions were in place then.

Lydia, are you saying we cannot take into account the historical reliability of the Old Testament in determining if the Gospels are correct? Wouldn't that count as part of their theological culture?

No, I'm talking about the actual argument that is made for the existence of "fictionalizing literary devices." It is, and needs to be, an argument for the audience of the gospels, independent of the gospels, that this audience expected and accepted "fictionalizing literary devices." The only examples being given in the debate of such supposed devices, independent of the New Testament, are secular. If they are debunked, the case for the very existence of such "devices" somehow floating about in the corporate mind of the audience of the gospels is pretty much blown away.

Huh?, What? It sounds like you're saying that when seeking to discern cultural things relevant to what John is doing as an author I can't look at Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but must only look at secular sources. But that's absurd. Surely you can't think that?

Christopher, we're talking about the culture of the audience. What the audience knew or would have expected. It's completely argumentatively illicit to make a broad argument about *what the audience knew* and *what was present in the culture* by starting with an a priori theological assumption that the gospel authors never made errors and that this allows you to "jump the line" in the flowchart! That's bootstrapping of a fairly egregious variety. I'd be surprised if you can't see that. You can't argue that the audience of the gospels knew about some kind of widely understood "literary" approach according to which the gospel authors weren't actually affirming various of the details of their narratives by saying that, by *your* a priori commitment, the authors couldn't have gotten anything wrong in good faith and *therefore*, if you can't harmonize the accounts to your satisfaction, such expectations and devices must have *existed in the culture of their day* and been recognized as such. Epistemically, that would be nuts. An absolutely terrible historical argument concerning cultural understandings. For one thing, many members of their audiences were Gentile converts. They were thinking of these documents primarily as memoirs and as source material for the life of Jesus. It's not like new believers, hearing the Gospels read aloud in church, would have *invented* the concept of fictionalizing literary devices out of whole cloth because *they* were committed to inerrancy! "Hmm, I'm having trouble figuring out whether John or Mark was right about the day when Jesus' feet were anointed. Hey, I know! Even though I've never before heard or thought of such a thing in my life, I'll make up the idea that John was engaging in a device of 'displacement' and deliberately fictionalizing the day on which Jesus' feet was anointed. I will come to this conclusion because we read these memoirs of Jesus in my meeting of Christian believers on Sunday, and I'm sure God directly inspired these words, and so I'm sure they would never have *affirmed* anything that was a mistake, so I will invent out of nowhere the idea that John wasn't really affirming that Jesus' feet were anointed on the day when he *says* Jesus' feet were anointed, because that would preserve the idea that I've come up with in AD 110 about the inerrancy of these documents. And now I'm totally okay with John's making up the day. And now this device exists in my culture, because John must have done it, and I just figured it out."

For such a thing to exist in a culture in any meaningful sense it must exist at least in the *somewhat wider* culture of the audience itself! It isn't just something unique to *those documents*. If it were, it wouldn't be an existing "literary understanding" *at all*!!

Step2, if you think you have a uniquely *Jewish* argument for the kinds of "literary devices," involving deliberate fictionalization in what appears to be seamlessly literal historical narrative such as the gospels, that are being alleged for the Gospels, let's have it. Because nobody else is even trying to make that argument.

Christopher, before I write a small (??) treatise on the theological priorities you have laid out, a few preliminary considerations. (That way, they at least will be written tonight even though the treatise won't be.)

--The presence of cases for which harmonization is difficult is not really evidence of any strength worth mentioning for so complex a hypothesis as fictionalizing literary devices within a culture. We know this by calibration. In our own culture witness testimony, even good witness testimony, *often* manifests those properties--difficult harmonization of accounts, apparent discrepancy. Yet that doesn't mean that people who are talking to the police about a crime they witnessed are using fictionalizing literary devices! And the same is true of written historical records. There are plenty of interesting cases where one might say, "Looks like something is wrong there; those can't be harmonized." And then in truth, they can be. Look ma, no fictionalizing devices. Since we already know this happens, and since the cases in the Bible (and other examples as well) fall well within the range of what we see in our own culture as far as apparent discrepancies, we actually are seeing more *similarities* between what we are finding in our culture and at that time than differences, much less so radical a difference as fictionalizing literary devices.

--In point of actual fact, as I pointed out in an earlier post, we find many details of the gospels confirmed, both by internal and by external evidence. This should raise very serious doubts about whether we should call into question the intention that such details are to be believed! After all, if they turn out to be true, presumably this is because the author intended to state them truly, and in that case presumably he intended them to be taken as literal truth! And these are not massive core events I'm talking about here. They are precisely what Licona (and I suspect you) would regard as ancillary details.

--If anything like the fictionalizing devices Licona is claiming "existed" at the time, *even if* we generously leave out his "making up the doubting Thomas episode" conjecture and his "infancy midrash" conjecture but just keep the "displacement," etc., then this spreads *at least* to the point of putting a question mark over all of the narrative "details" (to the extent that we even know what to call "details" and what to call "core facts" or whatever) in the gospels. It's not like a genie that you can just whistle up when you need it and dismiss when you don't want it. This is *all the more true* if one uses it, as you and others apparently want to use something like it, to salvage something like "inerrancy." Because the theory there is that we're supposed to say that they weren't even affirming those aspects of the story! Even though they appeared for all the world to be literally affirming them and even though there are no markers. But they were deliberately making them up. At that point, if John says there were five waterpots, we have no idea if he really made up the five waterpots. Perhaps he wasn't "affirming" the five waterpots. If John says something happened about the tenth hour, who knows? If Matthew says there were two men, maybe there was only one. And so on and so forth. If an evangelist says that Jesus said x at time t, and even makes it very explicit that it happened at time t, maybe Jesus never said x at time t but rather said it at time t2 instead, and the author just "moved" it to time t to make a better story. And so forth. this question mark should go (at least) over *all* of such details, at whatever level one decides to draw one's line. And that's even assuming such a line can be drawn. I think this has rather large implications, but will discuss that more later.

Christopher,

Onward to my treatise (which probably won't be short) on the implications of FLDs for historicity.

I'm hampered in this by the fact that you really don't specify how far *you* would go or what sort of FLDs *you* are advocating or are fine with, especially as an alternative to living with what you regard as a strained harmonization or even allowing the possibility of even minor factual error in a biblical text. So I'm left to guess. I may guess wrong. It's always difficult to be arguing against multiple people at once when they have different positions, one of them has spelled out his position in great detail, and the others all have their own slightly different versions and may feel misrepresented if one doesn't get *their* variant just precisely right in one's responses. Obviously, my main post was directed toward a particular position--Licona's--about which I've read a whole book, parts of another book, and watched long lectures. So I have a clear idea of what *he's* advocating. You are coming along and more or less implying that "something like" what Licona is advocating wouldn't be *so bad* and that I'm just wrong to think it would be so bad, but at the same time you distance yourself from what he *actually* advocates to some extent and leave it rather up in the air as to exactly what types of FLDs you think would be no problem in the gospels and (say) Acts.

Beyond just generally saying that you don't see a problem per se with FLDs, you give a few hints.

1) You repeatedly allude to what you believe was acceptable practice among church fathers of making "wildly ahistorical" interpretations *instead of* historical interpretations of what appear to be historical texts.

2) You indicate that you have no difficulty with a case where the evangelists definitely imply that Jesus said something on an occasion when he did not say it, though you don't indicate just how far you would go with this. E.g. Would it extend to Licona's idea of unequivocally moving a saying to an entirely different setting from the one in which it really took place?

3) You explicitly allude to an argument I have made before concerning the details of the resurrection narratives and more or less brush off the importance of our "losing" those details, since it would *merely* mean losing a particular "kind" of apologetic argument which apparently you don't regard as very crucial. In that earlier argument, I was of course referring to the details that indicate explicitly the physicality of the resurrected Jesus--a point to which I will return later. You refer to Jesus' eating fish as one of these details. Perhaps this means that this is a type of "detail" as opposed to central event that you would not consider it a big deal for the evangelists to have fictionalized.

4) You explicitly contrast FLDs as you are (partly) defending them with what you call the "common sense principle" of interpretation.

I will assume in what follows that when you and I are both talking about FLDs, we are both talking about cases where there is no clear indication in the text, a "heads-up" to the reader, that this is taking place. Hence any awareness of the reader that this is happening would have to exist in the reader's mind in some other way--his just knowing that authors often/sometimes make up such details. And we would have to infer quite indirectly that a reader had such knowledge.

I will write most of this, then, on the guess (which is the best I can do) that you are presenting some version of the "core vs. details" thesis, according to which it would not be a really big deal theologically if what you regard as the mere details of the narratives were invisibly (as far as the text itself is concerned) fictionalized, so long as the core events were not fictionalized.

And I am going to be arguing against the thesis that such a "core vs. details" approach to fictionalization is theologically harmless and in particular that it is more important theologically to hang on to some version of "inerrancy" that allows widespread fictionalization on details than to admit the possibility of minor error while rejecting such FLDs on matters of detail.

As I indicated in my earlier comment, *wherever* you are drawing the line between what you are open to thinking the authors would have fictionalized and what you aren't open to thinking they would have fictionalized, the fictionalization thesis does metastasize *at least* throughout the entire categories (e.g., "details") that you think they would/might have fictionalize. That is, *at that level*, all such things now have a question mark over their historicity. I also question the ability to make such a distinction without a good deal of arbitrariness, at least if FLDs are to be interesting at all and to go beyond what you call the "common sense principle," and in quite a number of texts it disappears altogether.

It is possible that you will say that much of what follows is not addressed to what you really hold. That's a result of my having to guess. But I think it will be important and valuable argument nonetheless, because if nothing else it *certainly* applies to Licona's position and even to more "conservative" positions than his that would draw the line at, say, John's making up the Doubting Thomas narrative while being quite open to the idea that, say, John "moved" the cleansing of the Temple to earlier in Jesus' ministry, that Matthew invented a second demoniac at Gadara, or that Luke changed the chronology of events in some place or other from the real chronology to an incorrect chronology, for some literary reason. (This, by the way, in contrast to Luke's implying *no chronology at all* by merely narrating in a certain order. That's a point I'll return to in later posts both on the Gospels and on Plutarch. Indeed, saying that the gospel authors were *not* implying a chronological order is a *normal* method of traditional harmonization in many cases of claimed discrepancy, and often, IMO, perfectly correct. It is Licona, bizarrely, who has to say that the author *is* asserting [sort of] a particular chronology in many cases where the harmonizer would say the author *isn't*. Then Licona gets a "discrepancy." Then he claims a "literary device" of "displacement." Then the one who wants to use his view to shore up "inerrcany" comes along and says that if it's a literary device, the chronology wasn't *really* asserted in the *important* sense of "assertion" and therefore that this deliberate change is no threat to inerrancy. A round-the-barn procedure that makes the head whirl, truly.)

To be continued.

I'll start with Tacitus. You say,


You yourself note that we are justified in trusting the accuracy of Tacitus, even after we recognize his willingness, on some occasions, to invent a speech.

Why might I say that? Well, first of all, the accuracy of Tacitus generally *does* take *somewhat* of a hit from his inventing speeches. But second, I believe there's empirical evidence, specifically in the case of Tacitus, that he was more conscientious about narrative facts than he was about speeches. Maybe even *much* more conscientious. Given this, then, as a matter of *epistemology*, it's a lot easier to tell the difference between "This is a speech" and "this is not a speech" in an historical narrative than to draw a bright line around "details." Moreover, moreover, speeches are a much smaller proportion of narrative fact than "narrative details." If one says that the latter might, for all we know, be made up, one is putting a much bigger question mark over the narrative as a whole.

Now, a couple of points about the irony of any attempt by FLD advocates to use the openness of some ancients to inventing speeches as evidence of FLDs in the gospels. Irony #1: Jesus' sayings are the *least* subject to claims of discrepancy leading to claims of redaction/fictionalization. This is acknowledged even by fairly liberal scholars. Jesus' sayings are reported very *consistently* in the synoptic gospels. The sayings in John that aren't in the gospels are thrown under the bus *not* because of some knotty discrepancy but just because they aren't in the synoptics at all! (A poor argument, obviously.) It isn't in Jesus' speeches that we find the supposed discrepancies but rather in, say, the settings of his sayings, etc. Which isn't the issue in Tacitus anyway. Irony #2: If one is trying simultaneously to embrace FLDs while claiming that they are theologically no big deal, the *last* thing one should want to do is to start thinking that the evangelists invented whole speeches of Jesus in the way that Tacitus appears to have invented the speech of Calgacus. It doesn't pass the laugh test anymore at that point to say that this has no theological implications! Therefore, one has to do this epistemically indefensible little dance wherein one *uses* the fact that Tacitus and others invented speeches, but *not* apply it to say that Matthew invented the entire sermon on the mount or something. Rather, one just conveniently applies it to *something completely different* that one feels comfortable with and thinks one can argue is theologically unimportant, such as whether Jesus healed Bartimaeus going into or coming out of Jericho, which one then says maybe Luke fictionalized about. This is obviously not an historically rational use of the practice of inventing speeches by (some) Hellenistic authors.

To be continued.

The comparison to translation from Aramaic:

I do not agree that this is a good comparison at all, at least if one assumes that those trying to translate Jesus' words from Aramaic into Greek were attempting to be accurate in doing so. Are there debates about what accuracy in translation amounts to? Certainly there are, even in Bible translation. But I think the "common sense principle" as you call it goes a long way here. (Though I'm not really sure what kind of example you have in mind concerning translating, or paraphrasing, *in such a way that* one implies that Jesus said something at a time at which he did not say it. That certainly doesn't seem to me to be something that would necessarily happen in conscientious translation or even paraphrase, so I'm not sure why you are speaking of it as inevitable. But again, without an example, I'm not really sure what you're talking about.) Trying to translate or even paraphrase accurately, according to a common sense principle, is a far, far cry from deliberately making up the day on which something happened, how many people were involved, the setting for one of Christ's sayings, or whether or not he ate with the disciples. The latter type of thing abandons the attempt to relate events with clarity and accuracy so that the reader can gain information on those points about the events. I don't know quite what else I can say about what a poor comparison this is.

On the difficulty of making a sharp distinction between "details" and "core." Here I could say a lot and am going to try not to go on at length, because I have a lot of other topics to get to. But this is by no means a cut and dried distinction. Narratives are made up of details. Is Jesus' saying, "I am the vine" a detail or a core event? Read Acts 20:1-5 and see that it's virtually impossible to separate "details" from "core events" in those verses. They are all *about* details. (A lot of boring Roman history is this way, too.)

Read the story of the beheading of John the Baptist in Matthew 14 (I picked that more or less at random) and try to make a sharp distinction between "details" and "core events" in that story.

Craig Evans apparently thinks that Jesus never said *any* of the "I am" statements in John. See here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0zkTTNGJLQ

He says they were literary additions, similar to Wisdom literature. That Jesus' "I am" assertions were not really historically affirmed by John but were similar to Proverbs' personification of Wisdom.

Are those sayings "details" or "core events"? Are some one and some the other? How can one tell?

Certainly one can hardly deny that there is huge theological significance in denying that Jesus ever said the "I am" statements recorded in John! I hardly need to spell that out.

But I'm not going to say a great deal more about that point, because *even if* I were to grant that some kind of rough-and-ready distinction can hold up in a large variety of contexts, and *even if* I were to grant that the distinction is sufficiently clear that there is no tendency of "epistemic metastasis" from "details" to "core" (that is, why shouldn't we "go Licona" and start asking whether the authors "crafted" whole scenes that never occurred?), which I doubt, there would *still* be serious negative consequences of putting a question mark over the details of the narrative.

TBC

How much does the "core vs. details" position affect?

A lot.

Grab your New Testament and start putting a checkmark by (or a line through!) every detail. How many? What time? After what or before what? And so on and so forth. As I noted in an earlier post, these details are often *confirmed* and serve as the basis for undesigned coincidences. If we take them not to be *affirmed*, or to have a big question mark over whether they are fictionalized or not or are intended to be taken literally, why should we ever expect to find them *confirmed* as literally true?

