November 27, 2011

Bauckham on Jesus (QOTD)

From the final paragraphs of Chapter 6 in Richard Bauckham's Jesus: A Very Short Introduction:
Could Jesus act with fully divine authority and exercise the divine prerogative of giving life, while being himself no more than a human servant of God? No, because in Jewish theology such prerogatives belong uniquely to God and cannot simply be delegated to someone else. They help to define who God is. Hence, even in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus' claims to divine authority - to forgive sins or to share God's universal sovereignty - are regarded as blasphemy by Pharisees and chief priests. ...
And the payoff...
The only Jesus we can plausibly find in the sources is a Jesus who, though usually reticent about it, speaks and acts for God in a way that far surpassed the authority of a prophet in the Jewish tradition. His opponents recognized this. Probably a lifetime of pondering it led to John's theologically creative interpretation of it. To do his Gospel justice, we must see that he is engaged, not in free creation, but in creative interpretation of the same Jesus the other Gospels, in their more restrained ways, also interpret.
(Italics by Bauckham).

Well said, I do believe.  Any questions?

November 10, 2011

The Individualist Accident (Medievalism)

Ken Schenck's continuing posts on Scot McKnight's King Jesus Gospel have been really engaging so far.  Told ya they would be.  In the latest installment.. well, you should really go read it for yourself.  (Menu: Here!)  I'll just begin here with my major takeaway, so far.

Ken's last post made me realize how directly the Medieval Church was responsible for influencing the Protestant message into emphasizing individual salvation. Now, I've long recognized Catholic Individualism.  For one thing, when all of Europe became evidently "God's Kingdom", what else was there but to get everyone into heaven?  For another, the emphasis was good marketing AND good governance.  How do we make sure all these ignorant, filthy peasants keep the faith?  Talk up the next world!  And how do we make sure these disenfranchised, poverty stricken peasants remain good subservient citizens?  Threaten them with the next world!

At least in protestantism, to some degree, it turned more positive:  what began as a method of control and abuse ("Be good, peasants, or you won't get to heaven") was unconsciously adopted/retained as the context of the new proclaimed liberty ("be graced, peasants, and you will get to heaven").  Incidentally, the loss of that stick may be one reason protestantism had so much trouble maintaining stability in governance, itself.

At any rate, all ninety-five of Luther's Theses (last I checked) were about how wrong it was to "sell" individual salvation.  The purpose of that mindset is what infuriated Luther, but the form of that thinking was never rejected by Luther's mind, and that's fascinating.  Scot McKnight can blame Luther and Calvin for increasing the blatant emphasis (in their written Confessions) on individual salvation, but it's not as if L&C were thinking their 'new' thoughts in a total vacuum.  The Medieval emphasis had arisen for very practical reasons (though I admit I've probably oversimplified somewhat, above), and that basic situation hadn't changed one bit, despite all the new visioning.

Below Ken's post, I wondered if Scot was going out of his way to avoid the appearance of Catholic-bashing, but this morning I think, perhaps Augsberg & Geneva were simply more convenient ways to make Scot's case a bit more objective, and that's probably valid.  Of course, it could also be true that Scot just doesn't see things this way.  I may have to find out.  (Once again, the more I engage with a review of a book, the more likely I am to wind up reading the book itself.  Go figure.)

Finally, this all reminds me of NT Wright's IBR lecture in Atlanta, and Michael Bird (responding) comparing "kingdom" language in the early fathers, versus the lack thereof by the time of the reformers.  My question at that time was to wonder why any Medieval powers would have written words about "kingdom" for any reason?  When God had seemingly already conquered the world, politically, what else was there to be talking about?  And so, the focus, quite naturally, turned to individual salvation.

To be clear, I'm all in for avoiding the appearance of Catholic bashing.  I just don't think Luther & Calvin are really ultimately to blame.  And when we talk about Medieval Catholicism, let's be clear, we're also talking about a very different organization in many ways than the RCC that stands today.  But let's also be clear...

