SNTS: Third Main Paper and Simultaneous Short Papers

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After lunch, Risto Uro spoke about the use of cognitive science in the study of early Christianity. He began by paying hommage to his own Doktorvater, Heikki Räisänen, who advocated a religious studies approach to New Testament studies. He then moved on to contextualize his argument against the backdrop of the study of the phenomenon of religion in recent years from the perspective of cognitive studies, biological evolution, neuroscience, and other interrelated scientific methods, and the diminishing of the gulf between the humanities and the natural sciences. In the second half of his paper, Uro applied the approach of cognitive historiography to the figure of John the Baptist. I will clearly need to read his brand new book about ritual and Christian beginnings! In his paper, Uro drew a comparison with the role of ritual in the activity of the Indian guru known as Amma or Ammachi. In her case as in John’s there is both a close continuity with existing ritual, and something distinctive that appeals to at least a subset of the public to a greater extent than the older and more widespread one. Behavior and psychology need to be part of our study of ancient rituals, and not just the written statements about them by members of an educated elite. People are sometimes unwilling or unable to articulate precisely why they engage in particular rituals, while in others they are ad hoc secondary interpretations offered after the fact. Uro emphasized that cognitive science is not an alternative to classic historical and source-critical approaches. In the discussion afterwards, Judith Lieu asked whether we have clear enough evidence about what John’s baptism was like to be able to offer cognitive scientific interpretations thereof.

imageAfter another coffee break, we had the first round of simultaneous short papers. I chaired the session in which Adele Reinhartz spoke. Her paper’s title was “The Lyin’ King? Duplicity and Christology in the Gospel of John.” She took “WWJD?” as her starting point, noting its assumption that Jesus’ behavior consistently serves as a good role model. She then moved on to the question of whether the Gospel of John is interested in ethics and offers Jesus as a model to emulate in interpersonal relationships. Her view is that it does not. John’s Jesus violates ancient norms for ethical behavior towards one’s mother, siblings, and friends. The author subordinates such concerns to Christology and “the Word becoming flesh – warts and all.” Her approach was neither historical nor theological but literary, and focused on the incident when Jesus lies to his brothers. The manuscript history shows that scribes were disturbed by the text. The text critical arguments of Chrys Caragounis, and exegetical arguments of D. Moody Smith, C. K. Barrett, Rudolf Schnackenburg and others, show that the discomfort has not gone away. Reinhartz, however, argued that the narrator’s comment shows that he recognized the lie but was untroubled by it. In John 7, deceit plays a similar role as in well-known stories about the patriarchs and Moses in the Torah, and of course Jesus is related and compared to these figures throughout John. While Jerome Neyrey has warned against anachronistic evaluation of ancient behavior in terms of our moral sensibilities, Reinhartz drew attention to the condemnation of lying in both Jewish and Greco-Roman literature, as well as elsewhere in the New Testament itself. And within John, the truthfulness of the Samaritan woman is praised, and the truthfulness of the testimony of the Beloved Disciple and Jesus himself is emphasized. The double Amen is often translated as “I tell you the truth.” Jesus’ opponents are condemned as liars (among other things), while Jesus is said to be not just true but “the Truth.” Reinhartz suggested that the evidence shows that the author views Jesus as Truth in a Christological sense, and not in terms of his ethical behavior in interpersonal relations. Interestingly, Jesus is accused by some in John 7 of deceiving people and leading them astray. The background of the term in the Jewish scriptures, however, focuses on the leading of people into the worship of other gods. Also interesting is that this incident leads into a story that shows Jesus as fulfilling the expectation that the Messiah would be hidden.

In the discussion afterwards, Harold Attridge brought the Stoic tradition into the picture, and what Epictetus aays about sages. He also suggested that not accompanying his brothers from Galilee might connect with the theme of not knowing where Jesus is from. Paula Fredriksen asked how the Church Fathers interpret the story. Anni Hentschel noted how the narrator deals with Jesus’ unethical behavior in relation to Lazarus and his sisters in John 11. Dennis MacDonald brought up literary tricksters.

I found myself wondering whether Jesus might have been viewed by the Gospel author as, like God, above such ethical matters, just as God could be depicted as sending a lying spirit to deceive a king (1 Kings 22:22). I also wondered whether Jesus might be an example of the appropriateness of deception in order to preserve oneself in a context of persecution.

 

 

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  • John MacDonald

    “While Jerome Neyrey has warned against anachronistic evaluation of ancient behavior in terms of our moral sensibilities, Reinhartz drew attention to the condemnation of lying in both Jewish and Greco-Roman literature, as well as elsewhere in the New Testament itself.”

    (A) There were certain instances of well thought of lies in Greco Roman literature, such as the Noble Lie of Plato, and the lie Cadmus advocates for about Dionysus in Euripides Bacchae.

