Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ignoring the Pope?

On some level I was not surprised to read in the comments to my last post that the Pope's book should just be ignored, that in some sense it doesn't deserve to be responded to. This book is not some fad. It is not pop literature. It is written by the Pope, a person that many people in this world consider to represent God's opinion. It doesn't matter that he said that he wrote it not as the Pope. He is the Pope and he published the book while Pope.

It is extremely important that the book be responded to by the scholarly community. I could not put it any better than Jim West who posted this comment on my entry:
"I don't think we can - with the wave of a hand - dismiss the Pope. Whether what he says is academically or exegetically correct, he is listened to by a LOT of people. It's the job of scholars to debunk inaccuracy, even if it flows from the pontifical pen. The ostrich approach (pretend it's not there and it will go away) just won't work."
Again, kudos to Gerd, and I hope that other scholars studying the historical Jesus will step up and respond in kind.


Pastor Bob said...

Before becoming Pope, before he moved to Rome Ratzinger was a professor with a PhD. That makes any critique of his work fair game.

Nick Kiger said...

The challenge as scholars is for us to critique the Pope in forum that includes more than scholars. Using the SBL as a forum won't do much for the average person who has no access to such a forum. The scholarly world has to find a way to relate to the average person just as the Pope has already done.

Jared said...

In addition, it would be important for that forum to include voices from a variety of religious backgrounds in order to be effective. Having active and critical Catholic voices would be an absolute must.

Judy Redman said...

I think that Nick has a point. A critique of the Pope's book at SBL is not likely to reach the kind of people who will be influenced by the book. I suspect that reviews on that point to articles on the web that are accessible to people who don't have training in biblical studies is probably the way to go. Or, of course, writing a book that is stocked in Christian bookshops, but it's likely that many Christian bookshops that stock the Pope's book will not stock a book that critiques it quite so readily.

Jared, expecting active Catholics with street cred amongst Catholics to go public criticising the Pope's book is a big ask, you know. :-)

Pastor Bob said...


Somehow I think Hans Kung would go for it. And the Bishop of Rome and Kung were colleagues and I think still get along, even though Ratzinger put Kung on the not able to teach as a Catholic list.

Jared said...

Judy, I realize that would be asking a LOT, and anyone who came forward would be put in a tight spot. Perhaps I am being a bit naive. I live and work partially at an institution with a person who has been put on the "cannot teach us as Catholic list" due to what he has published (Roger Haight). Knowing the stakes, I almost did not post, but otherwise I fear that any forum without a strong and credible Catholic presence would, in the end, make little headway and could appear, despite everyone's best intentions, as just Catholic bashing.

Geoff Hudson said...

May be all the scholars should publish a book in response, on the back of the Pope's book. Just think how many more books one might add to one's bookshelves - eh pastor bob. I can see Ratzinger being the next best publicity agent to Jesus, or Judas.

May be scholars should simply get on with the business of their own stuff, that is if they are cabable of any original thought.

Phil Snider said...

I read the Luedemann review and the comments on the last two posts, but I admit that I'm less than impressed because there really is an unwillingness to recognize the genre of the book, which is not (as even Luedemann recognizes) primarily a book using the historico-critical methods. It is designed to help Catholics to understand Jesus better from within their tradition. You can dismiss that tradition, if you like, but, then, you are also not likely to understand what Pope Benedict is up to. What ever happened to reading a book in the context in which is it is both written and intended.

This doesn't mean you can't critisize it, but, really, using it as a vehicle to ridicule the Catholic tradition (as Luedemann gets to by the end of his review)is hardly useful, nor likely to get Catholics to engage with your views.

Just my humble opinion.


Geoff Hudson said...

In his article Embarrasing Misrepresemntation, Ludemann wrote:"“Mark” compiled elements
of oral tradition to create the earliest
canonical Gospel". Now how can Ludemann possibly prove that 'Mark' compiled elements of oral tradition? How can he prove that there wasn't an actual original writing by a real eyewitness and that it wasn't subsequently edited or expanded? He cannot prove either way - academic that he is. So let the critic be criticised. To me the internal evidence of the text is that there was an original.

Nick Kiger said...

I think the possibility of an oral compilation is very possible. All you have to do is imagine how Mark's story was circulated in the first place. It was almost certaintly not in written form. An intersting argument that I read recently suggested that Q was not a written prototype containing only sayings, but a compilation of circulating stories which were open to elaboration. It seems very possible to me.

Geoff Hudson said...

There is at least one account in Mark that stands out as being written originally and then altered. It is the account of the so-called crucifixion. The account in Mark has all the hallmarks of a traditional Jewish stoning of a false prophet.

When it comes to the documents of the NT, I just do not buy the idea they were created from oral tradition. I rather believe that the extant documents were created by a policy-driven, deliberate alteration and addition to existing whole texts that may have been quite short to start with, as was, for example, the Epistle to the Hebrews. The internal evidence of nearly all the NT documents points to heavy editorial of existing prophetic-like documents.

Ludemann's "“Mark” compiled elements
of oral tradition to create the earliest
canonical Gospel" is a bland unproven cop-out that has been trotted out by too many scholars for too long.

Nick Kiger said...

You seem to be dismissing the notion that the gospels stories were circulated orally long before they were written down. Correct me if I am wrong.

Peter M. Head said...

Luedemann's review does tell us some interesting things about Luedemann.
a) He thinks that modern NT scholarship leads to consensus positions. At least if it is done by able and dedicated scholars.
b) He thinks that the Jesus Seminar was 'a noteworthy group of respected scholars'.
c) He doesn't like 'the impedimenta of unverifiable postulates' (cool phrase I admit).

Geoff Hudson said...

So how can he verify his unverifiable postulate: "“Mark” compiled elements
of oral tradition to create the earliest
canonical Gospel"? Nick seems to have the answer that isn't just a postulate.

Geoff Hudson said...

Regarding (a), there is something of the perverse in this field about scholarship by able and dedicated scholars leading to a concensus of opinion. There is the distinct possibility that successive such scholars have fed from each other and built a concensus pack of cards.

Geoff Hudson said...

Like the 'pack of cards' concensus that the residents of Qumran were Essenes.

Nick Kiger said...

Is there anything in this discipline that is absolutely verifiable?

Geoff Hudson said...

We don't have sound recordings of what folk may or may not have said to each other 2000 years ago.

I can accept that some early 'Christian' documents were produced from hearsay in an environment subject to little control. But I do not believe that was the case for most New Testament documents which have the appearance of a fairly well controlled editorial policy.

Michael Hallman said...

Hi everyone,
First time commenting on this blog, but I'm enjoying this discussion. I just wanted to say that anyone who knows this pope just a little bit will realize that he would actually invite criticism of his book. It's not putting someone in a tight spot at all. If we have learned nothing at all about this pope in his brief tenure yet, we should realize that he appreciates, welcomes, and encourages sincere, honest dialogue. One of my favorite parts of this book is the dialogue he takes up with Jakob Neusner, the Jewish Rabbi who had written a book which basically asserted why he would have rejected Jesus if he were a first century Jew. The pope was not angered by this, but rather delighted at the opportunity for respectful yet serious dialogue. And I think this book of his should be approached in the same way. It should be critiqued in the same way as any other Christian literature. I'm only about 1/4 of the way through it now (and thoroughly enjoying it, I might add), so I don't have anything to say about the actual book yet. But clearly it is worthy of discussion and critique. This is a very intelligent man who wrote this, and this book is going to contribute to valuable discussion for all Christians.