Beyond the Narrow Gate: Understand Jesus vs Mere Acquaintance

Beyond the Narrow Gate: Understand Jesus vs Mere Acquaintance August 27, 2019
Jesus and the Narrow Gate
Miltiadis Fragkidis

The Gospel story from “Luke” concerning entry through the narrow gate offers a great challenge to really strive to understand Jesus.

The Gospel for this past Sunday, August 25, offers a spiritual challenge to Western 21st century Christians. The narrow-gate is an entry for those whose relationship with Jesus is real and radical. A blockage of traffic at the point of entry is filled with lots of talk but little walk. Do we desire only acquaintance with Jesus or to truly know him?

In Luke 13:18-21, Jesus speaks about the forthcoming theocracy (“the Kingdom of God”). It’s an unusual presentation of a familiar subject matter, turned upside-down for his contemporaries.

Throughout the Mediterranean world of Jesus and “Luke,” only great ones, elites like nobles and warriors, were associated with kings and kingdoms. Such was the acquaintance with theocracy belonging to almost every first century Israelite. But the Lukan Jesus describes the Kingdom of God employing metaphors taken from the ordinary daily life of Galilean peasants. What!?

High Context and Low Context

Luke 13:23
“Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved?’”

All ancient documents are “high context” literature. The Bible is no exception. High context literature means the authors of such documents assume that their readers share with them a vast depth of common information keyed to the same social context. This auxiliary background social knowledge means much is left unsaid. Therefore explanation is not required! A lot gets said in sparse words!

What a contrast that is to our extremely specialized and complex Western cultures! Ours is a low context culture. Therefore, the literature of our acquaintance is low context also. Thus the background of everything is expected to be explained in detail—think credit card agreements, loan applications, and such. So Western authors, considerate of their Western audience, follow this rule with their low context documents. Important background information is given.

This cultural acquaintance for Western low context documents proves to be a perennial disaster for U.S. Bible readers. We tend to read documents like the Bible as if they were written for, by, and about us, or people like us (i.e., low context Westerners)! And because we are so used to reading literature where all information gets provided and spelled out, we assume the same situation is at work in our Mediterranean Bible!

The Context Group of Biblical Scholars have shown convincingly that, typically, our Western, 21st century brains attempt to fill the massive gaps of cultural information we stumble on in almost every Scripture passage. This means we fill the gaps with ethnocentric anachronisms. Our “Bible reading” easily becomes a violent distortion and loss of context.

High Context “Luke”

The Gospel we call “Luke” is high context literature. Neither the prepaschal Jesus nor “Luke” were universalists. This text is not about getting saved from hell. It’s not about all humankind getting saved, at least not in its literal sense, which comes first (Universal Catechism, n. 126). Such notions were alien to the acquaintance of ancient peoples.

When we read in “Luke” that “Will only a few be saved?” we must unpack that high context question. “Will God save only a few members of humankind?” is inappropriate. The correct meaning is: “Will the God of Israel save only a few in Israel?” For “Luke” and most other New Testament documents, “salvation” means participating in the soon-to-be-inaugurated Israelite theocracy.

Luke 13:24-30

United States culture is the most individualistic in recorded history. As social analyst Geert Hofstede explains, today only 20 percent of people on earth are individualists. To us, “the self” is a cognitive and emotional universe chemically isolated from all others, unrepeatable, unique, discovered and unlocked via psychology. But even today such individualism is strange to about 80 percent of all cultures.

In the ancient world individualism was almost completely absent. So there is nothing like American life to be found anywhere in the Scriptures. There one’s “self” is always the group-self. Thus, American Catholics reading Jesus asking the questions of Mark 8:27-30 and Matthew 16:15 ought to remember that he wasn’t an American individualist buying Western values.

United States persons are predictably blind to this ancient acquaintance of “self” when they read about Jesus and the Gospels. We are dominated by a fierce predilection for a Jesus who is congenial to our American cultural values. In fact, we could not stomach an un-American Jesus. We will talk more on this, soon.

Jesus the Collectivist

In Herodian Palestine one’s identity was social and not individual. Again, in this world “self” always means group-self. This is just like how most people (80 percent) perceive, think about, understand, and communicate in our world today. Two fantastic movies playing in theaters right now give Western Christians an opportunity to taste this: The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang, and Blinded By the Light, directed by Gurinder Chadha. Check them out!

