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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Jesus the Underrated Exorcist

Every so often I google "historical Jesus" to see what Ziggy has to say about about popular opinion (shout out to those playing the Quantum Leap drinking game at home). My first stop was here:

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

I've used Early Christian Writings dot com with great affection for many years. It's a very useful teaching resource for new students of biblical studies. This particular page on theories of the historical Jesus is (not surprisingly) also very helpful. It gives a nice survey of the historical Jesus landscape, albeit somewhat dated. I did notice a blindspot. This list details theories of Jesus as myth, as prophet, as sage, etc. But no such list is complete without a "Jesus as exorcist" entry.

On this note, it is time to take notice of the underrated work of Graham Twelftree. Twelftree's book, Jesus, the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus shed new light on a key but under-appreciated element of Jesus' career. It occurs to me that this element is still under-appreciated 30 years later. Although, see e.g. this book and this book for material advances. I've tinkered with this element in a few publications too.

So my next stop was the almost always disappointing Wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Jesus

Sure enough, the name Twelftree isn't once mentioned. Neither is the word "exorcist" mentioned. I should note, however, that the term "exorcism" is mentioned in passing a few times. But without much explanation. The ever quotable Amy-Jill Levine is quoted, "Most scholars agree that Jesus was baptised by John, debated with fellow Jews on how best to live according to God’s will, engaged in healings and exorcisms, taught in parables, gathered male and female followers in Galilee, went to Jerusalem, and was crucified by Roman soldiers during the governorship of Pontius Pilate (26-36 CE)." I should also note that among those who have built upon this fact, some have elevated it to a cosmic scale (e.g. Wright) and others have elevated it to a political scale (e.g. Horsley). In both cases, demonic possession becomes a metaphor for something more global and more culturally important. This allows Jesus' career as an exorcist to serve as a wide-lens social commentary.

So if Jesus' career as an exorcist is one of the generally accepted facts of history, why is this element underplayed in our popular depictions of him? More to the point, why are there so many books, essays, and documentaries about Jesus with almost no treatment of this key element? I have a few half-baked thoughts on this.

(1) Paul doesn't care about exorcism. Or so suggests the thirteen letters attributed to him. Paul certainly believes in evil powers on a cosmic level but he never mentions exorcisms or Christian exorcists. Indeed, early Christianity doesn't preserve much material on Christian exorcists. Could it be that the Christianized West took most of its theological cues from Paul?

(2) The Gospel of John doesn't care about exorcism. No demons are cast out of human bodies in the Fourth Gospel. Judas is said to be possessed by the Satan. "As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, "What you are about to do, do quickly" (John 13:27). Rather than casting out Satan, Jesus gives the possessed Judas his permission—perhaps even a command?—to do the dastardly, demonic deed. So, as far as John is concerned, Jesus is not an exorcist. Could it be that Christianity's Jesus Christ is mostly Johannine?

(3) The Hebrew Bible doesn't care about exorcism. While we might see a rare exception with David's ability to sooth the "evil spirit of the Lord", there is nothing in the Hebrew Bible that parallels Jesus' war with demons. None of those iconic and highly influential stories from Adam to Jonah prepare us for a career exorcist. Had it not been for Mark's unique interest in exorcism (impacting Matthew and Luke), we would think that exorcism was unbiblical.

(4) When we look down the well of history to find our own reflection, we rarely see career exorcists. Historians (like artists, ideologues, and religious folks) are notorious guilty of finding our own reflections in the face of Jesus. In the modern, white, western world, we simply cannot relate to this worldview. [Odd but true sidebar: I personally witnessed two exorcisms in Zimbabwe during my five-month visit in 1993.] Our only mainstream category for possession relates to the genre of horror. That is, unless you count Scott Bakula's weekly possession of different human bodies in the 1980s. Oh boy.

In sum, the fact that Jesus was a career exorcist doesn't much work for us. It alienates him from us. Whatever selectivity Christians have employed to invent a modern "biblical" worldview has largely neglected this portrait. Moreover historical and political appropriations of Jesus have focused elsewhere most often (noteworthy exceptions listed above). Even so, I remain convinced that Jesus' career as an exorcist is one of the top five things we must know about him to understand him as a man of his own time, place, and worldview.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day

In the spirit of St. Valentine, I send this embroidered love note out to our readers:


love, 

the Jesus Blog

Thursday, February 9, 2017

CSSSB Conference 2017: The Bible in Politics

The next conference to be hosted by the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible, St Mary’s University is…


The topics will be broad ranging and will involve critical analyses of uses of the Bible in politics in a range of geographical and cultural contexts roughly within the timeframe of capitalist modernity. There are more confirmed speakers too. Further details to come over the next few weeks.

