Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Moltmann on Christology: The Way of Jesus Christ


I want to explore Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology inMessianic Dimensions (1989, 1990), the third in his series of contributions to theology. The first was his discussion of the Trinity and the second was his discussion of creation. In that context, what he will want to do is move from the metaphysical Christology of the ancients and the historical Christology of the modern era to a post-modern Christology that places human history in an ecological context. I want to expose any potential reader to what I think are the important insights of Moltmann. However, I also want to bring Moltmann and Pannenberg into dialogue. I will also point to some areas where this study has helped me to grow in my theological understanding.

In the Preface, Moltmann says wants a Christology for men and women who are on the way in the conflicts of history, looking to get their bearings as they make their journey on the way of Jesus Christ. He contrasts his approach with a liturgical doxology of Christ as at Nicaea and Chalcedon. Rather, for people in the exile of history, searching for life, need a Christology for pilgrims. He will take the occasion of this book to invite people to live their lives in this way, making this an ethical effort as well. His approach will appeal more to the biblical narrative than to the patristic church. Messianic Christology occurs against the horizon of eschatology.

In Chapter I, Moltmann discusses the messianic perspective. Pannenberg begins his discussion of anthropology and Christology by saying that Christology begins with the primitive Christian interpretation of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah of God. Moltmann is on the same track in this Chapter.[1] Jesus is the Messiah, the church is the Messianic community, and being a Christian means living life in a messianic way. Jesus understood himself and his message in the context of this messianic hope. His followers would experience him in the context of that hope. I will say that he makes a powerful point when he says that the mission of Christianity is the way in which Israel pervades the world of the Gentile nations with a messianic hope for the coming of God. He refers to Martin Buber, who referred to the mysterious spread of the name, commandments, and the kingdom of the God of Israel through Christianity.

In I.4, he discusses Christology in Jewish-Christian dialogue. He admits that the whole idea of an anticipation of the completed redemption of the world is something that Judaism finds impossible to accept. Schalom Ben-Chorin notes that the Jew is profoundly aware of the unredeemed character of the world and cannot imagine an enclave of redemption within it. I find this insight incredibly helpful in grasping the difference between Jew and Christian. If this is not possible, the book Moltmann writes here becomes impossible. For him, the Messiah of Israel becomes the savior of the Gentiles. Again, Pannenberg accepts this idea as the basis and beginning of his reflections on Christology.[2] In addition, Jesus encounters Israel as the savior of the nations, believed in and worshipped among the nations.

In Chapter II, Moltmann discusses trends and transmutations in Christology.

In II.1, Moltmann discusses the identity of Christology and its relevance. He refers to the turn toward anthropology, which gave scholarship the modern liberal Christology from an anthropological viewpoint. He will look at this as he sees it in Schleiermacher and Rahner. He discusses Christology as a biblical theme. Christology is not simply a matter of the earthly person, Jesus of Nazareth, with him as a private person or his personality. Christology must include his resurrection and his presence in the Spirit of the coming of God. Pannenberg also stresses the resurrection of Jesus as legitimating the pre-Easter work of Jesus, transitions from the Crucified One to Lord, and receives appointment of the Son of God in power.[3] Moltmann also discusses the present position of Christology. He stresses that to know Jesus, more than the facts of Christology, is learning the life of discipleship. He discusses the therapeutic relevance of Christology. He thus focuses upon soteriology. Moltmann refers to Pannenberg as rightly saying that the unity between the Christological foundation of soteriology and the soteriological explication of Christology is true, even when Christology is the criterion for soteriology.[4] This focus prevents Christology from becoming nothing more than religious desires and anxieties, turning Christology into the religious wish fulfillment of the moment.

In II.2, Moltmann discusses the theme and scheme of cosmological Christology. He says that the question of human existence is the question of all earthly being. How can finite being participate in the Being that is Infinite in a way that resists transience in time and decay in death? He covers some of the same discussion of Pannenberg as the impasse both theologians perceive in the two-nature Christology of the tradition.[5] Moltmann refers, in further agreement with Pannenberg says the two natures theory draws from a general metaphysics of that the biblical narrative would never know.[6] The two will agree that if you begin with an anthropology in which humanity, created in the image of God, has an orientation toward God, then the one person and two-nature theory is no longer relevant. In their anthropology, Christ completes and fulfills the destiny of humanity.

