The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation (Cambridge Companions to Religion)

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This was no non-committal announcement. However, it was no set recipe for Jesus. Firstly, it seems unlikely that his disciples introduced this decisive ritual at their own initiative. Secondly, Jesus began his own career accepting the rite of repentance and forgiveness at the hands of John, which later devout Christians found hard to believe cf.

Matt 3. Thirdly, there is explicit confirmation in the unique reports in the Gospel of John that indeed Jesus baptised John 3. Immersion was practised by the Qumran sect, not only as a regular purification but also as a rite of repentance. It is possible that new members, before being fully admitted to the community and its strict regime of purity, had to undergo immersion as an admission rite. This would then be quite similar in function to Christian baptism.

The sources affirm that his commanding yet merciful presence wrought liberation and healing in numerous sick and suffering people. Even in antiquity, the edu- cated were of course wont to be sceptical here, given the real possibilities of mass suggestion and swindle. This is the prevailing attitude found in rab- binic literature. But as we said, rabbinic literature is also close to the people, and in spite of this dominant scepticism it contains many healing stories, some even in the name of Jesus.

On this score, Jesus appears fairly remote from the centre of the Pharisaic movement. However, the Pharisees and the rabbis after them were not uniform in their attitude towards the Romans. The Pharisaic school of Shammai was more reserved towards foreigners, and apparently they were also heavily involved in the first war against the Romans ad 66— Jesus was no friend of the Emperor, as he made clear in the saying about the silver denarius, but he also was wary of militarist messianic movements Mark In this he was rather more like the other Pharisaic school, that of Hillel, which was reputed for its open-mindedness and love of peace.

The humorous story of the Syro-Phoenician woman proves this precisely because she managed to lure him beyond that boundary Mark 7. Another story implies the same about a Roman centurion from Capernaum Luke 7. Hence the phrase ascribed to Jesus in Matt Jesus appears to have set the same limitation on the mission of his disciples Matt Jesus also taught, not only in synagogues, but also on other occasions and often in the open fields. From rabbinic literature we can deduce that this was not at all unusual for teachers.

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Many discussions are reported to have been carried on while under way or sitting somewhere in the open. Even if imminent, the kingdom is not always visible. Faith is required. Tomson can make the seed of faith wither on the rocky grounds of persecution or suffocate between the weeds of material wealth, and only when received in good earth can it strike deep roots and make its fruit expand Mark 4. Another main theme is forgiveness; it is expressed in the parables of the lost sheep and the prodigal son Luke A further parable teaches that we cannot ask God to forgive our sins if we do not forgive our neighbours Matt The same prayer also asks for the coming of the kingdom.

This is a characteristic combination. We saw that repentance and forgiveness were connected with accepting the kingdom from the start. This subject is fraught with misunderstanding. Once relations between Christians and Jews had deteriorated to the level of pure polemics, it was thought that Jesus had abolished the commandments of the Jewish law.

Worst of all, the idea also crept into the text of three of our gospels Mark 3. These phrases closely correspond to rabbinic terminology, but they can certainly have been used by Jesus. In Luke we find that he argued with the Pharisees on a common basis. This concerns an important area of the Jewish law, the Sabbath. Luke has more disputation stories on the Sabbath than the other gospels; but unlike the latter, his incidents never end in the Pharisaic wish to kill Jesus cf.

Mark 3. Indeed, all of these stories in Luke end with the Pharisees remaining silent Luke 6. Yishmael, ki tisa, ed. Horovitz-Rabin p. Curiously, neither Luke nor Matthew copied this sentence from Mark. Yet even in Luke there is a clear impression of tension between Jesus and the Pharisees. Though they cannot accuse him of formal transgression, his behaviour goes beyond what they think fitting. He shares important elements with them, but on a number of details he goes his own way.

In this he reminds one of those whom rabbinic literature calls h. These holy men were known for their intense prayer, their healings and miracles, but also for slight deviations from Pharisaic custom. Here tension went along with respect. You are like a spoilt son before his father! Another important area of the law is purity. The basic rules are in the Old Testament Lev 11—15; Num 19 , the idea being that dealing with the offerings in the sanctuary requires holiness and purification. Many Pharisees wished these rules also to be kept in everyday life, and they introduced many refinements to make them more practicable.

A basic purity rule that Jesus apparently did observe was the avoidance of entering a non-Jewish home for its possible association with idolatry. This rule is not found in the Old Testament, but is evidenced in various an- cient Jewish sources. Thus Jesus did not enter the home of the centurion at Capernaum, even though, as Luke explains, the man had excellent relations with the local synagogue and even anticipated that Jesus probably would not come in Luke 7.

Tomson story in Acts, where Peter had great difficulty in accepting the idea of enter- ing a non-Jewish home, as did his fellow believers back in Jerusalem Acts This is very different from the laws of transferable purity, which saw intensive development in ancient Judaism, especially among the Pharisees.

The fellow believ- ers in Jerusalem correctly infer that he had eaten with the non-Jews, not that he had eaten unclean animals Acts This is his prohibition of divorce. The issue was frequently debated in ancient Judaism, so that our evidence is ample here. Nor it is a surprise that Pharisees wished to know where Jesus stood in the matter Mark Opinions among the Pharisees were divided, the school of Hillel teaching that it could be validated on any legal grounds, whereas the school of Shammai taught that divorce was valid only in case of sexual misbehaviour m.