In that Craig Evans video I linked above, he said something that had me shaking my head. After throwing all of the "I am" statements under the bus and likening them to an allegorical personification, he then proceeded to admit that "John is tricky" (!!) because one finds so many historical details confirmed! Astonishing, isn't it?

Bart Ehrman had to help him out a little by assuring him (and they then agreed) that these are mere "nuggets" of historicity that have somehow wandered into the "horse of a different color" (Evans's phrase) that is the a-historicity of the gospel of John.

That the confirmation of these details calls into question the entire view of John put forth was not something either of them discussed, though Evans seemed to have some slight inkling of it. ("Tricky.")

Indeed. Details are the life and breath of the gospels. They're everywhere. Details constitute a lot of stuff in the gospels. It's entirely ad hoc to hold that the gospel authors considered themselves generally licensed to alter such details and then, at the same time, to accept the support offered to historical reliability when such details are found to be literally true.

So what does this mean for the following claim?

Still, at worst, the presence of FLDs undermines one sort of apologetic.

And what about the contrast of this with the supposedly basic Christian doctrine of inerrancy?

Well, first of all, let's talk about the historical nature of Christianity itself. The *concreteness* of Jesus is greatly fuzzified, and Christianity’s place as an historical religion based on events that really happened is made much less clear, if we place a question mark over "details" as opposed to "events." The details of the narratives, and the confidence that they were intended literally and are reliably reported, make Christianity a vivid and concrete religion of historical reality. They allow us to see Jesus’ personality and the disciples’ personalities. They allow us to get a clear picture of what he said and how often he said it, where he went, how things went down. This is important both devotionally and doctrinally. To treat Christianity as merely a religion of a fairly few stark facts and doctrines with the surrounding details stripped out (called into question) is to a notable extent to remove its historical character, even if one leaves these “general historical facts” in place.

Consider the idea that the authors fictionalized the contexts in which Jesus made his statements, deliberately moving his "logia" from one context to another. But the contexts of Jesus’ sayings show his personality and reality quite clearly, a point and an argument discussed in older apologetic works. For example, his use of props and his allusions to what could be seen from where they were speaking. This shows that the gospels, despite their differences of style, are all talking about the same person in a very clear and vivid sense. This sort of consonance among the gospels in the personality and modus operandi of Jesus both pulls against the idea that they *did* fictionalize the context of sayings and also shows the *value* of non-fictionalized contexts, so that we cannot just dismiss it as unimportant if an author fictionalized the context for something Jesus said.

I was just this evening talking at some length about the important vividness of Jesus' comments about the kings of the Gentiles in the context of the foot washing at the last supper. But Licona *of course* thinks that Luke "moved" that "logion" from its place just prior to Passion Week, where it is recorded in Mark 10. He is, shall we say, unenthusiastic about the idea that Jesus said it twice, though at least he bothers to consider that possibility.

Jesus himself becomes a much more vague person if you put question marks above the details of the narratives, doubting whether they were even historically affirmed.

What about doctrine? I've already mentioned Craig Evans's wholesale capitulation on highly important verses teaching the deity of Christ. That is a signature example of the fact that one can't say that "at the worst" the admission of FLDs merely threatens "one kind of apologetic" rather than central Christian doctrine!

But no doubt Christopher's position will be that Evans goes too far.

Okay, what about a less wholesale use of FLDs?

Well, Christopher, it looks like perhaps you are willing to call into question the details of the resurrection narratives, such as Jesus' eating with his disciples. Doesn't that have any doctrinal relevance? I can think of one highly important Christian doctrine right off that that fuzzifies: The *bodily* resurrection of Jesus as opposed to a mere visionary set of experiences by the disciples. Oh, no doubt you will say that you have other arguments for it, but the point is that removing the *specific things Jesus did* to show that he was *physically* risen is clearly *relevant* to the teaching of that important doctrine. It simply will not do to strip out verses that teach a doctrine and then to refuse to admit that you have weakened the teaching of the doctrine! If we are forced to strip them out (e.g., as when solid, conservative textual scholarship seems to show that the trinitarian formula of the "spirit, water, and blood" in I John 5:7-8 is a scribal interpolation), then we have to go with the evidence.

But let's not pretend that you are defending central Christian doctrine while I am merely defending "one kind of apologetic," all of which has nothing to do with doctrine. If we are going to throw under the bus a whole boatload of verses that teach an important doctrine (as the *details* of the resurrection narratives teach the bodily resurrection of Jesus), that has *doctrinal* relevance, not merely *apologetic* relevance.

Another example: Licona suggests that Jesus never said "I thirst" on the cross. Instead, Licona suggests that maybe this was John's redactive "dynamic equivalence" for the saying, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me." His only actual *evidence* for this suggestion appears to be the use of water symbolism for God's presence and the fact that the saying appears at approximately the same time in the narrative--i.e., very shortly before Jesus died.

Does this have no *doctrinal* relevance? Of course it does. That Jesus himself expressed thirst teaches the humanity of Jesus. I have used it myself in past years in answer to those who wrongly say that the gospels portray a progressively exalted, deified Jesus and that "John's Jesus" is superhuman. I have pointed out that it's only in John that we find both "Jesus wept" and "I thirst."

Again, can we teach the doctrine of the humanity of Christ without this verse? Yes, but why should we when we have the verse? Doctrines are supported by cumulative cases. When one starts carrying out a totally unnecessary "death by a thousand cuts" to the doctrine, we can't pretend that doing so is doctrinally irrelevant or only important to those oddball evidentialist apologists with their narrow type of apologetic enterprise. Moreover, questioning all of the "details" administers thousands of those cuts *all at once*.

TBC (tomorrow, probably the last post in the series)

Last installment:

And now, on to that "one kind of apologetic." Christopher, you say,

The heavy seriousness is found, if anywhere, in the apologetic implications. You have elsewhere mentioned arguments for the historicity of the resurrection that rely on the details of, e.g., Jesus eating fish with his disciples. Now, I think it's possible to prove that Jesus rose from the dead (in the bodily sense in which the church has always understood that) without appealing to anything in the details of the four gospels. Appealing only to the truth of the ancient Hebrew religion, along with uncontroversial facts of history (that Christianity exists, that the Romans destroyed the temple, etc.), we can know that Jesus was the Messiah, and that God raised him from the dead. I don't say this is the BEST way to make the case for Christianity, only that it can be done. So, I don't take it as a deeply serious thing if your preferred way of arguing would be utterly destroyed by the presence of FLDs. But I don't think it is. You yourself note that we are justified in trusting the accuracy of Tacitus, even after we recognize his willingness, on some occasions, to invent a speech.

Still, at worst, the presence of FLDs undermines one sort of apologetic. The presence of error puts at hazard a basic doctrine of Christianity.

I've already argued that there is plenty of heavy seriousness to go around if one puts a question mark even just over all of the "details" of the accounts in the putatively historical books of the New Testament. And this heavy seriousness is relevant to important doctrines, to devotion, to the clarity of the Christian message, and to the concretely historical nature of Christianity.

But what about apologetics?

Christopher's suggested alternative argument for the resurrection is not very fleshed out. It's unclear exactly how we could get even a decent, much less a high, probability for the resurrection of Jesus Christ by arguing only from Jewish history, the destruction of the Temple, and *in the broad sense*, the existence of Christianity. (Remember, that "existence of Christianity" is apparently not supposed to appeal to any of the details of the disciples' testimony, as that testimony is represented in the gospel accounts.) This looks to me like an even weaker argument than the usual "minimal facts" approach, which I've discussed in other posts.

But perhaps this is just a slightly unusual way of alluding to the usual minimal facts approach. But with a difference: When Dr. Habermas and Dr. Craig use the minimal facts approach, they often will *shift* to alluding to the details of the resurrection narratives when they are arguing against certain proposed alternatives, even though those details are not "granted by the majority of scholars." Habermas explicitly does this in response to Gerd Ludemann. Mike Licona follows an interesting path in his older book on the resurrection. Most people are unaware that, for most of that book, he is arguing for a *disjuntion* between bodily resurrection (in, as Christopher says, the sense in which the church has always understood it) and what's known as the "objective vision" theory. In the objective vision theory, Jesus wasn't resurrected in teh body, but God gave real visions to the disciples that showed them...something. That he was vindicated and glorified, I gather. Licona uses "the resurrection" and R in his book, throughout, to refer to the disjunction of an objective bodily resurrection and an objective vision. But *even he* at one point, when he actually decides to explain why he believes in the bodily resurrection rather than the objective vision, refers to the details of the resurrection narratives! It's pretty weak sauce, though, because he isn't allowed actually to say that he thinks they definitely were what the disciples attested. I don't have the passage in front of me, but by my recollection he says something to the effect that something like these details may have been apostolic tradition and that their existence in the narratives is better explained by an actual, bodily resurrection.

Habermas is more robust when replying to Ludemann and, as I recall, to Dale Allison (who makes much of the theory of "grief hallucinations" as an alternative to a bodily resurrection). He just goes ahead and appeals to the details, regardless of the fact that they aren't "acknowledged by a majority of scholars." I think probably that this is because Habermas does not consider it *overwhelmingly* important only to appeal to what is "acknowledged by a majority of scholars" but uses the minimal facts approach (which he originated) as a kind of kick-off or starter argument.

In short, the users of a minimal facts approach are always reaching back to those details when trying to answer anti-bodily theories of the disciples' experience. It's *inevitable* that they would do so, since such details are extremely helpful in answering such theories.

The epistemic case for a literal, bodily resurrection is maimed without the details of the resurrection accounts. I won't say there is *no* case at all if we place a great big question mark over all of those physical details as given in the accounts, but this is like saying that a strong man can still fight to some degree when you have cut off one of his arms and one of his legs.

Gerd Ludemann says that the disciples had a "seeing in the spirit," whatever the heck that means. What does it mean? And why should anybody care? Ludemann is explicit that the bodily resurrection details of the resurrection narratives weren't literally what the disciples experienced, though he's rather coy about precisely what their experience was like. I'm not going to ask a skeptic to commit his life to Jesus Christ for Ludemann's "seeing in the spirit."

We should never be quick to imply that it isn't really that important if we deal a major epistemic blow to the strength of the case for the most important things in the world. Sometimes we have to man up and admit that an argument we previously thought was great really can't be sustained because of some counter-evidence. If so, so be it. But in this case, Christopher is suggesting that his a priori concept of inerrancy (or whatever term he prefers to use) is *so much more important* than apologetics that we should be willing to deal a very serious epistemic blow to Christianity merely in the name of the importance of that concept of inerrancy, which he regards as compatible with FLDs. And apparently we're not supposed to think that is that big a deal "at the worst," since we can still make *some* kind of argument for the central truths of Christianity.

I say that this is unbelievably reckless. It would be better by far for the strong inerrantist simply to hold out for some yet-to-be-discovered harmonization of problem passages and discrepancies than to go the FLD route merely to get out from under the pressure of those remaining apparent discrepancies.

Bonhoeffer says that when God calls a man, he bids him come and die. St. Paul says that we are Jesus' ambassadors, calling men to be reconciled to God. I care not what course others may take, but as for me, I am not going to call people to come and die for the Lord Jesus Christ on the basis of a merely mediocre evidential case.

Pitting an a priori doctrine of inerrancy against the very strength of our reasons for believing that any of this stuff is true at all is a classic case of sawing off the branch you are sitting on.

It would be better by far for the strong inerrantist simply to hold out for some yet-to-be-discovered harmonization of problem passages and discrepancies than to go the FLD route merely to get out from under the pressure of those remaining apparent discrepancies.

Absolutely. Faith is faith because it is of things unseen. Apply it.

There have been many, many apparent discrepancies that, at first thought to be real 'problems', turned out to have solutions, i.e. harmonizations. We have no problem believing that science, having solved many mysteries over the centuries, will make headway against things that today seem unsolvable. Why should we not have THAT MUCH confidence in the Bible, which our faith tells us has God's support?

Doing theology, or Biblical exegesis (not about discrepancies but just in general), we inevitably run up against questions that we don't have an answer for. The correct posture toward them is "I can go on believing, even when I have no answer for X difficulty", not "well, if I can't solve this, that means my faith is defeated." Have faith. Be faithful. Wait on the Lord. Submit to being puzzled for a good long while - even if until death. It's up to God when the solution will come along, not us. We don't get to say "if there is no good solution by Z date, I will instead pick a bad solution, like 'Christianity is bunk' or 'The Bible is bunk'." Bad solutions are worse than no solution, for you are STILL left without the true solution, you have just accepted a false one instead of leaving a hole for the truth to fill it when God should will it.

Christopher, you may call it "assume", but it is not an a priori assumption. It is based on at least SOME facts. We have read, of not exhaustively, at least extensively in Hellenistic writings. We have read exhaustively in books of the Bible, which were authored over some thousand years and more, and in several different cultural environments

Tony, I believe you have done this reading. I don't believe you have done so with an open mind as to the question at hand. I think you have read ancient texts with a strong predisposition not to see the evidence that is there. And I have the presumption to make this claim because of the manner in which you argue (a priori on your own admission) in the rest of your comment. Your argument relies on drawing parallels between the way we think and the way you presume ancient peoples must have thought, because, well, they're human beings, and this stuff is just universal common sense.

I don't quite know what I can say to convince you of the very high degree to which what we naturally take to be common sense turns out to be an expression of our historical situation. More on this in my next comment to Lydia.

Lydia:

For such a thing to exist in a culture in any meaningful sense it must exist at least in the *somewhat wider* culture of the audience itself! It isn't just something unique to *those documents*. If it were, it wouldn't be an existing "literary understanding" *at all*!!

Of course. Where in the world did you get the idea that I was arguing otherwise?

I am seeking to discover what the conventions were in place at the time the gospels were written. The gospels themselves can provide evidence for what those conventions may have been. It is therefore legitimate to include the gospels in my survey of ancient literature in seeking to discover those conventions.

You can't argue that the audience of the gospels knew about some kind of widely understood "literary" approach according to which the gospel authors weren't actually affirming various of the details of their narratives by saying that, by *your* a priori commitment, the authors couldn't have gotten anything wrong in good faith and *therefore*, if you can't harmonize the accounts to your satisfaction, such expectations and devices must have *existed in the culture of their day* and been recognized as such. Epistemically, that would be nuts. An absolutely terrible historical argument concerning cultural understandings.

I'm baffled at your objection. I know the scriptures to be divine independently of knowing whether or not FLDs were present in the culture in which the gospels were written. I can therefore use the premise that the scriptures are divine in seeking further knowledge. Of course I can't expect to convince you to make the same evaluation I do without independent argument for my premise. But if I'm right about the theology, and I genuinely know that the Bible is inerrant, then my assessment of the possibility that John was in error (i.e., not possible) is legitimate. And that's all I need to rule out the rest of the flowchart in the potential instances of FLDs that happen to occur in the Bible. Which is the only use I'm making of that premise.

(oops. Tony, I meant this comment)

Lydia:

your apparent approach of taking it to be, I don't know, 50/50 probability or something of something *so complex* as a fictionalizing literary deviceThat's not what I said is it?

The "50/50 probability or something" if you wish to speak thus, applies to the hypothesis that the conventions back then might be such as to make what appears to me to be asserted as having historically happened just so (which appearance gives rise to some discrepancy) not actually asserted.

This hypothesis I regard as not at all low. Now, if we leave it there, it's also not very helpful, since, left in such a non-specific state, it has no explanatory power to speak of. Only if it is made more specific (which will lower its prior probability) will it be useful. This is not unique to this argument we're having. This sort of thing is just how probabilistic reasoning normally goes.

The complaint I have against you is that you seem to be assigning an inordinately low prior even to the non-specific version, because you underestimate the degree to which ancient peoples could be different from us. So when potential evidence comes up for their having different conventions from us in some specific way, you are predisposed to prefer _any_ other explanation (that isn't extremely implausible) to account for the data.

