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Hoaxer or historical witness: The Johannine Dilemma

In C.S. Lewis's exposition of his famous Liar, Lunatic, or Lord trilemma concerning Jesus Christ, he says,

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

I mean to argue for a similar dilemma for the author of the Gospel of John. As discussed in the previous post, John comes in for a lot of fashionable talk to the effect that he would have considered it completely legitimate to change things deliberately, relating non-factual claims as if they were factual, and that this would have been acceptable in his own time because the ancients were more concerned with Truth than with mere facts. In that post I gave a quotation to that effect from classicist Richard Burridge, who also does work on the New Testament. Here is a similar quotation, also about John, from New Testament scholar Michael Licona, who also does work on Roman history.

John often chose to sacrifice accuracy on the ground level of precise reporting, preferring to provide his readers with an accurate, higher-level view of the person and mission of Jesus. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels, p. 115 Emphasis added

Licona footnotes Burridge's chapter on John, from which I debunked a couple of examples in the last post, in support of this sweeping declaration. Note how strong a claim this is. This isn't just a claim that John occasionally made a slight mistake or that John didn't always make clear what chronological order he was implying or that John sometimes paraphrased people's words rather than quoting verbatim. This is a much stronger claim than any of those. And indeed Licona's own examples bear out the fact that he really is saying that John often changed things deliberately to what was non-factual in order to make a better story or a theological point.

To give only the most striking example in the book, Licona quite seriously suggests (though he does not definitely come down in favor of) the hypothesis that John invented ("crafted") the Doubting Thomas sequence "in order to rebuke those who, like Thomas, heard about Jesus's resurrection and failed to believe." (p. 177) Licona suggests this as a possible resolution to the supposed discrepancy in the fact that Luke says that Jesus appeared to "the eleven" (Luke 24:33) while John, apparently speaking of the same appearance, says that Thomas was not with the group, making only ten (out of the original twelve) present (John 20:19-24). Licona is unenthusiastic about the far simpler idea that Luke was using "the eleven" as a generic idiom for the group without intending to convey the precise number of disciples present at that moment. He does not even contemplate the also far simpler hypothesis that Luke happened not to be informed that Thomas was not there on that occasion and thus assumed from being told that "the disciples" were there that eleven disciples were present. John, on this simple theory, gives the more exact account. This, of course, would make John even more knowledgeable about precise details than Luke, a direct counterexample to the picture of John that Licona gives in the quotation above.

These sorts of claims about John are the parallel to what Lewis calls the "really foolish thing" that people say about Jesus. In the case of Jesus, people didn't want to say that he was God or that he was a liar or insane, so they invented a merely great human teacher Jesus. Lewis says, rightly, that Jesus didn't mean to leave open that option. Similarly, those who make such statements about John don't want, for some reason, to say either that John was always intending to report literal historical facts (and therefore that, if he gets something wrong, he gets it wrong while trying to get it right) or that John was a clever propagandist and liar. Instead they want to present us with a tertium quid: John had "literary license" to make things up or change things to be non-factual and put them in his Gospel (Burridge explicitly uses the word "fabricate"), without any signal to his readers that he is doing so and while appearing to give literal reportage. But this doesn't count as a deception despite the fact that it makes him unreliable "on the ground level" of literal fact, because of...literary and genre reasons rooted in the supposed different ways people thought back then, from which we can conclude that John's audience wouldn't have minded this sort of fabrication.

I want to challenge that tertium quid and press back to the dilemma: Either John was an historical witness with the intention of being historically accurate "on the ground level of reporting" or he was a highly creative liar.

I want to start with the prima facie meaning of several statements made by John.

And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. (John 19:35)
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24)

On the question of whether John 21:24 was written about himself by the author of John or is interpolated by an editor, see this interesting post. I do not consider that the use of the third person for John or of the plural "we" is decisive here in the direction of its being added by another hand. But if it was added, it was very early and shows how John's Gospel was taken by his original audience. It is also quite strikingly similar in wording to John 19:35 and endorses the author's own view of himself in that verse.

Here is what Acts attributes to John and Peter when confronted by the Sanhedrin:

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19:20)

Here is John again in his own words, using the same language of telling truthfully what he has heard and seen.

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. I John 1:1-3

And for good measure, here is Peter apparently explicitly disavowing the creation of fabrications:

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 2 Peter 1:16

Again and again the emphasis here is upon empirical evidence and truthful testimony to what was seen and heard.

These sorts of verses are also consistent with the general consideration that the subject matter would have been extremely important to the disciples and their original audience and that it is therefore on the face of it unlikely that their audience would have taken kindly to their manufacturing incidents or deliberately altering facts.

All of this creates a consistent picture of the intention of normal, factual accuracy and a strong prima facie case that should take a lot of toppling. Burridge (as we saw in the last post) has to admit that John keeps talking about the importance of truth. Then Burridge has to dismiss that by making sweeping generalizations to the effect that it doesn't really mean what it appears on the face of it to mean. I contend that neither Burridge nor Licona has come close to satisfying the burden of proof for such dismissals of the literal meaning of these verses, and if someone wishes to press their literary dismissals, I would request that he do so with specific arguments that I can address rather than simply pointing out the credentials of those who make such claims and/or the sheer existence and popularity of such claims. Those statements about John's factual inaccuracy and about his lack of an intention of factual accuracy fly in the face of John's own words and require a complex reinterpretation of those words.

This past weekend I had the privilege of hearing J. Warner Wallace speak at a conference. In one of his presentations he talked about the statement in John that blood and water came out of Jesus' side when it was pierced with a spear. Wallace pointed out that this is well explained by the presence of fluid in the lungs which would have come out along with blood when the side, heart, and lungs were pierced. He also rather wryly discussed ancient commentaries on the text that attempted to give a purely symbolic meaning to the "blood and water," and he argued that this shows that the literal, scientific significance of the blood and water was not well understood and therefore that John apparently put them in there not to make some kind of evidential point but rather because this was really observed. This, of course, makes the evidential significance of the statement (e.g., for our confidence that Jesus was really dead) that much more striking.

While listening to this, I remembered that the "blood and water" observation comes immediately before John 19:35, where the author is so emphatic about his witness status:

So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.

The sequence in these verses is important. What we have here is a highly explicit, empirical set of observation statements, followed by an emphatic insistence that they have been attested to truthfully by a witness.

This is quite strong evidence that, when John talks about "telling the truth," he means the literal, empirical truth, not some "higher-level truth" to which literal truth could legitimately be sacrificed. And as Wallace points out, the literal accuracy of the statement is independently corroborated by its consistency with scientific fact. Also, the literal accuracy of the statement about breaking the legs of the thieves is corroborated by crucifixion practices.