We have here, however, another example of followers of Jesus opting for a less strict interpretation. Several rabbis are reported to have taught that love of the neighbour summarises the whole law. Whether that is correct or not, the double command also appears in a recently discovered rabbinic text dating from the Middle Ages but containing many ancient teachings Pitron Torah, ed.

Urbach pp. Even if this were adopted from Christian tradition somewhere along the line, it shows that the double love command is equally at home in rabbinic tradition. This also reveals that he was extremely reticent about these intentions, even to his foremost disciples.

Though legendary, these stories may reflect historical truth. Acts 2. The Gospel of John incorporates a particular tradition following which Jesus went no less than four times to Jerusalem for a festival during his public ministry John 2. Secondly, there are moral teachings in which the Temple plays a signifi- cant role. Thirdly, Jesus expressed his attachment to the Temple when criticising its administrators. Jesus shared this social indignation. How many times have I desired to gather your children like a hen does her chicks under her wings, but you have not willed it.

It is as though he personally identified with the city and its Temple. Fifthly, explicit predictions of the destruction of the Temple are pre- served. And Jesus said to him: Do you see those large buildings? The next morning. When he came into the sanctuary, he began to throw out those who were selling and buying within the sanctuary; he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the chairs of the dove-sellers, and he did not allow anyone to carry an object through the sanctuary.

Jer 7. Then the upper priests and scribes heard it, and they sought how they could kill him. Jesus first went onto the Temple mount to inspect everything. This reveals careful preparation. Tomson of chief priests and their men who were in charge of all procedures in the Temple. Jesus also makes his intention fully explicit.

His teaching, as Mark preserves it, consists of the combination of two verses by means of a common key word at least in the full Greek version, which may well reflect some Hebrew original : my house, as pronounced by God. This is a procedure we encountered earlier. Instead of a centre of true devotion, the upper priests have allowed the Temple to be made into a place of greedy commerce and outright robbery. The meaning becomes evident if we compare m. The rule was apparently known in Temple times but little respected, so that people carried their wares over the Temple mount as though it were just another square.

In accordance with his teachings, Jesus expressed personal indignation over such patent lack of true devotion. In the account of Mark, there now follows a series of polemical debates with various representatives of the Temple administration. Ultimately, Jesus is condemned to death by the chief priests because he saw himself as the son of God — a way of think- ing the Sadducee party utterly rejected and considered blasphemous Mark In John, the whole account is different: the Temple purification stands at the beginning John 2.

These different dispositions must reflect the develop- ments after the war against Rome, mentioned earlier. The existence at that time of different calendars has been proved by texts from Qumran. Why Jesus would follow such a deviant calendar is not clear. In any case the first three gospels describe the last supper as a Passover meal. Implied is that they have had a lamb slaughtered in the Temple for a sacrifice, have prepared it according to law and custom, and now eat it together somewhere in the city cf.

Jesus thought in terms of his imminent death, which is more understandable now in view of the preceding, and also of his resurrection into the kingdom of God. Resurrection, we must remember, was a prominent tenet of faith in Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition, but not so among the Sadducees m. The latter is not so evident to critical scholarship. However, at this point the borderline between what Jesus himself could have taught and what his followers taught about him later becomes blurred beyond distinction.

Ps —18; m. He lived according to the law in a way closely related to the Pharisees, though he rejected some of their novel purity rules. His behaviour on the Sabbath resembled very liberal Pharisees, while on divorce he rather resembled the much stricter Qumran sect.

Clearly he did not belong to the known movements, though he showed affinity with the ancient h. In their attitude to him, the Pharisaic leaders hesitated between sympathy and irritation. His real adversaries were the chief priests and Sadducees, the corrupt administrators of the Temple who rejected his prophetic message. He also taught about this message in syna- gogues and at other occasions, and he spent endless hours healing the sick and the possessed.

He saw his mission as being restricted to the Jews, a point on which his disciples later came to differ.

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He considered it an integral part of his mission to go to Jerusalem and to perform an ultimate prophetic sign calling the Temple administrators to repentance, even at the risk of death. Even so, the fact that after his death and resurrection his disciples proclaimed him as the Messiah can be understood as a direct development from his own teachings. If we paint with rather broad strokes, we may divide interpretations of him into two camps. On the other hand, Jesus has also been characterised not so much as one to be revered and worshipped, but rather as one who taught a way of worshipping and following God.

Under this rubric he has been thought of as mystic, moral teacher, religious visionary, political and social reformer, cultural critic and renewal movement leader. Are these portrayals of Jesus mutually exclusive? If, for example, one understands Jesus primarily as a religious figure to whom worship and faith are directed, then is it also possible to speak of him as a prophet and teacher of a way of worship and faith? In one way or another, each of these scholars finds the Jesus of history, precisely in his character as an exemplary worshipper of God who pointed away from himself to God alone, both at odds with and more attractive than the Christ who is confessed in the creeds and by the church.

Although there are important parables and sayings that come close to answering these questions explicitly, much of the data provided by the gospels for such an inquiry is indirect.

