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from this is that "something which was not in the writers' mind is substituted for the account and represented as its historical content" (p 5).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)

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