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Jesus and His Audiences

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  • Bob Schacht
    Dear Professor Allison, First, let me thank you for consenting to give us so much of your time for this seminar. Besides the reading for this seminar, I am
    Message 1 of 6 , Mar 23, 2003
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      Dear Professor Allison,
      First, let me thank you for consenting to give us so much of your time for this seminar. Besides the reading for this seminar, I am reading your book, Jesus of Nazareth, with great interest.

      My first question is in response to your chapter, Jesus and His Audiences. In it, you began by exploring the possible differences between "advice" and "requirements," and seek to differentiate between Jesus' disciples and sympathizers. This is quite commendable, of course. (I was especially intrigued by the argument that the triple tradition to "take up one's cross" (p.17) was not intended for everyone, but I noticed that the similar passage from Q says to take up *the* cross.)

      In essence, this chapter attempts to explain inconsistencies in sayings attributed to Jesus with reference to different audiences. There is a hidden assumption in this presentation that Jesus always spoke to the same audience in the same way. But it seems to me that there's another possibility that I'd like you to respond to: that some of those inconsistencies are due to an *evolution* in Jesus' message over time. For example, one inconsistency you noted was between the "nice Jesus" (my phrase) and a judgmental Jesus (cf. p. 30). It is true that there may be differences in audience, but it is also possible that at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he encountered less resistance than he did towards the end. In fact, if Jesus' ministry did extend to 3 years and not just 1, it would be rather remarkable if Jesus' message did NOT change at all in response to the "feedback" he was getting from his audience(s). Even if Jesus himself did not change his views at all, he might still have changed his presentation in response to whatever patterns of resistance he experienced.

      Such a hypothesis would open up a whole new avenue of research that I have not seen in the literature to date. If someone has already dealt with this issue, please enlighten me about where I might find a good discussion of this issue. What do you think?

      Thanks,
      Bob

      Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
      Northern Arizona University
      Flagstaff, AZ
    • Dale Allison
      Dear Prof. Schacht: You ask about a hidden assumption, which is that Jesus always spoke to the same audience in the same way. You then suggest another
      Message 2 of 6 , Mar 25, 2003
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        Dear Prof. Schacht:

        You ask about a hidden assumption, which is that Jesus always spoke to the same audience in the same way. You then suggest another possibility, which is that the sayings about judgment came later, after he encountered more resistance. "Even if Jesus himself did not change his views at all, he might still have changed his presentation in response to whatever patterns of resistance he experienced."

        I don't disagree with this at all; I think you're right. There has been a long discussion of whether or not Jesus had something like a Galilean crisis. You ask about a good discussion of this issue; I suggest Franz Mussner, "Gab es eine galilaische Krise?," in Orientierung an Jesus; zur Theologie der Synoptiker. Fur Josef Schmid, edited by Paul Hoffmann with Norbert Brox und Wilhelm Pesch. Already Albert Schweitzer saw Jesus as changing strategies in midstream because of a failure of the end to come. I don't endorse this guess, but I do think that Jesus wasn't always in the same frame of mind, if I may so put it. I suppose that he was disappointed in the response to his ministry and that this is the background to some of the sayings about judgment. I'm happy to point out that Ulrich Luz has recently expressed his acceptance of this point of view; see his article in the recent collection edited by Jens Schroter and Ralph Brucker, Der historische Jesus. I also note that while recent scholars have been more reluctant than earlier scholars to posit changes in Jesus' thought or strategy, Crossan and many others have argued that Jesus made a break with the Baptist. Incidentally, Dom of course never says where or when, but one might ask why the sayings tradition would, if he were correct, have to reflect only Jesus' post-Baptist phase.

        I find it telling that much recent Q research, which starts with John Kloppenborg's Q1, Q2, and Q3, and which puts most of the judgment sayings into Q2, takes this to reflect the disappointment and disillusionment of the Q community with the Jewish response to its mission. This is just taking the old scheme, in which the sayings of judgment reflect the Galilean crisis, and moving it onto the Q people. This is a natural thing to do if one doesn't, for whatever reason, think we should trace most of the judgment sayings back to Jesus. But my point here is that it seems almost inevitable to read some of those sayings as reflecting a change in someone's attitude.

