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Re: [XTalk] Re: anachronistic standards, was Jesus' "Temptation" & "baptism"

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  • Theodore Weeden
    Rikk Watts wrote on February 17: Ted, I notice that you ve not responded to my question: [Ted} Rikk, I apologize for not answering your question as yet. I
    Message 1 of 48 , Feb 17, 2005
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      Rikk Watts wrote on February 17:


      I notice that you've not responded to my question:


      Rikk, I apologize for not answering your question as yet. I have also not
      responded as quickly to others as I would like. I guess I have too many
      things going at once. I will try to answer your query here to the best of
      my ability. My answer may not completely satisfy you. But I will be as
      honest as I can about my own hermeneutical presuppositions and to what
      extent they may be prejudiced by some personal bias, realized or unrealized
      that I may have, or, perhaps, an uncritical ability to be critical of my own


      what evidence can you
      cite that ancient authors operated with the assumption that because e.g.
      none of the gospel writers explicitly state Jesus once talked to his
      disciples about his temptation they would conclude he never did?

      I ask the question because I doubt if there is evidence of any such canon.
      If so, is it not the case that requiring Mark to meet evidential standards
      that were not expected by his first century readers is anachronistic and


      There is no such canon and I am not arguing for one. Of course Jesus likely
      talked about a lot of things that were not remembered by his disciples, much
      less passed on in oral tradition. It is purely speculative to argue from
      silence as to whether Jesus reported an experience in his life and that that
      experience serves as the unreported basis for a historical event attributed
      to him, as it is also purely speculative to argue that an event has no
      historical basis because there is no evidence that Jesus reflected upon such
      a personal event at one point with his disciples. The latter may appear to
      be the position I have taken with respect to the temptation story. That is
      not really my intent. In making a judgment as to whether some event or
      saying, for that matter, is authentic to the experience or teaching of the
      historical Jesus, I need as a socio-historical critic to weigh all the
      evidence for or against such a possibility. In the case of the temptation
      story, all I am saying is that those who suggest that there lies behind the
      story is kernal of historical truth about an actual temptation of Jesus do
      not have, as far as I am aware, explicit or implicit evidence that Jesus
      reflected on such an experience at some later point with his disciples. To
      have such evidence would weigh in the favor of there being behind the story
      an authentic experience of Jesus. I think that datum is relevant and
      should be taken into consideration by those who pose that the temptation
      story is rooted in an actual personal experience of Jesus.

      I want to make an important distinction here. The burden of proof begins
      with the person who proposes a theory to present evidence that is persuasive
      enough for others to acknowledge that the theory has merit and that the
      evidence marshalled suggests that the theory can stand by virtue of some
      cogency. However, once a critic challenges the cogency of a theory, then
      the onus is on the critic to supply counter evidence to suggest why the
      theory does not have cogency. With respect to the temptation story, I am
      the challenging critic and the burden of proof is in my court with respect
      to the untenability of the existence of a istorical kernel inherent within
      the story. I acknowledge that, and I have sought to propose evidence for
      why I take that position in previous post. But my attempt to do so has been
      judged as my bias to extreme skepticism. Perhaps that is the case. But
      let me reiterate why I find myself in the current position of doubting Mark
      when he tells me that Jesus, following his baptism, was driven into the
      desert by the Spirit to be put to the test by Satan. And you have requested
      that I share my methodology for taking that position in your following
      charge to me.


      But given your concern for privileged readings, may I then ask a question
      about what seems to me to be your privileging of your own skeptical
      hermeneutic? Have you thought about why it is that you make what first
      century authors and readers apparently regarded as unreasonable evidential
      demands? Is it possible that your own pre-suppositional stance leads you to
      privilege an anachronistic skepticism, but apparently only toward Mark and
      not e.g. Seneca (or Bultmann)? I'm not trying to be provocative here, but
      only to understand what strikes me as an unreasonably hostile attitude
      toward Mark's testimony which seems not to be evident in your attitudes
      toward other sources. Is it perhaps that you have already decided on other
      grounds that Mark is not reliable, and if so, can we know what they are?


