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The Sermon on the Mount

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic / GPG On: The Sermon on the Mount From: Bruce My recent note on the Matthean Sermon was perhaps just a trifle brief. One should preferably deal
    Message 1 of 3 , Feb 6, 2012
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      To: Synoptic / GPG
      On: The Sermon on the Mount
      From: Bruce

      My recent note on the Matthean Sermon was perhaps just a trifle brief. One
      should preferably deal with that subject at Hans Dieter Betz length (and at
      his prices, and while we are at it, I should get 15%). Herewith a tiny
      followup. I was arguing that the Tittles of the Law bit is Matthean, not
      Lukan, and that it expresses an extreme Legalism typical of Matthew. I
      should have added that the Tittles bit is not merely typical: by position,
      it is the cardinal statement of the Matthean Sermon. And why? Because it is
      the takeoff for the longest single segment of the Sermon, and because it is
      the first piece in the Sermon that is not warmed-over Luke, and instead
      comes straight out of Matthew's own worldview.

      It takes not much sensitivity to texts and text variants to discern that
      Mt's Beatitudes are spiritualized versions of the Lukan Beatitudes. By
      "spiritualized," I mean economically watered down. Luke, as he shows in his
      Parable of Dives and Lazarus, finds wealth punishable and poverty a ticket
      to Heaven. When he says "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of
      God," he thus, demonstrably, means exactly that. Matthew mutes this to
      "Blessed are the poor *in spirit* for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." He
      means it too, in the sense that even the rich can have their
      disappointments, their existential downs, their moments of Angst, and by
      having them, they are headed straight for the Kingdom. So again with the
      blessing on the hungry, who in Matthew become "those who hunger and thirst
      after righteousness,* not those with a perilously low Engels quotient;
      another removal of the economic qualification, and a substitution of pious
      intention. We next come to the Salt remark and the Light Under a Bushel
      remark, which are not merely recycled Luke, but reprocessed Mark. We have
      not yet seen the naked hand of Matthew.

      We first get it at Mt 5:17-20, which is precisely where the reinstatement of
      the entire Law occurs. (I have earlier argued, with a little help from
      Michael Goulder, and won't here repeat, that the Lukan parallel here - not
      shown in all synopses, but it should be - is derivative, not primary,
      because it and its neighbors are interruptive in Luke).

      Mark's Jesus, it will be remembered, acknowledged only the intrahuman
      portion of the Decalogue. See for instance Mk 10:19, where Jesus lists the
      relevant commandments: five from Moses and one, the one against fraud, of
      his own coinage (with a little help from other parts of the Pentateuch).
      Jesus wanted to get rid of the Pharisaic handwashing baggage, which by its
      sheer weight and its status as law was keeping good people out of the
      Kingdom (however conceived). None of this for Matthew: he reaffirms the
      entire package. And what next? He proceeds to scoop up various pre-existing
      law statements *and extend them.* He opens this series by saying that unless
      your righteousness (law-conformity) exceeds that of the scribes and
      Pharisees, you are out of the Kingdom. This is not the Jesus line, but a
      reversal of it. Matthew continues, "You have heard that you shall not kill,
      but I say unto you, even he who is angry with his brother will be liable to
      judgement." That is, he will be guilty of the crime he was tempted to
      commit. No credit here for resisting temptation, and not after all killing
      your brother. For most people, not killing your brother would count as a
      meritorious abstention, but not for Matthew; the very thought condemns you.
      (Mt 5:21-26).

      And so on down the list, multiplying crimes of intention.

      As we go, with an eye on the Lukan parallels where they exist, we can hardly
      help seeing that Matthew systematically excises every line that would count
      as unsound business practice. Out, for instance, goes Luke's command to
      "lend, expecting nothing in return" (Lk 6:35, cf the hole between Mt 5:47
      and 5:48). Out goes Luke's command in Lk 12:33 (not unlike that of Jesus in
      Mk 10:21, that piece being paralleled in place by both Mt and Lk, but
      perhaps a little mechanically in one of those cases) to sell everything you
      own, replaced by a vaguer command to lay up treasures in Heaven. The laying
      up part is congenial to Matthew; the divesting part he tends to dodge.

      The Sermon on the Mount contains some fine things, all of them at second
      hand, and some of them slightly damaged in transit. When it is done,
      Matthew's income and investments are still intact. Not for him any emotional
      time, any purse time, spent on the decamisados of this world.

      CONCLUSION

      People can like one or the other (it is just that those who go with Matthew
      will have more company), and I don't care which, but the present
      philological point is that Matthew and Luke are very easy to distinguish,
      and that the retention of Pharisaic minutiae, and the extension of crimes of
      commission into crimes of intention, are distinctively, and centrally,
      Matthean.

