Academic journal article Shofar

Jesus, God of the Hebrew Bible

Academic journal article Shofar

Jesus, God of the Hebrew Bible

Article excerpt

This article undertakes to isolate those stories about Jesus that Paul described as "stumbling blocks to the Jews" of his day from other Jesus stories that circulated in the early churches. It then attempts to discern which implicit claims in such stories would not have been objectionable to most Jews and to explain why. It achieves these objectives through a consideration of predications about God in some of the earliest sections of Jewish liturgy that, though expressed in psalmodic idioms, are drawn ultimately from Biblical narratives. Finally, it suggests why the overwhelming majority of first-century Jews hearing such stories would not have felt compelled to become Christians.

Jesus Stories

Jesus stories circulated widely in the early churches. They circulated before and after the canonical Gospels were composed. Good stories attracted an authence, triggered discussions, and created interest that drew potential converts into conversations with disciples. Stories could answer questions, salve doubts, convince.

Jesus stories and their interpretations comprised a narrative frame within which believers created lives of Christian significance. Each story made a point that could initiate discussions about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, about his parables and instructions, and about their importance and relevance. Tellers of tales cast their stories into this or that form, combining them as they saw fit, tailoring them for a particular authence of fellow -Jews, the folks with whom they shared wine and meals, with whom they attended synagogue and perhaps frequented a study-house, the folks with whom they argued and debated.

At first, Paul, writing ca. 50-60 CE, may not have known too many Jesus stories, but the ones that he did know angered him and led him to disdain those who thought them true. Nevertheless, one subset of stories eventually worked its magic on him, and Paul came to faith through inner conversion (Acts 9:1-7). Jesus stories that he heard later from groups in Damascus and in Jerusalem served to support and rationalize his faith.'

The gamut of Jesus stories may have brought many Jews to associate with and join Christian groups. For most, becoming a Christian was a slow process best described as ecclesiastical conversion. Such conversion was the end result of an extended socialization process influenced and stimulated by many factors in addition to knowingjesus stories: personal-psychological, familial, political, sociological, and intellectual.2 Paul himself distinguishes between stories that he did not tell the Corinthians - what he describes as"testimony (=Gk marturion) of God" types - and"Christ and him crucified" types.3 Paul preferred the latter in his own work (1 Cor 2:1-4). For Paul, the crucified and resurrected Christ was the beginning of all that was important. His eschatology lies at the beginning of his theology, and he would have it no other way.4

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote: "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:21-24). Paul spoke about the crucified and resurrected anointed one. He referred to Jesus as the Anointed One, christos, but not as God, theos. His rhetoric skated a fine line but did not cross it into what many might have considered the range of the absolutely intolerable.

His comment about the Jews supports the following interpretation: Jews wanted signs or proofs that Jesus was divine or divinely sent, and there were missionaries who provided them with a message based on such stories. What Jews didn't get - the stumbling block - was that belief in Jesus could save them, belief in the Jesus who died, rose from the dead, appeared to and conversed with people, and then ascended to heaven. …

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