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RE: [XTalk] Patterson's The God of Jesus

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  • Bob Schacht
    ... It has wider implications than this, if we want to understand the growth and development of the Church in the early centuries, because such questions can
    Message 1 of 19 , Jul 6, 2002
      At 12:02 PM 7/4/2002 -0400, you wrote:

      >I am bothered by statements such as his aim being to "show how scholars have
      >come to the conclusions they have reached over many years, and what these
      >conclusions might mean for someone -- or a church -- who wants to take
      >seriously their implications for the big questions that make life
      >worthwhile: Who am I? What is life for? What is real? Who is God?"
      >
      >While I appreciate that the results of historical criticism must have
      >repercussions among the faithful who accept its principals,

      It has wider implications than this, if we want to understand the growth
      and development of the Church in the early centuries, because such
      questions can help us understand what motivated early Christians.

      >this kind of talk makes it seem, at least to me, like Patterson thinks
      >critics such as
      >himself *have* found a "Rosetta stone" for understanding ourselves as human
      >beings with basic psychological needs that theology helps satisfy. At times
      >I have mentioned my observation that the religious spectrum, at least in
      >modern times, has a right wing that clearly sees Jesus functioning as a
      >"personal savior" reconciling individuals with God, and a left wing that
      >just as clearly sees Jesus functioning as the focus for a gospel of social
      >enlightenment, reconciling society with God. Perhaps this explains the
      >modern fascination with interpretations of Jesus as a prophetic reformer or
      >wandering cynic-like social critic. Is it a coincidence that to many critics
      >Jesus seems more and more to resemble a beatnik of the 50's, Allen Ginsberg
      >of the 60's, and social radicals of the 1960's & 1970's, all rolled into
      >one? It appears that we are simply gazing at our own reflections in the
      >well, and a reflection that is at least 30 years old!

      Much older than that, since the observation is Schweitzer's, no?

      You then quote me:

      > >>He also argues that "the search for the historical Jesus should not be
      >about replacing the biblical stories with history, throwing out the
      >'confessionally biased gospels' in favor of the 'indisputable facts of
      >history'." (pp. 8-9). Instead, he argues that we need the confessional
      >elements to understand what Jesus *meant* to his followers.<<
      >
      >And what Jesus meant to the authors of Christian literature is all we
      >actually can "know" about him. If anything about a real Jesus is to be
      >found, it must be deduced from the rhetoric by which that understanding was
      >framed. But to speak of their understanding of Jesus in ethical terms, as if
      >it has tremendously deep meaning for all humankind in all ages, is "social
      >gospel" ideology, pure and simple.

      I think what you may be missing is that Patterson's method is meant to
      parse the rhetoric into its various components, some of which have to do
      with meaning, and others of which may reflect history.

      >...I say, if he wants to be all soft and fuzzy, move Patterson's books to the
      >"Inspirational" shelf along with Og Mandino.
      >
      >Respectfully,
      >
      >Dave Hindley
      >Cleveland, Ohio, USA

      I think this does not fairly characterize Patterson's book. Perhaps you
      have mistaken my commendation of the warm and fuzzy parts for the sum total
      of his effort. But Patterson, after all, is/was a member of the Jesus
      Seminar, and uses as the basis of his discussion the red and pink sayings
      from The Five Gospels.

      Bob
    • David C. Hindley
      ... criticism must have repercussions among the faithful who accept its principals], if we want to understand the growth and development of the Church in the
      Message 2 of 19 , Jul 6, 2002
        Robert Schacht says:

        >>It has wider implications than this [i.e., that the results of historical
        criticism must have
        repercussions among the faithful who accept its principals], if we want to
        understand the growth and development of the Church in the early centuries,
        because such questions can help us understand what motivated early
        Christians.<<

        I doubt that we are going to discover how ancients answered questions like:
        "Who am I? What is life for? What is real? Who is God?" in the way Patterson
        would like us to. I am even doubtful the ancients would have asked these
        questions in the form some of these take. "Who is God?" should be "Which
        God?" One of the others is pretty cut & dried: "Who am I?" "Why, you are a
        low-level retainer of me, an elite big-wig, mainly because you are a
        non-inheriting son with no land to farm, and you can't learn a trade, so get
        back to work."

