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Tuesday, July 11, 2006 

The Value of E.P Sanders "Jesus and Judaism": Part I

In my last post I provided a list of my personal favourite ten historical Jesus works. My number one spot went to E.P. Sanders' Jesus and Judaism. I promised to provide an explanation for why I accorded this work as my number one among historical Jesus studies. Perhaps the best way to approach this is to provide a few common problems that plague many historical Jesus reconstructions and to offer Sanders' particular remedy. The first error is the following:

1.) The conviction that Jesus' words and teaching are the securest way forward to recovering the historical Jesus' message and mission.

The implications for this should be obvious. Once one is committed to finding Jesus' message in his teachings and sayings (exclusively) then one must attempt to ascertain the authenticity of the various sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospel accounts. Sanders indicates two flaws with this particular methodology. First, he points to the problem of such few consensus by scholars as to which sayings are authentic. Moreover, the few sayings that are generally agreed to be authentic are just that: few. In other words one cannot hope to recover Jesus' message and aims from only a few sayings. Secondly, when one focuses exclusively on Jesus' sayings as the key to discovering the historical Jesus there is an important assumption being made, namely:

"that what he really was, was a teacher. ( and if so) He is then either a clear, straightforward teacher whose parables make his message about God and the kingdom plain, or, as in some recent studies, a difficult, riddling teacher, whose meaning is not and was not altogether clear, or even one who intended to be ambiguous. Whatever sort of teacher he is held to have been, it is difficult to move from 'Jesus the teacher' to 'Jesus, a Jew who was crucified, who was the leader of a group which survived his death, which in turn was persecuted, and which formed a messianic sect which was finally successful'." (Sanders, p. 4, parenthetical remark added)

Sanders observation is simply that an undertaking of extracting Jesus mission and message soley from his teachings leads to Jesus as a teacher whom spouts out parables and aphorisms, which in turn is problematic because it lacks the explanatory power necessary to properly account for Jesus' own death and the rise of Christianity itself (p. 1). What is needed is secure evidence, the kind of evidence that "everyone can agree and which at least points towards an explanation..." (5) In light of this observation Sanders provides his own surer, firmer way to reconstructing (at least minimally) the historical Jesus' message and mission. Sanders' more secure method in historical Jesus reconstruction is to begin with the facts about Jesus' life and its consequences. In other words to pivot historical research of Jesus on those incidents in Jesus' life which the mass of scholars agree to be historical and to move from this pivot point while making the study of the sayings of Jesus secondary.

I myself am convinced of this particular method of proceeding with historical Jesus research. In many ways it is very commonsensical. It seems much more reasonable to begin with those things generally agreed to be historical concerning Jesus than to start from the ground up. Moreover history shows that people are more remembered for what they did as opposed to the things that they said. Thus Jesus facts and actions reasonably appear the best way forward. Of course the situations will always be more complex and less linear than we would like. But overall this method does seem to be a better way than trying to authenticate Jesus' sayings to the exclusion of his actions by way of criteria and such which leads us into the second flaw with many historical Jesus studies. This, as well as Sanders remedy, we will look at in the next post. In the meantime, for those who are interested in what initial facts Sanders believe are generally held to be historical by most scholars, here they are:

1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
2. Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed.
3. Jesus called disciples and spoke of there being twelve.
4. Jesus confined his activity to Israel.
5. Jesus engaged in controversy about the temple.
6. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by the Roman authorities.
7. After his death Jesus' followers continued as an identifiable movement.
8. At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement (Gal. 1.13,22; Phil.3.6), and it appears that this persecution endured at least to a time near the end of Paul's career (II Cor. 11.24; Gal 5.11; 6.12; cf. Matt. 23:34; 10:17)

Taken from page 11 of Jesus and Judaism.

Sanders book is very good. And wonderfully written. Sanders writing is always very clear.

It is surprising though how little of Paul's theology depends upon what Sanders regards as established facts about Jesus. It is like finding a lot of letters written by Moonies without any reference to Moon's life and work.

For example, if Jesus was so controversial about the Temple, then why did Paul not use such things when speaking of highly controversial issues in the early church , such as the law.