        Consider the Q text in Matt 11:21ff. I can't read this as anything other than a testimony to dashed expectations. Assume that Jesus said something like this. Well, surely he preached in the hope that he would be heard and heeded. He can hardly have launched a mission and sent forth messengers fully persuaded that all the effort would be wasted and that this generation would by and large disbelieve him. What follows? When, as it appears, Jesus did not get the response he expected, and if he viewed his mission as of utmost importance, the disappointment would have been acute. I see this disappointment reflected in some of the judgment sayings.

        Finally, how does all this affect my argument? I may be missing something, but at the moment I don't think it does. All my argument needs is the proposition that Jesus spoke differently to unsympathetic outsiders than to sympathetic insiders. It should make no difference whether this or that saying comes from this or that period of the ministry. I should probably observe somewhere that his words to outsiders may well have varied from this phase to that phase of his ministry, and that the judgment sayings reflect disappointment. But my main point would still stand, wouldn't it?

        Sincerely,
        Dale Allison
      • Bob Schacht
        ... Dear Prof. Allison, Thank you for your reply, and for the references. ... If your main point was only that Jesus spoke to unsympathetic outsiders in a
        Message 3 of 6 , Mar 27, 2003
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          At 08:47 AM 3/25/2003 -0500, Dale Allison wrote:
          Dear Prof. Schacht:

          You ask about a hidden assumption, which is that Jesus always spoke to the same audience in the same way. You then suggest another possibility, which is that the sayings about judgment came later, after he encountered more resistance. "Even if Jesus himself did not change his views at all, he might still have changed his presentation in response to whatever patterns of resistance he experienced."

          I don't disagree with this at all; I think you're right. ...

          Dear Prof. Allison,
          Thank you for your reply, and for the references.

          Finally, how does all this affect my argument? I may be missing something, but at the moment I don't think it does. All my argument needs is the proposition that Jesus spoke differently to unsympathetic outsiders than to sympathetic insiders. It should make no difference whether this or that saying comes from this or that period of the ministry. I should probably observe somewhere that his words to outsiders may well have varied from this phase to that phase of his ministry, and that the judgment sayings reflect disappointment. But my main point would still stand, wouldn't it?

          If your main point was only that Jesus spoke to unsympathetic outsiders in a different way from sympathetic insiders, well of course I would not dispute that, and my counter-proposal would not affect that. However, if you wish to make a stronger case, that Jesus spoke to unsympathetic outsiders in certain particular ways, it is when we get into the details that my counter-proposal would make a difference. Let's start from the point of view of Jesus' sayings. You observe that we have some sayings of gentle persuasion and other sayings of judgment, and propose to explain these different messages by suggesting that the words of gentle persuasion were meant for sympathetic insiders, and the words of judgment were meant for unsympathetic outsiders. But if we take chronology into account, one might argue that *both* sets of sayings were intended for the *same* audience, but evolved, in the face of resistance, from gentle persuasion to irritated condemnation (or some such.)  So it is only when we get down to the particulars of which messages and which audiences that my argument might become useful.

          BTW, we have been largely ignoring, to this point, the framing of the sayings as evidence for the intended audience. Of course, as Crossan and others have demonstrated, the same synoptic saying can sometimes be found in different narrative frames, so that one is discouraged from making too much of the narrative frames in helping us reconstruct the audience of different sayings. How far would you want to go with that? All narrative frames are worthless in this regard? Or, how do we decide which frames might be historical and associated with the particular sayings we find in the text?

          Thanks again for your thoughtful responses to our questions.

          Bob
        • Dale Allison
          Dear Prof. Schacht: I think I can respond fairly briefly by making three points. First, my main point at the end of the article on Jesus and his Audiences is
          Message 4 of 6 , Mar 28, 2003
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            Dear Prof. Schacht:

            I think I can respond fairly briefly by making three points.

            First, my main point at the end of the article on Jesus and his Audiences is simply that the guy who composed much of the sermon on the plain could also have said some seemingly harsh things about judgment. James Robinson's case to the contrary may not pay sufficient attention to a basic aspect of rhetoric. That's really it. I make the point because several people, not just Robinson, see a real antithesis here with which they can sort the original from the secondary. I'm doubtful.

