Baker Academic

Sunday, June 10, 2018

BASP Subscriptions

I'm happy to pass along the following from William Johnson of Duke University.  Some readers of the Jesus Blog may be interested in this offer for annual subscriptions to the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists.


Dear colleagues,

If you have papyrological interests, I want to point out to you the great deal offered by the American Society of Papyrologists. An individual ASP membership costs $35, and for that you will an annual subscription to theBulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists, almost 400 pages of high-quality papyrology spanning a wide range of subject matter, from editions to essays. Our new arrangement with Peeters Publishers allows us to offer this without shipping or other additional costs. 

Where else can you subscribe to a papyrological journal for $35? (Or $16 if you are a student!)

To become a member, simply go to:

and click on the membership button.

Memberships also go to support the Society’s other activities, for which see the blurb below.

With best wishes to you all,

William Johnson
Secretary-Treasurer, American Society of Papyrologists

Kiffiak Book Giveaway

Over at the Zurich New Testament Blog, they're running the following promotion for a free copy of Jordash Kiffiak's Responses in the Miracle Stories of the Gospels (WUNT 2; Mohr Siebeck).  Readers of the Jesus Blog may have interest in winning this study of over 700 pages!


This is your chance to win a FREE COPY of the acclaimed, 700+ page study by Jordash Kiffiak, “Responses in the Miracle Stories of the Gospels”!
The book has been praised by Andreas Lindemann in no uncertain terms:
Man wird bei einem derart umfangreichen, m. E. im besten Sinne als „innovativ“ zu bezeichnenden Werk Fragen und Einwände vorbringen können. Gleichwohl scheint mir die Studie von Jordash Kiffiak im Ansatz und in der sorgfältigen Durchführung der Frage nach der Bedeutung der „responses“ in den Wundererzählungen in ganz besondere Weise erwähnenswert zu sein.
(“With such an enormous work - and in my opinion one to be labeled ‘innovative’ in the best sense of the word - one might be able to raise questions and objections. Nevertheless the study of Jordash Kiffiak in its approach and meticulous execution regarding the question of the meaning of the ‘responses’ in the miracle stories appears to me to be worthy of mention in a very exceptional way.”)
To take part in the competition, you’ll need to do two things.
1. Write a two- or three-sentence comment, telling us why you need this volume from Mohr Siebeck’s WUNT II series.
2. Submit a one-page (500 words max.) piece, giving a fuller explanation of your rationale.
The prize will be awarded on the basis of not only logical argumentation but also creativity!
Note: this competition is for graduate students. Your document will need to have your full name, status (MA student, PhD candidate), program/specialization (NT, early Christianity, early Judaism etc.), current year of studies, title of MA thesis (if relevant) or PhD thesis, and the name of your institute. Send it to by Thursday 14 June 2018.
You can read a blog post summarizing the book here:

All the best!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

"Christian Origins and Social-Scientific Criticism: Past, Present, and Future" Schedule—Chris Keith

I'm happy to share the schedule for the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible's upcoming conference on May 25 at St Mary's University, Twickenham on "Christian Origins and Social-Scientific Criticism: Past, Present, and Future."  If you've not registered yet and would like to join us, you can do so here.


‘Social-Scientific Criticism’ now serves in New Testament studies as an umbrella term for a variety of critical approaches to early Christianity, which include cultural anthropology, social identity theory, social history, ancient and modern media studies, memory theories, human geography, ancient and modern politics, race theory, trauma studies, and others.  This conference gathers leading scholars to discuss the progress of the scholarly discourse from initial applications to the current state, as well as offer thoughts about the future. 

8.00–9.00       Registration
9.00–9.10       Welcome
9.10–9.20       Introduction to the Conference (Chris Keith) 

Session 1: Theoretical Origins and Texts
9.20–9.50       ‘From Honour and Shame to Theorizing Christian Origins’ (John Kloppenborg)
9.50–10.20     ‘Competitive Textualization in the Jesus Tradition’ (Chris Keith)      
10.20–10.50   ‘The Letter to Titus as a Site of Memory’ (Michael Scott Robertson)

10.50–11.20   coffee and tea break

Session 2: Violence and Identity
11.20–12.10   ‘Violence as Social Currency in Early Christianity’ (Sarah Rollens)
12.10–12.40   ‘The Death of John the Baptist and the Sociology of Beheading in the Ancient World’ (Nathan Shedd)
12.40–1.00     Open Discussion

1.00–2.00       Lunch

Session 3: Space and Language
2.00–2.40       ‘Diverse Futures of Social-Scientific Criticism of the New Testament: Affective, Spatial, Cognitive, and Digital Turns’ (Louise J. Lawrence)
2.40–3.20  ‘Apocalyptic Language in the New Testament: Can Cognitive Linguistics
Help?’    (Jamie Davies)

3.20–3.40       coffee and tea break

Session 4: Ethnicity, Race, and Ideology
3.40–4.10       ‘Whose Race Needs to be Noted? Further Reflections on Whiteness and Biblical Studies’ (David Horrell)
4.40–5.10       ‘Social-Scientific Criticism and the Bible: Investigating Ideological Trend’ (Taylor Weaver)

