Monday, July 7, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 7/6 Post

I agree we should move on, but I have to say I’m not convinced by your professor’s parable. If the point is that no one Gospel has the whole picture, then I prefer the Indian fable of the blind men and the elephant. Each man sought to explain what an elephant is from his own narrow vantage point: one touching the trunk, another the tail, etc. None were wrong, but none were right, either. They each had a piece of the truth, and only by putting all the pieces together do we get a closer approximation of what an elephant truly is.

Using this analogy each Gospel adds to our understanding of Jesus, but none has a complete picture. I agree with this and would urge people to read noncanonical Gospels as well to get even more pieces of the puzzle. But I don’t see that the Old Faithful story helps us here at all.

While we can argue that the guide in the story had a piece of the truth, i.e. that the eruption of Old Faithful was a predictable event, and while we can argue that the eruption was catastrophic for the bear, I don’t see how we can say it was a miracle, unless we define miracle as a natural event about which people are simply ignorant. This eventually does away with miracles altogether, something I’m not sure your professor meant to do.

I’m also having trouble with your idea that focusing on the differences among the Gospels is a modernist conceit. There were lots of Gospels from which to choose when the New Testament canon was formed. Those who did the choosing were clearly concerned about the differences among the Gospels, which is why they left most Gospels out of the New Testament. The fact that they were less troubled by the differences among the four Gospels they did choose doesn’t mean we should ignore those differences. Indeed, when we see what the Canonical Gospels have in common over and against the other Gospels we can see the biases of the Church Fathers who put the canon together.

For me differences are everything, and I can’t see how “the differences found in the Synoptic Gospels… fall within the normal limits one might expect among various witnesses.” To take only the example of the Sermon on the Mount, how is that the witnesses in Luke heard so much less than the witnesses in Matthew? And how come Mark and John (not to mention Paul) know nothing of the Sermon at all?

Again, differences are crucial to our investigation. I think this focus on differences may be a Jewish trait: we are trained to look for the discordant in our sacred texts, and believe it is in that place of disagreement and conflict that new insight can be found. But then I’ve never been to Yellow Stone National Park.

On to the next Beatitude!

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