I’ve been reading the Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels Malina and Pilch. On page 360, in an entry on fasting, they note concerning Jesus, “…he was not what modern authors call an apocalyptic preacher.” Essentially, the authors base this claim on the following evidence:
- Gospel traditions indicate that Jesus did not fast during his ministry.
- Said traditions are clearly accurate because later members of the Jesus movement did fast. Thus they recorded Jesus’ abstinence from fasting despite their own practice.
- Apocalyptic preachers had a tendency to fast in protest of the evil in the world.
Jesus, having not been much of a faster, did not protest the evil in the world.
Therefore, Jesus was not an apocalyptic preacher.
This argument is interesting to me because one of the surest pieces of data available about Jesus (purely from the historian’s perspective…tabling for a moment the possibility that Scripture is inspired by God) is that he preached the immediate presence of and immanent cataclysmic arrival of God’s kingdom. Now, historians, theologians, and such disagree about precisely what the content of Jesus’ preaching meant at those points. But nevertheless, there it is.
Anyhow, I just thought that was a weird notion. Earlier in the book the authors essentially argued that Jesus’ preaching about the kingdom was not “eschatology” but rather “nextology.” They claim this on this basis: Israelite peasants did not think about the far future, but only about what was just about to happen. Aside from being a neologism that is so stupid that I cringed when I read it, the application of the term is also stupid. Here’s why, the authors claim that thinking that Jesus had a world-changing judgment from God in mind is a 19th century idea, rather than an ancient Jewish one. But Luke’s gospel, which is connected to Acts, pretty clearly connects a future judgment of the living and the dead with the teachings of Jesus or at least with the teachings of his disciples.
Oh well, weird stuff like that frustrates me. I think that Bible commentaries are an important genre. I also paradoxically think that there are too many of them. So many, in fact, that people write them and put weird comments like that in them that make one wonder how good the rest of the book is. And this book, in particular, has a great deal of illuminating sections. Sadly, it seems that the need for novelty overrides the need for good historical judgment. Kind of like how science journalists always make claims that have almost no relationship to the studies they read.