Monday, March 26, 2012

Effecting Restoration, Zealot and Iscariot, Christology Debate, Multiple Attestation

I have four items for my write-up today on volume 3 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus.

1. On page 153, Meier talks about how Jesus believed that his selection of twelve disciples was actually bringing about the regathering of the twelve tribes of Israel. Symbolic actions were often thought to have some power in bringing about the event to which they pointed, Meier contends. When Isaiah went naked in public (Isaiah 20:1-6)), Jeremiah smashed a wineflask (Jeremiah 13:12-14), and Ezekiel laid on his side and looked at a clay tablet on which was a picture of Jerusalem, they did not merely think that they were foreshadowing what was coming, but that, in some sense, their "symbolic gestures unleashed future events, setting them inexorably in motion" (page 153).

For Meier, Jesus' mission was to reconstitute Israel and to regather its lost sheep in anticipation of God's dramatic intervention in history, which was to include God's wrath and inauguration of the Kingdom of God. That's why Jesus was reaching out to the sinners and the marginalized. For Meier, by selecting twelve disciples, Jesus was foreshadowing and also bringing about the renewal, regathering, and restoration of Israel.

2. Meier was talking about Simon the Zealot and the "Iscariot" part of Judas Iscariot. Meier disagrees with those who interpret "Zealot" and "Iscariot" in light of the Jewish rebels whom Josephus discusses, for Meier deems that to be anachronistic, perhaps because he assumes that these movements of rebels were active decades after the time of Jesus. Meier interprets "Zealot" to mean that Simon was religiously zealous, like Phinehas in the Hebrew Bible, which (for Meier) set Simon at odds with Levi the toll-collector (so Meier preserves that popular sermon point, even though Meier does not believe that Simon was a Zealot in the sense of being an anti-Roman rebel).

Regarding Judas, Meier concludes that the name "Iscariot" remains an enigma, but he mentions that John 6:71 and 13:2, 26 refer to Simon Iscariot, Judas' father. Meier thinks that Iscariot may have "designated the town from which" Judas and his father came (page 211).

3. On page 228, Meier states that the part of John 6 about many of Jesus' disciples leaving him while the Twelve remained reflects a "late 1st-century debate among Christian Jews over the high christology and eucharistic theology championed by some Johannine Christians but rejected by others."

4. On page 249, Meier states: "...while a few members of the Twelve, notably Peter and the sons of Zebedee, were prominent leaders of the early church in Jerusalem, most of the Twelve and the Twelve as a group disappear very quickly after Easter. The idea that they were such a significant and dominant group in the early church that they were massively retrojected into the Marcan, Q, L, and Johannine traditions is contradicted by the actual flow and ebb of their career."

I disagree with Meier on this (if I am understanding him correctly), for, as he notes, the Twelve appear in a writings of Paul, which was decades after Easter. But the reason that this passage stood out to me is that I thought it might come close to explaining why Meier believes that the multiple attestation of something in independent sources makes it more likely to be historical. I've wondered if that is necessarily the case, for Meier himself says that a tradition could become so strong that it then appears in multiple sources. Plus, are early Christian sources truly independent from each other? Who's to say that Mark, Q, L, and John could not have been drawing from a common tradition? Why does the appearance of something in multiple sources make it historical? Is Meier saying that these sources reflect independent eyewitness testimony of something that actually happened? Or that it's primarily a historical event that has the ability to become widely accepted?

From the passage, what I get is this: in certain cases, it's easier to assume that something appears in multiple sources because it occurred in history and stood out to different people, than it is to think that it was invented by some stray thinker and massively retrojected into the sources. The first has more of a natural feel to it, I guess.

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