Thursday, July 20, 2006

Charlesworth on the "Relatively Certain"

After re-reading James H Charlesworth and Walter P Weaver (eds) [u]Jesus 2000 Years Later[/u], following my reference to the Sanders' article therein the other day, I was struck by what is a sometimes apt, and sometimes not so much so, list of what Charlesworth considers "relatively certain" about the historical Jesus (p.107-113--it's a long list. He seems to have rather high hopes). Here's a look at some of the ones I find most questionable (to be fair, he notes that in the interests of succinctness, he does not, in most instances, provide argumentation):

Nothing can be known with any probability about the years before his public ministry. The intracanonical gospels and Josephus make no mention of his childhood or youth

This sounds good, but is immediately followed by:

Jesus was probably not born into a poverty-stricken, or even poor, family. If he knew Scripture as well as his contemporaries claimed, he must have spent some time studying, which would not have been possible for a peasant

Now, setting aside the question of whether Charlesworth has provided sufficient grounds to suggest that Jesus was not a peasant (a suggestion I doubt), he has, in directly sequential items, flatly contradicted himself. We cannot suggest that we can know nothing before his ministry with probability, and that we know it is probable that he was not impoverished before his ministry.

Jesus probably interpreted Isa 40:3 differently from John the Baptizer and teh Qumranites and their teacher. Unlike them, he did not think a voice had called him into the wilderness. For Jesus the voice was calling from the wilderness.

Jesus left the wilderness. . .

I've gotta say, I'm pretty skeptical that we can discern Jesus' preferred interpretation of Isa 40:3 on the fact that he left JBap.. Could be he left because John got arrested, and Isa 40:3 had nothing to do with it. Could be a lot of things. Calling this "relatively certain" is grasping.

Jesus was often invited to dinners and knew the joy of companionship and wine

This seems plausible, but "relatively certain"?!

Some Pharisees admired him, sought his company, and probably warned him about problems

Pharisees are generally an anachronism in the gospel references--retrojecting the realities of Post 70 CE to the 30s CE. As such, while Jesus may or may not have garnered the support of Pharisees who "probably warned him about problems," we can't say this with any measure of certainty.

Even if one doesn't find this particular suggestion persuasive (as apparently Charlesworth doesn't), it is of sufficiently wide support that to include it on a list of what "we" (ie scholars) can consider "relatively certain."

Jesus spoke primarily Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew, Greek, and a little Latin

Wow. And here this has been debated for nothing--we can be "relatively" certain of the answer.

The Beatitudes probably derive ultimately from Jesus because a form strikingly similar to them has now been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls; that is to say, this manner of speaking was not created by his followers

And apparently his followers are inherently less likely to mimic that manner of speaking than Jesus was. Why? Apparently only Charlesworth knows.

He was obsessed with God


It seems likely that James and John requested thrones beside Jesus. The embarassment of the tradition is obvious when one sees how Matthew shifts Mark's statement from them to their mother

The utter absence of embarassment in the original author is equally obvious when one considers that he writes it without apology.

He was tested, even persecuted, by scribes sent out from the priests in authority in Jerusalem.

The "scribes" serve as a foil--in Mark's narrative in particular, they serve to maintain the pace, keeping Jesus moving (and winning) from dispute to dispute. That they're primarily a literary device seems obvious to me.

I don't doubt that there's some legitimate history behind the sayings, but I do doubt that we can trust the context.

But here, here is real capper:

It is possible, and perhaps probable, that Jesus was raised by God, as Jews like Lapide explain and Flusser contemplate. It also makes sense in light of early Jewish theology. It is well attested in the intracanonical and extracanonical gospels, Paul, and other very early sources.


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