Today's average Christian if asked whether Jesus thought of himself as the Son of God and the messiah, would likely answer in the affirmative. Critical scholars in general would likely avoid the question, however, for obvious reasons—who can possibly know anyone's thoughts? Confessional scholars would likely side with the average Christian. Nevertheless, some critical scholars are not at all uncomfortable talking about what was going on in Jesus' mind. Marcus Borg, for example, affirms some things that "Jesus was aware of": "The power or authority which others sensed in him"; "the power of the Spirit flowing through him"; "his teaching also shows an awareness of a numinous authority not derived from tradition." And if you allow Borg to define carefully the terms he uses, he is willing to affirm: "in this Jewish sense, Jesus may have thought of himself as 'son of God.'" (Borg, Jesus A New Vision, 47-49).
At the turn of the previous century Albert Schweitzer (holding three doctorates: Music, Theology, Medicine) wrote a short work entitled The Psychiatric Study of Jesus. Exposition and Criticism (1913). The book was his medical dissertation. In it he countered the views of those in the medical profession who at that time were arguing that Jesus, "who considered himself the 'Son of Man' and the 'Messiah,' is to be adjudged in some fashion as psychopathic" (p. 27). And Schweitzer himself felt comfortable telling the reader what Jesus thought: Jesus "did not permit the conviction that he was destined to be the coming Messiah to play a part in his message" (p 51). And again: "That Jesus of Nazareth knew himself to be the Son of Man who was to be revealed is for us the great fact of His self-consciousness" (Quest of the Historical Jesus, 367).
Even the gospel writers knew what went on in the mind of Jesus—or claimed they did. Here are a few of their comments: "Jesus knowing their thoughts said..." (Matt: 9:4); "knowing their thoughts, he said..." (Matt 12:25); "he knew their thoughts and said..." (Luke 6:8); "But when Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts, he took..." (Luke 9:47).
Providing the reader with interior views of characters in a narrative is a function of the narrator (i.e., the voice telling the story). Such a narrative technique is a standard feature of narrative fiction and qualifies the narrator as omniscient, i.e., a narrator who knows everything (see Arp and Johnson, Perrine's Literature, 238-45). Matthew and Luke also engage in reading Jesus' mind; hence they are omniscient narrators, because they know everything—even what goes on in the minds of their characters. John, on the other hand, features an unreliable narrator, for the principle narrator's story is frequently corrected by a second more knowledgeable narrative voice at points in the narrative (see, Hedrick, "Unreliable Narration: John on the Story of Jesus and the Chronicler on the History of Israel," Perspectives on John [Edwin Mellen, 1993], 121-43).
An author's use of the literary technique of reading minds calls into question the realism of the narrative. The use of such a technique results in a less realistic narrative because it provides the reader with something s/he could not possibly know in real life. Hence the early Christian gospels are more akin to fiction than history. For historians to use this technique in historical narrative is irresponsible, because it misleads the reader in that historians present as a datum of history something that is obviously a fantasy of fiction.
The truth is that we never know what people are thinking even when they tell us what they claim to be thinking.
What are your thoughts?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
It's certainly tough to get into someone's head. Some folks are more self-revealing than others, and some folks' behavior is more transparent than others. The characteristics of 2000 yr old literature don't help. We guess at some of the things Jesus thought by choosing parables, aphorisms, sayings that correspond with some 'selection rules' that we think are reasonable.
What Jesus thought about himself is another category. We eliminate certain things through preconceived notions like 'no one can predict the future,' or no sane person makes long winded self-serving speeches proclaiming himself to be, for example, the light of the world. Mark/Matt/ Luke have Jesus predicting on two fronts: during his life story and regarding the coming of the Messiah. The speeches, for the most part are in John, but even the synoptics have Jesus say, "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son."
But whatever the gospel characteristics, unless one concludes they represent total fiction, it would be foolish to claim outright that an interpersonally sensitive teacher was never transparent or self-revealing, and so we make guesses based on common human experience. Even the Jesus Seminar Fellows were of the opinion, "that, as an astute sage, he might well have had some notion of the dangers to which he was exposing himself." (Acts Of Jesus, 1998, 218)
On your first paragraph: How do you KNOW that you are in someone's head pillaging through what they are really thinking? All you have is your own perception of what you think they are possibly/probably thinking.
On your last paragraph: Notice, however, how carefully they put it:
"MIGHT well have had" "SOME NOTION." they (it seems to me) specifically do not say "what Jesus was thinking." I would paraphrase the statement thusly: "given the circumstances, likely it possibly occurred to Jesus that----but that is a far cry (again: it seems to me) from saying "it did occur to Jesus that" or "Jesus was aware of . . ", as Borg does for example. The Seminar (Funk did the writing) was well aware he was on the outside of Jesus' head making an educated guess at what POSSIBLY MIGHT HAVE GONE ON inside the head of Jesus. Borg on the other hand clearly thinks he is inside the head of Jesus, and tells his reader "what Jesus was specifically aware of."
Our only resource would be the common human experience from which a guess about another's thoughts emerges. Perhaps Dr. Borg speaks too confidently, perhaps others deny themselves greater riches. My neighbor just cut off quite a few lower branches from a very large tree in his yard. Based on common human experience I might hypothesize that he didn't want to give the squirrels a bridge to his roof any more, or he was tired of one of the branches banging against the porch spouting, or he was afraid his seven year old might try to climb the tree and fall, or his wife wanted a more symmetrical look to the tree. Suppose I ask them and am told that two of the four are true but they remain unrevealed. So I go ahead and write my human interest story for the local paper and guess symmetry and child safety were the reasons. One evening I'm invited to dinner and the family talks about not having to put up with squirrels and noisy spouting. Perhaps common experience is a doorway, not to no knowledge, but to imperfect knowledge.
Your right, Charlie, we just never can really know. I recall now that the neighbor always seemed to have a band-aid somewhere on his bald head. I'm thinking now that he cut the lower branches off to stop bumping his head and getting bloody welts. But he's never said so, hence my interpretation "is more akin to fiction than history."
I should have added one further caveat. People who read the mind of Jesus as he is represented in the gospels, and that includes respected scholars of the left and right, should at least realize that they are reading the mind of a paper character invented by the evangelists. That means they are actually reading the minds of the evangelists (i.e., what they think Jesus thought) that invented the paper character and not the mind of the historical man Jesus of Nazareth. The entire enterprise of assuring readers of what Jesus thought about this and that at best does not give me any confidence at all in the results. At the very least mind readers should sharpen their language to accommodate the rather obvious uncertainty in the process.
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