5.10–5.30       coffee and tea break

Session 5: Politics and Social-Scientific Criticism
5.30–6.00       Keynote Address:  ‘Cults, Martyrs, and Good Samaritans’ (James Crossley)
6.00–6.20       Respondent:  Hannah Strømmen
6.20–6.40       Respondent:  Yvonne Sherwood
6.40–7.00       Discussion

7.00                supper at La Dolce Vita for those who have reserved a place, otherwise the St Mary’s dining room will be open

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Adele Reinhartz on the Gospel of John—Chris Keith

Over at Ancient Jew Review, Adele Reinhartz has a fascinating retrospective on her contributions to the scholarly study of the Gospel of John.  Johannine scholars will no doubt recognize Reinhartz as a giant in the field, and rightly so.  She pitches these thoughts as a "break-up" with the Beloved Disciple, however.  She notes that she's come to abandon her three-tiered reading of the Fourth Gospel, thereby abandoning also the (still dominant) idea that the Gospel tells us something concrete about the Johannine community.  She now affirms that the Gospel moves on a "historical level" and a "cosmological level," not an "ecclesiological level."  She also notes that she's now convinced that the Fourth Gospel's anti-Judaism is not simply part of its overall narrative package, which it offers to Jewish readers, but the core of its rhetorical construction, which it offers to Gentile readers.  The whole retrospective is fascinating, and Reinhartz's work is as important now as it has ever been.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Another Fake Bites the Dust

I confess that whenever I hear about some newly discovered bit of fancy material evidence, I'm immediate skeptical. This was the case when I first learned of the so-called Jordan Codices. It turns out that caution was indeed warranted. While the artifact uses ancient materials, they are most likely forged says the Department of Antiquities Director General, Monther Jamhawi.

The trouble, it seems to me, is twofold as we lay another forgery to rest.

1. Forgers are good at their jobs and getting better.

2. Media coverage of the fraud will always been less than the coverage of the initial "discovery."

These two points are related. One wonders if the goal of the forgers isn't to fool folks only for a few years. A few years is enough time to ride a media wave and monetize it.

Bottom line: one doesn't need to fool experts forever; one only needs to rely on the facts that it will take a few years for refutation and that media coverage will atrophy over time. This brings me to a third point.

3. I have no doubt that the initial stories of these codices will continue to circulate and fool folks who are seeing them for the first time. Search engines will grab the initial reports more readily (as they have been more trafficked) and bury the reports of refutation over time (as they are less trafficked).

So you can expect to see these pop up from time to time on social media for years to come.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Image of Cerula, Catacomb of San Gennaro

BBC 4 reports on an image found in a catacomb in San Gennaro, Naples. The image suggests that Christianity continued to employ female bishops as late as the fifth century.

The super-duper, dynamic duo of Helen Bond and Joan Taylor featured here:


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

An Article on Renan

Will Theiss has written a nice article on Ernst Renan for Marginalia. It provides fascinating backdrop for Renan's scholarship and (I don't mind saying) is beautifully written.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Wayne Coppins's Review of the Jesus Handbuch

The Jesus Blog is pleased today to publish Wayne Coppins's detailed review of the new Jesus Handbuch, edited by Jens Schroeter and Christine Jacobi and published by Mohr Siebeck in their Handbuecher Theologie series.  This review will particularly be helpful for those readers of the Jesus Blog who can't read the Jesus Handbuch in German, though an English translation is planned. You can find Wayne on the web here and you can buy the book here.

The Jesus Handbuch: An Excellent Resource for Students and Scholars
Wayne Coppins, University of Georgia

Photo by Christoph Heilig from
Unlike the newest Star Wars movie, the Jesus Handbuch (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017) exceeded my high expectations. Since its success is due not least to the particular way that the volume has been conceptualized by the editors, I recommend that one begin by reading Jens Schröter and Christine Jacobi’s introduction to the handbook (1-14) as well as their introductions to each section of the volume (16-20, 126-130, 184-185, 488-489). In my judgment, the extensive discussion of methodological, hermeneutical, and historiographical considerations and developments in the section on the history of historical-critical Jesus research is especially important to the overall concept of the work. Accordingly, I have given somewhat greater attention to this part of the book in my review.

The contents of the volume are as follows: Preface (v-vi), Introduction (A: 1-14), History of Historical-Critical Jesus Research (B: 15-124), The Historical Material (C: 125-181), Life and Activity of Jesus (D: 183-486), Early Traces of Impacts and Receptions of Jesus (E: 487-561), List of Contributing Authors (563-564), Bibliography (565-617), and Indexes (619-685).

Because the individual sections are relatively succinct and presented with clarity, the handbook will be an excellent resource for students who wish to gain an introduction to a specific topic or to historical Jesus research as a whole. At the same time, since the authors have been given enough space and freedom to develop their ideas at the highest level, it will also be of great benefit to scholars in the field. With regard to the high quality of the volume, credit is due not only to the editors and authors but also to Lena Nogossek for her significant contributions to the realization of the project and to Matthias Müller for his excellent translation of the English essays (vi).

Let me now provide some brief comments on 22 of the 65 sections of the handbook, highlighting lines of argument that I regard as especially interesting, insightful, or significant. At the end of my review, I will conclude with one specific point of criticism and one suggestion for revision with respect to future editions of the handbook.

