<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>The Historical Jesus Is the Halakic Jesus <p> <p> I. THE MULTIPLE DIFFICULTIES OF DEALING WITH JESUS AND THE LAW</b> <p> Now begins the hard part. As often happens in negotiations for a Mid-east peace accord or a labor union contract, the most difficult issues have purposely been left till last. At the end of Volume Three of <i>A Marginal Jew</i>, I listed, with a bow to Sir Edward Elgar's <i>Enigma Variations</i>, the four final enigmas that remained to be pondered in our quest for the historical Jesus. These four questions, which seem to pose intractable problems for any quester, are the riddle of Jesus and the Law, the riddle-speech of Jesus' parables, the riddle-speech of Jesus' self-designations (or "titles"), and the ultimate riddle of Jesus' death. Having examined in the second half of Volume Three the legal positions that distinguished the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes from one another and from Jesus, I think it logical to take up as the first enigma the question of Jesus and the Law. This will be the focus of Volume Four, while the other three enigmas will be treated in Volume Five. <p> Some scholars might immediately object that these four topics have been placed under the exegetical microscope so many times and have been analyzed to death in so many multivolume monographs that the last thing any one of them should be called is an enigma. Labels like "familiar old friends," "exegetical chestnuts," or the "not-this-again quartet" might describe them better than "enigmas." I beg to differ. Indeed, if anything, I must confess my naivet in thinking that these four huge enigmas could be treated adequately in one volume. By itself, the question of Jesus and the Law has consumed six years of research. I remember well how, when I told a learned Jewish colleague that I was beginning to write a volume focused on the Jewish Law around the time of Jesus, the professor replied: "Don't go in there; you'll never come out." Six years later, I emerge from Moses' (not Plato's) cave, perhaps wiser but certainly older. In any event, I come out convinced that, although I may not be right in my positions, every other book or article on the historical Jesus and the Law has been to a great degree wrong. This claim takes more than a little chutzpah to make, and many would object, la Qoheleth, that there is nothing new under the sun of Jesus research. Surely I must simply be repackaging one of the systematic answers peddled in the past. <p> After all, as my critics would point out, in the past century almost every position imaginable has been defended in the attempt to understand Jesus' position vis--vis the Mosaic Law. At one end of the spectrum, for instance, Jan Lambrecht declared categorically that "the historical Jesus was in reality both anti-Halachah and anti-Torah." In Lambrecht's view, Jesus was consciously critical of a whole range of commandments contained in the Law. In a similar vein, Werner Georg Kmmel maintained that Jesus' declaration that nothing entering a person can defile that person (Mark 7:15) demonstrates Jesus' sovereign attitude toward the Law and his fundamental rejection of its purity commandments. Pushing this view beyond the credible, Morton Smith claimed that Jesus was secretly a libertine who taught freedom from the Law to those he initiated by a nocturnal rite of baptism, while continuing to teach "legalistic material" to outsiders. <p> Not surprisingly, other groups of scholars have found the data in the Gospels more complex, not to say confusing. Hence they have eschewed the position that Jesus, in principle if not in practice, rejected the Law. Indeed, one need only survey the stories about Jesus and the Law in the Gospels as they stand, without even trying to sift the pericopes for historical data, to see the problem with any sweeping claim that Jesus opposed the Law. Most of the "dispute stories" (or <i>Streitgesprche</i>) in the Gospels present Jesus debating with other Jewish groups or individuals about the proper interpretation and practice of the Law, not about the basic obligation of faithful Israelites to obey the Law. The Law is God's gift to Israel. Consequently, its overall normative force is largely taken for granted in the Gospels, although a few texts, such as the abrogation of the food laws in Mark 7:15-19, run counter to this general tendency. To sweep away almost all the "legal material" in the Gospels as inauthentic or as not representing Jesus' truest intentions strikes one from the start as an unlikely, not to say a desperate, solution. <p> Mindful of the complexity of the Gospel data, many authors have struggled to explain Jesus' stance vis--vis the Law by claiming that there was some sort of dialectic or point-counterpoint inherent or implied in Jesus' teaching on the Law, whether this dialectic was consciously intended by Jesus or not. In effect, if not in intention, Jesus, while affirming various elements of the Law or even the Law as a whole, ultimately subverted the Law as a system of "legalistic" salvation. He thus paradoxically recaptured the ultimate thrust or intent of the Law: the radical doing of God's will by loving one's neighbor. In subverting, he fulfilled; in transcending, he distilled the