Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Not Witnesses, But Storytellers

I am enjoying and learning from Robert M. Price's book, Jesus is Dead. I realize it is a rather jarring title. But what he writes is scholarly and engaging.

As I was thinking about his book, I thought about my own faith journey and the things I used to think one needed to "believe" in order to be Christian. For instance, I remember thinking that the Bible as Word of God meant that everything was accurate in terms of history and so forth.

As things began to whittle away, one after another, I felt the need to cling to something historical and say at least this is real. For instance, if Adam and Eve were story creations, then at least Moses was real. When Moses faded into legend, well at least the Gospels are historical. As I began to see them as literary creations rather than history as we know it, I find I am adapting to this new reality.

I haven't "lost my faith" but it certainly has been deepened. I haven't lost my love for the Bible, for its myths, legends, and wisdom, but it too has deepened. Even now, as I see my view of Jesus changing I find that my reaction follows the familiar pattern: a little disconcerting at first, then acceptance, and finally appreciation.

I understand the reluctance to move into new territory. When our foundations (or what we thought were foundations) shift, we are tempted to prop them up. That is understandable. There are certainly many apologists who will help in that attempt. But in the end, the arguments of the apologists become less convincing and we start out anew.

Jesus and the historical resurrection has become for many a foundation that they cannot imagine crumbling. But it does, eventually. It is OK. We find a new way to understand this mystery.

In the first chapter, "Easter Fictions," Price shows how the gospel writers told their tales. He concludes this chapter in this way:

What does all this give us? My point is not to 'debunk' the resurrection narratives as false witnesses, uncovering fatal inconsistencies between them. Like the false witnesses at the trial of Jesus: "their testimony did not agree." No, I have tried to show how the inconsistencies form a discernible pattern: that of various creative authors reworking a common draft to gain different effects. Not bad witnesses, but good storytellers. Not on the witness stand, but around the campfire. And the parallels with other ancient stories indicate what genre the stories belong to: they are religious legends. Not a bad thing. Not unless you want them to be something else: historical reports. I don't want them to be one or the other. I just want to understand the texts, and I think I do.

Did Jesus rise from the dead? That wouldn't be a bad thing either. But given the nature of our sources, there is no particular reason to think so. (p. 10)