In addition to the point about blood and water, here is a short list of just some of the factual details in John that are corroborated in other ways. This is only a sample:

--The five porticoes of the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:2-9), corroborated by archaeology. Loisy in the early 20th century tried to give them an allegorical interpretation, not taking the story seriously as literal reportage. Then the pool was found, and it just literally had five porticoes.

--The time of year of the feeding of the five thousand as shortly before Passover (John 6:4), corroborated by two undesigned coincidences. (See Hidden in Plain View)

--The fact that the water jars at the marriage at Cana were empty at the time when Jesus was going to perform his water-into-wine miracle (John 2:6-7). Confirmed by an undesigned coincidence, as discussed in Hidden in Plain View.

--The fact that Jesus arrived in Bethany six days before Passover, confirmed by an undesigned coincidence (John 12:1). (See Hidden in Plain View.)

--The reference to Caiaphas as "high priest that year" (John 11:49 and 18:13). Confirmed by external evidence that the Romans took upon themselves the power to depose and appoint high priests, so that the high priesthood was no longer, as in ancient Judaism, a lifelong position.

--The dialogue between Pilate and Jesus in John 18, confirmed by multiple undesigned coincidences. See Hidden in Plain View.

The confirmation of these political and empirical details gives us reason to believe two things:

1) John was trying to get it right and report accurately, in a literal sense.

2) John was quite successful in this endeavor.

What these emphatically disconfirm is the picture of an author who believed that he had literary license to invent and alter ground-level facts.

Now I invite the reader to consider the many empirical details in the Gospel of John for which we have no such independent confirmation directly. Notice how pointless these are. Nothing heavy turns on them. They're just there. The density of details is, I would estimate, higher in John's Gospel than in any other, though of course it depends on how you count, and I don't at all mean to say that the other Gospels don't also have lots of details. (Luke likes to bring up details of political fact, as in Luke 3:1, and medical details, as in Luke 8--the story of the woman with an issue of blood.)

Here are some from John:

--The precise location where John the Baptist was baptizing.--John 1:28

--The series of days on which John the Baptist made statements about Jesus as the Lamb of God--1:29, 35, see also vs. 43 and John 2:1

--The time of day (the "tenth hour") when the two disciples of John went with Jesus to his lodging.--John 1:39

--The number of water pots at the marriage at Cana (six) and their size (containing twenty or thirty gallons)--John 2:6

--Jesus' exact actions in cleansing the Temple--making a scourge out of cords, pouring out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturning their tables--John 2:15

--The number of years that the Jews said it had taken to build the Temple (46)--John 2:20.

--The time of day when Nicodemus came to visit Jesus--John 3:1.

--Another precise location where John was baptizing--3:23.

--The scrupulous qualification that Jesus himself did not actually baptize anyone, after having previously used locutions that might have been construed otherwise--John 4:2

--Jesus' precise route from Judea into Galilee--4:3-5

--The time when Jesus was sitting by the well at Sychar (the sixth hour)--4:6

--The number of days that Jesus remained in Sychar after the conversation with the woman at the well (two)--4:40

I'm just going to stop there, and I'm only through chapter 4. The Gospel of John is just like that. Fast-forwarding to the Last Supper, here is a trenchant comment about the stark phrase, "And it was night" when Judas left to betray Jesus in John 13:30.

“...Judas opened the door to leave the tense and puzzled group. An oblong of sudden darkness seen for a second stamped itself on one mind forever; and remembering, the writer comments, ‘And it was night’.” E.M. Blaiklock, Jesus Christ: Man or Myth, p. 69.

John apparently had an intensely visual memory, to which these examples attest--both those for which we're lucky enough to have independent corroboration and those we don't happen to have corroborated.

Am I saying that a clever liar never adds lots of detail to his story? No, I'm not saying that. This past weekend J. Warner Wallace was talking about liars he's known, how creative they are, and how some of them add unnecessary detail to their stories to make them sound true. Of course, I can't help pointing out that the fact that such detail makes them sound true means that such detailed discourse is in fact some evidence for truth. (Generally, as an epistemic matter, if it "makes it look like x" for a deceiver to add some property y to a situation, that is ipso facto an admission that property y is some evidence for x.)

But the point I want to press here is this: John gives no indication in the text that any of these details are not intended literally. To the contrary. The whole flow of the text and the numerous, specific details give exactly the opposite impression--namely, that John intends the reader to take him to be reporting accurately at the "ground level."

And when we do find such a detail confirmed, as in the list above, we rightly take this to be support for John's reliability. But if we think of the alteration of such details as allowed by "literary license," why would we find them confirmed? We can't have it both ways. We can't triumphantly point to the confirmation of detail as support for John's reliability when we have it while elsewhere talking as if he didn't intend his details to be taken as literal reportage in the first place!

I conclude from all of these considerations that, if John was not at least attempting to be accurate in his reporting, he was a deceiver. He was in that case attempting to get his readers to accept his reports as literally true and adding detail for that purpose, even though he knew that he was changing and inventing ("fabricating," to use Burridge's word, or "crafting" to use Licona's) material that was not true.

This is the dilemma for interpreters of John. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about John's being a great literary artist who sacrifices accuracy on the ground level in the service of higher truth, which his audience would have understood and accepted. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Comments (42)

Rather than replying to two different posts I'll reply here.

Just to reply to yesterday, I read the post on Hemer and I was impressed. That reasoning and use of evidence is something I can get behind. I also wanted to point out that you were partly right and partly wrong about my seemingly smitten attitude to credentialed historians. On one hand, again mainly because of the strong impression I have, it is a well accepted idea within classicists regarding the flexibilities ancient historians had. Yet on the other hand, I don't simply discount you at all because you are an epistemologist. Erhman is well known in the field, but your extremely strong rebuttal on the issue of authorship some years ago was clearly the better dealing of the historical facts and proper argument. ( I guess you could say to that extent that you do some credentials anyway with some if the replies you have written in response to NT scholars as well as your book). I found the specific response to Burridge persuasive yesterday, but that wasn't enough to discount the broader point about flexibility.

However, this post I think deals with the more broader point rather than specific examples of flexible history (for said examples could be wrong but not the broader phenomenon!). I certainly see now by what you mean by burden of proof.

This is where I stand: it seems that there was no single approach to history in the ancient world. Some were very flexible and more focused on spinning a good narrative for shows, some were more demanding with getting things right. In order to see what the Gospels are, you have to deal with the texts to see where they fit and which standard to judge them by (flexible story telling or fact-demanding history?). It seems Luke and Acts certainly need to be judged by the latter. Undesigned coincidences help push the other gospels to the latter too.

