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5000Re: Two burial stories

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  • Tobias Hägerland
    Sep 7, 2004
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      In response to your post,


      > The problem I see with the methodology you advocate here is that it
      > not allow you to decide whether the events described in John 19:31-
      > are historical or not.
      > If I were to judge the tree from its fruit, I would have to say
      that the
      > various methods that have been advocated so far leave a lot to be
      > desired. None of the important questions related to the historicity
      > problem has been adequately resolved. On the contrary, I see a lot
      > skepticism around me. Many seem to have given up on the historicity
      > question.
      > This is why I am in favor of a more intelligent approach to the
      > The tools we use in our research must be custom-made and constantly
      > improved, so as to be really useful. The methods we follow are our
      > tools. It makes no sense, in my view, to remain faithful to methods
      > have produced sour fruit. In this regard, my aim is to invite you
      > the resourceful members of this list to a common research for a
      > method.

      I, too, would be very happy indeed for any improvements on the
      methodology in historical-Jesus research. I do believe, however, that
      such improvement is most likely to be expected from reflection that
      builds on the methods already in use, as these are the result of much
      scholarly work and have led to considerable progress within the
      discipline. I cannot agree that the existing methods have produced
      sour fruit. On the contrary. But just as you write, many questions
      remain unsolved. Now, being something of a pessimist by nature, I am
      not very hopeful that we will ever be able to tell whether the
      passage we are now discussing preserves historical information or
      not. I think we will have to cope with ignorance. But if you do have
      any concrete suggestions how to go beyond this, I will be just glad
      to read and ponder them.

      > I think that faith is a very precious thing. This is why I would not
      > allow my critical study of the gospel to make me contemptuous of
      > who have remained faithful to the faith of their childhood. I do not
      > think, for example, that my mother was "simple-minded" just
      > was a devout Catholic. It is true that I have evolved in the way I
      > with the faith of my childhood. It is also true that I would
      > people to become more mature in the way they understand their
      > There is in the maturity process a negative dimension, which is
      > of certain things. But the negativity is not the final step. It has
      > be followed by another step, which allows us to see and judge the
      > spiritual dimension in a less naïve way.
      > In the seventeenth century, the Europeans saw in Galileo's view
      > to their faith. We no longer make a similar connection today. In the
      > same way, if our faith is based on having an empty tomb, we will be
      > reluctant to admit that the stories of Joseph of Arimathea and of
      > empty tomb are not historical. An admission of this nature requires
      > revision of our understanding of our faith. But I do not think that
      > a revision would be more catastrophic than the revision of the
      > views relatively to the new knowledge Galileo has introduced.

      All right, but I cannot see what your recurring references to
      Galileo, childhood faith etc. have to do with my arguments in this
      thread. Psychologizing is not a very fruitful way of discussing
      scholarly matters, I think. (Besides, the religion I now profess and
      practice is not the one I was brought up with. But this I really find
      irrelevant to our discussion here.)

      So let me make an attempt to return to the scholarly argument we are
      having here. As I have already stated, I think it is uncertain
      whether Jn 19.31-37 preserves historical information (partially or in
      its entirety). But for the sake of the argument, let us suppose for a
      moment that at least 19.31 provides a historically accurate
      account of what happened. If that is so, in what way does 19.31
      conflict with 19.38-42?

      Jn 19.31 says: 'Now the Jews, since it was Sabbath Eve, in order that
      the bodies should not remain on the cross during the Sabbath - for
      the day of that Sabbath was great - asked Pilate that their legs
      should be broken and taken away.' (my transl.)

      The breaking of legs is depicted in 19.32, but the taking away of the
      corpses is not narrated. Instead, Jesus' corpse is 'taken away' by
      Joseph in 19.38 and subsequently prepared for burial and entombed.
      There is not the slightest hint that the Roman soldiers took away the
      corpse. The narrative flow of 19.31-42 appears to be without
      contradiction, so why posit two different sources?

      One might object that the 'natural' continuation of 19.31-37, if we
      did not have 19.38-42, would be the disposal of Jesus' corpse by the
      soldiers - just as we may interpret the silence on the other corpses
      to mean that they were taken away by the soldiers and thrown like
      waste. Certainly that would be the expected course of events! But
      that is implied already in Mark's story, where Joseph also has to go
      and ask Pilate for Jesus' corpse (Mk 15.43). This means that Mark,
      like John, realized that the soldier would have disposed of the
      corpse had not this member of the council intervened. So what
      information does John convey to us that is not already there in Mark?
      None, I think, unless we can somehow establish with a certainty going
      beyond pure guess that John builds on a tradition that did not know
      of the Joseph episode.

      So, once again, it all comes down to a question of method. How do we
      distinguish different traditions behind a given passage? Is it
      legitimate to posit, say, three or four sources or traditions in Jn
      19.31-37 simply because one could imagine such a scenario? May we
      reconstruct a pre-Gospel tradition that had the soldiers breaking
      Jesus' legs also (which could in fact explain why he died so
      rapidly), but which was then obscured by the Johannine notion that
      the bones of Jesus the Paschal Lamb must not be broken? Or is it
      legitimate, by contrast, to demand from the one who proposes any of
      these theories that he or she points to the inconsistencies in the
      actual text, in order to come up with some evidence for his/her claim?

      I would welcome further discussion on these questions of method.

      /Tobias Hägerland
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