            Second, you suggest that maybe my two audiences are really one, because you can envisage a change. Maybe a public that was sympathetic became unsympathetic. Well, I see the point. And I would have to pursue it if I were to do much more with this theme. But I think -- I'm tired this morning, so don't take my word about this -- that in the first part of my piece, I was arguing two things-- i. that Jesus did make demands of and say things to the group that moved around with him that he didn't demand of and say to others and ii. the question of audience is very important for interpretation. i. stands and isn't touched by your comments. Re ii: I think you're suggesting that, in making my case, I need to be more nuanced and careful in how I speak of Jesus' non-esoteric (if you will) audiences. You're right, and I'll have to go back and check my wording and also add comments showing that I'm aware of your observations. But of course, the real problem here is that we have an issue that usually can't be solved. I can in the abstract sort out the different sorts of audiences Jesus may have had, but it remains very, very difficult, and probably in most cases impossible, to figure out what saying originally went with which audience. I suppose my advice is that we should always ask ourselves, when we're interpreting this or that saying in the pre-Easter period, whether we're implicitly assuming a particular audience and what our justification might be. Usually we're in the dark, so we need to be aware that whatever we're saying might well be seriously effected were we to envisage one audience as opposed to another. In other words, and unfortunately, this introduces more uncertainty into our task.
            Third, you ask whether we can maybe trust what the tradition says about audience. You refer to Crossan. I'd refer to Bultmann, from whose work I learned form criticism as an undergraduate. I've always taken Bultmann as definitive about some things, and this is one; so I've never trusted what the synoptics say about audience. Now I'm not dogmatic here. I have tried to do T. W. Manson's contrary case justice; I'm just not convinced. I've also tried more than once to see if J. Arthur Baird's book on audience criticism has anything to it. Unfortunately, Baird is so complex that I can't figure out some of what he's saying--I indicate this in a footnote. (I said this yesterday with some things in Malina's work; maybe I'm the problem.) Maybe someone else will come along some day and show me I've been wrong. But I'm not holding my breath. In addition to Bultmann, Jeremias' discussion in Parables of how the tradition gives new audiences to parables has always stayed with me. In short, it's always been my habit to look at a saying while ignoring its setting in the tradition. Having said all that, the evangelists are right about one thing: they do know that sayings take their meaning in part from audience. They care about audience. Otherwise they wouldn't keep telling us what audience Jesus is speaking to. So while I don't trust them in the details, I do think their basic instinct correct: to understand something, you need to know to whom it was spoken. If my article helps us to be more conscious about that, then it's purpose is served.
            Hope this helps
            Best, Dale
          • Loren Rosson
            Dale, Thanks for the second round on Malina s ineffable essay. :) A question about asceticism. In your 98 publication you discuss the ascetic practices of
            Message 5 of 6 , Mar 29, 2003
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              Dale,

              Thanks for the second round on Malina's ineffable
              essay. :)

              A question about asceticism. In your '98 publication
              you discuss the ascetic practices of Jesus and his
              closest followers -- celibacy, poverty, fasting --
              and list the five functions asceticism can serve in
              millenarian movements:

              1. Dedication to a mission (as with Paul's advise that
              marriage "divides" a person's loyalty)

              2. Distance from the present world order
              (eschatological dualism encourages detachment from the
              present world)

              3. Rhetorical persuasion (giving up money, sex, and
              food is good evidence of one's sincerity)

              4. Sign of judgment (the medium being the message)

              5. Realized eschatology (living as one would live in
              the kingdom, where wealth/sex/food abounds for
              everyone -- or, alternatively, none of it is needed by
              anyone, which amounts to the same thing)

              On the point of (5), however, it seems to have been
              the realized dimension of Jesus' eschatology which
              enabled him to dispense with fasting and instead feast
              in the present (Mk 2:18-20; Q 7:31-35), precisely in
              anticipation of the kingdom's full disclosure in the
              near future (Q 13:28-29). You hedge your bet here,
              opining that "Mk 2:18-20 is not a blanket denial of
              the legitimacy of fasting...telling us little more
              than that Jesus, unlike the Pharisees and followers of
              John, did not set aside fixed days every week for
              fasting" (174). You suggest further that since the
              reference in Q 7:31-35 to Jesus' "eating and drinking"
              adopts the polemical language of Jesus' adversaries,
              it "should not be reckoned an objective description",
              especially since Jesus himself was known for using
              "eating and drinking" in a pejorative sense (as in Q
              17:26-30, Q 12:45, etc.). More recently, in The
              Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, you
              note similarly that "nothing contradicts the canonical
              picture of a Jesus who sometimes feasts and sometimes
              fasts" (p 15).

