Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Forbidden Fruit

April DeConick at Forbidden Gospels posted Should the Historical Jesus Matter to People of Faith? In this post she responds to a question by a minister who asks what the implications of the quest for the history of the Jesus tradition have for faith and preaching:
Is this something that simply doesn't belong in the pulpit? Or... do you have no opinion on this, since your project is scholarly and not about faith?
April provides a thoughtful, forthright answer that I am posting here:
There is a long history about this very issue - of faith and reason and whether reason should matter to faith. I leave that to your reading.

For me personally this is very difficult for me to answer because even though my project is not about faith - it is an historical project - the results matter for some people of faith.

I have found that for some Christians they could care less, because for them the Jesus they know is the Jesus of the spirit and the scripture, the Jesus of faith as you put it. There is nothing that an historian is going to say that will make a bit of difference to their religiosity or change their perception of their own experience of God. They are like Paul, the apostle who knew next to nothing about Jesus' life or teachings, and this didn't seem to matter one bit to him in terms of his faith which was based on a mystical experience and conversion.

But then there are those Christians who want their faith to be factual, because for them only facts are true/truth. So they want to align their faith with what they understand to be historical facts about Jesus. It is for these people that the Jesus Seminar was so valuable, because it gave them a new "scientifically"-constructed red letter edition of Jesus' teaching, minus all the supernatural stories and theology.

For me to suggest that the Jesus of history may be lost to us, and all we have are memory constructions of him by Christians writing long after he is dead, can be traumatic for some Christians because we live in a society where truth and fact are equated, and where myth-story-memory-experience (which are definitely not observable empirical facts) are what? Untruth? Highly suspect? False?

So now we see scholars like Richard Bauckham coming to the rescue of these "faithfully nervous", trying out the argument that the early memory constructions in the gospels must have been those of eyewitnesses (they do?) because the texts make this claim (so what?) and because these eyewitnesses were the apostles (they were?) we can trust them (we can?) because they wouldn't purposefully lie to us (they wouldn't?) and we all know that our memories are fairly accurate anyway (they are?).

So I don't know if this answers your questions, which are honest and good questions. But should this information be distributed from the pulpit? I have found in my classroom when students begin to think critically about the scripture, many become angry and confused, wondering why they didn't hear about any of this in their churches. To these people, it matters.
She gives us much to ponder. People certainly are different. I keep trying to place myself in this spectrum of Jesus of history or Jesus of scripture/faith. I find myself interested in the storytellers I suppose. Why did these people tell the story in this way and what were they saying about themselves in their telling of it? I also like the stories of those who got pushed off the cliff. I like the heretics' Jesus. What inspired them to tell the story the way they did and why were their stories so threatening to the winners? That to me is the cool stuff.

That is why I am intrigued by April's work--the forbidden gospels! The forbidden fruit. Eat of it and you will die. Maybe. Or maybe your eyes will be opened and you will see like the gods. That's what all this business regarding Jesus and the gods and whatever is about--us. Do we rebel, take risks, misbehave? Or do we obey the commanding voice of "the Father" who may or who may not have our best interests in mind?

In my experience the church protects the interests of the powerful and the privileged. The underdog is to be protected against, silenced, marginalized and certainly not empowered.

I tend to be suspicious of the canon and the canonized Jesus. This Jesus too easily condemns the heretics, the freethinkers, the different, and anyone who might like to enjoy life. I like my Jesus forbidden.

Don't you? C'mon. Take a bite.

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