Some bloggers have mentioned Paul Foster’s “Memory, Orality and the Fourth Gospel: Three Dead-Ends in Historical Jesus Research” JSHJ 10 (2013): 191-227. I have not read it but Professor Foster presented his ideas in one of our seminars at Sheffield last year and it was well-received. Chris Keith has written a strong rebuttal, at least to the aspect of Foster’s critique that relates to memory studies (I have not yet seen any responses to Foster’s critique of the over-emphasis on orality over against the literary relationships of the Gospels & their sources or a defense of the “John, Jesus & History” project). As an outsider to much of the recent work on social memory, I appreciate Dr. Keith’s point about not throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to form criticism and that memory theory (or rather, theories) does not in itself inherently favour the historical reliability or unreliability of the tradition. I have often wondered that, since much of this recent study has been so critical of the criteria that have been used in historical Jesus studies (e.g., multiple attestation, double dissimilarity, embarrassment, Aramaic, etc), how NT scholars working with memory have made judgments between more or less historically reliable memories (e.g., since the apocalyptic, messianic Jesus whose mission to die an atoning death of Mark is very different from the non-eschatological, revealer of saving wisdom Jesus of Thomas, how does one decide between these two competing memories of Jesus without making judgments about the literary relationship of the sources or about which of the contents can be ascribed to Jesus or the early Christian communities or the evangelists’ redaction). So grab some popcorn and enjoy the debate as it unfolds in the blogosphere.
Loren Stuckenbruck’s has made his chapter “‘Semitic Influence on Greek’: An Authenticating Criterion in Jesus Research?” in Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity available online (HT Jim West). Stuckenbruck aims to highlight some of the methodological difficulties in moving back from the Greek Gospels to underlying Aramaic (or Hebrew) traditions. I wonder how some of the other Aramaic specialists (Fitzmyer, Vermes, Chilton, Casey, Crossley, etc) might respond?
Jim West called attention to the following National Geographic special:
I think it is right to be skeptical about biblical discoveries on National Geographic, but scholars Candida Moss and Vincent Pizzuto do a good job introducing the evangelists’ aims to magnify Jesus over the Baptist: 1) Mark turns the baptism of Jesus into an epiphanic moment revealing to Jesus (and the reader) his messianic sonship (1:9-11), 2) Matthew makes the vision public and has John try to deter Jesus by insisting that he needs to be baptized by him (3:13-17), 3) Luke makes the vision public and relates Jesus’ baptism after John’s imprisonment (3:19-21), 4) John does not narrate the baptism but John sees the vision and testifies to Jesus (1:29-34), 5) Gospel of Hebrews has Jesus ask what sin he has committed that he needs to be baptized (Jerome, Against Pelagius 3.2), 6) there may be competition between followers of Jesus and the Baptist about the superior figure (cf. Acts 19:1-7; cf John 3:22-30). However, I am not sure we need to write off Matt 11:2-6/Luke 7:18-23 as it may be from an older source(s) (“double tradition” or “Q”), it may run counter to the evangelists agenda to definitively link Jesus to John’s coming eschatological figure as the question implies uncertainty on John’s part (perhaps he only heard rumors about Jesus) and Jesus only implicitly answers by pointing to messianic functions (Isa 61; cf. 4Q521) rather than explicit Christological titles. As for John’s martyrdom (Mark 6:14-29; cf. Matt 14:1-12; cf. the differences in Josephus Antiquities 8.5.2), I think Herod probably executed John as a political threat and the Gospels retell John’s death in scriptural categories (allusions to the weak-willed Ahab and evil Jezebel or to Xerxes promising up to half his kingdom to Esther). See further James Crossley, “History from the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist” in Writing History, Constructing Religion (eds. J.G. Crossley and C. Karner; Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 147-161.
