Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gospels as Histories, iTunes U. Part Four

After listening to the final lecture, I was left with the same puzzlements carried throughout the first three—what exactly is the point here, and what method are we using? However, after reflection I may have stumbled on a possible solution. (How’s that for being definitive? *grin*)

Dr. Bauckham focused the final lecture on current trends in historiography, indicating the current emphasis is on “micro-history.” The history of minor persons. The life of a baker in the 16th century sort of thing. Rather than focus on the elite, or focus on monumental characters such as military, political or social leaders and the masses’ reactions to them—the concept to see what the “common person” experience was during the time in question.

An example he utilized was the Syro-Phonecian woman in Mark 7:24-30. Although (again) the methodology was muddled in that the story was about her interaction with the Messiah, son of God, Savior of the World. She enters, performs her small part, and then exits. Not exactly sure how that was her “micro-history.”

Dr. Bauckham also mentioned the numerous pericopes, each giving their own little “micro-history” if you will.

I found the fourth lecture dry, and uninformative.

It struck me…eventually…what he may have been doing.

It would seem he was going through current trends in historiography—“history from below” and “micro-history”—and determining how the Gospels would fit within such determinations. Odd considering he started off with a qualifier regarding the use of modern techniques on ancient works, and the first lecture attempting to pigeon-hole the Gospels in ancient genres.

I find this of questionable significance. Much like my arguing the Gospels should be in the “800’s” for literature under the Dewey Decimal Classification rather than the “200’s” for religion. Or the “900’s” for history. Do you see how meaningless that is? The Gospels are what the Gospels are—the fact we have subsequently developed a library system so one can find books does NOT mean the books MUST fit the category. Placing the Bible in the Fiction section of your local bookstore does not make it fiction.

In the same way, utilizing current historical methods does not make the Bible “history from below” or “micro-history.”

The titles of this lecture looked interesting. In the end, the lectures themselves failed to deliver, in my opinion.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Gospels as Histories, iTunes U. Part Three

Now the wheels suddenly go back on the bus. This was (by far) the most interesting lecture in this series, making me glad I stuck with it.

Dr. Bauckham focuses on two examples for similarity to the Gospels—the Biography of Appollonius of Tyana and Life of Homer

Appollonius, allegedly lived during the 1st century, and would therefore be a contemporary of Christ. He was a philosopher, miracle-worker and holy man who defied the Roman Emperors. Not surprisingly, his story has been compared to Christ—indeed the reason we even know of Appollonius is that later writers attempted to differentiate Appollonius from Christ.

Dr. Bauckham focused on a few issues:

1) He noted Appollonius was an elite. Although he did give up his wealth.

2) Appollonius focused more on the elite. Two examples given were Appollonius finding a treasure to help a wealthy person avoid debts, and him providing a dower for a girl he raised from the dead.

[Bauckham did not mention these works, but it was interesting to me the similarities to Acts of Paul & Acts of Peter. Which also had interaction with the elites in town by the apostles. And people dying and reuniting for marriage.]

Eventually Dr. Bauckham differentiated it from Christ as the Gospels were more “bottom up” (from the common person perspective) and Appollonius was an elite catering to elite.

The second work was even more fascinating to me—Life of Homer.

One must remember how influential The Odyssey and the Iliad were within this culture. These works were seen as THE way to write. They were performed for the common people, utilized for teaching and the characters were well-known types exemplified throughout contemporary writing.

Not surprisingly, people were interested in the author—Homer. (Who lived 100’s of years earlier.) This first century work was Homer’s biography, explaining how he was an illegitimate child, raised by a hard-working single mom who eventually married a school teacher. Homer goes blind (of course) within the story, and becomes a vagrant, scraping out a living, but generally receiving charity.

Homer finally becomes a schoolteacher, establishing some secure income. Many of the persons he meets along his journey become the characters within his epic works.

Bauckham differentiates Life of Homer, as this was written about a person long dead, rather than a contemporary. He puts it as a biographical genre, closer to novel then historical.

The thing I found so intriguing was how Bauckham attempted to differentiate these works by specifics when talking about genre. If I wrote a biography about George Washington, it would (by necessity) be about a person who existed 200 years ago. If I wrote a biography about Oprah, it would be about a contemporary. While the sourcing may (or may not!) be more substantial—doesn’t the genre stay the same? Aren’t they both biographies?

Whether I write about kings or paupers—aren’t they both biographies?

I found this interesting because when talking about what qualifies as a bios Dr. Bauckham found strength in the generality of the definition, to encompass a great many possibilities. Yet here he dismisses works from being the same genre because of specifics.

A question arising through this discussion—did the Gospels develop a unique genre? I think these two works, as presented by Dr. Bauckham greatly diminish such an argument. We have other works within the same time frame that would appear to be the same genre.

