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[HJMatMeth] Re: Ideological immunity?

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  • John Dominic Crossan
    Let me get two items out of the way, Neil, to get to the main point. I did not intend to say that the arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus were
    Message 1 of 3 , Mar 2, 2000
      Let me get two items out of the way, Neil, to get to the main point. I did
      not intend to say that the arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus
      were exactly the same as those for or against the historicity of America's
      moon-landing. That may or may not be true. My point was that I recognize the
      difficulty or proving that something happened when somebody argues that it
      did not and that all the evidence you adduce can be explained either by
      fraud or myth. Also, I do not agree that there is "a total creation" with
      regard to the passion and birth narratives of Jesus. If he was not an
      historical figure, then, of course, those stories and everything else would
      be fictional, parabolic, or mythical. I do think, myself, that Jesus was
      born and that Jesus was executed. It is the detailed narratives of both
      those events that I consider to be "a total creation" but one that is
      absolutely predictable within the first century possibilities of reading the
      immediate present in terms of the distant and prophetic past (Virgil did it
      too). That brings me, however, to the major point I made in my first
      response to you and will make again here. It is necessary to get our
      imaginations back into those first centuries (which means getting them out
      of the 19th century) to put all those stories back in their historical
      context. We are supposed to be operating as historians and that, therefore,
      is our first ethical obligation. What I am saying here is simply a footnote
      to what was said earlier concerning the invalidity of a pro-Christian
      argument of uniqueness and/or an anti-Christian argument of impossibility in
      the cultural milieu of those first centuries, in a world which was not only
      horizontally porous between religion and politics, but vertically porous
      between heaven and earth. (That earlier post which was much more important
      to me, but was not picked up as very important within the seminar, is
      available in my log as Questions/Responses 15 & 25, and in the seminar's
      archives as #34-39 & #55-58.) In that first century world, you could
      imagine, as perfectly plausible and acceptable, the following two scenarios:
      First, gods and goddesses could come down from heaven, assume mortal shape
      (human, animal, vegetable, mineral, whatever), contract earthly business,
      and return whence they came. In those cases, the earthly bodies, no matter
      how realistic they might seem, were but docetic illusions. They were as
      real, in modern analogy, as Spielberg's dinosaurs. If Jesus is seen and
      interpreted against that background, he is not really an historical person
      and that, of course, is where doceticism came from. If you make Jesus
      absolutely or completely transcendental, then any ancient mind will conclude
      that we are talking about a form of incarnation which is not really real,
      but illusional. Such beings can do, act, speak as if historically real, but
      they can only be described as historically illusional. All such divinely
      used bodies are dumped at the end of the day and forgotten. For what that
      looks like in Christian terms, see the Acts of John.
      Second, it was also possible in that world for human beings to be conceived
      by divine action, to be adopted by divine beings, or to ascend after death
      to live as immortals among the gods. In all those cases you are dealing with
      historical beings who were divinized, but whose historicity was not thereby
      negated. The example I have very specifically in mind at the moment is the
      case of Augustus Caesar who was so super-divinized that he was hard to beat.
      He was divine by ancient descent from Anchises and Aphrodite/Venuus at the
      time of the Trojan War (i.e., in that Bible of paganism, the Iliad). He was
      divine by birth, from Atia and Apollo, according to Suetonius and Dio
      Cassius. He was divine by adoption: since he had declared Julius Caesar, who
      had adopted him, to be divine (a little circularity there, but better not to
      emphasize it while Augustus was alive). Finally, he was divine by Senatorial
      decree as soon as he had died. Over against such claims, all of which would
      have made sense to millions of people who looked at the peace and prosperity
      brought by the Pax Romana and the Augustan boom, stands the claims of a
      small pip-squeak sect within a small pip-squeak nation (I speak from the
      Roman point of view) that their Jesus was every bit as divine as Caesar (in
      fact, in your face, Caesar). He was divine from ancient prophecy,
      conception, baptism, transfiguration, resurrection, ascension. We can stop
      there because Caesar is already trumped before we even get to a second
      coming. In that world, and against that cultural background, the debate is
      very clear. Which is the truly divine and truly historical being, Caesar or
      Jesus? Or, as I would put it in more abstract language, is the basis of life
      power or justice? If somebody wishes to maintain that Jesus never existed
      historically, then I will want them to make the same claim for Augustus and
      then we are right back where we started. In which parable or by which myth
      do you live your life? Or again: do you think it possible to live outside
      one of those two options?

