Posted by: chuckbumgardner | March 30, 2011

Notes from James Dunn’s “The Thought World of Jesus”

Read recently James D. G. Dunn, “The Thought World of Jesus,” Early Christianity 3 (2010), 321-43.  A few notes:

•  In discussing literacy in Jesus’ context, Dunn notes that “the possibility that Jesus himself was illiterate or only semi-literate should not be dismissed” (322).  This is an interesting hedge, given that he goes on to consider the passage in Luke 4 “credible”:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,   “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. (Luke 4:16-20, ESV)

But then, for Dunn, Luke’s account that Jesus’ parents went up to the temple every year “may be exaggerated” (324).  Ah, and later, Dunn suggests that the larger passage (Luke 4:14-28) “may have been an [presumably creative] elaboration of a briefer account (Mark 6:1-6) to bring out the importance of Isa 61:1-2 for understanding Jesus’ mission” (331).

•  I’ve heard it suggested that the city of Sepphoris, a major city within easy walking distance of Nazareth but nowhere mentioned in Scripture, would have provided a strong Hellenistic influence upon Jesus, who very well may have worked there with his father, as it would have been a regional center of employment.  Dunn notes, however, that “Sepphoris is hardly to be called a Hellenistic city, like Caesarea and Scythopolis.  Again the archaeological evidence is decisive: a “thin veneer of cosmopolitan culture”, and the same indications of Jewish religious identity [stone vessels, plastered step pools (Jewish ritual baths), absence of pork remains]. . . . The complete absence of any mention in Sepphoris in the Jesus tradition may well indicate that Jesus steered clear of it, perhaps because he wanted to avoid such Hellenistic influence as was there.” (324)

•  Dunn’s take on Roman governance over Israel in Jesus’ time:

In fact, however, the ruling hand of Rome in Israel was fairly light.  Even in Judea, where Rome exercised direct rule from 6 CE, the Romans were content to leave administration largely in the hands of the High Priest.  The Roman prefect was based in Caesarea, with only a relatively small military force under his command, and he came to Jerusalem with a smaller cohort only for the pilgrim feasts, when crowds of pilgrims could give occasion for unrest.  As for Galilee we should not even speak of occupation, since in accord with Roman policy, rule was left in the hands of the client king (Herod Antipas). (342)


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