Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Jesus the Messiah II

Let me count down the reasons why I think that the historical Jesus made a messianic claim. I'm dealing with the arguments in order of least compelling to most compelling. So the first arguments are the least effective one's and the most forceful are at the end.

1. Allusions to David and Solomon.
The references to "greater than Solomon" (Q 11.31) and David (e.g. Mk. 2.25; 12.35-37) could imply that Jesus also saw himself in a "kingly" fashion, but it is far from certain based on these passages. The fact that Jesus performed exorcisms may also contains an implicit messianic connotation since there was an extant tradition of Solomon as an exorcist (Test. Sol. 1.5-7). In fact, a similar link of kingship and exorcisms is made in 4Q510 1.1-4. Of course greater than Solomon or references to David might imply no more than a reference to Jesus as a sage or prophet or simply "someone important" rather than setting forth a clear messianic claim.

2. The Son of David as the "Lord" in Mark 12.35-37·
This enigmatic unit questions how the Messiah can also be David's Lord. Does this show that the Messiah is more than a Son of David (i.e. heavenly or pre-existent) or does it show that Jesus tries to differentiate his davidic identity from regular messianic connotations? On authenticity some might cry: "Ha, ha, ha, it quotes Ps 110, there favourite apologetic proof text of early Christians, therefore, this story is a secondary accretion to the tradition!" A pox on thee. William Horbury has shown (Messianism among Jews and Christians, 137-42) that Jewish messianic exegesis already combined Daniel 7 with Ps. 110. While I think it hints towards a view of Jesus as more-than-just-a-messiah, it is hardly perspicuous.

3. The Christos and the Christianoi.
How does one launch a messianic movement with a messianic name centred on a figure whose second name is Messiah (Christ) - all without a Messianic claimant at the middle? I don't go for Wrede's Resurrection = Messiah and so the origin and maintenance of the messianic dimension to early Christianity needs explanation. In fact, I would say that the messianism of the early Christians was very early and very robust. Proclaiming a crucified Messiah was not going to endear you to any Jewish audience and yet the claim persisted, it was not peripheral to their proclamation and worship but central. The title Christianoi/Christiani was probably coined by Roman authorities in Antioch (Acts 11.26) given the latin designation. Notably the name Iousiani or "Jesuians" was never used.

4. Trial
Arguably Jesus was asked at his trial if he was the Christ/Son of God (Mark 14.61-64; 15.1-2). Whatever su legeis means ("you said it dude"?) in Mk. 15.2, it contributed to his death. Even if all that Jesus did was not deny the title rather than actually claim it, that would be of itself quite significant (as Dodd noted). The problem is that the trial narratives in the Gospels are historically suspect since they happened behind closed doors and they are theologically loaded. I would argue that there was probably piecemeal eyewitness testimony available to the trial from figures such as Joseph of Arimathean, Nicodemus and perhaps even the Beloved Disciple. The inhabitants of Jerusalem and pilgrims in the city for Passover would have wanted to know how did Jesus go from glorious entry to ignomious death in seven days and reports of what transpired would have got out somehow.

5. I have come sayings
Several of the "I have come" statements seem to suppose a messianic function. For instance, “I have come to cast fire” (which Grimm, Weil ich dich liebe, 85-86 accepts as messianic in orientation). See on this more recently, Simon Gathercole, The Pre-Existent Son, who admits a messianic/prophetic meaning to many of these sayings but thinks that they also include indications of pre-existence (and see the RBL review by Jimmy Dunn for a counter-point).

6. Kingdom of God presupposes a King
According to E.P. Sanders, the very fact that Jesus proclaimed a kingdom implies that he would have some role in that kingdom. Sanders goes on to say that Jesus saw himself as "God's vice-regent". On the surface I can agree with this, but again, there is some doubt. John the Baptist proclaimed the kingdom too and he did not necessarily see himself as ruling or reigning in that kingdom. The term "vice regent" might be a convenient way to avoid saying "Messiah" when the two terms might be synonymous. Or then again, do all ruling functions necessitate a messianic status or claim? But I would say the mystery of the kingdom is enthronement of the Messiah and how that will come about (see John Meier and Ben F. Meyer).

7. Shepherd Theme.
According to Ezekiel 34 the coming Davidic king would be a Shepherd King. I think it possible to say that this theme lies behind Mk. 14.27 ("I will strike the Shepherd"), Lk. 19.10 ("I came to seek and save the lost"), John 10 ("I am the Good Shepherd"), and Mt. 18.12ff/Lk. 15.4ff ("if you have a hundred sheep"). Jesus appears to have made this davidic shepherd theme paradigmatic for his teaching ministry and it explains why he focused on certain audiences such as the "people of the land".

8. Triumphal Entry + Cleaning/Demonstration in the Temple.
Jesus' entry into Jerusalem seems to echo Judas Maccabees entry and his cleansing/demonstration in the temple was messianic in the sense that the Messiah was cleanser and/or rebuilder of the temple. In fact, Herod's rebuilding of the temple was probably part of his propaganda to set forth a claim to the Jewish throne since he was an Idumean (see William Horbury on Herod's messianism). Significantly, I think it is the entry and cleansing together that constitute a prophetic-come-messianic act.

9. Titulus
All four Gospels indicate that Jesus crucified under the titulus "King of the Jews". Placards of this sought were common in Roman executions and it fits with the public warning that crucifixion was meant to make. The titulus also gave Pilate a chance to thumb his nose at Jewish pretentions to self-rule. You could also argue that it was potentially embarassing to later Christians group, although the fact that it occurs in all four Gospels might suggest that it was in fact a means to an ironic Christology and solicited the Romans, unknowingly, to be witnesses of Jesus as the Jewish King. In fact, this ironic Christology is quite apparent in John and Mark. But still, the titulus tells us something of both Jesus' trial, its outcome, and the way he was perceived by the Judean leadership and the Roman political apparatus.

10. Mark and Q
Ed Meadors argued that Q and Mark both picture Jesus as the "messianic herald of salvation" and that would give us multiple-attestation for a messianic theme dominating the christological contours of two sources. Q sceptics and those who break up Q into different tiers will no doubt scoff, but I think this is a genuinely persuasive argument.

11. Jesus and Isaiah 61.
Jesus' use of Isaiah 61 in Lk. 4.18-21 and Q 7.22 as it relates to 4Q521 is a petty good indication that his ministry was both intended and was perceived to have a messianic character.

12. The Messianic Connotations of the Son of Man.
Anything and everything about the Son of Man is contested. But I submit (on the back of U. Muller, C. Carougnis, S. Kim and others) than the Son of Man is essentially a messianic figure of some variety, and if this was Jesus' primary means of self-reference, it constitutes a fairly clear messianic claim given his actions and proclamation.

And that is a summary of what I hope to argue later in the year.

1 comment:

Bob MacDonald said...

Your list of 12 does not seem exhaustive. There are at least 60 titles of Christ used in the NT - see my 13 groupings at The question could be asked of course - who says? You say these are the words of HJ, but it is the writers of the NT who are the claimant. I expect, as N. T. Wright notes in his conversation with J. Dunn, that such testimony is reflecting the return of the LORD to Jerusalem and therefore the words and actions of that unique incarnation of God, the firstborn from the dead.