Not every scholar thinks it is silly to read Paul’s letters without bringing to them assumptions from later documents like the Gospels. Some think it is a sounder method to interpret the later literature in the light of what we can understand from what went before it — and not the reverse.
Associate Professor William Arnal is one scholar who does know how to avoid bringing Gospel presuppositions into his reading of Paul’s letters. What he does in “Major Episodes in the Biography of Jesus: An Assessment of the Historicity of the Narrative Tradition” (Toronto Journal of Theology, 13/2, 1997, pp. 201-226) is use earlier sources to try to shed light on how the Gospel narrative came about.
Paul’s famous passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 about the Last Supper saying of Jesus is often pulled out as evidence that Paul knew about the scene we read in the Gospels of Jesus having a final meal with his disciples just prior to being betrayed by Judas. But that is reading the evidence backwards, Arnal rightly argues. First we need to understand what Paul does say, and then compare with the later narrative in the Gospels, and ask what evidence we have to explain the relationship between the two. Continue reading “A scholar reads Paul without Gospel presuppositions”
One of the most fundamental plot details of the narrative of the gospels is that Jesus held a final ritual meal with his disciples in the night hours before he was betrayed, tried and crucified. That final meal was the beginning of the eucharist rite that is celebrated in most churches in some form ever since.
But not all early Christian communities seemed to have believed this origin-story about this ritual. It seems to me that there is some reason to think that some Christians actually thought Jesus instituted this last supper after his resurrection. It was not a memorial of his death, or of his body, but a thanksgiving meal and recollection that he had come (if only for a short time) in the flesh.
Mark narrates in 6:14-29 the incident about Herod and John the Baptist in a way that makes the reader see it as endowed with a symbolic meaning. What we get is a perverted counter-eucharist: a deipnon among the Jewish political leaders which is dominated by the passions of the body (sexual desires) and in which the head of John the Baptist is served on a plate. (Fortunately, I am not the only one to read the story like this; cf. . . . . van Iersel B.M.F 1998: Mark. A Reader-Response Commentary, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 164, Sheffield).
This is from Henrik Tronier, Philonic Allegory in Mark [link downloads a 264 KB PDF file. Source:
http://www.pitts.emory.edu/hmpec/docs/TronierPhilonicAllegoryMark.pdf]. I feel incomplete not having read van Iersel, and feeling financially boa constricted when I see that the price of even a second hand copy is well in excess of $100!
Until I read this in Tronier’s article, almost the only literary criticism of this John the Baptist beheading passage that I had ever encountered was commentary on its rambling and irrelevant character, standing out as a curious out-of-place anomaly in the otherwise consistently terse pre-Passion narratives in Mark’s Gospel. The only exception to this pattern that I can recall at the moment is Dennis MacDonald’s linking it with popular stories of the murder of King Agamemnon (on his return from the Trojan War) by his wife Clytemnestra.