Response to Jim West
Jim West has been reviewing Why Christianity Happened (not to mention making wild accusations involving me going to WWE wrestling) and I've caught up with things and can now respond.
Jim mentions Josephus can be a very shaky source and I quite agree. What I would say in response though is that I think he is a useful source in a kind of multiple attestation way. In other words, if the social scientific, gospel traditions and other bits and pieces cohere with Josephus too then we may be on to something. That's how I would use Josephus.
Jim makes some criticisms on the issue of the sinners:
"That said, I still have to wonder if his definition of “sinners” is on target. To be sure, sinners were prone to mislead and they certainly did live outside the covenant. But, I admit, the range of ideas crouching behind the concept of “sin” and “sinners” is much broader than those two definitions would lead us to imagine. Indeed, one of the primary ideas underlying the OT concept of sin is “conciousness of guilt” or “condition of guilt”. חטּא carries the notion of “fault”. A fault or a shortcoming or a failing in need of correction is something different than a simple or mere “misleading” or “living beyond the covenant”. In other words, I think James focuses on the external manifestation of “sin” rather than on the internal reality of sin and its effects in the persons afflicted of it. The outer working of “sin” as the propensity to mislead folk or to live outside the boundaries of the covenant is indeed one aspect of the reality of sin. But similarly the inner reality of sin’s corrupting power which leads to those outer manifestations also needs empasis."
While there are overlaps, I think Jim is raising another issue. I wanted to focus on the definition of the term 'the sinners' in early Judaism and the gospels. It has to be that narrow because that is how they are simply described in the gospels. I don't think going along Jim's lines would have added anything to the broad explanation. What I really wanted to know was who were these people and why were they called 'the sinners'. The idea of beyond the covenant is important but I would add that there is a key socio-economic side to all this, which was perhaps the major part of all the word searching, and I wanted to stress to because I think this helps link the economic reasons fro the rise of the Jesus movement in Galilee with subsequent Christianity. And so the the answer to Jim's next point is actually 'yes'.
I’m not yet sure if James’ focus on sin as external act will have any bearing on the chapters which follow. I suspect that it won’t. But if part of his argument hinges on the mere or simple external manifestation of sin without taking into account its internal reality and motivating power, then his point may be weakened a bit.
A bit more in the next few days on the next chapter. Number 4. If I’ve counted correctly.
On a final note I laid the smackdown on the person I know leaked the story that me and another member of Sheffield Biblical Studies were at a wrestling event.