Redescribing Jesus' Divinity through a Social Science Theory: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Forgiveness and Divine Identity in Ancient Judaism and Mark 2:1–12

By Tucker, J. Brian | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2018 | Go to article overview

Redescribing Jesus' Divinity through a Social Science Theory: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Forgiveness and Divine Identity in Ancient Judaism and Mark 2:1–12


Tucker, J. Brian, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Redescribing Jesus' Divinity through a Social Science Theory: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Forgiveness and Divine Identity in Ancient Judaism and Mark 2:1-12. By Beniamin Pascut. WUNT 2/438. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017, xx + 254 pp., €79.00 paper.

In Redescribing Jesus' Divinity through a Social Science Theory, Beniamin Pascut, Research Fellow at the McKeen Center at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, offers a social-scientific explanation for the way to understand the claim that Jesus shares in the identity of the God of Israel. For this, he uses Hecht's communication theory of identity, which allows him to argue that Mark's Jesus is more than simply a divine figure; he participates in the divine identity. Pascut enters the ongoing debates between Bauckham, Dunn, Chester, Hurtado, and Hays concerning whether Jesus shares in the identity of Israel's God and whether this is even a probative way of understanding the early church's claim in this regard. His historically and theologically aware study guided by social theory offers much-needed nuance for a convincing affirmative answer to the identity question, at least in the way it is framed in Jesus's forgiving of sins in Mark 2:1-12. Thus, Pascut shows one way that contemporary social theory can provide substantiation of traditional theological claims.

This revised Ph.D. thesis, researched under the supervision of Simon Gathercole at the University of Cambridge, begins with a history of interpretation of Jesus's forgiveness of sins in Mark 2, an explanation of various theories of identity, and a preview of the book's argument. Concerning existing approaches to Mark 2, Pascut discerns a degree of instability in the traditional formulation that Jesus is divine since only God can forgive sin. His solution is to offer a clearer understanding of divine forgiveness. His choice of identity theory answers the lack of sophistication among Markan scholars when it comes to identity discourse. With these problems identified, Pascut's argument develops in three parts. Two chapters address divine identity concerns. Then three chapters highlight the interplay between forgiveness and divine identity in its Jewish context. The final four chapters narrow the focus to Mark 2 and the intersection between forgiveness and identity.

Michael Hecht's communication theory of identity provides the framework for Pascut's study. For Hecht, identity entails four layers or domains. The personal layer includes identity markers such as names and characteristics; the enactment domain highlights the performative or expressive aspects of identity; in the relational sphere, identity is construed through relationships; and the communal stratum brings to the fore the role of group memberships for identity. Pascut provides examples from Greek literature as a way to substantiate these domains for studying a text such as Mark 2. Although Hecht's theory addresses a clear problem within scholarship relating to divine identity (and although it is only appropriate to assess what the author has chosen and not what a reviewer such as myself would have chosen), I am not convinced that Tajfel and Turner's social identity approaches are less "integrative" as a "comprehensive framework for assessing identities," as Pascut claims (p. 13). I would suggest, rather, that Tajfel and Turner are more useful and have a wider acceptance among theologians than Hecht's communicationbased approach. For example, Philip Esler's New Testament Theology: Communion and Community (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005) provides a previous model. However, this quibble aside, Pascut may offer a new way forward if Hecht can be integrated with Tajfel and Turner, especially if one allows for Trinitarian reflections to be part of the discussion. At this point, I am taking a cue from Wesley Hill's Paul and the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), though one would need to move out from Mark 2 to, for example, Mark 3:29. Hopefully, theologically-oriented interpreters will catch a vision for the need for this type of interdisciplinary hermeneutical work in order to address the types of arguments put forth in our contemporary setting. …

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