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

 


Posted: Dec 5, 2001  |   Back to the Miracles Index  |  Summary


 

 

4. Did the authors consciously create miracles stories about Jesus, like the later rabbis seemed to do about each other? In this case, the readership would be expected to understand that the miracle was NOT an actual event, but rather only a fanciful parable or teaching illustration.
 

This question is NOT about making up miracles stories to "sell Jesus" to others as the "best rabbi in the world" (which is the subject of a later piece in the series), but rather about "did they miraculize Jesus because the literary precedents dictated that this was the way rabbis were portrayed?'. In other words--like the earlier entries in this part of the series--this is about literary genre and expectations. Essentially we are asking here if there existed sufficiently powerful literary 'pressures' and/or exemplars which more or less 'forced' the evangelists to embellish the historical life of Jesus with stories of wonders, marvels, and miracles.

 

If our research does indicate the presence of a considerable number of influential works in the period, in which the 'better' Rabbis were portrayed as being workers of miracles, then we would have to closely evaluate the possibility that the evangelists were simply conforming to this pattern--not to 'sell Jesus' (as we will discuss in the later piece), but just to be able to portray him in categories expected/comprehensible by their Jewish/other audiences.

 

Now, at first blush, this is an exceptionally easy question to decide--we have NO existent rabbinical documents dating to the pre-Christian period. This would rather forcefully demonstrate that not only were there NOT "a considerable number of influential literary works," but also that there were NONE AT ALL. So, on the basis of documents dating to the pre-Christian era, we could conclude this article with a definitive "NO".

 

However, there is sometimes a conception that there were documents put into writing centuries later (e.g., the rabbinical literature) that perhaps recorded/documented oral stories of leading rabbis which would fit this description. This position would maintain that a 4th century AD document might contain a story of a pre-Christian rabbi with miraculous elements--reflecting a pre-Christian 'pattern' of wonder-working rabbis. So, since scholars do study the later rabbinical lit to ferret out stories that might be traceable to earlier times, we should at least consider this possibility as well. Accordingly, we need to cast our net wider, and consider some of the miracle stories about rabbis which could be representative of an 'oral genre' expectation on the evangelists. The rabbinics have MANY miraculous tales in them, including some miracles ascribed to rabbis, so we will need to consider the character of these.

 

[We have already seen that the intertestamental literature does not even embellish the biblical heroes with miracle-working powers to any significant degree, and in THIS question here we are focused only on rabbinical/Sage figures.]

 

So our method will basically consist of these questions:

 

1.       According to rabbinic scholars, are there any reliably-dated  pre-Christian (or pre-Gospel) stories of miracle-working rabbis?

2.       If so, how many are there and how widespread is the practice?--enough to create a genre expectation/requirement on the evangelists?

3.       What are the general patterns in these stories, and are the miracle stories in the Gospels 'replicas' of those (as would be expected in a paradigm-following model)?

 

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1. According to rabbinic scholars, are there any reliably-dated  pre-Christian (or pre-Gospel) narratives of miracle-working rabbis?

 

The general consensus is 'no': not only do we not have any miraculous narratives, but we also have almost no reliable information about ANYTHING rabbinic back then.

 

The candidates for this are divided historically into two-groups: pre-Tannaic (from the close of the OT to 50BC) and the first generation of Tannaim (50 BC - 90 AD; the entire Tannaic period extends to the completion of the Mishnah around 220 AD).

 

We know next to nothing about the first group, and what we know about the second reveals almost NO  'miraculous deeds' done by human agents:

 

"Neusner's comprehensive studies of the Pharisees before 70 have revealed a virtually total absence of miracle stories. Tannaitic literature contains almost no stories of miracles performed by the Tannaim except for the story of Honi the circle maker." [X02:JSOTGP6:123; Morton Smith comes to the same conclusion in Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels; note--Honi is not actually considered a Rabbi or Sage in their early literature, but simply one of the 'devout'].

