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Re: [XTalk] Trends in HJ studies?

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  • Bob Schacht
    Loren, A belated thank you for the reviews below, which are still quite pertinent. Bob Schacht Northern Arizona University ... [Non-text portions of this
    Message 1 of 6 , Jan 29, 2011
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      A belated thank you for the reviews below, which are still quite pertinent.

      Bob Schacht
      Northern Arizona University

      At 10:09 AM 11/14/2010, Loren wrote:
      >Jack Kilmon lamented:
      > >>A discussion list, even one for strictly scholarly discourse,
      > will not last long in this era of blogs, if one will not engage.<<
      >With that it mind, I thought I'd share with the list some remarkable
      >similarities I noticed (and blogged) between two recent books on the
      >historical Jesus, Pieter Craffert's "Life of a Galilean Shaman"
      >(2008) and Dale Allison's hot-off-the-press "Constructing Jesus"
      >(2010). Independently of each other, Craffert and Allison light on a
      >few issues worth considering: (1) the subject of memory and the
      >reliability of the Jesus traditions, (2) intriguing resolutions to
      >the Son of Man enigma, and (3) the question of how real/literal the
      >NT authors understood their accounts of Jesus to be.
      >Memory and the Reliability of Traditions
      >According to Craffert, Jesus is not so much "underneath" the
      >traditions as "in" them (Galilean Shaman, p 90), meaning that while
      >Christian prophets and visionaries undoubtedly created new sayings
      >and modified old ones, they still reflect the kinds of things from
      >Jesus' life (p 112). Rumor and gossip, and the building on thereof,
      >represent realistic and plausible transmissions of the Jesus stories
      >(p 108). The idea that people in traditional societies have better
      >memory than those in literate societies is not supported by the
      >evidence (p 113), and rather than think of memory in terms of
      >"actual accuracy", we should think in terms of "overall
      >faithfulness" (pp 113-114).
      >All of this parallels or supports the arguments of Allison's
      >Constructing Jesus (see pp 19-20), which insists that "frequently
      >attested themes" (based on multiple performances of events) are more
      >secure than "multiply attested sayings & deeds" (about which no
      >consensus can be reached, because historians can make equally
      >compelling arguments in opposite directions). "Frequently attested
      >themes" (Allison) and "overall faithfulness" (Craffert) may point to
      >a trend of modesty in HJ studies. Allison says that we can be sure
      >that Jesus was an apocalyptic who had exalted thoughts about himself
      >(though details are elusive), and Craffert thinks Jesus was a shaman
      >who had remarkable healing abilities (though again refrains from
      >trying to guess exactly which healing and exorcist activities are
      >authentic). I'm not ready to give up on the classic criteria as much
      >as Craffert and Allison are, but confess I grow less confident about
      >them each year.
      >The Son of Man Enigma
      >Appreciating that the Son of Man debate is one of the most chaotic
      >embarrassments of NT scholarship -- no one can even agree on the
      >various ways the term is used in the gospels, let alone how Jesus
      >himself may have used it (Galilean Shaman, p 314) -- Craffert
      >suggests that the term could have been a modest way of relaying a
      >heavenly journey or encounter, on account of sensitivities to direct
      >encounters with Yahweh (pp 329-330). Instead of seeing the
      >circumlocutional use of the son of man and visionary (heavenly)
      >figures as two distinct references, Craffert shows that at least in
      >some sources (notably the Book of Similitudes), a heavenly son of
      >man figure seen in a vision turns out to be the visionary himself (pp 331-332).
      >This is remarkably similar to Allison's proposal: that Jesus
      >believed the Son of Man was his own heavenly twin or Doppelganger,
      >with whom he was one, or would soon become one. Not only is there
      >precedent for celestial doubles and heavenly alter-egos (see
      >Constructing Jesus, pp 296-300), but again, the case of Enoch is
      >instructive. The Book of Similitudes read Dan 7:14 as an angelic
      >figure (even if it was originally intended as a collective one,
      >perhaps the "saints of the Most High", Dan 7:27), and, moreover,
      >ultimately identified it with Enoch the seer: Enoch sees visions of
      >the Son of Man (I En. 46, 48, 62, 69) and is eventually translated
      >into him (I En. 71). Jesus may have correlated his own Son of Man
      >identity with a heavenly counterpart. And if Jesus believed
      >something like this, then there's no mystery in the fact that he
      >imagined himself coming on the clouds of heaven while having nothing
      >to say about being removed from earth, and raised to heaven, before
      >that could possibly occur -- he was essentially already up there
      >(see pp 301-303).
      >What's Real?
      >Craffert and Allison both insist that our modern sensibilities are
      >deficient guides in assessing how literal the NT accounts about
      >Jesus were intended. Ancient people obviously made a distinction
      >between the literal and metaphorical, and between reality and
      >fantasies, as much as we do, but not in the same way. Craffert uses
      >an index of cultural determination (see Galilean Shaman, pp 387-388)
      >to keep some of this straight. For instance, a resurrected body was
      >understood to be a real and concrete afterlife form of existence,
      >but that's a bit different from saying that the NT documents were
      >describing a body of transformed physicality or a divinely created
      >supernatural body (pp 404-405). Allison, meanwhile, suggests an
      >under-appreciated index of humor (see Constructing Jesus, pp
      >446-453): the absurdity in sources like Judith, Jonah, The Acts of
      >Peter and Andrew, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and The Testament of
      >Abraham point to authors who are declaring their nature up front,
      >and advertising fiction, while the canonical gospel writers appear
      >to take their claims far more literally and seriously.
      >None of this is to imply that Craffert and Allison are
      >methodological equivalents, especially on the question of the
      >reliability of documents. Craffert's astonishing claim that "all
      >documents from antiquity claiming to be about Jesus of Nazareth
      >should be reconsidered as some form of residue of his life"
      >(Galilean Shaman, pp 94-95), particularly his defense of the Infancy
      >Gospel of Thomas, is way too uncritical. My point in raising these
      >"parallels" between two recent books on the historical Jesus
      >(Craffert 2008; Allison 2010) is that there could be certain trends
      >on the rise in HJ studies -- namely, a growing appreciation that the
      >Jesus traditions are reliable (minimalism has had its day) but only
      >in a general and often unsatisfying way, that Jesus believed
      >peculiar things about himself in the context of visionary
      >apocalypticism, and that many of our rationalist sensibilities need
      >to be checked at the door when addressing these issues. In
      >particular, the classic criteria may be on the way out. John Meier
      >seems to have taken them as far as humanly possible in his Marginal Jew series.
      >I offer this for reflection, and invite speculation about where the
      >HJ field is going, or needs to go, in order to stay vibrant.
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