Saturday, 15 September 2012

I've been reading...

Three brief overviews of  books that've been on my reading list over the past couple of weeks.

Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ.
Boyarin is a Jewish scholar, and if there's one thing I've learned over the years it's that Jewish scholars of the New Testament - Alan Segal, Amy-Jill Levine, Mark Nanos, Pamela Eisenbaum - to name just four - tend to have a clearer view on their subject, and often a whole lot more savvy, than their compromised Christian colleagues. 

Here Boyarin tackles the old 'Son of Man' chestnut.  What does the title (assuming it is a title) mean when applied to Jesus.  There are those, like the translators of the Common English Bible, who believe it just means a human, any human, or perhaps one - like Jesus - who is supremely human.  Boyarin is having none of this.  Nor does he seem to have much time for the fence-sitters who see it both referring to Jesus' humanity and, in other contexts, to the mysterious Son of Man figure in Daniel's late apocalyptic pot-boiler.  It's the Danielic feed that Boyarin subscribes to, and he traces it back to the Two Powers theology that predated Judaism as we now know it. 

And you can certainly start to join the dots.  Not just Segal (Two Powers in Heaven), but Gabriele Boccaccini (Beyond the Essene Hypothesis), and Margaret Barker (The Great Angel).  Boyarin maintains that it is here, not in Greek philosophical speculation, that the roots lie of what later became binitarianism and trinitarianism. 

John Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age. (Second edition)
If you ever needed convincing that the orthodox Chalcedonian understanding of Jesus as both God and man is incoherent, this is the place to begin.  For Hick it's long past time to dump the old, literal, dog-collared dogmas and view them through the lens of metaphor.  Hick doesn't tackle full-blown trinitarianism head-on, but launches out into the peculiar Christology that has Jesus neither fish nor fowl from the moment 'baby Jesus' drew breath.  But, of course, it's not enough to just stand up on a soap box and shout your conclusions, as some of us are wont to do.  Hick is meticulous in his approach, engaging with the 'thinkers' who still want to maintain the old views, relentlessly deconstructing as he goes.

And of course he's no doubt right.

Harry Emerson Fosdick. Christianity and Progress.
Based on a series of lectures Fosdick gave in 1922, addressing an audience very different from today's, this is still a book well worth reading.  And Fosdick himself, a wise man in the best sense of that term, is well worth rediscovering.  He was an articulate advocate of human progress, a concept beyond the grasp of human beings before the Enlightenment when everything harked back to a past golden age, foresaw a cataclysmic end to history, or relegated change to the endless loop of cycles which we are doomed to repeat.

But Fosdick was no starry-eyed liberal, seeing a steady progression toward human perfection.  The Great War was still too fresh in memory for that.
[H]uman history is not a smooth and well-rolled lawn of soft ascents; ... it is mountainous, precipitous... a country where all progress must be won by dint of intelligence and toil, and where it is as easy to lose the gains of civilization as it is to fall over a cliff or to surrender a wheat field to the weeds.
Fosdick is essentially a thinking person's pastor, and something of a sage in the first half of the twentieth century.  I'm not sure we have yet seen his like a hundred years on.  Liberal he might have been, but he also saw a burning need for people in the brave new world of science and progress to be deeply grounded in religion.  What did he mean by that?
Religion is the human spirit, by the grace of God, seeking and finding an interpretation of experience that puts sense and worth, dignity, elevation, joy, and hope into life.
To which one can only say amen.

If you have the Kobo software on your computer, tablet or smart phone (or, less likely, an actual Kobo reader), then you can download the Gutenberg edition of this book for free.  Frankly, you could do a lot worse and pay good money in the process. 

Amazon links:
The Jewish Gospels
The Metaphor of God Incarnate


  1. Well, just so long as we get this part straight; in order for the son to inherit the father's estate, the father has to die, not the son.

    It wasn't hard for the Jews to figure that one out. It's the gentiles who have a problem with who Jesus was.

  2. Gavin said...

    >Boyarin is a Jewish scholar, and if there's one thing I've learned over the years it's that Jewish scholars of the New Testament - Alan Segal, Amy-Jill Levine, Mark Nanos, Pamela Eisenbaum - to name just four - tend to have a clearer view on their subject, and often a whole lot more savvy, than their compromised Christian colleagues.<

    You are sadly mistaken! They are probably the least people with a clear view of NT. Note the words of the Chosen Vessel thus: "For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, not yet the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him"(Acts 13:27). Paul is here saying, that the Jews neither understood who Jesus is nor the teachings of the OT, which he calls, "the voices of the prophets." And in another text, he was inspired to write: "For Moses of old time have in every city them that preach him, being read in the Synagogues every Sabbath day"(Acts 15:21).

    That later statement was fulfilled this last Sabbath and will be fulfilled every Sabbath until the world ends. In the various Synagogues around the world, The Jews read the law and the prophets every Sabbath day, but they don't understand what they are reading, because the vail blinds them to the spiritual meaning of what is being read. But if a Jew is called by God, the vail is taken away(2 Cor. 3:12-16).

    So the idea that Jewish scholars have a clearer view of the NT is not supported by scripture.

    1. Why am I not surprised?

      The idea that slavery is unacceptable is not supported by scripture.
      The idea that children shouldn't be thrashed is not supported by scripture.
      The idea that clothing made of mixed fabrics is okay is not supported by scripture.
      The idea that prisoners of war may not be abused is not supported by scripture.
      The idea that all persons of Jewish heritage are covered by Acts 13:27 is not supported by scripture.
      The concept of democracy is not supported by scripture.
      The concept of human rights is not supported by scripture.

      So, rant on about the "Chosen Vessel" as much as you like - preferably on your own blog; but please don't do it here any longer.

      BTW, the word is veil, not vail.

    2. Christianity itself comes from Jewish midrash, the secret and hidden meaning of the OT - called by Paul as the "Spirit" of the word and not the "letter". That's how the "seed" of Abraham, which is Israel, ends up meaning Christ in the hidden mystery. Instead of Israel being raised up the third day in Hosea 6:2 it becomes about Jesus being raised up the third day in 1 Cor. 15:4 - also in the gospels (Luke 24:46) where it is "written" and was all "according to the scriptures". Instead of Isaiah and the other faithful followers being meant by Isaiah 53, the meaning of the suffering servant becomes about Jesus. Jesus is behind every OT bush in this fashion and therefore the virgin birth thing from Isaiah 7:14 is also about Jesus in Matt. 1:23 - it's not, literally, but in the "hidden" meaning, it is - according to Christianity.

    3. Something tells me Gavin is going to get double-triple-super tortured by demons for THAT little rant!

  3. There's another new book about the Jewish Christ as well. Lawrence Goudge's Cover Up: How the Church Silenced Jesus's True Heirs. In the book Goudge proposes thatthe Jewish followers of Jesus preserved the beliefs and practices of the original apostles: Peter, James and John. Therefore, the true heretics were those who created the new religion of the dying God (anathema to Peter James and John). Cover-Up: How the Church Silenced Jesus's True Heirs exposes the church's hypocrisy in first silencing those who truly followed Jesus and then exterminating them, just as they did the Cathars.  I found it here Let me know what you think of it.
    Check out his webpage as well.