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Re: [XTalk] "Authentic Sayings vs. Fictive Creations"

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  • Gordon Raynal
    ... Hi Bill, Good to see you ever so briefly at SBL. I do want to hear a report about your Mark paper as I had to get to the airport on Tuesday morning. I
    Message 1 of 82 , Dec 2, 2002
      >From: "William Arnal" <warnal@...>

      >I have mentioned this on this list before, but I cannot help once again
      >thinking of Christopher Hill's little book on Lenin, toward the end of which
      >he cites various supernaturalistic and miraculous popular attributions to
      >Lenin in more rural areas of Russia by the 1930s or 1940s. What we probably
      >have here is an assimilation of folk beliefs to political leaders, not a
      >pipeline into the teaching or activity of the "historical Lenin."
      Hi Bill,

      Good to see you ever so briefly at SBL. I do want to hear a report about
      your Mark paper as I had to get to the airport on Tuesday morning. I think
      the list members might be interested in hearing some of your group's

      To another matter... remember I told you that I wanted to raise the issue on
      the list about the relationship between myth and history as it relates to
      HJ? What I have in mind is a discussion of the differences between memory
      of events/ words said... events and ideas that lead to dramatizations... and
      stories generated from midrash or imagination that reflect the writer/
      community relating to issues that grow out of belonging to a group. It
      seems to me that one of the things that makes the gospels complex is that we
      are dealing with pieces of literature that contain all three of the of the
      above. For the sake of argument I think Jesus told the parable of "The
      Sower" that Mark records in 4:3-8. I think the generation of such stories
      as "the exorcism" in 1:21-28 is an authorial fiction that relates to a.
      Jesus' authority and b. "the healing (reconciliation) effects" of the
      movement. And then for the third category... Mark 13 is the authorial
      creation dealing with the meaning of the destruction of the Temple.

      Now I **know** from listening in on this list for a couple of years that
      members of this group are all over the map on the above typology and the
      specific examples I've chosen. Ne'ertheless I think it might be interesting
      to venture into this discussion a bit.

      Gordon Raynal
      Inman, SC
    • William Arnal
      ... I think you ve rather misunderstood my position, or jumped to a conclusion about it. I m not taking that nasty old lit-crit line that all we have is the
      Message 82 of 82 , Dec 20, 2002
        James Hannam wrote:

        >think this may be a US/UK thing. Some of what Dr Arnal says sounds
        >disturbingly like the worst excesses of post structuralism which made
        >far more headway on his side of the Atlantic than mine. Over here,

        I think you've rather misunderstood my position, or jumped to a conclusion
        about it. I'm not taking that nasty old lit-crit line that all we have is
        the text and there's nothing behind it. I am not arguing that all writing
        should be viewed as imaginary until proved otherwise. ALL I have been saying
        is that a) the Gospels in particular appear to me to be imaginative products
        (a view generally endorsed by nearly ALL NT scholars, and even endorsed by
        Brian Trafford, against whose views I THOUGHT I was arguing); and b) the
        (subjective) intentionality behind any given writing is massively
        complicated, and one cannot take a simple a priori position that "people
        believe what they write to be literally true" -- such a position obscures
        more than it reveals. I don't how either of these positions is typical of
        "poststructuralist excess." Which poststructuralists or pos6tstructuralisms
        do you have in mind?

        >something from the historians' side. Firstly, the basic facts about
        >Jesus are surprisingly uncontroversial to most historians. They tend
        >to state them without much commentary and move on to something more
        >interesting because there is really not much we can say about HJ. EP
        >Sander's gives a list; we can add some more to that if we follow
        >historical method and don't mind offending a few theologians, but
        >half a page will cover what we can know about Jesus. But what is odd
        >is that theologians do seem keen to deny even these basic facts and
        >often for no particular reason.

        This is an unfair and distorted characterization. It homogenizes disparate
        positions. Historians differ on HJ, and so do theologians. On the basis of
        such a litmus test, I'd be a theologian! The historians that *I* know
        *personally* (and the classicists too) tend to take it for granted that the
        gospels are NOT historically reliable literature, even in their outlines.
        They are as puzzled by a "quest of the historical Jesus" as they would be by
        a "quest of the historical Asclepius."

        I further note that the DENIAL of the historicity of specific episodes in
        the gospels is -- as several posters, including Brian Trafford, have made
        clear -- really just about the ONLY solid decisions that can be made about
        the HJ. In other words, it's almost impossible to demonstrate that Jesus did
        or said anything -- the best we can manage with any secuirty is to say, "he
        certainly didn't do this." And so, really, the difference between me and E.
        P. Sanders on, say, the baptism, is that he's asserting (in shorthand):
        "there are no good reasons to see this episode as Christian embellishment,
        so we'll have to take it as being historical," while I'm saying, "yes, there
        are LOTS of good reasons to see it as embellishment." In other words we're
        talking about the same things in the same way, but disagreeing in our
        specific judgments. The difference between theologians and historians in
        applying this approach is simply this: for the theologian the answer is
        somehow normative (often in complex and indirect ways), and for the
        historian it is not. That's it. So Crossan may find it important,
        rhetorically or theologically or otherwise, if "the Jews" killed Jesus. I
        couldn't care less. It has no bearing on my attitude to Jews in general. Or
        again, it may be important to a liberal theologian to conclude that Paul did
        NOT unequivocally condemn homosexuality, or at least to somehow relativize
        the condemnation that's there; it may be importanbt to a conservative
        theologian to determine that Paul DID condemn it. I'm just interested in
        Paul, how he operated, what he said, how he tried to shape his ekklesiai. No
        skin off my nose either way: he's just some ancient dude talking about his
        views on a matter that I made up MY mind about many years ago, and without
        Paul's input.

        I must confess, however, to being in agreement with much of the gist of the
        latter part of your post, to the effect that the HJ i sless historically
        accessible, and for a variety if reasons less historically interesting, than
        he is generally taken to be.

        William Arnal
        Department of Religious Studies
        University of Regina
        Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0A2

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