Friday, April 29, 2005

Hermeneutics of Love

I've been struck by Scot McKnight's post on "Hermeneutics of Love". He recounts his experience of reading Alan Jacobs book, A Theology of Reading. McKnight notes that the simple point made by Jacobs is:

genuine interpretation of another's writing is an act of love or it is an act of abuse. Either we treat the author as a person who has given voice to his or her inner heart that we can then trust, listen to, and respond to. Or, we treat that person as a treacherous voice that we can't trust and that we can strip in order to use for our own power.

In engaging with scholars for research, this needs to be the attitude of a virtuous student and scholar. We are not here to simply construct and deconstruct arguments about knowledge. Rather, we are here to engage in worthy dialogue that leads to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of reality. Especially within the field of literary studies, there may be a tendency to over-react, misrepresent or even manipulate a text. I agree with Alison O'Harae when commenting about the work of Vanhoozer [Is There a Meaning in this Text?]
Vanhoozer suggests that responsible reading (a willingness to listen to the other speak) requires that the reader cultivate hermeneutic virtues in their personal life as well as their critical methodology.
This builds from what Wright notes about an Epistemology of Love:

But we have tended in western culture to privilege mathematical epistemology, chemical epistemology, test-tube knowing, if you like, where it's very easy to think of subject and object, because I am the scientist and that is an object, and I am telling you what it is doing. We have then attempted to suppose that knowing a Shakespeare play or knowing the symphony or knowing another person, is a rather fuzzy, imprecise, kind of knowing. Where as in fact, I want to say that it is the other way around - in fact loving, and being loved by another human being, and ultimately by God, is the highest form of knowing there is, and me knowing that this is a flat table, although not unimportant in its own way, is a rather trivial, low-grade form of knowing.

In our research and reading of others it is imperative to express virtue by reading others well. We should not abuse our power as readers to manipulate a text to support our agenda's or ideologies. McKnight rightly calls this interpersonal abuse. We should go the extra mile in our reading and engage critically, but fairly with our conversation partners.
Isn't this part of our calling and vocation as ambassadors of knowledge and truth? Or is that unimportant in our world today?
just thinking out loud today...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Why is the Cross counter-imperial?

In the comments, my sparring partner, Eddie poses this question:

Could you perhaps flesh out why 'picking up the cross' would be understood as counter-imperial? Could it not equally be understood as resignation, acceptance of Roman power of them.

It seems to me that while this remains within the realms of the possible, given the context of Jesus' teaching and announcement, it remains unlikely. As I hope to demonstrate in the near future, Jesus saw his mission and message as one announcing the return and reign of YHWH over the regathered people of YHWH.

The evidence which we will survey suggests that Jesus' attitude to the Romans was much like that described in Josephus with the speech of Eleazar ben Yair, commander of the defendants of Masada, noted their determination:

Long since, my brave men, we determined neither to serve the Romans nor any other except YHWH, for he alone is humanity's true LORD; and now the time is come which bids us verify that resolution by our actions. (J.W. 7.8.6 §323)

This attitude presumably expresses a violent revolutionary tendency. Jesus however, would probably share the sentiment and conviction of YHWH being the only that there is "No King but YHWH" and that YHWH is the only rightful LORD, but would shy away from violent revolt (Matt 5:9; 39; 43-44).
However, the more important question beckons us, why did people go to the cross? What was the general reason for the Romans crucifying people? The usual tactic of the Romans was to crucify those who had "an invincible passion for liberty and take God for their only leader and lord" (Ant 18.1.6 §23). [It appears their willingness to die for their way of life was an integral part of their ideology, connected with a belief in recompense in the world to come (JW 1.33.1 §650; cf. Ant 17.6.1 §152; JW 1.16.2 §311).] Romans crucified those who defied Imperial Authority in either word or deed. They made it a habit to crucify the lestai [Bandits/Brigands]. More often, however, Josephus describes the rebels as plain criminals. The Barabbas released on the crowds request at the time of Jesus’ trial was, according to Mark, "among the rebels who had committed murder in the insurrection" (Mark 15:7; cf. Luke 23:19). However, John calls him a bandit (Gk lestes; John 18:40).

The connection seems clear then: those who incited revolt against the authority of Rome were crucified. Thus, Jesus' use of the image pick up your cross, suggests 'embrace' the revolution. Given Jesus' teachings on being peace-makers, loving enemies, turning the other cheek and the specific command not to antistenai [resist] evil [See discussion in JVG, pg. 291], it seems axiomatic that the revolution he was proposing was not one of military instigation or violence.

So to conclude, Tom Wright is possibly correct in his parody:

Jesus was more like a politician on the campaign trail than a schoolmaster; more like a composer/conductor than a violin teacher; more like a subversive playwrite than an actor. He was a herald, the bringer of an urgent message that could not wait, could not become the stuff of academic debate. He was issuing a public announcment, like someone driving through a town with a loudhailer. he was issuing a public warning, like a man with a red flag heading off an imminent railway disaster. he was issuing a public invitation, like someone setting up a new political party and summoning all and sundry to sign up and help create a new world. [Wright, JVG, pg. 172]

Jesus was setting up a KINGDOM/EMPIRE that was directly opposed to that of the Roman emperor. His was one of authentic peace via a renewed covenant with YHWH through himself. Jesus was the reality of which Caesar was merely the parody. If the earth is YHWH's and everything in it, (Ps 24:1) if the gospel is for all nations [Mk 13:10], then there can be no other KING but YHWH - and that is exactly what Jesus was claiming.

