It’s All Here in the Bible

I wish I’d come across this political cartoon by Kevin Moore about Obama as the antichrist when it was made in 2008. But better late than never, and even if it is not as politically timely now, its point about Biblical interpretation remains as relevant as ever.

  • Danny Mortensen

    Hi Dr. McGrath. I wondered if you could offer a couple of thoughts on this brief Candida Moss article from the Daily Beast (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/11/05/sorry-america-you-re-wrong-the-jews-did-not-kill-jesus.html) about misconceptions on who killed Jesus. What’s your view on how much/how little the Gospels blame the Jews? I know that John gets a bad rap, but Crossan also makes much of how Matthew, for example, makes the Jews look bad. What is a balanced way to approach the possibility that both Jewish leaders and Roman authorities were at fault?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Ellis Rivkin’s book What Crucified Jesus? does a good job of exploring the systemic factors that led to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. The truth is that imagining Jews calling for foreign rulers to execute yet another of their own is inherently implausible. And the speed with which Jesus is handed over to the Romans really only makes sense if the whole point of apprehending Jesus is to get him to the Romans before they have to send in troops to get him themselves.

      • Thomas Foster

        Aside from the arguable historical facts, the story of the Gospels certainly means to make it entirely plausible, simply because of the tone of his proclamations toward the Pharisees. Certainly one of the eternal lessons of the Gospels and that can be learned from Christ as an archetype, is condensed in the morally paradoxical saying of Caiaphas, ‘It is better that one man die for the people.’ I mean good men have often been unjustly killed by their own for justly standing up to their own, and the significance ultimately concerns human nature more than than first century AD Jews in particular.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Your comment seems to reflect the common but mistaken belief that the Pharisees wielded political power in this period. Notice that in Mark, when it comes to the arrest and trial of Jesus, they disappear from the scene.

          • Thomas Foster

            Your comment seems to reflect the common but mistaken belief that the Gospels have more value as history than story. I could not argue with you about what actually happened, no more than I could argue with a straight face whether or not Jesus walked on water, because nobody knows, it is a waste of time. But I do know why he is said to walk on water; it symbolizes his moral perfection; I also know why the impression is given that the Pharisees condemn him; there is a moral lesson in it, one that my comment attempted to explain. Quite simply, if you take the blame from the Pharisees, you are gutting the Gospels of one of the sharpest points they are clearly trying to make. People risk misunderstanding by over-intellectualizing these ancient texts; they obscure what is clearly the intention of the books themselves; they rip the poetry out of them.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              There was no value judgment made. The discussion began with a focus on a historical-critical question about the depiction of events in these sources. It is of course possible to ask what the literary effect of depicting things this way is on a narrative level. But it is not true that questions about history are in the same category as things like claims to walk on water. If they were, historians would have very little they could tell us about the past.

      • Danny Mortensen

        Makes sense. Thanks. What about the explanation that the Pharisees’ desire for a more hostile resistance to Roman governance clased with Jesus’ nonviolent methods, leading them to want to get him out of the way because he impeded ‘the cause’? I suppose we might title it the N.T. Wright/John Howard Yoder/J.D. Crossan version of things? It would explain why the Romans would be bothered by Jesus and certain Jews would view him as an obstacle as well. Is that overly simplistic?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          The Pharisees might have opposed Jesus for that reason, but that sounds more like Josephus’ Fourth Philosophy, although the two may have overlapped in this period. But that still doesn’t explain why those in authority, who were seeking to keep order, would have eliminated Jesus when it was the other group that was the threat to order and stability.

          • Danny Mortensen

            Gotcha. I suppose by way of wrap up I would ask:

            1. Is that suggesting that Jesus was a violent trouble-maker, or could he have been a non-violent political trouble-maker too?
            2. In your view, what is the most historically plausible answer to whether or not Jewish leaders played a role in the execution?

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              I wasn’t suggesting that Jesus was a violent troublemaker. I was suggesting that, if Jesus was opposed to violent troublemaking, then that raises the question of why the Romans took an interest in him. But the answer is that talk of the kingdom of God and drawing crowds was enough to accomplish that, and the fact that his followers were not rounded up and handed over to the Romans suggests that it was Jesus alone that they were worried about and not his movement in its entirety.

              It is entirely plausible that the Jewish authorities apprehended Jesus and handed him over to the Romans, knowing that that would result in less bloodshed than if Roman troops came to apprehend him for themselves.

              • Danny Mortensen

                Thank you for the fascinating replies!
                Okay I guess I lied… ONE more clarifying question… so you would suggest that Jewish authorities could have handed him over, but would not have called for his death in front of the governor?

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  Their asking the Romans to kill him even though it was the Romans who were after him is indeed quite possibly the hardest part of the story to accept as historical.

  • arcseconds

    Even if you were convinced that Revelation contained encoded prophecies about the future, why would you think that this would happen during your life, rather than in a thousand years’ time, or a thousand years after that?

    It takes a special form of narcissism to think that.

    Or maybe it’s paranoia. One of the features of paranoid conditions is that the paranoid individual thinks it’s all about them.

  • Marta L.

    This is brilliant, partly because it’s so unbelievably, uncomfortably true to life. Good find.


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