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Old 08-13-2013, 08:11 AM   #1
ficino
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Default "Criterion of Embarrassment" in quest for HJ

On another active thread, "New Attempt to Show the Historicity of Jesus," the "criterion of embarrassment" has come up for criticism. It was used by Amanda Witmer in an article linked on that thread. As I understand that criterion, it is the thesis that if something in one or more gospel was likely to be embarrassing to the early church, it is likely to be historical - otherwise it would not have been put in.

As Witmer uses it, this criterion requires further steps in cases where the researcher has to argue that the item was indeed embarrassing. Witmer uses the absence of accounts of Jesus' baptism by John in Luke and John as evidence for her contention that the event was embarrassing, and then she uses that conclusion as evidence for the contention that its appearance in Mark and Matthew marks historical material.

I'd like to invite further comment on this criterion, because, doing research into the historical Socrates, I'd like to be on the lookout for it in the literature. Plus there's the fun - and importance - of evaluating arguments about the historical Jesus.

I gather that a top proponent of this criterion is John Meier, who teaches (or taught - not sure whether he's retired) at Catholic U. Meier applies the criterion of embarrassment to the crucifixion itself. he argues that it was a big embarrassment for early christianity that its founder was crucified. Therefore the early church would not have invented this detail - it had to expend a lot of effort to explain it. Meier also applies the criterion to Judas' betrayal of Jesus. He holds that it would be embarrassing for the early religion that one of its founder's close followers betrayed him. Therefore, Judas' betrayal is likely to be historical.

Meier's article was "The Circle of the Twelve: Did It Exist during Jesus' Public Ministry?" Journal of Biblical Literature , Vol. 116, No. 4 (Winter, 1997), pp. 635-672. But I think Meier has defended this criterion in other publications.
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Old 08-13-2013, 08:37 AM   #2
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Are you some sort of glutton for punishment?

The criterion of embarrassment was an attempt to extract history from the mythical stories of the gospel. It has been roundly criticized in its theory and practice. It has been the subject of many prior posts here (unfortunately, the index to the archives does not seem to be useable.)

Its status right now is that of a dead parrot, glued to its perch, still being sold by unethical pet store owners.

Richard Carrier dispatches it in his book Proving History (or via: amazon.co.uk) as a preliminary task to showing that Jesus did not exist.

Anthony Le Donne and Chris Keith, who do believe in a historical Jesus, recommend abandoning this and the other criteria in Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (or via: amazon.co.uk).

Google these names, and you will find lots of blog comments. All of the people who defend the criterion do so with so many qualifications and hesitations that you wonder why they bother.
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Old 08-13-2013, 08:41 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by ficino View Post
Meier applies the criterion of embarrassment to the crucifixion itself. he argues that it was a big embarrassment for early christianity that its founder was crucified.
But it would only be embarrassing when believers of other religions taunted little christains in the playground. Scorning a god who can bleed, much less be hammered to a tree.

But then look at Danny Quayle. He was in the news almost weekly with one or another embarrassing gaffe. The people who gave him the most shit were the 'media elite.' And he decided 'I wear their scorn as a badge of honor.'

How can we tell if early christains were embarrassed by a mortal god, or if they sneered at the scoffers because 'they're just jealous. THEIR gods never come down from Olympus..'
?
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Old 08-13-2013, 09:17 AM   #4
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1. How can one say what is embarrassing to a group which held an ancient religious belief in a culture alien to our own? Much closer to home, the belief that someone called Xenu brought billions of beings to earth 75 million years ago to be killed by atomic bombs and their souls are now responsible for all the things that go wrong in our lives is as embarrassing as hell, making it true, right?

