Will the Stars Really Fall?

Alan Bandy describes the “real” nature of Jewish apocalyptic according to Wright:

“‘It is now high time, as the century draws towards its close, to state, against Schweitzer, what the apocalyptic matrix actually was and meant.’ Wright rejects the notion that apocalypticism anticipated the end of the space-time world. The Jews were not awaiting the complete destruction of the earth and their removal to some otherworldly state of bliss. Rather, he contends, apocalyptic language was a vivid and colorful way to use metaphors when describing major socio-political change occurring within human history.”

Actually it’s high time to bid Wright farewell. Jews most certainly did expect the complete destruction of the earth, and they had a “this-worldly” conception of what was to follow. The assumption that a complete destruction implied a “removal to some otherworldly state of bliss” is a straw man, and owes to modern fears of dualism. In The Stars Will Fall From Heaven, Edward Adams demonstrates — beyond a shadow of a doubt — that Jewish apocalyptic pointed to the universe’s literal destruction, followed by either its re-creation or miraculous transformation.

Bandy continues:

“Jewish eschatology is expressed through apocalyptic language, which is essentially metaphorical in nature. Wright sets the metaphorical in juxtaposition with the literal interpretation of apocalyptic language. A literal reading of apocalyptic writings results in a flattened out belief that the earth will come to a cataclysmic end. Following Caird, Wright asserts that the ‘metaphorical language of apocalyptic invests history with theological meaning’.”

It’s important to note the difference between Caird and Wright (footnoted by Bandy), which almost always goes unmentioned when the former is invoked to support the latter. Caird always maintained a view of the literal end. Even though he insisted that end-of-the-world language was metaphorical (referring to historical events before the apocalypse), he didn’t kill the patient. He thought prophets had “bifocal vision”, a near sight eyeballing events soon to occur, a far sight targeting the end of the cosmos. One image was imposed on the other so that prophecies had a double-reference, historical and apocalyptic. With Wright, the bifocal vision gets truncated into a short-sighted one, which renders the term “eschatology” meaningless by ancient standards.

I should say I think even Caird pushes the metaphorical envelope a bit far. Descriptions of cosmic disaster can be poetic and historically focused, but there’s usually little doubt that the collapse of the entire universe is soon to occur. Paul Raabe gets it best: prophecies point to destruction on a universal scale and then move to a localized focus, or, oppositely, refer to a particular target and then ground it in a universal calamity. That explains the conjunction of cosmic/universal and local judgment in places like Isa 13 & 34, Jer 4, Joel 1-2, Mic 1, Nah 1, Zeph 1.

For that matter, it perfectly explains the Markan Apocalypse. Jesus is portrayed as referring to local events in Judea (the destruction of the temple on account of zealot occupation; 13:2, 14-18), while grounding them in an over-arching cosmic upheaval (the tribulation; 13:5-17, 19-23). After the tribulation comes more cosmic disaster — the sun going out, the stars falling from heaven, and the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds (13:24-27) — all of which which depict the process of “heaven and earth passing away” (13:31). Wright’s argument that “the stars falling from heaven” refers only metaphorically to the local destruction of Jerusalem is far-fetched, and at odds with the usage of apocalyptic imagery seen in the OT and intertestamental literature.

What needs to be stressed (as Adams does in his book) is that Wright’s two claims — (1) that the idea of the created world coming to a literal end was foreign to mainline Jewish thinking, and (2) that the use of cosmic disaster language for purely socio-political events was a linguistic convention in Jewish apocalyptic writing — are not based on a careful assessment of literary evidence, but on Wright’s personal views of creational monotheism. That won’t do. Just because we know stars won’t fall doesn’t change the fact that ancient Christians thought they would.

Cinematic Psychopaths

UGO.com rates the the top 11 cinematic psychopaths: “For every hero, there must be a villain – that’s just simple story mathematics… But every so often, there’s the villain who crosses the line between ‘evil’ and ‘bat-$#!% crazy’, and those are the ones that haunt our nightmares and make us question society in general.” Here are the winners:

1. Allison Reynolds, played by Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club.
2. Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale in American Psycho.
3. Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.
4. John Doe, played by Kevin Spacey in Seven.
5. Hayley Stark, played by Ellen Page in Hard Candy.
6. Mr. Blonde, played by Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs.
7. Francis Begbie, played by Robert Carlyle in Trainspotting.
8. Tony Montana, played by Al Pacino in Scarface.
9. Hell-Cat Maggie, played by Cara Seymour in The Gangs of New York.
10. Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.
11. Luther, played by David Patrick Kelly in The Warriors.

Very nice, except for the puzzling choice of Allison Reynolds. She shouldn’t have made the cut at all, let alone top the list. The #1 slot should have been awarded to Hannibal Lecter, who incredibly didn’t make the cut despite his face being featured up front. I’m pleased to see Hayley Stark (the pedophile-castrating teen sweetie) placing so high, though I would probably oust Hell-Cat Maggie in favor of a different Scorsese baddie, Max Cady (played by Robert DeNiro in the Cape Fear remake).

A Marginal Jew, Volume 4: Law and Love

marginal4I was starting to give up on Meier. With repeated promises of the end in view, A Marginal Jew kept growing in size while diminishing in punch. If Volume 1 was the bedrock pointing forward, Volume 2 a breathtaking tour-de-force of eschatology and miracles, Volume 3’s sketch of Jewish groups came somewhat as a let-down, leaving me anxious that the author’s heart wasn’t in the project anymore. Those fears have been dispelled by Volume 4, which tackles halakic issues with verve aplenty, and draws challenging conclusions for anyone who has firm ideas about Jesus’ teachings about the law.

The mantra of this book is, “the historical Jesus is the halakic Jesus”, aligning more with an E.P. Sanders than a John Dominic Crossan, yet a Jesus who at least occasionally rescinded the law on his own authority.

“Here we touch on the real enigma in Jesus’ teaching of the Law… His approach seems to be neither total rejection of the Law, nor a dialectic that embraces yet in effect rejects the Law, nor a total affirmation of the Law that simply involves legitimate though debatable interpretations of individual practices. The real enigma is how Jesus can at one and the same time affirm the Law as a given, as the normative expression of God’s will for Israel, and yet in a few individual cases or legal areas (e.g., divorce and oaths) teach and enjoin what is contrary to the Law, simply on his own authority.” (p 3)

Christological ideas about Jesus fulfilling the law, as in Mt 5:17 (easily dispensed with as a church creation, pp 41-43) can be of no help in resolving this tension, any more than modern anachronistic notions of a Jesus who affirmed moral requirements at the expense of cultic ones (pp 43-47). Jesus was capable of using dialectical negation as much as a prophet like Hosea, but neither were opposed to ritual per se.