In II.3, Moltmann discusses the theme and scheme of anthropological Christology. He views anthropological Christology as focused upon the personality of Jesus, an approach from below. Martin Buber refers to the modern era as a turn toward anthropology. However, Pannenberg will disagree with Moltmann (on p. 61-2) in making Schleiermacher and Rahner saying similar things. He notes that Rahner presented his notion of the relation of anthropology to Christology as the expression of a transcendental anthropology and Christology in Theological Investigations, I, 135ff and in Foundations, 206ff. He thinks transcendental is misleading here, since it suggests an a priori positing of forms of experience. Yet, this is different from the attempt of Schleiermacher to find a kind of anthropological Christology that Moltmann finds there. Rather, Rahner had in view a divinely constituted humanity and could speak not merely of the God-consciousness of Jesus, but also in a Trinitarian sense of the true deity of the Logos incarnate in Jesus.[7]

            In Chapters 3, 4, and 5, he has the purpose of defining the categories of messianic, apocalyptic, and eschatological in Christian terms and relating them to the way of Christ. He will consider the path leading from the Jewish Jesus to the Christian Jesus as well as rediscovering the Jewish Jesus in the Christian Jesus.

In Chapter III, Moltmann discusses the messianic mission of Christ. He presents the historical mission of Christ in the framework of the messianic hope in history.

In III.1, Moltmann discusses Spirit Christology. Pannenberg stresses that that there are many forms of a Christology from below. They start with the historical Jesus and seek to find in his proclamation and history the basis of the confession of Christ by the community. He refers to this discussion by Moltmann, which he also views as a Christology from below, in spite of the reference to the difference between from below and from above as superficial and misleading (see my discussion of The Crucified God.) He thinks Moltmann avoids the distinction in a facile way. Yet, Pannenberg maintains that it has left such deep traces in the history of theology. In fact, thus far in his Christology, Moltmann reflects this re-direction to Christology from below.[8] I would suggest that Pannenberg wins this little intellectual tug of war. Moltmann begins with considering Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, an approach typical of the switch to a Christology from below. The point Pannenberg makes is that going to a Spirit Christology does not erase the distinction between of Christology from above and from below. At this point, Moltmann will also refer to the retroactive force of the resurrection as a violent assumption. I would refer the reader to my discussion of The Crucified God for this discussion.

In III.2, Moltmann discusses Christ’s birth in the Spirit. Pannenberg will also discuss the mediating role of the Spirit mediating the taking shape of the Son in the person of Jesus. He refers to his own discussion Jesus – God and Man, 141-50, a discussion of the Virgin Birth as a legend. He also refers to the excellent contribution of Moltmann here.[9] First, Moltmann discusses the birth of Christ in the Spirit from a historical perspective. Pannenberg agrees that birth in the Spirit is not a matter of gynecology. Pannenberg will say that in the first century, it would be natural to offer a story of a birth unlike others for one the church claimed to be the Son of God. He refers to the births of Perseus and Hercules as examples. He also refers to some great men of Israel, such as Samson, Jeremiah, and the Suffering Servant, as chosen from birth. Today, though, the virgin birth diminishes the true humanity of Jesus. We see no reason why the Son of God would need to enter the world in a different way than anyone else, a comment with which Moltmann agrees, expanding it to say that today theology needs to stress a natural birth in order to emphasize the humanity of Jesus... The stories of the virgin birth arose to explain the title Son of God. The intention of the story is to say that he was the Son of God from the beginning. This theological intention one can affirm.[10] The two theologians agree that the New Testament does not link the virgin birth with the Incarnation or pre-existence, although the patristic church will make that link. They agree that the virgin birth stories are legends.

