Baker Academic

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dale Martin Responds

This past week Dale Martin's provocative JSNT essay has provided this blog with a great deal of fodder. This essay was first alerted by Chris Keith, Brian Pounds offered a two-part rebuttal, I pointed readers to Simon Joseph's post, James Crossley used this topic as an opportunity to rethink a couple well-worn categories in Jesus research, and Dale Allison provided me with a few rough reflections on the essay.

Because the Jesus Blog is a full-service station, I emailed Professor Martin and offered him a chance for rejoinder. Dale does not usually tinker with social media but agreed to do so because, as he says, "the people you cite seem to be raising objections in good faith, and they are not vicious as many of my critics are (about my writings on sexuality before, and now this historical Jesus article)." I took this, of course, as a grievous insult. We've devoted a lot of time and effort trying to make this blog the most vicious historical Jesus webpage on the internet. But I decided to include his email reply anyway. Martin writes:
...let me give responses as to how I would answer some of these objections. And feel free to post this, but please edit it first if you find typos or obvious errors. I'm doing this on the fly. 
First, I think it is nit-picky to say that machaira can also refer to a dagger or "small sword" that would be more like a knife (Paula Fredricksen made this point in the Newsweek article also). It can refer to a small sword, but one need only note the places it occurs even just in the NT to see that it often refers to a sword, and a battle sword at that. In Acts 16:27 it is the weapon used by a jailor; in Rev 6:4 it is even called "a great sword" and is given to an angel for battle; in Rev 13:10 it again refers to a sword a soldier would use in battle. It is commonly translated as "sword." To say that just in "this case" it refers to a knife is not playing fair with our evidence. 
And besides, even if it refers to a small sword or dagger, the evidence I cited from Cicero shows that even that kind of weapon could get even a Roman citizen arrested and punished in Rome. It seems to have been a dagger in that case. But Cicero doesn't seem to think that is relevant. It is still illegal and dangerous. 
To those people who say I have not given evidence that the same policy would obtain in Jerusalem, I just say we have little data to go on. But I think the onus should be on those people who think Romans would be so afraid of other Romans being armed but have no problem with Jews being armed in Jerusalem at Passover (of all times). I think my notion is just the more likely, since all we are going on for this issue is likelihood. 
As for how I would address the so-called pacifist sayings in the Gospels, such as Luke 6 and Matthew 5, I did address this when Stanley Hauerwas asked me about it when I first gave the presentation at Duke. If Jesus said pacifist sounding sayings and teachings (we'd have to examine the historicity of those, which I've not done), I take it that he was advocating only a "strategic" passive stanceprecisely to await the violence he certainly expected God to bring in the future. I am certain that one cannot find anywhere in the ancient Mediterranean world any kind of principle of nonviolence as we find it in the modern world with people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. That just did not exist in the ancient world. Everyone, or at least everyone I can find, expected that some kind of violence was part of all life and all governance. What Christians did was very much like what modern Mennonites do: they don't say no violence at any time by anyone should be committed. They just say that it is God's prerogative, not ours. But the ancient Christians certainly seem to have expected that God or his agents would indeed commit violence. 
Note all the references to divine violence (what could be more violent that eternal hell?) Jesus makes: Mark 9:43-48; Matt 10:26-33=Luke 12:2-9; Matt 11:20-24=Luke 10:13-15; Luke 13:1-9; Matt 22:7; Luke 16:23; Mark 9:42=Luke 17:2=Matt 18:6; Mark 12:9; and all of Mark 13 and the other "little apocalypses" of the Gospels. 
