I'm surprised that my posts about the sutta pitaka stirred up such a hornet's nest! I naively thought that the value of reading the scriptures wouldn't need defending.
I admit to not being fully conversant with all the modern scholarship; my comment about the consistency of the texts across various cultural lines is based on Warder's "Indian Buddhism" and a few other older books. As far as I can see, the point basically stands. And I am aware that the various recensions in Pali were not wholly independent of each other, but that doesn't negate the idea that they are all even more dependent on an ancient core textual tradition.
And I don't really care what Bronkhurst says, I don't find real inconsistencies in the suttas. Now, admittedly that might mean late careful editing, so doesn't in itself argue for their historicity.
Below I've posted some thoughts on history in general, but what I'd like to say here is to ask how we can be sure of anything in the past? Skepticism has it's uses but can be pushed to absurd lengths, follow the link in the post below to the New Chronologists for an example.
As I see the problem it is twofold; what value do we place on Buddhavacana (word of the Buddha) and how do we know if it is real Buddhavacana? I admit to being a bit of a fundamentalist on the first question. If there is any meaning to the concept of Buddhahood, then all is speech is "flawless in the meaning, flawless in the letter." If someone named Siddhattha Gotama really did destroy the asavas and saw absolute naked reality then it follows his words are inherently meaningful and true.
The latter question, alas, is more problematic. There are undoubtedly some late additions to the suttas. These might perhaps to some degree be discovered by linguistic analysis. What I am more uncomfortable with is any attempt to dismiss some passage based on the content. If someone decides a passage about ghosts must be an addition, isn't that based on the materialist-rationalist mind-set of the critic? To be short, how can someone who is not a Buddha judge what a Buddha might say?
As a point of practise, I think it is much more useful spiritually to err on the side of reverence for the text. This is absolute heresy to modern rationalism, but that's exactly why it's good medicine.