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Criterion of dissimilarity

The criterion of dissimilarity (also called criterion of discontinuity)[1] is used in Biblical criticism to determine if a statement attributed to Jesus may be authentic. It is often used as a shorthand for the criterion of double dissimilarity.[2] The criterion states that if a saying attributed to Jesus is different from the Jewish traditions of his time and also from the early Church that followed him, it is likely to be authentic.[2]



The criterion of dissimilarity was introduced by Ernst Käsemann, who in 1953 started the second quest for the historical Jesus.[3] Käsemann writes:

[T]here is an almost complete lack of satisfactory and water-tight criteria for this material. In only one case do we have more or less safe ground under our feet: when there are no grounds either for deriving a tradition from Judaism or for ascribing it to primitive Christianity, and especially when Jewish Christianity has mitigated or modified the received tradition, as having been too bold for its taste. (Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes, p. 37)[4]

In other words, the criterion postulates that traditions about Jesus derive from (only) three sources: extrapolation from earlier Jewish traditions, revisionism by the early Christian Church, and true historical accounts of Jesus's ministry. If some tradition cannot be adequately explained by extrapolation nor by revisionism, then it must necessarily be a trace of the historical Jesus.


The criterion has received criticism for leading to reconstructions of Jesus as being in implausible discontinuity with the early Jewish traditions that preceded him and the early Christian traditions that followed from him. One such critic writes: "The problem of the Criterion of Double Dissimilarity is that the more we know about early Jewish traditions and the more we know about early Christian post-Easter traditions, the less space there is for a reconstruction of the authentic sayings of Jesus, as by definition they have to differ from early Jewish and early Christian traditions. Therefore, in the end, no trace of a historical Jesus remains."[5]

A more fundamental criticism of the criterion of dissimiliarity was identified by Richard Carrier. He identifies two fundamental flaws in the validity of the criterion:

  1. We are severely limited in our ability to know fundamental details about second-temple Judaism and the early Christian church due to an almost total destruction and neglect of documentary records.[6] Christopher Tuckett concurs: "The very existence of the tradition may thus mitigate against its being regarded as 'dissimilar' to the views of 'the early church.'[7]
  2. There is no valid method for distinguishing between a dissimilar statement of Jesus that was actually said and a dissimilar statement of Jesus that was invented by later authors. Any motivation to preserve a dissimilar statement is also motivation to invent one.[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Who Is Jesus? by Thomas P. Rausch (Jul 1, 2003) ISBN 0814650783 page 36
  2. ^ a b The Historical Jesus and the Final Judgment Sayings in Q (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament) by Brian Han Gregg (Jun 30, 2006) ISBN 3161487508 page 29
  3. ^ The Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria by Gerd Theissen and Dagmar Winter (Aug 30, 2002) ISBN 0664225373 page 122
  4. ^ Quoted in Tim Widowfield, "Defending the criterion of dissimilarity" (Vridar blog post), 2014-04-23. Retrieved 2017-10-05.
  5. ^ Oegema, Gerbern S. Apocalyptic Interpretation of the Bible. 2012. pg. 79.
  6. ^ 1956-, Porter, Stanley E., (2000). The criteria for authenticity in historical-Jesus research : previous discussion and new proposals. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press. ISBN 9780567520982. OCLC 747547724.
  7. ^ The Cambridge companion to Jesus. Bockmuehl, Markus N. A. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2001. ISBN 0521792614. OCLC 60362885.
  8. ^ 1969-, Carrier, Richard, (2012). Proving history : Bayes's theorem and the quest for the historical Jesus. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. ISBN 9781616145590. OCLC 764387191.