Creating Jesus 8: Rereading and remembering

Let's recap before proceeding. I have argued that the impetus for christology is two-fold: it is a response to Jesus' death which did not meet the group's messianic expectations; it is fermented by visionary experiences of Peter (and others like Mary?) which were understood to be religiously significant experiences. They understood the visions of his spirit not as a ghost (as a non-Jew might have framed it) but as a resurrected body (as a Jew would have framed the afterlife).

We also noted that the type of resurrected body was disputed among the Jews at the time. This is important for us. That we not impose "orthodox" christian notions of a fleshly resurrection on literature that recognizes more than one position and those in conflict.

Some like Paul, understood the resurrection of the person (Paul calls the person the "seed") to be the rising of a spiritual body, not the body of flesh that was in the grave. Jesus was buried and raised on the third day, but not as a body of flesh, but as a spiritual body (his flesh was left in the grave!). His "seed" would have a new body, not the body of flesh. His "seed" would be transformed into a celestial body (1 Cor 15:37-38). Others like Luke were sure it was the flesh which was raised (I guess he understood the person to be the flesh-blood body) and it will be the same as before, even eating fish. John's gospel has something in between. The fleshly body is raised but is transfigured into a new kind of body that can walk through locked doors.

In 1 Cor 15, Paul is arguing a couple sides of the debate. The Corinthians don't like the body resurrection at all; they are probably wanting to keep their non-Jewish view that the soul is immortal and in fact sloughs off the "soul body" as well as the "flesh body" it received when it incarnated so that it can be liberated and reascend to God. The idea that the afterlife would be embodied, whether a spiritual body or a physical body reanimated was nonsense to them. Paul agrees that the resurrection is not the resurrection of the flesh, but a transformation of the "seed" in a blessed glorious spiritual body.

Now these two impulses resulted in two activities. First, they reread their bible, the Jewish scripture in order to figure out what the suffering and death of their Messiah meant, and they talked to each other, "remembering" what they could of Jesus' teachings whether public or private and began to write it down.

Both of these activities are activities common to Judaism. The Jews believed that their scripture held meaning that could be reaped through study and prayer, that the scripture was multivalent and could reveal a previously unknown meaning under new circumstances. This is how God communicated to his people. So after Jesus' death, the first Christians turned to scripture and began to read it with new questions and a new perspective - that is they were trying to understand why the Messiah suffered and why he died as a criminal. They took passages that traditionally had nothing to do with messianic prophecy and made them such, which the other Jews loudly protested.

There is also evidence (not only in the form of Kernel Thomas and Q, but also in terms of narrative claims), that they tried to record what they could remember of Jesus' teachings. If the narrative claim of the Clementine corpus has any value, it suggests that James, the leader of the group of Christians located in Jerusalem, hired someone to go around with Peter and record his preachings which were about the teachings of Jesus. He wanted to use these books in the mission, as handbooks for preachers sent out to various locations. Other texts imagine the disciples sitting around a table and trying to recall what Jesus said. Certainly such claims in the texts give authenticity to the texts themselves (since it would be understood that this text was based on those remembrances). But what I find compelling is that the claim being made matches the type of early sayings source books that we have been hypothesizing for over a hundred years existed in terms of Q. We know they existed because we have Thomas, and now my own work suggests an early Jerusalem-oriented Kernel that looks like it contained five early speeches attributed to Jesus.

So what were the first christologies that fermented in these sayings gospels and other texts that preserve some early tradition (even if only to counter and correct them)? What scriptures were being used to form these christologies? Next time I will begin to take up these questions.