RE: [Allison-Seminar] Gehenna & rhetorical strategies
- Dear Loren:
Thanks for the questions and observations. It's hard to sit here and play the wise man with the answers because I don't feel that I have all the answers--certainly to the questions you've posed here. Your first observation is that maybe I've underestimated the harshness of some of the sayings about judgment. Now I've gone back and looked at my precise wording. I wrote that "perhaps" we can understand most of the units I cited as functioning as repentance. When I wrote perhaps, I really meant it. I suppose here I'm partly the victim of my own hope, because I'd like to have Jesus writing off as few people as possible. But I did hedge my bet. What I was doing was saying that I could imagine most of the sayings functioning one way, but there were a couple I couldn't imagine functioning that way. I think you're suggesting Loren that you find more than a couple. Maybe you're right, although I don't see that my main points would be altered. Re the rich man and Lazarus, it is harsh, but it does seem to me to be different than Q 10:13-15 and Q 13:28-29 in that it doesn't address a "you." It's a story not addressed directly to a particular rich person as far as we know. So its character is different on that score. Maybe I should in fact consider it as not for outsiders but insiders, with a view toward bringing comfort to poor followers of Jesus. This audience thing really is complicated, isn't it? Unfortuantely, I agree that a Jesus who condemns the rich is believable. Let's hope there weren't many of them.
Your other observations are about the chapter on Jesus and his audiences. You argue first that it might make sense for the man who taught people to love enemies to encourage those enemies and even tell them God will take care of them. I agree, and I wish Jesus had done just that. But I see no evidence that he did. You are right, however, to call me on how I expressed myself. I need to speak from Jesus' point of view rather than making a seeming generalization about human behavior. Thanks for the correction.
Your second point is that you doubt whether Q 11:39-52 could ever have been used to motivate change. You may be right. All this is very subjective, and I will have to go back and rethink how I want to classify this material. But I was presupposing that the material in Q 11:39-52 is a post-Easter collection, and that our pre-Easter interpretation will have to sort what might go back to Jesus and then interpret it in isolation. Wouldn't you agree that it would be easier to see a different function for the material if it's removed from its present context? I agree completely that in Q there is no chance of repentance; the woes are for insiders who are united by the condemnation of outsiders. But that need not be the pre-Easter situation. But again, I've probably been too optimistic here. Like everybody else, I'd like to domesticate Jesus.
One other thought occurs, although its just a throw away. I wonder what the distance is here between us and the ancients. If you read Luther or Calvin, they are vicious. We are much more sensitive than people before us. We don't want to hurt others' feelings. Lots of people avoid conflict because they are nice. Q 11 is foreign to so many of us. But Jesus lived in a very different world. Perhaps people heard and responded to insults differently than we do? They paralyze us. Maybe we shouldn't generalize from our experience? Who knows? Again, just a thought.
Thank you for another satisfying reply -- and for the
"throw-away" thought at the end too. Luther, indeed,
was as about vicious as they came, and it's sad that a
lot of his nastiness can be traced to the surface of
Jesus' own rhetoric. Sad but true.
I'd like to follow up on my first post, to which you
had responded by critiquing William Herzog's argument
against future eschatology with four reasonable
objections. You wrote:
"I don't think that my view of Jesus requires much in
the way of theoretical or sophisticated perceptions of
time, only an awareness that the future can be
different from the past, and a hope that God's future
will be better than the present. I see no reason at
all to think that Mediterranean peasants did not have
such awareness or could not have had such hope. The
canonical prophets are full of such stuff, aren't
Indeed, the prophets (whether classical, clerical,
oracular, or popular) stand as the most intuitively
obvious objection against Herzog's summary-statement,
which I should have clarified a bit more. He bases his
argument on Bruce Malina's more lengthy presentation
set forth in an essay called "Christ and Time: Swiss
or Mediterranean?", reprinted in The Social World of
Jesus and the Gospels. The upshot of Malina's analysis
lies in distinguishing between "forthcoming" (which is
really present-focused, and the focus of peasants) and
"future" (which is indeed the domain of the prophets)
Here's a snap-shot of Malina's presentation:
"Peasant societies invariably have the present as
first-order temporal preference; secondary preference
is past; and the future comes in as third choice...For
members of Jesus-movement groups, God's Kingdom was
forthcoming, Jesus' emergence as messiah with power
was forthcoming, the transformation of social
realities in favor of God's people was forthcoming.
Yet for the audiences of Mark, Matthew, and Luke,
things changed. The coming of Jesus was moved into
imaginary time...In the New testament writings, we can
see how the forthcoming became future, how the
experienced became imaginary...Jesus was once
perceived by present-oriented people as the
forthcoming messiah with power. This perception was
rooted in actual, experienced time situated in an
operational realm abuting the horizon of the present.
Given the press of events, however, this perception
had subsequently proceeded beyond that horizon into
the realm of the possible, of the future rooted in
imaginary time...accessible only to [Christian]
prophets." (pp 182,193,208)
Malina concludes that for peasants no tension exists
between the "now" and "not yet" -- since both are
subsumed under a rather broad "now", any future
dimension understood as immediately "forthcoming"
which impinges directly on (or is actualized in) the
present. The (non forthcoming) future, on the other
hand, as the realm of the possible, belongs
exclusively to God who speaks through his prophets.
(See pp 210-211.) What puzzles me is that Herzog, who
cites Malina with enthusiasm, presents Jesus as a
prophet (!), which would logically imply that Jesus
was apocalyptic but his followers were not. (That
stands a significant amount of scholarship on its
head.) So Herzog either undercuts his own thesis with
Malina, or undercuts Malina with his own thesis (I'm
not sure which.)
Anyway, my point here is to clarify a particular
argument against Jesus as a future eschatologist,
which (1) distinguishes between "forthcoming" and
"future" and (2) advances that prophets (or elites, or
scribes) were the ones who were really concerned with
the latter. But I have serious doubts about all this
-- and I'm very suspicious of Malina's distinction
between "forthcoming" and "future". It smacks of a
semantic game whereby the unattractive "future" is
conveniently banished away from Jesus.
You also wrote:
"If one protests that the books I've just cited were
written by scribes, and that Jesus wasn't a scribe,
then I'd respond by quoting from John Meier, A
Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1,
p. 276: 'If we take into account that Jesus' adult
life became fiercely focused on the Jewish religion,
that he is presented by almost all the Gospel
traditions as engaging in learned disputes over
Scripture and halaka with students of the Law, that he
was accorded the respectful--but at that time
vague--title of rabbi or teacher, that more than one
Gospel tradition presents him preaching or teaching in
the synagogues . . . and that, even apart from formal
disputes, his teaching was strongly imbued with the
outlook and language of the sacred texts of Israel, it
is reasonable to suppose that Jesus' religious
formation in his family was intense and profound, and
included instruction in reading biblical Hebrew.' I
came to a similar conclusion after doing the research
for my book, The Intertextual Jesus, in which I found
so many sayings that interact with Jewish exegetical
tradition. I can't attribute all of that interaction
to Q scribes."
Neither can I, nor would I think Malina/Herzog. But
the question isn't so much if Jesus was well-versed in
this stuff (which I think he was, like you and Meier),
rather the sort of temporal framework into which he
"I think that there is some need for caution in making
generalizations about Mediterranean culture and then
reading Jesus in those terms. We can appeal to such
generalizations if they help explain items that
otherwise need explaining; but I doubt that we should
be reading the texts on assumptions drawn from
elsewhere unless the texts clearly invite it."
I agree, and for the most part I believe Context Group
members succeed in using social-scientific models
properly to illuminate what is implied by the textual
data. But on the subject of future (or apocalyptic)
eschatology, I admit that they appear to be inverting
the data to fit the model.
Thanks again, Dale. Any additional thoughts are
Loren Rosson III
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- Dear Loren
Thought I'd escaped the Mediterranean peasant trap, but my hope was premature. So here's another round. This will be much shorter, because I stand by what I said earlier.
