Monday, February 27, 2012

Embarrassing Elements in the Gospels?

Fresco by Giotto, c. 1300.
The average reader of the gospels is probably not familiar with the idea that some of the material in the gospels might have been embarrassing to the authors and the early church. The "criterion of embarrassment" is one of the criteria used by New Testament scholars as they study the Historical Jesus. Those elements found in the gospels that might have embarrassed the gospel authors or the early church are often weighed as "more authentic" since the author perhaps wished that he did not have to include the material, but also felt it was a necessary and important part of the story.

One example of this is the story of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. Some Historical Jesus scholars view this episode as potentially embarrassing to the early church since Jesus, who is the Christ and source for the forgiveness of sins,  submitted to baptism by John, a prophet promoting a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Why would Jesus need this baptism? Such an episode would be potentially embarrassing.

Over at the NT Pod Cast Mark Goodacre has posted installment 59 of his pod casts. Mark looks at the criterion of embarrassment  and discusses in more detail the story of John baptizing Jesus. Mark does a good job of unpacking the topic. He also provides some interesting thoughts on why the criterion of embarrassment might not always be the most helpful criterion.

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