Meier continues using the classic criteria of authenticity to assess what may or may not go back to the life of Jesus, as well as the evidence of other Jewish and pagan sources. Especially in this volume he critiques attempts to get at Jesus mostly on the basis of gospel data in view of Old Testament and rabbinic material, while virtually ignoring the Dead Sea Scrolls (especially texts from Cave 4), Philo, Josephus, and the OT Pseudepigrapha. He certainly doesn’t rule out rabbinic material apriori, but treats it as cautiously or distrustfully as he does the gospels, sometimes even more given how late the material is.

With this in mind, let’s see how Meier assesses Jesus’ (alleged) sayings on (1) divorce, (2) oaths, (3) sabbath, (4) purity, (5) love, and (6) the Golden Rule.


The divorce traditions (Mk 10:2-12/Mt 19:3-9; Mt 5:32/Lk 16:18; I Cor 7:10-11) are a good place to start, and Meier offers a thorough background on the subject, from the Torah to the classical prophets to the intertestamental writings to the rabbis. What’s clear is that men had near complete freedom to divorce their wives from the get-go, as in other surrounding cultures. The texts of Deut 24:1-4 (forbidding a twice-divorced wife to remarry her first husband), Deut 22:13-19 (forbidding a husband who falsely accuses his wife of being a virgin to divorce her), Deut 22:28-29 (commanding a man who rapes or seduces an unbetrothed virgin to marry and never divorce her), and Lev 21:7,13-14 (forbidding a divorced woman from marrying a priest), all presuppose divorce as the norm and attempt to regulate specific cases.

Looking at Mal 2:16, Meier calls attention to the frequent English (mis)translations. “For I hate divorce, says Yahweh the God of Israel”, is not what the Masoretic Text or other original manuscripts actually say. In the MT, the Hebrew reads, confusingly, “For he hated, send away,” while other manuscripts actually counsel divorce: “But if you hate her, send her away.” (see pp 81-82). Despite what many of our bibles imply, Malachi doesn’t provide a precedent for Jesus’ sweeping prohibition.

In the intertestamental period, Philo (On the Special Laws, 3.5) and Josephus (Ant. 4.8.23) hold to the absolute divorce rights of a husband. The Essenes forbid polygyny in a way that might imply an attack on divorce when followed by remarriage (the Damascus Document), though this isn’t clear. Only much later than the first century do we find actual debates about divorce, in the rabbinic texts, with the House of Shammai restricting a husband’s power somewhat (his wife has to shame him to warrant a divorce), while the House of Hillel holds to “absolute” tradition. “Despite the almost universal tendency on the part of NT exegetes to explain Jesus’ prohibition of divorce against the ‘background’ of the debate between the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel, this tendency may actually be a prime example of the anachronistic use of later texts to explain earlier ones.” (p 95) And so we’re left with a sweeping prohibition of Jesus that sticks out like a sore thumb in the pre-70 period.

In Meier’s judgment this radical prohibition passes all the criteria of authenticity: multiple attestation (with flying colors, since Meier accepts the Q hypothesis; but even for Farrer advocates like me it’s reasonably secure), discontinuity (since nowhere in pre-70 Judaism can we find any debate about divorce, let alone a definitive prohibition against the practice), embarrassment (as evidenced by the “squirming” of later Christians as they created wiggle-room for their Lord’s uncompromising commandment — Paul allowing it when a pagan spouse is unable to live in peace with the Christian partner, Matthew allowing it in cases of unchastity), coherence (other sayings of Jesus make harsh demands that are costly; and celibates like Jesus have an easier time forbidding divorce than “realistic” married men, perhaps one reason the Catholic clergy continues to preach against it while many Protestants make more allowance).

So while the narrative of Mk 10:2-12/Mt 19:3-9 is a Christian composition, it draws on authentic memories about how Jesus debated over divorce (p 124). Using Genesis to trump Deuteronomy (Mk 10:6-9/Mt 19:4-6), Jesus claimed that men who divorce their wives and remarry commit adultery (Mt 10:11/Mt 19:9, minus the Markan addition about women who divorce their husbands, reflecting Greco-Roman practice). These core parts of the dispute narrative, along with Mt 5:32/Lk 16:18, I Cor 7:10-11, are judged to be generally authentic.

All fine and well — and most Jesus-questors agree that Jesus spoke against divorce, even if for some blatantly eisegetical reasons. Other than suggesting eschatology as a backdrop, Meier doesn’t get into the “why” behind Jesus’ attack on divorce (I’ve given my own take here), only “that” he condemned the practice. But did this prohibition put him into actual conflict with the Torah?

E.P. Sanders says no, since Jesus was only forbidding what Moses allowed rather than commanded (see Jesus and Judaism, p 256-260). Meier objects to this rationale as follows:

“It is odd to see Sanders play the role of the Pharisees in Mk 10:4… To be sure, the Law of Moses did not command divorce in the sense of commanding individual men to divorce their wives. But the Law of Moses did accept and sanction divorce… By completely forbidding divorce, Jesus dares to forbid what the Law allows — and not in some minor, obscure, halakic observance but in one of the most important legal institutions in society. He dares to say that a man who duly follows the Law in properly divorcing his wife and marrying another woman is in effect committing adultery… a serious sin against one of the commandments of the Decalogue… The disturbing, even shocking nature of Jesus’ total prohibition cannot be appreciated unless we understand how unthinkable such a prohibition was in a society that (like all ancient Mediterranean societies) considered divorce, however regrettable or painful in individual instances, to be the natural and necessary course of things.” (pp 173 n122, 113)

I still think Sanders has a valid point, though so does Meier. Perhaps the best way of putting it is that while Jesus’ prohibition against divorce didn’t technically violate a Torah commandment, it nevertheless called the Torah into question since doing what Moses permitted caused one to sin against the Decalogue. And because the prohibition was so socially outrageous, it would have been perceived by many as an attack on the law, nuances notwithstanding.


Building on his two-part article published in The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus (“Did the Historical Jesus Prohibit All Oaths?”, Part 1: 5.2, pp 175-204; Part 2: 6.1, pp 3-24), Meier demonstrates that no Jewish teaching around the turn of the era prohibited oaths entirely (pp 196-198). Ben Sira warns against frequent swearing, and Philo says to avoid it whenever possible, but even they don’t dare forbid what the Torah commands in two cases: for a person who loses goods entrusted (Exod 22:9-10) and for a wife suspected of adultery (Num 5:11-31). If Jesus prohibited oaths as reported in Mt 5:34-37, and as implied in Jas 5:12, then we have another case — even clearer than the one of divorce — in which Jesus abrogated the Torah.

