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Are the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) historical?


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Initial post: Feb 21, 2008, 1:23:51 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 3, 2008, 9:01:52 AM PST
Before proceeding, allow me to apologize to readers regarding the length of this post. I have tried to condense the material as much as possible, but the scope of the subject matter is extensive, and requires substantial time and space to develop.

Late in a previous forum thread (Subject: Were the writers of the gospels sincere?), the discussion turned to another related question dealing with whether or not the gospels were historical. Lee Freeman capably defended his position that, to quote him: "The NT authors recorded real facts that really happened." I, on the other hand, took the position that the Synoptic Gospels (the Gospels According to Mark, Matthew and Luke) were written by theologians for theological purposes, though I deny neither Jesus' historicity nor his crucifixion.

Lee correctly pointed out that our earliest known tradition regarding Jesus' life story is found in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthian church, which contains the first reference to what has become known as the Passion Narrative. However, Paul's epistle itself contains no narration. Instead, Paul, in 1 Cor 15.3 briefly lists three objects of belief, which he says are "of first importance", bound to one another by the word (in English) "that":

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures

that he was buried

that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

What is interesting about Paul's succinct and non-narrative phraseology is that, of the three "that" phrases used, two contain the qualifier "according to the Scriptures". In other words, the "things of first importance" are said to be written "in accordance with the Scriptures", meaning the Old Testament. But, how exactly they are "in accord" with the Scriptures is not explained. We will consider that now.

To begin, we turn away from Paul's epistle, and towards the first (chronologically speaking) gospel to have been written...the Gospel According to Mark. The earliest known narrated tradition about the life of Jesus is found at Mark 14.17, ("When it was evening..."). This "when it was evening" marks the first of a series of very special events detailed in Mark's telling about the tradition regarding the last day of Jesus' life on earth:

1. Jesus and the disciples partake of their Last Supper.
2. Jesus and disciples go to Gethsemane.
3. Jesus is arrested.
4. Peter denies Jesus during the Jewish trial.
5. Jesus is brought before Pilate.
6. Jesus is crucified.
7. Darkness comes over the earth.
8. Jesus dies.
9. Jesus is removed from the cross and buried.

Interestingly, if one reads the Markan text carefully, something rather curious is observed. All the events described take place in precise three-hour intervals.

Jesus and the disciples partake of their Last Supper at 6:00 p.m.
Jesus and disciples go to Gethsemane at 9:00 p.m.
Jesus is arrested at 12:00 midnight.
Peter denies Jesus during the Jewish trial by 3:00 a.m.
Jesus is brought before Pilate at 6:00 a.m.
Jesus is crucified at 9:00 a.m.
Darkness comes over the earth at 12:00 noon.
Jesus dies at 3:00 p.m.
Jesus is removed from the cross and buried before evening...6:00 p.m.

For most of us, life's events do not take place in precise 3-hour time intervals. This suggests that, by stressing not only the events themselves, but also their precise timing, perhaps the author of GMk had something other than an historical and biographical treatise in mind when he composed his work. But what?

Scholars generally agree that the Gospel According to Mark was written around 70 CE, a time when the Jews (historically) saw both their Jerusalem Temple, the central place of their animal sacrifices, as well as their leader, Jesus, terminated by the Romans. They also found themselves exiled from Jerusalem, just as their ancestors had been exiled to Babylon some six centuries earlier. Their community disrupted, they were in immediate need of stability and familiarity, which they found, just as previous generations before them had found, in "the Scriptures".

However, the Jewish followers of Jesus had a particularly pressing problem. Their new faith required that they move, scripturally speaking, away from their former hero (Moses) whom the Old Testament testifies to as having delivered his followers from the past domination of the Egyptians, towards a new hero (Jesus) whom they believed would deliver them from their present Roman domination. They needed:

1. A new testament to revere their new hero, just as the old testament revered their former hero.
2. An explanation for how it could have been that their "Messiah" would have been put to death by crucifixion, an event that no Jew had ever predicted based on "the Scriptures".
3. Some way to deflect the embarrassing perception among the Romans that Jesus was no better than a common criminal.
4. Some way to tie traditional events together in a way that was both meaningful and in alignment with the theological speculations of Paul.

Most established religions observe a yearly cycle of ritual and celebration, which mark special events in their sacred past. The Jews were no exception. Ever since the Babylonian exile, the Jews observed an annual liturgical cycle wherein they would, through their Sabbath observances, call to memory and extract meaning from the stories presented in Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. They would observe, according to a secondary fixed schedule, various festival events commemorating key moments described in their received traditions.