Have you read Gadamer's _Truth and Method_? You have to suffer the tincture of the Hegelian influence, which I think you might find as distasteful as I do, but if you can see through that stuff, the hermeneutics-tradition provides an example of folks who have a high estimate of how alien the attitudes of ancient peoples can be, and how easy it is for us to misinterpret them, because of how invisible to us are our own assumptions, and how easily we take something to be just obvious common sense when it in fact reflects our historical situatedness. In fact I think they go to far in this regard: some things are just universal human common sense. But I agree with them that discerning which is which can be a minefield. These folks are not conservative or liberal Christians. And this particular complaint of mine against your way of reading ancient texts could be just as well made by one of them. It doesn't depend on my belief in the divinity of the Bible.

I don't quite know what I can say to convince you of the very high degree to which what we naturally take to be common sense turns out to be an expression of our historical situation.

Christopher, let's be specific here: the issue is whether

It is natural and universal to want to be believed when you are recounting the facts as you saw and heard them.

All you have to do is give me evidence that supports the contrary thesis: a people who don't care whether people believe them when they are telling the facts as they saw and heard them. It's a straightforward point. Show me evidence that they just don't care.

Oh, and you do have to provide evidence for how that people think of the difference between giving false accounts in histories and telling lies in court and other venues. Because, I have the obvious right to use the evidence of slander, libel, and perjury as serious crimes within the culture as part of the basis for my prior probability.

Your argument relies on drawing parallels between the way we think and the way you presume ancient peoples must have thought, because, well, they're human beings, and this stuff is just universal common sense.

Show me that it is not common sense that people like to be believed is a universal trait.

Your argument relies on drawing parallels between the way we think and the way you presume ancient peoples must have thought, because, well, they're human beings, and this stuff is just universal common sense.

And I have the presumption to make this claim because of the manner in which you argue (a priori on your own admission)

Huh? I said:

Christopher, you may call it "assume", but it is not an a priori assumption.

In my lexicon, "a priori" is "before you have empirical data". But I have empirical data: punished crimes of libel, slander, and perjury, for instance. That's why I said it was NOT a priori. If you have better, more complete, and contrary data, well that's fine. A good investigator is always willing to see the data.

The complaint I have against you is that you seem to be assigning an inordinately low prior even to the non-specific version, because you underestimate the degree to which ancient peoples could be different from us. So when potential evidence comes up for their having different conventions from us in some specific way, you are predisposed to prefer _any_ other explanation (that isn't extremely implausible) to account for the data.

The issue isn't that different peoples can be surprisingly and frustratingly different in ways we didn't at first expect. Well, sure, I have enough learning to accept THAT. The specific issue is on "wanting to be believed when you are recounting the facts as you saw them". It's that thesis that you have to deal with by finding evidence that these particular ancient cultures we are talking about DIDN'T have that motivation.

And when I see "specific conventions" that support a thesis that they held similar views about truth as us - again, one being that libel and perjury were crimes - I have the epistemological right to require the other evidence to be more than suggestive.

I'm baffled at your objection.

Christopher, maybe an analogy will help to illustrate my objection.

Suppose that we are considering the following hypothesis:

Gremlins exist and are active throughout my town.

So I go out looking to see whether the evidence supports this thesis. But I find no phenomena that can't be explained as well, or even better, by the activities of squirrels, and obviously the presence of squirrels is more probable than that of gremlins. But there are five houses in one part of the town, and in those five houses, you have an a priori commitment, non-revisable, subject to no backwards pressure by events (apparently probability 1), that those houses are squirrel-proof. This is a theological presupposition. In those houses we get some of the same squirrel-like phenomena that look exactly like the phenomena we ascribe to squirrels in all of the other houses. But *you* decide that they are plausibly caused by gremlins, because you are giving the case in those houses the extra boost of your utterly a priori commitment to squirrel-less-ness.

You then claim to have an inductive case for the existence of gremlins throughout the town, even in other houses where no phenomena have been observed that can't be ascribed to squirrels. But in those houses you're willing to ascribe the phenomena to squirrels.

The gremlins are "detectable" (quote very much unquote) only in those houses where you have decided a priori that there can be no squirrels. They are astonishingly indetectable in all the houses where you are willing to admit that there could be squirrels.

This would be dubious enough, epistemically, if your *only* conclusion were that there are gremlins in the five a priori squirrel-less houses.

Yet the thesis in question supposedly concerns gremlins in other houses as well. Indeed (this part I'm not able to represent very well in the analogy) the very *meaning* of the kind of gremlins in question is that they are "town gremlins" that have to be active in other parts of the town (not just narrowly those five houses) if they are to be said to exist at all! But the only place you can "detect" their activity is where you have weighted the scale by an un-changeable assumption of squirrel-proof-ness. This makes the epistemic situation even worse, for you're concluding something inductively about the *other* houses as well even though *all* of the houses look approximately the same--like they have no gremlins but like they do have some squirrels--and your only inductive reason for thinking of the five houses as having gremlins is an extra-special assumption that applies only to them.

As for reading ancient texts vs. reading modern texts, I refuse to make ancient texts virtually unreadable by throwing up utterly in the air the question of their intention to be understood or to say of what is that it is. But moreover, we can *read* the texts in question here, be they the Bible or Roman history, and guess what? They look a lot like our stuff. Even when Roman historical texts look like there are contradictions, guess what? Things people say and write in our time look like they have contradictions too. There is nothing epistemically illicit about, say, thinking it more likely that if Plutarch contradicts himself he just misremembered than inventing the elaborate notion of a "literary device." Because the phenomenon in question doesn't have any special "ancient-y" appearance to it. It looks just like a modern author who is basically reliable but occasionally contradicts himself. There is nothing about "Plutarch forgot" or "Plutarch made a mistake" or even "Plutarch lied" that is especially suspect as a conclusion for being a "modern assumption." Similarly, if Plutarch (or a gospel author) writes in a way that states no specific chronology and could just as easily be taken to be not intended or taken to indicate a highly specific chronology, and if a discrepancy can be alleged only if a wooden chronology is assumed in both texts, then there is nothing anachronistic about concluding that the discrepancy is manufactured rather than real.

In fact, speaking of anachronism: Here is something that *does* appear to be somewhat different between ancient and modern writers. Ancient writers appear to have a somewhat greater tendency to "chunk in" things that happened at approximately the same time than modern writers do, without giving explicit chronology. If anything, it is Licona and co. who are being anachronistic by insisting on a *modern* practice of always or very often indicating a very definite chronology by *mere* order of writing, producing "discrepancies" thereby where none need exist, and then alleging "literary devices" of "changing chronology." (And I don't think that moderns intend highly specific chronology by mere order of narration as often as they appear to assume either, especially in spoken narrative. I myself do the "chunking in stuff that happened at approximately the same time" thing in spoken narrative a lot. This is partly because I don't have a chance to go back and revise when I'm just telling a story, and in a writing culture without word processing, where the sheer physical process of writing and revising is cumbersome, it is all the more likely.)

Again, we go by the evidence we find. And both the similarities and differences go in the opposite direction of the "literary device" conclusion.

I once had a pastor who cycled through essentially the same set of sermons, peppered with the same pithy witticisms and aphorisms, every few months. He was just really passionate about some of the local sociological problems that his congregants dealt with in that region. You can go to the church website even now (20 years later) and it's more of the same. Benefit of the doubt, people in that area still need to hear it.

Jesus was, on this earth, an itinerant preacher (or sage) with just one general theme. So it's certain he preached the same messages frequently, with the same anecdotes and parables and punchlines and barbs to hecklers. So not necessary to appeal to displacement at all in those cases.

Same for 2 temple cleansings. Same person in similar setting under similar circumstance will generally react consistently. 3 zeal-charge temple visits and we would have 3 cleansing recorded.

So when potential evidence comes up for their having different conventions from us in some specific way you are predisposed to prefer _any_ other explanation (that isn't extremely implausible) to account for the data.

I simply deny that a mere apparent discrepancy is in some special way "evidence for their having different conventions from us in some specific way." Why should it be? Apparent discrepancies are *like us*. *We* have apparent discrepancies. And we have experience of the kinds of things that produce them, too. A mere discrepancy or apparent discrepancy about a day, a time, who said what, etc., is *normal* in our culture as well as in ancient culture. It isn't somehow specially "ancient-like." It doesn't have some specially "literary device convention" look to it. It's just a discrepancy. It can easily be explained by simple, common sources of error or even by the intent to deceive rather than by the highly complex hypothesis of an intent *not to be believed in the first place* concerning that type of utterance, though the utterance is deliberately made to look like it is intended to be believed and is stating an ordinary historical fact. In other words, mere apparent discrepancies look like the teeth marks of a rodent. If something looks like the teeth marks of a rodent, then it is unreasonable to say without further, independent evidence of the non-existence of rodents in that place, "Oh, but this is a country far away from mine with a different climate, and I know that far-away countries often have different animals. I will say then that this is evidence for presence of an animal different from ours in some specific way--namely, a bird with rodent-like teeth. Because after all, it's a different country."

If we're going to reason like that, when familiar mechanisms of human activity are fully adequate to explain things, merely on the basis of its being a "different culture," we might as well not bother even to wait for a discrepancy. We could take any randomly selected, apparently truthful piece of writing from a different culture (because a different culture is such a big deal) that happens to be about, say, a boat, and say that this is "evidence for a convention different from ours in a specific way." Maybe "boat" is a code word. Or maybe every time a boat is mentioned, that is a secret clue that the story is fictional.

There are infinite numbers of "different conventions" we could make up. But there's no reason to do that.

There is nothing about memory error or some other good-faith error, or about garden-variety tinkering with truth, such that these hypotheses somehow become *less probable* or anachronistic when we are dealing with ancient cultures! What? Were they *more scrupulous* than we are, so that they didn't make false statements except when excused by a "literary device" so that their audience didn't consider them to be making the assertion in the first place? Were they *less likely* in ancient times to make ordinary errors than we are? It is truly strange that a perfectly simple hypothesis like "Plutarch made a mistake" should be spoken of as if it is some strange strettttch of the imagination that a person like me would engage in as a desperate attempt to avoid concluding, "Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, Plutarch never meant to affirm x at all, and his audience didn't consider things like x even to be historically affirmed. There was a special literary device in his culture that gave him license to make up things like x." Any such epistemic priority is gravely confused.

If we're going to reason like that, when familiar mechanisms of human activity are fully adequate to explain things, merely on the basis of its being a "different culture," we might as well not bother even to wait for a discrepancy. We could take any randomly selected, apparently truthful piece of writing from a different culture (because a different culture is such a big deal) that happens to be about, say, a boat, and say that this is "evidence for a convention different from ours in a specific way." Maybe "boat" is a code word. Or maybe every time a boat is mentioned, that is a secret clue that the story is fictional.

I was going to mention something like that: if we are willing to posit that a writing by a man like Caesar or Plutarch or Luke could have had FDLs that had no markers because "a culture unlike ours", we can still more easily posit "markers, we just don't happen to know what they were", which means that the passages aren't FDLs but explicit departures from literal truth: parables and the like. Epistemologically: a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. An intent to tell a parable with an unknown (to us) marker would look just like an FDL.

The net result, of course, is that the departures could be all over the place and we would never know it. *Every* passage that ANYONE thinks is "a little odd" would suddenly become a parable, a fairy tale, a legend, etc. Oh, wait: that's what happened over the last 120 years in the hands of the critics. The Bible as free-form art: make it up to suit yourself.

Yep, an excellent example of that is the aforementioned bizarre and insane comments (I really don't hesitate to call them such) of Craig Evans about the "I am" statements in John, after the notorious Bart Ehrman asks him about them. He says that John is

a horse of a different color altogether. It’s a different genre. John is often compared to the Wisdom literature. It’s like Wisdom is personified...She wanders the street. She calls out to people. She does things. Well, no one would read that, think, “Oh, did you see Wisdom going down the street the other day?” Nobody would think that is a literal person.

He then goes on to say that the “I am” statements should be seen as “He is” statements--as a “confession of the Johannine community” instead of things Jesus really said. But he admits it is “tricky” simply to call John a "gigantic parable" because one does find so many scholars who say “You know, it’s loaded with historical details also.” So I guess John is partly just a parable? Later he returns to the analogy to a parable when Ehrman points out that this means that John is non-historical. Evans tries to argue that this is an unproblematic sense of non-historical as it would be in the case of a parable.

Sitting around agreeing with Bart Ehrman that Jesus never said, "I and the father are one." Or apparently the other I am statements either. On no better basis than a generally low view of John and its being written by "the Johannine community," combined with (shocka!) the fact that these sayings don't occur in the synoptic gospels.

What could possibly go wrong?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0zkTTNGJLQ

Tony:

It is natural and universal to want to be believed when you are recounting the facts as you saw and heard them.
Tony, my objection was not aimed at that particular premise, but at the overall attitude underlying your argument.

But, OK, let's look at that premise.

I've been told (I haven't read the book myself) that _Little House on the Prarie_ was written by a woman telling the story of her childhood based on her own memories. I also heard that she "filled in the gaps" of the story -- things she didn't know, or had forgotten -- with the sorts of thing that might have happened in those times and circumstances: I don't know if she explained that she was doing this in a preface to the book, or elsewhere, or what, but I was given the impression that she made no secret of the fact. And it's not a crazy idea, right? She wanted to let her readers know what it was like to grow up on the frontier. She was in a good position to know this, and to fill in the gaps in a manner consistent with that knowledge.

Did she want to be believed? Well, she wanted her readers to believe that this was the true story of her childhood, not some made up fiction, but she did not want them to think she was affirming that every last thing she narrated was, to the best of her knowledge, what actually happened.

There's nothing crazy about having these goals in writing a story, and it's entirely possible that this sort of writing might become popular in some society, and might constitute a genre, so that people could tell when a given work fit that genre, and then they wouldn't need to be told explicitly that gaps were being filled in by conjecture: that's known to be the sort of thing one does, when necessary, in works of this sort.

And if all of your history is semi-fictionalized Little House on the Prairie material (as Licona et. al. would tell us of that oh-so-monolithic "ancient world"), you're going to have a heck of a time figuring out what is what and getting a clear, non-fictionalized version, in any level of detail at all, of the history of a given person or time. We don't have any reason to think that Plutarch's work was recognized as Little House on the Prairie history, nor that he "made no secret" of its being such. And we have positive reason to think that the gospel of John was not presented as or thought of as anything of the kind.

Little House on the Prairie is great stuff for what it is, but it isn't a substitute for historical documents. And historical documents are often what we need.

As you point out, of course, we have independent ways of telling when a work fits into the genre of, say, "semi-fictionalized personal memoir for children." We don't just lazily say that "that's how people think nowadays" that "makes it okay to do this in historical works" across the board. Because, y'know, that's false.

New Testament scholars, and I'm afraid some classics scholars as well, have no such meta-level evidence enabling them to tell when they are reading a semi-fictionalized work. They merely make wide hand gestures about ancient peoples and invoke this unsupported but allegedly far different "historical context" when encountering what they regard as a discrepancy, though such an alleged discrepancy does not call for any esoteric explanation whatsoever.

She wanted to let her readers know what it was like to grow up on the frontier. She was in a good position to know this, and to fill in the gaps in a manner consistent with that knowledge.

Did she want to be believed? Well, she wanted her readers to believe that this was the true story of her childhood, not some made up fiction, but she did not want them to think she was affirming that every last thing she narrated was, to the best of her knowledge, what actually happened.

Christopher, we also have the full-on genre of historical fiction. Some of the authors actually say up front "this is fiction", and others even go to some lengths to tell us where they make up stuff. But by and large they don't bother, they just let the reader have fun.

I shudder to think what someone in 1000 years will make of the history of Elizabethan England, or the Wild West of the 1870s, if they are trying to sift between real autobiographies by people who lived it, and fictionalized ones, with nary a shred of help as to which is which. (If, say, we have lost records that extrinsically classify some as fiction and some as autobiography - lost the library classification of 921 vs "fiction".) Some of the better ones are very, very believable. In fact, perhaps the only way we would really tell they were fiction is that they are too good, not enough oddball facts that just don't make sense or don't mean anything definite.

But what is true of historical fiction is that they don't have any intention of convincing the reader of God working incredible supernatural events, things that you would never in a 1000 years believe if not for the testimony of someone who (a) was there, and (b) was trustworthy not only broadly but also in detail, and (c) lived a life of heroic virtue in direct testimony to those claims.