For Meier, the prohibition against oath-taking passes the criteria of discontinuity with early Judaism (again, we know of no pre-70 texts prohibiting oaths), discontinuity with early Christianity (Paul swears left and right, the author of Hebrews presupposes the practice without disapproval, the author of Revelation portrays an angel taking an oath), and multiple attestation (Matthew and James). I’m not sure what discontinuity with early Christianity proves (unlike the case of divorce, it’s not as if we see other NT writers coping embarrassingly with the saying), and Meier has to jump through a few hoops to get Jas 5:12 to qualify as an independent source (though I think he’s reasonably successful). Moreover, the criterion of discontinuity with early Christianity seems to oppose that of multiple attestation — it’s basically “heads I win, tails you lose”, reasoning that the saying isn’t accessible enough, and yet is accessible enough.

In any case, the prohibition of oaths stands as a second example of the historical Jesus’ revoking individual Torah commandments (p 205). As for motive, eschatology is again advanced: Jesus’ followers already lived proleptically in the kingdom of God (p 206).


The sabbath accounts in the gospels involve mostly healing controversies, posing a serious problem. As Meier demonstrates, there’s no indication of any pre-70 view that healing illnesses or treating physical deformities was prohibited on the sabbath — not in the Hebrew Bible, the Deuterocanonical Books, Jubilees, the Damascus Document, the Qumran Cave 4 fragments, Philo, or Josephus. Only by the time of the Mishna do we find passages forbidding certain acts of healing or relieving pain on the sabbath, and in Meier’s view, they reflect post-70 rabbinic innovations (p 251).

There are, of course, many other sabbath prohibitions listed in the above sources, ranging from agricultural work (especially sowing and reaping), treading the wine press, loading beasts of burden in order to take things to the market, buying and selling, carrying burdens through city gates or out of homes, leaving one’s place to undertake a journey, lighting a fire, and preparing food by cooking. The Essenes were especially strict, even prohibiting the rescue of a human being from a pit with a ladder or rope — one had to use a cloak or something that wasn’t a tool. (Later rabbinic texts prohibit the rescue of only animals, though one could throw it fodder to keep it alive until the next day). But again, no healing prohibitions until the rabbinic period.

Some of Jesus’ healings on the sabbath occasion no dispute at all (Mk 1:23-28/Lk 4:33-37 a public example, Mk 1:29-31/Lk 4:38-39 a private one), which is what we would expect. But most of them call forth outrage, and in Meier’s judgment, not one of these narratives can survive scrutiny. In the case of the man with the withered hand (Mk 3:1-6/Mt 12:9-14/Lk 6:6-11), the healing itself already received a judgment of non liquet (“not clear”) in Volume 2, and Jesus’ act of speaking in order to heal would not have been considered a forbidden work in the pre-70 period (pp 255-256). Ditto for the healings of the woman bent over (Lk 13:10-17) and the man with dropsy (Lk 14:1-6): each miracle was pronounced non liquet in Volume 2, and again, as sabbath controversies they makes no sense (ibid).

The sabbath healings in John, the paralyzed man (Jn 5:1-9a) and the man born blind (Jn 9:1-7), pose a different problem. While Meier gave each the stamp of authenticity in Volume 2 as miracles, his reconstruction of the primitive forms of the stories don’t retain the sabbath: “The sabbath in each of these two chapters functions simply as an artificial literary and theological link, connecting what were originally short stories of healing with the lengthy Johannine discourses” (p 258). Another dead end.

A more promising avenue appears in two sayings incorporated in the Matthean parallel to the healing of the man with the withered hand, and Luke’s account of the healing of the man with dropsy. Jesus is reported as saying, “What man among you, if he has a sheep that falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not take hold of him and draw him up?” (Mt 9:11); and “Which of you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, will not immediately pull him out on the sabbath?” (Lk 14:5). In Meier’s judgment, these secondary sayings may reflect an historical halakic debate behind the fictional healing stories.

“When it comes to the endangered ox, Jesus and ordinary Jewish peasants stand on one side of the question (of course, one would do that!) while Essenes and Pharisees stand on the other (no, you cannot directly draw out the animal yourself). When it comes to endangered human life, Jesus, ordinary peasants, and probably the Pharisees stand on one side (of course, you can pull your son out!) while the Essenes, perhaps with some discomfort, stand on the other (well, maybe you could throw him your cloak, but no direct use of a ladder or rope is permitted)… Jesus rhetorically draws his audience to his side with the presumption that he and they will agree on these humane measures that are so obvious to them as they are to him.” (pp 265-266, 263)

Since sectarians seem to be chiefly targeted here, we have a rare instance of Jesus “fighting a battle-at-a-distance with the Essene movement (or other sectarian groups in Palestine) for the loyalty of ordinary Jews” (p 263). The Pharisees would have probably agreed with Jesus about human beings, unless their position was opposite their rabbinic successors.

As for the account of Jesus’ disciples plucking grain on the sabbath (Mk 2:23-28/Mt 12:1-8/Lk 6:1-5), Meier finds it transparently fictional. Following Sanders, he emphasizes the incredible setting: Gestapo-Pharisees suddenly popping up in the middle of a field looks like something out of a Broadway musical (p 274). On top of this, says Meier, Jesus makes a horse’s ass of himself in appealing to scripture. He claims that David had companions with him when he came to the priest at Nob, and that David gave some of those loaves of the presence to “those with him”. In fact the priest explicitly asked David, “Why are you alone and no one is with you?” (I Sam 21:2) The text of I Sam doesn’t even imply that David is hungry. Skewering scholars who keep trying to salvage exegetical escape hatches, Meier concludes that the entire dispute is incredible:

“We need to recall the agonistic culture of the ancient Mediterranean world, where public debates between contending parties were a matter of honor and shame. According to Mark, Jesus has chosen to counter the Pharisees’ challenge by challenging them on their own knowledge of the text of I Sam 21:2-10… Jesus’ challenge hopelessly falls to pieces if he immediately proceeds to document his own glaring ignorance… If this scene gives us a true picture of the scriptural knowledge and teaching skill of the historical Jesus, then the natural and very effective response of the Pharisees would have been not fierce anger and concerted opposition but gleeful mockery. They would have laughed their heads off (and invited the populace to do the same) at this uneducated woodworker who insisted on making a fool of himself in public.” (p 277-278)

But would the masses have laughed their heads off, and was Jesus making a fool of himself? I think the opposite: Jesus’ appeal to David is an ingenious pieces of one-upmanship. The genius lies in the double entendre of Jesus repeating David’s deceptions as though they were true in his own deceptive argument. David lied to the priest (claiming that he was working for Saul, when he was actually fleeing him), and now Jesus lies to the Pharisees (claiming that David gave sacred food to his men, when he didn’t have any men with him). No one is really deceived by this, of course, but the “bullshit-within-bullshit” is the whole point. As William Herzog puts it, Jesus identifies with “David the fugitive, the coyote figure who lives by his wits while others are seeking to destroy him. This is a David figure who would be appreciated in the villages.” (Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, p 188) Far from making an ass of himself, Jesus would have acquired plenty of honor in the eyes of watching peasants.

