Were the Miracles of Jesus invented by the Disciples/Evangelists?


Posted: June 7, 2002  |   Back to the Miracles Index  |  Summary


 

11. Are there any indications from the miracle stories themselves that suggest their historicity?

 

 

At this point in the series, we have seen that these miracle stories were apparently meant to be taken historically. 

 

We have determined this by examining the various genres and various authorial intentions that could be considered to "allow" fictional events. We then examined a couple of unconscious and social influences which are suggested as possible 'creators' of the miracle stories. And finally we saw that any hypothetical 'embellishment motive' could not be discerned in the period immediately after the New Testament, nor could we find evidence of it being operative--at the level required to CREATE an entire miracle--within the various postulated sources/layers/strata of the gospels.

 

In the next question in the series, we will look at whether there are any extra-biblical witnesses to Jesus' miracle working activities, and especially whether we can find any mentions of specific events from the gospels.

 

Our purpose in THIS question, however, is to look at the internal data about the miracles--are there any indications from the stories themselves (and/or their placement or usage within the larger gospel wholes) which might be considered evidences of authenticity.

 

We are immediately faced with the obvious problem of method, in assessing a narrative unit on its own terms.

 

The major method we will use here is that of the Criteria of Authenticity.

 

New Testament scholars have come up with what they call historical Criteria of Authenticity. These are historical 'canons' against which the various words and deeds of Jesus are tested. These criteria were originally developed to weed out the narrative elements supposedly invented/added by the post-Easter Church, and to thereby distill out the historical 'core' that could be attributed to the pre-Easter ministry of Jesus. The basic aim of the criteria is to identify those elements which most plausibly originated in a Palestinian-Jewish, pre-Easter community. Although some of these can become notoriously subjective in application, they will at least allow us to illustrate why/how strongly the historical "claims" of the miracle traditions are sometimes asserted.

 

The minor method we will use is that of intra-narrative details.

 

The miracle narratives sometimes contain details that are either vivid, incidental, or unexpected. Some scholars have seen these to be reflective of historicity (e.g. Vincent Taylor), whereas others have cautioned against the use of these (e.g. J.P. Meier). We will discuss these from a method standpoint first, and then assess what evidential weight might be assigned to these types of details.

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

Major Method: The Criteria of Authenticity.

 

There are 5 such criteria which are broadly accepted. There are many summaries and statements of these--I will be using Evan's discussion in NT:JHC. (The abbreviations of these are mine--for use in the table below).

 

1. Multiple Attestation (MA):

 

"Multiple attestation refers to material that appears in two or more independent sources. This material may be regarded as primitive, though not necessarily authentic. Multiple attestation confirms that material was not generated by one evangelist or another (or their respective communities), but must have been in circulation some years before the Gospels and their sources were composed. Thus, multiple attestation does not guarantee authenticity; it only guarantees antiquity." [NT:JHC:15]

 

 

2. Historical Coherence (HC):

 

"Material that coheres with what we know of Jesus' historical circumstances and the principal features of his life should be given priority. This is a point that Sanders has made, and I think it has merit. We may expect authentic material to help explain 'why [Jesus] attracted attention, why he was executed, and why he was subsequently deified.'" Material that does not clarify these questions is not automatically excluded, of course, but priority must be given to material that does clarify them." [NT:JHC:13f]

 

"Finally, the criterion of coherence (or consistency) should also be considered as a valid canon of authenticity. It justifies the broadening of the core of material established as authentic through appeal to the criteria described above. Accordingly, material that coheres or is consistent with material judged authentic may also be regarded as authentic. However, Meier rightly warns that this criterion should not be applied too rigorously, especially negatively, to exclude material as inauthentic…The potential danger in this criterion lies in too quickly assuming what the essence of Jesus' message was and in insisting that material cohere quite closely to this essence." [NT:JHC:23]

 

 

3. Embarrassment (EM):

 

"By 'embarrassing,' I mean material that is perceived by the evangelists as awkward, as in need of qualification, and perhaps even deletion. It may also be material that is contrary to the editorial tendency of the evangelist himself. Nevertheless, despite the awkwardness and the potential embarrassment, the material is preserved. It is reasoned, and I think cogently, that this material is preserved because it is ancient and widespread. As Meier has put it: 'It is highly unlikely that the Church went out of its way to create the cause of its own embarrassment.'" [NT:JHC:18]

 

 

4. Dissimilarity (DS):

 

"Defined and put into practice as it was during the heyday of redaction criticism, the criterion of dissimilarity (or discontinuity, as it was sometimes called) is problematic. Norman Perrin gave this criterion its classic definition: "the earliest form of a saying we can reach may be regarded as authentic if it can be shown to be dissimilar to characteristic emphases both of ancient Judaism and of the early Church." In recent years it has been soundly criticized…Although the criterion of dissimilarity has been criticized, it has in a certain sense also been rehabilitated. Dissimilarity to early Judaism has been dropped, as it should be, while dissimilarity to emphases in the early Church is applied with greater nuance. Material cannot be disqualified simply because it is in continuity with the teaching of the early Church, it should be disqualified if it appears to reflect ideas that are inconsistent with the Sitz im Leben Jesu." [NT:JHC:19,21]

 

 

5. Semitisms and Palestinian Background (SP):

 

"Meier subdivides this criterion into two related criteria: "Traces of Aramaic" and "Palestinian Environment." He admits that they have some value in making negative assessments (i.e. linguistic and environmental elements foreign to first-century Palestine probably do not derive from Jesus, but from later, non-Palestinian segments of the early Church). But he doubts that these criteria have much value for making positive judgments. All that Semitisms and Palestinian features prove is that a given saying originated in an Aramaic-speaking Palestinian community, not that it necessarily originated with Jesus. To an extent, Meier is right. There is no question that Joachim Jeremias and others sometimes claimed too much on the basis of Aramaic and Palestinian elements. Nevertheless, I think these criteria do make an important contribution, perhaps mostly in a general way.

 

"The Gospels are written in Greek and yet they purport to record the sayings of Jesus who in all probability spoke primarily in Aramaic. If these Greek sayings in reality represent the utterances of the Aramaic speaking Jesus, we should expect to find traces of the Aramaic language. And indeed we do. We find Aramaic words and idioms that are foreign to Greek but at home in Aramaic. Aramaic language and Palestinian elements do not of course prove the authenticity of any given saying, though they add a measure of support and, in general, they instill in the historian the confidence that the tradition is ancient and bears the characteristics one should expect of authentic dominical tradition. I believe that it is therefore appropriate to regard the criteria of Semitisms and Palestinian background as playing an important supporting role with respect to the other criteria." [NT:JHC:22f]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay--our next step is to apply each of these criteria to our list of miracles.

 

 

1. Multiple Attestation

 

The first one--Multiple Attestation--deals with how 'widely spread' the miracle story is, with 'wider' being 'more likely to be original to the ministry of Jesus': How pervasive is the tradition that Jesus worked miracles, in how many different 'forms' are they narrated or referred to, and how many different ways are the miracles referred to?

 

I will use for sake of this analysis the various independent sources as discussed by scholars:

 

1.        Mark

2.        Q - (Generally material common to Matthew and Luke, but not occurring in Mark)

3.        John's gospel, including the putative 'signs source' and Appendix

4.        L - (material only found in Luke)

5.        M - (material only found in Matthew)

 

When we apply this to our matrix of miracles, here's what we get:

 

Miracle

Type

Mark

Matt

Luke

John

In all four gospels (Mark)

 

 

 

 

 

1. Feeding of 5,000

nature

6.35f

14.15f

9.12f

6.5f

In three gospels (Mark)

 

 

 

 

 

2. Walking on water

nature

6.48f

14.25f

 

6.19f

3. Peter's mother-in-law

healing

1.30f

8.14f

4.38f

 

4. Man with leprosy

healing

1.40f

8.24f

5.12f

 

5. Paralyzed man

healing

2.3f

9.2f

5.18f

 

6. Man with shriveled hand

healing

3.1f

12.10f

6.6f

 

7. Calming the storm

nature

4.37f

8.23f

8.22f

 

8. Gadarene Demoniac(s)

exorcism

5.1f

8.28f

8.27f

 

9. Raising Jairus' daughter

revivification

5.22f

9.18f

8.41f

 

10. Hemorrhaging woman

healing

5.25f

9.20f

8.43f

 

11. Demon-possessed boy

exorcism

9.17f

17.14f

9.38f

 

12. Two blind men

healing

10.46f

20.29f

18.35f

 

In two gospels (Mark, Matt)

 

 

 

 

 

13. Canaanite woman's daughter

exorcism@distance

7.24f

15.21f

 

 

14. Feeding of 4,000

nature

8.1f

15.32f

 

 

15. Fig tree withered

nature

11.12f

21.18f

 

 

In two gospels (Mark, Luke)

 

 

 

 

 

16. Possessed man in synagogue

exorcism

1.23f

 

4.33f

 

In two gospels (Matt, Luke="Q")

 

 

 

 

 

17. Roman Centurion's servant

healing@distance

 

8.5f

7.1f

 

18. Blind, Mute, and Possessed man

exorcism

 

12.22

11.14

 

Only in one gospel (Mark)

 

 

 

 

 

19. Deaf mute

healing

7.31f

 

 

 

20. Blind man at Bethsaida

healing

8.22f

 

 

 

Only in one gospel (Matt)

 

 

 

 

 

21. Two blind men

healing

 

9.27f

 

 

22. Mute and possessed man

exorcism

 

9.32f

 

 

23. Coin in fish's mouth

precognition/nature?

 

17.24f

 

 

Only in one gospel (Luke)

 

 

 

 

 

24. First catch of fish

precognition/nature?