I think it very likely that the historical Jesus taught a kind of "turn the other cheek," "bless your enemies" kind of ethic, but given all the other references to violence on the part of God or God's agents, I think it must be taken as a "strategic" passive stance while awaiting divine intervention. But then there would be violence indeed. 
In my hypothesis, Jesus came to the decision that the end was imminent. He was not planning on initiating any sword play. He was waiting for the Messiah or some other divine agent to initiate the battle. But when it started, he expected that he and his followers would join battle also. There is no contradiction between passive teachings for the here and now and expectations of divine violence in the future. 
I've read Dale Allison's arguments about Jesus expecting and not resisting his death, but I don't completely buy them. I think it is perfectly possible, indeed quite probable, that Jesus had different ideas about the possibility of his death during his ministry. He could have thought he might die in some way. He could have begun thinking that he would die a prophetic martyr. He could have changed his mind, later deciding that he needed to provoke God's hand to intervene. I just don't think we have enough evidence to be certain that Jesus, throughout his ministry, expected and accepted his death. 
As for there not having been a blood bath at the arrest, Jesus may have been surrounded by only 10-12 people. The arresting party could have been much larger. Some shedding of blood very likely occurred (as the Gospels say it did). But an arrest of a ringleader would have been easier, if it could be accomplished, than a blood bath during the night.
As for Mike Bird's point that "son of man" somehow indicates a non-revolutionary Jesus (if I'm reading that correctly), the title occurs in Daniel, which may even be the main source for Jesus' and Mark's use of it. The son of man in Daniel is in the midst of lots of violence indeed, though again it is violence committed by a divine agent, here Michael, perhaps with other angelic forces, though that is not make explicit. 
Historical discontinuity (a rebel Jesus and passive later church): Yes, there was, in my view, a sharp discontinuity, but that is easily explained (as I hint at toward the end of my article). After the disciples saw what a disaster the armed option was, what would be more natural than that they would abandon it? There is lots of discontinuity between the historical Jesus and later beliefs and practices. But this one is easy to explain: they tried the armed option and it failed. Come up with a different strategy to get the kingdom of God! 
About "revolutionary" (was this from Crossley?): I don't recall using the term, so any discussion of various meanings of the term is for me irrelevant. 
To those who object that the temple guards and Romans did not do anything to Jesus during the temple incident, that is no evidence of anything, in my view. I never took Jesus' actions in the temple precinct to be an armed revolt. I think it was an unarmed demonstration of the coming destruction of the temple. The whole thing was over, in my view, in a matter of minutes. The Romans, had they bothered, could possibly have witnessed it from their perch on Antonia. But Jesus could have been long gone by the time they got down. And I think other people would have also seen Jesus' actions as "just another crazy prophet acting out." 
Pounds's point that many cases cited by Josephus do have followers as well as leaders punished or killed is also beside the point. All we need is one or a few cases in which the leader is arrested and killed while the followers are not. That is enough evidence to overcome the common argument that the authorities would never have let that happen. They sometimes did. 
The point about John the Baptist not actually mounting an armed revolt is also beside the point. The significant fact is that Herod killed John because he was afraid some kind of violence might ensue from the movement around John. It is Herod's apprehension and his actions resulting from it that provide the evidence that rulers did not always kill the followers as well. 
I know that is long. And I am not willing in getting into a lot of give and take. But these are the answers I would make to those people who (generously and kindly I might add, with thanks) raised objections.

