Thursday, November 30, 2006

One Reason To Engage Historical Jesus Research

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 2)

Photo: Geza Vermes
1.1. A Survey of the Kingdom in the Third Quest
Throughout the history of Jesus research many aspects of Jesus’ life and teaching have been debated. However, one element of the Gospel record is uncontested: Jesus preached about “the Kingdom of God.”[1] Conclusions regarding the self-understanding of the historical Jesus are therefore necessarily framed by how Jesus’ language regarding the Kingdom is interpreted.[2] Here we will survey some of the most influential works by Third Quest scholars and attempt to find some common consensus as to how Jesus’ message was related to Second Temple beliefs.

The first major work we might mention is Geza Vermes’ Jesus the Jew (1973).[3] The portrait of Jesus in Vermes’ work is that of a charismatic Galilean miracle worker, much like Honi the Circle Drawer and Hanina ben Dosa.[4] Vermes traces the development of Jewish thought regarding the Kingdom through the Old Testament to the first-century.[5] Four basic formulations emerge. The first model originates in the pre-exilic period, where God is believed to reign through an earthly king. The second model emerges with the exile as expectations emerge that God will restore his reign over the world through a future Davidic king. The third view dates from the intertestamental era and looks forward to a cataclysmic cosmic conflict in which the host of God will defeat the powers of evil. In the spiritual realm the victory would be given to the angel Michael, while on earth Israel would have dominion. The last concept may be traced back to the exilic and post-exilic period and is found in Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah (e.g., Isa 60:1-6). This vision of God’s Kingdom is related in spiritual terms, wherein God’s sovereignty over Israel and the Gentiles is realized not through war and violence but in Torah-obedience.

For Vermes, therefore, Jewish beliefs regarding the Kingdom shift from the political to the spiritual and abstract Reign of God.[6] Jesus’ view of the Kingdom follows along these more intangible lines. He observes that Jesus rarely used “royal” terminology for God, had no concern for earthly political power and was mostly concerned with the present reality, not future cosmic battles.[7] “Jesus, the existential teacher, was more concerned with man’s attitude and behavior towards the Kingdom than with its essence or nature.”[8]
To be continued...

[1] “There is, however, one area in the testimony of the gospels to Jesus the authenticity of which is agreed on by virtually all New Testament scholars—namely, the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God.” G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), x.
[2] In addition to Beasley-Murray’s, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, Bruce Chilton has done much work on the meaning of the phrase in the Targums. Bruce Chilton, Targumic Approaches to the Gospels: Essays in the Mutual Definition of Judaism and Christianity (Lanham: University Press of America, 1986), 99-112; Bruce Chilton, God in Strength: Jesus’ Announcement of the Kingdom (Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt B/1; Freistadt: Plöchl, 1979, 277-98. See also, Michael Lattke, “On the Jewish Background of the Synoptic Concept, “The Kingdom of God” in The Kingdom of God (ed., B. Chilton; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984): 72-91. Other sources which deal with Jesus and his Jewish context include discussions on the Kingdom in Jewish thought, though the question is not dealt with specifically, for example, James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1988).
[3] Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew (London: William Collins Sons & Co., 1973). Vermes is not typically associated with the Third Quest. However, since his work focuses on Jesus’ Jewishness it seems appropriate to mention it here.
[4] Vermes sums up his description of Jesus as “a charismatic prophetic preacher and miracle-worker, the outstanding ‘Galilean Hasid’ who, thanks to the ‘sublimity, distinctiveness and originality’ of his ethical teaching (Joseph Klausner), stood head and shoulders above the known representatives of this class of spiritual personality.” Geza Vermes, The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 5.
[5] Vermes, Religion of Jesus, 121-135; Geza Vermes, Jesus and the World of Judaism (London: SCM Press, 1983; repri., Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 32-5.
[6] Vermes, Religion of Jesus, 121: “‘Kingdom’ being essentially a political notion, it is not surprising that its metaphorical association with God first retains an element of the original significance, i.e. a nation and territory ruled over by a (divine) king, before turning into a more abstract notion of the universal sovereignty and limitless power of the Deity.”
[7] Vermes, World of Judaism, 35-36.
[8] Vermes, Religion of Jesus, 137.

Continue to the next post in the series...