This is a short video by Craig Keener where he touches on the difference between modern and ancient historiography (minutes 3:00 - 5:00) ; https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=A_ZUGzPZwhk

I'm guessing you are fine with his description of "fleshing out scenes"? (Which actually seem pretty harmful with regards to telling the factual, empirical truth of what happened?)

for said examples could be wrong but not the broader phenomenon!

Not if they are all wrong. :-)

I mean, there's such a thing as an inductive case. Also, remember, there are many ways for such an example to be "wrong." I intend to put up a flow chart in a later post to illustrate this. But just briefly: It could turn out that the two accounts are harmonizable. That's one way of being wrong. It could turn out that some person involved was trying to get it right but made a mistake or changed his mind. That's another way for the example to be "wrong," if it's intended to indicate deliberate fictionalization. It could be that the person did falsify data because he was just...not terribly honest. That's another way for the instance to be "wrong" as an example of this "genre flexibility," because the latter is too high-falutin' a concept. Being dishonest isn't at all the same thing as using "allowable flexibility" that your audience would have been expecting you to use because genre considerations meant that they didn't take you literally on that type of matter. That's an _extremely_ complex hypothesis.

I'll have a look at the Keener. Have not seen it yet.

Sorry i should have said *harmless* with regards to telling the factual, empirical truth

In order to see what the Gospels are, you have to deal with the texts to see where they fit and which standard to judge them by

I strongly agree with this.

I'm guessing you are fine with his description of "fleshing out scenes"?

I'm not entirely fine with it. For one thing, Acts 26 says *specifically* that it was Agrippa who told Festus that Paul might have been released if he hadn't appealed to Caesar, rather than vice versa, and *that* would have to have been known to Luke in some other way. Obviously it's legit. to point out that direct vs. indirect discourse wouldn't have been as sharply indicated, especially in the absence of quotation marks! So I would be fine with Luke's having learned that Agrippa told Festus *that* Paul might have been released if he hadn't appealed, etc. The distinction between Luke's putting that in quotation marks and his saying, "So Festus and Agrippa talked about this and Agrippa told Festus that he might have been released..." etc. would be scarcely visible to the naked eye.

But I don't think the general notion of "filling out scenes" is clear at all in Luke, and I'm not sure precisely where Keener is getting the idea that we *know* that Luke learned about this in some other way. Keener's mention of "the next day" is just a little odd. Certainly they learned that Paul would be sent to to Rome. Perhaps Keener is talking about Acts 25:12, but Luke explicitly says that that was *before* Agrippa arrived, and that wouldn't have contained the info. as to who made the comment about appealing to Caesar to whom. I can't help wondering if Keener just made a slip here, forgetting that Acts 25:12 records events that occur before the consultation between Agrippa and Festus at the end of Acts 26.

Hemer has a brief discussion of this "aside" between Festus and Agrippa, and he isn't blithe about it as Keener is. He certainly doesn't just attribute it to some general "allowance for filling out scenes" in ancient historiography. I don't remember precisely what his suggestion is but can look it up.

Interestingly, this is one of the *only* such scenes in the *entirety* of Acts--that is, one of the only ones (perhaps the only one?) where we're kind of clueless about how Luke could have known what he reports. Hemer is fascinating on this, because he is always interested in the question of how Luke could have known what he reports. He talks about it at multiple points in the book. The whole book is a fascinating read.

I have a lot of affection and respect for Dr. Keener, but I'm sad to say that he does take the position that John "changed" the time of the cleansing of the Temple by three years. This is *far* more extreme an example than what he's talking about in that video on Acts. (Which I haven't finished, but which looks like it has lots of good stuff in it. We're just focusing on 2 minutes in the middle.)

I have never understood for the life of me why anyone thinks we have to say that "John changed the cleansing of the Temple," and as I say in the main post, that just isn't what John is like as an author as we find him revealed as an author in the text, both in his practice and in his self-presentation.

Jesus' cleansing of the Temple was a dramatic act of rebuke. One can think of it on a par with an abortion clinic protest. Nobody would or should say that someone must have "moved" the date of Lydia's standing in front of an abortion clinic with a sign because in one place they found it mentioned that she did so in August while in another place they found that she did so in November. In fact, I have done so in both months. If I were the sort to chain myself to the door and get arrested (I'm not that sort, I'm more of a coward), I might very well do it twice or even more than twice! Since presumably the Temple practices simply returned to the status quo ante after they cleaned up the mess from Jesus' first round of table-turning, there is to my mind not the slightest reason to think it odd that he would have done something similar again three years later right before his death. This is not some sort of "multiplying entities without necessity," since we *have* the texts telling of what appear to be different instances of his creating such a disturbance in the Temple. It is to my mind *far* more dubious and complex to attribute to John such a misleading practice as "moving" the cleansing by three years (and John does *locate* the Temple cleansing he tells about pretty firmly at the beginning of Jesus' ministry) that simply to shrug and decide that it looks like Jesus did it twice. It's simply not all that improbable. It is, in fact, the type of thing he might well have done twice.

It's just that NT scholars have a kind of allergy to saying that something similar happened twice, even though we have lots of instances in real history where generally similar types of events happened more than once. This is, again, a case of NT scholars being not quite in touch with normal, literal reality and having their rigid taboos which cause them to prefer what are actually more complex to simpler hypotheses.

Never think that this isn't relevant to the thesis about "different views of truth." Scholars like Burridge and Licona *explicitly* base their claims about "different views of truth" upon *instances*. They purport to be making their own cumulative and/or inductive case. Therefore, showing that they are disregarding simple harmonizations in concrete cases is highly pertinent.

Yeh, that's one thing that affects how I see the issue of ancient biography. Its almost trivially true for most NT scholars and seemingly many classicists.

I understand that this flexibility, this fleshing out of scenes all the way to deliberately switching around the chronology of events are based on a cumulative or inductive case of examples.

I certainly am interested in your future work to see the strength of the overall case for the straightforward sense of historiography.

Also, Hemer is a classicist who is quick to caution us in appealing to broad generalisations as you noted, so it's not like this is a completely unheard of position.

Also, I see what you are saying about the points Keener concedes also being used as part of a cumulative case for the likes of Licona and Burridge, but I dont think they are specifically favourable to the Burridge and Licona 'higher truth' thesis than the more sober version of Keener.

I would say that Luke's "writing a scene" between Agrippa and Festus if he really believed that he knew approximately what they had said to each other (court gossip?) would be far less damaging to Luke's historical reliability than John's literally moving the Temple cleansing from Passion Week to early in Christ's ministry.

I haven't yet had time to watch the whole 11 minutes with Keener, but from what I saw there, that video was the "conservative" Craig Keener talking--emphasizing historical accuracy, etc. The Dr. Keener who thinks John moved the date is a rather different manifestation of the same scholar, as it were. :-) Midway between is the Dr. Keener who gradually decided that Matthew was written in the 70s (having previously taken a later date and that Matthew actually had something or other to do with it!

I don't at all want to be disrespectful here. Dr. Keener wrote the foreword to my book and was very encouraging of my project. I owe him a great deal. But my impression is that he has in fact *moved* from a rather liberal NT training background to what are deemed somewhat more "conservative" positions on various issues (authorship, date, etc.), and the "John changed the date of the Temple cleansing" position is to my mind just evidence that he needs to move even farther in my direction. :-) I say that knowing what chutzpah it is for me, a nobody, to say that about someone of his legitimate eminence in the field.

"Luke's "writing a scene" between Agrippa and Festus if he really believed that he knew approximately what they had said to each other (court gossip?) would be far less damaging to Luke's historical reliability".

I agree. I think the whole topic is kind of messy, with some literary flair hardly affecting historical accuracy and others (Licona's and Burridge's "higher truth") having severe consequences.

Would you recommend Keener's work on the whole then? I don't think i'll get his book on Acts but he was a 23 video series on youtube each an hour long I may slowly work through.

"I say that knowing what chutzpah it is for me, a nobody, to say that about someone of his legitimate eminence in the field".

I detect some snark!

I detect some snark!

No, I just don't do the courtier thing very well.

Honestly: Like I said: Dr. Keener wrote the foreword to my book. He's incredibly knowledgeable. I would certainly give careful consideration to anything he wrote on a particular subject, but I reserve the right (of course) to disagree and would expect to disagree on some of these matters, especially since he is pressing the Greco-Roman bioi thesis that is leading Licona so far astray. I should say, however, that Dr. Keener's use of it seems to have a different *emphasis*--that is, to uphold the historicity of the documents rather than (as in Licona's case) to downplay their accuracy. One might think of Keener's emphasis as setting a "floor" of historicity and Licona's as both moving that floor further down and, on the other hand, setting a lower "ceiling" as to how accurate we should expect them to be.

As to recommendations, the 4-volume commentary on Acts is huge. I'm sure it has oodles of great stuff in it, but I'd never recommend anybody to read it all the way through. Read what he writes with an open and active mind, and if it seems that he's being loose on historicity at some point or questioning authorship or whatever, research it more for yourself.

But if you have time to burn, get a copy of Hemer and read that. It's only one volume. :-) Eisenbraun's has Hemer in print now, I believe, in paperback.

I think I'll take you up on Hemer as soon as I can (£83?! It may be a while though!) but I'll probably get Keener's historical Jesus and the Four Gospels along with your book on Undesigned Coincidences first.

The amazon reviews on Hemer are raving about it as a master piece.

What do you think of Martin Hengel?

Lydia: “It's just that NT scholars have a kind of allergy to saying that something similar happened twice, even though we have lots of instances in real history where generally similar types of events happened more than once.”

The following quote from NT scholar Adolf Harnack (1851-1930) is very informative in this respect:

“But the following pretty little experience of mine teaches how careful one should be in assuming doublets. On a rainy day beside the Walensee, I was turning over the leaves of the Jahrbuch des Historischen Vereins des kanton Glarus, 27. Heft (1892). In an article on “St. Felix and Regula in Spain” I read (pp. 6 f.) as follows: “If any one had anywhere read the in the third decade of this century a pupil of the public school of Aarau, the son of one Trümpi, a pastor in Schwanden [Canton Glarus], was drowned near Aarau when bathing in the Aar, and had afterwards read somewhere else that in 1837 one Balthasar Leuzinger, son of M. Leuzinger, the pastor of Schwanden, was drowned when bathing in the Aar close to Aarau, if the reader were at all of a critical turn of the mind he would assuredly have drawn the conclusion that one and the same occurrence was evidently referred to in each case. … And yet it actually happened that two young natives of Glarus, both of them sons of a pastor of Schwanden, were drowned in the neighbourhood of Aarau [thus a long way from Schwanden].”

Adolf Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles (New Testament Studies, vol. 3), London and New York 1909, p. 247, note 1.

$49.50. Which my handy-dandy Interwebz converter says is 37.26 British pounds.


I don't know how you get it in the UK or how much that would cost, though Eisenbraun's says "We ship worldwide."

I haven't read Hengel, but I have cited him concerning the probability that the gospels had their "titles" very early on.

Wenham is fascinating. I did a review recently of his harmony of the Easter accounts (Easter Enigma), and his book on redating the synoptics was very useful. That isn't to say I agree with every word of either book, but Wenham's *imagination* is on the right track.

Great example, Patrick!

The example Patrick quotes is simply the fallacy of the accident. There is nothing special about Harnack citing it (in a non-Biblical example). This fallacy is very old. He does not, however, cite an actual Biblical example, does he (I have not read Harnack)? Indeed, the example he cites, from a Bayesian perspective, is not decidable, since without further evidence, the odds are 50/50. Sometimes, in exactly the opposite fashion, a doublet may resolve to a single thing. Asometimes, absent sufficient extra evidence, one just has to acknowledge that the situation is unresolved.

The Chicken

Interesting example.

In my opinion, even as presented, the account of the doublet is insufficiently detailed for the "reader of critical turn of mind" to conclude with any degree of confidence that "one and the same occurrence" was the subject. For example, in what source(s) did the reader see them? How far removed from the actual events were the sources? (A newspaper account from June 8 of an event of June 2, and a newspaper account of September 14 of an event occurring on September 7, presents a whole world of difference from 2 (different) books written in 1880 of the events in the earlier part of the century).

Again: the account of the first event places it in the "third decade", the account of the second places it in the 4th decade: "in 1837". Are the sources of such a sort as to usually get that sort of thing right in detail, or are they the sort that usually just approximates such details? A careful critical reader would not assume that the citation of the decade was IN ERROR unless he had a reason to think so that superceded the reason to think the accounts were accurate on their face.

Which is really kind of the point: even if a critical person doubts that the 2 accounts are of different events, he does not definitely conclude that they are so merely on the basis of a reason for doubt. That's not critical THINKING, it's just a biased response against reporting: all reporting is considered full of sh*t unless it supports my pet theories.

Indeed, the example he cites, from a Bayesian perspective, is not decidable, since without further evidence, the odds are 50/50.