My thanks to Anthony le Donne, and Chris Keith in the comments, for the response to some of my questions about the differences between social memory and form criticism (Larry Hurtado also notes their typology of memory studies). It has definitely encouraged me to pick up a copy of Anthony Le Donne’s The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology and the Son of David and Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It? For my part, while I am not convinced by Richard Bauckham that the Gospels reflect direct eyewitness testimony and I still find value in the form critical legacy (e.g., some Jesus stories circulated independently, were orally retold according to certain narrative conventions, utilized in Christian preaching/worship/evangelism/debates, and some diversity of Gospel traditions can be explained by different interpretations of Jesus), I also think that the presence of some eyewitnesses in the first generation and the importance of memorization in oral cultures (cf. mneumonic devices in the teaching of Jesus to aid memory) and the possible use of some written sources (e.g., the use of notebooks; Maurice Casey on Aramaic sources?) served as a kind of check against the radical creativity envisioned by some form critics. But if the various studies of social memory (Le Donne makes a good point that it is not one monolithic approach) can offer a more methodologically rigorous, interdisciplinary approach and provide a better explanation for the unity and diversity that we see in the Gospel tradition, than I am all for them. The approach of Dunn or Alison to look for the “characteristic Jesus” or the gist of how he is represented in the early sources as a whole may also be a better approach than an individual scholar subjectively creating a list of authentic sayings of Jesus versus those of the early church or the evangelists, at least for coming up with a general reconstruction of the historical Jesus as a sage or healer or apocalyptic prophet or messianic figure, but I wonder if one wants to get into further specifics if some criteria is still necessary to sift between earlier and later social memories. For just one example, it seems to me that Mark 11:15-17, 14:57-59, John 2:15-71, Acts 6:13-14 and Thomas 71 all reflect different interpretations of the significance of Jesus’ judgment on the Temple. Granted, there is no uninterpreted history and how the event (the gist is that Jesus seems to have threatened the Temple) is remembered and interpreted by friend or foe is influenced by a variety of social factors, but is there still a role for some of the criteria in sorting out the earlier from the later interpretations?
I have stayed out of the debate about whether the new Coptic fragment about Jesus’ Wife is genuine or a forgery and prefer to await the results of scientific testing before making any final decisions. At most, against the media hype, the scholars add the nuance that this does not tell us about the marital status of Jesus but about what later Christians thought in the context of theological debates about marriage and sexuality. Reading Francis Watson’s views on the matter here, I was struck by his line:
For Christian traditions that place a high value on celibacy, Jesus is the supreme celibate; and he retains this status even when, in Protestantism, celibacy is no longer seen as a mark of the truly holy life. The Christ who offers salvation to all, the incarnate divine Son, can, surely, never have uttered the words, “My wife”? Yet it is just these words that some scribe, ancient or modern, has put into his mouth. That scribe knew exactly what he or she was doing: subverting deep-seated assumptions about Jesus in the most effective way possible, by challenging them out of Jesus’ own lips. The Jesus of this text renounces not only his celibacy but also the community for which that celibacy is integral to who he is. No Christian institution – not the Vatican itself – could withstand such a challenge, if it really is Jesus who speaks here
For a diametrically opposed view see April DeConick. For my part I wonder why a theological belief in the Incarnation, of God becoming fully, could not accomodate a married Jesus? Please share your views in the comments if you agree or disagree. What convinces me Jesus was probably celibate is the complete silence of the early sources, especially since I see no reason for censoring that information when some of the earliest images of Jesus are as a human agent of God no matter how highly exalted (Jesus as a sage, eschatological prophet, miracle worker like Moses/Elijah, annointed one now enthroned at the deity’s right hand)? For instance, before the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity arose, Mark has the onlookers in the Nazareth synogogue ask, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (6:3). Why would Mark omit a reference to Jesus’ wife here if he had one? Another clue to Jesus’ celibacy may be in Matthew’s addition to Mark’s strict stance on divorce and remarriage (compare Mk 10:1-11 with Matt 19:1-12), Matthew has Jesus add a saying about being eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven (Matt 19:12). This would be a pretty hard-line for a married Jesus to demand of seekers after the kingdom, but since this is singly attested I wouldn’t lean too much on it. What do you think?
As I was looking further into online resources about Jesus forgiving the paralytic’s sins, I stumbled upon a video where Daniel Johannson not only defends his interpretation of the pericope in Mark as unparalleled and in support of a high Christology but also attributes both the act and what he sees as its full significance back to the historical Jesus. In the last post I wrote on how I am not necessarily convinced that this action needs to go beyond the Jewish conception of agency, but check out the link below and feel free to continue the discussion in the comments.
