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Re: [XTalk] What kind of teacher was Jesus?

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  • sdavies0
    ... (Meeting Jesus ... among ... Easter ... are ... I would have said that the strongest consensus was that Jesus was an American Liberal Social-Gospel
    Message 1 of 8 , Jun 24, 2002
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      --- In crosstalk2@y..., Bob Schacht <bobschacht@i...> wrote:

      > But let me try another way of making that point. Marcus Borg
      (Meeting Jesus
      > Again for the First Time) stated emphatically,
      > "Jesus was a teacher of wisdom. This is the strongest consensus
      among
      > today's Jesus scholars. Whatever else can be said about the pre-
      Easter
      > Jesus, he was a teacher of wisdom-- a sage, as teachers of wisdom
      are
      > called." (p.69)

      I would have said that the strongest consensus was that Jesus was an
      American Liberal Social-Gospel Protestant. But surely "teacher of
      wisdom" would come in a close second.

      As I understand it, the logic goes as follows:
      A. Somebody, maybe philologists, maybe just the Zeitgeist, decides to
      classify certain modes of expression "wisdom," using as their primary
      model the book of Proverbs.
      B. Some of Jesus' sayings are assumed to be similar to those modes of
      expression and are labeled "wisdom sayings."
      C. This leads to the conclusion that Jesus is a teacher of wisdom
      (confusing here a category of literary classification with an
      occupation in life).
      D. If Jesus was a teacher of wisdom he must have been a sage, that
      being what teachers of wisdom are called.

      But if we move back a bit, we find that Jesus is NEVER called a sage
      by any source at all. Further, if we look to what sort of thing
      people said who said the things of proverbs they tend to be people
      giving advice on practical matters, such as what to do about wives,
      along with countless platitudes featuring the idea that God prefers
      you to be good and does not like it if you are bad, and a good bit of
      advice about how it is a good plan to keep your mouth shut, etc.. I
      generally think that these are the sorts of things that were used in
      the education of wealthy pubescent boys. You do NOT generally find
      such things in the teachings of Jesus, although there is some such as
      the advice to settle suits out of court. What you normally find in
      the sayings of Jesus that are said to be "Wisdom" are folk proverbs
      and Jesusy parables, the latter largely unparalleled in type. The
      folk-proverbial sayings, such as the blind lead the blind, you can't
      hide a city on a hill, be sure you are strong enough and then go
      ahead, and so forth, are largely lacking in the book of Proverbs. So
      the locus classicus for the literary typology "wisdom" is not
      directly applicable to the sorts of things Jesus was saying. There is
      a logical confusion in looking at folk proverbs and parables, lacking
      in Wisdom Texts, and labeling them Wisdom on the analogy of Wisdom
      Texts. All this is even more true if you try and find analogy between
      Jesus' style and the style of Jesus BS or W. Solomon.

      > Peter Kirby's web site offers Crossan, Funk, Mack & Patterson as
      examples.
      > He might also have added Ben Witherington III's Jesus the Sage
      (1994), and
      > Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza's Jesus: Miriam's child, Sophia's
      prophet
      > (Jesus studies can make strange bedfellows!). This is a remarkably
      diverse
      > consensus, even though they disagree with each other about a lot of
      things.

      I am beginning to think that Ben Witherington III is the most
      influential scholar of the age. His technique of taking the
      conclusions he learned in Church and declaring them to be the result
      of Disinterested Critical Scholarship seems to have attracted many.

      Do not think too much on Professor Schussler-Fiorenza as a bedfellow.

      > Now there is an interesting thing about sages: They don't have to
      present
      > coherent philosophical programs.

      This is going to bring us back into the New Age. But I am attracted
      by the notion of Jesus as a New Age Sage because, as you seem to be
      arguing, the fact that he didn't make any sense is an attractive
      point for many many people. The fact that it is not an attractive
      point for me gets in my way. Yet when I look at the shelves at
      Barnes and Noble there are huge quantities of obviously false schlock
      being sold to people who are not me.

      The writings of the Gnostics are, I think, analogous to the writings
      of the New Age.

      >We have as precedent, for example, the OT
      > Book of Proverbs. It certainly appears to be the work of one or
      more wisdom
      > sages, but there does not appear to be much in the way of a
      coherent
      > intellectual program of the kind that you are looking for.

      I would have said that there was. It's all platitudes of self-
      righteous judicial monotheism. But I never would have thought it
      particularly incoherent. It is conspicuously lacking in the mystical
      stuff of Thomas and the "jolts" of the incoherent parables.

      > So what does a wisdom sage teach? According to Borg (op. cit., 75),
      > Jesus was not primarily a teacher of information (what to believe)
      or
      > morals (how to behave),

      Which is EXACTLY what the Locus Classicus for Jewish Wisdom DOES
      teach.

      > but a teacher of a way or path of transformation. A
      > way of transformation from what to what? From a life in the world
      of
      > conventional wisdom to a life centered in God.

      Jeez. This is Thomasine, certainly. But didn't we all agree that most
      of the material unique to Thomas was NOT defensibly attributable to
      the Historical Jesus?

      I would say that the book of Proverbs, our locus classicus for Wisdom
      stuff, is almost nothing but the conventional wisdom of its own time
      and place, monotheists teaching rich pubescent boys.

      > Jesus taught, according to Borg, using paradox and reversal
      (remember
      > Xeno?) in parables and aphorisms.

      And so this is mainly the opposite of Wisdom stuff in Proverbs.

      > In a similar vein, your old buddy Ben Witherington III (The Jesus
      Quest)
      > suggested that Jesus' teaching
      > …is metaphorical and is not easily reduced to propositions or
      principles.
      > It was more intended to help people catch the vision and follow
      where the
      > pillar of fire led, than to be dissected inch by inch. Jesus'
      teaching
      > about the kingdom, or even implicitly about himself, is grounded in
      a
      > story, the story of Wisdom and its progress, acceptance, and
      rejection
      > among and by God's people. (p. 195)

      Actually, yeah, I agree. I think this is not far off from a
      description of the program of the Gospel of John and, to some degree,
      also Thomas' unique material. But nobody will say that secular
      scholarship on the Historical Jesus has concluded that we find HJ in
      the program of Thomas' and John's gospels.

      Did you know that the word "wisdom" doesn't appear in the Gospel of
      Thomas or in the Gospel of John or in the Gospel of Mark? Here are
      all the things Jesus said about "wisdom" (from bible gateway NIV)

      Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they
      say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors
      and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions." Matthew
      12:42
      The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation
      and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to
      Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. Luke 11:49
      Because of this, God in his wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets
      and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will
      persecute.' Luke 21:15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none
      of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

      So, it's really hard to say that Jesus taught ABOUT wisdom as does,
      say, the Wisdom of Solomon. And it is hard to say that the style he
      taught in was a "Wisdom" style if our model is the W of Sol or the
      book of Proverbs.

      I think that you are right to say that there is a great consensus in
      HJ studies that HJ was a wisdom sage, but I do not think that,
      therefore, there is any particular merit in the claim that HJ was a
      wisdom sage.

      Steve Davies
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