 

"It is not till the period of the Mishna… that we have any detailed information concerning individual scribes. Of those who lived before this time, our knowledge is extremely scanty. This too is almost the case in respect of Hillel and Shammai, the famous heads of schools; for, setting aside what is purely legendary, our information them is comparatively small and unimportant…" [HJP:2:1:351]

 

"The most ancient scribe of whom tradition has preserved at least the name is Antigonus of Socho. Little more than his name is however known of him. The information too given in the Mishna of the subsequent scribes down to the time of Christ is extremely scanty and uncertain" [HJP:2:1:356]

 

"What we know of them [Hillel and Shammai] with certainty is very little." [HJP:2:1:360]

 

 

Vermes will add to Honi the Circle-Maker, the figure of Hanina ben Dosa (in Jesus the Jew), but will differentiate between Rabbi/Sages and "Charismatic" Holy Men/Hasidim. [Bruce Chilton will take exception to this distinction, see NT:JHC:241f.]

 

But even earlier rabbinic scholars pointed out the differences between the two, in narrative and in attitude:

 

"Only once do we hear of a Rabbi who had recourse to miracles for the purpose of showing that his conception of a certain Halachah was the right one. And in this solitary instance the majority declined to accept the miraculous intervention as a demonstration of the truth, and decided against the Rabbi who appealed to it. Nor, indeed, were such supernatural gifts claimed for all rabbis. Whilst many learned Rabbis are said to have "been accustomed to wonders," not a single miracle is reported for instance of the great Hillel, or his colleague, Shammai, both of whom exercised such an important influence on Rabbinic Judaism. On the other hand, we find that such men, as, for instance, Choni Hammaagel, whose prayers were much sought after in times of drought, or R. Chaninah b. Dosa, whose prayers were often solicited in cases of illness, left almost no mark on Jewish thought, the former being known only by the wondrous legends circulating about him, the latter being represented in the whole Talmud only by one or two moral sayings." [ART:6-7]

 

"The activity of the Sage aimed to ameliorate the life of the community in the sphere of justice and righteousness, and in that of family relations and the education of the people in Torah and piety. Even the attributes and virtues that are absent from Simeon b. Shetah's limited spectrum of activity are instructive. It contains no contemplative-mystical, or miraculous-supernatural, element. One may certainly not infer from this that Simeon b. Shetah adopted a negative attitude to these aspects; but they are not to be regarded as dominant characteristics. Miracle-workers lived in close proximity to Simeon. Onias, the Circle-Maker--like Elijah before him--delivered his people by his prayer from severe drought. Onias' importunate pleading before the Lord…were not pleasing to Simeon b. Shetah. Although Onias's prayer was answered, yet Simeon did not refrain from sending him a message in which rebuke and recognition were intermingled…" [SWWRT:573]

 

 

Evans will give the widest list with 5 [NT:JHC:227ff]:

 

1.        Honi ha-Me'aggel (the circle-drawer, probably late first century BC)

2.        Abbi Hilquah (grandson of Honi, probably turn of the millennium)

3.        Hanin ha-Nehba (another grandson of Honi, probably turn of the millennium)

4.        Hanina ben Dosa (first century CE?)

5.        Eleazar the Exorcist (first century CE).

 

Remembering that Neusner said that only the story about Honi dates to the Tannaic period (the others being later), let's see what the nature of these people and their miracles were:

 

1. Honi the circle-drawer. This individual is famous (in the early strata, before the much later addition of other miracles and features) for praying for rain. We have one paragraph about him in the Mishnah (m. Taan 3.8), and Josephus probably refers to him in Antiq 14.2.1. The Mishnah reads thus:

 

"Once they said to Honi the Circle-Drawer, 'Pray that rain may fall,' He said to them, 'Go out and bring in the Passover ovens that they may not be softened.' He prayed, but rain did not come down. What did he do? He drew a circle and stood within it and said, 'Lord of the universe, Your sons have turned their faces to me, for I am as a son of the house before You. I swear by Your great name that I will not move from here until You have mercy on Your sons.' Rain began dripping. He said, 'Not for this have I prayed, but for rain (that fills) cisterns, pits, and caverns.' It began to come down violently. He said, 'Not for this have I prayed, but for rain of goodwill, blessing, and plenty.' It came down in moderation until Israel went up from Jerusalem to the Mount of the House because of the rain."

 

Oddly enough, this original version of the story is not presented in an altogether favorable light, because a "true" rabbi/sage--Simeon ben Shetah--expresses disdain at the act, expressing the "true" rabbinical view [noted above]. (Neusner even argues, btw, that the Mishnaic story actually pokes fun at Honi, emphasizing his boasting, lack of control, and false starts. Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah). Essentially, all we know about Honi is that he had one prayer for rain (eventually) answered. We know of no other miracles (even other weather ones), we know nothing of his ministry, we know nothing of his 'charismatic' leadership qualities. We should also note that Honi is not actually a miracle-worker, but rather (maybe) an effective pray-er (at best). This single narrative clearly could not form a 'paradigm' for the gospels, since we are looking for numerous and influential narratives for that. Furthermore, the fact that Jesus never performs anything like this prayer-for-rain pretty well eliminates it from consideration as a genre-prototype or exemplar.