1. I first read Malina's CBQ article on Christ and Time when it came out. I scratched my head; I didn't understand it. I then reread it years later when writing Millenarian Prophet. I thought I should refer to it. But again I didn't think I really understood it. So I didn't refer to it. I reread it again this morning. Once more, I'm nonplussed. I hesitate to be critical of something I haven't been able to take in. Futher, Malina has had a great deal of influence; I'm enthusiastic about his larger project of getting outside of our modern ways of thinking if we want to figure out the past; and I have this fear that someday a lightbulb is going to go off and I'll see the light. The mystery of the kingdom of peasants will be given to me so that seeing I will see, etc. But it hasn't happened yet, so I'm left quietly to wonder about distinctions that don't, because of some defect in me or in Malina's article--take your pick--work for me. Candidly, if this forum hadn't forced me into this, I wouldn't say anything; it makes me very, very nervous to talk about something I don't get. What follows, then, is not criticism; I'm being purely interrogatory.
2. One thing that strikes me about Malina's article is that it is full of generalities but no real, detailed exegesis. At one point he asks about the meaning of Mark 13:30 and 9:1. But he nowhere tells me in detail how we should read these if they go back to Jesus. Perhaps he thinks that they don't or couldn't. This is unclear to me. In any case, I want to see concrete application of his generalities to concrete texts. Maybe someone in this seminar can direct me to such. Until I see such, I can't be a convert.
3. At one point he Malina writes that Jesus movement groups understood things differently than the audiences of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The former knew of the kingdom as forthcoming, the latter as future. I think this implies that the audiences of Matthew, Mark, and Luke weren't peasants, otherwise they would only have be able to give things forthcoming sense. This makes me uneasy. This division between Jesus and the evangelists seems analogous to apologetical moves that have had the goal of saving Jesus at the expense of the church. E.g. Jesus didn't announce a near end; it was just his followers and the evangelists who thought this; we now know better. But I'm cynical here. If our sources got things wrong, I don't know how we can do any better. I think we're stuck with the sources, for better or worse. When they don't give us memory, I doubt that we can make up the lack. In the present case, if the sources have a future sense of things, I'm leery about saying that Jesus had some other sense.
4. Towards the end in a fn. Malina endorses Borg's article on a non-eschatological Jesus. Marcus' article of course gives us a non-eschatological Jesus by removing certain things from the tradition (e.g. the future Son of man sayings). This raises interesting questions for me. Would Malina say that Jesus the Mediterranean peasant simply couldn't have uttered the future Son of man sayings? Or would he say that they just don't mean what so many of us have thought they must mean? In any case, by citing Borg, Malina may imply that his Jesus arises not just from interpretation but from historical-critical sifting of the materials. If so, does his model of time serve as a tool in that sifting? That would make me very uncomfortable. Or is it just that Borg's historical-critical results happen to coincide with Malina's view of a peasant? (Btw, maybe for some it seems old-fashioned, but I still can't bring myself to believe that all of the future Son of man sayings come from the church; Chris Tuckett has a good article on this in The Sayings Source Q and the Historical Jesus, edited by A. Lindemann. So I've got a Jesus with future Son of man sayings. Does this mean my Jesus can't be a peasant? Or do the Son of man sayings not work with future time?)
5. The prophet question is an interesting one. Do we think that Jewish peasants in Galilee heard the prophets read? I think that Jesus did. If he was a Mediterranean peasant, how did he hear the prophets? Malina draws a distinction between peasant and prophet in their understandings of time. So how did a peasant hear the prophets? And could a prophetic text not have made a peasant move beyond the forthcoming?
6. With you Loren, I'm still cloudy about this forthcoming/future distinction. It remains very abstract. I think moderns are more present oriented than Malina says, which encourages me to think that maybe old peasants could have been more future oriented than he thinks. I hesitate to say "semantic game" because it's possible I'm missing something here; Malina would certainly think I am. So again I want some exegesis of specific texts that go back to Jesus so I can see what Malina is saying to us.
7. Finally, Malina wonders why the NT doesn't look forward to future generations. For me, this is because none of its writers expected there to be future generations. They hoped for a near end, which they thought would make things very different (Jesus seems to think there won't be any marriage). This is what we see again and again in world-wide millenarian movements, isn't it? I prefer the millenarian model, which shows me oppressed peoples often focused on the future, which will undo and reverse the present, which is miserable, to the Mediterranean peasant model. Maybe, since I don't understand things, the two models can work together. Yet I note that on p. 9 Malina seems to question whether any early Christians were "millenarists, as defined today." Maybe he thinks the models are antagonistic.
Hope that's enough for now. Had insomnia last night; time to get some rest.