September 29, 2009
Multi-View Jesus Remixed
As I promised last week, here is a redacted conversation between our questers (Price, Crossan, Johnson, Dunn and Bock)of The Historical Jesus: Five Views, which is due to be published soon. Modern conventions of authenticity make me reluctant to exercise a freer editorial hand. But think of it as a sort of trailer for the book.
Price: I will argue that it is quite likely there never was any historical Jesus.
Dunn: Gosh! So there are still serious scholars who put forward the view that the whole account of Jesus’ doings and teachings are a later myth foisted on an unknown, obscure historical figure.
Price: Bultmann, despite his disdain for the Christ-Myth theory, came perilously near to it when he argued that we know the Das of Jesus but not the Was. Maybe the Was was a myth, not a man. For if we are that short on historical content, it begins to look as if there never was any.
Bock: As Price himself notes, his position is the most controversial of the options presented about Jesus. If his position is correct, then an incredible amount of effort has been expended throughout the centuries to understand a figure who should be relegated to the realm of myth alone.
Crossan: The historical Jesus was a Galilean Jew within Judaism within the Roman Empire… . My own analysis begins with Jesus’ message of God’s eschatological kingdom as already present, that is, of God’s Great Clean-Up of the World as already underway—but only insofar as it involves an interactive collaboration between divine challenge and human response.
Price: Can we picture Herod even understanding (I’m not sure I do) what some guy organizing a soup kitchen for lepers has to do with hopes of overthrowing Roman and Herodian rule?
Johnson: Although properly executed historical study can yield significant results—a set of highly probably facts concerning Jesus and a rich context for reading the Gospels more responsibly—history also has severe intrinsic limitations that are exacerbated in the case of Jesus.
Bock: What history can do is trace the impact of such belief and raise the question of why so many have come to embrace the belief that Jesus was more than a mere mortal.
Crossan: John had a monopoly but Jesus had a franchise.
Bock: I do not see quite the distance between John the Baptist and Jesus that Crossan does.
Dunn: A curious element of Crossan’s presentation is his contrast between the Baptist as exercising a monopoly whereas Jesus exercised a franchise. I confess I don’t really understand the contrast.
Johnson: Although the canonical Gospels are problematic as sources for historical reconstruction, they are excellent witnesses to the humanity of Jesus precisely in the way the respective narratives diverge in their portrayal of Jesus and the disciples yet converge on the question of Jesus’ human character and the nature of discipleship.
Price (of Crossan): His authentic Jesus sayings float like the last leaves of autumn on the surface of a rain pool. There is more water between them, holding them up, than there is of them. And Crossan begins stirring up the water in the puddle. When he likes the emerging Rorschach pattern, he takes a snap shot, and that is the “historical rain puddle.
Bock: Can the lion and the lamb lie together? For many people, the idea of an evangelical engaging in a historical Jesus discussion is an oxymoron.”
Price: Some will automatically assume I am doing apologetics on behalf of “village atheism,” as some do. For what it may be worth, let me note that I began the study of the historical Jesus question as an enthusiastic would-be apologist.
Well, the sources are historical even if the actual dialogue (or whatever you call it) is not. But it gives you a little flavor of some of the interaction you’ll find in the book. There is a lot of serious argument and response, spiced with wit (often enough by Price). A notable feature is that the book opens with a substantial introduction to the historical Jesus quest (over 40 pages) by the editors.
All in all this is a great supplementary textbook and an informative (and sometimes amusing) read for those interested in this ongoing intellectual saga.