Joel L. Watts: Did God Kill Jesus? <-- My article on @HuffPostReligon

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Joel L. Watts: Did God Kill Jesus?.

Remember, it could only be a 1000 words and no more. I would love to explore at some point a more theological notion of Mark’s literary sources.

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26 Replies to “Joel L. Watts: Did God Kill Jesus? <-- My article on @HuffPostReligon”

  1. Couple questions:

    “I stand with other scholars who would see in the narrative of Jesus a mythologized account of Israel. We know Matthew did. After all, he gave a certain rhyme pulled from the Jewish sacred writings to Mark’s reasonings (assuming Matthew used Mark because there is no Q). Mark was written during a time of severe crisis — following the end of the Jewish Revolt and the subsequent destruction of the Temple, when it appeared God had forsaken Israel.”

    Wouldn’t the resurrection have shown the God didn’t forsaken Jesus?


    “Instead, we must understand the Gospels as ancient biographies, stories more interested in truth than fact.”

    So is there no connections with actual events and the story the author of Mark is telling? Is is your opinion that the author of Mark is saying that, “Hey, Jesus life is much like the history of Israel!” and then goes on to interpret parts of Jesus life in a way to make a certain point. Or is most of it made up?

    Also, why would the destruction of the temple cause great turmoil for the Christians?

    If you discuss these things in your book, let me know and I will look there.
    thanks again for your time and the ministry you do.

    1. Nate – I was wondering/hoping someone would get to that about the Resurrection. See, that’s the thing – Mark makes you answer the question. He presents everything in the trial. You have to decide…

      Didn’t say no connections existed – just that no connects need exist. There is also the matter of contextualization. Made up is our term, btw.

      There were no Christians as of yet, not really. Sure, Jews who believed in Jesus. A Jesus who was supposed to return when the world ended and didn’t.

      I did discuss most of this in the book!!!

      And thanks for the questions – and for being the first person I’ve seen today give the Resurrection as the answer. Amen and amen!!!!

      1. The question is, then, who/what is Israel. If you take Luke and Paul’s version (and mine), Israel is those who believe. The “nation of Israel” was forsaken because they never believed, just as unbelieving gentiles are also forsaken.
        So it’s not actually “did God forsake Israel?” – because God never forsakes those who believe, Jesus died for them. God forsakes those who do not believe.

          1. I dont think so. There is the “Israel of God” and the nation of Israel. Jesus, in John 8, is quite clear about that. Luke is quite clear about that in chapt 4 when the Jews try to kill Jesus, and Paul is also quite clear, but none more so than Acts 13..

          2. Yes, but these are all written long after Mark, and longer after the death of Jesus, by reflective theological writers.

            Also, not sure I said forsaken, but abandoned. And, plus, this is about feeling this way.

          3. feeling eh? Saying “Israel felt abandoned” is a bit like saying “America hates Muslims” – sure, some might, but quite a few dont. Anyway…

            We dont base our theology on only the books that came first, because its not a progressive revelation, right? So what difference does it make which author said it? As long as they said it, its true. I think James Dunn has a point..

          4. Geoff – we write to the times.

            I tend to disagree with you on the last paragraph. Further, I think it misses the point. There is the our theology of the Church and then there is the theology of the individual books/authors even redactors (although this tends to be a bit subjective).

          5. “Our theology of the Church” is a bit vague.. A lot of churches have different understandings on different things.. For example, a lot of churches disagree with my church’s most accurate understanding of conditional immortality.. And I suspect you are confusing “theology” with “message for my audience”. Or at least, I think you are talking about a “message for my audience”, and I am talking about “theology” (of the systematic biblical kind)

          6. I think you are just picking at the statements, Geoff.

            And no, I’m not confusing. Even Paul ends with a different theology than he began with. There is no such thing as systematic theology of the biblical kind, btw.

          7. I think you are just picking at the statements, Geoff.

            of course.. that’s what we do isn’t it?

            And no, I’m not confusing. Even Paul ends with a different theology than he began with. There is no such thing as systematic theology of the biblical kind, btw.

            Hmm.. I once wrote a paper called “Torah or Not Torah – Jesus, Paul and the end of the Law” – I dont recall ever finding that Paul ended with a different theology than he began with. Dont recall ever reading anyone else (apart from you) saying it either – but then again.. I’m not an expert.

            Of course there is a systematic theology of the biblical kind… or there is no theology…

          8. Geoff, if you haven’t read where Paul progresses his own theology, I worry!

            As Dunn said, there are theologies, but not a theology.

          9. don’ t worry about me.. 😛

            Having “theologies” is a “theology”. But you can not have theology or theologies unless you systematise them. And they have to be biblical or they are not Christian theology(ies).
            Besides, you dont go to university to study “philosophies” – you study philosophy..

