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The Meaning of Jesus

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I received my book from Amazon.com and read a few pages. It looks interesting, but I'm not much of one to get involved in theological debates. But I'll read and post some thoughts. One thing I'm confused about--are the authors both involved the Jesus Seminar, but one is liberal and one is conservative? Or is only one?

Anyway, if anyone is still interested in reading this book and discussing it, please post here. We'll figure out the format as we go along.

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Posted · Report post

Only Borg is involved in the Jesus Seminar - Wright is very much anti it.

See his critique - here

Matt

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FWIW, links to a few articles of mine on Borg & Wright:

--
BC Christian News
, May 1999

--
Anglican Journal
, January 2000

Also, there's a relevant bit in this July 1997 interview that I did with Wright for BC Christian News (then known as Christian Info News):

CIN:
Second of the three. You've talked about your friendship with Marcus Borg [like John Dominic Crossan, a member of the Jesus Seminar], and in your book you mention that Marcus Borg's faith has been strengthened by his scholarship. He would call himself a Christian . . .

NTW:
Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Very deeply.

CIN:
. . . but he takes some very different positions from yours, both historically and theologically. So, to coin a phrase, how "historically correct" or "theologically correct" should a Christian be?

NTW:
"Should"? We are all struggling to love God with our minds, and we all fail in that in many, many, many ways, and we all need one another to help one another to grow in the love of God with our minds, just like we need all sorts of help to love God in all sorts of other ways as well.

As a historian, it's impossible for me to both believe that I have put this together right and that I haven't put it together right. And if I've put it together right, or even half-right, then at least half of what Marc says hasn't quite got it yet.

But I would want to say, as Christians, we are both on a continuum, and there may be all sorts of other ways in which his love of God is vastly superior to mine and I need to learn a great deal from him. And that's part of the deal, part of the game, and that takes humility and hope and a lot of other things, besides.

I also wrote an article on a joint series of lectures that they did at Regent College in 1995, which I could probably dig up -- that was in the days before websites, so there is no version of it online, at least not that I'm aware of.

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Posted (edited) · Report post

In the introduction (which is as far as I've gotten, heh), the authors stated that each may have a piece of truth, and each may have a piece of it wrong, and that they are prepared for that possibility. That takes some real humility to go into a conversation with a strong stance, yet fully prepared to admit they may be wrong and the other right.

Edited by Ann D.

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Posted · Report post

I've just ordered by copy from Amazon, so I'm looking forward to joining in.

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I've got to wait on the silly person who has an overdue copy at the local library to return theirs, but I am looking forward to jumping in when it comes.

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I'll hunt down my copy; of course, since I pushed this one, I'm in.

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Okay, so how's everyone coming along? I'll give it the old college try this weekend to get some questions to start the discussion.

Remember, the proof of the pudding's in the eating.

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Posted · Report post

After several days of running about with and over-due book, whoever preceded me has now returned the captive book to the library! I shall start reading this weekend as well!

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Aghh! I failed to find my book. Now I am looking in the obscure corners of the house (did we pack it away when we moved two years ago? Have I reread part of it randomly and then left it laying around to be misplaced?). After that, I'll assume I lent it out to someone (and hopefully not my brother in law, a continent and ocean away!).

So, if anyone else wants to get this discussion rolling, please do!

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So I can't find my copy anywhere. I joined the library this morning and hope to have the book in my hands by the end of the week.

I like Alan's suggestion too, but my wife refuses to give me her Border's gift card so I can buy a book I already own. :(

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So I can't find my copy anywhere.

Let me help: have you tried thinking back to where you had it last?

My copy is on the floor just to the left of my bed, underneath a dirty t-shirt, surrounded by cds. I read the first chapter, but then I left my glasses in Iceland and won't get a new pair until next week. How's that for an excuse?

I do plan to read this, though.

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FWIW, I'm actually curious to see if this book still feels "current" to people who are reading it now for the first time, or if it seems "dated" in any way. It originally came out over seven years ago, in the late '90s, in a decade that was replete with historical-Jesus books at both the scholastic and popular level. I read it within that context, as one who had read multiple other books by Wright and Borg, as well as books by Crossan and Mack and others -- but I haven't really followed the field all that closely for the last few years.

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[i read the first chapter, but then I left my glasses in Iceland and won't get a new pair until next week.