        The middle two, however, might be better asked as "Is this all there is?"
        How various communities answered that question might be illuminated by the
        study of Thomas and other early Christian documents. Yet the POV of Thomas
        does not appear to be reflected strongly in early Christian theology,
        including even the early Christian gnostic circles. It is a side track to
        the mainline, but there is this strange modern insistence in thinking of it
        as an important marshalling yard to the mainline. Why?

        >>Much older than that, since the observation is Schweitzer's, no?<<

        I was speaking of the modern reflections. Schweitzer, who popularized the
        image in the well imagery, saw Jesus as a teacher of a messianic secret, but
        not as a wandering radical social critic (at least as far as I can recall
        off the top of my head). The well, to Schweitzer, was his commentary upon
        the character of the then-modern "Liberal Lives of Jesus.' He felt they
        reflected the bias and ideologies of the humanist liberal critics who wrote
        them more than the actual life and teachings of an historical Jesus. Of
        course that did not stop Schweitzer from doing the same thing himself with
        his messianic secret hypothesis.

        A couple years ago I read a magazine article on management strategy at large
        corporations (since I work for one then as well as now). It said that the
        buzz-words used by high-level management types usually turn out to be
        technical terms used in cutting-edge trade journals coined about 10 years
        earlier. The reason, I suspected, was that the high-level corporate leaders
        were attempting to interpret circumstances prevailing in their own time by
        using descriptive terms they heard of (but did not actually learn formally,
        as no school is *that* "cutting-edge") in their business school graduate
        programs 10 years prior.

        I say, look at the social trends and popular ideas of the days when modern
        critics were in undergraduate and graduate school, and you will find the
        ideas that permeate their interpretations today. Not that there's anything
        *wrong* with that <said while taking a step back>, but I feel the 60's
        radical intellectual interpretation still dominant today is over-done and
        ready for replacement. All the rough edges of the revolutionary Jesus (of S.
        G. F. Brandon and some others) have been sanded off and Jesus has now been
        polished into a caricature of a university professor, but it is all getting
        quite worn out. Now if we stripped off the old polish and brought up the
        grain, we might have another go at shaping the idea of an eschatological
        Jesus ...

        Respectfully,

        Dave Hindley
        Cleveland, Ohio, USA
      • sdavies0
        ... there is? ... by the ... Thomas ... theology, ... track to ... thinking of it ... Well, I think there s an answer to that question. Let s take your own
        Message 3 of 19 , Jul 7, 2002
          --- In crosstalk2@y..., "David C. Hindley" <dhindley@c...> wrote:
          > The middle two, however, might be better asked as "Is this all
          there is?"
          > How various communities answered that question might be illuminated
          by the
          > study of Thomas and other early Christian documents. Yet the POV of
          Thomas
          > does not appear to be reflected strongly in early Christian
          theology,
          > including even the early Christian gnostic circles. It is a side
          track to
          > the mainline, but there is this strange modern insistence in
          thinking of it
          > as an important marshalling yard to the mainline. Why?

          Well, I think there's an answer to that question. Let's take your own
          observations:

          > At times
          > I have mentioned my observation that the religious spectrum, at
          least in
          > modern times, has a right wing that clearly sees Jesus functioning
          as a
          > "personal savior" reconciling individuals with God, and a left wing
          that
          > just as clearly sees Jesus functioning as the focus for a gospel of
          social
          > enlightenment, reconciling society with God.

          I think this is quite true, although I suspect it applies to the
          USA specifically. There is a third wing on the dove, and that's the
          New Age, the Spiritual Questers, the folks who have become fed up for
          good with the Christian Church of the two sorts and who want
          something else to massage their spiritual goodness with.
          Those folks are still Christian from their childhood training and so
          for them the POV of Thomas is very reassuring.

