The main subject of tomorrow’s first lecture on the New Testament is going to be the question of how the model of culture as the interplay of dominant, residual, and emergent forms can help us to understand the relationship between the New Testament and the Old, particularly the way in which the New appropriates, reconstructs, and reinterprets the Old.
A key exhibit, I think, will be the Sermon on the Mount, which I will contrast with the account of the ten commandments in Exodus 20 and the famous passages about justice — “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth ” — in Exodus 21 and Leviticus 24.
I also want to start thinking about the implications of choosing to emphasize one aspect of Christ’s life and death over enough. Specifically, what kind of Christianity flows out of an emphasis on the life and teachings of Christ? And what kind of Christianity flows out of an emphasis on the martyrdom and resurrection of Christ?
We’re using Matthew as our base text: the students are supposed to read the whole gospel in order to get a complete life of Christ. Matthew is probably the most accessible (and familiar) of the four, and it contains the Sermon on the Mount. And i hope to use it to pave the way for my discussion of John do Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” next week with its invocation of the “city on a hill.” I’m supplementing Matthew with the openings and passions from each of the other three gospels, as well Mark 4 on the necessity of speaking in parables and Luke 6 (The Sermon on the Plain).
Because the students seem to be having trouble reading the language of the King James Bible, I will probably read passages aloud. Certainly the beginnings of the gospels, with special attention to the different priorities evident in Matthew’s and Luke’s different approaches to the task of introducing the life of Christ. And, to convey a sense of the different source materials on which the evangelists drew, the different annunciation and nativity accounts.
The strategy for the course’s treatment of the New Testament is to talk about the gospels tomorrow and about St. Paul and Revelation on Wednesday. Next week will be devoted to Puritan and contemporary interpretations of the Bible, which will also give me a chance to answer any questions about either Testament that have arisen.
On the playlist for tomorrow: Prince, “The Cross”; Lauryn Hill, “Forgive Them Father”; Joan Osborne, “One of Us.”
[Illustration: The Four Evangelists on a page from The Book of Kells, illuminated manuscript, ca. 8th- or early 9th-century CE; probably made on the island of Iona in Scotland by Irish monks.]