Trials in Academia: Making Classes Harder On My Own

For my Christology class, the first book I'm reading is by Marcus Borg, entitled, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary. It's an introductory level to the concept of the Historical Jesus and a historical-critical method of interpreting scripture. Having previous experience in this area has made the class easier, but drudging through this book has been a challenge, both for reading and reflection.

For my class, I read one chapter between classes. I then have to write a 1-2 page paper explaining my insights on what I've read. I'm not asked to write a summary, rather I'm writing a paper on what the book brings to me. Since the Historical Jesus Project can be a challenge for students who have little to no knowledge on biblical scholarship, I can imagine that students may have a pretty strong insight...even some resistance to what Borg is writing. And since Borg is part of the Jesus Seminar (a group of scholars who challenge the eschatology of an historical Jesus), readers are meant to get a rise out of the book.

Without turning this blog into a long critique of Borg's Jesus, I'll say that this book is less about historical criticism and more about proving Borg's image of Jesus: a post-modern Jewish mystic who is shaped by his experience of God. (An encompassing and well-written review of this book and Borg's points can be found here.)

I'm not against the historical-critical method (Borg actually calls it the historical-metaphorical method) of interpreting Scripture. I learned the historical-critical method through reading Raymond Brown, John P. Meier, and having Capuchin friars with Ph.D's in this area offer presentations. When other friars were reading about devotions or the lives of saints, I was reading "Death of a Messiah" and Crossan's "Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography." Even my Postulancy Director, Fr. Bill Hugo, has written about the use of the historical-critical method as applied to the early Franciscan an attempt to read the historical Francis.

With so much exposure to this area of study, I'm finding it hard to read Borg's book at an academic level.  I can see why the professor might choose this text: it does challenge the current Christology of most people (Catholic and Protestant), but Borg's conclusions, bias, and desire to remove the eschatology of Jesus are overwhelmingly visible to me. I feel less like I'm reading a scholarly attempt to reach the historical Jesus; instead I'm reading a thesis for a post-modern Jesus.

While I'm sure most college students spent their weekend doing fun and/or possibly illegal tasks, I spent a good deal of time reading Meier, LT Johnson, and other scholars involved in the historical Jesus project. Reading a chapter of Borg means reading chapters by some of the great scholars in this field. My papers have turned from brief reflections into all-out critiques of this book and Borg's claims. The other guys think it's funny that I'm writing critical reviews of the text to the professor; after all, he chose it. And they think I'm crazy for putting in more research than the class requires. Maybe that's why I'm weird: I think I prefer being knee-deep in books on the historical Jesus, chasing footnotes and cross-referencing authors with an inexplicable vigor.

So in spite of my distaste for this book, the fruits come from being involved in the learning process once again. I enjoy class discussions as well: I like to hear how others are interpreting what they read. After wearing my habit to school a few times, students now ask me: "So what do you think of all this?" I happily share my thoughts, but let them know that I'm not right simply because I wear a habit, but because I've taken the time to delve into the topic. And I think it lets them know that it's okay to challenge their old world views.

Four more chapters to go. Hopefully the next book won't have me working overtime like this one does!

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1 Response to Trials in Academia: Making Classes Harder On My Own

September 14, 2010 at 10:12 AM

If your interested in the study of the historical jesus, and/or the early formation of christianity, I am always happy to chat. You can email me any time, it's something I have been studying for about ten years, and am always happy to meet others that are also interested in that.