Here is the link for registration: http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/169437

A free drink for the first person to identify correctly the poster beneath the poster...

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Hitler for This Week

Photo from jasongoroncy.com
"I have admitted earlier that from 1930 to 1933 I too voted for Hitler.  My work in the congregation and for my dissertation left me little time for involvement in politics.  Every night, and for an entire year-and-a-half, while synodical vicar in Barmen, I was forced to experience the civil war at my very door.  I eagerly longed for order.  In family and school we continually heard that the Treaty of Versailles shamefully humiliated us Germans.  Finally, the war left behind six million unemployed in our country.  So my friends and I agreed that only a strong government could help us.  I did come to mistrust Hitler after his intervention on behalf of a criminal storm trooper in Silesia.  But I was naive enough to suppose that we could get rid of him at the next election in four years.  In the meantime, the party of the German Christians was formed.  In the summer of 1933 it grew from four to forty-five members among the representatives of my congregation.  Then, when the so-called Reichsbishop incorporated the evangelical youth groups into the Hitler youth, and when the Roehm putsch eliminated disputes within the Nazi leadership through mass murder, we could no longer ignore our having been handed over to thugs who unflinchingly used force and would yield only to force.  The founding of the Confessing Church at Wuppertal led to political opposition.  As early as the fall of 1933 I declared that the Reichsbishop was a traitor to the evangelical church.  From then on I was hated by the Nazis, later was denounced in the marketplace as a national traitor by the Gauleiter (district leader) in Gelsenkirchen, and was recommended to the higher authorities for assignment to a concentration camp.  The chairman of our congregation lent support in an appeal to headquarters in Berlin.  For either side there was no turning back. . . .

I should like to break off here.  It would lead to a full-scale autobiography if I were to tell how I  had to be a soldier for three years, perhaps to get out of reach of the area command and seizure by the Nazis; how I finally survived the camp at Kreuznach, in which 70,000 prisoners starved, then returned to a heavily bombed congregation. . . .  As a last word and as my bequest, let me call to you in Huguenot style: 'Résistez!' Discipleship of the Crucified leads necessarily to resistance to idolatry on every front.  This resistance is and must be the most important mark of Christian freedom."

Ernst Käsemann in 1996
On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene, xvii-xviii, xxi

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Frederick Douglass for this Week



"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe. And that Bowling Green massacre wasn't cool. AT. ALL."

                  ~Frederick Douglass

Friday, February 3, 2017

Update Your Parables Bibliography

Readers of this blog know that I have a very high opinion of Stories with Intent by Klyne Snodgrass. And, yes, I am willing to admit that part of my reasoning is that I like saying the name Klyne Snodgrass. SWI is still the most comprehensive book on the parables ever written. But while you were binge-watching Stranger Things the topic of parables has become a trend.

David Gowler, The Parables after Jesus: Their Imaginative Receptions across Two Millennia

Ruben Zimmermann, Puzzling the Parables of Jesus: Methods and Interpretation

R. Steven Notley and Ze'ev Safrai, Parables of the Sages

John P. Meier A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume V: Probing the Authenticity of the Parables

Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: the Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi
For a comparison of these last two books by Brant Pitre (who studied under both authors) see:
http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.com/2016/01/levine-and-meier-on-parables-of-jesus.html

So what am I missing? Any other recent treatments of Jesus' parables or parables in the ANE more generally?

