Monday, April 28, 2008

Jesus and the Romans

I agree with Jim Davila that equating the ancient Romans with the Nazis is over the top, but you don't need to rely on silly rhetoric to find support for the idea that Jesus was critical of the Roman Empire. I certainly don't read the Caesar text of Mk 12:13-17/Mt 22:15-22/Lk 20:20-26 like Shmuley Boteach, who thinks it's an "incredible statement". Jesus was telling people to throw money back in Caesar's face (or alternatively, avoid money altogether) as part of the tribulation drama which anticipated God's imminent triumph. He wasn't exactly a rebel (he had no reason to be, with God on the way), but neither did he endorse tyranny. As I said here, the "Render to Caesar" saying
"...isn't a call to pay taxes but to expel the coins from the Jewish land; to give the Romans their money as an act of resistance; or, if you like, to pay taxes 'with contempt'. By implying that Caesar's taxes are immoral and illegitimate, but in such a way that his adversaries are 'unable to trap him', Jesus has bested his foes while at the same time shaming the Herodians as idolaters who do not give God his due. On top of this, he has manipulated the Pharisees by making them unwitting allies who now look like fools for their contradictory position."
That's not such an incredible statement, after all, Mr. Boteach.

33 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

His statements about Pope Pius the XII were debatable too.

Maybe he should try reading Pinchas Lapide's: Three Popes and the Jews or Rabbi Dalin's: The Myth of Hitler's Pope.

Anyone who's that misinformed on one subject, doesn't engender a whole lot of trust on another.

John

4/28/2008  
Blogger Leon said...

I think it is quite wrong to read conflict between Jesus and other Jews, especially the Pharisees, into every Gospel text. It is quite a distortion of Jewish history, not to mention the Gospels.

The big problem with the render to Caesar saying is that we cannot be sure what it meant to Jesus' listeners in the context of the times. As Hyam Maccoby once pointed out, when Jesus said to render to Caesar what is Caesar's, it is quite possible that the subtext of that was that nothing belongs to Caesar, everything belongs to God, and therefore you should render nothing to Caesar. It is a distinct possibility. If that is so, then Jesus was saying find ways to resist paying taxes, but of course we cannot be too obvious about it or too open about saying this. Anything definite Jesus said would have gotten back to Roman ears.

The other thing to remember is that it was not a well-settled question at the time how to handle this. Opinions were all over the place. In general, the Pharisees taught that one should get along with the powers that be and not give them any excuse to commit violence against the population. On the other hand, some extremist Pharisees would have been hotly opposed to paying Rome anything. At least one of the leaders of the tax revolt some years earlier was a Pharisee.

So there is no hostility in the Pharisees approaching Jesus and asking him a question. It's a reasonable thing to do. This is still an unsettled question and they ask the new rabbi in town what his opinion is. This is normal Jewish dialogue for the time. No one is trying to trap Jesus who was really Rabbi Joshua to them. Asking questions and getting diverse answers was not a sin in ancient Judaism. Rabbi Joshua was not an alien to them. He was another participant in the ongoing Jewish dialogue.

Leon Zitzer

4/28/2008  
Blogger Paul said...

Leon,

you make some reasonable points, but I think your contention that the pharisees were simply asking an innocent question cannot possibly be the case. A significant question asked in public was almost always a challenge of someone's honor.

There is quite a growing volume of literature on this subject which I know Loren is already familiar with. One excellent place to start would be Jerome Neyrey's Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew.

4/28/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Leon,

It's possible that Jesus was saying nothing belongs to Caesar (Horsley has advocated this even more than Maccoby), but much as I'd like to, I can't interpret the saying that way. It doesn't do justice to Jesus' shaming strategy with the denarius coin. The coin with Caesar's image is clearly held forth to imply that the emperor's money (if nothing else) belongs to him. Otherwise it makes no sense for Jesus to call attention to it before saying, "Render to Caesar that which is Caesar's". Scholars like Horsley and Maccoby are on the right track, but Jesus' position is unfortunately a bit more nuanced than they would like it to be.

See here for more critique on this position.

As for minimizing Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees, I don't take it seriously -- any more than I do Matthew's maximizing of that conflict. There's nothing implausible or unhistorical about internal conflict and disputes like these which happen in all times and places. And you're wrong about the questioning. In honor-shame cultures like these, and in situations like presented here, questions are very hostile.

4/29/2008  
Blogger James Crossley said...

I think Leon has a point. While there are conflicts in the synoptic tradition and early Judaism, not everything in the synoptic tradition (or indeed early Judaism) is a 'conflict' in any strong sense of the word. It's all well and good resorting to honour and shame all the time and an honour and shame culture but this cannot be done at the expense of cultural particularities. There are questions put to others and disagreements left, right and centre in rabbinic literature and they do not automatically mean 'conflict' or a hostile situation. In many cases friendly-ish questioning is default mode. Consequently we should not simply assume that the Caesar saying, what ever it may mean, is a hostile question. It may well be but it needs much more evidence than has so far be put forward and a much stronger case for resorting to honour and shame *over against* a more or less known cultural context.

4/29/2008  
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Have I missed something? All synoptic writers seem to agree that the pharisees were there to trap Jesus with the question about paying taxes to Ceasar. It may of course be possible that Mark, Matthew and Luke have just added the theme about trapping Jesus to an original tale of some Pharisees in Jerusalem (or some other place) asking the galilean rabbi an innocent question.
And I do agree with Loren that we shouldn´t minimize what appears to have been a real conflict between the historical Jesus and some groups of Pharisees, although Matthew has certainly turned up the heat in the debate a few notches more. Personally I believe Matthew was a former Phariseic scribe himself, who is trading insults with his former Pharisee friends in a synagogue on the other side of the street (in Antioch?).