      Those are reasonable questions and challenges to present me. Let me say
      first that I would not characterize my skepticism toward Mark presenting the
      temptation story (or Markan stories), as a story grounded in some historical
      factuality, is because I am hostile toward Mark. In fact, Mark is my
      favorite Gospel and always has been. Despite the fact that Mark presents
      material that I think he has created fictive material of his own invention,
      what he presents I think is sometimes a helpful theological or
      christological interpretation of Jesus that comports with my own
      socio-historical reconstruction of the profile of the historical Jesus.

      Take Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, for example, I have argued in an earlier
      post that I do not think that Jesus prayed that particular prayer in
      Gethsemane at that particular moment. First of all, based upon the logic of
      the story-line, and in the absence of other evidence, Mark presents Jesus as
      praying off by himself to God, at some distance from his three confidants,
      Peter, James and John, who persist on sleeping the whole time Jesus is
      praying. Again, based on the story-line, and the absence of other
      evidence, I can only logically conclude that no one heard that prayer to
      preserve in the memory bank of the Jesus oral traidtion. I can only
      logically conclude that Jesus did not pray that prayer.

      Moreover, I think there is strong evidence that the entire Gethsemane
      episode was created by Mark using as a model David's flight from the forces
      of Absalom to the Mount of Olives and in despair over his pending fate (2
      Sam. 15). But that is another matter. To return to the prayer,I think
      Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane is "authentic" to the character and integrity of
      the historical Jesus as I have come to understand him. I think that Jesus
      may well, and I have no specific evidence, have struggled with his decision
      to take on the injustice of the Temple cult in its oppression of the
      Galilean cultic outcasts and marginalized landless peasant artisans, etc, by
      engaging in an act so provocative in the Temple that he realized that he
      would jeopardize his own life and the lives of his followers. And that
      struggle may well have driven him to have doubts about what he felt driven
      to do in the name of God and God's kingdom. So while I do not think Jesus
      prayed that prayer in Gethsemane, it is consistent with the character and
      integrity of the historical Jesus, as I have come to understand him. I
      prefer Mark to John, for example, because in John Jesus is in control of
      everything and orchestrates the events. That Johannine portrayal, in my
      view, is an inauthentic portrayal of the historical Jesus.

      Now with respect to my socio-historical methodology that has led me to
      increasing skepticism about the historicity of the Gospel narratives, permit
      me a bit of my faith/scholarly journey. At the age of 15, having
      experienced a call to the ordained minstry of the Methodist Church, I became
      a true believer. I read my King James Bible at night and believed
      everything in it was historically true, though I have always been nagged by
      doubts over the logical plausibility of some Biblical accounts. In any
      event, in those early years I believed that the words printed in red in my
      King James Bible were the actual words of Jesus. In seminary, I became
      disabused of the virginal conception and graduate school convinced me that
      there was no historical basis for the Matthean and Lukan infancy narratives.
      My dissertation on Mark awakened me to the fact that Mark has intentionally
      denigrated the character of Peter in a Markan vendetta against Peter and the
      Twelve, a denigrating picture of Peter which Matthew and Luke sought to

      I also came to the conclusion, contra my the former naivete, that there no
      historical basis to the empty tomb story, that Jesus did not get up from the
      dead and walk out of the tomb, as I had imagined as a true believer. Thus,
      my trust in Mark, not to mention the other Gospels, as a reliable historian
      of the uncompromised historical truth took a serious blow. I began to
      wonder what else Mark may have created and passed off as "Gospel truth." I
      soon became aware that Mark is a far more sophisticated writer than scholars
      have given him credit for being because of Mark's Greek is so poor. I found
      convincing the evidence of others who have shown that Mark looks for
      narrative models and motifs in the Old Testament as sources for composing
      his passion narratives, such as the Old Testament motifs which Mark used to
      flesh out his account of Jesus' crucifixion and Mark's use of the Davidic
      saga of 2 Sam. 15-17 to create his Gethsemane episode and the betrayal of
      Judas. My discovering of the parallels between the Jewish and Roman trials
      of Jesus ben Ananias, as related by Josephus, and the Markan Jewish and
      Roman trials of Jesus have convinced, as a number of scholars have
      previously suspected, that Mark's Jewish trial of Jesus is not historically
      reliable, nor for that matter is his accounting of Jesus' Roman trial. I
      have come to the conclusion as a result of my examination of the parallels
      found in the Jesus-Ananias story and Mark's story of Jesus that Mark created
      the trials of Jesus --- without recourse to any actual historical events in
      Jesus' life--- using as a source and model the trials of Jesus ben Ananias.
      So, I hope you can seen, increasingly I have discovered that much of Mark's
      Jesus in his passion story has no historical basis, but rather is the result
      of Mark trying to create an apologia to explain to his community why Jesus
      was put death and the events that lead inexorably to that fate.