In III.8, Moltmann discusses Jesus as the Messianic person in his becoming. Pannenberg will point out that the Messianic title links to Jesus only by way of his condemnation as a messianic pretender. Jesus would avoid the title. In the light of his resurrection, of course, God recognized him as the coming Messiah. The title became part of his name. The New Testament makes the link by revising it through linking it to the crucified. He refers to Moltmann here, saying this is why Moltmann can refer to Jesus as a messianic person in process. He does not think, however, that the phrase does full justice to the fact that Gospels retroactively see him as the Messiah from the very first.[11] Moltmann wants to start with the historical assumption that Jesus talked and acted in a messianic way. Jesus suffered his messianic calling. The cross and resurrection reveal whom Jesus is. Jesus grows into his messianic calling. The same is true with the Son of Man title. He sees it as a relationship that is open and incomplete. For him, this removes the idea of whether Jesus came forward as a prophet of his own future or whether he already understood himself as Messiah proleptically. He disagrees, then, with Pannenberg when he said that the claim of Jesus means an anticipation of a confirmation that he expected only from the future.[12] In a discussion of Jesus as the child of God, Moltmann refers to the relation between Jesus and his family in Mark 3:31-35, where Jesus seems to break the fifth commandment to honor his parents. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says that a stubborn and rebellious son is to receive stoning. He proposes that in the Apostles’ Creed, we should add after “and was made man,” that “Baptized by John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit: to preach the kingdom of God to the poor, to heal the sick, to receive those who have been cast out, to revive Israel for the salvation of the nations, to have mercy upon all people.”

In Chapter IV Moltmann discusses the apocalyptic sufferings of Christ. He presents the sufferings of Christ against the horizon of the apocalyptic expectation of the End-time.

In IV.2, Moltmann discusses the human sufferings of Christ in terms of what death Jesus died. By his move to Jerusalem, he may have intended to call the leaders of his to people to make a decision of faith in the final hour. He may also have sought the final divine decision concerning his mission. Jesus was not willing to renounce his messianic claim in spite of everything that spoke against it. He priest would condemn him as a blasphemous pretender to be the Messiah. The Romans would have judged him for this as a rebel. The Sadducee policy of survival under Roman occupation included sacrificing the one for the sake of the many. Their concern was the downfall of Israel. Thus, even for all his helplessness and the outward signs of his non-messianic status, his claim was political dynamite. Moltmann is following Otto Betz in this view. However, Pannenberg says he does so in opposition to the dominant view of New Testament exegetes. As he describes what Moltmann is saying here, Jesus orchestrated his entry into Jerusalem along the lines of Zechariah 9:9, as related in Mark 11:1-11. Combined with his symbolic cleansing of the temple in Mark 11:15-17, Jesus proclaimed himself as Messiah and confessed himself to be so in his trial before Caiaphas in Mark 14:61-2 and Pilate in Mark 15:2. The problem is whether this account, faithful to the Gospel narrative, accords with historical facts. Thus, while we may understand the cleansing of the Temple as a prophetic act, if it were messianic the Romans would have arrested him immediately. In fact, prophesying the destruction of the Temple was more of prophetic action than a messianic one. The answer of Jesus before Pilate is an ambivalent one. In contrast to Moltmann, who seems to think the high priest would think of a messianic claim as blasphemous, Pannenberg finds it difficult to see why. In contrast to Moltmann, Pannenberg sees no messianic equation with God because being Messiah did not involve this. He agrees with the difficulty of explaining why Caiaphas arrived at this conclusion. He was handed over to the Romans as a messianic pretender and therefore as a rebel. Yet, he finds it equally clear that this charge was a pretext behind which other matters made him unacceptable to the Jewish authorities. Pannenberg does not think the accounts of the proceedings make it clear what these matters were.[13] As Moltmann continues discussing the death of the Messiah, he stresses that Jesus went to Jerusalem with his message of the kingdom, he prophesied the destruction of the Temple, and he acknowledge his messianic claim before the high priest and Pilate.

