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Lecture Series

28, 30 January, and 4, 6, 11, 13 February 2014
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The participants summarise their talks

  • Moses and the Law
    Gregorio del Olmo

    The character of "Moses" is presented in the Jew Bible, and is without doubt transformed into an epic figure, as the heir of a tradition religiously inorganic received from his elders, and as participant of his people's completely deteriorated social-political situation. He will be the person responsible of rebuilding everything by becoming a total leader: military, social-politic, religious-prophetic, with two main sides to be developed: the liberation of his people of their alleged slavery in Egypt, and the social structuring of the Jewish nation based on legal codes that configures and distinguish it. The chronicle of his biography and acts is contained in the four last books of the Pentateuch: Exodus-Deuteronomy. Curiously, Moses ends up trapped in a chronicle of his life full of epic splendor and without any possible rival within the entire Bible. It draws attention the fact that the Bible hardly cites Moses, nor the Sinai where he meets God: The Psalms, as well as the Sapiential Books ignore him. Even the Major and Minor Prophets only mention him half a dozen times in their late writings, and sporadically. He, who is regarded as the prophet par excellence by Dt. 18:15, 18; 34:10, is basically cited in these writings due to this second side we have mentioned: as a ruler.

    It is the "Law of Moses" what withholds his name in the Bible and for the history of his people, beyond the biblical chronicle. The law is relegated to the "past", including its glory and misery, and makes the Bible, the Bible of David, a character present in all life aspects and historical conscience of Israel, the ideal paradigm. The eternal "present" on the other hand is from Moses who received the "word" from Yahweh, passed word of mouth until finally written, as the Jewish tradition maintains. From here, Moses becomes the great shaper of Judaism, if not its incubus. This community in theory lives by the Law of Moses, which is meditated day and night. At the same time, his figure as creator of the Jewish "law" puts Moses as one of the main figures of the entire history of Humanity. Thomas Mann analyzed this universal role of Moses in his novel Das Gesetz, where he makes him state when speaking to his people: "Take them! Oh blood of my father, and preserve them in God's tabernacle! But what is written within them should be considered as sacred thing regarding what you do and cease to do. Because in them the eternal and holy alliance with the Lord is condensed, the cornerstone of all decency and good behavior, and God himself has written them with a small graver. He has written them in your own language, but with signs that if needed will allow for their translation into other languages of the world, as He is the God of the entire Universe. These are his words, and although his words may be directed to you, oh Israel!, they are universal... Anyone who infringes the divine laws, from now on will feel how their heart freezes, because the laws are written with his blood and flesh, and they will learn that His Word has value".

    It is complicated to tell apart the person from the character in the "Epic of Moses" that the Bible offers us and that is further reinforced by the Jewish tradition, which makes him so sublime and untouchable that only the "kiss of God" could take away his soul. But within this "historic" avatar, we can also find a condensed and irrefutable "code of conduct" he supposedly authored by divine inspiration, and which can be considered a historical milestone in the rationalization of human procedures, and whose validity has permeated our own culture.    

  • David and the Reign
    Joaquín Sanmartín

    When speaking of History, we always refer to the "construction" of a history. The texts over which the History of ancient "Israel" is currently built -the figure of David and his Kingdom in this case-, can be addresses from several perspectives. Some through the sacralization of the text as a source of truth, while others, more critical with the value of the "sources", prefer to question the sense that the authors of those tales wanted to give them, as well as the ideological objectives they sought. Lastly, in many cases, all historical curiosity has been removed in one sense or another, and the characters have been projected into the heaves of art (like Michelangelo) or the hells of literature (like Faulkner).

    Everything seems to point towards the fact that the sources do not give us access to a series of past "events" (historical reality), but initially refer to the "sense of history" -or perception of the historical truth- that the authors of the texts had. If this was so, the result of this study would be that the painting of David and his Kingdom offered by the biblical texts is basically an artificial construction motivated by theological and political interests of the authors of those tales, and the expectations of the audience.

