Sunday, February 8, 2009

I told you that you wouldn't like it

I am smiling reading the comments on my last blog post. It shows how people read what they want to read, not what was written.

1. I never said that my method recovered the historical Jesus or his message about the Kingdom of God. Did I?

2. What I said (and apparently it needs repeating) is that what I would recover with my method would be the earliest constructions of Jesus by the early Christians. This is not the same thing as the historical Jesus. Rather it is how the first Christians were remembering him early in the transmission of the traditions. And it is quite clear when these sorts of detailed studies are done and looked at comprehensively, that the second generation of Christians thought his message about the coming of the Kingdom of God was an eschatological message that did not fulfill itself as expected. Really, let's be honest, is this something new? Paul is all about the problems of the unfilled eschaton already in our oldest Christian writing in the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians.

3. I told you that you wouldn't like it.


Pastor Bob said...

This is all very interesting.

This morning, preaching from Mark 1 I told the congregation that Mark had a bunch of stories and he chose which ones he would put in the gospel. I didn't say, because it was a sermon and I didn't want to spend the whole day, that he also put them in a particular order for a particular reason or reasons. I did say that one of the first questions I always ask myself when I preach or teach is why this story?

Frankly I don't understand what the big deal is. The editor(s) of Mark chose stories and put some of them in the gospel to meet particular needs of the community.

And yes, memory is terribly important. When we remember something and verbalize it we put that memory in a new context. We may also, consciously or unconsciously change the story some to fit the new context. That's what humans do! said...

"I would recover with my method would be the earliest constructions of Jesus by the early Christians."

Well we know your definition of who the early Christians were is a lot wider that of many others. But for many, the million pound question is: Who were the "earliest" Christians? If there were such characters, then the next million pound question to ask is: who was their leader? There is absolutely no reason to assume that their leader was a character by the name of Jesus. said...

April it isn't just the Jesus seminar that is bankrupt.

Frank McCoy said...

Interesting thoughts. I agree that traditions changed through time.
But, when movinging backwards in tradition-history, we need a road-map, but we don't have one. I think the scenario is this: 1. the original Jesus group founded at Jerusalem 2. one tradition stream leads to an early Mk ending at 15:39 and another tradition leads to an early Th 3. upon receiving a copy of Th, the Markan group writes 15:40-16:8 to refute certain Thomasine doctrines while, upon receiving a copy of Mk, the Thomasine group adds parallels to some Markan passages to Th. 4. Matthew writes Mt using Mk as a primary source and Th as a secondary source and, upon receiving a copy of Mk, the Johannine group, possessing a tradition stream more closely related to the Thomasine stream than the Markan stream, writes an original John (i.e., without Jm 6:1-7:14 and Jn 21)to repudiate what they perceive to be bad history on the part of Mark. 5. John 6:1-7:14 and Jn 21 written, using Mk and Mt as sources 6. Luke writes Lk, using Mk, Mt, Th and Jn as sources. However, there is no general consensus on any scenario and most (unlike mine) include a postulated Q. Without such a consensus, how can we hope to find the earliest tradition-history?
In any event, I suggest that the quest for the historical Jesus should begin with trying to answer this question, "Where was the fundamental divide in early first century CE Judaism? That Philo praised the Therapeutae and Essenes, but did not speak of the Pharisees and Sadducees, while the first Jesus movement works castigate the Pharisees and Essenes, but do not speak of the Essenes and Therapeutae suggests that the fundamental divide was between, on one hand, the Pharisees and the Sadducees and, on the other hand, Alexandrian Judaism and Essenism, with the Jesus movement and John the Baptist movement arising out the Alexandrian Jewish/Essenic side of the fundamental divide. This most fundamental of divides was not over the issue of apocalypticism or Messianism but rather, over how to answer such questions as, "Is it more holy to get married and have kids or to be single and celibate?", and, "Is the possession of material wealth an indication that you are blessed or is it a hinderance to being saved?" Since the Jesus movement arose out of the Jewish/Essenic side of this divide, the expectation is that, most likely, the historical Jesus deemed it most holy to be single and celibate and deemed material wealth to be a hinderance to being saved. Second, any quest for the historical Jesus needs to take into account that the first known group of Jesus followers resided in Jerusalem and, initially, formed a community of holy ones who have renounced personal wealth akin to the Therapeutic and Essenic communities near Alexandria and the Dead Sea--and, judging by these other communities, it probably only had one or two hundred full members. Only after the community was scattered by persecution from the Sadducees and Pharisees did the group morph from a small into a mass movement akin to the John the Baptist movement. This suggests that the primary goal of the historical Jesus had been to establish a small community of saints who have renounced personal wealth in Jerusalem. Third, any quest for the historical Jesus needs to address the question of whether the Epistle of James was written by James, the brother of Jesus. It is written in excellent, even polished, Greek and has some affinities with Alexandrian Jewish thought as reflected in Philo and Therapeutic thought. It speaks of the soul/spirit being saved, but nowhere speaks of the body being saved. Clearly, if it is genuine, then, most likely, the historical Jesus, far from being a poor Galilean peasant, had been from the upper class and had a refined Hellenistic upbringing and education.