          As our very Stephen Patterson took pains to demonstrate, in
          "The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus" book the Gospel of Thomas is
          independent of the Canonical scriptures. It is probably
          first century in date.
          This fact is strong evidence against the
          common presumption that because Mark and its revisions are
          in the canon therefore Mark and its
          revisions are the only possible ways of viewing Jesus (pace half of
          Crosstalk). Thus as it becomes clearer that the canonical scriptures
          are a particular point of view (or related set of points of view)
          chosen by people who, we have reason to think, hated and
          suppressed the POV of Thomas (cf. Irenaeus)
          Thomas becomes the valuable piece of evidence that
          Jesus was not either an American Social Gospel Protestant, or
          an American Born Again ProtestantÂ… but Jesus may have been
          an American New Age Spiritual Quester.

          That's why Thomas assumes such importance to some. Just as
          prootexts from Matthew's Sermon on the Mount become the
          essential HJ to the Social Gospelers, and the Born Agginers
          pick prooftexts from Paul, so the New Agers find in Thomas their
          prooftexts of choice.

          Oh, incidentally, I've revised and cleaned up the
          Gospel of Thomas Homepage, especially in light of
          the fact that Stigmata the godawful movie is showing up on TV.

          http://home.epix.net/~miser17/Thomas.html

          Steve Davies
        • David C. Hindley
          Steven, ... Questers, the folks who have become fed up for good with the Christian Church of the two sorts and who want something else to massage their
          Message 4 of 19 , Jul 7, 2002
            Steven,

            >>There is a third wing on the dove, and that's the New Age, the Spiritual
            Questers, the folks who have become fed up for good with the Christian
            Church of the two sorts and who want something else to massage their
            spiritual goodness with. <<

            In *this* neighborhood? There goes the intellectual property values!

            >>Thomas becomes the valuable piece of evidence that Jesus was not either an
            American Social Gospel Protestant, or an American Born Again Protestant� but
            Jesus may have been an American New Age Spiritual Quester.<<

            Whew, you had me goin' there for a minute!

            Respectfully,

            Dave Hindley
            Cleveland, Ohio, USA
          • bjtraff
            ... I m sorry, but which fact is this Steve? That GThomas is probably 2nd Century and dependent on the Canonicals? :-) ... Good heavens. The known first
            Message 5 of 19 , Jul 7, 2002
              --- In crosstalk2@y..., "sdavies0" <sdavies@m...> wrote:

              > As our very Stephen Patterson took pains to demonstrate, in
              > "The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus" book the Gospel of Thomas is
              > independent of the Canonical scriptures. It is probably
              > first century in date.
              > This fact...


              I'm sorry, but which "fact" is this Steve? That GThomas is probably
              2nd Century and dependent on the Canonicals? :-)

              > is strong evidence against the
              > common presumption that because Mark and its revisions are
              > in the canon therefore Mark and its
              > revisions are the only possible ways of viewing Jesus (pace half of
              > Crosstalk).

              Good heavens. The "known" first century documents are in the Canon.
              Those that "might be first century, but are probably second and later
              are not. Yet many silly scholars appear bent on using the earlier
              texts over the later ones. How odd.

              >Thus as it becomes clearer that the canonical scriptures
              >are a particular point of view (or related set of points of view)
              >chosen by people who, we have reason to think, hated and
              >suppressed the POV of Thomas (cf. Irenaeus)

              Oh dear. Poisoning the well now? Is this why they elected not to
              include 1 Clement? Or is it more likely because it is too late to be
              apostolic? Now, if you could prove that it is a FACT that GThomas
              was 1st Century, that would be interesting to say the least.

              >Thomas becomes the valuable piece of evidence that
              >Jesus was not either an American Social Gospel Protestant, or
              >an American Born Again ProtestantÂ… but Jesus may have been
              >an American New Age Spiritual Quester.

              Hmmm... which one of these are the Catholics? ;-)

              >That's why Thomas assumes such importance to some.

              Are you saying that it is important because it is congenial to the
              theology of some, and antithical to others? I thought historicans
              were supposed to treat data on the basis of its independence and
              early dating, as well as its probable authenticity and closeness to
              the historical Jesus.

              >Just as rootexts from Matthew's Sermon on the Mount become the
              >essential HJ to the Social Gospelers, and the Born Agginers pick
              >prooftexts from Paul, to the New Agers find in Thomas their
              >prooftexts of choice.

