|The Last Week, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
Narrated by John Pruden
Week 2 of Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society was a lot of work for me, mostly because it was essay week. The assignment was to read and compare Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In these very similar passages, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, war, and many false prophets coming in his name. We were supposed to describe how these passages helped the early Christians make sense of the world around them, keeping in mind that the New Testament was written a half-century or more after Jesus’ death (i.e. around the time of the Temple’s destruction in 70CE).
This was a difficult topic for me because I’m still struggling a lot with the difference between the spiritual Jesus that I was brought up to worship as God, and the historical Jesus who was most likely an apocalyptic preacher. (Though I have decided to keep these two versions of Jesus separate in my mind, for now.) I took the time to read The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison.
|The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Volume 1
Chapter 8: The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison
Allison’s essay addresses the controversy of whether or not the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet – a phenomenon which was common at the time of Jesus. The reason this question is so controversial, despite the strong apocalyptic message of Jesus’ speeches, is because it would suggest 1) that Jesus was just one among many apocalyptic prophets and 2) that Jesus was wrong, since the end of the world proved not to be so nigh, after all.
Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller, by Gary M. Burge
Genre: Ancient History / Bible Studies
Reason for reading: This year, I’m studying Jesus and the New Testament. This book was loaned to me by Elizabeth, a friend from work. It was given to her by a friend because the author was her professor.
Synopsis: In this short book, Burge guides the reader to interpret Jesus as a storyteller – a teacher who uses allegory and hyperbole to make important points within his own social context. The book is filled with beautiful pictures and several examples of Jesus’ use of hyperbole to teach an important point. Burge provides historical and cultural insight into what Jesus may have been talking about when telling his parables.
My thoughts: I was surprised at how fun this book was. Although it’s quite short, and half of it was pictures, it made me look at Jesus from a interesting new perspective. Of course, I already knew that Jesus used parables and hyperbole to make points, but it was really interesting to read Burge’s cultural analysis of those parables.
The story I found most enlightening was Burge’s interpretation of the fig tree incident. For those of you who don’t recall, the story is related in Mark 11:12-14, 11:20-25; and in Matthew 21:18-22. In my unromantic version, Jesus is hungry, and he sees a fig tree by the road. It’s not fig season, so the tree isn’t bearing any fruit. Jesus curses the poor tree and it withers. I’ve always disliked that story. Despite my cousin Steve’s insistence that fig trees don’t have feelings, and I shouldn’t take the story so literally, I always felt sorry for the tree. Why’d Jesus curse a tree just because it wasn’t bearing fruit in the off-season? (And, yes, Mark clearly states that it wasn’t the season for figs.)
Burge pointed out that the fig tree represented the Jewish state and religion. Throughout the New Testament Jesus repeatedly pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who made a public spectacle of themselves fasting, praying, and giving alms; but who did not keep the spirit of religion in their hearts. They prayed for the approval of the people, not for the approval of God. Thus, they were not “bearing fruit.”
Of course, I realize that this insight about the fig tree and the Pharisees is not uniquely Burge’s – in fact I found some interesting articles on the subject after reading Burge’s book (here’s a good one). What’s important is that Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller introduced me to some interesting interpretations that I could look into in more detail later. In that way, this book was a valuable resource for me.
As I pointed out in my New Years Resolutions, this year I have decided to explore my relationship with Jesus. Who is Jesus, and what does he mean to me? This has always been a sticky question that I avoided. My first book in my quest is: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, by Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright. Borg is a liberal Jesus historian and Wright a conservative one. The book is a set of essays which outlines an ongoing discussion that these two friends have continued for years.
In the introduction, they list three target audiences: first, they hope that this book will be of interest to Christians and non-Christians alike.
“We both believe strongly that what we say about Jesus and the Christian life belongs, not in a private world, inaccessible and incomprehensible except ‘from faith to faith,’ but in the public world of historical and cross-cultural study, in the contemporary world as well as the church.”
- Gospels are history remembered as well as history metaphorized
- Jesus was a Jewish figure teaching and acting within Judaism
- Jesus’ legacy was developed by the community of early Christians
- Jesus’ legacy was developed by a variety of modern forms of Christianity, as well as other religions.
“When we emphasize his divinity at the expense of his humanity, we lose track of the utterly remarkable human being that he was.”