In his valuable section on “The Critical Historical Scholarship of the Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century” (pp. 37-42), Eckart David Schmidt claims that Ranke’s statement that the historian wants “merely to say how it actually was” should not be misinterpreted in a “positivistic” sense. In his view, this represents a misinterpretation both because this statement does not represent Ranke’s own program but rather a qualification or demarcation from the particular approach of Enlightenment pragmatism and because Ranke himself stresses shortly beforehand that “the aim of a historian depends on his point of view” (40).

James Carleton Paget provides an outstanding analysis of Johannes Weiss’s and Albert Schweitzer’s interpretations of the kingdom of God as an eschatological concept (55-65). In terms of content, I found it significant that Weiss revised his advocacy of thoroughgoing eschatology in the second edition of his work, namely by conceding that “not all ethical statements of Jesus must be exclusively traced back to his eschatological worldview” (61). Here, I was especially struck by the extent to which Weiss’s thinking prefigured that of Dale Allison, who modified his earlier views on thoroughgoing eschatology in a similar manner in Constructing Jesus (see 134n461 with 97, 134-135, and 144-146). Since Weiss and Allison both explicitly revised their earlier endorsement of “thoroughgoing eschatology,” I think that scholars should cease using this phrase to describe their respective views of Jesus’s eschatology. In terms of methodology, Carleton Paget rightly stresses the need to treat Weiss and Schweitzer as equal discussion partners rather than as representatives of stages of development (57-58). Indeed, in reading Carleton Paget’s section, I realized how a tacit acceptance of Schweitzer’s developmental framework had contributed to my failure to read Weiss’s actual work—sackcloth and ashes!

In “Historical Jesus and Kerygmatic Christ” (66-74), Reinhard von Bendemann provides a sympathetic yet critical analysis of the contributions of Martin Kähler, Rudolf Bultmann, and Luke Timothy Johnson. Notably, von Bendemann stresses that Bultmann was indeed concerned to uphold, better understand, and make theologically fruitful “a ‘historical’ connection between the historical Jesus and the post-Easter Christology and theology” (69). Moreover, he argues that Bultmann’s talk of “historical presupposition” should not be interpreted to suggest otherwise, and claims that Bultmann, like Schweitzer, did not suspend the quest for the historical Jesus or lead it to its end but rather attempted to make his own contribution to it (69-70).

In “The Literary Conceptions of the Gospels and Their Relation to the Historical Jesus” (75-86), Cilliers Breytenbach skillfully develops his own perspectives in dialogue with the history of research. On the one hand, in critical dialogue with Willi Marxsen and Rudolf Bultmann, he insists with Julius Schniewind and Ernst Käsemann that Mark is not a sermon in which the exalted one directly addresses the Markan community but rather a narrative in which Mark has “the earthly one speak to the disciples and not the exalted one to the community” (78). Moreover, he thinks that Jürgen Roloff has successfully demonstrated that “Mark presents the relationship between the Markan Jesus and the disciples of the Gospel as a past event” (80). On the other hand, Breytenbach criticizes Roloff for failing to distinguish between ‘Jesus’s history’ and ‘Jesus’s history according to Mark’ and stresses that the question of the closeness of Mark’s portrayal to the history of the earthly Jesus must be answered via tradition history and not through literary methods (80-81). Finally, Breytenbach turns specifically to the topics of narrative, memory, and history. Here, he claims that rather than being a record of events experienced by individual witnesses, Mark is based on the structured, secondary recollection of the community (83). Moreover, he argues that the Gospel of Mark as a whole, i.e. the macro-narrative, must be viewed as a fictional narrative rather than a historical one, while allowing that individual aspects of the plot may be used for a historical construction (83-84). Altogether, Breytenbach emerges as Wrede redivivus, formidably reasserting the concerns of the great master within the horizon of current New Testament scholarship.

Chris Keith’s section, “The Gospels as ‘Kerygmatic Narratives’ about Jesus and the ‘Criteria’ in Jesus Research” (86-98), examines the establishment of “criteria” for the determination of “authentic” material by means of a close reading of the work of Ernst Käsemann, Günther Bornkamm, and Ferdinand Hahn. Through a careful analysis of the metaphors they employ, Keith highlights both their fundamental assumption that authentic and non-authentic material are joined in the Gospels in a way that permits them to be identified and separated and their corresponding goal of detaching the authentic, original Jesus material from the kerygmatic narratives of the Gospels (89, 91, 94). At the same time, Keith perceptively points out that rather than limiting themselves to this approach, Bornkamm and Hahn looked for more than one way to the historical Jesus (93, 95). With respect to the implications of Keith’s analysis, it is crucial to stress to that Keith’s focus is not on “criteria” in general but rather on the emergence and logic of the criteria of authenticity with special reference to the assumption that it is possible to employ such criteria to get behind the Gospels to a Jesus who is still untouched by the interpretations of his first followers (96-97; cf. 121, 124 [Jens Schröter]). For me, Keith’s analysis raised the question of whether it is beneficial for scholars to continue using the terms authentisch/authentic, Authentizität/authenticity, and Echtheit/genuineness, since the shared use of these shorthand expressions can mask rather different assumptions and understandings of what is being claimed.

