RE: [Allison-Seminar] Peasant societies and eschatology
- 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.