Roman Catholic biblical scholarship has come a long way in the past
47 years. Prior to the 1943 encyclical Divino Aff.ante Spiritu,,
by which Pope Pius XII fixed scholarship the restrictive bonds imposed by fear of modernism~ I would merely scan
articles by Catholic writers pertaining appeared in such journals as the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. The writings. tended to be bland and not in touch With critical scholarship. Immediately
following the encyclical, dramatic changes ensued.
Roman Catholic scholars may have been silenced, but their investigations of biblical
literature had been going on in private and were as up-to-date as those of their Protestant and Jewish colleagues. At first,
the articles by Catholic scholars were heavily footnoted to non-Catholic writers, but that was soon to change. As publication
after publication appeared, more and more references were made to critical investigations by Roman Catholics The article “Who
Do Men Say That I Am?” by Kerry Temple, which first appeared in
Notre Dame Magazine (and follows this appraisal), reflects that change in direction. Almost all of his references
are to Catholic scholars, and what he presents is where critical Roman Catholic scholarship is today.
For over 100 rears, biblical
scholars have been applying the best tools of historical and literary analysis to the Bible As they examined the stories
about Jesus in the context of the first century CE (common era), they demonstrated that the bulk of the New Testament
material is fiction. Birth stories,
miracle stories, resurrection stories abounded in that time period. The early Christian writers simply adapted current
hero stories to Jesus, producing a legendary figure, a faith symbol, around whom an entire belief system was to emerge.
The stories multiplied in the post -New testament period, and writings now
included in the Apocryphal New Testament augmented the wonder tales associated with Jesus and Mary. The teachings in
some of these fictions—such as Mary’s continuing virginity (her hymen was intact despite giving birth), her
ascension to heaven, and her role as Theotolos (God bearer)—were
all later affirmed in one church council or another (see my book, The Supernatural, the Occult, and the Bible,
Prometheus Books, 1990). Consequently, these notions became dogma, not to be questioned by the faithful.
It is to the credit of Pope Pius XII and those Roman Catholic scholars who
engaged in critical research that they have reached the conclusions illustrated by Kerry Temple. As well, it is to
the credit of Kerry Temple that he went beyond the religious instruction he received as a child and, much like an investigative
reporter, pursued an independent search for the historical Jesus.
His quest demonstrates the folly of unquestioning acceptance
of authority—whether demanded by church, synagogue, mosque, government, or classroom teacher. One must consult the best
evidence to confirm or disprove teachings. Analyzing the New Testament Jesus
story is like peeling an onion. As one nonhistorical, fictional layer after another is removed one ends up with the tiny core.
Is this the true onion; is this the true Jesus. There is not enough left to grasp
a personality. As Father Kannengiesser told Temple, “The fact is,
Jesus existed,” yet even this assumption has been challenged
(see G. A. Wells, Did Jesus’ Exist? (Prometheus Books, 1976).
What do we really know about
Jesus? We have no birthdate and the estimates range from somewhere between 2 and 7 BCE (see Larue, Astronomy and the Star
of Bethlehem Free Inquiry 3:l:25—28). Scholars believe he
was born and grew up in Nazareth, and we know very little about life in that small town during Jesus’ lifetime. We know
nothing of his childhood or home life. [The remainder is inconsistent with the
the next 5 paragraphs Gerald A. Laure, the author, summarizing the historical
passages of the Gospels as though they were historical. Thus he ignores the German
School of scholars who showed the Gospels to be merely unreliable, but rather to be works of fiction. To do so in inconsistent, for he just affirmed the German School of Biblical scholarship and cited G.A.
Wells, their best. This inconsistency is renewed in the last 2 paragraphs of
his article by: “What I cannot accept is the unwillingness of those informed
leaders in the faith system to share this information [the German biblical scholarship] with their congregations and their
students. Perhaps persons like Kerry Temple will have to become carriers of the
best research to Roman Catholics—and indeed, to others.” This wish
of Laure’s is myopic, for the Church permits its scholars to carry on such studies as long as they don’t bring
it to the masses—this policy as existed for over a thousand years.
The Epistles give us only (a) advices to the Christian communities, (b) that Christ was crucified,
and (c) that salvation comes through faith in the revealed mysteries (such as the Eucharist).
The Christians lived on communes so to assure that they would be worthy of salvation when their God destroyed the world
again, which was to occur before the last of the disciples had died. The Epistles
lacked the words of Christ, teachings, and description of his life. This was
filled about 40 years after the Epistles of Paul by the Gospels and Acts. A number
of Biblical scholars starting in the middle of the 18th century have come to that the entire work is fiction which
fills in those gaps. However, other scholars critical of portions, which they
consider as fiction, fail to realize that the entire work is fiction. Kerry is
one of those scholars.
A theologian is a person of faith, and thus is given to the violations of logic including when
applied in historical analysis. Kerry’s work is an example of how considerations
of faith supersede logic.—jk.