Snippets from Yoder’s ‘He Came Preaching Peace’

These are taken from a collection of Yoder’s essays entitled He Came Preaching Peace.

The Cross of Christ was God’s method of overcoming evil with good. The cross of the Christian is no different. It is the price of one’s obedience to God’s love toward all people in a world ruled by hate. Such unflinching love for friend and foe alike will mean hostility and suffering for us, as it did for him.

No one created in God’s image and for whom Christ died can be for me an enemy, whose life I am willing to threaten or to take, unless I am more devoted to something else – to a political theory, to a nation, to the defense of certain privileges, or to my own personal welfare – than I am to God’s cause.

This new nation, the people of God, is the Christian’s first loyalty. No political nation, no geographical homeland to which one belongs by birth, can take precedence over the heavenly citizenship of a Christian in one’s new birth.

Is it not a yet more flagrant betrayal of Christian unity when children of the same Father, disciples of the same Lord, at a word from their secular rulers take up arms against one another?

Some even consider it impossible that a Christian could live under a fascist or communist government without rebelling. Thereby they admit their lack of understanding of the universality of the church, which through most of history has thrived under unchristian, even tyrannical, governments, and has stagnated when it became the spiritual sponsor of a nation’s aims.

The Christian is not primarily someone who has joined a church, or has accepted certain teachings, or has had certain feelings, or has promised to live up to certain moral standards, though all these things are part of the picture. The Christian is a person who has been, in the words of Jesus, “born anew,” who has started life over, who by the power of God is a new person. Conflict was previously a normal, built-in part of one’s nature, but now the person has been disarmed.

Christian behavior flows from faith; we cannot impose it on entire nations. Many persons, when they hear of Christians whose conscience forbids their bearing arms, will argue against this position on the grounds that it is quite unrealistic to expect nations to follow this example. This is a strange argument. In our teachings about moral purity and holiness in any other realm, we do not wait for the world to be ready to follow us before we fellow Christ. We know clearly that to be called by Christ means being different from the world.

The Christian does not renounce war because one can expect intelligent citizens to rally around. They usually won’t. The believer takes that stand because the defenseless death of the Messiah has for all time been revealed as the victory of faith that overcomes the world.

The path of the cross is not an accident. It is not a detour on the way to victory. It is the victory. It is not the bitter that we have to take with the sweet. It is not the law that comes before the gospel. It is not the bad news mixed with the good. It is the good news. Divine self-emptying is the gospel. It is the revelation of the way things are.

Theology and Art: Chagall’s Crucifixion in Yellow

Yellow Crucifixion, 1942 (oil on canvas) by Marc Chagall. The Art Institute of Chicago, IL, USA.

 

Chagall’s Yellow Crucifixion reworks the themes of his White Crucifixion by attempting to communicate the immense suffering the Jewish people were enduring in Europe. He does this by utilizing the icon of the crucified Christ, again having Jesus being distinctly portrayed as a Jew. Chagall is linking the suffering of European Jews with the iconic image of the crucified Christ in order to provide a lucid portrayal of the suffering that the Jews – Jesus’ people – were experiencing. The yellow accent of this painting, found in the blazing inferno of the background, probably signifies both the flames of the crematoria and the yellow Star of David which Jews were forces to wear by the Nazis. While the green of the angel and Torah scroll signify hope.

To emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus, Chagall juxtaposes a large green Torah scroll to the crucifixion of Jesus and has him wearing a Jewish prayer shawl and wearing tefillin or phylacteries (little black boxes containing verses from the Torah) with the accompanying prayer bands on his left arm. Jesus and the Torah scroll are illuminated by a candle being held by an angel flying through the air and blowing a ram’s horn, a symbol of salvation that was blown on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and certain other holy days. As with many of Chagall’s crucifixion paintings there is a ladder representing Jacob’s ladder (see Gen. 28.10-19). Here it could perhaps be said to be providing the crucified Jesus a means of ascending to the Torah in the heavens.

The crucified Jesus is surrounded by scenes of pogroms. There is a burning shtetl on the right with distressed figures above it. Below this is found a Jew wearing traditional Jewish clothing (and a placard) and a fleeing woman with her child, reminiscent of the story of Jesus’ flight to Egypt as a child (see Matt. 2.13-15). Similarly to White Crucifixion which had a ship carrying Jewish refugee, there is also a ship carrying Jews in Yellow Crucifixion (on the left side). There is an important difference in that this ship is depicted as sinking into the waters. This undoubtedly refers to the sinking of the Struma in 1942. The Struma was attempting to deliver nearly eight hundred Jewish refugees to Palestine, however the ship was detained in Turkey due to the British not allowing the Jews to disembark at Palestine. This led to the ship being destroyed by the Soviets a couple of months later in the Black Sea, with the occupants either dying in the torpedo blast or drowning thereafter (there was one survivor).