      Bruce

      E Bruce Brooks
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • Greg Crawford
      Gentleman, I would like to ask a question. I am not in your class as a Biblical scholar and if my question is intrusive I will quickly crawl back into my hole.
      Message 2 of 3 , Feb 6, 2012
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        Gentleman,



        I would like to ask a question. I am not in your class as a Biblical scholar and
        if my question is intrusive I will quickly crawl back into my hole.



        It seems to me that much of the debate centres around the question of whether
        the direction of Synoptic interrelationships demonstrates a very Jewish Jesus
        (in the sense of adherence to the Law) whose message was corrupted by Paul, and
        the Gospel of Mark, for the sake of a Gentile mission; or whether the historical
        Jesus was as revolutionary in much the same terms as Paul and Mark, and that the
        Gospel of Matthew is an attempt to claw him back for Judaism.



        In the previous post Bruce Brooks has portrayed Matthew as an ideological
        Pharisee, selectively editing and expanding Synoptic material so as to portray
        Jesus in the same light. Matthew's programmatic statement is found in Matthew
        5:17-20. With particular reference to this Matthean passage, I am wondering how
        the argument of John P. Meier has fared in the debate. In his 1978 book, The
        Vision of Matthew, Meier argues that the statement that the Law will not pass
        away is time-conditioned by two clauses within verse 18: "Until heaven and earth
        pass away" and "until all is accomplished". Briefly stated, his argument is that
        the permanence of the Law is time-conditioned by the two "until" passages which
        show that the Law does not continue for ever, but is terminated by
        eschatological events. He further argues that the second conditional clause
        modifies the first. He asserts that in Matthew it is always events in the life
        of Jesus which fulfil what is written. Finally he points to the way in which
        Matthew pulls out all plugs to portray the death/resurrection of Jesus as *the*
        eschatological event which includes the resurrection of the saints, and which
        terminates the Law. There is more to Meier's argument, especially in dealing
        with the notion of prophetic fulfilment and the way in which the Law itself
        "prophesies" in Matthew's Gospel.



        If Meier is right, then Matthew certainly presents himself in Pharisaic
        ideological terms, but with the purpose of subverting that very stance with an
        eschatological argument. I don't know how well Meier's argument has been
        received, but Meier himself certainly has not retreated into obscurity, being
        the author of the 4 volume "A Marginal Jew", a former president of the Catholic
        Biblical Association, and I believe currently Professor of New Testament at the
        University of Notre Dame.



        Greg



        From: Synoptic@yahoogroups.com [mailto:Synoptic@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of E
        Bruce Brooks
        Sent: Monday, 6 February 2012 11:29 PM
        To: Synoptic
        Cc: GPG
        Subject: [Synoptic-L] The Sermon on the Mount





        To: Synoptic / GPG
        On: The Sermon on the Mount
        From: Bruce






        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • E Bruce Brooks
        To: Synoptic In Response To: Greg Crawford On: Jesus Criteria From: Bruce GREG: It seems to me that much of the debate centres around the question of whether
        Message 3 of 3 , Feb 6, 2012
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          To: Synoptic
          In Response To: Greg Crawford
          On: Jesus Criteria
          From: Bruce

          GREG: It seems to me that much of the debate centres around the question of
          whether the direction of Synoptic interrelationships demonstrates a very
          Jewish Jesus (in the sense of adherence to the Law) whose message was
          corrupted by Paul, and the Gospel of Mark, for the sake of a Gentile
          mission; or whether the historical Jesus was as revolutionary in much the
          same terms as Paul and Mark, and that the Gospel of Matthew is an attempt to
          claw him back for Judaism.

          BRUCE: I think it is (or ought to be) about simply what the Synoptic
          sequence tells us, never mind exactly whose expectation that fulfills. The
          Synoptic order (Mk > Mt > Lk [in its final state] > Jn) is a relative
          order, and that is already very helpful, but the absolute dates also make a
          big difference. The usual view is that all the Gospels are later than Paul,
          and thus presumptively more compromised than Paul as sources about the
          original Jesus group. Since Paul insists that he is not interested in Jesus
          prior to his death, that leaves a sort of tabula rasa. My conclusion is that
          Mark is early, not late, and that it was composed over a timespan of about
          15 years, ending more less with the persecutions of Herod Agrippa I in
          Jerusalem (Mk knows about the death of James Zebedee, c44, but nothing
          later). This makes it overlap chronologically with Paul, but also to be in
          part earlier than Paul. To me, this changes the evidential values very
          significantly. I think it moves this kind of research importantly forward.

          As to the Markan Jesus, I find him very Jewish (it is the Second Tier
          Gospels which adopt a more cosmopolitan horizon), but NOT in the sense of
          Torah observance; rather, Jesus in Mark appears as a very Jewish reform
          prophet, with many precedents in Jewish tradition (and not a few parallels
          in contemporary Jewish thought and feeling), who was trying to get back to
          the essentials rather than the frills of the Law. So were the Essenes in
          their way. There is more than one way of being Jewish, you see. It must then
          follow that the word "Jewish" is too broad to have any analytical value. I
          venture to make that suggestion.

