In anticipation of the imminent publication of Bart D. Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?” (March 20, 2012) I’ve added to my website a book review (well, it’s really a chapter review) of his “Misquoting Jesus” (2005). It’s at http://www.renesalm.com/mp/ehrman_mj.html
Ehrman’s style is pretty uniform across his two dozen or so books which seek to reach the educated layperson. In quest of this goal (which sells books) Ehrman dumbs down the argument so much that I argue he loses his compass–categories overlap and a dangerous imprecision takes over which permits that the most immodest claims of the tradition hold the floor. Ehrman happens to be a scholar who is good at detail and terrible at generalities. He needs to be called out. Mythicists need to show that the context of Ehrman’s thought is totally bogus.
At bottom Ehrman’s a defender of the tradition. He’ll lean on assumption, speculation, and illogic–the very antitheses of good historical method–when the chips are down and when it comes to placing his (sometimes carefully researched) specifics in context.
As far as I’m concerned Ehrman has sold out. He’s now primarily a seller of books. I’d be happy to be proven wrong, because he has/had all the equipment to be a fine historian. But the origins of Christianity are complex. One can simplify only so much before the argument becomes very wrong. And Ehrman is very wrong.
William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret
Part 4: Mark — “Some Preliminaries on the General Picture of the Messianic History of Jesus.”
This unit covers Part 1, Section 1 of Wrede’s The Messianic Secret.
Layers upon layers
One of the things that struck me while reading this section is Wrede’s clarity of thinking, especially when it comes to making judgments about what the text of Mark means. In each case we have to try to come to terms with several distinct layers. I would include among them:
- The text as we interpret it today.
- The text as the early church fathers understood it.
- The text itself. (Often ambiguous.)
- The author’s intended meaning. (And what the first audience would have inferred.)
- The tradition as it came down to the author. (Whether it came from the first Christian communities or from Jesus himself.)
- What Jesus actually did, said, and thought.
The Son of Man sayings
I’m jumping ahead a bit, but I think this is a crucial matter, and one that is sometimes ignored in current scholarship. Wrede cites Mark’s use of the term “Son of Man” as a probable indicator of messiahship. Many modern scholars would likely dismiss that characterization out of hand, because we know so much more now about bar nasha, thanks in part to works like Maurice Casey’s The Solution to the Son of Man Problem. Presuming Jesus did exist, he likely spoke in Aramaic. Hence, his pronouncements such as “The son of man is lord also of the Sabbath” probably meant “Man is master of the Sabbath” (i.e., the Sabbath was made for human beings and not vice versa).
But Wrede knew that. It was already well known in his day that bar nasha is an Aramaic idiomatic expression for “the man” (or “a man” or “a guy”). He writes:
This would naturally make the passages no longer usable as proofs for an earlier use of the messianic title by Jesus. But this judgement is premature. Our primary concern is with Mark, not with Jesus. The original sense of the passage is completely immaterial here. The one thing that remains established is that Mark is here speaking of the “Son of man” in the same sense as he is everywhere. [p. 19, emphasis mine]