Evidently, there is something at work in the systematization of religion, on the massive scale, which eventually cannot help but to process believers on an individual basis.  Call it the precursor of the factory-model, perhaps, but it's absolutely systemic.  To increase the scale of doing business, one absolutely must create efficiencies.  It is no accident that today's mega-churches are the place where believers are most likely to wind up with a totally individualized church-going experience.  When you consider practical dynamics, the mega-churches can hardly do otherwise.

Think upon these things...

November 8, 2011

The Homanadensian War

The timeline of the career of Sulpicius Quirinius includes at least three solid points – his consulship in 12 BC, his service to Gaius in the East, from 2 to 4 AD, and his census of Judea in 6/7 AD.  There is some question about his status as governor of Crete & Cyrene (c.15 BC?) as it seems to have been a military command before the General had yet served as Consul, but the most significant question about the career of Quirinius is about the time at which he executed the Homanadensian War.
Given the inscriptional attestation in Antioch Pisidia for the presence of Legions V and VII in southern Galatia until after the Isaurian War (6 AD), it is unnecessary to suggest any Syrian Governor pursued the Homanadensians from the other side of the Taurus Mountains.  Further, the situation in the East during those years would have made it unwise to remove two of Syria’s three Legions (they were still not four at the death of Herod the Great) – aside from which any General starting a campaign from Antioch into the Taurus range should have begun with the Cilician mountains or Isaurians.  
Besides all this, the only suggestions that Quirinius attacked Pisidia from Syria are from those suggesting it happened from 3 to 1 BC.  Their motive is to contrive a late death for Herod and an early governorship for Quirinius, both of which should seem impossible after any thorough historical analysis.  Aside from this present volume*, they should check the works of Mitchell and Levick on Galatia, in the bibliography*.  But now having addressed his, we move on.
Accepting that Quirinius executed the Homanadensian War as Proconsul of Galatia, probably from Antioch Pisidia, means his governorship there must have occurred between 12 BC and 2 AD.  Fortunately the milestones of the Via Sebaste attest the presence of Cornutus Aquila and his completion (or near completion; see Levick) of that road in 6 BC.  Further, as the path of that road follows a difficult route through the mountains that is many miles west of the Kestros River valley, where the modern road lies, it seems even more certain that the Roman road was built as a limes (boundary road) before Pisidia had been fully pacified. 
That suggests Quirinius’ earliest arrival in Galatia at the middle of 5 BC.  At any rate, with a range between 6 BC and 2 AD it could hardly have been much later, and as the purpose for the road was for rapid military transport around a hostile area, it seems most natural to assume the next stage of preparation for that war began in the following year.  Galatia was not a strategic point at which to station Legions except to direct them locally, and the greater needs of the Empire would have motivated Augustus to pacify Anatolia as quickly as possible.
On essentially this basis, among other points, Levick concurs with the great Ronald Syme who suggested the war belongs in the years 4-3 BC.  With their recommendation on top of such historical evidence, I simply conclude Quirinius arrived in 5 and left in 2, leaving two full summers for a campaign so difficult Augustus rewarded him with an ornamental triumph.  Obviously, this view excludes Quirinius from any participation in Syria between 3 and 1 BC, but as stated above, that prospect never had any firm historical footing anyway.
*This entire post excerpted from an unpublished draft manuscript.  
Comments and feedback will be much appreciated.

November 2, 2011


From NT Wright's Simply Jesus, Chapter 1

"Many Christians, hearing of someone doing "historical research" on Jesus, begin to worry that what will emerge is a smaller, less significant Jesus than they had hoped to find. Plenty of books offer just that:  a cut-down-to-size Jesus, Jesus as a great moral teacher or religious leader, a great man but nothing more. Christians now routinely recognize this reductionism and resist it. But I have increasingly come to believe that we should be worried for the quite opposite reason. Jesus--the Jesus we might discover if we really looked!--is larger, more disturbing, more urgent than we--than the church!--had ever imagined. We have successfully managed to hide behind other questions (admittedly important ones) and to avoid the huge, world-shaking challenge of Jesus's central claim and achievement. It is we, the churches, who have been the real reductionists. We have reduced the kingdom of God to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself."

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