What is a Gospel?

Rook_Hawkins's picture

WHAT IS A GOSPEL?

By Rook Hawkins

 

 What is a Gospel?  For the last few hundred years, New Testament scholars, particularly in Germany, have been asking themselves this very question.  Are they the biographies of a miraculous savior written by those who knew him and were closest to him?  If that is the case, were they redacted by later Christians to include specific dogmatic and doctrinal ideals?  Or, were the Gospels written up to centuries after a historical, human Jesus, by which Christians embellished his story into fictional history?  And If that is what they are, do the discrepancies between the four Gospels represent the authors own theological perspectives?  If so, how would one accurately determine which perspective is that of the authors and which is the perspective of the so-called real Jesus?

Since the time of the Bultmannian school, theologians have worked tirelessly, it seems, to locate the historically real behind the fictitious myth.  In their eyes, and the eyes of historical Jesus scholars across the world, the legendary embellishments and indeed even literary narrative created by the authors overshadow the historical events of a real Jesus.  And since the start of this ‘demythologizing’, as Bultmann put it, there have been detractors.  These detractors who label themselves as apologists—Christians with the intent to defend the Gospel narratives has wholly accurate, including the miraculous parts—have published their own books relying on early Christian testimony and their so-called historical authority to prove that not only were these texts derived from those who knew and spoke with Jesus as his disciples, but also that they recorded accurately the events of Jesus’ ministry and even parts of his life.

Indeed, according to these apologists, the very reason why discrepancies exist (although some claim, falsely, that no discrepancies exist) is because eyewitness testimony could not be 100% similar across four accounts; that, had they been all copies of each other, this would have raised suspicion of their accuracy.  Therefore, per these apologists, the Gospels are different and conflict precisely because they are eyewitness testimony.  In response to these claims, historical Jesus scholars have accurately shown, through textual criticism, that the discrepancies do not exist through memory recall.  To start, the historical Jesus scholars show that the similarities exist not because four authors recall similar events, but rather because the authors copied off each other.  The discrepancies, therefore, exist because the authors altered the text of the version they copied from. 

 This is why there are different theological perspectives in each of the four Gospels.  This is why Mark agrees with Paul and his denouncement of Jewish law, why he has Jesus changing the law, and why he has no birth narrative.  This is also why Matthew, who disagrees with Paul, sought to have his Jesus condemn those who change the law to eternal damnation and hellfire, and why he includes a birth narrative resembling the narrative of Hezekiah’s found in Isaiah.  It is why Luke makes Matthews birth narrative allude to the narrative of Isaac’s birth with Abraham and Sarah.  He plays on multiple themes, to combine the Hellenistic Pauline theology with Matthew’s more Jewish theology.  This is, according to the historical Jesus scholars, precisely why there are both similarities and discrepancies in the Gospel narratives.

 But then we have an additional problem which threatens the foundations of scholarship as a whole.  By attempting to pick which parts of the narratives are historically grounded, and which are not, scholars have effectively fractioned the Gospel narratives into fragmented sections or verses.  A line here in this chapter may be historical, but the rest can be dismissed as fiction.  The obvious problem of utilizing this method is that the narrative ceases to be looked at as a whole, and is only examined in small amounts, bit by bit.  And what is examined depends entirely on which scholar is doing the examination.  When one looks at the vast amount of literature that exists in scholarship on the historical Jesus, one can see that there is not one historical Jesus presented.  There are as many representations of the so-called historical Jesus as there are scholars writing about him.  This is because each scholar is giving us their own interpretation of what fragment of text is historical based on their own presuppositions, their own hermeneutical understanding of the text, and their own self reflections.  So, what is happening is that we are getting fragmented selections of text based on a biased reason of a scholar.  We are not getting a strict, underlining history based on critical observation of the whole manuscript.  All that scholars can agree on, it seems, is that the events of the Gospels, as a whole, are not accurately reporting historical events.  This fact is not helpful in answering the question posed in the title of this piece, it only confounds the problem.  But there may still be a way to save this question, and present an answer based on the evidence presented above.

 That brings us to an additional third option in an attempt to answer the original question: What is a Gospel?  If scholarship is already in agreement, that fictional narrative is the functioning motif of the Gospels, why is there a broad presupposition that somewhere under this narrative exist historical fact?  Hellenistic scholars outside of New Testament fields agree that Hellenistic Jews were famous for inventing fictional stories, events, characters and even whole wars to make their traditions more ‘Greek’, while reinterpreting scripture to show their cultural superiority.  Is that not what the Gospels are?  Are they not reinterpreted scripture, written in Hellenistic fashion?  It’s a fact that no outside testimony to Gospel events are ever recorded by contemporaries.  And scholarship admits that most of the “events” in the Gospel narratives relate back to reinterpreting scripture – the birth narratives, Jesus’ trial for 40 days in the wilderness, the transfiguration, the crucifixion (taken right from Psalms and Isaiah), every event that originally seemed to make Jesus appear real is nothing more than fictional restyling of scripture passages.  Even the name “Jesus” (which means “savior” or “Yahweh saves”) is representative of earlier traditions where biblical patriarchs were named for their purpose (Abraham = “Father to many nations”; Isaac = “laughter”; etc…).  There are twelve disciples just as there are twelve tribes, representing the instant where Moses father-in-law instructs him to find a head of every tribe for which to handle the business of their tribes – where Moses effectively sends out these twelve heads to their flock to make them straight in the sight of the lord.   

