Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jesus Scrubbed

The military service uses the expression “scrubbing a list” when it is being checked for accuracy. To clean a list of errors, typos, inaccuracies, etc. one “scrubs” the list. I am using the term to describe a Jesus-Seminar-like exercise, which aims to determine in so far as is possible what in the gospels is left of the essentially historical Jewish man Jesus of Nazareth. Everyone “scrubs” Jesus: the gospel writers, Paul, translators, ministers, true believers and liberals, even historians! When a critical historian “scrubs” Jesus, however, his Jesus comes out as a radical figure having little in common with either the modern or ancient Christian church. In the first place, Jesus was not Christian but Jewish. The rituals with which he would have been familiar would have been those in Jewish tradition rather than in the Christian calendar. Jesus knew nothing of Christian baptism, Eucharist (Lord’s Supper), Christmas, Easter, confirmation, invitation hymns, ordained clergy, bishops, ordination, praying in Jesus name, etc.
     Jesus is represented as undergoing the Jewish rite of circumcision, of celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Dedication, Passover, observing the Sabbath, going to the synagogue and the temple, arguing with Pharisees about Torah (he knew nothing of the books of the New Testament). So how did we get Christian rites, theology, and celebrations out of this Jewish man? In part, it was due to the fact that Jesus was “scrubbed” by the evangelists in their narratives, and then by the later church. Their literary contexts and “Christian” spins of the oral Jesus traditions, which they received, made Jesus more amenable to the Christian Greek mentality.
     Most scholars accept that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer, but John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4-5). The Christian view (Paul) sees baptism as immersion in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ (Romans 6:3-4). Matthew, on the other hand, was bothered by the suggestion that Jesus might also be thought to have “confessed his sins” like everyone else when he was baptized by John, and completely eliminates this as a possibility by having Jesus explain to John why it was necessary that John baptize him (Matt 3:13-15). In Luke, apparently John does not baptize Jesus, for Luke writes that John was put in prison (Luke 3:19-20) immediately before the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:21); this appears to be how Luke handled Jesus being baptized for the remission of his sin; he wasn’t baptized by John, but rather at a later time, and who baptized him is left unclear. In the Gospel of John, John’s baptism is not a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; rather John was baptizing so that Jesus might be revealed to Israel (John 1:31). The baptism of Jesus in John was a baptism of the spirit rather than a water baptism, which John only witnesses (John 1:30-34). On the other hand, in a strange passage John represents Jesus as baptizing others (John 4:1), but then in the very next verse (John 4:2) John actually denies that Jesus is doing the baptizing himself—a statement that contradicts John 4:1!
       The sayings of Jesus that pass historical/critical muster (if I can put it that way) do not offer guidance for living, talk about God or salvation, predict the future, warn about the end of the world, anticipate the foundation of an ecclesiastical institution that would last for 2000 years, establish a cult of a dying and rising God, or authorize the change of theology from a radical form of Judaism to an entirely new Greek/Roman religion. Here are three radical sayings that probably originated with Jesus of Nazareth; shorn of their literary contexts they appear to prescribe actions that are completely impractical and unworkable in practice in either the ancient or modern worlds:
Luke 6:27: “Love your enemies.” The seriously radical character of this saying is camouflaged by its literary context—by including it among other plausible but challenging acts one can render an “enemy”: do good, bless, pray. In this way the reader is led to believe that “loving your enemy” means something less than how one “loves” family, wife, parents, friends.
Luke 6:29: When struck on the cheek, offer the other; when someone takes your outer garment, offer your undergarment (which is worn next to the skin); put into practice this act would leave one nude without a stitch of clothing.
Luke 6:30: “Give to everyone who begs from you.” Follow this principle literally and how long do you suppose it would be before you find your savings exhausted, the bills piling up, and the mortgage long overdue.
      Another saying camouflaged by its literary context in all three synoptic gospels and the Gospel of Thomas is, “Pay both Caesar and God what is due them” (Mark 12:17). The oblique character of the saying is mitigated by the controversy story. In the context it comes across as an evasive answer by which Jesus avoids the trap laid for him by his interlocutors; in its literary context the saying is a shrewd quip allowing Jesus to best his interlocutors in the exchange. In itself as an oral survival from Jesus’ public career, however, it is simply ambiguous offering no clear guidance, since it does not specify the content of what is due the Caesar and what is due to God. One has to work that out for oneself with no help from Jesus. These types of sayings are characteristic of what most probably originated with Jesus. The literary contexts of the pronouncements in the gospels are not the actual social contexts of Jesus’ public career, but due to the evangelists. As a result, when the literary context is “scrubbed” we are left in general with sayings characterized by perplexing ambiguity or unrealistic idealism.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

