Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Longest Footnote in Human History?

For those of you who don't already know, the long-awaited fourth volume of John Meier's multivolume work, A Marginal Jew, is finally out. All 735 pages of it.

While reading through the book this morning, I discovered what may well be the longest footnote/endnote in human history. At the beginning of his chapter on Jesus' teachings on divorce, Meier has an endnote that spans almost twelve single-spaced 10 point font pages! (See pp. 128-139). 

I challenge any of our (obviously erudite) readers to find me a footnote or endnote longer than this! Go ahead, try! Someone needs to contact the Guinness book of world records and add a new section to it.

Now, don't get me wrong, for many a year, I have loved long footnotes. Meier was, after all, my teacher at Notre Dame, and I sought to emulate his footnote style in my own dissertation. However, this new record does raise a question. How long is too long? How many footnotes (or endnotes, as in Meier's volume) is too many?

Do you prefer works like Meier's, which are accompanied by exhaustive footnotes/end-notes and excursuses? Or works like N. T. Wright and Richard Bauckham, which keep the notes to a minimum, functioning as a selective group of references? Thoughts? Advice for future books?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Do you write in your books? My crazy approach

I also could have called this post: I write in my books. . . how 'bout you?

A little more background. . . Jim West recently spoke out against bibliobloggers who do not open up more about themselves (among other things) and simply write serious academic posts. He states,

Must every post be an academic publication in kernel form and must every thought be weighed in the balance of potential ‘tenure’ issues?
He probably doesn't care much for my posts--I do tend to provide a lot of footnotes. But I enjoy being thorough--it's not hard labor. (As to the second charge, I doubt anyone thinks I'm concerned with tenure issues! I've posted on a number of controversial issues!)
[edited: this paragraph was uncalled for. . . as Jim explains in the com-box, he really is not opposed to academic posts in and of themselves.]

Nonetheless, I do think Jim is right when he goes on to criticize scholars for being too self-important and stuffy. Let's not take ourselves so seriously. And, looking over my posts of late, I have been a bit serious.

So here's a peak into my demented approach to reading.

Once I was waiting for a friend, who was going to meet me at a bookstore. We were going to go see a movie but I wanted to do a little book shopping first.

I waited for him outside and while I was waiting I was reading a great book. When he showed up he horrified by what I had done to the book I was working on; it was dog eared, highlighted, written up with a pen--I'll admit, it wasn't a pretty sight. His exact words were, "It looks like you've put teeth marks in it!" (That however I did not do--it was just his way of saying that I had really, severely, disfigured the book).

He then asked: "Is it an old book?" I said, "No. I bought it last week." This traumatized him even more!

However, he dropped the matter and brought up something else. I gathered my things together and we headed into the bookstore.

Yet every time I picked up a book he would try to put me on a guilt trip: "Look at how nice that book looks. It's so new. It smells nice and fresh. It's pages are nice and crisp, not to mention clean. What are you going to do to that poor book, Michael Barber?"

I have to admit, though I didn't reveal it to my friend, I had never really thought of things in that way. I go to books to use them and marking things up helps me find things that I need in them. I never thought it wrong to mark them up--or, as my friend insinuated, to "defile" them. And, for the most part, I still don't!

I write in almost all of them, even the ridiculously expensive ones, e.g., titles from Brill, Mohr-Siebeck, etc.

But I'm not entirely indiscriminating. First, I do try to keep the outside of books looking nice. I try to preserve dust jackets. I take them off when I'm reading a book, putting it back on when I'm done. And I do hate cracking the spine of a book--they look terrible on a shelf after that.

Second, I won't just write with anything in my books. I've learned from experience. I've marked up books with ugly highlighters that, once dried, turned a hideous color which made it difficult to re-read the text. ENOUGH! Now I use only one kind: the bright yellow Sharpie Accent highlighters with the thick tip (see picture). I buy them by the box--no kidding!

Here's the really sad part: I'm almost so dependent upon them that if I can't find one, I'll put off reading altogether! In fact, I have not a few pairs of pants which are unwearable because some unfortunate oversight caused a highlighter explosion in a pocket. Bright highlighter stains can be found on almost all of my jeans, in my car, in my luggage, etc.

I also have drawers filled with highlighters that I've already used that I want to save for books with especially thin pages. It's less likely their ink will bleed through such fine pages. In addition, I have hoards of highlighters that well-meaning people have given me over the years. Unfortunately, they are either not my brand or the wrong "yellow". I'm always finding these in odd places and have to throw them away.

Yes, I know, I'm beginning to sound like Adrian Monk.

But just so you know I'm not a complete nut, there are also a few exceptions to the "must-highlight" rule. I can't bring myself to write in the follwing:
1. my Hebrew-English edition of the Babylonian Talmud that my wife gave me for my 30th birthday
2. my autographed copy of Pope Benedict's book Many Religions, One Covenant (signed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger before his elevation to the papacy)
3. my perfectly clean and crisp copy of Matthias Scheeben's, Mysteries of Christianity, which was printed in 1951, is terribly hard to find and a book which has influenced my thought profoundly (I have another copy that is marked up though).

So here's my question: Do you write in your books? Do you have particular books you can't bring yourself to scribble notes in or mark-up with a highlighter?

One last thing, this post was inspired by something Bill Heroman recently put up on his blog. Check out what he did to his copy of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. I might do something similar to mine. I must say, while I'm in agreement with his criticism of this volume, I am a little offended by the way he vandalized the spine's of his Loeb Classical Library. . . Surely, if there's a line to be crossed this is it! Bill--you've gone too far!!!

It's a good thing he isn't a private owner of any of the Dead Sea Scrolls! What he might do with 4Q521, the War Scroll, or 4Q174 will keep me up at night. Not that I have reasons to think it might happen, but just as a precautionary matter, I'm appealing to all interested scholars: let's take whatever means necessary to prevent Bill from obtaining any of the Dead Sea Scrolls for his personal library.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Bible in Catholic Theology

Here are some of my favorite quotes on the role of Scripture in Catholic Theology. . . some of them might surprise you!

Vatican II, Dei Verbum 11: “The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God, and, because they are inspired, they are truly the Word of God. Therefore, the ‘study of the sacred page’ should be the very soul of theology.”

