August 15, 2009

They CAN Handle the TRUTH

I just read a (christian) academic commentary on Jesus at the Nazareth Synagogue. It was full of beautiful TRUTH about Jesus' words but essentially denies all possibility of reconstructing historical FACTS. You can guess my reaction - I hated it. It literally made my head hurt, physically. Then I forced myself to read it more carefully, so I could post this and explain why.

Naturally, it starts from the assumption that Luke 'redacted' the episode from Matthew & Mark and changed things to present a particular view of Jesus. That's not my actual gripe, but it necessitates what comes next - which is my gripe. Honestly, I shouldn't even be surprised anymore, but somehow I always am. In this case, very typically, it looks an awful lot like this:

plot * THEME THEME plot THEME THEME THEME plot THEME THEME (*If you squint, you might see an infinitesimal "setting" right there, just after the first "plot".)

Arrrrrgh! (Sigh.) Well, at least it's consistent. Everything is 'conceptual' and 'literary'. The 'narrative' merely 'displays' a 'scene' which Luke 'placed' in order to emphasize significant 'ideas'. The commentator talks about the episode of Matthew 13 & Mark 6 as a condensed version of the one in Luke 4 without making any attempt to reconcile the most dramatic difference in the stories - which is how did the crowd get past all twelve disciples to drag Jesus uphill to the cliff? (Answer: because the disciples weren't there on the first of these two, separate occasions.)

Seriously. Why so much focus on Gospel TRUTH and avoidance of Gospel FACTS? Why is this so prevalent? I honestly wonder.

While I wait for your answers in the comments, let me interview a special guest.


Col. Jessup? (You don't have to answer that question, Colonel.)

"I'll answer the question. We can't handle the Facts! We live in a world surrounded by walls and those walls have to be guarded by men with Bibles. And we have to do it. Seminarians don't want the facts because deep down in places we don't talk about at parties, we want redaction in the gospels. We need redaction in the gospels. We use words like 'narrative', 'scene' and 'portrait'. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. And we don't give a [care] what "facts" you think you are entitled to."

Thank you, Colonel. I try to think better than that, but too often, I suspect you're probably right. By accepting the skeptical, critical assumptions of the Enlightenment, whether deliberately or not, christian theologians found an invincible position from which to uphold their theological preferences. I'll admit that stance has provided a blanket of freedom for institutional christendom that has probably saved lives, but I no longer rise and sleep under your 'freedom'. And I seriously question the manner in which you provide it.

The witness is excused.

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