15 comments:

  1. Dennis Dean CarpenterMarch 17, 2013 at 4:19 AM

    I need to correct a mistake. I meant “Mack’s use of Kee,” not Dodd.
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Posted on 3/10/2013 at 11:29am

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  2. Dennis Dean CarpenterMarch 17, 2013 at 4:21 AM

    Regarding 2: Thanks for your criticism! You asked for evidence of a Jewish audience. It’s impossible to do in a paragraph. First, explanation of Aramaic terms merely tells one that the audience spoke Greek and not Aramaic, not whether it was Jew or Gentile. It might tell one, however, where it wasn’t written. I don’t think that “church tradition and teaching” can be quantified or (especially) validated before the second century. (I am firmly in the Dutch Radical camp regarding the Paulines, which is generally a conversation stopper.) John the Immerser plays a substantial role in Mark. While the fictive disciples are generally foils for a long time biblical theme of ignorance and enlightenment, John is part of a couple of narratives, a very important one introducing Jesus to the reader. John was known to Jews. There is no evidence he was a figure outside this group, evidence he was a figure inside charismatic Judaism. From there, biblical themes, allusions and even quotations abound. I counted around 150 allusions/quotes, looking at a couple of Jesus Seminar books and Mack’s use of Dodd. This is the most direct evidence that the writing was directed to a Jewish population. We have Jesus in parallel with Moses, Elijah, Elisha, David (thematically), Joshua, even John the Baptist and Jesus ben Ananias, not Alexander the Great, Socrates, or Augustus. At the same time we have church officials (temple priests and the like) vilified, Pharisees and others stereotyped as murderous Judeans. This motif makes the most sense to me after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the havoc Titus and others caused to the Jewish population. (A major cause of the war, according to Josephus, was the refusal of the temple to take “Caesar’s coin,” his tribute.) Of course, the prophets of the Bible did the same vilification. I don’t see much plausibility in anti-Judean sentiments throughout Mark to Gentiles... As history showed, when Gentiles read the books without the literary background, this became an excuse to kill Jews. In order to “deliver” Mark to a Gentile population, one would probably have to re-educate the Gentile population. Just a few of the reasons. I haven’t gotten into the function of the book. That view is the same found in Thomas Thompson’s “The Messiah Myth” and “The Mythic Past.”
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Posted on 3/10/2013 at 9:43am

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  3. Dennis Dean CarpenterMarch 17, 2013 at 4:26 AM

    It’s been a couple of excellent days here in the North Georgia foothills, too... Should be able to plant taters Sunday. I haven’t gotten so far as to answer your question. Still putting it together. I have a few thoughts, though. I’m looking at what I think I can glean from the writing. (I rely to some extent on the JS Scholars’ Version of Mark and Mack’s Myth of Innocence. Here is what I am looking at. Maybe you can correct me or give me some additional information.

    1. “Gospel,” euangelion is a Greek term meaning “good message,” associated with the Roman ruler, I have been led to believe. Mark is the only gospeleer to call his writing this.

    2. Mark is built around the Hebrew texts, especially molding his character after figures of Israel’s mythical leaders. (It only makes sense to see this as a “Jewish” writing, in my estimation, because of this.)

    3. Semitic terms are used but more importantly explained. (Perhaps the audience was Greek-speaking, not Aramaic speakers.)

    4. Readers are addressed in 13:14, told they should find out what “devastating desecration standing where it should not” means (from Dan. 9:27 and 12:11). (Arch of Titus?)

    5. Mark was originally written in Greek, probably “popular literature” as opposed to “fine art.”

    6. The protagonist is introduced by John the Immerser. (It would seem that the readers would be familiar with this figure.)

    7. Many of the sayings in Mark are written in chreiai, which are memorable phrases that are responses. The “foils” are generally church officials. The form, however, is Greek, similar to those found in Cynic writings.

    8. Geographical errors. What does one make of these?

    That’s as far as I have gotten. To me, thus far it looks like the audience might have been a Greek speaking diasporan community terrorized by Titus on his way from Palestine to Rome. (I’m almost afraid to send this – The lengthy essay I gave you at Brevard a few years ago about Paul and Galatians must have really been bad!)