Thomas Aquinas: “Only the canonical scriptures are the standard of faith.”[1]

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: “Dogma is by definition nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture.”[2]

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: “The normative theologians are the authors of Scripture.”[3]

Pope Leo XIII: “Most desirable is it, and most essential, that the whole teaching of theology should be pervaded and animated by the use of the divine Word of God.”[4]

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Theological Formation of Future Priests [1976]: “The basic fact which theological teaching must take into account is that Sacred Scripture is the starting point, the permanent foundation, and the life-giving and animating principle of all theology.” The document goes on to say, “The teaching of Sacred Scripture must culminate in a biblical theology which gives a unified vision of the Christian mystery.”[5]

John Paul II citing Paul VI: “Sacred Scripture is ‘a perpetual source of spiritual life, the chief instrument for handing down Christine doctrine, and the center of all theological study.’”[6]

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.”[7]

Pope Benedict XVI: “We are grateful to God that in recent times, and thanks to the impact made by the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, the fundamental importance of the Word of God has been deeply re-evaluated. From this has derived a renewal of the Church's life, especially in her preaching, catechesis, theology and spirituality, and even in the ecumenical process.”[8]

[1] Super Evangelium S. Ionnis Lectura, 21:24 [2656]. Cited in Christopher T. Baglow, “Thomas Aquinas as Biblical Theologian,” in Letter and Spirit: Reading Salvation 1 (2005): 141.
[2] Cited from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Crisis in Catechetics: Handing on the Faith and the Sources of the Faith,” in Canadian Catholic Review 7 (1983): 178.
[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theolgy (trans., M. F. McCarthy; San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987, 321.
[4] Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus: On the Study of Sacred Scripture, 19.
[5] Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Theological Formation of Future Priests (February 22, 1976), in The Pope Speaks 21 (1976): 365-66.
[6] Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum. This address is also quoted by John Paul II is found in U.S.A.: The Message of Justice, Peace and Love (Boston: Daughters of Saint Paul, 1979), 117.
[7] Pope John Paul II, Address (October 7, 1986); AAS 79 (1987):337-38.
[8] Address to the participants in the international congress organized to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, at Castel Gandolfo (September 16, 2005). Available on the Vatican website:

Monday, May 25, 2009

"This is My Body": Sacrificing Oneself in Battle

Here I am not going to offer a comprehensive treatment of the words Jesus spoke over the bread at the Last Supper. But, given that it is memorial day, I did want to highlight an interesting parallel which is often ignored.

Warning: this post is me simply thinking "outloud", so give me a little lattitude here as I'm still working out my thoughts.

First, let us read Luke's account of Jesus' words over the bread at the Last Supper:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Of course, given that it is Memorial Day, I can't help but note that "in remembrance of me" can also be translated "in memorial of me". The terminology is rich here and, in part, relates to the Passover, which was also described as a "memorial" (Exod 12:14). For a much fuller treatment on the theological implications of the language of "memorial" see Scott Hahn's Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word, 87-102.

While I clearly think that Jesus' words and actions must be understood within their Jewish context, I did recently notice something in John Nolland's three volume commentary on Luke which I thought was interesting. Here it is...

Nolland writes that in Thucydides (History, 2.43.2) and Libanus (Declam. 24.3), "give one's body" is "an image of dying in battle for the sake of one's people" (Nolland, Luke, 3:1054; emphasis added).

I found this striking. In fact, certain Jewish traditions suggest the idea that an annointed one would be cut off in battle, much like the Davidic figure in Psalm 89. In fact, a while back Brant wrote an amazing post on the messianic interpretation of this psalm in ancient Judaism (see my follow-up, where I show how it is used in connection with Isaiah 53 to refer to Jesus in 1 Peter). Nolland's insight might offer further insight here into Jesus' role. Jesus might see himself as winning the battle, by dying in it.

Moreover, it should be pointed out that the martial language may not be completely disconnected from atonement theology--after all, redemption can refer to the rescuing of prisoners of war who have been liberated. Just a thought...

10 Things to Know About WWII

On this memorial day, I thought I'd post a link to this fascinating article by Rick Atkinson, which ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Did Jesus Really Say He Would Be "Seated at the Right Hand of the Power"?

Happy Feast Day of the Ascension! Since, in the Catholic world, a Holy Day begins the evening before the day (i.e., the vigil), I thought I'd go ahead and put up this post.

Two of the key texts associated with the Ascension are Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13.
Psalm 110:1: "The Lord says to my lord: 'Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool'.

Daniel 7:13: "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him."
Here I want to deal with the specific question of whether or not the historical Jesus used these two passages in reference to himself.

Jesus' Words to the High Priest
In all three Gospels Jesus brings together the vision of the son of man in Daniel 7 with Psalm 110:1, which describes the Davidic king as he admits his identity as the Messiah before the high council:
“Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ 62 And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’” (Mark 14:61-62; cf. Matt 26:63-64 and Luke 22:69).
Here I am not going to deal with the debate about whether or not this particular saying is referring to the Ascension. I want to instead deal with its historicity.

Because Psalm 110 was used frequently in christological texts by the early church a number of scholars see this saying as a creation of the early Christian community and not an authentic saying of the historical Jesus.[1] Is this compelling logic? I think not.

Daniel 7 and Psalm 110
First, we should mention that in other passages widely accepted as authentic, Jesus similarly combined different passages in the Old Testament (cf. e.g., Matt 11:5//Luke 7:22; Matt 21:13//Mark 11:17//Luke 19:46).

Second, we know that Davidic psalms and Daniel 7 were seen as having eschatological referents in ancient Judaism. That Daniel 7 was viewed as an eschatological text not only flows naturally from its context, but is attested fromt the fact that a non-eschatological interpretataion of the text cannot be found until much later. In addition, the Dead Sea Scrolls use Davidic psalms in reference to the Messiah (e.g., 4Q174). There is no reason then to suppose Jesus, understanding himself as the messiah, could not have seen these texts as referring to himself.

Moreover, at least one rabbinic source specifically links the two passages:
“And in one place in the Writings it is written, ‘The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand’ [Ps 110:1],’ and it is also written: ‘Behold, one came with the clouds of heaven, as a son of man’ [Dan 7:13] (Midr. Ps. 2.9 [on 2:7]; cf. 18.29 [on 18:36]).[2]
If later non-Christian Jewish rabbis could bring together these passages, why couldn’t Jesus?

Third, in his excellent book, The Christology of Jesus, Ben Witherington highlights the fact that in 1 Enoch the “son of man” appears sitting next to God on a “throne of glory” (1 En. 45:3; 55:4; 62:5). He argues that the imagery also seems to draw on Daniel 7 and Psalm 1110.

Here we canot get into the lengthy debate about the dating of the Similitudes. Suffice it to say, the argument that this section of 1 Enoch is a later addition simply because it was not found among the few fragments of the book discovered at Qumran is hard to believe (cf. Witherington, The Christology of Jesus, 234).

The "Criteria of Authenticity"
If one turns to the criteria of authenticity, one can also find support.
1. The saying appears in all three Synoptic Gospels (multiple attestation)!
2. One might also see the quotation as constituting “embarrassment”―after all, when exactly did the high priest see Jesus coming with the clouds of heaven?
3. There is also a semitisim―Jesus’ speaks of being seated at the right hand of “Power”. This is repeated in all three Gospels. One is hard-pressed to find another passage where the early Christians used such language! Notably, however, the expression is found in rabbinic Judaism (Sipre Num. §112 on Num 15:31; b. ‘Erub. 54b; b. Šabb. 88b; b. Yebam. 105b; Tg. Job 5:8; 14:18 [var.]; 18:4 [var.]).
4. In addition, Jesus’ words also appear coherent with Matthew 19:28, a text which is widely regarded as authentic.

Jesus, Exaltation and the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q491c)
At this point it may be complained that Jesus’ claim to heavenly exaltation is clear evidence of early Christian theology. For many it is simply impossible to imagine that a first century Jewish man would have thought about himself in these terms. Aside from the fact that this is not an ordinary first-century Jew, but Jesus, I think there are others reasons to believe that this such thinking among scholars is faulty.