 

 

5.1f

 

25. Raising Widow's son at Nain

revivification

 

 

7.11f

 

26. Exorcism of Mary Magdalene

exorcism

 

 

8.2

 

27. Crippled woman

healing

 

 

13.11f

 

28. Man with dropsy

healing

 

 

14.1f

 

29. Ten men with leprosy

healing@distance

 

 

17.11f

 

30. High Priest's servant

healing

 

 

22.50f

 

Only in one gospel (John)

 

 

 

 

 

31. Wine miracle at Cana

nature

 

 

 

2.1f

32. Official's son at Capernaum

healing@distance

 

 

 

4.46f

33. Sick man at Pool of Bethesda

healing

 

 

 

5.1f

34. Healing of the Blind Man

healing

 

 

 

9.1f

35. Raising Lazarus

revivification

 

 

 

11.1f

36. Second catch of fish

precognition/nature?

 

 

 

21.1f

 

 

This gives us:

 

·         16 miracles attested in multiple gospels, but present in Mark (and therefore perhaps 'derived' from Mark)

·         2 miracles in "Q"

·         2 unique to Mark

·         3 in the "M" source

·         7 in the "L" source

·         5 in the Johannine 'signs source' and 1 in the Appendix to John's gospel

 

This means that the miracle tradition appears in all sources and strata, as often noted in the literature:

 

"A final piece of evidence that Jesus performed miracles is that inside the New Testament all the Gospel traditions support the case that Jesus performed miracles: Mark, Q, M, L, John and--if it existed--the Johannine signs source, as well as the appendix to the Fourth Gospel. The witness of various literary forms in the Gospels also gives support to the view that Jesus performed miracles. There are biographical sayings, parables, a dispute story, sayings of instruction, and commissionings, as well as the stories of exorcism, healing, raising the dead and so-called nature miracles…" [NT:JMW:256]

 

"If the above data caution us against easily assuming that the autonomy of Jesus' miracle-working as represented in the Markan miracles is due to a secondary assimilation of Jesus to pagan miracle workers, further considerations will suggest that this autonomy was a characteristic feature of the historical Jesus himself. Firstly, we have already seen that this feature generally goes against the grain of  O.T., apostolic, and rabbinic miracle stories. Therefore Latourelle is to some extent justified when he argues that Jesus' autonomy passes the criterion of dissimilarity. Secondly, all of the miracle stories from each of the generally recognized Gospel strata (Q, Mark, M, L, John) agree in their presentation of the autonomy of Jesus' miracle-working...the Gospel's presentation of Jesus' direct manner of performing miracles coheres with that striking degree of authority which the historical Jesus undeniably exercised with respect to his ministry as a whole." [X02:TAMMT:132-3]

 

"The single most important criterion in the investigation of Jesus' Miracles is the criterion of multiple attestation of sources and forms. (a) As for multiple sources, the evidence is overwhelming. Every Gospel source (Mark, Q, M, L, and John), every evangelist in his redactional summaries, and Josephus to boot affirm the miracle-working activity of Jesus. Indeed, each Gospel source does so more than once, and some do it repeatedly…To take Mark as a prime example: by Alan Richardson's count, some 209 verses of a total 666 (counting up through Mark 16:8) deal directly or indirectly with miracles. That is a little over 31 percent of the total material in the Gospel. Indeed, if one takes just the first ten chapters of the Gospel (i.e., omitting the Passion Narrative in the broad sense of the term), some 200 out of 425 verses deal directly or indirectly with miracles, in other words, 47 percent…Mark, however, does not stand alone in his testimony to the Gospel miracle tradition. Quite different in form and content from Mark is the Q tradition, which is made up almost entirely of sayings. But even Q contains one miracle story, the healing of the centurion's servant (Matt 8:5-13 par.), which has a distant parallel in the story of the healing of the royal official's son in John 4:46-54. Various sayings of Jesus also testify to Q's knowledge of his miracles: e.g., the references to exorcism in the Beelzebul dispute (Matt 12:22-32 par.), the list of various miracles (notably omitting exorcisms) in Jesus' reply to the Baptist (Matt 11:5-6 par.), and the woes spoken against the cities of Galilee that did not believe Jesus despite his miracles (Matt 11:20-24 par.). Given its great emphasis on eschatological prophecy, Q, not surprisingly, highlights Jesus' knowledge of the future in various eschatological prophecies and parables. The Q version of the missionary discourse shows Jesus commissioning his disciples to perform miracles in imitation of his own ministry (Matt 10:8 11 Luke 10:9)." [MJ:2:619ff]

 

 

Okay, that's multiple attestation of sources. Let's know look at multiple attestation of forms--in how many different 'sub-genres' did references to miracles occur?

 

Using Bultmann's categories, Blackburn lists the miracles referred to (or presupposed by) in these forms [SHJ:356f]:

 

Form

Miracles mentioned/alluded to/presupposed

Controversy apothegms

Mk 3.1-6 par; Lk 14.1-6; Lk 13.10-17; Mk 3.22-30; Mk 2.1-12

Scholastic apothegms

Mt 11.2-19 par; Mr p.38-40 par; Mk 11:20-25 par

Biographical apothegms

Lk 17.11-19; Mt 17.24-27; Lk 13.31-33

Logia (wisdom sayings)

Mk 3.24-26 par

Prophetic sayings

Mt 11.21-24 par; Mt 11.5-6 par; Mt 7.22-23 par

Church rules

Mk 6.8-11 = Mt 10.5-6 = Lk 10.2-12

The "I" sayings

Mt 12.27-28 par

Miracle stories

--obvious--

Legends

"Matthew 4.1-11 par appears to presuppose [miracles" [SHJ:357n14]

The passion narrative

Mr 15.31 par

 

 

And Meier summarizes to the same conclusion:

 

"As our inventory of sources has already revealed, the multiple attestation of Jesus' miracles involves not only multiple sources but also multiple literary forms. The narratives comprise three major literary forms: exorcisms, healings (including stories of raising the dead), and nature miracles. Alongside these narratives and the evangelists' summary statements about miracles stand various references to miracles in the sayings tradition. These sayings about miracles reflect in turn a number of different form-critical categories: e.g., the parable of the strong man (Mark 3:2 7 parr.); the dispute story in which Jesus answers the charge of being in league with Beelzebul with two conditional sentences (Matt 12:2 7-2 8 parr.), one a rhetorical question, the other a declaration of fact; Jesus' mandate to his disciples within the missionary discourse to heal and exorcise (Mark 6:7,13; Luke 10:9 par.); sayings that display Jesus' miraculous knowledge of past, present, and future (John 4:17-18,2 1; 2:2 3-25); general biographical statements that summarize his own activity in terms of miracle-working (Luke 13:32; Matt 11:5-6 par.), and his instruction concerning the exorcist who is not one of his disciples (Mark 9:38-40)." [MJ:2:622]

 

 

The combined effect of this incredible pervasiveness is forcefully stated by Meier:

 

"In short, multiple sources intertwine with multiple forms to give abundant testimony that the historical Jesus performed deeds deemed by himself and others to be miracles. If the multiple attestation of sources and forms does not produce reliable results here, it should be dropped as a criterion of historicity. For hardly any other type of Gospel material enjoys greater multiple attestation than do Jesus' miracles." [MJ:2:622]

 

I might point out here that this statement of Meier renders extremely dubious the position of those that affirm a "Jesus as only a gifted, loving human teacher--but NOT a miracle worker". If the data which you use to construct your profile of Jesus is going to be the historically-sifted gospel data, then that data--as Meier pointed out--is going to lead you to a miracle-working Jesus. One might easily dispute the historicity or this miracle or that healing, but the overall witness of the historical 'bedrock' is that of a Man remembered by His contemporary, close associates as a "frequent doer of miraculous deeds". No 'one-hit wonder' here, no ambiguous deed…One can only construct a non-miraculous Jesus (from the gospel narratives) at the expense of claims to historical 'fairness' to that same narrative data. In other words, if you 'rip out' the miracles, you also 'rip out' the core of the historical tradition of Jesus--and are left with either a historical profile based on purely peripheral elements, or with a historical reconstruction built more from presuppositions than from historical materials (a la the first "quest" for the historical Jesus)…

 

Meier states it this way in his summary:

 

"In sum, the statement that Jesus acted as and was viewed as an exorcist and healer during his public ministry has as much historical corroboration as almost any other statement we can make about the Jesus of history. Indeed, as a global affirmation about Jesus and his ministry it has much better attestation than many other assertions made about Jesus, assertions that people often take for granted. Looming large in the Gospels and no doubt in his actual ministry, Jesus' miracle-working activity played an integral part in his being able to attract attention, both positive and negative. His miracle-working activity not only supported but also dramatized and actuated his eschatological message, and it may have contributed to some degree to the alarm felt by the authorities who finally brought about his death. Any historian who seeks to portray the historical Jesus without giving due weight to his fame as a miracle-worker is not delineating this strange and complex Jew, but rather a domesticated Jesus reminiscent of the bland moralist created by Thomas Jefferson." [MJ:2:970]

 

 

2. Historical Coherence (HC):

 

This is somewhat related to the above, since the miracle tradition is so pervasive throughout the gospel material, but also includes the effects of miracles on Jesus' context.

 

From Meier [MJ:2:622f]

 

"The multiple attestation of both sources and forms, of both narratives and sayings, naturally leads to the next criterion: coherence. Our initial inventory of narratives and sayings has made it dear that we have here a grand example of various actions and sayings of Jesus converging, meshing, and mutually supporting each other. For instance, the various narratives of exorcisms cry out for some explanation. What do these strange events mean within the larger context of Jesus' ministry? In the sayings material of both Mark and Q the answer is given. The exorcisms are dramatic presentations and partial realizations of God's eschatological triumph over Satan and the powers of evil through the actions of Jesus. They are a preliminary experience of the future kingdom of God, already present and victorious to some degree in Jesus' ministry (Mark 3:27 parr.; Luke 11:20 par.). Similarly, the various narratives of healing, especially prominent in the Marcan and the special L traditions, receive their interpretation in a Q saying, Jesus' response to the Baptist: the miracles fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah concerning the time of Israel's definitive salvation. Hence they are also an implicit call to believe in the message and mission of the miracle-worker (Matt 11:5-6 par.). If we turn to John's Gospel, we see a similar pattern, though the material there is often quite different. Even though the symbolic "signs" (i.e., miracles) and the lengthy discourses in the Fourth Gospel may come at least in part from different Johannine sources, certain discourses comment perfectly on certain signs (e.g., the bread of fife discourse in 6:34-51 vis-à-vis the multiplication of loaves in 6:1-15).