    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Posted on 3/8/2013 at 11:43am

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  4. Hi Dennis,
    You always ask difficult questions. Some of these things I am quite confident of; others not quite so certain. On the blog I cannot be long-winded.

    1. I agree in part. Mark is the only writer to use the term gospel in the incipit (which is one way books are entitled in Antiquity). He is not giving a literary designation to his summary description of the public career of Jesus, however; rather he is aiming to describe the origins of the “gospel being preached by the church” (Hedrick, “Parable and Kingdom. Survey of the Evidence in Mark,” PRS 27.2 (2000): 179-99).

    2. I would like to see the evidence for this idea. From my perspective Mark is composed at the Gentile stage. The targeted audience is Gentile.

    3. Explanations mean that the Gentile audience will not understand without the explanations—like Mark 7:1-6, which explains Jewish traditions. Jews surely would not need these things explained. And what do you do with the Latin terms?

    4. Mark 13:14 is generally thought to be a reference to Dan 11:30-31 and its fulfillment in 1 Macc 1:54. An Altar is built to Olympian Zeus in the Temple (2 Macc 6:2).

    5. I agree and for that reason Mark should be read in concert with Greek and Jewish fiction narrative.

    6. If I am correct, a Gentile audience would only be familiar with John through church tradition and teaching.

    7. Chreia or pronouncement story—although those in Mark (and the other gospels) are much longer than the typical Greek Chreia. Other terms by which these are known are pronouncement story, apophthegm, and others. By church officials I assume that you mean synagogue officials?

    8. It suggests that Mark really did not know the geographical setting of his narrative first hand.

    Cordially,
    Charlie
    Posted on 3/10/2013 at 1:16pm

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  5. Dennis Dean CarpenterMarch 17, 2013 at 4:31 AM

    I guess we are looking at it differently, Dr. Hedrick. I see the chreia as a Markan creation, written shortly after the war. I am trying to find Mark’s audience.
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Posted on 3/7/2013 at 11:47pm

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  6. Good Morning Dennis,

    And a fine morning it is here in the Missouri Ozarks. I did not say that you were wrong but only that I personally could not get to what you “heard” in the Jesus saying from the incident in Josephus a little before 70. I have an open mind on the matter and am willing to be convinced. I do have a curiosity question, how are you able to sort out Mark’s readers from the undistinguished masses of Judahites (or are you thinking Galiliens?) of the period?

    Charlie
    Posted on 3/8/2013 at 9:00am

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  7. Speaking as the good friend whom you quote as saying that I am aiming towards martyrdom.... boy, a lot is lost without context.... let me clear that up a bit. I accept mortality and do not live in dread of death which is, no matter how you feel about it, will come sooner or later. I do not have a "death wish" in that I do lock my doors at night and wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle and I don't eat off of the street vendor carts in Managua.

    More precisely, I am not afraid of being killed because once you allow that consideration to enter your work, then you naturally edit yourself. King didn't jump in front of a bullet in Memphis but even after a house bombing and multiple death threats, he still showed himself in public without body armor. Romero didn't know when he would be killed but it would not have taken a genius to figure out that his murder was likely. In the same way, I think that it is reasonable to assume that given the violent nature of Rome's occupation and the radical nature of Jesus' teachings that he was a good prospect for death at the hands of the government, the Jerusalem religious establishment (that never liked religious teachers from the Galilee anyway), the market place or his immediate family members..... maybe all of them working together?

    To be involved in social justice ministry you have to both feed the hungry and challenge the system that creates hunger, care for the sick and challenge the system that treats four people and turns one away, defend those who are the victims of discrimination and challenge the institutions that perpetuate discrimination (generally the religious establishment). I have been shot at but not hit. I've had a concrete block thrown through my windshield twice and was held hostage at the end of a shot gun for 5 hours (I'm sleeping better now, thanks, it was a long time ago). No one would be surprised to find me murdered but it is not a goal.

    Roger Ray, D.Min.
    Posted on 3/7/2013 at 9:45am

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  8. Good Morning Roger,

    Thanks for clarifying your personal situation in such an open and honest way. Most of us continue to struggle with our own mortality and everything that it means—although we generally fail to respond to it without grand illusions of one sort or another. You conclude your comments with an impressive list of hardships and dangers—not quite as impressive as Paul’s own (2 Cor 11:23-28), but certainly far more impressive than mine. With the exception of my years as a Deputy Probation Officer in Los Angeles County I have never been physically threatened or assaulted for things I have said or done. But then that kind of physical violence may simply chronicle the difference between the plodding academic life and an active prophetic life.

