Once again on the historical Jesus: who is deciding Jewish identity?
Mike has briefly discussed a new work edited by Hays and Gaventa on Jesus and identities. I can't deal with that book here but I can deal with the use in Mike's final redaction of his blog entry. Mike liked this quote about the Jesus Seminar: "This portrait was of a strikingly non-Jewish Jesus, a laconic wandering sage who loved witty aphorisms but had no interest in Israel's heritage or destiny, and no interest in leading a new religious movement" (p. 2). Mike added, 'Amen!'
I've said before (and in Jesus in an Age of Terror, chs 4-5; see also esp. Arnal, Symbolic Jesus), that this imposes a view of Jewish identity on Jews. If we follow this logic to its conclusion it means that if someone born Jewish in the ancient world decided to not bother with 'Israel's heritage or destiny' then they somehow ceased to be Jewish (whether they liked it or not presumably). It also implies that someone who was 'a laconic wandering sage who loved witty aphorisms' somehow could not be a Jewish person even if born Jewish! I think this is a not-very-helpful view of identity, goes against much of what has been written in contemporary academic discussion of identity and is reflective of some very old fashioned (and even essentialist?) views of identity. The question might be raised: who is deciding who can be Jewish here?
And do the Jesus Seminar really deny Jesus was Jewish, something which would be spectacularly controversial? No. Crossan's book even calls Jesus a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.
Mike also points to the 'convergences between the various contributors: (1) Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew'. But is this anything remotely surprising? Who would deny this? Is there anyone since the Nazi scholars who denies Jesus was Jewish (a point well discussed by Arnal)? Is saying Jesus was a Jew now as obvious as saying 'we all agree that Jesus had a head'? Probably, so why the emphasis...?
I think there are social, political, ideological etc reasons for this strange emphasis on the obvious (Jesus was Jewish) in the past 30 or so years...see Arnal, Symbolic Jesus; Crossley, Jesus in an Age of Terror. I also think that in historical Jesus scholarship the construction of Jewish identity is frequently patronising and usually designed to make Jesus 'better' than what is, ultimately, little more than a scholarly construction. But that's another story...
Mike also adds, 'The Identity of Jesus Project at CTI, in contrast to the Jesus Seminar, came to believe that: "Jesus is best understood not by separting him from canon and creed but by investigating the ways in which the church's canon and creed provide the distinctive clarification of his identity. The church's ancient ecumenical creeds are not artificial impositions of Scripture but interpretative summaries of the biblical narratives. Therefore, they offer us an overarching sense of the meaning of the whole Bible, and of Jesus' place within that story" (p. 5).'
I ask this to Mike: given the contrast with the Jesus Seminar, is that a Jewish Jesus then...?