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Old 08-10-2001, 10:59 AM   #51
James Still
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In the interest of completeness (and in order to get beyond these asides) I'll again briefly state my reasons for leaning toward the notion that Life was based on a manuscript written by an eyewitness. I will also state my reasons for leaning against the thesis that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness.

Philostratus tells us that Apollonius' disciple Damis "kept a journal of their intercourse, and recorded in it whatever he heard or saw, and he was very well able to put together a memoir." Julia Domna had a copy of this journal and Philostratus tells us that she gave it to him and commissioned him to update Apollonius' biography and to smooth out Damis' rough Greek. (Damis was an Assyrian by birth.)

Julia Domna, wife to the Syrian ruler Septimius Severus, lived at Antioch, a city near Tyana where Apollonius was born. She was an avid lover of pagan philosophy and nurtured a "salon" in which philosophical pursuits could flourish. As an Empress she was wealthy. So she had both the means and the motive for keeping a copy of Damis' manuscript.

Philostratus also tells us that he was familiar with other biographies but that none of them were very satisfactory. When I look at these things (and although it has been awhile since I read Life) I am struck by the inherent plausibility of it all. First, we know the author's name and Philostratus tells us quite a bit of detail about Damis' work. Second, Philostratus admits that Damis' Greek was rough and that it needed a lot of work; he doesn't exaggerate his source's reliability and treats it matter-of-factly. Given all of these things (and other reasons that Apikorus mentioned) I lean in the direction of accepting that Philostratus did have available to him a copy of a manuscript written by Damis. That is not to say he used it to produce a faithful biography. Also, I'm not saying that this is totally certain. Only that I lean in the direction of accepting that Philostratus was given a copy of Damis' manuscript by the Empress Domna.

What about the Gospel of John? Was it written by an eyewitness or did it make use of eyewitness testimony? Perhaps, but let's look at the internal evidence. As I wrote in my brief post on John we're told that "This is the disciple who is testifying to all this and has written it down, and we know that his testimony is reliable" (21:24). The pronoun "this" probably refers to the "disciple Jesus loved most" and later traditions identify the beloved disciple with John. However, the epilogue was written later by a redactor and not by the original author. So the gospel was written by an anonymous person and authorship was attached to it later. Tradition since Irenaeus in the third century held that John of Zebedee wrote it but we don't know that from the internal evidence. Also, the redactor's claim to reliability in 19:35 strikes me as both defensive and protesting too much. I'm not sure why the redactor find it necessary to go out of his way to say in essence "hey everybody, this is all true."

What about the character and context of the work itself? In support of authorship by an eyewitness is the fact that the author is not mistaken about the geography in the way that Mark seems to be. But against that is the fact that the text is highly developed theologically; so much so that there is a very wide gap between what we would expect from a Jewish rabbi of the period and what we find within John. The deification of Jesus in John is alien to Judaism and, while the portrait of Jesus therein might be acceptable to someone like Philo in the diaspora, it is difficult to believe that a comrade of Jesus would have fashioned a highly developed Greek theology against the Law of Moses. Perhaps he did but we're talking here about probability and plausibility.

Along these same lines the fourth gospel is so different from the first three, which is why we call them the Synoptics (seen together), that we're left with very few similarities and a great deal of contradictions in both chronology and the meaning of Jesus' actions. Some dissimilarity between eyewitnesses is inevitable and, quite frankly, if all witnesses were to have agreed word-for-word I would suspect outright copying. But here we have the opposite problem in that there are several key instances on which this author disagrees with the Synoptics. The author also knows about the explusion from the synagogues in the 80s and it has shaped his attitude toward Jews. While it's possible that an eyewitness could live that long, given the lifespan and living conditions of peasants in that day the odds are against it.

Although I've just scratched the surface I think I've said enough to make my point. On balance and weighing the probability of one thing against another I can find no reason to be overly skeptical about Philosostratus' claim to have had in his possession the manuscript by Damis. But I don't have that same level of confidence in the Gospel of John. Even if I can get past the fact that it is anonymous, and that a later redactor inserts passages which allude to authorship, I can't get past the disparity between the theology of Judaism as Jesus would have known it and the paganistic theology represented in John. Therefore, I lean against authorship of the Gospel of John by an eyewitness.

