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The main premise of this book is that the writers of the Gospels are creators of fiction; more precisely, it is suggested, they took material from a variety of sources, mostly the OT but a few pagan sources as well, in order to compose fictional stories about Jesus of Nazareth.
Before beginning the by-page analysis, we will lay out general replies to the major thesis of Gospel Fictions hereafter GF that the stories of the NT were stolen from the OT and sometimes other sources. Helms' chief tactic is to search for Greek terms found in NT stories and find what he thinks are parallels in the OT. The secondary key, and what is commonly offered as a strong proof of fictionalization, is that Greek words found in the Septuagint LXX , the Greek translation of the OT, are also found in the NT stories.
Generally our replies are one of the following:. A conclusion is drawn from minimal evidence, a mere fingerful of words in the body of a text. In some cases these words are found in so many places that the correspondence in the two stories is statistically meaningless.
Recasting of stories in terms of previous stories was a normal practice and admired skill in this day. Helms assumes that there was no known or unknown history of Jesus and that the NT writers scoured the OT and other sources looking for material they could turn into a Jesus story. Never considered is the idea that the NT writers had an actual story of Jesus which they proceeded to retell, with skill, using as many allusions to the OT as they could.
This would have been a standard practice of the era and no point against the historicity of the text in and of itself. Historicity should be determined by the normal tests: i. Malina and Neyrey report in Portraits of Paul  that one form of support for testimony was "probabilities" -- verification from general experience. Rhetoriticians noted that when setting forth a statement to a judge or jury, orators should "pay attention to the question of whether he will find his hearers possessed of a personal knowledge of the things of which he is speaking, as that is the sort of statement they are most likely to believe.
When Bible stories follow typical forms, they do so for this very purpose. Using words and phrases from the Old Testament accomplished a similar purpose. Material is phrased in such a way as to appear verifiable from experience. Of course this again says nothing about historicity, but it gives ancient writers every motive to report what they say, true or false, in terms recognizable from previous experience.
If the NT imitates the OT, it has every reason to do so, and thereby offer no reason why we should argue for fabrication on these grounds alone. This relates as well to the ancient prejudice against anything new. Casting new things in old terms or relating it to the old was a way of trying to gain acceptance for the new.
Flemming Nielsen The Tragedy in History: Herodotus and the Deuteronomic History , in an examination of the histories of Herodotus, notes in that writer a purposeful intention to duplicate the vocabulary, morphology and style of Homer, and the use of "deliberate Homeric quotations", places where Herodotus "deliberately plays upon his readers' awareness of particular passages of Homer" as indeed Luke does, using a variety of Greek works.
Nielsen notes further:. And Albert Lord, a specialist in oral and mythic traditions, had this to say in The Relationships Among the Gospels :. Rhiannon Ash, in the book Tacitus , gives examples of how that great historian -- considered the most reliable in the ancient world -- followed this very system of thought : While modern historians might use footnotes to draw parallels between different events, a historian like Tacitus "embeds such points in the very language which he uses.
Helms simply asserts that the copying is equal to fiction-making. But this was not the praxis for the ancients, nor for Judaism: Words did not create events, but events called out the words. And what he and others call "fiction" is actually deliberate allusion of the sort Herodotus employs. Let's make this more concrete with a hypothetical example that we have already noted: parallels between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassination.
If a writer about Kennedy wanted to invoke the thought of Lincoln, he might first find events in their lives that paralleled each other, as I did in the link. This would be easiest if Kennedy himself had been trying to portray himself as a "new Lincoln," just as Jesus portrayed himself as a new prophet such as that of old, or John the Baptist portrayed himself as a new Elijah. The writer would then seek out a popular and well-known biography of Lincoln as we have, that one written by Oates, used in our Harmonization essays , just as the NT writers used the OT.
There is of course a break in the analogy here, since no one does such in-depth study of Oates' book, or uses it as a manual for life on a daily basis, or recites long portions of it from memory.
They would then look for key phrases that could be taken from the Lincoln bio and used in a Kennedy bio. Thus, a person could take phrases from the Lincoln bio, dealing with Lincoln's assassination: "gunshot rang out," "frozen instant," "enveloped in smoke," "slumped forward," "deranged, incomprehensible terror," "screams, a medley of voices," and so on, and construct a perfectly serviceable and entirely accurate account of Kennedy's assassination.
This is all that the NT writers did, only with much greater artistry It is wrong to claim that imitation proves we "can never know what actually happened" or the like. Skeptics may scoff, but certainly it is taught within Scripture that some of the typological repeats, and other relevant signs, are ordained by God Himself.
As Jesus said that the man born blind was born that way not because of any sin of his parents, but so that God's purpose might be made manifest through his healing, so is it not reasonable to suggest that typological parallels find their actions in the will of Deity, for the purpose of our own direction and edification? But even without any appeal to the supernatural, in this world of ideas it would also be natural for a Jesus or any prophet to "re-enact" what others prior to them did, in order to create a new message.
When there is only a matter of a very few words, it is quite possible to take this tactic too far, as Helms has done. A later historian examining accounts of the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations could easily presume, based on the number of common words between the descriptions and similarity of themes, that much of what is written about Kennedy's death is a "fiction" designed to link him to Lincoln. However, the unalterable fact is that similar situations REQUIRE similar words in order to be described - as we note, for example, in our critique of Werner Kelber's evaluation of Mark's healing stories.
In this light two stories of healings might be at hand; the newer one could be "shaved" of elements to make it more like the first one and easier to memorize as well as invoking the praxis of deliberate imitation for reasons stated above. Thus let us say we have two stories:. Healing Story One The man was blind. He came to the prophet. He asked for help from the prophet. The prophet agreed. The prophet laid hands on him. The prophet healed him. The man left happy. Healing Story Two The man was deaf.
