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[HJMatMeth] Re: Prophecy historicized?

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  • John Dominic Crossan
    With regard to empty tomb tradition in Mark and those dependent on Mark, I did mention the Joshua texts in The Cross that Spoke and Who Killed Jesus?, but I
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 14, 2000
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      Re: [HJMatMeth] Prophecy historicized? With regard to empty tomb tradition in Mark and those dependent on Mark, I did mention the Joshua texts in The Cross that Spoke and Who Killed Jesus?, but I did not think of them as using biblical prophecy so much as using a simple biblical model. In other words, I did not make much of it. My understanding of the empty tomb tradition, by that I mean the story in Mark 16:1-8, is that Mark created it for two purposes. One was to avoid apparitions in general and ones to Peter and/or the Inner Three and/or the Twelve in particular since his gospel is a radical and continual criticism of them, and (b) to leave a desolate emptiness  between resurrection and parousia,  consonent with the persecutions and sufferings that his own community had suffered in the first Jewish war. In other words, I find it almost predictable having read Mark 1-15 that he would have to end it with something like 16.
      In the case of Mark, in other words, that conclusion is not really prophecy historicized, but "history" actualized. That is he ends the story not by telling us what happened in the past, but by telling us what is appropriate to his present community. I would describe Mark 16:1-8 as parable, not history.
      You asked about how one knows what prophecies to historicize. Since all such activities begin in the present and go back into the past to understand that present and project the future, they always know what they are looking for. After the execution of Jesus, for example, they are going back to anywhere in their tradition that tells them that the righteous one(s) is/are oppressed, persecuted and even martyred. It is very easy to find what you want, when you know what you are looking for. Everyone was doing it. Virgil knew exactly what had to be painted on that shield in the Aeneid because he was going to find the story of Caesar Augustus promised upon it. The Pharisees knew what to find as oral tradition at Mt. Sinai because they knew what they needed for their present understanding of the law. The Essenes knew what they needed to comprehend their present situation and had no trouble finding it looking backwards. The Christians were just doing what everyone else was doing to understand their own experiences.

      From: Bob Schacht <Robert.Schacht@...>
      To: hjmaterialsmethodolgy@...
      Subject: [HJMatMeth] Prophecy historicized?
      Date: Sun, Feb 13, 2000, 1:53 PM

      Professor Crossan wrote:

      My term "prophecy historicized," John, was used originally for a very specific purpose. Granted the historicity of the crucifixion, where did all those detailed hour by hour, word by word, blow by blow, data come from? I asked whether it came from history remembered and answered that it came from prophecy historicized.

      Professor Crossan,
      Thank you for responding to this question (and thanks to John Bristow for asking it), because it was something I wanted to ask you about anyway. What I really like about this section of your book (May I refer to it as TBOC?)  is that it poses here two alternative hypotheses, which you name above, to explain different versions of a particular event. You then proceed to summarize your argument against the first hypothesis, labelled "history remembered":

       My negative reasons for that conclusion were (1) that nobody outside the Gospels ever mentioned any of them, (2) that everyone seemed very dependent on Mark and went their dramatically separate ways when they ran out of Mark at 16:8.

      Before they go their separate ways, however, there are two important pericopes found in all 4 canonical gospels plus the Gospel of Peter: the Burial in the Tomb (Mark 15:42-47 and parallels, including Gospel of Peter 6:1-4; 8:1-6), and the Empty Tomb (Mark 16:1-8 and parallels, including Gospel of Peter 12:1-13:3). I know you doubt the historicity of these passages, but they both must be from the first or second earliest strata of texts. I will return to these pericopes below.

      It seemed difficult to explain how Matthew and Luke (for most scholars) and John (for some scholars) were so dependent on Mark¹s narrative if everyone knew such a "history remembered" passion since the 30s.

      Here, and in the book, your summary of evidence against the first hypothesis certainly has merit.
      You then summarize evidence for the second hypothesis, prophecy historicized:

      The positive reason was that the overall structure, the individual units, and the particular texts of the passion narrative were all resonant in the background with Old Testament models, narrative and texts. My conclusion was, in that case, prophecy historicized was the best solution, not for the brutal fact of crucifixion but for all its attendant details.

      *All* of its attendant details? Including the Burial in a Tomb and the Empty Tomb? It seems to me that, while this is a promising start for supporting evidence for the second hypothesis, it is incomplete in important respects. It is plausible, but not compelling (unless one prefers explanations of this kind).
      One problem is that you have to patch together a number of different Old Testament sources-- I count six of them in TBOC p. 521. This is a rather elaborate patchwork. It would be more compelling if the author was historicizing one "prophecy" rather than six fragments from here and there (and actually a seventh-- see below).
      Another problem, as I read your summary in TBOC, was that this was an ad hoc explanation, unique to this set of texts. Ad hoc explanations are, in general, weaker than those that appeal to established literary principles. Therefore I appreciate that in your response to this question, that you now add another "instance" of similar use of prophecy:

      I would make, by the way, a similar argument for Matthew¹s birth story. I am sure Jesus was actually born, but the details that Matthew gives are based on the popular Mosaic birth-stories current in the first century. Each case,however, where prophecy historicized is claimed, must be established on its own merits. ...

      It is this last sentence that I have difficulty with. If "prophecy historicized" is a legitimate explanation, then it should be a literary device the use of which is somewhat predictable. That is, it might be the literary device of choice for particular authors, in particular circumstances, in predictable ways, rather than each instance being totally unique. Which of the evangelists do you credit with initiating the use of  this literary device?
      Mark? Although I do not find this argument in TBOC, I do find in the Acts of Jesus (AJ) p. 160 an appeal to Joshua 10:26-27 to explain the origin of the Burial in a Tomb pericope. All versions of the Empty Tomb passages, according to AJ 465, share these elements: it is the first day of the week or the Lord's Day, Mary of Magdala is present, the stone has been removed, the tomb is empty, and the women are given a message by an angelic figure and leave. I have not found thus far any OT precedent to explain the core elements of this pericope. Whence came this core story, if it is not historical? Do you consider it to be a logical projection from the Resurrection tradition (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)?

      Matthew or Luke? Both Matthew and Luke have elaborate passion accounts. If they did not get the idea of historicizing prophecy from Mark, on the Q hypothesis they either came up with the same idea (i.e., to historicize prophecy) independently, or else they got it from Q or some other common source other than Mark. And since you name Matthew's birth story as prophecy historicized, does the same apply to Luke's birth story? If so, did he come up with the idea independently, or pick it up from Matthew or another source?

      Here is another important question: How do they know which prophecies to historicize?  Why do they choose to historicize certain prophecies and not others? That is, what triggers the use of this literary device? To ignore these triggers is to suggest that the historicizing appeared ex nihilo, which makes no sense to me. Was the Empty Tomb story or the Resurrection tradition the nucleus around which various prophecies could be historicized?

      If these questions can be answered, then we'd know how and under what circumstances prophecies were historicized, and your explanation of the passion narratives, the Matthean birth narrative, and similar texts would be much more compelling.

      To summarize with a focus on methodology, I find ad hoc explanations less compelling than those based on established principles, and suggest that whenever we can define and establish such principles, we have a firmer basis for reconstruction and interpretation. Your suggestion regarding "prophecy historicized" shows some promise in this regard, but needs more work to advance from the "plausible" to the "probable," IMHO.

      Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
      Research Associate
      Northern Arizona University

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