So against Meier, I lean to the historicity of this account. Unlike the healing episodes, I have a hard time seeing how the issue of plucking grain would fit the agenda of the early church. As Maurice Casey says, these points seem to be natural in the life of the historical Jesus, but not afterwards (Writing History, Constructing Religion, edited by Crossley, p 132). We don’t necessarily have to buy the picture of Pharisees out-on-patrol in the fields (yes, that’s hard to swallow). It could be that legal teachers got wind of what of the disciples’ were doing and challenged Jesus in another setting.

As for the conclusion to the grain-plucking story, Meier allows that the Markan “sabbath was made for man” saying (Mk 2:27) could go back to Jesus (as cohering with the leniency urged in Mt 12:11/Lk 14:5, the sabbath being a gift from God grounded in creation, which should be interpreted humanely), while arguing that the “Son of Man is lord of the sabbath” saying (Mk 2:28/Mt 12:8/Lk 6:5) is too Christological to be trusted. Both judgments are reasonable, though the latter gets into complex issues surrounding the “Son of Man” title which Meier will be treating at greater length in Volume 5.

So despite the abundance of sabbath incidents spread across the gospels, Meier finds very little (almost nothing, in fact) that’s historical. None of the sabbath-healing accounts which call forth dispute are reliable. At best, we get a window onto the historical Jesus in the traditions of Mt 12:11/Lk 14:5, and Mk 2:27. When it came to endangered animals, the historical Jesus sided with peasants against the Essenes and (possibly) the Pharisees. When it came to endangered people, he sided with peasants against a murky position of the Essenes (or other sectarian influence). As for motive, Meier again appeals to eschatology: “the roots of the sabbath lie in creation itself, but a creation that is meant to serve the good of humanity created by God in the beginning and now restored by him in the last days” (p 296). I largely agree with Meier, but would maintain that most of the grain-plucking episode is historical too.


Meier begins this section by distinguishing different forms of impurity regulated in the Hebrew Bible: ritual impurity, a temporary and contagious condition resulting from birth, disease, sexual activity, and death — not sinful itself, but requiring immersion-plus-sunset before one can enter the temple or handle sacred things; moral impurity, a more permanent and non-contagious condition resulting from sinful acts like murder, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, and idolatry — requiring the offender to be “cut off” from God’s people (whether by execution or banishment) or to have the impurity purged by temple sacrifice; and then dietary impurity, often associated with the former, but in truth somewhere between it and the latter.

The third category concerns us in the famous passage of Mk 7:1-23/Mt 15:1-20. In a lengthy treatment of the Markan text, Meier concludes, “almost against his will” (p 17), that it tells us nothing about the historical Jesus, with the possible exception of the qorban saying of Mk 7:10-12. Let’s see why.

Mk 7:1-5. This part is actually treated last, shown to be inauthentic by what follows. Since almost all of 7:6-23 is unhistorical (see below), the introduction to the narrative has to be. Also notably, there is no clear evidence for any Jewish group in the pre-70 period urging laypeople to wash their hands before eating meals.

Mk 7:6-8. Here we have the citation of Isa 29:13, but Jesus is reported as quoting the Septuagint version, not the Hebraic. Since Jesus spoke Aramaic and the line of argument in Mk 7:1-13 requires the Greek version, it’s an uphill battle for those who claim this goes back to Jesus: “What was in the Hebrew simply a denunciation of mechanical, routine liturgy in the Jerusalem temple now expands in the LXX into a denunciation of merely human teaching that implicitly is set over against the true teaching of God that is Torah” (p 372). In the Markan narrative, the Pharisees and scribes complain that Jesus’ disciples don’t observe the traditions of the elders, and Jesus parries by saying that the commandments and teachings of men denounced by Isa 29:13 are precisely the traditions of those elders. Jesus’ line of argument makes no sense on the assumption that he originally appealed to the Hebrew Bible.

Mk 7:9-13. Since this section serves as a concrete example of the Isaianic denunciation in 7:6-8, it must also be unhistorical, or at least as it stands in the gospel. Meier thinks the qorban saying of Mk 7:10-12 could reflect some halakic teaching of the historical Jesus (p 378). (Qorban was the vow to dedicate one’s possessions to the temple, which prevented that wealth from being used to help people in need, in this case one’s parents.) Various streams of Judaism at the turn of the era were debating oaths and vows, and, as we’ve seen, Jesus had no use for them. Using the criterion of coherence, the saying of Mk 7:10-12 aligns not only with Jesus’ position on oaths, but divorce:

“There is a remarkable similarity here with Jesus’ approach to divorce in Mk 10:2-12. In the case of the specific institution of divorce, Jesus appeals back to the more basic and primordial institution of the union of man and woman ordained by the Creator in Genesis 2-3. In the case of the specific institution of qorban, Jesus appeals back to the more basic and primordial commandment of the Decalogue. Apparently Jesus operated at least implicitly with the conviction that there were certain fundamental commandments and institutions in the Mosaic Torah that overrode or annulled any secondary obligations or institutions that came into conflict with them.” (p 379)

Whether or not the vow of qorban was being enforced in the manner attributed to the Pharisees is unclear, but the evidence of CD 16, Philo, and Mk 7:11 suggest that there was considerable debate around the turn of the era about this vow which could deprive one’s parents or neighbors of vital support (p 381). Jesus may well have debated it too, in a context now lost to us.

