June 30, 2003
Sorry, I seem to have misplaced my theologian

For those of you who have been eagerly awaiting the next installment of the historical-Jesus discussion (click here if you don't know what I'm talking about), I am sorry to say it will probably not continue. Telford has been insanely busy with buying a house, and I've had a hard time communicating with him at all. I didn't even talk to him at church yesterday -- I saw him in the pews, but somehow I couldn't find him afterwards before he took off. He says he looked around for me too, but we never connected. It was very aggravating -- like when you know your keys are in the living room somewhere, but you just can't find them. (Only your keys, at least, aren't going to walk out to the car and drive to Pasadena.)

Last week I sent him an email suggesting we drop the discussion, both because of his distractions and because I've been finding the book frustrating. It's not really the book's fault -- it's just not a good place for me to start learning about historical Jesus research. As I wrote to him:

As I said on Sunday, a large part of the problem is
the lack of actual historical evidence in the book. If
you saw my posts about this in April, you might have
seen how I'm asking very basic questions: what are the
sources? How reliable are they? How do we know who
wrote them, when they were written? And so on. The
book basically skates over those questions, because
that's not really its point: it's about the *meaning*
of Jesus, after all, not the documentation. I think I
need to start with something that deals with those
more fundamental issues....

Another thing I noticed is that you seem to have Borg
and me both under the category of "skeptic." So if
even the skeptical Borg accepts that the resurrection
happened, I should be impressed.

The problem is, I don't think Borg is really a
skeptic. He's a believer in a different version of
Christianity than you and Wright; and he's actually
pretty shameless about how he's making his research
fit his beliefs. As you noted in the first chapter,
his pre-Easter/post-Easter thing was all driven by the
fact that he didn't like the Jesus he got from not
having it. And as I've read more of him, I see that
pattern repeating. This whole "Spirit person" concept
is not the work of a skeptic, it's the work of someone
with a strong belief in how God moves in the world.
Unlike you I don't dismiss it out of hand, but it's
obvious how it's affecting his view of history.

I asked if he could perhaps suggest a different book. He wrote in an email this morning that he'd try to get to it today, though if it follows the usual pattern he'll probably write me after I've gone to bed, so I doubt I'll have an answer today. At any rate, if I start another book I'll blog it, but I'll probably do it, er, Telflessly.

If you're interested in Marcus Borg, Lynn has her second post up about another one of his books. (The first one was here.) He sounds pretty much like I would expect from what I've read, which is interesting but also somewhat at variance with where I'm coming from. I suspect that to an evangelical Christian like Telford, a way-liberal Christian like Borg and a Christian-leaning liberal nonbeliever like me probably look closer together than we are. As Lynn says, Borg writes from the point of view of someone who's fallen out with traditional Christianity but is trying to find his way back to Jesus; I, however, was never with Jesus and am not going "back," but going forwards (or trying to).

Anyway, I'll let you all know what's going to happen, as soon as I know. Stay tuned, true believers (or true nonbelievers, as the case may be!).

Posted by Camassia at June 30, 2003 06:33 PM | TrackBack

May I recommend this article to you?

I'm not a big "First Things" fan, but the article is written by an excellent biblical scholar (okay, a former professor of mine). I don't think it mentions Borg specifically, but Borg is a part of the Jesus Seminar. The article might answer some questions you have about methods and sources.

Posted by: Jennifer on July 1, 2003 08:13 AM

Thanks ... I read that article a while ago actually. It's interesting, but it doesn't go exactly to what I was talking about.

Actually, the article points up reason 3 for my frustration with this discussion. The approach of everybody else in it except Lynn has been largely negative: attack Borg and the Jesus Seminar. (Look at Telford's last post and the relative space he devotes to Borg and to Wright, and you'll see what I mean.) I don't really care about that because I don't think Borg is a real skeptic. I am more interested in knowing what kind of positive case can be made for the historical evidence.