Complete outline (with links) of "Jesus and the Restoration of the Kingdom" series

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 1)

Jesus scholars have generally accepted the notion that the teaching of the historical Jesus should be placed within the larger context of Jewish hopes for the “restoration of Israel.” In particular, it is widely recognized that Jesus’ teaching regarding the Kingdom of God was related to the eschatological expectations of the people of his day. This series will argue that authors like N. T. Wright and E. P. Sanders, who often emphasize the link between “restoration” and “kingdom” terminology have neglected the central role the Davidic covenant had in Jesus’ understanding of these concepts. As we shall see, the “kingdom” Jesus sought to “restore” is best understood not simply as God’s generic reign over creation or as an existential religious experience. Rather, set within the context of Second Temple hopes, Jesus was announcing that God would re-establish his reign in a specific way - through the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom.

1. Kingdom and Restoration in Second Temple Judaism
Modern Jesus studies are customarily divided into three categories: the Old Quest, associated principally with Albert Schweitzer, the short-lived New Quest launched by Ernst Kasemann and contemporary Jesus research, often referred to as the “Third Quest.”[1] While the term the “Third Quest” is used with the broad sense of describing the renewed interest in Jesus studies from the nineteen-sixties’ onward, N. T. Wright, who coined the expression,[2] believes that it refers specifically to research characterized by a particular methodological shift from previous approaches. Whereas the Old and the New Quests sought to disassociate Jesus from his Jewish roots,[3] he describes Third Quest scholarship as referring to those attempts which seek to locate Jesus within the historical context of Second Temple Judaism.[4] This paper will follow Wright’s use of the term.[5]

1. Kingdom and Restoration in Second Temple Judaism
1.1. A Survey of the Kingdom in the Third Quest
1.2. David: A Neglected Element of First-Century Expectations
2. The Davidic Covenant
2.1. The Davidic Covenant as Fulfillment of God’s Covenant Promises
2.2. The Rise of Expectations: Restoring the Davidic Ideal
3. Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom
3.1. Jesus’ Restoration and Davidic Imagery
3.2. The Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom in Luke-Acts
[1] For an overview see Brown, Colin. “Historical Jesus, Quest of,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (ed., J. B. Green, et. al.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 326-41; Stephen Neil and Tom Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 379-403.
[2] Neil and Wright, The Interpretation, 379. In addition, see Ben Witherington, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 253, n. 1; James Dunn, Jesus Remembered, (vol. 1 in Christianity in the Making; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 85, n. 100.
[3] “[Material is authentic] when there are no grounds either for deriving [it] from Judaism or for ascribing it to primitive Christianity.” Ernst Käsemann. “The Problem of the Historical Jesus” in Essays on New Testament Themes, (SBT 41; trans., W. J. Montague; Naperville, Ill.: Allenson: SCM, 1964), 37.
[4] N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (vol. 2 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press,1996), 34-5; Neil and Wright, The Interpretation, 379-403.
[5] Because of this we will not examine the works of Robert Funk, Burton Mack, John Dominic Crossan, and other representatives of the “Jesus Seminar.” We will also leave out Marcus Borg, whose understanding of the Kingdom depends little on first-century Judaism.
[6] “There is, however, one area in the testimony of the gospels to Jesus the authenticity of which is agreed on by virtually all New Testament scholars—namely, the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God.” G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), x.
[7] In addition to Beasley-Murray’s, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, Bruce Chilton has done much work on the meaning of the phrase in the Targums. Bruce Chilton, Targumic Approaches to the Gospels: Essays in the Mutual Definition of Judaism and Christianity (Lanham: University Press of America, 1986), 99-112; Bruce Chilton, God in Strength: Jesus’ Announcement of the Kingdom (Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt B/1; Freistadt: Plöchl, 1979, 277-98. See also, Michael Lattke, “On the Jewish Background of the Synoptic Concept, “The Kingdom of God” in The Kingdom of God (ed., B. Chilton; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984): 72-91. Other sources which deal with Jesus and his Jewish context include discussions on the Kingdom in Jewish thought, though the question is not dealt with specifically, for example, James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1988).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Benedict: Christ and His Church

Here is an excerpt from Benedict's last Wednesday's audience.
St. Paul says: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17). In the Eucharist itself Christ gives us his body and makes us his body. In this connection, St. Paul says to the Galatians: "you are all one in Christ" (Galatians 3:28).