 So then what does that make the Gospels?  If historical Jesus scholars do not view the Gospels as biographies, in the sense that they are depictions of somebody’s life, and that they are made up of fictional events created from scripture reinvention, a common method of Jewish Hellenistic writing, what is a Gospel?  It seems more plausible that these narratives are probably completely fictitious in nature.  That they were not, as it is commonly assumed, written about a historical Jesus, but instead these narratives were originally intended to be read as historicized fiction.  

 It is important to remember that the intent of this discussion is not to determine who wrote them, or for what additional purpose the narratives might have been written, although this author could certainly provide evidence for these questions.  Instead, the question must be asked, and indeed, it has been asked: What is a Gospel?  And the answer has to be met with criticism, in light of the exposed presuppositions mentioned above, and needs to be addressed by scholarship as a whole.  Until this is done adequately, scholarship will continue to present us not the Jesus of history, nor a Gospel history, but a history fashioned entirely by the scholars themselves.  Whole worlds have been—and will continue to be—created which never existed.  Entire reflexive trends in Judaism have been assumed and, in a typical ad hoc manner, critiqued and presented as if they were known to Jews in the first century Common Era.  Of course, they were not. 

 


 

 

In an upcoming book, this whole hypothesis will be contemplated, and a conclusion will be reached.  What exactly is a Gospel?  This author will present a case for the Gospels as fiction, by which Jews drew upon and then reinterpreted scripture—a reflexive style of writing which Jews practiced and perfected throughout their history—and present a case for the development of Christian thought and practices in the late Roman period.       

Atheist Books, purchases on Amazon support the Rational Response Squad server, which houses Celebrity Atheists. Books by Rook Hawkins (Thomas Verenna)

fun read, thanks for posting

fun read, thanks for posting it!

another great post!  =)

another great post!  =)

Rook_Hawkins's picture

Thanks!  I hope some find

Thanks!  I hope some find this useful.  I realized I didn't really establish what I was aiming for with my book, so hopefully this will clear up some of the muddle.  If there are any questions, please feel free to ask them.

Atheist Books, purchases on Amazon support the Rational Response Squad server, which houses Celebrity Atheists. Books by Rook Hawkins (Thomas Verenna)

Rook_Hawkins wrote: Thanks!

Rook_Hawkins wrote:
Thanks! I hope some find this useful. I realized I didn't really establish what I was aiming for with my book, so hopefully this will clear up some of the muddle. If there are any questions, please feel free to ask them.

I'm really looking forward to your book to be honest.  I get precious few hours to read and outside of the Jesus Puzzle there doesn't appear to be a great book out there that setups up the premise of all of this and goes into hte reasoning.  I look forward to you saving me having to read a lot of books to get a good appreciation for what the case is. 

aiia's picture

Rook_Hawkins wrote: I hope

Rook_Hawkins wrote:
I hope some find this useful.

I do

and that's the gospel truth

Smiling

Renee Obsidianwords's picture

Thanks for posting this. I

Thanks for posting this. I want to read more about the 'gospels' and the idea that they are no more then re-interpretations of past scripture...great connection...

-Renee 

Slowly building a blog at ~

http://obsidianwords.wordpress.com/

Rook_Hawkins's picture

Thanks for the positive

Thanks for the positive feedback.  I'm working hard to get you all a finished book. =)

  go slow rook, I admire

  go slow rook, I admire you so much for your help,

The gnostic writtings seem to also support your view, Jesus was an old 'banner lable title' that so many wrote under ..... correct ???

I know you have disagreements with Elaine Pagels, but I sure like this essay from her, but I know jack shit ....

 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/pagels.html

, that whole site seems pretty infomative of todays ideas .... 

... rookin is rockin ... I like rookin ! turn it up ...   

Rook_Hawkins's picture

It would be great to hear

It would be great to hear more feedback.  And if you like it, feel free to digg and stumble this!

Inquiry:

Could you point me to some good books that would introduce me to the "historical Jesus movement" and to the mythicist position? Primary texts of authors within both entities would be preferred, so I can better trace the research behind the scholarly opinion, and really understand the thought process behind their approaches to the text. Also, if you could point to voices who hold that the Gospels are partially to totally historical, that have actually good credentials?

(Please e-mail me this stuff -- I haven't yet gotten an account on this website, and so will have no notification if you respond, and I have a terrible memory for checking forums after I post on them.)

 

Inquiry (2):

Oops! Didn't see that they didn't show the e-mail:

solideogloria1685@yahoo.com

What about Talbert?

It seems to me, that you have to tear apart Talbert before making inroads into the question of genre. 

 

In particular, "What is a Gospel?  The Genre of the Canonical Gospels".  If you are aware of any sources that already do that, I'd be interested.