Mk 7:14-15. One of the most prized passages of Christian theology gets axed from Meier’s historical portrait, convincingly, thoroughly, and one might hope finally. But is this fair? In view of the way Jesus rescinded the Torah elsewhere, why couldn’t he have effectively declared all foods clean? Meier explains (pp 391-392) that while Jesus’ total prohibition of divorce would have been outrageous, in practice it would have effected only some Jews at some point in their lives, not every Jew every day. Ditto for oath-taking: Moses commanded it in two cases (goods entrusted to someone then lost, and the wife suspected of adultery), but these weren’t everyday occurrences for most people. Food laws, on the other hand, governed everyone’s daily living, and to abolish them would have obliterated the basic distinction between clean and unclean, not to mention an essential part of Jewish identity.

Add to this the fact that no gospel ever reports Jesus or the disciples eating forbidden food, and a case for the authenticity of Mk 7:15 becomes yet another uphill battle. If Jesus had revoked the Torah’s food laws, he would have been hated and distrusted by almost everyone. And as we know, Paul is unable to cite Jesus in a case like Rom 14:14 (“we know that no food is unclean in itself”), unlike the case of divorce. Meier suggests, as others before him, that Mk 7:15 is influenced by Rom 14:14, rather than vice-versa (pp 395-396).

Mk 7:17-23. Since this section is an extended explanation of Mk 7:14-15, it can be no more historical than what came before, and Meier regards the whole of Mk 7:14-23 as fiction.

So much for Mk 7. The qorban saying can be salvaged, but nothing else. But before leaving this subject, it’s amusing to contrast the judgment of Meier’s unpapal conclave with that of the Jesus Seminar. What’s “pink” for Funk & Co. (Mk 7:14-15) is “black” for Meier; and what’s “black” for them (Mk 7:10-12) is “pink” for Meier. (See The Five Gospels, pp 67-70). Fantasy conclaves seem to work better than real seminars.


No sooner is this filthy four-letter word invoked than it summons up dated caricatures and useless abstractions. But thankfully Meier isn’t concerned with everything Jesus ever said about love, forgiveness, and compassion (which would have been shared by many of his opponents anyway), but, in keeping with the spirit of Volume 4, individual commandments or prohibitions that relate to the Torah. There are three relevant sayings: the double command to love God and one’s neighbor (Mk 12:28-34/Mt 22:34-40/Lk 10:25-28), the command to love enemies (Mt 5:44b/Lk 6:27b), and the command to love one another (Jn 13:34, 15:12,17).

While none of these commandments enjoy multiple attestation, Meier thinks there are good reasons to view the synoptic sayings as historical. The third is judged to be a product of John.

The Command to Love God and Neighbor. Jesus joins two different scripture texts (Deut 6:4-5 and Lev 19:18b) and sets them above every other commandment in the Torah. Meier thinks they satisfy the criterion of discontinuity (joining Deut 6:4-5 with Lev 19:18b is unparalleled in Jewish thought), and coherence (fitting Jesus’ mission of regathering a scattered Israel in the last days: the first command could have naturally begotten the second in such a context). Later we apparently see a taming of the double command in Gal 5:14, Rom 13:8-10, Jas 2:8, Mt 5:43b, 19:19, all of which cite “love of neighbor” but not the Shema of Deuteronomy. As later Christians dealt with problems in their communities (Jews vs. Gentiles, rich vs. poor, etc.), it was inevitable that the “neighbor” half of Jesus’ double command took over. But as Meier says, the halakic Jesus originally emphasized that love of God couldn’t be reduced to love of one’s neighbor, far less collapsed into it (p 494). They were explicitly distinct and ordered: God first, neighbor second.

The Command to Love Enemies. Like the double command, this one satisfies the criterion of discontinuity (“love your enemies” is unparalleled in Jewish thought), and coherence (Jesus went out of his way to express inflammatory teachings in blunt formulations, like “let the dead bury the dead”, “you cannot serve God and Mammon”, “whoever loses his life will save it”, and “this is my body”). As a hard selfless command, it almost shouts Jesus’ autograph.

The Command to Love One Another. Unlike the synoptic commands, delivered in public and to all Jews, John’s command is directed to the disciples alone and in private, and it implicitly opposes loving one’s neighbors and enemies: “Love for one’s friends is proclaimed to the be the greatest love that can exist, period. No greater love than self-sacrifice for one’s friends exists on John’s theological radar screen. Put more bluntly: love of [neighbors and enemies] does not exist on the radar screen.” (p 567). Meier rightly judges this to reflect the Johannine sectarian ethic, not to mention a reciprocal one (like the Golden Rule, as we’ll see, it contrasts with the historical Jesus’ intolerance for reciprocity). Though the criterion of discontinuity might look promising, “the lack of parallels in Jewish and pagan literature is best explained by the thoroughly Johannine character of this love command” (p 573), something not true of the synoptic commands.

Meier’s emphasis bears repeating: that Jesus ranked love of God and then neighbor above all other commandments doesn’t mean he thought they were virtually the only commandments necessary. “For Jesus you need the Torah as a whole. Nothing could be more foreign to this Palestinian Jew than a facile antithesis between Law and love.” (p 576) That’s why I call “love” the filthy four-letter word of the NT. The vulgar Paul maintained that the law was obsolete (the best it ever had to offer was now available by another route, the spirit) even as it was fulfilled by love. But there’s little evidence that the historical Jesus was anti-nomian.

The Golden Rule

First things first: the Golden Rule isn’t a “love” commandment, just because scholars say it is, nor does it apply particularly to enemies — certainly not in Matthew (7:12), though Luke (6:31) makes a closer connection. There’s nothing especially radical about the saying at all, in fact; it was common pagan wisdom, usually expressed in the more negative form, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.” Essentially, a person decided how he or she wanted to be treated and then made that the standard for treating others. It’s wonderful secular wisdom, not requiring a belief in God, and a favorite of atheists and Unitarians like myself.

Too bad for us, because as Meier shows, the Golden Rule doesn’t meet any of the criteria of authenticity, least of all discontinuity, enjoying a wide reputation in the Greco-Roman world, going back as far as Herodotus and the sophists. In the NT the saying is only singularly attested (in Q according to Meier, in Matthew according to Farrer-advocates) and seems to have been placed on the lips of Jesus by those who revered him as an ethical master (pre-Q or Q, according to Meier; pre-Matthew or Matthew, I would say), attributing common wisdom to him.

The Golden Rule is inconsistent with Jesus’ demands stated elsewhere, and thus unable to meet even the criterion of coherence. Jesus criticized the ethic of reciprocity left and right (“if you love those who love you, what credit do you gain?”, “if you give loans to those from whom you hope to receive payment, what credit do you gain?”, etc.), and the Golden Rule is all about reciprocity. It just doesn’t square with the preachings of an uncompromising apocalyptic. “The clash between the Golden Rule and Jesus’ withering blast against a morality of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ is as astounding as it is little noted by Christians” (p 556). Yes, Jesus could have been inconsistent, but there are understandable inconsistencies and not-so-understandable ones, and this one, to me, smacks of the latter.

