Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.11.57
Wendy J. Cotter, The Christ of the Miracle Stories: Portrait through Encounter. Peabody, MA: Baker Academic, 2010. Pp. xxvi, 293. ISBN 9780801039508. $29.99 (pb).
Reviewed by Bilal Bas, Marmara University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Table of Contents
The book deals with the miracle stories attributed to Jesus in the Synoptic tradition. In her earlier Miracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook for the Study of New Testament Miracles Stories, Cotter focused on the miracles attributed to gods and heroes in Greco-Roman antiquity and the significances regularly claimed for them in order to reconstruct a backdrop against which the Jesus miracles can be placed. In this book, Cotter addresses the encounter between Jesus and the petitioner.
The author starts from an observation that the scholarship on the miracle stories, as represented for instance by Rudolf Bultmann and Martin Dibelius, “has largely focused on the “miracle” itself, the type of power that Jesus exhibits there and what that power claims about his person” (p. 1). She admits that the narrators of the miracle stories had a concern to reveal such a divine power in the person of Jesus. However, according to Cotter, the miracle stories also seek to reconstruct a portrait of Jesus as they describe his encounter with the petitioners. When a petitioner approaches Jesus to ask for help (to heal a sickness or to exorcise a demon etc.), he shows such human virtues as philanthrōpia, praotēs and epiekeia. “These stories that reveal not only Jesus’ power, but also his person, are meant to inspire great confidence and love for Jesus, but they also instigate in his followers…a striving for emulation in the concrete examples” (p. 13).
It is the argument of the author that these two functions of the miracle stories were intended by the pre-Gospel narrators and the communities they belonged to. Therefore she focuses on the function of the miracle stories before their incorporation into the Gospels. Cotter chooses eight stories (seven from the Gospel of Mark and one from Q [Luke]). She first analyzes each story for the most obvious signs of redaction so that the account can be studied for its message. The author then makes an extensive analysis of the story with the aim of reconstructing a human portrait of Jesus as it was intended by the narrators. Each story ends with a conclusion. Thus the book contains an introduction, eight chapters for each story, conclusion, an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources and an index.
On the whole, this is an important study that significantly contributes to the scholarship of the miracle stories in the Gospels. The author successfully proves that the pre-Gospel narrators of the stories had in mind a double purpose of revealing Jesus’ divine power as well as his human virtues. However, in retrospect, I believe that in the miracle stories the divine aspect of Jesus, which is emphasized by Bultmann among others, seems much more important than his human aspect. The first Christian communities’ major concern was to spread the euangelia, the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and the divine power he revealed in that event. If this assumption is true, it would then be most plausible that these communities had reconstructed the oral traditions about the miracle stories with the aim of emphasizing and proving this divine power in the person of Jesus. This does not necessarily exclude the possibility of the description of a human Jesus to be emulated, but considering the Christian claim of the revelation of the divine power in the person of Jesus this human aspect might well go by the wayside.