Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Craig Evans versus Bart Ehrman: Does the New Testament present a reliable portrait of the Historical Jesus?

Two established scholars in New Testament studies taking each other to task. 

Ehrman is doing what he does best: Pointing out "contradictions" in the four gospels as the reason to doubt the historical reliability of them, and hence the historical portrayals of Jesus. If these accounts contradict each other, then they are not historically accurate. Hence we cannot be too quick to assume their reliability.

Evans highlights the first principle that contemporary biblical scholars ground their researches (including that of Ehrman): The gospel accounts are reliable as far as historical research is concerned, and this is the starting point of biblical scholarship itself. Can we assume these documents are inaccurate just because we cannot make historical sense from them despite there are details found in them that correspond with archaeological findings and extra-biblical historical data?

Both agree that the gospel accounts are difficult for contemporary readers to comprehend. For Ehrman, this means "contradiction" and so we must read them as fabrication---those events just didn't happen. 

For Evans, this means that we can still ascertain historical data from the texts even though there is difficulty---we have to continue to work on understanding those difficulties with what we can historically affirm.

Isn't the two scholars' so-called historical conclusion philosophical differences?


Israel Lee said...

The thing I disagree with Ehrman is the way he rhetorically talks about this issue. For example, he stresses emphatically in higher tone and in slower articulation that, "there are discrepancies all over map .... every scholar who does this kind of work" which gives the idea to the audience that the bible is full of faults and all scholars agrees with him, except for weird fundamentalists, whereas a few seconds later, he will say plainly and in a much lower tone that what he is saying is that there are discrepancies in the bible, which I totally agree.

However, his rhetorically prowess in speech gives not just a mere fact that there are discrepancies in the bible, but the bible itself is made out of nothing, but discrepancies, and those reading it that way are the smart and trending ones.

This is what I do not like about his style. He does not state facts alone, he rhetorically pitches them to lead his audience to a position that the factual evidences themselves do not strongly support.

Craig to me, is no match against Ehrman's rhetorical skills.

reasonable said...

Evans did not take advantage of one key term of the debate title: PORTRAIT

So the debate was not about whether we have a reliable metaphorical photograph of Jesus (which surely we do not have), but whether or not we have a reliable (the word is reliable, not accurate) PORTRAIT of Jesus.

Ehrman tried to modify the debate title to his advantage by re-framing it into a question of historical ACCURACY.

Craig Evans in the video agreed with Ehrman that there are DISCREPANCIES in the New Testament Gospels. Both agreed that historical information can be found contained in the NT Gospels.

I perceive the debate becomes more of a difference in semantics: it becomes a difference in how one should call those
4 gospel-narratives that contains errors/discrepancies/contradictions.

Should we call them unhistorical narratives containing historical information (and hence scholars need to dig into to dig out historical information), or to call them historical narratives containing unhistorical information (which scholars need to dig into in order to separate the unhistorical from the historical).