  2. Hi Joel.

    I wonder, given your history of posting items relating to Rene Girard, if his thinking has permeated your consideration when it comes to “who killed Jesus”. Your comment that “no-one killed Jesus” seems to suggest that RG (scapegoating, violent contagion) has not made it’s way into your consideration. However, I might be wrong – if by “no-one” you mean “everyone”?

    There is a reason to make this connection. As you might be aware, when it comes to the contagion of scapegoat violence, the entire crowd/mob get’s caught up in the act, as though by force outside their own control. When the act of killing is over, it can be almost impossible to identify “who” was responsible. In fact, the process of trying to identify an individual the culprit runs the risk of repeating the whole violent episode over again (punishing the “guilty” party) which is exactly what later Christendom tried to do by blaming “the Jewish” and, it seems Mr Starr is trying to do the same thing also!

    The fact is – Jesus (after his Resurrection) never singles out an opponent or a guilty party responsible for his death! This should be the sign to us that Jesus is not interested in the blame game, and neither were the writers who described this “event”. If they (the writers) were interested in identifying the guilty killers and proposing any kind of justice or retribution they had plenty of opportunity to put accusatory words in Jesus’ mouth! However, instead they implicated everyone in the killing. The political elite, the religious leaders, the laypeople, even Jesus’ closest allies and followers are implicated. As Rene Girard explains, these stories show us what is really going on with sacrificial/scapegoating violence – everyone is in on the act – and yet, in spite of that Jesus still chose (i the Gospels at least*) not to go on a violent rampage of revenge after his resurrection.

    * The place we see a hint of this “justice” is in the revelation , but he seems to save his wrath for the powers that have their hold over humanity.

    1. Phil, all good points. But, let me throw this at you.

      We are talking about killing, as in murdering, as in crime.

      Think of it this way – in suicide by cop (this is when someone does his/her level best to get killed by police officers as a sort of martyrdom) who is killed who?

      If said suicide was even on the side of the right and implemented many, would the cops who pulled the trigger be guilty of pulling the trigger?

      1. “We are talking about killing, as in murdering, as in crime.”

        I disagree. The Gospels do not paint the death as a crime. The accounts are at pains to point out that it was state sanctioned, and state executed – with the complicit support of large portions of the present populace. That’s not a”criminal”. It might be immoral, but it’s not criminal.

        Was there a miscarriage of justice though? In the legal sense of the day, NO. There is no repudiation from Rome. In fact the Roman state was within it’s legal rights to execute pretty much any non-roman citizen they liked.

        What I think the Gospels are saying, is that there was a miscarriage of morality. It was wrong that Jesus was killed, but no-body at the time seemed to mind, and in fact, almost everyone seems to have been pretty keen on it happening.

        1. Phil,

          You misunderstand my point about killing. I am employing the sense in which is applied to day in the question of Who Killed Jesus?

          We have to separate the historical Jesus from the gospel Jesus. Why did the historical Jesus die? Aren’t the Gospels really an interpretation of the historical Jesus, and more so, the collective memory and need for a memory of the historical Jesus?

          If we are to seek to ask who actually killed Jesus, then of course it is the Romans, but who in the ultimate sense?

          1. We have to separate the historical Jesus from the gospel Jesus. – of course. And I’m not talking about the “historical” Jesus – I’m not qualified to pass judgement about what parts of the gospel (I include John in this) stories are historical and what is not – and I’m not convinced that historians have come up with a convincing conclusion to this “quest” either! I’m looking at the literary characters presented in the text, just like I would any other book. I’m talking about the Jesus of the story.

            Do the stories place blame? Yes, in the sense that Rene Girard describes, if there is a scapegoating mechanism at play. It places “blame” on everybody – in the same way that scapegoats have been blamed by everybody since the dawn of literary culture. But the gospels don’t isolate any individuals, and neither does the resurrected Jesus.

            Why am I prepared to rely on Girard? Because (oddly, but reasonably) he is a literary critic, and not a historian. He approaches the story and criticises it on its merits in view of other literature. RG is not a historian, and therefore he doesn’t have to make calls about what’s historical and what’s not in order to evaluate the characters/ plots involved. This also means he doesn’t use his interpretation to drive his decisions about what is, and what is not historical, something the historian does have to be aware of!

            If you’re really asking who killed the historical (TM) Jesus?
            Then: I don’t have a clue.

          2. I understand that, Phil, especially the Girard part. But, what story are we talking about Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, or even Paul?

            As I would start with Mark, I think he has some semblance to the Historical Jesus in a few areas, although I admit this is often a trap.

            Remember, we do not have the resurrected Jesus in Mark. If anything, the only thing we have is Jesus saying as he does in 10.45, Me. I am doing this. Not, like John, God is sending me to do this.

            I would disagree with your allowance that Girard doesn’t use interpretation as opposed to the historian, but I understand your point.

