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The Traditional Jesus

13 Jan
This is not my wording, but I don't think I can express it better than “spin” did.
 
Just on the subject of the traditional Jesus, the notion of tradition is very important to the position, hence the name, for want of better. The position revolves around the problems of traditions and how one can–if at all–derive any historical information from traditions. The stupidity of probabilities, modern common sense, or application of rules for extracting history from them brings derisive laughter from me. It's like expecting to send a meteor into the sun and be able to say where any of its parts are at any given time. Few data that enter a tradition will retain any history. One may point to a particular event, such as the census in Luke, and claim that that supplies a historical date, and, by itself, it does, but how is that date relates to the tradition is a mystery. It's a terminus a quo for the datum attached to that particular date, but how does it relate to the rest of the tradition? When did the tradition start and when did the datum enter the tradition? Pilate for example implies a date range, but when did Pilate get absorbed into the tradition? The tradition is unable to tell you, though of course it couldn't be before Pilate. At what stage was the tradition when Pilate entered it? The tradition doesn't say. We are slightly fortunate because we have a few visions of part of the tradition in the various gospels. There is the possibility of setting up some sort of relative chronology of some of the elements in the tradition.
 
The Jesus of this view is–at the moment–unreachable and he always may be. We have no way in and the tradition cannot help. Imagine that the tradition is an avalanche that we can see at one moment of its downhill course. From your position all you can see is the event front. What it has absorbed and is dragging with it is behind that event front. The tradition, as far as we can see, is the event front in that moment. Paul may have been the prime mover of the event, but there is no way to be sure, as things stand. The tradition itself keeps its secrets jealously.
 
This is part of what is behind the notion of traditional.
 
spin
 
I think this makes me a “believer” in the traditional Jesus. It is a belief in belief in some ways: I believe that the early Christians believed in some sort of tradition(s) about Jesus. But tradition itself does not permit us to differentiate between what is “real” and what is “not”. It is probably a more nuanced position than a simply “Agnostic Jesus” position. It actually explains the agnosticism. That's why I think more scholars should be honest and preface their “facts” about Jesus with “tradition” statements.
 
It was a tradition that Jesus was crucified. Was Jesus actually crucified? Who knows; we only have what the tradition says. Was Jesus a wandering preacher? We have one tradition (the gospels) where this is the case. We have another tradition (Paul) where it is not. 
 
 
 
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Posted by on January 13, 2011 in early Christianity, historical jesus, historicity, historiography, history, jesus myth

 

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