Wednesday - August 17, 2016
“As historical-critical scholarship advanced . . . the figure of Jesus — became increasingly obscured and blurred . . . All these attempts have produced a common result: the impression that we have very little certain knowledge of Jesus and that only at a later stage did faith in his divinity shape the image we have of him. This impression has by now penetrated deeply into the minds of Christian people at large. Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air.”
— Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, xii — 30 September, 2006
Jerome D. Gilmartin – September 22, 2016
Until the mid-20th century the Catholic Church accepted this testimony of second-century Bishop Irenaeus and others:
Apostle-eyewitnesses Matthew and John wrote the Gospels that bear their names, as did Mark (Peter) and Luke (Paul).
By the 1960s, however, the Historical-Critical Method of biblical exegesis had become dominant, in particular the Two-Source Hypothesis, which held that:
No eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus wrote a Gospel. All four originated in Greek and were written by unknown second-generation Christians who had never seen or heard Jesus.
With these TSH assumptions as the basis for their interpretation of the Gospels, the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar concluded:
Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him . . . The evidence provided by the written gospels is hearsay evidence . . . the names assigned to the gospels are pious fictions.
Most scholars regard these and other conclusions of the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar as extreme. However, in the late 1960s, soon after Vatican II, many Catholic seminaries and universities had begun to teach the HCM exclusively, in particular the Two-Source Hypothesis. The speculation that the Gospels originated with “unknown second-generation“ writers resulted in many books, articles and much instruction that cast doubt on the teaching, miracles and divinity of Jesus; even on his Resurrection.
As a result, many seminarians and Catholic college students lost their faith and continue to lose it today (See the recent “Dear Jerome” message later in this article from a Catholic priest).
But other scholars had long recognized many Semitisms in the Canonical Greek Gospels – indications of early origin in Hebrew or Aramaic. Such study was aided after 1947 by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls which gave a more precise knowledge of the Hebrew and Aramaic of the time of Christ. As Catholic priest and Semitism scholar abbé Jean Carmignac wrote in 1984:
"The Gospels therefore have been redacted earlier than is customarily claimed. They are much closer to the events. They have a historical value of prime importance. They contain the witness of disciples who followed and listened to Jesus."
And R. Steven Notley, Ph.D., eminent Semitism scholar and Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, Nyack College, wrote in 2014:
"In the light of a century of archaeological discovery, which has seen a sea change in scholarship’s understanding of the languages of first-century Judea, the time has arrived for New Testament Scholarship to rethink its working model for the linguistic environment of the Gospels."
And, without relying on Semitisms, biblical historian Brant Pitre, Ph.D., Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans, reached the same conclusion in 2016:
"In essence, there are compelling historical reasons to conclude that the Gospels are not the late first-century end products of a long chain of anonymous storytelling. Instead they are ancient biographies written by the students of Jesus and their followers, written well within the lifetimes of the apostles and eyewitnesses to Jesus."
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