It may be objected that just because the philosophers applied the rule reciprocally doesn’t mean that Jesus did. James McGrath, for instance, says that “the Golden Rule does seem rather distinctive… and doesn’t seem to reflect an ethic of reciprocity. As attributed to Jesus, the meaning seems to clearly be to do to others what we would want them to do to us, not what they have done nor what we expect them to do.” But one could say the same for the pagan versions. As Meier reminds us, the rule never made the reciprocal expectation explicit, but it was always clarified that way: the person following the rule hoped or expected that his behavior would call forth similar behavior in others (see p 553). It could be that later Christian ethicists co-opted the saying in the less reciprocal manner suggested by McGrath, but it’s unsound to claim that Jesus made this move with quicksand under our feet. As a secularist who warms to the Golden Rule, I regretfully agree with Meier that we’re wise to leave it out of our reconstruction of the historical Jesus.

For amusement’s sake, it’s worth examining the Jesus Seminar’s take on the Golden Rule, because Funk and Co. are almost as skeptical as Meier, though for different reasons. The Seminar voted it “gray”, on grounds that while Jesus wouldn’t necessarily have been hostile to the rule, it “veils a calculating egoism”, suggesting that “one should not go beyond self-interest”:

“It calls for making oneself the standard of the treatment of others, rather than making the other the standard of that treatment. Had the golden rule taken this form, ‘Treat people in the way they want to be treated,’ it would have come closer to Jesus’ perspective. In its traditional form, the golden rule expresses nothing that cuts against the common grain.” (The Five Gospels, pp 296, 156)

The Seminar is actually describing the 20th-century Platinum Rule (“do unto others as they want done to them”), but while I agree that this is superior to the Golden Rule (and have blogged plenty about the subject), I think it unreasonable to expect Jesus to have anticipated George Bernard Shaw (who advised: “do not do unto others as you would want done unto you, because their tastes may not be the same”). That’s a rather eisegetical dismissal. By ancient standards, the Golden Rule was progressive wisdom. It just doesn’t seem to have been Jesus’ wisdom.


A Marginal Jew has remained consistent in methodology over the past 18 years, retaining the air of an earlier period when questors were putting Jesus into one of a zillion boxes (“rabbi”, “cynic”, “magician”, “social prophet”, whatever). Meier’s box isn’t so small that it chokes out unwanted data in favor of a pet theory, and for that reason alone will stand the test of time as a worthy reference series. His Jesus remains, in general terms, the eschatological figure who was heralding a new age, speaking for people on the margins of society.

Meier’s results confirm something I often make a point of: the mistake of distinguishing too sharply between the Torah and interpretations of it. Reality doesn’t break down so neatly or cater to our Cartesian sensibilities. Jesus evidently thought he was Torah-observant — despite even his sweeping prohibitions against divorce and oath-taking — though his opponents could easily refute that. There was no monolithic view of the Torah or how it should be followed, and recognizing the simple point helps us come to terms with the “enigma”, as Meier puts it, of Jesus’ various stances to the law.

Finally, a word about criteria. In recent years I’ve become more skeptical about using the the classic criteria to get at sure results (though not quite as skeptical as Mark Goodacre), but if one takes them as a premise for proceeding, Meier applies them more impressively than most, and without fearing where the road takes him. For a moderately conservative priest, he reaches some remarkably “minimalist” conclusions in this book (which is stamped with a Vatican Imprimatur like the other volumes), often evidently against his will. I think the criteria can be useful, but suspect methodologies which rely on them heavily are nearing their end.

In sum: Meier’s unpapal conclave is still a fine muse. Its mantra in this volume is, “the historical Jesus is the halakic Jesus”, but that Jesus will leave Jew, Catholic, Protestant, and agnostic alike nonplussed in the knowledge that most boxes will be too small for him.

Did Jesus Teach the Golden Rule?

In a word, no.

That’s John Meier’s conclusion, anyway, and I’m afraid he’s probably right. So much for the secular wisdom championed by Christianity’s founder. I’ll soon be reviewing Meier’s long-awaited fourth volume of A Marginal Jew, but I wanted to blog right away about the Golden Rule. For whatever reason, I always took Mt 7:12/Lk 6:31 to be securely authentic, no doubt on strength of popularity. Everyone likes this rule, even atheists, and I warm to it even knowing that it’s flawed in principle. By the standards of Jesus’ day, it’s fine wisdom. But why is it not Jesus’ wisdom?

Meier shows that the Golden Rule doesn’t meet any of the criteria of authenticity, least of all discontinuity, enjoying a wide reputation in the Greco-Roman world, going back as far as Herodotus and the sophists. In the NT the saying is only singularly attested (in Q according to Meier, in Matthew according to Farrer-advocates like me) and seems to have been placed on the lips of Jesus by those who revered him as an ethical master (pre-Q or Q, according to Meier; pre-Matthew or the Matthean community itself, I would say), attributing common wisdom to him.

The Golden Rule is thoroughly inconsistent with Jesus’ demands stated elsewhere, and thus unable to meet even the criterion of coherence. Jesus criticized the ethic of reciprocity left and right (“if you love those who love you, what credit do you gain?”, “if you give loans to those from whom you hope to receive payment, what credit do you gain?”, etc.), and the Golden Rule is all about reciprocity. It just doesn’t square with the preachings of an uncompromising apocalyptic. “The clash between the Golden Rule and Jesus’ withering blast against a morality of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ is as astounding as it is little noted by Christians.” (A Marginal Jew, Vol 4, p 556) Yes, Jesus could have been inconsistent (as the ever-wise Dale Allison reminds us), but there are understandable inconsistencies and not-so-understandable ones, and this one is a glaring example of the latter.

Since the Golden Rule fails the criteria with flying colors, we should join Meier in bidding it farewell from our reconstruction of the historical Jesus.

Horror Movies and Rape Fantasies

I’ve wondered why horror-movie fans like myself enjoy being disturbed, and in researching the subject I was drawn to the somewhat related study of rape fantasies. Interestingly enough, research on rape fantasies and horror movie consumption, done independently of each other, point to similar conclusions.

