Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Report: The Historiographical Jesus (Le Donne)

Today a package arrived in my mailbox. What's this? I thought as I opened it. As I tore the package open and the name of the book emerged "The Historiographical Jesus" by Anthony Le Donne, I thought, "My gosh, a perfect title!" Simultaneously I thought (in regards to historical Jesus research) - "it is about time!"

Of course I haven't had time to read and digest all that Le Donne has to say yet. But I can see already that this book is a "must" read. It is pioneering, taking seriously the study of social memory and applying it to what Le Donne thinks we can and can't say the Jesus traditions.

Refreshingly he establishes himself as an historian who is not trying to get back to "unrefracted memory" (that is, what actually happened), but to account for the earliest memory refractions in Jesus' story. So "authenticity" and "historicity" are redefined to point to earliest memories of Jesus and Le Donne maps out the criteria that he uses to pick up this information.

Le Donne works with the concept of memory refraction in the Jesus tradition and analyzes how the stories and saying of Jesus were distorted as they were handed down and consciously and unconsciously reframed. Anthony argues that the analysis of memory refraction allows historians to escape the problems between memory and typology and recover the earliest memories of Jesus.


Bill said...

The author has a very attractive website also.

And the new banner here is nice too.

April DeConick said...


Thanks for leaving this link to Le Donne's webpage.

Ed Jones said...

Ed Jones said:
Again I reference a reconstruction of Orgins which reflects
the thought of three of our longest standing top critical historical theologians. I belabor this point by way of maing the further indisputable point that by virture of their authority, ones response or non response casts a judgment on potential readers.

By contrast to Le Donne, the three do not see the problem of the Jesus trdition in terms of Memory limitations or social develoments or whatever. The problrm is with the writings of the N.T. It is hermeneutical: a conscious intent to interpret the message of Jesus in terms of the Christ Movement, Pauline Kerygma, rather than in
terms of the Jesus Movement, the Jesus kerygma. Defining the source of the Jesus- kerygma is the huristic theme of the reconstruction.
The reconstruction is Comments April 12 and13 to the Blog: My Decision About the Jesus Project.
It stands with all of its warts. Writing on line has the trnsion of tieing up my single phone line plus old age infirmities (90), restricts editing. It can be read irrespective of what one thinks of the Jesus Project. said...

"Refreshingly he establishes himself as an historian who is not trying to get back to "unrefracted memory" (that is, what actually happened)"

We have a new definition of a historian. He doesn't try to find out what actually happened. said...

"Anthony argues that the analysis of memory refraction allows historians to escape the problems between memory and typology and recover the earliest memories of Jesus."

I prefer to think that analysis of texts, in particular the writings attributed to Josephus, enables one to least make an educated guess at what really happened.

And I have come to the conclusion that Eisenman comes nearest to the truth. His James was Jesus, as he more or less admitted to me in a phone call. But he was wrong to accept the writings attributed to Josephus so literally, and to consider James as a zealot and a Davidic supporter of the DSS. He was anti-animal sacrifice - a tradition that started with the Maccabeans.

April DeConick said...


What you are saying about historians is not true. As historians we are interested in all sorts of items, and one of them, in our field, is to recover what the early Christians remembered about Jesus. Historians are faced today with the fact that we can never know what actually happened in the ancient world because of the nature of our sources and of human transmission of those sources and the ideas contained therein. What we can know though is some of the earliest layers of the tradition - what the first Christians thought happened or wished had happened. said...


If one was to write a history of the christian church, then I could understand your approach. But, what the first christians thought happened or wished had happened, may not be what actually happened, particularly when you go back to the time of 'Jesus', before the 'Revolt' and even earlier, or just after the 'Revolt'. One is in a political/textual cloud. Further I suggest that the history has been distorted by Roman propaganda, particularly in the writings attributed to Josephus, which is our main secondary source. And not unsurprisingly, one finds that much of that propaganda has been duplicated in the NT.

But I would rather trust my understanding of human nature. For example, one could believe that the sanctuary was destroyed by Titus because the 'Jews' were rebellious. I prefer to believe that the sanctuary was raided to fund Vespasian's rise to power, in an opportunistic, slow, methodical manner, and then torched. And thus the period of approximately five years preceeding had been one of peace. The priests had been eliminated by Nero in a short campaign at the start of the five year period. He encamped his army at Masada. The story of Masada, as handed down, was pure make-believe. So, if the writings attributed to Josephus were heavily politicised, what do we think the NT was originally about? What kind of 'Jews' did Nero protect? said...

I would suggest they were prophetic for want of a better word. Josephus, a descendant of Asamoneus, and thus Maccabean, was a priest, but never practised as a priest - he never sacrificed animals. At one time the Maccabeans were all powerful under Judas Maccabeus - Josephus devoted almost a whole Chapter to Judas. But in the time of 'Jesus' (James) they had been suppressed, were small in number and dominated by the priests.

Josephus was raised with Nero in the Court of Claudius. "I was myself brought up with [my brother] {Nero}, whose name was [Matthias] {Lucius}, for he was [my own brother] {named}, by both [father] {Claudius} and [mother] {Agrippina}; and I made mighty proficiency in the improvements of my learning, and appeared to have both a great memory and understanding." (Life 2) You can see how the extant text was edited. The awkwardness is apparent - his own brother would obviously be the son of his own mother and father. Nero was named Nero, after Claudius who had the name Nero, by both Claudius and Agrippina. Before they married, Nero was called Lucius. Thus Josephus (the same age as Nero) knew Nero and was his friend. Josephus chronicled Nero's war in Judea. Nero was sympathetic to the type of Jew Josephus was - a Maccabean prophet. said...

So why do scholars talk about Jesus as though he did exist, but really he only existed in the minds of those who thought or wished he existed? They say Jesus went here, did that or the other, with no uncertainty, not as though his existence was in doubt.