Baker Academic

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Historical Jesus is the Mediated Jesus

I am pleased to say that Dr. Crossley and I have successfully processed another issue of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. Issue 14.3 should be out within the next few months. Here is an early look at my editorial foreword: 

Foreword: The Historical Jesus is the Mediated Jesus

The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus has predictably changed in the past year reflecting both transitions of managing personnel and innovations within the field. Notably we have welcomed several new scholars to our editorial board and so too a new range of expertise. These include Helen Bond, Tom Holmén, Thomas Kazen, Chris Keith, Annette Merz, Halvor Moxnes, Jens Schröter, and Joan Taylor. This issue features an introductory essay by Tom Holmén and we welcome him to our board enthusiastically.

Another recent change is to our official subtitle. It formerly read Jesus in History, Culture, and Art. To better reflect the expertise of our board, we have changed this subtitle to Jesus in History, Culture, and Media. The addition of “media” to our stated interests invites potential authors to explore the reception of Jesus in both ancient and modern media. This includes historiographical concerns related to how Jesus was mediated in oral performance, textual artifacts, visual art, etc. It also includes the historiographical concerns related to how the historical Jesus is (re)constructed in modern contexts. Indeed, the “historical Jesus” if understood properly is a modern, historiographical construct that seeks to set the record straight concerning Jesus the man. (The discipline now recognizes pre-modern attempts to this as well.) As such, the historian interested in Jesus begins by finding something deficient or underdeveloped in previous attempts to mediate the Jesus of history. The fact that the historical Jesus is necessarily mediated, of course, is a key concern of hermeneutics (both ancient and modern). Research concerned with Jesus and media acknowledge that the means by which historical judgments are mediated impact how Jesus was/is received and accordingly reframed.

The present issue of JSHJ is illustrative of historiographical and hermeneutical media concerns in a number of ways. Tom Holmén revisits the social function of crucifixion in Jesus’ world and addresses the hermeneutical frameworks attested within the second-Temple period. Does Jewish interpretation of crucifixion suggest a way to mediate it in positive terms as we see in the case of Jesus? James McGrath offers a historiographical approach to Philippians 2:8’s possible allusion to Gethsemane. How should the historian treat a historical allusion mediated through an overtly Christological text? The article by Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts continues this journal’s general interest in the philosophy of history and continues a specific debate with Jonathan Bernier concerning critical realism. Have historians of Jesus rightly understood Bernard Lonergan and applied his insights legitimately? My article in this issue is focused on a recent development in modern media. What impact will Trump-era “fake news” have on the relationship between Jesus historians and the general public’s reception of professional research? This issue also features several book reviews. Gratitude is due to JSHJ book review editor Michael Daise.

Another brief comment (in two parts) is warranted concerning the relationship to reception and social frameworks (i.e. mediation) and historiographical reconstructions of historical persons, ideologies, events, etc.

1. Historians interested in e.g. Jesus’ crucifixion must also be interested in the social frameworks that make sense of Roman execution practices. We must attempt to describe how the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion was received (i.e. mediated) by those impacted by Jesus’ death. Holmén’s essay, while not focused on Jesus’ execution primarily, contributes to our understanding of Jesus’ unique reception. In this case, the reception history of crucifixion is crucial to the historical fact of Jesus’ death. Something similar can be said of Paul’s reception of a historical memory as discussed by McGrath: the reception history is related in some way to the fact of Jesus’ death. These are examples of first-century realities being mediated—necessarily so—by interpretative frameworks. As such, understanding theorists such as (but not limited to) Bernard Lonergan ought to be primary to our historiographical interests. My hope is that this journal will continue to be a place for serious discussion on theoretical matters as well as the application of them.

2. Historians interested in Jesus must also be aware of their own social placement and indebtedness. No doubt e.g. the swell of anti-Semitism in modern Europe had some relationship to the proposal of an Aryan Jesus. Whether this mediation of the historical Jesus was self-aware or perpetrated unwittingly, the historian’s interpretive context matters just as much as the first-century interpretive context under observation. My article on fake news explores an emerging social framework that (I argue) warrants further consideration and invites self-reflection. My hope is that this journal will continue to be a place that welcomes metacritical analysis to explain how and why historical Jesus research has evolved and is evolving.

The articles in this issue represent various approaches to the “media” elements in historical Jesus research and illustrate the rationale for the change to this journal’s subtitle.

Anthony Le Donne

United Theological Seminary

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