 

2. Abbi Hilquah is said to be a grandson of Honi (but only in the much later Bavli…b. Taan 23a-b), and he also does (only) one prayer for rain.

 

3. Hanan ha-Nehba, also a grandson of Honi, also told about in the same BT passage, is said to have prayed for rain multiple times, but we have no narrative of any of those given.

 

4. Hanina ben Dosa (late 1st century AD?). HBD is mentioned three times in the Mishnah: (1) he is called the (last) "man of deeds" [m. Sota 9.15]; (2) he knew if his prayers for healing would be answered by God or not, as he prayed them [m. Ber 5.5]; and (3) a moral saying in m. Ab. 3.10f.  There is also a possibly-early story in the Tosefta (t. Ber. 3.20) in which HDB is bitten by a poisonous lizard but suffers no ill-effects. The Mishnah gives us no information about when HDB lived, of course, and all dating information about him comes from Amoraic and Geonic literature. Neusner and Green [HI:DictJBP: s.v., "Hanina b. Dosa"] give that he was a disciple of Yohanan ben Zakki, the leading sage at Yavneh after the destruction of the Temple. YBZ taught the leading sages of the late first/early second century, so this would argue for a post-Gospels timeframe for HBD. If this dating is correct, then this would render any possible exemplar in HDB non-existent. Even if, btw, he is somehow half-a-century earlier (and well-known then), we STILL wouldn't have a decent paradigm or exemplar: the mishnaic material never gives us a narrative of any miracle he actually performed. One passage is a moral teaching; one passage is about his prayer life (not that his prayers were effective, actually--since his 'gift' was to know if they would be answered or not!); and one passage in which 'good deeds' are ascribed (but without any narratives or examples) to him. The "good deeds" phrase is ambiguous, with some taking it to mean miracles (e.g., Vermes, Evans) and others (e.g., Buchler, Safrai) to mean simply 'good' or 'remarkable' deeds. Later legendary traditions abound in the Talmud and Midrashim (much more so than for Honi), but these exist largely for illustrative reasons (more on this below). In short, the data is either too late, too meager, and/or too ambiguous to constitute a strong, paradigmatic influence on the gospel writers.

 

5. Eleazar the Exorcist (mid 1st century AD) is not mentioned in the Rabbinic literature, and is only known from a passage in Josephus' Ant 8.2.5. In this passage he perform exorcisms, using incantations and a special herbal root--based on Solomonic wisdom. This is said to have occurred in front of Vespasian and "his sons", dating the event itself just after the gospels were written (Vespasian was Emperor from 69-79, and had become governor of Judea in 67). Accordingly, this could not have been a paradigmatic influence on the evangelists.

 

So, what are we left with, in terms of possible pre-Gospel exemplars?

 

We still only have Neusner's one case of Honi, and only one 'semi-miracle' about him (an answered prayer?). This, of course, is not adequate warrant to believe that there existed a precedent or expected-paradigm for the gospel authors to invent miracle stories about their 'Rabbi'…and so our second question above ("how widespread…") can be answered "not at all", and the third question ("how close to the miracles of Jesus…") can also be answered "totally different…not a single drop of rain…".

 

 

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But we might take a minute and ask the 'why?' question--why were miracles so 'rare' in the earliest layers of rabbinic tradition, while they were profuse, beginning with the period of the Amora (200-500 AD)?

