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[HJMatMeth] 'Ethos' and Jesus Studies

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  • thevoidboy@earthlink.net
    Dominic- Thank you for your excellent post, and again, for the patience you have exhibited throughout all this discussion. Let me just say, this is tapping
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 16, 2000
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      Thank you for your excellent post, and again, for the patience you have exhibited throughout all this discussion.

      Let me just say, this is tapping into something that is vastly interesting to me: because, indeed, our historical research is driven by the 'ethos' of the individual in question in light of the varying means by which (doctrinal, institutional, political) it has been supported and developed. This 'Jesus' guy is, as is assumed (I don't mean 'opinion', but as a broad, cultural, historical, almost 'ideological' 'of course he is'!), important. Which means our historical reconstructions had better live up to the challenge. (And I suspect that, even if we strive at our best, any one of us would admit that we haven't quite succeeded that challenge, but we certainly are giving it our best try.)

      But one other interesting aspect to me (and it is perhaps not very interesting to others, I'll admit, and with this last post, I'll shut up and let others get on with their very interesting challenges to your results and procedures) is that, as historians in a context of such incredible 'importance' (i.e. Jesus), our discipline has for the last 150 years or so staked a claim that all (historical?) claims to Jesus (of Nazareth? Christ?) had better be historically grounded. Which puts us, according to our own logic, in the particularly powerful (and vulnerable) position of determining the 'rules' of the power-knowledge 'game', doesn't it? This is what makes our results so important: the 'ethos' of Jesus. This is what grounds the ethical, social, possibly political, doctrinal implications and ramifications of our results, if and only if everybody is willing to accept our claim to be central to the enterprise of Jesus' ethos formation.

      And it finally occurs to me why Davidson drives the historians in the Jesus Seminar nuts (at least, that's how I read it, Davidson): if he's right and there's no there there, no Jesus there at all, then our whole power-game system falls apart The historian of Jesus cannot comment upon anything that has gone on in Jesus' name, hence is shut out of the on-going *ethical* discussions going on right now.

      What strikes me about our particular emphasis and angle upon history (I mean, our concept of history as it has been disciplined): what we do isn't what the early xian community seemed to concern themselves about at all. My own 'interactivity' with the early documents suggests a vastly different worldview, one that allowed them a great deal of creativity (with which they struggled tremendously, even violently) within a different concept of 'veracity'. Their processes simply would not conform to our own rules of evidence and process. It further seems to me that fundamentalists, aka dogmatists (a BIG bugaboo of our scholarship, at least within certain circles, and given our history, perhaps for good reason) may have a far stronger claim to 'superiority' than the historians: their claims to veracity could be read as the modern equivalent of how the ancients generated their early xian paideia.

      And this is interesting to me because I'm finding myself far less excited about securing a claim to this historical figure, and far more interested in tracing out how any claims have been made and are being made. This latter is a huge, exciting enterprise of history, anthropology, rhetoric - the "study of the bible" not just as an ancient historical document (whose reconstructed reception at one point and time becomes the hermeneutic foundation of its reception/importance today, according to our model), but as a living collection of documents stuidied throughout time and in cultures.

      As such, history as discipline does not become an enterprise to secure the eternal 'Truth' of rationalism against irrationalist claims of today (to 'secure the present by reference to the past'), but is performed in order to show (as Foucault put it) how the present is not how it has always been (to 'critique the present').

      But that's my schtick, and I don't even want to presume to suggest it ought to be yours or anybody else's. It is simply the place I have come to as a result of my own studies, my own experiences, my own reflections.

      To finish this up: I think your examples were exemplary. I wonder sometimes what we think we mean by 'accuracy' when it comes to such complex things as worldviews: I tend to describe my efforts as striving to be as 'complex', 'sympathetic', 'detailed' as I can be, hoping that the result will be an audience that begins to become sensitive to the possibilty of the Other, of the Different (even of the Excluded). One result, for me, of my own rhetoric is that I faced a crisis point in my studies when I tried to offer a socio-cultural 'reading' of certain texts (mostly parables). My own concern for 'complexity' led me to confront an unanticipated result in my studies: at some very early point (and there was no reason why it couldn't have been the 'earliest' point) there were two equally valid responses to the parable of the tenants of the vineyard: "those guys are really going to get it" represented by the extension of the parable to include the story of the owner's return to the scene of the crime to inflict punishment, and, "hey, check it out: the good guys won!" represented by the Psalms quotation celebrating the reversal of fortune of the outcaste.

      The moment I saw that was the moment I realized I was in way over my head, that worldviews could be very complex, and that we have no real way to anticipate how something could be received in them. How 'accurate' I could hope to be was now no longer the issue: how 'complex' (or, as you put it, 'interactive') I could be became the issue.

      To that end: the thing I really miss at times is the possibility that Jesus could very well have been or turned nationalist, messianist, apocalyptic - something 'Jewish' (not universalist, but possibly even ethnocentric). There is enough troubling evidence I cannot dismiss, evidence that slips through the cracks of a non-violent Jesus, to make me wonder: is it our desire to avoid a violent Jesus (like it is 'our' desire to avoid a violent YHWH) that prevents us, somewhere, from allowing this? Is it a desire to find him consistent in his teachings and actions? Are we allowing for the complexity, or disciplining the results? I don't know.

      Thank you for your time, Dominic. It has been a great pleasure and honor.

      -David Hester Amador

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