Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Invention Of The Christian God (Part 3)

Part 1 is available here, and Part 2 is here.

AP: Today we are going to begin making some commentary on the book Gesù. L'invenzione del Dio cristiano by Paolo Flores d'Arcais. In the previous two posts I offered a summary of the books contents, so if you haven't read those posts be sure to do so.

In the chapter "Who was Jesus?", the author offers a describes Jesus as an "itinerant Jewish prophet, exorcist and healer, apocalyptic missionary and proclaimer of the imminent coming of the kingdom of God." I think that this synthetic definition of the figure of Jesus is good, but I think that it lacks an essential element, namely "teacher of the law." In my opinion, this part of Jesus and his mission is developed in many sections of the Gospels and should be mentioned in a description of who Jesus was.

The criticism of Ratzinger seems to me to be adjusted and offers once again the idea that sometimes the previous parties taken by the investigators and conditioned by a previous faith prevent the logical deduction of many Gospel passages dealing with Jesus. However, I do not think that the pope should be accused of being a liar, because he probably is not so in that he is convinced that his exegesis is correct by a multisecular tradition, which he follows. And even if he were a liar etc., the author probably shouldn't say so in such a way since it unnecessarily offends a multitude of believers.

In the chapter on the resurrection, I think Paolo Flores' suggestion that the appearances of Jesus to the apostles and others, such as the appearance to Paul (for example, the revelation mentioned by him in Galatians 1) are of the same nature; in other words, mystical appearances bestowed by the divinity in an ecstatic trance, and not physical appearances as implied by a hurried reading of the Gospels. At least in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul puts them exactly on an equal footing.

As we are dealing with ecstatic trances, as is clear from this analogy on Paul's part, it seems evident that the historian has to take into account the enormous risk of subjectivity, which adds to other intrinsic reasons (e.g., confusion and contradictions of the stories) so as not to see in the resurrection of Jesus a historical fact.

In the chapter "The Origin of Pentecost," we said that Luke is the author of this story. The most elementary criticism must declare it symbolic and therefore not historical. Thus it is quite possible that this is so, but Paolo Flores's account of a description of "mystical-prophetic-glosolic enthusiasms" directly confuses the glossolalia with prophecy, a very different phenomena that Paul distinguished in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Here I must express my surprise to observe how the author, even quoting the texts, practically confuses prophecy with speaking in tongues in spite of the warnings of the apostle.

In the chapter on "James," Flores presents the interpretation of the episode of Stephen as if his discourse, collected by Luke in Acts 7, put in question the fulfillment of the law of Moses in its cultic and ritual aspects along with the validity of worship in the temple. It is also possible that this is indeed the case, but historians question the historicity of this discourse, which seems invented by Luke to unite the theology of the "Hellenists" with the deep theological innovations of Paul and for thus forming a bridge between the historical Jesus and the apostle through the theology initiated by Stephen and his followers. The lack of historicity of this discourse must be acknowledged.

In the chapter "Paul Accuses Peter of Being Like Satan," there is a confusion (also remarkable to me!) between the position of James and Peter, which is softer than that of the first at least during the time of the so-called Jerusalem Council, and of course more conciliatory than that of false brethren (Gal. 2:4). They should not be confused, then. Paul does not yield for an instant to the pressures of these Judeo-Christian Pharisees (Gal. 2:5) to circumcise the Gentiles converted to faith in Jesus. Flores, on the other hand, writes that Paul did not yield to "the heads of the community who pushed for rigid observance of the law," (p. 49). This phrase, thus expressed, totally contradicts what is said in Gal. 2:6 and Acts 15 in general.

In the chapter on the "canon" I am pleased to note two of the ten or more philological criteria that exist to discern between sayings and events narrated in the Gospels which can be considered as originating from the preaching of Jesus. Here they are:
1. All that is affirmed as originating, that is to say, coming from Jesus, must surpass the criteria of the congruence with respect to everything that we know of Palestine in the days of the emperor Tiberius.
2. Everything that stands in contrasts with the theology of the communities behind the Gospels is almost certainly authentic and originating from Jesus, since a community would have no interest in inventing anything in contrast to one's faith (p. 57).
In the chapter on Jesus as "Messiah" there is an interpretation of Mark 8:29–33 ("You are the Christ" / Get behind me, Satan"), which I believe to be wrong. Together with other Gospel texts (for example, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, considered by Flores an invention of the authors of the Gospels who copied and expanded Zech. 9:9; he considers it proven that Jesus was never considered a Messiah, but that such an idea was an authentic invention of Christians in the light of their belief in the resurrection.)

I think that a more natural exegesis affirms that Peter categorically maintains in the full ministry of Jesus that this is the Messiah, and the author of the Gospel implies that Jesus accepts it. If you read this passage closely, it will be noted that Jesus does not criticize Peter's statement but only makes some clarifications about it. In the first place, Jesus commands Peter not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah; then he assures him with solemnity that as Messiah he knows and accepts beforehand his approaching passion, death, and resurrection; Peter was surprised by these statements and is accused by Jesus of being Satan for not having understood this double mystery-reality:
1. That he is the Messiah and at the same time that he needed to silence at that point (i.e., no one needed to tell that he was the Messiah and no one needed to know).
2. The divine plan that indicates the need for the Messiah to suffer and die for all men (Mark 10:45). Then it seems that Jesus, at least obscurely, believed he was the Messiah during his ministry. I find this explanation much more in line with Mark's text and more plausible, since it clarifies––apart from the literary artifice of messianic secrecy––more easily the fact that Jesus' followers hailed him as Messiah after his death (that is to say, they did not invent the title but they collected an idea manifested obscurely by Jesus), and that only they specified what were the functions that Jesus as Messiah would have to develop in its second advent.
We'll pick up here next.

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