Friday, November 18, 2005

Horsley on Jesus

One of my favourite scholars in the quest to discover Jesus, would have to be Horsley. His work was the first that I read which encouraged me to explore a counter-imperial thesis. His work is well researched and argued, and he offers a brief description of his work on the historical Jesus in these words (Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, pp. 207-208):

The focal concern of the kingdom of God in Jesus' preaching and practice, however, is the liberation and welfare of the people. Jesus' understanding of the "kingdom of God" is similar in its broader perspective to the confident hopes expressed in then-contemporary Jewish apocalyptic literature. That is, he had utter confidence that God was restoring the life of the society, and that this would mean judgment for those who oppressed the people and vindication for those who faithfully adhered to God's will and responded to the kingdom. That is, God was imminently and presently effecting a historical transformation. In modern parlance that would be labeled a "revolution."

The principal thrust of Jesus' practice and preaching, however, was to manifest and mediate the presence of the kingdom of God. In the gospel traditoins of Jesus' words and deeds, we can observe the kingdom present in the experience of the people in distinctive ways. Jesus and his followers celebrated the joys of the kingdom present in festive banqueting. In the healings and forgiveness of sins and in the exorcisms, individual persons experienced the liberation from disease and oppressive forces and the new life effected by God's action. Jesus' interpretation of the exorcisms, moreover, points to the broader implications of God's present action among the people. That is, since the exorcisms are obviously being effected by God, it is clear that the rule of Satan has been broken. But that meant also that the oppressive established order maintained by the power of Satan (according to the apocalyptic dualistic view of reality that was shared by Jesus and his contemporaries) was also under judgment. The old order was in fact being replaced by a new social-political order, that is, the "kingdom of God," which Jesus was inviting the people to "enter."

Indeed, Jesus was engaged in catalyzing the renewal of the people, Israel. Far from being primarily a "teacher" of timeless truths or a preacher of cosmic catastrophe calling for authentic "decision," Jesus ministered "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He summoned the people to recognize the presence of the kingdom and to enter the kingdom, but if they did not respond to the historical crisis, he did not hesitate to pronounce judgment. It is precisely in the pronounced woes against whole villages or against the whole (sinful) "generation" that we can discern that Jesus was not simply addressing individuals but was calling for collective, social response.

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