    Cordially,
    Charlie
    Posted on 3/8/2013 at 10:02am

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  9. Dear Charlie:

    I have to agree with you here. Immoral acts are immoral no matter who commands them; otherwise, we're left with "might makes right." And clearly, the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, being defined by these religions as omniscient, simply would not have needed to test Abraham's faith. Psalm 139 ("You have searched me, Lord, and you know me... you perceive my thoughts from afar") seems to confirm this.

    Best,
    Lee
    Posted on 3/5/2013 at 9:50am

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  10. Charles, thanks for responding to my comment. Your clarifications are understood and accepted, thanks. I would agree with you that some of Jesus’ sayings are impractical or unworkable from the standpoint of everyday life in society, but they can be fitted into one’s worldview, if one realizes that God demands total obedience and willingness to give our all to Him/Her at crucial points in our lives, for example, as Abraham did when he attempted to sacrifice Isaac, his son. God tests us, little-by-little and from small to greater (see Lk. 16.10). Outside of these moments of testing, which we might call ‘crises,’ the rest of life is humdrum and as you word it, a “slog(ging) through.” So the radical logoi of Jesus, such as the ones you cite in your original blog, make us aware of these demands and of another potential existence for humans outside of the everyday, an existence such as Soren Kierkegaard philosophized about in his work, Fear and Trembling. Charles, dust off your copy of Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament and reread chapter 1, ‘The Message of Jesus’ to learn more of this interpretation. This leads to your question, “why is aspiring to martyrdom such a noble life goal.” One does not aspire to martyrdom, if one follows Jesus Christ and his teaching. One becomes aware that it may happen and accepts that possibility because of the character of the world in which we live – its estrangement from God and downright hostility toward God, our Father. Other people may call it noble, but someone like St. Paul or St. Peter, would probably just call it scary.
    Paul Rizzuto
    Posted on 3/4/2013 at 3:41pm

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  11. Thanks for continuing the dialogue Paul. I guess where I opt out from your idea that Jesus’ sayings are high ideals toward which Christian lives should be oriented is at this point: I fail to see where putting others at risk sets a HIGH IDEAL—and by the way that would include the example of Abraham. Would you think that Samuel’s directive (presumably from God—or at least that was described as the belief of Samuel 1Sam 15:1-3) to destroy all the Amalekites down to their animals and nursing infants (1 Sam 1:3) was living up to a high ideal—which Samuel would construe as obedience to the Lord? In my view not even Saul took the higher road even when he saved only Agag and the best of the animals (of course that was a failure in Samuel’s eyes). I keep seeing before my mind’s eye the slaughter of the Amalekites themselves! If “obedience to the Lord” results in such suffering and inhumanity to others, then I would have to say that human and humane ideals are higher than Christian ideals. Or put it another way: The ideals of Jesus must be scrubbed by human reason.

    Cordially,
    Charlie
    Posted on 3/5/2013 at 8:57am

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  12. Dennis Dean CarpenterMarch 17, 2013 at 4:40 AM

    Dr. Hedrick, I don’t find the ambiguity of the exhortation to give to Caesar/give to God, when I read it through the lens of Josephus (Wars 2.328 – 332, 402 – 407). According to Joe, Florus was trying to get to the treasures of the temple through Antonia, so the cloisters of the temple joining the two were destroyed. At the same time, those in Jerusalem were not paying taxes to Caesar. Agrippa II feared war and gave an impassioned speech, culminating with “... for you have not paid the tribute which is due to Caesar; and you have cut off the cloisters from joining to the tower Antonia. You will therefore prevent any occasion of revolt if you will but join these together again, and if you will but pay your tribute; for the citadel does not now belong to Florus, nor are you to pay the tribute money to Florus.” In order to stave off war, Agrippa II would give both taxes to Caesar and, in reconnecting the temple to the outside, give Florus, the Roman governor, potential access (again) to “the treasures of God,” a “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to the Romans what is God’s” situation. I have probably read this “incorrectly,” but to me it seems as though this saying attributed to Jesus would have been seen in this light, for those familiar with the problems of Florus during the sixties. Seen in this light, the saying would seem to be a protest against kowtowing to Rome. (I tend to agree with Weeden’s hypothesis about much of the Passion either coming from Wars or from tales about Jesus son of Ananias.)
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Posted on 3/4/2013 at 10:37am