In Jesus’ world people identify others by their group-self because there the “I” is always embedded in the “We.” “To which group do you belong?” means who are you?

Is this Jesus from Nazareth? Embarrassingly, yes, he was. See? The label “Nazarene” was encoded with all the information Jesus’ contemporaries would ever need to know about him. He is stereotyped, socially locked forever in place by that honor-rating.

So who are we talking about again? “Jesus of Nazareth, the…” It’s over. Once they heard “of Nazareth,” deafness followed. Jesus of Nazareth is a nothing-person from a nothing-hamlet in a nothing-place, Galilee. Now we can forget all about him or any claim of grandeur he or another might make for him. In this world stereotypes do count and words or labels can do far worse than break your bones. If they know where you come from, everything they need to know about you has been already provided with nothing to add.

We must take the prefix “in” of “inspiration” seriously. Inspiration is messy! The Bible is Mediterranean and thus stereotyping fills its pages (see Titus 1:12; Mark 7:27; 14:70; John 1:46; 4:9). You can almost see why the political-religious title “Christ” soon had to mutate into becoming Jesus’ last name! Due to his embarrassing origins someone early on felt that they had to cut objections off at the chase!

Know Thyself? Ha!

In this past Sunday’s Gospel, when the master of the house says, “I do not where you are from” (Luke 13:25) it is equivalent to saying, “I do not know you.” In the Mediterranean world of the Bible—of which the peasant day laborer and village artisan Jesus was very much a part—the stereotypes belonging to one’s village tells everything needed to know about that person.

We Americans and other Western people believe that psychological-knowledge of one’s self is the way people come to know themselves. But biblical people like Jesus were anti-introspective and therefore were oblivious to Western notions of psychological development.

Every time a homilist, preacher, ministry-leader, Christian author or public speaker gives a commentary about Jesus’ or some other Biblical character’s feelings and emotional states (e.g., David was feeling guilty when he wrote Psalm 51, etc.), know for sure this is ethnocentric and anachronistic distortion of the Scriptures. Biblical authors and characters didn’t give a damn for thinking about their individual selves like we do (psychological guilt). Rather, they were obsessed about how others judged them, how they were perceived publicly (honor-shame).

Biblical Conscience vs Western Conscience

So in the Bible whenever someone talks about “conscience” (e.g., Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4:1-4), don’t think Jiminy Cricket! Don’t think Freud’s “superego” or some “inner voice” of psychological guilt (a Western social control unknown in the Bible). Don’t think anything Jungian! Biblical “conscience” means the publicly-accusing voice of others.

As with “IN+spiration,” Christians must take the prefix “in” of “incarnation” seriously also. Since it was INTO the Mediterranean world of anti-introspective, dyadic MENA personalities that Jesus was born, socialized, and enculturated, we should not expect from him a Western existentialist “Who am I?” Self knowledge originated in significant others from one’s group, never from their individual self! Therefore “Who do people say that I am?” means “Who do YOU ALL [my ingroup] say that I am?” (see Mark 8:27-30)

While Luke Skywalker may indeed be a hero with a thousand faces, not a single one of those faces is Middle Eastern. Sorry George, Joe, and Carl.

Ways of Sharing Kinship

In this Sunday’s Gospel the Israelites interested in sharing in theocracy were not blood-relatives to Jesus. They were not his dyadic-personality alter-egos from his home town. So they claim the next best unitive glue—acquaintance through table fellowship. How did one know that one belonged to the ingroup in ancient times? You had to share a common substance with them.

As the late John Pilch explained, if you are born into a family or village in the biblical culture where the ideal marriage partner is your patrilateral first cousin, you relate by the substance of blood. Or say you share the substance of milk from a wet nurse—that relates you closer than cousins and you violate incest taboos should you marry your kin-by-milk.  Different societies recognize the commingling of common bodily substances (whether blood, milk, semen, or spit) as the bond that creates kinship.

Sharing meals also does this in the world of the Bible. One way such people know they belong to the common ingroup was by sharing meals. Only social equals can share in this. In this Sunday’s Gospel, although the householder in Jesus’ example does not recognize them, Israelites knocking at the door claim social solidarity with him by their having broken bread and shared a cup together in his presence. They feel they deserve access to Theocracy.

