The Search for Jesus: Modern Scholarship looks at the Gospels
- 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
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.
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.