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Re: [XTalk] Essay: Orthodox Death Tradition Misrepresents Jesus

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  • Theodore Weeden
    ... To answer your question: methodologically, I begin with those first century Christian texts where Jesus is cited as alluding to or referring directly to
    Message 1 of 83 , Aug 3, 2005
      Jeffrey Gibson wrote on August 1:

      > Theodore Weeden wrote:
      >> Turning to the historical Jesus, I do not find indisputable evidence that
      >> Jesus ever ruminated about his own death and what benefaction it might
      >> have
      >> for his followers or others.
      > This raises the question of what in your eyes would constitute such
      > evidence.
      > What is your criteria for determining that possible evidence is to be
      > ruled out of
      > court? And what test(s) would it have to pass to be deemed admissible?

      To answer your question: methodologically, I begin with those first century
      Christian texts where Jesus is cited as alluding to or referring directly to
      his death. The earliest of those texts is, likely, the eucharistic
      tradition depicted by Paul in 1 Cor. 11:23-24, followed chronologically much
      later by the canonical Synoptic Gospels and John. These are the primary
      first-century sources in which Jesus is cited addressing the issue of his
      death, the sources where one is most likely to find authentic sayings in
      which Jesus alludes or refers to his death, if such sayings exist.
      However, I rule out John as a reliable source of authentic sayings of Jesus.
      But there are also non-canonical Christian texts of the first century that
      need also to be considered as possible sources for any indication that Jesus
      ever alluded to or referred to his death. I, of course, have in mind the Q
      Gospel (I hold to the two document hypothesis) and the Gospel of Thomas, at
      least parts of which, in my judgment, are first century. But in perusing
      the Q Gospel and the Thomas, I am struck by the fact that, with the
      exception of the Markan cross saying (8:35; and see below), found in one
      form of other in both of these non-canonical documents (2Q 14:27: "The one
      who does not take one's cross and follow after me;" Thom. 55:2: "whoever . .
      . will not take up his cross as I do, will not be worthy of me"), neither of
      the documents contains Jesus sayings in which Jesus alludes to or refers to
      his death.

      Before I treat the authenticity of the Pauline eucharistic tradition known
      as the Lord's Supper or Last Supper, let me focus on Jesus sayings in which
      Jesus is protrayed in the Gospel of Mark as possibly alluding to or actually
      referring to his death. They are (1) the three passion predictions (8:31;
      9:31; 10:32-34), (2) the cross saying (8:35), (3) the ransom saying (10:45),
      (4) the Last Supper episode, and (5) the Gethsemane prayer (14:36). The
      passion predictions are widely held as post-Easter and fictive inventions of
      Mark in the service of his apologia of the cross. The ransom saying is also
      widely held to be a Markan creation. I have already argued in my essay
      that the Gethsemane prayer cannot be authentic (who heard it to report it?),
      but rather, again, a creation of Mark, as well as the entire Gethsemane
      episode, which Mark modeled after the Davidic saga of 1 Sam. 15-17.

      Now with respect to the cross saying. It is held by a number of scholars
      (Crossan being of particular note [_Historical Jesus_, 353}) as being
      authentic to the historical Jesus. But I am not convinced that it is, in
      either its Markan, Q or Thomastic versions. These are my reasons.
      First, it is not clear how Jesus understood himself. However, I do not
      think that Jesus had any messianic aspirations. It is quite plausible that
      Jesus saw himself as a teacher (rabbbi) or prophet. Had he made messianic
      claims for himself, he could have been considered a threat to Rome, and,
      consequently, in that scenario Jesus could have entertained the possibility
      that his messianic claims would be a threat to Pilate and Roman rule in
      Palestine, which might then lead to his crucifixion. But, as I said, I do
      not think Jesus had a messianic view of himself. Rather, it is most likely
      that Jesus viewed himself in the role of a teacher or prophet
      (eschatological, apocalyptic, or otherwise). And his prophetic message was
      addressed not against Rome but the Judean cult (see my XTalk post of
      3/26/05, entitled "Prelude to Replies: Jesus' Hidden Transcript"). Thus,
      as a scathing critic of the Judean cult, the death Jesus risked was a death
      not by crucifixion but by stoning via the decree of the high priest,
      precisely the mode of death imposed upon Jesus' brother James in 62 CE (see
      Josephus, _Ant._, XX. 200). Thus, if Jesus ever ruminated upon his death
      as a violent death imposed by political authority, he would most likely have
      considered the possibility of being stoned. While I do not think the
      saying is an authentic Jesus saying, 2Q does pose precisely the scenario I
      am talking about in a saying attributed to Jesus: namely, "Jerusalem,
      Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to
      it" (13:34).