4/30/2008  
Blogger Leon said...

This business of honor/shame is just another way to completely misrepresent ancient Jewish culture. Dialogue and asking challenging questions was part of the creative spirit in Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism. One rabbi was miserable when his chief debating partner died and complained when a new "partner" agreed with all the time. This was no way to advance understanding. The Pharisaic/rabbinic view was that God himself enjoys a good argument and loves it when his children challenge him (so many stories to this effect). Merely obeying God (as Noah did) was considered the lesser way of being a faithful child. Challenging and disagreeing with God (as Abraham and Moses did) represented a more mature way of relating to God.

I should also say something about a bit of context I left out above. Asking the question which the Pharisees posed to Jesus was also dangerous. You could get into a lot of trouble just for bringing the subject up. I would guess that this conversation took place in a private home and everyone hoped that nobody would talk loosely afterwards which the Romans might pick up. That Pharisees and Jesus engaged in friendly and challenging debate is a much more reasonable way to read the Gospels and it fits the historical context. Honor/shame was not the essence or even a chief feature of this ancient culture.

By the way, I do not think that Jesus was advocating not paying taxes. If he had done such a thing, the Romans would have regarded him as an even more serious threat and probably would have executed some of his followers as well. The Gospel conversation is probably only a soundbite of a much longer debate.

German scholar Wolfgang Stegemann made an interesting point in a 1998 essay in "Kirche und Israel". For the sake of brevity, I'll paraphrase him. He noted that NT scholars have doubts about and question almost everything in the NT. The one thing that no one ever questions is the notion that Jesus was in deep conflict with Jewish leaders and that this led to his death. Now why (Wolfgang asked), in an academic environment that seemingly agrees that everything can be debated, is this the one thing that is not allowed to be questioned? And why, I would ask, is Jewish culture always misrepresented in order to encourage this highly prejudiced approach to the Gospels?

Leon Zitzer

4/30/2008  
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Leon,
it may well be true that lively debates (with lots of disagreement)could be carried out in Pharisaic/rabbinic circles in a friendly manner. But what I think we are talking about here are disagreements between different jewish groups (sects), and those discussions could get pretty rough, even bloody at times. What comes to mind are things like the fireoozing attacks from the people who wrote the dead sea scrolls against the temple establishment and the "seekers of smooth things" (Pharisees?). That is hardly the kind of friendly that you are talking about. The examples could be multiplied. The debating climate between the early christians and other jewish establishment groups like the sadducées have much more in commun with the firehot debate the DSS folks had with other Jews than the friendlier debate Pharisées may have had with each other.

5/01/2008  
Blogger Leon said...

Antonio,

Before I answer your comment, I should make one other point about this discussion they had about Roman taxes. Not only did those who posed the question risk getting into trouble with Rome, but it could have presented a risk to Jesus as well and no Jew at that time would have risked getting another Jew into trouble with the Romans. It is presposterous to suggest that some Jews might have wanted to do that to Jesus and put themselves at risk as well. It defies the historical conetxt. That is all the more reason to think this was a very private conversation. And it must have been a long debate. We don't know the half of what was said.

Now as to your point, historical Jesus studies from the 19th century to the present has always operated the same way: Scholars begin with a theology of Jesus and then they just make up whatever they need to about Jewish culture to fit this theology. The real facts of Jewish culture, particularly Pharisaic/rabbinic culture, have always been considered irrelevant. One could give hundreds of examples of this. No one cares what Pharisees and rabbis had to say about shame. Scholars just make up their own ideas of honor/shame and pretend they have unveiled Jewish culture.

An extremely important part of scholarly theology about Jesus is that lethal conflict and venomous hostility must have characterized his relationship with other Jews and that this was the chief cause of his death. My own work has demonstrated that "offensive" is the most common word that virtually every scholar uses to describe Jesus' relationship with his fellow Jews. What facts do scholars brush aside?

1) Pharisees encouraged lively debate which could get quite heated but it did not turn lethal. They strongly believed in the creativity of debate and welcomed anyone who argued well. Jesus fits well within this lifestyle.

2) Also, every single thing Jesus says fits well within the parameters of Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism.

3) Pharisees and Sadducees did not engage in lethal persecution of each other in the 1st century.

4) There are many extreme statements in the DSS, but there is no record that the Sadducees or priests ever persecuted them for these beliefs or statements. The people who wrote the DSS were in a sense all talk, and their fellow Jews likely recognized that.

5) In rabbinic literature, you will find many Pharisaic and rabbinic criticisms of priestly practices. I list about 15 in my book. Some of them are far more severe than anything Jesus said or did with regard to priestly authorities. There is no record that any of these Pharisees or rabbis were persecuted by the priests for these incredibly intense criticisms. And yet we are supposed to believe that Jesus was persecuted for far less hostile statements.

This whole idea that Jesus was in bloody conflict with fellow Jews is purely imaginary. I should add that there is evidence in the NT that also contradicts this imaginary idea. Good historical study requires that the facts come first and that an ancient culture must absolutely never be misrepresented just to support another culture's theology.

