Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jesus The Magician (Post 3: Chapter 2 Summary)

(Prior posts in the series are located in Category "Jesus the Magician")

Chapter 2-

In Capter Two Morton Smith sets out to provide a historical framework of Jesus based upon sources left by his believers, specifically the writings of the four evangelists Mark, Matthew, Luke and John (including the Q source/s and unique Lukan and Matthean material). The author contends that this material portrays (or demonstrates upon a close reading) that Jesus became famous and attracted huge crowds (as well as his followers) on account of the miracles he performed, not on account of his teachings. In fact, Smith makes the case that the Gospels clearly demonstrate that Jesus’ status and the things he said were elevated to a divine level by his contemporaries on account that he performed many miraculous acts. In other words, Jesus’ miraculous deeds caused many during his generation to regard him as the Messiah. For Smith, the simple fact that Jesus was recast from the social type “carpenter” to “miracle worker” itself would have been enough to cause many to confer upon Jesus an extraordinary status. He points out that social identities and social mobility were relatively fixed during Jesus’ day and that any change in social type was generally held to occur as a result of some extraordinary endowment.

Dismissing the notion that the miracle stories are legendary outgrowths of the basic historical material, the author accepts that the miracle stories more-or-less reflect the manner in which Jesus was remembered quite early on. Moreover, the author is of the opinion that at least some of the stories probably reflect remembrances of actual “miracles” (i.e., cures) that occurred in Jesus’ presence. Smith is not of the opinion that the miracle stories are accurate in all details, however. He admits that the miracle stories, as they appear in the gospels, have been reworked and expanded. For Smith, however, this very fact supports his thesis, as he contends that the pre-worked miracle stories are evidence that Jesus was held to be a miracle worker by early communities of believers prior to the composition of the gospels. Furthermore, Smith argues that that the rest of the tradition about Jesus can be understood only if the miracles are taken as primary, whereas the miracles cannot be understood if a strictly teaching tradition is primary. He points out that whereas tradition seldom ascribed miraculous powers to teachers of the Law in Jesus’ time, miracle workers “could easily come to be thought a prophet or an authority on the Law.” (Smith, p. 16)

According to Smith, it is precisely on account of the huge crowds that Jesus drew unto himself as a miracle worker and the eventual elevation of his personage by many who saw his extraordinary abilities as an indication of his Messiahship, that Jesus was feared by the local civil authorities and handed over to Pilate (governor of Judea from about 26 A.D. to 36 A.D.) to be put to death.

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