Jesus’ claim to heavenly exaltation also bears affinities with 4Q491c 1, which describes a figure who is elevated to a “throne” in the heavens (cf. lines 5-6). The passage is of such significance that it bears reproducing here in full:
1 […] has done awesome things marvelously […] 2 [… in the streng]th of his power
the just exult, and the holy ones rejoice in […] in justice 3 […] he established
[I]srael from eternity; his truth and the mysteries of his wisdom in al[l
generations …] might 4 […] … […] … and the council of the poor for an
eternal congregation. […] the perfect ones of 5 [… et]ernal; a mighty throne in
the congregation of the gods
{=angels} above which none of the kings of the East shall sit, and their nobles no[t …] silence (?) 6 […] my glory is {comparable} and
besides me no-one is exalted, nor comes to me, for I reside in […] the heavens,
and there is no 7 […]… I am counted among the gods and my dwelling is in the
holy congregation
; [my] de[ire] is not according to the flesh,[but] all that is
precious to me is in (the) glory (of) 8 […] the holy [dwel]ling. [W]ho has been
considered despicable on my account? And who is comparable to me in my glory?
Who, like the sailors, will come back and tell? 9 […] Who bea[rs all] sorrows
like me? And who [suffe]rs evil like me?
There is no-one. I have been
instructed, and there is no teaching comparable 10 [to my teaching …] And who
will attack me when [I] op[en my mouth]? And who can endure the flow of my lips?
And who will confront me and retain comparison with my judgment? 11 […friend of
the king, companion of the holy ones…incomparable, f]or among the gods is [my]
posi[tion, and] my glory is with the sons of the king. To me (belong) [pure]
gold, and to me, the gold of Ophir 12 […] Blank […] Blank […] [exult,] just
ones, in the God of […] and in the holy dwelling, sing for h[im…] 14 [… proclaim
during the meditation jubilation […] in eternal happiness; and there is no … […]
15 […] to establish the horn of [his] Mess[iah…] 16 […] to make known his power
with strength [….]
Who the passage is describing is unclear. The mention of the Messiah in line 15 at least raises the possibility that he is in view. What cannot be doubted is that that the fragment describes the exaltation of a person who has borne sorrows and has “suffered evil” (cf. line 9). Again, if Jesus expected to die―and certainly at the point in the narrative where Jesus is being questioned by the high priest, it looks that way―this passage emerges as an interesting parallel.

Moreover, as Martin Hengel and others have noted, the fragment appears to share a number of connections with Isaiah’s Suffering Servant prophecy:[3]
1. Both describe the exaltation of a figure over kings and nobles (cf. Isa 52:13-15; 4Q491c 1:5-6);
2. The three-fold emphasis on the figure’s “glory” (כבוד) in lines 6-8 evokes the LXX of Isaiah’s prophecy where the term is also emphasized (cf. Isa 52:13, 14; 53:2). Of course, ancient Jews would probably not have distinguished this Servant song from the others, so it is also significant that the term is used in Isa 55:5 (MT and LXX).
3. The appearance of the imagery of "bearing" sorrows (נשא) (line 9) evokes Isa 53:4 ["he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows"] and 53:12 [he bore the sin of many].
4. Both figures are associated with wisdom (cf. Isaiah 52:13; 4Q491c 1:9-10)
5. The conflict described in lines 9-10 of the fragment bear striking similarity also to the Third Servant Song (cf. Isaiah 50:8-9: “Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. 9 Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty?").

That the figure is associated with a “mighty throne” also evokes the imagery of the heavenly enthronement of the Son of Man on the “throne of glory” in 1 Enoch (1 En. 45:3; 55:4; 62:5).

Here we have an important parallel with Jesus’ words before the High Priest. The fragment makes it especially historically plausible to believe that Jesus expected to suffer and be exalted by God.

Other arguments here could also be put forward (see my dissertation once it's published). Suffice it to say, I don't think it likely that Jesus' words to the High Priest were a Christian invention.

[1] In particular the language here finds a close similarity with those attributed to the earliest Christian martyr, Stephen, in Acts 7:56: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” However, an interpretation which sees the statement made by Jesus as a re-working of Stephen’s speech, it should be pointed out that the Stephen’s language lacks the semitism and is difficult to see as more ancient than Mark 14:62 and par.
[2] Cited from Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries, 419.
[3] See Martin Hengel with Daniel P. Bailey, “The Effective History of Isaiah 53 in the Pre-Christian Period,” in Jesus and the Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 and Christian Origins (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998), 143-44.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jonah's Reluctance and Jesus' "Sign of Jonah"

Why did Jonah flee after the Lord told him that he was to go to Nineveh and warn the people that if they did not repent they would be destroyed? Was it cowardice? Was it laziness?

What is often overlooked by commentators is that Nineveh—the city in story of Jonah which repents―was at the heart of the Assyrian Empire. Of course, Assyria was a huge threat to the northern kingdom, i.e., the house of Israel. In fact, the prophets foretold that God would destroy Israel by their hand.

The news that God was about to destroy Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, would have been welcomed by the people of Israel.

Thus Ancient Israelite readers would no doubt see Jonah’s hesitance to preach there as patriotic--he gladly anticipated the destruction of Israel's enemy and did not want to prevent their destruction by preaching to them.

The story is ironic--Jonah saves the Assyrians at Nineveh from destruction through calling for repentence. The Assyrians repent and are saved. The northern Israelites however persist in their sin and are eventually destroyed.

In the Gospels Jesus speaks of himself as Jonah, specifically speaking of performing the 'sign of Jonah' (e.g., Matt 12:39-41; Matt 16:4; Luke 11:29-32). Of course, Matthew and Luke’s readers would have been aware that the preaching of Jesus, rejected by the Jewish leadership, was being accepted in Rome. They knew of course that Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and, of course, it was well-known who the destroyer would be--Rome!

No one wonder then Jesus is linked with Jonah!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Diogenes on Notre Dame's Decision

With Brant, I want to add my voice to the 70+ bishops and the great number of faithful Catholics who stand with them in expressing profound embarassment of Notre Dame's decision to grant President Obama an honorary degree at this year's graduation ceremony.

Polls and popular opinion mean little to me, after all, Jesus says, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you..." (Luke 6:26). That's not a warning too many politicians would want to embrace! Nonetheless, it is good to see that in a recent Rasmussen poll 60% of Catholics said that the University was wrong to honor the President and only 25% said it was right! In fact, the same poll even indicates that the majority of Americans agree that Notre Dame made the wrong move (52% disagreed with the decision, 25% thought it was good, 19% were unsure).

Not surprisingly, data from a Pew Forum poll indicates that the opinion among Catholics relates to fidelity to Sunday worship, i.e., those who go to church regularly were more likely to say it was wrong to honor the President, those who don't were more likely to support the school's decision.

I think the Catholic blogger who goes by the name "Diogenes" has put it best. I quote his post in full:

Imagine that a group of Americans began systematically destroying church buildings.

Now imagine that a leading political figure announced that, while he did not approve of the destruction, he would defend the right of individuals to destroy churches if they wanted to do so.