I'm not sure what you mean, Chicken. If I had sources that gave different names for the different young men who drowned, and for their fathers, and there were no reason to doubt the sources otherwise, I would certainly *not* consider the probability 50/50 that one was copied-with-alteration from the other. I would just consider, taking the sources at face value, that something rather similar happened twice. Such things happen. Whcih is Harnack's point.

Many biblical examples could be given, including the one we're discussing in the thread right now--Jesus cleansing the Temple twice.

In my opinion, even as presented, the account of the doublet is insufficiently detailed for the "reader of critical turn of mind" to conclude with any degree of confidence that "one and the same occurrence" was the subject.

Tony, "critical scholarship" is a term of art in biblical studies. Harnack is using it (not in a complimentary fashion) to refer to the kind of scholar who jumps to conclusions that the same incident is referred to.


Having different names is further evidence and changes the odds one way or another, but when one has two different references give, essentially, the same information (plus or minus), in order to give the most unbiased reading one must start from the LaPlacian hypothesis of equal probability of doublet or singlet (i.e., 50/50 they are either two different men or one man) for the prior probability, then adding evidence zeros in on a better posterior. From the Harnack story, the initial evidence seems, to me, to be roughly the same for each description (plus or minus), so there is no reason to assume either case. That Harnack wants to shock the reader by pulling back the curtain to reveal two separate men is really nothing but leaving out the fact the he, in fact, found more information (from where?) that shifted the probability to their being two men. If he just wanted to say, don't make assumptions, then, fine, but in a sense, this is a biased story, because there are other counterexamples where the two men are the same. Police departments depend on this. The examples of mistaken identity, while not rare, are not that common.

Sorry, typing on a phone.

The Chicken

That Harnack wants to shock the reader by pulling back the curtain to reveal two separate men is really nothing but leaving out the fact the he, in fact, found more information (from where?) that shifted the probability to their being two men. If he just wanted to say, don't make assumptions, then, fine, but in a sense, this is a biased story, because there are other counterexamples where the two men are the same. Police departments depend on this. The examples of mistaken identity, while not rare, are not that common.

Hmm, I think we disagree here, but I'm not sure. Harnack isn't doing anything illicit or trying to shock the reader. He's pointing out (and I agree with him) that one should take the texts at face value when they indicate that they were *different* young men who drowned. The point is that the different texts really *don't* give essentially the same information, but critical scholars would nonetheless try to insist that they were really describing the same incident but that inconsistencies in the name arose from some sort of mistake or deliberate redaction on the part of one or the other author. Harnack is rightly pointing out that that is an unnecessary hypothesis. One can just admit that it really isn't as improbable as one might think that two different young men with those other similarities between them both drowned in that particular river. We can and should calibrate these things by using historical examples.

I'm not sure where mistaken identity comes in here. Nobody was claiming that the two men were the same. The record was claiming that they were different! It would be the hypothetical over-thinking scholar who would insist that one text (or both) must be a corruption or redactive distortion of the same original story. It's fine to note the remarkable coincidence between the two events, but Harnack is pointing out that it may really be just a coincidence and that the idea that both are versions (though not both fully accurate versions) of the same event is actually an unjustified leap from the coincidences.

I think perhaps what you're saying is that if a police department is looking for a suspect (or a missing person or something) and gets quite similar descriptions of someone in various places, they will go on and even test the working assumption that those are the same person in order to try to catch the suspect or find the missing person.

That's all well and good, but Harnack's point is that the critical scholar emphasizes the similarity to the detriment of the *stated differences* in the text and thus has to engage in overly complex hypothesis-making to "explain" the differences by way of redaction, etc.

Presumably there is no such strained hypothesizing in legitimate police cases.

Dear Lydia,

First off, believe me when I say that I agree with you that John was trying to tell the grounded truth in his Gospel and not fabricating or whatever to get to a higher truth. He was acting as a witness and he would have considered it unseemly, given the strong langage of the epistles with regards what he has to say about truth, to, then, go and, essentially, bear false witness while, simultaneously, calling himself a witness.

What many New Testament scholars, apparently, do not understand is that John was a mystic and one of the underlying features of a true mystic is a type of simplicity of spirit. Mystics may use allegory or analogy, sometimes, because, in truth, words cannot express what they see, but the sort of artistic duplicity that Licona and Burridge accuse John of using would have been unthinkable to John. How could John have such harsh words as to call certain types of men antichrists and, then, go and play an artsy game with the truth, himself? I wonder how much some of these New Testament scholars understand about the simple, dreadful, purity of someone who is that in love with Christ?

I was commenting on the Harnack quote because it is like the old lateral thinking puzzle about the surgeon who could not operate on the patient because he is his mother. Harnack sets up the reader to jump to the conclusion that there were only one boy and then pulls the rug out from the reader with the, "gatcha." The thing is, he doesn't play fair with the reader, since he gives an outline of information, but, certainly not at the level that he, himself, has. He is holding back information which has, apparently allowed him to know that there were two boys who drown, assuming, in a condescending fashion, that at least some readers, wha are of, "critical turn of mind,", would not seek out the same information he did. Now, a casual reader might jump to the conclusion that only one boy drown and such is the nature of the human mind that we tend to work in habits of thought to simplify mental overhead, but someone who really wanted to know the true nature of the situation, say, Miss Marple. would research the situation in much more detail.

Harnack says one should be careful about assuming doublets. He should be more explicit in how he uses the term, himself. Now, a doublet is two of things, so presumably, his story should lead you in the direction of initially thinking that there were two different boys who drown (a doublet), but, in fact, there were only one. As I understand his intention. his use of term, doublet, refers, instead, to the fact that the similar sounding stories (a supposed singlet) turns out to be not about a single incident, but two, as in a spectroscopic line that looks like a singlet, but at higher resolution is revealed to be very closely spaced doublets. Well, okay, but doesn't he realize that the exact opposite thing can happen? There could be cases where it appears that two planets are orbiting a star, but we find out that there is only one and the apparent doubling is due to gravitational lensing. So, exactly what is his point - not to jump to conclusions? Well, whopee! In historical research, one is, then, left with the vexing question of when is enough evidence enough not to be jumping to conclusions?

I mean, I can match Harnack story for story, if he wants to play these sorts of games. Let me mention three (my stories are partially made-up).

1. A musical manuscript is discovered in the Paris National Library dated 1738, with the signature, Pierre Abbot (not a real composer). It is a sonata da chiesa for two violins and harpsichord. It is in thin blue ink on thin lined manuscript paper.
Two years later, another manuscript is discovered in a farmhouse outside of Lyons. It is written in dark blue ink on thick paper. It has the name Abbot at the top and the word, Sonata at the top. The handwriting is different than the first manuscript. The melody is similar to the Paris manuscript, but the piece is scored for two violins, harpsichord, and chalumeau.

