Transcendent Values?

The rise in secular ethics corresponds with the decline in transcendent-based ethics.  Within the former I understand there is a growing interest in Classical Values, like the four Roman Cardinal Virtues ? ‘courage’, ‘moderation’, ‘prudence’ and ‘justice’.  These were the ideals of the upper orders, which were also self-regarding, if not self-centred.

The one voice from a lower stratum in antiquity was that of Jesus from Nazareth, an artisan and self-educated rabbi.  His rabbi’s judgements were applicable back then to all social levels from bottom to top.  Since then they have proved timelessly applicable at all times and in all cultures.

Take for example his judgement on payment of a tax now to be paid by each person direct to Caesar.  To deny the tax in line with zealot agitation would condemn him as another troublemaker and to approve the payment would unite him with the corrupt temple authorities.

His ‘render to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God’ brilliantly saved his life, but more importantly pegged the ground for relationships with Caesar and God.  Keep the two separate was his shrewd advice.  Pay the taxes to ‘the powers that be’ (to use St Paul’s words) and fulfil all duties and privileges of a citizen.  When you turn to worship, however, let it not be to ‘Tiberius Caesar, Pontifex Maximus, son of the deified Augustus (words on the denarius coin), who is a mere mortal.  Direct your worship to the Almighty.  No theocracy here nor sectarian separation, but a clear demarcation between the realms of Caesar and God.  This is a basis for liberal democracy.

Another judgement was his interchange with a religious lawyer over the question: Who is my neighbour?  The parable narrated the practical care a hated Samaritan showed to a Jew in trouble, whose two fellow Jews (each religionists) ‘passed by on the other side.  ‘Good Samaritan’ is universal language for charity for those in trouble.  The early Christians put this into effect by initiating hospitals and hostels for anyone in need, regardless of creed or nationality.  The apostate emperor Julian attempted unsuccessfully to copy the ‘Galileans’.  This was to come later in the welfare state.

The hero of the story was a not a broadminded Jew who somehow found it within himself to help a contaminated, untouchable Samaritan.  Unimaginably in those racist, tribal times, it was an ‘unclean’ man who helped a ‘clean’ man who fell among thieves.

Other examples relate to ‘family life’.  In Jewish society only men could initiate divorce, which they did by handing a wife a certificate.  In Roman society wealthy men and women initiated divorce, which they did with such frequency that it was said they did not mark the year by the elected consul but by the new spouse.  In Graeco-Roman society it was not unknown for men to marry sisters and mothers.  Their gods had shown the way.

Rabbi Jesus quoted Genesis, ‘From the beginning God…made them male and female’ who in marriage become ‘one flesh’.  He added this ideal, ‘What therefore God has joined together let not man separate’.  To his words about lifelong, faithful marriage he added that children were not to be brushed aside but deeply valued.  The bones of children have been found in Roman sewers, confirming reports of the maiming and exposure of unwanted infants.

Hard working parents dedicated to the care and education of their children help create stable societies.

The Mishnah (c. AD 200) reports numerous judgements and counter-judgements by the great Jewish teachers but it is no surprise that the words of the founder of Christianity do not appear.  Church and synagogue had separated by then.  His judgements sound deceptively mundane but their universal and timeless applicability raises the possibility of transcendent origin.

Guided Tour of Jordan and Israel 3-20 March, 2016

Tour Leaders: Bishop Paul and Mrs Anita Barnett

Jordan
Mt Nebo
Madeba
Petra
Wadi Rum
Gadara
Jerash
Machaerus
Baptismal Site
Amman

Israel
Dead Sea
Masada
Ein Gev
Qumran
Jericho
Jerusalem (7 nights)
Nablus
Sebaste
Caesarea
Mt Carmel
Haifa
Megiddo
Tiberias
Sepphoris
Nazareth
Cana
Capernaum
Tabgha
Mensa Christi
Korazim
Caesarea Philippi
Beth Shean

Straightforward Emirates flights:  Sydney-Dubai-Amman (and return)
Experienced local guides.
Excellent hotels.
Air-conditioned buses.

 

All enquiries to Olive Tree Travel
Katrina@olivetreetravel.com.au

Professor Edwin Judge: A Book Launch

Book Launch
E.A. Judge, Engaging Rome and Jerusalem,
(ed. S. Piggin; North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014).

In 1966 E.A. Judge, Reader in History at the University of Sydney had a small third year Roman History class of which I was a member, along with a younger Tom Hillard.

Tom has gone on to great things as a Roman historian and I have pursued the study of Christian origins within the canon of Jewish, Roman and early Christian texts.  Another in the class, Judith Nicholls, now a senior mature age student, is researching her PhD on Jerome.

Edwin Judge’s office is lined with the higher degree theses of his dozens of supervised students.  These volumes are silent tribute to a master teacher’s scholarship but equally to his generosity.

We students derived data from Judge, but more importantly, method, or more precisely documentary method.  Surely my guess is close to the mark in thinking the words ‘Ancient History Documentary Research Centre’ are Judge-inspired.  I am not guessing, but speak from knowledge, that ‘New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity’ is pure Judge.

Judge was always an elegant lecturer, who combined eloquence with gravitas, with a degree of tantalizing obscurity thrown in, who was always more than a pleasure to hear.  He was different from, but as good as, Cable or Mansfield, which is high praise.

But it was the method…so simple: a sheet of text from the classical era; that was all.  In the course of the well-shaped hour its Provenance would emerge, with critical comment; also its literary Context.  Then what did these words mean?  What was their significance relative to other texts?  Then on to an emerging explanation of what was going on, historically.

The cluster of ‘history’ words are noteworthy: histore? (‘to learn by inquiry’); historia (‘a learning by inquiry’); historikos (‘of’ or ‘for inquiry’); so Liddell and Scott. What I remember learning from Judge was ‘inquiry’ via exegesis of texts.

History is documents, whether carved in stone or written on paper.

As it happens, I had learned about documents beforehand from Knox and Robinson, my teachers at Moore College, who had studied Greek at the University of Sydney under, respectively, Enoch Powell and George Pelham Shipp.  My teachers schooled me in the method.  But Judge took it to a new level and mightily reinforced this text-based method as a platform to journey into exciting historical territory.

But I did learn data from Judge, one aspect of which is thankfully preserved in Stuart Piggins’ collection.  To this day I cannot bring myself to refer to the early Julio-Claudians as ‘Emperor Augustus’ or ‘Emperor Tiberius’.  It was a delight, therefore, to re-read ‘Who First Saw Augustus as an Emperor?’ which Judge had explored more fully explored in the papers in Jim Harrison’s collection, 2008.

As it happens you will search the New Testament in vain for the word, ‘emperor’.  It does not appear.  Its texts come from the later Julio-Claudian and Flavian era (circa 50-95) but you will not find ‘emperor’.  You will find ‘Caesar’ ? Caesar Augustus, Tiberius Caesar, ‘tribute to Caesar [Tiberius]’, ‘Caesar’s friend [Tiberius]’, ‘no king but Caesar [Tiberius]’, ‘the decrees of Caesar [Claudius]’, offence ‘against Caesar [Nero]’, ‘the tribunal (b?ma) of Caesar [Nero]’, ‘appeal to Caesar [Nero]’, ‘you must stand before Caesar [Nero]’, ‘the household of Caesar [Nero]’.

I do not know, but would like to, if the uniform precision of the New Testament about ‘Caesar’, influenced Judge’s judgement.  After all, these New Testament texts are the earliest major sources for the ‘Caesars’ of the first century, predating by decades Tacitus and Suetonius.

There are many fine contributions about early Christianity, let me mention three:
Where is the Historical Jesus?
Jesus outside the Gospels
The Essential Jesus
The first ? ‘Where is the Historical Jesus?’ ? was published in The Australian newspaper in 1968 but a young Stuart Piggin had heard it with excitement as a lecture in 1965.

Its insights are stunning.  Classical man would not have been surprised by assertions of resurrection because people were looking for ‘monstrosities’ as ‘portentous’ because they viewed the future with anxiety.  But in the gospel the ‘resurrection’ was no mere portent but the climax to an extended historical narrative about Jesus of Nazareth (my words).

Was that narrative myth?  Christian meetings in no way resembled mystery cults but were educational (my word) in character focusing not on ‘religious atmosphere’ or ritual but on historical statements and historical documents that soon became or already had become ‘crystallised in the creeds’.   Judge’s brief analysis quietly demolished Rudolph Bultmann’s elaborate argument that the gospel was myth-based.  No one believes this today, even though Bultmann dominated New Testament thought in the first half of the twentieth century.  Judge was ahead of his times, as in so many areas.

Was the argument ‘legend’?  Judge’s keen awareness of chronology ? a most vital discipline for the historian ? unerringly ‘fixes’ the texts we call ‘canonical’ to the two generations immediately following Jesus.  These texts, which are rich in uncontrived historical detail (my words), were not sufficient for people a century later, however, who wrote new gospels romantically filling in the gaps.  But they did so with fantastic legendary elements, as in the Gospel of Peter, where the risen Jesus is a gargantuan figure who is so huge that he reaches to the heavens!

Judge comments:  ‘By contrast with the accretion of legend in later versions the historical integrity of the canonical texts stands out clearly’.

This was a prescient statement.  Many scholars today do a double shuffle.  They ridiculously push the dates of the canonical texts into the second century.  This is in spite of retrospective references to them by the church fathers in the early second century (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp).  This, too, in spite of the emerging mass of papyrus manuscripts beginning with P52 (a fragment of John from c. 125) that culminate near the end of the second century in a codex with the four Gospels and Acts (P45), Paul’s thirteen epistles and Hebrews (P46) and the Apocalypse (P47).

These codexes (or is it codices?) were each for church reading and teaching (education and edification).  But the flavour of the month now is to date that which is early late and to classify that which is late and legendary as if primary regarding the historical Jesus, about whom as a consequence we can now say nothing.

What then of Paul’s version of the gospel?  Judge points out that the young Pharisee had been brought up in the ‘hard school’ of ‘punctilious…verbal accuracy…[in] ancient Judaism’.  When the arch-enemy of the gospel became a leading advocate he scrupulously distinguished his own words from the words of the Lord.  This man of powerful education and intellect remained resolutely the ‘slave (doulos) of Jesus’.

The gospel authors wrote in the two decades after Paul’s death in 65 (Mark wrote from Rome between 65-70). Almost certainly they were aware of Paul’s writings but were not influenced by them.  They wrote down as history what they had preached, a biographically based account of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.  They did so independently of Paul.

Jesus outside the Gospels (1985) is a masterly survey of and commentary on references to Jesus in early non-Christian sources.  Its precision and brevity invites expansion into a monograph, something for Edwin to do in his spare time!  He goes against the flow in denying that Suetonius’ Chrestus, who inspired Claudius’ expulsion of Jews from Rome, was Christus, the founder of the Christiani.  He was merely a man named Chrestus, about whom we know nothing else.  Does Edwin Judge still believe this?

My last sample is: The Essential Jesus (2002) where Judge reviews a book that critically reviews the reductionist Jesus Seminar.  In a rare example of humour Judge comments, ‘None of the contributors is likely to be elected as a fellow of the Jesus Seminar’.  But maybe it wasn’t humour, just a laconic statement of fact.

There are also a number of pieces on education, reflecting Judge’s interest not only in university education, but education at primary and secondary levels as well,  indicating his remarkable breadth of interest.

Edwin Judge is my teacher and dear friend.  His influence on me has been wholly good, indeed inestimable, and for that I thank God most sincerely.  I am certain that I speak for many about a man we all love.

I am honoured to co-launch Stuart’s collection, which is all the more valuable because it sets in stone what Edwin Judge thought at the time he wrote, now going back many years.  It is, therefore, a modern historian’s ready made source book for the thoughts of a great historian of antiquity.

We thank Stuart for his hard work in tracking down these texts and for his very helpful introductory notes.
Paul Barnett
11th March 2015