He went to doctors who were of no help. He asked the prophet if he could heal deafness. The prophet said he could. The man asked for help from the prophet.
The man thanked the prophet. The man asked the prophet if he could serve him in any way. The prophet declined. By shaving off elements in bold, we would have Story Two seem like a mere imitation of Story One, never knowing that there was far more in the background unreported.
This would also validate a principle of responding to claims of similarity with notes of differences, for the more differences there are between two stories, the easier it would have been for the composer of the later story to draw parallels to the antecedent. There is also an interesting contradiction in Helms' methodology and that of Skeptics in general. It is often objected that NT writers badly used or misused OT passages, or used them out of context.
As seen here , they did so doing nothing their contemporaries regarded as erroneous or abnormal. Yet if this is indeed the issue, how can it then be objected on the other hand that the NT writers created "fiction"? If they had to "stretch" the meaning of the OT "out of context" then isn't this a pointer to them having to do so to fit a historical situation? Helms is sometimes burning both ends of this candle. As Malina and Rohrbaugh note in their Social Science Commentary on the Synoptics , there was a process of oral poetry in the ancient world, and this process offers a far better explanation for such correspondences to the OT text as Helms finds.
They write: To be able to quote the tradition from memory, to apply it in creative or appropriate ways to the situation of daily living , not only brings honor to the speaker but lends authority to his words as well.
The song of Zechariah, the so-called Benedictus, in Luke is an example. It is stitched together from phrases of Psalms 41, , , , , and Micah 7. The ability to create such a mosaic implied extensive, detailed knowledge of the tradition and brought great honor to the speaker able to pull it off. Rather than arguing, i. To say otherwise, and to accuse on such grounds the NT writers of inventing history, is to assume Western reportage values upon people with entirely different means of communication.
We now proceed to a page by page critique of Helms' GF. Readers are expected to use this as a reference manual, either having a copy of GF or else knowing the page number a claim is drawn from. Chapter 1 -- Helms misuses the material from Apollonius of Tyana 11 -- it is odd that Helms can credit the Gospel writers with so much literary artistry and imagination to produce fiction , yet not credit them with the same gifts which would just as aptly produce a non-fiction report cast in prior terms, per comments above showing that this was a talent of the day that was accorded great honor -- appeal to non-canonical gospels is "guilt by association" and no more renders the canonical Gospels "fiction" or points to them being fiction than novels about the Spanish-American War render genuine histories of it fictional; nor does the putative presence of false or heretical information about Jesus in any way prove that any given document about him is false.
Helms writes, however, that "oral tradition is by definition unstable, notoriously open to mythical, legendary, and fictional embellishment. Helms has simply assumed this premise without checking into the subject matter.
This is essential to his case, because the late-dating makes it easier to accept his major premise that the evangelists felt free to create fictions about Jesus - after all, it was too late, so no one could correct them. This, of course, is not at all true, even under late-date premises. But what about the pre dates we have suggested?
Helms reports in a footnote that he is aware of the case presented by J. Robinson for earlier dates of the Gospels - but he says that it "does not convince me. That's a very interesting observation on Helms' personal views, but it hardly does the job when it is in regards to a keystone in his arch. In terms of the difference between Eli and Eloi, Helms' suggestion is overstated.
Does Helms suppose that the two very similar words "Eli" or "Eloi", without any contextual clues as was the case with other things said from the cross, would have been found to be any more distinct when said by a man hoisted on a cross ten feet above the ground, suffocating to death, dying of thirst with his tongue swollen, bloodied, beaten and possibly barely conscious? Can we assume that Aramaic was Mark's native tongue and that he wrote as he did to make the words more intelligible to his readers, rather than hypothesizing psychological constructs of i.
Helms is also in error re languages: Jesus did speak Aramaic, but Hebrew was used in speech as a language of religious matters, and it is far more likely that Jesus spoke Hebrew when he quoted the Psalm. Peter certainly believed in a historical flood, so this would be a prima facie example of use of "real history" according to the author to illustrate "real events" in his own time.
If Helms' theory were consistent, then he would argue that Peter is "fictionalizing" the practice of baptism. To be left in Sheol is indeed to be allowed to rot in the grave; "Sheol" was used of the grave figuratively in the OT.
On invention of speeches in Acts, see here 21 -- a critic claimed this was a "weak" example from Helms, which if true reflects poorly on Helms for putting it first in his book, but I doubt if this is true anyway. Here there is a comparison of the visions of Ezekiel and the vision of Peter on the rooftop of the house in Acts Helms draws four word-parallels as support:.
It is fairly easy to see that this case is overstated. Helms must range rather widely in Ezekiel in order to make his point. That's bad enough, but in one case 1 the parallel is dubious; in most of these cases, the words cited are so commonly used in the OT and the NT, and so regularly in conjunction with events in the Bible overall the opening of heaven, eating and uncleanness, addressing God as Lord that they are practically meaningless in terms of what Helms is trying to prove and only support the idea that Luke or Peter is making creative application of the OT text in accord with the data above.
Helms begins his book by claiming that he writes as a literary critic of the four Gospels, not as a debunker … then he proceeds with a thorough debunking. This is a good mix of original ideas and The author explores the writing of the gospels, and the evidence that supports the idea that the writers were not eyewitnesses to the events they describe. As always, the author writes well, and it is easy to read and follow his arguments. Gospel Fictions. Randel Helms.
Tolkien and critical writer on the Bible. Helms studied at University of California, Riverside , B. Helm's writings on Tolkien include Tolkien's world and Tolkien and the Silmarils Helms has written a series of books using Higher Criticism to analyze the Bible.
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