Judy Redman has kindly responded to my question on whether Thomas is dependent on the Synoptics and argues Thomas received sayings independently from the rich oral tradition. There are a number of things that I can say appreciatively about the many scholars studying oral transmission or social memory. First, I agree with Judy on many points: Jesus may have repeated the same teachings in different ways in all sorts of settings and various eyewitnesses in the first generation continued to retell their stories as they remembered, both of which could account for some similarities (even some verbatim ones) and variations in the Synoptics or Thomas. Second, against those attacking Bart Ehrman (who now has a blog) and the infinitely patient James McGrath, there was likely many oral and written souces floating around because Luke tells us so in the prologue (Lk 1:1-4, this is an odd way of saying just Mark & Q, or Mark & Matthew), it was an oral culture with low literacy, it accounts for some differences of John from the Synoptics even if John is literary dependent (ditto Matt/Luke, it is difficult to explain every difference as intentional redactional change), the early 2nd century bishop Papias prefers the “living voice” to the written word and it explains some variations of Jesus’ sayings or deeds in the Apostolic Fathers (Helmut Koester’s Überlieferung bei den Apostolischen Vätern  and subsequent works demonstrates they often draw on oral tradition rather than written gospels) or some extra-canonical gospels. Third, as also from her review, there is much to be gained from social memory capturing the gist (Jesus was a sage, an apocalyptic seer, social reformer, messianic figure) while acknowledging human memory is also selective, flawed and sometimes constructs what is needed for the contemporary situation, echoing form critical debates of how much goes back to Jesus or the Sitz im Leben of the church. Fourth, I appreciate these studies are interdisciplinary and offer methodologically sound replacements for outdated form critical laws about “pure forms” or impersonal “laws of tradition” for how traditions grow.
However, I am not ready to throw out all the labours of the classic German scholarship on source, form and redaction criticism. I continue to accept sayings/deeds apart from the Passion circulated individually in forms to aid memory (e.g., chreiai -pronouncement stories), served various practical functions as they were handed down (instruction in ethics, magnifying Jesus when retold in worship, aiding in legal debates with fellow Jews, useful for evangelizing outsiders, etc) before incorporated in written Gospels. Eyewitnesses are subject to both the limitations of memory and limited to not being everywhere at once, so as stories were told and retold widely there was room for creative new things. Once included in a written source (Mark, perhaps Q source[s]?), the later evangelists (Matthew, Luke, John, Thomas, etc) did not just pull everything from oral tradition but copied each other and did some deliberate updating of the material to meet the theological needs of their readers. An example where I see literary dependence and redaction is Mk 13:14/Matt 24:15/Lk 21:20 – “let the reader understand” seems to me a Markan addition hinting to the readers that they had been instructed about the “abomination of desolation”, Matthew repeats Mark’s aside verbatim while Luke reinterprets the enigmatic sign for non-Jewish readers in a post-70 context as the siege of Jerusalem. That is a minor change, but would not a major change either during the continuing oral tradition or at the redactional level be to explain how Mark and Thomas can reach such opposite views on apocalyptic? An example I would want to look at would be the ”thief in the night” (Thomas 21, Matt 24:43/Lk 12:39; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3; 16:15; Did 16:1) – on the one hand I could accept Judy’s view on Thomas complete independence here and getting this from the oral tradition as it is abundantly attested, but it does lead one to ask whether something Jesus had said about a thief in the night was remembered by different eyewitnesses or tradents in two dramatically different ways and put in very different contexts (be on guard against the world, be ready for the second coming of Jesus), if it was dramatically altered in the oral tradition received by either Matt/Luke (Q?) or Thomas, if either Matthew (or Q?) or Thomas made the redactional change to the saying or gave it a new context or if Thomas is dependent and changed Matt/Luke?
Thus, in my opinion the gist of how Jesus was remembered in the first generation was preserved and aphorisms/parables/short anecdotes and so on survived orally for centuries, but also the image of Jesus was theologically developed in oral tradition and redactionally at the hands of the Synoptic evangelists and (even more so) in John, Thomas, etc. For a bibliography on memory and oral tradition:
- Alison, Dale. Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.
- Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.
- Dunn, James. Jesus Remembered. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2003.
- Le Donne, Anthony. The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology and the Son of David. Baylor University Press, 2009.
- Le Donne, Anthony. The Historical Jesus: What can we know and how can we know it? Eerdmans, 2011.
- Redman, Judy. ”How Accurate Are Eyewitnesses? Bauckham and the Eyewitnesses in the Light of Psychological Research.” Journal of Biblical Literature 129, no. 1 (2010): 177-97.
