So a new Jesus movie is opening this weekend on 3,000 screens. And Christians of many (conservative) stripes are thrilled about it. I hear rumblings about peoples lives being changed by seeing the film. Mega churches are renting out stadiums for church members to bring their unsaved friends. As if no one in the U.S. has heard or seen this hackneyed presentation of Christianity. Jesus, a white dudebro with great hair and teeth and stands up to the evil dark skinned Jews. We love us some White Savior with great teeth.
News flash: we have heard this story and this understanding of Jesus has little (if any) use for us today. This Jesus has been roundly rejected in the Global North. Not because we are godless pagans (though some of us are) but because the questions of the movie are fundamentally irrelevant to our daily being and doing. Yes, christological debates were huge among the elite in the third and fourth centuries. Today? Not so much. I am daily confronted with the impotence of the church when it comes to the great horrors of our time, especially poverty and inequality rooted in various forms of discrimination. I will spare you the litany. And yet here we find churches expending considerable time, energy, and money… to basically line the pockets of Hollywood bigs. Sheep indeed. Forming new sheep.
A few other (minorish) beefs:
- British accents! WTF??? (Also, WTF with only the bad guys having British teeth?)
- Written and directed by people with NO theological training. But Roma Downey did play an angel in a TV series with HORRIBLY SHITTY theology.
- The mishmash of all the Gospels into a single story… Doesn’t anyone listen to Irenaeus anymore? (Maybe that is not such a bad thing…)
Thanks to @danielsilliman for his post on the marketing of the film and the many links therein. The vitriol and frustration are my own. Which is perhaps a topic for exploration later.
This morning on Twitter @Hope Jahren cleverly tweeted, “‘The poor will always be with us’ — said no poor person evar [sic].” I quickly dashed off a considerably less clever (though is seemed more so at the time), “‘Cept Jesus.” But then I got to thinking…
As I expressed earlier, I am not so confident that the Gospels always give us a reliable picture of Jesus. This particular saying, one that if I had my way would not be in our sacred text, is recorded in three of the Gospels: Mark 14:7, Matthew 26:11, and John 12:8 (Luke, as perhaps would be expected, omits the saying). I get that the conclusion of the saying is an exhortation to give when one “wishes” (a wholly unsatisfying suggestion). I also understand that this can be read as an allusion to Deuteronomy 15:4-11 which clearly states that there shall be no poor among the Israelites and gives specific commands about taking care of those who are. There is also the happy liberation read of the text, which I blogged about in my former life when I was an anti-hunger educator: the verse is best understood as a command to always be with those who are poor, i.e., walking alongside and working with them as they seek justice.
All this said, I am still unsatisfied with the thrust of the text and Hope is right to ask if a poor person would ever say such a thing. Are our Gospels so removed from Jesus’ experience as a poor person on the margins that they could imagine him saying something no poor person would ever say?
I am preparing the syllabus for my Spring course, “Jesus the Jew, Jesus the Christ.” The title and course description (which were assigned to me but I like) provide a direction for the course that suggests an exploration of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The tricky part for me is that I question our ability to say much about Jesus historically. The Gospels are proclamation (John 20:30-31 is clearest about this). Even Luke, with his claims to history (see e.g., Luke 1:1-4), is writing a very different type of history than we write today. In short, I am not sure if we can recover a historical Jesus that is anything more than either a personal projection (Schweitzer’s famous well that all historians look down) or an affirmation of communal claims. I am not satisfied calling either of these historical; both are Christs of faith (or in some cases, unfaith).
Here’s the rub: The Gospels are documents of a faith community and reflect well the interests and needs of later communities. I can only access Mark’s and Matthew’s and Luke’s and John’s Christ. Since the Gospels are not historically reliable for me, how then shall I teach the “Jesus the Jew” portion of the course? What suggestions do you, wise reader, have to offer? I look forward to the conversation!
Hello blog! Long time, no see. Getting started early on my resolution to blog more often. That way I can blow it sooner in the new year. Anyhow, I’ve been doing a bit of work with the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (learn more about it here) and I am left with a few questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have any.
1) Since doubts about the authenticity of the fragment were raised, publication of Dr. King’s article in HTR was suspended. As such, we do not have a formal publication of the find. Dr. King has provided many resources on a webpage devoted to the fragment, but lacking any formal proposal about how to treat the artifact scholars have been limited to online conversations and informal papers. This raises curious questions about the seriousness of online scholarship. Can we have legitimate scholarly interaction through informal papers and blog posts? Must we wait for the formal publication in (print) journals before we publish our own research? How is biblical and theological scholarship changing (or how does it need to change) in the digital age?
2) The issue of private (and anonymous) ownership of ancient manuscripts and other artifacts creates significant issues and can lead to dubious scholarship. To what degree are important manuscripts our common human heritage? How is private ownership adversely impacting our ability to understand the past? In the present case, private ownership is directly impeding our ability to solve the riddle of the fragment’s date by blocking (or at least moving very slowly on) the testing of the ink. Would the whole fiasco have been avoided if money were not an issue?
3) Perhaps related, what responsibility do historians and other scholars have to the public when presenting potentially sensational finds? What obligation do we have as the people who have been entrusted with safeguarding and transmitting knowledge? How is our work being distorted (or at least pushed in certain directions) in the midst of a torrent of sensationalist treatments? What safeguards can (or ought) we put in place?
4) Finally, what does this episode suggest about the work that we do as historians? History to a certain degree is always fictive and mirrors the zeitgeist. It has only been in recent years that the question of Jesus’ marital status came into question. Through works such as Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code the possibility that Jesus could have been married entered popular consciousness. That two eminently careful historians could be hoodwinked (if indeed the fragment is a modern forgery) by something that so clearly mirrors contemporary concerns gives reason for pause.