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Context and Nuance in Jesus' Sayings

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  • Ron Price
    ... Mark et al., There is clearly some truth in what Sanders wrote here. Nevertheless if we are trying to recover Jesus sayings, then there will be for any
    Message 1 of 4 , Mar 11, 2006
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      Mark Goodacre wrote in his 'Blog':

      > One of the reasons I am sceptical about the laudable aim to recover the
      > sayings of Jesus, and to use a sayings itinerary in reconstructions of the
      > historical Jesus, is a point nicely articulated by E.P. Sanders:
      > Ignorance of the precise context in which sayings were formulated often
      > prevents the recovery of precision and nuance in interpreting JesusĀ¹
      > teaching. Meaning is determined by context, and sayings whose context is
      > unknown cannot be pressed too hard in the quest of original meaning. Often
      > we shall have to remain content with a more general
      > understanding than we might wish. (E. P. Sanders and M. Davies, Studying
      > the Synoptic Gospels
      > (London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International 1989): 188).

      Mark et al.,

      There is clearly some truth in what Sanders wrote here. Nevertheless if we
      are trying to recover Jesus' sayings, then there will be for any given Jesus
      saying, the context of the other Jesus sayings, and the wider context of
      first century Palestinian Judaism. You appear to be arguing that these two
      layers of context are inadequate, and that we also need an innermost layer.
      (Information about the occasion of the teaching? The gist of the address in
      which the teaching was initially embedded?)

      I concede that in normal teaching, typical sentences may require such an
      innermost layer. But I suggest that Jesus' teaching was no "normal"
      teaching. For he seems to have gone out of his way to create short pithy
      sayings designed to be relatively "stand-alone" and to be memorized easily
      by his disciples. If this is the case then surely most of the sayings will
      be sufficiently well understood with the aid of the outer contexts mentioned
      above. By "sufficiently well understood" I mean sufficiently to enable us to
      use the sayings to obtain significant insights into the historical Jesus.

      Ron Price

      Derbyshire, UK

      Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
    • John E Staton
      Bob, Certainly those who aver that the historical Jesus was primarily a teacher of wisdom must take some such line as yourself on this. It is characteristic of
      Message 2 of 4 , Mar 12, 2006
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        Bob,
        Certainly those who aver that the historical Jesus was primarily a
        teacher of wisdom must take some such line as yourself on this. It is
        characteristic of the bulk of the proverbs in the OT book of that name,
        that their meaning is to be determined in a large measure
        independently of their context. These saying are grouped in blocks for
        teaching purposes, often centering around catchwords. Their position in
        the text owes more to aiding the process of teaching and memorising than
        to any connection of thought or logic. Presumably those who grouped
        Jesus' sayings (in Q or in the gospels) followed similar processes. They
        too believed the particular historical context was irrelevant, but the
        general historical context (i.e. early first century Palestine) may well
        have been, in the same way that knowledge that the book of Proverbs is
        the result of a long tradition of Wisdom originating perhaps in the
        bureaucracy of the United Kingdom and stretching into the Persian era
        (and indeed continuing long after the Book of Proverbs was actually
        written) may well help us understand that book. Certainly, the attempt
        to track down the precise incident in the life of Jesus that led to a
        particular saying (unless the tradition links the saying firmly with an
        incident) is likely to owe more to guesswork and imagination than to
        historical evidence.

        Best Wishes

        JOHN E STATON (BA Sheffield; DipTheol. Bristol)

        Penistone, Sheffield UK

        www.christianreflection.org.uk
      • Ron Price
        ... John, I don t understand the relevance of the word primarily here, let alone of the word wisdom . If we can reconstruct a large collection of Sayings
        Message 3 of 4 , Mar 13, 2006
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          John Staton wrote:

          > Certainly those who aver that the historical Jesus was primarily a
          > teacher of wisdom must take some such line as yourself on this.

          John,

          I don't understand the relevance of the word "primarily" here, let alone of
          the word "wisdom".

          If we can reconstruct a large collection of 'Sayings of Jesus', and if we
          can fairly confidently attribute (say) 50 of these sayings to the historical
          Jesus, then surely that will be enough to tell us a lot about him. We should
          at least expect clues in the sayings as to whether he had a nationalistic or
          a world vision, and perhaps also as to how he may have seen himself towards
          the end of his life (e.g. as Messiah?).

          Ron Price

          Derbyshire, UK

          Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
        • John E Staton
          Ron, It all depends what your 50 sayings are. If you truly believe (and the tone of your post suggests you don t - don t worry I m not sure I believe this
          Message 4 of 4 , Mar 13, 2006
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            Ron,
            It all depends what your 50 sayings are. If you truly believe (and the
            tone of your post suggests you don't - don't worry I'm not sure I
            believe this either) that it is the gnomic wisdom sayings which are the
            most authentic, they may well tell you next to nothing about the
            historical Jesus. However, a person who tended to see Jesus as an
            apocalyptic prophet may come up with a different set of "authentic"
            sayings which may well give a fair amount of information along the lines
            you suggest. However, my impression of attempts to derive historical
            knowledge about Jesus, his community, the gospel writers and their
            communities from historical allusions in apocalyptic suggests most of it
            is an exercise in guesswork and wish-fulfillment anyway. Only if one
            works from a basic attitude of trust in the manuscripts and the
            tradition process that lies behind them can form any idea of the
            historical Jesus.

            Best Wishes

            JOHN E STATON (BA Sheffield; DipTheol. Bristol)

            Penistone, Sheffield UK

            www.christianreflection.org.uk
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