Shuck and Jive

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Thursdays With Bart

We have a book study at our place that meets Thursday mornings. I call it Thursdays with Jesus. We just completed
The Long Descent by John Michael Greer. Before that we set our faces like flint toward Jerusalem and persevered through The Trouble with Resurrection by Brandon Scott.

For awhile we are taking leave of "the book" and will instead watch "the tube".

Our group purchased the set of lectures by Bart Ehrman,

New Testament and Lost Christianities that is produced by The Great Courses.

I am happy to watch these courses from Dr. Ehrman. I like to compare and contrast his viewpoint alongside that of the Jesus Seminar Fellows.

The big difference between the Seminar's Jesus and Ehrman's Jesus is the apocalyptic thing. Ehrman believes that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet and the Seminar doesn't.

those passages that have Jesus predict "the last days" and "the coming of the son of Man" come from Jesus or was Jesus framed that way by those who wrote about him? Ehrman believes that's Jesus. The Jesus Seminar says he was framed.

I tend to think Jesus was not apocalyptic. I think his parables were not about a cataclysmic supernatural future. I like to think of Jesus as more of a poet and a sage than an apocalyptic prophet. Notice I use words such as "tend" and "like". I am not hardcore one way or the other.

For full disclosure, I confess that I don't
like the apocalyptic Jesus. "Apocalyptic" is a nice word for someone who is superstitiously unhinged. Think Tim LeHaye or Harold Camping.

If Jesus was that, at best, he was wrong. The notion that "God" is going to intervene, end the current world, and start a new one is not only wrong, it is ethically wrong. It is not good for us as Earthlings to believe that stuff. It is wrong on so many levels.

Recently a friend responded favorably to a sermon of mine about the ishta devata. He wrote on his Facebook page that he thought it would be cool to wear a t-shirt that says,
"The Historical Jesus is My Ishta Devata."
I would wear it. However, I wouldn't wear it if I believed the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic fruit cake. There is no way that guy gets to be my ishta. I don't need any more of those people (and certainly not my god figure) to have a central role in my life.

The great thing about all of this is that it is never likely to be settled. The reason is that Jesus never wrote anything. The most we have is hearsay. The people who wrote his stories had their own issues and biases. The scholars can interpret the evidence in a number of different ways and have plausible views that contradict each other based on the same evidence.

I see no definitive reason to believe that the apocalyptic Jesus is more or less historical than the non-apocalyptic Jesus. Because of the parables, I find the non-apocalyptic Jesus more persuasive. Plus he makes for a better ishta devata for me.

I am open to having my mind changed.

Thus, Thursdays With Bart.

Join us from 10:30 until noon!


  1. Like all bible concepts, the apocalyptic has to be taken in context. It is a genre of literature that is by the oppressed for the oppressed and directly addresses the issue of why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. The underlying assumption is that there is an underlying justice in the Cosmos and the situation will be righted. As North Americans, however, we meed to recognize our privileges and that we are actually on the wrong side of the equation. We could learn a little humility and try to make things better for the two-thirds world (say by substituting and even better reducing our use of fossil fuels). And there are of course dangers in looking at apocalyptic writing and seeing ourselves. The reign of God needs to be in the here and now and not some spiritualized future. And people who practice the folk religion of the United States shouldn't compare themselves to those with power (or perceived power) in the U.S. but with those without power in the two-thirds world and realize how good they have it comparatively. They should then get on what is really God's side and not what they think (in their greed and arrogance) is God's side.

  2. I remember in seminary being told again and again that apocalyptic was the last recourse for the oppressed. I am not so sure. Perhaps in some cases. I don't think that all 1st century Jews who saw themselves as oppressed were apocalyptic. That was one option that some chose.

    When one realizes that there is not justice in this world, one can make any number of decisions. One can create a theology of supernatural apocalypse. But one can also accept limitations, live as best as one can, and change what one can.

    I am not sure if the apocalyptic is limited to the poor/oppressed either. The wealthy and powerful have supernatural fantasies as well.

    There are plenty today, for example, who believe (or who at least profess belief) in the end of times who have access to material goods, resources, and power. In fact it is sometimes an explicit justification for speedy fossil fuel extraction. "Jesus is going to return soon. The environment is not a priority. This world is not my home."

    I think the apocalyptic/non-apocalyptic has more to do with one's attitudes towards this life and Earth plus an attitude toward the supernatural as to whether or not it exists and intervenes.

    At the end, the apocalyptic view is a loser. There is no good that I can see that comes from it, unless one thinks that delusion in order to have temporary relief from pain is good.

    In my opinion, even as I have sympathy for some of those who feel or have felt that the apocalyptic is the only option, the illusion that a supernatural being is going to make it all OK is neither true or good, then or now.

    I am totally in agreement with you that the reign of God needs to be in the here and now. It is up to all of us to do those justice things, and the motivation is to care for the only home we will ever know.

  3. I mentioned James Watt, Reagen Interior Secretary, in an essay on this not too long ago. We've come a long way since then but obviously not nearly far enough. But in honor of the 4th let's remember James Watt was the man who once tried to ban the most Republican rock group in the world from federal parks.

  4. I have the NT DVD series by Ehrmann (also the OT series by A.J. Levine). Both very good. These (or other material like it) should be standard educational material for every church; I wish I knew that info when I was a younger adult.

    On the Apoc versus non-Apoc Jesus, I don't know enough to lean one way or another. The most relevant thing to know about it seems to be that Apoc was a popular literary style then, so it shows up in literature in and out of Bible in the couple of centuries around the turn of the era. But oops, the world didn't end. But most people today don't realize it was just a literary style. If they did they wouldn't waste so much money on 'end time' books and teachers, of which Harold Camping was only a _slightly_ more extreme version than popular evangelicalism.

  5. "Apoc" or "non-Apon," it seems too many people are concerned only with what happens after death - if not Jesus', then ours!

    I prefer your way of looking at what Jesus did in his life, and what we can do in ours.

  6. 'When one realizes that there is not justice in this world, one can make any number of decisions.'

    You can do what Paul did and declare that the governing authorities were God's agents, sent to punish wrongdoers , and who did not bear the sword for nothing and who held no terror for the innocent.

    The reasoning seems to be. The Romans executed Jesus. This must have been God's plan. Therefore, the Romans were God's agents , sent to punish wrongdoers.

  7. @Michael I suppose that is true. We use "end of the world" language but don't really mean it literally. We might mean a change in political arrangement. Jesus could have done that I suppose.

    Of course, Schweitzer's Jesus really believed that God was going to intervene miraculously and thought he was bringing on the miracle by taking up his cross. Then God didn't show up. That Jesus is a bit too zealous for me.