Criterion of embarrassment

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Baptism of Christ by Francesco Albani. Since it positions John as superior to Jesus, the criterion of embarrassment has been used to argue for the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

The criterion of embarrassment is a critical analysis of historical accounts in which accounts embarrassing to the author are presumed to be true because the author would have no reason to invent an embarrassing account about himself. Some Biblical scholars have used this criterion in assessing whether the New Testament's accounts of Jesus' actions and words are historically probable.[1]

History[edit]

The criterion of embarrassment is a long-standing tool of New Testament research. The phrase was used by John P. Meier in his book A Marginal Jew; he attributed it to Edward Schillebeeckx, who does not appear to have actually used the term. The earliest usage of the approach was possibly by Paul Wilhelm Schmiedel in the Encyclopaedia Biblica (1899).[2]

Examples[edit]

The essence of the criterion of embarrassment is that the early church would hardly have gone out of its way to "create" or "falsify" historical material that only embarrassed its author 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. 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 crucifixion of Jesus is an 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 advocates of the criterion claim this method of execution is therefore the least likely to have been invented by the followers of Jesus.[3][4][5][6][7]

Limitations[edit]

The criterion of embarrassment has its limitations and must always be used in concert with the other criteria. One limitation to the criterion of embarrassment is that clear-cut cases of such embarrassment are few and far between. A full portrait of Jesus could never be based on so little data. Another limitation stems from the fact that what today one might consider an embarrassment to the early Church was not necessarily an embarrassment in its own eyes. Embarrassing details may be included as an alternative to an even more embarrassing account of the same event. As a hypothetical example, Saint Peter's denial of Jesus could have been a substitution for an even greater misdeed of Peter.[8]

A good example of the second point is found in the stories of the Infancy Gospels. In one account from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a very young Jesus is said to use his supernatural powers first to strike dead, and then revive, a playmate who had accidentally bumped into him.[9] If this tradition had been accepted as worthy of inclusion at some key juncture in the formation of the Christian Bible (and hence integrated in one way or another among the Canonical Gospels), arguably many modern Christians would find it quite embarrassing—especially strict believers in biblical inerrancy. But as is strongly suggested by the existence of this early non-canonical pericope, it must not have been embarrassing to some early Christians.[10][11][12][13]

A further limitation is the possibility that what could be classed as embarrassing could also be an intentionally created account designed to provoke a reaction. For instance, Saint Peter's denial of Jesus could have been written as an example of the consequences of denial. Matthew 10:32-33: "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."

Flaw[edit]

In his book Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus Richard Carrier points out the fundamental flaw with Criterion of embarrassment is that the truth it may be relating is not historical but rather moral or doctrinal or symbolic truth. In an earlier work Carrier directly states "An example within the Christian tradition is the astonishing stupidity of the Disciples, especially in the earliest Gospel of Mark. Their depiction is in fact so unrealistic it isn’t credible (real people don’t act like that), which means Mark (or his sources) invented that detail despite its potential embarrassment. Hence the flaw in the criterion of embarrassment is in assuming that historical truth is the only factor that can overcome the potential embarrassment of some reported detail, when in fact moral or doctrinal or symbolic truth can also override such concerns."[14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Catherine M. Murphy, The Historical Jesus For Dummies, For Dummies Pub., 2007. p 14
  2. ^ Stanley E. Porter, Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research (Continuum, 2004) pages 106-7.
  3. ^ Guy Davenport and Benjamin Urrutia, The Logia of Yeshua, Washington, DC 1996.
  4. ^ Catherine M. Murphy, The Historical Jesus For Dummies, For Dummies Pub., 2007. p 14
  5. ^ John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Yale University Press, 2009
  6. ^ N.S.Gill, Discussion of the Historical Jesus
  7. ^ Blue Butler Education, Historical Study of Jesus of Nazareth - An Introduction
  8. ^ John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Yale University Press, 2009. p 170
  9. ^ Cameron, Ron (1982), The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts, Home Base, New York: Westminster John Knox Press, pp. 124–130 
  10. ^ Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford, 1999. pp 90–91.
  11. ^ John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Doubleday, 1991. v. 1, pp 174–175, 317
  12. ^ Stanley E. Porter, The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research: Previous Discussion and New Proposals Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.
  13. ^ Gerd Thiessen|Thiessen, & Dagmar Winter. The Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria, Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.
  14. ^ Carrier, Richard (2008) “Bayes’ Theorem for Beginners: Formal Logic and Its Relevance to Historical Method — Adjunct Materials and Tutorial" The Jesus Project Inaugural Conference

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]