With all this Paul leads us to understand that not only is there a belonging of the Church to Christ, but also a certain form of equivalence and identification of the Church with Christ himself. It is from here, therefore, that the greatness and nobility of the Church derives, that is, of all of us who are part of it: Our being members of Christ, is almost as an extension of his personal presence in the world. And from here follows, naturally, our duty to really live in conformity with Christ.
Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Genealogy of Thought

Thomas Jefferson, here imagined with glasses, argued Jesus is best seen as a kind of moral philosopher.

His picture reminded me of another guy who argues Jesus was basically a philosopher...

I'm just saying...

(For those of you who do not know, the second picture is of J. Dominic Crossan, an ex-priest who has suggested that Jesus' body was nowhere to be found after his death because it was eaten by wild dogs... Hang tight, we'll eventually get to him.)

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Historical Jesus of Thomas Jefferson

Given the holiday weekend and given the fact that this site is now following the Pope in turning its attention to the historical Jesus question, I thought it appropriate to post something on one founding father's thought on the topic.

As I've mentioned, the seeds for the current critical approach to gospels' portrait of Jesus can be found in the 17th and 18th centuries. As the Enlightenment elevated reason over faith and historical critical study of Scripture emerged, English Deists began offering their own reconstructions of the life of Jesus. These treatments excised the supernatural elements--the miraculous accounts--of the gospel narratives.

In this, as I mentioned in the last post, these Deists were influenced by the anti-supernaturalism abounding in their day. In Britain, Thomas Hobbes wrote his famous work, Leviathan (1651), in which he chalked up the belief in miracles to "ignorance and error"(chapter 37). Likewise, Spinoza offered a stinging critique of miracles in Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670).

Thomas Jefferson saw himself as an "enlightened" individual. Thus, Jefferson set out to write a life of Jesus in which he set aside the miraculous elements of the gospels, including the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. He called the work The Philosophy of Jesus. Although the work is mentioned in private letters, he did not go public with it. In a letter he wrote to William Short in 1819, Jefferson admitted that the work was the fruit of no more than three days' work. After his retirement, he later expanded this work into The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.

Moreover, following Reimarus and Lessing (see last post), Jefferson drove a wedge between the historical figure of Jesus and the teaching of the Christian church. Jefferson had a very low view of Christianity, saying that it had turned "one half of the world fools, and the other half hypocrites." In 1815 he wrote to Charles Clay, saying, "I abuse the priests, indeed, who have so much abused the pure and holy doctrines of their Master." By sifting out the claims of the gospels regarding Jesus' miracles and his divinity, Jefferson wrote that he had removed "diamonds from the dunghill."

While Jefferson had little respect for Christianity, he still maintained a great respect for Jesus. In his view, Jesus was simply the greatest moral teacher in human history--no more, no less. In 1803 he wrote to Benjamin Rush, "I am a Christian, in the only sense in which [Jesus] wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others, ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other." Jefferson thus compared Jesus to other philosophers in history (thus his work, The Philosophy of Jesus) , in his Syllabus of an Estimate of theMerit of the Doctrines of Jesus,Compared with Those of Others. Here he writes of Jesus' principal aims:

1. He corrected the Deism of the Jews, confirming them in their belief of one only God, and giving them juster notions of His attributes and government.

2. His moral doctrines, relating to kindred and friends were more pure and perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers, and greatly more so than those of the Jews; and they went far beyond both in inculcating universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids. A development of this head will evince the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others.

3. The precepts of philosophy, and of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only. He pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his
thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.

4. He taught, emphatically, the doctrines of a future state, which was either doubted or disbelieved by the Jews, and wielded it with efficacy as an important incentive,
supplementary to the other motives to moral conduct.

Essentially, then, Jefferson creates a portrait of Jesus as an English Deist. He saw little need to view Jesus in light of his Jewish context--in a sense, Jesus must be identified against his Jewish context. In fact, one can almost detect a subtle anti-semitism at work in his writings. Jesus is basically seen as a Greek philosopher, who reformed problematic Jewish notions. He writes that the Jewish ideas of God "were degrading and injurious." He describes Jewish ethics as "repulsive".

Jefferson thus followed the tradition of Reimarus' and Schweitzer--the real Jesus can only be discovered by critical, skeptical scrutiny of the Gospels. The so-called "historical Jesus" is not the Jesus of the Gospels.