Chris Weimer said...

Wouldn't like it? I've thought the same thing for years!

Doug said...

Well, I was going to comment here, but I ended up with far to much to say, so blogged a comment instead. Apologies for the loss of the word "memory" in the post title, but I've edited it back in since.

Bob MacDonald said...

I blogged a comment too as promised. I do think you are hitting a nerve.

John Shuck said...

I like it, April! I think all this questing is most fun and it gets all of us riled up!

Just like Jesus did.
Or the historical Jesus did.
Or the earliest construction of the memory of Jesus did.
Or made up stories of Jesus did.

Or...oh never mind; I'm confused already. : ) said...

In the spirit of propagandist inversion, Frank, I would suggest that the original Jesus group was founded in Rome post 70, and was a Flavian creation imposed as a substitute for the previous Jewish prophetic religion of the Spirit existing in Rome pre 70. A similar process was imposed on Jews in the East with a re-creation of Judaism by ex priests. The Roman aim was to eliminate the old bitter rivalries between priests of a messianic disposition and prophets that triggered the Roman intervention in the first place, and that to defend the prophets who were being persecuted. And I have no doubt that prophetic Judaism had been attractive to some Gentiles in Rome.

The 'earliest christianity' had nothing to do with any Jesus. The prophetic movement, upon which the Jesus movement was later imposed, was founded by Judas.

Richard James said...

While I agree that the Gospels do for the most part not present us with the historical Jesus I have to disagree with the speculation that they provide us some access to the "memories" of the earliest Christians. I simply see no evidence for this. We have to take Paul, James, 1 Peter, the Didache and other early Christian writings seriously and admit that the "memory" of Jesus did not play a big role in first century Christianity. Why assume the gospels were based on "memories" of Jesus as opposed to just plain literary composition to fill a void? said...

I would not talk about so-called "memories" any more. They are the dead-end imaginings of scholars and do not belong to the real world. Much more likely is that original genuine documents of a primary prophetic movement were written. Then along came the political winners, the Flavian historians, to change, re-write and expand those earliest documents, no doubt with the help of some traitorous ex Jewish priests wishing to establish a new living for themselves. The evidence for such a process is within the extant docements.

Much better, for example, to regard Acts as being originally a biographical prophetic document that was subjected to propagandist inversion by editors wishing to promote the new and later Jesus movement. And unlike so-called "memories", it doesn't take too much in the way of imagination to see Acts a book of reversals. Similar considerations of propagandist inversion apply to the Gospel of Mark in particular.

Steven Carr said...

'Why assume the gospels were based on "memories" of Jesus as opposed to just plain literary composition to fill a void?'


Magdalene6127 said...

