The Memory and Identity Working Group, University of California, Berkeley is hosting a lecture entitled “Mining for Solomon” by Professor Steven Weitzman (Stanford University) on Tuesday, September 6, 2011.
Every culture has its “cultural script” that is assumed in its communication. These [Second Temple Jewish] sources help us get a reading on the cultural script at work in the time of Jesus. They also help us understand the reaction to Jesus and his ministry. They also deepen our own perception of Jesus’ claims (40–41).
Particularly this quotation’s first sentence—and then the remaining ones by way of application—strongly resonate with some of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s remarks about “transposition.” Of course, this “script” does not represent a rigid, determining force, but it does aggregate a field of possibilities for Judaism(s) that could make sense within the Second Temple period and, therefore, a field on which Jesus had to play in order to make sense to other Jews of his day. Even if the “sense” some made of him was that he was a dangerous radical who merited execution, such opponents still had to see Jesus as playing on the part of the field where people who deserved execution played. Thus, studying the nature of this field—this “cultural script”—can provide valuable insight into how Jesus situated himself within that field (cf. Wright 1992, 145–338; Wright 1996, 150–55).
In his Jesus Remembered, James Dunn makes the following, insightful observations about the interplay between the study of Jesus and the study of history:
For those within the Christian tradition of faith, the issue [of Jesus’ relationship to history] is even more important. Christian belief in the incarnation, in the events of long ago in Palestine of the late 20s and early 30s AD as the decisive fulcrum point in human history, leaves them no choice but to be interested in the events and words of those days. For the incarnation, by definition, means the commitment of God to self-manifestation in Jesus at a particular time and place within human history, and thus places a tremendous weight of significance on certain events in Palestine in the years 28-30 (or thereabouts) of the common era. Christians cannot but want to know what Jesus was like, since he shows them what God is like. . . . [T]he new questers of the third quarter of the twentieth century showed that faith could and does have a theologically legitimate interest in the history of Jesus. Honest historical inquiry may be granted insights regarding Jesus which are crucially (in)formative of honest (self-critical) faith. . . . The point of [this historical] otherness of Jesus is, in part at least, . . . the otherness in particular of Jesus the Jew—again something we ‘moderns’ have forgotten at our cost. Without that sense of Jesus ‘born under the law’ (Gal. 4.4), of Christ ‘become servant of the circumcision’ (Rom. 15.8), with historical awareness of what that means in terms of the particularities of history, then the humanity of Christ is likely to be lost again to view within Christianity and swallowed up in an essentially docetic affirmation of his deity. Although the failures of earlier lives of Jesus at this point . . . are now widely acknowledged, the instinctive compulsion to extricate Jesus from his historical context and to assume his [a-historical,] timeless relevance still has to be resolutely resisted (101–102).