2. Assuming for a moment embarrassment is applicable in the context of a developing tradition, a development in that tradition may have been useful to an earlier group, but found embarrassing to a later group. This says that the later tradition was held to be embarrassing, but it says nothing of the earlier stage of the tradition, let alone any hypothetical reality behind it. Any modern day believer in the ancient Greek gods would probably be embarrassed by the sexual activities of Zeus, especially when he took the form of a swan or other such guises, but they didn't seem to be an embarrassment to the ancient believers. I doubt the later embarrassment would be cause to argue the reality of Zeus's proclivities.
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Old 08-13-2013, 10:38 AM   #5
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In Anthony Le Donnes book we find this critique of criterion altogether is nothing new.


Quote:
http://www.denverseminary.edu/articl...-authenticity/

There is much of value in these essays, particularly those (the majority) that do not call for a wholesale end of the criteria’s use.

By far the fullest analysis of the criteria remains Francesco Lambiasi’s L’autenticità storica dei vangeli: studio di criteriologia (1976), a work that painstakingly and convincingly itemizes the strengths and weaknesses of the criteria both individually and as a package. René Latourelle (in L’accès à Jesús par les Évangelies (1978) and Fritzleo Lentzen-Deis (in Rückfrage nach Jesus, ed. Karl Kertelge, 1974) had important chapter/article length studies undertaking the same task as well.

Should it be looked at in depth to best analyze how to use it? Absolutely.

Some people seem to be misrepresenting the criterion here. It is not used out of context to first century cultural anthropology, nor is it used alone to determine anything.

And from Meier himself.

Quote:
http://factlookup.com/article/Criter..._embarrassment





The criterion of embarrassment is an analytical tool that some Biblical scholars use in assessing whether the New Testament's accounts Jesus' actions and words are historically probable. John P. Meier, in his book A Marginal Jew, describes the purpose behind this criterion (p. 168):

The point of the criterion is that the early church would hardly have gone out of its way to create material that only embarrassed its creator or weakened its position in arguments with opponents. Rather, embarrassing material coming from Jesus would naturally be either suppressed or softened in later stages of the Gospel tradition, and often such progressive suppression or softening can be traced through the Four Gospels.

This criterion is rarely used by itself, and is typically one of a number of criteria, such as the criterion of discontinuity and the criterion of multiple attestation, along with the historical method.

The Baptism of Jesus fits the criterion of embarrassment. In this story, Jesus, who is portrayed as the son of God in the gospels, submits to the authority of John the Baptist to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. The Gospel of Matthew attempts to explain this dynamic with John's statement to Jesus that "I should be baptized by you." The Gospel of John goes further and simply omits the whole story of the Baptism. This might show a progression of the Evangelists attempting to explain away and then suppress a story that was seen as embarrassing to the early church. The Crucifixion of Jesus is another example of an event that meets the criterion of embarrassment. This method of execution was considered the most shameful and degrading in the Roman world, and therefore it is the least likely to have been invented by the followers of Jesus.
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Old 08-13-2013, 10:48 AM   #6
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Thanks, Toto, I did find a lot of past threads on the Criterion of Embarrassment in the Archives section by searching for "embarrassment."
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Old 08-13-2013, 12:02 PM   #7
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I'm certainly no historian, but it seems to me that the criterion of embarrassment is useful in some ways when trying to evaluate the authenticity of bits of historical texts. Here's one example. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus says things like This generation will not pass away before the Son of Man comes in his glory. If you give a late dating to the Gospels, and if you also think that the sayings like the one I just mentioned are about the parousia, then it's hard to see why the writers of the Gospels would include such statements, since they (writing after Jesus' generation) would know that the world hadn't ended. If you affirm the antecedents of that conditional statement, then shouldn't you think they included the sayings because they were truthfully reporting what they received? That involves a lot of hypotheticals, but that's how it is with history.
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Old 08-13-2013, 12:14 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthew1 View Post
I'm certainly no historian, but it seems to me that the criterion of embarrassment is useful in some ways when trying to evaluate the authenticity of bits of historical texts. Here's one example. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus says things like This generation will not pass away before the Son of Man comes in his glory. If you give a late dating to the Gospels, and if you also think that the sayings like the one I just mentioned are about the parousia, then it's hard to see why the writers of the Gospels would include such statements, since they (writing after Jesus' generation) would know that the world hadn't ended. If you affirm the antecedents of that conditional statement, then shouldn't you think they included the sayings because they were truthfully reporting what they received? That involves a lot of hypotheticals, but that's how it is with history.
Clearly Mark wasn't embarrassed by it, right? He doesn't attempt to cover it up or explain it away even though he believes Jesus to be the Son of God. Does Mark think the Son of God was in error here? I find that hard to believe. So there must be another explanation. I don't have the answer. Perhaps it is an unintended anachronism? Mark has Jesus speaking of Mark's generation rather than Jesus' own? I don't know. What I do know is that I don't think this would fit the criterion of embarrassment.
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Old 08-13-2013, 12:19 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by outhouse View Post
[T2]Meier:
The point of the criterion is that the early church would hardly have gone out of its way to create material that only embarrassed its creator or weakened its position in arguments with opponents. Rather, embarrassing material coming from Jesus would naturally be either suppressed or softened in later stages of the Gospel tradition, and often such progressive suppression or softening can be traced through the Four Gospels.[/T2]
Same nonsense. You'd think Meier would argue that because the Xenu incident was so embarrassing it must've happened. In the mystery cult of Attis, he went mad and castrated himself. How embarrassing! Must've happened. Meier's claims are unfalsifiable.
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Old 08-13-2013, 12:28 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by outhouse View Post
In Anthony Le Donnes book we find this critique of criterion altogether is nothing new.


