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Re: Can we talk about inspiration?

Postby Dominator » Thu Oct 05, 2017 2:03 pm

Good! We seem to have found purchase. The Gospels cannot conflict because they are all making historical claims, and God does not accommodate erroneous illucutions or meanings. I'm familiar with your solution: the Composite Gospel. None of the Gospels contain any error, now narrowly defined as incorrect fact (the sin of omission doesn't matter!), but it is their composite testimonies that make up the complete picture. So we can mash them all together and get the Composite Gospel - the complete and total picture. This summarized the bulk of your remedies for the seemingly obvious contradictions.

I'll get back to them specifically as the conversation progresses. But first, I tried it. Here is my best attempt at a composite rendering of Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:1-9. Please read it carefully and reference your own Bible to make sure I have rendered this properly (I was working from the NIV). It was very challenging in some parts, but I tried really hard to make them all flow together:

After the Sabbath on the first day of the week, at dawn, just at sunrise in the very early morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, the other Mary, Joanna, Salome, and the others took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. As they were walking, they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” Meanwhile, there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. When the women arrived and looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away and removed from the entrance.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

Then they entered the tomb and saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side of the entrance, and they were alarmed. Looking further back into the tomb, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside then. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground. The young man at the entrance said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” The two men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” Then they remembered his words.

At first, the women were trembling and bewildered and went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

But eventually, Mary Magdalene and other others came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. On the way, Mary mother of James and Mary Magdalene came suddenly and met Jesus who said “Greetings.” They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, they will see me.”

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. So Mary told Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Standing up straight, Peter went away, wondering to himself what had happened. But the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

If I've gotten the total picture wrong, please let me know - it is of paramount importance that we put this narrative together as accurately as possible. I had a really hard time with John saying it was still dark outside, but the others saying it was sunrise (in case you've never lived outside the city and woke up at dawn, it gets light before sunrise). I also had a really hard time with what went on in the tomb and after the women ran back. I mean, Mark just ended it, "they said nothing because they were afraid (16:8). If that wasn't the whole picture, then Mark was just downright misleading. I also don't really understand why Mary Magadline would tell Peter she didn't know what had been done with the body right after two angels had just told her. Is this a parable about how forgetful we are right after leaving a holy place? But Mary Magdalene met Jesus as she was fleeing the tomb! So I really don't understand why she would leave that part out in her report to the disciples.

John resumes the narrative with Mary (presumably mother of James) crying after Peter left the cave, and two more angels appear to her followed by Jesus. I really don't get this one either, because if we treat these as one story, Mary mother of James was with Mary Magdaline running back to tell the other disciples as she bumped into Jesus. And she defintely heard it three times that Jesus was resurrected.

I'm curious if you can truly help me harmonize these texts into a meaningful whole, but what I am most confused about the Composite Gospel theory is why we have this problem at all. According to tradition, Mark was writing based on accounts from Peter, and Matthew and John were disciples themselves. Why would Peter leave out the part about him running to the tomb, which John and Luke mention? It's not like the theological works of Paul, which can arguably require divine inspiration to synthesize information, this is remembered first and second hand information. And not just anyone's memory - divinely inspired apostolic memory. What gives?

And, by the way, nicely done on the Judas story. That explanation is probably the most sound that I've heard. I don't mean explanation for the discrepancy, that doesn't matter to me, but explanation of the meaning of those stories. There are still discrepancy errors like who bought the field, so you still have an unresolved problem, from an inerrancy standpoint, but I appreciate your analysis.

Re: Can we talk about inspiration?

Postby jimwalton » Thu Oct 19, 2017 5:58 pm

Thanks for your reply. Yeah, I've done a composite rendering of the resurrection narrative myself, pulling all of the elements together into a reasonable flow of events. Mine is different from yours, but the point is that each Gospel writer has told the elements of the story pertinent to his particular thesis.

There are several cultural pieces to the Gospel pie that help us understand the variations.

The ancients didn't regard historiography the way we do. For example, we often attach the label "historiography: to literature that we expect will help us determine what "really happened." As 21st century scholars, we are interested in historical reconstruction. It would be an anachronistic mistake, however, to presume that ancient narrators automatically have that same goal. T. M. Bolin says, "Much of the present confusion about [ancient] historiography is due to the fact that the term 'historiography' is understood not as a genre classification, but rather as a sort of truth claim founded upon the assumption of equivocation between historical fact and truth." In other words, when we define historiography in modern terms, we have already distorted the ancient literature. We write history in such a way as to present a particular reality associated with an event, to present a true picture of what really happened from a certain perspective, since no one can tell all of what happened, and since there is always a perspective to an event. Different authors have different perceptions of an event. Nowadays we just have to read the news to read a wide-ranging difference of perspective on the exact same event by our President, or by a shooter in Las Vegas (should we interpret this event politically? religiously? racially? supremacist-ly?). So it's not enough to say historiography is a written representation of an event, because that doesn't say much. The concern of the Gospel writers was not journalistic (reveal your sources), historiographical ("Just the facts, Ma'am"), or biographical (recording every event and word). Their interest was to tell the story of Jesus from a collection of facts portraying Jesus in a particular light. Of course they intend to tell the truth, but not in the same way we think of historiography.

Suppose you took a picture of a person, and then Van Gogh painted a portrait of that person. Which one is more realistic? It depends what you mean by realistic, I guess.

Harmonizing the texts is a drive of ours, but probably a detrimental one (though I have done it many times myself). The Diatessaron (around AD 160) was an attempt on Tatian's part to coalesce the Gospel accounts. The problem with doing that is that in our quest for harmony we lose all the flavor of the separate accounts, and therefore we ruin them. It's as misguided as the "Reader's Digest Condensed Bible." The points of the authors are theological, not chronological.

The Gospel writers would have approached historiography not just as an assemblage and presentation of the facts, but as an avenue to express their beliefs about the person of Jesus. As such, some of their "history" is more like a Van Gogh painting than a photograph, more like a theography than a "Just the facts. Ma'am." Even in the book of Acts when Luke tells the story of Paul's conversion three times (acts 9, 22,26), all three are different from each other. Now, either the guy was a pure idiot or the "what actually happened" was not their view of historiography. And yet that's the kind of mold in which we try to force their writings.

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