Jesus – Now With Fewer Miracles! Dialogue with David Fitzgerald, Part 2

Jesus – Now With Fewer Miracles! Dialogue with David Fitzgerald, Part 2 January 13, 2011

I’m not sure if I’m numbering the parts of our conversation correctly, but David Fitzgerald responded to my response to his response to my post about his talk (and presumably anyone reading this will agree that it was a good choice not to call my post that). I’m grateful that David is interested in continuing the conversation, and hope that those listening in will find it interesting too.

Rather than offer a superficial and scattered overview of points about which we agree and disagree this time around, I thought it might be more interesting and more helpful to focus on one particular point.

David understands 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 to indicate that, according to Paul, the crucified Christ that he proclaims did no miracles to persuade Jews to believe. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

Setting aside for now the possibility that 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 is talking about Paul’s proclamation being something unimpressive to Jews and Greeks (as the wider context might suggest), I want to ask which of the following is more likely, if we treat this statement as referring to Christ himself as having offered neither signs nor wisdom:

(1) Paul is here giving us information that brings us closer to a historical figure of Jesus, who did not in fact perform miracles, the later miracle stories being legendary developments;

(2) Paul is here talking about a heavenly figure “known” through visions, whom he proclaims, but this heavenly figure neither offers wisdom nor performs miracles.

I personally would say that #1 is the more likely of the two, for at least two reasons. First, as we follow ancient Christian sources through time, the trend is towards increasing the miraculous element rather than reducing it. Second, it seems to me that it will be hard to come up with a plausible scenario in which Christianity develops from belief in a purely heavenly figure that offers none of the things that redeemers, angels and deities were typically expected to.

The telling of miracle stories, the appeals to Scripture, all seem to make sense to historians as attempts by followers of the historical Jesus to rationalize what actually happened to him and deal with the cognitive dissonance of having the one they hoped to be the Messiah executed by the Romans. On the other hand, to suggest that Paul is proclaiming a purely heavenly figure as the Messiah, who was crucified and rose from the dead in a heavenly realm and at some unspecified time in the past, still seems to me far less compelling a historical scenario, not to mention one that ignores what Jews in that time understood by an anointed one descended from David.
I’ll leave it there, and invite David (no not that one, the other one) and anyone else interested in discussing this to do so!

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