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"Invention", gospels, healings and resurrection

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  • Ben Douglas '81
    I have read with great interest the email thread discussing the use of the term invention to describe what the gospel writers engaged in when they wrote
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 26, 2000
      I have read with great interest the email thread discussing the use
      of the term "invention" to describe what the gospel writers engaged
      in when they wrote their "good newses", as Crossan calls the
      gospels. I've also closely followed the various email threads
      discussing the questionable historicity of Jesus'
      healings (miracles?), his virgin birth, his nature miracles and his
      resurrection (fact versus symbolic myth?).
      I'd like to suggest a book that gives us an alternative term
      to "invention" when describing the formation of the gospels, and
      which also shows us how, through exploration of early Christian
      teaching and liturgical practices employing the most modern methods
      of history, anthropology, and exegesis, "to believe with integrity in
      the bodily resurrection of Jesus" as Vernon K. Robbins said on the
      book's jacket.

      The book to which I refer is Marianne Sawicki's Seeing the
      Lord. Resurrection and Early Christian Practices. (Fortress Press,
      1994.) Sawicki was, at the time of the publication of this book, a
      Presidential Fellow at University of Kentucky, and formerly served on
      the faculties of Princeton Theological Seminary, Lexington
      Theological Seminary and Loyola Marymount University. John Dominic
      Crossan cites Sawicki's book numerous times in his "The Birth of
      Christianity." Because her book combines the approaches of modern
      social science methods with sharp exegesis and keen theological
      interpretation, I think Corey and Rikki and others might come to
      understand how a Christian can "believe" in the resurrection of Jesus
      (even view it as foundational to Christianity) without insisting that
      it was a discrete historical event that could have been recorded with
      a video camera (if one had been around in the first century C.E.).
      Usually I prefer to keep theology and historical research separated
      in religious studies, but I think Sawicki's book shows how the
      methods and research of the Jesus Seminar (along with that of other
      scholars) can be incorporated into a Christian faith that harks back
      to some of the earliest understandings of who Jesus was and is. I
      think that the historical scholars involved in the email threads
      would also find her discussion of archaeology, anthropology, textual
      analysis, and language study revealing. Sawicki takes pains in her
      exegesis to explore the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic terms used in
      various early Christian/Jewish documents, both canonical and extra-
      canonical alike. She also discusses how and why the author(s) of the
      gospel of Mark wrote the gospel in the way he/she/they did. Her
      extensive bibliography cites work from Achtemeier, Aune, Bordieu,
      Bultmann, Chilton, Crossan, Fitzmeyer, Foucault, Kelber, Kloppenborg
      and Koester, Mack, Malina and Meier, Miller (of our list), Neusner
      and Neyrey, Ortner and Ong, Robbins, Robinson, Strange, Schaberg,
      Theissen and Wrede. Sawicki has really done her homework here!

      Here's a quote from Seeing the Lord discussing the formation of
      the gospels, Mark's specifically. Instead of "invention", Sawicki
      uses the term poiesis, which she defines as "a work of creation" and
      "an imaginary construct" but she goes on to further describe the
      process as a type of synthesis of earlier
      texts and oral performances.

      "The Markan narrative of the passion, death and
      resurrection is a structure built with
      four broken cornerstones [Sawicki earlier discusses the
      Markan images of "ripping",
      "breaking", "destroying" and "tearing" as symbols of entering
      the Kingdom of God):
      (1) the little *alabastron* crushed for Jesus' messianic
      annointing at Mark 14:3;
      (2) the loaf broken at Mark 14:22; (3) the body violated at
      Mark 15:15-25; and
      (4) the tombstone dislodged at Mark 16:4. Vial, loaf, body,
      tomb: Mark did not
      quarry these "stones" directly from the bedrock of history so
      called. Rather, like most
      builders in the ancient Near East, he scavenged blocks that
      had been used already in earlier structures. All of his
      stories were previously told. Switching metaphors, one could also
      say that Mark snipped and cut his fabric from the webwork of
      Jesus stories continually
      being spun out in the oral performances of the Jesus
      movements known to him. He may
      also have pieced in some patches cut from earlier texts. The
      design is Mark's; the material
      comes from many hands and mouths." (Sawicki, 1994, p150,
      italics mine.)

      I think poiesis is a less pejorative and tendentious term than
      invention because it implies a new synthesis formed from older or
      earlier practices and texts, combining the old in a new way that
      illumines the original
      material in a synergistic manner.

      By the way, I am also interested in the discussion of Jesus'
      healings as related in the gospels. I've been a
      practicing physician for twenty years and I have recently returned to
      the university to get a second doctorate
      in religious studies with a medical anthropological outlook on
      healing. For those of you interested in a further exploration of
      Jesus' healings in the gospels, I would recommend John J. Pilch's
      new book Healing in the New Testament. Insights from Medical and
      Mediterranean Anthropology (Fortress Press, 2000.) In his
      comparative analysis of the healings in the four NT gospels and in
      Acts, Pilch, a Professor of Biblical Studies at Georgetown University
      and a collaborator with Bruce Malina on Social Science Commentary on
      the Book of Revelation (Fortress Press, 2000), uses the methods of
      medical anthropologists (most notably, Arthur Kleinman and Peter
      Worsley) and social anthropologists (Hanson & Oakman, Malina, Ohnuki-
      Tierney) to explore how the earliest followers of Jesus understood
      healing. John Dominic Crossan wrote a note of high praise on the
      book jacket, saying "Everything I know about healing in the New
      Testament I learned from John Pilch," which, in my opinion, is as
      good a recommendation as anyone should need!

      All the best,

      Teresa Callahan, M.D.
      Eugene, OR and Oregon State University (under Marcus Borg)
      email: douglahan@...
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