Friday, May 1, 2009

Creating Jesus 6: Unfulfilled expectations

There is one more impulse toward Christology that appears to me to be behind all of this. When the formation of new religious movements is studied from a sociological and psychological perspective, it is the case in prophetic movements that the death of the leader puts the community in crisis. There is a liminal period in which the movement has to reassess and if it is going to go on it has to choose new leadership and/or new direction.

Now I am not one to psychologize Jesus. I have no idea who he actually thought he was. But I do know that his close followers thought he was some kind of Messiah - be it a prophet, a king, or a priest. The question in scholarship has always been whether this perception of Jesus originated before or after his death, and much of the literature since Wrede's Messianic Secret has leaned toward after his death.

I'm not convinced. The way I reason through this problem is this: the criminal death of Jesus was a serious obstacle to the proof of his Messiahship. The Christians spend a lot of time explaining in their writings how it is that the Messiah would suffer and would be killed in the worse way possible, a death cursed by the law. And by in large their explanations did not convince very many Jews. So to develop Jesus into a Messiah figure after his criminal death doesn't make as much sense to me as trying to reinterpret the traditional Messianic expectations to fit new historical circumstances. This is what we would expect, in fact, given what we know about social memory formations. They take previously held expectations that are not fulfilled and shift them in such a way to make them conform to the historical reality and experiences of the community.

So I think it is very reasonable to think that a third impulse to create the Christology that the first Christians did was that their original expectations of Jesus while he was alive were not met in his death. In other words, the expectation of the Jesus movement prior to his death appear to have been that of a more traditional Messiah - likely some type of prophet-king - and when he did not fulfill that role, but was executed instead, they literally had to go back to the drawing board and reconfigure their thinking about who Jesus was in order for their movement to continue.

They did this by returning to their scriptures. But more on this in the next post.

23 comments:

Steven Carr said...

APRIL
...the criminal death of Jesus was a serious obstacle to the proof of his Messiahship.

CARR
Was the behaviour of Jesus before his death a serious obstacle to the proof of his Messiahship, or was his behaviour in line with 'traditional Messianic expectations'?

Michael F. Bird said...

April,
Thanks for that post. I agree with you on the messiahship question. Jesus as "Messiah" was a problem that they did not invent as part of their christology, and Messiah is more than just another honorific title that was bestowed on Jesus after Easter.

While messiahship is definitely pre-Easter, the biggest question is Jesus' role in fermenting it and his response to it. Dunn and Fredriksen ack. the pre-Easter nature of belief in Jesus as Messiah, but reject that Jesus identified himself with that role. Some take Mk. 8.31ff to be Jesus' renunication of belief in him as Messiah!

But, to be honest, if you take Q 7.22-23 with 4Q521 2.1-10 and the titulus (as a minimal lay out of the evidence) I think you have to say that Jesus understood his role as "performatively messianic" (to use Ben F. Meyer's term) and he was also perceived as a messianic claimant by the Jewish and Roman authoriteis.

If I may indulge in a some shameless self promo, I have a book with Baker coming out in a month or so called: "Are you the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question".

For Steven Carr: While there were some unifying traits in messianic expectations (see Horbury and Wright), there was no single line or pattern of messianic expectations that Jesus could apply to himself without explication.

pascal said...

April

There seems to be reasonable evidence for the proposition that the creation of the myths of the Davidic 'Golden Age' subsequently gave rise to a far greater belief in the likely coming of a Messiah amongst the Jews living in the first century CE, who believed those myths.

The requirement that the Messiah come from the house of David seems to have depended on the association with an envisaged glorious era where Jerusalem would become paramount in the world once more.

The question of whether death was an absolute bar to Messiahship in the first century had differing answers from different people; in later periods the fact that Jesus died at all was held to be proof that he could not have been the Messiah.

Moving still further onward, the Chabad phenomenon in our own time presents an example of the way in which the followers of someone they believed to be the Messiah claim that he really didn't die at all...

Steven Carr said...

BIRD
While there were some unifying traits in messianic expectations (see Horbury and Wright), there was no single line or pattern of messianic expectations that Jesus could apply to himself without explication.

CARR
I don't understand that at all.

Did Daniel 9 predict a Messiah who would be killed?

How can we be certain that no Jews read Daniel 9 as a prediction of a Messiah who was to be killed?

Michael said...

Thanks for the post, April. I wonder if his disciples understood Jesus as a messianic figure of some sort prior to his death, from whom did they get the idea.

Without rehashing the various pieces of evidence (Bird's Q 7.22-23 with 4Q521 2.1-10 would be enough to start), it would seem that the idea most likely would have started either with Jesus' teaching or his actions. It doesn't seem probable to me that a person would be so drastically misinterpreted as to give off the wrong impression about such an important role.

