2015-10-04

Another Biblical Scholar (Richard Bauckham) on Historical Jesus Studies

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by Neil Godfrey

Richard J. Bauckham, FBA, FRSE (born 22 September 1946) is an English scholar in theology, historical theology and New Testament studies, specialising in New Testament Christology and the Gospel of John. He is a senior scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. — Wikipedia (4th Oct 2015).

eyewitnesses

Richard Bauckham is probably best known to the wider public for his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony in which he argues that the gospel narratives about Jesus were derived from reports of eyewitnesses. Is it reasonable to ask if Bauckham’s thesis was the product of disinterested historical inquiry?

Anyone who has read the first chapter of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses will know that my overall concern in the book was to help Christians recover the confidence that the Jesus they find in the Gospels (rather than in some dubiously reconstructed history behind the Gospels) is the real Jesus. 

(2015-09-01). I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (p. 27). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Does this entitle us to be suspicious that the arguments might have been tendentious?

I did not think this prejudiced the purely historical argument that followed because I am accustomed to making sure that my historical arguments stand up as historical arguments.

I have covered in depth what his “historical arguments” look like in a detailed series of chapter by chapter posts now available in the archives. One of the more bizarre of Bauckham’s “historical arguments” is to compare the gospel narratives of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus with testimony of another “unique” event, the Holocaust of the 1940s. To approach the testimony of survivors/eyewitnesses with a hermeneutic of “radical suspicion” is “epistemological suicide”. Normative approaches of critical analysis of the evidence, of testing the evidence, are set aside in preference for a choice between either believing or rejecting the testimony, for either cynically rejecting the “astonishing testimony” of something unspeakably unique or charitably trusting the words of a privileged eyewitness report. Ad hoc rationalisations dominate: if passages such as the crucifixion narratives are replete with biblical (Old Testament) allusions it is because the eyewitnesses were overawed by their memories of the events; yet if passages such as the resurrection narratives contain no biblical allusions it is because the eyewitnesses were even more overawed by their memories of something that “defied reality”.

What about Bauckham’s personal faith interest? Does that shape his work in any way?

Maybe (but how could I ever know?) I would still love God if I came to the conclusion that there was no shred of real history in the New Testament. But, to say the least, I would find it more difficult to believe in God if I did not believe that God became incarnate as the man Jesus, who died and rose bodily from death and is alive eternally with God. (Here I differ profoundly from people who find it easier to believe in God than in the incarnation and the resurrection.) This gives my love of God an indispensable stake in the historical credibility of the Gospels. For as long as I have thought about it, it has always been clear to me that, for Christian faith to be true, the Jesus Christians find in the Gospels must be the real Jesus . . . 

(2015-09-01). I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (p. 24). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Does this mean that Bauckham invariably knows that he expects to find his faith confirmed in all of his studies? He does at least permit himself to change his mind on a number of issues so no-one can say he does not courageously follow wherever the evidence leads . . . Coincidentally the three changes of mind that he admits to having arisen out of his studies have all been in the direction of establishing the “truth” of a more conservative and traditional view of his faith:

Of course, over the years I have changed my mind about many issues in the study of the New Testament. Often this has happened when, after long accepting a mainstream scholarly view, I have thought harder about it and come to a different conclusion.

Some of the best examples are in Gospels studies, where much of my work has converged in recent years.

For a long time I accepted without much thought the usual view that each Gospel was written for the Christian community in which it was written. Then one day I asked myself why virtually everyone seemed to assume this in preference to the obvious (but rarely mentioned) alternative: that each Gospel was written with a view to its circulation widely around early Christian communities. I was surprised to find very little in the way of arguments for the consensus view. It began to look like a view that everyone treats as obvious because everyone else treats it as obvious.

So Bauckham’s departure from orthodoxy was to argue that the Gospels were written with a far more ecumenical or catholic purpose in mind than traditionally assumed. How they are understood today was the intention of their authors all along.

Two other points on which Bauckham has changed his mind through his historical researches are likewise moves towards the veracity of conservative Christian tradition: Peter really was the apostle behind the narrative in the Gospel of Mark and the Beloved Disciple really was the author behind the Gospel of John.