      2. In addition, I don’t think the suicide-by-cop analogy is apt. It suggests the following:
        1. The killed person had a death wish
        2. The person doing the killing was provoked beyond their ability to peacefully respond (i.e. had no other options)
        3. The killer was acting to preserve the safety of others

        If the answer to the question of “who” is “God” then even under a substitutionary atonement model (which I reject) we can only satisfy one (number 3) of the above requirements.
        If the answer is “Rome” then we cant really satisfy any, neither if the killers are the religious establishment.

        A more appropriate analogy is the person who willingly and non-violently steps into a fight in order to show how ridiculous the fight is, and gets set upon by the two sides and is killed, thus demonstrating conclusively how entirely stupid the fight was in the first place.

        1. 1.) This is exactly what I mean. Jesus intended to be put to death.
          2.) He provoked Rome and the Jewish leaders who sought to keep the fragile peace with Rome.
          3.) Exactly – as evidenced by 10.45 (and I post I have coming up shortly)

          I reject PSA because it doesn’t fit. However, we are talking about historical facts and not theology.

          If Jesus saw the need for a sacrifice, he could very well have initiative the fires of the altar, so to speak. And there was a need. The last social bandit had died near the birth of Jesus (a certain Judas). In c.26, Pilate had started to harass the Jews and tempt them into a fight. It may be that Jesus wanted to be the scapegoat for a variety of reasons, so he sought to offer himself up to protect his people and to cause God to act.

          Btw – all great points. Love this covo.

          1. “However, we are talking about historical facts and not theology”
            – well, no we aren’t, at least I’m not (and I think that as soon we you start . I’m not talking about EITHER history, nor theology. I’m talking about the characters and the plot in the stories. When we try to extract out the “historical” bit we wind up doing what you did in your comment above (“It may be that Jesus wanted to be the scapegoat for a variety of reasons, so he sought to offer himself up to protect his people and to cause God to act”) – we have to add in these layers or details to the story that are not represented in order to make some kind of historically consistent (or interpreter friendly consistent) situation. The Jesus of the stories does not attempt to force God’s hand. So, when “historians” get involved, they end up having to add lots of details of their own to make the “historical” story fit – exactly what they refuse to allow the Gospel writers to do.

            1. So, can we clearly identify, in the story a Jesus who intends to be put to death? In the absence of any definition of “intent” I think we are stretching the use of the word when we apply it to our situation, especially when we invoke other terms such as suicide to bolster our case. The Jesus in the text can be shown to be reluctant and highly stressed about the prospect of his own death – sweating blood is a pretty vivid literary description of this. Yes, he is aware of death’s likelihood and even its imminence, perhaps it’s unavoidably – but that’s not a death wish, nor is it suicide!

            2. Yes, Jesus was provocative, he challenged certain people on certain things, but does he deliberately provoke them to kill him? If he was trying to provoke Rome, his famous comment about taxes was a major blunder! If it was the case that his enemies felt provoked, why in the story does the character of Pilate ask whether or not Jesus has committed crimes? Why does he not respond to their “accusations” (either to defend himself or to admit guilt) but only respond to the one question the writer feels he must answer?

            3. I think Mark 10:45 is largely misunderstood. It’s being read through the eyes of Origen. I would recommend Mark S Heim’s book: where the cross over from story to theology is made in more detail. Ransom theory can be reclaimed I think, but not in the way that most people formulate it.

          2. The Jesus of the stories does not attempt to force God’s hand. – That’s where I would disagree. I think there is a motivated desire to see God act and it is prevalent in Mark.

            As much as you are dismissing historians, you are inserting in their place Girard, which in most cases, I don’t mind. I like the Scapegoat theory/theology, but in trying to get past theology and interpretative stories, I am trying to dig into what the Gospel presents us about the historical Jesus. Further, I think that even if we do pin the blame, so to speak, on Jesus, we can understand it through the lens of Jesus-is-Israel and still (somewhat) satisfy the Girard.

            1.) You mention the sweating of blood. This is Luke’s version, not Mark’s. Luke is an interpretation and expansion of the story begun by Matthew and Mark. Again, I have purposely limited to Mark and to what Mark can tell us about the Historical Jesus.

            2.) Provoking is a bit different in concept.

            3.) Again, you turn to Girard. BTW, I did a post this a.m. on Mark 10.45.

  3. Hi Joel, I needed to start a new comment because I no loner have the “reply” button.

    I’m not dismissing historians in a negative sense. I’m not discussing history – which I think is what you are doing. I’m discussing the gospels as stories. So I can ignore the work of historians for that purpose.

    I wouldn’t turn to historians to understand Iago in Othello either, not beyond their ability to shed light on the historical circumstances surrounding the setting and the author.

    Rene Girard has an excellent interpretive lense for reviewing “stories” from the ancient religious world. They don’t have to be historical. This is why I’m not “replacing” historians with Girard. I’m not making a call about historicity.

    So, if you’re asking who killed the historical Jesus, then the Girardian framework is probably of little use.

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