So is it the same Abbot, or not? This seems like a lot of evidence - more than in Harnack's example, and, yet, I would guess that almost every undergraduate music major would come to the wrong conclusion.

2. This is a true(ish) story. A man was arrested in Texas for a robbery. The description of the robber - 6'3'', about 175 pounds, white, blue eyes, brown hair - matched the man brought in for questioning. According to the FBI fingerprint department, his fingerprints were a match to the robber.

So, was he the robber? There is a plethera of evidence - more than enough to convict.

3. In the city of Oddville, on Aug. 2, 1932, the city newspaper reported that John Smith died by drowning in the river outside of town. The radio, likewise, reported that John Smith died by drowning that same day. The coroner in his report issued two weeks later, reported that John Smith drown in the river in the summer of that year.

Same or different men?

My point is that unless an historian is trying to strike a dramatic pose of authority, if he has two sets of data that seem, on the face of it to point to the same event, truth would demand that the historian would report his guess as a guess, but not a certainty - and there is nothing wrong with this. One must proceed with the lights one has. Any historian worth his salt - and I have no idea what Harnack means by, "a critical turn of mind,"- would not state with certainty that only one boy drown, but, rather, would be tentative when the evidence is so flimsy. Harnack has created a characature of some lamebrain historian - or an insecure one who has to appear to the world as beng an authority and so, overstates his certainties. Yes, there are many an academic who is guilty of this. We all have the temptation, from time to time, but Harnack, for all of his appearance of wanting to do scientifically-based history in the service of his theology, was writing during a period when peer-review was not a prerequisite for publication and academic stature was given more credence than investigating the facts. When I review a paper for publication, I go back and, essentially, re-do the work. Fact checking is a given, so this sort of nonsense, where an historian would jump to conclusions in the case that Harnack narrates, would get harshly tagged by a good historian-reviewer, today.

Good history is hard to write and much more of an art than a science, in many cases. While Harnack thinks he is making a case about doublets, all he is doing is warning the casual reader not to jump to conclusions, but he does not speak to historians who are his peers. They have had as much experience as he and know that sometimes there really is only one boy who drown. When is enough evidence enough to reach such a conclusion? Does Harnack ever say?

That Harnack got so many things wrong about his understanding of Christ does not speak well of his methodology or his sensitivity to how real men live their lives in history. I may be unfair, since I have not read his works, but if the Wikipedia article is at all accurate, as well as his historical reputation, then his would not be an opinion I would cite in an historical dispute.

The Chicken

Chicken, you have to understand what Harnack is writing there in the context of New Testament studies. For example, the word "doublet" is a term of art in NT studies. It refers either to two versions of the same story in different books or two versions of the same story in the same book. (!) For example, many "critical scholars" (again, as I pointed out before, this is also a term of art) would say that the feeding of the 4,000 in the synoptics is a "doublet" for the feeding of the 5,000. Since both appear in the same books, and since Jesus himself actually refers to them as different events, this is obviously to attribute fictionalization to the authors. When a supposed doublet occurs across two books, critical scholars are extremely ready to attribute error, redaction, etc., to one or both authors to explain away the differences, even when the differences make it quite clear that the authors and/or their audiences would have thought that these were different incidents or were writing as if they were different incidents.

So he's not just issuing a vague warning to readers not to jump to such conclusions but is talking about an entire field in which that sort of irrationality is rampant, is rife.

Sure, Harnack was a liberal himself, but here he's talking good sense. Moreover, I just disagree that his way of writing is particularly illicit. If I read those two stories, I'd take it even without further investigation that they were probably different events. I don't think that your examples are sufficiently similar, because you aren't talking about testimony that *says* that the two people involved are different. You're talking about situations with mixed forensic evidence or evidence that really does appear (though fallibly) to indicate that the two are the same. In the case of the perpetrator, you don't even include any evidence to the contrary. Harnack is talking about a case where the sources *unambiguously* state that the two boys who drowned were different boys, but I'm afraid he's just right, and not saying anything offensive, to state that if something similar were to come up in the gospels the critical scholars would immediately assume that these were altered versions of one and the same earlier story. In fact, they do this *constantly*. He's not talking about historians broadly but, specifically, about the way that biblical scholars read the Bible.

What many New Testament scholars, apparently, do not understand is that John was a mystic and one of the underlying features of a true mystic is a type of simplicity of spirit. Mystics may use allegory or analogy, sometimes,

It's interesting you should bring this up, because I was originally going to include in this post a discussion of John as a mystic but then decided it din't fit. You may agree with what I'm about to say here: I think John's mysticism took an intensely empirical turn of mind and that we incorrectly pit mysticism and vivid empirical memory and meticulousness against one another. John was indeed a mystic, and this in him went hand in hand with his remembering vividly how many water pots there were and what the doorway looked like when Judas went out to betray Jesus. He was concerned to be precise about these things because they were part and parcel of his seeing clearly and vividly, both theologically and literally.

I don't think myself that John ever used allegory in his gospel in a way that could cause confusion even to a modern reader about whether he was reporting literally or not. For example, when he says that there were 153 fish caught in chapter 21, I think he really means there were 153 fish. I think that's what his original readers would have understood just like us. It doesn't stand for something else as opposed to being a literal detail.

I found the dialogue of a round table discussion on Licona's book that involved Craig Blomberg and Darrel Bock. This is one interesting thing Blomberg said;

"As you try to diagnose what’s going on here, I think what’s going is, I began years ago in a little article called “The Limits and Legitimacy of Harmonization” to say I have to consider a whole range of options from everyone of the critical tools, not least the fact that Markan priority is a pretty bedrock of the discipline. And I remember a conversation with Don Carson when I was a student and Bob Gundry’s commentary on Matthew was all the rage, which you’ve been, I think, unfairly compared with and Carson’s comment was very perceptive. He got a hold of a good idea, Matthew’s redactional emphases, and it made so much sense of several passages that he just kept putting it in and pushing it until it was the only method he used anywhere. That’s how reading your book comes across to me. I found a key in Plutarch’s compositional devices. I wanna milk it for all it’s worth. Fine. Countless minor things you pointed out I think you’re right on target and nobody would be concerned at all about it. But we have to remember also that Matthew’s using Mark. Maybe a common source that he shares with Luke, that there’s a certain kind of oral tradition that has come to him that didn’t come with Plutarch centuries later, that there’s a whole complex solution to the relationship of John and the Synoptics, and I don’t find all of that source and form and redaction criticism very regularly coming into play in your work. You may be right in every solution. But I’d be more convinced if sometimes you appealed to Plutarch and sometimes you appealed to source criticism and sometimes you appealed to form criticism and didn’t make me feel like you’re trying to push most everything into one hole."


