Wednesday, November 22, 2006

SBL Day 3 (Sunday)

Sunday's breakfast meeting was the University of Birmingham reception and a great pleasure to see old friends. I was really annoyed last year to have to miss the Birmingham reception because I had another breakfast meeting at the same time. In fact Sunday was university reception day for me, and the three universities I have known, first Birmingham where I taught for a decade, then later Oxford, where I was student for almost a decade, and then Duke, my current university.

At one we had the third Synoptic Gospels session, this time a panel on Simon Gathercole's new book published by Eerdmans, The Pre-Existent Son. This was a session I organized relatively late in the day, beginning last March, when I was approached by Eerdmans. It seemed like a very good idea. The three respondents to the book were James D. G. Dunn, Rikk Watts and Deirdre Good. The fourth was to be Maurice Casey, making a rare appearance at SBL, but sadly he had to drop out last week because of health. The section sent its best wishes for a speedy recovery.

I took the first ten minutes or so of the session to introduce Simon and to summarize the book. Jimmy Dunn then took 15 minutes, and Rikk Watts and Deirdre Good also took 15 minutes each. We had a 5 minute (or so) break followed by Simon's 25 minute response to all three respondents, and then there was plenty of time first for more panel discussion and finally for views from the floor. First up from the floor was Richard Bauckham who said, among other things, that Jimmy Dunn conceived of monotheism in unitarian terms, and that he conceived of others' Trinitarian views as tritheistic. He also chided Rikk Watts for using the divine name in his presentation in spite of his claim to be using emic language. And he added that it is impossible to talk about these issues solely using emic language.

In spite of the interesting discussions, the thing that will remain with me for the longest will be, I think, Jimmy Dunn's strongly worded critique of his former student's book, which he accused of "wooden literalism", of "tritheism, ditheism or modalism"; and he said that Simon was in need of a "refresher course in hermeneutics". I am afraid that I could not resist adding after he had finished, "I am tempted to say: don't hold back; tell us what you really think." Simon defended his book bravely, and had not had either Deirdre's or Rikk's responses in advance, so he did particularly well on those.

I tend to find presiding a little stressful because you have to keep alert for 150 minutes and there is a lot to look out for and not just speakers, time and audience. So I always feel very relieved when it is over.

I went to the John, Jesus and History session next, a disaster of room allocation, one of several at the meeting. Its allocated room had only enough space for forty people, and Felix Just stood outside guiding people to the new room, also far too small, with people sitting on the floor, crowding into the doorway and so on. Sean Freyne was first up and talked about Galilee in John. Next up were Craig Evans, Richard Bauckham and Ben Witherington III. Unfortunately, I missed a lot of what they said because I was now sitting down in a chair and not on the floor and I couldn't stop drifting off, a very annoying habit when one is interested in the material. Actually, I think I heard most of Witherington's talk, which was a tour de force, arguing that Lazarus was the beloved disciple and the author of the Gospel, that Simon the Leper was the father of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, and that the Gospel owned the name of John because it was redacted by John of Patmos. It was the kind of harmonizing reading that I find implausible but entertaining to listen to.

Sunday evening was receptions evening, for me first Oxford and then Duke, both great places to meet old friends, and some new people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

MARK G.: "I think I heard most of Witherington's talk, which was a tour de force, arguing that Lazarus was the beloved disciple and the author of the Gospel, that Simon the Leper was the father of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, and that the Gospel owned the name of John because it was redacted by John of Patmos."

Edward T. Babinski: I disagree, and think it far more likely that the Lazarus story arose as part of an amalgamation process, via adding places and names and people and events from stories found in Mark and Luke. But when the fourth Gospel was written those items got added together into a single story involving "Bethany," "Mary,"
"Martha," "expensive ointment," "wiping Jesus' feet with her hair," and, "Lazarus" (no longer a mere begger in a Lukan parable who dies and goes to Abaham's bosom then is asked to return to land of the living by Dives, but now is the "brother of Mary and Martha" who does return to the land of the living).

Witherington's hypothesis is yet another example of how Christians are prone to take figures and try to add them up like into a single coherent whole. The author of Revelation also added up literary and metaphorical bits and pieces from the O.T. prophets to the book of Enoch, weaving them into a whole as well. The process is typical therefore.



Concerning the raising of those other than Lazarus, the Gospel stories are few and unspectacular. For instance in Mark (which I take to be the earliest source) the synagogue ruler's daughter was "at the point of death," or in Matthew "had just died" when Jesus healed/raised her. Such things seem possible. In one afterlife book (Beyond the Light, I think), I read about a man who had been declared dead in the hospital, then a little while later he woke up alone on a stretcher in the hallway. According to another book, Dannion Brinkley was struck by lightning, declared dead, but then came back to life. But none of those people had been dead for long. The Lazarus story involves someone dead for "four days," whose body "stinketh." What "good reason" do we have to believe that story?