But is such a portrait as historically plausible as Jefferson thought? We will come back to this later. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pope Benedict & the Historical Jesus

I can't believe it--the Pope is coming out with a book on the whole "historical Jesus" debate. I could hardly have asked for a bigger shot in the arm for my own personal research! For the past couple of years, this has been one of the primary areas of my own personal study. I'll have a lot more to say about it all as time goes on.

English readers can thank Teresa Benedetta for translating the portion of the preface which has already been released.

So what exactly is historical Jesus research? Why is it important that Pope Benedict is addressing this issue?

I've already addressed some of the issues involved in Jesus research in a series of posts called, Philosophical Issues and Methodology in Jesus Research. Given the news about the new "papal" work, I'll be starting a brand new series of posts next week, entitled: Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom. I want to wait to talk about it on my radio show on Friday before I start posting. This will be a long series and it will incorporate all of the work I've been doing for a while now.

I'm posting this series for two reasons. First, I want to help give lay Christians a good introduction to the issues at hand. So let me appeal to all you lay Catholic bloggers out there-- please help me get the word out about this series. For those interested in understanding what the Pope is up to, this is, in part, for you.

Second, I hope to get feedback from scholars, Ph.D. students, students of biblical studies, etc. I am currently in the middle of writing a dissertation on this topic. I'd be grateful for your thoughts and comments.

So, please feel free to spread the word among your colleagues and among the biblioblogs about what I'm launching into here.

As for this new papal book, let me make a few comments. First, let me quote from Teresa's translation of the preface...

During my youth - in the 1930s and 1940s, a whole series of exciting books on Jesus were published. I remember a few of the authors' names: Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, Franz Michel Willam, Giovanni Papini, Jean-Daniel Rops.

In all these books, the portrait of Jesus was drawn on the basis of the Gospels: how He lived on earth and how, although he was completely human, he brought God to man, God with whom, as the Son, he was One and the Same. And thus through the man Jesus, God became visible, and in this God one could see the image of the just

But starting with the 1950s, things changed. The tug of war between a 'historical Jesus' and "Jesus of the faith' became ever more wide - to the point of 'losing sight of each other'.

What the Pope is describing here is the rise of what is now often referred to as a the "New Quest." Here we have a great opportunity for a little introduction to historical Jesus research.

The contemporary critical approach to the problem of the so-called "historical Jesus" has its roots in the 17th and 18th centuries. As I explain in that series on Philosophical Methods in Jesus Research mentioned above, critical study of Jesus research emerged with the Enlightenment and the work of Herman Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768) and Gotthold Lessing (1729-81), who published Reimarus’ work posthumously. [1] During his lifetime Reimarus had struggled with reconciling the doctrines of Christian faith with reason.[2] Reimarus argued that Jesus was not intent on founding a new religion, rather, Jesus’ message was thoroughly Jewish. His message was a call return to Jewish piety and, later in his life, the proclamation of the coming of a political kingdom.[3] After his death, Jesus’ disciples made up the story that he had risen from the dead and appeared to them. “Christianity” is therefore detached from Jesus. His view is summed up neatly in the following citation:

“…Jesus in no way intended to abolish this Jewish religion and introduce a new one in its place. From this it follows incontrovertibly that the apostles taught and acted exactly the reverse of what their master had intended, taught, and commanded, since they released not only the heathen rom this law but also those who had converted from Judaism…. Soon, therefore, circumcision, sacrifice, purification, Sabbath, new moon, feast days, and the like were abolished completely and Judaism was laid in its grave.”[4]

Reimarus’ thus set forth two of the principle tasks that henceforth became hallmarks of scholarly treatments of Jesus: understanding Jesus’ preaching within the Judaism of his day and distinguishing the teaching of Jesus from that of the early Church.[5] Reimarus kept his reconstruction of Jesus a secret—even from his own wife.[6]

Lessing, who made Reimarus’ work public, followed him in affirming a fundamental gap between the historical figure of Jesus and the faith of Christianity. In his now famous pamphlet, On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power (1777), Lessing describes “the ugly, broad ditch” which separates history and faith, saying, “I cannot get across, however often and however earnestly I have tried to make the leap.”[7] This “ugly ditch” has remained one of the axiomatic elements of critical Jesus scholarship ever since, as scholars continually seek to distinguish between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith.”[8]

Reimarus' work was made popular by Albert Schweitzer, whose book The Quest for the Historical Jesus (1906) stands as one of the most influential books on Jesus in critical scholarship. An on-line version of this book is available here.