    David and his Kingdom is yet another version of the great myth of History. Its study requires addressing the major structures of the biblical narrative in the "historical" books, reviewing this way the Davidian tradition. In this sense, the figures of the "king" (malk) in the framework of Ancient Middle East and the deuteronomic vision of Judaism are basic. The historical-critical vision also obliges us to closely examine the mental models of the "biblical" archaeology and literature.

    David and his Kingdom is also the history of a myth. The figure of David is the motor of an entire political theology and theological policy. The "House of David" and "Judah" summarize the essence of the late Judaism and of the messianism which lies at the roots of Christianity. Two thousand years later, the "shield of David", dressed in the shape of a star, is the symbol of Judaism and the State of Israel.

  • lsaiah
    José Luis Sicre

    Jesus ben Sira, author of the biblical book know as Book of Ecclesiasticus, when referring to Isaiah says he was "famous for his oracles. In his days, the sun went back and lengthened the life of the king. With a powerful spirit he foresaw the future and comforted the afflicted of Zion, he announced the future until the end, and the secrets before they were revealed" (Eclo 48,22-24).  The author of the fourth gospel confirms when speaking about Jesus that "Isaiah saw his glory and spoke about him". And Saint Jerome considered him not only a prophet, but also an evangelist.

    These praises from antiquity could be further broaden with numerous citations. There is no doubt about the importance of Isaiah. Nevertheless, biblical science has reconstructed along the last two centuries a very different image of the character. It no longer believes that he foresaw future and announced it, that he witnessed the glory of Jesus and spoke about him, that he was some kind of evangelist.

    The biblical science has been introducing Isaiah more and more into his historical framework, the convulse 8th century BC, where the concern of the prophet for the luxuries and injustices of the higher Jewish class left space for his political interest, as a result of the Syro-Ephraimite War (734 BC), the menace of the posterior Assyrian Empire, and the several attempts of rebellion that took Judea towards a terrible catastrophe (701 BC).

    Nevertheless, this prophet who now appears fully immersed in the problems of his time, had through his disciples and theology an influence even he could not foresee. For centuries his separated oracles, maybe reunited by him in smaller collections, were joined by other new oracles, even full collections of them, produced by other late authors. And all of them produced five hundred years later the most extensive and passionate book of all the prophetic writings from ancient Israel.

    This conference pretends informing about the following issues: the time of the prophet, his person and activity, his theology, and his influence.

  • Jesus of Nazareth
    Rafael Aguirre

    We begin by briefly introducing the evolution of the studies on the historical Jesus, starting from the appearance of the critical exegesis. Later, we will point to the nature of the current investigations, particularly highlighting the advances in the knowledge about the historical, social, and cultural context in which his life developed. This implies a multidisciplinary approach to the study of Jesus. To put in place what we will expose next, it is important to remember the epistemological nature of historical knowledge, which has to avoid both, the objective positivism and the uncontrolled relativism. We will also briefly expose the sources that we have for this historical study, as well as their nature.

    The central part of the conference will consist in the presentation of the most characteristic traits of the message and actions of Jesus, as well as the reactions he found among his contemporaries, as it is implied by the current research. It will be inevitable to present in a few bullets the, not any less important, diverse opinions that currently exists, although without falling into too many academicisms that may hinder the important consensuses that are being reached by the scholars.

    The person of Jesus is inseparable from the intra-Jew movement he caused, already during his life, and we will try to locate sociologically the context of Judaism in his time. A rigorous historical study needs to be capable of addressing the novelty of Jesus, but always within an understandable context. Provided the very special influence that Jesus had since his days and until the present, the question about the characteristics of this historical phenomenon arise, including how much should we refer to the peculiar traits of Jesus' action and person to be able to explain it adequately. 

  • Paul of Tarsus
    Santiago Guijarro

    The figure of Paul of Tarsus is presented to us with many paradoxes. He is the character of the first generation of Christians from who we have more direct and complete information, but nevertheless, he his also the character from who we have received the most diverse and controversial images. Along his life, he only had a marginal relevance within the birth of the Church, although after his death, he has played a key role in the history of Christianity. He is the Jesus' follower that has influenced the most the continuation of his project, although he never got to meet him in person. Paul of Tarsus is an enigmatic and captivating character that produced, and still produces, the fiercest enthusiasm and opposition.