Quote:
http://www.denverseminary.edu/articl...-authenticity/

There is much of value in these essays, particularly those (the majority) that do not call for a wholesale end of the criteria’s use.

By far the fullest analysis of the criteria remains Francesco Lambiasi’s L’autenticità storica dei vangeli: studio di criteriologia (1976), a work that painstakingly and convincingly itemizes the strengths and weaknesses of the criteria both individually and as a package. René Latourelle (in L’accès à Jesús par les Évangelies (1978) and Fritzleo Lentzen-Deis (in Rückfrage nach Jesus, ed. Karl Kertelge, 1974) had important chapter/article length studies undertaking the same task as well.

Should it be looked at in depth to best analyze how to use it? Absolutely.

Some people seem to be misrepresenting the criterion here. It is not used out of context to first century cultural anthropology, nor is it used alone to determine anything.

And from Meier himself.

Quote:
http://factlookup.com/article/Criter..._embarrassment

The criterion of embarrassment is an analytical tool that some Biblical scholars use in assessing whether the New Testament's accounts Jesus' actions and words are historically probable. John P. Meier, in his book A Marginal Jew, describes the purpose behind this criterion (p. 168):

The point of the criterion is that the early church would hardly have gone out of its way to create material that only embarrassed its creator or weakened its position in arguments with opponents. Rather, embarrassing material coming from Jesus would naturally be either suppressed or softened in later stages of the Gospel tradition, and often such progressive suppression or softening can be traced through the Four Gospels.

This criterion is rarely used by itself, and is typically one of a number of criteria, such as the criterion of discontinuity and the criterion of multiple attestation, along with the historical method.

The Baptism of Jesus fits the criterion of embarrassment. In this story, Jesus, who is portrayed as the son of God in the gospels, submits to the authority of John the Baptist to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. The Gospel of Matthew attempts to explain this dynamic with John's statement to Jesus that "I should be baptized by you." The Gospel of John goes further and simply omits the whole story of the Baptism. This might show a progression of the Evangelists attempting to explain away and then suppress a story that was seen as embarrassing to the early church. The Crucifixion of Jesus is another example of an event that meets the criterion of embarrassment. This method of execution was considered the most shameful and degrading in the Roman world, and therefore it is the least likely to have been invented by the followers of Jesus.
But that's the problem - the Baptism of Jesus was not embarrassing to Mark, or to early Christians who held to an adoptionist Christology. So the criteria is useless here.

And it turns out to be useless everywhere.
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