Our earliest records indicate that shortly after Jesus' crucifixion and precisely at the same time that traditional Jews were consuming their sacrificed "paschal lambs" for Passover (Pesach), Jewish Christians began conducting an observance wherein they ritualistically consumed the body of Christ. The ritualistic consumption of the Lamb of God (Jesus) thus replaced the consumption of paschal lamb of traditional Judaism for earliest Jewish Christian communities. But, did Jewish Christians partake of the "Lamb of God", then immediately go on their way like we moderns would order fast food? Not likely. More likely, a comprehensive ritual began at 6:00 p.m. on what modern Christians call Maundy Thursday and ended at 6:00 p.m. on what modern Christians call Good Friday. Whereas we moderns uncritically tend to read Mark's version of Jesus' last day on earth as, to use Raymond Brown's caricature, "history remembered", further study suggests that what we may actually be reading is the narrative of an early passion play. In other words we might be reading the script of an annually-observed 24-hour vigil which afforded early Jewish Christians the opportunity to experience and actually participate in a re-creation of that tradition which, to use Paul's phraseology, was "passed on" to them.

But, the skeptic may rightfully ask, what evidence is there to lead us to conclude that the narrative, rather than being recitations of history remembered, are actually a narrative framework of a religious ritual? The answer to this question comes when we locate the narrative sequence within context of the Gospel in its entirety, and what further study reveals about the Gospel itself within the context of "the Scriptures" in general.

One of the earliest copies of GMk in existence is the Codex Alexandrinus. This early 5th Century codex is actually broken down into 49 numbered and titled sections. Upon close examination, we find that the lesson themes taught in each of the 49 numbered and titled sections of the Codex align perfectly with the lesson themes taught in the first 49 Torah readings, ordered according to the traditional Jewish liturgical cycle. Though the characters and circumstances of the Christian and Jewish teachings differ, thematically, they are the same. So, for example, while the Book of Deuteronomy was taught over a period of twelve weeks when traditional Jews learned about their place within the Jewish community, Jewish Christians would be studying their place within the Jewish Christian community as taught by Jesus to his disciples on their journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. And so on and so on we go...49 liturgical weeks...49 identical lesson themes, though articulated in different locations and with a different cast of characters.

For centuries, commentators have noted how the story line in GMk seems to end abruptly. However, we now recognize that GMk also ends abruptly under a newly discovered paradigm wherein the Gospel According to Mark appears to be a series of lections (readings in a church service) patterned "according to the Scriptures"...the Torah...the template. This abruptness was almost certainly realized by the author of the Gospel According to Matthew, the second gospel (chronologically) to have been written. We know this because, looking closely, we find that those themes that are sequentially covered in the Torah according to the Jewish liturgical cycle, but are not covered in GMk, are indeed covered in the Gospel according to Matthew. GMt, rather than 49 sections, can be broken down into 69 sections, with the 20 additional sections precisely representing the remaining Torah lessons that GMk fails to cover, and also the Jewish festivals. In other words, GMt "completes" GMk. The Gospels according to Matthew and Luke contain the same liturgical pattern as GMk, but the former sometimes differ based on how the oral traditions had been independently understood by their authors. Thus we find that, while the synoptic gospels all follow the same liturgical pattern, they differ somewhat in their details. Even so, when we note how the lessons of Torah are reinterpreted week by week, theme by theme and festival by festival according to new Jewish Christian's religious beliefs, we must seriously consider that while the Synoptic Gospels do indeed relate early Christian traditions "according to the Scriptures", they do so in a liturgical rather than an historical sense.

Still, the skeptic might rightfully take the position that, even though there is a definite and specific pattern found in the gospel narratives, leading us to speculate that their "order" may not be historical, it is still possible that the events described in the Synoptic Gospels did actually happen. This is indeed a possibility. But is there an explanation, other than "history remembered" for how the stories describing the events found in the Synoptic Gospels might have originated? Indeed there is.

Within Judaism, there is a genre of literature called "midrash". Midrash is a literary process whereby new stories are invented that reinterpret famous stories of the past into a more contemporary setting. The purpose of this type of literature is to relate important lessons of the past, but within the context of contemporary events, locations and personalities. The purpose of this type of literature is not to record historical events. Midrashic stories characteristically describe events for which there is little or no historical evidence, but for which there are scriptural precedents. Scholars have located more than forty such Old Testament precedents correlating to events described in the Gospel According to Mark. More still are found for the Gospel According to Matthew and even more for the Gospel According to Luke.

