Thursday, February 19, 2004

Reactions to Three Wise Men and the Passion

Thanks to Jacob Knee for some interesting reflections about the relationship between my blog on the Three Wise Men (Saturday February 14) and some of the responses to The Passion (eg Wednesday 18 February); he was going to post as a "comment" but apparently Haloscan won't allow such long comments:
Here are some half-observations without any obvious conclusions:

1. The 'delight' about legendary retellings of the Infancy Narrative doesn't always extend to the Passion Narrative both in scholarship (eg the above referenced discussion of the realism of Gibson's depiction of the wood of the cross) and in popular piety (eg the reformations of the Stations of the Cross during the last century to reflect more closely the biblical story). I'm not sure that 'residual fundamentalism' is the best way to characterise either of these responses.

2. Mel Gibson's film seems in its emphasis on the physical suffering of Christ, to draw on a medieval Catholic theology and aesthetic - not surprising given Gibson's own theological tastes (See eg Grunevald's Crucifixion). Yet unlike the 'Three Wise Men' at this point many scholars want to refer with precision to the 'Gospel narratives'. Whilst perhaps ironically, some of those in the Reformation tradition (who are often suspicious of 'legendary' retellings) seem more than prepared to be carried along.

There is a complicated relationship both in piety and scholarship between legendary 're-tellings' and the 'original' texts. I'm not sure that a 'delight/residual fundamentalism' dichotomy really describes the motivations behind the varied responses within and without the academy. At some points each of us wants (including both scholars and liturgists!) to make a move 'to the original' as a critique of the legendary or an invitation to appropriate the text in a new way, at others points in the story (maybe less politically, ideologically or theologically freighted) we happily affirm the 'delight' of 'legendary' retellings.

For an interesting discusison of whether Matthew's impled readers were intended to understand the magi as kings or wise men - see the chapters, 'The Magi as Kings' 'The Magi as Wise Persons' (pp 136 - 156) in Mark Alan Powell, 'Chasing the Eastern Star: Adventures in Biblical Reader-Response Criticism'. In short Powell argues that the implied readers of Matthews are expected neither to understand the magi as Kings (indeed he argues they are intended to be seen in contrast to kings, as royal servants) nor as wise (Powell claims the readers are expected to repsond, 'God revealed the truth about Christ to a bunch of pagan fools whilst those who were wise enough to figure it out for themselves missed it'.)

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