      I was mystified in part as to why Mark would create fiction and pass it off
      to his community as historical fact until I read Samuel Byrskog account,
      which I have shared with you and others, of the extensive practice of
      Graeco-Roman authors in the first century CE, in particularly, of blending
      in fiction and fact in their historical compositions in order to persuade
      their readers of their particular point of view. Furthermore, I found, as I
      have also cited, that Quintillian, the widely respected rhetorician of the
      period, encouraged writers to be as persuasive as they can be with their
      rhetoric even if it means including fiction in what is obstensibly a
      historical account of factuality. I have also found that Quintillian
      placed very high importance on mimesis, the imitation of an ancient author
      of a predessor, and further that practice of mimesis as an acquired skill
      was taught in Hellenistic education (see Teresa Morgan, _Literate Education
      in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds_).

      Now, then, it struck me that since Mark is literate and writes in Greek, as
      pedastrian as it may be, Mark must be a product of Hellenistic education and
      that Quintillian, via the guidance of Mark's own teacher of rhetoric, must
      have been Mark's mentor as he learned how to write persuasively, which Mark,
      in fact, does. Just consider the number of astute scholars who are prone
      to accept Mark as presenting by and large the historical truth.
      Parenthetically, I wonder if that would have been the case if Mark had not
      been included in the New Testament canon, a decision made by ecclesiastical
      judgment of those who decided what was orthodoxy and what was heresy. In
      many ways the imprimatur of historic Christian orthodoxy has privileged, in
      my judgment, Mark, consciously or unconsciously, as a reliable and accurate
      historian of the life of Jesus. But what if Mark had been excluded from
      the canon and lumped with Thomas, for example, as not worthy of canonicity,
      would we be as ready to accept Mark's account over against Matthew and Luke
      for information, to cite two examples of many, about the historical Peter or
      the conclusion of the Markan Gospel in which the women run from the tomb and
      report nothing to anyone about their experience at the tomb? My guess is
      without the imprimatur of canonicity we would be quite skeptical about how
      much trust one can put in Mark's account of Jesus.

      To return agan to the basis of my hermeneutical presuppositions regarding
      Mark: recognizing that Mark was trained in rhetoric in Hellenistic schools
      were Quintillian was presented as the authority and standard for the mastery
      of good rhetoric and were the emphasis was placed upon mimesis of
      Hellenistic writers, themselves guided by Quintillian in writing persuasive
      historical accounts that could sometime include fictionalized details and
      events in order to be persuasive, then there seems to be a natural coherence
      between Mark's rhetorical practice and that which he was taught to immulate
      in his education. Thus my hermeneutic of suspicion now when I approach a
      Markan narrative! I confess I begin with a healthy skepticism and
      suspicion, suggested by Jan Vansina, as to what in the Jesus oral tradition,
      or narrative texts dependent on that tradition, in the Markan narrative
      actually is based upon a kernel of historical truth. It was with this
      healthy skepticism and suspicion that led me to question the historicity of
      the Markan story of the temptation of Jesus.

