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November 2017 Archives

November 3, 2017

Licona gospel examples, Part II: Fictions Only Need Apply

In this post I'm going to continue discussing specific examples from Michael Licona's book Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? My goal is to continue showing that Licona fails to provide examples from the gospels where the best explanation is a fictionalizing literary device. Another goal is to show how Licona's method unnecessarily (and, in the aggregate, quite seriously) undermines confidence in the reliability of the documents and makes it extremely difficult to know what actually happened. See here for other posts at this site on Licona's work and here for posts at my personal blog.

In the previous post I discussed places where there is not even an apparent discrepancy between accounts but where Licona gratuitously suggests either a conflict between accounts or fictionalization on the part of the author. I called these utterly unforced errors.

In this post I will be focusing on examples where there are at least supposed discrepancies but where Licona's bias towards fictional explanations causes him either to overlook entirely or to underestimate the worth of simpler, non-fictionalizing explanations. Licona's moves in these cases are errors of explanatory and logical judgement, sometimes taking the form of literally not even considering simpler explanations than the ones he presents us with. There is nothing about his method that flows from special expertise on his part or highly specialized knowledge. He is just engaging in poor literary redactive criticism, applied to the Gospels. Meet the new higher criticism, same as the old higher criticism.

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November 6, 2017

Licona gospel examples III: Over-reading

In this entry and one other (with a short theological digression post in between) I plan to discuss passages in which Licona engages in over-reading in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? Here I will focus on over-readings connected with chronology.

A note on chronology

One of the oddest aspects of Licona's book is his repeated insistence or strong implication that the Gospel authors are creating a chronological order when they do not have to be taken as doing so. He needs to do this in order to attribute "displacement" to the authors as a compositional device, because he defines "displacement" thus:

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November 8, 2017

Fake points don't make points

We pause in our series of detailed discussions of Dr. Licona's examples for a broader theological reflection.

It is all-too-common in New Testament circles, and certainly not unique to Dr. Licona's work, to hold that a Gospel author changed some historical fact in order to make a theological point. If anything, Licona concentrates on literary motivations (such as making a story run smoothly, telling a story more briefly, and the like) more often than on theological motivations. But he does at times accept or hypothesize a theological motivation for an alleged change. Sometimes Licona borrows these theological hypotheses from other scholars.

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November 12, 2017

American Affairs

A new quarterly called American Affairs earned some surprisingly good press when it first appeared. I would not have expected a magazine of scholarly Trumpism, unveiled a month after his nomination, to walk away with warm and whimsical write-ups in the The New York Times and the New Yorker; but then again a lot of things happen that I don’t expect.

The bad press came a bit later, when, driven by an entirely foreseeable trajectory of events, the journal’s Editor publicly repudiated his vote of a year ago for the aforementioned Trump. (But even then, the Times gave him prominent space for the mea culpa.)

However they voted, I’ll grant that the editors and writers of American Affairs have indeed produced some interesting and provocative copy.

[edited for some embarrassing typos]

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November 15, 2017

Death for the New Natural Lawyers

Our friend and erstwhile contributor, Professor Edward Feser, has with a colleague Joe Bessette written a most important book about the death penalty and about Catholic doctrine, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. The most important feature (from my point of view) is the extremely strong argument that the moral licitness of capital punishment enjoys the immemorial, perennial magisterial support of the Church, from the Apostles to Benedict, as well as explicit endorsement in the Bible.

As frequent readers here would expect, I have defended their theses with my own arguments in numerous online places, including in about 5 different posts in Ed’s blog. I won’t give a repeat of that support, you can look them up just fine.

Chris Tollefsen, a proponent of the New Natural Law (NNL), has often disagreed with Ed’s support of the moral licitness of DP. He did so again yesterday, at Public Discourse, which I aim to address here.

Tollefsen's thesis rests on this theoretical claim from the New Natural Law:

Here is the basic argument: (A) human life is a basic, and not merely an instrumental, good for human persons; (B) no instance of a basic good should ever be destroyed as an end or a means;

Tollefsen, and NNL generally, are wrong here. They are wrong in a very fundamental sense.

Human life is not “a basic good,” not in the sense that it is always wrong to destroy it.

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November 17, 2017

Licona gospel examples IV: More over-reading

In this post I'll discuss more examples from Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? in which Licona's approach creates unnecessary tensions between the gospel accounts by over-reading. Here, as elsewhere, Licona opts for the interpretation of the text that creates an alleged contradiction and then (in all cases but one) "explains" it by fictionalization on the part of one or the other author. In the remaining case I will discuss, Licona explains the discrepancy created by over-reading by an interesting reference to use of contradictory sources which, in turn, is tacitly at odds with the traditional authorship of two of the gospels in question. Moreover, he adds fictionalization theories on top of the contradictory source theories.

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November 28, 2017

Licona gospel examples V: Making things complicated

A common theme among the examples I've examined from Michael Licona's Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? is that New Testament scholars tend to go for more complicated theories over simpler theories. This problem is endemic to the discipline and seems almost impossible to eradicate. Licona is not the worst example of over-complicating theories that I have seen lately, but his examples are fairly typical. What makes the habit of overcomplicating so hard to root out is the fact that authors are often unaware that they are doing it. The few examples I discuss in this post, in addition to many in past posts, illustrate the tendency.

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November 30, 2017

Laying Bare the Thought Behind the Defense

Most people paying attention to the Catholic world talking about the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) have heard that a document was published recently billing itself as a “correction”: the Correctio Filialis (CF), on which I commented earlier. This was put out by a number of lay persons, mostly theology types, and some priests. The list of signers has grown, at last count it was at over 200.

I would not like to get into the thick of all the complex points made in the Correctio, I want to charge in a different direction. Francis clearly had a ghost-writer helping him with AL, (which is standard, all popes get assistance in writing their major docs), a priest he elevated, Archbishop Victor Fernandez. Fernandez has now issued a defense of AL, here,
that in my opinion has the clearest and most distinctly problematic statement of the thought behind AL – or, of the thought behind erroneous ways of interpreting it. By coming from Fernandez, who both holds Francis’s ear and helped write the document, it confirms that those who found the ambiguous passages of AL troubling were not just making it up: the passages were written in such a way because they can be used to support an underlying position that is wrong.

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