In his section on “The ‘Remembered Jesus’: Memory as Historical-Hermeneutical paradigm of Jesus Research” (112-124), Jens Schröter distinguishes between two “memory” models, one in which the concept of memory is related to “individual processes of memory of persons from the environment of Jesus” (115), and one in which “the concept of memory is used as a cultural-hermeneutical category” (118). For Schröter, the most fundamental difference between them is that the latter model “does not place the question of the origin and transmission of the Jesus tradition in the center but rather the question of the appropriation of the past from the perspective of the respective present” (120). Moreover, what one is seeking to grasp with this concept of memory is not “processes of preservation or forgetting in the memory of individuals” but rather “those processes through which communities form traditions that preserve the past that is relevant for their own self-understanding, a past that is made present time and again in texts, rituals, festivals, and places of memory” (120).

Steve Mason provides a wonderful discussion of the non-Christian texts about Jesus. In his section on “Greek, Roman, and Syriac Texts” (159-165), he suggests that these ancient sources do not provide independent information but rather make use of Christian tradition (164), while mentioning the possibility that Tacitus might be dependent upon Josephus for his information (163). Moreover, he argues that the phrase impulsore Chresto in Suetonius is probably not a reference to Christ or Christian missionaries (162). Mason’s discussion of “Jewish Sources: Flavius Josephus” (165-170) was one of my favorite sections in the handbook. Here, special mention may be made of his respectful dialogue with Richard Carrier’s thesis (JECS 20:489-514) that in Ant. 20:200 Josephus refers not to James the brother of Jesus but rather to James the brother of the high priest Jesus ben Damneus. While recognizing the intellectual merit of this proposal as an “original, alternative explanation,” Mason argues that it “creates more problems than it can solve,” since it “explains neither the accusation of transgressing the law … nor the fact that James is condemned with other men” and also leaves unexplained “the reaction of the other members of the Jewish leadership to the illegal proceedings” and “the presentation of a high priest who has overstepped his authority in legal proceedings, but not in an action against competitors within the Jewish leadership” (169). Thus, for Mason: “the simplest explanation for the text in Ant. 20 … remains the assumption that in Book 18 Josephus had already mentioned a Jesus, who was called Christos, to which he now refers” (169). 
Daniel R. Schwartz’s analysis of the “Political Conditions: Roman Rule, Herod the Great, Antipas” (184-197) is a tightly argued section marked by clarity of presentation and coherence of argument. What I found especially noteworthy was his thesis that from the beginning Rome’s endgame was to annex Judea, together his corresponding suggestion that Herod the Great’s long reign facilitated their decision to do so, insofar as it convinced them that it was possible to separate the Jewish religion from the state, so that the state could be conducted as a normal kingdom (194-195).

In his discussion of the “Religious Context” (197-213), Lutz Doering uses the categories of “integration” and “diversification” to describe Judaism in the Hellenistic-Roman period, noting that this approach represents both a continuation and nuancing modification of Sanders’ model of “common Judaism,” which rightly stressed what was common but did not give sufficient attention to the profiles of the different groups (199; cf. also 204).

From Stephen Hultgren’s section on “The Education and Language of Jesus” (219-227) I learned that our picture of the linguistic situation in Jewish Palestine has changed to a greater extent than I had realized. In short, it seems that, in addition to Aramaic, both Hebrew and Greek were in greater use than I had thought (225-226; cf. also 234, 239 [J. K. Zangenberg]).

In his section on “Galilee and Surroundings as Sphere of Activity” (230-237), Jürgen K. Zangenberg makes the valuable observation that with respect to the Galilean context of Jesus, the Gospels provide only an excerpt and not a representative Durchschnitt of the Galilean milieu. More specifically, the Jesus tradition creates “its” Galilee just as Josephus sets forth “his” Galilee in various works (230). Concretely, Zangenberg explains that “Galilee at the time of Jesus was a region set in motion by inner and outer factors” and suggests that the Jesus tradition’s emphasis on the personae miserae and the subversive character of the kingdom of God should be attributed not to an especially oppressive poverty in Galilee but rather to an accent set by Jesus himself (237). Notably, Darrell Bock and Jens Schröter develop a similar line of argument in their section on “Jesus’s Perspective on Israel” (338-348). Arguing that Jesus’s activity and teaching should not be explained primarily as a reaction to foreign rule and social oppression but rather have a more fundamental orientation, they claim that this is already probable because “Galilee at the time of Jesus was not characterized by far-reaching political and social tensions” (339).

In his section on “Jesus and the Political and Social Environment of his Time” (252-262), James Crossley sets a somewhat different accent than Bock/Schröter with respect to the situation in Galilee (Zangenberg arguably falls somewhere between them on the spectrum). Crossley is especially interested in the social effects of the urbanization projects, irrespective of whether the population regarded these developments as responsible for the changing life conditions (254). On the one hand, he is cautious about what can be said regarding the life standard, the extent of disturbances, the use of physical violence, and the “oppression” of the population in Galilee (254). On the other hand, he stresses that “in the time in which Jesus grew up in Galilee there were, in fact, dramatic upheavals, which probably also included resettlements and expulsions” (254-255). For me, a particularly illuminating insight from Crossley’s discussion of Galilee was his observation that what is decisive is not simply the political, social, or economic situation as such but rather “how certain changes were perceived by the population” (254, my emphasis).

