Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jesus is a Jewish Religious Feminist

Jacob won his share of eternity, but he emerged a shaken, shattered man. Jacob or Israel? Both. True, God ordered him not to call himself Jacob anymore, yet one moment later the Bible calls him that. As though Israel did not succeed in severing his link to Jacob. . . . More than his father and his grandfather, Jacob was conscious of the pluralism that was to mark his descendants. . . . But, says the Midrash, at the moment he was about to translate his vision into words, his prophetic gifts were withdrawn. . . . He could but look. In silence. . . . In other words: the story he did not tell is more beautiful than the others--all the others--those told in his name and even those told by himself.
--Elie Wiesel [Translated from the French by Marion Wiesel]
page 133-34 of Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends
Most people who "understand" Jesus don't understand his rhetoric. Christian bible translators and scholars, like Aristotle, want at least their exposition of the Greek translation and their own English translation too to be clear.

If Jesus, like a woman, is silent or silenced or evasive or equivocating or short on explanation or unable to expound or pluralistic or throwing the interpretation back on the listeners, - well, then. Then this all must be fixed. Otherwise the fundamental structure of the patriarchy (that essential 'either / or' binary) will be de-constructed. Or worse: the dreamy wife of Pilate, the interpretations of Mary of Bethany, and that mother of Israel (or is it Jacob?) will be saying all kinds of messy things.

here's from some scholars who are as aristotelian as most other anglo-centric bible translators today. it's from their conclusive (not evasive or silent or without explanation or exposition) book The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say [if he didn't speak like a woman]?

Mark 14:61 Once again the high priest questioned him and says to him, "Are you the Anointed, the son of the Blessed One?"

62 Jesus replied, "I am! . . . "

Matthew 27:12 And while he was being accused by the ranking priests and elders, he said absolutely nothing.
13 And then Pilate says to him, "Don't you have something to say to the long list of charges they bring against you?" 14 But he did not respond to him, not to a single charge, so the governor was baffled.

Luke 22:70 And they all said, "So you are the son of God?"
He said to them, "You're the ones who say so."

23:3 Pilate questioned him, "You are 'the King of the Judeans'?"
In response he said to him, "If you say so."

There can be no doubt that Luke believed that Jesus was the Anointed, the son of God, and the son of Adam. . . . But Luke's convictions do not determine what the historical Jesus thought of himself. The remarkable thing about these gospel narratives is that their authors do not make Jesus speak more directly and explicitly about the things they themselves believe. (page 393)

The words ascribed to Jesus here repeat what Luke found in Mark 15:2. Jesus' reply here, as in Mark, is evasive. (page 394)

In any case, the reply Jesus is made to give to Pilate is a repetition of what he is reported to have said to the high priest in Matt 26:64. The words are actually ambiguous. They can be translated either as "You said it, I didn't," or "Whatever you say." This kind of evasiveness goes together with Jesus's refusal to give full answers or explain and expound. (page 266).

Since the context determines [i.e., unequivocally disambiguates] the meaning in this case, the majority of ["Jesus" "seminar"] Fellows were inclined to vote black [i.e., black ink bolded as above to signal "Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition"] or grey [i.e., grey ink to signal "Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his" but they are clearly not his.]


Dannii said...

Kurk, what is your opinion on the Jesus Seminar?

J. K. Gayle said...

Some of my friends and colleagues, on my campus even, are Fellows. I respect them and their work very much. The problem is they tie their own hands with aristotelian logic. They try to pigeonhole the "words" of the "historical" "jesus" and try futilely. They have trouble with nonwestern conceptions of rhetoric and of translation. One result is they presume "original" words of Jesus when the extant variant manscripts are all mostly translations, rhetorical translations of what the gospel writers want their readers to hear. The Fellows with their only red, pink, grey, and black categories only look to the historical Jesus when he leaves to look at his followers and how they would have us look at him. There's a color missing on the Fellows' palate: What translator Anne Carson would call white.

What do you think of that? Of how Carson engages with Joan of ARc and painter Francis Bacon and Friedrich Hölderlin? (I'll Have What She's Having)

When I first arrived here on campus 14 years ago, a friend of mine in the Religion Department invited me to speak, as a linguist, in the lecture series on "Religion And..." He had me follow the "Jesus Seminar." So I spoke on the radical relativism within rigid restraints: language and religion. I tell the story at the end of this post just to say that the powerful construct of "jesus Fellows" is, for all its good which should be obvious, unfortunately aristotelian, mired in the "either / or" problem. (Again it ignores rhetoric and the white spaces of translation).

The Velveteen Jesus, or How Postmodernism Becomes Real