My thanks to Dale Martin for his thoughtful reply. This has been a very interesting discussion.



  1. I'm sorry, I still don't buy Martin's arguments (I think that critics are not beside the point, as for John the Baptist analogies). However, I think Martin raised a point of absolute interest: how Jesus could imagine the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, if violence was implied, by whom, and what was Jesus' role in this fulfillment.

  2. Martin's point about understanding Jesus' pacifistic sayings as promoting a "strategic" pacifism is absolutely right (!), but I think the strategy was different from what Martin imagines. Jesus simply wanted to avoid bringing the wrath of Rome down on the Jews. His strategy was the same as that later adopted by the Babylonian Jews living under the reign of Shapur II: If you can't beat 'em, don't provoke 'em.

    One of the most reliable approaches to the New Testament in general is always to take the opposite view from Hauerwas. (I really mean that. I've never known him to be right about *anything*.)

  3. Thank you Dr. Martin! I think that in many ways, this response is better than the original piece in JSNT. I think he's right about the machaira. I think his argument about Rome and Jerusalem works better when he talks in terms of "onus" and greater likelihood, though I can imagine how arms might be prohibited in Rome (it being a kind of holy city) and nowhere else.

    His point about strategic passive violence does not convince me -- is there an implicit "until" or "for the time being" in Jesus' pacifistic pronouncements? If so, I'm not seeing it. His statements concerning violence sound to me like they're intended for all time. If there's any time element, I'd argue that it's "soon" or "in a little while" -- that these pronouncements describe life in the coming Kingdom of God, but may not describe the "now" period of transition into the Kingdom. I think the better argument is that Jesus meant what he said to apply today, and tomorrow, and the day after that.

    Martin's point about the Kingdom of God coming with violence, being inaugurated by violence? Yes, I think that's an important point. That's the way I see it too. What's less clear is whether and in what ways Jesus intended to participate in this violence, and how he expected his followers to behave when this violence broke out. Doesn't Matthew 24:16 and similar passages indicate that Jesus wanted his followers to flee this violence? I don't see any similar passages urging Jesus' followers to join the fighting.

    As for Martin's point about there being "one or a few cases in which the leader is arrested and killed while the followers are not" -- well, I don't see even one case on point. In his article, Martin mentions two cases -- that of the "Samaritan prophet," and the case of John the Baptist. But many of the followers of the Samaritan prophet WERE captured and killed. And no one accused John the Baptist of leading an armed band (no matter how small) waiting to join in an impending angelic war against Rome. If the rule was no swords in Jerusalem, then I can't see there being an exception for those carrying swords in a small band whose leader has just been arrested.

    But ultimately, I agree with Lollo. Martin is raising good questions. He's problematizing Gospel material that (I think) needs to be re-examined.

  4. 'He was waiting for the Messiah or some other divine agent to initiate the battle.'

    This is a rather odd statement. Apart from the fact that he was called 'the Messiah', the question of 'awaiting divine intervention' is just that - when you wait for God, you wait. You don't take violence into your own hands nor do you expect an angelic cavalry. I think we need to know more about marauding angels of this type. I somehow doubt that Jesus was as naive as is assumed in this context. He fully expected the violence to fall on himself. If the divine is in the actions of the people who did rise up against him, then there too is a mystery worth exploring.

    Let me support my anthropological reasoning with a psalm. Much could be written on waiting in the Psalms. The first psalm to use 'wait' as a frame is the acrostic Psalm 25 but I will choose another acrostic that uses wait twice, Psalm 37, in which we find that the afflicted, the meek, the poor, (ועֲַנוָיִם יירְִשׁוּ אָרֶץ) will inherit the earth, a central statement in that psalm, repeated 5 times in the poem, and of course in the sermon on the Mount. The phrase in Psalm 37 is introduced first by the note that it is those who 'wait' for YHWH who inherit or possess the earth (verse 9). This in turn is preceded by the command to forsake anger and violence (verse 8) including the desire to do evil to another, an action that delivers only shame (verse 19).

    The poem further tells us of the righteous (verse 34) that with the instruction of his God in his heart, his steps are not unstable. Violence is surely unstable. That section of the poem (letter qof) repeats the command to wait. The outcome of violence is not secure.

    How was the mind of Jesus formed? If he was a real first century person in Galilee and environs, it was formed by the psalms among other parts of the Hebrew scriptures. Or if you want to question whether the sermon is historical with respect to the mind of Jesus, how then was the mind of the community that preached Jesus formed that gave us the second gift of interpretation of these words? A person who is anointed with these gifts, anointed? add penetrated, saturated with this gift of David's Torah knows how to wait and therefore how not to take violence into his own hands.

    If there is an angel here, it is the angel named Patience.

    1. Thank you for bringing Ps 25 into this discussion, Bob. Very helpful indeed.

  5. Polybius seems to use machaira as a generic sword (for instance, a Roman soldier was armed with an iberike machaira); others like Xenophon seem to use machaira to refer to a sword that we'd call today a sabre. I think there shoukd be little doubt about the meaning of the word.

    What I can't see fully demonstrated is the reason why we should take the two-sword passsage literally. We are dealing with the sayings of a man who explained himself in parables. Besides, a self-defence recommendation is not refuted as far as I can understand.