It also raises the question of what it is that Jesus actually did that made Paul think of him as the Messiah. As far as I know, Paul never links any prophecy to Jesus, in contrast to Matthew, for example, who goes out of his way to find such prophecies.

In his later book (HFJ 1993) Sanders expands his list of facts widely held to be historical. I don't recall the details but I believe there were 5 more or so.

To the previous poster, I would say Jesus' resurrected appearance to Paul or Paul's being swept up to heaven to Christ (or whatever it was) has to be the key to Paul's claims.

But you are correct it would have been nice to have a bit more about Jesus' teaching in Paul. It makes me a tad nervous at times.

I'd check that "no prophecy" in regards to Jesus especially in regards to the death and resurrection, saving mission. It was different than the way Matthew did it surely, but Paul is still worried about it all being "according to the Scriptures".

My thoughts exactly.
Keep up the good blogging.
"All my music is free."

I found this blog researching this very book. It was recommended to me by someone I don't know well and wanted to know more about it. Upon reading the review, and the above comments I am concerned about two things.

First, the idea regarding Jesus' words. Based on the review (because as I said I've not read the book) one must understand a couple of things. Judaism is an extremely based on oral tradition. Everything Jesus said would have been quite understood by those listening-as he was talking to those generally familiar with the parables and meanings. He was not being ambiguous, he was speaking in an cultural and understood language of the day. This has been forgotten as the 'church' was displaced due to many factors. The other issue (while related) is a lot of Jesus said was in the Torah-and he never swayed away from the Torah. He was a "teacher" yes, and his choosing of 12 is even consistent with the way things were done in training up.

Secondly-Paul's writings. Perhaps we should remember MOST of what he said was directed toward believers. He was reminding them and guiding people who, for the most part, already claimed to believe in the words/works/and authenticity of Jesus the Messiah. And, you'll notice he does mention he was following he example laid out before him. People knew what he was referring to. He was a pharisee, Jesus was a pharisee-they came from the same cloth (so to speak).

I just noticed you're in Atlanta...cool, me too!

"Historical J....."!?!

The persons using that contra-historical oxymoron (demonstrated by the eminent late Oxford historian, James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue) exposes dependancy upon 4th-century, gentile, Hellenist sources.

While scholars debate the provenance of the original accounts upon which the earliest extant (4th century, even fragments are post-135 C.E.), Roman gentile, Hellenist-redacted versions were based, there is not one fragment, not even one letter of the NT that derives DIRECTLY from the 1st-century Pharisee Jews who followed the Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua.
Historians like Parkes, et al., have demonstrated incontestably that 4th-century Roman Christianity was the 180° polar antithesis of 1st-century Judaism of ALL Pharisee Ribis. The earliest (post-135 C.E.) true Christians were viciously antinomian (ANTI-Torah), claiming to supersede and displace Torah, Judaism and ("spiritual) Israel and Jews. In soberest terms, ORIGINAL Christianity was anti-Torah from the start while DSS (viz., 4Q MMT) and ALL other Judaic documentation PROVE that ALL 1st-century Pharisees were PRO-Torah.

There is a mountain of historical Judaic information Christians have refused to deal with, at: www.netzarim.co.il (see, especially, their History Museum pages beginning with "30-99 C.E.").
Original Christianity = ANTI-Torah. Ribi Yehoshua and his Netzarim, like all other Pharisees, were PRO-Torah. Intractable contradiction.

Building a Roman image from Hellenist hearsay accounts, decades after the death of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi, and after a forcible ouster, by Hellenist Roman gentiles, of his original Jewish followers (135 C.E., documented by Eusebius), based on writings of a Hellenist Jew excised as an apostate by the original Jewish followers (documented by Eusebius) is circular reasoning through gentile-Roman Hellenist lenses.

What the historical Pharisee Ribi taught is found not in the hearsay accounts of post-135 C.E. Hellenist Romans but, rather, in the Judaic descriptions of Pharisees and Pharisee Ribis of the period... in Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT (see Prof. Elisha Qimron), inter alia.

To all Christians: The question is, now that you've been informed, will you follow the authentic historical Pharisee Ribi? Or continue following the post-135 C.E. Roman-redacted antithesis—an idol?

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