North American parochialism
I’m about one third of the way through Scot McKnight’s Jesus and His Death and will have a review posted next week. It’s an ambitious work and covers a lot of ground. For now I only want to call attention to a remark made in the book about North American parochialism, especially in light of yesterday’s blogpost. McKnight writes:
“My reading of scholarship reveals a disappointing parochialism. North American scholarship, especially in its more recent skeptical orientation, has almost completely avoided the discussion of Jesus’ understanding of his death...U.K. scholarship has tended to focus on Jesus as a representative of a figure in Israel’s scriptures, or even of Israel itself, in both his ministry and death... Perhaps American scholarship’s tendency to search for its own identity since the days of European dialectical theology has led its academy to fashion its own approach to questions about Jesus. At any rate, Jesus’ perception of his death is worthy of renewed consideration.” (Jesus and His Death, p 74)
McKnight’s association of North American scholarship with skepticism is the opposite of Akenson, who chides us for being too credulous. But we're skeptical and credulous about different things. U.S. and Canadian scholarship has attached too much value to phantom and late unorthodox sources (Akenson), while dismissing certain ideas from the New Testament likely traceable to Jesus (McKnight). Dale Allison should be cited here:
“Eschatology, Christology, and soteriology are among the things that Christian fundamentalists hold dearest. Is detaching these things from Jesus [an aggressive agenda on the North American continent] encouraged by a personal dislike of conservative religion?...It is a reasonable surmise that Jesus, at least near the end, envisaged his death and gave some meaning to it.” (Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, p 65)
Exactly. And I am quite pleased to see McKnight backing Allison’s overlooked dissertation, The End of the Ages Has Come, which defends what is stated above: that Jesus saw his death as the start of the tribulation period; that he died -- as Schweitzer insisted a century ago -- to force God’s hand.
UPDATE: Jim West responds:
Has modern American scholarship really become so dissimilar to and distinct from its European cousins (except in some quarters) that it really is doing its own thing and seeking its own way? In my estimation, Historical Jesus scholars in the US do not follow some sort of idiosyncratic, isolated approach in historical Jesus research; rather, most Historical Jesus scholars known to me do their dead level best to check their preconceptions at the door (as best as anyone can, to be sure), just like their European colleagues.
First of all, if Jim thinks scholars like Crossan, Borg, Mack, and Patterson “do their dead level best to check their preconceptions at the door”, he needs to think again. But with regards to parochialism, McKnight is addressing a specific part of the historical-Jesus equation, namely the prophet’s understanding of his death. And there’s simply no question that it is U.K. and European scholars who have been largely receptive to exploring this question, whether in terms of Isaiah’s suffering servant, the Danielic Son of Man, or some combination thereof.
Remarkably, we can know absolutely nothing about the inner workings of Jesus' mind in terms of the significance of his own death. What we have in the New Testament is the Church's meditation on the subject, not a word from Jesus of Nazareth about the matter.
Needless to say, I think Bultmann’s position is a cop-out. No one is trying to put Jesus on the psychiatrist’s couch, only deduce a general mindset based on what we know about prophets and millennial beliefs in ancient Judaism. We have, I believe, more than “a word” from Jesus about the matter. This is precisely the kind of skepticism we need to shed. (Though I somehow doubt that McKnight had Bultmannian skeptics in his sights. Jim seems to be the last of a dying breed here -- though I’m sure he’ll take that as a compliment.)