In IV.3, Moltmann discusses the divine sufferings of Christ in terms of where God was. He has already discussed his theology of the cross in The Crucified God and summarizes it here. Where was God? Jesus may have died in the silence of God. Peter Hodgson extends this notion to us. God will not rescue us from history or provide miraculous victories. Rather, God suffers silently alongside us. God may be so silent that we may not know God is there.[14] God may have permitted his death. God wanted Jesus to die this way. God was in Christ in II Corinthians 5:19. God protests his death. What people meant for evil, God turned into good. He proposes a theology of the pain of God, of co-suffering, or compassion.

In Chapter V, Moltmann discusses the eschatological resurrection of Christ. He presents the resurrection of Christ in the light of the eschatological vision of the new creation of all things. He makes it clear that listing the facts of salvation one after another will destroy either the unique character of the death of Christ or his resurrection. Thus, anyone who describes the resurrection as historical in the same way as the cross is historical overlooks the new creation and falls short of eschatological hope.

He wants to ask the historical question. What does the original Christian belief in the resurrection say? Pannenberg thinks that Moltmann misses the point here, for the difference between crucifixion and resurrection is in the quality of the quality of the event rather than in its character. Thus, Pannenberg grants the otherness of the eschatological reality of resurrection life compared to the reality of this passing world, but denies that this affects the claim to the historicity implied in the assertion of the facticity of an event that took place at a specific time. He has great theological interest in the assertion of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. The reason is that we need to know that God has overcome death by the new eschatological life has actually taken place in this world and history of ours. Yet, he wants to make it clear that historically does not mean historically provable. Rather, it means that an event actually took place. He ponders what it would mean for something to be historically provable as in without further doubt. The claim to historicity simply means that an assertion will stand up to historical investigation, even though there may be differences and debates about the judgment. All of this verifies his basic point that the assertion of the historicity of an event does not mean that its facticity is so sure that one can have no further dispute regarding it.[15] Moltmann, in contrast, says that death makes life historical. Resurrection brings the dead to eternal life and thereby ends history. Keeping cross and resurrection together makes the cross stand at the apocalyptic end of world history. The resurrection of Jesus stands at the beginning of the new creation. He does not think one can bring history and eschatology together. They can only confront each other.

Moltmann refers to the flight into Galilee by the disciples after the crucifixion. They describe it in such detail in order to exclude any other kind of wishful thinking or notion of projection. In agreement with Pannenberg,[16] he does not think one can describe the appearances of the risen Lord by the faith of the disciples. Rather, the phenomena explain their faith. The visions are the starting point and basis of the conversion of the disciples. The disciples betray, deny, and forsake Jesus. They gave up their discipleship by returning home. The visionary phenomena call them back to Jerusalem. He sees three dimensions in their structure. They are prospective in viewing the Crucified as the coming of the glory of God. They are retrospective in that the coming one is also the Crucified. They are reflexive in perceiving a call from God to the apostolate. He suggests a number of Jewish ideas that would interpret such experiences. One was the pattern of exalting the suffering Servant of God, the just man carried up to God at the end of life, and one God rose from the dead. Thus, the New Testament can refer to God exalting Jesus to the right hand of God and taking up Jesus to heaven. Yet, the raising of Jesus from the dead are the primary interpretative categories for the appearances. We go back to these men and women because they and gone with Jesus to Galilee and Jerusalem, believed his message of the kingdom, and experienced the helplessness of the cross. Pannenberg says we cannot easily deny this. Yet, it does not explain how the disciples could identify the appearances as signs of his resurrection. Required for this was eschatological expectation of a resurrection to life. Therefore, he thinks it misleading for Moltmann to write of further background in the prophetic and apocalyptic tradition of contemporary Judaism, a framework in which the disciples also lived and thought, as though they could know the nature of the reality they experienced in the appearances independently of this framework. Thus, the way Pannenberg wants to put it is that the nexus of experience that made it possible for the disciples to recognize Jesus in the appearances arose out of their sharing in his life and work up to the days of his arrest and crucifixion.[17] Pannenberg will agree when Moltmann says that the empty tomb gave ambiguous tidings of what happened there. He thinks of the emptiness of the tomb as a well-attested fact, because both Jews and Christians knew of it. The message of the resurrection brought by the disciples on their return to Jerusalem could hardly have lasted a single hour in the city if it had been possible to show that the body of Jesus was lying in a grave. Pannenberg, putting it differently, said it would hardly be conceivable that the Christian message of the resurrection could have spread unless the empty tomb was tenable. Yet, the facticity of the event will remain contested until the eschatological consummation of the world because its uniqueness transcends an understanding of reality that has an orientation only to the passing of this world and because the new reality that has come has not universally shown itself.[18] Thus, he agrees with the tenor of the description by Moltmann here that the belief in the resurrection remains a hope until verified by the resurrection of all the dead. Its language is that of promise and hope, and not of completed facts. Yet, he thinks Moltmann makes too little of the finished nature of the resurrection of Jesus. The reality that broke in with the resurrection is not yet complete. In this sense, the event is debatable. Yet, Christians maintain it has already happened. The fact that new life has come in Jesus makes the hope a well-grounded hope. When Moltmann says that God raised Jesus before all others, he saying what Pannenberg wants to say, but he thinks Moltmann is hedging.[19]