Rape fantasies are common, but intuitively make no sense. How does one get pleasure from imagining a degrading assault on oneself? Most fantasies depicting something bad happening to the fantasizer are no more pleasant to imagine than to experience in reality. If I imagine getting in a car accident, it’s an unpleasant fantasy. If I imagine getting cancer, it’s unpleasant. If I imagine getting mugged at gunpoint, it’s certainly not arousing. But if I imagine getting raped (whether by a man or woman, given my flexible orientation), that can be a pleasant fantasy, even in the knowledge that it would be repugnant — or emotionally traumatizing — if it actually happened as imagined. Why is this the case?

Joseph Critelli and Jenny Bivona have outlined different theories which attempt to explain heterosexual female rape fantasies — that is, women who daydream, masturbate, or have sex with a partner while fantasizing being raped by a man. The gender/orientation bias is limiting, though some of these findings would seem to translate into other combinations (men fantasizing being raped by men, women by women, men by women) easily enough. As many as 20 studies conducted over the last 30 years show that between 31-57% of women enjoy rape fantasies (between 9-17% say rape is their favorite fantasy), so again the phenomenon is a common one.

Before considering the theories, it’s worth noting two kinds of rape fantasies distinguished by specialists: erotic and aversive. Erotic fantasies involve an attractive and aggressive male whom the woman resists, but he overpowers and rapes her with minimal violence. Aversive fantasies involve a male who is usually older and unattractive, and who uses coercive and painful violence to terrify the woman — typically throwing her to the ground and ripping off her clothes while she fights desperately and futilely to prevent the rape. There is often overlap between aversive and erotic fantasies (9% of reported rape fantasies are aversive, 45% are erotic, and 46% are on a continuum somewhere between aversive-erotic). One might question making the distinction at all, since rape is rape, and real-life victims of “erotic” rapes are just as easily left traumatized as those of “aversive” rapes. But the distinction can be useful depending on which theory is being advocated to account for fantasies.

Here are the eight theories considered by Critelli and Bivona, plus another (#6) which they omit. I list them roughly in ascending order of explanatory power (worst first, best last), not necessarily shared by the authors of the article, and the numerical ratings on a scale of 0-5 are my own.

(1) Masochism. Rape fantasies are an expression of a woman’s innate desire for suffering and pain. The weakest theory on this list, (unless one is honestly prepared to claim that 31-57% of women are masochists), relying on dated psychoanalysis which assumes that rape fantasies are pathological. At best the theory accounts for fantasies of true masochists, who are few and far between. Explanatory power: 1/5.

(2) Male Rape Culture. Rape fantasies are a manifestation of male-dominated culture. Another weak theory. The idea is that women are conditioned by society to believe (or find attractive the idea) that they are unable to resist the advances of an aggressive male and should display vulnerability. Promoted in the ’70s by feminist Susan Brownmiller (see halfway down this post), who believes that rape fantasies are pathological. The glaring problem with it is that it ignores many strong-willed feminists who have rape fantasies (not to mention men who have fantasies of being raped by either men or women). Gender roles have changed dramatically since the ’70s, but rape fantasies remain consistent. Rape culture is real (especially in honor-shame societies), but it doesn’t explain fantasies like it does real-world rape. Explanatory power: 1/5.

(3) Blame Avoidance. Rape fantasies allow women to avoid blame or responsibility for expressing their sexuality. The most frequently cited theory. It states that women who are raised in sexually repressive environments and feel guilty about sex are prone to fantasize being taken against their will, thus absolving them of blame. Not only does the empirical data show no correlation between repression and rape fantasies, the theory has an Achilles’ heel: most women who have rape fantasies have just as many consensual fantasies, reducing the likelihood that they’re trying to “avoid blame” for expressing sexuality. This theory may have wide intuitive appeal, and is a politically correct way of explaining a controversial phenomenon, but like the above two needs to be removed from the literature as an explanation for rape fantasies. Explanatory power: 1/5.

(4) Openness. Rape fantasies are part of a woman’s generally open and accepting attitude toward sex. The opposite of blame avoidance: instead of being driven by repressed sexuality, other women are driven by libertinism. This one is as correct as blame avoidance is wrong: it’s true that women who engage in multiple sex partners, and/or seek out a variety of sex acts, and/or are bisexual, are more likely to have rape fantasies than other women. But this is descriptive and predictive rather than explanatory. It leaves unanswered the important question: however libertine a woman is, why choose a particular fantasy (rape) that would be repugnant if it happened in real life? Explanatory power: 0/5; descriptive power: 4/5.

(5) Desirability. Rape fantasies are a testament to a woman’s sexual power. The woman envisions herself as so desirable that a man will lose control and break the bounds of moral decency to have her, thus enhancing the woman’s self-esteem. While studies show that the need for desire accounts for some rape fantasies, they show no correlation between self-esteem (or body satisfaction) and rape fantasies. Also, as a general rule desirability seems artificial. Women can just as easily imagine themselves desirable in consensual fantasies. Why not fancy a man relentlessly pursuing her until she finally consents? Why is the fantasy of rape so essential to experiencing desire? Explanatory power: 2/5

(6) Reaction to Trauma. Rape fantasies are a way of gaining control over a real-life traumatic experience. This one isn’t on Critelli & Bivona’s list of eight, but Matthew Huston adds it. Since many masturbatory fantasies are attempts to transform early difficult experiences into pleasure, women who have been raped may attempt to master their trauma by taming the experience. This theory is based on the largest survey of sexual fantasies ever conducted, but also on more general observations about “early difficult experiences”, rape being one possibility. Explanatory power: 2/5.

(7) Biological Predisposition. Rape fantasies reflect a biological need to surrender to male dominance. Male dominance & female surrender is a basic pattern in the animal world, originating from primitive brain regions that have evolved to insure successful mating. This isn’t a predisposition to indiscriminate rape — which would have surely reduced the reproductive success of ancestral human females by making them vulnerable to impregnation by men with inferior genes — but rather to rape by a selected dominant male. This theory has something going for it, particularly for erotic rape fantasies (which involve an attractive male) but as with the male rape culture theory, it doesn’t account for those who have fantasies of being raped by women. Explanatory power: 3/5.

(8) Sympathetic Activation. Rape fantasies are a manifestation of enhanced sexual response owing to fear and anger. Increased blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and muscle tension prepare the way for genital arousal and vaginal lubrication. As with biological predisposition, this is understandable: ancestral women who didn’t have an automatic vaginal response to rape would have been prone to penetrative injury resulting in illness and infertility, and would have less likely passed on the trait to offspring. For protective reasons, the emotions of fear and anger triggered by a rape can provide a “jump start” for sexual arousal. This is a promising avenue, especially for aversive rape fantasies (which involve high levels of fear), and has been confirmed by real-life rape victims who recount these physical responses, as well as the results of laboratory research showing surges of vaginal blood flow as women listen to descriptions of rape scenes. Explanatory power: 4/5.

