Thursday, October 16, 2008 

I have relocated...

Monday, January 14, 2008 

Thursday, October 11, 2007 

Wrede's Messianic Secret: Introduction 1.1

Wrede begins his study by first noting that in regards to the two decisive questions concerning the historical figure of Jesus-"what do we know of his life? and, what do we know of the history of the oldest views and representations of Jesus's life"-scholarship has on the whole offered only disappointing results. Wrede believes this is because of a defective historical-critical method regarding three areas:

1.) Although it should be taken as axiomatic that what lies before the historian examining the gospels is a "later narrator's conception of Jesus' life and that this conception is not identical with the thing itself" (p.5) scholars often recall this axiom only when they discover strong miraculous features in a text, or when contradictions arise within the same source of a text, or when separate reports clash with one another. This means that unless one of these three features occurs scholars, according to Wrede, are inclined too quickly to proceed with their historical assessment of the gospels as if what is before them is generally historically accurate.

2.) Scholars in their haste to utilize the gospel accounts for composing a historical portrait of Jesus too quickly pass over the evangelists' literary presentations of those accounts. What inevitably results from this is that "something which was not in the writers' mind is substituted for the account and represented as its historical content" (p 5). This neglect of what the narrator is trying to convey by his narration means that scholars will inevitably gloss over important bits of information in the gospel texts.

3.) Though psychology has a place within historical Jesus research it is widely abused by scholars: "The scientific study of the life of Jesus is suffering from psychological 'suppositionitis' which amounts to a sort of historical guess work. For this reason interpretations to suit every taste proliferate." (p 6). Furthermore, says Wrede, for psycho-analyses to provide a valuable contribution to Jesus research it must have lucid facts concerning Jesus with which to work. Unfortunately, however, too many things about Jesus are historically uncertain and thus for this reason psycho-analyses need to be used sparringly.

To summarize, Wrede's beef with the scholarship of his day derives from scholars not approaching the gospels with enough healthy skepticism, and it is this lack of skepticism that results in premature conclusions being made concerning the historical figure of Jesus.

Thursday, October 04, 2007 

William Wrede

Like many young aspiring scholars I have too often neglected the reading of classic scholarly works. To remedy this I have put on my reading list the works of several scholars such as Strauss, Weiss, Wrede, Bultmann, Dibelius, et al. Of course, most of them are German scholars and because my German is very limited I am having to depend on English translations which means that I cannot at this juncture in my academic pursuit fully engage these works, something that is a particularly frustrating thought.

Nevertheless, I have opted to begin with William (or Wilhelm) Wrede's The Messianic Secret which was one of the most influential works on the gospels (particularly Mark) at the beginning of the 20th century. Prior to the publishing of this book most scholars viewed the first three gospels, especially Mark, as giving a basically historical representation of Jesus' ministry. But Wrede's work on Mark's messianic secret motif promulgated skepticism among scholars concerning what could be historically asserted about the life of Jesus. In the coming weeks I will blog on this work, reviewing each chapter and then giving a (limited) evaluation of the book. But first, a quote from the book to give you an idea of Wrede's perspective concerning the gospels:

"I should never for an instant lose sight of my awareness that I have before me descriptions, the authors of which are later Christians, be they never so early-Christians who could only look at the life of Jesus with the eyes of their own time and who described it on the basis of the belief of the community, with all the viewpoints of the community, and with the needs of the community in mind." (The Messianc Secret, trans. by J.C.G. Greig, p. 5)

Thursday, August 02, 2007 

"And now for something completely different..."

Before the days of DVDs when VCRs were still prominent I had a peculiar hobby in which I would edit together in a creative and/or unique way clips from some of my favorite movies and would then add my own audio tracks (music, voiceovers, sound effects, etc). For example, I once took the original three Star Wars films and edited them in such away so as to condense the story into about thirty minutes while adding my own music and other audio effects to the story. I did several projects similar to this (many of which have been, sadly, lost). It was always very tedious work (my equipment never involved more than two VCRs, a CD player, and a cassette player) but it was something which gave me great satisifaction whenever a project was completed. But with the advent of DVDs I abandoned this hobby since most VCR's were not able to get around the copyright protection on DVD's and I could never be satisified continuing with VHS copies when I knew the DVD quality of movies was so superior. And so eight years ago I gave up this hobby.

But through the help of a good friend who showed me how I could get started doing this again on the computer I have picked this hobby back up. This is part of the reason I haven't been blogging because I have been consumed for the past month with my first project using the computer. For those interested you can view it here (albeit in a lower quality than the original):

Jet Li as Wong Fei Hung

However, there are some things to note. If you care neither for martial arts or Jet Li then it will probably bore you so do not bother to watch. Also, if your conscience is panged that I had to use copyrighted material to make this then you may wish to refrain from watching as well. However, I assure anyone concerned that I have not and will not profit from this creation. For those who like this kind of stuff, enjoy.