Thus, while I agree that we can't get inside Jesus' mind, the actions of his disciples (who had a better vantage point than we) seem to take him to be a messianic figure in some sense.

For Carr: Daniel 9 is fraught with problems for messianic interpretation. These weeks probably predict the coming of Antiochus Epiphanes, rather than Jesus. The use of the atnaḫ between the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks in Dan 9:25 MT argues decisively that they should not be read together, so that sixty-nine weeks would elapse before the coming of the משיח נגיד (“anointed prince”). This reading is motivated by Theodotion, was followed Jerome, and thus became the cornerstone for messianic interpretation. However, the punctuation of the MT is most likely correct. Thus, the reference is probably not to Jesus, but to Antiochus Epiphanies. The silence of the NT on any correspondence between the birth of Jesus and the timeline of Dan 9:24-27 should give one pause. An eschatological, messianic figure is probably not lurking behind the curtains of Dan 9.

Steven Carr said...

'Daniel 9 is fraught with problems for messianic interpretation.'

They are great problems indeed.

But then this scripture was also interpreted as having been fulfilled, and it has even more obviously taken out of context.

'A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more'


If we look at Galatians 4, we can see that Paul would take scriptures out of context.

It is a fact that people do take Daniel 9 as a prophecy about a killed Messiah, so why should it be assumed a priori that nobody had ever done that before 33 AD?

The NT is indeed silent on any fulfillment of Daniel by Jesus,but this is a *classic* example of a bad argument from silence, quite unlike the arguments from silence that sceptics use.

The NT is silent on exactly which scriptures lay behind the 'raised on the third day according to the scriptures'

The NT is silent on which scriptures lay behind Luke 24 :- '"How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"

Which scriptures were those?

Is there a better candidate than Daniel 9?

The NT is clear that Christians regarded *some* scriptures as prophesying a killed Messiah who would rise on the 3rd day.

So why must it be unquestioned that that belief in what scripture prophesied came after Jesus death, and did not exist before then?

Romans 16 'Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him'

Paul claims that Jesus has finally been revealed to the world through the prophetic writings.

Steven Carr said...

MICHAEL BIRD
It doesn't seem probable to me that a person would be so drastically misinterpreted as to give off the wrong impression about such an important role.


CARR
Nor to me either.

Didn't the disciples notice that Jesus did not have an army to drive out the Romans, and seemed to be taking no steps to even start getting such a force?

pascal said...

Steven Carr said:

'It is a fact that people do take Daniel 9 as a prophecy about a killed Messiah, so why should it be assumed a priori that nobody had ever done that before 33 AD?'

I do not think anyone is assuming it a priori; they are, instead, asking for some evidence that people living at the time did so.

The fact that you are unable to produce any evidence of this is your problem, not theirs.

Incidentally, claiming the NT as some sort of inerrant guide to the beliefs of those living at the time of Jesus seems to fall well and truly outside the ground rules laid down by April...

Steven Carr said...

'I do not think anyone is assuming it a priori; they are, instead, asking for some evidence that people living at the time did so.'

This is a good point.

The argument is that not one Jew before 33 AD thought of the OT prophesying a Messiah who would be killed.

I am asking for evidence that not one single Jew thought that.

I can provide a passage that I know people can , and have, taken as a prophecy that the Messiah would be killed.

I can show that Christians could, and did, claim that the OT prophesied a Messiah that would die.

They might indeed not have regarded Daniel 9:26 as the scripture which prophesied a Messiah that would die.

They may have taken a different passage instead as their prophesy.

It is nevertheless a smoking gun, and we know that *some* scripture was used as a proof that the Messiah would die (if perhaps not Daniel 9:26)

In which case the burden of proof is on those people who make the sweeping statement that not one Jew before 33 AD had ever thought the OT prophesied a dying Messiah.

That is a very sweeping statement. I don't see how anybody can claim they know what every Jewish group would or would not have believed about a Messiah.

I ,by contrast, am pointing out only that there is a smoking gun, and am asking why it should be ruled out that this gun was fired only after 33 AD.


But which scriptures *did* the early Christians regard as prophesying a killed and suffering Messiah?

Luke 24 claims they exist.

Where are they, if not Daniel 9:26?

Isaiah 53 is also another candidate, and a scripture referenced more than once by the OT.

So where is the evidence that before 33 AD, not one single Jewish group had ever taken Isaiah 33 as a reference to a suffering Messiah?

Pastor Bob said...

Steven

I think your question should be answered in terms of how we talk about it. We could say that we have no evidence that Jews before 30 AD spoke of a dying (and rising?) messiah.

However there is a great debate today in the archeological community about this issue. There is a text written in ink on stone that may talk about a dying Messiah. If I remember correctly some see a connection to Qumran or, if you prefer, the Dead Sea texts.