      >From: Neil Godfrey <Neil.Godfrey@...>
      >To: "'hjmaterialsmethodolgy@egroups.com'" <hjmaterialsmethodolgy@egroups.com>
      >Subject: [HJMatMeth] Re: Ideological immunity?
      >Date: Wed, Mar 1, 2000, 7:57 PM

      > Professor Crossan,
      > I realize you may not wish to reply to this in detail but I would like to
      > make one final response if I may.
      > HJ studies seem to have taken the directions they have has largely because
      > on closer examination their very sources (Christian, pagan, Jewish) become
      > problematic in ways that sources on Gandhi, Caesar or moon landings do not.
      > If this is the case then does not this theoretically at least leave room for
      > an alternative paradigm, whether Doherty's or some other one?
      > (I am thinking of the CST lacking interest in the person and experiences of
      > their founder and appearing rather to reflect wisdom and cynic
      > sayings/conduct and arising from a general reaction against systemic
      > injustices; Paul's closer links with scripture and philosophical/wisdom
      > ideas of the time than any knowledge of an HJ, not to mention how such a man
      > was so quickly elevated to the status of Deity without reference to his
      > life; the comparatively late interest outside the gospels in the life of
      > their founder; the extent of reliance of Mark on midrashic-like artifices
      > and his emphasis on addressing his community's needs; and the still
      > potentially indecisive nature of the pagan and Jewish sources -- how could
      > Josephus have failed to unequivocally condemn a man who had so much in
      > common with others he condemned and who was worshipped as a Deity? Such
      > points are still worthy of discussion within the orthodox paradigm and would
      > appear to justify an alternative proposal as well.)
      > You wrote "it is never negated by even the most hostile critics of early
      > Christianity (Jesus is a bastard and a fool but never a myth or a fiction!)"
      > But if the first most hostile critics are encountered very late then this
      > becomes a weaker foundation on which to base an assumption for an HJ. (Even
      > Mark is not absolutely stuck as early as 70 when we consider such external
      > evidences as the late 80's rift between synagogue and Christians, and the
      > apocalyptic interest in the 90's, as well as the yet later first clear
      > citings of Mark by the fathers.)
      > The plainest readings of I John 4 and some of Ignatius' letters (e.g.
      > Trallians 9) as well as Minucius Felix do take us beyond anti-docetic
      > statements and do appear to say some Christians rejected the idea that Jesus
      > ever was a real historical figure literally crucified in history. (Justin
      > claims the qualitative superiority of Jesus over the other gods on earth.)
      > Is a serious consideration of an alternative explanation for these really
      > equivalent to serious consideration of the flat-earthers arguments?
      > You also said "there are no historical parallels that I know of from that
      > time and period that help me understand such a total creation."
      > Lao-Tse of Taoism? Lycurgus of Sparta? William Tell? Religious and other
      > figures do appear to have been created by succeeding generations.
      > We can already see "a total creation" of passion and virgin birth
      > narratives. Paul's Christ is also appears to be a "total creation" from
      > visions, scripture and the hellenistic-jewish-religious ideas of the time --
      > even to the extent of repudiating any idea that he received any of his
      > teachings from other apostles.
      > If the earliest Son of God/Logos/Christ literature is diverse (even within
      > the canon: James, Hebrews, Paul, John...) and pointing to a cosmic figure
      > with little interest in the personality and experiences of an historical
      > heroic founder then is there not room for an alternative paradigm that
      > posits that Christianity was, like so many other social and religious
      > movements have been, a multi-sourced phenomenon that was gradually unified
      > through the evolution of a human founder?
      > I thank you for what your books have opened up to me, in understanding of
      > method as much as their content. Nevertheless in the study of religious
      > origins, especially within a culture as rich philosophically, religiously
      > and literary as we find in these centuries another paradigm would surely not
      > necessarily be in the same basket as moon-landing denials.
      > Many thanks,
      > Neil Godfrey
      > Toowoomba, Qld.
      > Australia
      > -----Original Message-----
      > From: John Dominic Crossan [mailto:jdcrosn@...]
      > Sent: Thursday, 2 March 2000 2:57 AM
      > To: hjmaterialsmethodolgy@egroups.com
      > Subject: [HJMatMeth] Re: Ideological immunity?
      > I am not certain, Neil, that I have much to add to my previous post. I do
      > not claim "ideological immunity" against the possibility that the historical
      > Jesus never existed. That such a person existed is an historical conclusion
      > for me, and neither a dogmatic postulate nor a theological presupposition.
      > My very general arguments are: (1) that existence is given in Christian,
      > pagan, and Jewish sources; (2) it is never negated by even the most hostile
      > critics of early Christianity (Jesus is a bastard and a fool but never a
      > myth or a fiction!); (3) there are no historical parallels that I know of
      > from that time and period that help me understand such a total creation.
      > There is, however, a fourth point that I touched on in BofC 403-406. It is
      > crucially important for me that Jesus sent out companions and told them to
      > do exactly what he was doing (not in his name, but as part of the Kingdom of
      > God). The most basic continuity that I see between Jesus and those
      > companions was, as I put it, not in mnemonics, but in mimetics. In other
      > words, they were imitating his lifestyle and not just remembering his words.
      > I find that emphasized in the Q Gospel's indictment of those who talk, but
      > do not do, and in the Didache's emphasis on the ways (tropoi) of the Lord
      > (not just words/logoi). When, therefore, I look at a phrase such as "blessed
      > are the destitute," and am quite willing to argue that it comes from the
      > historical Jesus, I am always at least as sure that it represents the
      > accurate summary of an attitude as the accurate recall of a saying. For
      > analogy: If Gandhi had developed a large movement after his death of people
      > who are living in non-violent resistance to oppression, and one of them
      > cited an aphorism of Gandhi, namely "if you do not stand on a small bug, why
      > would you stand on a Big Bug," I would be more secure on the continuity in
      > lifestyle than in memory and could work on that as basis.
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