Baker Academic

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Chris from London writes...

I would like to thank The Jesus Blog secretary for extracting selected emails for me to read. Today’s email comes from Chris in London:

Dear James,

my first question is one I think lots will be thinking but just won't have the courage to ask. Namely, you don't really look like a normal NT scholar, more, if I may say, like a criminal. Not a small time gangsta, of course, more like a nemesis of Batman. Given this, have you at least thought about being a criminal and if so, perhaps we could go into business together, smuggling Routledge or Brill books into local theological libraries?

Second, in your view what is the next big thing in historical Jesus studies? Is there a movement or paradigms shift on the horizon, or perhaps already well underway, that will change the shape of this discipline?

Third, of all of your many and great books, which do you think has been the most important? Which one were you happiest to see in print, or which one “nailed it” best?


Dear Chris,

Thank you for your kind words.

Stealing, as I hope you are aware, is wrong. However, property is also theft and I understand that people now have ways of sharing electronic versions of books for free, much like people did with videos and pop music in the 1980s. Was it really stealing to record your favourite songs off the radio? I'm no ethical philosopher; I am merely the conduit for information. As for such master criminals, did Žižek not teach us that that, unlike the wealthy philanthropist, Batman, Bane represents authentic, revolutionary love, willing to make sacrifices, and is the personification of Occupy Wall Street?

The next big thing in historical Jesus studies? I think it will be, and perhaps already is, memory studies  of the sort that everyone on this blog bar me has made a significant contribution. For me, some of the general ideas have proven to be a helpful way of making ideas about what we mean about ‘the historical Jesus’ much clearer. Instead of being able to answer questions like ‘did he or did he not say or do this or that’ we might want to think more of a chronology of perceptions. So, were these perceptions present in the 20s/30s? Or were these ideas obviously later? I can’t prove whether Jesus did or did not argue about washing hands or plucking grain but it is easier to make a case that these were debates that could have been formulated in early perceptions of Jesus.

I think some of the older debates about Jesus in relation to material circumstances of Palestine will continue but underlying them are some fairly obvious and perhaps immovable ideological positions of left and right represented in the field, whether or not scholars realise it. I hope such debates go beyond ‘how oppressive or not were Antipas and/or the Romans?’ to an understanding of historical change where reactions and perception of material change can vary dramatically. The idea that bad/good shit happened and people did/did not react is not enough. That’s a change I’d like to see but I doubt it will happen because I don't think the interest is quite there.

My own books? I might say that I prefer whatever I have just written but really I prefer the more overtly political things I have written. At the moment I am probably most enjoying working on the Bible (including Jesus) in English political discourse, both what I published (Harnessing Chaos: The Bible in English Political Discourse since 1968) and what I am continuing to do. There are plenty of reasons for this (no doubt many/all autobiographical) but I particularly enjoy working on, with or in: something which is pretty new in the field, loads of new data (for me and biblical scholars, anyway) and ongoing data to analyse; new debating partners in different fields; an area where I think biblical scholars are leading the way in the humanities; and freedom from the old battles we all know about in traditional NT studies where positions can be just too entrenched for debate.



Ps. readers might be interested in the free and legal material at Biblical Studies Online.

If you have a question to contribute to "Just Ask James" email


  1. This feature, by far, is my favorite part of this blog.

  2. Always a great day, great day!, when one appeals to Slavoj Žižek in a post on a Jesus blog. Thank you DearDrJames!

  3. Looks very useful.