Moltmann will ask the theological question. He will discuss the category of divine history, which is a significant interaction with Barth. He will have a significant interaction with Bultmann to discuss the category of existential history. He will then discuss the resurrection of Christ and universal history. As he sees it, belief in the resurrection is not a matter of assent to a dogma so much as participating in the creative act of God. This would be the beginning of freedom. Faith in the resurrection is a living force that raises people up and frees them from the deadly illusions of power and possession. The resurrection is a meaningful statement in the context of the history of the freeing of human beings and the sighing creation from the forces of annihilation and death. Understood as an event that discloses the future and opens history, the resurrection of Christ is the foundation and promise of life in the midst of the history of death. Resurrection is not a deferred consolation or the opium of the next world, but the power that enables this life to be reborn. He seems to want bring Barth, Bultmann, and Pannenberg together in order to correct their one-sidedness. From his perspective, the resurrection, rather than a retrospective act of God that affirms the death of Christ as a redemptive event, is an anticipation of eternal life for mortal beings. Again, for Pannenberg, Moltmann is good at reminding us of the promise and hope in which we live this side of the resurrection, he thinks too little of the resurrection as a reality that broke in (emphasizing its finished nature) but that God will complete in the future. This means that as an historical event it will always be debatable.[20] Interestingly, both theologians discuss the historical axioms of Troeltsch. Both conclude that historicity does not necessarily mean that an historical event must be like other human events. In an important essay, Pannenberg will stress that the object of faith is open to the results of historical-critical research.  One can determine an event as historical when it is in agreement with all the known facts. Christian faith refers to history, so such questions are valid. Faith is not simply a matter of subjective experience. If it were, faith would open itself to a blind faith in authority. He sees Barth, Kierkegaard, and Lessing as trying to preserve the faith decision from the trouble of engaging historical questions. The problem is that revelation might rest upon illusion and caprice. To stress it again, he wants to affirm the revelatory significance contained in the event of resurrection and Incarnation, and therefore an entrance of God into our mode of existence. This means that historical investigation can discover its revelatory character. He will stress as well the importance of moving from faith as mere knowledge of facts to faith as actual trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. The character of our knowledge of the past event from which God issues the promise as probability does not injure the trustful certainty of faith. In addition, such knowledge of the promise does not supplant the distinctiveness of faith.[21] The important point here is that Moltmann also calls into question the historical axioms of Troeltsch. In particular, Moltmann will dispute that we learn history only by analogy. We may achieve historical understanding precisely when we discover the strange and the other. Analogy would make all historical events indifferent and would destroy true interest in history. One would lose historical curiosity. Profitable knowledge comes from readiness to perceive what is strange.

