In Tents #76 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives

The Friday before I post I usually get a note from Jonathan Langford: “You’re up for Tuesday.” Instead, Friday after work I opened up my email and saw a whole bunch of letters with the ominous subject line “Jonathan Langford.” My phone shows the first few words of each letter below the subject line, so I saw the word heartbroken in Margaret Young’s letter, which confirmed the omen. (I wondered if anyone had told my brother Dennis, then found out from my sister that Dennis was in the hospital after back surgery.) So I’ve been thinking about Jonathan off and on all weekend. On the bus Monday morning I realized I’ve probably also been waiting for someone to say, “April Fools.”

This column was a gift from Jonathan. Continue Reading →

In Tents 62 How Prophets Behave Rhetorically, or Don’t Part II

Think back to that marvelous moment when your seminary teacher introduced you to the various groups in 1st-Century Palestine–that cartoon of the Zealot carrying a picket sign reading Render Unto Caesar, and that mnemonic comment about the difference between the Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection, and the Sadducees, who did not. And that’s why they were sad you see.

OK, it’s a cheesy joke as I told my Sunday School class, but for more than 40 years it’s been an easy way to tell the difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees.

What my seminary teacher didn’t say however, and what the New Testament doesn’t tell us, is why the Sadducees were sad. You see, I didn’t find that out till I was standing on the platform at the Draper FrontRunner sation waiting for the midday train (only once an hour at that time of day) last week listening to Thomas Madden’s second lecture in “From Jesus to Christianity.” Madden says at 9:50 that the Pharisees valued all sacred writings as well as oral traditions. Since Daniel and others mention the afterlife the idea of resurrection has scriptural support.

At 10:49 Madden states the Saduccees’ opinion on the question. They did not accept anything after the writings of Moses as scripture, and since the Books of Moses don’t mention a resurrection it’s not a binding doctrine.

How interesting, here I’ve been exploring the consequences of closed versus open canon in my column, and I come across something that tells me the debate between the two goes right back to the time of Jesus and before.

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In Tents # 13 The Story of Jesus the Pharisee, But First Yet Another Digression, This Time About the Nature of Interpretation

Yet another digression? Is this turning into the Tristram Shandy of blogs? Digression following digression following digression, never actually getting to he thesis? No, the thesis is easy to demonstrate. Consider Luke 13:31

The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.

This is the passage James Carver gave in a 1988 Institute class in Seattle when he told us he had read a book arguing Jesus was a Pharisee and I asked for an example. His question, “Why would the Pharisees warn Jesus of Herod if they were Jesus’ enemies?” set me to looking for other examples. One will suffice for now, one of several questions posed, by who is ambiguous (yes, I know whom is correct but every time I hear that word I think of Soren Cox’s comment that anytime he wanted to intimidate a nephew who was being obnoxious he’d just throw in a couple of whoms) to Jesus in Mark 2:

18 And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?

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In Tents #10 The Story of Jesus the Pharisee, But First a Meditation on Perfection

He never got vexed when the game went wrong
And he always told the truth

But why did the game go wrong? Was it because Jesus always won and no one wants to play a game they have no possibility of winning? Writings like The Infancy Gospel of Thomas are full of portraits of Jesus at play with other children, a vengeful child with no discipline to his powers. We may see the picture of Jesus bringing dried fish or clay figurines to life as fanciful, but we have our own fanciful ideas about Jesus’s perfection and powers.

I remember a primary teacher saying that Jesus was a perfect child. He never fussed, never kept Mary up crying and crying all night all night all night. I kept these sayings and pondered them for years. Was Jesus really not like a normal baby? I concluded it was an overly-respectful fiction about Jesus and wrote a poem rejecting it. I was never satisfied with it. Probably because it lacked compassion, which came when I realized my primary teacher had been a new mother. I rewrote the poem: Continue Reading →