Monday, July 10, 2006

Thoroughing Reality, a Guest Post by Ryan Saunders

Ah, what the hell. Everybody else is doing it, and I want to fit in! Here we have Ryan Saunders offering a criticism of my approach to Jesus' eschatology:

I like Rick, I really do. But having had the misfortune of seeing him on various discussion boards, and here on this 'blog, share his addle-pated approach to historical-criticism, I feel more than a little obligated to point out the error of his ways. Rather than offer an argument in favor of a non-eschatological Jesus, which I doubt Rick would understand, much less appreciate, I'll simply show the error of his arguments for Jesus' apocalypticism.

Sumner is, unfortunately, quite prone to pointing out how widely attested apocalypticism is in the Christian record. Surely, Rick proclaims, everybody would not have misunderstood Jesus so thoroughly! Such a movement would never get off the ground! This is indeed unfortunate because, with his customary lack of imagination, Sumner's reasoning is at best quite flawed. Since he has quite a penchant for Wizard of Oz analogies like this, or this perhaps he'll see the error of his ways if I take the same tact.

Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been read by millions--it's one of the best loved children's stories of all time. So why are most of those readers unaware that Oz was not a dream? Why, even when they have read and have access to Baum's book, do they still insist on seeing Oz through the lense of MGM's over-rated Musical? Applying Rick's reasoning, surely the moral of the entire story wouldn't be misunderstood by millions of fans! So, of course, MGM's version is original!

The nonsensical approach employed here is obvious: MGM didn't tell the story first, they just told it better. Of course Oz was a dream, Baum was silly for not seeing it. Likewise, of course the Messiah brought about the eschaton. How could Paul have thought of it any differently? How much trouble would he have finding an audience to support that? And when Mark told the story better, of course his would be remembered!

Even beyond this, ignoring, for the moment, his wrong-headed dismissal of Q (which is accepted with as close to a consensus as we're likely to see), it still isn't as widely attested as Rick would like you to believe. Mostly, I suspect, because he refuses to take his blinders off to assess the evidence. Where is the eschaton in James, for example? Across the board, sayings that are consistently the best represented among the texts are teachings, not bleak prophecies of divine genocide.

Rick furthers tends to point to the existence of "the Twelve," and traditions of them and "judging" the tribes as having some sort of merit regarding restoration eschatology, as well as other signs of an apocalyptic restoration movement. The first is, of course, borne of nothing more substantiative than Rick's imagination. A social message is no less served by a new "twelve," representing the twelve tribes, and traditions about them "judging" anyone exist nowhere outside of the imagination of Mark. The latter is more of the same: A tending toward the best telling, not the right story.

One could wax lyrical ad nauseum about Rick's wrongheaded, pseudo-historical approach, and, should Rick feel like having more holes revealed in his sieve-like position, I will certainly oblige him. However, due to time constraints I must, for the moment, leave it at that.

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Since I'm a glutton for punishment, the reader can indeed expect more input from Ryan over the coming weeks. Hopefully he'll develop his own position next time, instead of just attacking mine.