Monday, June 7, 2010

from 24 hours that changed the world Easter Discussion

Hi and shalom,
This article, lengthy excerpt here, may cause many Sacramentalists to ponder and I don't mean those residing in California but those who believe Holy Communion is a God-given sacrament. See below from author Bruce Chilton in the BAR resource, 24 hours that changed the world, an Easter discussion.
What Jesus was doing at the Last Supper has not been understood for the better part of 2,000 years. The reason for the misunderstanding is that Jesus, a Jewish teacher who was concerned with the sacrificial worship of Israel, has been treated as if he were the deity in a Hellenistic cult.
A generation after Jesus’ death, when the Gospels were written, the Romans had destroyed the Jerusalem Temple (in 70 C.E.); the most influential centers of Christianity were cities of the Mediterranean world such as Alexandria, Antioch, Corinth, Damascus, Ephesus and Rome. Although large numbers of Jews were also followers of Jesus, non-Jews came to predominate in the early Church. They controlled how the Gospels were written after 70 C.E. and how the texts were interpreted.
Within the Greco-Roman world, Jesus was readily appreciated as a divine figure, after the manner of one of the gods come to visit earth. Hellenistic religion of the first and second centuries was deeply influenced by cults called Mysteries, in which a worshiper would be joined to the death and restoration of a god by means of ritual. Jesus’ Last Supper was naturally compared to initiation into such a Mystery. He was a new kind of Dionysus, historical rather than mythical, who gave himself, flesh and blood, in the meals held in his name. After all, he had said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (Matthew 26:26–28//Mark 14:22–24//Luke 22:19–20). For many Hellenistic Christians, that could only mean that Jesus referred to himself: Bread and wine were tokens of Jesus that became his body and blood when believers consumed them!

Learn more about the origins of the Eucharist in the BAS Library.

The only serious question for Christian orthodoxy was how the transformation took place. Churches have gone to war (literally and figuratively) over that issue, but they have agreed that the meaning of body and blood is self-referential, or autobiographical—that Jesus was talking about himself, about his own flesh and his own blood.
That traditional understanding has gone virtually unchallenged, both in theological and in historical discussion. Churches have accepted the idea that the Last Supper initiated a Mystery religion in which their God gave himself to be eaten. Historians have told us that Jesus started a new sect of Judaism by telling his followers to eat bread and drink wine as if they were his own flesh and blood.
But is that plausible as history? What Jew would tell another to drink blood, even symbolic blood? The Mishnah,a to present an example of a heinous defect on the part of a priest involved in slaughtering the red heifer, pictures the priest as intending to eat the flesh or drink the blood (Parah 4:3). In fact, in Jewish tradition, people had no share of blood; that belonged only to God. The thought of drinking blood, even animal blood, was blasphemous. To imagine drinking human blood and consuming it with human flesh could only make the blasphemy worse.
So if Jesus’ words are taken with their traditional, autobiographical meaning, his Last Supper can only be understood as a deliberate break from Judaism. Either Jesus himself declared a new religion, or his followers did so in his name and invented the Last Supper themselves. Both those alternatives find scholarly adherents, and the debate between those who see the Gospels as literally true reports and those who see them as literary fictions shows little sign of abating.
There is, however, a more historical way of understanding how the eucharist emerged in early Christianity, an approach that takes account of cultural changes in the development of the movement.
Research in the social world of early Judaism indicates how Christianity emerged as a social movement within Judaism and then became distinct from it. We are no longer faced with the old alternatives—either the conservative position that the Gospels are literal reports, or the liberal position that they are literary fictions. Critical study has suggested a new possibility: that the Gospels are composite products of various social groups that belonged to the Jesus movement from its days within Judaism to the emergence of Christianity as a distinct religion. By understanding eucharistic practice within the social groups that made the Gospels into the texts we read today, we can begin to appreciate the meaning Jesus gave the Last Supper, and how his original meaning was later transformed.
The Synopticb Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) were composed by successive groups of teachers after Jesus’ death in about 30 C.E. The Gospel of Mark was the first written around 71 C.E. in the environs of Rome, according to most scholars. Matthew was next in about 80 C.E., perhaps in Damascus (or elsewhere in Syria). Luke came later, say in 90 C.E., perhaps in Antioch.
Some of the teachers who shaped the Gospels shared Jesus’ cultural milieu, but others never set eyes on him; they lived far from Judea at a later period and were not practicing Jews. The growth of Christianity involved a rapid transition from culture to culture and, within each culture, from sub-culture to sub-culture. A basic prerequisite for understanding any text of the Gospels, therefore, is to define the cultural context of a given statement. That is just what the usual reading of the Last Supper fails to do.
The Last Supper was not the only supper Jesus shared with his disciples—just the last one. Indeed, Jesus had a well-established custom of eating with people socially. There was nothing unusual about a rabbi making social eating an instrument of his instruction, and so it was part of Jesus’ method from the first days of his movement in Galilee.
Meals within Judaism were regular expressions of social solidarity, and of common identity as the people of God. Many sorts of meals are mentioned in the literature of early Judaism. From the Dead Sea Scrolls, we learn of banquets at which the community convened in order of hierarchy. Among the Pharisees, collegial meals were shared within fellowships (havuroth) at which like-minded fellows (haverim) shared food and company they considered pure. Ordinary households might welcome the coming of the Sabbath with a prayer of sanctification (kiddush) over a cup of wine, or open a family occasion with blessing (berakhot) over bread and wine.
Jesus’ meals were in some ways similar but in other ways distinctive. He had a special understanding of what the meal meant and of who should participate. For him, eating socially with that in the kingdom to come. A key feature of the fervent expectations of Judaism during the first century was that in the kingdom to come God would offer festivity for all the people on his holy mountain (see, for example, Isaiah 25:6–8). Jesus shared that hope, as can be seen in the following:
“Many shall come from east and west, and feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God.”

His presence accompany you today!

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