Annette Weissenrieder’s section on “Jesus’ Healings” (298-310) proved insightful at many points. In my case, her documentation of the similar descriptions of the symptoms of the sick and possessed in the Gospels and in ancient medical literature was particularly instructive (300), for example the parallels to Matthew’s use of “moonstruck” (σεληνιάζομαι, 17:15) in Aret. SD 1.4.2; Gal.di.dec. 3.2 [9.902-903 Kühn]; loc.aff. 3.9 [8.175-177, 233]. In terms of the state of research, it is noteworthy that Weissenrieder challenges the applicability of the distinction between “disease” as biological sickness and “illness” as social (and ritual) experience on the ground that it presupposes a clear separation between the physical and social-cultural phenomena of a sickness, which she regards as problematic in light of the connection between them in the ancient texts (301).

In his section on “Tax Collectors and Sinners as Addressees of the Activity of Jesus” (348-356), Yair Furstenberg provides a fine discussion of the designation “sinner,” a classic crux interpretum. In critical dialogue with Sanders, Furstenberg argues that “sinner” is not a fixed category but rather a designation whose scope and meaning depends on the precise context in which it is used (350). Moreover, he suggests that the accusation of fellowship with sinners is specifically related to Jesus’s disregard of the existing conventions of table fellowship, according to which Jesus’s eating with evildoers called into question his moral integrity (350).

In “Jesus’s Picture of God and the Significance of Father Metaphoricism” (361-368) Christine Gerber consciously interprets Jesus’s picture of God in continuity with Jewish conceptions of God (361). In terms of methodology and content, a strength of her treatment lies in the attention she gives to the metaphorical character of the individual statements, which are interpreted with a view to “what from the ancient father conception is concretely transferred to God in each case” (366). Among other things, she notes here that “father” is a “term of relation,” which implies a relation that is characterized by lifelong duration and asymmetrical exclusivity. Negatively, she makes the interesting observation that there is no explicit talk of “fatherly love,” while granting that it indirectly comes into play in Luke 6.36; 15.11-32 (367).

Among the many striking lines of argument in Thomas Kazen’s section on “Jesus’s Interpretation of the Torah” (402-416), special mention may be made of the way that he attempts to situate the Jesus tradition in relation to developments in the halakic patterns of argumentation toward the end of the second temple period (408). Notably, this approach leads him to a different evaluation of the development of the tradition at many points. For example, while many scholars treat the rabbinic principle that acute danger to a person’s life overrides the Sabbath regulations (piquach nefesh) as the background context of Jesus’s arguments with his interlocutors, Kazen argues that the formulation of this principle represents a later stage of development, which was not yet in play for Jesus’s own debates with the Pharisees and was first introduced by the evangelists with a view to the current state of discussion in their day (409-410).

Michael Wolter’s section on “Jesus’s Self-Understanding” (425-431) reflects well his characteristic combination of exegetical precision and conceptual clarity. What is refreshing about this section is that rather than restricting his attention to a few classic texts, Wolter’s presentation incorporates an extremely wide range of texts and themes. In terms of content, Wolter argues at several points that Jesus claims to act in the place of God (426, 427) and states that “Jesus proclaims not simply the mercy of God, who forgives humans their sins, but he is God’s mercy orstated more fullythat God’s mercy takes place in his activity” (428). While many texts are drawn upon, it is notable that Wolter (431) gives only minimal attention to the so-called “titles of majesty,” which often play a larger role in this connection.

Michael Labahn achieves a very high level of conceptual clarity in his section on “Discipleship, Radical Renunciation, ‘A-Familial’ Ethos” (445-454). Indeed, for me his analysis gave much sharper contours and depth to many of my favorite themes and sayings in the Jesus tradition. Against Schweitzer, Labahn rightly argues that Jesus’s radical demands are not an “interim ethic” but rather “form a counterpole to structures of the present world and anticipate the kingdom of God” (454).
In his section on Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and his stance toward the temple (460-467), Markus Tiwald provides an instructive discussion of early Jewish positions on the temple (462) and the potential relevance of this material for interpreting Jesus’s temple action and temple saying (463-466). The significance of his analysis is not simply that he identifies Jesus’s action as a prophetic sign act rather than a “temple cleansing” but, more specifically, his twofold claim that Jesus, too, expected a new temple in the endtime and that he, as the messenger of the kingdom of God, saw it as his duty to reclaim the temple in the sense of his message, not as an abrogation but as an integration of the temple institution into the idea of the now dawning kingdom of God (464).