The issue of undesigned coincidences is intriguing for the type of argument Licona gives. It doesn't seem to fit frictionless together. Perhaps the source(s) behind the undesigned coincidences keep the author from changing the material too much? That doesn't fit easily, however.

I will simply note that a known con artist elected to the presidency often ends his imaginary stories/alternative facts by stating "Believe me." This doesn't mean everything he says is false, but it is a sign to proceed with caution in that specific case.

I will simply note that a known con artist elected to the presidency often ends his imaginary stories/alternative facts by stating "Believe me." This doesn't mean everything he says is false, but it is a sign to proceed with caution in that specific case.

Step2, that just supports my dilemma. He is a con artist, right? Why is he saying, "Believe me"? Hint: Because he wanted people to believe him. In other words, he falls on the "hoaxer" (liar, deceiver, etc.) side of my dilemma. What he *isn't* doing is trying to use some kind of weird "literary device" where his audience was *not* intended to believe him because they never took what he was saying to belong in a literal "genre" in the first place!!

The issue of undesigned coincidences is intriguing for the type of argument Licona gives. It doesn't seem to fit frictionless together. Perhaps the source(s) behind the undesigned coincidences keep the author from changing the material too much?

Right: Undesigned coincidences *depend on* taking details literally. Over and over again. When I have a UC in my book about the six days before Passover when John says that's when Jesus arrived in Bethany, that's because I take John to mean it literally and to mean his readers to take it literally. Not just as some detail he felt free to change. Every time I use a detail in a UC--be it a number, a time of year, a place name, who said what to whom, etc.--I take it at face value as meant literally. Otherwise there'd be no point to noting that it is confirmed.

The entire UC approach is, I'll say outright, diametrically opposed to Licona's approach. Various people think they can take a smorgasbord approach and use both. I'm going to say it pretty starkly: They can't. They need to make a choice. Do we take these authors as fictionalizers about everything but some undefined "core" of the events, or do we take them as honest reporters who are trying to get it right?

That's interesting about Craig Blomberg. I just read a review he wrote of Licona's book in which he says more or less the same thing. In that review he also said that he wishes Licona were more open to some traditional harmonizations in particular places, and I wish he had mentioned that in the round table discussion. Because in the round table quote you give, the only alternatives that he says he wishes he could see more of in Licona are such (to my mind, usually dubious) things as source criticism and form criticism. Blomberg is convinced that John did *not* change the day of the crucifixion and has a long discussion of that, and I think he was a little frustrated that Licona didn't take more trouble to take seriously the work that has been done on that subject before blithely declaring that John changed the day of the crucifixion.

I would add here that some of Licona's reasons there are *unusually* poor, even beyond the reasons that one usually hears concerning the day of the crucifixion. For example, he states based on John 13:1 that John says the Last Supper *was eaten* before the Passover, which the verse does not say at all! This is not the only instance where Licona says that some gospel author says something that the text simply does not say. Over-reading is one of the many banes of NT criticism. He does it with Plutarch as well. At least he's an equal opportunity over-reader. (Wry face.)

Do we take these authors as fictionalizers about everything but some undefined "core" of the events, or do we take them as honest reporters who are trying to get it right?

I take the author of John to have a very strong agenda, much more than the other gospel writers. My previous comment was supposed to point out that this isn't an all-or-nothing decision. Which is why certain signs, like saying "Believe me" are helpful for distinguishing between them.

Related to your comment about cleansing the Temple, it matters a great deal to the justification of the high priest in putting Jesus on trial. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is put on trial within a week of the incident - the cleansing is a clear rebuke to the authority of the high priest but also to his fragile arrangement with the Roman authorities. If the cleansing of the Temple wasn't a big deal, as it would seem if we accept a doublet explanation for John's early mention, then how could it have such a prominent role in leading up the crucifixion in the other gospels?

If the cleansing of the Temple wasn't a big deal, as it would seem if we accept a doublet explanation for John's early mention, then how could it have such a prominent role in leading up the crucifixion in the other gospels?

False dilemma. Jesus was at the beginning of his ministry in John. After that incident he went and had a baptizing ministry for a while. Then he left for Galilee. They were trying to figure him out and were very unhappy about him, but it took them a while to decide to try to have him killed. I do not think that the cleansing in Passion Week was nearly as central as you think it is. It was a case of causal over-determination. They were already well on the way to deciding to kill him or have him killed by that time.

Their stated reason for putting him on trial in Judaism was his blasphemy in his self-declarations. His cleansing of the Temple was of course part and parcel of his view of himself and what he was saying about himself, but it was only related, not a necessary condition for their deciding that he must go. Indeed, one could argue that the Triumphal Entry was an even bigger deal. His popularity was a source of great consternation.

Lydia Blomberg does go over that harmonisation in the discussion and does bring up the issue of what the text actually says.

I remembered when Nick Peters commented here when you wrote on Licona's lecture (before the book came out). He said that UC's were compatible with the type of history of Plutarch. Its seemed to trivialize the work of Licona? For now the compositional devices have to be broadly consistent with a plain reading of the text, or all four gospels have to be using the same compositional device at the same part of the narrative?

I found this quote in an old paper which touches on ancient historiography abd issues of flexibility and accuracy.

"(i) The analogy of ancient historiography suggests that Luke placed on the lips of his principal
characters those sentiments which he considered most appropriate. He used the speeches
primarily for literary purposes, and moulded them carefully to fit into their contexts. (This is the prevailing view of skeptical scholars according to the author)

(In response) "(i) The problem of the analogy with other ancient historians was already taken up by Bruce in
1942; he observed that Thucydides’ practice was one of “adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what they really said”. Thucydides, therefore, cannot be quoted as an
example of intentional free composition. The real question, therefore, is how far Luke shared the attitude of Hellenistic historians like Josephus rather than the Thucydidean approach of
Polybius. It is easy to exaggerate the unconcern of the Hellenistic historians about factual
accuracy in the depiction of Historie. Luke’s work must be considered on its own merits."

Even the link to how other historians wrote is more complex than simply alluding to Plutarch. There was a spectrum of historians and their approach to history. You need to look at Luke to figure out where he fits, as Lydia already noted.

He said that UC's were compatible with the type of history of Plutarch.

Only in a sense that reminds me of a scene in The Wind in the Willows. Toad is selling a horse to a gypsy and says, "He's part thoroughbred. Not the part you see, of course, a different part."