-anthony

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Zimmermann and the Criterion of the Extraordinary—Chris Keith

I'm currently enjoying reading through Ruben Zimmermann's Puzzling the Parables of Jesus: Methods and Intepretation.  It's proving fascinating to me because so much of my own work has insisted that form criticism still, in various ways, has a determinative impact on Gospels studies.  Zimmermann is doing the same thing, though he is focused particularly upon the parables.  In a section I just read, he observed how form critics distinguised clearly between the subgenres of "similitude" and "parable" partially on the basis of the claim that the latter primarily reflected an unusual occurrence rather than daily life.  Zimmermann shows how subsequent scholarship has rightly questioned these means of distinction precisely due to their subjective nature and dependence upon a full knowledge of the ancient context.  (In other words, this method is sometimes hampered by the fact that we often don't know what we don't know.)  It reminded me of more recent debates over the criterion of embarrassment, and particularly the contributions of Rafael Rodriguez and James Crossley.  Here's what Zimmermann says about a purported "unusual" occurrence in a "parable":

"As has often been stated, however, the distinction between the normal and the unusual is questionable.  While Juelicher and Bultmann agreed that the parable of the sower dealt with an extraorindary single occurrence and is thus, according to their definition, a parable, Jeremias objected based on ancient sowing practices.  According to Jeremias, the text portrays 'a description of the regular method of sowing, and that in fact, is what we have here . . . in Palestine sowing precedes ploughing.  Hence, in the parable the sower is depicted as striding over the unploughed stubble . . . What appears to the western mind as bad farming is simply customary usage in Palestinian conditions.'  Other examples also call into question the criterion of the extraordinary.  'Does it appear almost sensational' [here Zimmermann is citing Harnisch, Glechniserzaehlungen] if a judge finally gives in to an insistent widow simply out of the need for peace (Luke 18:2-8) or if one fulfills the urgent request of a friend (Luke 11:5-8)?  Which father would not rejoice at and celebrate the return of a son who was believed lost (Luke 15:11-32)?  Is this an extraordinary occurrence?  The question can also be turned around--is it a daily occurrence for a blind man to offer to guide another blind man (Q 6:39), for someone to find treasure buried in a field (Matt. 13:44), or for a master to leave his house to his servants when he goes on a journey (Mark 13:34-37)?  The boundaries between the normal and the extraordinary, between the generic and the unique, are blurred." (122-3)

All of this raises the question of who gets to decide whether something is embarrassing or unusual.  Of course, the answer to that question is the person making the argument, and it is part of his or her task to explain precisely why a given thing could have been embarrassing or unusual, and under what circumstances.  I do think, though, that Zimmermann's discussion is raising a point that I have pursued elsewhere (as have others), which is that, while also not being dismissive of received wisdom, we should be hesitant of uncritically allowing previous scholars to set these definitions for us.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Black History Month Promotion at Baylor University Press—Chris Keith

Friend of the Jesus Blog Baylor University Press is running a promotion for Black History Month:




Celebrating Black History Month, Baylor University Press is pleased to offer 40%-off plus free shipping on relevant titles.

Use discount code BFEB at their website: http://baylorpr.es/B-H-M during the entire month of February.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Jesus was NOT a Liberal: A Post-Trump Reflection

In light of recent political events initiated by Donald Trump’s cabinet, Jesus’ mandates to care for neighbors, foreigners, and enemies have saturated social media. I confess that I—with explicitly liberal, anti-Trump motives—have contributed to this trend. Just last weekend I reposted this Facebook note from my friend, Larry Behrendt:
This is a message to my Christian brothers and sisters. I am a Jew who has studied Christianity to the best of my ability for the last 15 years. I have grown to love Christianity. As an outsider, I will accept your status as a Christian if you merely affirm to me that you are one. But if you can support this President and his proposed ban on refugees, which stands in direct opposition to the teachings and the life of Jesus, then the religion you are practicing bears no relationship to any I am familiar with. I urge you with all my heart to return to the religion of your Bible and embrace the refugee stranger as your neighbor. I get it: very few of us possess the ability to love our enemies. But if you are the Bible followers you claim to be, you know that God has ordered us dozens of times to remember that we too were slaves in Egypt, and commanded us to love the stranger as our neighbors. Do not imagine that God looks on our relatively safe and comfortable life in America, and thinks this is our due. The Bible recites how God has thrown his people out of their homes and into exile for failing to obey the Bible's commands. God ordered us to love and care for the stranger, knowing full well that we might be required to sacrifice some of our safety and comfort in order to benefit the poorest and most desperate of our brothers and sisters. The chance of your ever being injured by a terrorist is almost nil. The chance that you will have to confront your God is up to you to calculate. If you cannot act out of love of neighbor, then for God's sake and your own, act out of fear of God.
Larry happens to be liberal and Jewish. But one can find hundreds of statements like this from liberal Christians. Take this one from Stephen Colbert, a proud Catholic:


While we’re on the topic of Catholics, consider what another prominent Catholic said on the topic of refugees. Pope Francis said, "It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help."