Christine Jacobi’s section on “Resurrection, Appearances, Instructions of the Risen One” (490-504) is chock-full of perceptive insights. Perhaps most fundamentally, she fruitfully develops the insight that “from a history-of-theology perspective the appearance experiences and resurrection faith are … to be understood not as caesura but as junction” (491). A strength of Jacobi’s analysis is her attention both to the tradition historical background of the Christian confession that Jesus was raised from the dead and to possible starting points in the activity of the earthly Jesus (492). Throughout she skillfully identifies patterns of interpretation that may have co-determined the character of the appearance experiences themselves or informed their interpretation, while consistently showing an appropriate sensitivity to points of difference with regard to proposed parallels. One of her most striking lines of thought involves the suggestion that the innovative Christian connection of an individual resurrection with the dawning of the endtime and the expectation of a general resurrection may have been informed by a post-Easter interpretation of distinctive features of the pre-Easter proclamation, e.g., the conviction that in Jesus’s resurrection the endtime resurrection of the dead is announced could have been formed by analogy to the connection between the episodic presence of the kingdom in Jesus’s activity and the future coming of the kingdom in power (500-502).

Let me now offer one specific criticism and one suggestion for revision. My criticism pertains to a statement found in Craig A. Evans and Jeremiah J. Johnston’s section on the “Kingdom of God” (369-378). With respect to Matthew’s preferential use of the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” they explain that “the difference is purely formal and reflects Matthew’s tendency to avoid the name of God, which probably follows the use of the contemporary synagogue” (376). In my view, this widely held interpretation is no longer tenable, having been effectively challenged by my UGA colleague Robert Foster in his article “Why on Earth Use ‘Kingdom of Heaven’?: Matthew’s Terminology Revisited” (NTS 48 [2002], 487-499) and then decisively refuted by Jonathan T. Pennington in his book Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Leiden: Brill, 2007). Rather than being attributable to a tendency to avoid the name of God, the phrase kingdom of heavens must be interpreted in relation to Matthew’s other ‘heavenly’ language (Foster) and, more specifically, with reference to its function in his heaven and earth theme (Pennington).

My suggestion for revision concerns the handbook’s treatment of the synoptic problem. My criticism here is not primarily directed at individual authors. In particular, while it is commendable that Ruben Zimmermann explicitly addresses the issue (382), I think it is also perfectly reasonable that many authors develop their argument on the basis of the two-source hypothesis without further justification. There is simply not space for everything within the confines of a handbook. Likewise, I think it is appropriate for John S. Kloppenborg to give exclusive attention to the two-source hypothesis in his valuable sections on “The Introduction of the Concept of Myth into Jesus Research and the Emergence of the Two-Source Theory” (47-55) and “The Synoptic Gospels, the Sayings Source (Q), and the Historical Jesus” (130-137). Instead, my criticism and suggestion for revision is principally addressed to the two editors. Due to the extent to which historical Jesus research is informed by the solution that one adopts to the synoptic problem, I think that a 2017 handbook on the historical Jesus needs to discussor at least highlightthe fact that at present the two-source hypothesis does not seem to command the same level of consensus as it did in some other phases of Jesus research. Moreover, in light of this perceptible shift, I think that it would be beneficial for the handbook to include at least some discussion of different solutions to the synoptic problem and their bearing upon historical Jesus research. How this should be done is less clear to me. One option would be to include a brief discussion of the synoptic problem and its relevance for historical Jesus research in the editors’ introduction to section C. Another solution might be to (also) add a new section after C.II.1.1 on the “Farrer Hypothesis and the Historical Jesus,” which could include a very brief discussion of other rivals to the two-source hypothesis in its opening paragraph.

Let me conclude my review by restating my conviction that the Jesus Handbuch is an excellent volume that will prove to be a rich resource for both students and seasoned scholars. I hope that the German volume will be widely read and that it will translated into English in due course.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Winner of the Snodgrass

The true random number generator has spoken.  The winner of the Snodgrass second edition from Eerdmans is the owner of comment 3.

True Random Number Generator  3Powered by RANDOM.ORG

Comment 3 comes from none other than "Wild Bill" Heroman:

Some of my best friends have seen snipes.

I like them best with Chick-Fil-A sauce.

Bill, if you'll send me your address to, I'll make sure that Eerdmans gets you the book.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Why Billy Graham Gets a C–

Allow me to say first and foremost, I personally hold the late Billy Graham in high regard. While I can find problematic elements of his theology, I stand in awe of Graham's political legacy. I admire his epic, bipartisan career in the same way that I admire Ted William's 1941 batting average. (I was never a Red Sox fan and I don't really believe in the value of batting averages anymore but nobody is likely to bat .406 again!) 

Graham, to me, represents a bygone era of politics when relationships were not predetermined by party affiliation. I could also point to Graham's contributions to race relations when such a stance was resisted by many Southern Democrats. I think we ought to measure such steps relative to a person's contemporaries. But, of course, Graham's legacy will not be determined by his time in the Oval Office or his hopes for desegregation. His paragraph in history will be defined primarily by his prolific evangelism and the seeds he planted for modern Evangelicals.

It is this key element that makes Graham's legacy an interesting cultural puzzle. My guess is that one's opinion of American Christianity (generally speaking) is closely related to one's opinion of Billy Graham. I could be wrong. In fact, I admit that I am an outlier if my theory is correct; I feel generally disappointed with American Christianity and generally positive about Billy Graham. That said, I am more interested in what my readers think. With this in mind, I conducted a poll related to Graham's legacy in 2015.

Here is a screenshot of the final vote count (of 230 voters):

So why did approx. 70% of Jesus Blog readers hold a positive opinion of his public legacy? And why did approx. 30% of Jesus Blog readers hold a negative opinion? Or, in terms of rounded-up grades, why does Billy Graham get a C–?