 

"What is remarkable in all this is how deeds and sayings cut across different sources and form-critical categories to create a meaningful whole. This neat, elegant, and unforced "fit" of the deeds and sayings of Jesus, coming from many different sources, argues eloquently for a basic historical fact: Jesus did perform deeds that he and some of his contemporaries considered miracles.

 

"The argument from coherence may be approached from another angle as well, namely, the success of Jesus in gaining large numbers of followers. All Four Gospels as well as Josephus speak of the large following that Jesus attracted, and all Four Gospels agree with Josephus in identifying the powerful combination of miracles and teaching as the cause of the attraction. Morton Smith was right to emphasize Jesus' miracles as a major reason why so many people flocked to him though he was wrong to play down or ignore the power of Jesus' teachings to draw people as well. In this, Smith seems to have momentarily overlooked the case of John the Baptist. After all, John the Baptist was able to attract many followers simply by his fiery eschatological preaching and his special rite of baptism, without the added support of miracles."

 

From Evans [NT:JHC: 223, 222]

 

"The miracle tradition also enjoys the support of the criterion of coherence, since several sayings, widely regarded as authentic, discuss or allude to the miracles. Accordingly, the authenticity of the sayings implies the authenticity of the miracle stories…According to all four Gospels, crowds listened to and followed Jesus (Mark 2:13; 3:9, 20; 4: 1; 5:3 1; 8: 1; 9:14; and parallels). This could be an exaggeration, of course, but in view of the action taken against Jesus it probably is not. Many of the other messiahs and prophets who met violent deaths at the hands of the Romans had also drawn large followings. Smith reasons: "[U]nless Jesus had a large following he would not have been crucified." Most scholars, therefore, seldom question the veracity of the Gospels on this point. The effect of Jesus' public ministry was the attraction of multitudes. What was the cause of this effect? Why did large crowds follow Jesus? An explanation is required. Smith and Sanders believe, and I think rightly, that it was Jesus' miracles that attracted the crowds (and not his teaching, at least not initially). As Sanders puts it: "But if it is true that large crowds surrounded him in Galilee, it was probably more because of his ability to heal and exorcize than anything else." I think Smith and Sanders are correct. They reason that it is more likely that miracles, rather than teaching, would have generated large and enthusiastic crowds, crowds that would have alarmed Jewish and Roman authorities. This is corroborated to some extent by the misadventures of persons like Theudas and the Egyptian Jew who would later draw large crowds by promising to perform signs (or miracles)."

 

 

 

Before we move on to the next few Criteria…

 

Let me note that Meier considers the combination of Multiple Attestation and Coherence to be so strong as to render the additional criteria almost superfluous. His statement is very, very strong and bears careful contemplation by any historian [MJ:2:630f]:

 

"To sum up: the historical fact that Jesus performed extraordinary deeds deemed by himself and others to be miracles is supported most impressively by the criterion of multiple attestation of sources and forms and the criterion of coherence. The miracle traditions about Jesus' public ministry are already so widely attested in various sources and literary forms by the end of the first Christian generation that total fabrication by the early church is, practically speaking, impossible. Other literary sources from the second and third generation-M, L, John, and Josephus--only confirm this impression. The criterion of coherence likewise supports historicity; the neat fit between the words and deeds of Jesus emanating from many different sources is striking.

 

"In contrast, the other primary criteria (discontinuity, embarrassment, rejection and execution) supply at best only partial or weak arguments. Similarly, the secondary criteria of Aramaic usage, Palestinian color, and tendencies of the miracle tradition within the Four Gospels give at best only "after-the-fact" support. That is to say, granted the weighty and convincing evidence from the criteria of multiple attestation and coherence, the other criteria all point in the same direction of historicity. Put negatively, none of the other criteria runs counter to the two decisive criteria; all give at least weak backing.

 

"The curious upshot of our investigation is that, viewed globally, the tradition of Jesus' miracles is more firmly supported by the criteria of historicity than are a number of other well-known and often readily accepted traditions about his life and ministry (e.g., his status as a carpenter, his use of 'abba' in prayer, his own prayer in Gethsemane before his arrest). Put dramatically but with not too much exaggeration: if the miracle tradition from Jesus' public ministry were to be rejected in toto as unhistorical, so should every other Gospel tradition about him. For if the criteria of historicity do not work in the case of the miracle tradition, where multiple attestation is so massive and coherence so impressive, there is no reason to expect them to work elsewhere. The quest would have to be abandoned. Needless to say, that is not the conclusion we have reached here."

 

…………………………………………………………………

 

3. Embarrassment (EM):

 

We will have to check each miracle story for how it fits with the EM principle.

 

 

4. Dissimilarity (DS):

 

As we have seen a couple of times in  this series, the miracles of Jesus are by and large quite dissimilar to suggested parallels in both Hellenistic and Jewish worlds. Accordingly, ALMOST ALL of the miracles will pass the DS criteria:

 

"Tradition that cannot easily be explained as having originated in the early Church or having been taken over from Jewish traditions is said to be dissimilar (or distinctive) and therefore has a reasonable claim to authenticity. Are the miracles of Jesus distinctive from the legends and traditions of the Mediterranean world? Despite efforts to interpret Jesus as a Jewish holy man (e.g. Vermes), on the one hand, or as a magician or Hellenistic wonderworker (e.g. Smith), on the other, most scholars have recognized that the miracles of Jesus resist such simple categorization. Unlike Honi or Hanina ben Dosa, rarely does Jesus pray for healing or for other miracles. One thinks of Honi standing in his circle beseeching God to give his people a "rain of goodwill, blessing, and graciousness" (m. Ta'an. 3:8; cf. Josephus, Ant. 14.2.2 §25-28) or Hanina who prayed with his head between his knees, knowing that his prayer has been heard when it comes fluently (y. Ber. 5.5; b. Ber. 34b). Jesus' style is very different. He speaks the word and the cure is effected. Moreover, he speaks and acts in his own name. He says, I will it" (Mark 1:41; 2:11), not "God Wills it." More importantly, neither Honi nor Hanina was remembered as the leader of a renewal movement. Most scholars, therefore, hesitate to follow Geza Vermes fully. So it is in the case of comparisons made with magic. There are superficial parallels, to be sure, but there are so many important features missing that few have followed Morton Smith." [NT:JHC:215f]

 

 

5. Semitisms and Palestinian Background (SP):

 

We will have to check each miracle for to what extent it might manifest background information of SP nature, unlikely to be included by a later, more-Gentile church.

 

 

……………………………………………………………….

 

If we try to (1) assess the miracles against the criteria, (2) include estimates by exegetes as to the presence of 'reminiscence, and (3) note summary judgments by Meier and Twelftree, we can construct the following matrix:

 

(Abbreviations: the criteria above EM and  SP; "M+ " means Meier believes that the core goes back to Jesus' ministry; "T+" means Twelftree rates the miracle 'high' in historicity; the "Exegete" column gives a few respected exegetes who find the story to contain evidences of 'reminiscence', but only for Markan miracles). Data is from the books by Twelftree and Meier, and from [NT:JHC] and [SHJ].)

 

 

Miracle

EM

SP

M+

T+

Other Exegetes

In all four gospels

 

 

 

 

 

1. Feeding of 5,000

 

 

 

 

 

In three gospels

 

 

 

 

 

2. Walking on water

Y?

 

 

 

(Malina in [NT:AAJ])

3. Peter's mother-in-law

Y?

 

 

Y

Taylor, Cranfield, Fuller, Jeremias, Schweizer, Kertelge, Roloff, Pesch, Gnilka, et. all

4. Man with leprosy

Y?

 

(note 1)

Y

Taylor, Anderson, Marshall, Mann, Crossan

5. Paralyzed man

 

 

Y

Y

Taylor, Fuller, Pesch, Mann, Crossan

6. Man with shriveled hand

 

Y

 

Y

Schweizer, Pesch, Anderson, Roloff, Lohse, Hill, Marshall

7. Calming the storm

 

Y

 

 

 

8. Gadarene Demoniac(s)

Y

 

Y

Y

 

9. Raising Jairus' daughter

Y

Y

Y

Y

 

10. Hemorrhaging woman

Y

 

 

Y

Taylor, Cranfield, Pesch, Mann

11. Demon-possessed boy

Y

 

Y

Y

Taylor, Cranfield, Hengel, Roloff, Lane, Pesch, Gnilka, Mann

12. Two blind men

 

Y

Y

Y

Roloff, Taylor, Cranfield, Fuller, Schenke, Marshall, Gnilka, Mann

In two gospels (Mark, Matt)

 

 

 

 

 

13. Canaanite woman's daughter

Y

Y

 

Y

 

14. Feeding of 4,000

 

 

 

 

 

15. Fig tree withered

 

 

 

 

 

In two gospels (Mark, Luke)

 

 

 

 

 

16. Possessed man in synagogue

Y?

 

Y?

Y

 

In two gospels (Matt, Luke=Q?)