We must admit that it is possible that the events described in GMk's passion narrative not only actually happened, but happened in precise three hour intervals. And it is possible that the ordering of the teaching themes in the Synoptic Gospels just happen match the ordering of the teaching themes of the Torah according to the traditional Jewish liturgical cycle. And it is possible that ritual observances in the Jewish Christianity just happened to align with earlier ritual observances of the traditional Jewish Festival calendar. And it is possible that the Synoptic Gospel events are historical, but that they just happen to reinterpret identifiable Old Testament stories into First Century settings.

But there is an alternative explanation. It is that the earliest Christians, all of whom were Jews, rather than recording elements of "history remembered", actually reinterpreted traditional Jewish liturgical cycles, festival cycles and stories to become new and more meaningful liturgical cycles, festival cycles and stories, according to their new community beliefs, their new leader and, as Paul attests, "according to the Scriptures".

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2008, 2:44:31 PM PST
A customer says:
Fantastic post, and it leaves so much information to cover, we may end up using many pages!

My first observation is the three-hour purpose.
Ancient Egyptians divided their days into three-hour intervals. Now, I am not saying that this was the only intent of this particular passage, only that, once understood, it gives a new perspective to what follows in the text.

Secondly, Charles, if I understood you, you make the presumption that the Synoptic Gospels were written strictly for theist principles. Although I agree that this is a large part of the case, there are other aspects to consider.
First, allow me to explain the comparative I base this on.

ANALYSIS OF SYNOPTIC GOSPELS

Total Verses in each

Mark- ------------678

Matthew--------1071

Luke ------------1151

[John] -----------879

Now, let's examine the parallels:

With Parallels:--------------------Without Parallels:

Mark--------------662----------------16

Matthew---------999----------------172

Luke -------------675----------------476

[John]------------175----------------704

The analysis shows the basic degree in which Mark served as the basis for the other two; Matthew and Luke. This also shows the extent that both Matthew and Luke drew their text from themselves or other sources.

During this time, "Biblical" and other Church writings brought good money, and the elite were constantly purchasing the `latest' new writings. It was a sign of opulence and wealth, an indication of the literate vs non-literate. (See Ovid)

Many of these Gospels, and most likely the remnants of some we have today, were what we in this age were "manufactured" for money, or at the behest of wealthy families.

There are many more observations to make, but this is a fairly good start.
Thank you for the post.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2008, 3:30:05 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 21, 2008, 3:33:53 PM PST
Tero says:
I'm a little confused by the analysis of the Jews of the time. I had assumed a very small part of them in Jerusalem, after all not home ground for Jesus, were followers. Most Jews, after Jesus, remained traditional Jews.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2008, 3:41:22 PM PST
Hi Tero,

Most first century Jews, after Jesus, did indeed remain traditional Jews. So, you are completely correct on your second point. I did not intend my post to imply otherwise.

On your first point, you are also correct. However, since so much of my post dealt with the passion narrative and its locale, perhaps I also unintentionally implied that the Jews were localized solely in Jerusalem. Not so. Sorry for the confusion.

CR

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2008, 3:42:29 PM PST
A customer says:
Tero,

Yes, I agree. There are many questions that scholars today seem to have fudged in answer.
One of these was, "Was Jesus a Jew"?
Lately, there has been a scholarly change in attitude, yet, the only way to account for the disparity of Mary and Joseph having to go to Bethlehem was to be counted in a census. this would, according to the times, have made them Jewish. However, there are many varying accounts, which have them portrayed as many other things.
One of these is the Egypt references.
I am not well versed enough in this aspect to give a logical, definitive answer, but perhaps someone else could help us?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2008, 3:53:06 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 21, 2008, 3:56:15 PM PST
Tero says:
Hmm, if Jesus was born in Nazareth instead, would he still be a Jew? I believe so. I lean toward that birthplace. Bethlehem was written in to fulfill prophecy.

http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmaswwjb.htm
there
"...that Bethlehem in Judea did not exist as a functioning town between 7 and 4 BCE when Jesus is believed to have been born. Archaeological studies of the town have turned up a great deal of ancient Iron Age material from 1200 to 550 BCE 2 and material from the sixth century CE, but nothing from the 1st century BCE and 1st century CE. " and lower down
"I first learned of a Galilean Bethlehem, near Nazareth, from an obscure study of the Talmud published during the nineteenth century. I was surprised by the dearth of discussion of this place in New Testament studies as the possible site of Jesus' birth, especially since a northern Bethlehem is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Joshua 19:15)...." (Bruce Chilton)

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2008, 4:21:12 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 22, 2008, 12:37:09 PM PST
A customer says:
Tero,

Excellent! You are beginning to unravel the myth!
Now, continue on the same thought and realize that the word Beth-el, in Hebrew, means; HOUSE.
And,,,,there was a star,,,,and,,,,,,,,,?