Leon Zitzer

5/01/2008  
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Leon,
thanks for your comments. I agree with much of what you say. Things like the fact that christian scholars/theologians (these people often have the habit of mixing their role of historians with their role as theologians)often presuppose that Jesus must have been in a lethal debate with other jewish groups like the Pharisees. Despite the impression my earlier comments may have made I am not actually arguing that Jesus was in bloody conflict with Pharisaic groups. Jesus probably had heated debates with some Pharisees on some issues, but the gospel writers have heightened the conflict considerably (Mark 3:6 is a good example). In particular the authors of GMatthew and GJohn are retrojecting their own bitter debates with Pharisees and the nascent rabbinic Judaism into the life of Jesus. But, and this is a great but, I think the conflict between Jesus and the high priestly
establishment in Jerusalem was really a conflict that turned lethal. The Saducees were really involved in condemning Jesus to death and sending him off to the roman governor for execution. I think a good sign that the gospel writers didn´t retroject everything from their own time (the 70ies to the 90ies) into the 30ies is the fact that an evangelist like Mark doesn´t involve the Pharisées in the trial of Jesus. He had every reason to do it since he has already insinuated throughout the rest of the gospel that the Pharisées were out to kill Jesus, but he seems to leave them out of the plot in the passion itself since the real culprits appear to have been the Sadducées.
As for point 2 I think the tendency today to see Jesus as a 100% lawabading Jew who never stepped out of the boundaries of "normal" Judaism has gone too far. See scholars like Sanders and Lowder (and James Crossley???). I don´t think that Jesus claim that he as the "divine" Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins on earth is within the boundaries of "normal" first century Judaism (Mark 2:8-12). Whatever the question about the historicity of that particular scene and those particular words (I actually think Mark 2:10 is a Marcan creation)it doesn´t fit with the theological boundaries of groups like the Pharisées.
As for point 3 it may well be true that Pharisées and Saducées didn´t engage in lethal persecution of each other. But it is a fact that Pharísées and Saducées did engage in lethal persecution of a new sect like the "christians". A former Pharisée like Paul tells us so himself. And Josephus tells us so himself (the execution of James). So it is clear that intrajewish debates could sometimes turn lethal.
As for point four if my memory doesn´t fail me there is talk in some dead sea scroll about the Teacher of Righteousness being persecuted violently by the Evil Priest. That is usually taken by scholars as an indication that the DSS people were persecuted by the Jerusalem Temple establishment at some time in their history.
And Leon, it might be of interest to you to know that I am not part of the christian scholar establishment. I´m an atheist who try to do history without theological spectacles. So I don´t think I have any axes to grind. It just happenes that I think the available evidence points in the direction that the Sadducées were involved in the execution of Jesus.

5/02/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

I agree with many of Antonio's sentiments. The acolytes of Maccoby are fighting lost battles. We know very well by now that Judaism wasn't legalistic, that Pharisees were by and large decent representatives of Judean religion, and that it's not a question of us as critics taking sides in ancient disputes. That doesn't mean the disputes didn't exist, or that they couldn't get nasty, which they obviously did. And I'd wager that Jesus' saying about the illegitimacy of taxation was a contributing factor leading to his execution, just as Lk 23:2a implies.

Your claim, Leon, that scholars "make up their own ideas of honor/shame and pretend they have unveiled Jewish culture" is so laughable I almost didn't waste time responding. Honor-shame cultures are alive as much today as they were back then, and scholars know exactly what they're talking about. They've spent time living in these cultures, and Jesus was certainly a part of one.

I don't take seriously the idea that Jesus was a Pharisee or even much like one. I see him as a sectarian millenial prophet who broke taboos as millenials often do. Dale Allison has argued convincingly (against Ed Sanders) that Jesus and the Baptist completely rejected covenantal hope -- insisting that one must be "born again", and that deliverance came not by belonging to the Judean people or having the law, but by a radical turning around, a radical repentance producing good fruit. As far as we know, Jesus never used the term covenant in his publc ministry. (The use at the synoptic last supper probably isn't historical.)

But at the same time -- and again like many millenarians -- Jesus intensified parts of the law, though that in itself hardly makes him a Pharisee . He just thought Moses sometimes wasn't strict enough in light of the apocalypse (as with divorce).

Jesus' ambiguity -- pro-Torah here, anti-Torah there; beef it up here, tone it down a bit there -- made possible the later controversies between the apostles, especially when James tried mainstreaming the Christian movemement around 49 CE. They needed to mainstream things when reality set in and the apocalypse kept getting delayed.

Finally, I'm as secular as Antonio, though disclaimers like this shouldn't be necessary. If denying that Jesus was warm and fuzzy with the Pharisees and Torah-obedient makes me some kind of subtle apologist in your mind, well, that's very amusing. Because frankly I suspect that you are the one with subterranean motives. I'd advise reading William Arnal's The Symbolic Jesus which addresses scholars who habitually invoke Jesus' "Jewishness" as a hot-button item.

5/02/2008  
Blogger James Crossley said...

Antonio wrote:
'I don´t think that Jesus claim that he as the "divine" Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins on earth is within the boundaries of "normal" first century Judaism (Mark 2:8-12).'
The passage doesn't mention Jesus/SofM being divine. It could easily be the fairly normal word for 'man'. There is also the view of the divine passive: 'your sins have been forgiven (...by God)'. God could forgive sins outside the Temple according to some strands of Jewish thought so that would not be unsual. Then 'forgive' could equally be translated 'loose', 'release' etc so the issue could be over Jesus' authority to release sins, i.e. heal, exorcise. Why conflict? Well there isn't much conflict anyway because they only moan in their hearts! That is presumably secondary...? But even so, there is conflict over Jesus' authority in Mk 3 (from the devil or God?) to do his exorcisms so it could potentially be the same kind of dispute.

Loren wrote: '...but by a radical turning around, a radical repentance producing good fruit. As far as we know, Jesus never used the term covenant in his publc ministry. (The use at the synoptic last supper probably isn't historical.)'