 

 

 

 

 

17. Roman Centurion's servant

Y

Y

Y

Y

Fuller, Kummel, Wegner, Allison and Davies, Gnilka, Brown, Schnackenburg, Fitzmeyer, Beasley-Murray

18. Blind, Mute, and Possessed man

 

 

Y

 

 

Only in one gospel (Mark)

 

 

 

 

 

19. Deaf mute

Y

 

Y

Y

 

20. Blind man at Bethsaida

Y

Y

Y

Y

Taylor, Cranfield, Roloff, Pesch, Witherington, Crossan

Only in one gospel (Matt)

 

 

 

 

 

21. Two blind men

 

 

 

 

 

22. Mute and possessed man

 

 

 

 

 

23. Coin in fish's mouth

Y

Y

 

Y

 

Only in one gospel (Luke)

 

 

 

 

 

24. First catch of fish

 

 

 

Y

 

25. Raising Widow's son at Nain

 

Y

Y

Y

 

26. Exorcism of Mary Magdalene

Y

 

Y

 

 

27. Crippled woman

Y

 

 

Y

 

28. Man with dropsy

Y?

 

 

Y

 

29. Ten men with leprosy

 

 

(note 1)

 

 

30. High Priest's servant

 

 

 

 

 

One in one gospel (John)

 

 

 

 

 

31. Wine miracle at Cana

Y?

 

 

 

 

32. Official's son at Capernaum

 

 

 

 

 

33. Sick man at Pool of Bethesda

 

Y

Y

Y

 

34. Healing of the Blind Man

Y?

Y

Y

Y

 

35. Raising Lazarus

Y?

 

Y

Y

 

36. Second catch of fish [post-Easter]

 

 

 

Y

 

 

 

Note 1: "…I think that Mark, Q, and L do allow us to state that during his ministry Jesus claimed to heal lepers and was thought by other people to have done so." [MJ:2:706]

 

Of the 36 miracles listed (some of which are considered duplicates by Twelftree and Meier), 14 of these are accepted as historical by Meier (38%) and 23 are said by Twelftree to generate 'high confidence' (64%)--from a historical (not theological) point of view. Meier's list includes healings, exorcisms, and resuscitations (but no 'nature miracles' or Provision/Gift miracles). Twelftree's list contains representatives from all miracle categories.

 

So, not only is the general remembrance of Jesus as a miracle worker very strongly attested in the historical data (generating high confidence that Jesus did things considered 'miracles' by Himself and his followers), but a very high number of specific miracle stories commend themselves as being historically grounded on actual events in the life of Jesus. The internal data is consistent in its portrayal of Jesus as someone who manifested unusual/supernormal ability to help people who were trapped in seemingly hopeless situations.

 

 


 

Minor method:  Intra-narrative details.

 

Frequently in the discussion of the historicity of these passages, exegetes will accept as evidence some detail in the narrative as being 'vivid' or 'odd' or 'unexpected', but opinions are divided on what implications for historicity might be warranted by these details. Here we want to look at this form of argument to see what it might contribute to the discussion, as well as see what the limits might be. We will then look at how two major studies on the miracles of Jesus have used this approach.

 

In evaluating a literary passage, the historian is looking for two major things: evidences of authenticity , and evidences of fabrication. The evidences of authenticity would include any details in the story (significant or insignificant to the authorial 'point') that are best explained as being due to an eyewitness source (e.g., knowledge which would have been ONLY available to that writer--e.g., autobiographical details) and evidences of fabrication would include details in the story (significant ones only) that are 'misplaced' in either space (e.g., a custom that occurs only in some other part of the world is used as a significant element in a different country) or in time (e.g., a detail is introduced that could NOT have existed at that period of history).

 

 

 

One: Evidences of Authenticity:

 

Exegetes have offered three possible evidences of authenticity relevant to our study: vividness of detail , 'gratuitous' incidental details, and 'oddness' or 'unexpectedness' of some elements in the story. (Since vividness of detail is often due to the presence of many 'gratuitous' incidental details, these two are often treated below as one type of evidence.)

 

 

1. The vividness of detail argument typically runs something like this:

 

·         "Further, it can be argued that many of the distinctive details in the respective versions, being vivid in character, could be accounted for as arising from eyewitness recollection. Mark narrates the (implied) fatigue of the disciples, the need for privacy and rest, the running Galileans, details which all drop out of Matthew and Luke. Such detail is thoroughly concrete and yet uncontrived...Thus while there is, as well shall see, evidence of editorializing by each author, many of the details are gratuitous, unrelated to the writer's redactional interests. Each text, as it now stands, contains raw tradition." [X02:JSOTGP6:284-295, Barnett]

 

·         "We would claim that it remains more difficult to imagine that the narrative with all its circumstantial detail was created by the fertile imagination of the writer as an illustration of a theological truth, than to believe that the story reflects the vivid personal reminiscence of eyewitnesses." [X02:JSOTGP6:314, Murray]

 

Meier's statement of the position (of Vincent Taylor's version) sums it up well, and also introduces the main objection to this position:

 

"In the narratives of the Gospels, liveliness and concrete details--especially when the details are not relevant to the main point of the story--are sometimes taken to be indicators of an eyewitness report. Although he was not as uncritical in using this criterion as some of his followers, Vincent Taylor inclined to accept vivid, concrete details in Mark's Gospel as signs of high historical value. Faithful to the early oral tradition, Mark had the special advantage of hearing Peter's preaching. Taylor himself is aware of the basic objection to this criterion: any skilled narrator can confer vividness on any story, however unhistorical. If liveliness and concrete details were in themselves proofs of historicity, many great novels would have to be declared history books."

 

"In reply to this objection, Taylor first admits that some concrete details may indeed be the result of Marcan redaction. But Taylor goes on to make two points: (1) Some of the details seem to serve no point in the narrative and apparently are included by Mark simply because they were in the tradition. (2) More importantly, a number of key episodes in the Gospel, episodes ripe for dramatic exploitation, are surprisingly jejune and bereft of concrete details: e.g., the choice of the Twelve (3:13-19b), the suspicion held by Jesus' family that he has gone insane (3:21), the plot by the priests (14:1-2), and the treachery of Judas (14:10-11). Taylor argues that the presence of these terse though important narratives shows that Mark did not indulge in massive creative rewriting; on the whole, some narratives are laconic and others detailed because that is the way they were in the early oral tradition that Mark has faithfully followed."'

 

"Taylor's arguments do not seem as strong today as they might have appeared in the early fifties. Redaction criticism and contemporary narrative criticism have taught us to appreciate Mark as a talented author who may have his own theological and artistic reasons for alternating sparse and detailed narratives. Moreover, not all critics would concede Mark's direct dependence on the preaching of Peter. If instead Mark is simply passing on oral traditions that come to him from many sources, can we not attribute the liveliness of some pericopes to the skill of certain early Christian preachers or storytellers, with the irrelevant details being explained by the untidy nature of oral as opposed to written composition? Perhaps the vividness of narration gets us behind Mark to his oral tradition. But does it get us back to Jesus himself?

 

"A further problem arises from the succinct narratives that Taylor also finds in Mark. The terse, streamlined nature of particular dispute stories, miracle stories, and pronouncement stories may result, not from their unhistorical nature, but from the very fact that they fit well into a particular form or genre. This neat "fit" may have caused some historical events to have been "slimmed down" to the "bare bones" of a particular genre in the oral tradition. In short, just as vividness in itself does not prove historicity, so too a pale skeletal narrative is not necessarily unhistorical." [MJ:1:180f]

 

 

I can easily agree with Meier's criticism in a couple of points:

 

1.        "Bare bones" narratives do NOT indicate unhistorical narratives;

2.        Exegetes may sometimes assign the tag 'irrelevant' to a detail that other redactional exegetes may 'find a use for', suggesting that judgments of how  'incidental' a detail really is to the author may be premature.

3.        Some types of vividness of detail can/does arise in re-telling; and preaching and teaching do involve 'filling in scenery gaps' for audiences (just like we individuals do in our mind as we read a story).

 

 

But I am not sure the discussion should stop there. Instead, we should ask the next round of questions about this:

 

1.        Is there some way to discriminate between details that a good story teller would add, and those which they wouldn't? And do we have reason to believe such good storytellers were involved in this process? (The nature/scope of embellishment)

 

2.        Is there some way to weed out the 'psychological fantasies' of some redaction critics, from among the 'exegetically sensitive insights' of others? Reading fanciful meanings into 'innocent' phrases is a recurring problem in literary criticism even for TODAY'S authors! Seeing deep, theological meaning behind every boulder, hill, river, and garment in the narrative is highly suspect--especially in narratives that carry their own overt conclusion… (The issue of controls on redactional interpretation)

 

 

……………………………….

 

1. The nature of story-telling embellishment. I have already written a piece on the literary process of ancient embellishment (e.g., ornare) in Comment 20 of stil1720.html. Two observations from there are relevant to our discussion here (in narratives purporting to be historical):

 

Authors were 'allowed' to expand narratives with detail--as long as the detail was 'inherent' ALREADY in the narrative (quotes are from my piece):

 

"Now, if you inspect the above two quotes, you can see that what is involved is NOT the addition of 'foreign' elements into the narrative but an articulation of 'intrinsic and implicit' elements ALREADY THERE. It is not 'extraneous detail' but 'unverifiable detail' in the quotes. It is not 'rhetorical  interconnection' but 'deductive interconnection' in the quotes. It is not 'irrespective of the reports of witnesses or common knowledge' but 'consistency with the reports of witnesses or common knowledge' in the quotes. It is not 'imaginative creation' but 'imaginative re-creation' in the quotes. It is not  'creative elaboration' but 'inferential elaboration' in the quotes.

 

"The NET of this is that development/amplification of a scene from WITHIN that scene (i.e. from within the historical datum) is legit, and that correspondingly, the introduction of 'foreign' elements--regardless of motive--was inappropriate, incorrect, anti-historical, and against the historiographical norms of the day.

