The “S” Factor

January 6, 2011

I once knew a fellow whom I shall call “S.” Take that if you like as standing for the word “source,” like the Germans’ “Q.” Anyway, a lovable flake he was; warm-hearted, loyal, enthusiastic, but excitable and prone to mood swings which made him (among other things) a very poor source of information. He was a one-man game of “telephone;” whatever he heard or read, he would run through his wind-tunnel of emotion till it emerged as something rich and strange. If I said to him, or within his hearing, “I haven’t seen X lately; hope his mom is all right,” a day or so later he would report to you earnestly and confidently that “X had to go back to Iowa because his mom is sick,” or, in the worst case scenario, “his mom died.” No harm ever came of this, because everyone in our circle of friends quickly learned to discount any data known to have passed through point S.

I am sure we have all done S-like things from time to time; what was unusual about our friend was his sheer consistency. Hardly a week went by without a howler or two.

Now: imagine someone like S living in Jerusalem ca. AD 30-something. You see where this is going.

“Have you seen old Bar Timaeus lately? Ever since he met that new preacher from Galilee, he seems like a whole new person. He was always down in the dumps because of his blindness, but now it hardly bothers him at all!”
>>>  S  >>>
“Bar Timaeus got his sight back! The preacher from Galilee healed his blindness!”

or

“I can’t believe he’s gone, I still keep expecting him to turn up suddenly out of nowhere like… remember the time he surprised us on the road to Emmaus?”
>>>  S  >>>
“He appeared to them on the road to Emmaus after he died! And they didn’t recognize him at first!”

Someone like my old friend S could easily account for just about anything in the Bible or similar scripture. Of course I’m not suggesting that this is what really happened; no one can possibly demonstrate that. But knowing S has made me too aware of the possibility of it to be anything but skeptical towards any data depending on oral transmission that can’t be checked up on.

Of course if S were to read this blog, you may well be hearing shortly that “this guy Allogenes proved conclusively that the Gospels were entirely the work of one emotional chatterbox!”

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