Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘Gospel Criticism’ Category

March 11th, 2016 by Joel Watts

In the mail, @FortressPress, “Telling Tales about Jesus: An Introduction to the New Testament Gospels”

A new book by Warren Carter? Yes, please.

Warren Carter leads the beginning student in an inductive exploration of the New Testament Gospels, asking about their genre, the view that they were written by eyewitnesses, the early church traditions about them, and how they employ Hellenistic biography. He examines the distinctive voice of each Gospel, describing the “tale about Jesus” each writer tells, then presenting likely views regarding the circumstances in which they were written, giving particular attention to often overlooked aspects of the Roman imperial setting. A sociohistorical approach suggests that Mark addressed difficult circumstances in imperial Rome; redaction criticism shows that Matthew edited traditions to help define identity in competition with synagogue communities in response to a fresh assertion of Roman power; a literary – thematic approach shows that Luke offers assurance in a context of uncertainty; an intertextual approach shows how John used Wisdom traditions to present Jesus as the definitive revealLer of God’s presence to answer an ancient quest for divine knowledge. A concluding chapter addresses how the Gospels inform and shape our understanding of Jesus of Nazareth.

August 4th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Dammit Bultmann! Stop rationalizing the miracles! The Bread, Loaves, and Myth

the-officeRudolf Bultmann, the father of demythologization, urged people to get behind the text. On that, I agree. I also agree that sometimes the superstition of the age, or the need to see things in a miraculous way, can be passed down in an oral society much easier than it can today. But, I don’t think that is what is happening with the story of the fishes and the loaves.

At this point, I do not care if the event(s) actually happened. I don’t think that we can determine if Jesus set on a hilltop and fed even a single person, much less test the validity of the miracle. But, this doesn’t stop people from placing this story into two interpretative categories. One, it happened as the Gospels say it did. Twice. Or, we can demythologize it and suggest the real miracle is that people shared what they had. Perhaps, as the demyth camp suggests, this event tells us that when the one lone boy shared his meal, then the hearts of the others were opened.

Personally, I find it easier to believe that Jesus actually fed 5000 (Mark 6.30-44) and 4000 (mark 8.1-10) people via a miracle than it is to believe that the story is actually a mythologized account of a communal sharing of a meal because of the heart of a small child.

Rather, this section of Mark, as Adam Winn has established, is based on the Elijah-Elisha narratives. You cannot — you should not — read Mark without reading 2 Kings several dozen times.

Let me give you an alternative to the dichotomy of the “it happened” camp.

Mark is using two feeding stories to show that 1.) Jesus is greater than Elijah-Elisha and 2.) Jesus’ bread is better than the Pharisees. If you’ll turn to 2 Kings 4, there are 2 feeding stories there.

2 Kings 4.1-7 is about the plentiful oil Elisha grants the widow.
2 Kings 4.38-44 details the story of Elisha recognizing the poisoned stew, fixes it with yeast or flour. Then, it feeds more than expected.

In Mark 8.14-21, the disciples are hungry and ask for bread. Look at the answer Jesus gives them. Not only does he compare the bread he has with those of the Herodians and the Pharisees but he then calls attention to the number of baskets, as if they were a sign!

If you seek to rationalize the miracle you will miss the theological significance of them. They are crafted in such a way as to put Jesus into a particular place in the story — not only Mark’s story, but Israel’s story as well. Jesus assumes the Elijah-Elisha mantle, does it better, and then does it in such a way as to counter the opposing religious viewpoints.

Stop rationalizing, accepting, or rejecting the miracles. Understand how they fit into the story.

July 27th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Proverbs 22 as the Mimetic Precursor to Matthew 10 (Also, Luke used Matthew and Mark)

The Two Source hypothesis solution to the Syno...

I’d like you to compare, for a moment, Matthew 10 and Proverbs 22 (see it in the LXX here). Not, especially Matthew 10.18 and Proverbs 22.29.

A man who is skillful in his work, you shall see:
    before kings, he will serve;
    he will not serve before the commoners. (Proverbs 22.29)

And you will be brought before both governors and kings because of me, for a witness to them and to the Gentiles. (Matthew 10.18)

I can turn to Mark 13.9 as the literary precursor — as if often the case with Matthew who uses Mark as his primary Gospel source. But, I think the whole of Matthew 10 is pulling from something more here — or at least using something like Proverbs to expand Mark 13.9. I think Matthew 10 is looking at Proverbs 22 and giving it the mimetic wink.

Matthew only has this idea about standing before kings and rules/governors once, here at 10.18 — just like Mark does. Once — at Mark 13.9.1

Luke, on the other hand, has it twice.

Luke 12.11 mirrors Matthew 10.18, in placement of context. But, Luke 21.12 mirrors Mark 13.9 — a mirror absent in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24.

I think if you compare Proverbs 22 and Matthew 10, you’ll note a general overlay of concepts and points. I’d encourage you to do so.

I’m busy writing a review, but this stuff interests me too much to not document this.

  1. It is possible Mark used Proverbs 22.29, but that is another analysis much deeper than this one.
September 1st, 2014 by Joel Watts

science approaches the way memory changes

Jesus in the Gospels

Jesus in the Gospels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Memory research is interesting exactly because of the way we remember things – even the way we remember the remembrances of the Gospels. I believe that such science can help us even in understanding how the Gospels shaped the early memory of Jesus and were themselves shaped by the early memory of Jesus.

Some aspects of the memory can endure a long time, while others are more fickle. “The memory of a romantic first meal out with a partner may take on a different mood when the relationship falters,” said Tomonori Takeuchi and Richard Morris at the University of Edinburgh, in an article accompanying the study. “In these cases, memory of the place remains accurate, but the positive associations with that place are lost.”

In short, I believe the monumental act of the written Gospel forever changed the historical memory of Jesus, even among those who may have actually known him (although by this time, it would have been very few).

May 8th, 2014 by Joel Watts

on John’s use of Mark – the thrice prediction


Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found this old post of James McGrath about the prediction of Jesus’s death. I guess I found it like Columbus discovered America. Amma right?

Anyway, we know that in Mark, Jesus predicts his death 3 times:

  • Mark 8.31-33
  • Mark 9.30-32
  • Mark 10.32-34

The most obvious prediction in John is at John 12.20-36.

But, I think we are missing the connection between Mark and John at this point. John has three predictions, like Mark, of Jesus’s death.

  • John 7.34
  • John 8.22
  • John 13.33

I have previously covered where the 7 signs came from.

Anyway, just a thought.

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