 

So, theoretically, under Hellenistic literary conventions, an evangelist could make explicit elements which he 'deemed' to be implicit in the story as he knew it. The historical re-telling goal was that of verisimilitude--the scene had to 'look as if an eyewitness told it', basically. And this required, of course, a great deal of knowledge by the historical writer of both the event itself (i.e., the data had to be implicit in the actual event) and of writing skills/techniques. Verisimilitude was (still is) a difficult goal for writers, and 'better the verisimilitude', the greater the accomplishment and skills required.

 

And this leads us to an obvious principle: the more a narrative 'looked like' it was an eyewitness account, the greater the skill required to 'picture it' that way by a non-eyewitness.

 

Think about this for a second. Let's use the example of the story of the Revivification of Lazarus:

 

"Noticeable, too, is the wealth of circumstantial detail (11:6, 12-14, 28, 33, 35, 39, 44), including geographical notes (11:1, 18) and personal references (cf. Lk 10:38-42), and the numerous surprising details that would be improbable in a work of fiction or historical romance (11:16, 20b, 37, 42). There are also surprising silences - about the character and post mortem experience of Lazarus or the reaction of the bystanders - and the actual raising of Lazarus is reported with remarkable simplicity and brevity (11:44). All this creates not merely an impression of verisimilitude but a presumption of factuality." [X02:JSOTGP6:313-4, Murray]

 

 Let's unpack this a little, and see the kinds of details Murray is referring to:

 

"Wealth of circumstantial detail":

·         11.6: When therefore He heard that he was sick, He stayed then two days longer in the place where He was

·         11.12-14: The disciples therefore said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead,

·         11.28: And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here, and is calling for you.”

·         11.33:  Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

·         11.35: Jesus wept.

·         11.39: Jesus *said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, *said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.”

·         11.44: He who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings; and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.

 

"Numerous surprising details that would be improbable in a work of fiction or historical romance":

·         11.16: Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” [Sarcasm]

·         11.20b: Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house.

·         11.37: But some of them said, Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him who was blind, have kept this man also from dying?”

·         11.42: And I knew that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the people standing around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me.”

 

Now, let's ask the question of what a good historical writer might do, given only the bare fact that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. How much of the above detail would they had 'assumed' was implicit in that event? Some of it might be easy, but the interaction with the disciples (e.g., misunderstanding, sarcasm) probably wouldn't be there, as would the delay and the negative comment by the crowd. Even the tomb setting--which is a good candidate for being 'expected'--cannot be so assumed, since another revivification of Jesus occurred during a funeral procession (the widow of Nain) and another was in the pre-burial state (e.g, Jairus' daughter).

 

Why not? Because these elements are not aspect of  a 'conventional' setting. Grave clothes might be (although I personally believe a fabricator would have had Lazarus walk out completely unbound, instead of hopping out and probably falling over) and mourning might be (although I personally believe a later fabricator would have had Jesus acting with more 'noble power' than grieving over a death He was about to reverse!). [These 'unexpected' elements will be discussed in the next section].

 

So, apart from the 'unexpected elements', we would either need an eyewitness or an excellent historical storyteller (with enough familiarity with these kinds of events to be able to know what verisimilitude would look like) in order to explain this pericope. Vivid details of setting mean we have to have one or the other

 

 But this just leads us to another problem: how likely were there to be such excellent, learned writers among the earliest, pre-Gospel Christians?! And how likely is it that these people only made 'oral' contributions, instead of written ones--given their skills and training?!

 

Let's first remember something about the educational system of the day. The Greco-Roman educational system would have prepared students to do exactly this--create settings and narratives from bare-bones events. Those that progressed into the schools of rhetoric (required to write just about any literary piece), would have had years of practice creating stories with verisimilitude.

 

·         "From early childhood, when their nurses had told them stories of the animal kingdom to keep them quiet, and from their primary school days, when they had laboriously copied out fables, boys had become familiar with the delightful world of Aesop, in which animals met and talked and behaved like human beings, and in which there was always a moral to adorn the tale. Now they had to try their had at writing these fables for themselves, first telling the story orally, and then writing it down in their own words...It was necessary to learn to expand the fable, to make more of it by developing the details. It was the most natural thing in the world that animals should hold conversations with one another, but the fox and the wolf did not think and speak like the sheep, or the lion like the lamb. So the young writer was encouraged to build into the story little speeches, in keeping with the characters and the circumstances…Then again, expansion could often be achieved by the introduction of descriptions, with circumstantial details. We may see how delightfully a master-hand like Horace does this if we compare his version of the fable of the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse with that of Babrius. Whereas Babrius is content to refer briefly to the contents of the well-stocked larder which the mice raid together, Horace introduces the charmingly humorous description of the country mouse being invited to recline on purple coverlets, whilst his town-brother acts as a waiter, serving course after course, and first tasting of everything he presents." [HI:EAR:254f]

 

·         "The standard rules of narrative style were clarity, succinctness, and plausibility…plausibility is obtained by envisaging the events from the point of view of the persons, the occasion, and the place concerned, and describing actions or reactions according to what seemed most likely to have happened. Even small details cold sometimes be remarkably convincing and true to life." [HI:EAR:262f]

 

 

These "vivid-ization" skills were learned by every person at this advanced stage of education, but these students were almost entirely of the upper class, headed for public careers in statesmanship, law, or oratory. They were not headed for the merchant class--the main segment of the population from which early Christians came. With due respect to the high degree of "Hellenization" in Syria-Palestine in the first-century, it would be unreasonable to expect that many (anonymous) first-generation Christians had this degree of education. We have the obvious non-anonymous ones (e.g., Paul, Mark, Luke, Apollos, etc), but these obviously argue that the educated ones DID produce literature (e.g., Mark, Paul) or show up in records in the literature (Apollos). And, since the ministry of the Word was central to the formation/success of Christian communities then, we can expect that anyone with even basic skills in oral and written transmission of information would have been in leadership positions.

 

What this strongly suggests, then, is that the skills necessary to 'fake an eyewitness, by creating plausible, vivid descriptions' were likely only present (and then only to a certain degree) in those persons who actually wrote the New Testament literature.

 

This has an important implication: the vivid, circumstantial details are either part of the original event and story, or are created by the evangelist himself--but they are not likely generated in intermediate (anonymous) steps. Interplay between the literate authors of these gospels (i.e., literary dependence and/or influence) could theoretically occasion such 'additions', but this is AFTER the supposed process of invisible, oral transmission. Redaction critics, of course, start right here--with changes made by literate authors (Matthew, Luke) upon the presumed original (Mark).

 

[This argument is strengthened if, as many assume, the first gospel writer (e.g., Mark?) used written sources instead of oral. In discussions of pre-Markan redaction, for example, authors will frequently conjecture a written source. In a largely oral culture, written compositions require much more education than do oral compositions.]

 

How does this advance the discussion? By 'forcing' the vivid detail to either be a strong indicator of authenticity, or be an expansion of the evangelist--developed from being 'implicit' in the event under narration, we are then confronted with the fact that the lack of literary templates for Jesus' wonder working activity (documented heavily in the earlier sections of this series) would have precluded the evangelists from having the knowledge of what counted as verisimilitude --unless they had experienced such events themselves, or had spoken directly/deeply with those who were eyewitnesses. There were simply no templates to follow for either creating a 'profile' of Jesus (documented in the first several sections of this series) or for creating 'non-standard miracle stories'.

 

Let me unpack that long sentence here, in hopes of achieving better/some clarity (sigh). Its actually a logic form, involving a dilemma:

 

1: Vivid details in the miracle narratives are EITHER  (A) strong indicators of authenticity OR (B) evidences of high-literary skills of the evangelist.

 

2A: the high-literary skills necessary to generate such details of verisimilitude require either

(1) enough experiences of such events as to be able to generalize and know what elements needed to be included; OR

(2) access to someone with this experience/knowledge of these (or very similar) events; OR

(3) access to literature or information which create adequate literary templates from which to derive the 'customary' aspects of such events.

 

2B: But these events are not paralleled in pre-Gospel literature, and the closest 'candidates' are too dissimilar to generate the necessary literary template. (We have documented this extensively in this series.) Therefore, either 2A1 or 2A2 have to be true, for 1B to be true.

 

2C: But since there are no known events of this type in living history prior to the life of Jesus, 2A1 would imply that the evangelist was an eyewitness (=>1A); and 2A2 would imply that the evangelist had direct access to an eyewitness as the narrative was being formed (=>1A).

 

3. Therefore, all cases reduce down to 1A: "strong indicators of authenticity".

 

 

[Of course, this actually is what tradition said occurred: John and Matthew were written by eyewitnesses (in conjunction with other eyewitnesses) and Mark and Luke both had extensive contact with the apostolic circle.]

 

I certainly do not maintain that the literary processes presupposed by my argument above were 'flawlessly implemented'--indeed, there may have been exceptions in the early church. We DO KNOW that there were members from ALL classes from the very first in the early church. But even if we soften the application of my argument due to this, we only reduce the force of the argument by the same degree that we admit exceptions. In other words, if we say my argument only applies to 85% of the church population, then we only reduce the probability that vivid details are evidences of historicity by approximately 15% (grossly simplistic, of course). The force of the argument remains to the extent the 'demographic mix' of the early church is as scholars generally consider it today (predominantly urban, merchant class).

 

There are two other aspects of this discussion that we might note.

 

First: Anyone trained in pre-rhetoric (this is the point in GR education where these narrative 'creations' were practiced) would have exerted more 'cosmetic control' over the final form of the story (as "relayed" by them), had they been the one to introduce 'fake vividness' to make the story look like an eyewitness account. The narrative exercises in those schools generally show formulaic and 'expected' elements (as previously learned by the student in the course of education, and upon which they are graded!), which are absent from the "plain" and "unlearned" gospel stories. The absence of these 'marks of advanced education' argues that the miracle stories were not vivified by such people (and hence, were not enhanced by the only ones qualified to do it).