Notice that there is no voodoo in my analysis. The summary presented is available to everyone to inspect and I hope that everyone comes to their own conclusions given these considerations. I do take exception with Nomad's aggressive assertion that I have been using a double-standard or his implicit assumption that bias overwhelms my analysis. This has never been true. But even if it had been true I think it is very unhealthy to sidetrack debate on these issues by becoming obsessed with the motives of one individual. Let's move beyond them in order to discuss substantively the issues at hand.
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Old 08-10-2001, 03:09 PM   #52
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Quote:
Originally posted by Bill:
So, it sure seems to me that we have at least three distinct brands of Christianity here:[list=1][*]The Jamesian sort, which is Christianity as a sect of Judaism;[*]The Paulene sort, where "faith alone" is sufficient for salvation; and[*]The Roman Catholic sort, where "faith plus works" is required for salvation.[/list=a]Now, I'm pretty sure that Nomad is replying from a fundamentalist Protestant perspective, automatically denying the Book of James (as did Luther himself) and the whole Roman Catholic Church. It's clear that Protestants and Catholics have major differences in their theology.
Well, I guess I can stop right here, because Bill is already wrong in his premise. The Catholic Church does not state that Faith plus Works is needed for salvation.

If you don't believe me, let us look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states the actual teachings of the Church on this matter...

PART 1, SECTION 1, CHAPTER 3, ARTICLE 1, SUBSECTION 3, HEADING 5

The necessity of faith

161 Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. "Since "without faith it is impossible to please [God]" and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'But he who endures to the end.'"]


So, right off the bat, Bill is incorrect in his assertion. We can ignore the rest.
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Old 08-10-2001, 11:45 PM   #53
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Quote:
Originally posted by James Still:

Philostratus tells us that Apollonius' disciple Damis "kept a journal of their intercourse, and recorded in it whatever he heard or saw, and he was very well able to put together a memoir." Julia Domna had a copy of this journal and Philostratus tells us that she gave it to him and commissioned him to update Apollonius' biography and to smooth out Damis' rough Greek. (Damis was an Assyrian by birth.)

Julia Domna, wife to the Syrian ruler Septimius Severus, lived at Antioch, a city near Tyana where Apollonius was born. She was an avid lover of pagan philosophy and nurtured a "salon" in which philosophical pursuits could flourish. As an Empress she was wealthy. So she had both the means and the motive for keeping a copy of Damis' manuscript.

Philostratus also tells us that he was familiar with other biographies but that none of them were very satisfactory. When I look at these things (and although it has been awhile since I read Life) I am struck by the inherent plausibility of it all.
Okay, all of this sounds very nice. Of course, the big problems with all of this is that ALL we have as actual evidence of Damis' work is what Philostratus tells us. We have no original documents from the man. We have no copies of any other histories of the life of Apollonius. We have no way to compare anything found in Philostratus' work with anything else to confirm that he was faithful to the material that he had, or even that he wasn't just making the whole thing up.

Look at it this way:

Robert Graves tells us, in his wonderful books, "I Claudius" and "Claudius the God" that he is using THE original hand written copies written by Claudius himself! Yet no one, Graves least of all, would ever pretend that such an original existed.

Now, if I was a card carrying sceptic, given the total absense of any external evidence to support the claims made by Philostratus about Damis or Apollonius, I would be very hesitant to accept that he was using an eye witness account. Is it possible? Of course. But given the paucity of evidence, I would be reluctant to make any kind of commitment on the matter.

That said, given that the claims are not extraordinary, and the reasons to accept the plausibility of the source mentioned by Philostratus, I see no reason to reject that such a thing existed. This is consistent with how ancient historical studies are carried out, and it is not unusual for the student of such history to rely upon a single source for a great many of the claims. If we accept Philostratus and Juliua Caesar, and Cicero, and Josephus, and Tacitus, ect., then we must be consistent in our application of the tools of the trade, so to speak.

Sadly, where this tends to break down, at least when it comes to the beliefs of a great number of sceptics (like James, for example), is when we evaluate Christian documents. We will look at that more when we get to the discussion on GJohn, but I would like to cover off the reasons listed by James for accepting Philostratus' account:

Quote:
First, we know the author's name and Philostratus tells us quite a bit of detail about Damis' work.
This is, of course, irrelavent. For all we know the document is pseudonymous, or the one attributed to Damis is. Since we do not have the original texts from Damis, we cannot know, nor can we test it. We have nothing external to compare it against either, so what we have is single source hear say.

