May 15, 2010

The Ecumenical Enclave

John P. Meier's nonpapal enclave (from the Marginal Jew series) was a great device, but why hasn't anyone investigated Jesus' life from an inter-faith perspective that's exclusively Christian? I'm guessing I know why.

It's easy to imagine a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, an athiest, an agnostic and a Muslim openly finding some common ground about the life of Jesus. Meier can happily "prescind" from his personal beliefs about scripture when he prescinds all the way. The Vatican commended Meier's books in which he academically denies the virgin birth. But could the Vatican ever commend a hypothetical enclave which accepts the virgin birth while denying Mary's perpetual virginhood?

A plain reading of the Gospels suggests repeatedly that Jesus had brothers and sisters, and the official Catholic view that 'adelphoi' means 'cousins' here is special pleading. Please note, I have no desire to argue with anyone who believes in "Mary ever virgin", so this obvious example serves merely to illustrate my point.

One reason Christian scholars aren't pursuing faith-based historiography on the Gospels, wholeheartedly, is probably because doing so honestly and rationally would undoubtedly wind up threatening some number of cherished interpretations. Which ones? I have no idea. But I bet there are plenty.

It's too bad. I thought Meier's non-papal enclave was a terrific idea, for academics, but I think an ecumenical enclave would make a much more productive strategy, for believers, for the future of "church". It might even be like when America's thirteen freshly confederated states called together a new constitutional convention. At that time, the states had no idea what was about to come out of such an enclave. Just like them, neither would we.

That's precisely why it could be so very great. At some point, everything that can be shaken, should be.

Alas, most scholars qualified to participate in such an enclave, and most people with resources powerful enough to put it together, are beholden to institutions whose stated definitive purpose is primarily to preserve their own status quo. Evidently, that precludes prescinding with other believers. More's the pity.

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