Jesus Against the Scribal Elite

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Candida Moss on The O'Reilly Factor Part Two--Chris Keith

 

For those who haven't seen Dr. Candida Moss (Notre Dame) on The O'Reilly Factor, here's the video.  In an earlier post, Anthony pointed readers of the Jesus Blog to it but refrained from comment because he's actively writing a review of O'Reilly's Killing Jesus.  I thought I'd throw out a few of my thoughts in the meantime.

First, let me say that, in contrast to my hippy tree hugger partner in crime Dr. Le Donne, I'm not a particularly political person.  I never have been.  I don't love to hate Bill O'Reilly and I don't love to support him.  I usually pay no attention whatsoever, especially since I moved to London.  Also, I haven't read Killing Jesus and don't plan to do so; again, not because I hate or love O'Reilly but because there's a pile of about ten books on my desk by actual New Testament scholars.

Nevertheless, a couple things about this interview are noteworthy.  First, O'Reilly starts off saying that Jesus "stayed out of politics."  This surprised me.  We can (and have) debate(d) for a very long time about the precise ways in which Jesus was political, but whether he was is not really up for debate.  For goodness gracious, the man died in a manner reserved for political threats to the Roman empire.  Regardless of whether he was (in some existential way) political, he was definitely regarded as political by important authories around him.  Just looking at NT scholarship, though, Jesus scholars across the board agree that Jesus occupied an important place in the sociopolitical structure of Palestinian Judaism; it's a major feature of, for example, the work of Marcus Borg and NT Wright.  (As a plug, this is also an important theme in my forthcoming Jesus against the Scribal Elite.)  Just taking a guess here, I think O'Reilly seems to mean that Jesus wasn't interested in Roman politics, presumably because of the way he answers the question about paying taxes to Caesar.  But the Roman political structure was hardly the only political structure and, arguably, not even the most important one for Jesus' life, at least for every period of his life other than that last Passover.  Publicly debating groups like Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, etc., as well as a public demonstration in the Temple during Passover were all political acts at their very core in the Jewish context.  There's really no way around this.

I was also intrigued by the way in which one of Jesus' "hard sayings" played out in this interview.  In addition to citing the Lukan beatitude "Blessed are the poor" (which differs from the Matthean "Blessed are the poor in spirt"), Dr. Moss points out that Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to give away all his possessions in order to enter the kingdom (Mark 10//Matt. 19//Luke 18).  O'Reilly accuses her of reading this parable literally, and I couldn't help but think of the crowd listening to Jesus in Life of Brian ("What's so special about the cheesemakers?").  But the Gospels never present this story of Jesus as a parable; they present it as an event from his life.  O'Reilly responds the way almost all readers of this story tend to respond--surely that's not what he really meant.  But the text is on Dr. Moss's side here (assuming the text cares for a second about sides in this debate, which I doubt it does).  The Gospel authors sure seem to think that Jesus meant just what he said, as does the young man who walks away, regardless of how hard that is for us to swallow.  The very point is that this is impossible, which is why the disciples, who are also befuddled at who in the world, then, can be saved, get some further teaching from Jesus.  It's in this context that Jesus claims, "With God, all things are possible" (Mark 10.27//Matt. 10.26//Luke 10.27).  (So no, despite my pious expectations as a sixth-grader, it doesn't mean that if I pray hard enough I can have any girlfriend I want and will grow to 6'4" and play in the NBA.)  Any interpretation of this text that removes the impossible nature of Jesus' demand has a hard time squaring with the text itself because it was meant to point toward an impossibility.  What we do with this theologically and practically is a separate issue, and I'll be the first to own up to having a bank account and failing to give away everything I have, despite calling myself a follower.  But Jesus never said, "Well, of course, I don't really mean that."

Lastly, having watched The O'Reilly Factor who-knows-how-many-times at my parents' house, I was surprised also by how cordial the interview as a whole was.  I thought Dr. Moss did a marvelous job at keeping her cool and staying on the facts.  She represented us Neutestamentlers well and I offer my gratitude.  I think we should give credit to O'Reilly, too, for allowing her the last word.  From what I've seen, he doesn't always do that.  Hey, Jesus scholarship was on one of the most watched shows on television.  That's a good thing for all of us interested in this discussion.  Congrats, Dr. Moss!

16 comments:

  1. Hi, I understand you have a lot to read so you won’t manage to read O’Reilly book. However, from Anthony's review I understand there is a time and a place also for O’Reilly book: never and in the trash ;-)

    So said, I disagree with Candida (by the way, a pretty unhappy woman’s name in my part of the world!) regarding her “socialist” reading of Jesus’ “social justice” program, regardless of how anachronistic such term could be.

    Everything started on Twitter:
    - Reza Aslan: "Jesus was a Middle Eastern socialist who fed the poor and advocated for free health care. Pretty much Bill O'Reilly's nightmare."
    - Candida Moss: "Agree! Thanks for tweeting my piece!"
    - Reza Aslan: "You're great! […]"
    - Candida Moss: "Admiration is mutual. […]"

    Let’s put aside her admiration for Aslan (I believe that Aslan’s work on Jesus should deserve more criticism than praises by any serious historian - as she actually is), it’s true that Jesus literally meant to tell the rich to give away all his money, as well as he told a man to not bury his father, but I doubt that he dreamed a Socialist world made of poverty and unburied bodies.
    Jesus also healed and exorcised, but I don’t think he did it to deliver health services to people without health insurance.
    So, although it’s true that Jesus blessed the poor and cursed the rich, still I don’t believe he meant that wealthy people go to Hell while poor people go to Heaven *simply by virtue of their wealth or poverty*.
    Therefore Candida is right on the literality of Jesus’ command to the rich, but in my opinion her “socialist” exegesis is not better than O’Reilly interpretation.

