Thursday, June 20, 2013

Michael Jackson And Martin Hengel

When I went to my computer this morning, I saw a series of stories on the death of James Gandolfini, an actor, at the top of the Google News page. Then I saw a story about his death at Politico, a political web site. The story notes how his death is being mourned by prominent political figures, like Chris Christie. We're told that Gandolfini's "The Sopranos" series "explored the state of the American dream and the American family". We're told that the series "concluded with its breathtaking blackout ending, which left open the question whether Soprano was gunned down in a New Jersey diner as the show concluded. Many thousands of words on the Internet debated the question, which remains unresolved to this day." A Google News search under "James Gandolfini" turned up about 114,000 results, including articles at CNN, NPR, and USA Today, for example.

I was reminded of a couple of deaths that occurred in 2009. Michael Jackson died in late June of that year, and Martin Hengel died one week later. Vastly more people know who Jackson is, and there was far more concern about his death and media coverage of it, which tells us a lot about our culture.

Who was Martin Hengel? N.T. Wright called him the most learned New Testament scholar in the world. Hengel was a moderate, not a conservative. I disagree with him on some issues. But he often argued for conservative positions he agreed with against the scholarly majority of his day. Much of the work he did was highly significant, often rare or groundbreaking. He was one of the most eminent New Testament scholars of his generation.

By contrast, who was Michael Jackson (or James Gandolfini)? Our corrupt culture, which inordinately elevates individuals like Jackson while showing so much apathy and disrespect toward individuals like Hengel, plays a major role in producing the sort of corrupt liberal scholarship Hengel often rebuked.

Below are some excerpts from a couple of Hengel's books.

What follows are some passages from his The Four Gospels And The One Gospel Of Jesus Christ (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000). In the context of discussing the origins of the titles of the gospels (e.g., "The Gospel According To Mark"), he referred to "a now untenable modern historical hyper-criticism" (n. 226 on 245). Here are some examples of other comments he made about modern scholarship elsewhere in the same book:

Nevertheless the fact remains that it is utterly improbable that in this dark period, at a particular place or through a person or through the decision of a group or institution unknown to us, the four superscriptions of the Gospels, which had hitherto been circulating anonymously, suddenly came into being and, without leaving behind traces of earlier divergent titles, became established throughout the church. Let those who deny the great age and therefore basically the originality of the Gospel superscriptions in order to preserve their 'good' critical conscience, give a better explanation of the completely unanimous and relatively early attestation of these titles, their origin and the names of authors associated with them. Such an explanation has yet to be given, and it never will be. New Testament scholars persistently overlook basic facts and questions on the basis of old habits….

In my view the modern hypotheses about Q are largely built on sand….

Another comment on the name Matthew: apart from the first Gospel, to which he gives his name, Matthew plays no role in primitive Christianity. He appears only in the lists of apostles. He is only mentioned rather more frequently at a substantially later date in apocryphal writings on the basis of the unique success of the Gospel named after him. That makes it utterly improbable that the name of the apostle was attached to the Gospel only at a secondary stage, in the first decades of the second century, somewhere in the Roman empire, and that this essentially later nomenclature then established itself everywhere without opposition. How could people have arrived at this name for an anonymous Gospel in the second century, and how then would it have gained general recognition?…

a recognized authority and not an anonymous Gentile Christian, i.e. a Mr. Nobody in the church, stood behind it [the gospel of Mark]…

Therefore nothing has led research into the Gospels so astray as the romantic superstition involving anonymous theologically creative community collectives, which are supposed to have drafted whole writings….

They [the gospels] exercised a unique influence in the history of the church, indeed of humankind. At the same time, according to all our historical knowledge and an impartial, sober comparison between the apocryphal Jesus traditions and the four Gospels, indeed the New Testament generally, the church of the second century could hardly have made a better choice....

To emphasize the point once again: in its selection and ordering the church of the second century showed historical and theological understanding. I would like to repeat emphatically here the remark made above (33): the church really could not have made a better choice….

Already for him [Paul] the eternal Son of God had become a real man in space and time, in Judaea, and only a few years previously. This is a quite incredible and revolutionary message, without analogy in the ancient world!…

Heckel is in danger, as are so many today, of making the evangelist [Mark] a theological romance writer who is remote from reality. That may be modern, but it does not correspond to the historical reality between AD 70 and 100….

Herder recognized the real situation far better than modern pseudo-criticism, which wanted to see the author [of Mark] as an unknown Gentile Christian. (55, 69, 71, 80-81, 115, 140, 151, nn. 391 and 397 on 269)

From his book on crucifixion:

Jesus did not die a gentle death like Socrates, with his cup of hemlock, much less passing on 'old and full of years' like the patriarchs of the Old Testament. Rather, he died like a slave or a common criminal, in torment, on the tree of shame. Paul's Jesus did not die just any death; he was 'given up for us all' on the cross, in a cruel and a contemptible way. The theological reasoning of our time shows very clearly that the particular form of the death of Jesus, the man and the messiah, represents a scandal which people would like to blunt, remove or domesticate in any way possible. We shall have to guarantee the truth of our theological thinking at this point. Reflection on the harsh reality of crucifixion in antiquity may help us to overcome the acute loss of reality which is to be found so often in present theology and preaching. (Crucifixion [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress Press, 1977], 90)

See here for video of an interview with Hengel shortly before his death. It's an interview on some topics related to the gospels.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Jason,

    Thanks for those excellent quotes.
    Seems they belong at The Four Gospels that Steve linked to the other day-

    And saw that video before but thanks for that refresher. Hengel truly was a treasure.