Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bauckham's "Jesus and the God of Israel," Chapter 1D (Dis/Continuities)

I have finally reached the final segment in my review of Bauckham's first chapter of Jesus and the God of Israel. Only seven chapters to go....this is going to take forever to finish.

You can catch my riveting earlier segments here:
Chapter 1A (Monotheism)
Chapter 1B (Monotheistic Christology)
Chapter 1C (God Crucified)

Bauckham ends this chapter charting some consistencies and novelties from second temple Judaism to NT Christology as well as “evaluating” later theological traditions in light of his discoveries.

Bauckham finds considerable consistency in the characterization of God in terms of God being creator and sovereign, characteristics that distinguish God from all other reality (in my opinion, the true key to Bauckham’s “monotheism”). Bauckham recognizes that this is a minimal portrayal; other characteristics flesh out the character of God in God’s relationship to all creation and his relationship to Israel—such as God’s more particular interactions with Israel (in terms of covenant) with attendant characteristics of being slow to anger, love, and faithfulness (Exodus 34). Such a God would be expected to act in ways consistent with these identity traits as expressed broadly throughout the literature of the period, such as, for example, in Second Isaiah’s “new exodus” event with its universalizing tendencies—a combination that effectively brings together the covenantal aspects of God and God’s relationship to all reality. The early Christians, therefore, who thought they had experienced this new exodus (or used this new exodus to understand their experiences—this last bit is more my formulation, not Bauckham’s), produced a new narrative of God’s acts that becomes incorporated into the definition of God’s identity:

“Just as Israel identified God as the God who brought Israel out of Egypt and by telling the story of God’s history with Israel, so the New Testament identifies God as the God of Jesus Christ and by telling the story of Jesus as the story of the salvation of the world” (52)

Is this concept, of humiliation and exaltation within the identity of God, something radically new? Bauckham presents this as a consistency within inconsistency: God is the God of the unexpected and surprising—unpredictability is consistent with God’s characterization. Is it? Thus, the early Christian development of “God Crucified” may be radically novel, but not entirely out of the question. It is developed through an ongoing dialogue between “creative exegesis” and the early movement’s experiences (I think this part is quite right). This is best illustrated through the readings of Second Isaiah.

I particularly like Bauckham’s understanding of the mutual influence of interpretation and experience:

“The first Christians knew better than we do that some of the key insights they found in Deutero-Isaiah had not been seen in Deutero-Isaiah before. But the work of creative exegesis enabled them to find consistency in novelty. They appreciate the most radically new precisely in the process of understanding its continuity with the already revealed” (54).

The combination of humiliation and exaltation, of honor and shame, would have been the most remarkable and most questionable for a Second Temple perspective. Bauckham suggests that this is why the NT has such a preoccupation with the juxtaposition of these opposites, being sensitive to its novelty. But, Bauckham claims, it is not completely without precedent (Is. 57:15), which shows divine sympathy with those who are in the lowest of the low. The shift, however, is that in Isaiah, God sympathizes with; in the NT, he through Jesus sympathizes as. Bauckham concludes that this is unexpected, but not uncharacteristic; novel, but appropriate (55).

Similarly, Bauckham sees Exodus 33-34 as the antecedent for John 1 (both dealing with the Glory), but the unseen (or inability to see; cf. Exodus 24, however) from Exodus becomes the seen or revealed in John 1. The visible manifestation of the Glory becomes a manifestation of Glory within a human body. Again, the conclusion is novel but appropriate.

Bauckham has been saving an observation or corollary to his discussion until now:

“the inclusion of Jesus in the identity of God means the inclusion in God of the interpersonal relationship between Jesus and his Father” (55

Bauckham notes that there is nothing that contradicts the possibility of interpersonal relationships within the divine identity, but little if anything anticipates it. This, then, has to be radically new. I find this to be a weak point. Nothing contradicts it in earlier texts because such an idea never occurred to anyone in order to contradict it. Moreover, are these interpersonal relationships a NT preoccupation? Perhaps this implication is most sensitively felt in the Gospel of John, but, otherwise, something culled out by later theologians, yes?

Bauckham suggests that NT sources seem to be aware of such a novelty because of Matt. 28:19. This passage does have the novelty of Jesus as exalted and enthroned and even worshiped. The novelty Bauckham indicates is the formula of “in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As such, Bauckham claims, God takes on new identities without dumping the old (just as he did in Exod. 3); in Christ, God demonstrates his deity to the world as the same God of Israel, but does so anew. I think he overemphasizes this proto-Trinitarian moment. Even if this indicates interpersonal relationships, it hardly speaks for the entire NT: it is one text! Perhaps Bauckham should recall his earlier methodological stance that one should establish broader patterns using the most sources possible and then move onto the “peripheral” ones (or aspects with little evidence). In fact, much of his NT discussion violates this rule: particularly his discussion of Jesus as preexistent creator.

Next, Bauckham moves into fairly dangerous territory of evaluating late Christological-theological developments. This section has an almost Protestant apologetic ring to it. This sounds problematic at the outset. I am not sure his role should be that of evaluation, but of reporting or reconstructing later Christological and Theological developments. He begins with NT to Nicene Orthodoxy (which, of course, excludes all those who were excluded in antiquity, which leads to ignoring a great many voices of early Christianity).

He evaluates continuity between the two based upon the idea of humiliation/exaltation identity. He is not evaluating an evolutionary development from embryonic ideas in the NT to fully-fleshed-out Nicene Trinitarian Theology because Jesus already was fully divine in the “Christology of Divine Identity.”

He claims that it was not Jewish, but Hellenistic philosophical categories that created problem for attributing divine identity to Jesus—it makes Jesus most naturally semi-divine in Hellenistic thought. Nicene theology, then, reworks Greek philosophy and reappropriates NT ideas of Jesus as unique divine identity into a new conceptual framework—it was a shift from identity to nature, from a who to a what.

At the same time, they were unsuccessful in appropriating the humiliation aspect; God as crucified is acknowledged but its implications were resisted. No sources are cited to back this claim. It would not be until Luther, Barth, etc., until it would be appreciated again.

Firstly, I am not sure this is true. It is hard to prove a negative such as this, but I wonder if the “acknowledged but resisted” moments show any less preoccupation than the NT itself! It would help if he cited his sources! Secondly, we should read the Fathers on their own terms and based upon their own interests, just as we do (or should) with earlier texts (such as the NT), not how well they fit our own reconstruction of NT Christology/Theology. Are not the Church Fathers also engaged in an ongoing interplay of creative exegesis of scripture (which now includes the NT itself) and their own experiences in ways that are both consistent and novel or novel in their consistency or consistent in their novelty? What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and I find his evaluation of different sets of sources (Second Temple, NT, and early church fathers, if you can call his dismissive one-paragraph statements on the church fathers a “reading”) to be inconsistent in approach.

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