Wilder in Little House may want the reader to more or less think that the story is that of her life, (I hesitate to say "does" because I am not clear that she made no secret of the fictionalizing at first - my impression was that it became clear during her life, but whether it was so right from first publication is less clear to me), but if so, what she cannot also intend (given having fictionalized details) is that any specific event be believed as "that really happened". By fictionalizing some, she has given up on the reader being convinced about *any* of the specific events. Which is JUST what we see in how people treat other historical fiction: each individual part is considered unconfirmed and potentially fictional.

If you combine that with an account of supernatural events, out-and-out miracles of the most shocking sort (coming back from the dead), you are left with Jesus Seminar rejection of virtually all the NT miracles as "they didn't mean those literally". And, as I said, any OTHER passage that is difficult to stomach, for ANYONE who views it with distaste.

any OTHER passage that is difficult to stomach, for ANYONE who views it with distaste.

Yes, I have heard one scholar say that Jesus probably didn't say the "receive the Holy Spirit" line in John, and the following comments about the disciples' retaining or remitting sins, because the scene is "weird."

What I thought at the time was that, even as a Protestant, I'm capable of seeing that the scene doesn't sound nearly as weird to a Catholic. (Because of oral confession of sins, the apostolic succession, the alleged capacity of the successors of Peter to grant absolution from vows or absolution from sin, etc.) It's not that I *believe* the Catholic interpretation of the verses but that I recognize as shallowly *parochial* that designation of the scene as "weird." Once we start throwing out scenes on the basis of "weirdness," a huge element of subjectivism enters the picture, and not the good kind of subjectivism, either.

Aaaaaand, Licona apparently agrees with Evans about the "I am" statements.

http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.com/2017/09/jesus-never-said-i-am-statements.html

Concerning Gremlins:

When you first called my belief in inerrancy is "a priori", I initially wondered what you meant. Apparently you mean it's a dogma held (1) without evidence and (2) without willingness to consider challenge to it.

My belief in inerrancy is not "a priori".

Ad 1: The case for inerrancy is built on reasoning from evidence. It's true that I didn't make the case in this comment thread, but merely gestured vaguely in its direction. Others have made the case in detail, and I assumed you were aware of the fact, and are familiar with those arguments. I can provide pointers to places where it is made, if you wish.

Ad 2: I believe my evidence is sufficient for me to say I _know_ that the Bible is inerrant. But that doesn't make it immune from evidential challenge.

Imagine some fantasy world in which the existence of Gremlins is not a crazy hypothesis, but is quite reasonable, though it is not yet known whether they are active in this town. Suppose I somehow (not by inscrutable magic, but by means of solid evidence) _know_ (or have very good reason to think that I know) that squirrels cannot ever be within those houses. I then see that evidence which could be caused by squirrels or Gremlins. Does that constitute a meaningful challenge to my well-founded belief in squirrel-freeness of the houses? No, because the data could just as well be explained by Gremlins which might well exist. Not in the real world, of course. But in the hypothetical world, there would be no epistemic problem with drawing the conclusion that there are probably Gremlins about.

So you can disagree with my evaluation of the prior probability of FLDs existing in the culture, and you can disagree with my claim to have sufficient evidence to know that the Bible is inerrant. But apart from disagreement about those premises, you don't have a legitimate further complaint that there's something epistemically disordered about my line of reasoning.

I simply deny that a mere apparent discrepancy is in some special way "evidence for their having different conventions from us in some specific way." Why should it be?
It isn't.
Because the phenomenon in question doesn't have any special "ancient-y" appearance to it. It looks just like a modern author who is basically reliable but occasionally contradicts himself
In such cases, the discrepancies provide NO meaningful argument in support of the existence of FLDs. But I'm saying there ARE cases where they look "ancient-y".

When I look at discrepencies, it's NOT as if I only look at how strained the harmonizations are, and if they are very strained, I conclude: probably FLD. That's not how I'm reasoning at all. On the contrary, I'm looking at the _particularities_ of this discrepancy to determine what is the best explanation of _it's particular character_. Yes, the strainedness of non-FLD explanations (harmonizations) is relevant here, but it's not functioning in isolation. In short, I ask does this thing _look like_ it might plausibly be an instance of something like an FLD? If not, then I'm happy to say, even if I have no non-ridiculous harmonization on offer, that there might well be one that I haven't thought of, and the most reasonable conclusion, given what I now believe, is that the text does, just as it seems, assert such historicity as gives rise to the discrepancy, and some unthought-of harmonization is the case. On the other hand, if it does look like it might be an instance of an FLD, then I weigh that against the likelihood of alternative, harmonizing, explanations.

Some things you say about John's gospel give me an opportunity to illustrate this. Let me first respond to them:


The sayings in John that aren't in the gospels are thrown under the bus *not* because of some knotty discrepancy but just because they aren't in the synoptics at all! (A poor argument, obviously.)
That's not the only reason.

If one is trying simultaneously to embrace FLDs while claiming that they are theologically no big deal, the *last* thing one should want to do is to start thinking that the evangelists invented whole speeches of Jesus in the way that Tacitus appears to have invented the speech of Calgacus. It doesn't pass the laugh test anymore at that point to say that this has no theological implications!

I disagree. If I somehow knew for certain that a speech represented as Christ's in John was crafted by John, a speech which was an excellent and perfectly correct exposition of the teachings of Jesus generally, but which had no historically real connection to any particular occasion when Jesus spoke, I don't see this as theologically problematic. I'm not saying this was the case for any particular speech, but I don't see there being a deep problem if it were.

one can hardly deny that there is huge theological significance in denying that Jesus ever said the "I am" statements recorded in John! I hardly need to spell that out.

If the content of what John has Jesus saying by means of those statements was not part of the teaching of Jesus, then _that_ would be very problematic. i.e., if Jesus did not identify himself as divine in the sense in which John means to identify him as divine in those statements, we have a big problem. But if he did not do so _in that way_ but expressed the same doctrine in different words, its not just obvious that there would be a problem. At least not if John is in a position to perfectly know the mind of Christ on this topic.

In John 3:10-21, Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus. To anyone familiar with John's style, the end of the speech looks suspiciouly like it was crafted by John. Some modern translations close the quotation at verse 16, but nothing in the text indicates a termination there. On the contrary the sentences run on in a connected manner. Apart from a prior familiarity with John's style, and its difference from how Jesus almost always talks in the Synoptics, the reader is left to assume that Jesus is still speaking. How do we account for this? Here are two hypotheses (others are possible)

1) John did attribute this speech to Jesus, in the sense that he wrote as if Jesus said these things, but in fact, Jesus never made such a speech.
2) John wrote a text that is simply ambiguous about whether those words are attributed to Jesus or whether John is speaking in his own voice.

If John regards himself as having the apostolic gift, so that he is able to perfectly articulate the doctrine of Christ in his own voice with no less authority than when he narrates a speech-event of Jesus', then he may not have felt the need always to distinguish which thing he was doing. The important thing is that this is the true doctrine of Christ. On your view, John ought to be very concerned to make such a distinction, because it's so theologically important to know which are the speeches Christ actually spoke. But he doesn't seem to be.

And there are other places where there's no question that John is attributing words to Jesus, where the Johanine thought-patterns and speech-patterns come through: e.g., John 5:31 and following verses.

Jesus very often sounds Johanine in John, and he so rarely does (I know of only one place in Matthew) in the Synoptics.

This is evidence to be considered. It's not some kind of total refutation of your position. It could have been all squirrels. But it kinda looks like there might be Gremlins involved.

In John 3:10-21, Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus. To anyone familiar with John's style, the end of the speech looks suspiciously like it was crafted by John. Some modern translations close the quotation at verse 16, but nothing in the text indicates a termination there.

Christopher, they didn't have quotation marks back then. There is nothing in the text that explicitly indicates a termination, period. Stop writing as if the prima facie case is that everything indefinitely is said by Jesus until, I dunno, we get to the next bit of plot narrative.

I'm familiar with the argument you give here. I think it's extremely poor. I notice too that even you have to stop and note the "Matthean thunderbolt." Ain't it funny?

Look *I* talk differently at different times, and I actually have a more consistent "voice" than most people.

John also may have had a *better* memory of Jesus' connected speeches than the writers of the synoptics, who tend to record things that sound more "choppy" and therefore could well be missing connective material. And, as you know (because you've obviously read up on this), John's own writing could well have been influenced by what he heard from Jesus. Yeah, I know this isn't what "most scholars" say, but you know better than to play that card with me.

John knew that he was writing truly, and it's a poor argument to conclude that he would have deliberately altered his *own* style, which he may well have *learned* from Jesus, just in case some later clever scholar would think he was making up Jesus' speeches! Moreover, his own references to his truthful eyewitness testimony, including in one place where he is *explicitly* referring to a literal witnessing of a physical event (Jesus' death and piercing by a spear), are strong evidence against his making stuff up.

If the content of what John has Jesus saying by means of those statements was not part of the teaching of Jesus, then _that_ would be very problematic. i.e., if Jesus did not identify himself as divine in the sense in which John means to identify him as divine in those statements, we have a big problem. But if he did not do so _in that way_ but expressed the same doctrine in different words, its not just obvious that there would be a problem.

I could not disagree more strongly. It is extremely important whether or not Jesus publicly and unambiguously attested to his own deity. Sure, we could get a *weaker* argument for his deity from less explicit indications in the synoptic gospels, but at this point we're starting to sound like the knight in Monty Python who says he can fight with his legs cut off. And I'm getting a little tired of it. You chop off this and chop off that from the argument and then try to tell people to pay no attention to that guy with the chopper behind the curtain, because at least he's leaving you the other leg, so it's all okay. No. Stop. Let's stop pretending that this is theologically unimportant or evidentially unimportant. It adds *tremendously* to the strength of the biblical teaching of Jesus' deity if Jesus publicly stated, "I and the father are one."

And if he didn't make any such public statements, if that public, explicit teaching is just part of the little details, then this isn't just "expressing the same thing in different words." That's deliberately making the teaching of the doctrine itself more cryptic. (Indeed, I don't know if you agree with him here, but Licona *expressly* argues that Jesus would have been *deliberately* more cryptic about stating his deity!)

By the way, do you also think the Jews didn't try to stone Jesus after he had blatantly identified himself as the "I am"? Is that incident invented?

Given all of this, I'm going to try to say this as nicely as possible but:

Please don't trouble to tell me that you are merely talking about "details" anymore. Because you're not. You can comfort yourself with that claim if you like, but I wish you wouldn't. Indeed, I strongly and sincerely urge you not to do so anymore.

You know, Christopher, obviously your mileage varies, but some of us think it's pretty important that we know what Jesus said in at least approximately his own words. Yes, there are variations as to how important a person takes some degree of paraphrase to be. But the word "paraphrase" *does not* cover the invention of occasions, scenes, and whole speeches, even inflating the number of times on which the doctrine was stated, the degree of publicity with which it was stated, and the degree of explicitness with which it was stated. That ain't a mere paraphrase. Nor does it become a mere paraphrase merely on the grounds that Jesus taught this same doctrine *to someone or other* in *some words or other* on *some other occasion* that we may not or do not even have a record of. If Jesus said *no more than* we find in the synoptics on the question of his deity and John invented *the entirety* of the explicit "I am" statements in John, then that is not a paraphrase of the synoptics, nor remotely close to it. That's merely an abuse of the concept of "saying the same thing in somewhat different words."

The gospels aren't just supposed to be something like this: Hey, people, we were close to Jesus, and just take our word for it that he taught these ideas. We're inventing what he actually *said* pretty frequently, including whole speeches, occasions, and level of explicitness, but believe me: This is the doctrine he meant to teach. On some occasion or other. Just not the one we're telling you about. Just accept that, 'kay? You don't need to hear anything *more* like Jesus' *actual* teaching. It's good enough for you to get our highly artistically created, semi-fictional construction of his actually speaking. That's all you really need.

If you can't see that that view of the gospels is an important matter to Christianity, I'm afraid there isn't much I can do to help you further to see it.

Frankly, I think it's pretty problematic to try to downplay importance, because the more important these issues are the more worthwhile it is for people to put in time investigating them for themselves rather than just taking the word of experts and being quick to ditch things, because "It doesn't matter anyway."

but believe me: This is the doctrine he meant to teach.

At least, this is the doctrine he would have meant to teach, if he had as much of a way with words as I have. And if he were somewhat cleverer about putting a satisfying story together, because I know the audience. And if, in addition to inspiring me with such wisdom, the Holy Spirit were to improve my memory better. Yeah, all THAT.

If Jesus really taught these doctrines explicitly in some other discourse, why didn't John give us *that* discourse/teaching instead of a made up one instead? And if *all* Jesus said on the subject of his deity is what we find in the synoptics, and if he *intended* not to be as explicit as he is in John, why does John have the right to invent a "Jesus character" who sees fit to be even more explicit, repeated, and in-your-face about the issue with the Jewish leaders? And what's the evidence, again, that this wouldn't have been deceptive to John's audience if he were to have done such a thing? That his audience *knew* he was inventing the "I am" statements and even whole discourses?

Lydia,
If Jesus really taught these doctrines explicitly in some other discourse, why didn't John give us *that* discourse/teaching instead of a made up one instead?

If you don't assume the writer was one of the apostles sharing his memories or had direct access to an apostle it is pretty easy to figure out. The writer is accumulating partial bits and pieces of the stories from various sources so he fits them together under a new framework to construct a coherent narrative. Naturally such a construction will include more of the author's voice.

And if *all* Jesus said on the subject of his deity is what we find in the synoptics, and if he *intended* not to be as explicit as he is in John, why does John have the right to invent a "Jesus character" who sees fit to be even more explicit, repeated, and in-your-face about the issue with the Jewish leaders?

The Jewish and Christian split was apparently well underway by the time John was written because there is plenty in the gospel that appears to be a response to Jewish and/or skeptical criticisms and to affirm a separate Christian identity.

Step2, I'm responding to Christopher's scenario, and that requires that the author *was* an apostle and that that was *why* he thought he had the "mind of Christ" and hence authority to put words in Jesus' mouth based on what he definitely knew was Jesus' teaching from other times Jesus had taught.


The Jewish and Christian split was apparently well underway by the time John was written because there is plenty in the gospel that appears to be a response to Jewish and/or skeptical criticisms and to affirm a separate Christian identity.

If one assumes a "John" author who has no qualms about fakery in the service of a religious agenda, that might explain how he came to be motivated to the fakery. It certainly won't work if we're supposedly saying that he was a conscientious fellow who believed Jesus allowed him to do this and that his audience understood he was writing historical fiction. Because if your scenario were a reason, then the fake would only work if it were believed. So one can't simultaneously say he had no intention to be believed that Jesus was this explicit.

Tony, you said, "Christopher, you may call it "assume", but it is not an a priori assumption." at the beginning of the first paragraph. Then, later, you made a turning:

That's on an "assumption" that there really is such a thing (in the Hellenistic historical writings) as "known and accepted FDLs" as such.

If we ask the question whether there was such a thing to begin with (and force Licona and co to justify the thesis properly), ON THAT account, I think we also start with a pretty low "prior probability", i.e. an assumption against.

By "a priori argument," I simply mean an argument about the prior probability: an argument based on background knowledge, rather than pointing to any specific evidence from ancient Greek texts. What probability do we, in your words, "start with" prior to looking at the evidence for or against the hypothesis that FLDs were present in Hellenistic historical writings. And in fact the argument you articulated did not educe any data from Greek texts, but was based on general knowledge about the world. You could just as well say, based on your argument, that we start with a very low prior probability that ancient Chinese historical writing permitted FLDs. Even if you've never read any ancient Chinese historical writing.

