A limit on divine power?

A limit on divine power? January 10, 2019


Brad Cook's book cover
The cover of the METI title in question (from the METI website)


The 6 January 2019 installment of the Interpreter Radio Show is now available online. In it, Neal Rappleye, Jasmin Rappleye, Stephen Smoot, and Hales Swift discuss the new two-hour block, excitement at the temple, Grant Hardy’s new study edition of the Book of Mormon, and John chapter 1 (Come, Follow Me Lesson 4):




An extract from the broadcast is also available as “Audio Roundtable: Come, Follow Me New Testament Lesson 4: We Have Found the Messiah.




I was the founder and, for years, the editor-in-chief of Brigham Young University’s former Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, which was recently transferred by the Maxwell Institute to E. J. Brill Publishing in the Netherlands.  The Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI)  produced bilingual editions of books (mostly Islamic, but also sometimes Eastern Christian and Jewish) from the classical Islamic world.  The books were printed at Brigham Young University Press and distributed by the University of Chicago Press.


Anyway, one of the volumes features what I still consider the best single line that we ever published.


Al-Ghazālī (d. AD 1111), who was one of the most significant figures in the history of Islamic thought, a legendarily brilliant philosophical theologian and legal thinker who spent most of his life in Iran and Iraq but also sojourned for a significant period in Jerusalem, is talking about extremely poor students, and, in that context, attributes the following remark to Jesus:


“Even though I managed to raise the dead, I have never been able to cure an idiot!”


(See al-Ghazālī, “O Son!,” trans. David C. Reisman, in Classical Foundations of Islamic Educational Thought, ed. Bradley J. Cook [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2010], 103.)


Now, I’ll admit that my first inclination was to say that this alleged statement can’t possibly be authentic.  And that’s still probably correct.  But al-Ghazālī is entirely serious, and plainly regards the statement as genuine.  Furthermore, his citation of it takes us back fully a thousand years or more, halfway to the time of Jesus.  So . . .


I have to confess that I rather like the idea that the Savior might have said such a thing.  It humanizes him a bit.  Surely, with all those long walks from Nazareth to Capernaum, and from Capernaum to Jericho, and from Jericho to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem back up to Capernaum or Nazareth, it can’t all have been immortal sermons and solemn earnestness.  (Can it?  Maybe I’m just not fit for heaven.)  There must have been some small talk.  And the image of Jesus trudging along with the disciples down those dusty paths and confiding, at the end of a tough day, “You know, Peter?  I can raise the dead, but I just can’t cure idiots” is oddly appealing to me.


Still, alas, it’s probably bogus.



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