Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 7 - Responses to Johnson and Dunn's Essay

I got side tracked with all the new books coming in but I'm glad to get back to this review. This post will include just a short summary of the responses to the essay by Luke Timothy Johnson and a summary of the essay by James D. G. Dunn.

Responses to Luke Timothy Johnson

By now we should be aware that Price objects to Johnson’s essay at its most basic level. He doubts Johnson’s initial “facts” about Jesus and simply reasserts that “Jesus is an offshoot of an ancient version of Yahve depicted along the lines of Baal, Osiris, Dionysus or Attis.” (179) Price appreciates what Johnson says regarding the problems in historical methodology but thinks that when all is said and done what is left simply amounts to little more than “the sheer will to believe” and he doubts “if one has the right to make such a leap.” (180) Crossan thinks Johnson should not only recognize the limits of history but also the limits of theology. He asks, “Have historians caused more havoc by getting Jesus wrong than theologians have by getting Christ wrong?” (183) Dunn believes that Johnson is unnecessarily critical of source criticism. Since Johnson wants to focus on the Gospels as we have them he doesn’t see the need to probe behind them in search for “authentic sayings.” But Dunn thinks this restricts us “to a time forty and more years after Jesus’ own mission.” (190)

Remembering Jesus – The Essay by James D. G. Dunn

Dunn is a prolific scholar and his book Jesus Remembered is tour de force for anyone studying the historical Jesus. Dunn says that in the course of his research he became dissatisfied with three key methodological presuppositions. In light of that his essay proposes three “protests” along with three “proposals” as a better way to approach the study of the historical Jesus. Dunn’s first protest is against the notion that the “‘Christ of faith’ is a perversion of ‘the historical Jesus.’ . . . The assumption was that the real Jesus must have been different from the Christ of faith.” (200) But this is an unnecessary assumption. Dunn maintains in his first proposal that it is clear that Jesus made an impact on his disciples “in and through his mission.” The result of this impact can be seen in the Jesus tradition. Like it or not the primary sources of information we have on Jesus are the Gospels and “we cannot realistically expect to find a Jesus different from the Jesus of the Jesus tradition.” (206)

Dunn’s second protest is against the prevailing attitude to view the “Jesus tradition in literary terms.” The answer to this is in his second proposal—namely, to give increased attention and appreciation for the oral phase of the Jesus tradition. Dunn shows how the literacy level of those in Palestine at the time of Jesus would have been less than 10 percent. From this and other factors he says we have to “assume, therefore, that the great majority of Jesus’ first disciples would have been functionally illiterate.” (211) Dunn’s discussion of the oral phase of the tradition is partly indebted to Kenneth Bailey. Given the nature of this oral phase Dunn believes we shouldn’t look for anything like an “original version” of any particular story. (215)

Dunn’s third protest is similar to his first. He says the quest is wrong in trying to find a Jesus “who was distinctive or different from his environment.” (216) This assumption has “in part been a sad corollary to Christianity’s long and disgraceful history of anti-Semitism.” (217) Dunn’s proposal to this is that “we should look first of all for the Jewish Jesus rather than the non-Jewish Jesus.” (219) He points to the work of those like E. P. Sanders, James Charlesworth and N. T. Wright as luminaries in this effort. Instead of looking for something distinctive we should be looking for what is characteristic about Jesus. In this, he says, we have better guides in Birger Gerhardsson and David Aune rather than the “more prominent members of the Jesus Seminar.” (221)

What does this characteristic approach of Jesus produce? “A Galilean Jesus who called Israel to repentance and disciples to faith, one through whose ministry the blessings of God’s final reign were experienced, one who has heard as speaking for God and with the authority of God, and one who antagonized the priestly authorities and was crucified by the Romans.” (223) This is Jesus remembered.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Scholars" who "assume" "historical Jesus" based on post-135 C.E. Hellenist Roman (Greek) source documents of the 4th century shouldn't be shocked that they describe the 4th-century Roman image--which Oxford historian James Parkes well documents in his seminal work, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue.

Before speaking of the 1st-century historical Pharisee Ribi, learn about 1st-century Pharisees described in 1st-century Judaic literature, esp. Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT. Acquaint yourself with historical--Judaic--1st-century historical Pharisee Ribi at before attempting to discuss "historical Jesus." You'll discover that's an oxymoron!