N.T. Wright makes a lot of positive assertions in the book but I can't see the process by which he arrived at them. I think there was a process, but I expect that since this is a 'popular' book, he left it out as being too dull. But I want the boring details! Dare to be dull!

Posted by: Camassia on July 1, 2003 10:40 AM

Here are a few discussions on the historical Jesus from the folks on the Straight Dope message boards. I think there are some sources mentioned therein.

Jesus, historical figure?

Can we separate The Christ of Faith from the Historical Jesus?

Posted by: Tom T. on July 1, 2003 08:48 PM

You seek knowledge of God because you are called to the search. The search for the historical Jesus, for me, after reading quite a few articles and books churned out by members of the Jesus Seminar, turned out to be an irrelevancy. For me, the Incarnation is not the major thing. The major thing is the Way, the Truth, the Life. Live in imitation of Christ, as presented in the Gospels, as best you can, and see if the proof is not in the doing.

Posted by: Rob on July 2, 2003 08:26 AM

Rob: Yeah, I understand what you're saying, and I have had my doubts about how much studying this could affect anything in regard to faith. This whole project started with an argument I had with Telford over basically that point. I think historical research was important to his 'walk,' and since I don't like to argue from a position of ignorance, I agreed to look into it. And now that I have, I've gotten interested.

Tom: Are you a Doper? I used to be, under a different name. I didn't post a whole lot though -- I think blogging is more my style than message boards.

Posted by: Camassia on July 2, 2003 10:01 AM

The problem with the "historical" approach is that it's nearly all speculation. The best "history" we have is still the Gospels. There is not one scrap of reliable evidence of the historicity of Jesus outside the Gospel record that would be called verifiable by the scientific method: and so what? I was about 3/4 of the way through one of the Jesus Seminar-spawned volumes, entitled as I remember The Five Gospels, when I received the message--out of "nowhere"--that I was wasting my time. This was a book that purported to rank the sayings of Jesus in the four gospels and Thomas (?) as to which were most likely the "authentic" words of Jesus. The sayings were color-coded accordingly. Authentic to *what*, I ask? No temporally-contingent, secular history is "true" in the way that the eternal message of the Gospel is true.

Posted by: Rob on July 2, 2003 10:46 AM

If you really want a rigorous review of the evidence, I'd suggest John Meier's "A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus." The first volume, "The Problem and the Person," reviews a lot of the methodological issues that you appear to be interested in. Of course, the three volumes amount to about 2,000 or so pages of text and a fourth volume is in the works. Got a lot of time on your hands?

Posted by: Peter Nixon on July 2, 2003 12:46 PM

Personally, I'm not interested in any more reviews of the supposed evidence. There is no evidence specific to Jesus. You can write volumes on stuff such as what a Jew living in the Galilee in the first century probably ate, wore, did for a living; how tall he probably was and how he probably wore his hair and beard, and what color they were. You can speculate on the likelihood that he could read and write, on whether or not he may have been fluent in Greek and influenced by the Stoics. You can debate whether James was his brother, or merely a cousin. You can expostulate on the probable nature of the relationship of his mother to his father, and on whether or not Jesus was probably illegitmate, and how that affected his world view. You can on forever with this kind of speculation, but you will never have written one sentence containing certain knowledge about the individual man that is known to the Gospels as "Jesus". There just are no such facts. If you find the speculation interesting, there is, as you say, plenty of it out there. But that is what you'll get for your efforts: speculation. Nothing more.

Posted by: Rob on July 2, 2003 01:45 PM

As other commenters have noted, it may not be possible to "get to the bottom" of it. But I recommend some work from a very different approach :

"Jesus" by David Flusser. Flusser is a Jewish scholar. I vastly prefer him to Geza Vermes.

"The Birth of the Synoptics" by ???? - drawing a blank. But check it out on Amazon. Written by a French monk/priest who is fluent in Hebrew.

Both posit early Hebrew/Aramaic sub-texts. "Birth" is very provocative but actually much better scholarship than most of the Jesus Seminar. Also, neither book is very long.

Posted by: Todd V on July 15, 2003 01:54 PM
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