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Chapter 3 Re-enter Jesus’ Death It is not yet my intention to adjudicate between these scholars, resolve all the issues, or expound a consensus on how Jesus viewed his death. The evidence and contexts for the evidence are so complex that a consensus may never be reached. However, several foundational issues need to be brought to the surface and examined more completely than was possible in chapter 2, where we surveyed the history of scholarship. In this chapter we will circle back around scholarship but attempt to show the major issues involved in coming to terms with what Jesus thought about his death. Perhaps the most notable issue is this: traditional Christian faith, in its several manifestations, structures the gospel itself around the saving death of Jesus. Yet, almost none of the major books about Jesus since the reawakening of historical Jesus scholarship conceptualizes the mission and vision of Jesus as having anything to do with his death. Besides observing the obvious chasm between traditional faith and critical scholarship, one should ask two questions: Why have the major studies of Jesus so completely neglected the history of scholarship sketched in the previous chapter, a scholarship clearly diverse but also just as clearly concerned with how Jesus understood his own death? The more important question, lurking behind all that we shall argue, is this: Could the church have been wrong from the beginning in attributing historic, saving significance to the death of Jesus? The embedded question is this: Is it possible that the church endowed the death of Jesus with a saving significance beyond anything Jesus ever considered? At the core also is another question: Is it possible that critical scholarship has simply lolled away from a fundamental dimension of Jesus that, long ago, was missed and somehow has not re-entered the conversation? To quote Umberto Eco once again, “The real problem of a critique of our own cultural models [that is, how Jesus saw his death] is to ask, when we see a unicorn, if by 77 78 Jesus and His Death any chance it is not a rhinoceros.”1 Scholarship tends to think its own scholarship is on some dynamic and ineluctable path of progress, like a Hegelian synthesis , but such a belief assumes a map that corresponds to no known reality, though it might apply to friends who neglect most others. Two examples without footnotes: one might argue that the most likely explanation of Jesus’ view of his death could be traced from the time of Bultmann’s denial of Jesus’ thinking in terms of atonement into the more recent scholarship of E.P. Sanders, J.D. Crossan, and P. Fredriksen, who have denied once again the historicity of such a belief on the part of Jesus. Or, as an alternative history of scholarship, one might pursue the question of Jesus’ use of the Old Testament, especially as it pertains to his reuse of the Servant of Isaiah as a blueprint for his own life. Thus, one might argue that C.H. Dodd set out the positive case, which was then taken up by C.K. Barrett and M.D. Hooker. Strangely, the figure survived due to the efforts of R.T. France, D.J. Moo, M. Hengel, P. Stuhlmacher, C.A. Evans, and N.T. Wright. But, scholarship works on texts, on ideas, and on methods. The notion that it marches courageously forward, while onlookers applaud, lacks foundation in the hard world of shifting paradigms. The only progress of scholarship along this marching path is if one examines a specific school of thought. The eclectic scholar, however, will soon realize that what some take to be a unicorn of development is actually a rhinoceros of a different order, and rhinos are not so tame. What we need to consider now are eight main lines of research, even at times reaching a near consensus—occasionally even unicorns are spotted—discovered in the last half century of discussion of how Jesus understood his death. By way of preface, I register an agreement with Barrett in his discussion of the passion predictions: “We have achieved nothing of note if we have merely abstracted from the predictions the conclusion that Jesus may have had some inkling of his fate before it overtook him.”2 Barrett added wryly the following imaginary reflection of Jesus: “It is clear that, if I [Jesus] pursue my present course, my adversaries will attempt to put me out of the way. Indeed, I fear they...


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