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5164Re: [XTalk] Re: the jesus mysteries

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  • Antonio Jerez
    Oct 3, 2000
      Ricki Watts wrote:

      >Antonio,

      >What are we to do with you? You're up to your old tricks again, :-). You
      >offer an inaccurate generalization, and when called to account, you respond
      >not with a reasoned defense or definition of terms but merely repeat the
      >very statement under contention ("I thought all of us who are left were
      >agreed"), launch an ad hominem attack (this time on apparently unintelligent
      >professors at Cambridge and Oxford), and then subtly try to shift your
      >position (you were challenged on your claim that Jesus was "highly"
      >mythologized etc. but try to recast it as "at least a slight hint" and
      >"certainly in John"--who in fact doesn't even mention your primary example,
      >Jesus' temptation. Bit of a back-pedal from your rather more bold gambit,
      >wouldn't you say?).

      Ricki,
      I don't actually think there is anything to do with me at all. I am utterly uncorregible.
      As to the "ad hominem" attacks on the unknown academics at Oxford I stand by
      my verdict - anybody who argues that there is nothing mythological in the gospels
      must be a crank. As to my shifting my position I do not think I have done that at all.
      I just got the impression that you were arguing that there was 0 % mythologizing in
      the gospels and therefore asked at retorical question. I do stand by my statement
      that the synoptics have a highly mythologized Jesus. If you turn somebody into something
      he didn't claim to be during his lifetime (the mythological Son of Man of Daniel), invent
      mythologized speaches (Mark 13) and have him walk on water etc etc then I think
      the right word is "highly mythologized". John is on an even higher mythological level
      than the synoptics, given that Jesus has become a spaceman come from Mars who
      is going to save the world and when his mission is finished return to Mars. This jewish
      spaceman is also allknowing, allpowerful etc etc and has little relationship to the things
      of this world. It is hardly possible to turn a historical person more into a mythological
      one than John does.

      >first, to equate mythology with Midrash is simply wrong (and which I might
      >have ignored if you didn't try to suggest it was scholarly consensus "we
      >who are accustomed to studying ..."). So no thank you, I'd rather not "Call
      >it mythologization if you want"--that's what you implied all good scholars
      >were doing and I'm calling you on it because they don't.

      So it is down to a game of semantics? Though you may have got that impression
      I am not actually equating Midrash with myth. But sometimes "Midrash" of the
      type we find in the gospels can be used to create mythical scenes that involve
      Jesus. Such a case being Mark 1:12-13. This scene has associations to other Jewish
      myths (or do you want to call them fairytales?) like the Adam myth (epigrapha "Adam
      and Eve), the Elijah myth (1 Kings 19:5-8) and the Testament of Naphtali myth.

      >in all but its most jejune sense is precisely a commentary
      on ancient scripture and never involved the creation of episodes which were
      then presented as recent history. This is why Philip Alexander, director of
      the Hebrew Studies Centre at Oxford (probably an intelligent person), was so
      devastating in his critique of NT scholars who use this language of the
      gospels. So whether the gospel writers create stories about the recent past
      or not, it is wrong, as a number of specialists recognize, to call this
      >Midrash, and hence my "setting the record straight".

      I knew this was coming. Yes I know that Philip Alexander does not like
      NT scholars calling what the gospel writers are doing Midrash. But for
      lack of a better word I use it, although putting it inside brackets.What
      term would you like to use. You obviously disapprove about both Midrash
      and Myth. Fairytale?

      >Third, don't worry, I didn't think you thought the Gospels were pure
      >mythology. I'm taking you to task because you stated that Jesus was
      '>highly' mythologized and given what I know of anthropology this seems most
      unlikely. Myth concerns relating in symbolic and imaginative language the
      fundamental structures upon which a given culture rests, generally told in
      terms of events from the earliest time, and dealing with mythic time which
      is qualitatively different and discontinuous from ordinary, existential time
      (so Eliade). It is hard to see how Jesus is "highly" mythologized under
      that definition.

      I wouldn't take that definition as the ultimate word on the matter. Obviously
      most other people understood me perfectly well when I talked about the
      mythologization of Jesus in the gospels, so there must be more to the word
      myth and how we usually understand it than the narrow definition you give it.
      Personally wouldn't hesitate a moment to call the story in gospel of John almost
      pure myth since it involves "symbols and imaginative language relating to the fundamental
      structures upon which a culture rests". In this case the story is a direct continuation of
      the Genisis story and with myriads of symbolic threads linking back to the myths in
      the OT. I also would call an allknowing spaceman come from Mars as a mythological
      creation.

      >Are you perhaps thinking of Jesus' healings? But
      >Seutonius describes Vespasian as healing a blind man through the application
      of spittle during a visit to Egypt. Would you also call this mythologizing?
      Of course it isn't. It might be a fabrication, or something peculiar might
      have happened, or perhaps more likely it might have been a piece of
      >political propaganda (at least Vespasian seems to think it was "arranged"
      >and was so it seems a little embarrassed), but it is hardly mythologizing.

      I might call it mythologizing. Or fairytaling. Or propaganda. It all depends
      on the larger setting of a particular scene. I do not think Seutonius has that
      many angels flying around Vespasian and I do not think he has him walking
      on water that many times and I do not think he weaves that many tales
      around Vespasian resonating with the foundational, religious myths of the
      Roman people. That is what the gospel writers do most of the time - they
      create myth out of myth.

      >But you've given us an example: Jesus' temptation when he encounters a
      powerful opposing spiritual entity. But in what sense is that "highly"
      mythologized or midrashic? You seem surprised to think that people who fast
      for long periods regularly report spiritual encounters. I know of some
      first nations people, some Africans, and some Western Christians who have
      fasted for lengthy periods and they commonly speak of a heightened spiritual
      sense and spiritual encounters. That the Buddha or Jesus should have had
      similar encounters is more likely to be the result of fasting and isolation
      as they wrestled through some issues involving deeply held convictions than
      some kind of later adaptation to fit a generic and highly reductionist
      putative hero myth (this sounds like you've been reading a certain
      Californian popularizer). Now you may or may not believe that some kind of
      spiritual encounter happened, but I fail to see how the gospel accounts of
      Jesus' temptation can be described as "highly" mythologized or midrashic, at
      least in any technically accurate sense. If your doctrinaire naturalism
      forces you to deny something you can't explain in the Gospels or the Buddha,
      fine. But please don't dress up your evident ideological skepticism in
      scholarly garb, especially when it's the wrong garb. And that is my point:
      what provoked my response was the cavalier and somewhat pompous way you used
      these terms and then tried to suggest that this was agreed by "all the
      >people who knew."

      This is nonsense. Yes, I am well aware that people sometimes think they see
      the devil and demons. But you really have to be obstinate in the extreme to deny the
      "midrashic" and highly mythological character of the temptation scene. If
      "midrash" is creating myth out of the Jewish peoples foundational myths Mark 1:12-13
      is really IT.

      Best wishes

      Antonio Jerez
      Göteborg, Sweden
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