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[XTalk] Re: Christ after the flesh

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    ... Indeed! In 1 Cor 11 Paul cites the behavior of a very fleshly Jesus equating bread & wine with his body & blood on the night *before* he died as an example
    Message 1 of 105 , Oct 2, 1999
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      "Jeffrey B. Gibson" wrote:

      > It is a long way from KATA SARKA (according to (the) "flesh") which modifies
      > a way of thinking about something (i.e., the nature of Messiahship) to not
      > being concerned about what the historical Jesus was like.

      Indeed! In 1 Cor 11 Paul cites the behavior of a very fleshly Jesus
      equating bread & wine with his body & blood on the night *before* he
      died as an example that Christians are to remember whenever they gather
      to eat. Paul himself wasn't there. So whether this reminiscence
      originated in an accurate historical memory of that occasion or in some
      pre-Pauline Jewish-Xn quasi-sacrificial liturgy is questionable. But
      Paul at least apparently accepted it literally as a description of what
      HJ was like & even insisted that spiritually liberated Corinthians, who
      seem to have thought that one's personal cosmic status was independent
      of historical behavior, recall that premonition of mortality.

      Paul was also clearer than most early Christians about the scandalous
      aspects of HJ's physical crucifixion. But he was a theologian more
      concerned with the meaning of historical events than their details. And
      he had a visionary's forward orientation rather than a historian's
      retrospective preoccupation with description of the past. Moreover,
      since we only have a few letters devoted to resolving problems in
      communities of Greek-speaking gentiles we do not have an accurate
      measure of what really knew about the historical Galilean Jew, Yeshu of
      Nazareth. However, he cared about him enough to align himself with J's
      Jewish partisans whom he had previously persecuted & to go out of his
      way to consult with HJ's crony Kephas & his blood brother James lest he
      "run in vain" (Gal 2:2). If he were not concerned with the historical
      continuum he would not have had to risk his own life by linking his
      personal theological insights with theirs.





      Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mhsmith.html
      Associate Professor
      Department of Religion
      Rutgers University
      New Brunswick NJ

      Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
    • Bob Schacht
      ... Jon, The problem is the lack of a critical apparatus for dealing with esoteric allusions. Too many mights and maybes and how about this and how about that,
      Message 105 of 105 , Oct 9, 1999
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        At 10:40 AM 10/09/1999 -0700, Jon Peter wrote:
        >...You haven�t really addressed my exegesis per se, nor have you responded to
        >the more basic problem of a methodology for dealing with NT esotericism
        >allusions, and how this bears on history and exegesis. ...

        The problem is the lack of a critical apparatus for dealing with esoteric
        allusions. Too many mights and maybes and how about this and how about
        that, without any real methods of testing. For this list, it is important
        that an hypothesis be falsifiable. If it is not, then, like any faith-based
        hypothesis, the topic is best taken elsewhere.

        >Early Jewish exegetes certainly recognized and dealt with the concept of
        >scripture containing hidden levels. Why don�t gentile scholars? I fantasize
        >that its because gentile exegetes arrived long ago with ecclesiastical and
        >unJudaic assumptions about the Gospels, and these assumptions seem to be
        >professionally and academically entrenched even still.

        Yes, this is a fantasy. To quote from Lewis Reich sometime back:

        >Traditional Jewish sources talk about four progressively deeper
        >levels of exegesis of a text: pshat, drash, remez, and sode (plain
        >meaning, inquiry, hint and secret). (Note that the "house" of Hillel
        >was a "Beit midrash" - literally a "House of Inquiry" and that term is
        >still used today to describe the large hall in a traditional Yeshiva
        >where studying takes place, usually in small groups.)
        >Pshat has to do with ascertaining the plain literal meaning of the
        >text, not always a straightforward task. Drash generally involves
        >asking questions about apparent difficulties in the plain meaning of
        >the text, and the midrash that results is (in the context most
        >relevant to our situation) usually an effort to resolve that
        >difficulty by telling a story that provides both an answer and a
        >faith-strengthening lesson. (We are talking here of "midrash
        >aggadah" - lit. the midrash of stories, which is what is usually
        >referred to when the word midrash is used alone. The method is also
        >applied to deduce halakhic rulings from the text according to rules
        >of exegesis, and this effort is referred to as "midrash halakhah",
        >"inquiry of halakhah".) (Remez, or hint, involves veiled allusions
        >such as numerical values ("gematria") and abbreviations
        >("notarikon"). Sode, secret or mystery, involves esoteric