- Rodriguez, Rafael. Structuring Early Christian Memory. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2010. His blog has lots of discussion on memory.
Mark Goodacre (Mark G.) has a post on a forthcoming work criticizing the criteria in the quest for the historical Jesus (HJ), developed to respond to form critical skepticism of how to distinguish between what goes back to HJ, to the “situation in life” of the early churches and to the evangelist’s redaction. In my HJ posts I have been dependent on the criteria but it is clear it can be used to support completely opposite judgements. I like much of the recent work on memory and how it captures the gist of how Jesus was widely remembered as a sage, apocalyptic prophet or figure of some significance in the eschatological scenario but if we want to weigh between differing & conflicting memories in our varied sources and make specific judgments (did the temple incident happen, did Jesus speak of the apocalyptic Son of Man) then some sort of criteria is unavoidable and I worry some conservative scholarship study of eyewitnesses or oral tradition/social memory is to bypass having to make an explicit judgment that something in the tradition is secondary or not historical (note this concern does NOT apply to Mark G. nor Dale Alison, but some others it may apply). So lets look at the criteria:
- Double Dissimilarity: this one tries to reach an assured minimum (if it can’t be attributed to other Jews or Christians it must have be the HJ), but I agree it is a bad criterion. The HJ appears in a vacuum neither influencd by his Jewish context or influencing his followers. It assumes we know enough about Second Temple Judaism(s) or Christianities to ever declare something unparalleled and the criterion was born in a German liberal Protestant context which wanted to claim Jesus as unique and superior visa-vie Judaism. Instead, it might be useful looking for something relatively distinctive (e.g., son of man is characteristically on Jesus lips but is rare outside the gospels or for others to refer to Jesus as son of man), but also understandable in both a Jewish context and explains the rise of early Christian views.
- Multiple attestation: This criterion can’t prove something historical, but what it can show is that if source X and source Y independently attest event Z than the memory of Z must be earlier than both X and Y. If seems to me a standard that if something is in multiple early, independent sources, it has a greater chance of reflecting how an event was widely remembered from early on and greater likelihood of being historical (NOT to say a singly-attested event is not historical). Mark G. will critique this criterion and, if his view of the literary relationships of the Gospels is correct, it does shrink the pool of independent sources (i.e. Matthew/Luke dependent on Mark, Luke dependent on Matthew so no “Q” source, John dependent on Mark, Thomas dependent on Synoptic tradition = but perhaps some special sources in Matt/Luke/John/Thomas were independent of Mark as well as Paul to be useful for multiple attestation?). This is why the Synoptic Problem is important!
- Embarrassment: I discussed this with Mark G. in the comments here (see my example of John’s baptism and the responses) as it seems to me that historians should look for counter-voices that the evangelists may try to suppress, or if an event is too well known in the tradition to be denied then the efforts of damage control (e.g., each stressing Jesus’ superiority to the Baptist). Of course, this criterion must be used with caution as what embarrasses a later theologian may not be so embarrassing to an earlier one (e.g. Jesus cry “why have you forsaken me” on the cross did not embarrass Mark/Matthew as it fits the scriptural background of the suffering righteous man [cf. Psalms 22], but was omitted by Luke for the trusting “into your hands I commit my spirit”) and I am comfortable with how Mark G. shifts the terminology to traditions to “go against the grain” and therefore are at least earlier than the evangelists themselves.
- Aramaic: this one may be used as both a positive and negative criterion to see if a saying in the Greek Gospels can be reasonable reconstructed back into Aramaic and if there are good reasons to do so (e.g., puzzles in the Greek text best explained by positing an Aramaic original rather than other literary explanations). Of course, since Jesus’ Jewish followers spoke Aramaic this has no guarantee of going back to Jesus without the use of other criteria, but it means that a tradition about Jesus circulated very early in a Jewish Aramaic speaking milieu and may go back to HJ.
- Coherence: depends on what other sayings or deeds the scholar thinks passes the other criteria, so is pretty subjective.