essence. <p> More recently, a number of Christian scholars have rejected the idea that Jesus consciously or unconsciously, directly or dialectically, rejected the Law itself (an idea that has long been criticized by various Jewish scholars). For example, in his study on <i>Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah</i>, E. P. Sanders suggests that, as an experiment, we accept hypothetically that all the legal disputes in the Gospels come from the historical Jesus (a position Sanders does not really hold). Sanders maintains that, even when one accepts this hypothesis for the sake of argument, one finds nothing in Jesus' positions-apart from the question of food laws in Mark 7:15-19-that goes beyond the acceptable range of opinions held by 1st-century Jews. <p> If I were forced to choose <i>either</i> the old-time view that Jesus (intentionally or not) abolished the Law <i>or</i> Sanders's view that practically nothing in Jesus' teaching opposes or rescinds the Law itself, I would feel much more comfortable accepting Sanders's position. Yet I do not think that even Sanders's approach does full justice to the complexity of the data. Some individual items in Jesus' teaching on the Law (e.g., the prohibition of divorce or of all oaths) and some particular commands he addresses to individual followers (e.g., "let the dead bury their dead" in Matt 8:22 par.) do not fit so neatly into Sanders's picture of a historical Jesus who never opposes the Law or issues commands contrary to it. <p> Here we touch on the real enigma in Jesus' teaching on the Law: as will be argued at length in this volume, his approach seems to be neither total rejection of the Law, nor a dialectic that embraces yet in effect rejects the Law, nor a total affirmation of the Law that simply involves legitimate though debatable interpretations of individual practices. The real enigma is how Jesus can at one and the same time affirm the Law as the given, as the normative expression of God's will for Israel, and yet in a few individual cases or legal areas (e.g., divorce and oaths) teach and enjoin what is contrary to the Law, simply on his own authority. As so often with the historical Jesus, the different pieces of data seem, at first glance, to defy any systematization. As one struggles with this enigma-and, indeed, with the other enigmas as well-one must remain open to the possibility that not all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. At the very least, the pieces must not be forced to fit simply for the sake of satisfying the rational preferences of the modern interpreter. One begins to see, then, why Jesus and the Law is an enigma that invites further investigation but no easy solution. <p> Unfortunately, grappling with this enigma involves further complications. Even in "the old days," when "Jesus and the Law" often meant just confronting Gospel stories with OT precepts on the one hand and rabbinic interpretations on the other, the amount of comparative material to be canvassed was vast. Today, the Dead Sea Scrolls, notably the mass of fragmentary legal texts from Cave 4 at Qumran, have made the problem ever more complex. A treatment of Jesus and the Law that does not seriously engage the Dead Sea material is in essence flawed. Of necessity, and through no fault of the authors, this critique applies to all those treatments of the topic that were written before the Dead Sea discoveries. Moreover, if one adds to the Dead Sea legal material the revitalized study of Philo, Josephus, and what is called with distressing vagueness the OT Pseudepigrapha, the problem of locating Jesus' teaching on the Law in its proper historical context looms as almost insurmountable. Any number of past studies have in effect flattened out the multidimensional context of Jesus and the Law by not taking all these different contending backgrounds or matrices into consideration. <p> Compounding the enigma still further is today's more cautious approach to using later rabbinic texts to re-create the legal world of Palestinian Judaism in the early decades of the 1st century A.D. This is <i>not</i> to say that no rabbinic texts may be used. As a matter of fact, I employed a number of them in my reconstruction of the Pharisees in Volume Three. It is to say that such material must be used with the same historical-critical sensibility that is applied to other sources. After all, the whole rationale of the quest for the historical Jesus is that one may not without further ado cite a Christian Gospel written in A.D. 70 or 90 to establish what Jesus of Nazareth actually said or did in A.D. 28-30. Even though only forty years or so separate the ministry of the historical Jesus from Mark's Gospel (and perhaps from Q), the criteria of historicity must be judiciously applied to the sayings and deeds contained in Mark before one can with fair probability decide what does or does not go back to Jesus. <p> A fortiori, the material in the Mishna (composed ca. A.D. 200-220) and the Tosepta (redacted in the 3d century A.D.) cannot automatically be cited to illustrate legal practice at the time of Jesus. If I cannot assume, without detailed examination of the individual passage, that an introductory "Jesus said ..." in Mark's Gospel proves that the historical Jesus actually spoke the logion