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Obviously I assume that it is appropriate to think of Jesus who spoke about God in this way, called Israel to obedience and worship of this God, and in his own life demonstrated precisely the sort of faith and trust to which he called others. But, as already noted, precisely here some have sensed a tension, perhaps a nearly irreconcilable tension, with the Jesus to whom faith and trust are directed.

On this reading, the faith of Jesus is incompatible with faith in Jesus. Therefore, a concluding section of the chapter will focus on the question of the continuity between them. First, the synoptic gospels provide the primary data for this study. But these criteria cannot be used to guarantee assured results. At times material reported only in one source, such as the parable of the prodigal, surely must be deemed authentic when that material fits with a coherent picture of Jesus and his aims, actions and words.

Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the total impression Jesus made that became embodied in the traditions of the gospels must also count in the Quest of Jesus. Indeed, the gospels come to us from a culture far less fascinated by the inner life and psychological development of individuals, and far more interested in their morals and character, their exemplary deeds, and their impact upon society and culture. But whatever the current form of the ac- counts, their witness is that Jesus knew the Spirit of God to be a compelling force that called him to public proclamation and empowered him in his ministry.

Similarly, when his disciples report to him that crowds of people are seeking him to heal them, he speaks of the necessity of moving on to proclaim the kingdom of God Mark 1. Jesus experienced and believed that the power of God was working through him. His disciples celebrate like guests at a wedding Mark 2. The Beatitudes contain promises of joy or commands to rejoice in the face of persecution and trials Matt 5.

John In the parable of the talents, those who have done the will of their master are invited to enter into his joy Matt The God who compels Jesus on mission is also the God who celebrates the discovery of the lost. Part of the reason for judging these accounts to have historical roots is that the experiences of Jesus recounted here converge so fully with his own teaching of his disciples and with the subsequent shape of his career and life.

Tempted to turn stones to bread to satisfy his own hunger, Jesus responds that human life is to be lived in constant dependence upon God. He later taught his disciples to trust God to clothe and feed them, and to pray for their daily bread Matt 6. He continued steadfastly on such a course, refusing signs to those who asked to see them as proof that God had sent him Mark 8.

He would later speak of himself as one who serves Mark Jesus makes it plain that his commitment to God alone shapes his path, and that God both merits and demands whole-hearted worship, thus echoing the Old Testament note that worship ought to be offered only to the one God of Israel because the Lord is a jealous God Exod Of course at this point Jesus was not innovative.

Jesus exhorted his followers to seek the kingdom of God before all else Matt 6. For no one, he said, can serve two masters Matt 6. Jesus believed God to be a holy God, and hence worthy of such com- mitment and worship. Like his contempo- raries, Jesus used various circumlocutions, such as the Name and Power, to avoid pronouncing the holy name of God, which was deemed unspeakable in everyday discourse, as the prohibition in the Dead Sea Scrolls illustrates 1QS 6.

Josephus Ant. Jesus and his God 47 Like his contemporaries, Jesus assumed that the Temple was to be kept holy as the house of God, as he demonstrated in driving from it the money- changers and sellers. To use what was holy as the validation of an oath was to defile it. This was no violation of honouring the Sabbath. Similarly, just as one might be allowed to pull a sheep out of a pit or water an ox on the Sabbath day — the sort of point that the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, dispute CD Jesus proclaimed a God who, as Father, called into being a community that would offer its allegiance, honour and love to God and live together as brothers and sisters of the one heavenly Father Mark 3.

The Father could be counted on to provide for the needs of his own, just as he clothed the lilies of the field and fed the birds of the air Matt 6. Taking the divine example as their own, the followers of Jesus were to be active in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked Matt Those who acknowledged God as Father were to forgive each other as they had been forgiven, and this was a central petition in the way of prayer that Jesus taught his disciples Matt 6.

As the parable of the prodigal son so graphically illustrates, not only does God, like a compassionate father, welcome his erring children home, but he expects those in the family to receive the lost with equal joy and generous forgiveness. More particularly, his exorcisms were both the evidence and experience of the powerful presence of the Spirit of God not to expel the Roman forces but to expel the demonic powers that victimised the lives of people Matt They were not to fear, but to trust Matt To establish such a rule would entail the elimination of all unrighteousness.

Both the traditions of the Old Testament prophets and of Jewish sources speak of a judgement upon the nations, and particularly those that oppress Israel, as well as judgement that falls upon Israel itself for detailed discussion see Reiser For example, one may read of the hope for vengeance upon the Gentiles in the Psalms of Solomon e. Elsewhere one finds reference to judgement upon individuals, whether Jew or Gentile, according to their good and evil deeds e.

Many of the images of judgement in the gospels foresee a division be- tween the wicked and righteous within Israel, rather than between Israel and its neighbours. Instead, Jesus spoke first of a judgement within Israel. The parables of the wheat and the weeds, the great net, and the sheep and the goats all antici- pate the separation of the righteous from the wicked Matt Jesus pronounced judgement upon various cities and villages for their failure to respond to his teaching Matt Justice would be done. God does not mechanically reward piety and punish impiety.

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The parable of the labourers in the vineyard raises just this question Matt For if those who worked all day long are paid the same amount as those who laboured but a few hours, then has not justice ceased to function as the standard by which human behaviour should be regulated and judged? Similarly, if the father welcomes home the prodigal with a sumptuous banquet, does not the older son have a right to resent his father who never even gave him a goat? In both cases there is unexpected generosity to those who do not deserve it — but also apparent disregard for those who do.

