Please comment on the role of women in the life of Jesus and His relationships with them. Was His treatment of them as unusual as His approach to the poor and outcast?
One of the standard ways New Testament scholarship operates is to attribute some admirable ethical principal to Jesus, and then to explain his significance by attributing the opposite to his Jewish contemporaries. Thus: Jesus was nice to sick people, while the Jews were mean to them (Jewish purity rules are usually, and wrongly, dragged in here); or, Jesus emphasized personal prayer, while the Jews emphasized empty ritual; or, especially since the 1960s Jesus was egalitarian and welcomed women followers, while the Jews had a sexist society and didn't treat women well. This mode of thinking has more to do with identity and invidious comparison than with reconstructing first-century history. For an excellent book containing the most recent work on the issue of Jesus and women, See Women and Christian Origins, ed. Ross Kraemer and Mary Rose d'Angelo, Oxford 1999. Q2. Submitted by E.L. Van Laningham:
I appreciated the program very much. It seemed that your answers were edited to "soundbites." Which of your answers that appeared on the final edit would you like to be able to expand for our benefit and your personal satisfaction?
Smart question. I was very distressed by the way I was edited so that it sounded as if N.T. Wright and I agreed on fundamental points when we, in fact, disagree energetically.
First, on Jesus' arrest and subsequent execution: I disagree with Crossan, Borg, and Wright, in that I hold that there was little reason for the priests of their own initiative to want Jesus dead. Even if Jesus had turned over some money-changers' table, that would not have affected the priests, and if you imagine how congested the Temple was in the days before Passover, hardly anyone would have noticed, so it could hardly have occasioned much disturbance. (If you have kids, and they have Where's Waldo? books, you'll see my point). Thus, I think the priests acted to help Pilate arrest Jesus, in order to avoid one of Pilate's typically heavy-handed police actions; they were not themselves "against" Jesus for religious reasons, as the program implied.
Second, on the resurrection: Wright referred to the Gospel Resurrection accounts. My remark was scissored out of context where I was speaking about the Resurrection witnesses Paul lists in 1 Cor 15: "He [the risen Christ] appeared first to Peter, then to the 12, and then to 500 brethren, some of whom have died, then to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all to me." The verb 'orao' means "to see." Here it's passive; he was seen. That's why I said "they saw something"--to be more precise, I should have said "they thought they saw something." But that's the referrent: the first-generation followers to whose report Paul, also first-generation, relates. And, of course, a report of something is not itself evidence that something happened as the report says--in this case as in any other.
I was intrigued by a comment Dominic Crossan made a while back. The point was that there are really no women scholars who have devoted their lives to the study of the historical Jesus. My question to you is, how would an educated women go about pursuing a career in the historical Jesus field, especially if she wanted to get training outside of the conventional seminary courses? Are there schools or seminaries that are more open to the findings of the Jesus Seminar, and, if so, where are they?
Crossan and I have corresponded on precisely this issue. I had heard the same remark attributed to him and was puzzled, since at the time he knew I was working on my second Jesus book (the first was from Yale in 1988), had published a number of articles in the area, and had responded to several of his publications in professional venues precisely because I, too, work on the historical Jesus. I assured Dom [Crossan] that I was, indeed, not male; and he assured me that he had meant to say "feminist scholars," not "female scholars." In any case, there are a number of women who work on the historical Jesus--A.J. Levine at Vanderbilt, Adele Reinhartz at McMaster, and Katherine Corley, to name a few.
Most training in the field is through liberal arts doctoral programs, notseminary courses.
Why do some Christians insist that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder when the word in Greek used for "bread" in the Gospels implies a "raised loaf" and the mitzvah (that which is commanded) at Passover is to eat"unleavened bread"?
Mark and, following him, the other two synoptics (Matthew and Luke) date the meal to 15 Nisan, and say it is the "Seder" (although the meal is not presented as such in their narratives). John's chronology has the final meal on Thursday, but indicates 14 Nisan in terms of the holiday: Jesus is killed on the cross the following day, Friday, still 14 Nisan (Jewish days "begin" the evening before), at the same time that the lambs are offered back in the Temple courts. So he is dead by the time of the meal Friday night, which is shabbat/15 Nisan. The synoptic chronology is the reason why some people think that the Last Supper was the Passover meal. There's no intrinsic superiority to either chronology, Mark's or John's.