Firstly, what are the fruit? right behaviour. What is right behaviour? Law observance perhaps...
Why is the synoptic last supper not historical? The Markan version is pretty internally Jewish so to speak... Casey provided a big detailed chapter in Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel which argues looks in great detail at Mk 14 in the context of Passover and Passover and Jewish views on martyrdom. He comes to the opposite conlusion to you.

Loren also wrote: 'But at the same time -- and again like many millenarians -- Jesus intensified parts of the law...Jesus' ambiguity -- pro-Torah here, anti-Torah there; beef it up here, tone it down a bit there...'
Where is Jesusanti-Torah? And how do you account for scholarly arguments that show parallels between Jesus' teaching on the law and and views in early Judaism, from his views on family to views on purity? I've asked before but I'll ask again, can you show conclusively, with reference to PRIMARY sources (not just saying what Allison says, good though he undoubtedly is), that Jesus' so-called anti-Torah views were anti-Torah and were unparalleled in legal debates? Or can you show that those who have collected parallel evidence to Jesus' teaching on the law are wrong to have done so. This might alos need to consider why there are not conflicts, in direct contrast to (say) Sabbath conflicts, over issues of family. What worries me about your argument is that it relies more on Jesus as millenarian than evidence from early Judaism. I quite agree about Jesus as millenarian but whether he is anti-Torah in some parts still depends on reading Jesus in the context of Jewish legal debates not ignoring Jewish evidence that doesn't fit your argument.

5/03/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

James asked:

Why is the synoptic last supper not historical?

I'm not saying the synoptic last supper is unhistorical (for I think it is), only that the term "covenant" is. Scot McKnight has marshaled an impressive case for this, as I outlined elsewhere.

Where is Jesus anti-Torah? And how do you account for scholarly arguments that show parallels between Jesus' teaching on the law and and views in early Judaism, from his views on family to views on purity? I've asked before but I'll ask again...

And I will respond again as I have before. By anti-Torah, I mean that Jesus clearly disregarded certain commandments of the Torah to suit his purposes -- leaving the dead to bury the dead, hating family members, doing as he pleased on the sabbath, (possibly) disparaging circumcision (if Thom 53 is authentic, which I have doubts about). The fact that some of these have parallel in later legal debates, or that interpretations could get murky depending on who you debated with, doesn't alter this simple point. I've made it clear that I don't consider Jesus anti-Torah across the board.

5/03/2008  
Blogger Leon said...

James, Antonio, Loren:

James Crossley has made a number of good points about the son of man meaning a human being and forgiveness. I will just reiterate one of his points about Jesus and Torah. There is not one single thing in the Gospels that can be construed as an anti-Torah teaching. This is one of those bits of theology that affect even "secular" approaches to the NT. It also shows a great ignorance of how the rabbis and Pharisees approached Torah. If you do not know how much they reinterpreted Torah and even contradicted it at times — all because they believed that God gave them Torah as a Constitution that they should be playful with — then you do not know much about Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism. The whole idea was to engage with the spirit of written Torah and create new things. Everything Jesus says is in that spirit. People miss the playfulness of the Pharisees and rabbis and Jesus. But it ties them all together. There are rabbinic parallels to virtually every Gospel saying and parable, yet the field of historical Jesus scholarhsip consistently ignores them.

My statement that scholars make up their own idea about honor/shame stands. Show me one scholar that goes to rabbinic literature for stories about honor and shame. You cannot. Does anyone have any idea of what the Pharisees and rabbis considered shameful and honorable? No, of course not. Historical Jesus scholars consider Pharisaic/rabbinic culture irrelevant. They make up their own ideas. Pharisaic/rabbinic culture was the home in which Jesus was raised. The Gospels light up with gorgeous clarity when you read them this way. Then you will really understand what Jesus, the Pharisees, and rabbis meant by honor and shame. In anthropological studies, at least they now teach that one should get to know a culture from the inside before making statements about it. In historical Jesus studies, this is still not done. An entire culture is still erased for the sake of theology (Jesus in deep opposition to other Jews is theology, even if so-called secularists preach it).

I have read Arnal's book very carefully. It is a very prejudiced book that aims at suppressing honest discussion of prejudice in scholarship. He claims to espouse multiplicity in the study of cultures, yet does everything he can to deny the voice of Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism and hint at a negative assessment of it. Consider: He uses such words as obsessive and rigid when he mentions what he calls traditional Judaism. He never uses these words when he discusses Greek and Roman culture. He does what almost every other scholar does when summing up 1st century Judaism, or Judean Judaism as so many now like to say: He mentions "Temple, rituals, purity, etc." or some such assortment. He uses this formula many times throughout the book. What about "spirituality, peace, justice"? Show me one scholar who mentions this for 1st century Judaism. Yet this is a truer summary of Pharisaic/rabbibic Judaism and the world Jesus comes from. It is erased from history by historical Jesus scholars. And then Arnal dismisses the fact that Jesus is called rabbi pretty often in the Gospels by claiming it was merely a polite form of address. In other words, the idea that Jesus earned the title of rabbi and how he might have earned it is anathema to Arnal. This from a man who says we should study cultures in multiple ways. He uses the idea of multiplicity to suppress one very strong Jewish voice.

With my apologies for this lengthy reply, I will post a separate response to Antonio.

Leon Zitzer

5/03/2008  
Blogger Leon said...

Antonio,

The Sadducees and priests did not persecute Jesus to death anymore than they persecuted other Pharisees and rabbis who made even more intense and heated criticisms of them. No one has ever given a rational argument that Jewish leaders (of any stripe) put Jesus on trial and handed him over to the Romans for capital punishment. By a rational argument, I mean one based on solid evidence in the NT and the historical context (mainly as we know it from Josephus). What scholars typically do is erase all the evidence that exonerates Jewish leaders of responsibility in the death of Jesus. Raymond Brown once made an interesting Freudian slip in claiming that a certain source which mentions Jewish leaders in Jesus' death is "more helpful" than a source which mentions only Romans. Brown made it plain that only evidence which convicts Jews is considered helpful while evidence which exonerates them is unhelpful. (I can, by the way, give page references, if anyone cares, for Brown, Arnal, and eveything else I say here.)

