How Not to Chastise an 11-Year Old

I normally don’t blog this sort of thing, but I can’t stop laughing about Alec Baldwin’s diatribe against his 11-year-old daughter over a cell phone. It’s been made available online, thanks to his vindictive ex-wife Kim Basinger. Listen here.

I kind of like Baldwin as an actor. Of course, anyone who talks this way to an 11-year old (or 12-year old — Alec doesn’t seem to know his own daughter’s age) is an ass, but for some reason I can’t stop laughing each time I hear this. It could be Baldwin’s heavy New York accent (which he does a good job of suppressing elsewhere), or it could just be that I associate the rant with his humorous, foul-mouthed, and hot-tempered role in Scorsese’s The Departed.

"Tolkien’s Christianity and the Pagan Tragedy"

I still haven’t read The Children of Hurin, but it sounds good — dark and tragic, even for Tolkien. This reviewer understands Middle-Earth perfectly:

“J R R Tolkien was the most Christian of 20th-century writers, not because he produced Christian allegory and apologetics, but because he uniquely portrayed the tragic nature of what Christianity replaced… [He] reconstructed a mythology for the English not because he thought it might make them proud of themselves, but rather because he believed that the actual pagan mythology was not good enough to be a predecessor to Christianity…

“Mere allegory along the lines of the Narnia series can do no more than restate Christian doctrine; it cannot really expand our experience of it. Tolkien takes us to the dark frontier of a world that is not yet Christian, and therefore is tragic, but has the capacity to become Christian. It is the world of the Dark Ages, in which barbarians first encounter the light. It is not fantasy, but rather a distillation of the spiritual history of the West. Whereas C S Lewis tries to make us comfortable in what we already believe by dressing up the story as a children’s masquerade, Tolkien makes us profoundly uncomfortable. Our people, our culture, our language, our toehold upon this shifting and uncertain Earth are no more secure than those of a thousand extinct tribes of the Dark Ages; and a greater hope than that of the work of our hands and the hone of our swords must avail us.”

It doesn’t necessarily take a Christian to warm to this. Tolkien’s fantasy, unlike most, underscores the tragic and hopeless plight of humanity. Whether we end up looking “beyond the world” for an antidote, we’re left with unpleasant implications about our world which can’t be avoided.

Medieval Dishonesty

Richard Nokes wonders about medieval honesty:

“I’ve started thinking about… medieval texts, and I’m having trouble thinking of ones in which honesty is portrayed as an important virtue. Sagas are basically out as an entire genre, given the praise of trickiness of the heroes. Patient Griselda’s husband may be the Christ figure, but he’s also a terrible liar, as are many other of Boccaccio’s characters. Unless I’m forgetting something, I can’t think of a single Canterbury Tale in which honesty is a virtue. I assume that somewhere in saints lives are those praised for their honesty, but all I can think of is Judith.

I’m not trying to suggest that honesty was not a medieval virtue, but I suspect that it was not a particularly important virtue. Loyalty, fidelity, piety, chastity … these seem to be the prime virtues of the literature. Liars are punished in the Inferno, but nothing like traitors are.”

Nokes is right, and the reason is because western medievalism was heavily shame-based by post-Reformationist standards. Doctrinal examples abound: Anselm’s satisfaction model of Christ’s death (emphasizing atonement to restore God’s honor) contrasts with the later Protestant penal substitution model (advocating atonement for the sake of justice). And naturally, the more “honor-shame” your outlook, the more lies and deceptions become acceptable.

When we say that honesty is a western virtue, it needs to be qualified with the cliche that everything is relative. Medieval Europe may have valued honesty more than places like the Mediterranean did, but to later Protestants — and certainly to today’s secularists — they seem pretty, well, “medieval” indeed.

(Hat-tip: Stephen Carlson for the reference.)

Herod Antipas in Galilee

One of the recent RBL reviews merits attention.