Let's look at the story of Lazarus in depth also, beginning with our knowledge of another story in John, the story of Lazarus's alleged sisters, "Mary and Martha," and how "Mary sat at Jesus's feet," "anointed them" with perfume, and "wiped them with her hair" in the town of "Bethany." (John 12) Stories similar to that one are found in the earlier three Gospels, but with a few differences:

Mark 14:3 -- An unnamed woman anointed Jesus's head in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper.

Luke 7:37-38 -- An unnamed sinner anointed Jesus's feet and wiped them with her hair in Nain at the house of a Pharisee.

Luke 10:38-39 -- Mary, the sister of Martha, listened at Jesus's feet in an unnamed town at her house.

Now consider this: Did you ever get confused about similar events like those listed above? Say, in a Sunday School discussion, you mixed up the name of the town where the woman anointed Jesus's "head" with the name of the town where the woman anointed Jesus's "feet." Was it Nain or Bethany? Or you confused the woman who "listened" at Jesus's feet with the woman who "anointed" Jesus's feet? The unnamed sinner lady in Nain, became, until you looked it up, Mary, sister of Martha? Well, something like that appears to have happened in the minds of Christians before the Gospel of John was composed, the last written of the four Gospels. By that time, similar persons and events from the earlier Gospels had become amalgamated in people's minds. In John 12:3, Mary, the woman who simply "listened" at Jesus's feet is now also anointing them and wiping them with her hair. Thus the unnamed woman of the town of Nain became amalgamated in people's minds with "Mary, Martha's sister." And the unnamed town where Mary lived became amalgamated with the town where the woman who anointed Jesus's "head" lived, "Bethany." And Mary used expensive "spikenard ointment" on them, as the lady in Mark (and possibly Luke) did. Only this time is it not at Simon the Leper's house, nor at the house of a Pharisee, but at "Mary's house."

What does the above discussion have to do with the "resurrection of Lazarus" story? Well, it shows how the Gospel of John amalgamates things from earlier Gospels. And only the Gospel of John depicts Lazarus as a real person. Luke mentions a real Mary and Martha, but says nothing about them having a brother, nor in which town they lived. So the author(s) of the Gospel of John appear to have amalgamated Mary and Martha, the town of Bethany, and the "Lazarus" from a parable in the Gospel of Luke -- a parable in which a poor beggar named "Lazarus" dies and goes to "Abraham's bosom," while a rich man suffering in nearby "Hades" sees Lazarus and pleads with Abraham to "send Lazarus to my Father's house, to warn my they may repent [and avoid going to Hades]," to which the answer was, ".neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead."

Think about it.a "Lazarus" who dies and someone who hopes Lazarus will be "raised from the dead" to "persuade others" "to repent." But such persuasion is predicted not to work. Where does that appear outside of Luke?

Why in John. John's "Lazarus" is now a concrete person, the "brother" of Mary and Martha from Luke. (Neither is this Lazarus a poor "beggar," since he's rich enough to have his own tomb and live in a house with his "sisters.") He is "raised from the dead" -- a parable come true. And, as predicted in the parable, such a miracle fails to persuade those who refuse to listen to Moses and the prophets, namely the Pharisees: "Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done." The Pharisees refuse to repent, and even decide, after hearing of this great miracle, to seize Jesus and have him executed. What a coincidence! Two "Lazaruses," one in Luke and one in John, both die, both illustrate that "even though he be raised from the dead, they will not be persuaded," in fact, "Lazarus's resurrection" in the Gospel of John elicits even a stronger negative response!

Not surprisingly, when you add a whole new miracle found in none of the other Gospels, and make it the focal point for the Pharisees' decision to have Jesus seized and executed, you have to do something with the fact that all three of the earlier Gospels agreed that it was Jesus's overturning of the tables in the Temple that made the Pharisees decide to have Jesus crucified. So the author(s) of John decided to remove the table-turning episode from the end of Jesus's ministry and move it to the beginning of Jesus's ministry. All so that the Pharisees would decide to have Jesus seized and killed due to the unsettling nature of the stunning resurrection miracle that was added to the last Gospel.

The question remains, did the "raising of Lazarus" actually take place or might the story have been a later invention, based on an amalgamation of information and names found in earlier Gospels? The moving of Jesus's "table-turning" episode from the end of the earlier Gospels to the beginning of the last written Gospel adds to the force of such a question, since the author(s) of John made it appear quite obvious that it was now necessary to make room at the end of their Gospel to display the totally new miracle and make it the new reason why the Pharisees decided to seize and crucify Jesus.

And there is also the even wider question raised by the fact that the Gospel of John concentrates on a handful of major miracles in Jesus's ministry, the Lazarus miracle being used to illustrate that Jesus was "the resurrection and the life." The author(s) have Jesus speak those very words, along with a lot of "I ams," one after each major miracle. How unlike the Jesus who is portrayed in the earlier three Gospels, who asked his disciples not to tell anyone he was the Messiah, and who did not speak in such an "I am" manner even after raising the synagogue ruler's daughter who was "at the point of death" (in Mark's version) or who had "just died" (per Matthew's version).