Book Review: The Nonviolent Messiah

nonviolentmessiahTitle: The Nonviolent Messiah: Jesus, Q, and the Enochic Tradition

Author: Simon J. Joseph

Bibliographic info: 240 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy.

The book is separated into three parts: ch. 1-4 address issues concerning Jesus, Q, the Gospels, and the nonviolent aspects of Jesus traditions; ch. 5-9 then gives a chronological reevaluation of Jewish messianism and a case for a messianic Jesus; and ch. 10 discusses texts and themes to be found in Q. There isn’t an obvious line of progression or unifying theme to these chapters, but the overall key thrust of the book is that that the nonviolent teachings of Jesus are authentic Jesus tradition and, furthermore, that this should be used as a criterion of authenticity in historical Jesus studies. Joseph says that “if Jesus was consistently nonviolent, then violent Jesus traditions would have little to no claim to being authentic. Jesus’ nonviolence would thus provide us with a key to authenticating Jesus traditions.” And the author does see Jesus as being consistently nonviolent, saying that Jesus “did not advocate a militant, revolutionary, let alone violent response to Roman rule.”

The first chapter contains a good summary of why I still adhere to the Two-document hypothesis (2DH) and (its corollary) Q. While I know Goodacre has revitalized the main alternative to this hypothesis, which Joseph labels as the FGGH (Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre hypothesis), I personally think the 2DH does a better job at explaining the data than the FGGH and, let’s face it, the 2DH is undoubtedly still the prevailing solution to the Synoptic Problem in the academy. On the subject of Q, Joseph says:

The FGGH does not easily, let alone compellingly, explain Luke’s redactional activity, or the distinctive and coherent themes found in Q., including its identification of Jesus as “the One Who Is To Come,” its Deuteronomistic theology, prominent interest in Wisdom, repeated use of the rejected prophets motif, and its notable non-use of the term Christos. … much of Q, especially its instructional material, is arguable coherent, authoritative, dominical, canonical, and authentic Jesus tradition. There is, in other words, and for our present purposes, no “dispensing” with “Q.”

In the rest of the chapters, Joseph deals with a multitude of related issues such as the violence in the Hebrew Bible (and the New Testament), the term “messiah”, Jesus’ eschatological teachings, influences from 1 Enoch (the Book of Parables and the Animal Apocalypse) and the Adamic framework of the Messiah in this Enochic literature, and other interesting features.

One interesting conclusion of Joseph’s is that while Jesus consistently taught nonviolence, it was the Q community who later added a violent eschatology to Jesus’ repertoire. However, while I can be persuaded of the usefulness of a criterion of nonviolence in historical Jesus studies, it has a noticeable pitfall in that you can not press it too far. Why? Because if a nonviolent Jesus is the starting point and I then deem a Jesus tradition to be incongruous with that, it may only be incongruous in my mind. For instance, one of the chapters in this book discussed the eschatological teachings of Jesus in relation to his nonviolence and it seems to almost assume that these stand in stark contradiction to one another. Yet it is entirely plausible, in my mind at least, that Jesus’ accent on nonviolence and the violent eschatological aspect of his teachings did not appear contradictory to him. Perhaps Jesus thought, as one could argue the author Revelation did, that violence is the prerogative of Yahweh and thus is acceptable if it comes from the hand of God (or, in this case, the eschatological Son of Man imbued with Yahweh’s authority).

All in all, I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. It has a goldmine of information buried inside the copious footnotes and comes with a very extensive bibliography. Each of the chapters were very interesting and I hope this book gets the reception that it deserves. It provides a great jumping point for discussion of violence in the Judaeo-Christian biblical tradition and persuasively argues that nonviolence was a distinctive part of Jesus’ teachings.

3 responses

  1. Q is an integral part of the 2DH, not a corollary of it. Q is a corollary of the hypothesis that Luke did not make use of Matthew. Yet the hundreds of minor agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark demonstrate this hypothesis to be false. But then, so is the hypothesis shared by the 2DH and the FGGH that the Double Tradition derived from a single document. How naive. The ‘academy’ should reexamine their hypotheses.

    • Actually, it is correct to speak of Q as being a corollary to the Two Document Hypothesis.

      Yes, all those scholars are naive. They obviously haven’t put any thought into the 2DH! 😉

      • A corollary is a proposition which is a consequence of another proposition. Q cannot be a corollary (consequence) of the 2DH because Q is one of the two documents referred to in the label ‘2DH’, so it is there by definition of the theory, not as a consequence of it.

        You don’t seem to be aware that it is possible to put lots of thought into a problem and still be naive with regard to a key facet of that problem. Many scholars in the past (and a few today) put lots of thought into the original order of the gospels and yet concluded that Matthew’s gospel was written before the other gospels. They were and are all naive in regard to the clear pointers to the priority of Mark’s gospel. Two key facets in which 2DH scholars have demonstrated naivety are the hundreds of minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark (which they try to explain as mere coincidence), and the wide literary and theological diversity in the material assigned to Q. This diversity is credible in Matthew with its reliance on multiple contemporary written sources, but incredible in an earlier Q which apparently had no contemporary written sources.

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