Two odd details in this painting are the fish leaping out of the sea and the goat. I am not sure exactly what these are meant to represent, though I have read they’re deliberate contraventions of the prohibition in Deuteronomy of making images of living beings.

Interesting tidbit: Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann mentions this painting as being his muse while writing The Crucified God, a book which has been called a Christian theology after Auschwitz. He says:

In front of me hangs Marc Chagall’s picture ‘Crucifixion in Yellow’. It shows the figure of the crucified Christ in an apocalyptic situation: people sinking into the sea, people homeless and in flight, and yellow fire blazing in the background. And with the crucified Christ there appears the angel with the trumpet and the open roll of the book of life [Rev 14.6]. This picture has accompanied me for a long time. It symbolizes the cross on the horizon of the world, and can be thought of as a symbolic expression of the studies which follow.
(The Crucified God, xxii; See also Moltmann’s autobiography, A Broad Place, 191)

Theology and Art: Chagall’s Crucifixion in White

Crucifixion in White (1938, Chagall)

White Crucifixion, 1938 (oil on canvas) by Marc Chagall. The Art Institute of Chicago, IL, USA.

 

White Crucifixion, painted by Jewish artist Marc Chagall in 1938, was completed at about the time of the infamous Kristallnacht, “night of crystal” (or to elaborate: the night of broken glass). This two-day spree of persecution against Jews in Germany and Austria, ended with about a hundred Jews being dead (maybe more), thousands wounded, thousands of Jewish businesses and synagogues destroyed, and tens of thousands of Jews sent to concentration camps.

In this painting Chagall stresses the Jewish identity of Jesus. Note the explicit Jewish imagery in the painting, including the menorah, the synagogue, and Torah scroll. Dominating the painting, however, is the crucified Jesus who wears a head-cloth and loincloth made from a Jewish prayer shawl (a tallit). He is illuminated by a beam of light from the heavens above and that of the menorah below. In the light of the crucified Jesus’ halo there is found the title “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Hebrew, as well as its abbreviated form in Latin, “INRI”.

The crucified Jesus is surrounded by scenes of pogroms. On the upper left side of the painting there is a village having been plundered by the armed forces (carrying red flags), with some of the refugees forced to flee on a ship (the image of a ship is repeated several years later in Chagall’s Yellow Crucifixion, but with one noticeable and significant difference, but more on that in the next blog post). On the right-hand side of the painting there is a synagogue and its Torah ark set ablaze, with a mother and child in despair below. At the bottom of the painting, on both sides, are figures fleeing these persecutions, clutching at their Torah scrolls and religious books in order to protect them from desecration and destruction. The figure on the left (in blue) wears a sign saying “Ich bin Jude” (I am a Jew), and the one on the right (in green) is supposedly a recurring figure in Chagall’s paintings, representing a wandering Yiddish Jew. The three male and one female figures (wearing traditional Jewish clothing) situated above the cross are said to perhaps depict the mourning of the three key Jewish patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and the matriarch, Sarah.

Jackie Wullschlager, author of Chagall: A Biography (Knopf 2008), calls this painting “a work of Jewish martyrology that transforms into an emblem of contemporary tragedy” (pg 380). She also says that “this Jesus is already dead, a motionless figure of suffering, head bowed, eyes closed – a silenced Jewish prophet” (ibid, 381). And that is all the crucified Jesus is in this painting. Chagall was not a messianic Christian who was attempting to portray Jesus as the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah. “White Crucifixion is a portrayal of Jesus as a suffering man and Jew, rather than as Christianity’s divine figure of redemption and salvation” (ibid). Chagall was utilizing the archetypal image of the Christian faith to provide a universally recognizable symbol of suffering and injustice, particularly as a symbol for the suffering of the European Jews in the Holocaust.

Interesting tidbit: Pope Francis has stated that this is his favorite painting (“Pope Francis: Twenty Things You Didn’t Know About Him,” London Telegraph, online edition, 14.03.2013).