For someone who's about to embark on a Ph.D you're really stupid sometimes ;)

Matt

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[i read the first chapter, but then I left my glasses in Iceland and won't get a new pair until next week.

For someone who's about to embark on a Ph.D you're really stupid sometimes ;)

Matt

Yeah, like, who goes to Iceland? Its, like, cold there. Don't you get enough gloom and muck in the UK?

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Posted · Report post

Well at this time of year the gloom at least is at a minimum. In fact Stu was saying that it never got darkjust a little dim at "night".

Matt

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I have my copy, but haven't gotten past the first chapter. Vacation, new dog, and a really nasty class at school has had me swamped the past few weeks.

I'll try to read and post as I can.

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Well at this time of year the gloom at least is at a minimum. In fact Stu was saying that it never got darkjust a little dim at "night".

Matt

That's right, "yes". No actual dark"ness", just what one might call "dim"ness. But enough with all this questionable use of punctuation"!"

I am most of the way through chapter three, which is N.T Wright's second chapter. I'm finding it a little frustrating, because I feel that I don't know enough about the subject to read the material critically. I am, however, picking up that Wright is certainly not someone you should enter into debate with unless you've really thought it through. He hasn't used the phrase "tissue of nonsense" so far though, but I'm still hoping for a late appearance.

I think somewhere in my mind I was hoping that reading a book like this would solve all the problems I have with reconciling my ideas of a historical figure with my unpredictible experiences of something that seems very much like a living person. So far, it seems that this book is about what living with this problem looks like, and allowing the tension to become fruitful.

I'll hopefully post something more specific when I've read more.

p.s. Buckeye Jones: "gloom and muck"?! What books have you been reading? Everything is shiny over here. Even the dirt is shiny. We have to shower three times a day just to take the glare off things.

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Thanks to the Hamilton County Public Library, I'm now re-armed with a copy of TMOJ. Since a common failing of mine is to assume the world revolves around me, should we kick things off now?

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I'm beginning to get a couple of ongoing questions about the two basic positions, so could post some thoughts once a few people have read a few chapters.

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I'm kicking things off--join in when you can, and please feel free to run with this.

I read this book back in 2003, and as I mentioned before, have lost/lent my copy so I've picked up one from my local library. I'm in the process of re-reading it, but didn't want to let it get too long before we started the discussion process, and for what its worth, I couldn't take two of Marcus's chapters back to back (sorry, Dr. Borg!), so I thought I'd post some questions for parts 1 and 2, and a few of my thoughts.

Part One, "How Do We Know About Jesus" and Part Two, "What Did Jesus Do and Teach", are foundational for the rest of the dialogue. In it, Wright and Borg set out their basic frameworks for understanding Jesus, interpreting the sources, and their overviews of Jesus himself, his ministry, and how the early church viewed him. From this, we see a few key similarities, as well as some stark differences that provide insight not only in the scholastic continuum of historical Jesus research, but also into the Epispocal:Anglican split.

So, here's some questions to get the conversation started (please don't feel obligated or constrained by them), and then I'll add a few brief thoughts (I never have enough time to give really well thought out thoughts, but at least it won't be some snarky little comment tacked onto a more serious post).

Part 1: Sources and Methods

1) What are some similarities in the approaches of Borg and Wright in knowing about Jesus? What are some key differences? Both criticize what they call the "secular worldview...especially corrosive of religion", as Borg puts it, but do they end up on common ground with their alternate means of understanding Jesus?

2) Who makes a better case for his approach to understanding Jesus? How so?

3) Wright is commonly viewed as a traditionalist; Borg as a liberal or revisionist. Are these characterizations accurate?

4) Both argue for understanding the importance of "metaphor" in doing history. What do they mean by that?

Part 2: The Big Picture

1) Wright's and Borg's pictures of Jesus seem pretty different at first reading. What are points of similarities, and what of differences? How much of these are surface vs. fundamental differences?

2) Who presents a more coherent argument for his interpretation of "what Jesus did and tought"?

3) How well does his overview of Jesus connect with each scholar's discussion for their interpretive method in the Part 1?