Beginning in the 1950's there was a renewed interest in the scholarly world in the historical Jesus. A flurry of books came out on the topic, sparked in large part by Ernst Kasemann. Kasemann was concerned about the growing popularity of Rudolph Bultmann's theology. Bultmann had seemingly made the historical dimension of the incarnation irrelevant by focusing on the the "kerygmatic Christ"--the Christ who is preached. Kasemann was concerned that this approach led to a kind of docetism--one of the early Christian heresies which denied Jesus' humanity. Kaseman challenged scholars to find the earthly Jesus in the kerygma. His challenge was picked up by a number of scholars (Fuchs, Bornkamm, Conzelmann, Fuller, Perrin and Robinson).

It was James A. T. Robinson who popularized the term “New Quest." Bultmann eventually responded in 1959. In many ways his response marked the beginning of the end of New Quest.

What Benedict says of the scholarship of this period is generally recognized by most scholars. As sited above, he writes, "The tug of war between a 'historical Jesus' and 'Jesus of the faith' became ever more wide - to the point of 'losing sight of each other'." The scholarship of the so-called "New Quest" largely ignored Jesus' Jewish roots--in fact, one almost detects a looming anti-semitism in some of the work of the period. Many contemporary scholars have sought to correct this problem--they are sometimes referred to as scholars of the "Third Quest"--but you'll have to read my upcoming series for more on that!

The Pope goes on to say:

But what significance could there be in faith in Jesus Christ, Jesus as the Son of the living God, if Jesus the man was so different from what the evangelists had portrayed and how the Church pdroclaims Him to be on the basis of the Gospels?

The progress of historical-critical research led to ever more subtle distinctions among the different layers of tradition. Behind those layers, the figure of Jesus, on which the faith rests, became ever more indistinct, took on ever less definite contours.

The Pope's comments here are dead on. So much contemporary Jesus research view the Gospels as unreliable--the product of much mythologizing. As a result, Jesus scholars often focus on recovering the so-called "authentic" words and deeds of Jesus. Implied in this is the assumption that much of the Gospels' portrait is, I suppose, "inauthentic".

Scholars resort to various criteria of authenticity, such as "embarassment". "Embarassment" refers to locating elements of the Gospels which seem to stand in tension with the beliefs of Christianity. For example, Jesus' baptism is recognized as a historical event since, scholars say, it would have been unlikely that early Christians would have invented a story about Jesus receiving baptism from another Jewish teacher--John the Baptist.

What happens though is this: in an effort to redefine who Jesus--to reconstruct a more plausible portrait of him--the portrait usually offered up by scholars ends up being less plausible. For example, Schweitzer seemed to believe that Jesus expected an imminent end of the world--an end of history. He thought his death would usher in the final confrontation between God and evil, but, he concluded, Jesus was wrong and died feeling forsaken by God. Here are Schweitzer's famous words:

The Baptist appears, and cries: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Soon after that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that He is the coming Son of Man lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and He throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes Him. Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, He has destroyed them. The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it still. That is His victory and His reign.

Yet, what scholars now generally agree upon is this--Jesus probably did not expect an imminent end of the world. Such a view is not plausible since it does not set Jesus properly within his Jewish context. Jesus' preaching of the kingdom of God had to do with Israel's hope for the restoration of Israel from exile, not the imminent end of the space-time universe. Schweitzer had misunderstood the image of the "kingdom of God."

The Pope goes on to say,

At the same time, the reconstructions of the Jesus who should be sought behind the traditions of the Evangelists and their sources, became ever more contradictory: from the revolutionary enemy of the Romans who opposed constituted authority and obviously failed, to the gentle moralist who allows everything, and inexplicably ends up by bringing on his own downfall.

Whoever reads in succession a certain number of these reconstructions will realize soon enough that they are rather depictions of the authors and their ideals more than the clarification or disclosure of an image that has become muddled. Meanwhile, however, diffidence has been growing towards these many images of Jesus, while His figure seems to be getting farther way from us.

Again, Benedict is right on. The portraits offered by Jesus scholars are often quite contradictory. S. F. Brandon believed Jesus was intent on overthrowing the Romans. He argued that Jesus was sympathetic to the zealot movement. The Gospel tradition sought to erase the memory of his revolutionary intentions--though, he argued, traces may still be found.