Snippets from Yoder’s ‘The Original Revolution’

I’m reading through a lot stuff by Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder and thought I would share some interesting quotes. These are taken from the collection of essays, The Original Revolution.

Jesus did not bring to faithful Israel any corrected ritual of any new theories about the being of God. He brought them a new peoplehood and a new way of living together.

The Peales and the Robertses who promise that God cares about helping me squeeze through the tight spots of life are not wrong; they have their place. BUT ALL OF THIS IS NOT THE GOSPEL.

[The Beatitudes] is not a set of moral standards to be posed on everyone or on the unconvinced. It is not proposed that persons using these standards can rule the unbelieving world accordingly, nor that they will be prosperous and popular. The ethic of discipleship is not guided by the goals it seeks to reach, but by the Lord it seeks to reflect. It is no more interested in “success” or in “effectiveness” than He. It is binding only upon those voluntarily enrolled in the band of His followers.

With our heritage of moral bargaining, whether Catholic or Protestant, we have been led to misunderstand the “Beatitudes” as a scheme of performances and rewards. Be meek: then your reward will be to inherit the earth … Christendom is not a matter of earning a place in the kingdom, nor is it a simply blind obedience to directions. It is not doing what we feel like, nor computing how to achieve the best results. It is loving in such a way that, when the kingdom approaches, we find ourselves among those who are “at home”, who “fit” there, who are not out of place.

What do I communicate to a man about the love of God by being willing to consider him an enemy? What do I say about personal responsibility by agreeing to consider him my enemy when it is only the hazard of birth that causes us to live under different flags? What do I say about forgiveness if I punish him for the sins of his rulers? How is it reconcilable with the gospel – good news – for the last word in my estimate of any man to be that, in a case of extreme conflict, it could be my duty to sacrifice his life for the sake of my nation, my security, or the political order which I prefer?

We are asked to “resemble God” just at this one point: not in His omnipotence or His eternity or His impeccability, but simply in the undiscriminating or unconditional character of His love.

Every argument which would permit the taking of life is in one way or another based on calculations of rights and merits. I prefer the life of those nearest me to that of the foreigner; or the life of the innocent to that of the troublemaker, because – naturally, as everyone else does – my love is conditional, qualified, natural.

Far from asking as a certain contemporary style of ethics would, “What options does the situation give me?” or even more superficially, “What action does the situation demand?” Jesus would ask, “How in this situation will the life-giving power of the Spirit reach beyond available models and options to do a new thing whose very newness will be a witness to divine presence?”

The cross is the extreme demonstration that agape [love] seeks neither effectiveness nor justice, and is willing to suffer any loss or seeming defeat for the sake of obedience.

Every strand of New Testament literature testifies to a direct relationship between the way Christ suffered on the cross and the way the Christian, as disciple, is called to suffer in the face of evil.

Nationalism and pragmatism are both rejected in the life of the people of the new aeon, whose only purpose is love in the way of the cross and in the power of the resurrection.

The characteristic of the reign of Christ is that evil, without being blotted out, is channelized by God, in spite of itself, to serve His purposes.

Nonresistance is right, in the deepest sense, not because it works, but because it anticipates the triumph of the Lamb that was slain.

Pacifism is not the prophetic vocation of a few individuals, but that every member of the body of Christ is called to absolute nonresistance in discipleship and to abandonment of all loyalties which counter that obedience, including the desire to be effective immediately or to make oneself responsible for civil justice.

If the cross defines agape, it denies:

  • that “one’s own” family, friends, compatriots, are more to be loved than the enemy,
  • that the life of the aggressor is worth less than that of the attacked;
  • that the responsibility to prevent evil (policing Neighbor B) is an expression of love (it is love in the sense of a benevolent sentiment but not of agape as defined by the cross) when it involves the death of the aggressor;
  • that letting evil happen is as blameworthy as committing it.

For the Christian disciple, it is clear from Jesus’ attitude to the Roman occupation forces and His rejection of the Zealots’ aims and methods, as well as from the first centuries of Christian history, that war is not preferable to tyranny; i.e., that the intention of liberating one’s people from despotic rule does not authorize the use of unloving methods.

But when, in the New Testament, we find the affirmation of the unity of Jesus with the Father, this is not discussed in terms of substance, but of will and deed. It is visible in Jesus perfect obedience to the will of the Father. It is evident in Jesus that when God comes to be King He rejects the sword and the throne, taking up instead the whip of cords and the cross. The gospel is that God does this for His enemies. Then if this is what God reveals Himself to be doing, this is by the same token a revealed moral imperative for those who would belong to and obey Him.

