Monday, August 30, 2010

Hurtado on the historical Jesus

Larry Hurtado usefully summarizes the historical perspective of the canonical Gospels:

[Quote] In a recent book, Lord Jesus Christ (2003), I noted that one of the features common to all four of the intra-canonical Gospels is that they situate Jesus explicitly and rather fully in time, place, and cultural setting. This is all the more remarkable in light of the interesting and well-known differences among them in some other matters, and also in comparison with the rather unlocalized way that Jesus is depicted in extra-canonical “Jesus books” such as The Gospel of Thomas, and The Gospel of Philip. That is, all four intra-canonical Jesus books concur broadly in emphasizing that the risen and glorified Jesus is to be identified as the historic figure who first appeared in Galilee, and whose career was framed by the prophet-ministry of John (the Baptizer) and by Jesus’ execution in Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman governor, Pilate. By contrast, from the Gospel of Thomas, for example, one would scarcely suspect that Jesus was a Jew, where he may have operated, or any specific time-frame for him, to say nothing of anything more specific about him in historical terms.

All four intra-canonical accounts, however, are rich in geographical references (e.g., Lake Galilee, Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethsaida, Caesarea Philippi, the Decapolis, Samaria, Jericho, Bethlehem, Bethany, Emmaus, the Jordan River, Tyre and Sidon, and Jerusalem), and references to the religious and cultural setting, including religious parties (e.g., Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians), issues about observance of Jewish religious law (e.g., Sabbath, food laws, divorce and remarriage, skin diseases, oaths, tithing, and taxation), festivals such as Passover, issues of belief such as resurrection. We also get information on governing structures and personalities (e.g., Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Caiaphas, and the Roman governor Pilate). There are references to local occupations, such as fishing, farming, tax gathering, and shepherding. Indeed, it seems to me that this emphasis that the Lord and Christ of Christian devotion is to be linked to, and defined with reference to, the historic figure of Jesus may also have been a major impetus for these texts, and an important factor in shaping their genre as narrative books about him.

Also notable is the use of Semitic words and expressions in these Greek texts. The most familiar instances are echoed in one or more of the four Gospels, such as “Hosanna” (Mark 11:9-10/Matt. 21:9/John 12:13), “Gehenna” (Mark 9:43-47; Matt. 10:28; 23:15, 33; Luke 12:5), “Rabbi” and “Rabbouni” (e.g., Matt. 23:7-8; John 1:38; 20:16), and the famous cry of Jesus on the cross reported in varying forms by Mark (15:34) and Matthew (27:46). It is very interesting that the use of such Semitic loanwords seems particularly frequent in GMark and GJohn.

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