              But why would millenarians like Jesus and his closest
              followers "sometimes feast and sometimes fast"? Why
              would they be rigorously ascetic about sex and money,
              quasi-ascetic about food and drink? How exactly do we
              reconcile a Jesus who sometimes behaved like a "bon
              vivant" (a label used even by conservative John Meier,
              who, employing the criterion of embarrassment, notes
              that the early church would have hardly gone out of
              the way to fabricate mocking caricatures of its Risen
              Lord as a glutton/drunkard; Marginal Jew, Vol II, pp
              149-150) with a Jesus who disparages feasting
              elsewhere (Q 12:45, 17:26-30). Different audiences?
              Did he believe it was legitimate for the poor and
              disaffected (God's elect) to occasionally enjoy
              "messianic banquets" already realized in the present
              age, and consider the feasting of the rich oppositely
              as a sign of judgment on them (relating to the whole
              "reversal of fortunes" principle)? Or maybe fasting
              doesn't have the same rhetorical force or persuasion
              (3, above) as celibacy and poverty? I'd like to tease
              out some more of your speculations on this subject.

              Thanks,

              Loren Rosson III
              Nashua NH
              rossoiii@...


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            • Dale Allison
              Dear Loren You ask about asceticism and Jesus. This is a topic I very much enjoyed working on. It s one of those areas that makes modern NT scholars nervous.
              Message 6 of 6 , Mar 31, 2003
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                Dear Loren

                You ask about asceticism and Jesus. This is a topic I very much enjoyed working on. It's one of those areas that makes modern NT scholars nervous. Or if it does not, it's because they're absolutely confident that Jesus could not have been an ascetic. It's a bit like eschatology--it's so foreign to us that we don't want to find it in Jesus. But I think it's there. Of course, as soon as I say this, it's a question of how we define asceticism. If it's a bed of nails and whips, then Jesus wasn't an ascetic. But I tried to define asceticism carefully in terms of deliberate deprivation for religiouis ends, and on that score Jesus fits. I've found very few who agree, although I think that Stephen Patterson's essay in Vaage and Wimbush, Ascticism and the NT, which I did not know when I was writing Jesus of Nazareth, is moving in my direction. This of course is esp. interesting given that Steve's Jesus is not apocalyptic. Anyway, here are some thoughts in an attempt to answer your questions.

                i. You write:

                A question about asceticism. In your '98 publication
                you discuss the ascetic practices of Jesus and his
                closest followers -- celibacy, poverty, fasting --
                and list the five functions asceticism can serve in
                millenarian movements:

                1. Dedication to a mission (as with Paul's advise that
                marriage "divides" a person's loyalty)

                2. Distance from the present world order
                (eschatological dualism encourages detachment from the
                present world)

                3. Rhetorical persuasion (giving up money, sex, and
                food is good evidence of one's sincerity)

                4. Sign of judgment (the medium being the message)

                5. Realized eschatology (living as one would live in
                the kingdom, where wealth/sex/food abounds for
                everyone -- or, alternatively, none of it is needed by
                anyone, which amounts to the same thing)

                On the point of (5), however, it seems to have been
                the realized dimension of Jesus' eschatology which
                enabled him to dispense with fasting and instead feast
                in the present (Mk 2:18-20; Q 7:31-35), precisely in
                anticipation of the kingdom's full disclosure in the
                near future (Q 13:28-29). You hedge your bet here,
                opining that "Mk 2:18-20 is not a blanket denial of
                the legitimacy of fasting...telling us little more
                than that Jesus, unlike the Pharisees and followers of
                John, did not set aside fixed days every week for
                fasting" (174). You suggest further that since the
                reference in Q 7:31-35 to Jesus' "eating and drinking"
                adopts the polemical language of Jesus' adversaries,
                it "should not be reckoned an objective description",
                especially since Jesus himself was known for using
                "eating and drinking" in a pejorative sense (as in Q
                17:26-30, Q 12:45, etc.). More recently, in The
                Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, you
                note similarly that "nothing contradicts the canonical
                picture of a Jesus who sometimes feasts and sometimes
                fasts" (p 15).