Rook_Hawkins's picture

spamandham wrote:It seems to

spamandham wrote:

It seems to me, that you have to tear apart Talbert before making inroads into the question of genre. 

 

In particular, "What is a Gospel?  The Genre of the Canonical Gospels".  If you are aware of any sources that already do that, I'd be interested.

I've actually listed "What is a Gospel" quite a bit as a source here in my blog.  I've read it, but the book is outdated.  Particularly, new research done by Mary Ann Tolbert and Michael Vines into the question of genre show there are many problems with accepting the conclusion that the Gospels are "biography".  I would recommend both of these works (Mary Ann Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel; Michael Vines, Problem of Markan Genre) in your quest for discovery.  It is good to be acquainted with strong monographs, but it is also important to be aware of the arguments against them. 

So to answer your initial concern, Talbert's position has been "torn apart" for at least 5 years.  Although there were acknowledgments in his logic not long after his publication.  I would also recommend looking into the JBL database and check out the reviews of his book.

Highest regards,

Rook

Atheist Books, purchases on Amazon support the Rational Response Squad server, which houses Celebrity Atheists. Books by Rook Hawkins (Thomas Verenna)

Great Post

 What was it that Richard Dawkins said : A gospel is something that you can't believe !

Signature ? How ?

"scholars have effectively

"scholars have effectively fractioned the Gospel narratives into fragmented sections or verses."

ahh yes, good old Form criticism. have you perchance become acquainted with the work of the St. Andrews university scholar Dr. Richard Bauckham? in case you don't know, Richard Bauckham (following older scholars like Geharddson (sp.?)) has, over the better part of the last decade, maintained a sustained systematic dismantling and destruction of form criticism. His latest bomb shell to be dropped was delivered by his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

 ADDENDUM: Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory Boyd have also followed Bauckham in their destruction of Form criticism. You will find Boyd and Eddy's work in The Jesus Legend. You and just about every Christ-myther would greatly benefit by reading that last one (they even talk about that mythic hero archetype BS you and Dundes spew(ed))

and about there being contradictions, don't these apparently incredible contradictions within incidental details indicate generally independent streams of tradition corroborating these events? if you have independent and early traditions attesting to an event, then said event is rather likely historical

 

just my .02 cents.

"If you can make any religion of the world look ridiculous, chances are you haven't understood it"-Ravi Zacharias

mig_killer2 wrote:"scholars

mig_killer2 wrote:

"scholars have effectively fractioned the Gospel narratives into fragmented sections or verses."

ahh yes, good old Form criticism. have you perchance become acquainted with the work of the St. Andrews university scholar Dr. Richard Bauckham? in case you don't know, Richard Bauckham (following older scholars like Geharddson (sp.?)) has, over the better part of the last decade, maintained a sustained systematic dismantling and destruction of form criticism. His latest bomb shell to be dropped was delivered by his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

 ADDENDUM: Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory Boyd have also followed Bauckham in their destruction of Form criticism. You will find Boyd and Eddy's work in The Jesus Legend. You and just about every Christ-myther would greatly benefit by reading that last one (they even talk about that mythic hero archetype BS you and Dundes spew(ed))

and about there being contradictions, don't these apparently incredible contradictions within incidental details indicate generally independent streams of tradition corroborating these events? if you have independent and early traditions attesting to an event, then said event is rather likely historical

 

just my .02 cents.

Yep - never mind the gospels describing two different Jesus characters (one Pauline, one anti-Pauline). Just hit the attacks on the form.

"I do this real moron thing, and it's called thinking. And apparently I'm not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions."
— George Carlin

jcgadfly wrote:mig_killer2

jcgadfly wrote:

mig_killer2 wrote:

"scholars have effectively fractioned the Gospel narratives into fragmented sections or verses."

ahh yes, good old Form criticism. have you perchance become acquainted with the work of the St. Andrews university scholar Dr. Richard Bauckham? in case you don't know, Richard Bauckham (following older scholars like Geharddson (sp.?)) has, over the better part of the last decade, maintained a sustained systematic dismantling and destruction of form criticism. His latest bomb shell to be dropped was delivered by his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

 ADDENDUM: Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory Boyd have also followed Bauckham in their destruction of Form criticism. You will find Boyd and Eddy's work in The Jesus Legend. You and just about every Christ-myther would greatly benefit by reading that last one (they even talk about that mythic hero archetype BS you and Dundes spew(ed))

and about there being contradictions, don't these apparently incredible contradictions within incidental details indicate generally independent streams of tradition corroborating these events? if you have independent and early traditions attesting to an event, then said event is rather likely historical

 

just my .02 cents.

Yep - never mind the gospels describing two different Jesus characters (one Pauline, one anti-Pauline). Just hit the attacks on the form.

anti-pauline you say? would you like to show me how some of the Gospels are anti-Pauline? I assume that you mean that Luke and Mark are pro-Pauline with Matthew being anti-Pauline, and John being God knows what.

"If you can make any religion of the world look ridiculous, chances are you haven't understood it"-Ravi Zacharias