Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Snap: Roger Aus' "The Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus and the Death, Burial, and Translation of Moses in Judaic Tradition"

From the October 2009 E-Block.


Roger Aus' The Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus and the Death, Burial, and Translation of Moses in Judaic Tradition was a book I got hoping to find material for my next book on the Resurrection of Jesus. I didn't find that, but I did find the latest effort to claim that Christianity stole its material from a prior source. Randel Helms said it was the Old Testament. Dennis MacDonald says that it was the works of Homer. Aus? He says it was rabbinic material. 

But wait, the informed reader asks: Isn't rabbinic material from a time hundreds of years after the New Testament? Yes it is. But no, Aus doesn't think this is a problem. In fact, he willingly tries to argue that sources from as late as the tenth century -- some 1000 years after the time of Jesus -- reflects sources from which Christians copied to create stories about Jesus. Never mind that they're late, he says; this is just a "cheap excuse" for not dealing with the parallels. But Aus seldom if ever explains why we should see these rabbinic stories as later than the Christian ones; indeed, he seems to assume that the parallels themselves prove that the rabbinic stories are earlier. Never considered is that a highly competitive rabbinic teaching institution was the one that did the copying.

But in fact, as with Helms and MacDonald, I doubt that anyone copied anyone, or that if they did, it was in any sense meaningful in terms of historicity. Aus, who condescendingly informs us that ancient people didn't view history the same way we did (true, in terms of reportage methods, but not in terms of "did an event actually happen or not"), commits the same errors in logic as MacDonald and Helms when he draws his parallels: they often rely on his imagination and generosity as much or more than the text; he feels free to ignore vast differences in the stories, and appeals to contextual practicalities and universals: To wit, Christians would hardly need a story of Jacob rolling a "large" stone off a well opening to get the idea that the stone that covered Jesus' tomb entrance was "large", because tomb stones were "large" as is. Like these other authors, Aus also assumes that the parallels automatically disprove historicity, no questions asked. 

In the final analysis, however, the worst of this book is Aus' rank dishonesty in dismissing the date factor so breezily, and also failing to admit to his readers how late these documents are. In process, Aus is thus no better than the "copycat Jesus" theorist who tries to argue that Christians stole their ideas about Jesus from Norse legends of Balder and Frey.

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