First, God is merciful, unexpectedly and abundantly generous. This was scarcely news to Israel. But Jesus was calling those who had experienced the mercy of God to make it the motivation and measure of their action as well. Jesus promises that God can be trusted to listen to the prayers of his people, encouraging them to make their petitions known with boldness and persistence Matt 7.

He himself is pictured as entrusting himself to God in times of need, most pointedly in face of approaching death Mark Or are you envious because I am generous? Indeed, God has the power of life and death Luke Hence when it was reported to Jesus that Pilate had killed a number of Galileans and that the Tower of Siloam had fallen and killed eighteen pilgrims, he warned them that their lives, too, could be lost unless they were to repent Luke God is a God who reveals and conceals as he chooses. Perhaps the parable of the unjust judge fits here as well. His entire life is marked by these twin convictions: through his ministry, the power of God was at work for the salvation of his people, but he himself waited on God.

They do so by correlating certain events of the crucifixion with several psalms of lament from the Bible, most notably Psalms 22, 31, In Psalm 69 are references to thirst in the midst of suffering, and to receiving vinegar to drink Ps In this faith, Jesus went to the cross: He died without a single sign from the God whose kingly rule he sought to effectuate in advance. His death was no less ambiguous than his life had been, though it was consistent: the God whose fidelity cannot be calculated on the basis of [human] attainments lifted not a finger on behalf of the one who trusted him utterly.

By sundown, all three men on their crosses were equally dead. The God who, according to Jesus, sends sun and rain on just and unjust alike did not give Jesus preferential treatment either. Jesus died without a word or a wink from God to reassure him that, whatever the gawking crowd might think, he knew that Jesus was not only innocent but valid where it mattered. When we speak of Jesus clarifying and correcting our understanding of the character of God, we mean precisely this Jesus and no other Keck Nowhere can we speak more certainly of the faith of Jesus.

And it is precisely the starkness of the portrait of Jesus as one who trusted God in his darkest hours that raises the question of the continuity between the faith of Jesus and faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus and the faith of Jesus have frequently been seen as mu- tually exclusive options. Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar, contends that because Christianity is not the religion of Jesus, but the religion about him, it falls upon those who truly seek to follow Jesus to find him behind the creeds and gospels Funk The implication, of course, is that there is scant continuity between the faith of Jesus and the religion about him.

Luke T. Any tension between the faith of Jesus and faith in Jesus dissolves in the worship and experience of believers, and there is little attempt or need to argue a case for continuity. But while biblical scholars may have felt compelled to choose between the faith of Jesus and faith in Jesus, the earliest Christians had less difficulty than moderns do in seeing an organic continuity between these ways of understanding Jesus and his relationship to God. It is undeniable that the earliest Christian preaching, as recorded in the letters of Paul and reflected in the speeches of Peter in Acts, can more accu- rately be characterised as proclamation about Jesus than as simply continuing the proclamation of Jesus.

The preaching of the early church thus assumed the continuity between the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth and the exalted and risen Lord. It further assumed that the exalted Lord is alive, that he is present to his disciples, and they experienced his power with them. Hence, their proclamation about Jesus was always a proclamation of the one who had himself preached, healed, exorcised and taught, in the name of God his father.

Indeed, it was precisely because he had been faithful that he was exalted by God. As Son, Jesus has a unique relationship to God 1.

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As Son, Jesus represents his Father to humankind, and brings them to God cf. Jesus promised eternal life, entrance into the kingdom, forgiveness of sins, the blessings of salvation, healing and restoration, and he healed, ate at table with sinners, called people to repent, and went to his death believing that God would honour the promises that Jesus made in his name. The witness of faith as enshrined in the pages of the New Testament is that God vindicated the faith and hopes of Jesus. The very terms — prophet, Messiah, Son of Man, Son — that are taken as witnessing to his distinct identity and role, show that Jesus found his identity and carried out his role precisely in service of and obedience to the one God of Israel.

In the end, Jesus waited for God to vindicate his proclama- tion and mission. What he has and gives is the very life of God. The risen Jesus was therefore not honoured as a second God, but as the one through whose word and deed God had been revealed and present — incarnate, as Jesus of Nazareth. These themes may seem to be an awkward pairing: whereas the teaching of Jesus is generally considered to be readily accessible and of continuing relevance, the miracles raise problems for the modern mind. For Jesus himself, however, message and miracles were interrelated, as they were for his opponents.

When the imprisoned John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus about his role and his intention, Jesus told them to tell John what they had heard and what they had seen, and then elaborated by couching his reply with phrases taken from Isaiah. This key passage to which we shall return links together the message and miracles of Jesus: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

Luke 4. In his own lifetime and for several centuries later, critics of Jesus also saw that his message and miracles belonged together. This standard anti-Jesus jibe was passed on from one generation to another in much the same way as religious polemic still does today in the streets of Belfast and of Jerusalem Mark 3. Message and miracles belong together. In the final sections of the chapter we shall turn to the miracles and exorcisms of Jesus. In the parallel passage in Matthew 4. Matthew makes the same modification in a number of other passages, but no distinction in meaning is intended; in What did Jesus mean?

