July 6, 2010

Situating Jesus' Temptations

Trust the scripture, but then ask - What actually happened?  Affirm all that is there, but maintain full awareness of all that is not there.  Finally, try to imagine - but imagining only within the constraints of historical sense and with critical reasoning - what else, if anything, can we conclude must be true about the events which these passages purport to have really occurred?

First, notice how much is missing.  Matthew and Luke tell their brief story with matching succinctness.  Six weeks pass, in one sentence, followed by three quick bursts of dialog that take up the bulk of each passage.  But how long did that conversation take?

*** I mean -- assuming that Matthew & Luke's differing representations of that conversation are fairly accurate reconstructions [of what was actually said between Jesus and Satan], how long did that historical conversation actually take? ***

Did the historical dialog represented by those three bursts all take place during one single encounter?  Apparently not.  Examined in detail, our information requires some time for travel from east of the Jordan all the way to the Temple.  The river alone, going by major roads, was at least 20 miles from Jerusalem - which means at least one full day of walking.  Likewise, it can easily take hours to walk up a short 'mountain', let alone one described as being 'very high'.  If we trust all this data, then our scripture is actually reporting a chain of events which must have taken vastly longer to happen than they now takes to summarize, or to read about.

Besides travel, Jesus must have eaten something at some point, after the first temptation.  Otherwise, walking up to Jerusalem and up a mountain in an undoubtedly weakened condition would seem unlikely.  That eating, like the walking, requires some time.  What did Satan do?  Sit there?  While Jesus ate something?  Maybe.  It might seem more likely the tempter made recurring visits to Jesus in a short span of time.  Then again, for all we can tell from the scripture, they might have been joined at the hip - so to speak - for as many as three days, or more. Three days after the fasting, that is.

A question, for those of us who believe these twin accounts to be factual - Don't we usually read them as if the encounter took up no more time than the dialogue?  That - to me - is infinitely more damaging [to our integrity as proponents of scripture] than is our lack of ways to support the supernatural elements of the passage, academically.  We say we trust that the story is real.  We refuse to reconstruct it in four-dimensions. THAT is why it lacks realism.

Most English speakers, at least, self-report a belief in the devil.  Most could also be willing to accept Jesus talking with him, if we'd only put shoes on the feet of this story and walk it on into the real world, a bit.  Instead, when Christians read scripture without four-dimensional sense, they invent things like Satan transporting Jesus magically, in an instant.  That's not helping anyone.  But that's not my point.

Point:  If these events truly happened, they demand reconstruction.  Without doubting a word of the scripture, we owe it to ourselves to consider what they do and don't tell us, about what really happened.  The travel involved suggests one of two things.  Either, Satan accompanied Jesus as he walked down the road, and uphill.  Or, Satan appeared to Jesus at three separate but nearly concurrent occasions.  The later seems more likely, imho.

So now, without further ado... come back tomorrow for my own attempt at an historical summary:

Next:  Jesus' Temptations, in 4-D

No comments:

Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget
"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton