Monday, February 20, 2006

Mighty Herzog Still Out Looking for the Historical Jesus

Mighty Bill Herzog, darling of the Roger Williams set, is still out with Albert Schweitzer and the Jesus Seminar gang looking for Jesus with Marxist glasses...a review, from If you're in a rush, scroll down to the numbered objections to Mighty Bill's method...

Herzog, William R., II
Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus
Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005. Pp. xii + 243.
Paper. $24.95. ISBN 0664225284.
David Miller
Briercrest College
Caronport, SK, Canada S0H 0S0

This is the third monograph by William R. Herzog II to apply models drawn from the social sciences to the study of the historical Jesus. Readers familiar with Parables as Subversive Speech (1994) and Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God (2000) will notice the integration of parts of Herzog.s previous work into this more general introduction that focuses on the .political, social, and economic dimensions of Jesus. teaching and public activity.. In addition to the roles of prophet and teacher, Herzog proposes also to treat Jesus as a healer and exorcist who granted forgiveness and purity, as a reputational leader. who embodied the values of poor villagers from Galilee, and as a broker of the reign of God.

The first two chapters are concerned with the task and methods required for the study of the historical Jesus. Herzog insists on the need for imaginative reconstruction and the testing and evaluation of interpretive models. He regards the standard criteria for authenticity as helpful tools because .they encourage us to ask questions about these materials and subject them to scrutiny. However, Herzog's approach is most indebted to the triadic method of John Dominic Crossan. Like Crossan, Herzog draws on models from cultural anthropology and macrosociology, as well as more specific historical studies. in his reconstruction of first-century Palestine before turning to the analysis of
specific passages from the Gospels. Herzog affirms that conclusions about the historical Jesus are necessarily tentative and incomplete.admitting that his own study will succumb from time to time to the ever-present temptation to claim too much on the basis of too little evidence. Nevertheless, he maintains that the attempt to get a portion of it adequately right for today. is worth the effort.

The interpretation of Jesus' public activity in the remainder of the book depends on the sketch of the political, social, and economic context of first-century Palestine in chapter 3. Herzog argues that, as members of an .advanced agrarian society, the majority of peasants suffered under an oppressive tax burden imposed by Rome and the local citydwelling ruling elites. Apart from the toll collectors who came from the cities to collect taxes, peasants had little contact with the outside world and seldom traveled far from home. This isolated environment permitted the development of a little tradition that
regulated daily life and stood in opposition to the Jerusalem-centered great tradition promulgated by the Pharisees and others whose preoccupation with tithing and purity served the priestly and ruling elites. Herzog implies that most of the people in Judea denied the legitimacy of the high priests and concluded that .the sacrifices [the priests] supervised were unacceptable to God.

The high priests, for their part, consistently sided with their Roman overlords rather than with the common people. Although Galilee was under the jurisdiction of the client ruler, Herod Antipas, the priestly demand for temple tithes created a predatory relationship between Jerusalem and Galilee. Galilean peasants were loyal to the temple in Jerusalem,. but most peasants simply could not afford to tithe after paying their required tribute and other taxes. As a result, they were condemned by the temple leaders, who declared them perpetually indebted and unclean. In order to receive forgiveness, the
peasants had to pay their tithes.

Chapter 4 explains how a handyman from Nazareth came to be viewed as a prophet, teacher, healer, and reputational leader. Herzog concludes that the synagogues in which Jesus taught were most likely not buildings but community gatherings that may have taken place in a variety of locations, including the village gate, the market square, or even a private home. Jesus initially gained public recognition by his acts of healing and exorcism and by engaging in public debate with Pharisees, who functioned as rule enforcers of the great tradition. According to Herzog, many of the conflict stories in the
Gospels can be understood as typical first-century .honor challenges.. On Herzog's reading of Mark 2:1.12, for example, Jesus initiated an honor challenge when he announced to the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. The scribes perceived a threat to the official temple system of forgiveness and attempted to shame Jesus by accusing him of blasphemy. By healing the paralytic, Jesus demonstrated that nonpriests like himself had God-given authority to offer forgiveness apart from the temple system. In the same
way, the conflict about the healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10.17) expresses how Jesus loosed the members of the synagogue from a reading of Torah that overlooks the pain of the bent and broken members of the community. As Jesus acquired honor by winning debates about the interpretation of Torah, he emerged as a reputational leader. who embodied the little-tradition values of the peasants around him, offered a means of resistance to the great tradition, and recruited a small group of disciples to share in his liberating work.