There are a few other criteria used (cf. John Kloppenborg’s discussion). If still seen as deficient, perhaps we can propose new criteria? Finally, to help students from different faith backgrounds come to terms with the study of the HJ, I like to distinguish between Jesus and the HJ. We do not have access to the former, unless we invent a time machine, apart from the memories of his followers. The HJ is a scholarly reconstruction built on arguments about probability and evidence, but if a saying/deed doesn’t pass the criteria does not necessarily mean it didn’t happen (just that it cannot be demonstrated using the current tools of the trade, though that may be contested in the future) or that the HJ represents all that Jesus in all his complexity was (and for Christian worshippers, who he is). What do you think of the criteria?
Clip from movie on Mark (I think this project was abandoned) and passage from Mk 13:25-26. Sadly, Mark is the only gospel of the 4 not to get the movie treatment
Rudolf Bultmann (Theology of the New Testament, 30) spoke of 3 types of Son of Man sayings: present ministry (Mk 2:10, 28), dying/rising (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34) and future coming (Mk 13:26; 14:62). Against Wright’s view on the Son of Man’s ascent to Heaven and vindication at the fall of the Temple in 70 CE, I have argued for the traditional reading of his descent at the end of the age here (Mark uses the participle form of erchomai [coming], but Matthew seems to interpret it this way by substituting the technical term parousia in 24:3, 27, 37, 39). Further, regardless of the Aramaic idiom possibly underlying it, it seems to me that for Mark the Son of (the) Man has become a christological title (ho huios tou anthropou, a gender neutral translation might be “The Human One”) and the Danielic background primary though some contest this (cf. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 290-306 argues it was not a title but the double articular constructionbhas the emphatic force designating this particular human [i.e. Jesus] and Daniel only part of the background of divine theophany imagery). Finally, if we are to ask how a first century reader like Mark read Daniel 7, I think the evangelist updated the oracle to address his time so the end is at hand, the current oppressor is Rome and Jesus is the son of man representing the saints of Israel who will triumph over the beast. Repeated references to suffering and persecutions (Mk 4:17; 8:34-38; 10:30b, 38; 13:9-13) and injunctions to self-denial and taking up the cross may be the cost of following Jesus in the present evil age, but Mark reassures the reader of the good news that the kingdom (1:15; 9:1) ruled over by the Human One will soon come in full power. But that is Mark, so what of the historical Jesus?
The Positive Evidence :
1. The future sayings are multiply attested all over the tradition (Ehrman, Apocalyptic Prophet, 146): Mark (13:26, 14:62), Q (Matt 24:27, 37-39/Luke 17:24, 26-27, 30), M (Matt 13:40-43), L (Luke 21:34-36), Paul (1 Thess 4:16) and possibly John (1:51). Ehrman follows the older scholarly line that the historical Jesus’ references to the Son of Man in the 3rd person is to a future apocalyptic judge distinct from himself, while Dale Allison has changed his earlier opinion from Millenial Prophet on the collective interpretation of the son of man as Jesus and his followers as the vindicated saints to the son of man as Jesus’ heavenly double or celestial alter ego (e.g., Enoch identified with the heavenly son of man in 1 Enoch 71:14, the church who believes they are being visited by Peter’s “angel” in Acts 12:12-15, Judas as the human alter ego of the demon Iadoboth in the Gospel of Judas, the angel Michael as the angelic double of Joseph in Joseph and Asenath, etc) (cf. Constructing Jesus, 292-303).
2. Double dissimilarity: the one like a son of man in Daniel has been interpreted as representing the saints of Israel (Casey), an angelic representative of Israel (Collins) or a messianic figure (Horbury). Dan 7 seems to have influence the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, that son of man identified as Enoch in 71:14) and the man from the sea in 4 Ezra 13, but there are issues of dating the Similitudes and textual uncertainties in the post-70 work 4 Ezra. However, the biggest argument against it as an established title in Second Temple Judaism is that it is never a title the Son of Man (even Revelation has “one like a son of man”) and no one is shocked at the use of Son of Man itself as a self-referent as one might expect if it was a known exalted title. In Christian literature, it is far most often on Jesus’ lips and quickly replaced by terms like Lord (kyrios) or Son of God, appearing outside the gospels only in Acts 7:56, Heb 2:6, Rev 1:13 & 14:14. However, there are major problems with this criteria as it has Jesus operate in a cultural vacuum not influenced by his Jewish context (it fits a context where scholars were trying to prove Jesus`uniqueness and superiority visa-vie Judaism) nor influencing later followers, assumes we know enough about first-century Judaism to declare something unparalleled (what if Deane Galbraith is right on the dating and influence of the Similitudes and Enochic Judaism?) and neglects the evangelists own theologies. Yet the tradition consistently remember this as a distinctive usage of Jesus while it had no meaning for Gentile audiences so it drops out.
