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Aug 11, 2009


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J. K. Gayle

Amy-Jill Levine, the new testament scholar who is also a Jew and Jewish scholar, may have some insight here. In The Misunderstood Jew (page 200), she says, "From the Jewish side, the rabbis told stories, called midrashim, in part to fill in gaps in the biblical text." And in an earlier context (page 3) where she compares Jesus to a number of other Jewish leaders, she explains: "Jesus tell parables, just like the prophet Nathan and a number of rabbis whose stories appear in postbiblical sources."

Seems Levine is able to expand the understanding of rabbi (more than Bailey or Wright do) and to show how Jesus was a rabbi in these various ways. Rabbis at least told stories for midrash and for parabolic reasons. Moreover, Jesus not only received intensive scriptural training (and Levine cites Bruce Chilton's Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography which makes this argument) but the rabbi also was prophet-like in telling stories related to his hearers' immediate situations.

Michael W. Kruse

Interesting, J K. This is along the lines I had thought as I read this. Since Levine agrees with me, she must be right. :-)


Dana Ames

I don't see any inherent contradiction. Ben Witherington likes Levine's take on Jesus' teaching, and he appreciates Wright too. I also seem to recall Bailey calling the episode with Martha and Mary a sort of midrash.


Michael W. Kruse

It seems to me that Jesus could have engaged in one type Rabbinical training with his inner-circle and still have lived out the prophetic role Wright talks about. (And my recollection is that it may be bit anachronistic to talk of Jesus as a "rabbi" in terms commonly understood just a few generations later, so I think care is needed.) Nothing I've read or heard from Bailey would seem to rule this out though I get the sense that Wright wants preclude the idea of any formal oral tradition.


What I find with much scholarship is the appropriation of historical figures into types. This makes for good academic debate (and sets scholars apart from each other), but often what I find is that it misses the reality of life. We all know that humans are not easily categorised into types. We are multi faceted people, dipping our toes often into various roles/personas.

That is why, I think, the gospel records have variations. Just as modern biographical works on the same person vary (albeit that their genre is different from Gospel writings). People seem different, depending on who's doing the observation.


In Truth and Reality nobody really knows diddley-squat about what happened back then or in any other period of history.

A line from a Don Mclean song.

"What do you know--only what you perceive".

Which is true. The only thing you really know is what is in your direct field of perception right now.

Everything else is conjecture.

And it all disappears every night when you enter the mindless state of deep dreamless and formless sleep.

But even then, neuro-science tells us that everything you see "out there" is a fabrication of, and a projection of your own brain and nervous system.

How do we really see then? Or put in another way, with homage to William Blake. How do we cleanse or open the doors of perception so that we can see infinity in a grain of sand.

And of course when one is thus able to see infinity in a grain of sand, ALL of the usual questions and debates re what happened in Biblical times dissolve in laughter.

Travis Greene

Jesus is described as a prophet, a rabbi, a priest, a king...there's no need to limit him to just one role. He probably could be categorized as a proto-rabbi of some kind (despite his conflict with them, he was pretty close to the Pharisees in many ways, who were the forerunners to the rabbis).

I do think Jesus eschewed the kind of extreme "repeat after me" forms of oral tradition, not because his teachings didn't matter (they do), but because he was creating a community with the authority to bind and loose. A community through which he would continue to work. If they focused too much on his exact words, they might miss what he was continuing to say to them. I suspect it's the same reason he left and sent the Spirit in his place (or whatever...we lack the language to even talk about this).

Michael W. Kruse

Bailey's expertise is in the cultural literary approach. He maintains that, following the tradition of teachers in his day, Jesus would have used the stock stories of scripture and Israel's teachers to develop his own stories. The stories were the theology, not illustrations. The chiasmus structure of so many of Jesus parables suggests that they were very carefully crafted units that conveyed a multifaceted theological reality. Careful transmission of the stories would have been necessary to avoid the corruption of the story and in Jesus' day the preserving the stories through a devoted oral community was seen as more trustworthy than putting it in writing where errors and subversion good enter into the mix.

I think Jesus could have done something along these lines and still had a rich tradition of adaptable prophetic messages he preached as he traveled about.

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