Thursday, January 18, 2007

Crossan and the Context Group

Chris Petersen says:
"In the past I have been reluctant to read anything by the aptly named 'context-group' of scholars. I think this has been partly due to my bad experience with Crossan's The Historical Jesus in which he utilizes the cultural anthropological features of the 1st century Mediterranean environment as his controlling paradigm for his reconstruction of the historical Jesus. Admittedly, Crossan's abuse of sociological and anthropological models for his historical Jesus investigation left a bitter taste in my mouth for such 'context' approaches."
Chris isn't alone in being put off by the Context Group in advance on account of Crossan's crimes. Crossan, of course, was sharply criticized by Context Group scholars for not assimilating their work properly back in the early 90s. His book may deal a lot with honor/shame and patronage/clientage, but you'd never guess his Jesus ever lived in such a culture. He could have never functioned in it.

The subject of table-fellowship is a glaring for-instance where Crossan misunderstands/misuses the models of the Context Group. William Herzog critiques him and the Jesus Seminar as follows:
"Jesus is labelled a 'glutton and a drunkard'. Some members of the Jesus Seminar have taken this to mean that Jesus was a bon vivant and a party animal. He did it for the hell of it, to show that living in the present is all that mattered, but it hardly needs to be said that this view trivializes the social significance and theological import of Jesus' actions. Crossan thinks that this 'open commensality' modeled the egalitarian tendencies of Jesus... The difficulty with the way Crossan interprets open commensality is that egalitarianism is a modern notion unlikely to be found in the ancient world, nor would it have been valued if it had been found. The issue is not equality, but reciprocity and mutuality. In return for brokering God's forgiveness, toll collectors and sinners offer Jesus table companionship. Their hospitality is their expression of gratitude, their reciprocity." (Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, p 222)
Also see Jack Elliot's railroading critique of the egalitarian nonsense.

9 Comments:

Blogger James Crossley said...

Malina also seems to make a pretty scathing remark in B. J. Malina, ‘Social Scientific Methods in Historical Jesus Research’ in W. Stegemann, B. J. Malina and G. Theissen (eds.), The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels (2002): ‘what has been done with the social sciences is significant, much of it important enough to be plagiarized by John Dominic Crossan’. Presumably, there is something going on there????

1/19/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Malina is mad because Crossan nowhere cites or acknowledges Context Group scholars in his '91 publication (The Historical Jesus). Unless you comb the bibliography, you'd walk away with the impression that Crossan himself developed the honor/shame & patron/client models. He cites many other scholars throughout the book, but no one from the Context Group. I don't blame Malina and Co. for being ripped.

1/19/2007  
Blogger Chris Petersen said...

Thanks for more of a clarification on this, Loren.

1/20/2007  
Blogger J. Archer said...

Loren, where did CG members criticize Crossan (in addition to what Crossley posted)? I'm not sure what to search for--I only come across something by Craffert from 2003.

1/22/2007  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

'In return for brokering God's forgiveness, toll collectors and sinners offer Jesus table companionship. Their hospitality is their expression of gratitude, their reciprocity." '

I see.

So presumably people have to come up with a different ad hoc explanation of why the Pharisees offered Jesus table fellowship in Luke 11:37.

New Testament study means any ad hoc explanation will do, provided you take for granted that the Gospels contain vast amounts of historical detail.

Kipling called all of these 'Just-so' stories and evolutionary biology is often (rightly) accused of just-so stories.

But NT scholars deal in little else.

1/22/2007  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

'The difficulty with the way Crossan interprets open commensality is that egalitarianism is a modern notion unlikely to be found in the ancient world, nor would it have been valued if it had been found.'

Only today I read a Christian praising the egalitarianism to be found in the Bible ,quoting Galatians 3:28 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.'

Was his reading fundamentally misguided?

1/22/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Was his reading fundamentally misguided?

Well, Stevie, if you need the question answered, you shouldn't be trusted about anything. Neither Paul nor Jesus ever urged abolishing distinctions in the present world -- not slavery, not sexism. Even if in Christ there is neither slave nor free, Paul expects slavery to continue until the apocalypse; even if neither male nor female, such males and females continue living in the real world until the kingdom comes. Ultimately there may be no distinction, but in the present the distinctions largely continue. The idea that Jesus and/or Paul were egalitarians is a crackpot thesis.

As for your problem with Herzog's so-called "ad-hoc" reading, do you have a better one? Or are you just lashing out at "NT scholars" in general, because you wish you could be one?

1/22/2007  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

I don't think I have the imagination to be a NT scholar.

Whenever anybody quotes Galatians 3:28 as promoting equality, I will be sure to call them crackpots.

What is Herzog's ad hoc explanation of why the Pharisees offered Jesus table fellowship?

Presumably it is a different ad hoc explanation to that of the toll collectors and sinners offering Jesus table fellowship.

Much of this Context Group seems awfully ad hoc to me. Nothing more than just-so stories.

It is remarkable though how much insight these context group writers have into the minds and motives of unnamed tax-collectors and sinners of 2,000 years ago.

You would almost think Herzog had personally been there and asked these people why they had invited Jesus.

I remember reading one of them writing that the reason Joseph could not stay at the family home in Bethlehem was that the room was needed for a higher-status guest.

I think that makes the most notorious of evolutionary psychology just-so stories look like the most solid research.

1/22/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Whenever anybody quotes Galatians 3:28 as promoting equality, I will be sure to call them crackpots.

If they're as thick-headed as you, that might be all you can do. But if they show signs of wanting to be enlightened, see further.

An interesting citation just now appeared on Michael Bird's blog, Paul the Jew. A liberal (Pamela Eisenbaum) is actually troubled by Paul's inclusive language in Gal 3:28. And she too notes that Paul is not calling for equality in the modern egalitarian sense, but erasure of distinctions in an ancient apocalyptic one:

"If by 'no longer male and female' we mean equal political, social, and vocational opportunity for all women and men, then perhaps we might find it easy to subscribe to the dictum. But Paul does not use the language of equality; rather, he issues a call for erasing the distinguishing marks between people."

And I once explained why that was a bad thing for Paul to do in the world of honor-shame, especially the more the apocalypse is delayed. On Respecting Identity:

"Gal 3:27-28 was as theologically offensive, immature, impractical, and doomed to fail in the real word as anything else Paul said Galatians, [even if] it appeals to my own modern Unitarian sensibilities... Paul's world was one in which different ethnic groups, genders, and social classes could get along only by preserving their identities rather than eliminating them. (Attempts to eliminate actually encourage groups to re-assert their identies in overly aggressive ways, especially in competitive honor-shame societies.) Paul 'matured' by gradually relinquishing the formula of Gal 3:27-28. It's the last thing he wanted to say in Rom 6:1-7:6 -- where in the context of baptism he went out of his way to assert differences between Judeans and Greeks -- and indeed in the entire letter of Romans, where he shows greater sensitivity and maturity than perhaps ever before."

1/22/2007  

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