As part of the deepening diversification of biblical studies, several lines of research are now undermining the print-cultural assumptions on which New Testament studies developed. The first section offers summaries of important inquiries into ancient communications media: the dominant oral communication and the uses of writing; revisionist text-criticism of manuscripts of texts later included in the Hebrew Bible; the oral-written cultivation of their cultural repertoire by Judean scribes; the parallel oral cultivation of Israelite popular tradition; revisionist criticism of Gospel texts; and the learning and oral performance of Gospel texts. These separate but related lines of research are undermining the standard print-cultural assumptions, concepts, and approaches of Jesus studies. The second section explores the implications of these researches that open toward an alternative view of what the sources are, a more comprehensive approach to the historical Jesus appropriate to ancient communications media, and a reconceptualization of Jesus studies.
In his authentic letters, Paul describes a historical, human Jesus, but is strangely silent about the events of Jesus’ life. At the same time, Paul describes the figure of Christ using participatory language, and provides no reason to think that this collective embodiment of Christ does not also apply to Jesus’ historical body. I propose that Paul’s historical Jesus was therefore a corporate figure, embodied by the Jewish, pre-Christian community to which Jesus the Nazarene belonged. I present the literary background for this proposal, and explain how the evidence in Paul for a historical Jesus should be interpreted in a corporate or collective sense. I also provide a typological derivation of the name ‘Jesus’ in Paul.
This essay dialogues with Joel Marcus’s volume on John the Baptist. After praising Marcus’s penchant for introducing helpful analogies, questions are raised regarding two of Marcus’s hypotheses. First, it is difficult to accept that the Baptist was ever associated with the Qumran sectarians; second, it is equally doubtful that the Baptist was a nuanced legal reformer. A third section probes additional matters regarding the Baptist and purity in ancient Judaism. The common denominator to many issues raised here is Marcus’s tendency to treat the possible as probable.
In his recent study on John the Baptist Joel Marcus suggests that John founded a sect that was in competition with the early Jesus movement. Marcus also suggests that John himself was a former member of the 'Qumran community'. His baptism is considered as a kind of sacrament in which the Holy Spirit was imparted. How secure are these proposals? In this discussion, we conclude that in the oldest literary witnesses – Q, Mark and Matthew – the relationship between John and Jesus is seen in terms of mutual agreement (despite Jesus’s obvious superiority) and there are no recognizable traces of serious competition with John’s disciples, even less a ‘Baptist sect’. The evidence used by Marcus to suggest that John was once a member of the ‘Qumran community’ connects John with broader patterns of thought in Second Temple Judaism, not simply sectarians at one location. That John imparted the Holy Spirit in a sacramental rite can only be supported by radically altering biblical readings. However, Marcus has suggested that in light of all this that John thought of himself not only as Elijah but as a kind of Messiah, with the role of his successor, the Coming One, being to destroy the chaff. In doing this, Marcus redesigns John as a kind of alternative Christ of Faith. However, the underlying ‘competition model’ needs to be rejected and replaced with one that sees Jesus as claiming to be a successor to John, his highly esteemed teacher.
Joel Marcus’s JBHT argues that John would have seen himself not as forerunner to Jesus but rather that he, and not Jesus, was the proclaimer and inaugurator of God’s apocalyptic kingdom. The historical Baptist, originally part of the Qumran community, broke away from this group due to his belief that he himself was the prophet Elijah and that his own ministry was central to God’s purposes. This article raises three methodological and historiographical questions concerning where Marcus might reconsider and/or expand the results of his study. First, can we really get at John’s self-understanding beyond the subjective memory impressions left in our extant sources? Second, does Marcus’s connection of John to the Qumran community rely on (mis)characterizations of the community as a marginal sect? Third, what social and economic forces prompted John’s ‘individual decision’ to relocate to the wilderness?
My contribution focuses on the ‘Competition Thesis’ between John, Jesus and their disciples in reconstructing the life of the Baptist. One great merit of JBHT is adopting the Competition Thesis.
When summarizing, guided by the Competition Thesis, Marcus first plays the devil’s advocate, enumerating the reasons that John should be seen as an independent figure claiming for himself the leading place in the scenario of end times. However, Marcus’s conclusion reverts to a position closer to the traditional view of John as witness and forerunner. John was the ‘absinthe of the divine feast’, as suggested by Renan. I confess: I am convinced by the devil’s advocate.
Direct evidence for the competition thesis is thin. It is based on an indirect and contrary reading of the gospels, as often ‘protesting too much’ in insisting on the secondary role of John. Nevertheless, I maintain that the competition thesis should be embraced fully. One example of how it should be deployed is discussed in this article: the logion in Q, Matt 11:2-6//Luke 7:18-23, which concludes, ‘Happy is the man who does not find me a stumbling block’.
This essay examines the conceptual framework that informs Marcus’s distinction between history and theology, and considers what stands to be gained by this manner of classification. The essay observes that Marcus’s classification hinges upon a theory of religion that views gospels as artifacts expressive of sincere belief and, further, suggests this approach serves to mystify the origins of the Christian theological metanarrative by replicating the explanation asserted within the gospels themselves. By reversing the conceptual framework and the explanatory priority, one could deploy a theory of religion that sees gospels as artifacts of persuasion and thereby argue that they aim to naturalize the initially unnatural truth claim that Jesus was the christ by connecting him to a known social type: John. From this approach, it would not be belief in Jesus as the christ that explains the modified constructions of John the Baptist; rather, modifications of John the Baptist would be precisely what construct belief in Jesus as the christ.
In this article, I engage with Joel Marcus’s recent book on John the Baptist, focusing on the relationship between John and the Dead Sea Scrolls. While I appreciate many parts of his detailed study, I question the claim that John was a former member of the Essenes. Although there are intriguing similarities, the question is how far reaching conclusions we may draw concerning such a relationship. I problematize some aspects of the comparison between the sources. Like many scholars, Marcus refers in particular to 1QS and the site of Khirbet Qumran for reconstructing the Essenes and hence John’s background. In response, I highlight the uncertainty about the Sitz im leben of 1QS in relation to Khirbet Qumran and ask why this particular manuscript should be privileged over others. Not least when it comes to purity halakhah there are many other documents than 1QS from Qumran that are highly relevant to the issue. Finally, I critically evaluate Marcus’s view that John the Baptist had a favorable attitude towards Gentiles, which according Marcus differed from the views of the Essenes.