Are we going there?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2008, 4:23:01 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 21, 2008, 5:33:15 PM PST
Tero says:
I am little rusty on my Hebrew, you try.

But back to Bethlehem, the OT references are vague, and in the NT only in Luke is the clear definition and location in Judea given:
http://lexicorient.com/e.o/bethlehem.htm

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2008, 5:30:36 PM PST
FashionSense says:
Charles Roland

You say that time doesn't happen in three hour intervals.
Oh, but it does if you are God.

Crucifixions were commonplace at the time of Jesus. The usual amount of time that a person hung on a cross was usually 12 hours. In the Bible, there is a verse in the New Testament that states how God was angry with this and refused to figure that Jesus should do this, so he said "I will only allow for it to be 6 hours."
Also a 6 hour period could possibly be brought on by the fact that that previous night when he was arrested after the second time he got no sleep, no food, and at that time people who were crucified had to build their own cross and then carry to the place of crucifixion.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 22, 2008, 10:38:32 AM PST
Hi FashionSense,

Please remember that my primary argument is that whatever verses you might choose to quote are not historical to begin with. So wouldn't it make more sense to prove my primary premise wrong before you start quoting verses?

CR

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 22, 2008, 12:49:32 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 22, 2008, 12:51:44 PM PST
A customer says:
Tero,

What I was trying to explain, (and I apologize, as I try to skip from post to post, I sometimes lose my own thoughts, so how can someone else follow!)
is that it is very possible, taken within the context of the NT, that Bethlehem was not a place, but rather a time.
Beth-El, House, (of God) 'hem' bread, could have very easily meant that Jesus was born during this 'constellation' or house, at the time of 'bread' or even in the 'place of bread'.
This is one of so many problems with the NT. Since we have little if any of the first texts, and we know so little about inflection, idiom and usage of the times, it is very difficult to make a reasoned judgement on any of the exact meanings. Instead, in my opinion, they should be taken and understood as an overall work, with little word for word literal meaning implied.
If, as I have stated above ,the 'Bethlehem' reference was a 'time marked in the heavens', then the dichotomy of these passages makes sense. It is only when we try to translate both as 'places' that we run into problems.
Just a thought, however, it is the most logical of the interpretations.

Aside; Only the Sermon on the Mount, (Mark 8-16) which is fairly well represented in the other two Synoptic Gospels should be taken as somewhat accurate, since this is the only passage that has not been changed with severe contradictions in the other two gospels. (Matthew and Luke.)

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 22, 2008, 4:30:37 PM PST
FashionSense says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 22, 2008, 5:24:33 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 22, 2008, 6:27:54 PM PST
Tero says:
The sermon is a bit long.These may have been sayings accredited to Jesus, but they would be easier to memorize as one sermon. It is unlikely there was a scribe there, and few have such memories as to write it down later word for word. Jesus never dictated any letters, writing is not mentioned much. It was an oral mission.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 23, 2008, 4:08:07 AM PST
FashionSense

Thank you. I will look forward to your comments on my primary argument. Meanwhile, I will simply point out the obvious, which is that the Bible seems to be used as a reference book by theologians, those whose job it is to preserve and defend the traditions which it presents, but is seldom used as a reference book by historians, whose job it is to establish, with the greatest degree of probability, what really happened.

CR

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2008, 9:07:12 AM PST
FashionSense says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2008, 12:58:19 PM PST
Spencer says:
You're kidding, right?

How exactly do you think the Bible is a historical book? For instance, if the book of Matthew was historically accurate, why is the rising of the saints only reported by him, and can't be found anywhere else in history? If true, don't you think there would be other sources to describe this miraculous event?

