[HJMatMeth] Re: The Cynic Jesus
Re: [HJMatMeth] Re: The Cynic JesusAs it turns out, Gail, I am reading your post after responding to Mark's. May I presume, therefore, what I said to Mark as background for my response to you. My own understanding of why the Jesus Wars have turned so bitter is that a basic rule of past scholarship has been deliberately abrogated. We, in the Jesus Seminar, agreed on one essential point over and above, of course, the necessity of doing historical criticism as self-consciously and self-critically as possible. Bob Funk argued and we agreed that there was an ethical necessity to do our scholarship in public and to get it out to the widest possible audience. That, and that alone, seems to me the only thing that is new in the last 15 years. Imagine that Bob had suggested (as he actually had before he withdrew from the SBL) the running of a five-year SBL Jesus Seminar akin, say to the earlier five-year SBL Parables Seminar. If all of the recent discussion had stayed within the parameters of such research and publication, the language would almost certainly have stayed both accurate and civil, But, by going public, everyone from ministers to scholars, were forced, willy-nilly, to discuss historical questions which had immediate implications for faith even if those immediate implications were not raised by the scholars. They would be raised, quite rightly and quite immediately, by the laity. Instead of being able to say, with some condescension, that popular works would explain whatever was agreed on by scholars whenever that blessed day would dawn, interested lay persons were being invited to come in on the cutting edge of the discussion and to participate as fully as they could in its on-going developments. The only "advice" I can give you is to understand that background, to apply the usual criteria to discriminate between academic discourse and political discourse and, when you find yourself in the midst of arguments that are only political, recognize the nervousness of an opponent's position by the nastiness of its rhetoric. By the way, since you mention Luke Timothy Johnson, and since I always like to compliment my colleagues, the finest article on the rhetoric of character assassination in the ancient world was Luke's article on "The New Testament's Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of Ancient Polemic," in the Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989) 419-441.
Your second question is "what do you say to those who feel, as I think that Allison does, that when it comes to the study of the historical Jesus, the more or less standard methods of the secular historian can be ignored?" Actually, the fact that you can ask that question tells me that you probably did not need the "advice" I just gave you. You have already noticed that many of the most recent historical Jesus books totally ignore what I would call textual stratigraphy. That procedure might produce a Q Jesus, or a synoptic Jesus, or a canonical Jesus, but it will not produce an historical Jesus. Once we know (innocence lost!) what happens between Mark and John in the 70s-90s when we are dealing with written texts, I cannot see that we can presume more accurate processes when we are dealing with oral traditions and hypothetical sources in the 30s-70s. Once again, however, it is the educated laity that now know too much (happily) to accept such procedures. I mentioned, in my post to Mark, the widespread enthusiasm I found among laity for historical Jesus research and all its implications for faith. I also found a certain anger that came out in expressions like this: You mean you guys always knew that Mark was copied by Matthew and Luke and you never told us?
>From: "Dawson, Gail" <gail.dawson@...>
>Subject: [HJMatMeth] Re: The Cynic Jesus
>Date: Thu, Mar 2, 2000, 8:56 PM
> Dear Dominic,
> I have been thinking about and absorbing the dialogue of these past three
> weeks. Thanks so much for doing this! You've sparked ideas for discussion
> on Crosstalk and in other venues for a long time to come.
> You raised an issue in your posting on the Cynic Jesus that I too noticed
> (and was taken aback by) when I began to study your historical Jesus work
> vis a vis that of certain other self-identified Jesus scholars. You noted:
> "It is, however,
> only a small part of the recent shift from academic argumentation (I will
> make your case as accurate and strong as I can before I demolish it) to
> political argumentation (I will make your case as dumb and silly as I can
> before I demolish you). I am not too happy with that aspect of the recent
> Jesus Wars."
> I've been struck by this as well. What is supposed to be historical
> discourse is consistently marked by polemics (Wright & Johnson come
> instantly to mind). Allison, it seems to me, was a little more subtle in
> his recent book; still, I couldn't help but observe that his footnotes are
> generally positive when he quotes Wright and Sanders, and generally negative
> when he quotes yourself, Funk, Borg, and Patterson. So my first question
> is, after all you have written and after experiencing the apparently
> deliberate belittling of your work by some of your colleagues, what advice
> would you give those of us who find ourselves to be second- (or in my case,
> third-) string participants in the Jesus Wars?
> Second, what do you say to those who feel, as I think that Allison does,
> that when it comes to the study of the historical Jesus, the more or less
> standard methods of the secular historian can be ignored? As I have been
> reading Allison's book, I have wondered on what basis he can bypass the
> process of locating the textural tradition-units to points on an external
> timeline (a "secular" timeline, if you will). I can see that one could
> write a great deal about Jesus that way--that is, one could identify and
> restate the major themes of early Christian proclamation. I don't see how
> one could call that scholarship about a *historical* Jesus.
> Thank you again for being our teacher in this seminar.
> Gail Dawson
> Edinburg, Va.
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