How many scholars study Josephus honestly? How many people know that Josephus does not give one example of Jewish leaders cooperating with Rome in the arrest and prosecution of Jews accused of a capital crime? They never even hold this as a threat over anyone's head. And much more important than this: How many people know that Josephus gives some information that Jewish leaders would refuse such cooperation with Rome? Is anybody even curious about this? No, because theology dictates what evidence from Josephus is allowed into the discussion.

As for the NT, everyone knows that if you approach them as saying that Jewish leaders helped Rome to kill Jesus, there are plenty of contradictions to this. But does anyone pay attention to how many contradictions there are? Does anyone realize how much exonerating evidence there is the NT itself? No. Because it is generally forbidden to look for these things in the NT. There isn't even any curiosity about it much less debate which is out of the question altogether.

Only one Gospel (Matt) mentions Caiaphas as the one who questions Jesus. Luke and Mark are silent on this. And John mentions Annas who was a retired high priest. Could a retired high priest, like an ex- US President, imply this was more like a diplomatic affair than a hostile judicial procedure? Is it permitted to think about this and do what a decent scholar should do, which is to look and see if there is any other evidence that links up with this? Scholars suppress this kind of thinking.

Consider: At Acts 13:28, Paul says there was no Jewish death penalty against Jesus. Could this become part of the discussion? Is it allowed to demonstrate that Paul's statement makes sense and is easily reconciled with what verse 27 appears to say?

There is a lot more evidence like this. Scholarship has deemed it all inadmissible. Not even debatable. So yes, I think that the case against Jewish leaders is a rigged one. But if you do pay attention to all this evidence, it is possible to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt what really did happen.

Leon Zitzer

5/03/2008  
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

James,
I just went to the library today to pick up your book "The date of Mark´s gospel" again (read it first time months ago). Took a look at your chapter on "Jesus Torah observance in the gospels" again but didn´t find much to quibble about.
You wrote: "The passage doesn't mention Jesus/SofM being divine. It could easily be the fairly normal word for 'man'. There is also the view of the divine passive: 'your sins have been forgiven (...by God)'. God could forgive sins outside the Temple according to some strands of Jewish thought so that would not be unsual. Then 'forgive' could equally be translated 'loose', 'release' etc so the issue could be over Jesus' authority to release sins, i.e. heal, exorcise."

Yes, it is true that Mark 2:10 doesn´t say anything about the SOM being divine. But that is what Mark is implicitely trying to show throughout his gospel. It is part of the euangelion ABOUT Jesus that Mark is trying to spread to early christians; Jesus is the "divine" SOM who has been given authority by God the Father to do miracles, drive out demons and forgive sins (Mark chapter 1 to 8:30). By "divine" I don´t mean that Jesus was seen by Mark as divine on the same level as God. I think both you and me can agree with Paula Fredriksen that there were different levels of divinity in antiquity.
Yes, and I would agree with you that Mark 2:10 like Mark 3:3 is ultimately about authority. Mark and Jesus believe that his authority to forgive sins and heal on the sabbath comes from God - Jesus opponents doubt it.
As for the claim in your book on page 95 that "forgiveness was not restricted to the Temple in ancient Judaism" I don´t find the passages in the book where you discuss more in detail alternative venues for the forgiveness of sin in second temple Judaism. I´ve possibly missed it somewhere.
As for Leon´s latest comments to Loren I find it offensive that Leon can go on portraying both secular and christian scholars across the board as a bunch of ignorants on matters pertaining to Phariseeism/rabbinic Judaism. Has he ever read a book by Ed Sanders or our own James Crossley? James, please do something about, Leon!

5/03/2008  
Blogger James Crossley said...

On convenant, same difference.

Loren said: '...again as I have before. By anti-Torah, I mean that Jesus clearly disregarded certain commandments of the Torah to suit his purposes -- leaving the dead to bury the dead, hating family members, doing as he pleased on the sabbath, (possibly) disparaging circumcision (if Thom 53 is authentic, which I have doubts about). The fact that some of these have parallel in later legal debates, or that interpretations could get murky depending on who you debated with, doesn't alter this simple point.'

Well the latter is exactly the point: persepctive is everything. It alters the simple point entirely and changes the issue to what I think ought to be the obvious: Jesus disputed details of the law but never once saw himself contradicting any biblical commandment.

And here on earth does it say in the synoptic tradition that Jesus did as he pleased on the Sabbath?!! This sounds like the old pre-70s scholarship that has long been demolished. Plucking grain is not prohibited anywhere in the Bible but some people thought it ought to be a prohibition should be (though 'plucking' is not even prohibited in the 39 prohibitions), others would not. Compare the case where the men of Jericho accept picking fruit on the Sabbath whereas some rabbis disagreed). Dead bury the dead does not go against any commandment, the man will be buried and besides a couple of people have pointed out, with reference to that there are far harsher things said by law observant people/groups. If Jesus was so anti-family, why does no one criticise him, why does Jesus talk about honouring parents too As for hating, Gk and Aramaic does not have to be taken so literally as we might in English. Something like Matthew's 'love-less' is more or less the same thing. Also others could talk of prioritising things (e.g. law) over family. As for circumcision, no way (as you imply)! This would have been used all over the place if it was an early tradition, not least by Paul.