Quote:
Second, Philostratus admits that Damis' Greek was rough and that it needed a lot of work; he doesn't exaggerate his source's reliability and treats it matter-of-factly.
In other words, Philostratus is explaining why he has heavily redacted or corrected the original. Again, we learn nothing from this. I would be astonished to see any sceptic extend similar charity to anything written by a Christian, like, for example, 2 Peter or the Pastorals.

Quote:
Given all of these things (and other reasons that Apikorus mentioned) I lean in the direction of accepting that Philostratus did have available to him a copy of a manuscript written by Damis. That is not to say he used it to produce a faithful biography. Also, I'm not saying that this is totally certain. Only that I lean in the direction of accepting that Philostratus was given a copy of Damis' manuscript by the Empress Domna.
Fair enough James. I happen to agree that Philostratus probably did use an original source. But that is not really the issue. We will get to that issue now as we look at your treatment of GJohn.

Quote:
...However, the epilogue was written later by a redactor and not by the original author. So the gospel was written by an anonymous person and authorship was attached to it later.
Whoa. I have to stop you here James. Just because an epilogue was added later does not mean that the entire work was authored by a redactor. One does not automatically follow the other.

Quote:
Tradition since Irenaeus in the third century held that John of Zebedee wrote it but we don't know that from the internal evidence.
Okay, Iranaeus is early second Century (c. 115-177AD), not third, and the hard textual evidence available to us (P66 and P75, both dated to c. 200AD) all agree that the apostle John was the author of the Gospel bearing his name. Given that these witnesses are so close to the outside dates of the final authorship of the Gospel, I fail to see why one would not trust it. Consider that Irenaeus is closer to the dates in which GJohn was probably written than Philostratus was to Damis. Yet GJohn was written well before Irenaeus lived, so the original text is also much closer to the time when an eye witness could have lived than is the case for Philostratus and "The life of Apollonius".

If, on the other hand, you have any external evidence to rebut the claims of Irenaeus (relating what he had learned from Polycarp before him), then I would be happy to hear it. At the same time, I would hope that you would find this external evidence to be at least some what helpful in establishing that GJohn had an eye witness behind it. After all, with Philostratus we have nothing of the sort.

Quote:
Also, the redactor's claim to reliability in 19:35 strikes me as both defensive and protesting too much. I'm not sure why the redactor find it necessary to go out of his way to say in essence "hey everybody, this is all true."
Whatever. It is always risky to try and psychoanylize motives and reasons for a person so long dead. Here you are merely speculating, and again, given that we have nothing at all from Philostratus to support his claims, strikes me as being excessively sceptical to reject John, yet accept Philostratus.

Quote:
What about the character and context of the work itself? In support of authorship by an eyewitness is the fact that the author is not mistaken about the geography in the way that Mark seems to be. But against that is the fact that the text is highly developed theologically; so much so that there is a very wide gap between what we would expect from a Jewish rabbi of the period and what we find within John. The deification of Jesus in John is alien to Judaism and, while the portrait of Jesus therein might be acceptable to someone like Philo in the diaspora, it is difficult to believe that a comrade of Jesus would have fashioned a highly developed Greek theology against the Law of Moses. Perhaps he did but we're talking here about probability and plausibility.
Christological arguments for dating are always tricky, and even worse when we try and apply them to questions of authorship. After all, the highest developed Christology found in the Bible, outside of John is in Paul's letters, and it is universally accepted that many of these were written in the 50's. All predate GJohn, at least if you believe the consensus dating of 90-110AD.

Bottom line, Philo was writing in the 50's. So was Paul. And the concept of "logos" dates back several centuries earlier. The fact that such concepts can be found in early Judaic Christianity should not come as any kind of surprise, and given that orthodox Christianity dating back to Paul has accepted the divinity of Jesus Christ, I fail to see why or how you would reject that an early disciple would convey this view.

Considering the fact that a liberal like J.A.T. Robinson, and a leading sceptic like Robert M. Grant(Professor of NT Studies at the University of Chicago) can accept eye witness authorship, it should not come as a surprise that the view is hardly confined to radical and conservative Christian circles.