        This list is prepared to deal with Pshat and Drash, but not with Remez or
        Sode, which seem to be your areas of interest. Remez & Sode, since they
        deal with interpretation, have to do with meaning attached to a statement,
        not with the historicity of the statement. The methodology for dealing with
        those is different (with an exception noted below), and is best taken

        Let me attempt to dig a little deeper. There is a grey area where we can go
        a little further, and that area is best exemplified in Steve Davies' book,
        Jesus the Healer, which I recommend. Using the methods of historical
        criticism, we may be able to evaluate the historicity of such statements as:

        Matt 16:16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the
        living God."

        However, we cannot, by the methods of historical criticism, evaluate
        whether or not what Peter said is true, that is, that Jesus is the Messiah,
        etc. The first question is one that can be investigated by conventional
        historical methods, the same as any statement by anyone; but the second is
        a faith statement that is unprovable (or at least, not falsifiable) by the
        methods of historical criticism. What we might be able to do, in the area
        between these two questions, is to evaluate the extent to which the
        contemporaries of Jesus believed it to be true, which would depend on their
        having made statements to that effect, or that they did things, observed
        and reported by other people, that unambiguously indicated that they
        believed it to be true. But we still would not be able to evaluate the
        truth value of the statement.

        Turning to Davies' book, in his chapter on the Gospel of John, Davies
        argues that, rather than dismiss out of hand the long quotes attributed to
        Jesus as later theological speculation inserted into the mouth of Jesus by
        the author(s) of the gospel, we can evaluate those speeches or statements
        like any other statement. That is, the question becomes not "is the
        statement true?" but "Did he say it, and if so, under what circumstances?"
        as well as, "What did he mean by what he said, if indeed he said it?" In
        other words, we separate the truth value of the saying from the issue of
        whether or not the statement was made.

        Similar distinctions are needed with regard to the issue of secrecy
        regarding the Eucharist. Now I suspect that, in the period during the first
        centuries of this era, when Christians were being killed for their beliefs
        or even simply for just being Christians, some secrecy about some things at
        certain times in some places seems reasonable. But my suspicions do not
        constitute evidence, and plausibility is an inadequate argument.

        So, suppose that X said, "Christians practice secret rituals."
        Historically, we can evaluate the likelihood that X actually said that, but
        even if we are able to demonstrate that X actually did say that, it would
        still have no bearing on the truth value of the statement. I may be
        mistaken, but I think the value of such statements is roughly equivalent to
        hearsay evidence in a court of law: it may lend credibility to an
        allegation, but is not sufficient to prove the allegation or establish its

        In fact, methodologically, isn't it impossible to say that X was a secret?
        Because if in fact X was a secret, how would we know anything about it? If
        we knew anything about it then, by definition, it would not be a secret.

        I took the time to spell out at length some of these distinctions because I
        wish to preserve for inquiry some questions of the type that Steve Davies
        addressed in his book, which are amenable to historical criticism. But
        esoteric speculations, like faith statements, require other methods and are
        not a suitable subject for this list. It is a property of scholarly
        discussion to make distinctions where laymen (and women) typically do not
        make distinctions. These distinctions are not arbitrary, but are intended
        to facilitate objective inquiry.

        I hope this helps to answer your question about methodology.

        Robert M. Schacht
        Northern Arizona University
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