Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ludemann and Goodacre on the Christmas Stories

Jim West reproduces Gerd Ludemann's thoughts on the infancy narratives here. Ludemann thinks the accounts are "pious fairy tales" and lists "ten unquestionable facts argue against their historical credibility". Mark Goodacre comments on each of the ten points here. Regarding Mark's comment on (2):

"The New Testament authors derived most events of the Christmas story from prophecies of the Old Testament and misrepresented their original intent in order to make them seem to point to Jesus."

"Some of the Biblical verses alluded to by Matthew are such an odd fit with the events narrated that it is difficult to imagine that Matthew, or anyone else, 'derived' the narrative from the prophecies. On the contrary, the opposite process, of tradition scripturalized is far more plausible. e.g. Matt. 2.23 -- where does it say that the Messiah would live in Nazara? Matthew is weakly scripturalizing the tradition he knows."

I would enjoy seeing Mark write a sequel (or prequel) essay to the excellent one he did on the passion narratives, which mediated between the "history remembered" and "prophecy historicized" schools of thought. But I agree in essence with Ludemann. Unlike the passion narratives, the infancy narratives reflect a time when no one knew or cared about Jesus. History they aren't, though Ludemann's use of the term "fairy tales" is inappropriate. The infancy narratives are myths, not fairy tales, because they were (are) actually believed.

I also agree with Mark's point in (3), about Matthew trying to explain and defend a tradition of Jesus' illegitimate birth.

UPDATE: James Crossley exasperates over objections to Ludemann's tone, wondering "how much time is wasted...trying to prove/disprove stories of the variety that would so obviously be treated as fiction in other disciplines." A fair counter, given the tone of people like Wright.

UPDATE (II): Read Ludemann's pugnacious response to Goodacre.

UPDATE (III): Now read Goodacre's comeback to Ludemann. This has been a lively discussion.


Blogger Chris Weimer said...

I disagree with the definition of "myth" and "fairy tale". This is, in fact, unable to be substantiated. I've argued over at my forum that Matthew didn'y believe in the myth he was writing, but since Matthew shares the story with Mark and Luke, is that myth or fairy tale?

The better and generally more traditional defintions are: fairy tale - a fanciful tale told to children usually to illustrate a moral or social understanding, synonymous with fable; myth - a cultural story dealing with the creation and legends of a culture, usually archetypal in nature.

Beowulf is myth, Little Red Riding Hood is fairy tale. Neither, I would hope, are believed.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Even if Matthew didn't believe what he was writing (assuming for the sake of argument that's true), many people came to believe in it, and many people today do believe it. Myths are indeed believed by many, precisely because they deal with the cultural archetypes you mention.

Blogger Chris Weimer said...

I'm not saying they aren't believed. That wasn't my point. My point was that it doesn't matter if it was believed or not, belief in a story does not make it myth. People can believe in fairy tales, but that doesn't make it myth.

Blogger Chris Weimer said...

btw - I wasn't disagreeing with you that the Jesus story is a myth and not a fairy tale - on that we agree. But it's why Jesus is a myth and not a fairy tale...

Sorry to be pedantic.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

You're not pedantic. I like your definitions of myth and fairy tale; I think it's precisely because of what they are, as you define them, that one is believed while the other is not.

Blogger Quixie said...

"The infancy narratives are myths, not fairy tales, because they were (are) actually believed."

I don't think that you can state with such certitude that the nativity narratives were "believed" in some historical sense. There's no indication in either Mark or any of the Pauline epistles that early christians believed such things about Jesus. Yes, they were read as events once prophesized by the time Luke and Matthew got around to composing their respective versions.

I don't accept your definition of "myth" as contrasted with "fairy tale".




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