Two questions:
1. Do you suppose that politician would receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame?
2. Are we only concerned with protecting the temples made by human hands?

My colleague Martin Harold added a great follow-up: "And do you suppose that if that politician supported sending money over-seas to fund others destroying churches in foreign countries that politician would be similarly honored?"

I think not.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Scholars' Dirty Little Secret: Not Reading Primary Sources

As I continue to wrap up my dissertation on the historical Jesus' understanding of the role of the cult in the eschatological age, I am continually struck by the fact that many incredibly relevant passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Pseudepigrapha are rarely mentioned by scholars. One frequently sees certain passages cited over and over again (e.g., 4Q174), but other striking texts are often ignored.

Why is this? I'm coming to a rather troubling conclusion: scholars seem to be reading each other, but not the primary sources. I think anyone publishing works on New Testament studies should have at least read through all of the published Dead Sea Scrolls, and the the pseudepigraphal writings--especially 1 Enoch! It seems to me though certain fragraments from Qumran get usually get attention from scholars and certain chapters in pseudepigraphical works are mentioned, a lot of relavent data gets overlooked. In other words, it is suspicious that different scholars treat the same texts while ignoring others.

When I read Markus Bockmuehl's work Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), I was glad to see someone else voice these concerns.
“Some of the most accomplished scholars are showing ill-concealed signs of exasperation with the rising incompetence and carelessness manifested even in some high-profile publications in the field. The discipline’s increasingly fluffy dependence on secondary and tertiary citations make such disgruntled views difficult to dismiss out of hand. It is extraordinary, for example, how many publications in the field still restrict their range of rabbinic reference, if any, to texts discussed in the classic commentary of Strack and Billerbeck 1922-61 (a point rightly stressed by [David] Daube [“Zukunftsmusik: Some Desireable Lines of Exploration in the New Testament Field,” in The Interrelations of the Gospels: A Symposium Led By M.-É Boismard, W. R. Farmer, F. Neirynck, Jerusalem 1984 (ed. D. L. Dungan; BETL 95; Louvain: Louvain University Press, 1990), 376] and their engagement with the Dead Sea Scrolls to recycling the same handful of passages that were popularized in the first wave of Qumran scholarship in the 1950s and 1960s.”
So, ad fontes!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Goodacre's "Dating Game" 4: The Historicity of the Temple Incident

Of course, some scholars have disputed the historicity of various elements of the account of Jesus' action in the temple. Some particularly skeptical scholars have seen the entire episode as pure fiction.[1] One representative of this theory worth highlighting is Burton Mack, who succinctly summarizes his argument against the historicity of the episode as follows:
The temple act cannot be historical. If one deletes from the story those themes essential to the Markan plots, there is nothing left over for historical reminiscence. The anti-temple theme is clearly Markan and the reasons for it can be explained. The lack of any evidence for an anti-temple attitude in the Jesus and Christ traditions prior to Mark fits with the incredible lack of incidence in the story itself. Nothing happens. Even the chief priests overhear his ‘instruction’ and do nothing. The conclusion must be that the temple act is a Markan fabrication.[2]
In sum, because the temple incident bears remarkable similarity to Mark’s larger focus it was likely invented by him. Furthermore, because the story is seen as originating with Mark, the accounts in Matthew, Luke and John must be considered dependent on his Gospel, which thus means that it alsofails to meet the criterion of multiple attestation.[3] Finally, it is considered improbable that Jesus would have been able to “get away” with such an action.

Other arguments might also be mentioned. Some have made the case that Jesus’ citation of Jeremiah’s oracle unlikely claiming that there is little evidence that the temple in Jesus’ day was corrupt. Others have claimed that the reference to Isaiah signals the hopes of the early church. Still others maintain that it is unlikely that Jesus acted the way the Gospels describe.

While at first glance these arguments appear convincing, under close scrutiny they seem less than convincing.

Let us keep in mind that one cannot prove or disprove the historicity of the event. What we are talking about here is likelihood or probability. The question is: is the story likely to be historical. I think so.

Handling our Sources
Before I get into the minutia of the arguments let me begin by highlighting something I’ve discussed elsewhere (e.g., here and here), namely, the genre of the Gospels. As most scholars agree, Richard Burridge is probably right that the Gospels are likely ancient biographies. That means that they were written first and foremost to tell us about Jesus. They are not first and foremost written to tell us about the theology of the early church. If they were, they would clearly look much different―e.g., Jesus would be addressing issues such as circumcision, the kosher laws, the role of the spiritual gifts, etc.

Of course, from the recognition of the Gospels' genre as ancient biographies it does not necessarily follow that they are accurate. One could clearly write an inaccurate ancient biography, incorporating fictional elements. Thus careful examination is needed. But here we have to read the Gospels as we do other ancient biographies. Rather than assuming that the Gospels are mostly legend with only a kernel of truth behind it all―vis-à-vis the old form-critical model―we need to ask another question: Is it more likely that what they tell us represents history or is it more probable that they are fiction? Here we are specifically asking: Is the account of the temple incident more believable than dismissing it as a fiction?

Upfront it should be stated that arguments for the historicity of the temple episode have been offered by others. One of my favorite treatments can be found in the work of fellow blogger Michael Bird (Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission). I'd also encourage others to look at Craig Evans' commentary on Mark as well as his fine treatments in Jesus and His Contemporaries. Here I am going to simply offer to a brief treatment--much (much, much!) more of course could be said.

My essential point in doing this is to ask the larger question whether or not Mark's temple focus should be seen as the result of the events in A.D. 70. In other words, ultimately, I'm seeking to answer Goodacre's challenging questions about the implications of Mark's perspective on the temple for dating the Gospel of Mark.

To begin with let’s deal with the arguments against the story’s historicity.

Sed Contra
First, contrary to Mack’s claims, the episode is not likely a Markan creation. Mack’s argument has two principle problems. To begin with, he simply appears to assume a priori that elements “essential to the Markan plots” must not be historical.[4] Why such an assumption must be made is unclear. Is it not more believable that the core of Mark’s Gospel was in some way inspired by the memory of the historical Jesus? Recall that we are not talking about a span of generations between Jesus and Mark; Mark is writing within the living memory of those who knew Jesus.

Second, as Evans has observed, Mack’s appeal to the “lack of any evidence” in “traditions prior to Mark” depends largely on the highly speculative endeavor of reconstructing sources which we in fact do not have.[5] Of course, Mack’s argument that the episode was invented also faces another key problem: the evidence from the Fourth Gospel. In sum, the assertion that the temple episode was not found in “pre-Markan” sources―whatever one imagines those to be―but represents a Markan creation must not only rest on hypothetical reconstructions of such documents but must also necessitate the view that John’s account of the temple episode, which differs in substantial ways, is somehow dependent on Mark’s particular telling of the story. Evans’ puts it better than I ever could:
It strikes me as special pleading to prefer a more subjective source-critical theory, as source critical work in Mark must always be, owing to the fact that its putative sources are no longer extant, to a theory that on all counts should be viewed as less subjective, owing to the fact that the documents in question (i.e., Mark and John) are extant and are therefore available for comparative
Suffice it to say, it is extraordinarily hard to imagine that John’s story of the temple-cleansing was lifted from Mark. Rather, given the numerous differences between the accounts, virtually all agree that John’s account represents an independent tradition.[7] For this reason the vast majority of scholars accept that the temple episode meets the criterion of multiple attestation.[8]

Arguments against the historical plausibility of the story also fall flat. Those who insist that it is improbable that Jesus would have condemned the temple of his day as corrupt or wicked seriously underestimate and misrepresent the evidence. The Mishna includes an account of a rabbinical figure who lived between A.D. 10-80, who specifically protested the exorbitant cost of sacrificial birds sold in the temple.[9] That such corruption was in place is also suggested by Matthew and Mark who have Jesus specifically targeting those selling such birds (Matt 21:23//Mark 11:15).

