Thursday, October 22, 2009

recognizing Jesus

Despite all the rancor that accompanies NT scholarship, we do all agree (for the most part) on a few things. Two of those things, I think, regard the earliest Christians' perception and interpretation of Jesus:
  • First, the dominant perspective among Jesus' earliest followers insisted on identifying and contextualizing Jesus within the traditions preserved in the texts of the Hebrew Bible (loosely understood). Some may have tried to distance Jesus from Israel's sacred traditions, but these were decidedly in the minority.

  • Second, identifying Jesus in light of Israel's sacred traditions experienced a pivotal moment at Easter. The gospels are explicit here: The resurrected Jesus "opens the eyes" of his followers and shows them that everything that happened to him had to happen in order to fulfill what was written in the Law and the Prophets. This theme is widespread (see, for example, both Luke and John).

With respect to this second point, scholars generally suspect that the activities involved in connecting Jesus and Hebrew biblical traditions was more robust than the gospels let on. But this point goes beyond the consensus of the second point, so I list it separately.

I'm currently reading Craig Koester's The Word of Life: A Theology of John's Gospel (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008). As I read the following, I didn't really disagree with these comments so much as I thought they were a bit too imprecise. Let me know what you think.
The post-resurrection perspective also enables the evangelist to make connections with the Old Testament that were not evident during his ministry." (11)

John, of course, is explicit here; Jesus said and did things (and had things done to him) that his followers only later remembered in light of prophetic utterances (see the use of μιμνῄσκομαι [mimnēskomai; "I remember"] at John 2.17, 22; 12.16). Again, it would be too strong to say I disagree with Koester's point here.

But I can't help but think that we need to balance this point with a rigorous understanding that Jesus ministry itself (not simply the memory of his ministry) was perceived within a symbolic universe whose features were largely determined and set in place by Israelite sacred tradition. Indeed, at this time one of the major projects still underway (and about to get worse, given the war of 66–79 CE) was how that symbolic universe could account for and make sense of the Hellenization of the whole world and then Rome's domination over it. That Jesus and his followers (as well as John and his followers) were defined by Torah and engaged in navigating the Roman empire while maintaining faith in Torah does not mean that they would have been indistinguishable from other Jews. How Jesus, John, and their followers answered questions raised by Torah and Rome often differed significantly, but the questions with which the early Christians wrestled were largely the same questions that Jews across the Mediterranean world had to address.

In this light, Jesus' resurrection certainly resulted in a shift in the connections between Israel's sacred traditions and Jesus' life and ministry. What didn't change, of course, was the role of Hebrew biblical traditions in defining the world in which Jesus had to make sense.

No comments:

My Visual Bookshelf