Saturday, March 5, 2011

Scripting Jesus

I had a irresistible bookstore coupon good only this weekend, so I trekked to the nearest Borders to see what they had that might be of interest to me. My interests range far and wide in religious studies and theology, but aside from Hebrew Bible and translation studies, my main trajectory of research interest is Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity. That covers Second Temple Judaism, New Testament, and rabbinics (for starters). To expand my horizons in Gospels and Jesus research, I decided to get L. Michael White's book Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite. The differences between the Gospels have always fascinated me, and this book looks like a great treatment of the issue. If you've read it, let me know what you thought.

From the publisher:
In Scripting Jesus, famed scholar of early Christianity L. Michael White challenges us to read the gospels as they were originally intended—as performed stories of faith rather than factual histories. White demonstrates that each of the four gospel writers had a specific audience in mind and a specific theological agenda to push, and consequently wrote and rewrote their lives of Jesus accordingly—in effect,scripting Jesus to get a particular point across and to achieve the desired audience reaction. 
The gospel stories have shaped the beliefs of almost two and a half billion Christians. But the gospel writers were not reporters—rather, they were dramatists, and the stories they told publicly about Jesus were edited and reedited for the greatest effect. Understanding how these first-century Christians wanted to present Jesus offers us a way to make sense of the sometimes conflicting stories in the gospels. 
One gospel's version of events will be at odds with another. For instance, in Jesus's birth narrative, there is no mention of a stable in Matthew or Luke, but then there are no wise men in Luke and no shepherds in Matthew. Jesus has brothers in some gospel accounts, and sisters in others, and their naming is inconsistent. Depending on which gospel you are reading, the disciples shift from bumbling morons to heroes of faith. Miracles alter or disappear altogether, and whole scenes get moved around. Such changes from one gospel to the next reveal the shaping and reshaping of the basic story in the living world of the first followers of Jesus. 
With his usual engaging style, White helps us read the gospels with fresh eyes, giving us a clearer idea of what the gospel stories meant to people in ancient times, and offering insight for how we can understand Jesus's story today.

1 comment:

  1. BTW, I like your blog. In response to the book "Scripting Jesus," my polite reaction is **sigh**.

    As scholars of scripture, we need to investigate and study, but as confessing Christians, we need to be aware that the textus receptus has a certain authority of its own, especially the Gospels.

    I am always interested in listening to a discussion of the sitz im leben of a particular sacred author, but form criticism has its limits.

    The classic example that I remember from my university days is the differences between Matthew and Mark's account of Jesus walking on water. As I recall, Peter jumps out of the boat in Matthew's account but not in Marks.

    There is a lot of form critical research on the question as to why Matthew records Peter jumping out of the boat.

    At the same time, such research is speculation, and at some point form criticism becomes reductionist and strips the Sacred Book of substantive theological meaning.

    If we are to believe that Christ rose from the dead (which is itself a scientifically preposterous assumption) then we need to be careful about using form criticism to rationalize other accounts in the Gospels.