July 22, 2010

Hoehner's Unhistorical Aspects

One major problem with the 3 year chronology of Jesus' ministry, as constructed according to Harold Hoehner's Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, is that Hoehner puts Jesus at the well of Sychar in January/February.  This dating, based on one interpretation of John 4:35, falls almost a year after the Passover of John 2.

The first problem is, it's not plausible that Jesus and the disciples could or would have stayed in the Judean countryside for nine months.  At this point in their relationship, that simply doesn't fit the trajectory.  But Hoehner didn't address any sense of connectedness between John 2 and John 4.  He spent two pages and six footnotes discussing the history of exegetical debate over which harvest could be referred to by the Greek of Jn.4:35?  Those two pages, of course, are fine work. The end result, however, is nothing but words and weather.  If Hoehner's chronology were a historical enterprise, then the larger context ought to be the activity of the players involved in the action, and this did not get addressed.

The second problem is, Hoehner's timeline after Sychar now (again, tacitly) requires too much activity be squeezed into Feb/Mar/Apr, before the grain-plucking incident, which marks a new spring.  Most significantly, Hoehner ignores the seaside calling(s?) of the disciples.  Luke's version indicates that some period of separation has gone on between Jesus and Peter, and Luke strongly implies that Jesus traveled extensively after healing Peter's MIL.  Is 8-12 weeks plausible for this activity?  Perhaps.  But there's no discussion at all of events and their course.  Hoehner's focus is purely exegetical, restricted to established key verses, those which make overtly chronological claims.

This exegetical investigation of the Gospels, however, is less than thorough.  Matthew 12:1 (ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ) chronologically ties the grain plucking incident fairly close to the time of Jesus' famous denouncements (11:20ff).  Is it plausible that Jesus returns to Galilee in February, travels to all towns and cities in Galilee, and then declares himself done with Capernaum, Chorazin & Bethsaida?  In 8-12 weeks?  And if so, what of all the other activity we find in Capernaum?  Can all this, too, be squeezed into less than three months?  Or - failing that - is Matthew 12:1 not as tied to these 'woes' as it appears to be?  For Hoehner, these questions are not even on the radar, because there is no complete reconstruction of chronological happenings.  There is merely thorough exegesis of established 'key' verses.

A broader problem is that this whole timeline basically squeezes Hoehner's "Three Year Chronology" into barely more than two.  Historically speaking, the least credible thing about any two year chronology ought to be the rapid pace of developments.  But Hoehner's objection to the two year view - his entire stated critique of it, actually - was that the two year view requires transposing John 5 & 6, which Hoehner finds to be unacceptable.  Apparently, John's narrative is chronological, whereas the Synoptic narratives are eminently transposable (see above).  Most problematic, however, is that - once again - there is no consciousness paid whatsoever towards events and their connectedness.  Hoehner's focus is entirely literary and grammatical.

On this point, I find it tragic-ironic that Hoehner's preferred methodology for Aspects was known as the "historical-grammatical" method.  This particular book is strong on grammatical interpretation, but weak on historical sensibility - which is odd, because Hoehner had earlier displayed a fine historical sensibility in his great work on Herod Antipas (1972) - but as much as anything else, this shows that Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (1978) was an exegetical, apologetic enterprise.  It was not an historical chronology.

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