So should we affirm the meme that tells us that "Jesus was a bleeding heart, long haired, anti-establishement, peace loving, hippie, liberal freak with strange ideas and two fathers"? Historically speaking, "bleeding heart" and "hippie" are anachronisms and Jesus probably had short hair anyway. But let's just focus on the word liberal. 

Was Jesus a liberal?

No.

Jesus' politics didn't look like my modern, American politics. Jesus had no notion of the separation of Church and State. In fact his central message was about the "Kingdom of God." Jesus was a faith healer. Jesus was a preacher. Jesus (as much as it makes me uncomfortable) preached about hellfire sometimes. In these ways and so many others, Jesus was a conservative Jew of his time.

Yes, according to the biblical Gospels, Jesus did often argue and condemn what we might call "religious leaders." And, yes, these disputes did sometimes involve interpreting the law with compassion. But as Matthew tells it, Jesus was actually quite conservative about following Jewish law:
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:18-20)
So we must ask, did his many disputes with "religious leaders" stem from his liberalism? Or did Jesus start these arguments because he wanted his fellow Jews (Pharisees, scribes, priests, etc) to return to a more traditional understanding of the law?

After all, isn't shalom a traditional value? Isn't care for the poor a traditional value? Doesn't the Hebrew Bible mandate care for foreigners? On all of these points, Jesus seems to be quite conservative for his day. So if Jesus wasn't an ancient liberal, he most certainly wasn't a modern liberal.

But let's be clear: neither was Jesus a modern conservative.

Jesus' economic values are heresy to modern capitalists. Jesus' "family values" don't look anything like those of American conservatives. Jesus' stance against violence makes him altogether Amish compared to the likes of Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, and Obama. Pope Francis was undoubtedly correct that Jesus would find himself on the other side of Trump's great wall.

So what? Why should the modern conservative or liberal care about Jesus at all? Jesus continues to represent an awkward and uncomfortable obstacle to all modern, political discourse. His voice is challenging to modern Christians in particular because his self-proclaimed followers are on both sides of the aisle in America.

This brings us back to Donald Trump and his "America First" cabinet. The liberal argument against Trump is not that he is too conservative. In almost every way, Trump is not a conservative. The liberal argument against Trump is that he is not conservative enough. This, by the way, is also the Jesus-loving Christian argument against Trump. For us modern liberals, Trump stands against peace, against the outsider, against Jesus' economic values. He cannot call himself a follower of Jesus in these ways. He is not nearly conservative enough.

In my politics—I must confess—I am not like Jesus. I am not nearly conservative enough on matters of economics and foreign policy. And as I try to become more conservative on these matters, I find myself resisting Donald Trump's liberalism more and more.


Anthony Le Donne (PhD) is Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary and the author of Near Christianity: How Journeys along Jewish-Christian Borders Saved my Faith in God.

BREAKING - Jesus: "eternal fire for those who fail to welcome strangers"

Jerusalem (AP) -- Lord Jesus Christ spoke to disciples from the Mount of Olives condemning those who claim to be his followers but who refuse to welcome strangers. Speaking eschatologically, Jesus said:

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Jesus Trolls the Donald

Ed Kilgore of the New York Daily Intelligencer suggests that Rev. Samuel Rodriguez use Matthew 5's "Beatitudes" to rebuke Trump's proposed policies during his inauguration.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/01/was-the-beatitudes-invocation-a-rebuke-to-donald-trump.html

This was also suggested by James Crossley via Facebook yesterday. If so, I wonder whether such an act of protest does more harm than good. After all, as Kilgore acknowledges, typical listeners will not pay much attention to the subtly of the protest. Thus the passage would be heard by most as an appropriation of Jesus' words in support of Trump.

I wonder if any of our readers noticed this during the ceremonies and what they made of it.

-anthony

Friday, January 20, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week




Jesus replied, "my precious child, when you saw only one set of footprints in the sand, that was because I moved to Canada."


                               ~Steve Ausburne