April, I re-post my comment here, in hopes you will consider at least a cursory answer:

I am intrigued by your method, and find it promising.

I'm a preacher who has had no anxiety (or little, at any rate) about preaching what has been called the "Jesus of faith." Can you say what you think the implications of your method of constructing Jesus might have for those who preach, who take
" the quest," as you have described it seriously? Is this something that simply doesn't belong in the pulpit?

Or... do you have no opinion on this, since your project is scholarly and not about faith?

I would love to hear your thoughts. said...

Why not see the extant Gospel of Mark as an adaptation of an original prophetic text? After all, that is what usually happens to texts whether created to fill a void or not. They get changed.

When prophets wrote, they usually did it with purpose. They had something to say about the times in which they lived, referring back to past understood events in their history for their authority. So don't talk to me any nonsense about writing religious texts with no purpose simply to fill a void. Writing then was expensive, and prophets did not write simply to entertain. They were on a mission to influence others. In the case of original NT documents, a primary purpose was to bring priests over to the prophetic view, as in the case of Josephus who undoubtedly converted from the former.

Similarly, those earliest prophetic documents were changed later by Flavian editors with the purpose of manipulating a group, and in particlar Gentiles. I have come to regard the idea of "propagandist inversion" as covering almost every aspect of the process.

R.Eagle said...

You're right, Dr. D.

Leon said...

Constantly talking about Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet is quite limiting. There was much more to Jesus than that. Most of what he says has little or nothing to do with that.

There is still this suppression of Jewish history and culture when talking about the historical Jesus. The fear is that Jesus will become a specific person in a specific time and place. Issues of memory are being used to block historical discovery of the very Jewish Jesus. Nobody wants to see who Jesus specifically was in his very real Jewish context. I see more theological arguments here than historical arguments. It is deeply troublesome because this theology is being used to silence and distort ancient Jewish culture. The historical Jewish Jesus is indeed knowable by the same methods used in any historical field.

Leon Zitzer

Marmalade said...

"Rather it is how the first Christians were remembering him early in the transmission of the traditions."

As others have noted, the use of the concept of 'memory' is misleading. It suggests that there was something historically real that was being remembered. To clarify, this seems based in the author's own beliefs as she stated in a previous blog.

'My decision about the Jesus Project': "In fact, I think that Jesus did historically exist, although I cannot prove this anymore than the mythers can prove he didn't."

Since we can't know about the historical Jesus, why not leave that issue out of the discussion. There is no advantage to referring to the memory of Jesus.

Furthermore, the author is missing an important point. The mythicist position is a separate issue from the historical debate (even if the two get intertwined). Mythicism isn't dependent on disproving a historical Jesus. It simply is irrelevant. Mythicism is primarily about the story and not the person the story is about.

To be fair, some mythicist scholars seem to intentionally conflate these two aspects. I assume they do so in order to create a stronger argument by combining them together. But that is unnecessary and it confuses the discussion.

Vincent said...

Marmalade, I see you're attempting to "clarify" April DeConick same as you attempted to "clarify" Acharya S/Murdock at her own blog too. There, you clearly are misunderstanding the articles on mythicism. And here you are trying to tell others what mythicism is and totally misrepresenting it. So, I'll share the position & link for others to read for themselves.

"Mythicism represents the perspective that many gods, goddesses and other heroes and legendary figures said to possess extraordinary and/or supernatural attributes are not "real people" but are in fact mythological characters. Along with this view comes the recognition that many of these figures personify or symbolize natural phenomena, such as the sun, moon, stars, planets, constellations, etc., constituting what is called "astromythology" or "astrotheology." As a major example of the mythicist position, it is determined that various biblical characters such as Adam and Eve, Satan, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, King David, Solomon and Jesus Christ, among other entities, in reality represent mythological figures along the same lines as the Egyptian, Sumerian, Phoenician, Indian, Greek, Roman and other godmen, who are all presently accepted as myths, rather than historical figures."

- Christ in Egypt, 12

What is a Mythicist?