Monday, September 12, 2005

But he was a Jew! (part 2)

[My reader replied at greater length in our (initially sparky!) discussion of Jesus’ unmarried status. Onward.]

Dear Reader,

I have no Internet at home, and between my study and ministry “stuff”, exercise, spiritual life, etc., I found no time till now, at work, to reply. Thanks for your reply. I wanted to move this discussion out of the comboxes, just because they are so tedious for extended replies.

I again apologize you took my “circumlocution” as a charge of idiocy. I am often frustrated when people confuse directness with rudeness, truthfulness with sarcasm. As much as it may seem I’m “antagonizing” you, I’m not; in the following please don’t mistake my truthful directness for sarcastic rudeness. (I also apologize for any grammatical goofs, which I’ll try to weed out if I find them upon a later reading.)

First, I admit quite plainly I do find your position (which I first of all recognize is not “your” position as such and, second, that it is not a dogmatic argument *for* the *truth* of Jesus’ marriage, but more of an intellectual attempt to widen our view of Jesus) – I admit I do find it faddish. By faddish I simply mean it is (basically) novel and plainly a minority, dare I say cliquish, position. Your position simply is not academically well represented in the appropriate circles, largely because (as I believe) it is also not a very well substantiated contention. Consider: even John Dominic Crossan – no friend of “doctrinal” presumptions over radical historicity! – finds it completely obvious Jesus was not married, and then explains why that was so (cf.’s article, “Why Jesus Didn't Marry”). Likewise, as Darrel Bock points out (in his book, _Breaking the da Vinci Code_), Jesus’ celibacy is one of the few issues liberal and conservative exegetes agree on (cf. also Bock's article “Was Jesus Married?”). Fads may change, or even become, the reigning style, but it seems perfectly obvious fads plainly and novelly stand out *against* the current norms. Hence, without any condescension, your view is in a basic sense faddish. (Would “recent” or “unique” be better?)

Second, I mentioned Brown, Baigent, Starbird, et al. simply because I *do* assume they are the major purveyors of this “hypothesis.” Given that the marriage hypothesis, as a matter of plain cultural fact, is promulgated mainly by these “pop” scholars, I think it’s a fair assumption (if such there be) to think that was the well you were drinking from. I’m glad to be proven wrong.

Now, as to the substance of your position, let me respond with a series of questions (and a few elaborations on them). They are, some of them, rhetorical questions, meant to point to an answer on my part, but even so, you need to address them to make your hypothesis coherent and tenable. Away we go.

1. What is the motivation for this “doctrinal” cover-up of Jesus’ marriage? Why hide a “fact” about him that would have made him only that much more acceptable to a number of would-be converts?

2. In 2 Corinthians 9, why does St. Paul not use Jesus’ marriage to bolster his own “apostolic right” to have a wife? Obviously, standing on the precedent of Jesus’ marriage would end any argument *in favor of* Paul’s right to marry. Why hide the fact when it would work so well in his favor? Along the same lines, in Ephesians 5, why didn’t St. Paul draw from Jesus’ married example in his analogy of the mystical marriage of Christ and the Church? Why not deepen his whole point by saying Christ’s marriage laid the pattern for the ecclesial marriage?

3. Now, assuming you reply St. Paul was actually “in on” the “cover-up”, why then didn’t he use the (albeit illusory) precedent of Jesus’ (albeit fictional) celibacy to bolster his argument *for* celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7? You can’t have it both ways: St. Paul either suppressed Jesus’ marital status, and thus lost a lot of power for his own arguments, or he suppressed Jesus’ celibacy. (By the way, the very likely reason St. Paul didn’t defend celibacy by citing Jesus’ example is because doing so would have proven too much. St. Paul’s whole point in 1 Cor 7 is to show the latitude of celibacy *and* marriage in the Church. Arguing for celibacy by way of Jesus’ celibacy would have preempted marriage as a viable option for Christians.)

4. In light of St. Mark’s Hebraic “mythologizing” about Jesus’ continuity with the patriarchs, why didn’t he emphasize one of the most salient features of the patriarchs' lives – namely, their marriages? Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, the Prophets, etc. -- all of their stories were intimately and plainly wrapped up with their marital status. If, then, the Gospel writers wanted to “harmonize”, and thus magnify, Jesus’ with his patriarchal ancestry, why leave out such an uncontroversial and central aspect of the Old Testament patriarchy? Again, if they wanted to emphasize Jesus’ patriarchal status, they simply dropped the ball by ignoring (or “suppressing”?) what you take to be a reality: Jesus’ wife. How odd….

5. If you reply they did so to appeal to the Hellenistic (Stoic) world, why then so strongly emphasize Jesus’ continuity with the *Jewish* religious worldview? Why spin Jesus as a Hellenized celibate while simultaneously situating him suqarely in the non-Hellenic, Hebrew heritage? Again, you can’t have it both ways. So don’t.

6. You place a lot of weight (though based only on the “observation” of one scholar) on the idea that the other great rabbis (Gemaliel, Hillel) and rabbis generally were all married, and therefore that we should see Jesus in this light too. But why measure Jesus by (assumed) rabbinic standards when he was not an official rabbi? You are holding him to (presumed) socio-religious standards which he doesn’t even merit. Why wasn’t Jesus’ authority recognized as rabbinical, even if it was opposed (i.e., “By what authority do you teach?”, Jesus expressed – and was understood to express –his “authority” and ministry in distinction, if not outright opposition, to that of the mainstream rabbinic schools. You’re trying to make an apocalyptical itinerant (square peg) fit a traditional rabbinic category (round hole).