In chapter 5 Herzog claims that understanding Jesus as a prophet offers insight into his political message and explains why he attracted a following. Like the sign prophets mentioned in Josephus, Jesus was a popular leader whose message drew on the little tradition and appealed to the majority of disaffected peasants. Unlike the sign prophets, however, Jesus made no attempt to gather a large group of followers, and though he was engaged in political resistance, he generally avoided direct confrontations with Roman authority. Jesus' signs were not predictions of future divine intervention but healings and exorcisms performed by a prophet whose authority was independent of the temple, which
challenged the monopoly on divine power held by the ruling elites. Jesus can also be viewed as a Deuteronomic prophet in the tradition of Moses, for, like Moses, Jesus interpreted Torah in his parabolic teaching, calling for justice and a return to the covenant. Jesus also invited comparison with prophets of the northern kingdom as a miracle-working prophet who gathered a faction of disciples, as Elijah and Elisha had done. Unlike many of the classical prophets, however, Jesus spoke as a peasant on behalf of other peasants like himself.
Fernando Belo's division of Torah into a purity code that served the temple and the priests and a debt code concerned with liberation from slavery and the eradication of poverty forms the theoretical framework for a discussion of Jesus' prophetic teaching of Torah in chapter 6. Herzog argues that Jesus criticized the 'great tradition' because it misrepresented Torah by focusing on the purity code and ignoring the economic implications of the debt code. Thus, responding to a challenge regarding his disciples failure to adhere to purity traditions, Jesus accused his opponents of abusing Torah by encouraging children to serve the needs of the temple at the expense of one's family.
(Mark 7:1.15). According to Herzog, many of Jesus. parables also deal primarily with economic oppression. Although the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1.8) in its Lukan formulation is concerned with persistent prayer, Jesus originally directed it against judges in Torah courts who undermined the justice of the Torah by means of their actions. The parable of the workers in the vineyard, similarly, exposes the unjust practices of wealthy landowners who misused the debt code to justify their own behavior.

So great was Jesus. concern for social justice that he rejected the temple cult altogether, or so Herzog argues in chapter 7. This is not surprising, for "[i]n agrarian societies, temples play a critical role in separating peasants from the wealth they produce." In addition to serving as their primary source of wealth, the Jerusalem temple reinforced the status of the priestly elites and justified their oppressive practices. When Jesus announced the presence of something greater than the temple, he was referring to his prophetic reading of Torah, which stressed the priority of mercy over sacrifices. In the end, Jesus accused the temple elites of social banditry and acted out a prophetic sign of its

Chapters 8 and 9 explore ways that Jesus, as a representative of the little tradition, expressed resistance to the great tradition imposed on peasants by the ruling elites and constructed an alternate way of viewing the world known as the 'hidden transcript'. Of necessity, this form of resistance is often disguised in such a way that only adherents of the little tradition get the point. For example, Jesus profaned the idea of paying the temple tax by jokingly inviting Peter to fish for it (Matt 17:24.27). Paying tribute to Rome is transformed into an act of defiance: They were returning the denarius to the blasphemer who had minted it yet without acknowledging Rome's claim to rule either
their bodies' or their land. Jesus also profaned the great tradition by eating with those who were ritually unclean. He did this not in anticipation of an eschatological banquet but as a political statement concerning the present renewal of Israel among those whom the great tradition had excluded. Moreover, by encouraging hospitality in such parables as the friend at midnight (Luke 11:5.8), Jesus taught his followers to practice justice in a way that would be condemned by the elites as an extravagant waste of resources.

The concluding chapter is not so much an explanation of why Jesus was crucified as an apologetic against anti-Jewish readings of the crucifixion narrative. Herzog concludes that Jesus was not tried before the Sanhedrin. Instead, the ruling elites set up a 'show trial' designed to shame and discredit one who had already been condemned as guilty.

