Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Stephen Patterson's RBL review of Craig A. Evans

Over at RBL, Stephen J. Patterson does a review of Craig A. Evans' volume, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels and it goes to show that biblical scholarship is never dull! While his review offers much for comment, I'll restrict myself to one item.

Patterson notes Evans' critique of the theory that the historical Jesus was essentially a Palestinian Cynic philosopher. And Patterson points out the apprent irony that one of the endorsements of the book was written by Gerd Theissen who was responsible for originating the Cynic hypothesis, citing an article by Theissen written in the 70s (ZTK 70 [1973]: 245-71; I would add here also Gerd Theissen, Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity [trans. John Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978], 14-15 and Martin Hengel, The Charismatic Leaders and His Followers [trans. James C. G. Greig; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981 [1968]], 54). However, niether Theissen nor Hengel ever argued that Jesus was a Cynic philosopher, they only pointed out analogies of Cynic practices with the Jesus movement. So I would not call Theissen the originator of the Cynic hypothesis as it pertains to Historical Jesus studies. About the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar, Theissen wrote with a comic flare that is rarely found in a German scholar: ‘The “non-eschatological Jesus” seems to have more Californian than Galilean local colouring’ (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide [trans. John Bowden; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998], 11). John Dominic Crossan's co-author, Jonathan L. Reed, has written this about the Cynic Jesus hypothesis as well: ‘In this context it should be stressed that lacking a substantial component of gentile inhabitants, having only two Jewish cities in their infancy of Hellenization, and lacking much evidence for interregional trade, notions of Cynic itinerants influencing Jesus or his first followers makes little sense. Though the scholarly comparison of Jesus’ teaching with that of Cynicism merits attention as an analogy, any genealogical relationship between Jesus and Cynics is highly unlikely' (Jonathan L. Reed, Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus [Harrisburg: TPI, 2000], 218). Thus, Evan's critique of the Cynic hypothesis cannot be laid at the feet of his evangelical convictions and then swept aside because of it.
See further Michael F. Bird, 'The Peril of Modernizing Jesus and the Crisis of Not Contemporizing the Christ,' EQ 78 (2006): 291-312.

1 comment:

Geoff Hudson said...

I prefer a radical 'Jesus' of the 'fourth philosophy' (really the third philosophy) about which Josephus's later editors (winners looking for an explanation of the Roman war against the Jews) wrote that it 'had a great many followers therein, filled our civil government with tumults at present, and laid the foundation of our future miseries, by this system of philosophy, which we were before unacquainted withal... and this the rather because the infection which spread thence among the younger sort, who were zealous for it, brought the public to destruction.'

Anyone could easily believe that the source of the violence was 'the fourth philosophy'. I contend that the violence came from the 'civil government', the Sanhedrin led by the high priests. Theirs was a violent reaction to suppress the 'fourth philosophy'. The so-called 'infection' was the prophet's teaching about the Spirit which could indwell people and 'spread' - in Jewish terms diseases had their origins in impure spirits. This was no cynic movement among Jews - it was a cultural revolution that had its basis in the OT going back to the time of Abraham who obeyed God's Spirit.