Rather surprisingly, the precise phrase is not found in the Old Testament, and it is not as prominent in later Jewish writings as one might have expected. We shall briefly discuss representa- tive passages. Psalm The Lord is faithful in all his words and gracious in all his deeds v. Words and deeds are not only juxtaposed, they are all but synonymous, as they are for Jesus himself. Isaiah God is mercifully forgiving and redeeming his people, and will bring them out of exile in a new exodus as they return to a purified Jerusalem. There is no doubt that this and related passages provided a script for Jesus.

Some later Jewish writings contain similar themes. Some of the Psalms of Solomon express the hope that God will soon reverse the disaster brought by the capture of Jerusalem by the Roman general Pompey in 63 bc. Several passages speak about God as king, and express the hope that his kingly rule will be made manifest. The central section of Ps. The hoped-for human, Davidic king will be the Lord Messiah v. In Ps. Although it was an option for Jesus to fulfil this particular expectation, it is clear that he eschewed violence Matt 5.

Some scholars claim that Jesus saw himself as the Davidic Messiah, albeit with a very different role from the one set out in Ps. On this view, Jesus was reluctant to spell out the nature of his Messiahship, but his actions and words provided plenty of hints for his followers to reach this conclusion for themselves. The kingdom of God is his sovereign, dynamic rule. More often than not, there is a clearly temporal sense: the kingdom is referred to in the context of hope for the future.

Jesus uses such varied phraseology in his kingdom sayings that they cannot be readily analysed, though they do fall into two main groups. Many sayings refer to the kingdom in the temporal sense just mentioned. In some of these sayings Jesus announces that the kingdom will come in the future; in others, the kingdom is near, or has already come. Is the temporal or the spatial sense primary? There is now a consensus that in the relevant passages in Old Testament and later Jewish writings, as well as in the sayings of Jesus themselves, the temporal sense is not only more common, but primary.

However, if the spatial sense is primary, it is not easy to explain why so many sayings have a clearly temporal sense. In Mark The context concerns discipleship, so the kingdom to be entered is not a realm with boundaries, but the people among whom God exercises his kingly rule, whether now or in the future. This question has been debated keenly ever since , when Johannes Weiss undermined the strong nineteenth-century tradition by insisting that for Jesus the kingdom was neither a moral cause nor a morally ordered society, but a reality to be initiated by God in the near future.

A number of kingdom sayings refer to a future coming. Once again, only a few representative passages can be noted. A Q tradition Matt 8. In the eschatological banquet in heaven Gentiles or, perhaps, Diaspora Jews will join the patriarchs, but in the final judgement, those who reject Jesus will be rejected by God — and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Here Jesus subverts the expectations of his listeners. He draws on graphic apocalyptic motifs, though in other sayings Jesus distances himself from the apocalyptic traditions popular in circles that spelled out detailed timetables and scenarios for the future Mark Because the kingly rule of God reverses their present state.

It is not often noted that in the first beatitude the kingdom is a present reality, while in the two following beatitudes the promise is that God will act on behalf of those in need. A present and a future temporal sense are juxtaposed. Several sayings express the presence or the nearness of the kingdom, though in each case their precise temporal sense is difficult to determine.

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In Mark 1. Protracted discussion has led to the widely accepted conclusion that this verse announces the nearness of the kingdom: it is so near that a response is imperative. The presence of the kingdom is clearer in Matt If the latter inter- pretation is adopted, it would support the popular notion that the kingdom is purely subjective, inward or spiritual, i.

The similarity of this passage to the reply Jesus gives to John the Baptist is obvious Matt Once again message and miracles are inextricably linked. Enough has been said in the preceding paragraphs to confirm that there are very varied emphases in the kingdom of God sayings. The kingdom sayings should not be squeezed into one mould. Both the future and the present or nearness sayings have good claims to authenticity, though their precise relationship is unclear. For example, Matthew includes no fewer than six pithy parables in his collection of parables in chapter However, it is unwise to relate all the parables of Jesus to this theme, for their scope is much broader.

In Luke 4. Will they not both fall into a pit? While parables were not unknown in the Graeco-Roman world, they were not usually part of the stock in trade of religious teachers or philosophers, and most of them were fables or allegories. Later Jewish teachers used parables, but rarely if ever as frequently as Jesus did.

In most cases their parables were used to illustrate or expound Scripture. While the parables of Jesus contain some scriptural images, very few are exegetical. It would be rash to claim that the parables of Jesus are unique, but in his extensive use of them Jesus was not following the conventions of the day. So why did Jesus teach in parables? From the end of the second century to the end of the nineteenth century, a simple answer to this question was often given. Every item in the parables was assumed to have theological significance: Jesus used parables to convey the basic principles of Christian doctrine.

He insisted that the original parables of Jesus were not allegories, for each parable made only one key point — and that single point turned out to be a rather bland maxim. In particular, there is no reason to suppose that Jesus eschewed all traces of allegory in the original form of his parables.

When his listeners in Galilee heard the parable of the wicked tenants Mark Mark understands this parable primarily as an attack on the religious leaders, as the conclusion in v. It is also almost certainly an indictment of Israel for failing to produce the fruit expected by God. The latter are usually referred to as similitudes: they are in the form of similes which give instruction about, or illustrate an aspect of the kingdom.

