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RE: [Synoptic-L] The Sermon on the Mount

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  • 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 1 of 3 , Feb 6, 2012
      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

      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.


      E Bruce Brooks
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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