At one time I would have been much more hesitant about associating Peter closely with Mark’s Gospel than I am now, while in the case of John I would at one time have said cautiously that the Beloved Disciple must have played a role in the origins of the Gospel but did not actually write it. So it was not the case that in that book I was defending “conservative” positions that I had always held. Much of the book was unanticipated but came about as I wrote it, as I followed where the arguments and the evidence were leading me.

(2015-09-01). I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (p. 26). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Bauckham’s idea of testing the received wisdom sounds admirably professional:

One might have expected that, in a field like New Testament studies, the dynamics of research would lead to rigorous questioning of any accepted position, but in fact there are some assumptions that rarely get questioned.

I guess this has to do with the way people are inculturated into the discipline, and I may be more ready than others to question dominant assumptions because I did not become a New Testament scholar through the usual process of undergraduate and postgraduate study. I have had no revered teachers in whose footsteps I piously follow.

Is Bauckham implying that scholars-following-revered-teachers is the norm?

Nor have I ever bought into the conception of New Testament studies as a process of incremental advance, in which at each stage assured conclusions are reached, on which further study must then build. I think the work always needs to be done again, and I have come increasingly to the conclusion that in fact grave mistakes have been made that have set major lines of research going in quite misleading directions. We often need to retrace our predecessors’ steps and look for a path they overlooked or neglected for insufficient reasons. Then one thing leads to another.

(2015-09-01). I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (pp. 24-25). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

No doubt such a radical revision of existing work is in principle well and good, but notice that for Bauckham radical critique really means leading biblical studies back into the service of theological orthodoxy:

There is a prejudice around for which any historical conclusion that accords with traditional Christian faith must be considered, ipso facto, suspicious. This is quite obviously a prejudice that makes no sense at all within the discipline of history but only as a theological or anti-theological judgment. As such it has no more validity than the opposite pre-judgment that any historical conclusion that does not accord with traditional Christian faith must be considered, ipso facto, suspicious.

(2015-09-01). I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (p. 27). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

It would be more accurate to say, surely, that this “prejudice” (not “professional suspension of judgement”) “makes no sense at all within the guild of Christian believers doing historical inquiry in the service of their faith”.

The fallacy of the false dilemma. Or perhaps what we are reading is the suspicion of the believer. To doubt the Word of God is to be against the “word of God” and the only conceivable alternative is to love God and follow the hermeneutic of charity.

The possibility of assuming a disinterested stance towards the evidence, or even of being aware of one’s natural biases and professionally making the effort to counter them, such alternatives do not appear on Bauckham’s intellectual horizon. Indeed, his biases lead him to discovering new things that happen to support his biases. The following from Bauckham informs us that he is well aware that other scholars do criticize him for his convenient and self-interested ability to find theologically conservative conclusions in his studies but that at the same time he is not bothered by such criticism because he is, in his own judgement, doing “good history”:

The role of presuppositions and ideological leanings in historical work is too often assumed to be one that distorts understanding, whereas it can function positively to open a historian’s eyes to features of the evidence others have neglected. In the end it is evidence and arguments that need to be assessed. The verdict “Well, he would think that, wouldn’t he?” is applicable, if at all, only after serious engagement with the arguments presented, not before. . . . 

Hardly anyone who works in the field of New Testament studies is immune from the influence of both of these pre-judgments in their various complex interactions. I have never been much bothered by them, perhaps partly because, as a well-trained historian, I think I know what good historical argument looks like. . . .

