Friday, January 13, 2017

The Invention Of The Christian God (Part 1)

AP: I want to call your attention to a book in Italian that was translated into Spanish. So far as I know, it hasn't been translated into English. But I think you might be interested to hear about this little book by Paolo Flores d'Arcais. The title in Italian is Gesù. L'invenzione del Dio cristiano, and in Spanish Jesús: La invención del Dios cristiano, which in English would be Jesus: The Invention of the Christian God. I want to give you a summary of the book and then I'll turn and offer some of my own comments.

Paolo Flores d'Arcais is a researcher at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Rome, La Sapienza. He's put together in this brief book a good synthesis of the fundamental questions that revolve around the problems of the reconstruction of the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity. In other words, the numerous interpretations of Jesus since the very beginnings of the movement. The Spanish edition was published by Trotta in 2012. It's only 92 pages in length. Everyone has time to read such a book.

The book begins with a section titled "Instructions for Use", where he identifies his sources, all of which are contemporary, for the understanding of the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity. These are Geza Vermes, Ed Parish Sanders, Paula Fredriksen, Bart D. Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, Bruce M. Metzger, Gerd Theissen, Petr Pokorny, Étienne Trocmé, and François Vouga.

Although the author is culturally a Catholic, he only cites J. P. Meier to underpin the thesis that holds the book together. In the same way, and only as confirmation by Catholic exegesis, Giuseppe Barbaglio, Hans Küng, and Cardinal Jean Daniélou are quoted with a certain abundance. The prime concern of the author is to make it clear that Catholic exegesis goes hand in hand with Protestant exegesis in many cases and that a strictly Catholic public should not be scandalized because even the most daring theses are found, at least incoherently, in Catholic authors.

I should also point out that the author is totally unaware of works published in Spanish. I should just point out that there is really nothing in this book that you can't find in the writings of Gonzalo Puente Ojea, José Montserrat, Fernando Bermejo, and myself, each of whom publish regularly in Spanish. I don't mention this as a weakness per se, just an observation that people are writing about the same subjects in different languages.

The book consists of brief chapters in which one or two theses are defended. The first "Who Was Jesus?" argues that the Nazarene was a traveling Jewish prophet, exorcist, healer, and apocalyptic missionary who was announcing the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God. This Jesus is absolutely different from the dogmatized Christ of the Christian faith. The two have very little in common. To demonstrate this thesis he presents in this chapter and the following ("Ratzinger's Second Lie") two radically incorrect views exposed in the previous pope's book (2 vols.) on Jesus of Nazareth.

According to the author, Ratzinger's first mistake (on p. 15, Flores also affirms that the Pope "exhibits a coven of true falsehoods") is as follows: "There was concord from the beginning among the apostles that the sacrifices of the temple, the cultic center of the Torah, had been overcome." Flores contends, on the contrary, that the New Testament offers statements absolutely opposite to those of Benedict XVI. For this he quotes Acts 24:17, Acts 21:20-26, and Matt. 5:23, on which he offers some brief comments.

Ratzinger's "Second Lie" is that "Jesus announced the end of time for an indefinite future and that the space of waiting legitimizes and makes necessary the foundation of the church." "The announcement of a time of the Gentiles is part of the core of the eschatological message of Jesus, a time during which the gospel must be carried to the whole world and to all men: only history can reach its goal." Flores maintains on the contrary that the apostle Paul denies and absolutely contradicts Ratzinger's position. In order to prove this, he offers the following texts: 1 Thess. 4:15; 1 Cor. 1:7; 10:11; Rom. 13:11. He also gives texts of the teaching of Jesus: Mark 13:30; Matt. 24:34. I would add a text from the Gospel of John, which the author omits, as sometimes happens: John 21:22.

The chapter on "Resurrection" holds that a historical fact cannot be stratified because: a) the appearances to the apostles are purely mystical and imaginary, not real, and b) because the chaos of the stories about the resurrection, which appears in the Gospels, differ "in many details at almost all levels to such an extent that to reconcile them in a coherent narrative is practically impossible." He again criticizes Ratzinger who, unable to hide this fact, maintains that "the dialectic that is part of the essence of the resurrected is presented in the stories really with little skill"; "From this little skill comes veracity" so that "the resurrection is a historical event." Paolo Flores exclaims: "The stories about the resurrection are true because they are implausible! ... Faith allows someone to say anything ... but historical research does not" (page 30).

The chapter on "Pentecost" argues that this event is nothing more than a rear projection of Luke, in which he confuses the prophecy with tongues and describes an event that never happened. Luke draws inspiration indirectly from Paul and from his descriptions of the community meetings of the first Christians, who claim that they were full of mystical, prophetic, and tongue-speaking phenomena. He comments: "The realistic and lively descriptions of Paul allow us to participate in the climate of many encounters (among Christians) that are later unified in the Acts of the Apostles in the unique and symbolic event of Pentecost" (p. 35).

The following section "The Empty Tomb" holds that in the process of exaltation (= divinization) of Jesus both "the empty tomb and the grave do not belong to the first faith in the Risen One but to the discussions in the synagogues between Jews who believed in Jesus as the messiah and Jews who denied him." He argues, therefore, that all of them are disputes long after the death of Jesus, some of which occurred after A.D. 70. He also points out that some interesting ideas can be deduced from the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, because it develops oral traditions, whether or not they are fanciful, independent of Mark, Matthew and Luke, but very ancient. Again he points to the rich variety of early Christianity.

We'll pick up here tomorrow.

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