 

Second: But what of 'gifted, but uneducated storytellers'? What of gifted Christian preachers? Couldn't these individuals have added a vivid detail or two in their sermons, or oral teaching sessions, that ended up in the material used by the evangelists in composing their gospels? The main reason this is doubtful is that the oral traditions finally written down my the evangelists were not likely sourced from these preachers. The preachers themselves would have received an 'official', original, theoretically 'unadorned'(?) version of the episode--from some apostolic or apostolic-sanctioned traveling source--and any gospel writer would have had access to this same (presumably unadorned, in this scenario) apostolic source for his gospel. Any sermonic expansions--no doubt quite common--would simply have not stood in the 'line of transmission' from the apostolic circle to the closely-aligned (and probably officially appointed) gospel writer. There is no reason to believe that the gospel writers had to scrounge around at 'garage sales' to find stories about Jesus! Nor did they have to get a group of old disciples together to 'pool their waning memories of Jesus'! Indeed, as we have mentioned often and will discuss again below, the gospel traditions were likely already formed, known, and embedded in a traditioning processes very early  (some in the ministry of Jesus, but all by shortly after Pentecost). The close knit community of Christian leadership was very much aware of what was being taught in the churches (hence the pervasive problem of 'false teachers' in the Epistles--and their awareness of these teachers!), so it's not like little pockets of embellishment grow up without the apostolic circles knowing of it. The interconnectedness of the church simply precluded much variance in the stories passed on about Jesus (cf. studies on this process in [NT:MNTD] and [NT:GAC]). [Selection of different detail-sets from the stories, on the other hand, were acceptable, since 'selection' is not 'creation' and the gospel authors used subsets of the whole Jesus-tradition to present their respective perspectives and arguments.]

 

 

The net of this is that vivid details--in the gospel narratives--are more likely to be a strong indicator of authenticity than not. They cannot be dismissed easily on the grounds that 'a good writer could make this up'. They have to be checked against lists of expected 'topoi of settings', of course (e.g., "it was a dark and stormy night…"), but these stereotypical phrases aside, vividness of circumstantial detail (btw, not vividness of dialogue--that's a separate issue…we are talking about miracle narratives here) has to be given a much stronger weight than previously allowed.

 

 

2. The issue of controls on redactional interpretation.

 

This issue is more concerned with incidental details, rather than with vividness per se. An exegete might argue that these 'quiet' incidental details reflect an eyewitness reality (as opposed to the previously discussed 'vivid details' being an expected literary 'creation'), but there is probably a redaction critic out there somewhere that has a 'use' for this detail, in their construction of a particular evangelist's theology.

 

The two fundamental premises of RC (Redaction Criticism) are:

 

A. Literary dependence--all later gospels are dependent on earlier (written) gospels, for the material shared between them;

 

B. All changes made by an evangelist (including deletions) to the material they were using as a source (i.e., the prior gospels) were intentional and reflect theological  purposes.

 

Point A requires a pretty strong position of literary dependence (e.g. Two-Source theory, Griesbach*.*, or Farrar). And, if you get the order wrong, ALL the results fall to the ground like a house of cards! Given the upheaval going on in this area currently (e.g., the intro in Gospel of Mark, by C.S. Mann, in the Anchor Bible series--who does redaction criticism on the basis of a modified Griesbachian order!, and predictably comes up with the OPPOSITE conclusions derivable from the 2Sourcers), I would really hate to base my findings on ANY conjecture of gospel order and dependence!

 

Point B is sometimes used to defend some notion of 'competing theologies', but this is unnecessary. Many, many changes (most?) are for matters of style, vocabulary, audience interests/needs or education, etc. Some elements can be seen to be emphasized more (presupposing some order, of course) and located in the literary flow in the book.

 

But 'difference' doesn’t necessarily mean 'rejection/change' from some original, nor does it imply 'invention' or 'distortion' in any way. Neville Morley, in Writing Ancient History notes:

 

"Think of the different accounts that might be given of, say, the battle of Salamis. The Greek generals would show how they judged their tactics to perfection (though they might differ in the importance they ascribed to the actions of Themistocles). The Persian generals would explain how adverse conditions and Greek trickery foiled their otherwise foolproof plan of battle; a Persian sea-captain would argue that he fought valiantly but was let down by the mistakes of his superiors, and so forth. None of these accounts need involve any invention or distortion; they simply present the facts as their authors saw them, or the facts which fit their understanding of what happened." [HI:AHKTA:62]

 

 

The problem I have with an all-incidentals-have-theological-import position (other than the incredibly fragile foundation of Point A being required to even START the process of redactional studies--not enough stability for MY risk-averse tastes!) is that it assumes that ALL incidental details are subordinated to the evangelist's main theological purpose.

 

Many/most commentators I read, of course, do not apply this position too harshly. They will recognize that authors 'change' minor wording elements due to stylistic or literary purposes. For example, changes from an active verb to a passive verb MIGHT indicate someone wants to 'avoid blaming the subject' (!), but it might just as easily be explained in terms of style, variation, tone, not wanting to get the argument off-track with personalities, wanting to focus on the results of the event instead of agents, a desire to simplify the narrative, etc.

 

But my main point here is that incidentals can 'serve' theological and literary purposes and still count as 'incidentals'. The evidential value of such details does not necessarily diminish with their "narrative workload", so to speak…Some aspect of the background of a story, for example, might be seen by an evangelist as having implications for his authorial purpose--and hence it is included in the narrative--but they are nonetheless still incidentals. They cannot be assumed to be 'free creations', because the author would have a very, very large set of possible 'subservient incidentals' which could be created/inserted/used to make the same point.

 

Let's make sure we are clear on this last point. If an author needs to fabricate from scratch (de novo, in the high-tongue…smile) an 'incidental' to make/serve his authorial purpose, he has almost an infinite number of possible things that can be added. The amount of detail inherent in any scene/event is VAST, so a later interpreter should be forced to ask the semi-structuralist question of "why THIS incidental, instead of the hordes of other possibilities?". It is much, much easier--if one's literary ethics allow creation de novo of supporting details--to simply add characters and dialogue to support a point, than it is to make some theological nuance depend on a minor incidental. For example, it is common in the Gnostic literature and Rabbinic literature to introduce anonymous (or pseudo-anonymous) interlocutors, who ask a leading question of the main character. Or sometimes, these narratives have an imaginary character do something, upon which the "Teacher" comments. When a non-dialogue element is introduced, it is either (a) the main, provocative event (e.g., a snake biting a rabbi during his study of torah, with the snake later dying, and the moral being drawn about Torah-study), or it is (b) commented upon in the dialogue explicitly and directly--the authorial significance of the detail is NOT left 'to the student' to make the 'connection', nor to some later redaction critic to 'discover'.

 

In other words, 'extra' theological payload (i.e. theological argumentation separate from that obvious at the literary level) is generally not entrusted to incidental details in a narrative--they are entrusted to fabricated characters, sub-narratives, and dialogues.

 

To be sure, great literature OFTEN leaves this latter 'connection' step to the audience or reader, and world-class writing is famous for having some background detail have massive and determinative influence on their story, but again, this caliber writing is NOT what we are dealing with in the New Testament or early church. The bible as a whole was disparaged in antiquity for being 'low class' (non-elite!) in its story-telling.

 

One caveat: incidentals that portray 'customs' or 'practices' are not necessarily evidential, since parables and other hypothetical scenarios manifest (indeed, even 'depend' on) these. The background information available in the Parable of the Wicket Tenants, even though it represents a realistic portrayal of a hypothetically possible event, does not entail the literal truth that such an event occurred (i.e. that the parable is a narrative of a REAL killing of a king's son over a vineyard's produce). But there are two qualifications to this: (1) sometimes the custom is not really an 'incidental'--the case of the Wicked Tenants is built upon the relationships of landowner and tenants; and (2) if the custom has 'disappeared' by the time the story was written (with some confidence that the knowledge of the custom would not have been available to the author), it would show up as an 'archaism' that would be an indicator of antiquity and authenticity (e.g., the disappearance/replacement of the early Hittite treaty forms by the time Deut. was allegedly written argues that  the material must have pre-dated the allegedly later author. See aecy.html). So, we have to be sensitive to these additional issues in deciding whether a custom or practice would 'count' as a true 'incidental'.

 

And, as in the case of 'vivid' details, any gospel author who created these 'overloaded incidentals' to function as 'fakes' would have to have had an advanced GR education, with the likelihood that OTHER evidences of this education would have shown up in the final form of the gospels. Since the gospels do not manifest the formal and stylistic features characteristic of the literary products of such writers, we are led to conclude that they were NOT written by such writers, and hence, that the incidentals are much more likely to be indications of historicity than of literary creation.

 

Overall, what our discussion of incidentals leads us to is this:

 

·         Incidentals--in the gospel narratives--are not likely to have been the free creation of the evangelists, at least not for purposes of theological argumentation.

·         Incidentals still function as 'incidentals' in ascertaining probability of historicity, even when said details DO contribute to the author's argumentation.

·         Incidentals, therefore, do inspire additional confidence in the authenticity/historicity of the relevant narratives.

 

And, again, we might note the same proportionate 'qualification' from our vividness argument: to the extent our knowledge of the demographic mix of early church populace and leadership is correct, to that same extent we have warrant to believe that the skills to "use incidents" in the manner of great literature did not exist in the earliest, pre-Gospel church.

 

 

So, I conclude--given the demographics of the early church--that the presence of vivid and/or incidental details in the gospel narratives DO provide positive (and not just 'supportive') evidence for their authenticity/historicity. This applies to all narratives, of course, but also includes the miracle narratives with which we are concerned here.

 

 

2. The argument that the 'oddness' or 'unexpectedness' of some elements in the story support the story's authenticity is based on the same retrodictive premise in the Embarrassment criterion.