(2015-09-01). I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (p. 27). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

 

believe

24 Comments

  • John MacDonald
    2015-10-04 21:31:43 UTC - 21:31 | Permalink

    Bauckham says:

    “For a long time I accepted without much thought the usual view that each Gospel was written for the Christian community in which it was written. Then one day I asked myself why virtually everyone seemed to assume this in preference to the obvious (but rarely mentioned) alternative: that each Gospel was written with a view to its circulation widely around early Christian communities. I was surprised to find very little in the way of arguments for the consensus view. It began to look like a view that everyone treats as obvious because everyone else treats it as obvious. ”

    One thing that would suggest widespread circulation is the emphasis in the gospels on going wide and far and winning converts:

    (A) Mark: The Mission

    And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

    (B) Matthew: The Great Commission

    16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

    (C) Luke: Sending out Emissaries

    Just as Moses had chosen twelve spies to reconnoiter the land which stretched “before your face,” sending them through the cities of the land of Canaan, so does Jesus send a second group, after the twelve, a group of seventy, whose number symbolizes the nations of the earth who are to be conquered, so to speak, with the gospel in the Acts of the Apostles. He sends them out “before his face” to every city he plans to visit (in Canaan, too, obviously).
    To match the image of the spies returning with samples of the fruit of the land (Deuteronomy 1:25), Luke has placed here the Q saying (Luke 10:2//Matthew 9:37-38), “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few; therefore beg the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers into his harvest.” And Jesus’ emissaries return with a glowing report, just as Moses’ did. (Deuteronomy 1; Luke 10:1-3, 17-30)

    All this would tend to suggest some degree of unity of mission and purpose among the various Christian communities, so that it would be understandable that a gospel would be circulated among all of them.

    • 2015-10-04 22:51:08 UTC - 22:51 | Permalink

      “All this would tend to suggest some degree of unity of mission and purpose among the various Christian communities, ”

      It would suggest that each community believed its mission and purpose to be telling the world about Jesus. It says little about what, specifically, they thought the world needed to be told about Jesus.

  • David Ashton
    2015-10-04 23:32:10 UTC - 23:32 | Permalink

    The fully documented Nazi ideology regarding Jews, their persecution and murder in modern history are not comparable to reports of the life and death of Jesus in ancient history, although oddly enough both phenomena have “religious” aspects, and in one respect a possible similarity.

    However sensitive and hazardous to say so, some “eye-witness accounts” of events of the “Holocaust” (a quasi-religious term itself, incidentally) are not particularly reliable, and are not even actually “eye-witnessed”. Several books by alleged survivors have now been shown to be either total fabrications, or containing extremely dubious detail. Incidentally, this also applies to some narratives from former Soviet prisoners; I have personal proof of this. There are always problems of false memory, exaggerations, and commercial or political motivation, and in the case of the NT similar problems with theological motivations. There is nothing unusual about this “oral history” phenomenon, except that in the WW2/Israel case it is particularly charged with what Norman Finkelstein, for example, has called an “industry”.

    There is no need to expand on this here, since an enterprising internet search will recover appropriate information from well-informed sources that do not fall into a crackpot category.

  • Giuseppe
    2015-10-05 07:15:03 UTC - 07:15 | Permalink

    This is the problem with these Christian scholars. Some of them (non all) write very suggestive books I’m very curious to read (and here I think to the recent volumes of Fletcher-Louis as an example) but it is never removed the suspect that even when they make successfully their point (for example, proving that Jesus is one with YHWH in Paul), they deliberately ignore the question of historicity of their Jesus (for example, could a man identified by some Jews with YHWH himself be ignored by all the historians of his time?) and at that point I fear that even reading their books is a waste of time in virtue of this too much gratuitous assumption. The risk is that not only the author, but even the reader, does basically mere Christian apologetic, in this way!

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-10-05 08:32:24 UTC - 08:32 | Permalink

      Understand. I had no illusions when reading Hurtado’s books on high christology that his argument was “too coincidentally” aligned with his conservative Christian faith. The same argument actually supports the Couchoud-Doherty-Carrier thesis. But at least there are a few others out there who have an opposing ideology and “therefore” an opposing argument — so it’s a bit like being a judge in an adversarial court system. I’d much prefer the inquisitorial legal system to the adversarial one where it’s a contest to win a debate, but that’s the landscape we have to live in.

  • Blood
    2015-10-05 12:02:16 UTC - 12:02 | Permalink

    Ah! Questioning the consensus in Christian studies is, according to Bauckham, perfectly well and good — but only insofar as it affirms the conservative view.

