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

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  • Theodore Weeden
    ... Tony, you are correct that it is not *inconceivable* that Jesus and his followers were aware of the tradition of martyr-theology. It is also plausible
    Message 1 of 83 , Aug 4, 2005
      Tony Buglass wrote on August 02:

      > Ted wrote:
      > I find no historically credible evidence that the historical Jesus
      > interpreted and proclaimed his death as having salvific purpose or
      > meaning, which is the cardinal tenet of the Death Tradition, the
      > post-Easter tradition which has so misrepresented the historical Jesus and
      > distorted his life mission and purpose, in my judgment.
      > Jeffrey has asked the methodological question behind this one, as to what
      > you would consider credible evidence. I just want to underline your
      > comment about post-Easter traditions, and say that every scrap of evidence
      > we have is post-Easter tradition; to define the so-called Death Tradition
      > as such does not actually carry the pejorative weight your statement seeks
      > to give it. The question of course is how much of that post-Easter
      > tradition has its roots in pre-Easter tradition.
      > Ted:
      > But in most all cases that I am aware of this interpretation
      > of the death of a hero does not derive directly from the hero's own
      > wrestling with death and its possible meaning for others, but rather is an
      > interpretation retrojected back upon the hero by the community who
      > idealizes him and chooses to see benefaction for themselves or others as a
      > result of the hero's martyrdom or whatever. That is certainly the case
      > with respect to 4 Maccabees
      > Yes, of course this is the case with 4 Maccabees. However, aren't we now
      > looking at a community for which 4 Maccabees has already happened, and
      > martyr-theology already become part of the tradition? It is by no means
      > inconceivable that Jesus and his followers did have a martyr-theology as
      > part of their source material, that in facing up to the opposition of the
      > Jerusalem authorities they knew death was a possible outcome, and that a
      > martyr theology would be helpful to them in wrestling with the possible
      > meaning of that death.

      Tony, you are correct that it is not *inconceivable* that Jesus and his
      followers were aware of the tradition of martyr-theology. It is also
      plausible that once the Judean Temple establishment became aware of Jesus'
      opposition to it that death was a possible outcome. All that is conceivable
      and possible. But, as I have indicated in my 8/3/05 post to Jeffrey Gibson,
      I just do not find convincing evidence that can be traced directly to Jesus
      that Jesus entertained the thought of, much less ruminated upon, his death
      as the necessary outcome of his opposition to the Temple cult. The cross
      saying which is multiplied attested (Q 14::27; Mk. 8:34; Thom. 55:2) -- and
      thus has the strongest likelihood of being authentic -- I consider to be a
      saying developed post-Easter by early Christians and placed on Jesus' lips
      to serve as an admonition for followers of the post-Easter Christ to
      demonstrate unswerving loyalty to him by risking the ultimate imitation
      (MIMESIS) of Jesus, i.e., being willing to take up their own cross in Jesus'
      name and die the same death he died.

      > Ted:
      > His death took his followers by surprise and, as Gerd Luedemann (_The
      > Resurrection of Chrtist_) has suggested, they went through the normal
      > grief process. In the course of the grief process they experienced, as is
      > often the case, the sense of the grieved-for-dead, in this case Jesus,
      > being still present with them in some real sense. Voila! The claims for
      > post-death Jesus epiphanies!
      > Luedemann and Spong have both made a great deal of bereavement and grief
      > as the primary cause of the Easter traditions. In 25 years of pastoral
      > ministry I have dealt with many bereaved people, including those who have
      > caught a glimpse or heard the voice of their loved one in the weeks after
      > the funeral. However, none of them have ever made the consequent claim
      > that their loved one was in some sense back from the dead or even still
      > alive. The followers of Jesus weren't the only ones to lose someone, and
      > weren't the only ones to lose a leader. They were to my knowledge the
      > only ones to develop the understanding of atoning death and vindicating
      > resurrection on the basis of their experience and their tradition. I am
      > not persuaded that the grief process of the disciples would lead to that
      > reflective response.

      Jesus' followers were the only ones who developed an understanding of an
      atoning death? What about the case of the author of 4 Maccabees' ascribing
      a prayer to the martyr Eleazar in which Eleazar prays: "You know, O God,
      that though I might have saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for
      the sake of the law. Be merciful to your people, and *let our punishment
      suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in
      exchange for theirs*." That certainly has elements of an atonement
      ideology. With respect to the followers of Jesus translating their grief
      experience of Jesus' presence into the concept that he was resurrected,
      given the apocalyptic fervor of the time and the hoped-for general
      resurrection of the dead, it is not at all implausible that they interpreted
      Jesus' post-Easter presence with them as the apocalytic manifestation of the
      onset of that general resurrection, a position that Paul takes in 1 Cor.
      15:20, where he interprets Jesus' resurrection as evidence of "the first
      fruits of those who have fallen asleep."


    • 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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