    As Dale Allison pointed out, any historical portrait of Jesus tends to reflect historian’s personal ideas and convictions.. Apparently Candida makes no exception, and her admiration for Aslan makes her “personal Jesus” even less credible.

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    1. I have nothing to say about Aslan's book other than that I won't be reading it either. I agree that "socialist" is not a helpful term when it comes to Jesus.

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  2. Thoughtful commentary.

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  3. Chris,

    If you read Matthew 19, you'll quickly see that comments/assertions that Moss made are at best ignorant, and at worst outright lies. I fear the latter. There is a huge stretch of dialogue that that talks about inheriting life by keeping the commandments all the way to being perfect, and particular to this man (which Jesus knew) he had great possessions, thus the advice. Even mentioning "codemned to hell" reeks of particular, personal motives. Apart from the fact that Jesus doesn't condemn anyone to hell in the gospels, it's bad theology and untrue in any christian context.

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    1. Maybe she was reading Luke.

      -anthony

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    2. I think it's all a matter of exegesis. As Luke himself points out: "You cannot serve both God and money" (Luke 16:13), and that's why Jesus recommends to give possessions away. To me, it looks like a sort of individual "call to discipleship" rather than a rule to build a social community. However, i didn't read your book yet - so I'm open to change my mind. Either cases, I still think that dr. Moss should have better stayed more on the text, making clear that Jesus literally meant to give money away. That was a more solid ground to demolish O'Reilly naive approach without leaving room for polemics, especially in such kind of public debate.

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    3. Lorenzo, you may well be correct. It might be a matter of exegesis and you might be the better exegete... *might*. Still, you should acknowledge that you just called somebody a liar. If you'd like to take this conversation in a more sober direction, by all means! But your comment above is quite an accusation and not one that can be glossed over easily.

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    4. Hi, I don't know if you got my last reply (I sent it from my phone, maybe something went wrong), so I try again. I didn't realize that my last comments could be offensive, I don't know how you came to think that I could accuse anyone of being a liar: that's something miles away from what I think and from what I wanted to say. I've read again my comments and -again- I can't see where I may have been misinterpreted. I do realize that I'm not just a poor exegete (that's for sure!) but also a poor communicator: my horrible English is not helping me, I suppose. I always try to carefully introduce my opinions by saying "I think", "in my opinion", etc. so I don't consider my thoughts as "undeniable truth", especially when dealing with top-scholars like in this case. Of course I'd be glad to know where I said something bad on somebody (that will help me to be more careful in future), I do want to continue participating to this blog in a proper manner without falling into a "black list" of offensive polemicists. While waiting for your response, all I can do for now is to present my sincere apologies to anyone who felt offended by my words, and to the Blog's owners who always publish my comments -good or bad- and have the patience to kindly answer me. Sincerely, Lorenzo.

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    5. Lorenzo, are you serious? You don't know how we came to believe that you called someone a liar? Look four comments up, buddy, where you accuse Moss of telling "outright lies."

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    6. Hey Chris, it wasn't me. Such comment is from an "Anonymous" and I *totally disagree* with such post in both shape and content. I tell you, I really hope that this "incident" was mainly due to a misunderstanding - it would be a big relief for me, cause I really felt guilty of something that I couldn't understand.. My comments are all signed as "Lorenzo", and I will immediately register to the Blog to avoid any potential ambiguity on my identity in future. I hope you can confirm such "misjudgment" and, although I'm not the best blogger ever, I hope I can continue writing here. Thank you.

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    7. Lorenzo, you are right and I am wrong. Thanks for pointing that out and I apologize. I should have been more careful and will aim to be more careful in the future. Thanks for contributing to the blog!

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    8. This is obviously my fault Lorenzo. My apologies.
      -anthony

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    9. Chris, Antony, that's really appreciated. Really. I'm now using an "official" nick registered at blogger/google. Thanks again for spending time on such a small issue: this confirms once more that this is a great Blog, and that's why I insisted to stay here :-)

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  4. It is important to note, that not all writers about the life of Jesus, are required to be PHDs in Early Christianity or otherwise biblical scholars. Modern day we see many bloggers and internet writers, who say what they please, and are able to be anonymous. By O'Reilly going on record with his particular research, he can be confronted and asked to clarify as needed. Good job O'Reilly, and good job Dr. Candida Moss. Discussion and debate are always productive.

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    1. I'm not comfortable with the word "research" in this context. Can we use a different term?

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    2. I think I gave both their credit above. And, yes, it's true that bloggers and internet writers can say what they please. It's also true that we can read or not read them as we please. Without a terminal degree, particularly a PhD, it is not impossible to be an expert, but it is difficult. In other words, having a blog and/or an audience doesn't make one an expert; having actually done the work of research makes one an expert.

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