I am certainly not an expert in 1st century BC or early 1st century AD Jewish theologies about a Messiah. But the debate about how to read the stone with ink is going on in the archeological community.

William Madden said...

While it is certainly possible that one Jew (or more than one Jew)might have conceived of a dying Messiah, I don't get the sense that the gospel writers (and the communities that they represented or that produced them)expected Jesus to die in the manner that he did (criminal death, either by Jewish court or Roman), else why the all the apologetics (and revisionism of one kind or another) in the gospels. Which helps to stay focused on the question: with the evidence that we have, what can we ascertain about the messianic expectations that the followers of Jesus did have about him? What kind of Messiah did they really think that he was going to be? To say, an actual king, or some kind of priest-king, takes us into very different (and somewhat alien) territory than our received understanding of Jesus as the promised and sacrificial Christ.

Leon said...

I would not overemphasize Jesus' death as a Roman criminal. The Romans killed many Jews, some of whom would have been regarded by Jews as saintly, whether Pharisees or rabbis or "prophets" living in the desert. Death at the hands of the pagan Romans was not such a shocking fact. It was to be expected in their time. If a Messiah was going to be killed, then it would happen by Rome who would of course consider that person a criminal.

But it would be wrong to think that being a Roman criminal would have defined that person's existence for Jews, or even be an essential part of him. For other pagans or gentiles, it might have been a source of shame (I am not not sure about this) but not for Jews. For Jews, there would have been nothing shameful about Jesus' death by Rome. It would have been just another sad fact of life in their time. Whether a Messiah dying at pagan hands presented a problem is a separate question, though I don't think it was that big a problem because who else but pagans, especially cruel Rome, would kill the Messiah, if a Messiah had to suffer this fate at all. But shame would not have been a big issue, not for a Jewish audience. For gentiles, it might have been a different case.

Leon Zitzer

Ed Jones said...

Ed Jones said:

The Forbidden Gospels Blog; My decision about the Jesus Projet, Comments April 12, 13, add-on 17, constituted a reconstruction of origins which seems pertinent to the discussion Creating Jesus. without response, I presume to reference Gerd Ludemann's "The Rise of Primitive Christianity, 30-70 C.E. which, by countering a basic assumption may clearfy fundamental historical evidence the reconstruction was meant to present.

The statement: "A few scholars (I name Ogden, Robinson, Betz, Merrill Miller)go so far as to see separate beginnings in groups represented by such texts as - -", while all texts named contribute to seeing separate beginnings, Ludemann significantly omits the primary text, a Scriptural source, that "has direct links to the teaching of the historical Jesus and thus constituted an alternative to Christianity as known above all from the letters of Paul and the Gospels, as well as later writings of the New Testament". This is not simply an omission, in a later statement it is made explicit: "Even at this earliest stage, the movement took on new dimensions when Greek speaking Jews in Jerusalem became part of it." The historical evidence is unmistakably clear that for the period 30-70 C.E.the Greek speaking Jews of Jerusalem, the group Paul joined after they were were driven out of Palestine, remained separate, in fact the opponents of "the movement" (the Jesus Movement). This is a crucial historical fact - a responsible understanding of origins depends upon recognition of this historical evidence.

pascal said...

Steven

Your apparent belief that 'doing' history involves searching for smoking guns suggests that you haven't 'done' much history; equally, your desire to create simplistic either/or formulations suggests that you haven't done logic 101 either, otherwise you wouldn't be providing such an excellent object lesson on the dangers of the excluded middle.

These sorts of arguments may go down well in the knockabout of a few drinks down the pub, but it gets you nowhere in any kind of serious attempt to answer the questions posed by April...

Steven Carr said...

I see Pascal is unable to refute the obvious fact that there are smoking guns in the OT which suggest a Messiah who was to be killed.

And that early Christians explicitly referred to Isaiah 53 as prophesying a Messiah who was to be killed.

So why do historicists exclude the question of whether any Jews noticed these smoking guns before 33 AD, and claim they know that not one single Jew had ever thought of those passages as being about a killed Messiah, before Jesus was killed?

N T Wrong said...

Great series, April. I'm enjoying it.

You concentrated on the Messiah in this post. But your mention of Wrede got me wondering. How do you answer the old and curly 'Son of Man' question? Did Jesus refer to himself by this phrase, at least at times? And, if so, did Jesus refer to a supreme divine intermediary of the general sort found in the Similitudes of Enoch, or did he only mean 'mortal man' (or something inbetween)? And, similar to your point about the use of 'Messiah' before and after his death, how did the use of 'Son of Man' change between Jesus' lifetime and those of the Evangelists?

As you seem to be tackling the big questions this month, I thought I'd through those ones at you as well. If you want.

pascal said...