If you want an immediate answer, you can read a few responses to the poll here

I should reiterate the limitations of this sort of poll. I didn't include a spectrum of voting options. I didn't ask a larger sample of political questions to determine my voting demographics. I promised to buy an ice cream cone for all of my liberal, university friends if they promised to vote (pro-tip: academics are coocoo for ice cream). And, worst of all, I knocked everyone's ice cream into the dirt and sent them to bed crying (academics are such babies).

In all honesty, I put out the poll for two reasons: (1) to determine how Jesusy my readers were. Billy Graham's legacy seemed to me to be a good (unscientific) litmus test for how many conservative evangelicals were reading my terribly heretical blog; (2) I wanted to get some data on Billy Graham's legacy before his passing. Folks tend to speak more kindly of the recently departed.

These 2015 results were somewhat surprising. I had guessed that Graham would get more of a 50%/50% split. Not so. So either more liberals view Graham's impact in generally positive terms or more conservatives were interested in historical criticism than I had guessed. I think its probably the latter. I should add that over 30% of Jesus Blog readers reside outside of the United States. So my American political lens might have distorted my initial guess.

I'll include two reader comments here that helped me makes sense of the data. The first helps me understand why Graham's grade was higher than I expected. The second helps me understand why is was "only" a low C given his many decades of popularity. Both commenters modeled, to my mind, reasonable and respectful dialogue.

(1) A generally positive commenter wrote:
I speak from the perspective of being raised by parents who were classmates of Billy Graham and held him up to us as a paragon. My father was an American Baptist minister, and every Sunday morning my siblings and I would awake to the strains of Beverly Shea and the Billy Graham Crusade Choir. My parents took us to a couple of his crusades, including one in the old McCormick Place in Chicago. Although I decry his anti-Semitic words in the oval office, I have difficulty viewing him cynically, not just because of my upbringing but also from following him long-term. Although I have few points of agreement with him theologically, I respect the integrity he tried to bring to his work. Let's not forget that he insisted on integration of blacks and whites in his crusades at a time that was not popular, in addition to promoting broad-based ecumenicity. His limitations were the socially influenced limitations we all face when our lives are viewed in retrospect. I think he sincerely tried to be a evening influence and, by virtue of that, had a positive effect.
(2) A generally negative commenter wrote:
I have fond memories of attending BG crusades in the UK in my younger days although from what I recall he always preached the same simplistic message. Of much more concern was his association with evangelical oddballs like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, his unhealthy relationship with various US Presidents and right wing politicians like Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Jesse Helms etc. Added to that was his apparent lack of criticism of some very dubious US foreign policy and human rights abuses in various parts of the World.........Vietnam, Latin America, Iraq spring to mind. Despite what Franklin and the BGEA now claim I don't remember him being very active speaking up about social injustice or against apartheid or in supporting the civil rights movement in the US.  While he may have preached to unsegregated audiences, most converts in the Southern States were sent on to segregated Black or White Churches and the leadership of the BGEA itself is still a very conservative white male dominated organisation. The only female Trustee is one of BG's daughters Anne Graham Lotz although many other of his extended family are on the BGEA payroll in various capacities including another daughter Ginny and 3 of Franklin's children. Remarks he has allegedly made on political issues in recent years seem to have been drafted and put out under his name by Franklin who has been using the BGEA to support his personal anti -Obama, anti- Muslim and anti -gay agenda. Any comments one sends to the BGEA website only appear if they are complimentary although Franklin's Facebook page does contain the odd response from somebody who disagrees with his dogmatism on everything from the State of Israel to police shootings of unarmed ethnic minorities
I appreciate that both comments eschew apologetic whitewashes. My gratitude to these readers.

What was lacking in any of the comments (and they are always more numerous on Facebook) is an accounting of Graham's primary mission. Graham was all about heathen converting, soul saving, Jesus promoting, and Bible waving. In short, he was an evangelist. And to this end, he was among the best in history.

With this in mind, many Americans are becoming less inclined to view heathen converting, soul saving, Jesus promoting, and Bible waving in positive terms. If so, Graham's popularity is a snapshot of America's past. It might be a recent past but I doubt there will be another American like him. It's not because there won't be some American version of Bono or Pope Frank who puts a good face on Christianity. I just can't see anyone doing it like Billy Graham did.

I probably won't be putting out another poll on Graham. While it would be interesting, it wouldn't tell us much and I am more interested in your comments anyway. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

"Bush was so bad that people said, 'Hey maybe this black guy has the answers.' I think people overlook George Bush's contributions to black history. George Bush is a black revolutionary. Trump is so bad he’s going to give us Jesus."

        ~Chris Rock

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Anthony's Forgive-Me-Jesus Coconut Curry Soup

This the recipe for my 
"Forgive-Me-Jesus Coconut Curry Soup."


I. Stage one: thank Jesus that you have been preordained to love this soup.
A. Bring two cups of holy water to a boil. Reduce to simmer. If needed to fend off vampires, start process over.
B. Julienne carrots supernaturally thin. I use a paring knife to cut the carrots along their length and then use a peeler to get them as thin as John the Baptist's loincloth.
C. Two tablespoons of chicken bouillon. I use "Better than Bouillon" because it's better.
D. Four tablespoons of fish sauce I use "Lucky" because of first-world privilege.
Add all this stuff to the pot. Keep simmering.