          GREG: In the previous post Bruce Brooks has portrayed Matthew as an
          ideological Pharisee, selectively editing and expanding Synoptic material so
          as to portray Jesus in the same light. Matthew's programmatic statement is
          found in Matthew 5:17-20. With particular reference to this Matthean
          passage, I am wondering how the argument of John P. Meier has fared in the
          debate. In his 1978 book, The Vision of Matthew, Meier argues that the
          statement that the Law will not pass away is time-conditioned by two clauses
          within verse 18: "Until heaven and earth pass away" and "until all is
          accomplished". Briefly stated, his argument is that the permanence of the
          Law is time-conditioned by the two "until" passages which show that the Law
          does not continue for ever, but is terminated by eschatological events. He
          further argues that the second conditional clause modifies the first. He
          asserts that in Matthew it is always events in the life of Jesus which
          fulfil what is written. Finally he points to the way in which Matthew pulls
          out all plugs to portray the death/resurrection of Jesus as *the*
          eschatological event which includes the resurrection of the saints, and
          which terminates the Law. There is more to Meier's argument, especially in
          dealing with the notion of prophetic fulfilment and the way in which the Law
          itself "prophesies" in Matthew's Gospel.

          BRUCE: To say that the Law holds until the universe itself comes apart is to
          make the Law valid for all finite intents and purposes. And as Greg notes,
          there is more about Law in Matthew than just that passage. I quoted some of
          it. Matthew's great message is Fulfilment of Scripture, and of course also
          Fulfilment of Law; for him, the Law and the Prophets are aspects of the same
          thing: the ongoing validity of past Jewish tradition - *as interpreted by
          himself.* Matthew is the great architect of the Predicted Jesus; notice the
          ten conspicuously Hebraic (not Septuagintal) quotes in Matthew, all of which
          have the same quotation formula, and all of which predict Jesus or the
          things that happen to him. This is how, for Matthew, the Law and the
          Prophets converge in Jesus. But on the way to that grand vision, Matthew
          also reinstates, as permanently valid and as binding on individuals, the
          small Pharisaic (or other) additions to the Law whose validity the Markan
          Jesus - who is presumptively nearer than Matthew's construct to the
          Historical Jesus - had very conspicuously and consistently denied. I don't
          know if "claws back" is the right verb for this, but I do agree - I assert -
          that Matthew is trying to rehabilitate Jesus from something like a Jerusalem
          Establishment point of view: to make Jesus strictly Torah observant.

          Matthew is holistic in regard to scriptural prediction, and he is holistic
          with respect to the law. He may be motivated in having Jesus himself affirm
          the validity of the entire Law by a wish to meet contemporary Jewish
          objections that Jesus had blasphemed against Moses. For an echo of that
          charge, see the story of Stephen in Acts (Ac 6:11), which is typologically
          modeled on the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. See also Klausner on the
          objections to Jesus in Rabbinical tradition.

          GREG: If Meier is right, then Matthew certainly presents himself in
          Pharisaic ideological terms, but with the purpose of subverting that very
          stance with an eschatological argument. I don't know how well Meier's
          argument has been received, but Meier himself certainly has not retreated
          into obscurity, being the author of the 4 volume "A Marginal Jew", a former
          president of the Catholic Biblical Association, and I believe currently
          Professor of New Testament at the University of Notre Dame.

          BRUCE: If we are measuring by avoirdupois, Meier is even more impressive
          than that, since I am told that volumes beyond v4 are on the way. But as to
          impressiveness in general: it is surely not much of an argument. I hate to
          reveal this seemingly professional secret, but Professors (and for that
          matter, Universities) come in all grades and shades. Some professors are
          outright dishonest (it is considered bad form to name names in this area,
          though insiders know them very well), and some institutions systematically
          condone or even encourage dishonesty. But even in honest mode, some people
          are just better at their trade (or luckier in their efforts) than others.
          Hence the futility, as well as the endlessness, of arguing from names as
          though names were authorities. Names are not authorities. We can only
          examine the respective arguments, as best we can, and see if they appear
          sound.

          The point is not whether Meier says something, but what evidence he uses to
          arrive at what he says.

          Meier himself (in Marginal 1/168f) has listed his Historical Jesus criteria.
          I seem to recall doing an analysis of these, some time back, on this list or
          one of its cousins. I won't attempt to hunt it up now. But in brief, I find
          that the Meier criteria tend not to be very good, and much worse, they
          ignore very strong evidence of different kinds, including the Gospel
          sequence (and presumptive probity as evidence) mentioned above.

          It would be nice if there were some substitute for one's own judgement, or
          for the judgement of careful people in general. I haven't found one so far
          (every person or institution to which one hopes to delegate one's own duty
          of judgement somehow turns out to be fallible). If someone has a suggestion,
          though, I am all ears. Thinking is a lot of work, and I could probably put
          the time to good use elsewhere.

          Bruce

          E Bruce Brooks
          University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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