Shorter Reviews -- the Wisdom and Wit of Rabbi Jesus by William E. Phipps
Bullard, John M., Interpretation
The Wisdom and Wit of Rabbi Jesus, by William E. Phipps. Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, 1993. 254 pp. $17.99 (paper). ISBN 0-664-25232-X.
JESUS AS RABBI--that is, teacher--who both enlightens and amuses as he liberates his disciples, forms the integrating theme of this work. In ten carefully crafted chapters, richly documented with supporting references to the finest New Testament scholarship and to humorists and theorists of humor, Phipps portrays Jesus as "a Jew discussing theology with inquirers, not as a clergyman delivering sermons to passive audiences." At the outset, he sets Jesus against his Pharisaic background, showing the authority and freedom with which Jesus interprets Torah, for example, rejecting misogyny, while avoiding extremes of Essene determinism and Sadducean free will. Jesus is the reviver of prophetic revelation and is thus himself a prophet. He taught as one who had authority and not as the scribes who accepted every sentence of their Bible as the inerrant word of God. Chapter 3 focuses on Jesus as biblical interpreter countering literalists who are blind to figurative language and insensitive to literary nuances.
As teacher, Jesus uses prophetic symbolism (washing disciples' feet), bantering questions to stimulate decision-making, word pictures ("salt of the earth"), logic opposites (paradoxes: winners/losers, Mark 8), visual aids (denarius tax), hyperbole (Pharisee swallowing camel), learning by doing (sending disciples out by pairs), and--his most effective means--parables.
The humor of Jesus is wry, not buffoonery, ironic without sarcasm (literally, flesh-tearing), full of salty wit. In light of the philosophers, in Chapter 6, Phipps compares Jesus' humor with that of Socrates, Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre, Buddha, and Santayana. …