Baker Academic

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Meier vs. Zimmermann

Yesterday's Historical Jesus section about the parables was hot. First Crossan lit into Meier. Then Meier defended his use of authenticity criteria against unnamed critics (Meier suggested that no criteria is tantamount to no method at all). Then Snodgrass responded by saying that he had no confidence in the criteria method and parlayed that into a discussion about memory (citing Dunn). Then Notley observed some very useful parallels between Hebraic parables and those of the New Testament (he challenged the old consensus that Hebrew was a dead language in the first century). The Zimmermann exposed several weaknesses in Meier program by discussing the differences between the "criteria approach" and the "memory approach." Unfortunately, Annette Merz couldn't make the meeting.

Ruben Zimmermann's frontloaded his most effective criticism of Meier as he began his essay. He reminded us that (according to Meier) only four parables can be determined to be authentic using the criteria method. In short, "the historical Jesus only spoke four parables" whereas "the remembered Jesus spoke 104 parables." Zimmermann's point: the fact that Meier is only able to judge four parables as authentic exposes the failure of his method.

What followed was a clear indication that Meier and Crossan were not prepared for a discussion about memory. To his credit, Crossan seemed genuinely interested in Zimmermann's categories. Meier, disappointingly, seem altogether disinterested in the conversation.



  1. That Hebrew was a living language at the time of Jesus has been shown by Qumran mss. How widespread is another question. Because some scholars before the Qumran discoveries assumed Hebrew was not in use at the time, many turned to Aramaic rather than Hebrew proposals for the etymology of "Essenes." But Ph. Melanchthon already in 1532 proposed the Hebrew root 'asah; compare the Qumran pesharim self-designation 'osey hatorah. Pharisees and Sadducees would not call them that, and J.J. Scaliger (if I recall correctly) in 1583 dismissed Melanchthon's etymology as a German hallucination.

    1. Thanks Stephen. So then, Notley would have us rethink whether or not the parables would have been spoken in Aramaic. According to his research, we have lots of Hebrew parables, and (to his knowledge) no parables in Aramaic.

    2. Hi Anthony – I think you'd have to give us more sense of what the arguments are that Motley is presenting for us to be able to understand how he can be so certain. What are the markers of the Greek that allow us to back-translate with confidence that one rather than another cognate semitic language is being used?

  2. I went to another session and could not attend this one (which was probably a bad decision on my part), so I was happy to find this short summary. Zimmermann's point against Meier, at least as it is phrased here, does not seem to me to be very forceful. Meier does not claim that the remaining parables (for which he finds no positive evidence of authenticity) cannot have been told by Jesus. Yes, the Good Samaritan was composed by Luke, according to Meier, but the vast majority of individual parables fall into the 'non liquet' category. To me that conclusion does not expose any failure at all, but seems quite compatible with the 'memory approach'.