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The Search for Jesus: Modern Scholarship looks at the Gospels

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  • Peter Kirby
    There is a book that has been out for a while, published under the auspices of the Biblical Archaeological Society of Hershel Shanks, that records a conference
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 11, 2002
      There is a book that has been out for a while, published under the auspices of
      the Biblical Archaeological Society of Hershel Shanks, that records a conference
      on the historical Jesus with Stephen J. Patterson, Marcus J. Borg, and John
      Dominic Crossan.

      There is an introduction by Shanks, a chapter on Sources for a Life of Jesus by
      Patterson, a chapter on the Palestinian background of the life of Jesus by Borg,
      a chapter on the infancy of Jesus by Crossan, a chapter on contemporary
      portraits of Jesus by Borg, a chapter on the passion-resurrection by Crossan,
      and a panel discussion.

      Because it is based on a public conference, the style is easy-going,
      non-technical, enjoyable, and thoroughyl accessible.

      Patterson talks a little about the secular references to Jesus and the synoptic
      problem, two well-plowed fields. Patterson also lays out some of the methods
      for sorting fact from fiction in the gospels, most of them negative in result.
      I am a fan of Patterson's work on Thomas, and Patterson brings a novice up to
      date on the basic issues involved.

      Borg's first presentation focuses of five cultural dynamics of Jesus' world:
      colonial, cosmopolitan, peasant, purity, and patriarchal. Borg talks about
      imperialism, taxation, Hellenization, urbanization, pre-industrial agrarian
      society, elitism, the purity system, androcentrism, and patriarchy. This
      chapter reflects the contemporary emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus.

      Crossan outlines the infancy narrative of Luke in five acts parallel between
      Jesus and John: Angelic Annunciations (1:5-25 and 1:26-38), Publicized Birth
      (1:57-58 and 2:7-14), Circumcision and Naming (1:59-63a and 2:21), Public
      Presentation and Prophesy of Destiny (1:65-79 and 2:21-38), and the Description
      of the Child's Growth (1:80 and 2:40-52). Luke paints Jesus as superior to John
      and, thus, greater than the patriarchal traditions of his people. On the other
      hand, Moses and Jesus are compared by Matthew, who knew popular expansions about
      the life of Moses. The first act is called Ruler's Plot, and it has the scenes
      Sign (2:1-2), Fear (2:3), Consultation (2:4-6), and Massacre (2:7-8, 16-18).
      The second act is called Father's Decision, which has the scenes of Divorce
      (1:18-19), Reassurance (1:20-23), and Remarriage (1:24). The final act is the
      Child's Deliverance, in which Jesus ironically flees to Egypt. The middle
      level, as opposed to the surface level just seen, concerns the virginal
      conception and the Bethlehem birth. These are retrojective prophecy. And then
      there is the basic level, which is the most important: the implicit comparison
      of Jesus to Augustus. The pagan critic Celsus thought it absurd to claim that
      _Jesus_ was divine, as Jesus was a lower-class peasant. Crossan says: "in
      summary, then, it is not enough to keep saying that Jesus was not born of a
      virgin, was not born of David's lineage, was not born in Behtlehem, that there
      were no stables, no shepherds, no star, no Magi, no massacre of the infants, no
      flight into Egypt. All of that I think is absolutely true. But it still begs
      the real question, which is, then as now, where you find the divine manifest on
      this earth. Is it in Ceasar, or is it in Jesus? Is it in imperial grandeur or
      peasant poverty?" This was my favorite chapter of the book.

      Borg talks about the popular image of Jesus as the Son of God and the
      (classical) scholarly image of Jesus as eschatalogical prophet. Borg summarizes
      the views of Sanders as 'Restoration Eschatology Prophet', Mack as
      'Hellenistic-type Cynic Sage', Fiorenza as 'Egalitarian Wisdom Prophet', Horsley
      as 'Social Prophet', himself as 'Spirit Person', and Crossan as 'Jewish Cynic
      Peasant'. Borg concludes with the observations that the eschatology debate is
      not over, that the consensus sees Jesus as a wisdom teacher, that there is a
      tendency to see Jesus as political, and that the concept of Jesus as spirit
      person is not commonly addressed, although both Borg and Crossan present a Jesus
      who is a mystic and healer.

      Crossan presents material on the passion, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.
      Crossan presents the well-known dichotomy of history memorized or prophecy
      historicized. Crossan begins with the example that Jesus' silence is based
      prototypes such as Isaiah 53:7. Another example is the theme of the abused
      scapegoat, as explained in the Epistle of Barnabas. "I am completely convinced
      that the line went from scapegoat to Jesus because those poking reeds make more
      sense moving in that direction than the reverse. The scapegoat typifies Jesus,
      who dies 'for our sins.'" Crossan proposes that Jesus was buried by those who
      crucified him, if he was buried at all, which is doubtful given that nonburial
      was the shame of the cross, as shown by quotes from Hengel. Crossan also notes
      "the stead imporvement in Jesus' burial across the gospel texts." Finally,
      Crossan addresses the resurrection. Crossan asks us to imagine a follower of
      Jesus in Galilee who had been preaching and exorcising in the name of Jesus and
      who finally discovers, after three months, that Jesus had been executed in
      Jerusalem. But the kingdom of God still had been coming in power all this time.
      So they get on with the business of the kingdom. Finally, Crossan argues that
      the risen apparitions are a matter of Christian authority. Crossan takes as his
      example the development of the story of the race of Peter and the beloved
      disciple from the tradition mentioned in Luke 24:12. Crossan also notes that
      the threefold affirmation of Peter vindicates him after the threefold denial.

      Lastly, there is a panel discussion with Shanks, Crossan, Borg, and Patterson
      and a bibliography.

      As I said, the style is easy. I read through the whole thing in one sitting,
      and it is a very enjoyable read. So give it a look.


      Peter Kirby

      PS - Are there any programmers or bilingual people here? Anyone interested in
      the technology behind the Babel Fish? I have started a new Yahoo! group on
      machine translation, possibly the first of its kind. Please be kind enough to
      take a look and check out the bookmarks. I hope to see some of you there.

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