Sermon on the Mount, sources section

Geza Vermes, historical criticism, and the Sermon on the Mount

During the 20th Century many scholars believed the Sermon to be a collection of discrete sayings, which were then compiled into the current form at a relatively late date (an idea that improved understanding of the Sermon renders increasingly unlikely). They therefore sought to identify the genre of each saying and address the question of whether it originated with the historical Jesus. These early analyses reached some disturbing conclusions, in part because of their failure to properly address the issue of cultural context. Although he was still working with the idea of the Sermon as a collection of individual sayings, Geza Vermes, went a long way toward redressing the failings of earlier studies in his 2004 book, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus. Vermes, through his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, was well placed to understand the cultural context of 1st Century Palestine, but there are remain places where his conclusions are open to challenge.

The general conclusion of twentieth-century historical criticism, that the Sermon on the Mount was a later collection of sayings, the majority of which were not attributable to the historical Jesus, deserves to be addressed. Geza Vermes considers that much of the early historical criticism is fundamentally flawed buy its failure to take adequate account of first-century Jewish culture. Hence, he sought to re-assess the historical criticism of the Gospels, but placing more emphasis on Jesus cultural context. This page provides a summary of Geza Vermes’ conclusions concerning the genre of the Sermon on the Mount, its individual sayings, and how much of it originated with Jesus, as presented in his book The Authentic Gospel of Jesus (2004, 419-436). Individual page and point references are given in parenthesis against each passage. Vermes view on each section is summarised in the text, the passage reference being visually highlighted to reflect this, as follows:

Overall, Vermes’ approach represents a step in the right direction, but it remains too pessimistic concerning the authenticity of the Sermon, especially as, where he considers there to be a the lack of explicit evidence, he sometimes assumes a passage must be inauthentic, thereby placing the burden of proof upon authenticity, and defaulting to the position that a text is inauthentic. Most of the issues Vermes raises have been reviewed elsewhere on this site, usually with the result that they appear more likely to be authentic that Vermes assessed (links to the discussion are provided at appropriate points below).

Following codes are used to indicate the genre recognised by Vermes (Vermes 2004, 419-436).