Finally, Dr. Bauckham mentioned “agency” to demonstrate this was a “bottom up” work. He indicated the “agency” of Christ’s death was the crowd. (The common people.) I found this to be a bit hair-splitting. Didn’t the Chief priests stir up the crowd? Arguably they were the agents. Pilate was convinced and gave the order. He was the agent, right? Actually, Christ had to die for all our sins—do the stories indicate we are the agents? Yet this was God’s plan—was Christ the agent?

It seemed to me, one could bend the “agent” for Christ’s death to about any entity one desired.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gospels as Histories, iTunes U. Part Two

History “from below.”

Here, the wheels start to come off the bus a bit. This particular lecture bored me, as it covered very familiar territory for me. Not sure I would have continued after this, but for our discussion.

Bauckham goes on to indicate we should not use 21st century historical methods to apply to the histories of the 1st Century, due to the differing cultures, methodologies, etc.

Yet then he goes on to say, “But we can current historical method to provide illumination and some insight.”

So…can we use them or not? Again, he straddles the fence nicely, allowing one to both do so and not.

Another introductory statement he made that greatly concerned me was how we shouldn’t bother studying who the gospels were written to--as if such study was a waste of time. Personally, I think it is extremely important to know the intended audience. Imagine if Mark was written as a play to a Roman audience to mock the start-up religion. Wouldn’t that have a huge impact in how we view Markan historiography? Or if Matthew is written to a Judaic community? Or Luke written to a predominately female audience?

I think such questions are imperative to our study of the gospels.

A current historical trend he mentions, is to do history “from below.” Rather than typical history about the elites—the movers and shakers in a society such as political, military or academic leaders—look at history from the perspective and about the common crowd.

He admits the farther back we go, the less material we have to do history “from below” as people (prior to the 20th Century) focused more on the elites. He notes Greco-Roman History tended to be written “by the elite; for the elite.”

He then goes through some of the social classes of the society. Anyone who as interacted with me, knows if they ever ask for a book recommendation, I am sure to include Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. You may note the second author of the work is Richard Rohrbaugh, who Bauckham mentions a number of times at this point of the lecture.

Again, this is my review, I’m not saying this might be interesting for someone else, but for me this was dull. Due to his time constraints, Bauckham could barely hit even the highlights, so I learned nothing new here.

Essentially, there were social classes in Roman Society—some were better off than others.

I suspect he is leading up to saying the authors of the Gospels were in the lower classes, and were doing history from below.

This is about all I can say for the second lecture.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gospels as Histories, iTunes U. Part One

Over at Like a Child’s Blog I recommended looking at courses on iTunes University as such courses are 1) free and 2) convenient. DoOrDoNot suggested listening and discussing a course together; D’Ma and I readily agreed. Anyone else is free to join as well.

It was settled we would listen to Gospels as Histories--a four part lecture by Dr. Richard Bauckham. (If the iTunes Link does not work, it is under iTunes U/Humanities/Religion. Scroll through the pages ‘till ya find it.)

I am familiar with Bauckham, having read Jesus and the Eyewitness: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimonies--as this covers similar ground, so far my impression is much the same.

How does one review an audio course? I decided to listen as I normally would; my commute takes 45 minutes, so an hour lecture would be spread over one day, with a long break. I don’t take notes while driving—in keeping with that, I didn’t take notes for this lecture. If I forgot something that means it didn’t resonate enough for memory.

Simply put, I listened as my ordinary routine, and here are a few thoughts after the first lecture:

I found, at times, Dr. Bauckhan’s accent to follow. My mind worked a bit harder, sometimes figuring out what the word was after. Two examples. He referred to a genre in Greco-Roman literature as “acuna” (as far as I remember)—where a person is praised. I’ve tried finding the word, and cannot.

Or he mentioned making up a word “biographee” or “biographeed” (again it was difficult to tell which, because if there was a “d” at the end of the word, it was very soft) as being the person to whom a biography was about. Say this sentence out loud, “The biography about the biographee places the biographee within the world of the biography.” As you can see “biographee” and “biography” sound amazingly the same!

He laid out the genres in Greco-Roman writing:

1) Historiography*;
2) Bios (biography);
3) Novel
4) Acuna (?) – praise of a person.

*Dr. Bauckham points out (correctly, in my opinion) there is a difference between “history”—what happened and “historiography”—the actual recording of what happened. The records we have, and utilize, are peoples’ stories about events, including the person’s biases, impressions, preferences, choice of words, etc. It may not be precisely what actually happened.

He then indicated genres did not have rigid demarcations—genres are porous, blending and merging, sometimes utilizing elements of other genres. In indicating the gospels are bios he stated “of course the most closely related genre would be histories.”

I wondered why? Couldn’t acuna (?) be closely related? Or novels?