The day that the Bible is taken in the same vein as other works of history, is the day that mankind had completely lost its mind.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2008, 1:39:13 PM PST
emac says:
CR says "Paul's epistle itself contains no narration. Instead, Paul, in 1 Cor 15.3 briefly lists three objects of belief, which he says are "of first importance", bound to one another by the word (in English) "that": that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures"

Another interesting point is that Paul is not alone in the lack of narration regarding the Gospel story. I am pretty sure that one would not find such a narration in any of the other NT letters either (i.e. Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 1-3 John, etc)--until you get to the Pastorials and 2 Peter. The problem with these letters is that they were probably not written by either Paul or Peter--at least the evidence seems to tilt away from such authorship, for the Pastorials were not cited until the late second century and 2 Peter was not cited until the early third century.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2008, 7:55:11 PM PST
'probabilist says:
Lots of food for thought in your original post, CR.

Can you suggest any books for further reading?

Thanks!

P

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2008, 9:03:48 PM PST
Yes indeed, a provocative initial post. I think it is plausible and worth inquiry. Whether or not it can be more than speculation, I doubt, can be determined until further study by others is done.

As to historiocity and theology. The Bible is formost a work of theological art, a creative construction over a thousand or more years, with a foundation in both history and lore.

Take a history of say, Lincoln. Historian A's purpose may be to sketch in the highlights of Lincoln's presidency; historian B's intent maybe to take those highlights and also some more indepth look at his work with his cabinet and the struggles there; historian C, working with the same materials may want to add an exploration of the lead in to the Emancipation Proclamation and D instead wants to explore Lincoln's psychology during the war years. There is sure to be material common to all four but there will be additions dependent on the historian's purpose, even some disagreement on chronology if that is unclear and even some reordering if necessary to amplify theme, i.e. some discussing one later event prior to another (as long, in this case, as this is clear in the test.)

And of course, here, we are dealing with history + theological interest. This is fundamentally a religious undertaking and any history will be seen in that light. This is history with a transcendent meaning.

How much real history is in the Bible is obviously problematical. Oral tradition in oral societies can be quite accurate. Caesar said it took 20 years for a Gaul to become a full druid, because everything had to be memorized accurately. At the same time, the ancients didn't interpret history as we do, nor did they have the standards of proof we do. They had tools few, if any, historians use today. But they had tools very akin to those of literary art: motifs, symbols, subtext, elements of rhetoric, foreshadowing, reitteration of events, structural similarities for different events among others.

Myth may or may not have factual historical elements. The truth of myth lies in its poetic expression of truths that cannot be gotten by way of scientific observation.

Sorry to be so long winded. It's late and my brain is dragging.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2008, 8:00:14 PM PST
emac says:
AR --What is the cite for your graph?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 27, 2008, 10:16:15 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 27, 2008, 10:17:39 AM PST
Hi probabilist.

Sure!

Philip Carrington, The Primitive Christian Calendar: A Study in the Making of
the Marcan Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952).

Michael Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew (London: SPCK, 1974)

Michael Goulder, The Evangelists' Calendar (London: SPCK, 1978).

Etienne Trocme, The Passion as Liturgy: A Study in the Origin of the Passion
Narratives in the Four Gospels (London: SCM, 1983)

Mark Goodacre, Goulder and the Gospels: An Examination of a New Paradigm (JSNTSup, 133; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), Part 3.

Judith H. Newman, Praying by the Book: The Scripturalization of Prayer in the Second Temple Period (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999)

Best wishes!

CR

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 27, 2008, 10:26:22 AM PST
'probabilist says:
Thanks!

P

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2008, 9:32:27 AM PST
Ladybug says:
Charles-

I find your original post extremely intriguing. I dabbled a little with scripture in college, and in my hometown we have an excellent seminar annually to try to stay updated on some aspect of modern scripture scholarship. And yet, I've never heard this idea so expanded. My professor in school indicated to us, and it's obvious at times, that parts of scripture, both OT and NT, are obviously liturgies and rituals. But I'd never heard the idea that the whole GMk could be construed that way. I find it extremely credible. I'm going to be looking at those books you posted in an earlier post.

I have a question about your original post. You indicated that the purpose of this is that one person says that the gospels are historically correct and another says they were written for theological purposes.

Are you suggesting that they are somewhere in between? Not that the gospels are historical accounts of the life of Jesus, but rather that they might actually capture the "cultural" (for want of a better word) experience of religious practice at that time? So they are probably a good historical picture of the way Christians worshiped and reveal the meaning, the theology, of their practices?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2008, 12:19:09 PM PST
Hi M. Husted:

I think it's fair to say that you will not find the cited texts in many local Christian bookstores or on the library shelves of many American seminaries. The idea of gospels as liturgy is still largely unknown, even in scholarly circles.