The narrative parables are extended metaphors which narrate something which happened just once. The narrative parables are like poetry, or like a good cartoon. They com- municate in unexpected ways and often at a deeper level than statements. There is often an element of surprise which forces one to think again about God, his will and his ways with humankind.

Once we grasp that the narrative parables are extended metaphors, it becomes clear that they are far more than an unusual mode of instruction used by an exceptionally gifted teacher. The parables are not merely about the kingdom of God, they possess a vitality and a power in and of themselves: they convey something of the reality of the kingdom of God. In Mark 4. For those who reject the call and challenge of Jesus, the parables confirm them in their rejection, for they do not comprehend their point at all. The ultimate purpose of the parables is not to hide, but to reveal.

There are about forty parables in the synoptic gospels. The synonymous word paroimia is used in two passages: It is possible that two parables have been fused together in But there is no trace at all of narrative parables. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. There are in fact far more aphorisms than parables in the gospels — over one hundred on most definitions of an aphorism.

Aphorisms are pithy, arresting sayings that are complete in themselves; i. They express vividly truths that are general to the experience of humankind. Several aphorisms are in the form of admonitions. There are collections of aphoristic sayings in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Sirach, as well as in other Jewish writings.

So this important strand of the teaching of Jesus reminds us that he was a wisdom teacher who had much in common with Jewish teachers of his time. Is one portrait more authentic than the other? Funk, have recently argued that Jesus should be seen primarily as a wisdom teacher; some most notably Crossan take a further step and claim that Jesus was a Jewish Cynic.


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Cynicism arose among loosely organised groups of wandering philosophers in the fourth century bc; there was a revival about the time of Jesus. Message and miracles 65 The scholars who advocate this general approach note that some of the parables and aphorisms of Jesus are non-eschatological, i. One can hardly object to this first step in the argument, though the claim that only these sayings are authentic to Jesus is arbitrary.

The next steps are quite implausible. The attempt to isolate a first and therefore primary non-eschatological layer of the traditions shared by Matthew and Luke Q is largely a case of finding what one is looking for. In its present form Thomas is a fourth-century Gnostic collection in Coptic of sayings of Jesus, some of which are related to sayings in the synoptic gospels.

Thomas was probably written in Greek in the middle of the second century. Some of its traditions may be independent of the synoptic gospels, but it is also clear that many sayings are dependent on them cf. In short, reconstruction of an early non-Gnostic Greek version of Thomas is hazardous, to say the least. However, it is important to note that the first-century Cynics were very diverse in their teachings and behaviour, so parallels with Jesus become less impressive. There are in fact at least as many differences as similarities. While it is possible that there were some Cynics in Galilee, there is no evidence that Jesus had direct contact with them cf.

The Cynics were not noted for healings and exorcisms; as we shall see in a moment, miracles were a central part of the ministry of Jesus. Those who portray Jesus primarily or solely as a wisdom teacher or Jewish Cynic have built dubious hypothesis upon dubious hypothesis. One cannot help observing that once again history is repeating itself: as has often happened in historical Jesus research, the reconstructed portrait of Jesus bears an uncanny resemblance to the researcher.

Was he also a healer and an exorcist? There are seventeen accounts of healings in the gospels, including three of revivification; there are six accounts of exorcisms. The bald statistics confirm the prominence of miracles in the gospels. So we cannot avoid asking whether Jesus performed miracles, and if so, why.

Miracles were not accepted without question in antiquity. Some writers were openly sceptical about miracles e. Epicurus, Lucretius, Lucian. In his own lifetime follower and foe alike accepted that Jesus had unusual healing powers. What was in dispute was on whose authority and with whose power Jesus performed unusual deeds.

Justin Martyr Dial. The comments of Celsus, the philosopher and the first pagan critic of Christianity, are revealing. About the year he wrote as follows as recorded by Origen, Contra Celsum 1. It was by magic that he [Jesus] was able to do the miracles which he appears to have done. So was Jesus a magician? This question has been debated inconclusively by several scholars: not surpris- ingly, definitions are all-important. If magic is defined as the use of standard techniques, whether of word primarily incantations or act e.


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The woman came up behind Jesus and touched his cloak, confident that she would be made well if she could but touch his clothes. However, there are more differences than similarities between the mira- cle traditions and accounts of magical practices. Nor is there any suggestion that a petitioner can force Jesus to perform a miracle against his will. In antiquity magic was often used for purely selfish ends e. While it is true that on some definitions miracle and magic are closely related, it is worth noting that in antiquity as today magic generally had strongly negative connotations.

The powers of Jesus to heal and to exorcise were not unique. He gave his own disciples authority to heal and to exorcise Mark 6. Matt 7. Jesus himself refers to other exorcists who were able to cast out demons Matt Acts There are reports of Jewish miracle workers who lived at about the time of Jesus, though they are not common; rather surprisingly, they do not include cures of the deaf, the dumb and the lame. Few doubt that Jesus possessed unusual gifts as a healer, though of course varied explanations are offered.

Some suggest that many of the illnesses and disabilities had psychosomatic roots. While this may well have been the case, we have no ways of investigating the matter further.

Account Options

The seven so-called nature miracles raise more acute problems than the healings and exorcisms: the cursing of the fig tree Mark In terms of their structure these traditions are quite disparate, and most of them differ in several other respects from the miracle traditions. In one case there is a plausible explanation. Since a parable of a barren fig tree is recorded in Luke But it is impossible to know just what may lie behind the other so-called nature miracles.

