Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Meier & the Cross

Well, almost. Over at Deinde, Mark Cheeseman has some Concluding Thoughts on a series of lectures given by J. P. Meier. Cheeseman makes the comment that Meier was questioned as to why Jesus was killed? Apparently, Meier took the same line as Sanders.
Meier's answer was along the lines of E. P. Sander's solution to this problem, probably no surprise given that Sander's also views many of the conflict stories as inauthentic. Probably the most interesting part to his answer was the observation that Caiaphas and Pilate, among all the Jewish and Roman leaders of the era, survived substantially longer than most of the others who held similar positions. Furthermore, their periods of leadership are roughly the same. Meier suggested that they lasted as long as they did because they were able to work effectively together, and most importantly, were together effective at heading off the sort of thing that happened in 70 C.E. In essence, they were good at engaging a policy of pre-emptive strike (Meier actually used that term with a bit of a wink at its most recent usage), in which they could pick the troublemakers early on and get rid of them before anything came of it. Eventually, Jesus poked his head up too far in some of the things he did when he went to Jerusalem the final time (Meier goes with the Gospel of John on this one, that Jesus went up to Jerusalem a number of times and 'ministered' there). The policy of pre-emptive strike rolled into play and Jesus was able to be conveniently done away with at the time most people were busy preparing for the Passover feast. [Italics mine.]
I wonder why Meier didn't develop this further. Or maybe he did, and Mark just hasn't mentioned it. It would be strange for Meier to merely adopt this line of thinking without developing the counter-imperial stance more. Meier views the conflict stories between Jesus and the Pharisees as inauthentic, so he must provide another plausible hypothesis to explain this. I think he's right concerning the Roman government operating on a "pre-emptive" strike, but this must be developed.
I wonder if scholars will begin to adopt Horsley's thesis more effectively into a full blown portrait of a counter-imperial Jesus. I know that's certainly what I would like to explore. For me, the more I read the gospels, the more I feel as if the major issue Jesus is challenging is idolatry. Repent and Believe only make sense within the context of an Israel that has once again forsaken YHWH and embraced the idolatry of self, odd practices and compromise. Notably, Rome was an IDOL. Everything and everyone drawing attention, affection and allegiance away from YHWH was to be challenged by Jesus. And even more bluntly, Jesus was claiming that affection, attention and allegiance to himself was in affect as good as to YHWH. This was offensive and dangerous to both Israel and Rome, and that is why Jesus died. Well, that's what I'd like to argue from a close reading of the gospels. But I'll need to wait a while to do that...

2 comments:

eddie said...

Pehaps "idolatry" and its antithesis (?) could be used to present a biblical theology? similar to what you wish to do with exile... ?

Sean du Toit said...

I'm liking this idea quite a lot. Reading through my new book on Emperor Worship and Roman Religion by Gradel, and seeing the evidence and argument he marshall's for the deification of Augustus and the universal worship he receives both publicly and privately after this, it seems fair to suggest that Jesus would have made comment, indirectly or directly, about this opposition empire, where "another king named Caesar" received allegiance and devotion. Thanx for the tip bud! Hope married life is treating you well!