Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why the Devil, why not God? Or Historical Jesus ramblings

I lack the words to phrase my answer delicately so I will put it bluntly: because God in art is boring and painful. Of course there are a couple of fascinating images from pictorial, theological and narrative perspectives, especially those of the Trinity such as:

Abraham before the Trinity, St John’s Psalter, (England, c. 1270-80)
Cambridge, St John’s College Library, MS K.26, fol. 9

However the cool stuff was destroyed by iconoclasts and the representations of god became normalized [thank you Luther and Council of Trent *dripping with sarcasm* I also love the bitter irony – Christians smashed images of god yet preserved those of the devil – kill god and save the devil] The images of God that we have in their majority are either cringingly painful such as Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece or chocolate box kitsch such as Warner Sallman's Head of Christ.
M. Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece, 1506-1515 

M. Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece, 1506-1515 (detail)

Warner Sallman, Head of Christ, 1941.
The second reason is that I do not want to go crazy; the devil belongs to theology and various art forms yet not to history. Moreover previous scholars when writing on him were not invested in the Devil or the idea of him. Therefore, I can hope to find objectivity in the writings. God on the other hand is an academic nightmare as scholars are often invested in proving or disproving something about him, people are touchy and get easily upset when it comes to god. The worst part about god (at least in Christianity) is that his realm is not only theology and art but also history. And by history I do not just mean the vague abstract idea that God acts out in history from time to time, but that he at one point was physically present on earth in flesh ad blood and named Jesus. Studying historical Jesus this year has given me a taste of the student’s nightmare that God can turn in to.
Jesus is a pain all over. First of all there are the sources or better say their absence. Outside the New Testament not much is written; there is Josephus yet the two tiny passages where he does mention Jesus where heavily edited by Christians. If the Christian additions are stripped it says that he was a teacher who was followed by Jews and Greeks, he was crucified under Pilate (Jewish Antiquities 18:63 and in the passage 20:200 we are told that James had a brother ‘Jesus who was called the Christ’. Tautus in his Annals writes that Jesus was executed during Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate (Annals 15:44), he also talks about Christian persecution by Nero but he does not seem to know the groups beliefs and teachings. Pliny the Younger and Lucian of Samosata take a more satirical approach as they laugh at Christian conventions. In all these cases we are told more about the early Christians, Jesus is known not by what he was but by what his followers have become. The only thing that we find in these witnesses about Historical Jesus is that he was crucified during Pilate’s reign . Crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is one of the very few widely attested events and we can say that most plausibly it did happen. Moreover it fits with Pilate’s regime as he ‘was eventually dismissed from office as a result of a large number of executions without trial that took place on his watch.’ ( E.P. Sanders as quoted in M.A. Powell, Jesus as a figure in History, (Westminster:John Knox Press,U.S. (1st ed edition),1999: 124)
Yet it gets worse. Our main source for Historical Jesus is the New Testament that is book s written by his followers. The earliest of these are the epistles of Paul. The problem with these is that there are Pauline epistles and there are pseudo Pauline epistles and scholars are not always sure which ones are which. Yet  even if we know which are Paul’s another problem arises - Paul does not seem to care for historical Jesus he does not say what he did or what he systematically taught. Yet there are a few valuable passages 1 Corinthians 7:10 which affirm the marriage rites in Mark 10:2-12, Romans 12:14-21 affirms some of the Sermon on the Mount teachings (Matt 5:38-48). Also he gives evidence that by the time he wrote in around 50 CE the following traditions were established: Lords Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), 12 disciples (1 Corinthians 15) and the descendents from David (Romans 1 :3). Non Pauline letters also offer very little evidence and they are less valuable then Pauline because their composition is latter hence it might be dependant on the gospel tradition.
Of course the main sources for the study of Jesus are the four gospels. However there are problems with these four. John is the last to be written and is theologically developed thus it is not the historical Jesus that is found there but a rethought historical Jesus which helps support John’s theology with his deeds. The synoptics are the biggest source of our information on Jesus. They are still fairly close to the historical Jesus (they come from the third generation what means that they could have used actual witness accounts). The eldest of these is Mark (c. 60-70 CE). Theologically it is undeveloped; this is especially seen in the lack of the birth and resurrection narratives. Mark, as textual evidence show, was most probably known to Luke and Matthew who heavily relied on it. Most of Mark is found in these two latter gospels. Moreover it was not only Mark that they had a common source but based on the amount of material that is identical in the two yet not found in Mark it is believed that they shared a document now known as Q (Quelle on German – source).  All this creates another problem as when something is attested in all three gospels it can not be counted as a 3 time attestation as it can all be derived from a single source (Mark) or two sources (Mark and Q).
Will the Real Historical Jesus please stand up!

