Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Christ is the Question

The new book by Wayne Meeks, Christ is the Question, has some ringing endorsements, including one from Bart Ehrman:

"Witty, perceptive, learned, and wise, this is not just another book about the historical Jesus; it is a masterly reflection by a master scholar with four decades of scholarship behind him. For Wayne Meeks, the question of who Christ is cannot be resolved by post-enlightenment scientific historical investigation (the advent of which he sketches with verve and insight). For him, this historical Jesus is the Jesus who 'makes history', as he has been understood by his followers over the centuries and in our own day."
-- Bart D. Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina

"Written with Wayne Meeks's customary clarity and power, Christ is the Question will engage and benefit both the church and the academy-all who care about Jesus and about the way his image is used and misused in the world today."
-- Susan R. Garrett, Professor of New Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

"In this explosive book Wayne Meeks shows the way beyond both liberal and conservative readings of the New Testament. This book is an intervention that does what all truly important books do: it entirely changes the conversation."
-- Cyril O'Regan, Huisking Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Meeks apparently wants us to dispense with the historical quest, believing that Jesus is lost and unfixed to the extent that he can only be located as "a figure whose identity continues to emerge as contemporary persons engage him in their daily lives" (publisher's description). Meeks may find William Arnal to be an ally of sorts. In The Symbolic Jesus Arnal recently concluded that the search for the historical Jesus should be abandoned because the "symbolic Jesus" is what ultimately matters, even in historical research, whether or not people realize it. I'll have more to say about this after I read Christ is the Question, and I may review Meeks' book alongside Arnal's if there are enough commonalities for comparative purposes. I don't accept that the quest for the historical Jesus should be abandoned, even if Meeks and Arnal light on plenty of reasons to make us wonder if reasonable objectivity is attainable.


Blogger James Crossley said...

I wonder about statements relating to not being able to do the historical quest for Jesus. It would, by implication, have to apply to all history because it is frequently through reception that such things work. Historians do debate these things but even radical 'postmodernists' do (usually) say there are no such things as basic facts. I know Meeks thinks like this from another article so presumably he doesn't think studying the historical Jesus is very worthwhile? And facts are, after all - and sadly I would add - what much of historical Jesus study is about.

It would be interesting to see if those advocating the kinds of symbolic Jesuses (and I'm not being polemical here, just asking really) would do the same for Lenin, Marx or Churchill or for historical periods, e.g. French Revolution. Such things can be done and are done of course but should they be limited to such their symbolic import?

Just some general questions/thoughts. What do you reckon?

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Yes, I think a reasonable objectivity is possible in HJ studies, just as it is with the other figures you mention. It's only because Jesus has become an object of self-identification like none other that the task is so difficult. But more on this later, after I read Meeks. (BTW, in Arnal's case, he's not so much advocating a symbolic Jesus as highlighting the inevitability of one. He also thinks the historical Jesus is insignificant. So his position is different from Meeks in many ways.)

Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I don't understand why this is being hailed as a revolutionary book, a book that will entirely change "the conversation". From the description, it sounds like Meeks is repeating what Bultmann said many decades ago: it's not the Jesus of history that matters, but the Christ of faith.

I don't agree with Bultmann's position, but that's not the point here. How is this book expected to change the scholarly paradigm — or even add anything to what others have already said?

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

I don't understand why this is being hailed as a revolutionary book, a book that will entirely change "the conversation"...

It's not yet entirely clear to me either, though Meeks is no Bultmann. He's tackling the issue from some new angle. Stephen Carlson has written a review for the Expository Times, so perhaps he'll have something to say.

Blogger James Crossley said...

Blurbs are blurbs: I can't see people saying this book has nothing new to say and isn't worth buying!!

On Arnal that's of course right but the same issue arises I think: a move away from knowledge about the historical Jesus. And I think I agree that Jesus has been used like no other but then Lenin, Churchill, Stalin and Marx have been used widely and in weird 'symbolic' ways. My worry is that Jesus is singled out for different (and obvious) reasons. If the reasoning of Meeks and Arnal applies to Jesus then why not others? Anyway, I don't even know who I'm arguing with here (!) - I'm just thinking out loud so to speak. Look forward to your review Loren.

Blogger James Crossley said...

Incidentally, I have a suspicion (I haven't read the book) that Meeks may have some input from historiography, historical narrative and the work of Hayden White. I read an article by Meeks a couple of years ago along these lines where yes there were distant facts but narrative means all.


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