Dr McGrath has proposed a wonderful idea that will be sure to clear the air of much misunderstanding and misinformation about what proponents of the Christ myth “claim”. He has suggested setting up a TalkHistoricity site where all the mythicist claims can be set out and people who know better can respond to them, — so it’s all there in the open, in one central place, a wonderful resource for all interested in the debate, no doubt from both sides.
So to help Dr McGrath get this started, I’d thought I’d take the initiative and invite any mythicist to send Dr McGrath a “claim”. I am sure he will find this most useful. I know he does not want to prejudice the site by having himself or other opponents of mythicism put words into the mouths of the likes of Doherty, Price, Wells, Carrier, etc. I know he wants this to be an authoritative resource. So if all the mythicists send him claims then all he has to do is find people to respond to each one. Continue reading “A Wonderful Idea from Dr McGrath for Mythicists”
Since more than one person has asked me, I thought it might be best to pause in the middle of my series on Reading Wrede Again for the First Time and state the case clearly and correctly. Given the lack of scholarly comprehension surrounding the motif and Wrede’s analysis of it, I probably should have started with this post. But there’s no sense in crying over water under the bridge.
Upon reflection, “lack of scholarly comprehension” is almost too charitable a description of the state of play. What we have instead is a prime example of “disunderstanding,” which, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts and comments, is the active, deliberate misunderstanding of a point, usually in favor of a straw man argument. It is analogous to the difference between misinformation and disinformation, except rather than a dishonest transmitter we have a dishonest, incompetent, or lazy receiver.
The motif in itself is not Wrede’s theory; it is observable evidence. Wrede’s theory is about seeking the best explanation for the presence of the motif.
The Messianic Secret is a motif in Mark’s gospel wherein Jesus exhibits behavior that appears to be aimed at self-concealment. In other words, he seems to be trying to keep the fact that he is the Messiah from the general public. He commands demons to shut up. He tells people not to spread the word about his healing of the sick. He teaches the crowd in riddles, so that they can’t understand him. Moreover, his own disciples fail to comprehend his teaching or his intentions.
By motif we mean a “theme.” It could be a narrative device, a theological contrivance, or a historical theme (i.e., an authentic habit of the historical Jesus preserved in Mark’s tradition). On the surface, we know that it is a literary motif, but only through diligent exegesis can we decide where it came from and what it means. The motif in itself is not Wrede’s theory; it is observable evidence. Wrede’s theory is about seeking the best explanation for the presence of the motif.
By Messianic, Wrede meant “of or pertaining to the Messiah.” But whose definition of Messiah should we use? Wrede was very clear. We must start with Mark, because that’s what we have at hand. If we ignore Mark, we ignore the early Christians for whom he wrote and we replace them with our own historical conjecture and presuppositions (or what NT scholars call “reconstruction”).
Wrede correctly points to Jesus’ confession to the High Priest as evidence to Mark’s understanding of Jesus’ identity. Quoting from the ESV:
14:61b — Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”
14:7 — And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
14:8 — And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need?
14:9 — You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.
For Mark the titles Christ (Messiah), Son of the Blessed (a circumlocution for God), and Son of Man are all bound up in the identity of Jesus. It is a mistake to apply to Mark a modern notion about discrete aspects of Jesus. So when Wrede’s detractors say the Jesus was hiding his “Sonship” at one point and his “Great Healer” aspect at another, hoping to divide and conquer, they are once again ignoring Mark. They are so intent on proving the historical nature of the Messianic Secret that they take no consideration of Mark’s view of Messiahship.
We continually see scholars wrestle with the problem of the blasphemy verdict, because in Judaism claiming to be the Son of God and Messiah would not mean Jesus claimed to be God or to be equal with God. But that’s not our concern at the moment. What we know from his gospel is that Mark thought calling oneself the Messiah would bring a charge of blasphemy.
(Note: I’ll have more to say about “what kind of Messiah” in a future post.)
By secret, Wrede did not simply mean concealed facts. In German, Geheimnis also connotes “mystery.” We may rightly think of “the Messianic Secret” (das Messiasgeheimnis) broadly as the theme of the (mysterious) concealment of Christ’s true identity in Mark and, to a lesser extent, the other Synoptic Gospels.
We’re just getting started
If you understood only this much and decided to run off and write a refutation of Wrede, it would be as foolish as trying to debunk Sir Isaac Newton when all you know about his theory of gravity is: “It causes objects to fall.”