But one need not point to later rabbinic sources! More importantly, the temple establishment is frequently criticized by the Qumranites (cf. CD 1:3; 3: 8-9, 18; 6: 11-21; 20:23; 4Q390 2 I, 1-12; 1Q22 1:8-10; 4Q390 1; 1QpHab 1:13; 8:9; 9:9; 12:8-9; 4QpNah 1:11). This evidence is crucial in that it makes it clear that corruption charges were not first raised in the rabbinic period. In addition, Josephus’ references corruption of priestly officials (e.g., Ant. 20.179-181, 207). All of this makes it clear that corruption charges were leveled against the temple establishment throughout the first-century.[10] The burden of proof then does not fall upon those who interpret Jesus’ actions against such a backdrop. Rather it rests on those who somehow wish to insist that the temple establishment’s reputation for corruption was known only in the periods immediately before and after him.

The historical plausibility of the episode is especially reinforced by the fact that Josephus tells us of another Jew from the first-century―another “Jesus” in fact, Jesus ben Ananias―who announced the coming the destruction of the temple. Strikingly, in doing so he also cited from Jeremiah 7! And the similarities do not end there. Evans points out a number of parallels between Jesus and Jesus ben Ananias:
―both entered the Temple (τὸ ἱερὸν; Mark 11:11, 15, 27; 12:35; 13:1; 14:49; B.J. 6.301)
―both issued condemnations linked with festivals (Mark 14:2; 15:6; John 2:23; B.J. 6.300)
―both are said to have foretold the destruction of the city (Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24; B. J. 6.301) and the Temple (ναός; Mark 14:58; B.J. 6.301)
―both cite from Jeremiah 7 (Mark 11:17 and par. = Jer 7:11; B.J. 6.301=Jer 7:34)
―both are arrested by Jewish authorities (συλλαμβάνειν; Mark 14:48; John 18:12; B. J. 6.302), beaten (παίειν; Matt 26:68; Mark 14:65; B. J. 6.302)
―both were handed over to the Roman governor (ἤγαγον αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸν Πιλᾶτον: Luke 23:1; ἀναγουσιν. . . ἐπὶ τὸν. . . ἔπαρχον: B. J. 6.303), who interrogated them (ἐπηρώτα: Mark 15:4; B. J. 6.305)
―both were scourged (μαστιγοῦν /μάστιξ:John 19:1; B. J. 6.304)
―Pilate had the option of releasing Jesus, Albinus did in fact release Jesus ben Ananias (ἀπολύειν: Mark 15:9; B. J. 6.305)[11]
The similarities here are truly remarkable and make it very difficult to claim that it is implausible to imagine that Jesus could have done what the Gospels attribute to him.

Furthermore, let us consider Mack’s charge that Jesus would not have been able to get away with his action. Is it unlikely that the Jewish leaders would not have immediately responded, arresting him on the site? Not at all. The rationale for the restraint showed by the Jewish leaders provided by the evangelists makes perfect historical sense: they knew that the people saw that Jesus had claimed an eschatological role for himself―an aspect of the Jesus tradition that has a strong claim to historicity―and understood that it would have been unpopular to oppose him. Mark relates that the leaders “feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching” (Mark 11:19; Luke 19:48). This simply cannot be dismissed as fancy. That Jesus represented some threat at the very least is certainly suggested by the fact that he ended being executed!

At the same time, it should also be pointed out that Jesus does not really "get away" with the demonstration. To quote Bird and Casey, “Non-intervention and delay of intervention are not the same thing.”[12]

We could also mention more practical reasons for the lack of response. While some scholars have insisted that one of the traders would likely have reacted violently to Jesus, it is also equally likely that rather than trying to fight him off the traders’ immediate concern would have been to secure their own merchandise―some of which may have been rolling away from them (i.e., coins), sqwarking about in the court (i.e., birds) or wandering off (i.e., other animals).[13] In addition, if Jesus was a popular figure there’s another good reason to think the merchants would have refrained from assaulting Jesus―they would have simply been outnumbered![14]

More Evidence
More compelling is the fact that the action is consistent with things we do seem to know about Jesus. Above all, the action is consistent with the likelihood that he cast himself in a prophetic role.

Indeed, denying the historicity of the account also makes it difficult to explain the role of the priestly leadership in Jesus’ arrest and execution.[15] That this element of the Jesus tradition appears to be confirmed by Josephus (cf. Ant. 18.64) makes it difficult to easily it write off as another Markan creation.[16] As numerous scholars have stated, without the temple action it becomes almost impossible to explain why the temple establishment took issue with a teacher / healer from Galilee.

Other ways the incident meets the criterion of coherence could also be cited. Here we name just a few. First, as described above, since reforming the cult was often linked with royal figures it can be seen as consistent with Jesus' identity as the messianic son of David (see previous posts here, here, here, and especially here). Second, it explains the charge that he had predicted that he would destroy the temple―a tradition that receives wide support (Matt 26:61; 27:39; Mark 14:58; 15:29; John 2:19; Gos. Thom. 71). Third, an appeal to Zechariah’s prophecy fits well with the dominance of Zechariah traditions associated with Jesus.[17] Fourth, the allusion to Jeremiah fits well with the fact that Jesus is described as performing what appears to be a symbolic sign in the temple―something Jeremiah had also done. Sixth, the allusion to Isaiah may also be shown to meet the criterion of coherence in that Jesus is elsewhere seen as couching his ministry in terms taken from Isaiah’s eschatological vision as well as combining two or more passages.[18]

One could also make the case that the quotations meet the criterion of dissimilarity to Christianity. The passage from Isaiah cited by Jesus specifically relates the hope of all nations coming to the temple in the eschatological age. The argument that the use of Isaiah 56:7 fits in better with the Gentile mission of the church than the ministry of the historical Jesus overlooks a key fact―the Gentile Christians were never required to go to the temple! Indeed, it is hard to imagine the early Christians inventing a saying of Jesus along these lines.[19] Furthermore, it should be noted that the expectation of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the eschatological age was already a part of ancient Judaism; such hopes do not necessarily signal a Christian sitz em leben![20] Instead, that Matthew and Luke omit the reference to πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ("all the nations") supports the idea that this element of the saying was likely seen as problematic. It is also significant that nowhere else in early Christian literature do we find the use of Jeremiah 7 to describe the coming destruction of Jerusalem―its deployment is thus in this way dissimilar to Christianity.