      Then, it may be asked: Why was Jesus crucified if his prophetic attack was
      against the Judean Temple establishment and not against Rome. Here is the
      scenario I propose. Jesus at some point in his ministry decided to go to
      Jerusalem and confront the Judean Temple establishment directly. He
      entered the Temple area, likely at Passover, and proceeded to launch his
      fury against the very symbol of the Temple cult's religious, economic and
      political exploitation and oppression of Judean and Galilean peasants,
      namely the money changers. In a exercise of wrath he overturned the money
      changers' tables causing coins to spill everywhere. Now given the rampant
      plague of thievery in that day throughout the Roman Empire, and especially
      in Palestine, I cannot imagine that there were not Temple police stationed
      by the money changers to make sure that thieves did not try to pounce upon
      the tables, steal what money they could and flee the Temple. Therefore, my
      hunch is that as soon as Jesus turned over the money tables, his act was
      interpreted by both money changers and Temple police as an attempted theft
      of the money -- and certainly if the money was scattered about as a result
      of Jesus' act, I can only imagine that people did pocket the money on the
      floor. So in a sense, thievery did take place as a result of Jesus' act.
      Consequently, Jesus was immediately arrested by the Temple police, charged
      with thievery and desecration of the Temple, and was brought to Caiaphas.
      Caiaphas condemned Jesus to death, and, since crucifixion was the death
      penalty for thievery in the Roman Empire (see Martin Hegel, _Crucifixion_,
      47-50), Caiaphas turned Jesus over to Pilate to be crucified for thievery,
      the brutal mode of death demanded by rulers and populace alike for
      punishment of thieves. As Hengel notes (48f.), for example, "In the
      astrological literature and the ancient treatises on dreams it almost goes
      without saying that the just fate of the robber is to die on the cross."
      It is not surprising that Jesus is depicted by Mark as dying between two
      thieves (15:27), a common occurrence of crucifixion.

      That leaves us with the eucharistic tradition of the Last Supper, which is
      multiply attested, but with different nuances, by Paul and Mark. It is the
      one tradition, particularly in the Markan version, in which Jesus personally
      ascribes salvific meaning to his death. I argued in my essay that that
      eucharistic tradition is a fictive creation of the church at Jerusalem, but
      let me expand the argument to consider the historical plausibility of that
      eucharistic tradition being grounded in an actual historical event (the Last
      Supper) prior to Jesus' arrest and subsequent crucifixion. If, as I have
      argued, the event in which Jesus turned over the tables of the money
      changers is historical, and if it is most plausible that the Temple guard
      was stationed near those tables to guard against thievery, I cannot imagine
      Jesus being able to have escaped the Temple without being arrested. If he
      was arrested, then there is no possibility that he could have shared in a
      post-arrest, last supper with his disciples, as the Pauline report of the
      tradition suggests (1 Cor. 11:23: ‘in the night Jesus was delivered up”
      [PARADIDETO]) and the Markan narrative depicts. Thus, the Last Supper is a
      fictive creation of the Jerusalem church in which Jesus' death is
      interpreted as a salvific act, much the same as that same church created the
      creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-5 (see Crossan, _Birth of Christianity_, 346; cf. also
      Ferdinand Hahn, _The Titles of Jesus in Christology_, 176f., who ascribes
      the creed to the first Palestinian church) and interpreted Jesus' death
      there also as a salvific act by his dying for "our sins."

      Ted Weeden
    • Theodore Weeden
      Bob Schacht wrote on September 2, 2005 ... Actually, Bob, I was trained as a form critic by my mentor James M. Robinson, and fully immersed in Bultmann and
      Message 83 of 83 , Sep 15, 2005
        Bob Schacht wrote on September 2, 2005