So why did Jesus run the risk of ridicule and rejection? The faith of the individual is mentioned in many but by no means all cases. Although the evangelists refer to the compassion of Jesus on occasion, they do not suggest that this was the main motive for all his miracles. The evangelists record that some of the miracles attracted crowds e. Mark 1. But the attraction of crowds is unlikely to have been the main reason why Jesus performed miracles. By paying close attention to the individuals and the circumstances in- volved, we can gain important insights into the intention of Jesus.

Jesus healed people with many kinds of disability. The lepers healed by Jesus may have had some kind of skin disease, i. Although a full discussion is not possible here, many of the healings and exorcisms of Jesus were an indication of his full acceptance of those who were socially and religiously marginalised. The healing activity of Jesus aroused suspicion and hostility cf. Even John the Baptist was puzzled, for apparently he did not have healing powers. Message and miracles 69 table fellowship Several traditions record that Jesus extended table fellowship to tax col- lectors and sinners Mark 2.

As in his healings and exorcisms, Jesus acts out his proclamation of the kingly rule of God. Sharing a meal with a friend today is often no more than a convenient way of consuming food. In the Graeco-Roman and Jewish worlds of the first century, however, eating food with another person was far more signif- icant socially: it indicated that the invited person was being accepted into a relationship in which the bonds were as close as in family relationships.

One normally invited to meals only people whom one considered social and religious equals. Some of the first-century conventions associated with table fellowship are sketched vividly in Luke And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. This criticism is levelled at Jesus by the scribes of the Pharisees when they see whom Jesus has invited to share meals with him.

In an independent tradition, Luke records similar indignant criticism Jesus accepts the legitimacy of this accusation, so his actions are quite de- liberate. The accusation is the finale of a lengthy set of sayings of Jesus Matt When the jibe is read in context it be- comes clear that the opponents of Jesus failed to see that his table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners was an implication of the coming of the kingdom.

The tax collectors in Galilee were despised not because they were colluding with the Romans though that would have been the case in Judaea , but because in their abuse of a long-standing system of collecting tolls and duties they were blatantly dishonest. Strictly speaking they were toll collectors or tax farmers; they were not collecting direct taxes. So Jesus insisted on accepting openly in intimate table fellowship those who were notorious for their dishonesty or their high-handed rejection of the law.

Some readers may feel that to insist that message and miracles belong together is to labour the obvious. But that is not so, for in the first century they did not necessarily go together. John 1. But neither the gospels nor Josephus attribute miracle-working powers to John Josephus, Ant. Nor was John known for his use of parables and aphorisms. The gospel traditions portray Jesus in several guises. The more vigorously the gospel traditions are sifted and weighed, and the more rigorously the Jewish and Graeco-Roman world of the first century is explored, the clearer it becomes that Jesus of Nazareth fits no formula.

It is a mistake to try as so many scholars have done to portray Jesus primarily as a prophet, or as a wisdom teacher, or as a healer. The passage with which we began this chapter underlines these points. Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect another? Here, as elsewhere, Jesus focuses attention on God and not on himself; nonetheless, Jesus does give a clue to his own self- understanding.

A recently published Qumran fragment 4Q also links together message and miracles by means of similar phrases from Isaiah. Like the reply of Jesus to John, it refers to Isa Although this fragment is difficult to interpret, it probably refers to the eschatological actions God will carry out through his anointed one, the Messiah line 1. If so, then at the time of Jesus at least some Jews understood Isa They are people who are experiencing oppression and helplessness, including those living in dire poverty.


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  • They are the tax collectors and sinners to whom Jesus extends table fellowship in the teeth of vigorous opposition. They locate us socially, within the world of what other people do. That localising capac- ity of friendship and enmity is not merely a matter of their exposing the extrinsic coordinates of who we are in terms of birth, status or education. Our relationships to friends and enemies express who we are and seek to become, as we engage or reject the kinds of behaviour, thought and feeling others represent to us. Certainly the most influential figure in his life, John gave Jesus the focus on purity that, in one form or another, became an emblematic feature of his activity.

    Jesus did not simply meet his teacher in adulthood as a superficial reading of the gospels would suggest , but apprenticed himself to him as a youth. What Josephus does not say, but the gospels do attest Mark 6. Josephus also explains that this was merely the initial source of the enmity with Aretas, which was later exacerbated by a border dispute that preceded the outbreak of hostilities Saulnier proceeds on the basis that Josephus is better informed chrono- logically about Agrippa I than about another Herodian pp.

    Another con- sideration points in the same direction. Here, too, Josephus criticises Antipas, because the city was partially established on the site of tombs, and he complains elsewhere that the palace there incorporated idolatrous rep- resentations of animals, which Josephus himself undertook to destroy Life 64— Why, then, do we see Antipas in such an uncharacteristically tren- chant philo-Roman mode, flouting commandments of the Torah in a way that could only have alienated his subjects?