  • John MacDonald
    2015-10-05 17:37:22 UTC - 17:37 | Permalink

    As Spong points out, even if there were eyewitnesses to the historical Jesus, this doesn’t mean His memory would have been accurately preserved during The 40 Year Oral Period before the first gospel was written.

    In the ancient synagogues people heard scriptures read, taught, discussed, and expounded. The vast majority of first century people could not read, so people didn`t own bibles. The Jews of that time had access to their sacred stories in the synagogue. The memory of the historical Jesus (if there was one) could have been recalled, restated, and passed on in the synagogue.

    So as it says in Acts, they would read from the Torah, then from the former prophets (Joshua through Kings), and finally from the latter prophets (Isaiah through Malachi). At that point the synagogue leader would ask if anyone would like to bring any message or experience that might illumine the readings. So followers of Jesus may then have recalled their memories of him which that Sabbath elicited. This could be where all the allusions to the Old Testament are coming from in the Gospels. This is what Paul does in Acts (13:16b-41). They could have went through this process for about forty years before the gospels were written. And the gospel stories may also be shaped in terms of Jewish liturgy. The crucifixion may be shaped against the passover. The transfiguration echoes Hanukkah. Many things are reminiscent of Rosh Hashanah.

    If there was a historical Jesus, his memory could have been so distorted behind a veil of Old Testament scripture it would be impossible to tell what is fact and what is fiction.

    That’s only if there was an historical Jesus, because there very well may not have been.

    • Pombal
      2015-10-05 20:36:04 UTC - 20:36 | Permalink

      The OT is not an historical account but an literary construct. Simpler explanation is that the history was added later on.

      • John MacDonald
        2015-10-05 23:34:37 UTC - 23:34 | Permalink

        I was thinking about form criticism and the widespread use of allusions to the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures in New Testament writing. For example, Matthew presents Jesus as “The New Moses.” I am setting aside, for the moment, the question of Jesus’ historicity and asserting, for the sake of argument, that Jesus existed. Spong, in “Reclaiming The Bible For A Non Religious World ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DEKDG36?keywords=relaiming%20the%20bible%20for%20a%20non%20religious%20world&qid=1444086101&ref_=sr_1_sc_2&sr=8-2-spell ),” argues that during the 40 year oral period before the first gospel was written that the memory of the historical Jesus became so mixed in the synagogue with ideas and themes from the Old Testament that it becomes, for the most part, impossible to determine where the memory of the historical Jesus ends and where the allusions to the Old Testament begins. Another model to explain the allusions to the Old Testament in The New Testament is the mythicist model where the allusions first occur in the writing itself.

        What I was getting at was how can we recover information about the historical Jesus (assuming there was one) if we have no method of determining where the Old Testament allusions end and where the historical Jesus begins? If historical fiction permeates the New Testament so fully, and historical fiction looks the same as historical fact, then there is a problem because all the elements that are characteristic of historical fact are ALSO characteristics of historical fiction. Because of this, criteria cannot be developed to separate historical fact from historical fiction in biblical hermeneutics because the characteristics of historical fact are included in the characteristics of historical fiction. Historical facts “really happened,” but it is circular to try and develop a method for determining that epistemologically, because the category of characteristics of “historical fact” can be included in the category of characteristics of “historical fiction.” If someone, for instance, thinks they can tease the historical fact out of Matthew’s Jesus infancy narrative where Jesus is presented as “The New Moses,” I would like to see them try. It is also circular to argue the rest of the New Testament is basically a historical biography, because it can just as easily be supposed that it is invented, theologically motivated fictional narrative like the beginning of Matthew. There is no way to determine which it is (fact or fiction).

        But you can’t then reverse the argument and claim the whole New Testament is myth, because, following Spong’s model, there may have been a historical Jesus who legend grew around. The only real form-critical point I see is that we can say virtually nothing about the historical Jesus because there is no way to tell where the historical fiction ends and where the historical fact begins. We would have to know more about the New Testament writers and their sources, which we simply don’t know. And Jesus may have never existed anyway.