 

There are various answers given to this by scholars, and to understand this phenomenon we need to begin with the nature of the rabbinic literature itself…

 

First of all, the rabbinic literature (like the midrashic literature we studied in the preceding piece) was NOT meant to provide historical information (but rather examples and instructions in how to live--Halakhah), and the later miracle stories were meant illustratively, not 'historically':

 

"The traditions about the rabbis consist primarily of halakhic, exegetical, or other statements without any narrative context, simply introduced by 'R. X said, expounded, etc.' and set alongside the sayings of other masters…" [HI:ITM2:60]

 

"How reliable are the narrative traditions? At present, methodologically faultless studies are available only for a few Tannites (most works of J. Neusner and his students). They consistently show that narrative traditions are almost always later than the halakhic materials attributed to the particular master. Narratives about early Tannites hardly ever appear in the Mishnah or Tosefta, and only rarely in the halakhic midrashim and in baraitot; instead, they are primarily located in the Amoraic layer of tradition or even only in the late midrashim. The primarily halakhic nature of the Tannaitic texts cannot by itself account for this fact. Instead, it would appear that the interest in preserving narratives is a later development." [HI:ITM2:61--note that this last statement would argue that even the 'interest in preserving narratives' about a wonder-working rabbi Jesus would not have been paradigmatic at the time the evangelists wrote.]

 

"But because the frequency of narrative material increases with the temporal distance from a particular rabbi, one must seriously expect later inventions and embellishments. A large part of the rabbinic narratives is useless for serious biography…" [HI:ITM2:61]

 

"The 'biographical' narratives about the rabbis are not accurately transmitted eyewitness reports; most of them are relatively late texts intended for edification, exhortation or political ends (such as support of the patriarchate or other institutions.) They are usually legendary, stereotyped narratives…" [HI:ITM2:61]

 

"The primary interest in individuals in these texts is only superficial; in reality their intention is above all to inculcate certain attitudes of life, the rabbinic way of life and its ideal of study. This probably also explains a considerable number of the differences between the Babylonian and the Palestinian version of many narratives (Safrai), which reflect the different situations of their narrators. Internally, then, the texts pursue pedagogical purposes; externally they are rabbinic group propaganda." [HI:ITM2:61]

 

"In contrast [to obligatory halakhah], the second category, aggadah, known also as haggadah…is that part of rabbinic teaching not considered obligatory. Aggadah, derived from the verb higgid (from the root ngd), meaning 'to tell,' consists of interpretations, stories, and legends, all of which are designed to attract followers to Rabbinic Judaism and to explicate its teachings and principles. Since in many areas the aggadah provides differing positions on the same issues, no one position can be obligatory." [FTT:187]

 

"The Talmud and related literature were not created to record things that happened. They are legal texts, saying how people should do things…or they are exegetical texts, explaining the true meaning of the revelation at Sinai, in Torah; or, occasionally, they are biographical texts, telling stories about how holy men did things…Talmudic essays in applied logic rarely are intended to tell us things which happened at some one point. They still more rarely claim to inform us about things that really happened. For, in the end, the purpose of the Talmudic literature, as Talmudists have always known, is to lay our paradigms of holiness." [Jacob Neusner, Reading and Believing: ancient Judaism and contemporary gullibility, ScholarsPress:1986, p. 34]

 

"So it will follow that the last thing of interest to people of the sort of mind who made the Talmud is whether or not things really happened at some point. What they want to know is how things always happen and should happen." [ibid.]

 

"I stress that this issue ['whether or not something really happened'] is simply beside the point. It is not relevant to Talmudic discourse. Therefore to accuse the rabbis of lying because they tell didactic tales and moral or theological fables, rather than writing history like Tacitus or Josephus, is to miss the point of what the rabbis of the Talmud mean. By their long arguments of analysis and applied and practical reason they propose to bring to the surface underlying unities of being. It is the most naïve sort of anachronism to accuse them of being uninterested in truth because they do not record events, or record them in fanciful way, since it denies the logicians their task but expects them to work like historians instead." [ibid, note 15]

 

 

The second thing to note is that the earlier rabbinic traditions de-emphasize the miraculous (sometimes marginalizing it!), and often relegates miracles to the past (either biblical past or prior-period past):

 

"Hence we find that their [the Sages] attitude to miracles, without which, as we have stated, religion cannot be envisaged, is ambivalent." [SWWRT:103]

 

"Underlying the Sages' unwillingness to rely upon miracles is the tendency to restrict miracles. We also find a trend to limit the miracles of the past." [SWWRT:113]

 

"It is difficult to say whether the Rabbinic dicta that we have just cited on the subject resulted from extraneous influence, but it is clear that the incorporation of past miracles in the natural order is a form of rationalization that served the aim to restrict miraculous acts in the present." [SWWRT:114f]

 

"If the Rabbis were willing to utilize the narratives about miracles as proof of the divine providence and protection of Israel, they were not anxious to emphasize that these miracles were to be expected on a regular basis. In some passages, they attempted to put distance between the biblical miracles and their own day…We find a trend to limit the miracles as disturbing the natural order of the world…" [HI:MJCA:118]