Ed Jones said:

'the Greek speaking Jews of Jerusalem, the group Paul joined after they were were driven out of Palestine'

Could you please clarify what you mean by this? In what sense are you talking about Jews being driven out of Palestine?

pascal said...

Steven Carr said:

'I see Pascal is unable to refute the obvious fact that there are smoking guns in the OT which suggest a Messiah who was to be killed.'

If anyone is able to able to demonstrate the existence of smoking guns thousands of years before the gun was thought to be invented they will be up for a Nobel, and my views will be irrelevant.

On the other hand Steven has moved on from claiming the NT as inerrant proof of what Jewish people of the period believed, to claiming the OT as inerrant proof of what Jewish people of the period believed.

It's still outside April's ground rules, and it still reflects an abysmal ignorance of the way in which a historian may set about posing and, on occasions, answering, questions...

William Madden said...

I still think my question, posted earlier, is a pertinent one, especially with regard to the exploration of Christology which remains the purpose of this series of posts. Dr. DeConick has stated that she believes that the followers of Jesus had not expected him to die. She has also stated that she believes the followers of Jesus to have had Messianic expectation of him. Which keeps the question in front of us: If they didn't expect him to die, but did have Messianic expecations of him, then what kind of Messiah did they expect him to be? What sort of king? And what sort of kingdom?

Steven Carr said...

Madden's question is a good one.

What exactly did they think Jesus was doing while he was alive?

John 1:44
Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

Why did Philip think Jesus of Nazareth was the one Moses wrote about in the Law, as Jesus went about his task of not collecting an army to drive out the Romans?

Frank McCoy said...

I suggest that Amos 9:11 was important to the Jesus group in their understanding of Jesus' death.
First, though, we need to look at how it was interpreted by the Qumran group (Essenes) in what appears to be a two-stage evolution.

Stage 1 in interpreting Amos 9:11--the Damascus Document (VII):
"And all the apostates were given up to the sword, but those who escaped to the land to the north; as God said, *I will exile the tabernacle of your king and the bases of your statues from my tent to Damascus* (Amos v, 26-7). The Books of the Law are the *tabernacle* of the king; as God said, *I will raise up the tabernacle of David which is fallen* (Amos ix, 11). The *king* is the congregation; and the *bases of the statues* are the Books of the Prophets whose saying Israel despised. The *star* is the Interpreter of the Law who shall come to Damascus; as it is written, *A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel* (Num xxiv, 17). The *sceptre* is the Prince of the whole congregation and when he comes, *he shall smite all the *children of Seth* (Num. xxiv., 17)."
Here, Amos 9:11 is strongly linked to Amos 5:26-27.
Here, Amos 9:11 is also linked to Numbers 24:17,which is taken to be a prophecy concerning two End-time figures: (1) the Interpreter of the Law and (2) the Prince of the whole congregation.
In interpreting Amos 9:11: (1) the tabernacle is taken to be the books of the Law, i.e., the Torah and (2) David is taken to be the king = the congregation.

Stage 2 in interpreting Amos 9:11--4Q174:
"*The Lord declares to you that He will build you a House* (2 Sam. vii, 11c) *I will raise up your seed after you* (2 Sam. vii, 12). *I will establish the throne of his kingdom [for ever]* (2 Sam. vii, 13). *[I will be] his father and he shall be my son* (2 Sam. vii, 14). He is the Branch of David who shall arise with the Interpreter of the Law [to rule] in Zion [at the end] of time. As it is written, *I will raise up the tent of David that is fallen* (Amos ix, 11). That is to say, the fallen *tent of David* is he who shall arise to save Israel."
Numbers 24:17 as interpreted in the Damascus Document impacts here, so that, in 4Q174: (1) the Interpreter of the Law is the star of Mumbers 14:17 and (2) the Branch of David is the Prince of the whole congregation and the sceptre of Numbers 14:17.
2 Samuel 7:11c-13 is taken to be a prophecy concerning the Branch of David/Prince of the whole congretation. So, this figure will be a descendent of David, he will rule for ever and he will be, in some meaningful sense, a Son of God.
Here, Amos 9:11 is strongly linked to 2 Samuel 7:11c-13. As a result: (1) the tent of David is radically re-interpreted to be the Branch of David/Prince of the whole congregation and (2) the speaker of Amos 9:11 is taken to be God. This Branch of David/Prince of the whole congregation will be fallen in the sense of having a lowly status, but then be raised up by God in the sense of being elevated to the status of ruler over Israel by God, thereby enabling him to defeat the enemies of Israel.

I will wait for Dr. DeConick's next post before going into how the Jesus group might have interpreted Amos 9:11.

myther said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
myther said...

for a very informative discussion of the relevant issues please check out "Not The Impossible Faith" by Richard Carrier (pgs. 34-44)