“Breaking bread,” “sharing cup,” “his presence”… hmmm.  Sound familiar, Catholics?

“Will only a few be saved?”

The question whether only some or all Israelites would share in olam ha-ba (the world to come) vexed many Israelites. Our Jewish sisters and brothers can point to the Mishnah (ca. 200 CE) to answer that all those belonging to Israel will. But the Gospel passage for this Sunday alludes to the fact that different Israelite opinions on the question had been vogue at different times. The apocryphal 4 Ezra 8:1 reads—

“The Most High made this world for the sake of many [Israelites], but the world to come for the sake of few” [Israelites].

Jesus was all about theocracy, the kingdom of God. It was the center and focus for all his healing actions, everything he proclaimed. In this Sunday’s passage from “Luke,” his contemporaries press him: how many of us Israelites will share in it?

Who will make it? Who can say other than God? This is God’s affair. The Lukan Jesus does not disrespect the patron God of Israel. So he refrains from answering the question directly.

Instead, and consistent with the prophetic tradition in Israel, Jesus warns that many worthless Israelites will attempt to enter Theocracy.  But Jesus insists that superficially relating to him won’t cut it.

“I do not know where you are from.”

The Lukan Jesus offers a reflection. In it, the householder represents Jesus. He refuses to acknowledge many of his fellow Israelites. He refuses to admit them to the Feast (i.e., the Kingdom), even those who have listened to him, ate and drank with him, and knew him. Jesus the Householder locks them out!

To better see why this is shocking let’s take a brief glimpse at Galatians 1-2. The situation there helps illuminate this Sunday’s Gospel. Paul (a very difficult person to get along with) was enraged at Peter (undoubtedly another very difficult person). Peter was a barbarian Israelite (wrongly translated “Jew”).

According to Paul, Peter used to eat with civilized Israelite émigré believers living among non-Israelite Mediterraneans (wrongly translated “Gentiles” or “Greeks”).

Jesus, Paul and the World
Fellow Dying Inmate / All rights reserved

Since only social equals share table fellowship in this world, Peter was proclaiming by symbolic action that both Barbarian Israelites (wrongly conceived of as “Jews”) and Civilized Israelites (wrongly conceived of as ethnic Greeks) loyal to Jesus messiah were kin! Distinctions did not apply.

Sharing the Common Meal Seals Kinship

In the Mediterranean world of the Bible, the act of eating together seals friends into a common ingroup, a Mediterranean family, a group-self. In the Common Meal a metamorphosis happens to strangers. The Common Meal transforms them, integrates them into the fictive (not fictional!) kin group and they really do become kin.

But as reported by “Galatians,” Barbarian Israelite “pillar” Peter stopped eating with the Civilized Israelite believers. This was because he had scandalized some of his fellow Barbarian Israelite believers. These Judean believers were scandalized because they felt that in order to belong to the in-group of Jesus messiah, you have to first practice their Barbarian Israelite customs (e.g., male genital mutilation, dietary regulations, etc).

To understand Peter’s change recall that “conscience” in this world is nothing introspective but the publicly-accusing voice of significant others from the In-Group-Self.

This is why Paul was incensed. By ceasing sharing the Common Meal with Civilized Israelite believers, Peter was publicly saying that they were not true kin with Jesus. He was proclaiming them as not really being members of Jesus’ ingroup.

“Galatians” to “Luke”

Returning to this past Sunday’s Gospel reading, those who knock at the door demanding entry are expressing the same thing in Paul’s argument with Peter. “Why won’t you let us in? You are us! We are you! We belong at table together as we have been! We are kin!”

While this may be true, for Jesus it is not enough to enter the Banquet of Theocracy. Without metanoia—becoming a new person, being radically transformed in life—it is impossible to be related to Jesus in Theocracy.

Maybe Jesus did preach on their streets. So what? Listening to Good News is insufficient. Radical transformation is necessary to enter the Feast.

And maybe these sons of Abraham did eat with Jesus, break bread and drink with him, in his presence. So what? This is not enough if lives aren’t being changed. In fact, doing such without metanoia would be the work of evildoers.