Then Bauckham went on to relate how histories were considered more reliable when written by people who were actually involved in events, then slightly less reliable if written by contemporaries and finally the least reliable if written by persons long after the events occurred. He claimed it was “plausible” if histories were considered this way, then the close genre of bios would be too.

Ah…THERE’s the Bauckham I remember from his book. I felt (again this is my impression) he tended to make an argument to stretch to a point which was plausible, but then in the next chapter take the point as a certainty to make his next stretched point. Eventually, I felt like saying, “What a minute—isn’t this speculation upon speculation? Isn’t this getting thinner down the line?”

Here we have bios genre that can utilize elements from historiography genre. And we have historiography which tended to favor contemporary accounts. Therefore, according to Bauckham, bios genre favored contemporary accounts See what I mean?

I also wondered about Mark’s use of chiasm—a Greco-Roman element within novels—as being a merger of bios genre with novel genre. Not to mention the typography similar to midrash in aligning Tanakh stories with Jesus’ accounts.

Bauckham then stated some writers of historiography would (to boost credibility) falsely “insert” themselves into their stories. I wonder if Bauckham will talk about Matthew? (He indicates in his book one of the reasons he does not think Matthew was the author of the Gospel was Matthew’s “insertion” into the story of Levi to make himself one of the disciples.)

Three categories of bios were given:

1) Political or Military Figures;
2) Philosophers
3) Holy men.

Baukham noted that traditionally Jesus was placed in the “philosophers” category, due to his teaching. He then goes on to argue it would be more appropriate to place the bios in the political arena, as the Gospel authors considered Jesus to be the Messiah. He utilized the beginnings of Matthew and Luke to demonstrate the authors considered Jesus as a King. He did not deal with Mark (the Messianic Secret) nor John’s prolific teaching.

Curiously, Bauckham argued the gospels are NOT like bios in that they are unique—they are discussing a Messiah, not a philosopher. They are discussing the son of God—not a king. I found this to be both question-begging and a bit of “having one’s cake and eating it, too.”

Question-begging as ALL biographies are unique. Indeed, the very reason one biographs a particular biographee with a biography, is their unique nature. Ghandi was unique. George Washington was unique. Alexander the Great (who Bauckham acknowledges comes close to Jesus in terms of bios) was unique. So what?

Further, it was bothersome he wanted to equate a genre—biography or bios--as applicable when convenient, and then abandon it when it was not, because Jesus was unique. Thus leaving us with no method whatsoever, so why talk about genre at all?

At this point (after Lecture One) I am left with the familiar feeling—can any one really approach the Gospels as a literary work? It seems we all—even Bauckham—have baggage when doing so. We can read the Lives of Roman emperors and discuss which events occurred. But come to the Bible and all of a sudden the methodologies become mixed. Many become consumed with pursuing an agenda.

Next will be Part Two

Thursday, April 14, 2011

If Today was your Last Day

While flipping through the radio, I chanced upon Nickelback’s song, “If Today Was Your Last Day.” --a song sentimentalizing the concept to not put off until tomorrow what you should do today. Carpe Diem.

Nice thought, but I contemplated upon it…no one could really act this out. Think about it—if today was your last day, would you go to work? Probably not. So should you not go to work every day? If today was your last day, would you exercise and eat healthy? Or would you eat that huge piece of chocolate cake without worries regarding carbs or sodium or calories? Or consequences.

Frankly, if I lived every day as if it was my last, I would not function in society. Curiously, as I contemplated upon the thought, I realized there was not one social connection I would feel compelled to rectify, or person I must re-connect to. However, there were a few I would like to (finally) give responses I have always desired, but restrained myself. Again…not the best example of living every day as if it were your last.

The song and motto are to nudge you. Give you the occasional boost to avoid putting off forgiving someone, or resolving a conflict. Or to avoid grabbing life by the horn, thinking you will “someday” try bungee-jumping instead of doing it when the opportunity presents. But it isn’t meant to be taken literally, down to each minute action.

For many Christians (most?) this is similar to their approach on Hell. For the most part, we lived as if Hell wasn’t a looming reality. We didn’t do everything to prevent people from going there; we didn’t evangelize 24 hours a day. We worried more about what people thought of us than if they were damned.

Once in a while, we’d hear a rousing sermon on Hell and (like hearing a Nickleback song) think, “Hey, I need to do something about this. Take it seriously” but soon we would languish back to our normal lives. Concerned about gas prices, continued employment and whether we should have pot roast or baked chicken.

We figured it was easier for the preacher or missionary—heck, it was their job to worry, rant and rave about hell, right? For us, it was real (just like today COULD be your last day), but we let God sort that business out. Up to Him whether one gets in or not. (‘Sides, being a Calvinst removes one a tiny step away from the responsibility of determining who is or is not in hell.)

American Christians for the most part are as worried about Hell as they are that this is their last day on earth.