Friday, September 30, 2005

A New Present

What a wonderful day, yesterday! A trip to Hermanus, a place up the east coast not too far from where I live and what a day. My lovely girl decided to bless me on my day with a purchase of C. H. Dodd's The Founder of Christianity. I've been meaning to read this for some time, and now thanks to a pleasant serendipity, I can! Dodd is of course one of the master exegetes of the last generation. His work on parables and realised eschatology are still being noted, discussed and reviewed. This book, however, is not a technical contribution to the quest, Dodd is very silent in dialogue with scholarship in this book. Rather, this represents the distillation of a life times research into the gospels, Jesus and the origins of Christianity. One reviewer summarised the book this way:

The entire study is dominated by a clear working hypothesis: "Taken together, these [gospel] stories, told from many different points of view, converge to give a distinct impression of a real person in action upon a recognizable scene" (p. 36). Jesus' personality (p. 43) and intentionality (p. 103) show through the diverse gospel materials. Jesus' teaching "arose out of the conviction that with the coming of the kingdom of God a new era in relations between God and man had set in. Morality might now draw directly from fresh springs" (pp. 76-77). Jesus' "aim was to constitute a community worthy of the name of a people of God, a divine commonwealth . . ." (p. 90), a new Israel in which the disciples of Jesus were to be its "foundation members" (p. 91). These disciples were disillusioned by Jesus' arrest and trial. Dodd then asks, "How was it, in these circumstances, that the Christian church ever got going at all?" (p. 96.) The answer: "Jesus returned to [the disciples], alive after death and . . . this return was an act of forgiveness, which reinstated them in the place they had forfeited by their disloyalty" (p. 97). "In an historical view, the one evident outcome of the whole life and work of Jesus was the emergence of the church, a society which regarded itself as carrying on the distinctive vocation of Israel as the 'people of God,' and yet was quite clear that it was a new Israel, constituted by a 'new covenant.' It had taken shape, not about a platform or a creed, but about a personal attachment to Jesus himself" (p. 99).

Yet what has excited me, are two related notions mentioned in the introduction. Firstly, Dodd goes on about how the church remembers Jesus, his actions and sayings. This struck me as reminiscent of Dunn's notion of Jesus Remembered. Dodd writes:

The church remembers that on a certain night is Founder said and did certain definite things, briefly reported... The memory of the church thus takes us back... up the stream of history. [pg. 14]

Dunn's notion of the Remembered Jesus is thus not that new. But then again, no one probably said it was! I find it fascinating to see how Dodd and others gone before us have influenced so much of our thoughts, ideas and concepts. It's all so interconnected and somehow related in a matrix of thought...

The next striking thing was seeing Mike Bird's notion of "Jesus in Corporate Memory" in Dodd's writing. In Mike's latest article, "The Formation of the Gospels in the Setting of Early Christianity: The Jesus Tradition as Corporate Memory" in Westminster Theological Journal, 67 (2005): 113-34, he argues:

What the Gospels produce is not the Christ of faith superimposed on to the historical Jesus; rather, they offer a dramatic representation, much like a docu-drama, of Jesus’ actions in the past and his voice for the present available through the public memory of Jesus. [pg. 134]

Dodd argues something along the same lines, though less critically and not engaging with scholarship.

A corporate memory handed down from generation to generation becomes what we call a tradition. Our knowledge about the origins of the church, and about its Founder, rests primarily on a living tradition, which had its beginnings in the actual memories of those who had witnessed the events and had personal dealings with the principle Actor. [pg. 15]

Whereas Dodd argued that once the tradition was written it could be tested and studied to see the earliest stages of development, Bird's article is more nuanced and focussed on isues of Oral Tradition and it's flexibility. A fantastic read [both of them!] and a very helpful proposal.

Oh yeah, and we saw the whales!

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