Quote:
Along these same lines the fourth gospel is so different from the first three, which is why we call them the Synoptics (seen together), that we're left with very few similarities and a great deal of contradictions in both chronology and the meaning of Jesus' actions.
But this point places you on the horns of quite the dilemna James. You have already rejected the Synoptics as having been produced by eye witnesses in your other posts. Now you wish to use them to discredit the ONLY Gospel that does claim eye witness testimony? How can you do this? In my opinion, if we have three non-witnesses (by your argument), then we cannot use them as evidence against the only actual eye witness. Imagine such an argument being made in a court case to see my point more clearly. You would be laughed out of the courthouse.

On the other hand, IF you are prepared to concede that the Synoptics did come from eye witnesses, then we are into an entirely different soup, n'est pas?

Now do you see better why I wonder at your inconsistency James? You accept Philostratus knowing full well that we have no other reliable witnesses (at least that is what Philostratus tells us). Yet you wish to reject John on the basis that other non-witness accounts disagree with him on key points.

How odd.

Quote:
Some dissimilarity between eyewitnesses is inevitable and, quite frankly, if all witnesses were to have agreed word-for-word I would suspect outright copying. But here we have the opposite problem in that there are several key instances on which this author disagrees with the Synoptics.
Given that we cannot know what any other source on Apollonius may or may not have said about his life (or even what Damis ACTUALLY said in his own account), why do you give this any credence? Why not just say that the Synoptics were wrong, or that we must admit that we cannot know for certain if either GJohn or Philostratus used eye witness testimony?

It is the consistency of the question that I am most interested in here. I accept the eye witness testimony of both documents, but aside from your selective use of methods, I do not see why you are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Philostratus, but not to John.

A quick question if I may, if the Synoptics had never existed, would you have been more willing to accept that John was authored by an eye witness?

Quote:
The author also knows about the explusion from the synagogues in the 80s and it has shaped his attitude toward Jews.
This only shows possible evidence of a later redactor. Yet, given the treatment of Paul in the Synagogues (in the 40's and 50's), I am not so certain that John is thinking about the final break after the destruction of the Temple. After all, if he lived near Palestine, or in Palestine during the first Century, he would have been well aware of the Jewish-Christian break. Remember, James the brother of Jesus was killed in 62AD by the High Priest. Obviously all was not well between the two faiths.

Quote:
While it's possible that an eyewitness could live that long, given the lifespan and living conditions of peasants in that day the odds are against it.
It is not a given that John dates to 90AD+, and even if it did, that does not preclude an earlier version used by the final editor in its construction. Since we know that Philostratus was such a final redactor, I fail to see why this should even be an issue for you in rejecting eye witness testimony being in John.

Quote:
...Even if I can get past the fact that it is anonymous, and that a later redactor inserts passages which allude to authorship, I can't get past the disparity between the theology of Judaism as Jesus would have known it and the paganistic theology represented in John. Therefore, I lean against authorship of the Gospel of John by an eyewitness.
This is a very curious argument. Even assuming that Jesus would have rejected John's theology, I do not see how this could preclude his being an eye witness to the life of Jesus. Your premise simply does not produce your conclusion. If anything, you are placing the cart before the horse here, and merely demonstrating that you will accept any reasons for rejecting simple, non-extraordinary claims made by a Christian, even as you are perfectly willing to accept those made by a non-Christian.

I just don't get it James. I have seen such inconsistencies before, and from a great number of sceptics on a large number of issues. But the recurring nature of this double standard only highlights its peculiarity in my view.

Quote:
...I do take exception with Nomad's aggressive assertion that I have been using a double-standard or his implicit assumption that bias overwhelms my analysis. This has never been true. But even if it had been true I think it is very unhealthy to sidetrack debate on these issues by becoming obsessed with the motives of one individual. Let's move beyond them in order to discuss substantively the issues at hand.
I have no problem moving on James. Nor have I been questioning your motives. I do question your methodology, and the consistency with which you apply those methods, but if I see such inconsistencies, then I think it is worth exploring the reasoning behind them.

I have done the same with many others on the net, and not just with sceptics. Thank you for your time, and for your feedback.