Some quick thoughts:

Thinking back to the labels of conservative vs. liberal for Wright & Borg, I find that Borg is in fact more conservative in his scholarship on the one hand--he's much less willing to depart from the traditional academic consensus, especially in his use of the sources and compartmentalizing "the Jesus of History And the Christ of Faith". On the other hand he also seems more liberal than others; he's much more willing to make nontraditional assertions relying on his personal lenses, particularly the fourth, the cross cultural study of religions (Jesus is a Spirit person like Lao Tzu who speaks of the immanence of God). He's less risky in his work--by that, I mean less of his work deals with interpreting the data at hand, which is very debatable and arguable and such, and more with his interaction with the data, which is less open for debate by its very nature. I mean, how one interprets data is up for argument; how one feels about their relationship with the data is not. Borg's more about lenses, buttressed by modern academic consensus, or conventional wisdom. Wright's more about the verification of hypotheses, consensus or no.

Rereading this, and having read most of Bishop Tom's published books to date, I must admit I find his chapters harder to read. They are dense, and unwieldy, and not well suited for snagging a bit before bed, or just after work before the baby wakes up from his afternoon nap. But they are also well thought out, coherent and internally consistent, with content that both informs my reading of the gospels, and fits the life of Jesus much more than Borg's account.

Wright presents Jesus in a holistic picture, with a face set like flint, inaugurating the Kingdom of God in opposition to the present world and the kingdom of darkness behind it. His portrait of Jesus, to me, takes into account the whole of the available data in such a way that is not anachronistic (i.e., is not influenced by neo-Buddhist readings of the Gospels, nor by addressing a scheme of salvation-history in such a way that ensures the medieval or modern church's interpretation of Messiahship, etc) as well as is not dismissive of the context of what it meant to be a messiah under Roman controlled Palestine in the first century. It does not depend on judgment calls of what's "history remembered" vs. "history metaphorized" (distinguished by what criteria? under which standard? using what methodology?). Instead, it takes the data, proposes a hypothesis, and then sets to verify it by analyzing the fit of the data to the hypothesis in providing a coherent and simple resulting picture (Wright 23).

Looking forward to the conversation!

Edited by Buckeye Jones

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Posted · Report post

I'm beginning to get a couple of ongoing questions about the two basic positions, so could post some thoughts once a few people have read a few chapters.

Here's my thought - any chance of you hurrying up with your copy so I can read it too and join in. My heavy reading load of Baby books has subsided somewhat, and to be honest there wasn't much by way of theology in them (although Gina Ford's extensive examples in the Free Will verses predestination debate do deserve some credit)

Matt

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Here is a much delayed response, and even then, not all that much of one...

From the point of view of someone who knows fairly little (more truthfully - very little) about historical Jesus scholarship, I find N.T. Wright to be the one who sounds more authoritative, but I feel that I know an insufficient amount to really assess this.

What I did find interesting, though, was that Wright is very keen to make Jesus less unusual in certain ways that Borg. Wright's point about Jesus' understanding of his own role or nature is that a person like Jesus who began to teach in the way he did in the idealogical climate in which he lived was actually quite likely to think of themselves as the Messiah. Wright implies that claiming, or believing implicitly, that one was the Messiah was not as outrageous as it may seem to us today, and that not realising this is the mistake many scholars make when they see material relating to Jesus' claims or beliefs about own identity and significance as being later developments reflecting early church beliefs.

This kind of throws a spanner in the works of the whole "Mad, bad or God" kind of apologetic stance, because the actual fact of Jesus' belief in his own Messiahship is not quite so notable in itself - it becomes "Mad, bad, God (or well-meaning-but-sadly-mistaken-1st-century-Jew)". Which is probably more true to the facts, but less convincing...

Anyway, the other thing I was pondering was to do with Borg's use of the category "mystic". He uses various studies of religious experience (well, mainly William James') to help to understand what kind of person Jesus was: Jesus was the kind of person who experiences God in such a real, intense way that their view of the world is completely altered. I don't object to this in principle, but it does raise an awful lot of questions to do with how comparable "mystical" experiences are, and how coherent a category it really is (for example: by seeking and finding unity in religious expreriences from different traditions do you risk emptying them of actual content?)

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Posted · Report post

Does that mean I can borrow this from you now then?

Matt

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I have finished this now. Has anyone ele? Is anyone still reading it? Should I bother posting some thoughts on it tomorrow, or has everyone else lost interest?

Matt

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