Re: [XTalk] GOSPEL (OF THE KINGDOM) OF GOD: Source Dating, Mission, Message and "eschatology"
- Hi Mark,
Thanks for the note and your kind words. Let me work at making a few
On Jan 19, 2011, at 7:34 PM, Matson, Mark (Academic) wrote:
> Thank you for your post. As always you very articulately present
> your position, which is pretty close to the main thrust of the Jesus
Yes, I think the essential "ear witness" found in the Reds and Pinks
(I'd toss a few, add a few others) lets us know "the voice print" of
HJ and the mission he and his friends raised up. I'm far more of a
minimalist as regards knowing "the events of Jesus life," simply
because of the lack of data and how the narrative gospels continue to
be read among many of the scholars there.
> I think you and I have tossed some of these issues around before,
> and you know I tend to see the center of gravity in the gospels a
> bit differently.
If you want to "have at it again," for some fun, please do.
> Respecting your request not to debate, and avoiding the apocalyptic
> issue entirely, your post prompted a more methodological question.
Let me say one more thing, since you mentioned apocalyptic. In many
ways I think the way this has been discussed hasn't been helpful. One
issue I brought up earlier, that apocalyptic and eschatological are
just collapsed into each other. But another aspect that troubles me
is the way "the either/ or" (wisdom or apocalyptic") is framed and
weighted. Just in general, a working reconciliation movement, if it
really works to reconcile is precisely going to bring diverse "voices"
together. That's sort of the whole point! And when we look at the
swath of writings we have access to, and when we pay attention to the
different kinds of folks who are said to have "joined up," we hear a
whole array of ways of speaking of the movement, different takes on
what the central thrusts were, different sub-groupings once the thing
got going (ex. Paul noting at least 4 different sub-groups once we get
to Corinth in those "I belong to's...") and different descriptions of
people who joined up (for instance we have a wife of Herod's steward,
perhaps a member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee like Paul, some priests
according to Acts and then all these "delicious" tax collectors and
sinners). Again I'd fully expect this to be a noisy, rowdy, "many-
voices" kind of movement, and the literature doesn't disappoint!
Jesus is described as being like everyone from Adam to Abraham to
Moses to Elijah to David to Solomon to Melchizedek, etc., etc.
Whether or not Jesus was "personally driven by" the apocalyptic or
wisdom, to me is less important that what essentially defines the
nature of the the mission praxis raised up and the core language the
is used to warrant said mission. People can have all sorts of
"motivations" and individuals can have mixed "motivations" and
changing motivations. So, I think the helpful thing to do is to lay
out what one thinks the mission is and what one thinks is the core
language that mission is after. For me, that is found in the wisdom
That's an aside, but perhaps something you and others might like to
> Central to your construction below is the oral tradition stage
> ("from orality the literature we do have has various kinds of oral
> formula: repeated sayings in lists, credo/ motto like
> formula, poems/ hymns, prayers, ritual formula"). How much
> confidence do we place in this form-critical construction? Is the
> short period of time ( no more than 50 years in your dating to Mark,
> and "early Mark" must be even earlier) really enough to start
> developing oral formula?
First, "early Mark?" Let me go back and see if I said that. I do
believe in layers in John, but if I said "early Mark," I made a
mistake. I think Mark was the first narrative Gospel... ca. 80 to 85
is my preferred dating, although I lose no sleep over the tradition
ca. 70 dating. I think Mark does show some signs of later editing
(especially in chapter 13, not to mention all those extra endings that
were appended). But I think Mark was "the groundbreaker" in creating
this form of communication. I don't think we have a sustained
narrative telling of Jesus, the anointed (aka, King) until Mark
creates one. I think the early layers of John show playing with this
and I think there were stories created, scriptural reflections done
(like Paul's "died... buried... raised according to scriptures), but
that what might be called the Narrative Gospel of John, version 1,
comes from a knowing about the kind of artistry that Mark had
As for confidence in earlier forms? First, the isolation of aphorisms
and parables which by their nature are terse verbalizations isn't at
all difficult as regards finding "the gist." And in the breadth of
resources we have and with our knowledge of theological and ethical
argumentation we have, we can identify redactional tendencies. So, I
have high confidence in that assessment. "Love your enemies" is not a
hard one to remember or verbalize:)! The number of ways that can be
"played" with are numerous!
As to the time and development, absolutely "this afternoon" is time
enough to start developing prayers, poems, hymns, particular
clusterings of sayings and so credo/ motto statements, and especially
out of a tradition that was super rich in these sorts of things! The
Hebraic heritage has boatloads of specific examples and I'll also note
that one can affirm the point of larger wholes just by knowing a few
words. For example: "In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and
the earth" is a packed theological affirmation. Or Micah 6:8, "And
what does the Lord require but to do justice, love kindness and walk
humbly with your God?" pretty much sums up all of Israelite prophecy!
