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June 17, 2024

Added Gospels, Classics, and the Erasure of the Community: A Critical Review Testing the Hypothesis of Robyn Faith Walsh’s The Origins of Early Christian Literature, Part B (2024) by John MacDonald to the Historicity of Jesus page under Christianity in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.

In Part B of a three-part critical review of Robyn Faith Walsh’s The Origins of Early Christian Literature: Contextualizing the New Testament within Greco-Roman Literary Culture, John MacDonald provides a literary application and defense of Walsh’s hypothesis that the Gospels are not, as is usually thought, the product of literate spokespersons conveying the oral tradition of their community, but rather are birthed out of networks of elite Greco-Roman-Jewish writers in dialogue with one another, not downtrodden illiterate peasants. MacDonald aims to show that Walsh’s approach makes good sense of the evidence, such as pervasive intertextual haggadic midrash (Jewish) and mimesis (Greek) going on in writing the Gospels, which seems less likely on the “oral tradition of the community” hypothesis. Walsh’s critique of the community oral tradition model is important because that model is what bridges the gap from the opaque period of Jesus’ life and death in the 30s through Paul (who is silent on the details of Jesus’ life) to the destruction of the Temple in the 70s, when Mark’s gospel appears. A few bare details aside, without this chain of sources, reconstruction of the events of Jesus’ life is essentially impossible. In this second article, MacDonald shows how the narrative of the arrest and death of Jesus serves a theological agenda, not a historical one. Moreover, MacDonald addresses the problematic nature of the hypothetical lost Q source (the material common to Matthew and Luke that did not come from Mark), such as how McGrath’s attempt to derive the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus from Q is flawed.

New in the Kiosk: Horrendous Evil and Christian Theism: A Reply to John W. Loftus (2024) by Don McIntosh

In his recent article, “God and Horrendous Suffering,” John W. Loftus argues that what he calls horrendous suffering is incompatible with traditional theism. The extent of horrendous suffering in the world, he says, “means that either God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is not smart enough to eliminate it, or God is not powerful enough to eliminate it.” For Loftus, however, the problem is not simply evil, but horrendous suffering, a particularly acute form of evil which renders theism completely untenable. Here I will argue in reply, first, that because horrendous suffering is itself a form of evil, it cannot be easily reconciled with naturalism, since naturalism actually precludes the existence of evil. Then I will argue that horrendous suffering is not only compatible with theism, but is best explained in the context of Christian theism in particular. Finally I will suggest that because God’s work of creation is not yet complete, we have good reason for maintaining hope even in the face of horrendous evils.

Recommended reading: Lamb of the Free: Understanding the Varied Sacrificial Understandings of Jesus’s Death (2024) by Andrew Remington Rillera

Andrew Remington Rillera’s Lamb of the Free analyzes the different sacrificial imagery applied to Jesus in the New Testament in light of the facts that (a) there is no such thing as substitutionary death sacrifice in the Torah—neither death nor suffering nor punishment of the animal has any place in the sacrificial system—and (b) there are both atoning and non-atoning sacrifices. Surprisingly, the earliest and most common sacrifices associated with Jesus’s death are the non-atoning ones. Nevertheless, when considering the whole New Testament, Jesus is said to accomplish all the benefits of the entire Levitical system, from both atoning and non-atoning sacrifices and purification. Moreover, all sacrificial interpretations of Jesus’ death in the New Testament operate within the paradigm of participation, which is antithetical to notions of substitution. The sacrificial imagery in the New Testament is aimed at grounding the exhortation for the audience to be conformed to the cruciform image of Jesus by sharing in his death. The consistent message throughout the entire New Testament is not that Jesus died instead of us, rather, Jesus dies ahead of us so that we can unite with him and be conformed the image of his death.

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