Sunday, September 6, 2009

John Meier on Jesus and the Law

All too often in the past, Christian questers for the historical Jesus have created an opposition between the 'ritual,' 'cultic,' or 'legal' elements in the Law on the one hand and the 'moral' or 'ethical' elements on the other. One can see the problem immediately. This sort of distinction usually carries with it implicit value judgments that owe more to the European Enlightenment of the 18th century and American individualism of the 21st century than to Jewish views on the Law in 1st-century Palestine. To many modern minds, as they evaluate matters religious and spiritual, what is external, ritual, ceremonial, public, legal, or institutional is of little importance, is easily dispensed with, or is downright dangerous and to be avoided. In contrast, what is internal, private, personal, spontaneous, emotional, or unstructured belongs to true religion or spirituality, and it is in this sphere that true morality is to be found.

...For the ancient Near East, human beings were not Platonic souls entombed for a while in bodies; human beings were bodies enlivened by a vital force having a mind, will, and emotions. A religion that remained locked up in the inner recesses of the psyche, a religion that had no bodily expression in visible and communal actions, was quite literally non-sense.

...To sum up: an implicitly hostile opposition between 'cultic,' 'ritual,' or 'purely legal' elements of the Mosaic Law on the one hand and the 'truly moral' or 'ethical' elements on the other would have been alien to the mind-set of ordinary Palestinian Jews of Jesus' day. For such a Jew, what was 'moral' (if we may use that term) was to do God's will and to walk in his ways as laid out in the Torah God had given to Israel. (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, 4:43–45.)

Put that in your theological pipe and smoke it.

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