Centre for the Study of Christian Origins

Authenticity Criteria

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(Helen Bond) Many thanks to Chris Keith (a former student of Edinburgh) and Anthony LeDonne for organising this excellent conference, and to UTS in Dayton, Ohio for hosting it. A group of us watched it all through the day on Friday – right to the end (which was starting to get quite late over here). All the speakers were excellent, and the format of short papers, responses and questions worked really well. I’ve never really used ‘criteria’ much in my research, possibly beause people whose books I most admire (EP Sanders, Dale Allison) seem to have got by quite happily without being unduly worried by them.

What the conference showed was that all the standard criteria have their flaws, and that a heavy-handed (and lazy) reliance on them can be misguided. They can give historical reconstruction the air of a pseudo-science, when in reality it is anything but ‘scientific’. I found the discussion of embarrassment particularly interesting – for example, I’d always simply assumed that early Christians were embarassed about Jesus’ baptism by John from the start, but I now realise that they may have had good reasons for wanting to stress the connections with the popular preacher initially, and perhaps only felt awkward about baptism ‘for the remission of sins’ later.

At the same time, though, it was clear that in moderation the critera can have their place. And while some at the conference would happily ditch them altogether, I’d be with those who think that a limited appeal to them is still in order. Researching the past requires a huge amount of skills – not least a logical and sensible approach to sources, imagination, and a self-critical approach to our own biases. As long as the standard criteria are simply tools in our box, I don’t have a problem with their limited use.

There was lots on memory at the conference too – it will be interesting to see how social/collective memory studies help us, both with understanding the sources and the historical realities behind them, as this interesting new angle is explored.

Once again, thanks to all who put on this valuable conference. You certainly gave a group of Edinburgh people something to talk about in the pub!

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