        • Pombal
          2015-10-06 12:27:39 UTC - 12:27 | Permalink

          We cant hope to get any info from oral tradition. Its a non starter.
          You can believe all the things said in the NT about Jesus are true and then have to deal with the real question of why nobody outside of the NT recorded such fantastic occurrences or, that some guy name Jesus was a nobody and insignificant; but that’s no way to start a religion/cult. I think the evidence shows it more plausible of a mythic Jesus then historical.

  • John MacDonald
    2015-10-06 02:06:24 UTC - 02:06 | Permalink

    McGrath had an interesting post today regarding the historical Jesus. He wrote:

    “A Message Of Divine Origin

    It is interesting to reflect on something that Paul says in his letter to the Galatians. He emphasized that his message, his gospel, is not of human origin.
    What is his gospel? He doesn’t tell us in so many words, and although we may be able to deduce what it is from his letters, I think this is worth noting, and not considered often enough. His gospel, the message he proclaimed, is something he says emphatically was of divine origin. And that is something he never had written down. His letters, on the other hand, he does not claim to be of divine rather than human origin. And so what we have from Paul are his own writings, and what he insisted was not merely his own creation he did not write down. How might this, if taken seriously, change the way some Christians approach the Bible?”

    My comment on McGrath’s post was:

    I think Paul outlines his GOSPEL in the letter to the Corinthians. He writes “Now I make known to you, brethren, THE GOSPEL which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you AS OF FIRST IMPORTANCE what I also received, that Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES,…and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES,… (1 Cor 15:1-4).”

    The passage above seems to mean either that (I) Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection fulfilled scripture (such as the implicit piercing of hands and feet Psalm 22:16b), or (II) Paul learned of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection by reading scripture. Or both. Whether (I) or (II) or both is correct, the qualification “according to the scripture” makes it problematic to ascribe Paul’s thoughts on the death, burial, and resurrection to the historical Jesus. This follows from the general principle of biblical hermeneutics that we set aside ascribing theologically motivated passages to the historical Jesus because the author may have had reason to invent them.

    I miss the days when Neil and James had their interesting exchanges over on James’ website 🙁

  • Bee
    2015-10-06 06:38:34 UTC - 06:38 | Permalink

    Thanks. Bauckham’s pious Eyewitnesses was a popular moneymaker. To justify it, he’s invoking support for the Christ of Faith over the historicity problem.

    Glad Cambridge is taking care of the old guy, though. The notion an unreliable Peter/Church wrote Mark seems useful.

  • pete
    2015-10-10 07:04:32 UTC - 07:04 | Permalink

    RB: ” Of course, over the years I have changed my mind about many issues in the study of the New Testament. Often this has happened when, after long accepting a mainstream scholarly view, I have thought harder about it and come to a different conclusion.”

    I wonder how he would structure a logical argument supporting those “conclusions”, how strong the argument is, and if it is inductive or deductive.

    OK, premises are expanded into sections of a chapter, so scholarly publications are logically structured, but is the “conclusion” such that a person
    is obligated to endorse it as a deductive, sound necessity derived from true premises?

    Some Bible scholars are running a con, hoping that lay readers think “conclusions” are obligatory instead of preferential options; thereby enhancing gravitas.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-10-10 07:33:21 UTC - 07:33 | Permalink

      Some Bible scholars are running a con, hoping that lay readers think “conclusions” are obligatory instead of preferential options; thereby enhancing gravitas.

      This is one of the most dismaying features of the works of so many (not all) biblical scholars. It really does set biblical scholarship apart from other disciplines I am acquainted with.

      • John MacDonald
        2015-10-11 00:22:09 UTC - 00:22 | Permalink

        It’s really quite remarkable: We at most (and this is questionable) only have two puzzle pieces (two universally agreed upon facts – the crucifixion by Pilate and the baptism by John) of a thousand piece puzzle, and we have an entire academic discipline trying to “guess” what the picture is on the front of the box. The quest for the historical Jesus is dead.