Similarly, one would have to say that, by chance, the parts where the gospel authors were fictionalizing details just happened to be "the other parts" from the places where they were reporting details accurately which fit together by UCs. But this is completely arbitrary. The whole point of UCs is a matter of *sampling*. We just happen to find them. It's not like we have special clues that say, "This is the part that's going to be accurate" and look for UCs in just those places. It's rather that they are found randomly scattered, distributed throughout the texts. Similarly, on the other side, Licona's claims of fictionalizing "devices" are spread widely and randomly throughout the texts. There are no clues within one text that say, "This is the place where the author was changing a detail." Licona believes that he just *finds* them by comparing the texts.

But it would be an extremely strange sort of text that would have accurate details, intended to be taken literally and independently confirmed, randomly *and widely* distributed throughout and also fictionalizing, made-up details randomly *and widely* distributed throughout. Moreover, if one were dealing with such a strange document, one would never know at any given moment ahead of time which sort of detail one was dealing with. Is this going to turn out to be a detail that is confirmed by independent corroboration with some external source or with another gospel, or is this going to turn out to be a detail that the author just made up? It would therefore be impossible to confirm the document's reliability by drawing any generalization, because of the document's schizophrenic nature as far as reportage is concerned.

For now the compositional devices have to be broadly consistent with a plain reading of the text

They absolutely are not, except for the most trivial among them such as "literary spotlighting" (which isn't particularly literary). The actual fictionalizing ones, such as transferral, displacement, etc., are absolutely not consistent with a plain reading of the text. Indeed, the whole point of those is that the author wrote as if something happened in a way different from the way it really happened.

or all four gospels have to be using the same compositional device at the same part of the narrative?

Obviously, highly implausible and would have to be in relation to some hypothetical source. Moreover, Licona is often relating the so-called compositional devices *to Mark*. So, Matthew, Luke, or John is allegedly "changing Mark." So it's not supposedly that Mark and the other gospel are both changing some hypothetical source in the same way.

Good points, Callum.

Even if the cleansing wasn't a central factor it would have to have been no factor at all for them to let Jesus walk into the Temple afterward. A comparable act today would be someone going to Saint Peter's Basilica and vandalizing an area as a form of protest. There is simply no way they would let Jesus in for a repeat performance after such an outburst.

The synoptic gospels themselves refute you, for in the synoptic Gospels he teaches in the Temple after the scene he made in Passion Week. In both Matthew and Mark he hangs around and teaches immediately after the scene. Thereafter, if one follows Mark's chronology, he returns and spends the entire day in the Temple on the Tuesday. (Mark is quite clear that the cleansing of the Temple was on the Monday.) He is repeatedly questioned, he teaches, he wanders around, he sits near the treasury and talks to his disciples, etc. All very peaceful. One does not even need to go to John to show that you are wrong about that statement.

It's especially eyebrow-raising that you made such a confident statement in order to defend the "John changed the cleansing" theory when his return to the Temple is *immediate* in Mark's and Matthew's rendering--the very next day! And he is not stopped. If anything this would be even *more* improbable on the view you just confidently stated than his being disallowed entry *three years* after the earlier cleansing described in John.

A priori history ("This contemporary source must be wrong because 'they' wouldn't have let it happen that way, 2,000 years ago") is seldom reliable.

You convinced me, his outburst wasn't a factor at all in their decision to put Jesus on trial.

I never said that, as you well know. I explicitly said it was a case of causal over-determination. But if that is sarcasm, as it appears to be, it's duly noted that for some reason you preferred to make such a misrepresenting, sarcastic comment rather than acknowledging that I just refuted your previous careless statement from the very text of the synoptic Gospels, which you were attempting unsuccessfully to pit against John, on the question of whether Jesus "would have" ever been allowed into the Temple again after the cleansing. It would be better just to acknowledge that your argument was made hastily without re-checking the documents.

It wasn't sarcasm, it follows necessarily from the evidence you presented. I admit my argument was made hastily but the basic reasoning is that it was either disruptive enough to deserve retribution or it wasn't. If it wasn't disruptive enough to prevent Jesus from entering the Temple area the next day it could not be enough to be a factor in having him put on trial.

That's a pretty stark either-or, and unjustified. It was part and parcel of his arrogant (if he wasn't really who he said he was) and deliberately provocative behavior the entire week long. In the synoptics we find that they set out to kill him in part because of the parable of the vineyard--a very in-your-face parable. In the synoptics we also find it stated that, after the children were crying out, "Blessed is he who comes" after the Triumphal Entry, he was asked to hush them and refused, with the famous "the stones will cry out" comment. In the synoptics we also find that he was asked by what authority he cleansed the Temple, and that he cheekily refused to answer, countering with the question about the ministry of John the Baptist. The cleansing of the Temple fits the same pattern. He was getting in their faces in multiple ways that very week, pressing his own authority, his self-identification, and knowing (as he had said to the disciples already) that this would culminate in his own death. The cleansing of the Temple was just part of that whole pattern.

All of which is *completely* consistent with his having cleansed the Temple once three years before that, when it wasn't yet time for him to die, when he had no triumphal entry, and when, in various ways, things were not coming to the same kind of climax.

He was getting in their faces in multiple ways that very week, pressing his own authority, his self-identification, and knowing (as he had said to the disciples already) that this would culminate in his own death. The cleansing of the Temple was just part of that whole pattern.

John, at least, seems to be quite intent on indicating that Jesus did all this quite knowingly, as in provocatively, setting up conditions where the authorities will be unable to ignore him any more.

"Zeal for thy house shall consume me."

Which John references explicitly in Chapter 2.

In order to do so, it is very likely that He planned for the events of the week to build up, not that one event alone be the whole "reason" they decide He must die. Even if the priests viewed the cleansing as such a major offence as would, by itself, justify their sending Him off to His death, they also feared "the people" who had just made much of him on Sunday. By waiting later in the week, they were also waiting for the people's interest to wane at least little.

Based on John 11, it seems that they had pretty much decided Jesus had to be eliminated when they heard about Lazarus rising from the dead - i.e. before Holy Week began - and were just looking for the right time and place. Undoubtedly the triumphal entry into Jerusalem set them back some time, and the rest the provocations Jesus gave them that week enabled them to overcome their fear of the mob, not to generate the idea of getting rid of Him. Like toadies and bureaucrats everywhere, nobody wanted to stick their necks out on being the one to stand forth in public and denounce Jesus - they didn't actually move until one of the Apostles came to them with betrayal in mind.

Just had to drop by and say that I managed to get Colin Hemer's book (used) for £15 including shipping! Thats, what, $20?!

Very cool. You will find it well worth it.

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