Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Jesus and Torah II

E.P. Sanders and M. Davies write: "Once we can discern both favourable and unfavourable portraits of Jesus, we can ask what is common to both portraits and we may have considerable confidence that what is common is historically sound". (E.P. Sanders and Margaret Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels [London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1989], p. 302).

The upshot is that the invective terms used to describe Jesus by his opponents may go some way in illuminating his aims and intentions. There are several such polemical terms used to describe him including:

1. Jesus as Mamzer, or "illegitimate son"

2. Jesus as “glutton and drunkard”

3. Jesus as “demon-possessed”

4. Jesus as “blasphemer”

5. Jesus as “lawbreaker”

6. Jesus as “false prophet”

7. Jesus as “king of the Jews”

See Jerome H. Neyrey and Bruce M. Malina, Calling Jesus Names: The Social Value of Labels in Matthew (Sonoma, CA: Polerbridge, 1988) which undertakes a study of the polemical labels used in the Gospel of Matthew.

My interest is in the designation of Jesus as law-breaker. Jesus himself provoked opposition over issues pertaining to the Sabbath (e.g. Mk. 2.24; Lk. 13.14; 14.1-6) and food laws (Mk. 7.1-23) and his fidelity to the Torah was regarded as suspect to the point that Jesus and his disciples were regarded as performing unlawful acts (Mk. 2.24; 3.4). What this label might mean for understanding the historical Jesus and the early Jesus movement is quite interesting. All the more so when it is remembered that James was martyred on the grounds of being a law-breaker (Jos. Ant. 20.200). Is there continuity between Jesus and James on this point?

For more on this topic see the forthcoming volume: Joseph B. Modica and Scot McKnight, (eds.), Who Do My Opponents Say That I Am? An Investigation of the Accusations Against Jesus (T& T Clark/ Continuum, forthcoming late 2007).


Loren Rosson III said...

Nice! It is rather difficult to escape the pervasive gospel testimony that Jesus was a law-breaker and was nastily villified for it. What we need to ask is why Jesus would have broken Torah.

Mark Goodacre said...

Interesting questions, and a good way to think about historical Jesus research. Cf. my own post about Forgotten Criteriain Historical Jesus Research II.

On Loren's comment, I'd add that one needs to nuance that by asking "why was Jesus perceived to have broken Torah". We don't need to conclude that he did break Torah on the basis of those charges, just that there was something he did that made the charge plausible to some.

Michael F. Bird said...

Mark is quite correct. Perception and reality do not always correspond!