      Since I am now aware that Mark likes to find patterns used by other others,
      Biblical authors and otherwise (cf. Dennis MacDonald), and use those
      pattterns, if they support Mark's own narrative purpose and ideology, as
      templates for composing his own narratives, I looked for a narrative pattern
      within the Markan narrative template that might suggest what was driving the
      tour de force of the narrative, as it spoke to and advocated Mark's
      particular ideology. Thus, as I saw that Mark is keenly interested in the
      new exodus typology, which you have effectively demonstrated, I moved from
      his introduction of the Isaiah 40 passage to see if the exodus pattern
      served as Mark's template for his narration of Jesus' baptism, his
      temptation in the desert and his return to Galilee where for the first time
      he announces the advent of the Kingdom of God. And I found convincing
      parallels to the exodus epic which suggested to me that that epic became his
      template for narrating the three episodes.

      I looked to see if I could detect anything that would plausibly suggest that
      the temptation story was based upon a kernel of historical fact. And,
      without other convincing corroborating evidence external to the story, I
      could find no reason to suggest that Mark was doing anything different in
      that story than he did in composing the Gethsemane episode with its Jesus
      prayer, for example. In fact, as I looked more closely at the story-line of
      the temptation story itself I found a narrative gap that suggested to me
      that Mark was not reporting a historical event. The narrative gap is that
      Mark, while telling us that he was driven in to the desert by the Spirit of
      God and there to be tested by Satan, he does not tell us just what the
      nature of the test was and whether or not Jesus passed it. Even the Q
      temptation story provides the information about what the test was that Jesus
      faced and how he responded to that testing. Mark tells us nothing with
      respect to that. Even in Homer and other ancient writers, when characters
      are put to a test we are told what the test is and how the character
      responded to it. The absence of that information leads me to think that
      Mark is not interested in history in his telling of the temptation story,
      not even a kernel of history related to a test of Jesus, but rather is
      interested solely in presenting in the most convincing way possible that
      Jesus is the embodiement of the new exodus, signified in the baptism story,
      the temptation story and Jesus' return, following the desert experience, to
      Galilee to pronounce the advent of the Kingdom of God.

      I apologize for the length of this reply to your important questions that
      you have posed to me regarding my hermeneutical presuppositions. If I have
      not addressed your concerns adequately or fully enough, please let me know.
      I am trying to be as candidly honest as I can be.

      Best regards,

    • Horace Jeffery Hodges
      ... the earthly Jesus, perhaps the pious added miracles to the pre- and post- earthly Jesus because such miracles could be even more impressive. There was also
      Message 48 of 48 , Feb 21, 2005
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        Jeff wrote:

        >>Rather than add to the number of miracles wrought by
        the earthly Jesus, perhaps the pious added miracles to
        the pre- and post- earthly Jesus because such miracles
        could be even more impressive. There was also plenty
        of time for miracles such as these -- endless time, in

        Rick wrote:

        >An interesting idea. Do you have any evidence that
        first/second century readers regarded the earthly
        Jesus' mighty deeds as not being particularly
        impressive, or at least not compared to cosmic ones?<

        Jeff writes:

        Not particularly impressive? I wouldn't put it that
        way. The earthly ones are quite impressive. Rather,
        just that cosmic miracles are even more impressive
        than earthly ones.

        Anyway, no, I have no evidence one way or the other.

        Jeff wrote:

        >>Manichaean texts have the non-earthly Jesus
        miraculously intervening in cosmic processes a number
        of times. The Gnostic text titled Pistis Sophia has
        Jesus shifting the sphere of fate to break its hold on
        the world.<<

        Rick wrote:

        >This is true, but I wonder if this is more in keeping
        with their denigration of the material world. My guess
        is that they wouldn't really want a non-earthly Jesus
        messing about with impure matter.<

        Jeff writes:

        Well, Gnostics wouldn't want Jesus getting too
        intimate with matter. But that would be true generally
        of Greek thinking, wouldn't it? Perhaps that plays a
        role in what you've noticed about miracles?

        Just guessing.

        Jeffery Hodges

        University Degrees:

        Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
        (Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")
        M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
        B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University

        Email Address:


        Office Address:

        Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
        Department of English Language and Literature
        Korea University
        136-701 Anam-dong, Seongbuk-gu
        South Korea

        Home Address:

        Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
        Seo-Dong 125-2
        Shin-Dong-A, Apt. 102-709
        447-710 Kyunggido, Osan-City
        South Korea
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