Interpreting the New Testament writer's intentions


#1

Has anyone come across the view that the Gospels were consciously fabricated to effect social change? Are there solid responses to this view?

According to historian Richard Carrier, the Jews used appeals to God as a way to effect social change because that was more effective than appeals to reason during that time. Reason was associated with the Greeks, and not to be trusted, so the Jews cloaked their social agenda in divine terms.

Nietzsche held a similar view: he believed the Old Testament Jews were proud and strong and had a God who supported them in that, but when they found themselves subjugated by the Romans they needed a system that built up the weak, the poor, the oppressed, thus, they created the New Testament.

I can think of a number of objections to this view. One is that I see nothing political in the New Testament. And two, it is unlikely that Paul would die for something he knew was not true. I also find it hard to believe the Gospel writers -- highly educated men -- would so blatantly deceive the public for political purposes. "Love is patient, love is kind..." These are not the words of a liar.

Please let me know if you have come across this view and what you think of it.

Thank you.


#2

[quote="JJRH, post:1, topic:323884"]
Has anyone come across the view that the Gospels were consciously fabricated to effect social change? Are there solid responses to this view?

According to historian Richard Carrier, the Jews used appeals to God as a way to effect social change because that was more effective than appeals to reason during that time. Reason was associated with the Greeks, and not to be trusted, so the Jews cloaked their social agenda in divine terms.

[/quote]

One way of looking at it is exactly as you have stated: belief in Jesus leads to conversion of the person, so yes, in a sense, the evangelists did write their Gospels "to effect social change"...! ;)

However, that's not what you mean (I know, I know!)... you meant "did they write the Gospels deceitfully, concocting the story of the God-Man Jesus in a sort of Machiavellian scheme to cause social change?" There's really no evidence of this, is there? I mean, even if someone says, "here's what the results are", he'd have to demonstrate that the intent was there, wouldn't he? After all, that would be like looking at the riot after Detroit won the World Series and saying "the management of the Tigers won the '84 World Series in order for a riot to take place." It makes a stunning claim, but without any proof... ;)

Perhaps he can show that appeals to logic by the Jews weren't successful; perhaps he can show that the effect of the OT included social change; perhaps he can show that the Jews eschewed Greek-style systems of logic and philosophy. However, unless he shows intent, then the best that he can say is "here's an alternative explanation that fits existing data, as long as you throw out the notion that true belief in religion led to the development of a religious system in OT Hebrew society." Framed up that way, it's obvious that this is just a house of cards...

Nietzsche held a similar view: he believed the Old Testament Jews were proud and strong and had a God who supported them in that, but when they found themselves subjugated by the Romans they needed a system that built up the weak, the poor, the oppressed, thus, they created the New Testament.

It's been a while since I read the Genealogy; I don't recall Nietzsche distinguishing between "OT Jews" and "NT Jews"...? I thought that he just made the claim that Jews (being less capable than other, more pure races) needed a theology that raised up the downtrodden (as opposed to the victorious). This, as I recall, applies to the Jews in exile (in the OT): their God still loves them and desires them to be the 'chosen people', even in the face of their apparent rejection by God.

I can think of a number of objections to this view.

All of which are nice, but they're unnecessary, unless the person making the claim can show evidence of intent. Short of that, it belongs in the 'fiction' aisle, not in the 'theology' or 'non-fiction' sections...


#3

That’s a fairly common attempt to write-off the Gospels. Two big pieces of evidence against it are (1) the martyrdom of the apostles and early Christians for one big concocted lie and (2) the empty tomb (if the Gospels are fabrcation, then Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and thus his body must still be somewhere).


#4

Well, I’ve heard that the Beatitudes were formulated to comfort a defeated populace. Trouble is that 2000 years later they still are an effective prescription for happiness, even among people in a nation such as ours that sees itself far from lowly and defeated.


#5

Thanks for the responses.

You make a good point, Gorgias, but I think evidence of intent might be hard to come by. For if the NT writers were lying they would be careful to not leave behind evidence of their deceit.

Fortunately we have a number of responses to this view. And I would add to the list the fact that the Gospels accounts are slightly different from one another which implies that the authors did not collaborate. You would think that if they were consciously embellishing the eyewitness testimony they would at least get together and do it right. And to say the eyewitnesses fabricated the whole thing assumes they were organized enough to pull it off. Finally, Paul was writing before the Gospel writers, so a fabrication theory would have to establish that he collaborated with them beforehand.

The source of this theory, Carrier, has to be considered as well. To put it mildly...Carrier has quite an imagination. He once attempted to debunk "from nothing nothing comes" on his blog. I'll just let that speak for itself.

Thanks again for the responses.


#6

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