Be well,

Nomad

[ August 11, 2001: Message edited by: Nomad ]
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Old 08-11-2001, 04:27 AM   #54
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One more question for James:

This is hypothetical but might be revealing. Let us suppose that we were all Mithrists and Christianity never got going.

A certain third century author (lets call him Clement) wrote a life of Jesus for one of the few high ranking Christians before the religion died out in the fifth century. His is the only extant source for Jesus's life. He explains that the high ranking Christian had a document, in rather poor Greek and full of inaccuracies, by a certain 'Mark' whom the Christians around at the time thought was transcribing the words from one of Jesus's senior disciples. Hence he thought he had an eyewitness which he based his work on.

Would you in these circumstances be happy to accept that?

Yours

Bede

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Old 08-13-2001, 08:02 AM   #55
James Still
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Quote:
Originally posted by Bede:
<STRONG>Would you in these circumstances be happy to accept that?</STRONG>
I'm afraid I don't understand the question. Accept what? Accept that there was a real historical Jesus as the core of Clement's work? Sure.
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Old 08-13-2001, 08:32 AM   #56
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I'm afraid I don't understand the question. Accept what?
Accept that the lost document called 'Mark' was an eye witness account.

B

[ August 13, 2001: Message edited by: Bede ]
 
Old 08-13-2001, 10:17 AM   #57
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Except that the lost document called 'Mark' was an eye witness account.
Except = Accept?

So it seems that the question is meant to determine whether I apply a different standard to a Christian text than to a pagan one. Let me reply broadly to this notion as well as to Nomad's theme that skeptics are biased against Christianity. For something like 1,600 years up until Reimarus we gave the benefit of the doubt to the four gospels in that they were eyewitness accounts. No one ever thought to question this assumption. But then some Christians started to delve a bit deeper into their own texts and started to ask questions that no one had bothered to ask before. Other Christian scholars began to put the internal evidence under critical scrutiny. Now here we are with the scholarly community in near agreement that the texts are not infallible, something unthinkable even 50 or 60 years ago. If anyone still wishes to claim that skeptics are here and now employing a double-standard against these texts or are otherwise biased a priori against them, then he has forgotten the whole history of modern biblical scholarship and the progress that has been made to date. It would be like trying to speak only to textbook Marxist ideology while avoiding the history of the twentieth century.

To answer more narrowly in this case, if all we had were a single text in which its author claimed that he made use of eyewitness testimony then it would be appropriate to give the author the benefit of the doubt. (Just as we did with the Christian texts for 1,600 years.) Needless to say, this says nothing about the text's historical veracity or reliability. But if evidence is forthcoming that causes us to call the text into question then we should pursue that evidence vigorously. This has been done with the Christian texts by many brilliant men and women over the past 200 years. Thus your concern about "bias" and double-standards would be better directed at the whole history of modern biblical scholarship rather than me. Nomad has taken me to task for not believing that GJohn was written by an eyewitness but at a certain point he needs to address scholarly consensus and decades of research if he really wants to change minds.
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Old 08-13-2001, 12:25 PM   #58
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If I may ask James one final question:

First, it is well known that none of the Gospel accounts are ever attributed to anyone except Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, even as none of them have actual signatures within them to identify the authors. Given that there is unanimous agreement in the early attribution of authorship (generally dating back to the early to mid-Second Century), how and why do you think that these particular individuals were believed to be the actual authors of these Gospels?

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Old 08-13-2001, 12:45 PM   #59
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Quote:
Originally posted by Nomad:
<STRONG>If I may ask James one final question:

First, it is well known that none of the Gospel accounts are ever attributed to anyone except Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, even as none of them have actual signatures within them to identify the authors. Given that there is unanimous agreement in the early attribution of authorship (generally dating back to the early to mid-Second Century), how and why do you think that these particular individuals were believed to be the actual authors of these Gospels?

Nomad</STRONG>
I love taking the time to discuss difficult issues and I even go out of my way to communicate the basics to honest seekers. But I have to admit that my enthusiasm for communicating the basics wanes when it is asked by apologists who seem to care more for dogma than inquiry. I recommend Helmut Koester's excellent survey Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development for a great introduction to the various Jewish-Christian trajectories and communities of the first several decades.
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