3. Embarrassment: the Son of Man or kingdom would come before the completed ministry to Israel (Matt 10:23), before they all tasted death (Mark 9:1) or soon after Romans destroyed the temple (Mark 13:30) may have embarrassed later Christians. Already in Mark a saying one such saying (9:1) may perhaps be slightly reinterpreted as at least partially fulfilled in the transfiguration six days later (9:2).
4. Coherence: If fits with Jesus is an apocalyptic prophet. And Jesus did not issue a call to take up arms yet was executed as a would-be messianic pretender, might the expectation to be enthroned as Son of Man by divine power in the age to come explain some of this tension?
The Negative Evidence
1. Many see the Greek title as an attempt to translate the Aramaic bar (e)nash(a) which was an idiomatic expression that could be rendered “human being”, “someone”, “one”, etc. For Vermes it is simply a circumlocution for “I” and that might fit a saying such as Mk 2:10 “the Son of Man (“I”) has authority to forgive sins” (note Matt 9:8 where God has given such authority to humans). Casey make a strong case that it has a general level of meaning about humanity in general, though with particular reference to the speaker (RBL reviews here and here). This seems to make good sense of Mk 2:27-28 (and note that Matthew and Luke omit the generalizing reference of Mk 2:27) that “the Sabbath was made for [the son of] man, not [the son of] man for the Sabbath, therefore the son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” The fact that this might be an ordinary idiomatic usage along with the fact that there was no pre-christian evidence for the Son of Man as a title may indicate this was a later christological development among Greek speaking Christians who didn’t understand the Aramaic idiom, though perhaps one way out might be with Hooker to see Jesus as using the general level of meaning yet also embracing the role of the one like a son of man who suffers under the beast but receives divine vindication?
2. The Son of Man produced from early Christian exegesis: Psalm 110 (the second Lord sitting at the right hand now understood as Jesus exaltation to heaven) combined with Daniel 7:13 for ascension and then with Zechariah 12:10 (looking on one whom they pierced) to make the parousia (Perrin, Rediscovering the Teachings of Jesus, 180-182). Some see this as an obvious reference to the later Christian belief in the second coming to fully inaugurate the kingdom, which was demanded when the Christians believed that Jesus’ resurrection/exalted to heaven vindicated their belief in him as the annointed messiah and yet the expected messianic kingdom had not yet materialized.
3. Scholars who accept the literary stratification of Q where apocalyptic Son of Man sayings are in a later stratum (Q2) when the Q people now declare apocalyptic judgment on this generation for rejecting their message in Q1. Crossan also makes the interesting argument that the theme may be multiply attested, but in 18 complexes of apocalyptic Son of Man sayings the phrase itself is not multiply attested (phrase “son of man” itself only multiply attested in “foxes have holes” – Thomas 86, Matt 8:20/Luke 9:58) (Crossan, Historical Jesus, 238-256).
So do you think the coming Son of Man sayings go back to Jesus? For more resources:
- Allison, Dale. Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998; Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.
- Bird, Michael. Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009.
- Casey, Maurice. The Solution to the Son of Man Problem. London: T&T Clark, 2007; Jesus of Nazareth. London and New York: T&T Clark International, 2010.
- Collins, John J. ”The Son of Man in First-Century Judaism” NTS 38 (1992): 448-466.
- Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
- Erhman, Bart. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 1999.
- Hooker, Morna. The Son of Man in Mark. London: SPCK, 1967.
- Horbury, William. Jewish Messianism and the Cult of the Christ. SCM Press, 1998.
- Marshall, I.H. “Son of Man” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight and I. Howard Marshall; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992.
- Perriman, Andrew. The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church. Paternoster, 2006.
- Perrin, Norman. Rediscovering the Teachings of Jesus. London: SCM, 1967.
- Vermes, Geza. The Authentic Gospel of Jesus. London: Penguin Books, 2003.
- Witherington, Ben. Jesus, Paul and the End of the World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992.