    (B) As for the bible, there are numerous instances where lying was permitted:

    1. God rewarded the Egyptian midwives for lying to the Pharaoh.

    And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives. Exodus 1:18-20

    2. Rahab was “justified” when she lied about Joshua’s spies.

    And the woman [Rahab] took the two men and hid them and said thus: There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were; and it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark that the men went out; whither the men went I wot not; pursue after them quickly, for ye shall overtake them. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house and hid them with the stalks of flax. Joshua 2:4-6

    Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?. James 2:25

    3. David lied to Ahimelech when he said he was on the king’s business. (He was King Saul’s enemy at the time.) We know that God approved of this lie, since 1 Kings 15:5 says that God approved of everything David did, with the single exception of the matter of Uriah.

    David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business…. 1 Samuel 21:2

    4. Elisha told King Benhadad that he would recover, even though God told Elisha that the king would die.

    Benhadad the king of Syria was sick … And the king said unto Hazael … go, meet the man of God, and enquire of the LORD by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease? Elisha said unto him, go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die. 2 Kings 8:8-10

    5. In the Deuterocanonical book of Tobit, the angel Raphael lied to Tobias, saying “I am Azarias.”

    Tobias said to him: I pray thee, tell me, of what family, or what tribe art thou? And Raphael the angel answered … I am Azarias. Tobit 5:16-18

    6. Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but later went “in secret.”

    [Jesus said] Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast. … But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. John 7:8-10

    7. Even God lies now and then by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets.

    And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so. 1 Kings 22:21-22

    • John MacDonald

      And I would disagree that lying and deception was universally frowned upon in the Greco-Roman world.

      Aside from the presence of the Noble Lie or Pious Fraud in Plato and Euripides that I already mentioned, Seneca famously said “Religion is true to the masses, false to the wise, and useful to the rulers.” For example, Serapis (Σέραπις, Attic/Ionian Greek) or Sarapis (Σάραπις, Doric Greek), was cleverly instituted as a Graeco-Egyptian god. The Cult of Serapis was introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm.

      It is not out of the realm of possibility to speculate that the miracle/resurrection tales about Jesus started as Noble Lies to assist in selling Jesus’ ethical teaching of “love your enemy and neighbor,” a cause the disciples may have been willing to die for.

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

        Many of the points you mention were discussed.

        • John MacDonald

          Sometimes the future that our actions bring about is too important to be left to truth and chance.

      • John MacDonald

        The permission of lying under special circumstances would not separate the Hebrew and Christian scriptures from other ancient spiritualities. It would actually put them all very much in line. The justification of lying hypothesis is very interesting. It resonates with much in spirituality … even shamanism …where the neophyte is taken in with ‘magic’ to attract their attention and then is taken to the Truth… and the understanding that what they initially thought was magic was simply deception … and the recognition of how early they were deceived.

        Justified lying occurs a lot in ancient spirituality. Confucius, in the ‘Analects,’ indicates:

        “The Governor of She said to Confucius, ‘In our village we have an example of a straight person. When the father stole a sheep, the son gave evidence against him.’ Confucius answered, ‘In our village those who are straight are quite different. Fathers cover up for their sons, and sons cover up for their fathers. In such behaviour is straightness to be found as a matter of course.’ (13.18)”

        The Noble Lie also has a history of societal structuring intentions. For example, The pious fraud or noble lie is present in Plato’s Republic in Book 2, Sections 414-7, where Plato says a functional stratified society could be realized if they could convince the people of the lie that everyone from different levels of society were created by God to exist in a certain level of society.

        Also, Euripides has Cadmus say in the Bacchae that “”Even though this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you say, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him the son of Semele, for this would make it seem that she was the mother of a god, and it would confer honour on all our race.”

        This is also true of the Code of Manu. Roger Berkowitz argues of the Manu based society, that its division of society into four castes, each with its own particular obligations and rights, is a desired end because it reflects the natural order of society. He says ‘“The order of castes, the highest, the most dominant Gesetz, is only the sanction of a natural-order, natural legal- positing of the first rank, over which no willfulness, no ‘modern idea’ has power. It is nature, not Manu or the Brahmin legislators, that divides the predominantly intellectual from those who are predominantly physically or temperamentally strong, and both of these from the mediocre, who are extraordinary in neither intellect nor strength. The Indian caste system is an artifice, a Holy Lie—but it is a lie that serves natural end.’

        Similarly, we see the permission of lying in Islam. In the Pro-Muslim book ‘The Spirit of Islam,’ Afif A. Tabbarah writes, concerning the mandates of Muhammed,

        ‘Lying is not always bad, to be sure; there are times when telling a lie is more profitable and better for the general welfare, and for the settlement of conciliation among people, than telling the truth. To this effect, the Prophet says: ‘He is not a false person who (through lies) settles conciliation among people, supports good or says what is good.’

  • John MacDonald

    Lying and Deception was also common in the production of the biblical literature of that time, such as when Matthew passes off historical fiction of Jesus being The New Moses as factual biography, or when Luke passes off historical fiction about Jesus and the widow of Nain as factual biography (Luke 7:11-17, which recapitulates 1 Kings 17:17-24). As Bart Ehrman says of these two examples, “When a story about Jesus so closely parallels a passage in the Old Testament, it is reasonable to assume that the story teller – in this case Luke or his source – has shaped the story in light of its scriptural parallel (Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist, pg. 200).”