 

"An equally interesting passage [in the Mishnah, Abot] which turns the miraculous into a paean to times bygone…tendency to relegate the miraculous to the past…" [HI:MJCA:120]

 

 

"They specifically refute R. Meir's story with the statement that miracles may not be cited in the case of Halakha." [HI:MJCA"122]

 

 

Even in the period of rampant miracle-story-production (i.e., Amoraic), the Sages knew that actual miracles did not occur in their time. In other words, the miracles about contemporary/recent rabbis were known to be fables, and designed for the teaching and sermons (as noted above, and in the piece on Midrash):

 

"Some later Amoraim were even perturbed that their perceived intellectual superiority to earlier generations did not entitle them to miracles. See, e.g., BT Berakhot 20a: 'Said R. Papa to Abaye: How is it that for the former generations miracles were performed and for us miracles are not performed? It cannot be because of their [superiority] in study, because in the years of Rav Judah the whole of their study was confined to Nezikin, and we study all six Orders…and yet when Rav Judah drew off one shoe [tn: in preparation for fasting before intercessory prayer], rain used to come, whereas we torment ourselves and cry loudly, and no notice is taken of us.' Parallels are found in BT Ta'anit 24b and Sanhedrin 106b." [HI:RA:186, n.26]

 

"Ultimately, the Rabbis had serious doubts about miracles performed in their own time." [HI:MJCA:121]

 

"Along these same lines we find, 'Israel was suitable to have a miracle performed on their behalf in the second entry into the land as the first [b. Berakhot 20a], but sin prevented it.' A more definitive statement of the distinctions between the generations was made by R. Assi, 'Why was Esther compared to the morning? To tell you that just as the morning is the end of all the night, so Esther is the end of all miracles.' [b. Sanh. 98b]" [HI:MJCA:121].

 

 

Eventually, it got to the point that even God could not influence Rabbinic religion via miracles of prophecy or direct revelation (bath kol--the voice of God):

 

"Our Rabbis taught: [These are] the matters which are disputed by Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel in respect to the meal…Now the law is as the ruling of Beth Hillel. Why state [another reason]? — [This:] for should you argue: there we have two [reasons], whereas here there is [only] one, [I answer that] here also there are two, [for of] that which is constant and that which is not constant, that which is constant comes first. ‘Now the law is as the ruling of Beth Hillel’: that is obvious, since there issued a Bath Kol? — If you wish I can answer that this was before the Bath Kol. Alternatively, it was after the Bath Kol, and this is [in accordance with] R. Joshua who maintained We disregard a Bath Kol." [b. Pesah 114a, Soncino]

 

"A prophet is not permitted from now on to introduce something new" (Sifra, end of Leviticus, cited at [SWWRT:118f]) and "The [above] text [stated]: ‘Rab Judah reported in the name of Samuel: Three thousand traditional laws were forgotten during the period of mourning for Moses’. They said to Joshua: ‘Ask’; he replied: It is not in heaven. They [the Israelites] said to Samuel: ‘Ask’; he replied: [Scripture says:] These are the commandments, implying [that since the promulgation of these commandments] no prophet has now the right to introduce anything new." (b. Temurah 16a; Soncino)

 

 "Rabbah stated in the name of R. Kahana in the name of Rab: If Elijah should come … he would not be obeyed" (b. Yevamot 102a, twice).

 

"Why [the oven of] ‘Aknai? — Said Rab Judah in Samuel's name: [It means] that they encompassed it with arguments2 as a snake, and proved it unclean. It has been taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument ,3 but they did not accept them. Said he to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it!’ Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place — others affirm, four hundred cubits. ‘No proof can be brought from a carob-tree,’ they retorted. Again he said to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!’ Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards — ‘No proof can be brought from a stream of water,’ they rejoined. Again he urged: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,’ whereupon the walls inclined to fall. But R. Joshua rebuked them, saying: ‘When scholars are engaged in a halachic dispute, what have ye to interfere?’ Hence they did not fall, in honour of R. Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honour of R. Eliezer; and they are still standing thus inclined. Again he said to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!’ Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: ‘Why do ye dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him!’ But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: ‘It is not in heaven.’ What did he mean by this? — Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline (Ex 23.2?!)." [b. Baba Metzia 59b, Soncino]