In conclusion, there are no good reasons to assume the story is unhistorical and in fact strong reasons to believe that it is authentic. Is the episode more likely to have been invented by the Christians or to have originated with Jesus? The evidence points in the direction of the later.

Where does this leave us? Here we have to make a critically important observation: Jesus apparently cited eschatological prophecies of the temple while at the same time predicting the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. The question then that remains is this: is there any indication that the historical Jesus believed the new temple would be something other than the Jerusalem temple?

To this will shall turn in the next post in this series.

[1] Especially fiercely opposed to the historicity of the temple action are David Seeley, “Jesus’ Temple Act,” CBQ (1993): 263–83; idem., “Jesus’ Temple Act Revisited: A Response to PM Casey,” CBQ 62 (2000): 55-63; Robert J. Miller, “The (A)Historicity of Jesus’ Temple Demonstration: A Test Case in Methodology,” Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers 1991 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991), 235-52; Burton L. Mack, A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 292; cf. also 11, 282.
[2] Mack, A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins, 292;
[3] Mack cites J. R. Donahue (“Introduction: From Passion Traditions to Passion Narrative,” The Passion in Mark: Studies on Mark 14-16 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976], 8-10) who argues that John was directly dependent on Mark’s Gospel.
[4] See Casey, “Culture and Historicity,” 329: “This argument excludes by method even the possibility that there was a real event which was later written up with secondary material. That method is contrary to the nature of historical research into a culture in which the rewriting of history was normal. It is especially disastrous in dealing with the cleansing of the temple, which has a Sitz im Leben only in the life of Jesus and is surrounded with the cursing of the fig tree, so strongly reminiscent of Jewish tales of strange trees [citing Telford, The Barren Temple and the Withered Tree, 186-93].
[5] See also the points made by John Kloppenborg, “Tradition-history is not convertible with literary history” (The Formation of Q, 244).
[6] See Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries, 347-8.
[7] See, e.g., Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, 2:1264; Bird, Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission, 144; Witherington, The Christology of Jesus, 110; etc.
[8] See Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:892-94 and 985 n. 62: “Hence the theory of David Seeley… that Mark created the story of the cleansing of the temple, falls to the ground because of the independent attestation by John.”
[9] “Once in Jerusalem a pair of doves cost a golden denar. Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel said: By this Temple! I will not suffer the night to pass by before they cost but a [silver] denar. He went into the court and taught: If a man suffered five miscarriages that were not in doubt or five issues that were not in doubt, she need bring but one offering, and she may then eat of the animal-offerings; and she is not bound to offer the other offerings. And the same day the price of a pair of doves stood at a quarter-denar each” (cf. m. Ker. 1:7).
[10] Of course, it should be noted, the Qumran community was not alone in the belief that the high priesthood had been corrupted. For a fuller discussion see, Craig Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries, 319-44.
[11] Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries, 360-61; idem., Mark 8:27―16:20, 176-77. Furthermore, on the unlikelihood that this account from Josephus was based on the Gospel narratives, see Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries, 361 n. 48.
[12] Bird, Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission, 146; Casey, “Culture and Historicity,” 320. Casey goes on to show that the Gospel portrait of a delayed response to Jesus’ action is especially intelligible given the political climate of his day. He cites an example from Josephus, who describes the way Archelaus dealt with a protest emerging during Herod’s reign (cf. B.J. 2.5-13; Ant. 17.206-218). First, the temple establishment was urged to calm the people―an effort he sees as parallel with the Jewish leaders confrontation of Jesus in Mark 11:27-33 and par. When such efforts failed Archelaus responded by sending in a cohort with a tribune at Passover time, who were attacked and killed. Finally, as a response to this action, Archelaus sent in an army which ended up massacring about 3,000 Jews during the feast. Casey believes the temple officials were trying to avoid a similar scenario, in which a cohort would also be resisted by the people in favor of a Jewish prophetic figure. Casey writes that Judas “solved their problem by enabling them to arrest Jesus without causing havoc. As for the Romans, they were confronted with a minor disturbance at which a Jewish preacher persuaded most Jews to follow his view of what should and should not be done in the court of the Gentiles. This did not give them enough reason to risk life and limb or to cause carnage. They would surely need the chief priests and scribes to tell them whether or not Jesus' action should be regarded as seditious. When the Roman governor was told that it was, he had Jesus crucified.”
[13] See the vivid description offered by Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 424-5.
[14] See, e.g., Julius Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Matthaei übersetzt und erklärt, 90; Walter Grundmann, Das Evangelium nach Markus (ThHKNT 2; Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1959), 230; Collins, Mark, 527.
[15] See Holmén, Jesus and Jewish Covenant Thinking, 238: “There is one overarching criterion of authenticy to be named in this connection: ‘Rejection and execution.’ Jesus’ action in the Temple, if anything, is nowadays pictured as the reason why the itinerant teacher Jesus of Nazareth was sentenced to death. Depriving the Gospels’ story of Jesus of this instance simply makes no plausible history for him.”
[16] Specifically, Josephus relates that Jesus was condemned by Pilate “because of an accusation made by the leading men among us” (Ant. 18.64). Elsewhere in Josephus the term is applied to members of the priestly ruling class (cf. Ant. 11.140-141; 18.121). Although scholars dispute different aspect of this Testimonium Flavium most agree that there is no reason to reject the authenticity of this dimension of the passage. For example, see Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:65; Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries, 350.
[17] Again, see especially Evans, “Jesus and Zechariah’s Messianic Hope,” 374-88 and the other sources cited in n. 302 above. What makes such a case especially compelling is the fact that different Zecharian traditions are highlighted by the different Gospel writers. To imagine that this is all coincidence is a kind of special pleading. Rather it makes much more sense that the emphasis on Zecharian traditions comes from Jesus himself. In addition, see the fuller discussion in Fiensy, Jesus the Galilean, 225-226.
[18] The clearest example such conflation is Jesus’ use of Isaiah 61 in Matthew 11:4-5//Luke 7:22 (cf. also Luke 4:18-19). See Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries, 362 n. 49: “Allusion to two or more passages of Scripture is characteristic of Jesus.” Likewise, see Bruce Chilton, “Ciaphas” in ABD 1:806 who explains that the “mixing of scriptural elements in that manner is characteristic of Jesus, not of those who shaped the tradition after him.”
[19] In addition, see Bird, Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission, 147.
[20] See the discussion in 1.2.8 above and, in particular, the primary texts and discussion in secondary sources in n. 256. Thus Bryan (Jesus and Israel’s Traditions of Judgement and Restoration, 207) writes: “…Jesus’ citation of the Isaiah text implies nothing more than what was a common if not universal expectation within Second Temple Judaism―the influx of Gentiles into the eschatological Temple.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Next Big Thing in NT Studies: The Eclipsing of Form-Criticism

"The next big thing in New Testament studies will be Gospels studies."

That's essentially the message of the latest post by my friend Michael Bird. In fact, with a number of recent publications himself--including one especially exciting one which is just about to drop--I think Michael has a good idea about what future works will focus on. After all, who would know better about the next wave of books on New Testament studies? He has written many of them himself!

