Posted: May 06, 2012 4:05 pm
by proudfootz
Doherty continues his analysis of Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist:


Form Criticism and Oral Traditions About Jesus
    The Fallacy of Form Criticism
    The Written Evidence of Common Patterns Versus the Oral Hypothesis
    Literary Construction out of Scripture, not Oral Traditions
    Traditions in Thomas and Q — not independent
    The Path to Jesus is Paved with Good Assumptions
    How Ehrman Dates the Sources to the Day After Jesus
    From Contradiction and Confusion to Total Chaos
The Aramaic Origins of (Some) Oral Traditions
    Aramaic originals?
    An Aramaic Son of Man?

Some highlights:

As Ehrman puts it, form criticism has asked: How did the various kinds of stories assume their various forms?

The stories about Jesus came to be shaped in the process of telling and retelling, as they assumed their characteristic forms. This means that the stories were changed, sometimes radically, when they were retold, and thus formed over the years. (p. 84)

Something doesn’t compute here. Ehrman has just told us that all the healing miracle stories, for example, are found in the Gospels in a more or less identical form. But oral transmission over a wide area, within an uncoordinated movement, is not likely to produce conformity. Quite the opposite...

In fact, Ehrman has just said that the process is one of “telling and retelling,” in which the stories “were changed, sometimes radically, when they were retold.” And yet he wants us to subscribe to a contradictory end result: that these traditions were “shaped” and “formed over the years” into a product that followed only one consistent form. If there was no established centralized record or requirement of how miracle stories passed on by many mouths in many places through oral tradition were to be formulated, arriving at such a consistency would be utterly unlikely. We would arrive at diversity, not conformity. The unexpected conformity has at some stage been imposed.

That stage, logically, is a literary one. And it is most likely at the composing of the Gospels—in most cases that of the first one, Mark. But if that is the case, the entire methodology of form criticism is undercut, because it becomes very difficult to penetrate back beyond the Gospel stage to perceive the nature or form of the antecedent...

...another process of “construction” is revealed at virtually every level throughout the work of the evangelists. Their dependence on scriptural precedents for so much of their text is by now well known, although Ehrman virtually ignores the whole question. (Probably too sophisticated—and confusing—for his readership.)

The elements of a miracle story like the loaves and fishes, for example, are very unlikely to proceed from oral tradition, since we can see its fabrication out of miracle stories from the Hebrew bible, in this case similar miracles by Elijah and Elisha. If Mark had some version come to him through oral tradition about a reputed miracle performed by Jesus, why did he make no use of it?

Regarding “stories being told about Jesus,” Ehrman says:

If scholars are right that Q and the core of the Gospel of Thomas, to pick just two examples, do date from the 50s, and that they were based on oral traditions that had already been in circulation for a long time, how far back do these traditions go? (p. 85)

But Ehrman surely knows that his designation of Q and the Thomas core (wisdom-type sayings similar to those of Q1) as two independent collections of Jesus’ sayings is misleading, if not outright false. Helmut Koester and others have concluded that

. . . the Gospel of Thomas is either dependent upon the earliest version of Q or, more likely, shares with the author of Q one or several very early collections of Jesus’ sayings. (Ancient Christian Gospels, p.95)

In other words, there is a literary dependence between the two; they are not independent, no more than Matthew or Luke are independent of Mark for their Jesus story, no more than the Q portions of Matthew and Luke are independent collections, since they are the same body of material used by two different writers.

Ehrman, of course, as do most scholars, simply assumes that whatever collection of sayings may have preceded Thomas and Q, it represents a record of the teachings of Jesus, just as they automatically do for Q1 itself. But that is yet to be established; to assume it is to beg the question.

The wisdom root of Q, and thus of Thomas, could simply be the adopted ethics of the kingdom-preaching sect (some of it looks to derive from Cynic philosophy), long before any founder Jesus was envisioned as the speaker. (And a close study of Q, as I present in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, indicates that this is in fact the case.)

Ehrman offers a truly bizarre argument to bolster this tracking down of Jesus traditions to the period immediately after his life:

For one thing, as we will see in the next chapter, how else would someone like Paul have known to persecute the Christians, if Christians didn’t exist? And how could they exist if they didn’t know anything about Jesus? (p. 85)

One begged question is followed by another begged question. All of the sources Ehrman finds behind the Gospels, such as Q and Thomas, special “M” and “L,” John’s Signs Source and Discourses, are declared by fiat to automatically reflect an historical Jesus’ words and deeds.

In support of this, he appeals to Paul’s persecution of Christians, as though this persecution has to have been directed at followers of the Gospel Jesus, when there no sign that any such figure or group is on Paul’s radar.

For Ehrman, there can be only one application of the term “Christians.”

...Before even arguing the point, Ehrman claims the orthodox view and makes Paul witness not simply to an historical Jesus but to early traditions about him, traditions, by the way, which he never shows any knowledge of or interest in. On the sayings of Q and Thomas, on special “M” and “L,” on John’s Signs and Discourses, the epistles are totally silent.

Ehrman says, we have “ample reason” to conclude that stories about an historical Jesus were circulating “from a very early time.” On what basis? Why, all those “sources (that) are independent of one another.”

From Contradiction and Confusion to Total Chaos

In the same breath as claiming that “They contain strikingly different accounts of what Jesus said and did,” those sources, Ehrman says, “agree on too many of the fundamentals.”

Which is it?

John is certainly strikingly different in his teachings of Jesus from the Synoptics, so different that both pictures are virtually incompatible, making at least one of them outright invention.

The Synoptics agree on many of the fundamentals because Matthew and Luke (and John in his Passion) are basically copying from Mark. And where they are not dependent on Mark, Matthew and Luke are not corroborative because their “special” material is different, and their Q material comes from a single document and so they are not “independent.”

Amid all this confusion, Ehrman throws his argument into total chaos by declaring that all the fundamentals everyone agrees on “are based on oral traditions,” sweeping aside the clear literary dependencies inherent in the Gospels and in Matthew and Luke’s use of Q.

Decades after the abandonment of a thread in scholarly opinion that the Gospels may have been originally written in Aramaic, Bart Ehrman revives it in part by suggesting that some of his “oral traditions” lying behind the Gospels circulated in the days immediately following Jesus in the language of Aramaic. This theory is based on a paltry handful of Aramaic words that appear in the Gospels, supposedly indicating that these words are a survival of originally whole Aramaic oral traditions about Jesus...

But it could equally well be explained as the usage by Mark of a common type of phrase used in faith healing in the Greco-Aramaic culture of the day, including in Q-type practice which Mark would have been a party to, something that might have been more familiar in Aramaic than in anything else.

Bilingual people in our own day tend to intermix phrases from one language into the other, especially if they have a well-used meaning in the other language. If I as a writer (or even speaker) in English use the phrase “raison d’être”, I don’t need to have the reader postulate that I am reflecting a prior source in French, it’s just part of the parlance which English speakers and writers in a bilingual culture often use. (It’s actually handier in the French.) And Mark provides a Greek translation for those of his readers who are not bilingual, maybe gentiles within the movement...

<full article at link below> ... e-gospels/