Monday, May 21, 2007

Cautionary Note 3: DeConick on the Historical Jesus

Perrin (p. 57): "DeConick believes that as long as Jesus was present in spirit among his first followers, they felt little compulsion to inquire after the facts of his life." I do not believe this nor have I written this. I wrote (Recovering, p. 249) that the Thomasine Christians understood the historical Jesus to be the charismatic Jesus who lived in their presence. I have said nothing about whether or not they asked after the facts of his life. I am confident that they did, but am also confident that they made no distinction between that person and the one who lived in their presence, just as most practicing Christians today make no such distinction.

Perrin (p. 57): "She [DeConick] sees the life and ministry of Jesus as having no measurable relevance to Christian beginnings." This is Perrin's voice, not mine. He misappropriates a quotation from my book (Recovering p. 247; Perrin, 57-58) in order to state that I do not think that Jesus of Nazareth mattered. This is Perrin's agenda, and I wish to distance myself from it as far as I possibly can. I, in fact, use the expression "remembering" Jesus to indicate that there was an historical figure whom the Christians were remembering. How accurate those memories were and their later interpretations is another question altogether. It is a given to me that early Christianity is not a religion based on a Jesus Myth, but a real person who said things and did things. I wrote (and Perrin misappropriated) (Recovering, pp. 244-248) that the quest for Christian origins in terms of spontaneous initial diversity is not maintainable from the evidence. Rather Christianity began in Jerusalem and quickly diversified given indigenous conditions. However, I do not find one event or idea as the moment Christianity crystallized. Rather a complex of forces including the teachings of Jesus as they were remembered, the impulse to give meaning to Jesus' death, and religious experience.

Perrin (p. 66) writes about "DeConick's proposal that Jesus' followers, precisely in their interest as a philosophical school to remain faithful to Jesus, thought up sayings and in good conscience attributed them to Jesus." No citation provided. This is not my position. I never refer to the Thomasine Christians, or any other Christians, as a philosophical school. Nor do I say that they "thought up sayings" to attribute to Jesus. My understanding of the Thomasine Christians is that of a body of faithful Christians living in Edessa, who add to their collection words of the living Jesus whom they believed spoke to them through revelation.

Perrin (pp. 67-68) offers a hypothetical Lenin analogy as a way to show his readers my understanding of the development of the Jesus traditions. This analogy disregards what interdisciplinary studies have demonstrated to us, and lacks understanding of my argument. When we are dealing with charismatic communities, today's revelation of something Jesus says has no less authority or authenticity than yesterday's or the day before that. There is no disjuncture between Jesus the Prophet and the living presence of his spirit. There is no disregard for what Jesus actually said, as Perrin appears to want his readers to believe is my position.


Patrick G. McCullough said...

I have not read Perrin, so I'm relying completely on your account here, but I am amazed at the amount of material you cite from him in which he makes false statements regarding your positions.

It makes me wonder: Did he get anything right about your positions?

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

You have have my sympathies. I understand how frustrating it is to have people misrepresent your position and then attack you for the position that you don't even claim.