As I mentioned in a post a while back, I’m totally intrigued with the whole Bigfoot phenomenon. I blame it on my uncle, who showed me The Legend of Boggy Creek when I was a kid, and ever since I’ve been fascinated by this cryptid. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that I’m a big fan of the show Finding Bigfoot on Animal Planet. If you haven’t seen the show, basically it’s a team of four researchers–three who are ardent believers in the existence of sasquatch (all members of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization) and one biologist who is a staunch skeptic. The team embarks on expeditions all over the world in search of indisputable evidence of the elusive hominid. They employ a number of methods to lure the beast(s) from hiding and have all manner of gadgets to capture footage should they be so fortunate to see the creature. One of the key elements of the show is the town hall meeting, where the team gathers in the town nearest the locations of reported sightings and/or encounters. Here, the team listens to reports and decides which locations they want to visit for their night investigations.
I have to admit that of all the purported evidences for the existence of Bigfoot, the one that keeps me from declaring emphatically that they aren’t real are the alleged encounters and sightings recounted by the locals at the town hall meetings. While there are always exceptional tales, there is a fair amount of general consistency to most of the accounts. Now, one may simply attribute this to the ubiquitous stories of the creature throughout history and the fact that the show often films in so-called “hot spots,” where sightings and/or encounters seem to be more common. However, there are always those who tell of their experience as a life-changing one–they are many times visibly affected by what they saw, heard, or otherwise experienced. Are they lying? Are they mentally unstable or ill in some way? Did their brains play a devious trick on them? Or did they truly experience something that left an indelible impression on them?
So, what does Bigfoot have to do with Jesus? I’m not talking about the experiential angle; rather, it’s the question of the eyewitness testimony that intrigues me. I’ve often wondered about the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry, those who were there, who walked with him as an itinerant proclaimer of the kingdom of God, who reported the various miracles and exorcisms he performed. The reports that comprise our accounts in the Gospels–did they really happen that way? The supernatural side of things doesn’t really give me pause–I have no problem believing that Jesus cast out evil spirits or that he called Lazarus forth from the grave. But more problematic issue can be the reliability of witnesses–did they report things as they actually happened or did the details get embellished, altered, or flat out changed in the course of transmission? Scholars have argued that all of these have happened to varying degrees and I’m convinced that the earliest accounts of Jesus’ life did not go unaltered. In general, I am more skeptical of eyewitness accounts than I’m not, so that gives me pause when considering ancient sources.
I suppose the question then becomes, “How much did those accounts change?” I certainly don’t have the answer and this is a subject that is outside my ability to articulate effectively. However, I believe that the earliest eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, those reflected in the Gospel accounts, are reliable. This, of course, is not an unassailable assertion, but one I am comfortable with (at least for now). Anthony Le Donne has recently written on this–you can read more here.
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