A friend and colleague of mine, Richard Carrier, is like me writing a book concerning the ahistoricity of the figure of Jesus, although we are both taking different directions to reach a similar conclusion. One of his more recent blogs contain some of his frustrations with New Testament studies and scholars that I have shared on more than a few occasions!
In this brilliant article, he gives just one example of his frustrations in researching the data for this book. He writes:
[N]ot only is there no consensus, but there are dozens of positions, and arguments for each [Dating the contents of the New Testament and identifying their authorship and editorial history-Ed] are elaborate and vast. It was only after over a month of wasting countless hours attempting to pursue these matters to some sort of condensable conclusion that I realized this was a fool’s errand. I have changed strategy and will attempt some sort of broader, simpler approach to the issues occupying my chapter on this, though exactly what that will be I am still working out. It will involve, however, a return to what historians actually do in other fields, which New Testament scholars seem to have gotten away from in their zeal to make sense of data that’s basically screwed in every conceivable way. For when it comes to establishing the basic parameters of core documents, I have never met the kind of chaos I’ve encountered in this field in any other subfield of ancient history I’ve studied. Elsewhere, more often than not, either the matter is settled, or no one pretends it is.
He offers his readers one example, in this particular instance the example comes from the fact that there is no set consensus about the terminus ante quem and the terminus ad quem for the composition of Matthew. The first reference to Matthew is generally assumed to be from that of Ignatius, but so many New Testament scholars have taken for granted or glossed over the severe problems with using Ignatius to date Matthew. Richard not only provides a lengthy expose into the problems of dating Matthew in a humorous manner, he uncovers more dirt neatly tucked under the rug my New Testament scholarship along the way. This foray into the grinder of New Testament studies is worth the read.
You can check it out here: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2008/09/ignatian-vexation.html