Jensen, Morton
Herod Antipas in Galilee: The Literary and Archaeological Sources on the Reign of Herod Antipas and Its Socio-economic Impact on Galilee
Review by Mark Chancey

Last week I echoed the first sentence of Chancey’s review: “One of the chief insights of the Third Quest for the historical Jesus is that to understand Jesus, one must understand Galilee”. Naturally, the historical Galilee has proven to be as elusive as Jesus. The evidence has been used to argue that Jesus was descended from Gentiles, a multiculturalist cynic-sage (Burton Mack); from Hasmonean settlers, a “common Jew” like the Judeans (Eric Meyers); and from ancient northern Israelites, a distant cousin of the Judeans (Richard Horsley). But a common construct involves Galilee in the throes of economic crisis — thanks to Herod Antipas, the arch-villain who has become the chief factor in legitimating one’s understanding of the region.

Chancey endorses Jensen’s thesis that Antipas wasn’t a particularly remarkable ruler, and that Galilee didn’t suffer the economic crises suggested by scholars like Crossan & Reed, Horsley, and Arnal:

“Far from showing any signs of decline in the decades prior to the First Revolt, the rural communities appear to have been flourishing, with public buildings, upper-class residences, and varied industrial and agricultural activity… Sepphoris and Tiberias were modest in comparison, smaller in size, with fewer monumental public buildings. ‘Antipas, rather than imposing real novelties, brought Galilee up to date with some of the infrastructure already known in the area’. Jensen’s analysis seriously undermines claims that Antipas’ construction programs were massive in scale and led to the economic devastation of Galilean villages by draining away their resources.”

In sum, according to Jensen (and Chancey), the idea that Jesus’ activity was a response to harsh economic conditions created by Antipas lacks foundation. I’ll have to read Jensen’s book, not only since I take the opposite view, but because the significance of his thesis apparently points beyond the question of Galilee by raising broader questions. “It highlights the types of problems that occur when application of theoretical models is not accompanied by extensive review of the actual evidence.”

(See also: Four Views of Galilee.)

The Amorphous Third Quest

April DeConick and Mark Goodacre have some pointed observations about the way the quests for the historical Jesus have been categorized. April thinks we have entered a fourth quest — a peculiar claim, in my view, since many of the features she lists as characteristic of this quest have been associated with the third — and Mark thinks (like Dale Allison) that numerically categorizing the quests has had its day and should be abandoned. Dale has been quite strong about this:

“The assertion that we have recently embarked upon a third quest may be partly due, one suspects, to chronological snobbery, to the ever-present temptation, where new is always improved, to flatter ourselves and bestow upon our own age exaggerated significance, to imagine the contemporary to be of more moment than it is.” (Resurrecting Jesus, p 14)

Yes and no. I appreciate Dale’s ongoing warnings about the past being given short shrift — and he’s right, as Mark points out, about the “no-quest” period (1906-1953) being a misnomer — but it’s demonstrably evident that scholarly labors have paid off since the 70s in ways far more progressive than before (which I list below). On the other hand, Mark has a good point about the third quest ceasing to be a useful descriptor on account of its diversity. But that’s an irony, because it relates precisely to one of the defining marks of the quest (see 4 below).

The following significantly distinguish the “third quest” (the 70s to the present) from preceding quests.

1. An understanding of ancient Judaism without caricature (thanks mostly to E.P. Sanders).

2. Increased application of social sciences, which helps understand Jesus as the product of an honor-shame culture, and peasant society, in an advanced agrarian empire (thanks largely to the Context Group).

3. Intensified studies of the differences between Galilee and Judea (thanks to those like Sean Freyne, Richard Horsley, Eric Meyers, Burton Mack, and Mark Chancy — all of whom have very different views on the matter).

4. The amorphous nature of the quest itself, mentioned by William Herzog, which renders the term “third quest” somewhat of a paradox–

“the absence of a cultural synthesis such as those that supported the first and new quests. The first quest grew out of the cultural synthesis of the Enlightenment which we call modernity, and the new quest was held together by a clear hermeneutical program that drew its inspiration from Heidegger [existentialism]. The third quest know no such synthesis. The lack of such an organzing philosophy or theology promotes diversity and exploration.” (Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, p 33).

So I think there are grounds for continuing to use the term “third quest” despite (and because of) the absence of a cultural synthesis propelling it. I don’t see a fourth quest emerging in the near future, because it would have to be reacting against something so diverse that there’s really no vision to react against — unless it’s against the search for Jesus period. In other words, the only “fourth quest” I could see distinguishing itself is one which truly called for a “no quest”, like William Arnal does in The Symbolic Jesus.