7. Along these same lines, even if we put Jesus in a basically rabbinic category, why should we see Jesus himself, as an individual, in the same light? Why should we assume a man with an extremely apocalyptic message, ceaselessly itinerant ministry, and ultimately disastrous end would have a wife – particularly when none is ever mentioned in any context? Keep in mind also that in that milieu apocalypticism was also *assumed* to entail celibacy for the eschaton. (Wow, square peg, square hole!) Further, how did Jesus’ itinerant, persecuted *poverty* give him any social or fiscal basis to support a wife? (Square peg, round hole.)

8. Assuming Jesus had a wife, why were people not more scandalized by his apparent flirting with adultery by having other women so closely involved in his ministry? Why, if he had a wife, did no one ever accuse him of adultery/immorality by associating (and so scandalously) with women who were not his wives? As I’m sure you know, a core element of Hellenic-Judaic morality was *avoiding*, like fire, women besides your wife. Further, given the highly ascetical dimension of morality at that time, why assume Jesus didn’t embrace this same ascetical celibacy for the sake of virtue per se? (Square peg, round hole.)

9. In the same way, in the Gospels and other contemporary literature, men are typically, almost invariably, linked in a clearly marital status with women in their company (cf. Joses, Peter, James, et al.). Yet, not a single woman in Jesus’ company is given a marital link to him. Why not?

10. Why does even the extra-biblical, gnostic literature that does underscore Jesus' closeness to Mary (Magdalene) itself do so only in a spiritual, and not marital, way? If biblical and extra-biblical materials alike simply give us no basis, no pinpointable evidence, for seeing a wife in Jesus's wife, why do you insist on inserting one?

11. If the Gospels really are such “manufactured” texts, why should I or you be concerned in the first place whether they do or don’t emphasize Jesus’ celibacy? You seem to be caught on a dilemma (the "redactionist retreat"), saying in one breath the Gospels give us a skewed, doctrinalized version of Jesus, while in the next breath saying we can demolish this false image precisely by using the Gospels as our measure! (Huh?) Your argument rests on the more basic train of though that the Gospels were manufactured to “puff up” Yeshua into Christ, and therefore that they emphasized flashy, prophetic features of Jesus’ life while suppressing the more compromising, “unsellable” features of it. But this whole line of thinking is incredibly curious when you start to ask yourself why the Gospel writers (and meddlesome redactors, as you have it) *left* so much *embarrassing* material in (e.g., the discontinuity of a married patriarchy with an ostensibly unmarried Jesus, the devastated end of a supposed prophet of God, the remarkable failures of Jesus in hostile or unbelieving audiences, his flashes of apparent anger, his admissions of ignorance about key features of God’s actions, his intimacy with [multiple] women, etc.). Is that really the best they could redact?

I hope these questions converge back to my first question: what was the motive behind this doctrinal cover-up? You have spoken of rearranging Jesus' biography alnog Hellenistic, Judaic lines, but never explained why or to what end. You asre thus left with a mishmash of peculiarities and details but no coherent picture. You have no probative "story", but only a number of feisty suspicions and surmises. Assuming Jesus was married -- but that the fact was buried -- simply raises too many questions (i.e., 2-10) and therefore demands an incredibly compelling reason to assume a cover-up, which, let’s be honest, is what your position amounts to: a well-mannered academic conspiracy theory.

I see a key flaw in your approach as two-pronged. First, historiographically, you are relying on ambiguities and “strange” parallels to explain away otherwise straightforward material about Jesus and his time. Your second "flaw" if I may be so bold! ;) ) is that you and I approach these matters from fundamentally different positions: I from the perspective of faith and providence, you from the perspective of skepticism and suspicion. I don’t mean that snidely either. Both of us acknowledge various forms of “tinkering” – no, the Gospels are not simply news reports, and I do not mean to say they are – but you attribute that to “mere” humans, while I see the work of God in those same humans. The Gospels do indeed highlight various Old Testament features of Jesus’ presumably less striking purely biographical life. But that is because he, in a sense, forced them to do so. Jesus presented an immense existential and religious challenge – and hope -- to his peers. The “tinkering” of the Gospel is thus a divinely commingled attempt by the faithful to make sense of this crisis in light of their received worldview/traditions. Hence, of course, they would emphasize the ways Jesus fits in to this heritage.

The bottom line is you, I believe, regard Jesus’ “resurrection” as essentially one more historical datum to be weighed on supposedly “objective” grounds. I, on the other hand, regard the Resurrection not only as the only “explanation” for the “Jesus event”, but also as a radically alteration of the way history itself works. The Resurrection is the divine infusion of a radically personalist (pneumatic) dimension to history, whereby posterior memory is realized only in dialectical and existential *union* with an antecedent and enduring *presence*. I’m sure that sounds a bit weird, and maybe incoherent, but I recommend you look at Fr. M. D'Arcy's _The Meaning and Matter of History_, L.T. Johnson’s _The Real Jesus_, N.T. Wright's _Jesus and the Victory of God_, P. Jenkins's _Hidden Gospels_, T.F. Torrance's _Space, Time, Resurrection_, C. Blomberg's _The Historical Reliability of the Gospels_, and G. Habermas's _The Historical Jesus_. Our opposing views of the Resurrection alter how we approach the "texts" and "testimony." Nevertheless, as I hope my questions and comments point out, your marriage hypothesis stands weakly at best and, hence, singularly under the burden of proof. Poke holes in "the Jesus cult" if you will; but I advise to find an issue with more credibility and coherence than that of a married Jesus. As the coconut tree said to the monkey, "You can climb all day, but I really don't have any apples." You can surmise all day, but this tree has no fruit.


No comments: