Thursday, 26 November 2009

Book Review

Here is my book review of Don Cupitt's (2009) Jesus and Philosophy, London: SCM Press, which I hope to pass to a paper publication (oh so slow these days!) for publication that way. It is a book I read with increasing frustration and annoyance, because he attaches Enlightenment to present day philosophical categories to a Jesus who could not have known them, or conceived them, and so these cannot represent Jesus's motivation, and only near the end does Don Cupitt attempt to disarm his critics.

But, as since 2006, this is a different Don Cupitt, no longer quite the non-realist that he was, though he may retain some of this insight, as he becomes more historical and pragmatic. That puts him and me into close agreement again - but not really about Jesus. I'm still more with Schweitzer and what followed from him. He even has a good word for nineteenth century historians - but they realised they were very limited about what they could say about Jesus. The Quaker leaning Cupitt can hardly ignore the witness of their liberal cousins, the Unitarians, or whom they influenced! I wish he'd tackle James Martineau, because I maintain Martineau is a postmodern tipping point. Perhaps I should do a fresh, new, fully theological piece on James Martineau. I take a service in January. It could be a setting for a sermon of substance, more a lecture-service.


hugh said...

Looking forward to that one Adrian .

Regards .


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It's there - click on it. First link.

hugh said...

' Perhaps I should do a fresh, new, fully theological piece on James Martineau '

Apologies Adrian , it was the James Martineau article I was referring to .

Cheers .


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes of course you must have meant that. I wonder what Don would make of him, now that he has shifted his ground to appreciate the nineteenth century historical types.

john said...

I haven't read the book but found your review interesting. A few observations:

(1) I think 'Q' is a certain hypothesis, and would be universally accepted, were it not for (2) below.

(2) As an early (50s) document, it causes endless anxiety. Key question: did it claim Jesus as divine? If not, some problem for 'the orthodox'. Seems to me it did.

(3) Although it's true that a claim to Messiahship is not 'per se' blasphemous (because Messiahs are nearly always non-divine figures), (a) the claim to Messiahship can INCLUDE divine claims (as it apparently does in the Qumran material); (b) the claim is of course politically very dangerous. 'Are you king of the Jews?' is actually a good question, which for obvious reasons it is hard for Jesus to answer (because the answer is: 'no but yes').

(4) In appealing to the (very varied) views of the Jesus Seminar and thus entitling his book, is Cupitt making anything of the 'Jesus Cynic' model (Crossan, Mack, etc.), which has, indeed, I think, something to be said for it.

(5) The generally wacky scholar Carsten-Peter Thiede produced an ingenious argument (I think original, though I've seen it used by other more reputable scholars) which seems to me to prove the historicity of Peter's confession. If this is right, then it immediately becomes impossible entirely to secularise Jesus.

(6) I think one should resist the idea that belief in Jesus' resurrection is 'late' (i.e. some decades after his death). Paul's Damascus experience is early 50s (roughly), and 'last' of the appearances, and Paul, of course, itemises those who have 'seen' Jesus, including the original 12 (minus Judas), James, Jesus' brother (not a follower of Jesus in his lifetime), etc. So the PERCEPTION is REAL, although of course it needn't correspond to any external reality.

(7) You and others often argue that 'belief' (whatever) in the resurrection flowed from the foundation of the church, the need to systematise, etc. All the indications are that the reverse happened: they believed (cf. e.g. James) and then began to organise. Since there are 'Christians' in Syrian Antioch in the early 40s, this process began quite early.

None of this of course proves anything - except that radically secularising 'historical Jesuses' aren't correct. As far as I can judge from your review, Cupitt (2009) falls into that category.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Your number 3 gives your position away. Was he even asked the question?

As for Paul being the last, that's not an obvious numerical answer but him trying to be 'ever so 'umble' in the sense that the resurrection is a pecking order of authority, just as the New Testament is from the off a book of theology and authority.

The point is they were already organised. They were waiting for the Messiah in the end times.

But in the end, the issue is one of historical method. The argument is that historical method is inadequate. It is inadequate to produce these escalating claims regarding some divinity and inadequate, in the end, even to produce this secularised Jesus who just doesn't look right. It becomes a matter of best fit, and a matter of applying a view of reality.

Q is speculative anyway, and Cupitt says it contains a John-like statement out of keeping with the rest.

Between Schweitzer and the Jesus Seminar type presentation as this, I'm more with Schweitzer, first regarding a peculiar Jewish Jesus and secondly regarding the ability of scholars to look in mirrors.