The opposite of carnal power is real power; worldly power is intrinsically weak. Those for whom Jesus Christ is the hope of the world will for this reason not measure their contemporary social involvement by its efficacy for tomorrow nor by its success in providing work, or freedom, or food or in building new social structures, but by identifying with the Lord in whom they have placed their trust.

This it is quite fitting to describe the use of violence as the outworking of an idolatry. If I take the life of another, I am saying that I am devoted to another value, one other than the neighbor himself, and other than Jesus Christ Himself, to which I sacrifice my neighbor.

Quick Review: Jesus – Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

mauricecaseymythTitle: Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

Author: Maurice Casey

Bibliographic info: 272 pp.

Publisher: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

I wasn’t planning on reading this book for a while, but I couldn’t resist. What can I say… I find it quite amusing that there are people who do not believe Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. Sure, you might not consider him to be the miracle-working, divine Son of God that the New Testament portrays him to be, but to say that he didn’t even exist is quackery.

And quackery it is. Jesus mythicism is not a mainstream view in the field of historical Jesus studies. It is a silly fringe theory that, as Dr. James McGrath has pointed out many times before, is the atheist version of Young Earth Creationism (YEC). Both Jesus mythicism and YEC reject the overwhelming consensus in regards to the conclusion that should be drawn from data (the Earth is billions of years old; Jesus was a historical person), and both positions seem to be primarily driven by an agenda rather than the data (adherence to a particular interpretation of Genesis; the need to one up Christians by saying, “Not only do we not accept that Jesus was resurrected but we also reject that he was even a historical person”).

Nevertheless, Jesus mythicism seems to have attracted a small crowd on the interwebs.  I’ve spent a decent amount of time on various atheist internet forums (e.g. reddit.com/r/atheism, thinkingatheist.com/forum/, etc) and have seen that there is definitely a stream of thinking in the atheist crowd that readily accepts the Jesus mythicist position. Unfortunately, they also seem to mostly be people who also think that Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great are scholarly works on religion, leading them to miss out on the intellectual and critical rigor one finds in actual academic religious books, thus leaving themselves susceptible to lapping up any absurd anti-Christian drivel they come across (such as Jesus mythicism).

This book by Maurice Casey is divided into the following chapters:

  1. Introduction
  2. Historical Method
  3. The Date and Reliability of the Canonical Gospels
  4. What is Not in the Gospels, or Not in ‘Q’
  5. What is Not in the Epistles, Especially Those of Paul
  6. What is Written in the Epistles, Especially Those of Paul
  7. It All Happened Before, in Egypt, India, or Wherever you Fancy, but there was Nowhere for it to Happen in Israel
  8. Conclusions
    Appendix: Latinisms

If you’ve read Casey’s book Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching, then some of the stuff you read in this book will be familiar. But while Jesus of Nazareth did not really engage Jesus mythicism, Jesus: Evidence and Arguments or Mythicist Myths is a direct response to mythicist arguments.

The introductory chapter was a bit peculiar. It begins with Casey arguing at length with people who have disagreed with him in the past. The point of this was to show how people’s presuppositions can color the conclusions they arrive at, but the time spent on this seemed a tad bit excessive (and not terribly relevant). Casey also discusses the key players in mythicism, saying that they “claim to be ‘scholars’, though I would question their competence and qualifications”. This list includes Dan Barker, Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, L.P. Gandy, N.T. Freke, Thomas Verenna, Dorothy Murdock, Robert Price, Thomas L. Thompson, Frank Zindler, Steven Carr, Neil Godfrey, and a few others.

A key point that Casey is making in the introduction (and which is repeated throughout the book) is that Jesus mythicists simply don’t know what they’re talking about. The writings of many of these folk (Gandy, Murdock, Carrier) clearly display their lack of knowledge of the appropriate fields of knowledge (the only real exception being Robert Price, though his work on the subject isn’t that much better than Dorothy Murdock’s). Another point Casey is making is that Jesus mythicists are often found to have been raised in a fundamentalist Christian environment, thus their mythicism is driven more by an agenda than a legit appraisal of the data. Casey remarks that a mistake mythicists “make repeatedly” is to let their presuppositions color their conclusions and cherry-picking evidence to get the answers they want. Mythicists do this “because they cannot even realize that their notion that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical figure is a product of their present faith, not of historical research”.