On the other end of the spectrum stand authors like J. D. Crossan. Crossan argues that Jesus was basically a Cynic philosopher, who advocated a "brokerless kingdom."

Critiques of both views have been offered by many. Suffice it to say, the two portraits couldn't be more different!

Benedict continues,

All these attempts have left behind in common the impression that we know very little for sure about Jesus and that it was only much later that the faith shaped His image in its divinity. This impression has penetrated profoundly into the collective consciousness of Christians.

Such a situation has dramatic implications for the faith because it makes uncertain its authentic point of reference itself; the intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is threatened because we are left groping in the void.

Here there is a break in what was released. It seems as though he here presents his own methodology. He goes on to describe his approach, saying,

For my presentation of Jesus, it meant above all that I trust the Gospels. Of course, I take into account what the Council and modern exegesis say about literary genres, about the tendentiousness (intenzionalita) of statements made, in the communitarian context of the Gospel and what they say to us in a living context.

Even granting all that, as much as I possibly could, I have wished to try and present the Jesus of the Gospels as the true Jesus, as the 'historical Jesus' in the true sense of the expression.

I am convinced - and I hope that the reader will also realize this - that this figure is much more logical, and from the historical point of view, even more understandable than the reconstructions that we have had to confront in the last few decades.

The Pope, I believe, will ultimately be proved correct. The portrait of Jesus found in traditional mainline Christianity is the portrait that will make the most sense given the historical evidence. In fact, Craig Evans has already essentially made that case, showing that at just about every turn, the traditional portrait of who Jesus was makes more sense than the critical historical reconstructions offered by so many different scholars.

That's not to say that we have no need for historical research. On the contrary, the Pope explains...

I hope, however, that the reader understands this book was not written against modern exegesis, but with great recognition of much that it has given us and continues to give us.

It has made us discover a great quantity of sources and concepts through which the figure of Jesus can become present for us with a liveliness and depth that a few decades earlier we could not even have imagined.

All I have done is to go beyond mere historico-critical interpretation, by applying new methodological criteria which allow us a proper theological interpretation of the Bible and which naturally demand faith without at the same time renouncing historical seriousness.

The Pope ends with a final qualification. I love this...

Certainly, there should be no need to say explicitly that this book is absolutely not a magisterial action, but is only the expression of my personal research into the 'face of the Lord" (Ps 27,8). And so everyone is free to contradict me.

This is not a magisterial work--it represents Joseph Ratzinger's private opinion... but that doesn't mean, I suspect, that this is a work of minor importance.

I think what the Pope means is, "This is not a doctrinal condemnation of many critical reconstructions of Jesus which deny the reliability of the Gospel accounts--this a scholarly one. Contradict me if you can...(I doubt you'll be able to)."

I believe this is going to be a book of HUGE significance--I'm talking, Theology of the Body-type huge. Look out Jesus Seminar, look at Dan Brown... Benedict is coming after you... and he's got you in his sights.

The Pope is going to set the world on fire...

[1] Reimarus’ work was republished in seven fragments. The longest fragment, Von dem Zwecke Jesu und seiner Jünger, is found in Talbert, Charles H., ed, Reimarus: Fragments (trans., R. S. Fraser. Lives of Jesus Series. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970).
[2] Harrisville and WalterSundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, 60.
[3] Harrisville and WalterSundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, 60.
[4] Talbert, Charles H. ed. Reimarus: Fragments (trans., R. S. Fraser. Lives of Jesus Series. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), 101.
[5] Harrisville and WalterSundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, 62. For example, Reimarus identified the problem of the “delay” of the Lord within early Christian thought.
[6] Harrisville and WalterSundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, 56. Reimarus, however, was confident that one day his views would be vindicated: “A time will come for a division between two groups: believers in revelation, and the despised advocates of reason. . . . This writing is and remains a true apology and defense against imposing a faith on us. Preserve it as a secret treasure. . . . until it pleases God to give rational religion a path toward open, healthy freedom, then draw you to responsibility for it.” Cited in Carl Moenckeberg, Hermann Samuel Reimarus und Johann Christian Edelmann (Hamburg: Gustav Eduard Notle, 1867), 123.
[7] Chadwick, H. Lessing’s Theological Writings (London: Black, 1956), 53, 55.
[8] Here I use these two terms broadly to describe the way scholars seek to “get behind” the Jesus of the Gospels or the Creed. It should be noted that these two terms have a long history and many scholars disagree as to the meaning assigned to them. For Martin Kähler (1835-1912), the man typically credited with coining the distinction, the “historical Jesus” simply meant the reconstructed Jesus of critical scholarship. A key figure in the history of this discussion is Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976), who believed there was little need to establish the kerygmatic Christ on historical research into Jesus’ life. For a fuller discussion see John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 1 of The Roots of the Problem and Person; ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1991)26-31.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pope Benedict: A True Star

