04 July 2007

I noted a wickedly clever quotation from Richard Bauckham's wonderful Eyewitnesses book. He's talking about the many versions of Jesus on offer at present - "...the Jesus of Dominic Crossan, the Jesus of Marcus Borg, the Jesus of NT (Tom) Wright... and many others." Of these, he writes: "...in all cases the result is a Jesus reconstructed by the historian... in effect, to provide an alternative to the Gospels' constructions of Jesus." (p. 3)

This is clever. All of us will want to use this quotation about our enemies' interpretation of Jesus. But it's naughty of him not to make crystal-clear that we must also say this about our favourite book about Jesus. Even worse, it's true of any of us, not just professional historians. No earthling has access to the "Gospels' constructions of Jesus" untainted by our own interpretations and presuppositions. It isn't, thus, a choice between Wright's Jesus and the Jesus of the Gospels, but a choice between Wright's Jesus and your own Jesus. What you're hoping is that your favourite historians portray a Jesus who is closer to the Gospels' own rendition than your own is.

Bauckham is again naughty on the next page, where he writes: "Historical work, by its very nature, is always putting two and two together and making five -- or twelve or seventeen."

Wrongety-wrong-wrong. Not 'always.' Rather, historical work at its best is putting two and two together and not only making four, but deducing the existence and nature of one and three.

In fact, in thinking about how I would use the metaphor, it is the applied theologians, not the historians, who are interested in what two and two "make," arriving at five, twelve or seventeen. And the hermeneuts? They don't care about the numbers all that much; they want to explore what we mean by "and" and "make."

(ps A better, funnier, challenge would be that conservative Evangelical NT guys like me tend to put two and two together and get twenty-two.)
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