Friday, 21 October 2011
Reading C F D Moule’s The Origin of Christology (Cambridge University Press 1977): interesting, if (designedly) narrowly conceived stuff. Moule sets out to do something very specific: ‘the scope of this book is strictly limited ... inquiry is limited almost entirely to the New Testament documents.’ He hopes to challenge the idea that ‘the descriptions and understandings of Jesus which emerge in course of Christian history can be explained as a sort of evolutionary process.’ Rather he believes that, although conceptions of Christ changed over the first few hundred years of Christian belief, this was not the ‘evolution’ of a figure from one form to another, but rather the gradual understanding or manifestation of features that were all already present in the historical Christ. That’s fair enough, although the obvious objection is that one is not well placed to critique the idea that the worship of Christ absorbed all manner of (as it were) mutating influences from other cultural and religious discourses by deliberately excluding those other cultural and religious discourses from one’s analysis. But fair enough. Here’s how Moule caricatures (his word) the ‘religionsgeschichtliche Schule’ the ‘history of religions school’ view: ‘one might say that it starts with a Palestinian Rabbi and ends with the divine Lord of a Hellenistic Saviour cult.’ But wouldn’t it be possible to read this synchronically, rather than diachronically? Indeed, isn’t the point of Christ somehow included in such a reading—that he is simultaneously a first-century AD Palestinian Rabbi, and the product of a wider religious-cultural discourse of Hellenistic messianism and humanoform gods—and an idea in the head of C F D Moule and his compadres as well?