Virtually every morning at the office, I keep to a particular routine: arrive c. 7.00am; prayer and Bible reading until c. 8.00am; study/review a particular language (either Greek or German) until c. 9.00am; random ‘academic’ reading until c. 10.00am; and then work on my dissertation until c. 12.00pm, at which point I break for lunch. After lunch, I tend to check on e-mails and/or do a blog post [such as this one] and then do nothing but dissertation stuff for the rest of the day).
My ‘academic’ reading for this morning was C.J. den Heyer’s, Jesus and the Doctrine of the Atonement (1998). Not really sure why I’ve taken on an interest in the specific topic of atonement, but I am enjoying what I’m reading–especially Martin Hengel’s, The Atonement: Origins of the Doctrine in the New Testament (1981) and David Brondos’, Paul on the Cross: Reconstructing the Apostle’s Story of Redemption (2006). However the reason for this post is not connected with den Heyer’s views on the atonement as it is a particular detail about the historical Jesus that den Heyer gives.
When briefly describing the political and social environment into which Jesus was born and later ministered, den Heyer calls attention to the Jewish Zealots and the party of the Pharisees.* The former responded to foreign occupation in dramatic ways in an effort to maintain Jewish heritage and identity, while the latter tended to seek amicable relations with the powers that be while at the same time remaining true to Judaism. It is within this context that den Heyer makes the following suggestion (p. 2):
It seems likely that Jesus came from their circles [i.e. the Pharisees]. We can infer from the Gospels that his parents observed the commandments of the Torah closely.
I’m not so much bothered by the second claim, because it can be reasonably inferred primarily because such an inferrence has the support of what the Gospels testify and imply about Jesus’ parents. (Certainly, one would hope the den Heyer is not making the assumption that observance of Torah necessarily entails membership with the Pharisees; although the converse could be argued). However, I am struck by the suggestion that Jesus came from the party of the Pharisees.** What struck me ever further was how den Heyer moved from this mere suggestion (i.e. ‘it seems likely’) to the more determined claim (p. 3):
The origin of the Pharisaic movement, to which Jesus’ parents belonged . . .
before finally settling on the decidedly certain belief (p. 7):
Despite [Jesus'] Pharisaic background . . .
What truly bothers me about this movement is that at no point along the way does den Heyer attempt to justify either the logical sequence (a sequence that seems a little backwards to me) or the historicity of the claims themselves. While I ultimately disagree with the arguments of Maccoby, he at least gave some discussion on how he arrived at his conclusions. den Heyer does nothing remotely similar, which is a really a shame because if he’s going to make that move (or offer that portrait of Jesus, which he presumably wants his readers to accept as historical), then he needs to provide clear reasons for the move and why its results are historically viable.
* Here I am following E. Ferguson’s distinction between ‘sects’ and ‘parties’–see Backgrounds to Early Christianity (2003), 513.
** This, of course, is not original to den Heyer; H. Maccoby advocated precisely that point in his aptly and unambiguously titled, Jesus the Pharisee (2003), which elaborates a key theme in his earlier work, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (1986).
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