        Form-critical hermeneutic exercises that engage in typological reductionism (mythicists aren’t the only ones that do this) are “MERELY SPECULATIVE,” and are in no means historically meaningful. They are just flights of hermeneutic-literary fantasy. So, for instance, when John Dominic Crossan (The Cross That Spoke: Origins Of The Passion Narrative p. 198, 1988) points out that the darkness at noon in the crucufixion pericope comes from Amos 8:9, while the vinegar and gall come from Psalm 69:21, this is just “mere supposition” on Crossan’s part, because, for instance, the vinegar and gall could be a historical fact of the crucifixion event, and it is just COINCIDENCE that it is also in Psalm 69:21. Or someone at the crucifixion could have brought the vinegar and gall because they wanted to fulfil Pslam 69:21. And maybe there was a miracle so there actually was darkness at noon on that day. Or maybe the gospel writer simply included the “darkness episode” for a metaphorical reason that has nothing to do with fulfilling Old Testament Scripture.

        But conversely, as I said, if the only two events biblical scholars can universally agree upon as “facts” are the crucifixion by Pilate and the Baptism of Jesus by John (below I explain why the 2 are also dubious), the fact that we get book-length reconstructions of the historical Jesus means that we have much rampant meaningless speculation going on. Constructions of the historical Jesus should proceed by drawing “big picture” conclusions from a wealth of facts, but since there are hardly any facts to begin the procedure , we are left with the analogy of the scholar trying to create the “big picture” with a thousand piece Jigsaw puzzle, where 925 pieces of the puzzle are missing. Since we don’t have the picture on the front of the puzzle box to go by, scholars reconstruct a massively inadequate portrait of the historical Jesus using the few available “puzzle piece facts,” and then speculatively guess what the big picture of the historical Jesus on the front of the puzzle box is supposed to look like. The result is an embarrassment of riches of different big pictures of the historical Jesus, each mutually exclusive and yet fitting what little evidence we have, so that historical Jesus reconstruction becomes meaningless speculative pseudo-science.

        The only 2 universally accepted “facts” are that (1) Jesus was crucified by Pilate and (2) Jesus’ relationship to John the Baptist. (1) Paul doesn’t mention Pilate, so that might be a Markan invention. (2) The relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist seems to serve a theological function, and so can’t be traced back to the historical Jesus: Mark immediately interprets John the Baptist as a forerunner of the Messiah (a la Elijah in II Kings 1:8). Mark then clothes John similar to Elijah (Mark 1:6. II Kings 1:8.). He then says John ate locusts and wild honey,the food of the wilderness in which Elijah lived (and so on and so on). And it would make sense Mark would model John the Baptist on Elijah because Mark says “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ ; as it is written in the prophets.” And, as Price argues:

        “Jesus’ Baptism ( Mark 1:9-11)

        The scene has received vivid midrashic coloring. The heavenly voice (bath qol) speaks a conflation of three scriptural passages. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) combines bits and pieces of Psalm 2:7, the divine coronation decree, “You are my son.
        Today I have begotten you;” Isaiah 42:1, the blessing on the returning Exiles, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;” and Genesis 22:12 (LXX), where the heavenly voices bids Abraham to sacrifice his “beloved son.” And as William R. Stegner points out, Mark may have in mind a Targumic tradition whereby Isaac, bound on the altar, looks up into heaven and sees the heavens opened with angels and the Shekinah of God, a voice proclaiming, “Behold, two chosen ones, etc.” There is even the note that the willingness of Isaac to be slain may serve to atone for Israel’s sins. Here is abundant symbolism making Jesus king, servant, and atoning sacrifice. In view of parallels elsewhere between John and Jesus on the one hand and Elijah and Elisha on the other, some (Miller) also see in the Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.”

        Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is generally considered to be historical fact because it meets the criterion of embarrassment. However, historical minimalists point out that just because Jesus’ baptism was embarrassing for later gospel writers, we have no reason to think it was embarrassing to Mark. In fact, Miller has argued the Markan baptism pericope may be making a theological point, relating Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and the endowment with the spirit to a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.