(9) Adversary Transformation. Rape fantasies are an effective means of creating dramatic tension in a story that will ultimately have a positive ending. As in trashy romance novels (which account for 40% of paperback sales in the U.S., 54% of them involving the rape of the heroine) the woman/heroine envisions herself winning over her rapist in the end: having him voluntarily make a lifetime commitment to her, and transforming his cruelty into love. The rape is a dangerous piece of excitement and momentary evil that she will prove capable of transcending, analogous perhaps to a man’s fantasy of being temporarily crushed by an evil foe. The theory is plausible, because people love to reinvent themselves in unrealistic fantasies. In this light, consensual fantasies can become mundane and boring, like novels and movies which lack dramatic conflict. Explanatory power: 4/5.

Again, the explanatory power ratings are my own, based on my understanding of the evidence. Most agree that the first three theories should be discarded for lacking evidence, and for assuming rape fantasies are pathological based on false correlations — that women are psychologically masochistic, socially conditioned to be abused, or sexually repressed. The fourth theory is largely correct, but doesn’t explain rape fantasies. The fifth and sixth theories account for some fantasies but not enough to serve as a general rule. The seventh makes sense but as an evolutionary theory is hard to test. The last two seem to have the best explanatory power, and are compatible with each other. Like the seventh, the eighth addresses biological desire, explaining how women can be inclined to surrender and become angrily aroused. But as William Saletan notes, in real-life that’s the body saying one thing while the brain is saying quite another. What happens in a fantasy that makes the brain agree with the body?

The ninth theory addresses that psychological desire: the need to reinvent ourselves in escapist narratives. Saletan prefers the fifth theory, but desirability doesn’t seem to require a rape scenario as much as adversary transformation.

The last two theories could be subsumed under a more general one: Rape fantasies owe to the paradox of being able to experience negative and positive feelings simultaneously. And this returns us to the subject of horror movies.

Horror movie consumption is almost as puzzling as rape fantasy. Why will people pay for (let alone fantasize about) emotional experiences that involve heavy levels of terror and depravity? Why do people (like myself) enjoy being scared and disturbed by such films? In a recent study, Eduardo Andrade and Joel Cohen provide an answer to this question. They start by addressing two traditional theories:

(1) Intensity. Horror-movie fans are actually not afraid or revolted by the movies they watch, only excited. One person’s terror is another’s excitement, in other words. But while it’s true that people are frightened at different levels and by different things — and can become increasingly desensitized to fear and disgust — experiments don’t confirm that horror fans aren’t generally scared by the films that excite them. (It’s certainly not true of me: I’m genuinely frightened by a good horror film, and the more fright, the more thrill.)

(2) Aftermath. Horror-movie fans are willing to endure terror in order to enjoy a euphoric sense of relief at the end when the horror is alleviated. This sounds plausible, but as experiments demonstrate, the aftermath relief of horror-movie watchers isn’t as great as the relief experienced by people who avoid exposure. “Those who avoid the experience are able to attain the greatest award from it.” (p 36)

Andrade and Cohen suggest, instead, a theory of

(3) Coactivation. Positive and negative feelings can co-occur when people are exposed to aversive stimuli. Intensity and aftermath theories assume this is impossible, but experiments show that people can experience distress and pleasure simultaneously, especially when they feel secure in a safe environment. Horror fans are thus “happy to be unhappy”: the most fearful or repulsive moments of the film are also the most emotionally pleasant.

This squares with my experience. When I saw The Exorcist as a kid I was so frightened I was near traumatized, and yet I wouldn’t have stopped watching it. Recently I had a similar experience with Eden Lake. During parts of it, I got so uncomfortable I wanted to stop the DVD, but I also really wanted to keep going, and one feeling seemed directly related to the other. I can only describe these experiences as simultaneous assaults of terror and exhilaration, but never gave much thought to the science behind it.

As Andrade and Cohen explain, their findings don’t address exactly how the interaction between positive and negative affect comes about, thus leaving unanswered the question of why people are willing to consume negative along with positive feelings. Why not restrict oneself to purely positive feelings? Wouldn’t that be even more satisfying than a mixture of the two? They speculate as follows:

“One possibility is that negative affect represents a reliable source of arousal which can be continuously converted into positive affect, as long as people place themselves within a given protective frame… A second possibility is that coactivation and a certain level of uncertainty within a protective frame provides individuals with an overall more pleasurable experience than, for instance, a pure and predictable positive experience…in other words, experiencing mixed feelings within a protective frame may be more fun.” (pp 38-39)

These possibilities are confirmed by two of the most plausible rape fantasy theories we looked at: sympathetic activation (biological arousal resulting from bad feelings), and adversary transformation (dramatic excitement provided by bad feelings). So independently of each other, studies of rape fantasies and horror-movie consumption suggest similar things, though there is plenty more testing to be done in these areas.

Sympathetic activation and coactivation show the biological dynamics of bad feelings which produce — or convert into, or co-occur with — good ones. Adversary transformation points to the way we crave dramatic excitement in novels and films, and even reinvent ourselves in unrealistic (rape) fictions. And on this last note, let’s not forget David Livingstone Smith’s important lesson that human beings require strong doses of self-deception to stay mentally healthy.

A Marginal Track Record

John P. Meier, writing in 1994:

“The best laid schemes of mice and exegetes… In the beginning, A Marginal Jew was to have been a one-volume work on the historical Jesus, Then two volumes became necessary; now there will be three.” (Vol II, p 1)

By the time of the third volume (2001), however, Meier said there would need to be a fourth. But again, it would be final:

“The theme of the final volume of our quest will be ‘The Enigmas Jesus Posed and Was’. The four great enigmas to be considered are the enigma of Jesus’ teaching on the Law, the enigmas or riddle-speech of Jesus’ parables, the enigmas or riddle-speech of Jesus’ self-designations, and the final enigma or riddle of his death… It is to the massive task of unravelling these four great enigmas…that we will turn our attention in the fourth and final volume of A Marginal Jew.” (Vol III, pp 645-646)

I am now holding that “fourth and final volume” in my hand, and — as we have learned to predict by now — there’s nothing final about it. In fact, it treats only one of those four enigmas (the law). Meier now promises that “the other three enigmas will be treated in volume five.” (Vol IV, p 1). Indeed. Given this track record, I think we can count on at least six volumes.