The crowd calling for Jesus. crucifixion consisted of clients of the high priest rather than Galilean pilgrims to Jerusalem. According to Herzog, the reasons for Jesus' death are simple: Jesus was crucified for standing in solidarity with his fellow peasants and for proclaiming a message of resistance against the temple, the corrupt priestly elites from Jerusalem, and their Pharisaic supporters.

As is fitting for an introduction to the historical Jesus, Herzog assumes little of the reader. Technical terms are defined.sometimes more than once. The book is clearly written, chapter summaries ensure that readers are able to follow the argument, and provocative interpretations of the Gospels stimulate renewed reflection on our primary evidence.

Readers unfamiliar with socioscientific criticism will find here a practical introduction to new concepts and an illustration of some of the positive ways they can illumine our interpretation of historical evidence.

Unfortunately, Prophet and Teacher also illustrates the danger of overreliance on crosscultural and cross-temporal socioscientific models. Herzog's conclusions are too often based upon generalizations derived from what typically happens in advanced agrarian societies instead of on detailed analyses of the primary evidence. Because of the following serious reservations about Herzog's construction of Jesus and his first-century context, I hesitate to recommend it to its target audience.

First, Herzog.s portrait of Jesus as a liberator of the oppressed rests on the assumption that the majority of people in first-century Palestine struggled to survive in the face of an unbearable tax burden exacerbated by additional demands from the Jerusalem temple.

Surprisingly, Herzog never engages criticisms of this view by E. P. Sanders, for example, who argues that the tax burden in Palestine was no greater than in other parts of the Roman empire.

Second, Herzog's acknowledgement that Galilean Jews were loyal to the temple in Jerusalem. stands in tension with his assertion that those who did not pay tithes could not expect to enjoy the benefits of the temple sacrifices. I know of no evidence to support this assertion; Herzog provides none.

Third, when Herzog states that the Pharisees believed impurity could be transmitted by touch, he does not discuss procedures for the restoration of purity within Judaism or mention the widespread evidence for the use of mikwaot in ancient Palestine. Given current scholarly debate concerning purity issues, Herzog's suggestion that the great tradition emphasized purity because it could be used to maximize the social distance between elites and peasants. at least requires further elaboration.

Fourth, the presentation of the Pharisees as members of a retainer class who enforced the traditions of the temple elite fits the class model adopted by Herzog nicely but oversimplifies the evidence in our ancient sources pointing to significant differences between priests and Pharisees.

Finally, Herzog.s portrait of Jesus the liberator allows him to ignore, or exclude as secondary, theological aspects of Jesus. teaching. In this, of course, Herzog is not alone.

Still, it remains that, like Jeremias before him, Herzog's interpretation of Jesus. teaching is in the service of a larger holistic reading of Jesus. ministry.. While all criteria for authenticity involve circular forms of reasoning, it is possible that later readers at some remove from Herzog's work will be more willing to grant Jesus' concern for justice and also to allow for the possibility that Jesus sometimes employed examples from daily economic life in service of other theological ideas.

1 comment:

revdrron said...

For Herzog, it was as teacher and prophet that Jesus announced and “brokered” the Reign of God. Since God’s reign is merely a social vision of justice and compassion there is no need for a Lord and Savior to redeem mankind from sin and its consequences.

What about the holiness of the God who reigns? Is not this holiness an eternal & unchangeable attribute? God’s Law was broken in the Garden and that demands a particular penalty for sin. Is not that the principle of all justice? God must respond to sin in a just manner if God is to be self-consistent.

Nahum 1:3 "the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished"
Habakkuk 1:13 "Your eyes are too pure to approve evil..."
Deut 27:26 "Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them"

The wrath of God is his necessary response to sin! When God forgives us for sin he doesn’t simply set it aside and forget about it. God doesn’t experience a sort of sanctified amnesia! On the contrary, our sins are paid for with an awesome price, the death of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in place of the sinner! Hence, Jesus was not executed by the ruling Jerusalem elite in collaboration of the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate for subversive activities on behalf of the socially oppressed.

Isa 53:4-6 "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, & our sorrows He carried...The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him."
Gal 3:13 "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us."

Worship & enjoy, ron