In all seriousness though I think Michael is absolutely right about "Gospel studies" taking center stage. But aside from his list of things to look out for, I want to add a few comments of my own.

Michael is right that there is a sense of fatigue in New Testament Studies. This is particularly true in historical Jesus research, which I want to focus on here. If you don't believe that such weariness exists, check out Scot McKnight's recent post, "Historical Jesus Studies: A Dead End?", in which he basically pronounces new attempts at Jesus research dead on arrival.

Why are scholars looking for historical Jesus research in the obituaries? Here's my answer: because form-criticism has run its course. In my opinion, those who rigorously hold to the methods and assumptions behind the form-critical model have said all that can be said. The model is so worn-out and antiquated it's got nothing left to give us.

By form-criticism let me explain what I mean. The form-critical model to which I am referring holds that the following should be taken as irrefutable historical fact and as foundational for research:
1. Before the sayings of Jesus were incorporated into the Gospels they circulated for a long time through oral tradition which was essentially transmitted anonymously, without authoritative tradents.
2. These sayings were passed along independently of each other.
3. The Jesus tradition was passed along only in small units.
4. Over time elements which were not traceable to the historical Jesus crept into the tradition. For example, the utterances of Christian prophets who spoke “in the name of the Risen Jesus” were accepted as coming truly from the Lord. In fact, the early church was not careful to distinguish what went back to the historical Jesus and so the Jesus tradition was expanded to include large portions of non-historical elements.
5. Many of these non-historical sayings were introduced to help address the needs of the church. For example, sayings were accepted into the tradition which helped to answer critical questions facing the church. In essence, when the church wondered, “What would Jesus have said about x?”, a saying was kindly obliged by someone such as a Christian prophet who could speak for the Lord.
6. The elements of the Jesus tradition―which of course now included features that were not authentic―came to be crystallized in various forms: e.g., parables, pronouncement stories, individual sayings, miracle stories, etc.
7. By carefully analyzing the Gospels one can “get behind the text” and happily answer all of the following questions:
―What were the original forms in which the sayings of Jesus were circulated?
―How were these sayings used in the early church at this oral stage?
―Which elements came from Jesus and which came from the early Church?

Keep in mind, for form-criticism to really be carried out the above presuppositions cannot simply be loosely held. This is either what happened or not. To question the basic assertions of the form-critical model is to be unable to use it.

Now, it took about a hundred years but most scholars are now recognizing how ridiculous the schema is. I have already dealt with #5 above (the supposed role of the early Christian prophets in introducing elements into the Jesus tradition, see here and here). But major planks of this view are now clearly untenable. Perhaps I ought to do a post on each feature, mocking the lunacy of that each one can be asserted as historical fact! Indeed, others have basically done this.

Regardless, the problem is that when it comes to historical Jesus research scholars typically feel the need to revert back to this model and question it only with great caution.

The hegemony of the theory however is clearly losing sway. To my mind, this is going to have a major impact on historical Jesus research. To begin to question some of the basic assumptions of the form-critical model is to open up new vistas in historical Jesus research.

Let’s take one example. One of the extreme absurdities of form-criticism is this: it has invented genres, forms and transmission models which stand behind the text while completely and utterly ignoring the question of the genre of the actual sources we do have. Somehow it has been forgotten that prior to using or reading any source for finding data for historical study the most basic question one must ask is: what genre is this work?

Here is the stunning reality--one is hard pressed to find any historical Jesus work which contains any real treatment of the matter of the genre of the Gospels! The topic is hardly addressed at all! Somehow such authors can readily discern forms such as "pronouncement stories" which stand behind the Gospel narratives. The complex intricacies of the development of the tradition is apparently easy to explain. Yet when it comes to the much more important question, "What genre are the Gospels themselves?," there is absolute and deafening silence. And I really mean there is zero time spent on the matter--not even a single sentence in books that are hundreds of pages!

Does this not strike anyone as odd? Apparently not! I’ve read review after review of historical Jesus books and never once seen a reviewer say: "This author spends all of his time in sources (i.e., the Synoptic Gospels) without ever addressing the basic question of how he believes they were meant to be read in the first place!"

Of course, the question of genre is especially important. If the Gospels are ancient biographies this has huge implications for our understanding of them. For one, it would seem to suggest that the Gospels were not written to simply answer questions facing the life of the early church. They were written to tell us about Jesus and about what he taught.

That of course does not mean that the discussion is over in scholarship. But it does radically change how we read them in my opinion.

It seems to me that it’s time for scholars to look squarely at the claims made by the form-critical model which has ruled scholarship for so long and say the simple words: the Emperor has no clothes.

I think the next “big thing” will be Gospel studies, but I think such studies are going to be asking questions which were previously neglected.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Goodacre's "Dating Game" 3: Jesus' Temple Action

Before I get under way, a brief word is in order. The time elapsed between this post and my last one holds the record for my longest lull in blogging since I began writing here in 2006. Sufice it to say: I'm absolutely swamped. I am working towards the end of dissertating and I am finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks for all the well-wishing emails and all the prayers. Rest assured, the long draught of posts is now over and I hope to be a bit more faithful to contributing to this blog more frequently than I have in the last few months. So be sure to come back... and tell all your friends.

Let the regular blogging resume!

Goodacre and other scholars have proposed that the temple focus of Mark’s Gospel is best understandable in light of its destruction in a.d. 70. In particular such scholars have highlighted the words spoken the scene at the foot of the cross:

And it was the third hour, when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests mocked him to one another with the scribes, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him (Mark 15:25–32).
Here the Jesus is mocked for two things: (1) saying that he is the Christ, and (2) claiming that he would destroy the temple. Obviously, the reader knows that Jesus is the Christ―for the irony to be caught the reader must know that that the mockery is actually based on the recognition of a truth, i.e., Jesus’ messianic identity.

However, it is also claimed that the reader must also be expected to know something else―i.e., that the temple was in fact destroyed. In other words, that Jesus is mocked for claiming that the temple would be destroyed appears to assume the reader’s knowledge that in fact Jesus was right. The same logic is then also applied to other passages, e.g., the prediction of the destruction of the temple in Mark 13.

Here I want to deal with the question of whether or not the temple focus of Mark should be understood merely in terms of his redactional interest or whether instead it ought to be seen as reflecting the concerns of the historical Jesus himself.

The Real Irony
However, before I launch into this discussion I want to highlight something which I think sometimes goes unnoticed: those mocking Jesus at the foot of the cross do not mock him for claiming that the temple would be destroyed. Such a view glosses over the specific charge made and thus recasts it into something it is not. Let us here be clear about what is said: Jesus is specifically taunted because he is attributed with the idea that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. This is important. The ironic twist is not simply based on the fact that reader knows the temple was destroyed. Rather, for irony to truly be in play, what the author apparently expects the reader to know is that Jesus in fact somehow was responsible for the rebuilding of a temple that had been destroyed.