              Fortunately, scholars are above all of this, and work from the
              evidence on the basis of how reliable it is in itself, right? ;-)

              Peace,

              Brian Trafford
              Calgary, AB, Canada
            • David C. Hindley
              My apologies if my Steven should have been StevAn ... Respectfully, Dave Hindley Cleveland, Ohio, USA
              Message 6 of 19 , Jul 7, 2002
                My apologies if my "Steven" should have been "StevAn" ... <gotta get me some
                of them there spectacles>

                Respectfully,

                Dave Hindley
                Cleveland, Ohio, USA
              • smithand44
                ... probably ... Canon. ... later ... ? Or is it more likely because it is too late to be ... Isn t it a bit odd to claim that the canon was formed of first
                Message 7 of 19 , Jul 9, 2002
                  --- In crosstalk2@y..., "bjtraff" <bj_traff@h...> wrote:

                  > I'm sorry, but which "fact" is this Steve? That GThomas is
                  probably
                  > 2nd Century and dependent on the Canonicals? :-)


                  > Good heavens. The "known" first century documents are in the
                  Canon.
                  > Those that "might be first century, but are probably second and
                  later
                  > are not. Yet many silly scholars appear bent on using the earlier
                  > texts over the later ones. How odd.

                  ? Or is it more likely because it is too late to be
                  > apostolic? Now, if you could prove that it is a FACT that GThomas
                  > was 1st Century, that would be interesting to say the least.

                  Isn't it a bit odd to claim that the canon was formed of first
                  century documents when it wasn't even the first century at that time?
                  It isn't a FACT that Thomas is first century, but then it isn't a
                  FACT that the canonical gospels are, either. I happen to think that
                  both are, but how could it truly be a fact without external evidence?

                  Best Wishes

                  Andrew Smith
                • bjtraff
                  ... {Snip my stuff} ... Hello Andrew Actually, I was tweaking Steve a bit for his hyperbole, as curious assertion about the *factual dating* of GThomas and why
                  Message 8 of 19 , Jul 14, 2002
                    --- In crosstalk2@y..., "smithand44" <smithand44@h...> wrote:

                    {Snip my stuff}

                    >Isn't it a bit odd to claim that the canon was formed of first
                    >century documents when it wasn't even the first century at that
                    >time? It isn't a FACT that Thomas is first century, but then it
                    >isn't a FACT that the canonical gospels are, either. I happen to
                    >think that both are, but how could it truly be a fact without
                    >external evidence?

                    Hello Andrew

                    Actually, I was tweaking Steve a bit for his hyperbole, as curious
                    assertion about the *factual dating* of GThomas and why it never made
                    it into the Canon in the first place. As you have rightly noted, the
                    question of dating ancient texts can often prove quite problematic,
                    though I would add that this does not make the effort impossible. I
                    would argue that given the criteria that we use in dating ancient
                    texts, it can be more confidently demonstrated that many of the books
                    found in the Canon are 1st Century. Using this same criteria, and
                    applying it objectively, we can demonstrate that other texts are more
                    likely 2nd Century. Can any of Christian text be called 1st Century
                    as historical FACT? Well, perhaps FACT is too strong a word
                    (excepting the undisputed Pauline's, which do look to be 1st Century
                    as historical fact). After all, in the past I have argued that
                    *facts* are pretty scarce commodities in historical studies. All of
                    that said, I will stick with my original argument that all of the
                    KNOWN 1st Century Christian documents available to us are found in
                    the Canonical NT. Some of those books are very likely 2nd Century
                    (i.e. 2 Peter and probably the final form of GJohn). But the fact
                    (pun intended) remains that nothing has been proven about the
                    apocryphal texts visa vie their date ranges, outside of the
                    possibility that some of them MIGHT be 1st Century.

                    As you can see, when it comes to the specific case of GThomas, I have
                    yet to be convinced, but remain open to arguments that others may
                    wish to put forward.

                    Peace,

                    Brian Trafford
                    Calgary, AB, Canada
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