Jesus Christ Created as an Epitome of Old Testament Figures (2) — Charbonnel and Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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by Neil Godfrey

One more instance of Jesus being a re-construction of the great heroes of the Old Testament that Nanine Charbonnel offers us an antitype of Joshua. There’s a catch this time, though. I think the attempt unnecessarily goes too far. At least there is no explanation to justify the claim that the narrative structure of the gospels follows that found in the Book of Joshua. Yes, Jesus begins his ministry like Joshua coming through the Jordan; yes, Jesus does offer a rest as Joshua brought Israel to the promised land; yes, a Lazarus does die in John’s gospel as Eleazar dies in the Book of Joshua. . . but these details do not make a narrative structure. To compare the delivering of the beatitudes (blessings and curses) in the Sermon on the Mount one must strain to match that up with Joshua’s pronouncements of blessings and curses on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim. And to call upon the possibility of a Hebrew text behind Mark’s account of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law to note a series of puns related to Joshua’s sun standing still won’t persuade many readers. I can understand why this possibility was mentioned, however, since a primary theme of her thesis is that the gospels were created as Jewish midrash.

If we are looking for a structure that is common to at least the three synoptic gospels we do much better to look at Thomas Brodie’s and Adam Winn’s discussions of the Elijah-Elisha cycle.

More to the point for a comparison with the good shepherd Jesus is NC’s notice of Joshua’s appointment as a shepherd of his people. Thus Numbers 27:15-18

15 Then Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: 16 “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, 17 who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.”

18 And the Lord said to Moses: “Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit . . . 

In keeping with the midrashic composition theme NC draws attention to Joshua being one to “go out” (ἐξελεύσεται in the LXX) before his people and to Matthew’s taking up the same verb (ἐξελθὼν) in 13:1

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake

But here the force of NC’s argument is lost when she says that Matthew is symbolically speaking of the end of time when the message goes to the gentiles. The only way I can see that her argument here can be salvaged is is the sea is the signifier of far-off peoples, of gentiles, as it certainly appears to be in the Gospel of Mark (Kelber’s Mark’s Story of Jesu.- link is to online copy of the book.) NC further extends the “going out” or “exodus” motif to the Gospel of John where Jesus can be said to leave his heavenly body and home to go to his physical people in a physical body.

Another possible bond between Joshua and Jesus is that Jesus professes to keep the least “jot” (yod) of the law while Joshua was faithful in transmitting the law of Moses. (There is more to discuss about the name of the saviour that is promised in a future chapter.)

Other Old Testament types can be found where Jesus is seen to transform them into “fulfilments” of higher ideals as the written words of Yahweh were believed to create fulfilments. But the most explicit figure that Jesus is made to embrace is that of the Messiah.

We’ll try to cover how Jesus embodies the Messianic figure in the next post in this series.

Charbonnel, Nanine. Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier. Paris: Berg International éditeurs, 2017.


Why would anyone embrace a nobody as a mythical leader?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Speaking of certain debates that surround the Jesus figure I found the following passage by a historian of Luddism quite interesting:

From madamegilflurt.com

One reason for [the impact that Luddism made at the time] was the ubiquity of the name. Previous labor struggles had failed to give rise to a name or an emblem that stuck. Those involved had rarely given themselves a title and were generically labeled by the authorities simply as ‘‘depradators,’’ ‘‘the disaffected,’’ or, more frequently, ‘‘the mob.’’ Yet the machine breakers of 1811–12 were referred to almost from the start as ‘‘Luddites,’’ the name they gave themselves. This self-depiction as the followers of ‘‘Ned Ludd,’’ who was soon promoted to ‘‘General,’’ merits some consideration. After all, the perhaps apocryphal Ned was, at first sight, hardly a heroic figure. An apprentice stocking-frame knitter, he had, the story ran, been criticized for making his hose too loose. He was therefore instructed to ‘‘square his needles,’’ namely to adjust the mechanism of his frame. Ned allegedly took this instruction literally and, with a hammer, flattened the entire workings. Frame breaking certainly characterized the East Midland disturbances in 1811, but the targets were only the ‘‘wide’’ frames that produced ‘‘deceitfully wrought’’ hose, not frames in general. Naming oneself after such a figure at the least indicates a sense of irony and self-deprecation that is remarkable, perhaps reflecting the way in which Burke’s scornful ascription of the common people as ‘‘the swinish multitude’’ was turned into a badge of honor by plebeian radicals in the 1790s. Certainly, in no time Ned acquired a fame that set him above a far more famous local hero:

Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood,
His feats I but little admire
I will sing the Atchievements of General Ludd
Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire.*

Robin had famously robbed the rich to give to the poor and defended the weak against arbitrary baronial power. But Ned Ludd epitomized the right of the poor to earn their own livelihood and to defend the customs of their trade against dishonorable capitalist depredators. While Robin, a displaced gentleman, signified paternal protection, Ned Ludd evidenced the sturdy self-reliance of a community prepared to resist for itself the notion that market forces rather than moral values should shape the fate of labor. Ned Ludd was not only a symbol of plebeian resistance; he was an ideological figure as well, one who reflected the deep sense of history that underpinned the customary values of working communities in the manufacturing districts.

* ‘‘General Ludd’s Triumph,’’ sung to the tune ‘‘Poor Jack’’: HO 42/119. This song summarized the aim of the East Midland Luddites, and indeed the aspiration of many other trades, namely that ‘‘full-fashioned work at the old fashioned price’’ should be ‘‘established by Custom and Law.’’ The capitalization of Custom and Law was original and deliberate, signifying the importance of both to artisans everywhere.

(Binfield, xiii-xiv)

Binfield, Kevin. Writings of the Luddites. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. — h/t Droge, Arthur J. “Jesus and Ned Ludd: What’s in a Name?” Caesar: A Journal for the Critical Study of Religion and Human Values 3 (2009): 5.