- Wright, N.T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996
(HT Scott Bailey)
Most of these scenes come from the Gospel of John film with the title role by Lost actor Henry Ian Cusick; the main clue is that only in John’s Gospel does Jesus have a whip (Jn 2:15)
In a earlier post I argued the best interpretation of Mk 11:15-17 is Jesus protested the exploitive abuses of the leadership of the Temple and predicted its demise. This fits overturning the tables of money changers and those who sold pigeons (the poor offering), calling the temple a “robber’s den”, prophetic symbolic actions like overturning tables and cursing the fig tree, and criticisms of power and wealth throughout the gospel (e.g., Mk 12:38-13:2 scribes devour widows’ houses followed by exemplary widow who puts her last coins in the treasury). But there are other interpretations: Jesus opposed sacrifice (some interpret the last supper as an alternative to the temple cult, but why is Mark silent on Jesus starting a counter-temple movement and why in Mark 1:44 did Jesus instruct the healed Leper to make the offer for his cleansing), Jesus was offended by selling within the sacred space of the Temple itself (this may have been a recent innovation and may work with John 2:16 complaint about turning the Father’s house into a market, but does this explain “den of robbers” and did not selling animals to pilgrims travelling long distance a convenience and enable the cult to function), Jesus protested the exclusion of Gentiles (this may work with “house of prayer for all nations” but Mark makes little of Jesus in the Court of the Gentiles which would be crowded with Jewish pilgrims for Passover) or Jesus opposed revolutionary violence (this may work if 11:17 λῃστής translated “bandits” cf. Josephus, but it is a scriptural quotation).
But can this be attributed to the historical Jesus? A wide consensus of scholars argue its authenticity, from Crossan to Casey to Sanders to Wright, though with differing interpretations. However, a few challenge its historicity. Burton Mack writes, “Mark’s fiction of an anti-temple messiahship (a contradiction in terms) could have worked only after the temple had already been destroyed” (Myth of Innocence, 282). Paula Fredriksen agrees that the Temple destruction fits well with literary themes of Mark (and relying on Sanders dismisses Mk 11:17 as a later implausible interpretation), that Paul (pre-70) is unaware of a prediction against the temple and that the size of the outer court & density of pilgrim crowds would swallow up Jesus’ gesture (see “Gospel Chronologies, the Scene in the Temple, and the Crucifixion of Jesus”).
But there is a positive case to be made. First, that Jesus made some sort of threat against the Temple or remembered that way seems to be abundantly multiply attested. However, important to note that Jesus’ words in Mark 11:17 and Synoptic parallels are singly attestesd as John 2:16 ascribes to Jesus another sentiment, leading to contrary judgements on the historicity of Mark 11:17 - “He did not wish to purify the temple, either of dishonest trading or of trading in contrast to ‘pure’ worship. Nor was he opposed to the temple sacrifices which God commanded Israel. He intended, rather, to indicate that the end was at hand and the temple would be destroyed, so that the new and perfect temple might arise.” (Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 75) or “… Jesus criticism of the financial and trading arrangements in the Temple was consistent with his rejection of oaths by the Temple, with his criticism of the Korban system, of tithing mint, dill and cumin, and of the observance of additional purity laws concerning vessels full from the proceeds of wealth acquired by the rich from the poor” (Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, 415). Second, there may be a hint of embarrassment about the action, as there is the recurring mention that Jesus made some sort of prediction of the temple’s destruction and rebuilding in three days, which is attributed to false witnesses in Mark and allegorized in John (could the historical Jesus originally predicted the eschatological destruction and restoration of the Temple but that the latter part was suppressed by the evangelists?). Third, this event can be understood in the context of Second Temple Judaism(s) and there are Jewish parallels (see CA Evans articles here and here). It is also a plausible link to the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion as a potential political threat. Anyways, here are all the passages and the reader can weigh the arguments.
- And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ (Mk 11:15-17)
- Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. (Mk 14:57-59, see also 15:29)
- See, your house is left to you, desolate. (Matt 23:38/Luke 13:35= Q?)
- In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’… Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body (Jn 2:14-21)
- “This man [Stephen] never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” (Acts 6:13-14)
- Jesus said, “I will destroy [this] house, and no one will be able to build it [...].” (Thomas, 71)
- Paul: ”They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Rom 9:4), ”Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; cf. Eph 2:21-22, an implicit critique of the old temple?), “Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess 2:3-4, an allusion to Mark 13:14? But was Mk 13:14 itself influenced by the Caligula crisis and the authorship of 2 Thessalonians is debated).