Tuesday, July 07, 2009

This will be messy ...

He walked on stage with only a well-worn New Testament, presumably the one with Greek and the RSV on facing pages. Oh, no, it was thinner than that one, but when he read aloud, he wasn't translating the Greek on the fly, so maybe he had only the RSV text in some out-of-print edition. I just know his words were a little off of the NRSV in my lap. Maybe I'll get a better look tomorrow.

But, in other words, he had no notes. No notes at all. He lectured from the top of his head, or rather, he had his entire three-hour lecture in his head. He spoke for three hours but I can only remember about one third of it. If that.

He did distribute a packet of material that I'm supposed to go over tonight. I hope I get to it. He urged us to read the Gospel accounts of Jesus' baptism, "because you are ignorant of it. You are. You never read it because you say you know it already. Read it carefully and see what details you can detect. Because the devil's in the details."

Yes. I know what he's talking about.

The first part of his lecture was about the "descent" of biblical scholarship into almost total skepticism. He blames this entirely on German Lutherans. It wasn't all bad intentions: the ecumenical movement sought to resolve divisions across the Western church by getting to the roots of theology, thinking that a fundamental familiarity with the biblical text would erase theological differences.

He said that the first victim of rationalism was John's Gospel. It could not be trusted for historical information. The laws of nature were being formulated at this time and anything supernatural could not be considered historical.

It was noticed in 1835 that the order of the pericope in Matthew is identical with the order in Luke only when they both repeat Mark. Since Mark was the shortest, it was considered the first and Matthew and Luke not independent. Further it was noticed that in Mark's account of the Feeding, the color of the grass is given, which given Israel's arid climate, fixes the date of the feeding sometime between March and late May. So Mark has the detail of an eyewitness and the other Synoptics don't. Another reason to favor Mark. But then it was noticed that Mark's theological development is still too high, his christology is still too developed, so neither could it be trusted as historically reliable.

This was the scholarly climate that he says he entered when he was ordained in 1960. Serious scholars didn't work on Jesus if they wanted to be taken seriously. The Gospel genre was all but discredited as an artifact with any historcity. One only found the Italians writing lives of Jesus that were simply works of piety (his name was mentioned by someone in the audience as an example and met with approval). He think he was looking to justify his reasons for turning to Pauline scholarship: he could no nothing else.

A theme he returned to a couple of times was the blessing war time was to European biblical scholarship, especially. Paper was scarce, so professors were relegated to reading the Biblewhile sitting in a tank or a trench instead of publishing their thoughts. And we got to literary form types, and like Grimm fairy tales, Gospel stories must have served some purpose to the community to have been remembered long enough to be written down. The form critics came up with this scenario that the Spirit-filled, post-Pascal community was very creative in solved their problems by putting solutions on the lips of Jesus. But the form critics underestimated the influence and control of the pre-Pascal community: eyewitnesses who weren't about to let go what they'd experienced firsthand but would protect it against any innovation. He quoted 1 Thess. 5:19-21: "Don't quench the Spirit ... test everything." Communities that accept prophecy have built-in safeguards against taking in false prophecy. And the test of the new material was the old material as remembered by the Apostles and disciples who knew Jesus.

He mentioned this recent book as a recognition of 1st century best common practice for recording history: it's the job of the historian to believe those worthy of belief and to be skeptical of secondhand reports. So, if this was the attitude in which the Gospels were written, then we should use this criteria and assume that there were written by eyewitnesses. Unless we have reason to believe otherwise.

And so, you are starting to see the "ascent," aren't you? Starting with Kaseman essentially. He had some critical words for The Jesus Seminar - Catholic scholars speak out against it any chance they get. He again pointed out that the descent was the fault of the German Lutherans, that Fr. LaGrange (oh, what a coincidence, a Dominican) voiced the traditional Catholic view through this period of the 20's and 30's, showing that Protestant German biblical scholars were biased, both religiously and philosophically. Consequently, Catholic biblical scholars never became the skeptics that Protestant biblical scholars did. But LaGrange's words fell on deaf ears because (1) he was French and (2) he was Catholic. "German don't read French. Neither do the English." But now, Protestants are beginning to say what Catholics have been saying in the 1920's. Kaseman insisted on the historical Jesus because without Jesus, the kerygma is floating like a myth. But Kaseman had no way to get rid of the skepticism. It was instead a German Catholic priest, Heinz Schürmann, who pointed out that the post-Pascal community answered to the pre-Pascal community, a community that listens to the stories about Jesus, not to be informed, but to be affirmed. And another contemporary scholar he mentioned was James Dunn and his book Jesus Remembered.

He got into how the fishermen Jesus called weren't dumb peasants but upper middle class entrepreneurs who really gave something up to follow Jesus. Since Peter is always called "Simon" (not "Simeon") and Andrew and Philip are Greek names without any Semitic form, it can be assumed that Greek was spoken at home. "If the children who live next door are called 'Marie Claude' and 'Jean Sebastian,' what language would you guess was spoken at home?" Right. He said that his only problem with N. T. is that "he never uses one word when ten will do. He's very verbose." But Wright is "well worth reading, very middle-of-the-road." He picked apart Meier's four volumes in about two minutes, especially affirmed Mary's perpetual virginity against Meier's conclusions, expressing that Meier's the second volume is the best and the third volume has nothing original. He said that Bart Ehrman and Luke Timothy Johnson are fine scholars but he tended to favor Johnson, probably because he's a Catholic.

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