In Chapter VI, Moltmann discusses the cosmic Christ. He says that the healing and saving humanity does not occur without the healing and saving of nature. After all, human beings are part of nature. He wants to suggest the conversion of Christian faith to this awareness. Christ is the reconciler of the world, and therefore we must think of Christ inclusively. He admits that he departs from Barth here. He engages Teilhard de Chardin as the Christ of evolution. His problem here is that without the element of redemption Christ becomes the one who selects in a cruel way, as does evolution, without compassion for the weak and uninterested in the victims of the evolutionary process. He also engages Karl Rahner and self-transcendence. He wants to affirm Christ as the redeemer of evolution. He does so by connecting creation to the notion of the eschatological Sabbath. God desires to come to divine rest, which is the goal of creation. The eschatological redemption of creation runs counter to evolution. He wants to understand the future in a diachronic way, as this future is simultaneous to all times. The Christ of evolution is Christ in becoming; the Christ of redemption is Christ in his coming. Both reconciliation and redemption will lead to the completion of creation. This will be the outcome of continuous creation. Without such reconciliation and redemption, Christ cannot be the foundation of all things.

In Chapter VI, Moltmann discusses the cosmic Christ. He says that the healing and saving humanity does not occur without the healing and saving of nature. After all, human beings are part of nature. He wants to suggest the conversion of Christian faith to this awareness. Christ is the reconciler of the world, and therefore we must think of Christ inclusively. He admits that he departs from Barth here. He engages Teilhard de Chardin as the Christ of evolution. His problem here is that without the element of redemption Christ becomes the one who selects in a cruel way, as does evolution, without compassion for the weak and uninterested in the victims of the evolutionary process. He also engages Karl Rahner and self-transcendence. He wants to affirm Christ as the redeemer of evolution. He does so by connecting creation to the notion of the eschatological Sabbath. God desires to come to divine rest, which is the goal of creation. The eschatological redemption of creation runs counter to evolution. He wants to understand the future in a diachronic way, as this future is simultaneous to all times. The Christ of evolution is Christ in becoming; the Christ of redemption is Christ in his coming. Both reconciliation and redemption will lead to the completion of creation. This will be the outcome of continuous creation. Without such reconciliation and redemption, Christ cannot be the foundation of all things.
 
In Chapter VII, Moltmann discusses the Parousia of Christ. He refers to Pannenberg in Jesus – God and Man as a Christology that hardly mentions the Parousia, along with W. Kasper and E. Schillebeeckx. The Parousia is the completion of the way of Jesus Christ. Christ on the way arrives at the goal, completing the saving work of Christ. The Parousia is not a dispensable appendage to the history of Christ. An eschatologically oriented theology brings this truth back to consideration. He disagrees with Barth here because for Barth, God has accomplished the salvation of the world in the cross. If Barth were right, the future assertions of the New Testament would be meaningless. “The coming One” is God, who will break forth from the prior divine hiddenness in history. He says that Jesus identified himself indirectly and in an anticipatory with the Son of Man of the end-time. He also identified the Son of Man with suffering. He finds it remarkable that the “day of the Lord” is a day and not night. This transitory time does not end in the night of the eclipse of God. The biblical hope and promise is that the world will not descend into nothingness.


[1] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume II, 277, Chapter 9)
[2] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 277.
[3] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume II 283, Chapter 9.1.
[4] (Pannenberg, Jesus -- God and Man 1964, 1968) p. 38ff.
[5] (Pannenberg, Jesus -- God and Man 1964, 1968) Chapter 8.
[6] (Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology (2 Volumes) 1967, 1971) 19ff, “The Appropriation of the Philosophical Concept of God as a Dogmatic Problem of Early Christian Theology.”
[7] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 294, Chapter 9.
[8] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 286, 288, Chapter 9.
[9] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 317, 318, Chapter 9.
[10] (Pannenberg, The Apostles' Creed: In the Light of Today's Questions 1972), 71-75.
[11] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 312, Chapter 9.
[12] (Pannenberg, Jesus -- God and Man 1964, 1968) 58.
[13] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 313-4, Chapter 9.
[14] (Hodgson 1994), 264.
[15] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 361, Chapter 10.
[16] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 355, Chapter 10.
[17] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 349, Chapter 10.
[18] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 357, Chapter 10.
[19] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 361-2, Chapter 10.
[20] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991) Volume II, 361, Chapter 10.
[21] (Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology (2 Volumes) 1967, 1971), Vol. I, 53-66.

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