Perhaps I'm the last one to know this, but today I discovered that scientists actually named an asteroid after Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger a few years ago.

No joke.

See NASA's JPL site.

Monday, November 20, 2006

All Nations Under God--Explained

I've received a number of emails and a few comments on my previous post in which I cited Peter Leithart. What was the context for that citation?

My reason for posting Leithart's comment was to underscore the true novelty of the Davidic covenant--that is, its international scope.

After God declares his oath to David in 2 Samuel 7, David exclaims, “thou hast shown me a law for humanity” (2 Sam 7:19). The international character of the “law” associated with the Davidic covenant established at Mt. Zion clearly distinguishes it from the nationalistic pre-occupation of the Torah and the covenant made with Israel through Moses at Sinai.[1] Under Moses Israel was to be separated from the nations—isolation was especially encouraged by the purity laws. However, the Davidic Empire under the reigns of David and Solomon included the surrounding nations (2 Sam 8:11-12; 10:19; 12:30; 1 Kgs 4:20-21; 10:15). Moreover, the foreign Queen of Sheba came to hear Solomon’s wisdom and praised the God of Israel (1 Kgs 10:1-13).

[1] R. P. Gordon, 1-2 Samuel (Sheffield: JSOT, 1984), 77; Paul Stuhlmacher, Reconciliation, Law, & Righteousness: Essays on Biblical Thoelogy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 115. Hartmut Gese, Essays on Biblical Theology (trans., Keith Crim; Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1981), 26, 60-92.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

All Nations Under God

Here's a great snippet from Peter Leithart's book, From Silence to Song (2003), 50:
"We are so used to Psalms and Prophets inviting Gentiles to worship Yahweh that we forget how innovative it was in the time of David. In the songs and hymns recorded earlier in Scripture, Gentiles are included only as enemies to be crushed, killed, dashed, drowned and hammered in the head."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

John Paul II on Mediocrity

"...since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity." --Novo Millennio Inuente [Apostolic Letter] , 31:

"Dear young people, do not be content with anything less than the highest ideals! Do not let yourselves be dispirited by those who are disillusioned with life and have grown deaf to the deepest and most authentic desires of their heart. You are right to be disappointed with hollow entertainment and passing fads, and with aiming at too little in life. If you have an ardent desire for the Lord you will steer clear of the mediocrity and conformism so widespread in our society."--"You Are the Salt of the Earth": Message for World Youth Day, 2002 [7-31-01]

" is good to aim high, and not to be content with mediocrity, since we know we can always count on God's help." --Mane Nobiscum Domine [Apostolic Letter], 29:

"Resist the temptation of mediocrity and conformism," --Address to the Members of UNIV 2002, 25 March 2002.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Role of Conscience

Many Catholic theologians justify dissenting from Church teaching by asserting that they must first follow their conscience. Here's a passage from the Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian that is relevant to that issue.
Finally, argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one's own conscience cannot legitimate dissent. This is true, first of all, because conscience illumines the practical judgment about a decision to make, while here we are concerned with the truth of a doctrinal pronouncement. This is furthermore the case because while the theologian, like every believer, must follow his conscience, he is also obliged to form it. Conscience is not an independent and infallible faculty. It is an act of moral judgement regarding a responsible choice. A right conscience is one duly illumined by faith and by the objective moral law and it presupposes, as well, the uprightness of the will in the pursuit of the true good (Instruction, 38).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Quote for the Day...

John Paul II, lecture to the Faculty at the University of Lyon: “Theology must take its point of departure from a continual and updated return to the Scriptures read in the Church.”
[Address (October 7, 1986); AAS 79 (1987):337-38.]