so introduced, then likewise I cannot presume that an introductory "Hillel says ..." in the Mishna guarantees that the historical Hillel made such a statement in the 1st century B.C. All claims about historicity, whether they involve the Gospels or the Mishna, must be supported by a critical investigation of the data, studied according to agreed-upon criteria of historicity. If this be true of the Mishna, then how much more is it true of the Babylonian Talmud, whose redaction takes place almost half a millennium after the time of Jesus? To be clear: this is not to rule out rabbinic parallels a priori. It is simply to require critical sifting of data and substantiation of claims. As Jacob Neusner has never tired of saying, "What you cannot show you do not know." <p> <p> <b>II. THREE VITAL DISTINCTIONS</b> <p> Even after considering all these obstacles to an adequate treatment of our topic, we still have not touched on what is perhaps the greatest reason for the inadequacy of much of the past research on the historical Jesus and the Law, especially by Christian scholars. I would claim that at the root of much of the befuddlement about this topic, there is a fundamental confusion about proper categories and methods. It is vital, as we begin our trek through Jesus and the Law in Volume Four, that we make three careful distinctions about our subject matter. Actually, as we shall see, these three distinctions are simply three ways of approaching and articulating one grand underlying distinction. <p> (1) The first important distinction scholars often fail to make is the distinction between christology and the quest for the historical Jesus. Both are valid academic endeavors, as are the theology and history departments that major research universities support and encourage as distinct components of the overall pursuit of knowledge. As a matter of fact, at various times, I have taught courses both on christology and on the historical Jesus at a number of American universities. <p> Obviously, the two endeavors are related, but I always begin my courses by insisting on a clear distinction between the two subjects. Christology is a subdivision of the academic discipline called theology-in Anselm's famous phrase, <i>fides quaerens intellectum</i>, "faith seeking understanding." Christology is therefore faith seeking understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the object of Christian faith. Christology operates within this sphere of Christian faith, however much it may probe and challenge aspects of that faith or traditional understandings of it. <p> By contrast, the quest for the historical Jesus is by definition a strictly historical endeavor. Of its nature, it prescinds from or brackets Christian faith. This does not mean that it denies, rejects, or attacks such faith. The quest simply prescinds from Christian faith in the way that a world-class astronomer who happens to be a believing Christian would prescind from a theology of God the Creator when she is examining the outer reaches of a galaxy. All this is simply a matter of functional specialization, to use a phrase beloved of Bernard Lonergan. To be sure, there is always the possibility of a critical correlation among various disciplines after each has done its own work according to its own proper method. But to attempt such a correlation prematurely would be to short-circuit the whole process and to violate the integrity and autonomy of each discipline. <p> Granted this distinction, what then do I mean by "the historical Jesus"? The historical Jesus is that Jesus whom we can recover or reconstruct by using the scientific tools of modern historical research as applied to ancient sources. Of its nature, the historical Jesus is a modern abstraction and construct. He is not coterminous with the full reality of Jesus of Nazareth, including everything Jesus of Nazareth ever said or did during the thirty-something years of his life. In other words, the historical Jesus is no more to be equated with the real Jesus than the historical Caligula is to be equated with the real Caligula-if I may cite a younger contemporary of Jesus with a somewhat different temperament. <p> Perhaps the common mistake of so much of the quest for the historical Jesus in the last two centuries was that it was not a truly historical quest at all. More often than not, it was an attempt at a more modern form of christology masquerading as a historical quest. At times, it might try to use the historical Jesus to overturn the "mistake called Christianity"-to quote the stated aim of one member of the American Jesus Seminar. More frequently, it was used to re-articulate christology in more contemporary and scientific modes-think, for instance, of Joachim Jeremias or Ben Meyer. In my opinion, there is certainly a place for a Christology that is historically informed, that seeks to absorb and integrate the quest for the historical Jesus into its understanding of the faith. But such a christology, however laudable, must be carefully distinguished from the historical quest itself-something that is rarely done in a systematic fashion. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>A MARGINAL JEW</b> by <b>John P. Meier</b> Copyright © 2009 by John P. Meier. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.