And if one only knows, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" one
knows the essential point of the whole Psalm (and I've heard 4 year
olds recite the whole thing!) So, yes, I think when we hear highly
evocative forms of speech, people quickly associate known forms of
reflective speech to it and that "artist types" can quickly start "to
groove" on yet more artistic responses.
> Or, rather than a question, let me suggest a very different way of
> imagining this. Granted there are oral stories (but perhaps not
> achieving the kind of uniformity form criticism suggests), Mark (and
> independently John) created stories about Jesus that were coherent
> stories but based (in part) on the various stories being passed
> around... even some eyewitness testimony (cf. Bauckham used
> My point here is to emphasize the creative role of Mark in creating
> a unified story. And the point of that story is more "evangelistic"
> -- create in the hearers/readers the desire to become faithful
> disciples (good earth according to the parable of the sower). To me
> this makes more sense of narrative structure, which is more coherent
> than the normal approach of "beads on a string" of classical form
> criticism, or multiple redactions and versions would tend to permit.
Now about story telling, I entirely agree with you. From what we have
I think Mark "invented" (so to speak) the thing we call a narrative
gospel and that "John" was hot on his heels in producing a delightful
"other version." I don't think either are biographical in nature. I
think they are "mega parables," if you will, about "the Good News of
Having said that, "invent" is really the wrong word. "Craft" is a
better one. The antecedent tradition is replete with narrative
stories of "the lives" of key children of Israel. The stories of Adam
and Eve aren't "biographies." The Patriarchal/ Matriarchal narratives
aren't biographies. Moses story isn't "a biography." And neither are
they "myths!" They are theological/ ethical stories that are
***about*** the God of Israel. And so are the gospels, in my
reading. And yes, I think Mark is to be credited with creating such
> As always your comments are welcome. My central point is
> questioning oral shaping which seems central to your ideas.
In a time of great stress in general (Roman occupation of Palestine),
diaspora (Jews spread from Babylon to Spain), a huge sell-out to the
overlords (Herod and sons), and a lot of loud voices competing for
"top billing" in "what does our heritage mean" (at least Pharisees of
many stripes, Saducees, those who aligned with the Herod's, Essenes,
various bandits and king wannabes, not to mention the old, old issues
of the strained relations with "the cousin" Samaritans), that a
distinctive voice of "reconciliation" would arouse a sense of relief
and a following, does not strike me as particularly odd:)! And I
mention this because someone who is an effective communicator of "good
Jewish sense," justice and compassion would be both a reliever
(healer) and challenger in the extreme. It was in orality where the
power was. And best we can do is to try "to hear" that through the
written materials we have. And so I'll end on this note, I think the
thing that is often noted, but then quickly left behind is how "funny"
Jesus was. Seriously! (no not cheap humor/ no not ribald humor/ no
not joke-y humor, of course!) It can be hackneyed, as anything can
become, but I think "for those with ears to hear," Jesus and friends
actually made for "comfort, comfort my people!" All this "love, joy,
peace..." stuff was real. And, as always, it was dangerous. People
vested in power don't much like to be joked about, as Sarah Palin on
Sean Hannity this week shows! Anyway... this relates to your inquiry
in my mind because, foundationally good humored, sense making speech
is a rich source for reflection on "deep things" and so richly
connects to "the deep things" the people had long shared. And so I'll
end with this example. Jesus, I think did spout a few aphoristic
beatitudes. "Blessed are the poor." "Blessed are the hungry." Etc.
Easily rememberable! Highly evocative. Each a communication to be
meditated upon on its own. So, someone (Mr. or Mrs. Q1's source)
gathered them by type. Mr. Q1 made them a start of "a Jesus sermon."
Mr. Matthew made up some more and recrafted that Q sermon on one
pattern. Mr. Luke read Q and reframed it on another pattern and in
another place. I think that's sorta how it worked. A little ***real
sense*** can be evocative of a lot. And so 2000 years later, it is
still evocative of a lot!
Thanks again for your note and I hope this helps answer some of your
> Mark A. Matson
> Academic Dean
> Milligan College
- <<Ariel, D.T., A Survey of Coin Finds in Jerusalem,
Liber Annuus 32, 1982, pp 273-326.
Unless we have an old print copy in the pre-1985 stack here,
the data for denarii in Jerusalem is out of reach
just now, so, at least for the time being, I'll just shift to your
view that there weren't that many around in the city.
I'm having trouble getting hold of it as well, so I'll have to go by
memory, unfortunately. I did contact Ariel himself, but he's got nothing beyond
a single paper copy. While it's not strictly on topic, I do have H Gitler's
'A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF NUMISMATIC EVIDENCE FROM EXCAVATIONS IN JERUSALEM'
(Liber Annuus 1996), which covers bronze coinage from the city. No
imperial bronze is recorded from before the 4th Century, after the abolition of
the provincial mints, and their replacement with imperial ones.
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