September 28, 2012

on Jesus' not being married

April DeConick has the most intriguing post I've yet seen on the recent discussion. The intrigue I feel has - of course - nothing to do with Jesus' historical life, but with the religious traditions about celibacy. And, obviously, that's the main reason this fake gospel text is being pushed in the media and blogosphere.

Catholic priests shouldn't be forced to abstain from marriage. That's obvious, except maybe to diehard Roman Catholics themselves. But what can you say? Some traditions die harder than others.

What offends me about the recent silliness is the same thing that often offends me about religious arguments over history. It should not be necessary to create revisionist backgrounds in order to promote current agendas. Promoting this idea that Jesus was married - as a political ploy - is no better than David Barton's false characterization of America's Founders as proto-evangelicals.

As for Jesus himself, he almost certainly remained single, but why? I can only think of two possible explanations, and the first - divine guidance - may be at least somewhat true but isn't worth much discussion for historiographically. The more practical reasons are what I find interesting.

A parallel presents itself in the larger issue of family-in-general. The reason Jesus denied having a mother was most likely to protect her. We don't know how many years in advance Jesus conceived (or had revealed to him) what his mission was going to be, but once that mission began the threats were obvious. The Gospel of John suggests Jesus had some inkling in advance, because it suggests Jesus moved his mother and father from Nazareth to Capernaum. The Gospel of Luke shows why Nazareth may not have been safe for Jesus' parents and brothers. (The married-off sisters were no longer accountable.) The Gospels also suggest some advance foresight about Jesus' final fate, and securing his mom's future welfare at Golgotha. The man who washed others' feet would not fail to care for his intimates.

In this light, it's not extreme to deduce that Jesus' bachelorhood was most likely chosen responsibly. How could the Lamb of God, who came for the world, commit himself to take care of a wife? As songwriter Rich Mullins said in the song Homeless Man, "There were pretty maids all in a row/ Who lined up to touch the hem of your robe/ But you had no place to take them, so/ You did not take a wife."

But what of Jesus' marriageable age? Why did he not marry earlier in life? Again, there's the catch-all Divine Guidance, but that's not very helpful. Much better, perhaps, is specific estimating. If Jesus predicted his death near the end of his ministry, and if Jesus predicted his Mom's need for safety just before the start of his ministry, then how far in advance might Jesus have predicted his unsuitability as husband material?

For the sake of discussion, let's assume girls marry around 13 to 15, to established bachelors with some means, maybe 18 to 20 or more. That would mean Jesus needed to have some specific sense of his future mission about ten or fifteen years before being baptized by John. I won't seek to defend or explore that idea further right now. It's enough at the moment to delineate the boundaries. This is what we're discussing.

It's wrong to suggest Jesus' failure to marry was all about sex. Wrong on all sorts of levels. It's just as wrong to think the only alternative to celibate Jesus was sexually active Jesus. These are twin sides of the same obsession coin. We ought neither be overly prudish nor overly sensual. Nor should we be, hypocritically, both. But now I really digress.

As for Jesus himself, I find it much more historically plausible to suggest simply that the young man didn't marry because of a secret and building fanaticism. Such an 18 or 20 year old wouldn't be too far removed from - and I think also fits very nicely as a natural extension of - the 12 year old we read about via Luke. We don't have to suppose God spoke and said, "By the way, don't get married." We just have to understand this very special young man had begun, from an early stage in life, to form a specific direction for his future life. And just like the 12 year old was ready to consecrate his future to the academics in Jerusalem, the 18 to 20 year old (it seems) was prepared to consecrate himself more than that.

It wasn't anti-sexual. It was devotional. I've known more than one teenage (male) athlete who broke up with his girlfriend for hopes at a golden season in his sport of choice. What - I'm proposing - Jesus actually did isn't too much different, in aspect, from that.

September 1, 2012

About Borg's Chronological Aims...

Marcus Borg wants to see the New Testament's 27 documents rearranged "based on contemporary mainstream biblical scholarship" and "scholarly consensus about the basic framework." This article is so interesting, I don't quite know where to start. For brevity's sake, I'll just cut to the chase.

If any mainstream publications start making hay with such a "chronological new testament", one based on the liberal consensus Borg recommends, then I predict one of two reactions from the conservative side (who are tragically always reactive instead of proactive about the NT historically). Either (a) a handful of contrary projects will develop, with a more scripture-affirming timeline, which might raise the concern among evangelicals that NT chronology needs more attention (thus providing us with chronology projects deeply flawed in another direction, because conservatives generally care more about shoring up doctrine than for reconstructing actual history)... Or (b) a handful of strong authority figures will simply circle the wagons around canonical sequencing by decrying once more the feasibility of knowing such dates with much confidence (as they go on passionately debating the finer points of much more knowable things, such as precisely how much God does or does not predetermine).

I don't honestly know which of those two outcomes I'd prefer less.

The major parts of Borg's rationale, I agree with. His "consensus" package of dates, not so much. Yes, it makes a huge difference in the way we see the New Testament, and yet it's for that very same reason that we certainly do ourselves more harm than good with the wrong sequence of dates.

Obviously, all this merely begs the main question once more. What are the right dates? As it so happens, a couple of Bibliobloggers were on Facebook just this week, discussing how there's so little consensus among various NT Chronologies currently 'out there', and how it's easier to just make up one's own and then look for whomever's published work most closely approximates that, to get support! (Yes, I'm pretty sure they were mostly just joking, but it's not far from the truth.)

I have so much work still cut out for me. (He said, unashamedly.) Though it is not now what it might have been in recent years. (He said, mysteriously.)

More to come on my changing objectives, anon, but unless I suddenly win the lotto (anyone want to buy me a ticket?) I'll just keep battling circumstances to carve out more significant project time. Any year now, I really ought to start hitting my groove. Until then, I'll just let these others speak for themselves, without further commentary, from me, today:

Marcus Borg:  A Chronological New Testament

Aside from 347 comments at the moment (which I've not yet read more than a dozen of), the post also has over a thousand shares and 'likes', and a couple of bibliobloggers have already responded:

Phillip J. Long: Reading the New Testament, Chronological or Canonical?
Victoria Gaile Laidler: Chronological or Canonical?

Perhaps more opinions will follow. I'd love to see yours, in the comments below...

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