        > At 07:50 AM 9/2/2005, Ernest Pennells wrote:
        >>[Ted Weeden]
        >> >I would wonder if you would not, after reading my thesis, agree with me
        >>that Mark is close to being a literary genius.<
        >>The strongest component of your argument is the parallel motifs in the
        >>stories. The explanation you have explored is that Mark worked from
        >>Josephus. There are other explanations. Unfortunately we have little
        >>information on sources used by Mark or Josephus. It is generally accepted
        >>that literacy was limited - particularly among the peasant community from
        >>which HJ drew his first adherents. Storytellers played a major role in
        >>preserving and shaping tradition. The extent to which the Evangelists
        >>directly upon that oral tradition is not known but is surely the earliest
        >>source. Verbal similarities often suggest copying, but we simply don't
        >>know when that process commenced.
        >>You portray Mark as a literary genius, and your frame of thought is
        >>reflected in this quote: "When Mark sought material to fashion his passion
        >>narrative, he turned to two primary sources which he may well have had at
        >>hand, the Septuagint and, I suspect, Book VI of Josephus' Jewish War."
        >>That grants no acknowledgement to oral tradition. I don't think I am
        >>unfair in plucking this sentence from your essay because, on my reading,
        >>it captures the flavour of your line of thought, focusing upon the
        >>word. ...
        > Actually, I had been meaning to add something along these lines to my 8/17
        > post to Ted, and that is basically this: Ted was trained in the arts of
        > literary criticism, and he does a most excellent job within that paradigm.
        > As I understand it, they are basically trained to look for prior *written*
        > sources-- and as we see in the case of Q, reconstruction of written
        > sources
        > is included. In the literary paradigm, as I understand it, operates with
        > the idea that if you can't find a prior written source, then the author of
        > your earliest known source created it. There is usually some wave of the
        > hand to oral tradition, but their scholarly apparatus (again, as I
        > understand it) does not include much on how to deal with it.

        Actually, Bob, I was trained as a form critic by my mentor James M.
        Robinson, and fully immersed in Bultmann and Dibelius, first courses Jim
        taught in seminary at Candler School of Theology in 1955-56 (when I was his
        student), and then as his Ph.D. student at Claremont Graduate School (now
        Claremont Graduate University) from 1960 to 1964, when I received my degree.
        Robinson introduced me to redaction criticism, particularly
        redaction-critical analysis of Mark, via Willi Marxsen's _Der Evangelist
        Markus_, and with that as a foundation I moved in my own direction with Mark
        as I wrote my dissertation, "The Heresy That Necessitated the Gospel of
        Mark" (1964). In the dissertation and more clearly so in my 1971 book,
        _Mark-Traditions in Conflict_, I imaged Mark more as exercising the freedom
        of an author, which without me knowing it, was, if I may say so, was
        something of a precursor to the literary-critical study of Mark, though I
        self-consciously wrote from the vantage point of redaction criticism. In
        1966, I presented my redaction-critical thesis on Mark as a paper, "The
        Heresy That Necessitated the Gospel of Mark," (subsequently published in
        revised form in 1968 by _Zeitschrift fuer die neutestamentliche
        Wissenschaft_) at the SBL annual meeting to the entire New Testament section
        of SBL (in those days the SBL was much, much smaller and all New Testament
        papers were read at the New Testament session). Norman Perrin was present
        in the New Testament session that day (along with Dieter Georgi and others
        whose work I had drawn upon in my dissertaation) and read his own paper on
        the Son of Man to the session following my paper. Following his reading of
        his paper, there was a break, and he rushed down to me and asked me, having
        heard my paper, where he could get my work. At the time, he was writing
        his little volume for Fortress Press, "What Is Redaction?" Perrin
        subsequently wrote me and asked if he could have a copy of my paper in order
        to present my argument as an example of redaction criticism of Mark, and he
        did so on pp. 54-56 of _What is Redaction Criticism. Perrin, thereafter,
        encouraged me to produce a book based upon my dissertation thesis and went
        to bat for me with the editors of Fortress Press who were initially
        reluctant to publish my controversial thesis. But under the urging of
        Perrin, _Mark-Traditions in Conflict_ so the light of day. I am very
        indebted to Norman for his advocacy of my work in the guild.

        So I was trained as a form critic, basically following Bultmann's
        perspective on the oral tradition, and became a redaction critic. It has
        only been in the last 20 years or so that I have become interested in
        literary criticism as a methodology. And I do tend to begin with
        literary-critical methodology now in the investigation of biblical texts.
        With respect to oral tradition, I still tend to be more Bultmannian in my
        view of the evolution of the oral tradition. My reading of Werner Kelber,
        James C. Scott and Jan Vansina has only served to enforce that Bultmannian
        orientation, though, unlike Bultmann, I do think that one can recover
        evidence of the oral tradition prior to the Gospels (including Q and Thomas)
        preserving authentic Jesus tradition. And I have posted as much in XTalk


        Theodore J. Weeden, Sr.
        Fairport, NY
        Ph.D., Claremont Graduate University
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