Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jesus and Our Standards

I finished volume 2 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus.

I'm having a hard time finding things in the book right now, so this post will be rather informal, as opposed to citing what Meier says on specific pages.

Meier talks about the limits of the criterion of embarrassment, the criterion that says that the embarrassing things in the Gospels are likely historical because the early church would not make up something embarrassing. If my memory is correct, Meier refers to a scholar who says that Jesus actually did get mad and curse the fig tree because the early church would not invent that story, since it saw Jesus as meek, patient, and kind. Meier, however, disagrees. For one, Meier thinks that what is embarrassing by our standards may not have been embarrassing to the early church. And two, Meier's argument (if I understand it correctly) is that the story is literary rather than historical, in that it sets the stage for Jesus' cleansing of the Temple----at the later stage of redaction in which the cleansing is not merely a cleansing but is foreshadowing the Temple's destruction.

Earlier in the book, Meier talks about other scholarly attempts to deal with Jesus' anger in a story. In Mark 1:40ff., Jesus heals a leper. V 41 says that Jesus was moved with compassion, whereas there are manuscripts that say that he was angry. Bart Ehrman has argued that Jesus being angry was in the original story, and that Jesus was upset because he didn't want to be bothered. Meier, however, refers to other views about why Jesus in the story was angry: because Jesus was outraged at the existence of disease in the world or the Jewish establishment's exclusion of the leper from society.

At this point, my thoughts are jumbled, so I'll just write and see what comes out. I don't want to assume that the standards of the ancients were totally like my own standards. For example, I may have a conception of Jesus as patient, kind, and compassionate, but perhaps the ancients were not embarrassed by Jesus acting in ways that did not meet those standards. And maybe there were valid reasons that Jesus was that way, or presented in that way: that Jesus was outraged at sin and injustice, or that Jesus could be impatient like other human beings, or that Jesus had an apocalyptic "good vs. evil" mentality. Perhaps some of the standards of the ancients can instruct me, even though they're different from mine.

At the same time, I'd like to think that----even when Jesus acts in ways that appear to be unusual----that there exists at the basis of that some foundation of love and benevolence. Consequently, I don't think that Jesus was angry in Mark 1:41 simply because he didn't want to be bothered. I prefer to think that he was angry at the existence of disease or the leper's exclusion. The ancients may have differed from us in terms of standards, but I still believe that there was overlap. Otherwise, the love chapter, I Corinthians 13, would not hit us so powerfully. The ancients obviously had a conception of benevolence, as we do.

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