Thursday, 20 November 2014

Institutional Criticism

My Doktorvater, Anders Runesson, has become to refer to what he does as "institutional criticism." Whilst I'm not in love with the seemingly endless proliferation of "criticisms" in our field I do think that it's a reasonable description. It also covers a great deal of my interests. Even within historical Jesus studies I am far less concerned with determining what Jesus said and did then with determining how he interacted with existing institutional structures whilst contributing to the emergence of new ones. Eventually I want to work on Paul, and there I want to consider his significant role in fashioning this institution that we call the church.

I almost said "interacted with and transformed existing institutional structures" in reference to Jesus but in truth I don't think that his work transformed many if any institutions. No doubt his movement drew inspiration from precedents within the Jewish heritage, perhaps especially prophetic movements. But formal similarity, even intentional patterning, does not mean a structural identity. Jesus and his movement will enter the temple and synagogues but in the end effect little if any transformation therein. Of course centuries later Jewish institutions will become in many ways defined by their interactions with majority and ruling Christian populations but that is really quite remote for the historian (but not the dialectician, who operates precisely on the level of the longue durée). We can say, I think, that with Paul we see clearly an emerging early Christian mutation (to borrow a word that Larry Hurtado used to describe the emergence of Christology) of the ancient synagogue but all indications are that these grew up in parallel to rather than as a transformation within preexisting synagogues.

Anyways, just some musings whilst I stare outside at the bleak winter's day (alas, but we caught the tail end of Winter Storm Knife here in the Greater Hamilton and Toronto Area), waiting until I can check-in online for my flight to San Diego. See you all in the land of sun and fun!

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