Basing his work on the earlier work of Philip Carrington (former Archbishop of Quebec), Michael D. Goulder (University of Birmingham, United Kingdom) became the first outspoken proponent of the theory of the synoptic gospels as liturgy. Not surprisingly, his work in the 1970's was ridiculed by traditionalists. Noting the lack of success of the traditionalist's original counter-arguments, those few traditionalists who today happen to even know about Goulder's work seem to have adopted the strategy of just wishing it would go away, since no one seems to be mounting a challenge.

In the popular arena, Goulder's work has been popularized by John Spong (retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark). In the scholarly arena, Goulder's arguments have been carried forward, critiqued and refined by Mark Goodacre, a former student of Goulder at the University of Birmingham and presently Associate Professor in New Testament at the Department of Religion, Duke University, North Carolina.

Regarding my comment about historical versus theological, I probably should have been more specific. I should have probably said historical versus midrashic, though perhaps some readers would not have known (or cared about) what midrash actually is.

As to your final question "cultural experience" is perhaps rather broad and hard to pin down. And, to be honest, when writing my original post, I tried to refrain from characterizations because I knew that in a forum environment, generalizations sometimes can lead to irrelevant commentary. So, I simply identified what the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus needed to do (regain stability and familiarity through the development of new scriptures), identified the tool (midrash) that could accomplish that goal, and identified the evidence (the Torah and Gospel texts themselves) that lead to the conclusion that midrash is the tool they used.

I hope this helps.

CR

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2008, 12:48:57 PM PST
Ladybug says:
Charles-

Interestingly, the professor that I mentioned in my first posting was once invited by my little church community to be the guest homilist. The guest homilist typically reads the gospel of the day. That particular day, the gospel was from John, I believe chapter 8(?), where Jesus confronts the crowd that's about to stone the adulteress, and then confronts the adulteress herself. My professor ACTED OUT that story, actually walking away from the podium and miming writing in the dirt. In the homily, he presented the idea that gospels are meant to be enactments and they are meant to be liturgy.

Also, on Holy Thursday (aka Maundy Thursday) our celebrant and all of us "act out" the gospel. On various Sundays during Lent, our community presents the gospel readings with a narrator and different people reading the different character's dialogues. This past Sunday, for example, we read the story, again from John, where Jesus confronts the woman at the well (the Living Water story). This has the feeling very close to enactment.

Our celebrant and homilist in our community often takes time during the homily to demonstrate for us how the Eucharistic Prayer is directly tied to the scripture readings of the day. When appropriate, he will pause and add emphasis to what we have heard for years as rote prayer, to connect it to the scripture.

I know this might not be a "mainstream" treatment of scripture, but it's a very common experience in our church, and not treated as an experimental or extraordinary treatment of the gospel. I'm not saying this is evidence that Goulder's ideas are being incorporated into modern liturgical practice, and even if it did, that wouldn't be significant to your point.

What I think is that perhaps Goulder's ideas are already incorporated into some modern liturgy anyway, so it didn't seem new to the hierarchy of some churches. And I'm also suggesting that Goulder's ideas are not entirely disregarded by scripture scholars. My professor got his doctorate at the University of Louvain, and I'm sure he got his own liturgical sense of scripture there.

I see your point about "cultural experience." Please excuse me for getting so excited by the ideas you presented that I used very weak terminology. I've been studying the history of liturgy for about 6 months now, and I'm often discouraged by the dearth of literature that tracks the history of the development of the modern liturgy. It appears that the early Christians just did it, but didn't record exactly how they decided to "do" liturgy/ritual. What I had intended to suggest, and did poorly, was that perhaps some sense of the earliest development of Christian liturgy is indeed recorded in the scriptures, if you read between the lines. It's obvious that the scriptures were recording the development of the theology, especially Paul, of course, but I had never considered that SOME of the earliest forms of liturgy might also be, in a sense, preserved in the gospels.

While I was doing my scripture courses, I did a thesis paper comparing midrash to the epistles. To me, the idea that the New Testament is composed of a good deal of midrash is not a surprising idea.

I'm sorry. I know this is not the direction you've intended for this thread to go, and I feel like I'm distracting you. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my last post.
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