The premise you insisted that I address was "It is natural and universal to want to be believed when you are recounting the facts as you saw and heard them." The genre I described (beginning with what I took _Little House on the Prarie_ to be like) shows that either this premise is false or that you cannot infer your conclusion from it. Writers within that genre in most of their writing are recounting the facts as they saw and heard them. Your argument would seem to require that because the reader can't tell when conjectural filling-in-the-gaps happens, the writers don't "want to be believed." As you put it,

what she cannot also intend (given having fictionalized details) is that any specific event be believed as "that really happened"
So, then, your premise is false. It's not so improbable that a genre might exists in some society where people who are "recounting the facts as [they] saw and heard them" don't "want to be believed" in the sense you intend in the premise. We cannot assume that that is a human universal. Bringing up historical fiction is not to the point, since there people aren't recounting the facts as they saw and heard them.

If, on the other hand, "want to be believed" means "want to be believed as to the story as a whole" then the premise may well be true, but you cannot draw the conclusion from it, since the genre described shows that wanting to be believed in that way is compatible with the presence of FLDs.

If you combine that with an account of supernatural events, out-and-out miracles of the most shocking sort (coming back from the dead), you are left with Jesus Seminar rejection of virtually all the NT miracles as "they didn't mean those literally". And, as I said, any OTHER passage that is difficult to stomach, for ANYONE who views it with distaste.
I'm going to resist the urge to challenge you to provide support for this sweeping conclusion, since it's not relevant to the question at hand: the prior probability of FLDs in Hellenistic historical writing.

And if all of your history is semi-fictionalized Little House on the Prairie material (as Licona et. al. would tell us of that oh-so-monolithic "ancient world"), you're going to have a heck of a time figuring out what is what and getting a clear, non-fictionalized version, in any level of detail at all, of the history of a given person or time.
Lydia, it seems like your saying, "if X, it would be hard to have historical knowledge about the ancient world, therefore probably not X." If that's not your argument, I'm not clear what your point is.
We don't have any reason to think that Plutarch's work ...
That concerns the posterior probability; I'm arguing with Tony about the prior probability of whether FLDs were present in Hellenistic historical writings.
We don't just lazily say that "that's how people think nowadays" that "makes it okay to do this in historical works"
Not what I'm doing. I'm doing something very specific: addressing Tony's premise about universal human intentions when "recounting facts as you saw and heard them."

The genre I described would be a "historical work" in the sense relevant to Tony's argument: they recount real past events which their authors experienced. To determine whether Hellenistic historical writings (a different genre) permitted FLDs we would need evidence.

Lydia,
I don't know what his audience understood nor if they had a clear concept of historical fiction. We should keep in mind the audience at the time was largely illiterate which must have had some sort of effect. As far as beliefs go, that isn’t an obstacle considering that literate people today believe in a flat earth and the moon landing was faked. What I am more certain about is that the category “based on a true story” has a rich tradition of obscuring the lines between the historical factual account and the embellished drama. It also doesn't have to deviate too much from the factual account to sensationalize the story. Just a few weeks ago I watched a movie based on a true story, and from what I have read about the real events probably ninety percent of the details were compatible, but that ten percent difference dialed up the suspense to where I noticed my heart was pounding- even though I recognized it was the fictionalized elements creating the suspense.

Lydia, it seems like your saying, "if X, it would be hard to have historical knowledge about the ancient world, therefore probably not X." If that's not your argument, I'm not clear what your point is.

My point, Christopher, is that it matters. That it's not a small deal. Therefore we should make good and sure our arguments that have, as their implication, that we can have only crappy historical evidence about an extremely important period of ancient history, don't stink.

Not what I'm doing. I'm doing something very specific: addressing Tony's premise about universal human intentions when "recounting facts as you saw and heard them."

Christopher, you have made a reasonable point. Consider my point as revised so: "whether in a society writers BOTH didn't care whether the reader believed them when they recounted facts as they saw and heard them, AND wanted to convince the reader specifically of certain facts recounted as they saw and heard them."

I think there is a misconception, which may be partly fostered by Michael Licona himself, that ancient writers used “esoteric” compositional devices. But when we consider the examples that Licona cites, we see that there is nothing esoteric about them. One of Licona’s devices is “transferral”. An example of it is the case where a request is made that James and John might sit on the right hand and the left hand of Jesus when the Kingdom arrives. We may suppose that the request was originally made by the mother of James and John on their behalf. However, Mark’s Gospel has the request being made by James and John themselves. Is Mark using a compositional “device”? I think what we are seeing here is a very natural tendency to simplify a story. It is just easier to remember and tell a story in which James and John make the request themselves.

“Spotlighting” is another example. One account of an event may mention that only one person was present at a scene whereas another account may mention several other people. In this case one person has been put under the spotlight in one version of the story. And, again, this is just a tendency to simplify. It is easier to focus on one individual in a story. “Compression” is another device. So one author may make it look as if event B happened immediately after event A, when in fact there was a gap between the two events. This also just makes the story simpler to tell.

“Displacement” is a more interesting case. Licona cites the temple cleansing as a possible case of displacement. But if displacement has occurred, and I’m not saying that it has, we need to ask why. If the temple cleansing only happened once, it is more likely that John’s Gospel has the right timing. That is because the temple cleansing looks like the kind of thing that might have precipitated the arrest and crucifixion. If Mark did not know the exact order of events, he might have chosen to place the cleansing when he did because he was trying to put events in an order that made logical sense. Again, this would not be some esoteric compositional device; rather, it would be simple psychology.

So compositional devices may just be devices which make it easier to remember and tell stories and easier to make sense of events. I haven’t read Licona’s book, so I don’t know whether he has given the impression that ancient writers are doing something that we would find strange. If he has given that impression, then I think he has erred. However, with that caveat granted, I think Licona may still have a legitimate case. And I think we should be very wary of pursuing some witch hunt against him. Licona is obviously a man of integrity.

Perhaps you *should* read Mike Licona's book.

Also, please see my earlier posts. I have collected all of them, if you are interested, in Update 2 on this post:

http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.com/2017/09/jesus-never-said-i-am-statements.html

For example, in this very post you are commenting on (I'm wondering if you read it?), I pointed out that "spotlighting" is not particularly "literary" at all and doesn't belong in the same category with the other "devices" Licona talks about. It just means focusing on one thing rather than another!

Licona does not use the word "esoteric," but he *certainly says*, in so many words, that many of the "devices" he's talking about are things that are special to the "ancient world," at least as far as their frequency. It is on that basis that he bases his special qualifications to pronounce on the matter over those of anyone else who has not made his degree of study of Greek, Plutarch, etc.

You yourself begin to realize this when it comes to "displacement." One would never say that an historian was just telling the facts accurately if he explicitly and deliberately wrote that an event took place three years before or three years later than it actually took place! Your own instinct in the case of the Temple is to ask whether either John or Mark was *incorrect* about when the Temple cleansing happened, though you also seem to take seriously (and rightly so) the possibility that it happened twice, which I think is correct. But your idea that one of them may be *incorrect* reflects the fact that you take them to *desire to be believed* about when it happened, whereas Licona's idea is that John was deliberately fictionalizing, knowing that it did not take place where he places it, but that there was some sort of fictionalizing contract between reader and author such that they would have expected the author sometimes to invisibly shift events around chronologically, even by as much as three years, and wouldn't have minded. That this was just "how history was done" back then. *I* certainly call this esoteric, and it *certainly* is not just something natural for "making it easier to tell a story." Licona does this kind of thing *constantly* in his book. For example, at one point he hypothesizes that Matthew may have "doubled up" the demoniacs in order to "make up for" not having told about a *different* demoniac being healed in a different place! That is so wildly esoteric a possibility that one wonders why he would even bring such a thing up. I think he may, after balancing the issue, decide on Markan "spotlighting" in that case (which is just normal harmonization), but the idea of Matthew's making up an extra demoniac, and of this as a "literary device," gives some idea of the elaborateness of "literary devices." In the case of the doubting Thomas scenario, after pondering the apparently entirely respectable idea that John may have made up the Doubting Thomas scenario, Licona eventually opts for the idea that Luke *wrote as if* two completely different occasions on which Jesus appeared to his disciples (the two occasions involving the Doubting Thomas sequence) were really just one occasion, and calls this "conflation" as a literary device!

These are very elaborate fictionalization theories. They aren't just normal, convenient "ways of telling a story."

As for Jesus and the sons of Zebedee and their mother, the "convenient way of telling a story" theory would work better if there were no dialogue. Then indeed we might merely speak of one person as doing something on another person's behalf. But both gospels (Mark and Matthew) record explicit dialogue between Jesus and the men and Jesus and their mother, which must have *not taken place* if "transferral" is occurring.

An even clearer example of the fact that "transferral" is not just some "convenient way of telling a story" is one of Licona's favorites from Plutarch. In one place, Plutarch is *explicit* and even emphatic that a certain Roman (Pompey, if I recall correctly) came into the Senate personally to read an encomium on another Roman (which was illegal). In another place Plutarch is *explicit* that Pompey did not come in personally but rather sent his encomium to be read by someone else. This isn't just a convenient way of telling a story. If Plutarch remembered that it definitely happened the one way and then went out of his way to say that it definitely happened the other way, this is fictionalization. (But I would say, see the flowchart. Plutarch may have just misremembered in one case, or he may have been lying. Nothing so socially complex as a "literary device" wherein Plutarch's audience expected and accepted his fictionalizing all over the place and hence put a question mark over all such matters is required.)

As for a witch hunt, I am writing as a fellow apologist and scholar and counteracting ideas that I think false and importantly false. That's what scholars do.

If I were to call for Michael Licona to be tarred and feathered, you can come and tell me not to engage in a "witch hunt." But I won't be doing that. Or even if I call for him to be fired from his job at Houston Baptist University. But I have no intention of doing that either. It's my understanding that Houston Baptist doesn't even have an inerrancy requirement for teaching there. Mike Licona is a nice guy and a sincere Christian. But he's seriously wrong, and I have shown him the respect to *argue* for that at length.

We should not silence rational dispute over important matters by suggesting that those who dare to criticize a prominent apologist are engaging in witch hunts.

Oh, let me also point out: Licona's definition of "displacement" is explicit that the author knowingly moved an event to a time when it didn't happen. So if Mark put Jesus' Temple cleansing in Passion week because he thought it happened then, that isn't "displacement" in Licona's sense. It's an attempt to get it right. ONe must wonder, if your theory is correct, how *Matthew* got it wrong in that case. Didn't he remember Passion Week with any clarity at all to know that Jesus didn't do so dramatic a thing as cleansing the Temple then? Or are we assuming that Matthew wasn't written by Matthew? That has to be argued for, if so.

Actually, Licona thinks *John* "displaced" the Temple cleansing, and no such excuse would be available for John. He had the synoptics available. Again, "displacement" is not just making a good-faith error. It's knowingly changing something from what you have reason to believe is true to what you either have reason to believe is false or have no reason whatsoever to believe is true.

That is a highly complex form of fictionalization, not just normal human psychology trying to tell a story truthfully and logically.

“Spotlighting” is another example. One account of an event may mention that only one person was present at a scene whereas another account may mention several other people. In this case one person has been put under the spotlight in one version of the story. And, again, this is just a tendency to simplify. It is easier to focus on one individual in a story. “Compression” is another device. So one author may make it look as if event B happened immediately after event A, when in fact there was a gap between the two events. This also just makes the story simpler to tell.

These are fine examples, David. But the important thing is to recognize that neither spotlighting nor compression (as used in these examples) constitute fictionalizing devices in any way, shape, manner, or form. When you say someone is present for an event, you are neither saying nor implying that nobody else is present. Sal: "Was John at the wedding?" Bill: "Yes, he was." Does that mean John alone was at the wedding? Does anyone mistakenly think that Bill is conferring any sort of secrecy to the other 249 guests? Of course not.

Or again, take a story told in chapters. The fact that chapter 2 starts in the morning after chapter 1 has the parents saying goodnight to their 7 and 9 year old kids doesn't say or imply anything about whether the parents might have snuggled up during the night, or watched a movie, or sat up paying bills. Did the author intend that after they said goodnight, the parents ceased to exist until morning? Of course not. It's just that the things that DID happen were not germane to what the author had to say. So? There is no kind of fictionalizing going on at all.

And it doesn't do to put these "devices" in the same box as fictionalizing devices such as transferal. They simply do not carry any implication AT ODDS with what actually happened.

I will give you an example of a SORT of "compressing transferal" that is benign, (not fictionalizing): suppose the mother of James and John, eager for her sons' status, urges them most strenuously to ask Jesus about where they will be in the Kingdom. Because of her nagging, they eventually broach the topic with Jesus. Then Mark reports that James and John asked Jesus. Is such a report in any way fictionalizing? No. There is nothing about the report that is AT ODDS with what happened: James and John asked Jesus. All Mark does is leave out more detail, which he deemed not needed for the point. The leaving out is not a deletion from factual correctness, it's not like Mark represents James and John's asking Jesus as "and, without any prior prompting by anybody else, James and John..." Not reporting a detail is what reporters do, because it is impossible to report every detail, and you have to decide what is germane to YOUR story and what is not. This is not fictionalizing. At all.

But the example isn't a real example of compression, precisely because James and John really did the action reported (in my supposed hypothetical). To the extent that other examples like this are put in the category of "compression" in totting up all the cases of "devices", just to that extent the cases are not those of "fictionalizing devices" and are just standard reporting. That is, it's just inflating the numbers.

If Mark did not know the exact order of events, he might have chosen to place the cleansing when he did because he was trying to put events in an order that made logical sense. Again, this would not be some esoteric compositional device; rather, it would be simple psychology.

I put it to you that if Jesus had cleansed the Temple early in his public career and NOT in Holy Week, and Mark had spent many years hearing from Peter all about those 3 years, it would be extraordinarily unlikely that Mark would have been at doubt about whether the cleansing took place in Holy Week vs earlier. He might have been unsure of exactly when it came, but being unaware that it was long before Holy Week is just not plausible. Papias of Hierapolis:

And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.

Mark is understood to have spent many years with Peter, including both in Jerusalem and at Rome, and there is some indication that the Gospel he wrote maybe was produced before Peter's execution, (in which case it would be psychologically impossible to suppose Peter did not review it). But even if produced after Peter's death, it is not likely that Mark wouldn't have been able to better narrow down the timing of the cleansing than "sometime during the 3 years" if it really happened at the beginning. Then, if we suppose that Mark's actual information was that the cleansing was something indefinite like "somewhere fairly early-ish", his putting it during Holy Week would definitely be a fictionalizing device...if we agree that his account of Holy Week was written to be at least moderately chronological.

[To me it is not clear whether Mark intends even the parts after the triumphal entrance to Jerusalem to be entirely chronological, or not: the elements in chapters ch. 12 and ch. 13 seem at least a bit a-temporal, though not as much so as the elements in chapters ch. 5 and ch. 6. At least, I don't get the clear sense that the events in ch. 12 happened before those in ch. 13. On the other hand ch. 14 starts with "It was now two days before the Passover", and it would be easy to argue that regardless of whether 12 and 13 are internally chronological, the entry (beginning of ch. 11) and the beginning of ch. 14 are clearly meant to bracket them all.]

It is ONLY on the hypothesis that there was only one cleansing, in the early part of Jesus' career, and that Mark had no clue when the cleansing actually happened, and had no reason to think that it happened during Holy Week, and did intend the passages from ch. 11 through 14 to be at least moderately chronological, would inserting the cleansing into ch. 11 constitute an instance of a fictionalizing device as in altering what he actually thought happened. But if he had inserted the cleansing story anywhere before ch. 11, with all the other events that are not pinned to specific times, he would not have NEEDED to engage in even that degree of fictionalizing to get the story in; he could have had it back up against ch. 11 (put it in ch. 9 or 10) and dramatically still provide the Pharisees the "reason" to want to kill him. Given that ready opportunity, and the implausibility that he had no clue when it actually happened, I see no sufficiently solid reason for him to want to put it into Holy Week that would displace the idea that he put it there because he understood that a cleansing did in fact happen then.

On compression:

In his *earlier* book on the resurrection, Licona expressly states that in Luke, all of the events after the resurrection "occur on Easter." Those are his exact words. The Resurrection of Jesus, p. 596, note 449. *That* is what he means when he says that Luke "compressed" the events. In fact, that is his definition of compression:

Compression: When an author knowingly portrays events over a shorter period of time than the actual time it took for those events to occur, the author has compressed the story. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels, p. 20.