Each successive epoch of theology found its own thought in Jesus …But it was not only each epoch that found its reflection in Jesus; each individual created him in according to his own character.
The following is a llist of the leading Historical Jesus scholars and their summarised views on Jesus informed by their own works and teh summary on each one of them found in Allan Powells book. The mojar reason why their views diverge so drastically id their choice of criteria and their decision of how to date which source (in other words what prority to give to each source. 
Eschatological apocalyptic radical Jewish prophet (who possibly believed that he has a role to play in the coming Kingdom). Believed in the immediate coming of the kingdom his aim was to get as many people to God as possible. This idea was so prevalent that he did not even require the sinners to repent, their membership was enough to grant them access to the kingdom of God.  Thus he cannot be seen as a social reformer or teacher his social teaching such as the material in the sermon on the mount fit with the overall picture in that they provide a ‘safety net’, if you follow them there is no way that you will go astray even accidently. The social teachings about the circumcision, Sabbath and clean/unclean food probably goes only to the early church as it would have been an irrelevant topic in a Jewish community. Moreover secondary evidence agrees to this for example Acts 10:15-17 implies that Jesus did not tell his disciples anything about clean and unclean food as Peter finds the answer in a vision, if Jesus had given him instructions on the matter a vision would not be needed. All this though might sound contradictory in that sinners did not have to repent and everyone else got rules stricter than the Torah but this is similar to his parables such as the prodigal son.
Cynic Mediterranean (Hellenistic) non-escatological peasant who is rethinking peasant society. 
Believes that the apocalyptic was read in to Jesus and his deeds after the destruction of the temple. Yet at the same time he takes up Sanders’ position on Jesus last week, with teh exeption that e does not include teh resurection and argues that no one knows where he is buried most likely his corpse was eaten by wild animals.
He does give an interesting a plausible explanation to why Christianity became the majority religion. He states that exclusive Judaism became Rabbinical Judaism whereas inclusive Judaism in to Early Christianity.
Jewish Holy man (Jewish charismatic), did not reach out to gentiles (Matthew 15:24, 10:6). Learnt man, exorcist, healer, teacher.  Exorcism and healing = confirmation of his teachings and power as in the first century  God had a monopoly on healing as an illness was a sign of sin or devil's work. (Vermes 1973)
Jesus distinguishes himself from the Son of Man. Kingdom is entirely in the future yet determines the present.
Le Donne
Jesus was a follower of John yet after his arrest he took leadership and made a dramatic ideological shift – he started preaching nonviolence. ( Le Donne 85) thus Kingdom of God is a label from his theological/political platform. He believed that the real enemy was Satan.  Le Donne also concludes that before entry into Jerusalem Jesus behaved more like a messianic type after entry more like a prophet.
Jewish non-eschatological, egalitarian social prophet.
Jesus  as a social prophet who wants to change society from bottom up.
NT Wright
Jesus is an eschatological prophet. Eschatological in the sense that he expected the end of the current world order
Considering the radical differences of opinions and the very talented persuasive nature of te writtings by the end of a year of studying historical Jesus I feel like this: 


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