Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Revolution in Thought?

Every once in a while I wonder whether my counter-imperial thesis has merit. It's an interesting point in a students research. Was one mistaken about a point, issue or position one was attempting to argue? Does the evidence actually support what one is trying to demonstrate or has one merely allowed bias and presuppositions to dictate conclusions? Discussing this via email with a friend causes the issue to loom larger than a flippant answer. Bryan Lee notes Francis Watson's comment that:
Disagreement is a familiar social practice in which it is difficult not to engage on a regular basis. It arises from the fact that humans live not in solitude but in community, and that from time to time their respective norms, projects or goals come into conflict. Since interpreting texts is an extension of the interpretative activity that permeates all human interpersonal relations, it is hardly to be expected that the specialized activity will be immune from the disagreements endemic to the wider field. Indeed, the possibility of disagreement is inherent in the practice of textual interpretation: for if a text needs to be interpreted at all, its meaning is not self-evident and there is always room for more than one account of what that meaning is. If it is possible to interpret, then it is also possible to misinterpret; and to claim that misinterpretation has taken place is to engage in the practice of interpretative disagreement. In itself, disagreement is an ethically neutral act. It does not necessarily imply that one party is doing violence to the other, that a human right to freedom of speech is under attack, or that there has been a failure to understand the other’s point of view. The ethical risks that accompany disagreement are perhaps no greater than those attending other practices, such as the avoidance of conflict. Disagreement is always an act rather than just an occurrence, and those who engage in it do so on the basis of means and ends they regard as appropriate and rational. Most important of all, disagreement presupposes a shared concern and thus an acknowledgment of community rather than a retreat into isolation. It always intends its own resolution, even if this can only be attained in the form of a negotiated compromise or an agreement to differ.[1]
Will Mark Goodacre ever revolt against his critique of the Quelle hypothesis, as Bird hopes? Or has Mark published his stake in the ground, and will thus not repent and believe for Q is [apparently] nowhere at hand? Applying a critical realist epistemology is much harder than I had previously thought. I am not certain that my thesis is accurate - although I am gaining confidence that I am at least headed in the right direction! Though this feeling of not being certain is hardly pleasant. Who really wants to spend 4 years doing all this research to come to the conclusion at the end that one was actually mistaken? Didn't David Sim say that his whole doctorate would be severely compromised if Bauckham's Gospel thesis is correct?
As far as my research is concerned, can Hays and Freyne be that wrong when they write that:

Whether it was his intention or not, his proclamation of the kingdom of God was inevitably heard as a revolutionary manifesto; the whole Gospel tradition is full of evidence for this. People wanted to make him king (John 6:15), and Peter's confession (Mark 8:29) means nothing other than this. it was this popular perception that finally proved his undoing: the inscription on the cross proves that he was executed as one who claimed to be "king of the Jews." And indeed, it would appear that he refuses to get himself off the hook by denying the charge. Thus, we have a situation pregnant with ambiguity. The whole shape of the tradition indicates that Jesus--in contrast to other figures in Jewish history of the era, such as Bar Kochba--persistently refused to claim that he was the Messiah (cf. John 10:24). His whole message entailed a rejection of violence and nationalism implied in the popular understanding of that title. Yet his words and deeds incited in the people a vivid expectation that he might, after all, be the one who would deliver Israel.[1]

Jesus was not prepared to share the violent response to such conditions, espoused by many Jews throughout the first century, which eventually plunged the nation into a disastrous revolt. He believed in the power of symbols and symbolic action because he believed in a God of whom, unlike Caesar, no image could be made, and yet who summoned people to trust in his presence and his power. This was the risk of faith that Jesus was prepared to take. His was a faith that was grounded in a trust in the goodness of the creation as he had experienced it and reflected on its mysterious but hidden processes. It was also a faith that had been nourished by the apocalyptic imagination that this creator God was still in charge of his world and had the power to make all things new again. No human empire could be compared with this power, no matter how dominant it and its agents appeared to be. Caesar could have his image engraved on the coin of the tribute, but he could not control the power of the imagination that was fed by the tradition of God’s mysterious but powerful presence in the world, to which no image could do justice.[2]
I suppose peer-review [if I ever publish this baby] will reveal the weaknesses of my thesis. The details and nuances will have to be weighed and judged and tested by the community of scholars to whom I shall contribute. Maybe then a revolution in my own thought will occur, but until then, Jesus the Revolutionary will be my focus and proposal. . .

[1] Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, pg. 24-25

[2] Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996) Italics mine.

[3] Sean Freyne, Jesus the Jewish Galilean: a new reading of the Jesus-Story (T & T Clark, 2004) Italics mine.


eddie said...

Even if you find that your thesis cannot be sustained, you have still learned a heck of a lot along the way, right?

Sean du Toit said...

Yeah of course I will of learnt loads, and I will be able to publish a tome destroying Horsley's thesis, as well as possibily Carters. But I doubt this is actually possible. Because, although many of the details of my thesis could be questioned - the bulk of it is merely a focus and nuancing of Wright, Horsley, Meier, Patterson, et. al. who have established a road into this terrain.

I will uncover and move forward what others have already posed and thought. So I can't be far off track!

eddie said...

unless they excersised constraint because they new how far the evidence could take them..?

Sean du Toit said...

This is definitely possible, but isn't that what every generation of scholarship thinks? We've got to the end, there is no more - BAM -> here arrives a new generation and pushes the boundaries even further - reflecting on past theories [Brandon] and correcting mistakes [Reimarus] and developing a better hypothesis [Wright & Horsley].

Scholarship will always have this danger, which is part of my frustration. But this is our high calling - to boldly blunder at times so that we can learn!

See my take off of I.H. Marshall's illustration: “it has not proved possible to offer a full reconstruction…, although it has been possible to show the inadequacy of some of the possible ones offered to us. The pathfinder is no more than a pathfinder; he is on his way through the jungle, but has not yet emerged into the clear light of day at the other side; he has been able to write ‘cul-de-sac’ at the entrance to some other attractive paths, but he has not yet been able to construct his own highroad; but he believes that he can see the goal distantly in front and takes courage to press on towards it.” [See The Origins of NT Christology, pg. 128].

That's what I'm trying to do!