That all these are paralleled is very important because it shows the passages you cite, as plenty of people have argued in detail, are not anti-Torah, at least from Jesus' perspective.

Also, why do you say 'later' debates?

Antonio, oh, sorry, I see what you mean now and I remember you saying this a couple of years ago on XTalk (I think). Yes, I agree on degrees of divinity etc. But even at the level of Mark that would still not be saying anything too dramatic, right? On forgiveness outside of the Temple, off the top of my head I think Sirach 3.30 talks about giving alms and forgiveness.

5/03/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Antonio wrote:

As for Leon's latest comments to Loren I find it offensive that Leon can go on portraying both secular and christian scholars across the board as a bunch of ignorants on matters pertaining to Phariseeism/rabbinic Judaism. Has he ever read a book by Ed Sanders or our own James Crossley? James, please do something about Leon!

I too am astonished at the way Leon perceives academia. Some of his remarks border on conspiracy theory. And he's wrong about Arnal's book -- and mind you, I disagree with Arnal about a lot of things. Bill has made an important contribution here, and helped me see things I wasn't inclined to see on account of my own biases. I still think a more Judean ("Jewish") reconstruction of Jesus is correct (unlike Arnal), but I also see more clearly the agendas driving certain versions of it.

Well Antonio, try to see the humor in it and take with a pound of salt. :)

5/03/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

James wrote:

Well the latter is exactly the point: persepctive is everything. It alters the simple point entirely and changes the issue to what I think ought to be the obvious: Jesus disputed details of the law but never once saw himself contradicting any biblical commandment.

The transgressor's perspective is one part of the historical question. To use an analogy, the question of Paul's conversion isn't settled by how Paul himself understood his status, though that's of course important too. Naturally Paul characterized his new orientation by describing himself as "called" like prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, but that's not the end of the issue, since too many others who opposed his activity said he actually taught apostacy. Thus we can objectively speak of Paul's "conversion" being more accurate and appropriate than his "calling".

For this is what matters in shame-based cultures: what the majority of others think of you. If Jesus' perspective on the issue is what matters most to you, than I'm hardly inclined to argue much. For yes, Jesus himself (naturally) believed he wasn't defying the Torah. As a prophet how could he? He and his followers thought he was the Torah's true interpreter, regardless of how many of his contemporaries thought him off-base.

5/03/2008  
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

James,
I missed to quote the whole sentence from page 95 of your book. You wrote: "AS JUST DISCUSSED, forgiveness was not...". Which made me wonder on what preceding pages you had shown examples that forgiveness of sins could be given by individual persons or groups outside the Jerusalem temple. That is what interests me since Mark´s Jesus is claiming that the he PERSONALLY has been given authority to forgive sins by God.
I also wonder if your mentor Maurice Casey hasn´t argue that behind the greek SOM in Mark 2:10 there is an aramaic expression saying something like "But to let you know that man/I has authority to forgive sins on earth". If so Jesus original aramaic statement would probably get him into trouble with scribes like the ones described by Mark. Or were Jews in agreement that remission of sins could be granted by any man or a particular holy man outside the temple?
Yepp, and your memory doesn´t fail you. We had a talk about levels of divinity on Xtalk a couple of years ago. But I do think
Jesus claiming "divinity" (although I believe that doesn´t go back to the historical Jesus) wasn´t such a trivial matter. Most Jews would probably have seen it as blasphemy, like the scribes do in Mark 2.

5/03/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Antonio asked James:

Were Jews in agreement that remission of sins could be granted by any man or a particular holy man outside the temple?

I'd like to know James' opinion of this as well.

I do think Jesus claiming "divinity" (although I believe that doesn't go back to the historical Jesus) wasn't such a trivial matter. Most Jews would probably have seen it as blasphemy, like the scribes do in Mark 2.

I believe that Crispin Fletcher-Louis has argued that the Son of Man title from Daniel was priestly, and that Jesus' claim to be the true high priestly Son of Man was a blasphemous negation of Caiaphas' office. So not divinity, exactly, but usurping the representation of the divinity. I mention this in passing because I'm revisiting the Son of Man problem and need to go back to Fletcher-Louis (and Casey and others too).

5/03/2008  
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Loren,
I have never been persuaded by Fletcher-Louis thesis on the High Priestly origin of the SOM expression. Even less by his extremely forced arguments about Mark 13:26. Much speculation and little substance. The original SOM in Daniel 7:13 appears to be a "divine" being, an angel (see the parallel in 8:15-17). Early christian theologians like Mark were not far off the mark when they equated Jesus with the SOM of Daniel and saw "divinity" and godgiven authority as attributes of the Danielic SOM.
It´s quite funny that so many christian scholars don´t see that the Danielic SOM garb that Mark (followed by Matthew and Luke) has put on Jesus is just as much a theological creation as the heavenly Logos garb that John has put on Jesus.

5/03/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Antonio, I'm not entirely persuaded by the priestly interpretation either. You write:

The original SOM in Daniel 7:13 appears to be a "divine" being, an angel (see the parallel in 8:15-17).

I've always leaned toward the idea that Daniel's SOM was originally the archangel Michael (per J.J. Collins) rather than a corporate entity. But Fletcher-Louis notes that the singular and corporate may not be as mutually exclusive as commonly assumed, and a strong case can be made for the corporate understanding on Jesus' part at least -- that Jesus and the faithful remnant around him fulfilled the role of Daniel's figure. But more on this in a later blogpost. The SOM puzzle isn't an easy one to solve.