This is *not* merely telling a story more briefly. It is not non-fictionalizing compression, as a normal conversational style. It is fictionalizing compression, in which Luke (for example) supposedly puts the events after the resurrection "on Easter" when they actually took place over 40 days.

I want to make a comment as mildly as possible: I've been carefully studying Licona's ideas in great detail, spending many hours, for a couple of years. It's a little frustrating to be criticized for disagreeing with him when those doing the criticizing have not really figured out what he's saying. I'm *not* just asking anybody to take my word for it. Licona's lectures and books are out there and available to anyone. But I am suggesting that it kind of takes unnecessary time on my part to have to keep repeatedly explaining what Licona means by "literary devices," when he himself has been pretty clear about it and when I've read what he's said in great detail, to critics who haven't done so. Again, I don't say this to be mean to anybody or to pull rank, but even a relatively small amount of reading up would avoid the situation where I'm told that "all Licona is saying" is something much different from what he's actually saying.

To be sure, he *includes* these more moderate things in his lists of examples, and that does potentially create confusion. I think that is a fault in his book and in his other expositions. In one particularly egregious case, he says that Plutarch has engaged in "displacement" when Plutarch *literally* stops and *tells* the reader that he is narrating out of chronological order because the subject of the women of a certain household happened to come up in his narrative! But in both Licona's definition and in the vast majority of his examples, "displacement" is not that at all! It is invisibly and knowingly *changing* the chronology of events, which is (obviously) not what Plutarch is doing when he just says (the equivalent of), "Oh, by the way, here's another story about the women of so-and-so's household, and just to scrupulously let you know, that all happened later." This sort of lumping together fictionalization and non-fictionalization does muddy the waters, and Licona shouldn't do it. But he is utterly clear that the device of "displacement" *does* include undeniable cases of deliberate fictionalization, and indeed that is what his definition indicates!

Tony, I have no great desire to argue that Mark was wrong about the timing of the temple cleansing. However, I think that things are a little more complicated than you suggest. Papias himself was writing decades after Mark wrote his Gospel. Although it is plausible that Mark knew Peter, we can't be sure of the details. We don't know exactly how much time they spent together or whether Peter would have had a chance to review the Gospel after it was written.

But that wasn't really my point. I was using the example of the temple cleansing to illustrate a principle. If something like displacement has occurred, it may not be because an author knows the actual timing of an event but has deliberately decided to change it. It may be less black and white than that. If Mark didn't know - and we'll consider this to be purely hypothetical - when the cleansing happened, but he made an educated guess about when it happened, how would you view it?

You seemed to imply that this would also be an unacceptable lapse into fiction. But surely this would be quite different from the more blatant use of fictionalising devices. It would not be the case that Mark knew when the event occurred but chose to alter the timing in accordance with some literary device.

From what Lydia has said, it seems that Michael Licona has gone much further with his argument than I realised. Apparently, Licona seems to think that the Gospel writers had a licence to depart from the truth quite blatantly, and inexplicably. But I think there is a question of degree. It seems quite plausible to me that something like transferral or displacement could occur in a way that would not involve any esoteric compositional device, but for quite mundane reasons.

David Madison,
Although it is plausible that Mark knew Peter, we can't be sure of the details. We don't know exactly how much time they spent together or whether Peter would have had a chance to review the Gospel after it was written.

If that was the case it wouldn't explain why Matthew used the same order as Mark in his account of the cleansing when Matthew must have known it was false.

If Mark didn't know - and we'll consider this to be purely hypothetical - when the cleansing happened, but he made an educated guess about when it happened, how would you view it?

It means inerrancy rests on the flimsiest of supports. At minimum it suggests an indifference to the historical facts.

But that wasn't really my point. I was using the example of the temple cleansing to illustrate a principle. If something like displacement has occurred, it may not be because an author knows the actual timing of an event but has deliberately decided to change it. It may be less black and white than that. If Mark didn't know - and we'll consider this to be purely hypothetical - when the cleansing happened, but he made an educated guess about when it happened, how would you view it?

You seemed to imply that this would also be an unacceptable lapse into fiction.

Well, it's a fair question, David. I was trying to be more cautious than simply calling that "unacceptable lapse into fiction."

If we assume there really was only 1 cleansing (for the sake of hypothesis), I distinguished 2 cases. (1) Suppose that Mark had absolutely no clue at all when the cleansing happened, and for all he knew it might have been in Holy Week or might not have. No reason to prefer any date over any other. or (2) Mark didn't know precisely when it happened, but did have an idea of when, a rough broad-strokes estimate - that wasn't in Holy Week.

Now, he inserts it into his Holy Week narrative. However, let's make another distinction, one which can go one of 2 ways (or slightly more): (A) Either he intended his Holy Week narrative to convey a chronological story of the week, or (B) he did not. (There is actually a nuanced possibility of his intending it partly and partly not, but for the moment let's ignore that option). My commentary would be as follows:

1A: a lesser kind of fictionalizing, asserting "softly" when the cleansing happened without knowing that it happened then: he did not explicitly contradict what he knew to be true. But I would not call it a "displacement" properly. I would say that deserves a different name.

1B: not a fictionalizing element at all. Nor a displacement.

2A: Definitely fictionalizing - asserting against what he himself believed to be so. Definitely a displacement.

2B: Not a fictionalizing element; and I would use a term other than "displacement" than call his placement in Holy Week "displacement" when he had no intention of asserting a time.

The second distinction, whether he was asserting chronology AT ALL, is based on the fact that obviously in much of his gospel there is little to denote time, and WITHIN Holy Week (after the entry) there is again little sense of time. It is perhaps an odd sort of story-telling to depart from NOT asserting chronology for the triumphal entry and for the crucifixion, and then return to being not chronological for the intervening elements "in" Holy Week, which is why I think that it is ambiguous. If one takes the recounting in chapters 11 on to be asserting only events that happened after the triumphal entry, then B is thrown out and you are left with A.

But of course there is the alternative hypothesis that there was more than one cleansing. Which neither is offensive to any internal "necessity" nor requires that any of the authors be in error.

Step2, I suppose the main issue is what implications there would be for the Resurrection if things did not happen exactly as they are recounted in the Gospels. My response would be this: tell me exactly how things did happen. Did one or two people have vague, fleeting hallucinations of Jesus? Did the disciples just develop an “inner conviction” that Jesus had risen from the dead, in the absence of any kind of evidence?

If that is your answer, then I simply don't believe it. I don't accept that a firm belief in the Resurrection, accompanied by an unremitting urge to proclaim it could stem from anything other than completely convincing evidence. I can understand why many people are unwilling to concede any ground on the accuracy of the Gospels. They fear that any such concession would lead to a complete collapse. In that respect they share a misconception with atheists who think that the Resurrection will just go away if they spend enough time picking at discrepancies in the Gospels.

It seems quite plausible to me that something like transferral or displacement could occur in a way that would not involve any esoteric compositional device, but for quite mundane reasons.

Again, you appear to be talking about, at most, good-faith error, which I do not think should be labeled with anything as literary-sounding as "transferral." "Transferal" sounds *deliberate*. I'm rather surprised that you'd pick the Temple cleansing even as a candidate for Mark's good faith error, since there is really no reason at all to think Jesus didn't do it twice.

My response would be this: tell me exactly how things did happen. Did one or two people have vague, fleeting hallucinations of Jesus? Did the disciples just develop an “inner conviction” that Jesus had risen from the dead, in the absence of any kind of evidence?
If that is your answer, then I simply don't believe it. I don't accept that a firm belief in the Resurrection, accompanied by an unremitting urge to proclaim it could stem from anything other than completely convincing evidence. I can understand why many people are unwilling to concede any ground on the accuracy of the Gospels. They fear that any such concession would lead to a complete collapse. In that respect they share a misconception with atheists who think that the Resurrection will just go away if they spend enough time picking at discrepancies in the Gospels.

This is unclear. At first you seem to be saying (what I would agree with) that the disciples had to have completely convincing evidence for themselves to do what they did--*not* a mere fleeting vision, etc. But then you move rather surprisingly to arguing for (to some degree) the unimportance of the accuracy of the gospels. I'm not sure how these fit together. I've argued elsewhere that, epistemically, the physical details of the resurrection narratives are important parts of the argument for the resurrection--that is, that those physical details at least represent what the disciples claimed. We can try maiming ourselves and handicapping our argument and arguing from, say, I Corinthians alone, but that would be a mistake both because there is no need to do it (evidentially speaking) and because it would rather seriously weaken the argument for a bodily resurrection. It would *certainly* do so if we could claim nothing more than a fleeting hallucination or inner conviction. Certainly this doesn't require (evidentially and historically speaking) absolute inerrancy. But it does require very high reliability, so anything that seriously undermines the very high, literal reliability of the gospels has implications for the argument for the resurrection--e.g., if we have to be radically unsure whether the physical details of the accounts are apostolic/putative eyewitness in origin.

David Madison,
I sincerely appreciate that you want to get right to the heart of the matter. Clearly I wasn't there so I can't say exactly how things did happen. Although I consider bereavement hallucinations improbable I don't rule it out completely since I experienced one myself. It was only a short auditory hallucination but it was enough for me to be startled by it because it didn’t feel in any way like a memory of my friend’s voice, I distinctly heard his voice such that I could locate the direction of the sound. There are bereavement hallucinations that cover a greater spectrum of the senses and for longer time periods; there are rare cases of conversations with the hallucination. Furthermore as a group the disciples were frightened they would be persecuted next, probably sleep deprived, and possibly intoxicated: all of which factor into a hallucinatory mental state. Another theory is that Jesus had an identical twin brother, something unusual which was transformed into the miraculous version of his birth. However, the most likely theory in my opinion is that Jesus did not perish on the cross.
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ghost-stories-visits-from-the-deceased/

Dale Allison, who is probably *the* most credulous living scholar around when it comes to accepting stories of grief hallucinations, is forced to admit that Jesus' eating with his disciples and any lengthy discourses (such as those attributed to Jesus on the road to Emmaus or in John 21) are not well-explained by grief hallucinations. Reasoning circularly, Allison conveniently relegates these to "apologetic additions" to the stories.

Lydia, are you saying that there are two possible explanations for the belief in the Resurrection - an actual resurrection and hallucinations - and that the Gospel accounts settle the matter in favour of the former? If that is the case then I disagree. I don’t consider hallucinations to be a viable explanation for the Resurrection belief. In fact, I think it would be more dangerous to concede that possibility than to concede that the Gospels may not be reliable.

Step2, thank you for the link, but I did read that article some years ago. As I have made clear, I don't believe that grief hallucinations can be at the root of the Resurrection. I have found N. T. Wright persuasive on this subject. The twin and swoon theories I find even less convincing.

David Madison,
As I have made clear, I don't believe that grief hallucinations can be at the root of the Resurrection.

You didn't make it clear because you indicated the hallucinations were vague and fleeting or otherwise unconvincing. I'm providing evidence that not all hallucinations are like that and they can be thoroughly convincing. People who assume a typical Hollywood depiction of translucent or shadowy visuals, muffled or eerie sounds, and so on can be tremendously mistaken in that assumption.

The twin and swoon theories I find even less convincing.

Getting back to your original question about the implications, challenges to the swoon theory depend almost entirely upon inerrancy for the Gospel of John which I dispute as unwarranted.


Every time someone dies the power of hallucinations is put to the test, and every time hallucinations fail to produce a large-scale resurrection belief. Your claim is that in spite of all these failures there was one random success, never to be repeated. Admittedly, you could turn the argument around and say that every time someone dies the power of human beings to rise from the dead is tested and fails - apart from one alleged exception.

But I think there is a difference. The raising of Jesus is not a random, inexplicable exception to the overall pattern. It has meaning. For one thing, Jesus is the greatest moral teacher in history.

I don't need to assume the inerrancy of the Gospels in order to refute the swoon theory. I consider common sense enough for that task.

Lydia; Yes Allison specifically mentions the grave implications of a Jesus that eats for grief hallucinations. I would add the work by Jake O'Connell who argues that there have been instances in history of religous group hallucinations but that not everyone experiences a hallucination, those that do experience it differently and the hallucinations never speak in group settings.

Specifically "a group conversation would be
impossible if the vision was a hallucination. We have mentioned the
fact that expectation is the operant factor in determining the content of
a hallucination. But while expectation seems theoretically capable of
accounting for collective visual hallucinations, it would not be able to
give rise to a collective hallucinatory conversation. This is because,
while a group of people could go expecting to see Mary, or even go
expecting to hear a short statement from Mary (e.g. ‘I am the queen of
the Rosary’), they could not possibly go with an entire conversation
planned out in their mind. Thus, an apparition of Mary or other OEE which carries on a group conversation would thereby prove itself to be no hallucination. However, none of the above cases involve a group conversation.65 This is another indicator of the hallucinatory character
of these visions."

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://www.tyndalehouse.com/Bulletin/60%3D2009/5%2520O%27Connell.pdf&ved=0ahUKEwiD98j4jdXWAhUCmbQKHVRcDUMQFghWMAw&usg=AOvVaw0DXkI8MUHkF6rIrzK0ljml

This is also why Swinburne, along with Allison, makes such a big deal about whether Jesus spoke or not.

Step2; the real difficulty is getting 11 different people to simultaneously experience the same *detailed* hallucination. All had to experience a hallucination, all hallucinations had to be at least visual and the detailed (seemingly real) grief hallucinations you hear about sometimes as though the person was standing in front of them. Though (like the vast majority of grief hallucination reports) the group hallucination must be silent.

Now that is an incredibly improbable hypotheses.

Lydia, my comment seems to have been lost so i'll repeat the gist.

I think the work from Jake O'Connell sheds sone light here (O'Connell, like Allison, believes that post mortem apparitions are real but argues for huge differences in his book Jesus' resurrection and apparitions: a bayesian analysis).

He published an article some years back, arguing that there are cases of religious group hallucinations but that they are always expected, accompanied with stress, not everyone present experiences a hallucination, everyone who does experience a hallucination sees things differently and the hallucinations never speak.

On that last point: "This is important because a group conversation would be
impossible if the vision was a hallucination. We have mentioned the
fact that expectation is the operant factor in determining the content of
a hallucination. But while expectation seems theoretically capable of
accounting for collective visual hallucinations, it would not be able to
give rise to a collective hallucinatory conversation. This is because,
while a group of people could go expecting to see Mary, or even go
expecting to hear a short statement from Mary (e.g. ‘I am the queen of
the Rosary’), they could not possibly go with an entire conversation
planned out in their mind. Thus, an apparition of Mary or other OEE which carries on a group conversation would thereby prove itself to be
no hallucination. However, none of the above cases involve a group
conversation.65 This is another indicator of the hallucinatory character
of these visions."

Swinburne, too, stresses his argument on the Resurrection from the fact of group conversations which seems to be along the main lines.

It was just held because of links and is now visible.

Callum,
Now that is an incredibly improbable hypotheses.

I always find the "too improbable to be true" argument a little strange when contrasted to the Incarnation and the Trinity. For that matter, David's "why didn't it happen multiple times?" argument is also weird if I grant it was highly improbable, which of course I do grant.

He published an article some years back, arguing that there are cases of religious group hallucinations but that they are always expected, accompanied with stress, not everyone present experiences a hallucination, everyone who does experience a hallucination sees things differently and the hallucinations never speak.

O'Connell makes a big deal about a 'glorified' versus 'regular' expectation but I'm not sure it makes that great of a difference. The more important point is that the only way they would not have expected to see Jesus resurrected was if they were asleep during his entire ministry. Jesus dropped so many hints and made so many allusions to his own resurrection that it was a near constant suggestion. I already mentioned the stress they were under and his point made about fainting seemed to only apply to women. Mass hysteria is in some ways a group psychosomatic contagion, if their hallucinations acted as similar contagions on each other it could merge their experiences into one unified recollection.

Mass hysteria is in some ways a group psychosomatic contagion, if their hallucinations acted as similar contagions on each other it could merge their experiences into one unified recollection.