The Narrow-Gate of Verbal Orthodoxy

How does this translate for 21st century Western Christians? What are the marching orders or direct answers for us living today? How do we apply this Gospel to our lives?

In 1987 the United States bishops cautioned the faithful from looking in the Bible for all the direct answers for modern living. The reason? They cannot be found there.

However, we might find some interesting directions for our situation in an indirect and sacramental reading of this Gospel.

Being a daily communicant and verbally orthodox does not guarantee a living relationship with Jesus. There are Catholic business owners who behave this way and yet defraud their employees. There are American Christians who proclaim proudly their belief in the Incarnation of God the Son all the while holding racist, sexist, and homophobic views incompatible with belief in the Incarnation.

The deafening silence about these glaring problems in Catholic parishes throughout the United States speaks much about our superficial unity with him. We lack life-giving transformation. The fruit can be seen everywhere. Perhaps we shouldn’t focus so much on belief in his Presence, but more on our own lack of being present.

Slandering Jesus

Too many United States parish leaders compare themselves to lions, tigers, and sharks. Terminally ill people need to wake up. Reality begins with acknowledging being lovable in mortality. As the prophet Cornell West says, we are born in the funk between urine and feces and we will become the funky feast of worms, soon. And so will all fellow inmates in the asylum we call society. Love works messy here.

Starving Galilean peasants lived this. In+carnation happens in this. In+spiration happens in this. This is lightyears removed from our kitschy, alien-life-form depictions of Jesus, Mary and the Saints.

The real Jesus crossed all social divides and made himself available to the outcast, the marginalized, the degraded and unclean throw-aways, the nothing people. For us to distort his Eucharist into a magical event for the clean, well-dressed, successful, and so-called “winners” is a sacrilege and blasphemy. Blasphemos in the ancient Geek means slander, and that is what we “evildoers” do by either actively participating in or silently enabling this slander of Jesus.

Turning our parishes into club houses of wealthy head-nodders meanwhile excluding the homeless, all the while we sing Jesus’ name? This is too Constantinian, American-style. We have to change. All the Jesus-talk and receptions of communion we do become one grand sacrilege without transformation.

American Churches sing of Jesus but mollycoddle the ultra-wealthy, the popular, the socially acceptable. How far we are from the real Jesus, the Reality behind the Holy Name, the Master of the House! Will we change? Or will we stay a blasphemous mockery?

Superficial relations with Jesus don’t help anyone. The “amen” we say receiving Communion ought to be real.

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  • Bonshika Jackson

    Readers beware: Most of this article’s more provocative claims — e.g., that late Second-Temple Jews did not concern themselves with Gentile salvation; that ancient peoples did not care about objective right or wrong but only of what others in “their group” thought of them; that Paul “does not care” about pagan Gentiles but only about non-Torah observing “elite” Israelite Hellenes — are not supported by the Biblical texts or by the mainstream of critical Biblical scholarship. The author makes some valid points about antique social contexts, but he grossly distorts them and reduces the ancients to a kind of cartoon caricature.

    It’s very telling that the author does not cite any actual Biblical or classical scholarship supporting his claims. That’s because he cannot. What we get in this article is a version of the Dan Brown school of scholarship, where outrageous claims that are the product of the author’s fevered imagination are latched onto kernels of historical truth and then passed off as reality.

  • Bonshika Jackson

    And by the way, note the not-so-subtle double-standard of the author: No Catholic but him knows how to read the Bible properly, because they’re not conversant in fringe “Context Group” scholarship and so even the most traditional of readings is hopelessly anachronistic — yet the author has no compunction about berating unnamed Catholics for “holding racist, sexist, and homophobic views incompatible with belief in the Incarnation.” Make no mistake: When a modernist “Catholic” complains about “sexism” and “homophobia,” these are code words for Biblical and Catholic teaching against ordination of women to the priesthood and same-sex “marriage.” The historical Jesus almost certainly would have been considered “sexist” and “homophobic” by the standards of this author and his fellow travelers, yet here he implicitly and anachronistically attributes to Him a belief in gender fluidity and radical egalitarianism, and faults fellow Catholics for not doing so. lol!

