Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Kingdom and Cross

From Public Ministry to the Passion: Can link Be Found between the (Galilean) Life and the (Judean) Death of Jesus?
Craig Evans [in his excellent book Jesus and His Contemporaries] presents us with a rich array of research that grapples with the toughest strands of arguments presented by those in the scholarly community. The essential task in the chapter to be discussed here, is to correct and demolish the pretentious case presented by Mack and Seeley on the connection between Jesus’ death and his ministry.
[1] His entire argument rests on solid and critical engagement not only with contemporary historical scholarship, but also with the literature of the first century. Evans has a unique ability to identify, discern and formulate historical reconstructions that remain faithful to what the evidence will permit. The analysis presents us with two strands of argumentation that justify the assertion that there is indeed not only a connection between the ministry of Jesus and his death, but that there is also an identifiable and particular connection. Evans argues that this connection is best seen in notions of ‘kingdom’ and ‘king’.[2] Moreover, it is also seen in the independent witnesses of the fourth gospel and the Testimonium Flavianum. What follows is a brief interaction with this twin proposal.
The key thesis presented in the first part of his argument is that:
The backdrop to Jesus’ arrest and execution was his proclamation and advocacy of a radical change in society; while the specific event that precipitated the arrest itself was the action in the temple.[3]
To lead up to this conclusion, we are presented with four lines of evidence, namely: parables, prayers, miracles and politics. If Jesus’ main method of communication with the crowds that followed him was parables then we have good reason to suggest that they contained something in them that is of importance to us at this point. They contained a radical message that seemingly invited changes and new directions in which YHWH was moving his people. The prayers outlined by Jesus, invoked the kingdom of God “not as an apocalyptic event in the imminent future but as a mode of life in the immediate present.”
[4] This in and of itself would be cause of concern if the Romans found out about it. Although scant evidence is presented in this chapter for Evans view that the miracles carried ‘messianic connotations’, other scholars in the field have presented strong arguments that this is indeed the case.[5]
However, most strikingly, and I believe most convincingly are the comments on politics. The Romans, and the Jews, were concerned about power and order. If Jesus was perceived as one who could and would disrupt this power and order, then there was serious cause for concern. If Jesus was perceived as a threat, he would be swiftly dealt with.
Clearly if Jesus did ride into Jerusalem on a donkey in clear fulfilment of messianic prophecy this would be seen as an unmistakable example of insurrection. Even more if there was a crowd with him waving palm tree branches! Therefore Evans is right to note that it “would probably have been understood in a royal sense.”
[6] This, taken along with the ‘anointing’ which “originally could very well have been a messianic anointing[7], pushes his conclusions even more. All these incidental pieces of data seem to stack up to build Evans’ case.
To reinforce this line of argumentation, Evans provides us with two examples of insurrection and dissent from Josephus, namely Theudas and the Egyptian Jew. Both of these ‘trouble-makers’ were dealt with severely by the Roman authorities for their words and actions.
Thus, there is no apparent reason, in light of the evidence presented, to deny that there is an explicit connection between the Galilean life and the Judean death of Jesus.
Evans is rightly concludes that:
Evidence and Logic strongly suggest that Jesus’ death at the hands of the Romans authorities in Judea was the result of his teaching and activities… To be sure, Mark has interpreted many aspects of Jesus’ ministry in the light of the passion and the Easter proclamation, but the basic link between Jesus’ Galilean life and his Judean death cannot be reduced to nothing more than a narrative strategy.[8]
Politics was the cause of Jesus’ death, not a vision for a renewed spirituality or a concern for social welfare – however important those things may have been to Jesus. Rather, it was the love of power which Jesus challenged at a fundamental level with the announcement of the rule and reign of Israel’s God in and through his ministry that caused the powers of the day to silence and cripple this threat with a violent and demonstrable blow. That is why Jesus died as the King of the Jews…
pg. 301 [2] pg. 303 [3] pg. 313 [4] pg. 307 quoting Crossan, Historical Jesus, pg. 304 [5] See G. Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker (IVP, 1999) [6] pg. 310 In footnote 39 Evans writes: ‘The word χριειν does not appear. In transforming the story into a passion vignette, the deletion of such an overt (and from the Roman point of view treasonable) messianic act should not occasion surprise. That the anointing was originally messianic, see J. K. Elliot, “The Anointing of Jesus” ExpTim 85 (1974) 105-107.’ [7] pg. 310 [8] pg. 318

No comments: