Baker Academic

The Gospel of John was composed...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

The Gospels are not literal records of the ministry of Jesus. Decades of developing and adapting the Jesus tradition had intervened. how much development? That has to be determined by painstaking scholarship which most often produces judgments ranging from possibility to probability, but rarely certainty.

              ~Raymond Brown

Friday, September 12, 2014

Robert Myles’s Homeless Jesus

I (Chris) recently invited Robert Myles to do a guest post on his new study, The Homeless Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, which continues in a line of scholarship that emphasizes ideological and socio-economic factors in NT scholarship.  Robert is also blogging over at The Bible & Class Struggle.  I thank Robert for contributing the following.  Please leave any questions in the comments section, as I'm sure Robert will be willing to respond.
_____________________________________

The Homeless Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew - Robert Myles


First of all I want to thank Chris and Anthony for inviting me to write this guest post on the topic of my new book on Jesus and homelessness. The Homeless Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (2014), published by Sheffield Phoenix Press, is an exercise in the burgeoning field of Marxist exegesis of the New Testament. For readers unfamiliar with Marxist approaches to biblical criticism, 'Marxist exegesis' focuses on the critique of ideology in biblical interpretation and also how issues like class conflict are essential to explaining cultural and historical change. 

My book examines the juncture between Jesus and homelessness by emphasizing how Jesus' experience of homelessness fits into his wider social, political, and economic context of the first century. The gap it identifies is basically that Jesus' homelessness or itinerancy has never been adequately integrated into its wider social, political, and economic context, despite this being a major area of concern for New Testament scholars. Jesus' homelessness is rather presented as an arbitrary choice, or consequence of his God-ordained mission, which Jesus seems able to freely enact at will. The book re-reads a number of pivotal texts from the Gospel of Matthew to expose how Jesus' homelessness is more likely produced as a consequence of these wider hostile forces.

Given that the book is also a work of ideological critique, my other overarching concern is the contemporary context of neoliberal capitalism and how this context has shaped scholar's presuppositions over the past forty or so years. James Crossley has recently drawn attention to some of these issues in his book Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism (2012). Neoliberalism is typically associated with the policies of the Reagan and Thatcher governments, particularly their ideas about personal responsibility, undermining of social welfare, deregulation of markets, and so on. It now blindly operates as a kind of hegemonic mode of discourse or theory of everything, and is tacitly accepted as a default ideology by most people in contemporary Western societies, including mainstream biblical scholars. 

In my book I demonstrate how neoliberalism has operated at the level of the ideological unconscious to heighten Jesus' agency, individualism, and ability to 'choose' homelessness, while simultaneously downplaying some quite obvious connections between Jesus and his economic context. This means that Jesus' experience of homelessness often gets 'romanticized' in contemporary interpretations, even when this seems to go against the grain of the text. A good example of this is the Flight to Egypt in Matt. 2.13-23. Recent scholarly attention has focused almost exclusively on how this story reconfigures texts from the Hebrew Bible, for instance, by echoing the figure of Moses. While these aspects are certainly interesting, the lack of attention to how this text functions as a narrative of forced displacement is a curious oversight. Right from his infancy Jesus is depicted not only as the Jewish Messiah, but also as a marginal, persecuted, and displaced refugee.

Towards the end of the book I put forward the case that Jesus' homelessness is, in part, a reason for his eventual execution by the ruling elite. This is because what emerges through the gospel is Jesus the expendable, the refuse of first-century Palestinian society. As a deviant outsider and perceived criminal threat, he is targeted for extermination. To envisage Jesus as an excess to dominant arrangements of power works to both undermine and challenge some of the more idealized readings of Jesus and his homelessness that have materialized in the past few decades.

If you’d like to read more about the kind of things I argue in the book, you can check out a couple of posts on my blog about Jesus and work and Jesus and class.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is Memory Selectivity Bad? - Le Donne

Here at the Jesus Blog, we're into hot topics from the 1930s. For instance we both have strong opinions about the dust bowl and don't get us started on the so-called "Hoover Dam." And we're not shy to point out that flappers are soooo 1920s. Whatevs! So it will come as no surprise that Chris and I have followed the career of French sociologist, Maurice Halbwachs with great interest.

Halbwachs (1877-1945) is now hailed as the father of "social memory" (although few social memory theorists today swallow his theories entire). Halbwachs believed that all memory is socially conditioned and framed. He also defined the sociological concept of "collective memory" in his study of how groups tend to remember and commemorate. Ah, the good ole days! But it has only been in the last decade that Halbwachs has been widely utilized in historical Jesus research. My own research built on his and extended it toward a concept called "memory distortion." In echo of Halbwachs many contemporary social memory theorists will grant that all memory is "memory distortion." After all, all memory is selective (by the way, memory selection is only one form of memory distortion). Memory requires the selection of thoughts and thought patterns that will not be forgotten. My own work has pushed this feature of memory back to the initial stages of perception. In short, to paraphrase Heidegger, to perceive is to construe.

But is this a problem?

We can easily come up with instances where memory selectivity is unfortunate or malicious. Indeed the very concept of "distortion" carries negative connotations. But recently I was reminded of why the selectivity of memory is so very important. This article relays a study of student recall. It seems that students who take notes longhand tend to remember better:
Students who take notes in longhand, in contrast, cannot write fast enough to get everything down and so must be selective. It is precisely that process—of summarizing, thinking about what’s most important, predicting what might be useful down the road—that helps those who take notes on paper.
These features of "summarizing, thinking about what’s most important, predicting what might be useful down the road" are all known well to researchers of memory distortion. Indeed all of the above focus memory and frames it within an agenda. Here the agenda involves making a grade. It is often the case, moreover, that students will be rewarded for taking something they heard in a lecture and transforming it into an original thought of their own. This process of creativity requires an ability to distort memory within acceptable parameters and account for their own ideas in relationship to previous thought patterns. I.e. the fact that students to not parrot their professor exactly is a virtue.

I think that this sort of research is fascinating and will continue to help Jesus scholars rethink the relationship between the Gospels and the historical Jesus.

-anthony

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Was the Gospel of John Composed Independently?

The above poll is meant to measure how many Jesus Blog readers hold the view that the Fourth Gospel was composed with knowledge of or direct dependence on Synoptic tradition.

Feel free to comment below.

-anthony

Monday, September 8, 2014

Take a Gospels Trivia Quiz

This quiz is designed to make Christians feel stupid. So if you're a Christian and you like to feel stupid, this quiz is for you!

Kidding aside, this a bit obnoxious. But if you can get over that element, it is a clever way to combat the tendency to harmonize the Gospels. Enter at your own risk:

http://exchristian.net/3/

-anthony

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week


They say that after eating the mountain-apple and the earthquake, when things in our country had all gone awry, the Landlord’s Son himself became one of his Father’s tenants and lived among us, for no other purpose than that he should be killed. The Stewards themselves do not know clearly the meaning of their story: hence, if you ask them how the slaying of the Son should help us, they are driven to monstrous answers.

             
                ~Mr. Wisdom from C. S. Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress

Friday, September 5, 2014

Does Peter Enns Represent the Lord Correctly?

Friend of the program Peter Enns provides an excerpt of his new book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Dr. Enns offers a brief reading of Mark 12:35-37 (I'm guessing that he's not using Matthew, as Matthew goes an entirely different direction with this saying). According to the NRSV, this passage reads:
35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
37 David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.
Dr. Enns suggests that Jesus is using Psalm 110 to say something about his status as "messiah" in this passage. This is something that, according to Enns, "got him into trouble with some influential Jewish authorities of his day." But it isn't clear to me that Jesus is referring to himself in this passage. I've just posted this comment over at his blog:
Pete, I think you are quite right that Jesus read his Bible differently than I do. Indeed Paul, Matthew, John, etc. all use the Hebrew Bible in ways that wouldn't be acceptable in my classroom. So to your primary point, I agree. But I have a more exegetical question related to Mark 12:35-37. It isn't clear to me that Jesus is referring to himself in this saying. Could he have been referring to a popular misnomer concerning "the messiah"? I.e. could he have been speaking generally about "the messiah" for the sole purpose of making the scribes look bad? I'm asking because this passage is among the most vexing in the NT, not because I have the right answer.

-anthony

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Quest for the Real Jesus JTS Review—Chris Keith

My full review of The Quest for the Real Jesus: Radboud Prestige Lectures by Prof Dr Michael Wolter (Brill 2013) in Journal of Theological Studies is now available online here.  In the review itself, I made the mistake of referring to the university as "Radbound" instead of "Radboud."  Sorry 'bout that.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week


"...the next day the miracle occurred! Crucifixion, then resurrection! And he rose again from the dead! And if he sees his shadow, another 2000 years of guilt. Yes!"

                ~Robin Williams

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Latest at Sheffield—Chris Keith

[UPDATED Sept 2, 2014, see below]

I was very sorry today to read of the latest at Sheffield in the midst of the official death of its once-great Department of Biblical Studies.  As The Dunedin School and Jim West report, apparently the school's PR team had taken quotations from eminent scholars--written in letters opposing the closing the department--and used them as statements of endorsement.  This includes a quotation from Maurice Casey, who is now passed and was as bitterly opposed to the closing of the Department of Biblical Studies as anyone.  As far as I can tell, the quotations are no longer on Sheffield's pages, though the blogs named above have screen shots of the earlier pages.

Sheffield has always functioned as something of a myth for me, associated in my mind with names like Bruce, Alexander, Clines, and Moore.  One of the very influential professors I had in undergraduate received his PhD from Sheffield during Stephen Moore's short time there, and I was really impressed with that professor and thus with Sheffield.  I considered it a real honor to deliver a lecture there last year in the famed Biblical Studies Seminar at the invitation of Minna Shkul and James Crossley. 

