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First Century Pillars

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  • Bob Schacht
    This week I got a copy of Karen King s intriguing book on the Gospel of Mary, which I think we will be hearing more about in the years to come. In Chapter 10,
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 16, 2004
      This week I got a copy of Karen King's intriguing book on the Gospel of
      Mary, which I think we will be hearing more about in the years to come. In
      Chapter 10, she wrote,
      >All gospel literature attests first and foremost to the theology and
      >practice of early Christians, all our portraits of Jesus come filtered
      >through the lenses of early Christian's beliefs and practices, and all
      >were forged in dialogue with other views." (p.110)

      There is a lot packed into this sentence. I think her statement is really
      not too novel, but the idea seems often neglected. Thus, it seems to me, we
      *cannot* avoid theology in historical Jesus research, if only to try to
      factor it out. For another thing, it makes intertextuality a given, it
      would seem. The idea of Intertextuality is not in itself new, but she uses
      it a lot, and perhaps develops its use in important ways. It also perhaps
      opens the door to good ol' Oral Tradition, if we consider "other views"
      expressed orally and not just in writing.

      But I want to use this idea as the spring board for a more general
      discussion of the background for intertextuality in the works that we have.
      And that is this: the views of *all* of the "pillars" of the community of
      followers of Jesus were controversial in one way or another-- which is the
      engine that eventually generated the corpus we now have (as well as some
      now lost to us.)

      That Paul was controversial hardly needs to be established, since he
      started out as a persecutor of the followers of Jesus, both by his own
      admission and by others (e.g., Acts). No wonder that he was sent on a
      mission to the Gentiles.

      Peter and the disciples.
      Last year(?), Ted Weeden posted an essay or two on GMark, which he
      essentially understood as a critique of Peter and the disciples, whom
      "Mark" thought didn't properly understand the mission and message of Jesus.
      Thus, even though Mark is regarded as the first Gospel, it was still
      "forged in dialogue with other views." After Weeden introduced his essay,
      one of the follow-up threads was to look more closely at how Matthew and
      Luke treated Peter, finding (if memory serves) that they shared many of
      Mark's concerns about Peter. The consensus, as I remember it, was to the
      effect that the Synoptic authors all thought that Peter was a bit dense and
      oaffish, but they could not deny that Jesus himself had bestowed some kind
      of special status on him. So Peter may have been one of the Pillars, but
      that doesn't mean that other followers of The Way agreed with him all the time.

      James seems to have been the head of the "circumcision party," in Paul's
      phrase. Acts and Paul's letters both depict him as a very Jewish adherent
      of The Way. Thus, a substantial portion of Paul's letters can be read as
      "forged in dialogue with [James'] views."

      Yes, Mary! Here's where King's book comes in. According to King, the Gospel
      of Mary reveals a rather unorthodox (and possibly gnostic?) view of sin,
      and proposes an inner way of salvation that appears to contrast with what
      we're used to. What is interesting in this regard is the priority of the
      Women (including Mary) as witnesses to the fact and significance of the
      resurrection (Mark 16:1-8//Matt 28:1-8//Luke 24:1-12//John 20:1-13), and
      especially Luke 24:10-11, which not only recognizes the priority of the
      women, but acknowledges that the men just didn't get it at first. The
      Gospel of Mary presents her as not merely a passive listener, but an active
      teacher, when the situation called for it. In the Gospel of Thomas, Mary is
      treated as a disciple in 21 (and the male disciples are compared with
      children), and is accorded a special status over against the male disciples
      in 114:
      114 Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't
      deserve life." Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so
      that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every
      female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."

      This is a peculiar verse, but it essentially acknowledges Mary as disciple
      despite the prejudices of the age.
      The Gospel of Philip also grants special status to the Women of the
      Resurrection in general, and Mary in particular:
      36. There were three Mariams who walked with the Lord at all times: his
      mother and [his] sister and (the) Magdalene°— she who is called his mate.
      Thus his (true) Mother, Sister and Mate is (also) called ‘Mariam’. (Mk
      3:35, Th 101, Ph 59; interlinear)
      59. The wisdom which (humans) call barren is the Mother of the Angels. (Ph
      40) And the Mate of the [Christ] is Mariam the Magdalene. The [Lord loved]
      Mariam more than [all the (other)] Disciples, [and he] kissed her often on
      her [mouth.] (Ph 35, 36) The other [women] saw his loving Mariam,¹ they say
      to him: Why do thou love [her] more than all of us? || The Savior°
      replied,¹ he says to them: Why do I not love you as (I do) her?
      (¹asyndeton; Th 61b; interlinear) [English Translation with Notes by
      Paterson Brown <http://www.metalog.org/files/philip1.html>]

      So there is a tradition of a special status for Mary, but also controversy
      about her discipleship. And yet, her status as a primary witness gave her
      special consideration.

      Of course, there is much controversy about whether Thomas is an early,
      independent source, or whether it is a late, derivative source. The Jesus
      Seminar famously considers it the 5th Gospel. And although many of the
      verses seem closely linked to the Synoptics, there are many others that
      find no place anywhere in the canonical books, implying that these verses
      were in some sense unacceptable. And this gospel does not seem to be
      associated with a "pillar," unless the johannine resurrection stories grant
      him that status.

      The frustrating thing, of course, is that intertextual "dialogue" is
      seldom done explicitly, with quotes and footnotes, leaving us to try to
      figure out who is dialoguing with who, or whether the "who" is more than a
      straw horse anyway. But the techniques of anonymous intertextuality need to
      be part of our standard critical toolkit, as much as source criticism and
      the other critical tools that we rely on.

      I understand intertextuality to be different from source criticism in that,
      with intertextuality, the text may be a response to, or a criticism of, or
      a reference to, another source, without attempting to replicate the source
      either exactly or in paraphrase. Thus, when James 2:14 says
      14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but
      do not have works? Can faith save you?
      This seems likely to be an example of intertextuality, but it does not
      attempt to directly quote or paraphrase in the same way, for example, as
      Luke or Matthew quote or paraphrase Mark. Is this understanding correct?


      Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
      Northern Arizona University
      Flagstaff, AZ

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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