 

Just as we believe the later church would not fabricate stories about Jesus which would 'embarrass' them, so too it is unreasonable to believe a gospel author would create elements in a story that were 'discontinuous' with their beliefs, styles, preferred vocabulary, authorial intent, background, understanding, etc. If such elements are found in their writings, however, then those elements are more probably due to 'inherited and not-to-be-altered tradition' than to their own authorial creativity, obviously.

 

Although this seems rather straightforward, there is a definite subjectivity problem here: how sure can we be that this element really IS 'discontinuous' with an author's historical and literary situation?

 

Conservatives have often complained about how this 'discontinuity' principle was used to decide Paul simply couldn't have written the Pastorals or that Peter simply couldn't have written 2 Peter. Hebrew bible scholars, of course, are inundated with competing 'source' theories, that decide--on this principle of discontinuity--that there must have been a dozen different 'Isaiahs'  in the Book of Isaiah, or that there were many, many editorial and redactional 'hands' in the process of creation of the book of Joshua or Judges.

 

Of course, non-conservatives fight the same internal battles among themselves, arguing over 'interpolations' and 'editorial additions' within authentic Pauline books, for example.

 

The principle is undoubtedly correct, but its validity is directly proportional to how accurate our understanding of the 'base of comparison' is. For example, there is a world of difference (in confidence!) between a discontinuity judgment based on a 'reconstruction' of Paul as a Gnostic-leaning, antinomian, quasi-anti-semitic  Hellenstic Jew (a la Marcion!), and a discontinuity judgment based on him being a Diaspora (ex-?) Pharisee, loyal Jew. The data used to construct a Marcionite Paul is a small subset of the data, and contradicts much of the rest of the data. Accordingly, using it as a basis to make discontinuity judgments is extremely questionable. On the other hand, the data that Paul was from the Diaspora, from a Pharisaic background, and loved his people is very strong and much more extensive than that used in a Marcionite (or Gnostic) reconstruction. Hence, discontinuity judgments based on this second reconstruction would have a higher probability of being correct.

 

So, as long as we are self-conscious about our 'base of comparison' -- in each case we use this--then this principle of discontinuity can be used effectively.

 

 

 

Two: Evidences of Fabrication:

 

Strictly speaking, we are talking about covert or hidden fabrication, since many fabrications are supposed to be such. Genres of fiction and satire, for example, are presumed to contain large amounts of fabrication and over-exaggeration (respectively), because those are essential in the 'contract of genre' between the writer and the reader.

 

What that means for our quest is that our 'search for un-authenticity' is a search for covert fabrication--that which attempts to 'pass itself off' as authentic.

 

The primary test for the detection of fabrication for historians is that of anachronism. As Howell and Prevenier explain (in From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods):

 

"It sometimes requires great skill to identify such falsifications. In general, historians look for anachronisms, whether of language, form, or content. The "Bruegel" painted on wood that did not exist during Bruegel's own life is one such anachronism. The art world is full of similar stories. There is, for example, a portrait of Willem van Heythuysen by Frans Hals, the dating of which experts have begun to doubt. There are two bases for suspicion. One is the wood on which the painting was made; scientific tests have shown that the wood was cut after the presumptive date of the painting. The other concerns the paint itself; traces of Prussian blue have been found on the canvas, a color that was not invented until 1703 and not generally available until about 1720. Anachronisms of writing (or typeface) are also frequent. Sometimes, for example, it is possible to show that a particular "hand" did not exist when a document was purportedly written or that printers had not yet designed letters in the form used in a printed text.

 

"The most interesting anachronisms are probably not, however, formal in this sense. They are mere slips, moments when the plagiarist or falsifier let his guard down and included a phrase, a reference, or, if a painter, perhaps a color that the avowed author or painter would not have used. A nineteenth-century Italian physician, Giovanni Morelli, made this argument explicitly, proposing that forgers of paintings tend to copy the most striking elements of the original very well (Mona Lisa's smile, for example), but miss small details-the earlobe. Thus, he concluded, scholars should focus on the small, the apparently insignificant, in search of clues for falsifications, whether of handwriting, literary style, or painting, because a forger will rarely be able perfectly to ape every element of the original and is likely to miss on the smaller, less obvious points. In many ways, this method parallels those employed in the clinical practice of psychiatry associated with Sigmund Freud and in Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories." [HI:FRSHM:59f]

 

 

(Notice how these are the 'little incidentals' we have just discussed.)

 

An absurd illustration of this might be someone who claimed that Lincoln did not see Booth approach him, because he was busy with his PalmPilot.

 

Now, normally such anachronisms (based on the word 'time', obviously) require a long period of time, but in our case the relative time period is quite small. [BTW, this principle is immensely important in dating issues within the Hebrew Bible, e.g., the book of Daniel and Source Criticism of the Pentateuch.] This means that for our study, the main 'time gap' is between the post-Easter church and the pre-Easter "Jesus movement". To find anachronisms in the case of the gospels would be to find sayings of the later church, "put into the mouth of the earthly Jesus" (much like the Gnostics 'put the Gnostic message' into the mouth of the Risen Christ and the infant Christ).

 

Half a century ago, biblical criticism was prolific in making such claims, finding all kinds of Church settings in the gospel stories, but today the tide has greatly reversed. The very criteria of Dissimilarity is derived from this foundation (as is possibly/sometimes the criteria of Semitic/Palestinian elements), and the criterion of Embarrassment is closely related also.

 

We have often noted in the Tank the research of Lemcio, which established the surprising but uniform lack of anachronisms in the gospels:

 

"The hardest available evidence from the gospels has confirmed the thesis that the Evangelists produced narratives about Jesus of Nazareth that were free of blatant attempts to infuse and overlay his story with their own later and developed estimates of his teaching, miracles, passion, and person….With a consistency that can be charted on virtually every page of text, the thought and idiom of his era are not reproduced in theirs. Or, more correctly, they do not retroject theirs into his. Such a claim, when carefully qualified, can even be made of John. At significant moments (5:24, 12:44), the most christocentric of Evangelists reveals a synoptic-like theocentricity that dominates the entire gospel." [LPJG:108,109]

 

 

So, the data we have here indicates a basic failure to use fabrication on the BIG THINGS, and we therefore have this as a warrant for believing that this practice of non-fabrication also extended to the vivid, incidental, and 'odd' details. In other words, the gospel authors avoided fabrication when they 'needed' it the most (in the post-Easter controversies), so why would we believe they went to the trouble to fabricate the little incidentals (that suggest eyewitness sources)?

 


 

 

Okay, so we've built a decent case that vividness, incidentals, and 'odd elements' in the narratives are more likely to be due to eyewitnesses, than to be due to fabrication. The next question is: "How much of this kind of evidence can be seen in the miracle stories?

 

Practically speaking, our method here would be to go through each miracle story, noting all the comments by commentators to this effect. Different commentators see different details as being 'significant', and we would have to assess their individual claims. But this level of work is not necessary to my task. All I really need to do is surface some of the better candidates--as judged by those looking specifically at issues of historicity--and note the relative 'density' of them. The more vivid or gratuitous details are present in the narratives, or the more 'odd' the details are, the better the case for historicity.

 

So, I will go back through our 36 miracles and list the details noted/used by Twelftree [NT:JMW] and Meier [MJ]. Additionally, I will use 'Griesbachian' C.S. Mann for the Markan miracles (Anchor Bible). [Abbreviations: "O:" -- an 'odd/unexpected/very infrequent' element; "V:" - a vivid detail; "G:" - a gratuitous incidental; "PE:" - no Post-Easter interest]

 

 

Miracle

Twelftree

Meier

Mann

In all four gospels

 

 

 

1. Feeding of 5,000

V: grass?

[Strong MA and HC]

"all the signs of an original

eyewitness tradition"

In three gospels

 

 

 

2. Walking on water

V: hurried departure?

V: ref to Bethsaida?

V: rowers' agonized rowing?

V: their cry of fear

 

V: hurried departure?

V: ref to Bethsaida?

V: rowers' agonized rowing?

V: their cry of fear

3. Peter's mother-in-law

O: brevity of story

G: location, players, sequence

O: not formulaic at all (~pattern)

O: brevity + concreteness

G: precise time, place, audience

O: unlikely central character

"reads like a Petrine reminiscence"

 

V: verse 33

4. Man with leprosy

O: touching leper (not speaking)

O: anger vs pity (text. Variant)

V: emotions of players (?)

"Mark's version, with its vivid detail, may owe far more to an original oral reminiscence…"

5. Paralyzed man

O: the digging through action

O: the 'strange circumstances'

O: unique story, if 'forgiveness' there

V: the digging/roof

6. Man with shriveled hand

PE: healing on the Sabbath

 

"all the marks of a tradition based on eyewitness reminiscence"

 

V: "watched him closely"

V: "midst of assembly"

V/O: focus on Jesus, not issue/case

7. Calming the storm

G: many Semiticisms

V: time of day

V: taking Jesus 'just as he was'

V: allusion to other boats

V: mention of the cushion

 

V: "suggest an eyewitness"

V: "just as he was"

V: "other boats"

V: "asleep on cushion"

V: "Rabbi, don’t you care…"

V: "Be quiet"

V: "why are you frightened"

8. Gadarene Demoniac(s)

O: the whole pig story

O: demon trying to bind Jesus

O: Jesus asking for info

O: 'curious' linguistic details

PE: the locale

V: "gruesome description"(?)

"many details…all the marks of reminiscence from an eyewitness"

 

"Mark used a combination of the terse and condensed Matthean account, together with his own 'reminiscence source'

9. Raising Jairus' daughter

O: named character

PE: helping synagogue ruler

V: Aramaic "talitha cum'

PE/O: no christological confession

O: Jesus laughed to scorn

G: meshing of 2 miracles

V: Aramaic "talitha cum'

PE: verb form of the Aramaism

O: secrecy motif

O: named character

PE: helping synagogue ruler

V: underlying Semitisms

PE/O: no christological confession

O: Jesus laughed to scorn

O: Jesus the bouncer

"The wealth of detail, the anguish in the plea of Jairus, the dialogue between Jesus' disciples(?) and the messengers from Jairus' house, together with Jesus' refusal to turn back--all of this, with the details which follow, makes for a very distinct personal reminiscence from an eyewitness"

10. Hemorrhaging woman

PE: purity laws, 'power, etc

PE/O: Jesus "ignorance" of woman?