        • John MacDonald
          2015-10-12 03:28:36 UTC - 03:28 | Permalink

          There are so many “portraits” of Jesus, such as Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, charismatic healer, Cynic philosopher, Jewish Messiah and prophet of social change. Each of these portraits explain the agreed upon evidence, and try to explain away the evidence that is apparently recalcitrant to their particular portrait. The “mythic” portrait of Jesus is just another one of these. The problem is that the agreed upon evidence is so scant that we are basically guessing when we try to extrapolate “the big picture” from the agreed upon evidence.

          • David Ashton
            2015-10-12 12:25:55 UTC - 12:25 | Permalink

            There are indeed many “portraits” of Jesus but they usually require different selection from the evidence, accepting this and rejecting that, and giving the result an often predetermined spin. As we know, there are problems even with the traditional religious consensus in blending the Synoptics with “John” and Paul, but in this case the supernaturally miraculous is not ruled out a priori. The early materials suggest the existence of an exorcist-cum-apocalyptic preacher, and the question is what real events might explain some of the healing acts. It still seems legitimate to me to look into such explanations of the HJ phenomenon rather than to discard the entire picture as literary fiction ex nihilo so to speak.

            • John MacDonald
              2015-10-12 17:16:54 UTC - 17:16 | Permalink

              Some scholars credit the apocalyptic declarations of the Gospels to Jesus, while others portray his Kingdom of God as a moral one, and not apocalyptic in nature.

              • David Ashton
                2015-10-16 19:43:18 UTC - 19:43 | Permalink

                I am not a great fan of Prof. A. C. Grayling (nor of his expression and hairdo in his photos) but in his “God Argument” he makes the reasonable point that the impractical morality of turning the other cheek and abandoning the family, and so forth, was the morality of people who expected this world to end in the near future.

                It was not in my view a blueprint for a global Quakertopia or a Kingdom of Lenin.

  • John MacDonald
    2015-10-16 20:37:02 UTC - 20:37 | Permalink

    “Turning the other cheek” would have been an understandable ethical precept for a powerless people who lived under the Roman thumb: Nietzsche’s revaluation of values and all that. Isolating people from their family was typical cult mentality.

    • David Ashton
      2015-10-16 22:28:59 UTC - 22:28 | Permalink

      Agree about cult aspects – the cult in question, if we look at some of the content left in “Matthew”, seems to expect an early consummation of the Reign in the Heavens with its leader as a key figure. There are some modern “parallels”.

      • John MacDonald
        2015-10-17 01:56:26 UTC - 01:56 | Permalink

        I suspect that some of the Jews of Jesus’ time probably became convinced that a traditional military messiah who would emerge to overthrow the Romans was never going to come, so they began to search their scriptures for a different way to see how the messiah might come. And this is what Paul did. In 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul said Christ died for our sins “according to scripture.” What scripture would Paul have had in mind if not Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22? Paul clearly thought Christ’s atoning death was part of what it meant for Christ to be the messiah.

        • Giuseppe
          2015-10-17 16:56:45 UTC - 16:56 | Permalink

          I read this in a review of a book that I am eager to read:

          In fact, under Imperial Rome, the eyewitness was a crucial part of the convention of deifying emperors—so even the claims of the Christians to have “eyewitnesses” (that are not on display in either Paul or the earliest Gospel—Mark) were not unique, but rather only conforming to the general pattern of such literary tropes.
          I wonder if Paul wrote 1 Cor 15:3-11 to conform to the general pattern of such literary tropes, meaning that Paul invented ex novo the 12, the ’50’0 brothers, and Peter and James’visions of Jesus to show himself as their unique legitimate heir among the Gentiles (so he could wery well be the first ‘evangelist’ inventing fictional “eyewitnesses”). But according to the proponents of the interpolation in this case, the style seems not of Paul.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-10-17 21:16:22 UTC - 21:16 | Permalink

            Most interesting and thank you so much for the reference. Given the cost I will need some time to find a way to access the book but in the meantime I have downloaded the related JBL article.

            The evidence for the eyewitness trope is found in Cicero, Resp. 2.10; Livy 1.16.1-8; Ovid, Fasti 2.475-511; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ant. rom. 2.63.3-4; Plutarch, Rom. 27-28; — and then again, of course, in Luke 24:35; 1Cor 15:3-11

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