I will not go into detail about the rest of the chapters. Suffice to say, Casey does a very adequate job at dismantling some of the absurd mythicist arguments. And he does so with a very sharp and caustic wit. For example:

[Jesus mythicism] belongs in the fantasy lives of people who used to be Fundamentalist Christians. They did not believe in critical scholarship then, and they do not do so now.

Another example (containing Casey’s take on Thomas L. Thompson’s work The Messiah Myth):

In short, this is the most incompetent book by a professional scholar that I have ever read.

Maurice Casey sure doesn’t hold anything back when he writes!

One thing which I wish Casey had of done was spent more time interacting with Richard Carrier’s looney ravings. Sure, a lot of what Carrier says can’t really be distinguished from the paranoid delusions of the Zeitgeist crowd (e.g. his pointing to the Sumerian goddess Inanna as an earlier example of a deity that was “crucified” and “rose again”), but Carrier at least attempts to give mythicism a veneer of legitimacy with his grandiloquent writing style. If only Carrier would try to rectify his ineptitude in biblical studies then maybe his writings would be taken more seriously!

Overall I enjoyed the book and I will be reading through it again. I definitely recommend the interested reader to purchase it. Amazon says the paperback version will not be out till mid-March, but the Kindle edition is already available (and is quite inexpensive).

Quick Book Review: Parallel Gospels – A Synopsis of Early Christian Writing

pargosTitle: Parallel Gospels: A Synopsis of Early Christian Writing

Author: Zeba Crook

Bibliographic info: XLV + 320

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2011.

With thanks to OUP for the review copy!

Buy the book at Amazon.

This volume is an English synopsis of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), as well as John, Thomas, and Q in relevant passages. The author employs a “source-language translation”, which is to say that he provides a very literal translation of the Greek text of the Gospels, one in which he is consistent with how he translates the Greek into English. The point of this is show the reader (who does not know Greek) the agreements that exist in the Greek text in the English translation.

It seems like a disservice to the reader to attempt such a consistent rendering of a Greek word with the same English word. Yet I can see how it could definitely be useful for the reader who does not know Greek yet wants to see where the parallels are between the synoptic Gospels.  The author, of course, knows that this is not the best way to translate a text, so one must keep in mind that this is not his purpose in this book. Instead, the author is attempting to provide a rendition of the text for a specific purpose (i.e. to bring the parallels that exist in the Greek over into English). I imagine it must have been quite a challenge for the author to try and assign a one-to-one Greek-to-English rendition (especially with those prepositions!).

A helpful feature of this book are the many excursuses found littered throughout the book. There are seventeen of these “Synoptic Study Guides”, covering such issues as the various synoptic hypotheses (Griesbach, Farrer, Two-Document), double tradition, triple tradition, Mark-Q overlaps, redaction criticism, special Matthew, special Luke, the end of Mark, the minor agreements, and several more.

Another feature I like is the inclusion of Thomas and Q in the synopsis. After all, it is quite possible that Thomas preserves some earlier versions of certain logia attributed to Jesus (if memory serves I think Thomas has parallels to the logia Iesou in the synoptics about 50% of the time). And the existence of the hypothetical document Q has been, and still is, the consensus view amongst New Testament scholars. So including these two texts in the synopsis displays some useful New Testament scholarship to the lay reader. Also, since Thomas is extant in Coptic, the author does not use the one-to-one rendition for it.

In the end, I would recommend this gospel synopsis to anyone interested in understanding the relationships between the New Testament gospels but who is not familiar with the Greek language they were written in. Otherwise, if you know Greek, I think you will be better served with a Greek synopsis. Or better yet, getting a ream of paper, a variety of coloured pens, and coming up with your own synopsis. That is the best way to really understand the synoptic problem!

Time to Get my Balthasar On

Recently I blogged my reading plans for 2014 (which include reading through a lot of books by Moltmann and Yoder, as well as a few by Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch). I’ve decided that I have a glaring deficiency in my theology, which is that I am not as familiar with modern Catholic theology as I would like to be. In an effort to correct this deficit I have to decided to also make my way through a handful of books this year by Hans Urs von Balthasar. I already have the following five books by him on my Kindle:

Hopefully I will acquire more of his works as the year goes on (as well as books written on him and his theology). If anyone has any recommendations then feel free to let me know!

Edit: Yikes! Just searched Amazon and found a lot of books I need to buy. Here is a wishlist I created that already contains 35 books by (or on) Balthasar!

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