PE/O: disciples rebuking Jesus

O: sexual problem, purity

PE: magical tones?

 

11. Demon-possessed boy

O: description of boy's condition

O: tone of Jesus' rebuke

O: process of exorcism

O: the saying on prayer

V: "graphic, concrete details"(?)

V: failure of disciples(?)

O: divergent from other exorcisms

O/PE: no Christological title

G: a number of Semitisms

"Mark's account is far more detailed (than Mt and/or Lk) and even manifestly indebted to an early tradition--even an eyewitness account. However there are features in the narrative, which frankly suggest an attempt by Mark to make the whole account more vivid that the very terse accounts he found before him."

12. Two blind men

O: naming of a character

G: Aramaic name

PE: "rabbouni"

O: crowd rebukes (not Jesus)

O: naming of a character

G: many Aramaic/Palestinian elts.

G: geography / customs

O/G/PE: "son of David" title

"Mark is still following Matthew's order, but there are evident signs that he has used his own superior and probably eyewitness account of this incident."

 

V: verses 49,50

In two gospels (Mark, Matt)

 

 

 

13. Canaanite woman's daughter

O: Jesus in region (not city) of Tyre.

O/PE: saying "gentles=dogs"

O: ambiguity of the saying

G: the distance of the healing

V: pagan woman around Tyre

V: demoniac daughter

PE: saying "gentiles=dogs"

"This narrative has all the signs of a primitive tradition where the words of Jesus have not yet been sharpened--and shortened--into a pronouncement story. The incident has a definite location, and the note that Jesus' quest for privacy was in vain is an authentic touch."

14. Feeding of 4,000

 

 

 

15. Fig tree withered

 

 

 

In two gospels (Mark, Luke)

 

 

 

16. Possessed man in synagogue

O: The man's crying out

O: demon's verbal response

O: unadorned name of Jesus

O: "holy one of God" title

 

"belonged to 'the earliest personal testimony'"

In two gospels (Matt, Luke=Q)

 

 

 

17. Roman Centurion's servant

PE: no church/synagogue fight

PE: Jesus' amazement

G: underlying Semitisms

 

18. Blind, Mute, Possessed man

 

O: a unique demoniac

O: muteness not 'needed' for arg.

 

Only in one gospel (Mark)

 

 

 

19. Deaf mute

O: many non-Marcan words

PE/O: miracle using more than words

O: pre-healing prayer of Jesus?

V: Aramaic "ephphatha"

O: many non-Marcan words

PE/O: "ritual looking"

O: pre-healing prayer of Jesus?

V: Aramaic "ephphatha"

V: reply of the healed

20. Blind man at Bethsaida

O: two-stage healing

O: Jesus asks for info

O: use of spittle

G: Aramaism of 'trees'

O: two-stage healing

O: Jesus asks for info

O: use of spittle

G: Aramaism of 'trees'

PE: spits into eyes

O: no faith, no audience

O: non-markan vocabulary

O: no healing pronouncement

 

Only in one gospel (Matt)

 

 

 

21. Two blind men

 

 

 

22. Mute and possessed man

 

 

 

23. Coin in fish's mouth

PE: post-temple tax

O: no 'amazement' features

[not sure it was meant literally]

PE: post-temple tax

O: non-Matthean words

[miracle not actually narrated]

 

Only in one gospel (Luke)

 

 

 

24. First catch of fish

 

 

 

25. Raising Widow's son at Nain

O/G: knowledge of Nain

O: 'low' christological confession

O: didn’t do 2-of-a-kind stories (doublets)

O/G: knowledge of Nain

O: underlying Semitisms

O: 'low' christological confession

O: didn’t do 2-of-a-kind stories

O: revivy's not multiplied

 

26. Exorcism of Mary Magdalene

 

O: stereotyped phrase "out of whom"

PE/O: disparage MM

 

27. Crippled woman

O: different adversary

G: 18 years

PE: Sabbath conflict

O: different adversary

G: 18 years

 

28. Man with dropsy

O: why  'dropsy'?

O: locale of healing

O: why 'dropsy'?

O: different from Sabbath args.

 

29. Ten men with leprosy

O: muddled geography?

O: linguistic features

O: muddled geography?

O: linguistic features

 

30. High Priest's servant

O: word order in v.50

 

 

One in one gospel (John)

 

 

 

31. Wine miracle at Cana

 

 

 

32. Official's son at Capernaum

 

 

 

33. Sick man at Pool of Bethesda

V: details of pool

O: uses Synoptic pattern

V: character portrayals

V: topography

O: strange reactions of the man

 

34. Healing of the Blind Man

O: saliva

O: needing the pool?

O: later facts not 'inserted'

G: topography

O: spittle for mud, not agent

O: no mention of faith

 

35. Raising Lazarus

O: naming a character

G: location of Bethany

G: initial delay

G: Jesus mourning

G: hesitancy to obey Jesus (@tomb)

G: scene description

V: concrete setting

 

36. Second catch of fish

[post-Easter]

[post-Easter]

[post-Easter]

[post-Easter]

 

 

[I find it instructive (and a little amusing) that the theoretical order of the gospels can make such an abject difference in this assessment. For Mann, who sees Mark as later than Matthew and Luke, and having their gospels before him as he writes, this creates the conclusion that Mark's vividness (which would NOT be derivable from Mt/Lk!) must be due to an eyewitness-like source (generally). Hence the 'rough and ready' character of Mark's gospel implies greater historicity, rather than greater disparagement of his lack of 'polish'.]

 

By my count, this chart shows that between 20-22 of the 35 pre-Easter miracle stories have between 2-8 details which are either unexpected, vivid, or gratuitous (for both Twelftree and Meier). If we restrict ourselves to those with 3 or more O/V/G/PE details, we still have over half the miracles so represented.

 

Given that these details are more likely to be evidences of authenticity than of fabrication (from our above discussion), these figures are remarkable. More than half the individual miracle stories seem to be based on eyewitness-caliber accounts.

 

More important for us, though, is that 7-8 of these eyewitness-level stories come from among the 17 one-gospel-only stories (i.e., those that cannot have support from the principle of Multiple Attestation).

 

Overall, these findings from intra-narrative details combines with the findings from the Criteria of Authenticity to create a historical impression of considerable force:

 

The literary residue of the earliest Christians indicates that Jesus was remembered as a worker of 'sane' miracles--not metamorphoses, not fortune-telling, not cursing someone's business, but of healing, exorcism, provision. He was not remembered vaguely as some kind of wonder-worker, but very specific powerful deeds of goodness were remembered--and remembered at eyewitness levels of detail and vividness. The historian can rest confident that the "historically sifted", internal data of the New Testament literature manifest textual and literary characteristics that are best (and perhaps 'only') explained by an underlying ministry of Jesus in substantial agreement with that presented at the surface of the canonical gospels.

 


 Summary:

 

  1. The two major means of authenticating gospel narratives (including miracle stories) from internal data are the Criteria of Authenticity and the presence of Intra-narrative details.
  2. The Criteria of Authenticity are widely accepted and widely used.
  3. The general proposition that Jesus worked miracles is FULLY confirmed by the criterion of Multiple Attestation, with it being visible in all sources, strata, and forms.
  4. This pervasiveness of the miracle tradition in all the 'areas' of the New Testament essentially entail that the Criterion of Historical Coherence  likewise FULLY confirms the miracle tradition.
  5. The essential lack of pre-Jesus exemplars for 'sane' miracles means that  the criterion of Dissimilarity also supports the miracle tradition.
  6. In addition to the general memory of Jesus as wonder-worker being authenticated strongly, many of the specific miracle stories in the gospels are also authenticated by the Criteria. [Meier accepts 38% and Twelftree 64%, on historical-only grounds).
  7. Although the 'vividness of detail' argument is sometimes discounted due the possibly of 'good storytellers', the skills required for such, coupled with the likely demographic makeup of the early church, precludes the 'existence' of such educated--but-anonymous embellishers (at least at the level required for the elaborate embellishment theories).
  8. Also, the line of tradition-transmission did not likely go through such storytellers--the evangelists used more central resources (e.g., apostolic companions) for a 'purer' form of tradition anyway.
  9. Incidental (but perhaps not vivid) details are still incidentals--even if the evangelist sees theological (or even literary, I suppose) 'payload' in those details.
  10. It is unlikely that a gospel writer would create minor incidentals do carry theological payloads--standard practice was rather to fabricate characters and dialogues to do this (and to make SURE the point was made!).
  11. The criteria of 'unexpectedness' of details is undoubtedly true, but interpreters must be careful to make sure their 'base of comparison' is comprehensive enough and truly representative of the author.
  12. The standard evidence of fabrication is anachronism, and relative to the pre-Easter and post-Easter situations, the gospels can be demonstrated to be non-anachronistic.
  13. The majority of the miracle narratives contained detail that was "odd, gratuitous, and vivid"--more likely indicators of authenticity than of fabrication. 
  14. Half of the singly-attested miracles manifested this eyewitness-level of authenticity.

 

 

Therefore, I conclude that the internal data of the miracle stories in the gospels provides sufficient, non-ambiguous, and a compelling "over-abundance" of historical evidence for the non-creation of many (and probably most) of the miracle stories of Jesus. The historical criteria, when applied to these miracle stories, strongly support the conclusion that the miracle stories 'go back to' the very shared life and community experience of Jesus and the disciples.

 

Glenn Miller

June 7, 2002


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