|Summary of Findings: The Lincoln Biographies and Harmonization|
Welcome back to the 20th century.
While not chosen specifically for this purpose, we may see how easily the four biographies match in intent the four Gospels. Masters is our Matthew, an admirer presenting a vision for his people; Oates is our Mark, a paperback author presenting brief sketches for popular consumption. Donald is our Luke, a careful, detailed and consummate historian. Basler is our John, giving a divergent, but nevertheless just as faithful, account of the life of Lincoln as well as the regard given him.
Obviously, unlike our fictional Professor Futz, I regard these authors neither as conspirators nor as incompetent. Nor do I find their works to be hopelessly irreconcilable and contradictory: only by uncharitable reading can we see any of the above citations as contradiction - the same way that Skeptics, regrettably and almost invariably, read the Bible. By engaging the principles of harmonization, we would have a complete picture of Lincoln - just as by harmonizing the Gospels, we have a more complete picture of Jesus Christ.
We have also seen, rather clearly, the arbitrary nature of the criteria used by the Jesus Seminar; we have seen in the conclusion how ridiculous the arguments of Fox and Barker are, against harmonization. The Seminar refuses to admit, like Futz, that there was inadequate time for any substantial legend and myth to form about the person of Jesus and become received as the truth by the majority record; they assume that the church created Jesus, not that Jesus created the church, which is more likely - just as it is eminently more likely that Lincoln took initiative to free the slaves, rather than that we have created that intent for him.
Barker and Fox, like Futz, cannot admit that the differences in the Gospels are merely the normal products of point-of-view reporting - different witnesses seeing different things in a different light at different times; but this does not automatically mean that what they say is untrue. We should first determine if it is possible to detect an underlying harmony before we dispense with the whole account or any part of it.
Skeptics may argue some of the following in rebuttal:
The comparison is invalid. We have plenty of sources for Lincoln and almost none for Jesus.
Actually, we have many sources for Jesus, including the New Testament, non-canonical religious materials, and several secular sources. The point, however, is that the Gospels cannot be taken in isolation any more than our four Lincoln biographies can; moreover, my point in setting a scenario 2000 years in the future is to show how unreasonable it is to say that no other sources for Jesus existed in the first century from our perspective:
As Luke implies in his Gospel, there were many attempts to make an account of the life of Jesus. We probably have less than one percent of all extant ancient writings available to us today; to base an argument (in either direction) on documents we don't have is useless. On the same basis, it is unreasonab;e for us to try to establish motives for the Gospel writers as the Jesus Seminar does.
The whole "theory" of Lincoln being a creation of the civil-rights movement is outraegous.
So are the theories of modern Biblical criticism and the Seminar, for the most part. For example, this idea that the early church put words based on their needs into Jesus' mouth in order to "verify" their own beliefs - you see how I put this in my "Lincoln" scenario - has no more concrete proof to it than the idea that Jesus spent between the ages of 12 and 29 in India.
Or an example from the OT: The JEDP theory of the formation of the Pentateuch presumes that early OT editors had two separate creation and Flood stories that they smashed together carelessly; yet people were so insensate that they didn't notice until nearly 2000 years later that there was a problem.
Note that my "theories" are mostly precise parallels of the sort of whole-cloth theories proposed by the likes of the Jesus Seminar. Who are we, 2000 years after the fact, to disassemble and pick apart any ancient document without any direct evidence?
Those "reconstructions" of Lincoln's speeches are ridiculous! We know he didn't say such things!
And 2000 years from now, what's to stop people from saying he did? And if these reconstructions are ridiculous, why is it not ridiculous for the Jesus Seminar and others to assume that they know what Jesus said? Again, who are we to make such presumptions?
Let's take the texts at face value first, instead of offering unsupportable theories about communities, altered words, interpolations, and fictional accounts for which we have no hard evidence.
My point is to show, of course, that authors do pick and choose from the sayings of their subjects based on what they think is important - just as the Gospels writers chose the words of Jesus that they thought most important to their readership.
I'm really offended by that bit about Lincoln being a covert homosexual!
Good for you! Is it because you're homophobic, or because you think I am?
Actually, it doesn't matter two beans to me if Lincoln had sex with men, sex with women, or sex with household furniture; my point is that you can prove ANYTHING by manipulating the evidence.
Actually, my exposition in this area is quite like the one presented by John Shelby Spong in his book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. On pages 110-118 he uses even flimsier evidence to "prove" that Paul was a homosexual. Even less evidence has been used to "prove" that David and Jonathan were a couple, or that Jesus and one or more of the disciples had a homosexual relationship.
I don't believe that we can rely on anything we read anyway.
That's up to you. As long as one is fair and consistent in application of the principles of criticism, that's quite all right. I don't have space or interest here to delve into epistemological questions, but if you don't believe anything that you read, then why should anyone believe anything that you write, or say, for that matter?
You've misquoted the authors or quoted the authors out of context.
If you say this, I will expect that you have found the books yourself and read them. I've done a lot of work on this project, and if you want to call me a liar, then go and do your research first.
In fact, in a few cases, I have quoted out of context purposely to reflect the same kind of quoting out of context that Skeptics do - but I have never misquoted, unless it was a typo; and I checked my quotes pretty carefully. So you go and get some specifics, then get back to me.
Most of these discrepancies are easily resolved.
Which is exactly my point. By nature, these "discrepancies" are the same sort noted in the Gospels, and those are just as easily resolved. Some are not so easily resolved, just as many of the Lincoln discrepancies are not. But it should be obvious that, since such problems are part and parcel of the multiple-witness scenario, we should not take drastic issue with them.
These Lincoln writers never claim to be inerrant!
And these are not "errors." They are the inevitable product of comparative biography and point-of-view reporting. Even so, you don't need to believe that the Bible or even the Gospels are inerrant to believe that they are a basically accurate historical record. I am an inerrantist, but it neither "picks my pocket nor breaks my leg" to have someone throw some seemingly irresolvable conflict in my face.
As I've said elsewhere, if Kings says Ahab's bathtub held 72 gallons of water, and Chronicles says 82, is that really going to stop you from accepting the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ? If it does, you're not here as an honest questioner; you're here to argue.
I'm interested in answering honest questions from honest seekers; if that's you, write to me.
My point in all of this is: Be consistent. If you think that the Gospels are full of errors because of such seeming discrepancies, then at least admit that it is all part and parcel of comparative literature.
In close: A Harmony of the Resurrection Narratives using the principles we have noted above
SPECIAL THANKS go out to Matt S. for rescuing this essay when it disappeared into oblivion from my floppy disk. Thanks, friend. Here's your name in lights, as promised.