    Also, as Ehrman says in “Forged,” well meaning would-be scripture writers would often forge documents, even though forgery was often frowned on in the ancient world.

    And in fact, critical scholars often contend that much of the New Testament material, such as the miracles, don’t go back to the historical Jesus, so here again there is historical fiction being passed off as factual biography.

  • John MacDonald

    Dr. McGrath said: “I found myself wondering whether Jesus might have been viewed by the Gospel author as, like God, above such ethical matters just as God could be depicted as sending a lying spirit to deceive a king (1 Kings 22:22). I also wonder whether Jesus might be an example of the appropriateness of deception in order to preserve oneself in a context of persecution.”

    This sounds right. “Truth” doesn’t just mean honesty and correctness, but also “exemplary,” like when we call someone a “true friend”. Jesus may be depicted in the Gospel as an exemplary way to behave when facing persecution – Societal norms of honesty may need to be bracketed for a while. This is echoed in the New Testament when the author of James says: “Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?. (James 2:25 )”

    On the other hand, suspending the rules of honesty when it is needed or inconvenient, opens up a slippery slope. For instance, maybe the original Christians felt God was commanding them to be deceptive to sell Jesus to the masses in order to ultimately realize God’s plan.

    As I said in an above comment, aside from the presence of the Noble Lie or Pious Fraud in Plato and Euripides that I already mentioned, Seneca famously said “Religion is true to the masses, false to the wise, and useful to the rulers.” For example, Serapis (Σέραπις, Attic/Ionian Greek) or Sarapis (Σάραπις, Doric Greek), was cleverly instituted as a Graeco-Egyptian god. The Cult of Serapis was introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm.

    It is not out of the realm of possibility to speculate that the miracle/resurrection tales about Jesus started as Noble Lies to assist in selling Jesus’ ethical teaching of “love your enemy and neighbor,” a cause the disciples may have been willing to die for.

    • John MacDonald

      In case anyone is interested in the topic of “Lies and Deception” in the ancient world, I’m starting a new Blog on that topic called “Palpatine’s Way.” My first post on “Lying in the Judeo Christian and Greek traditions” is now up here:

      http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/

      My next two posts will be on Dr. Ehrman’s forgery books, and Tricksters in the ancient world.

      Stop by and let me know what you think!

      John

  • John MacDonald

    Dr, McGrath said in the post “I also wondered whether Jesus might be an example of the appropriateness of deception in order to preserve oneself in a context of persecution.”

    If Jesus is an “example” of it being justified to be deceptive when facing persecution, I wonder if Jesus’ statement “I am the Way, the Truth (ἀλήθεια), and the Life” might be retranslated interpretively as “I am the Way, the Exemplar (ἀλήθεια), and the Life.” After all “Truth” doesn’t just mean correct, honest, and fact, but also “exemplary,” like when we say a “True Friend.”

    We are to follow and try to live up to, and learn from, Jesus’ “example.”

    • John MacDonald

      Exemplars are also important teaching tools. For instance, before writing an essay, students should be exposed to an “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D” level model essay so they will have a general idea of what they need to do to be successful in their own writing. Students shouldn’t be guessing about what they need to do to be successful.

      • John MacDonald

        And, following what I have said in the two above comments, Jesus is portrayed as a type of “exemplar” in the Gospels. A “teacher” is a paradigmatic “exemplar.” It has been known since ancient times that it is “best practice” for a teacher to always explicitly model thought patterns and behaviors that the teacher wants the students to emulate. The teacher is the “model,” the “exemplar.” In the Gospels, Jesus is called “Rabbi,” meaning “teacher.”

        Jesus is called Rabbi in conversation by Apostle Peter in Mark 9:5 and Mark 11:21, and by Mark 14:45 by Nathanael in John 1:49, where he is also called the Son of God in the same sentence. On several occasions, the disciples also refer to Jesus as Rabbi in the Gospel of John, e.g. 4:31, 6:25, 9:2 and 11:8.

    • John MacDonald

      Truth (aletheia) in the ancient Greek tradition primarily had to do with what was un-covered or revealed (hence the alpha privative in a-letheia). Truth was primarily a characteristic of beings (“alethes on”), and only in a secondary sense of opinions or propositions (hence, for instance, “doxa theou:” the “glory” of God, not an “opinion” about God). So, for instance, a Greek Goddess would be beautiful in an exemplary sense (now THAT”S BEAUTY), as though BEAUTY ITSELF was presencing though the Goddess. Similarly, an entity was primarily an entity when it radiated “BEING,” such as when we say, for example, of a deer head on the wall of a rustic cabin “Now That’s Minnesota!” as though the essence of Minnesota was presencing through the deer head and, at the same time, the “essence” of Minnesota was re-vealed (aletheia) through the Deer Head. Heidegger gives the example of worn shoes in a painting through which the wearer’s entire world presences.