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3629RE: [Synoptic-L] The beginning of Q

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    Aug 1, 2011
    • 0 Attachment
      To: Synoptic (GPG)
      In Response To: Jeffrey Gibson
      On: Temptation
      From: Bruce

      JEFFREY: Could you please articulate what you mean by "spiritual austerity"?
      / BRUCE: Not a new term. But in general: deprivation of the flesh (beginning
      with fasting, but not limited to fasting) in the interest of cultivating a
      higher consciousness or a closer contact with God. The flesh is the enemy of
      the spirit. Common in the East (the ultimate source seems to be India), not
      excluding the Near East. Tends to separate out as a more or less distinct
      tradition within European Christianity (St John of the Cross, Meister
      Eckhart, the practice of the presence of God; that stuff) and visible in the
      austerity saints of earlier times (Simeon Stylites).

      I had referred to how Jesus prays in the rest of Mark. JEFFREY: He does?
      How does this compare with Luke's portrayal of Jesus? / BRUCE: I could get
      into that (the word "spirit" becomes useful in this context; notice the
      points at which Luke adds it to the beginning of the Markan Jesus story).
      But it's not necessarily relevant: both Matthew and Luke drastically
      reconceptualize Jesus, and geographically resituate his mission, and a whole
      lot of other stuff. If we work with the rule that the Gospels must be saying
      the same thing, I doubt we can find a really good reading of any one of

      JEFFREY: And where is prayer mentioned in Mk 1:12-13? / BRUCE: Not a lot
      even if we take the whole of Mark. But it rather stands out that whenever
      Jesus seeks guidance, he goes off by himself to do it (as when deliberating
      whether to leave Capernaum; his disciples finally locate him there). And in
      the episode of the epileptic boy, the disciples ask why they couldn't cure
      him, and Jesus answers (in effect) that some of these cures are high-voltage
      matters, and require a lot of spiritual power, which they get by prayer
      (Bezae and several other manuscripts add "and fasting," which is probably
      textually unwarranted, but substantively in the right direction). Notice the
      Woman Healed of a Flow of Blood: in that case, the energy (Chinese chi) or
      spiritual power or whatever in Jesus is tapped into without even his being
      aware of it: it passes by touch. He notices when it is gone - not that he
      feels her touch, but that he is aware of a diminution of his "power to
      heal." That power is like a fluid: it is accumulated during solitary contact
      with God, and can be discharged in the form of healing.

      Matthew, of course, in defiance of public convenience, makes mountains a
      place for Jesus to contact humanity in the large, not to cultivate a private
      relationship with God. This is part of what I mean by "reconceptualization."
      He does not thereby improve on Luke (who is himself improving on Mark), who
      has Jesus come down from the height before addressing the masses.

      JEFFREY: Have you noticed the links between the Gethsemane scene in Mark and
      his "testing" (NOT temptation) story? Would you call the Gethsemane scene
      a period of "spiritual austerity?" . . . Is it not presented as a struggle
      on Jesus' part to remain obedient to both a mission and that mission's
      constraints? / BRUCE: Yes, it is. But this is a heavily rewritten part of
      Mark (notice that in this same section we get one of the two clear
      references to the Atonement doctrine, of which Mark is otherwhere innocent;
      this is a very late concept). The post-Baptism "Testing" episode in Mark,
      which is enigmatic as it stands (though perhaps a little less so if one has
      been through a course of meditation or other personal preparation, or its
      equivalent), is developed in Matthew (and following him, in Luke) as a
      challenge to Jesus's commitment to his own death. That is, the original
      episode is homogenized, in Matthew, with Mark's Gethsemane scene. But this
      is a Jesus who has been rewritten at many points to plan his own death from
      the beginning (John goes still further in the same direction, which is why a
      lot of people like John: None of these worrisome inconsistencies). If we
      want to catch a glimpse of any possible original Jesus, we need to push away
      the later strands of the reworked tradition, and see what is left at the
      beginning end.

      As in any historical enterprise, or so I understand it.

      E Bruce Brooks
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst

      Much has been written on austerity in early Christianity, but perhaps we
      could use a little more. Personally, I doubt that anyone who does not
      understand austerity practices can really get the "spiritual" (meaning,
      spirit possession) element in many of the early churches. You empty
      yourself, so that something else can fill you. That something can heal, it
      can prophesy, it can cosmically attune; it can save. It has powers greater
      than the ones you have surrendered in order to acquire it. I somehow doubt
      that we can read Luke adequately (to mention only Luke) while sitting down.

      People might spend more time on the Apostolic literature than they seem to
      do. Take the Acts of John, for instance. It is little more than a string of
      miracles (and so, for that matter, is the We part of Acts, Luke's essay in
      the Apostolic genre), but the typical miracle is preceded by John praying.
      First the power, then its action in the world of men. Accumulation, then
      discharge. Law of nature, or at least nature as it is understood by some.
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