    The historical figure of Paul has reached us through interpretations and re-lectures of several memories. The most influential has been without doubt the one that the book of Acts of the Apostles proposes with a clear apologetic intention. Due to this, in order to access the character within his time, we need to relativize these images and give priority to the few data that can be found among his own letters.

    Keeping these warnings in mind, I will try to answer the following question: What do we know for sure about the "historical Paul"? Reviewing the chronology of his life, I will try to clear out what we know from his origins and education, about his activity as a persecutor of Jesus' first disciples, about the radical change he went through to become one of them, about his contacts with the groups and communities of Judea and his environment, about his rupture with the community of Antioch (and Jerusalem) and the the beginning of his independent missionary work, about the missionary activity he developed in the coastal cities of the Aegean, about his his long-awaited trip to Jerusalem, and his project pass to the other side of the Empire to reach Spain; in summary, what do we know about about his captivity and possible martyrdom in Rome.

    But this is only part of what can be told about Paul. His historical life is as important as his heritage. It was his heritage, which materialized in some living communities and in the text built through a compilation of his letters, what put his figure in the first line and transformed a marginal missionary into the great apostle that is remembered in the book of Acts. Nevertheless, not all shared this vision as we can find together with these memories that enthralled churches in diaspora, other Christians who referred to him as "the enemy". On the long run it was the positive appreciation the one that endured, probably because it was the most generalized, and due to this, his writings and other attributed to him, together with the book of Acts, were included into the canon of the Christian writings: the New Testament. This way, the presence and the influence of Paul in the posterior history of Christianity was ensured.

  • Mark, Matthew, Luke/Acts, John: The four Gospels
    Antonio Piñero

    Since the 4th century we read the New Testament starting with the four Gospels, followed first by the Acts of the Apostles, and second by letters of the Apostle Paul of Tarsus. This order is nevertheless incorrect and should be read precisely the opposite way. Changing the order of lecture would allows us to better understand how the "biographers" of Jesus were influenced, positively or negatively, by what was first produced and disseminated: the letters of Paul. We would also be able to see how one depends of the other if we put Mark in the first place, as it should be.

    Why were the Gospels made? What is the exact meaning and use of this term? Is the literary figure of "gospel" something invented by the Christians? How did the change between the purely spoken transmission of Jesus' facts and words to their writing occur? Did the evangelists copy each other? The study of the Gospels has to take into consideration the interest each of them has as a separate unit, on top of considering what is their aim as a group. Could the Gospels be assigned to the different groups that were formed after the death of Jesus? Are they a positive or negative reply to the doctrine of Paul? Was there any need to establish and justify a differentiation from Judaism, the common cornerstone from which the religion of the first christians stemmed? Did any of the Gospels intend to solve the difficulties that involved the creation of a new group, like for example the delay of the end of the world that was initially believed to happen immediately, or the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the end of sacrifices?

    Once we locate the Gospels as a block within the evolution of the different Christian groups following the death of Jesus, we need to briefly address each of them separately, focusing in the main aim each of them had. 

    The writings of Mark follow the catastrophe of year 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. Was Mark conditioned by this fact? His he really loyal to all his references? Or alternatively, does he include in his "story" his own interpretations or the interpretations of the group to which he belonged? Matthew shows quite some differences from Mark due to an intentional plan for reworking the material he has in front of him. It is like a new edition, extended and corrected, of the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Luke presents a diverse world in comparison to the other two synoptic evangelists, even if it is only because of the fact that it is not a single "gospel" like the other two, but it is composed by two parts. The second part, which is inseparable from the first one, are the Acts of the Apostles. For Luke, the time of Jesus is really something in the past, a different time of the Church in which he lived. This implies that the evangelist has a new conception of history, which will define how the evangelist receives, changes and adapts the tradition.

    The tradition of the Church presents the Fourth Gospel as the work of John, son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve, but this fact is nowadays discarded. When comparing the Fourth Gospel to the other three, we find very significant differences that pose important interpretation difficulties as it presents a very different image of Jesus. It is necessary to attempt providing an explanation to this fact, at least partially: the enigma of the existence of this Gospel so different from the rest.

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