The Jesus Seminar Jesus is bankrupt: Post 4

I want to go back to a point that I made earlier in this series which I said that I would take up later. The point is this. When we begin really evaluating our methods, we discover that in case after case we are using them to try to conclude things that the methods cannot tell us. In other words, the multiple independent attestation criterion cannot tell us that Jesus said something, or that he more likely said something because multiply-attested material suggests that our authors were drawing on earlier sources for the material. It can, however, point us to material that did not originate with our authors, yet was popular enough to be transmitted, and salient enough to be preserved by two or more authors. So this principle, while it cannot tell us what the historical Jesus said, is certainly useful for helping us figure out the tradition history of early Christianity.

The same can be said about the myther position, the position that says that Jesus was not an historical person, but a mythic construct of the ancient people. Tom Verenna has responded that the myther position has moved beyond parallalmania which focused on comparing Jesus' story with pagan myths. The mythers have been employing other better methods to make their point. He writes HERE:
More recent mythicist arguments deal with exegesis, Gospel genre (if the Gospels weren’t written for the purpose of “telling what happened” but rather “telling a good story” there clearly is reason to doubt the historicity of Jesus Christ), intertextuality (the models used by the authors of the Gospels to create narrative—and how much of the Gospel can be traced back to models), Jewish socio-cultural studies in the Hellenistic and Roman periods (did the Jews of the original “Christian” sect expect a historical savior or a spiritual one?), religious-meme change (how quickly did religious trends change and how much could they have changed over that period of time—for example, euhemerizing a legendary figure of Jesus into a historical setting), and proto-Christian origins (was there a “Christianity” before the first-century CE and where did it originate?) .
But isn't this the same pitfall that the Jesus Seminar fell into? The same argument, though turned around? Aren't the mythers drawing from their methods conclusions that force the methods beyond what they can actually tell us? Let me take Tom's points one-by-one:

1. The gospel narratives were written "to tell a good story" not to record "history", so isn't there reason to doubt Jesus' historicity? Well, the short answer is NO. The mere fact that the story is constructed is not evidence for the non-existence of Jesus. Everything we write, speak, and even think is constructed. But that doesn't mean it is constructed with no ground in the historical reality that we experience. The long answer is that the ancient people did not have the concept of history that we do today, and none of them wrote factual accounts, even those who claimed to be writing histories. An "empirical" accounting of our history wasn't actually understood until the Enlightment when people like Leopold van Ranke began to argue that maybe we should be committed to writing history as it actually happened, and that it should not be the historian's duty "[…] to judge the past, nor to instruct one's contemporaries with an eye to the future, but rather merely to show how it actually was."

2. The authors of the gospels used narrative models to construct their stories. True. But this is not evidence for the non-existence of Jesus. All it can tell us is that the early Christians were part of the Greco-Roman educational system, and used models known to them to write Jesus' story. Would we expect otherwise?

3. The original Christian sect expected a spiritual savior. It doesn't matter a hoot whether the early Christians thought Jesus to be a real human being or an angel or a god. They in fact thought all these things, and what these represent are theological interpretations. They may be interpretations laid on an historical figure just as well as not. This argument cannot tell us whether or not Jesus existed.

4. Religious trends change quickly over time. So what. Some do. Some don't. And in each case, these should be tracked and evaluated. This tracking would tell us a lot about early Christian construction of their religion, but Jesus' existence? Come on.

The long and short of this post gets at the heart of TJP in my mind. Does an intentioned constructed story about somebody consequently imply that that person didn't exist? No. In fact, I don't know of a method that would actually tell us whether or not Jesus existed. So this is a non-issue for me. It can't be known. So if all TJP is going to be is a bunch of scholars arguing over whether or not Jesus existed, using methods to conclude things that are beyond the scope of the methods, then I don't want to participate in the Project. I don't have time or patience for this conversation. The question cannot be resolved. And TJP will fall into the same trap that TJS fell into - concluding things that our scholarly methods cannot actually tell us.

However, if the Project wishes to get serious about methods, and commits to using them only to gain what can be gained from them, then I think TJP has something to offer. I think that we need to allow our methods to do what they can, and stop forcing them to do what they can't. Perhaps we might set aside the obsession of historical existence or non-existence of Jesus (which are both faith positions from opposite camps), and instead try to come to a better understanding of how, when, and why the early Christians constructed the story of Jesus in the manner that they did. If this is our goal, then I'm interested in being a part of TJP because this I think is possible to accomplish.