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  13. Thanks for citing this very interesting parallel to the saying of Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar. Alas however I am unable to see that the situation in Josephus would cause Jesus’ saying to resonate as you suggest (chalk it up to my little grey cells not connecting). Agrippa only ruled out the payment of the tax to Florus; presumably he knows that the tax must still be paid, unless he wants the wrath of the Romans to descend on the Jewish state (as it actually did some years later). And as we know the saying of Jesus demands that Caesar get his due. It is the issue of Kowtowing to Rome that I have problems with. Even bounced off this situation the saying of Jesus would still demand a certain (unstated) apportionment to each party (God and Caesar). Here is another example of Judas the Galilean from Josephus (War, 2.8.1 [117-118]). Judas (a Zealot) said you are a coward if you pay taxes to Caesar (Ant. 14.10.6 [202-210] for the tax declaration of Caesar). In this situation Judas argues against the tax being paid and in favor of throwing off the yoke of Rome (the land is Yahweh’s part and the tax Caesar’s). Judas takes the position that the people should not “kowtow” to Rome, but still the saying of Jesus demands that Caesar get his due—except as always the saying does not specify precisely what it is that should be granted to either party. Interesting discussion, but how does it help us make something of this particular saying for living practically in the 21st century?

    Cordially,
    Charlie
    Posted on 3/7/2013 at 8:47am

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  14. Thanks for this post, Charles. I appreciate interaction with Jesus’ sayings because, firstly, this material is important to me personally, and second, it has been an immense influence on Western and world civilization. I think ‘scrubbing’ is a useful metaphor for what people do with the traditions they have received, thank-you. I disagree with you that the particular sayings you cite, such as “love your enemies,” don’t offer guidance for living. They certainly do. Are you trying to ‘scrub’ the meaning of such radical teachings, Charles? For you, they are “perplexing,” “ambiguous,” “unrealistic.” For me, they are ideals to strive for. They are part of my mental makeup and come into play often in my life in relations with others. There are obstacles to overcome in appropriating such wisdom as with any ideal worth the effort of making real. I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. The ideas and idealism of Jesus of Nazareth are marvels that have been wowing or puzzling people for centuries. Ultimately his teaching leads to martyrdom, death and beyond. This is the hard truth that has to be dealt with by would-be followers.


    Posted on 3/2/2013 at 6:46am

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  15. Hi Paul, Thanks for your blog. Here are a few words on some of your comments.

    1. I said that these sayings “don’t offer guidance for living.” Excellent catch! What I should have said was “do not offer practical guidance for living.” When you look at the sayings that have the highest claim to have originated with Jesus, they suggest responses to life that are completely impractical and unworkable when taken literally for living what I would consider a normal life in community.

    2. You wonder if I “scrub” the tradition and my answer is: “of course” (remember what I said earlier about historians doing it as well). Because it is certain that Jesus absolutely did not personally say everything in the tradition attributed to him, a responsible person has no option except to scrub the tradition. What I don’t scrub, however, is the strangeness, unreasonableness, and radicalism with which they come across, or to use your word their impossible “idealism,” with which you seem inclined to agree.

    3. At the end of your comments you refer to the idealism of the words of Jesus that lead (inevitably?) to martyrdom. So why is aspiring to martyrdom such a noble life goal (if I can put it that way)? Personally I think it is much over-rated. To me it seems much more difficult to slog through life trying to balance the demands of reason and faith in such a way that one can contribute to the community of faith and the broader community—but to do that one will have to eschew (good religious word) martyrdom. I have a good friend in Springfield who assures me that through his community activism he has been aiming toward martyrdom—but I fail to see that as a worthy “life” goal (personally I think he is pulling my leg, so to speak).

    4. The really problematical thing about the sayings I described in the blog is their collateral damage. For example under the right conditions “loving your enemy” can get your family and close friend killed; stripping off your underwear to clothe the naked makes no sense to me. Under the right conditions you could catch pneumonia—or be thrown in jail. And always giving to everyone who begs from you will put your family on the street with the street people—does one really have the right to drag their family into poverty because of one’s own impossible idealism?

    Thanks for pushing me on what I said in the blog!

    Cordially
    Charlie
    Posted on 3/3/2013 at 3:37pm

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