    His claims that “there are Catholic business owners who behave this way and yet defraud their employees,” and that Catholics “distort the Eucharist into a magical event for the clean, well-dressed, successful, and so-called ‘winners,'” and “thurn their parishes into club houses of wealthy head-nodders meanwhile excluding the homeless” is baseless canard. His characterization of these things as “Constantinian” is just historically illiterate. Catholics are not perfect people, but the implication that their communities are characterized by these things, is simply a lie.

  • Fofosiro

    Imagine if you were a lawyer in antiquity who lost their job for attacking another ethnicity. The only way this would happen then would be through a disgrace of your honor, because of the Ingroup behavior.

    Imagine being dishonorable and not learning your lesson.

  • Fellow Dying Inmate

    No such thing as the popular misnomer “Second Temple Jews.” This is from a scholarly article for you:

    Biblical Scholar John Elliott writes:

    Jesus was neither a ‘Jew’ nor a ‘Christian’. This is true at diverse levels and stages of discourse. For one thing, Jesus was neither a ‘Jew’ nor a ‘Christian’ in the sense that these terms are used today in ordinary discourse.

    As Jacob Neusner and a growing number of scholars have been emphasizing for some time now, the concept ‘Jew’ as understood today derives not from the first century but from the fourth and following centuries CE. It denotes persons shaped by and oriented to not only Torah and Tanakh but Mishnah, Midrashim and Talmudim. (See Jacob Neusner, Judaism and Christianity in the Age of Constantine: History, Messiah, Israel, and the Initial Confrontation, Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, p. ix.)

    In similar fashion the name ‘Christian’ as used and understood today designates persons marked more by doctrines and events of the fourth and later centuries (trinity of the godhead, double natures of Christ, consolidating and hierarchically structured catholic church) than by those of the first. (please see Rosemary Radford Ruether, ‘Judaism and Christianity: Two Fourth-Century Religions’, Sciences Religieuses/Studies in Religion 2, 1972, pp. 1-10)

    Thirty years ago Rosemary Radford Ruether had already pointed out that it was in the fourth century that Judaism and Christianity assumed the features by which they are known today. Indeed, Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin (Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999], p. 6) cites Ruether with approval and aptly describes both collectivities as ‘twins in the womb’ until the fourth century.

    To call Jesus a ‘Jew’ or a ‘Christian’, as these words are understood in the vernacular today, not only confuses the matter historically, but has led to disastrous social and inter-religious consequences.

    In the lexicon entry on Ἰουδαῖος in A Greek-English Lexicon on the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (2000, p. 478), Frederick Danker laments that:

    “Incalculable harm has been caused by simply glossing Ἰουδαῖος with ‘Jew’, for many readers or auditors of the Bible translations do not practice the historical judgment necessary to distinguish between circumstances and events of an ancient time and contemporary ethnic-religious-social realities, with the result that anti-Judaism in the modern sense of the term is needlessly fostered through biblical texts.”

    Here’s the link to the above and a whole lot more:

    Elliott continues:
    Despite the growing number of scholars in agreement with these positions (see below), use of ‘Jew’ and ‘Judaism’ in reference to Israel and Israelites in the Second Temple period and use of ‘Christian’ and ‘Christianity’ in reference to Jesus and his earliest followers continue unabated in both professional and lay circles.
    See A.T. Kraabel, ‘The Roman Synagogue: Six Disputable Assumptions’, JJS 33 (1982), pp. 445-64; Robert J. Miller (ed.), The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version (Sonoma: Polebridge Press, 1992);
    Bruce J. Malina, Windows on the World of Jesus (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), p. xv;
    Richard A. Horsley, ‘The Death of Jesus’, in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (eds.), Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (Leiden: Brill, 1994), pp. 395-422 (398); idem, Galilee: History, Politics, People (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995);
    Helmut Koester, ‘The Historical Jesus and the Historical Situation of the Quest: An Epilogue’, in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (eds.),
    Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (Leiden: Brill, 1994), pp. 535-46 (541-42);
    idem, ‘Historic Mistakes Haunt the Rela-tionship of Christianity and Judaism’, Biblical Archaeological Review 21.2 (1995), pp. 26-27
    John H. Elliott, ‘Jesus was neither a “Jew” nor a “Christian”: Dangers of Inappropriate Nomenclature’ (paper delivered at the International Meeting of the Context Group, Prague, Czech Republic, 21–24 May 1997);
    John H. Elliott, 1 Peter: A New Translation and Commentary
    (AB, 37B; New York: Doubleday, 2000), p. 6;
    John J. Pilch, ‘Are There Jews and Christians in the Bible?’, Hervormde Teologiese Studies 53 (1997), pp. 119-25;
    John J. Pilch, ‘Jews and Christians’, in idem, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1999), pp. 98-104;
    Philip F. Esler, Galatians (New Testament Readings; London and New York: Routledge, 1998), p. 4;
    Philip F. Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans:The Social Setting of Paul’s Letter (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), pp. 62-74;
    Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), pp. 32-34;
    Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), pp. 44-46.