The later point in fact points away from a.d. 70 and to something else―namely the resurrection. As I mentioned in the last post, the charge made at Jesus’ trial in Mark’s Gospel specifically refers to a “temple not made by hands” being rebuilt after three days. Thus, I would submit, reading the mockery of Jesus on the cross as related to the readers’ knowledge of the events of a.d. 70 appears unjustified. Instead, the narrative assumes the reader’s knowledge of something else―Jesus resurrection, in which Jesus actually is responsible for raising the new temple, i.e., his body.

The Historical Jesus and the Temple
Specifically we must ask: What is the likelihood that that the temple-focus of Mark’s Gospel owes itself to more than simply the product of Mark’s theology but that instead it reflects concerns which have dominical origin? Put more simply, we can put the question as follows: Is there any evidence that the temple was important to the historical Jesus’ aims?

Here we must answer with a resounding yes.

As regular readers of this blog know, currently I am in the midst of wrapping up a comprehensive Ph.D. thesis on the role of the cult in the eschatological perspectives of the historical Jesus. Obviously there I deal with these issues in a much more exhaustive way. However here I want to briefly survey some of the evidence that the temple played a major role in the outlook and mission of the historical Jesus and that the temple-focus of Mark’s Gospel cannot be simply attributed to redactional motives.

The Temple in Jewish Restoration Hopes
It is widely agreed upon that Jesus’ ministry was―at least in some way―inspired by eschatological hopes for the restoration of Israel. Once this backdrop for Jesus’ teaching and ministry is established it is virtually impossible to imagine that the temple was unimportant to Jesus. For in ancient Jewish eschatological hopes the Temple was typically understood as the future site of the eschatological ingathering of Israel (cf. 1 Kgs 8:33-34; Isa 2:2-3; Isa 66:18-23; etc.).[1] In fact, even the Qumran community, which had separated itself from the Jerusalem Temple due to their belief that it had been corrupted, believed they would one day return to it (cf. 1QS 5:5-7; 8:4-10; 9:3-5; 1QM 2:3; 7:11-12; 4Q491 I-III, 17-19; 11Q19 20; 11Q20).[2]

To believe then that the eschatological restoration of Israel was in the backdrop of Jesus’ ministry but that the temple had no role in his expectations would seem to de-Judaize him. Nonetheless, it should at least be admitted that it still might be possible that Jesus simply reformulated eschatological hopes and that in his particular restoration project the temple was not an issue.

Is this possible? It's not likely.

Jesus’ Temple Action
One of the most prominent elements in the Jesus tradition is the story of his action in the temple. Not only is such an action reported by all four canonical Gospels it would also seem to have played a major role in his execution. Of course, the Fourth Gospel―for reasons which I cannot discuss here―has been viewed with suspicion by historical Jesus scholars. For the sake of this piece then I want to focus on the Synoptic Gospels, which are usually taken as the primary sources for understanding the historical Jesus.

Whether one looks at Jesus’ words or action, it is immediately clear that Jesus’ action involved eschatological hopes. First, let us look at the words attributed to Jesus:  “And he taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). The passage brings together two prophecies: Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. The first, Isaiah 56:7, is clearly a prophecy about the eschatological temple. The second, Jeremiah 7:11, is an oracle of judgment―specifically, it alludes to Jeremiah’s prediction of the destruction of Solomon’s temple.

Jesus’ activity in the temple coheres well with these passages. How would one perform an action that would both evoke an eschatological prophecy and reflect an oracle of judgment? By doing just what Jesus does. First, Jesus drives out the money-changers. This action invokes Zechariah’s eschatological prophecy of the eschatological temple: “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day” (Zech 14:21). At the same time, by citing a prophecy concerning destruction while performing an action in the temple Jesus also would have clearly reminded those present of Jeremiah, who likewise combined an oracle of judgment with a prophetic sign performed within the temple.[3] That the Gospel writers themselves understood that Jesus’ action evoked oracles of doom may be evidenced by the fact that the Greek term used for Jesus’ action of “overturning” the tables, καταστρέφω, is frequently linked with God’s calamitous punishment of the wicked and destruction in the LXX.[4]

The episode suggests that while Jesus was motivated by hopes concerning the eschatological temple one thing was also clear: the Herodian temple was not it. It would be destroyed because, like the temple of Jeremiah’s day, it had become a den of thieves. Jesus was clearly aware of the prophecies concerning the importance of the temple in the eschatological age, but he made it clear―the Herodian temple did not measure up to the description of the eschatological temple.

But is the story historical? To that issue we turn in the next installment.

[1] Neh 1:9 (cf. Deut 12:10-11); Ps 65; Jer 33:11; Ezek 37:21-27; Amos 9:11-15; Tob. 14:5-7; Sir 36:11-14; 2 Macc 1:27-29; 14:5-7; 4Q448 A 8-10; 4Q504 1-2 vi 9-13; 11QTemple 18:14-16; 57:1-6; 2 Bar. 68:4-7; T. Ben. 9:2-3; Jub 1:15-18; Tg. Isa. 53:15; Tg. Zech 6:12; Gen. Rab. 2:5; 56:2; Exod. Rab. 31:10. See also texts which link the eschatological age to the building of a new temple, e.g., 1 Enoch 91:13; Jub 1:15-17; T Ben. 9:2. For further discussion, see Lawrence Schiffman, “Restoration in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish and Christian Perspectives (J. M. Scott, ed.; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 212-221; Craig Evans, “Opposition to the Temple: Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls (James H. Charlesworth, ed.; ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1992), 245-246; E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 82-85. Still also, the Psalms of Solomon anticipate an eschatological Davidide, who will cleanse Jerusalem and re-gather God’s people (Pss Sol 17:25). The same hope is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, see 4Q174 1:2-7; 1QS 5:1-7; 6:2-5; 8:4-10; 9:4-5; 4Q171: 3:11; 1QM 2:1-6; 4QpPs 37 3:11; cf. 11QTemple.
[2] While the Qumranites condemned the wickedness of the priesthood and the Temple-cult as it was practiced (cf. CD 1:3; 3: 8-9, 18; 6: 11-21; 20:23; 4Q390 2 I, 1-12; 1Q22 1:8-10; 4Q390 1; 1QpHab 1:13; 8:9; 9:9; 12:8-9; 4QpNah 1:11), the divine institution of Temple worship itself is never called into question.
[3] See Jeremiah 27:1-28:17 where the prophet makes and wears yokes to symbolize the way Babylon will come to conquer Jerusalem (Jer 27:1-28:17). It is clear that the prophet performs this action within the temple: “Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord” (Jer 28:5).
[4] See Emilio G. Chávez, The Theological Significance of Jesus’ Temple Action in Mark’s Gospel (TST 87; Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002). 139, who cites the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:25) and other threats of divine judgment (cf. e.g., Deut 29:22; Isa 13:19; Jer 20:16; 27:40). Chávez points out a number of especially suggestive potential parallels. Two especially stand out. In Judges 8:17 it refers to the destruction of a tower―an image picked up in the story of vineyard (Mark 12:1 and par.), in which the image may be seen as representing the temple (see the discussion below). In Job 9:5 it refers to God’s act of removing mountains, an image which is echoed in the saying found in the episode of Jesus’ cursing of the fig in Matthew 21:21 and Mark 11:23.