*UPDATE Sept 2, 2014

In the comments section of The Dunedin School post noted above, someone (signed in as "someone who used to edit the bibs website") has left the following message, indicating that the scholars quoted had given their permission to be used in the context of promoting Biblical Studies at Sheffield, including Maurice Casey.  Perhaps we should take a deep breath.  I quote from The Dunedin School comments (HT Mark Goodacre):

Someone who used to edit the bibs website said:
I have in my possession written consent from all of these scholars, including the late Maurice Casey (see below), for the use of their words in the fresh context of marketing the department. These permissions date back to December 2009 when I had personal responsibility for an overhaul of the site. While I understand people’s distaste, it did not seem distasteful to use these for the department in 2009 and one should not be too quick to throw stones at marketing people who were trying to serve the Department’s future.
I quote first from my email to Maurice:
———-16/12/2009————
Following the success of the campaign to preserve the Biblical Studies
department here in Sheffield, we are now looking at the information provided to
potential students on the department’s web site.
We’d like to use the following quotation extracted from your letter to the
Vice-Chancellor (and published on savebiblicalstudies.weebly.com):
“…the exceptional combination of creativity and independence of mind shown by
members of staff in their publications and at academic conferences.”
“I’d be grateful if you can confirm that we are okay to go ahead and use this.
The quotation would be attributed to you, and you should feel free to amend it
first if desired.”
———————————
And from his response to me (also 16/12/2009):
———————————
“Thank-you for your e-mail. You are very welcome to quote this comment, and please attribute it to me, I do not wish to amend a single word.
“I hope you are successful in attracting new students, and that management will provide new staff on the scale that you need, in accordance with the quality traditional in the Department and found in the few staff left.”
——————————–
This was not “The University” acting but someone affiliated with the department keen to preserve it and doing so with what was, however distastefully one may now view it, some extremely good marketing material. I would never have dreamt of using any of it without permission, and one ought not to be too hasty to judge whoever it was within the university that made the decision to go on using it. It is in any case quite possible that I wrote the page you are referring to and these quotes will have been on the site since January 2010. Staff in the department would have been aware of this use of material at the time, even if there’s been enough water under the bridge to lose track.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Paul Anderson on Bultmann's Legacy

In reply to Butlmann week here at the Jesus Blog, Paul Anderson writes:

Thanks for your pointed question on Bultmann’s contribution, Anthony and Chris; in addition to the excellent collection on Bultmann’s New Testament theology edited by Longenecker and Parsons, I have just gotten his commentary on John back into print in paperback as Vol. 1 in the new Johannine Monograph Series (as of August 15, Wipf & Stock) edited by Alan Culpepper and myself (https://wipfandstock.com/browse/series/Johannine%20Monograph%20Series). Here’s what I say in the rather extensive Foreword (pp. i-xxviii), fyi:

“As the first volume in the Johannine Monograph Series, The Gospel of John: A Commentary by Rudolf Bultmann well deserves this place of pride. Indeed, this provocative commentary is arguably the most important New Testament monograph in the twentieth century, perhaps second only to The Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer…. In contrasting Bultmann's and Schweitzer's paradigms, however, we find that Bultmann’s is far more technically argued and original, commanding hegemony among other early-Christianity paradigms. Ernst Haenchen has described Bultmann's commentary as a giant oak tree in whose shade nothing could grow, and indeed, this reference accurately describes its dominance among Continental Protestant scholarship over the course of several decades.”

Any familiar with my treatment of Bultmann’s approach to John (in over 100 pages of analysis in The Christology of the Fourth Gospel) or in the treatments by Jörg Frey will know that while Bultmann’s highly diachronic approach to John’s composition does not convince overall, his theological sensitivity to John’s tensions and riddles is first rate. Therefore, even in a synchronic approach to John, such as the recent thoughtful-yet-traditional New International Commentary, Ramsey Michaels declares that the most helpful single resource in writing his commentary was that of Rudolf Bultmann. That sentiment is confirmed by your informal poll, and I would concur overall, although I differ with Bultmann in seeing John’s tradition as being more coherent and autonomous, in addition to being developed theologically.

Interestingly, despite Bultmann’s treatment of dialectical thinking as the basis for theological and historical reasoning in his 1927 Eisenach address, he refuses to allow the Fourth Evangelist to be seen as a dialectical thinker. He thus wrongly attributes John’s material to inferred alien sources, rather than seeing them as elements of an individuated tradition. In that sense, Bultmann also fails to note the highly dialectical intratraditional engagement of the evangelist, in addition to his intertraditional work, and more recent studies have cast valuable light on the highly dialectical Johannine situation. What Bultmann would concur with, however, is the evangelist’s treatment of the human-divine dialogue, which the Revealer conveys to humanity, calling forth an existential response of faith to the divine initiative. Hence, in the light of John’s dialogical autonomy, we might infer that…in the beginning was…the Dialogue!

Paul Anderson

McGrath reviews the Fortress's Inkling Project for the Bible

Over at exploringourmatrix, James McGrath offers his initial impressions of this project:



I was part of the team that turned Sumney's introduction into an e-book with tags, pop-out boxes, e-quizzes, maps, and photographs that enhance the digital experience of the student and professor.

-anthony