    “that ancient peoples did not care about objective right or wrong but only of what others in ‘their group’ thought of them…”

    This is a straw man. How does one conclude about what ancients believed about objective right or wrong based on their cultural collectivism? You seem to be omitting all other possibilities here.

    “That Paul ‘does not care’ about pagan Gentiles but only about non-Torah observing ‘elite’ Israelite Hellenes”

    I never claimed Paul cares about ELITE Israelite Hellenes. No, he had poor Hellene clients also, and probably almost all of them were emigres who were urban poor. Pagan is a terribly misused word. You mean non-Israelites? If that is what you mean then yeah, Paul did not care about them. He tolerated them at least in the Roman Jesus group he did not found…

  • Fellow Dying Inmate

    Where do I make the claim that no Catholic but I know how to read the Bible properly? I never make or imply such a claim. You excel at straw man. Whatever you do, Bonshika, don’t go into law. Fallacy-games don’t work there. You are assuming your own obsessions in a most uncharitable way. Your claims are ludicrous.

    As far as baseless canards go, that’s all you sister.

    Go read and actually challenge or question what actually wrote or get off this wall and rethink your life.

  • Neko

    You wrote:

    Catholics are not perfect people, but the implication that their communities are characterized by these things, is simply a lie.

    It’s no lie!

  • Bonshika Jackson

    1) Nothing you wrote even remotely implies that there is “no such thing as ‘Second Temple Jews.'” The authors you cite simply point out that Judaism in the late Second Temple period was not the exact same thing as what would be called “Judaism” in later periods. Well, no kidding. Likewise, “Mediterranean culture” in the first-century A.D. was not the same thing as “Mediterranean culture” is today, and the major intellectual weakness of the Context Group and its devotees is their assumption that it is — combined with their equally egregious assumption that there was ever such a thing as monolithic “Mediterranean culture” in antiquity, let alone uniform cultural and social assumptions and expectations within individual societies and across social classes. Readers can read for themselves how very seldom Context Group “scholars” cite primary sources from classical antiquity to support their assertions. Most of what they cite are controversial claims by certain modern neo-orientalist anthropologists generalizing about modern cultures, peppered with some neo-Freudian psychoanalysis.

    2) The notion that Paul’s ministry was toward non-observant Israelites living among Gentiles, and not to pagan Gentiles themselves, is simply not borne out by any serious evidence, but much like Richard Carrier’s version of Jesus-mythicism (i.e., Jesus was originally understood by Paul and all the other earliest Christians as a purely spiritual being who was mystically but invisible incarnated, crucified, and resurrected somewhere in the atmosphere), can only be maintained if one adopts a thesis a priori and forcibly reads it into the Pauline epistles. The thesis also presupposes that those who wrote shortly immediately after Paul died misremembered and misinterpreted him — You see, according to the hack Pilch, we have to believe that Paul himself, being Mediterranean, fit Pilch’s cartoon-caricature of ancient Mediterraneans to a T, and so must have despised all pagans as nearly irredeemable “outsiders” to his “Jesus in-group,” yet for some reason this does not apply to the post-Pauline New Testament authors, and the early Church Fathers, who were equally Mediterranean. It’s too bad that ancient-Mediterranean Luke, the other ancient-Mediterranean NT authors, and the ancient-Mediterranean Church Fathers didn’t have Messers. Malina and Pilch around to teach them how ancient-Mediterranean men lived and thought!