    More importantly, it allows time for Jesus to remain in the land of Judaea and practise immersion John 3. Although an attempt is made slightly later in the Gospel to take this assertion back John 4. Yet Jesus in the story of the Samaritan woman deals with her extensively John 4. A similar perspective is represented in a fragmentary saying of Jesus in The Gospel of Thomas l. Whatever one might say of his explanation, it seems better than what is offered in John 3. But any picture we might infer of easy, harmonious relations between John and Jesus is quickly upset in John 3.

    Was this unnamed Jew Jesus? That emendation of the text is frequently suggested, but there is no evidence in manuscripts to support it. Unfortunately, they do not speak of what precisely the argument over purification consisted of, nor of where John and Jesus stood within it. To this stage, not enough information has emerged to make it clear how John and Jesus might have fallen out over the issue of purification, but the fact of such a disagreement, difficult as it evidently is for the gospels to attest, seems plain.

    The consequences of each aspect of the crisis need now to be spelled out. But that is probably the result of a periodisation of their ministries, a treatment of the one and then the other as the key figures in separate epochs much as Peter and Paul are presented in Acts. When Herod later did react to Jesus with the threat of violence, the issue was his activity of healing, not baptism Mark 6. Most tellingly, Jesus stopped immersing people as his characteristic ac- tivity. Why that was the case remains one of the most obvious — and usually unanswered3 — questions in the critical study of the New Testament.

    Josephus does not even connect Jesus with John, although it might have suited his interests to have done so. After all, he is critical of both Pilate and Herod Antipas, so that linking their innocent victims would have been effective in rhetorical terms. Moreover, his theme in discussing John is the feeling among many Jews that Antipas was justly punished for what he did to John: to have mentioned the continuation of his activity by Jesus might have been useful.

    Nonetheless, there is an implicit connection between John and Jesus in the way that Josephus presents them and in the way in which he does not present them. Where John is described as a good man Ant. But in the case of John, Josephus explains how he became a threat to Herod Antipas. In the case of Jesus, he simply says that Pilate condemned him to be crucified on the accusation of prominent men. So desisting from immersion put Jesus in a different category from John in political terms, and to that extent afforded him some protection.

    The fact of his earlier connection with John, of course, could scarcely be hidden. Such was his teasing response to the question about his own authority see Mark Even aside from his overt reference to John, over time, remembrance of the connection to John would have featured in the opposition to Jesus. At the very least, desisting from immersion bought Jesus time before any confrontation with Herod. He is now no longer in the Jordan Valley, but in Galilee. By withdrawing from that region, Jesus puts space between himself and Herod.

    The shift from the wilderness to the village is obviously profound, in terms of mapping a field of purity. But in political terms, the villages provided camouflage for Jesus.

    Why does Jesus, a notably popular rabbi with a diverse following, generally stay away from cities? The results when Jesus actually did enter the one city he did — Jerusalem — were fatal. And Jesus was conscious of the opponent he was dealing with further north Luke Because Herod wants to kill you. And he said to them, You go, and say to that fox, Look, I put out demons and will send healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will be completed.

    Except that I must go today and tomorrow and the following day, because it is not acceptable that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem! There are several indications that we are dealing with primitive material here. The Pharisees are friendly, Antipas is particularly at issue, and the Lucan Jesus does not speak in his usual, precise way about how and when he is going to die.

    Instead, Jesus puts himself into the general category of prophets who will be killed as a result of their prophecy. And the only place for that was Jerusalem. This mealtime practice and activities associated with it in time both brought Jesus disciples and alienated his own family. The Galileans understood, both emotionally and intellectually, what these meals were saying. Their land was pure and acceptable to God. They were pure and forgiven. Honour, as explained in recent social-scientific work see e.

    They had to reciprocate by sending food or invit- ing the host family to eat with them. His claim to act on the basis of anointing by the spirit of God was seen as so arrogant that he was seriously threatened with stoning in Nazareth Luke 4. They commanded sufficient resources to be able to support Jesus as well as their own families, and yet kept a sufficient distance from the economic system of the Roman estates so as to enable Jesus to persist in his criticism of unjust mammon, as he said in Aramaic Luke This period saw Jesus taken into the home of Peter and his growing reputation as a healer Matt 4.

    He had been known as a visitor to the synagogue who exorcised unclean spirits Mark 1. Indeed, journeys outward from Capernaum were to some extent undertaken, the synoptic gospels indicate, to avoid the crush of sympathisers Mark 1. There are two main reasons for that. First, there was a confusion between the large group who followed Jesus around Galilee to learn his halakhah as thoroughly as they could, and the select twelve whom at a later stage Jesus delegated to speak and act on his behalf Matt Luke expands the select group to include seventy or seventy-two people [Luke The seventy could also represent the seventy elders chosen by Moses in Num A reasonable estimate is that twenty or thirty talmidim in the vicinity of Capernaum, some with wives and children, followed Jesus as best they could.

    The Cambridge Companion to the Qur'an seeks to remedy that situation. In a discerning summation of the field, Jane McAuliffe brings together an international team of scholars to explain its complexities. Comprising fourteen chapters, each devoted to a topic of central importance, the book is rich in historical, linguistic and literary detail, while also reflecting the influence of other disciplines.

    Creation of a fixed text. Alternative accounts of the Qurans formation. Themes and topics. Structural linguistic and literary features. Recitation and aesthetic reception. From palm leaves to the Internet. Inscriptions in art and architecture. The tasks and traditions of interpretation.

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