You mean, like joint hours-long hallucinations of someone explaining all the Scripture passages that had you puzzled for ages? That kind? You're right, that could be psychosomatic contagion!

Not.

Another theory is that Jesus had an identical twin brother,

Because there is so much inferential evidence for it besides that of people wanting to explain away a resurrected Jesus with wounds on his hands and feet. (And side, but who's counting?) Lots. Like, for example, ummmmmm... Wait, let's see, there's the time...no, not that either. Oh, I have it: one brother did the early cleansing in the Temple, and the other one was so impressed with it that he did the later one. Didn't work out too well for him, though, did it? There, THAT's the independent evidence of twins.

Perhaps we can adapt a saying about God: If men will not believe in the resurrection of Jesus in the face of the evidence for it, they will believe in anything else to explain away the evidence for it.

Step2, so you grant that a resurrection delusion is itself highly improbable, the kind of thing that might only happen once in history. It is also highly improbable that a particular person would be the greatest moral teacher in history. Let us call it an interesting coincidence.

Lydia, are you saying that there are two possible explanations for the belief in the Resurrection - an actual resurrection and hallucinations - and that the Gospel accounts settle the matter in favour of the former? If that is the case then I disagree. I don’t consider hallucinations to be a viable explanation for the Resurrection belief. In fact, I think it would be more dangerous to concede that possibility than to concede that the Gospels may not be reliable.

Dave Madison, I agree wholeheartedly that the belief in the resurrection that the disciples had is poorly explained by hallucinations. As far as "possible explanations," I would say hallucinations are "possible" only in an attenuated sense, even just vis a vis their own level of confidence. However, if we *knew* that what they experienced was merely, as you raised the question of, fleeting or unclear, then we would be forced to conclude that they were simply *irrational* in forming such a strong belief and dying for it. This is where the authenticity of the resurrection accounts as reliable indicators of *what they claimed* comes into its own epistemically. For if they experienced *that*, then it was completely *rational* for them to conclude that Jesus was physically risen from the dead, and a far more bizarre and wildly improbable *kind* of group hallucination would be required to explain those types of experiences.

I think a natural epistemic question that arises when we see the disciples testifying as they do in Acts is, "What happened to them? What did they experience that made them so confident?" We cripple our argument if we restrict ourselves in answering that question only to the brevity of, say, the "creed" in I Corinthians 15. The resurrection accounts show us that the disciples didn't just irrationally jump to a conclusion through religious enthusiasm based on poor evidence. While I concur that such irrational religious belief in such an improbable conclusion leading to such behavior is itself improbable, I think it's important for us to use maximal data, since we have it, to show that their belief was founded on experiences, and that they made specific claims, that are incredibly difficult to explain in any other way.

Tony,
You mean, like joint hours-long hallucinations of someone explaining all the Scripture passages that had you puzzled for ages? You're right, that could be psychosomatic contagion!

Those are an embellishment if the hallucination theory is correct. My point is only to show the theory, or a modified version of it, allows for a detailed visitation that thoroughly convinced them Jesus had returned. I would be curious to know if there are any specific verses and corresponding explanations that were explicitly described as being taught by Jesus after the resurrection.

(And side, but who's counting?)

Not me, I discount that particular scene in John's gospel.

Those are an embellishment if the hallucination theory is correct.

Aaaand, was I saying something about circular reasoning to get rid of inconvenient passages? (With reference to Dale Allison, but the principle is the same.)

Aaaand, was I saying something about the epistemic relevance of showing those passages to be authentically what was claimed by the disciples?

The physicality and duration of those post-resurrection accounts is *so* darned inconvenient to alternative theories, isn't it?

Lydia,
The physicality and duration of those post-resurrection accounts is *so* darned inconvenient to alternative theories, isn't it?

They are only a problem for the hallucination theory, not for the others.

I did have the hallucination theory specifically in mind, yes. Though I think they are a problem for the swoon theory as well. Seems like an awfully healthy guy for someone who just almost died on the cross. But seriously, I consider the swoon theory to be beneath one's time to debate. Sorry if that makes me sounds like a jerk to you, since you just said you consider it the most plausible, but there are honestly only so many hours in the day, and the swoon theory is almost out there in alien kidnapping territory.

The swoon theory. OK, the Romans are hard-headed, cold-blooded killers, with lots of experience so they are darn good at it. They hate the Jews (who won't sacrifice to their gods, and have all sorts of weird "unclean" rituals). And they have a specific threat to worry about, with Christ "coming back to life" claims. And yet for some reason they MISS the fact that Jesus is still alive? They don't, I don't know, like maybe stick a fork in him already? Remember, (about sticking a spear in his side) if he's already dead, no harm done! If he's not, putting a blade into his heart to be sure of the outcome is just good sense. What motive would they have for not making sure he was dead?

Yet we are supposed to think that the spear is made up, and the swoon is MORE plausible to believe of the Romans ineptitude than, say, that God could bring about what the prophets had foretold a thousand years before the gospel writers made up stories to convince each other that He rose from the dead? Yep, that's got to be more reasonable.

Lydia,
But seriously, I consider the swoon theory to be beneath one's time to debate.

Whatever, but for the record the theory is that Jesus didn't perish on the cross. The swoon theory is how David described it and I responded without correcting him.

Please don't trouble to tell me that you are merely talking about "details" anymore. Because you're not. You can comfort yourself with that claim if you like, but I wish you wouldn't. Indeed, I strongly and sincerely urge you not to do so anymore.
If I were to take every liberal argument that I think has SOME WEIGHT, ignore all of the counter evidence on the conservative side of the ledger, and just accept the conclusion the liberal urges, then your complaint might have some purchase. But that's not how I operate. My burden has been from the start that the evidence be evaluated even-handedly.

When I articulated the liberal argument for invented speeches in John, I was not giving it an unqualified endorsement. I articulated it for a particular purpose: to illustrate how putative difficulties for the conservative way of looking at the text do not always "look just like" the kinds of discrepancies we see in modern honest eyewitness reports. Instead there is, sometimes, something specific about the ancient text that makes them look like a differet genre than what we in the modern world think of as "history writing" -- somthing that makes an FLD hypothesis better at explaining some particular aspect of the data. There may well be other bits of evidence, and other aspects of the data, which, all things considered, cause us NOT to conclude that John probably made up out of whole cloth certain speeches he attributed to Jesus (though I suspect he may have paraphrased more freely than you would be comfortable with). And even apart from counterevidence, the argument I gave isn't particularly strong, I agree. It has, in my view, some weight. That's all. However, it is part of a cumulative case argument for the existence of FLDs (in this case invented speech), and as you well know, the pieces that make up a cumulative case do not have to be strong individually in order to add meaningfully to the weight of the whole. I do think it probable that invented speeches were permissible in Hellenistic historical writing, and that conclusion does raise for me the probability that John was doing that where it looks kinda like he might have been doing that, but, that's STILL a far cry from "he probably was doing that". As you pointed out, the fact that the genre permits it does does allow us to conclude that every author within such a genre would have regarded himself as free to invent speeches. He might have felt himself constrained by other considerations (I would go so far as to say we know that some Hellenistic historians did put such additional constraints on themselves). I don't agree that mere honesty requires that. But other things might. In light of all this, I treat the hypothesis of historicity as the default assumption. After all, we KNOW that some/many of the things Jesus is reported as saying in the gospels are there because he actually spoke roughly those words. Whereas nothing like that can be said for the alternatives.

I'm familiar with the argument you give here.
I suspected as much. Yet earlier you wrote, "The sayings in John that aren't in the [synoptic] gospels are thrown under the bus *not* because of some knotty discrepancy but just because they aren't in the synoptics at all! (A poor argument, obviously.)" A straw man, and you knew better. This illustrates the lack of even-handedness I'm complaining about.
they didn't have quotation marks back then. There is nothing in the text that explicitly indicates a termination, period.
Not period. "On the contrary the sentences run on in a connected manner." This is evident by inspection of the text. I could point to the word "gar", but the main thing is just to read the text.
Stop writing as if the prima facie case is that everything indefinitely is said by Jesus until, I dunno, we get to the next bit of plot narrative.
... it should be "until something indicates otherwise." Of course there is such a prima facie case (when the discourse continues in a connected manner). Were the translators who have the long quotation just being stupid? After all, John nowhere SAYS that v. 16ff are Jesus' words. So are those who take 16ff to be attributed to Jesus making just as gratuitous an assumption as if some reader were to attribute words to a speaker in a section of text unconnected to any reported text of that speaker, just for no reason at all? No, the fact that these words do follow immediately after words unmistakably attributed to Jesus, with no indication of a change of voice, is a prima facie case that they are being attributed to him. Precisely because he lacked the device of quotation marks, John was obliged to indicate in some other manner that a change of voice occurred if he wished to make it CLEAR that Jesus is no longer speaking. Not having done so, he produced a text that reasonable, competent readers can reasonably take to be attributing those words to Jesus. I go further: a reasonable person can hold, having seen all the evidence, that Jesus actually said those words. If I felt certain that John attributed them to Jesus (in the "wrote as if" sense, not the assertoric sense) I would conclude that most likely Jesus did say them, or something more or less close to them. (Note the change from "certain" to "most likely")

What I actually think is the best reading says that there ARE things that indicate otherwise, so the prima facie case is disrupted, but not completely undermined, because those counter-indications are ambiguous, so the end result is that it is just indeterminate whether the text attributes those words to Jesus or not. The fact that John was not CLEAR about this stands as evidence against any understanding of John's intentions which would require that he ought to have been clear about this, which, it seems to me, yours does.

I notice too that even you have to stop and note the "Matthean thunderbolt." Ain't it funny?
I'd call it evidence.
Look *I* talk differently at different times, and I actually have a more consistent "voice" than most people.
That's the kind of thing I would say to a liberal. And he might respond, "Sure, but Jesus says lots of things in the synoptics. If Jesus spoke in that -- let's call it "proto-Johanine" -- voice as often as we find in John's Gospel, isn't it a little odd we don't hear that voice in the synoptics except once?" To which I would respond: Yes, it is a _little_ odd. That argument has some weight but not much: it's a statistical argument with a low sigma.
You know, Christopher, obviously your mileage varies, but some of us think it's pretty important that we know what Jesus said in at least approximately his own words.
I think there might be a genuine difference between your theological tradition and mine on this: When I was a child, I can remember my father explaining why he didn't like "red-letter" Bibles: All the words in the Bible are the words of Christ. The "red letter" words do not have some special status that elevates them above the others. Whether Christ spoke these words when he was on earth, or whether he spoke them by the Spirit through inspiration, is (in itself) of little theological significance to me.

But perhaps you mean to say that this should be of theological significance because if we can't trust the Evangelists to be scrupulously accurate in reporting Jesus' speech, then we undermine our grounds for believing that Christianity is true in the first place, which undermines all our theology. Well, OK, I understand that idea, but is there any theological problem independent of the supposed apologetic problem? That I don't see.

As for the supposed apologetic problem, you wrote:

It simply will not do to strip out verses that teach a doctrine and then to refuse to admit that you have weakened the teaching of the doctrine! If we are forced to strip them out (e.g., as when solid, conservative textual scholarship seems to show that the trinitarian formula of the "spirit, water, and blood" in I John 5:7-8 is a scribal interpolation), then we have to go with the evidence.
I was thinking of a different complaint King-James-Only folks make: that we undermine the doctrine of the Lordship of Christ because of those places where our texts have "Jesus" or "Christ" where textus receptus has "the Lord Jesus Christ". Is this textual variant relevant to the the doctrine that Jesus is Lord? Well, theoretically, yes. But practically speaking, the doctrine is so clearly taught elsewhere that the "removal" of this bit of evidence for the doctrine is not relevant in any really meaningful sense. The same is true for the resurrection. I'm tempted to start making the case so as to show how very clear it is without having to rely on the fish, or other such details. But that would take too long. So of course I can't deny that our differences in reading the gospels could well be theologically relevant. But as far as throwing into question any important doctrine of the Christian religion, I don't see it.

Oh, and I can actually still use the fish. I can argue from the fact that John has Jesus eating fish after his resurrection that on John's apostolic authority the risen Lord had the kind of existence consistent with the ability to eat fish.

"Putting a question mark" on a detail doesn't erase it from consideration. First, something might be probably historical even if it's possibly ahistorical (so that's another way I could use the fish). Second, even if it's ahistorical in the sense that it didn't happen just as described, it still informs us about what the inspired author is communicating, and when an inspired author introduces a detail that has, and clearly was intended to have, significance, that intended significance is gospel-truth.

I basically agree with your asessment of the "Minimal facts" argument. It is weak in the way you say it is. The argument I would make is of an entirely different sort. It's not like your approach and the Minimal Facts argument are the only two approaches out there.

Christopher is suggesting that his a priori concept of inerrancy (or whatever term he prefers to use) is *so much more important* than apologetics that we should be willing to deal a very serious epistemic blow to Christianity.
Nope. I neither said nor implied anything like that.

Christopher,

I'm not going to reply to every part of your long comment but just to a few things.

Instead there is, sometimes, something specific about the ancient text that makes them look like a differet genre than what we in the modern world think of as "history writing"

I really strongly disagree. Perhaps part of the problem is that you are not thinking of the relevant kind of "history writing" in the way that I am. For example, I'm thinking of these as *memoirs*. They might even plausibly be written-down speech of the Apostle John. He may have had an amanuensis, for example. Now, regardless of whose hand was put to the scroll, memoirs of someone you knew are not always things that you *compose*. They come out as you remember them. That is especially true in a world without word processing, typewriters, or even tables for writing on. You don't have much opportunity for going back and re-editing, for saying, "Hmm, I see upon re-reading that that may have been misconstrued. I need to edit that passage to clarify," and so forth.

I think that the potential ambiguity of the passage in John 3 may plausibly be (I'd put the probability at above .5 but not super-high) the result of John's "getting on a roll" as he was talking about the scene he had witnessed between Jesus and Nicodemus. This could especially be pictured if he were dictating to an amanuensis, but it can also be pictured if he were writing. Suppose that the later verses were not said by Jesus. John just gets going and goes into a further disquisition on these same topics. If there were an amanuensis, he *himself* might not have known whether John was still quoting Jesus or not at that point. I note also that this is a fairly isolated case, even within John, of difficulty telling where Jesus' speech breaks off and the narrator is expounding.

On "doing without the fish," I think we are just going to strongly disagree, not because of fish (as opposed to, I dunno, bread), but even more because of a)the importance of Jesus' literally eating in opposing various theories like Allison's "ghost theory" (yes, I know Allison doesn't like the term "ghost," but I don't have the time to play courtier to Dale Allison) and b) the historical principles that would allow one to cast serious doubt on the proposition that the disciples literally claimed that this literally happened. If one consistently applies such principles, I see no reason not to question other of the *physical* aspects of the appearances, which would have large-scale epistemic implications for the argument for the *bodily* resurrection of Jesus. I note here a curiosity that I think got missed by a lot of people: When Mike Licona wrote his previous book on the Resurrection, the "R" hypothesis in his book was the *disjunction* of bodily resurrection or the "objective vision theory." He has one short passage in which he tries to say why he personally holds to bodily resurrection, but he has to be pretty tentative there, because he considers that "as an historian" he can't rely very heavily on the physicalist details of the resurrection narratives. As he says himself concerning his theories, we don't know how much the authors might have considered themselves "licensed" to invent the details of the narratives. You can see in action in Licona's book, then, the crippling of the Bayes factor for the argument for bodily resurrection if one casts the authenticity and literal nature of those claims into serious doubt.

Now, not to be unkind, but I really think even in this latest comment where you're trying to be very clear (and I appreciate that), you are not entirely consistent in your position vis a vis what you call the "liberal" position. For example, not to nit-pick, but at one point you say

Oh, and I can actually still use the fish. I can argue from the fact that John has Jesus eating fish after his resurrection that on John's apostolic authority the risen Lord had the kind of existence consistent with the ability to eat fish.

At least as regards this physical detail, it *sounds* as if *you yourself* have serious doubts whether the disciples testified that Jesus actually did it.