5/03/2008  
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Loren,
yes, I lean toward the position that the SOM in Daniel 7:13 is the archangel Michael, the protector and patron angel of Israel. But I don´t understand all this fuzz about trying to make the SOM in Daniel into a corporate symbol. The angel (Michael) is an INDIVIDUAL who stands as a representative for Israel (7:18) and will ultimately crush the enemies of Israel and inaugurate a glorious rule.
The same could be said for the SOM in the gospels. The gospel writers saw it as a way of referring to Jesus specifically, although he also stands as a representative of the new Israel (= the Church).

5/04/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Antonio -- yes to your view of Daniel, yes-and-no to your view of the gospels. My take is that in Daniel, Similitudes, and IV Ezra the SOM is an individual, but that in the NT tradition it's seen to be both individual and corporate, but especially corporate. Hopefully I'll have something up within the next couple of days.

5/04/2008  
Blogger James Crossley said...

Antonio (and Loren asked): 'Were Jews in agreement that remission of sins could be granted by any man or a particular holy man outside the temple?'

I'd have to check again, of course, but off the top of my head it doesn't seem to be as pointedly discussed as legal issues like Sabbath etc. Here are a few points...

The gospels may well be good evidence that people could have problems with opponents claming the authority to get rid of sins in the way a healer and/or exorcist does. I would add that I don't think Jesus (or John the B) saw this area in conflict with the ideal function of the Temple.

Antonio, on my stuff, should you be looking in ch 3?

In more general terms I suppose we could say that the DSS suggest that there were issues over general forgiveness and the Temple. But as a theological problem, if we could ask this to ancient Jews, who knows? They would have known there was a period when the Temple didn't function so that God obvious had to do his forgiving elsewhere so to speak! And if you asked, can God forgive outside the temple, presumably plenty would say, yes, of course! Then there is the issue of Diaspora Jews. More specifically, in the case of Mark 2.1-12 how would the temple deal with the sins of the paralytic? There's no provision in the Bible to deal with such people...

We should also remember in all this that blasphemy has a wide range of interpretations in early Judaism.

I wouldn't make the leap to 'most Jews' seeng it as blasphemy. Remember the passage in Mark 2 talks of Jesus seeing in their hearts. That is too suspicious is it not? And there were plenty of Jews present in the Mark 2 story who did not have a problem with it! I suspect if pushed, the answer may even be as banal as 'some did, some didn't'

Oh, another point: this forgveness thing isn't really a big issue in the synoptic tradition and I would say it has probably been overdone in Mark 2 too.

Antonio added: 'I also wonder if your mentor Maurice Casey hasn´t argue that behind the greek SOM in Mark 2:10 there is an aramaic expression saying something like "But to let you know that man/I has authority to forgive sins on earth". If so Jesus original aramaic statement would probably get him into trouble with scribes like the ones described by Mark.'

Yes he has argued this a number of times. Lindars, if I remember rightly, also came to a similar conclusion.

As for the high priestly stuff, no way (as I think you both kind of imply)! This is not explicit anywhere in the synoptic tradition and has to be read in by ignoring a lot of evidence. There is also a problem that no one interpreted SoM as high priest so who would have understood Jesus if he had said such a thing? As how do we account for material that is explicit such as Jesus actually having a positive view of the Temple system?

5/04/2008  
Blogger James Crossley said...

Loren, on Law I think you still miss the point. The analogy with Paul's conversion/call doesn't work. How can we 'objectively' talk of Jesus being anti-Torah? Well one way woudl be to use a definition. Let's try some. Did Jesus oppose anything explicitly mentioned in biblical law? No. Did Jesus fit within the range of C1 debates on all issues? Yes. The only way you could get Jesus to be anti-Torah is to establish a definition that took (say) one Pharisaic view and made it 'Torah' or 'the DSS view' but then you'd exclude most Jews. By your implied definition (which you apply to Jesus) you'd be exclusing loads of Jews who thought they were observing the avoidance of work on Sabbath, honouring their parents and so on.

Let's take a definition for anti-Torah which includes some subjectivity but which might work: Jesus explicitly went against a biblical commandment, e.g. lifted a burden or kindled a fire on the Sabbath, or said that people no longer had to observe Sabbath itself and could kindle fires, go to work etc. Well Jesus never said anything like this.

This is analytically important for Christian origins as well as being important for understanding the life of Jesus. If we can say that figures in the early church started to accept that even Jews did not have to observe the Sabbath *at all* if they did not want to or that even Jews could eat pork or that circumcision was no longer relevant then, even if people thought they were fulfilling the true interpretation of the Law, this is something categorically different. It also means we need to explain why Jesus had a fairly typical view of the law *observance* whereas this was eventually put aside, more or less, by Christianity. It means that there is nothign too much in the teaching of Jesus that can help us understand this specific issue

5/04/2008  
Blogger James Crossley said...

Loren added: 'For this is what matters in shame-based cultures: what the majority of others think of you.'

While I have serious reservations about the 'shame-based culture' definition, let's just accept it for the moment. How could you possibly say the majority did (or did not) agree with Jesus? In terms of purity/impurity a very good case could be made for Jesus having a similar view to the so-called 'people of the land' who did not observe Pharisaic purity. Now this definition of 'people of the land' covered a lot of people from different social backgrounds so if they were the majority does that make Pharisees anti-Torah by your definition? And in even more broad terms, how were the majority of people going to keep certain approaches to non-priestly purity? What about the Sabbath? What was the majority view there? Much of this is guess work but you seem to be taking the view that the Pharisaic view was the majority, right? If so, that is very shaky ground.

5/04/2008  
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Loren,
I look forward to your exposition on the SOM being mainly corporate entity in the gospels. I really don´t see how it can be done but you can always surpise me ;)

5/04/2008  
Blogger Leon said...