Thursday, July 12, 2007 

Difficulties in Communication

One of the things that I frequently have trouble with is communicating to people what it is I am pursuing as a career. I currently work in Healthcare as an ER registration person and I have been getting this question a lot from my fellow co-workers. The question arises when people in the ER figure out that I am not pursuing a career in the Healthcare industry and so quite naturally they want to know what I plan to be when I "grow up". But I keep encountering difficulties trying to explain what is I'm wanting to do with my life.

This problem partly arises because I try to avoid saying things such as "bible scholar" or "NT professor." I do this for two reasons: one, my interests are wider than the discipline of biblical studies and/or its subsets (e.g., NT, OT) and, two, when you tell someone, especially here in the "bible belt", that you are studying something bible-related the response is always something to the effect of "oh, so you want to be a preacher!" And when I say no and try to explain that my interests are more academically oriented most of these people respond with blank stares. I have found that it is simply futile to try to explain to many of these people that one can pursue the bible in a purely scholarly and/or academic fashion without necessarily doing so from a devotional perspective.

However, I have tried in vain to come up with alternative explanations that I feel are adequate. I have attempted things like "historian of Late Antiquity" or "historian of ancient Mediterranean Society" but the response is usually more blank stares because the majority of these people do not know what is conveyed by these terms. Thus I have to spend lengthy amounts of time trying to explain "Late Antiquity" and "ancient Mediterranean Society".

Therefore, my questions to scholars and budding scholars of biblical studies related disciplines are:

1.) Do you have the same kinds of difficulty explaining to people what is you are doing and/or are pursuing as a career? and,

2.) How do you usually explain to people what is you are doing and/or are pursuing as a career?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007 

Pharisaical Ponderings

I have several times indicated that in my opinion E.P. Sanders' Jesus and Judaism is the best work on the historical Jesus to date (here, here, here, and here). However, my excessive lauding of Sander's work on the historical Jesus has likely given the mistaken impression that I accepted pretty much everything Sanders put forth in Jesus and Judaism (hereafter JJ). This is not so. At the time when I initially read (and then eventually re-read) JJ there were two things that I disagreed with concerning Sanders' reconstruction of the historical Jesus. First, was Sanders' assertion that what most offended Jesus' contemporaries was his claim that sinners need not repent of their sins nor seek forgiveness of their sins in order to have a share in the (soon) coming kingdom and then, second, I had a problem with Sanders' claim that the Pharisees did not play a dominent role in Jewish Palestine and likely were small in number being chiefly located in Judea.

I am still not persuaded on Sanders' position concerning Jesus' message to sinners, but I am slowly coming around to accepting the second proposition concerning the Pharisees (principally via the now classic work by Anthony Saldarini entitled Pharisees, Saducees, and Scribes in Palestinian Society: A Sociological Approach). But I have not engaged enough with the requisite material in order to flesh out any thing at the moment here as to why I think I now agree with Sanders. However, what this one issue has alerted me to is the amount of historical questions there are surrounding the Pharisees. Here are, in no particular order, some of these major historical issues surrounding the Second-Temple Jewish group known as the Pharisees:

1.) Were the Pharisees, as some have asserted, major players in Palestinian society or were they a relatively marginal group no more influential than any of the other Jewish groups during the Second Temple period?

2.) What (if any) historical truth can be ascertained from the gospels concerning the Pharisees? In other words, how much of the gospels' portrayl of the Pharisees is mere caricature born out of polemic and how much has a historical basis? More importantly, how did the historical Jesus view the Pharisees? Was he in fundamental agreement with Pharisaical points of view or in fundamental disagreement with them or something in between?

3.) What was the Pharisaical view of the so called 'am a ha'aretz (people of the land). Did they view them as transgressors or simply as the common people who they believed did not necessarily have to adopt the strict purity regulations that governered their own lives?

4.) Can one or should one draw a direct historical link between the Pharisees and the post-70 Rabbinic sages? How much of Rabbinic traditions concerning the Pharisees reflect actual pre-70 Palestinian Jewish times?

My goal before this year is over is to investigate these issues and to discover where I stand concerning the Pharisees. Here is some of the relevant literature that I hope to read this year in regards to the historical Pharisees:

1.) Louis Finkelstein, The Pharisees: A Sociological Background of their Faith (2 Vols), 1939.

2.) Jacob Neusner, The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees before 70 C.E. (3 Vols), 1982.

3.) Anthony J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees in Palestinian Society, 1986.

4.) E.P. Sanders, Jewish Law from Jesus to the Misnah: Five Studies, 1990.

5.) Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton (eds), In Quest of the Historical Pharisees, 2007.

Hopefully, in future posts I will be able to tackle some of these issues but for the time being I must get to reading.

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