I’m most of the way through Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God. I have some positive and negative reactions. The first that I’ll post about relates to multiple testimonies or traditions relating to an alleged historical event.
Just over a week ago it was my son’s birthday, and one of the presents he received was a set of headphones. Two days later my wife Bec heard a commotion from two of the kids and discovered them with the headphones, now broken. She was upset with them, and asked each of them to separately write an account of: 1) what had happened; 2) what they had learned; 3) who they needed to say sorry to. They dutifully wrote their accounts, and gave them to us to read. Bec’s immediate comment after reading was, ‘These don’t fit together – perhaps someone’s lying.’ Indeed, in child 1’s account, it appeared that the headphones had broken in the context of a game; in child 2’s account, it appeared that the headphones had broken due to being snatched during a squabble. Who was right? Who was lying?
Well, we brought them in for cross-examination. And upon questioning we realised that neither of the kids had been lying. They had both told the story from their own vantage point, mentioning the things that had been most significant to them. It was indeed a game, and part of it had involved a misunderstanding, during which the headphone cable had been snatched and taken in opposite directions. Both kids affirmed that the other’s account was true, even if different to their own.
You can see the relevance: I am very hesitant to draw too many conclusions or build sophisticated reconstructions based on divergences in the wording of accounts. Ehrman argues that because Paul makes no mention of Joseph of Arimathea, he was unaware of the Synoptic empty tomb tradition, and his mention of Jesus’ burial in 1 Cor 15:3-5 derives from an independent tradition. I have heard Gerd Lüdemann make the same claim. But I find this highly speculative. The reason that Paul mentions Cephas but not Joseph in this creedal passage is surely because Cephas was an apostolic witness, whereas Joseph was an incidental character. To conclude that Paul’s tomb tradition is at odds with the synoptic tomb tradition just seems to me to be pushing way beyond what is reasonable.
UPDATE: Apparently I’ve already thought about this topic (from a different angle), here.