If it is offensive of me to point out the arrogance of presenting a postion that lacks evidence to support it, then I hope I continue to offend. No one has any evidence that Jesus was anti-Torah and no one makes any sense of what that would even mean (as James wisely pointed out).

In the Talmud, there is a story of Shemaiah and Avtalyon, the two Pharisaic teachers of Hillel, once building a fire on Shabbat to thaw out Hillel who had become buried in the snow because he was ardently listening to their study of Torah while crouching on the roof of the House of Study. Shemaiah and Avatalyon said Hillel, because of his ardor to learn Torah, was worth desecrating Shabbat for. That's what they said. They did not say anything about saving his life, though that was probably on their mind as well. Does anyone want to say they were anti-Torah? More importantly, would they have said so about themselves? The Pharisaic/rabbinic approach to Torah was incredibly flexible. That's where Jesus gets it from. The rabbis, by the way, approved of healing on Shabbat because God gave Torah for man to live, not to die. And yet, by the way, Jesus never lights a fire on Shabbat, or travels, or spends money, or works. At least, no reports of such.

Scholars change their words about ancient Judaism, but not their basic approach. Thus, it has become wrong to use the word "supersede" in scholarly discourse, but scholars will say Jesus abrogated or transcended Torah (e.g., Ben Witherington III and a host of others). It has become wrong to say Pharisees and rabbis were legalistic, but scholars have no trouble saying they were obsessed with rituals and externals (that is almost a direct quote from Bruce Chilton, but you will also find it in William Arnal and almost everyone else).

Just about every work on the historical Jesus sums up ancient Judaism as revolving around Temple, rituals, and purity (sometimes they add circumcision, territory and other superficial factors). Scholars still talk about ancient Judaism in the most biased ways. There is not one historical Jesus scholar who sums up ancient Judaism as being about spirituality, justice, peace. That is a plain fact you can try to obscure but you cannot erase. Yet those qualities are more appropriate for Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism. It is where Jesus came from. It is pure arrogance to try to erase this from history.

Leon Zitzer

5/05/2008  
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Leon,
it is quite revealing that you haven´t answered a single one of my points. You sound more like a preacher doing a sermon in defense of Phariseeism/rabbinism. No religion I know of have such a rosy history as the one you are trying to paint. Judaism is no exception. And it still seems like you have never read one single verse of the works of Ed Sanders or James Crossley.

5/05/2008  
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

Bye the way, I think Leon could do well to read Maurice Casey´s (mentor of James Crossley) "The aramaic sources of Mark´s gospel". I just happened to get hold of the book today. Another non-jewish scholar who seems to have a good grasp of rabbinic Judaism, down to the tiniest minutae. And Casey puts the conflict Jesus had with certain Pharisees in their proper 1st century context. There were real conflicts and they show that Jesus was definitely not a Pharisee or even close to one. Coming from the galilean prophetic tradition he was
opposed to the hallakah of the Pharisees and their oral traditon of the fathers.
Maybe James has more to say on this...

5/06/2008  
Blogger Leon said...

Antonio,

If my picture of the Pharisees seems rosy to you, that is because you have some negative preconceptions of the Pharisees, so any facts I offer to counter this seem too good to you. This is nothing new. Ever since Christian scholars had a hostile reaction to Abraham Geiger trying to correct Christian misconceptions of the Pharisees (in the 1860s), it has not changed.

I am not sure which of your comments above you think I am ignoring. Most of the above is about the son of man which does not have a lot to do with the issue of who the Pharisees were. Way above, you made this statement: It is a fact that the Pharisees and Sadducees did engage in lethal persecution of a new sect like the "Christians". Concerning the Pharisees, this is quite false. Not only is there no evidence for this, but the NT tells us that the Pharisees helped Jesus' followers. At Acts 5:34-40, Rabban Gamaliel comes to the aid of Peter and others, and at Acts 23:6-9, Pharisees defend Paul. Any honest student of Jewish culture will tell you that this is so typical of the Pharisees (Josephus testifies to this too). There is so much information in rabbinic lit to confirm this sort of behaviour.

I know of a handful of Christian scholars who understand the Pharisees better than most: Bernard Lee, Philip Culbertson, David Bivin, and my sense is that James Crossley does too, though I am not as familiar with his work. E.P. Sanders gets some things right and other things wrong (he also has poignantly admitted that he has had an uphill struggle trying to get Christians to understand that they have badly misperceived what the Pharisees were like). From the past, there was also G.F. Moore and R. Travers Herford, both wonderful scholars. But rhe vast majority of Christian historical Jesus scholars do not get it at all. They rewrite Jewish history and even the Gospels to make them fit their preconceived ideas about Jesus. I find this extremely offensive that there are still so many Christians who think they have an absolute right to lie about ancient Jewish culture. This is outrageous.

As for the son of man, it could mean a lot of things. It can mean "I" or "a human being". In any event, very few scholars believe that Jesus claimed to be divine. At least this is one thing the majority gets right. So imagining Jesus and Pharisees in conflict over something he likely never claimed is not historically sound. And claiming to be the Messiah (if Jesus did that) would have generated quite intense debate, but to imagine that Pharisees would have persecuted him for this is sheer calumny. It is disgraceful if anyone seriously thinks this is a correct characterization of the Pharisees.

Jesus' oral Torah is all over the place in the Gospels. Just about all of it matches what Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism taught. That's where Jesus got it from. By the way, there is a Jerusalem school of scholars (mostly Christian, I believe; David Bivin is one) who have done a lot of work on the Gospels. One of them (I cannot remember his name) reports that it is difficult to translate Mark back into Aramaic, but translating his Gospel into Hebrew is very easy. An interesting point, if he is right.

Leon Zitzer

5/08/2008  

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