I really think the position on John that you rightly call the liberal position really has nothing to commend it. There's been a good recent post concerning the I am statements by Rob Bowman that is very worth reading and that I think you'll find useful. It includes considerations I hadn't thought of. My only real hesitation about it is his hat-tipping Richard Burridge, who at this point I think is just flat wrong. But other than that, check it out.

https://robertbowman.net/2017/10/04/top-10-reasons-for-accepting-jesus-i-am-sayings-in-john-as-historically-reliable/

I strongly disagree with your apparent position that the distinction between what Jesus actually said and a totally imaginative reconstruction by the gospel authors of something *else* he said, supposedly just being faithful to the doctrinal core teaching or something, is unimportant.

And I think the apostles and early church and evangelists would have strongly disagreed with this too. That's why they took such trouble to memorize and pass down the *sayings* of Jesus. Even (for whatever it's worth) liberal scholars have to admit the importance to the early church of what Jesus himself historically said. They may goof around with terms like "logion" and so forth, but they know full-well that the earliest disciples of Jesus thought it of high importance to pass on his words to their own followers. *Not* merely to pass on "my interpretation and creative reconstruction of what his words mean, because I'm guided by the Holy Spirit to tell you what I think his words mean and therefore am allowed to write it just as though he personally said them, and the distinction doesn't matter." Hence (to take just one small data point) Paul's emphasis in his speech to the Ephesian elders on what Jesus himself has *said*--"It is better to give than to receive." (As it happens, a saying of Jesus that didn't make it into the gospels, but Paul takes it to be historical and important as such.)

To take one example: I've stuck my neck out repeatedly for the existence of the historical Adam based upon what I consider Jesus' clear teaching on that subject in his teaching on marriage. If I believed that this incident never happened, that Jesus never said at least *approximately* and *recognizably* what he says there (yes, maybe in another language, yes, maybe somewhat paraphrased, but still recognizable) there would be far less reason epistemically for me to do this. I'm not supposed to just hang my hat on the evangelists' authority to give me a close enough rendition of something *quite different* that Jesus said on some *other occasion* that *isn't recorded* so that I can now figure out the relevance of his teaching on the subject for scientific claims that the evangelists *could not possibly have anticipated*. For example, did he originally emphasize (as he does in what we have) the importance of there being originally *one* man and *one* woman? This will have relevance to whether or not Jesus' teaching is compatible with holding that Adam and Eve were merely the head couple of a tribe all of whom were "ensouled" approximately simultaneously. And so forth.

And I think that the historical evidence is that the evangelists would have strongly agreed with me that what Jesus himself actually taught is not on an epistemic par, for doctrine, with their own extrapolations or interpretations of what he taught.

Also, of course, if Jesus actually taught on a particular subject (especially the extremely important subject of his own deity), it makes no sense at all for a gospel author to give us his own imaginative reconstruction *instead of* what Jesus actually taught. If that person's interpretation is so darned good, why not give us the reality and let us see it for ourselves? And if the reality is what we find in the synoptics (on, say, the subject of Jesus' deity) *but not* what we find in John, why would John try to "make" Jesus say something "better than reality"? As if Jesus didn't do a good enough job teaching and people need to be patronized by being made to think that Jesus said things he didn't really say so that they will "get it." John would certainly have been free to add his own glosses, but there would have been an incredible hubris in his thinking he's licensed to write as if that's what Jesus really said when it isn't even a good paraphrase (in the *ordinary* sense of that term) of what Jesus taught on an historical occasion.

Tony,
Sorry I skipped your comment. Since Lydia doesn’t consider it worth discussing, my response will be very short.

What motive would they have for not making sure he was dead?

Do you remember the centurion who Jesus proclaimed had the greatest faith in Israel? The officer who owed a debt of gratitude to Jesus, reportedly built a synagogue, and who remarked upon his ability to command obedience from his soldiers? You should, since you commented about him only two months ago.

To Christopher: Something occurs to me that no doubt countless commentators have noticed, but I just thought of it myself. John 3:19-21 might be regarded as a digression, and in fact I consider the best argument that Jesus' words stop earlier to be simply that he seems to be going on for *too long* in a dialogue, in contrast with (say) the dialogue with the woman at the well. But a contrary consideration is that this deep discussion of darkness and light and how men love darkness because their deeds are evil could have been, inter alia, a rebuke to Nicodemus for coming to him secretly by night. "So is your coming to me an evil deed, that you love darkness and hide it in the darkness?" John was struck by the fact that Nicodemus came by night, for he brings it up again in 19:39. If the quotation from Jesus continues through to verse 21, this could explain why this fact was so impressed upon John's mind.

Do you remember the centurion who Jesus proclaimed had the greatest faith in Israel? The officer who owed a debt of gratitude to Jesus, reportedly built a synagogue, and who remarked upon his ability to command obedience from his soldiers? You should, since you commented about him only two months ago.

Hey, that's cool, an actual real honest to goodness normal human sort of motivation for doing something. The centurion thinks he's God, so...

Wait, if the centurion thinks he's God, and knows He's predicted both His death and His rising from death in 3 days, then he sure isn't going to get in the way of that by actually defying his orders, is he? Sure, he would if Jesus told him to, 'cause after all God's orders supercede Pilate's. But since Jesus didn't, on what basis is he going to BOTH upset the apple cart of the prophecy, AND disobey orders (which I am sure was a major offense in the Roman army)? Maybe he just assumed that Jesus would want to be taken down before death? Maybe he didn't know of Jesus' prophecy? Even though the Pharisees did? Maybe when you start with the maybe's like this, where Jesus was not in a glorified state, and did not do anything special after Easter, and everything the apostles said about all that amazing stuff was just smoke and mirrors, you wonder why bother with a Jesus story to begin with and ignore the whole thing as just a precursor to Joseph Smith's Angel Moroni and and Charles Manson's and Jim Jones' revelations.

Wait, I have a better idea: Judas actually picked out a complete stranger to kiss in the Garden, and everything that unfolded after that was a secret plot to convince the authorities that they HAD killed Jesus, when they never actually had Jesus in their hands to begin with. (Probably they used a look-alike, which is where the extensive stories of the "twin" got started. More than likely, Thomas' remarks in the Upper Room were because he was confused as to whether he was supposed to be talking of the REAL Jesus, or the fake, planted, stand-in. Which is why John had to invent the Thomas story to begin with.)

memoirs of someone you knew are not always things that you *compose*. They come out as you remember them.
The gospels are definitely composed. Seeing that fact takes careful and extended walk through the text. Obviously I can't explain all of that here, but once you see it, you can't unsee it. The fourth gospel was written by a man who spent many years thinking extensively about the meaning of all that Jesus said and did, and wrote with the intention of conveying that meaning, not of saying whatever happened to come to his memory in the moment.
At least as regards this physical detail, it *sounds* as if *you yourself* have serious doubts whether the disciples testified that Jesus actually did it.
I don't have any reason to doubt that the risen Christ actually ate that fish, I only hesitate to rely upon that interpretation of John's testimony when making the case for the resurrection. My assessment of the probable historicity of details like that is based upon my prior belief in historic Christianity, including the bodily resurrection of Christ.

You and I agree that, if I'm right, it would be harder to make that case on the basis of the probable historicity of those details. We disagree about whether the case can be solidly made without relying on them.

There's been a good recent post concerning the I am statements by Rob Bowman that is very worth reading and that I think you'll find useful.
Thanks. I did indeed find it useful.
if Jesus actually taught on a particular subject (especially the extremely important subject of his own deity), it makes no sense at all for a gospel author to give us his own imaginative reconstruction *instead of* what Jesus actually taught.
Imaginative reconstruction? Was Paul's doctrine of justification by faith apart from works of law taught by Jesus? I would say yes. Paul was saying the same thing Jesus said in the parable of the publican and the Pharisee. Assume, for the sake of argument, that I'm right about that. Would it be fair to characterize Paul's teaching as an "imaginative reconstruction"? No. Paul said the same thing Jesus said, just in different words. Likewise, on the hypothesis under discussion, John would be telling us what Jesus said, only using different words.
If that person's interpretation is so darned good, why not give us the reality and let us see it for ourselves?
(By "the reality" you of course mean Jesus actual words, roughly speaking.) Maybe because meaning is a function of context, and the apostle was not able to convey the entire context of all that Jesus said and did, lest he fill the whole world with books. Or maybe for some other reason. Our inability to come up with a reason why someone might do something is not of much worth in face of evidence that he has done it, if in fact there is such evidence.

Would it be fair to characterize Paul's teaching as an "imaginative reconstruction"?

No, because Paul is openly writing as an apostle engaging in theological teaching based on his personal apostolic authority, not making up dialogue that never happened and writing a bio-pic of Jesus' life with made-up scenes and made-up "words of Jesus" that are actually Paul's own apostolic teaching of what Jesus (Paul believes) really meant, put into Jesus' mouth.

Which is what I meant by "imaginative reconstruction."

Our inability to come up with a reason why someone might do something is not of much worth in face of evidence that he has done it, if in fact there is such evidence.

Which as far as I can tell there is not, unless "evidence" is construed in so weak a fashion as to apply as well to "evidence" that Jesus was raised from the dead by interested aliens or that "Christopher McCartney" is an atheist spy. What we have is also, in an extremely, pointlessly attenuated sense, evidence for those propositions as well. Which is just to say that all sorts of propositions have their probability raised to an incredibly minuscule extent by evidence.

Which as far as I can tell there is not.
That's why I put the "if" in there. If the evidence isn't there, it isn't there. You win. If the evidence is there, real evidence, then your challenge to explain why he didn't do something else, which you would have expected him to do, has no heft. So your challenge is either superfluous or ineffective, and we can safely set it aside. Agreed?

You had written,

it makes no sense at all for a gospel author to give us his own imaginative reconstruction *instead of* what Jesus actually taught.
Therein you place "imaginative reconstruction" in opposition to "what Jesus actually taught." And the words are well suited to carry such oppositional meaning. But what the hypothesis posits that John is giving us is not rightly described in opposition to what Jesus actually taught. John has Jesus teaching the very things that Jesus actually taught. Just not in the words he actually used.

This is not different in principle from a paraphrase: If John knowingly paraphrases Jesus, he "has Jesus say" the words ABCDE when what Jesus really said was ABCXY. The differences between what John has Jesus say and what Jesus really said are ... well there are such differences but to described them in that oppositional way is not reasonable.

I feel like every time I make this point it gets overread, so let me try to be clear. ...

It gets "overread" because I totally disagree. You're just playing with words. For Paul, say, to teach the doctrine of justification *as Paul explains it* is one thing. Indeed, he can put all the force of his apostolic authority behind it. He can say that he received it by revelation from Jesus during three years in Arabia! But for Paul to teach the doctrine of justification as Paul understand it *by means of* a dramatic scene, purporting to be a real scene from the life of Jesus, in which *Jesus* is portrayed as teaching the doctrine of justification as Paul explains it, when there was no such actual incident in Jesus' life, is not fine. Nor is it "paraphrase," even if Paul thinks that Jesus agrees with the doctrine of justification as he understands it and that Jesus' *literal* teachings (that is, the words he actually, literally said while here on earth *on other occasions*) *endorse* the doctrine of justification as Paul teaches it.

You yourself have, earlier in this thread, discussed paraphrase in the *normal* sense of that word, in which one could *recognize* the incident, the teaching, as "that time when Jesus said" certain sayings, etc.

But teaching one's own *theological extrapolation* of what Jesus said and putting it in Jesus' mouth *just isn't* what "paraphrase" is, nor is it "the same in principle." You can say over and over again that it's "the same in principle," but that doesn't make it so. And no amount of distinction-blurring by using phrases like "what Jesus actually taught, just not in the words Jesus actually used" will make it the same thing in principle. Indeed, the fact that you yourself know quite well that one can talk about the two things and understand that they are different actions shows that you know the difference. You just think it *doesn't matter*. I disagree entirely, and I think the evangelists did as well.

The gospel authors wanted people to know the words of Jesus. They wanted people to hear his voice. They wanted people to see him for themselves in their portrayals. Indeed, that's part of why they memorized the words of Jesus and made a tradition out of them. Might they have been translated into another language? Sure, if necessary to make his words more widely available, just as modern translators try to make the Bible widely available by translating it (with much labor and even some agony over how to be faithful to the words) into other tongues. Might they have made some verbal substitutions or paraphrases in the *ordinary* sense of the word due to, say, imprecise memory or difficulties of translation? Sure, plausibly enough. But there is an important difference between telling people, "This is recognizably what Jesus actually *said*, and our doctrinal teaching, which I will also convey to you, is a correct theological extrapolation thereof" and taking one's own doctrinal teaching and putting it into Jesus' mouth because one *believes* that it is a correct extrapolation thereof. Even if one is right about that, yea, even if one is an apostle, those two aren't the same thing, and the latter isn't what the evangelists are doing. Indeed, I think they would have been absolutely horrified at any such idea if it had ever occurred to them. But it probably never did even occur to them.

If the evidence is there, real evidence, then your challenge to explain why he didn't do something else, which you would have expected him to do, has no heft. So your challenge is either superfluous or ineffective, and we can safely set it aside. Agreed?

Actually, no. When I bring an argument that this is not the kind of thing that the gospel authors viewed themselves as doing or would ever have done, then your supposed argument from, say, the similarities you think you see between John's "sound" and Jesus' "sound" in John has to be heftier to overcome that. And, y'know, it isn't very hefty. Especially since there are other good ways to explain what you are referring to. And the fact that this isn't a plausible thing for them to be doing is partly a result of the fact that it would involve an incredible amount of hubris on their part to do any such thing, which is not the attitude we see in the apostles. Indeed, in the first instance, they saw themselves as witnesses to what they had (literally) heard and seen.

I'm not denying that there are significant differences between what we consider acceptable paraphrase and the "same content, very different words" hypothesis.

I'm not trying to make a positive case for the acceptability of the hypothesis, or any positive case at all.

All I'm doing is arguing that the oppositional language you are using begs the question. The existence of differences* between what the text says and what actually happened does not justify the language of opposition, as we see from the example of the paraphrase, and the extent of those differences ... may or may not justify it, but the hypothesis is precisely that more extensive differences were permissible in the ancient context.

The whole point of the thesis of alien genre conventions in the ancient world is that John IS like Paul is this respect: Neither of them is attributing the apostolically crafted words to Jesus. John is attributing the content to Him. That only. Our reading him as attributing the words (roughly) to Jesus would be, if the theory is true, as incorrect as if we were to read him as attributing the words exactly to Jesus. You don't have to agree, but that's what the theory is. And explaining that is the point of my referring to paraphrases.

Oppositional language is justified only if John attributes to Jesus what he didn't say. But that's the quaestio ipsa.

(that was a continuation of my previous. Hadn't seen your most recent.)

The whole point of the thesis of alien genre conventions in the ancient world is that John IS like Paul is this respect: Neither of them is attributing the apostolically crafted words to Jesus.

Then it's a very strange thing that John shows Jesus saying the words while Paul writes letters giving a teaching in his apostolic voice.

Again, my "oppositional language" is not begging questions but being clear. Your insistence on not using oppositional language is not a request for neutrality (though you believe that it is) but a request for obfuscating euphemism. You are even going so far as to object to my using the phrase "imaginative construction instead of what Jesus actually taught," as though the only way to represent fairly the highly fictionalizing, bio-pic thesis is to confuse the issue by making it sound like the theory is merely talking about normal paraphrase describing *real incidents* in which Jesus made those statements in *recognizable* form.

I refuse to use obfuscating euphemism. The hypothesis you want us to consider at least somewhat plausible, and which you say I'm not representing fairly, is that it was somehow socially acceptable to write such a bio-pic, to represent apostolic teaching that was a doctrinal *extrapolation* of what Jesus actually said in such a way that it was put into Jesus' mouth *as though* it was what Jesus actually said, *instead of* whatever the *historical* teaching of Jesus was on which the extrapolation was based. Or, at most, that the actual historical teaching of Jesus might have been shown in completely different scenes, though even the original audience couldn't have been sure which was which.

That is just clearly stating the thesis. It is not begging any questions.

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