 

 

The de-emphasis on miracles by the Rabbis is generally thought to be motivated by their rivalry with "prophetic" Jewish Christianity of the time:

 

"Both Guttman and Urback conclude that the 'Oven of Akhinai' is a response to the contemporary world of the Sages. They both argue that nascent Christianity, which placed emphasis on the miraculous as a warrant for religious truth, was troublesome to the Rabbis. Therefore, the Rabbis attempted wherever possible to create a religious world that de-emphasized the miracle as a source of the proof of their own authority. They accomplished this by maintaining the possibility of divine intervention in the world but restricted the potential of human agency to accomplish those miracles." [HI:MJCA:124]

 

"Elders, i.e., sages, are superior to prophets, who require signs and wonders to confirm their status as emissaries of God; sages require no such confirmation." [HI:SPRL:125, referring to y. Berakhot 1.4 3b]

 

"R. Abdimi from Haifa said: Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from the prophets and given to the wise [Sages]. Is then a wise man [Sage] not also a prophet? — What he meant was this: Although it has been taken from the prophets, it has not been taken from the wise [Sage]. Amemar said: A wise man [Sage] is even superior to a prophet" [b. Baba Bathra 12a, Soncino]

 

This pattern gives us a little insight into why the miraculous elements were minimized in their literature and theology, while still explaining the presence of vast amount of these as teaching illustrations in the later literature.

 

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We might also note that EVEN IF we allow both Honi the Circle-Drawer and Hanina ben Dosa to constitute some kind of paradigm, we should be impressed with the radical discontinuity between this alleged exemplar and some proposed attempts by the evangelists to follow this exemplar in the gospels! HCD and HBD were noted for their prayer for God's action; Jesus just did His (there are typically no indications of Him praying in his miracles, with the exception at the raising of Lazarus being for the sake of the crowd!). And the most common of all rabbinical miracles (for the first couple of centuries) is rain-making, and of course, Jesus didn't do this one…We would have to conclude that either (a) the exemplar did NOT exist; or (b) the evangelist's didn't use/know it (at least not even come close to mimicking it!).

 

"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...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. Scholars have accordingly concluded that Jesus' ministry of miracles was in important ways distinctive." [NT:JHC:215-6]

 

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Summary:

 

1.        There are no pre-Christian literary works that portray rabbis in miraculous terms.

2.        We only have one reliable oral narrative (written down a few centuries after the narrated incident) about a pre-Christian Jewish figure (Honi), who is credited with something vaguely 'miraculous'.

3.        This figure is not portrayed in the rabbinic literature as being a Sage/Rabbi (although he IS rabbinized in the later, Amoraic literature, in keeping with their tendency to do this).

4.        The most famous rabbis such as Hillel and Shammai (as well as the vast majority of other cited Sages) are NOT credited with ANY miracles in the early rabbinic literature (arguing that the paradigm did NOT exist at all).

5.        Most of the proposed miracle-working 'holy men' are too late to have influenced the gospels (or pre-gospel tradition creation).

6.        We end up with only one reasonably-plausible incident, of Honi, which is NOT a miracle BY Honi (and maybe actually a story poking fun at him).

7.        The mass of later miracle stories are generally considered to be deliberate fabula, designed for teaching, preaching, and illustration (like a colorful parable might be).

8.        The rabbinic material is NOT intended to be history, but to be halakah--a way of living according to the Torah. It does NOT intend to recount 'actual history'.

9.        The earliest rabbinic material de-emphasizes miracles and generally relegates them to the past. [..although they do recognize the reality of sorcery.]

10.     The later Sages--who invented the colorful, miracle stories for vividness in sermons and teaching--KNEW that miracles were a thing of the past.

11.     The rabbis actually marginalized the miraculous and would not allow the miraculous to influence them at all (except possibly in a negative fashion).

12.     The marginalization of miracles, prophecy, and contemporary revelation is likely to have been motivated by competition with Christianity.

13.     Even the patterns of the proposed early miracle working Jewish figures do not fit the gospel portrayals of Jesus, arguing that they did NOT constitute a literary paradigm for the evangelists.

 

 

Accordingly, I think it is very safe to conclude that the evangelists NEITHER had a miracle-working rabbi exemplar in front of them, NOR did they follow such a paradigm (if it existed).

 

 

On to the next one…

 

Glenn Miller

Dec 5, 2001


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