    The Context Group made some useful contributions to Biblical scholarship a few decades ago, but they have a long and well-criticized history of resorting to ethnocentric hyper-generalization and anachronism, and of reading assumptions into Biblical texts which are simply are not supported by pertinent primary-source evidence. Interested readers should check out James C. Crossley’s review of scholarly criticisms of “The Context Group” in Chapter 4 (“Anglo-American Power and Liberal Scholarship: Scholarly Reconstructions of the Social World of Christian Origins”) of his “Jesus in an Age of Terror: Scholarly Projects for a New American Century.” He places this chapter under Part II of the book, “Neo-Orientalism: Orientalism, Hideously Emboldened.”

    You can download the book for free here:

  • Bonshika Jackson

    “Where do I make the claim that no Catholic but I know how to read the Bible properly?”

    Child, please. You strongly imply that anyone who has not drunk the “Context Group” Kool-Aid does not know the Bible and does not know the real Jesus. And literally every sentence of your articles seethes with disdain and derision for Catholics (real ones), evidently because they’re not plugged-in to your preferred scholarly circles. It’s one thing to be fascinated with an avant-garde scholarly hypothesis and offer to share it with people, and invite feedback, another thing to speak as if fringe theories are unassailable fact that only a dimwit or a moral pervert could question.

    The fact is, while no one disputes that late Second Temple Jews (who were themselves not theologically or culturally monolithic, but who did share some things in common) were very different people than later and especially modern Americans, and certain Christians need to be reminded of this, particularly when their bad cultural assumptions lead them into reading heresy* into the Biblical texts, one does not need to subscribe to “Context Group” exegesis in order to appreciate this, nor is it even remotely necessary for believers to get into the weeds of historical criticism in order to fruitfully read the Biblical texts and to understand them adequately. To claim otherwise is to essentially adopt a form of neo-Gnosticism, according to which the truths of revelation are accessible only to a minuscule self-styled elite, those who can be bothered to become amateur Biblical scholars, sift through and adjudicate competing critical approaches to the Biblical texts, and commit themselves to particular theories which may or may not be in vogue at the present, and which may well be discredited tomorrow.

    [*To be clear, it’s not apparent that you even believe there is such a thing as heresy, apart from non-adherence to “Context Group” exegesis.]

    Historical criticism is an important tool for students of the Bible, but it is not the most important tool, and historical criticism is not synonymous with “Context Group” exegesis, which is just one school of thought, and as it happens a very controversial one — controversial not among ‘Murican fundamentalists (most of whom are blissfully ignorant of it) but within the scholarly community itself.

    The real Jesus, by the way, is the Jesus of the orthodox creeds: the sinless and incarnate Lord, God, and Savior, King of kings and Lord of lords, not a mere ancient Mediterranean sadist indistinguishable with repressed Oedipal urges toward His Mother, indistinguishable from other men of His historical milieu. A non-Christian may be excused for reading the Bible from a standpoint of methodological atheism, but a professed Catholic cannot be.

  • billwald

    Excellent analysis. Agree with the intent if not with every specific argument.

    One important mention that is never mentioned, the importance of sharing meals with neighbors. Seems to me that God designed his law and 613 statements to forbid Jewish people from sharing a meal in their gentile neighbor’s house that was prepared by his gentile neighbor.

    Jesus countermanded this “law” and authorized and commanded Jewish people to be “neighborly.” Interesting that “Allah” re-instated the “un-neighborly” law for his believers. How can their be peace in neighborhoods if neighbors can’t break bread with neighbors?

  • Fellow Dying Inmate

    Most kind, brother.

    Your questions are interesting and touch on something I will be blogging on later this week. The Spirit pushes boundaries gently, and gradually. Ingroup and outgroup, insider and outsider demarcation lines expand outwards as we unpack the Mystery. Who belongs? Who does not belong?

    In the 80s some Samaritans entered some of the Jesus groups. I would never give them the Gospel called “Matthew.”

    Matthew 10:5-6
    Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, “Do not go into non-israelite territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

    Ouch. Note there is no “Good Samaritan” story in “Matthew” or “Mark,” for that matter. There is no grateful Samaritan leper story, either. And there is no Samaritan Woman at the Well story, as in “John.” Like I said, I wouldn’t give any first century Jesus-following Samaritans “Matthew” to read.