That was the question which the audience at Christ Church Cathedral's Lenten Series struggled with as Prof. Arthur Dewey from Xavier University made his second presentation in this year's topic: A Problematic State of Affairs: The Execution of a Savior on Wednesday, March 6. His first presentation on February 27 aroused a lot of curiosity and the eagerness for the challenge explains the increased number of attendees for the second part.
Here are just some of the observations Prof. Dewey made:
First, there is “no iconographic evidence found featuring the death of Jesus until the fifth century”. Thus transmission of the memory of Jesus' death was oral and literary. He cited three of the earliest documents, none of which carries a passion narrative: a) The Sayings Gospel (Q), b). The Gospel of Thomas and c). The Didache.
Second, ancient literature is silent about crucifixion which was reserved for rebels and slaves and therefore not worthy of description.
Third, what we have therefore is derived from oral culture which employed specific modalities of memorization and transmission.
It would appear, therefore, that “the canonical death stories of Jesus are not simple reports of what happened...(but) complicated narratives constructed to speak to the concerns of the particular first century communities”.
Prof. Dewey was not saying that the crucifixion did not occur. Rather he was saying that the passion narratives in the canonical Gospels are not historical records. They are the result of preserved and transmitted memory which do not qualify as recorded history in today's definition of history. To the ancients, they were making sense of what happened.
The series continues next Wednesday from 7 pm following a light supper at 6:30 pm. Dr. Stephan Casurella, Music Director, and Joanna Leiserson, Canon for Christian Formation, will focus on how liturgy and music have influenced and been influenced by the Passion theology.