Sunday, July 06, 2008

Another "shocking" ancient discovery?

I first saw this last night at good friend Leonardo's blog. [He's been getting lots of hits today, he showed up second in a Google search on the story. Go over and add to his traffic! :) Decent comments there as well.]

Answer, to me, at least: this tablet will not revolutionize Christianity or Christology.

First, some links from the Catholic blogosphere:

The Curt Jester: great commentary and links.

Brief mention at dotCommonweal.

Coverage of this back in May at Mike Aquilina's. I guess it's taken a while for the NYT to "break" this "revolutionary" story.

My comments, based on what I wrote last night at Leonardo's, with a few additions: "Um. This is interesting for sure, but I'll want to read a lot more, and not just something that any secular MSM outlet produces.

"This is the sign of the son of Joseph. This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning. To shed blood is not for the sins of people but to bring redemption to Israel." Someone needs to go back and read the Catechism a bit more. The fulfillment of the law, as well as the redemption of Israel was very much at the heart of Jesus' mission. [Incidentally, this kind of facile distinction -- between forgiveness of sins and redemption -- while excusable in the writing of an Israeli Jewish historian, becomes absolutely risible when espoused by Christian leaders, such as the former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong. He makes much of precisely this distinction, if memory serves correctly, in "Reclaiming the Bible from Fundamentalism."]

As to historicity, a little time spent with Tom Wright's Magisterial Three Volume, "The New Testament and the Question of God" (especially Vol. 2 "Jesus and the Victory of God") puts the whole thing in a new light. Forgiveness of sins and the redemption of Israel are intimately related concepts. Furthermore, the absolute Jewishness of Jesus is hardly a new concept in critical scholarship. It's worth paying attention, for instance, to this 2001 publication by the Pontifical Biblical Commission: the Jewish People and their Holy Scriptures in the Christian Bible. (link is to the French text. The English text is not available online.)

Finally --- if this is correct, then it undercuts the revisionist view that because there was no precedent for a suffering Messiah who would die and rise in Judaism, then these ideas must have been interpolated by the later Gospel writers. Well, guess what, this was a part of Jewish Messianism in the Second Temple period.

Of course, this betrays a huge philosophical fallacy, that goes well beyond the limits of history, when it suggests that there really can be no genuinely new ideas.

Which is a load of hogwash."

Finally, how about a dose of sense from Pope Benedict XVI when it comes to the problematic philosophical underpinnings of much of historical-critical approaches to the Scriptures?
The real philosophical presupposition of the whole system seems to me to lie in the philosophical turning point proposed by Immanuel Kant. According to him, the voice of being-in-itself cannot be heard by human beings. Man can hear it only indirectly in the postulates of practical reason, which have remained as it were the small opening through which he can make contact with the real -- that is, his eternal destiny. ... Thence comes the restriction to the positive, to the empirical, to "exact" science, which by definition excludes the appearance of what is "wholly other," the one who is wholly other, or a new initiative from another plane.

In theological terms, this means that revelation must recede into the pure formality of the eschatological stance, which corresponds to the Kantian split. As far as everything else is concerned, it all needs to be "explained." What might otherwise seem like a direct proclamation of the divine can only be myth, whose laws of development can be discovered. It is with this basic conviction that Bultmann, with the majority of modern exegetes, reads the Bible. He is certain that it cannot be the way it is depicted in the Bible, and he looks for methods to demonstrate the way it really had to be. To that extent there lies in modern exegesis a reduction of history to philosophy, a revision of history by means of philosophy.
[From "Biblical Interpreation in Crisis.", 1988]


pritcher said...

Mollie Get Religion has a pretty good response to it, from a journalistic perspective.

Museum Ethics Controversy said...

I would submit that this "ancient tablet" is probably another sensationalist scam, as is clearly suggested by the facts

(1) that no specific information is available on its provenance ("probably found near the Dead Sea" doesn't quite do it for me); and

(2) that no details are provided on carbon dating of the ink or analysis of the stone.

As such, this "news" brings to mind the faked Lost-Tomb-of-Jesus "documentary" designed to financially profit from people's fascination with the "real" Jesus, as well as the larger scandal of the biased and misleading way the Dead Sea scrolls are being presented in museum exhibits around the world, with an antisemitic nuance emerging on a government-run North Carolina museum's website. See, e.g., (article critical of exhibits)

and (discussion and further links)