                This is all correct. Thanks for getting it right. I remember running across an essay by Tom Wright in which he asserted that I denied Jesus had festive meals. As you say, I'm suggesting a Jesus who sometimes feasted and sometimes fasted.

                ii. But then you've got a question--

                But why would millenarians like Jesus and his closest
                followers "sometimes feast and sometimes fast"? Why
                would they be rigorously ascetic about sex and money,
                quasi-ascetic about food and drink? How exactly do we
                reconcile a Jesus who sometimes behaved like a "bon
                vivant" (a label used even by conservative John Meier,
                who, employing the criterion of embarrassment, notes
                that the early church would have hardly gone out of
                the way to fabricate mocking caricatures of its Risen
                Lord as a glutton/drunkard; Marginal Jew, Vol II, pp
                149-150) with a Jesus who disparages feasting
                elsewhere (Q 12:45, 17:26-30).

                A general comment: this is what we do again and again. We see two things in the gospels that, in our eyes, stand in tension. Our general inclination is to say one thing goes back to Jesus, the other does not. We're regularly using the criterion of consistency, even when we don't name it. I won't repeat my discussion at the beginning of Jesus of Nazareth, but I'm always back with the fact that the perceived tensions are all in the sources themselves. So we've got Jesus being consistent, his followers inconsistent, or not perceiving the tensions we perceive. Isn't this just a hangover from the old theology, in which Jesus is perfect in all things, and if there are any problems, they've got to come from the disciples? On the matter at hand, it is simply the case that the synoptics at least do have a Jesus who feasts and fasts, so we should at least ask whether they could be right here.

                ii. Seems to me that my view is consistent with what we see elsewhere. Consider e.g. Christian practice throughout the ages. Right now, as for 2,000 years, the Eastern Orthodox, at least the good ones, are fasting for Lent. Come Pascha and the big celebration of the resurrection, they'll have a big feast. Heck, some places they'll drink and dance half the night. Now surely we'd never look at this and think, We'll what a contradiction! But when we see something like this in the gospels, we get unimaginative, wooden minds and espy tension.

                iii. You ask, Loren, whether different audiences might explain Jesus' different teachings here. No.

                iv. For what it's worth, if the tradition shows Jesus feasting, it also shows him fasting and his disciples hungry. According to Mark 2:23-28, the disciples were, on one occasion, so hungry that they bent a sabbath rule. The text, whether historical or not, presupposes genuine need. Isn't this consistent with the synoptic instructions for missionaries, in which Jesus sends out itinerants without food or money? Further, in Q Jesus exhorts followers not to keep worrying about what they are to eat or what they are to drink (12:22ff.). And why should he do this unless they are anxious about eating or drinking? Similarly, would the brevity of the Lord's Prayer permit a petition for daily bread (Q 11:3) is daily bread were never a real problem? It's entirely plausible that, just as Paul the missionary sometimes found himself hungry and thirsty (2 Cor 11:27), so similarly Jesus and his disciples, who relied upon the hospitality of others, were occasionally less than full. My point, then, is that going without food was probably a necessary correlate from time to time of moving around from place to place.

                v. You write Loren: Did he believe it was legitimate for the poor and disaffected (God's elect) to occasionally enjoy
                "messianic banquets" already realized in the present age, and consider the feasting of the rich oppositely
                as a sign of judgment on them (relating to the whole "reversal of fortunes" principle)?

                This makes good sense to me and fits with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. My one question is whether, however, some of Jesus' hosts were well to do. Mark 2 has him with a toll collector; soo too Luke 19. Did Jesus accept the hospitality of the well to do? Or were impoverished people putting him up and setting up feasts?

                vi. I wonder what we're thinking when we think of Jesus feasting. The gospels just don't have any details, do they? But we must have pictures in our minds. So what are we thinking? And why are we imagining something that involved people who couldn't on some other occasion fast? Surely Jesus wasn't an alcoholic! See James Robinson's critique of Vaage's view in Sayings of Jesus: Canonical and Non-Canonical, ed. William L. Petersen, Johan S. Vos, and Henk J. de Jonge.

                vii. You write:

                Or maybe fasting doesn't have the same rhetorical force or persuasion (3, above) as celibacy and poverty?

                Well, to the extent that fasting comes from poverty, they amount to the same thing, don't they?

                viii. My guess is that hungry people having a feast would have been for Jesus a perfect symbol of the kingdom. Isn't this in fact obvious? Certainly it's a better representation of "Blessed are you who hunger and thirst, for you shall be satisfied" than a bunch of otherwise full people just getting more of what they always get.

                Hope this helps--but I must say that so little has been done on this subject that I expect surprises await those who investigate it. E.g., point viii seems rather nifty to me, but has anyone thought about it before?

                Dale
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