However, this argument must now be substantiated with arguments for the historicity of the key passages we have made mention of. But I think it can be done and it already arouses interest due to the criterion of historical plausibility [Jews regularly had something to say about Roman oppression] and the fact that Rome finally destroyed this alternative vision by doing what they did to all those who proposed a renascence of sovereignty to YHWH or to Messianic claimants. They crucified them and publicly humiliated that vision and agenda. That's what Pseudo-Quintillian, Declamations, 274 notes:

Whenever we crucify the condemned, the most crowded roads are chosen, where the most people can see and be moved by this terror. For penalties relate not so much to retribution as to their exemplary effect.

Does that satisfy the objector?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Counter Imperial Cross

In our traditions - Luke 14:25-33, Luke 9:23-24, Matt 10:34-39, Matt 16:24-25, Mark 8:34-35, GThom 101, cf. John 12:25 - there is the notion of Jesus calling disciples who will carry their cross and follow him. Many arguments have been made for the historicity of this logion based on multiple attestation and the historicity is accepted by Crossan [The Historical Jesus, pg. 353] and J. P. Meier [A Marginal Jew, III, pg. 64-66]. We follow Meier's reasoning in accepting the logion based on the shocking imagery and the multiple attestation. Meier also notes the parallel of Epictetus, [Discourses 2.2.20] as support of a wide propagation of the crucifixion image in the early Roman period. This is also accepted by Wright who states that:

Crucifixion was a powerful symbol throughout the Roman world. It was not just a means of liquidating undesirables; it did so with the maximum degradation and humiliation. It said, loud and clear: we are in charge here; your are our property; we can do what we like with you. It insisted, coldly and brutally, on the absolute sovereignty of Rome, and of Caesar. It told an implicit story, of the uselessness of rebel recalcitrance and the ruthlessness of imperial power. It said in particular: this is what happens to rebel leaders. Crucifixion was a symbolic act with a clear and frightening meaning. [Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, pg. 543]

Given this apt description and its symbolic value in the socio-historical context, Jesus must have been summoning disciples to a counter imperial allegiance. An allegiance to the Empire of YHWH. Jesus was appealing for a conversion of allegiance from the Roman Empire and everything else, to himself. In affect, it appears as if Jesus was asking them to become apostates of their faith and to rather embrace him as their true King.

But this begs the more important question of why Jesus would use such an image? This piece of the data must fit into our overall hypothesis, which I think many in the "Third Quest" have yet to do. Following Wright (JVG) and Trocmé (Jesus and the Non-Violent Revolution) Jesus was posing a revolution [although that's a slippery word) but not the sort Reimarus had in mind. Jesus' revolution was one of non-violence, of going the road of passive resistance. According to Trocmé's analysis, his portrait is of a vigorous revolutionary capable of saving the world without using violence. It was a road of defeating the love of power [Rome and the Satan] with the power of love. It was a road marked by non-compromise to the gods of this world. Augustus had set himself up as LORD and SAVIOUR but Jesus was challenging that very understanding. Emperors like Tiberius and those that would follow, were not the true LORD and SAVIOUR. They were tyrants who wanted to use Power to control the populace. But to follow Jesus in accepting him as their true Kyrios, meant that they would follow a path that would almost certainly lead to their death, as it finally did with Jesus.

To follow Jesus is to accept a path that will lead to pain and suffering and probably death. As Keener says, the demands of the kingdom are so offensive to a world alredy convinced of its rightness that they provoke tht world's hostility. [Keener, Matthew, pg. 329]. Keener goes on to suggest that the whole context of Jesus' ministry, and language may even indicate that Jesus' mission would inaugurate the messainic woes, the ultimate tribulation for his followers.

So in our tradition about picking up one's cross, and embracing Jesus as Master, the convert is being called to embrace a vocation that is implicitly counter-imperial - it is bearing a cross. The way of the cross is the way of revolting against Rome and her oppresive idealogy and praxis. It is the way of submitting to another King, named Jesus.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

an intro to shmee

sean D is an odd guy.
After spending the first 18 years of his life wondering through southern Africa, he left for an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean to study theology, philosophy and biblical studies. It’s strange that this career path was taken, as he was never the academic type. Instead of studying at high-school, he found himself doing some serious partying and surfing. But, at the ripe old age of 16, he met Jesus – and that changed everything. Now, he spends his time reading books, hanging out at high-schools and universities telling the world how a Jewish prophet from Galilee transformed the world, and is still impacting this beautiful world with the gospel of Grace...
This blog is an attempt to aid him writing a thesis on Jesus and the Roman Empire. This is the initial stages of research and work and so you get to help [by adding comments and emails] make sense of the immense reading list and suggestions that flow from sean's thoughts and comments. Everything here is a work in progress and he's no scholar yet. But with a little help from friends and strangers, we might just get somewhere...
ciao, shmee