Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thirty-fifth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Father Drew was following along with his own Bible and nodded his head.
Father Drew was admiring the collection of scrolls in Bleddyn’s library. “You have put your library to good use, son.”
“Aye, Father. Would you like to trade some scrolls for copying again? I found some real interesting ones in Airmyn and Londinium.”
“I certainly would. Show me what you have.”
Father Drew and Bleddyn bent over the collection for a while and the priest picked one out. “I have a great adventure story in my collection that I have been saving for you, son. I will bring it with me tomorrow.”
Bleddyn smiled, sensed his father wanted to talk with the priest alone, and left the room.
Father Drew turned to Gwilym. “How goes your quest, Gwilym?”
Gwilym laughed and said, “You mean the building of towers? It is hardly a quest, though I’ve been learning a lot about how to do it better. Fred is keeping track of the ideas and Bleddyn is teaching him how to read and write. We plan to write down all our improvements in something called ‘The Project Management Guide’”
“That is a lovely story, Gwilym but you are concealing from me your true quest. Why is a man who reads better Greek and Latin than I, a man who has traveled to the Holy Land, a man with a huge collection of scrolls, building towers?”
“It’s a living, father. You cannot feed your family on scraps of Greek.”
Father Drew looked long and hard at Gwilym, then released him from his stare. “Let us resume our talk about the Bible. I have done a lot of studying since we last talked and have a few questions.”
Gwilym nodded.
“Which parts of the Bible do you believe are true and which are not?”
Gwilym took a deep breath and prepared his words. “My father came up with three criteria that help you to decide how likely it was that anything in the past actually happened. If something meets all three criteria, it is more likely to be true than if it meets none of the criteria. I cannot say for sure if it really happened, only that the likelihood is higher.”
“That sounds sensible. What are the criteria, Gwilym?”
“The first is the criterion of multiple attestations. If different people tell the same
story, the more believable it is. If one person says it and others copy from that one person, it only counts as one attestation. That’s why my father insisted on separating out the Gospels into the pure sources. When you have done that, you can see if a story is agreed to by Joseph, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Peter and Thomas. You can sometimes add in Paul’s letters. See the story of the rich young man. It’s in Mark, Matthew and Luke but the other two get it from Mark so that doesn’t count. I’ll show you examples that meet the criteria.”
“Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist in Matthew, Mark and Luke. But we can assume the other two got it from Mark. However, all three also have sayings of John they got from Joseph. Plus there’s an encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist in John. That makes 3 sources attesting to John the Baptist: Mark, Joseph and John.”
“Jesus was crucified during Pontius Pilate. This appears in Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All but Paul write that it occurred during Pilate's reign.”
“Jesus has brothers. Mark, John, and Paul call one of them James.”
“That is a sensible criterion, Gwilym. What is the next one?”
“The next criterion is that of contextual credibility. For instance, if we read that Jesus was jousting in Galilee, it may sound right to the people of this land but we who study the Bible know that there was no jousting 500 years ago in the Holy Land.”
“Similarly, Peter said King Herod executed Jesus. I know the Romans didn't administer Palestine this way. Herod had no such authority.”
 “We also know that Jesus spoke Aramaic and that the Gospels were translated from this into Greek. Therefore, certain sentences that make sense in Greek, don’t in Aramaic so they probably were a later addition.”
“Do you have an example of this, Gwilym?” asked Father Drew.
“Look at John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus that no-one will see kingdom of heaven unless born again or from above. The Greek word onothen is ambiguous. Nicodemus misunderstands it to mean a 'second time'. Jesus meant 'from above'. But that ambiguity only makes sense in Greek. Since Jesus and Nicodemus would speak Aramaic that whole exchange makes no sense since there is no ambiguity for that word in Aramaic.”
Father Drew’s brow crinkled. “Then how can you prove anything with this criterion?”
“You can’t, Father. You can only disprove things that don’t match the contextual credibility.”
Father Drew nodded and his brow cleared. “I agree with that criterion also, Gwilym. What is the third?”
“The third is the criterion of dissimilarity. If one of your parishioners was accused of stealing a horse from the Earl and you told the Earl that you saw him do it, that would be damning evidence indeed. Because you would be saying something that goes against your best interests. But if you tell the Earl how wonderful your parishioner is, that can only make you look better and he will believe it with a grain of salt. So, when we read the Bible, we look for things that the early Christians say that don’t necessarily help their case. For instance, when they tell us that Jesus was the son of God, it doesn’t match this criterion.”
“Are you trying to tell me you do not believe Jesus was the son of God?!” exclaimed Father Drew.
“That’s not what I was saying, Father. I actually do believe it to be true. I’m simply saying that it doesn’t meet the criterion. Just as your parishioner may indeed be wonderful while you tell the Earl so, it simply doesn’t meet the criterion of dissimilarity.”
“Do you have examples of this?”
“Aye. Jesus being the son of a carpenter didn’t help their case to win early converts. It would have been easier to say He was the son of a rabbi. Same with Him coming from a backwards area like Nazareth. So, those things are probably true. Rising from the dead doesn’t meet this criterion although it does meet the criterion of multiple attestations. So we have to look at each passage and run them through the criteria and see what is likely.”
“That is a powerful criteria. Do you have other examples of where it proves the statement to be true?”
Gwilym shook his head and said, “None of them prove it to be true, they only increase the likelihood. But look here for some examples. Jesus was baptized by John. But according to the story, John is Jesus’ spiritual inferior. Matthew even shows some embarrassment in Him being baptized by John. If the early Christians wanted to make Jesus look better, they would have had Him baptized by God. So, Him being baptized by John is more likely to be true.”
“Also, there is the crucifixion. That story didn't help convert Jews. No Jews expected a suffering Messiah.”
“He was betrayed by one of his own twelve disciples. No-one would make that up if they wanted to recruit more Jews.”
Father Drew was following along with his own Bible and nodded his head.
Gwilym continued. “Look at Matthew 25. Sheep and goats separated by son of man. But the early Christians didn't believe salvation came from good deeds.”
Father Drew looked up at Gwilym. “Have you done this already? Have you decided which parts of the Bible are reliable and which are not?”
“I have, but remember, just because something doesn’t meet a criterion doesn’t make it false and even if it meets all three, that doesn’t make it true, just more likely to be true. Faith is the most important thing.”
“I need to think about this some more, Gwilym.”

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

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