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[HJMatMeth] Allison's Challenge

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  • Johan Strijdom
    Dear Dominic, To David Amador you wrote: the merits of any method/ology is comparative. And in response to my question, you said: I have no problem with
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 14, 2000
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      Dear Dominic,

      To David Amador you wrote: 'the merits of any method/ology is comparative.'
      And in response to my question, you said: 'I have no problem with extending
      my focus on complexes to ideas.' But you qualified your willingness by
      noting that themes 'are slightly more slippery than complexes and demand
      even more fine tuning for useful purposes.'

      My question now focuses on that 'fine tuning' of themes, but it is not
      restricted to the micro-level of Christian texts. It rather deals with the
      'reciprocal' interaction between your micro-, meso-, and macro-levels.

      It is clear to me that any comparison of words, texts or contexts should
      attend to both similarities and differences (as Jonathan Z Smith makes quite
      clear in his 'Drudgery Divine' 1990). My problem, however, is more
      specific: How does one decide on the CATEGORIES or POINTS OF COMPARISON,
      when one compares texts and contexts, themes and ideas? I will try to
      elucidate my problem by means of two examples:

      (1) Purity Concerns: Paula Fredriksen, in her 'Jesus of Nazareth' (1999),
      thinks that you (and Marcus Borg) misconstrue (im)purity by letting it
      correspond to social class and by viewing it as 'one of the ways elite
      culture imposed itself on peasant society' (p 284; cf also p 201). Instead,
      she holds, 'impurity and purity were states that one moved in and out of,
      [which] could [therefore] hardly serve to stratify society along class
      lines. ... The lowliest peasant who had just completed the ritual of the red
      heifer was pure, the most aristocratic chief priest, having just buried a
      parent, was not' (p 201).

      How will you go about (ie, what method will you follow) to 'fine tune' a
      theme like 'purity'? Which CATEGORIES will you use, and, more specifically,
      how will you go about to decide on these ones rather than those ones? Would
      you consider the modern explanatory category of boundary markers (we versus
      they), the socially relevant categories of class, gender and ethnicity, the
      postmodern concerns for body and spirit ('sarcophilic' versus
      'sarcophobic'), the reformers' distinction between ritual purity and moral
      purity (which Fredriksen maintains are 'modern' distinctions and can
      therefore not be projected anachronistically onto ancient phenomena)? Or
      should one rather try to find some categories that are inductively inferred
      by a
      comparative reading of the ancient evidence (the emic approach, which
      Fredriksen will endorse as an exercise in 'concrete thinking')? Or would you
      argue that both ways should be followed 'interactively' (ie, the relevance
      of modern theories and categories should be tested in the light of ancient
      data, and our reading of the ancient materials should 'simultaneously' and
      'equally', or 'hierarchically', be scrutinized for issues that are raised by
      modern theories?)

      (2) Apocalyptic Mentalities and Movements: When you compare apocalyptic
      mentalities/movements in Second Temple Judaisms, you do it in 'The
      Historical Jesus' in terms of upper- and lower class on one axis, and of
      violence and non-violence on the other axis. Why do you choose those
      categories as the primary ones, rather than some other ones? Allison, for
      example, underlines the importance of the restoration of Israel, and
      Fredriksen the importance of the conversion of the Gentiles in the thinking
      of many of these apocalyptic groups. Although you say that you start with
      context, and only then move to text (Birth of Christianity, p 147), it seems
      to me that your eventual conclusions on the micro-level already influence
      what you include in your description on the meso-level: you do not think the
      restoration of Israel or the conversion of the Gentiles are important for an
      understanding of the Baptist or Jesus, and therefore they do not deserve a
      prominent place in your 'sharpest possible reconstruction of the 20s in
      Lower Galilee'(Birth of Christianity, p 148).
      To restate my question then: What exactly dictates your choice of POINTS OF
      COMPARISON? Why do you choose some categories, and ignore others?

      Best regards,
      Johan Strijdom
      Department of Classics
      University of South Africa
      PO Box 392
      Pretoria 0003
      South Africa
      strijjm@... OR

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