II. Stage two: thank Jesus that you have free will to choose this soup recipe.
A. Dice two red (new) potatoes. Add to one cup of cold water. Fondly remember the days when misspelling potato disqualified you from being president.
B. Add one carrot and four cloves of garlic (not "heads of garlic" unless, of course, vampires).
C. Puree all ingredients listed in stage two. Think about the Arian controversy. Wonder if Arius got a bad rap.
Add all of this stuff to the pot. Keep simmering.

III. Stage three: praise Jesus for his critique of civic masculinity. Begin reading The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals.
A. Julienne 12 green beans. Wonder if Jesus was the leader of a band self-titled "The Twelve" in the same way that The Clash called themselves "the Clash."
B. Tell your daughter to thinly slice one tenth of a red onion. Don't overdo the red onions.
C. Add yellow curry powder to taste (I use about two tablespoons because my favorite aspect of food is how it tastes).
D. Add pinch of turmeric for no reason whatsoever.
Simmer/stir all this stuff for 15 minutes.

IV. Stage Four: apologize to Jesus for your love of shellfish and wanton gluttony.
A. Add lots of raw scallops (not frozen).
B. Add lots raw, deveined shrimp (not frozen). Think of how Jesus was deveined of his divinity in Philippians 2. Pray to Gordon Fee for forgiveness.
C. Add 16 oz. can of Thai Organic Coconut Milk (unsweetened).
D. Julienne and add four green onions (use the green parts).
Keep simmering/stirring for 5 minutes or until Shrimp are pink.

V. Stage Five: eat soup while bragging to your wife about your great talent for soup making. Tell her that you make curry soup better than Jesus.
A. Add some of last night's leftover steamed rice if you're into that sort of thing (I'm not).
B. Clean up your mess and take out the garbage before the shrimp tails stink up the joint.
C. Lose your skubala when your son bounces the dog's tennis ball into the pot.
D. Apologize to your son for losing your temper.
Blog about it.

Friday, February 9, 2018

2018 CSSSB Conference: "Christian Origins and Social-Scientific Criticism: Past, Present, and Future"—Chris Keith

On May 25, 2018, CSSSB will host a day conference on "Christian Origins and Social-Scientific Criticism: Past, Present, and Future."  Main lectures will come from John Kloppenborg (University of Toronto), Louise J. Lawrence (Exeter University), and James Crossley (St Mary's University).  All are welcome.  More details are in the poster included in this post and you can register here:

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Snipe Hunting for a Free Snodgrass!—Chris Keith

I suspect that a few of you readers of the Jesus Blog have been snipe hunting.  If you haven't been, please let me know and I'll organize a snipe hunt for SBL next November.  I understand that the snipe in Denver are huge.

Even among those of you who are proficient snipe-hunters, though, I imagine few of you have ever hunted, much less seen, a Snodgrass.  The Snodgrass is an important but unassuming animal.  It's hard to catch because it doesn't draw attention to itself; there's no trail for the hunter to follow because the Snodgrass doesn't drag its ego behind it.  But beware the person who forgets or ignores the Snodgrass, because the Snodgrass is quietly authoritative, comprehensive in its approach, subtle in its takedown.  Before you know it, the Snodgrass has snuck up on you, disassembled your gear, left you discombobulated, and disappeared to the place from whence it came.  Like Aslan, the Snodgrass is dangerous, but good.

Beware, friends, because the Snodgrass is new and improved.  A second edition is coming out and  Eerdmans, as friends of the Jesus Blog, have decided to give away a free copy.  You can enter by leaving a comment here, sharing us on social media (and leaving a comment to let us know you did), signing up to follow the blog (and leaving a comment to let us know you did), or, the wild card entry, sharing in the comments your closest encounter with a snipe. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

On White Evangelicals, the "Nones," and Political Affiliation (guest post)

In a shame(less)ful effort to promote our book, Larry and I have been guest posting to model political dialogue (to see how it might intersection with Jewish-Christian dialogue). There is part two of Larry's reflection on the baptizing of 45:

Anthony Le Donne and I are having one of our friendly Point/Counterpoint moments.
In a post here a few days ago, I broke down the demographics of the vote that elevated Donald Trump to the Presidency. Following research from such luminaries as Robert P. Jones, I pointed out that Trump won the election on the strength of the white Christian vote. Here, I’m not talking merely about the white evangelical vote—it’s already been heavily reported that Trump swept the board with white evangelical voters. What hasn’t received sufficient attention is how well Trump did with all varieties of white Christians, including white Catholics and white mainline Protestants. My rough estimate is that Trump won the overall white Christian vote by roughly a 2:1 margin, while he lost the vote of all other race-religious groups by that same 2:1 margin. Of particular note is how Clinton won an estimated 72% of the American Jewish vote, illustrating a significant Jewish-Christian political

In response, Anthony posted a piece on my blog site making a number of interesting arguments. Anthony pointed out that if we consider world Christianity, then only 2.3% of all Christians voted for Trump. Of course, by the same token, less than 2.3% of Christians worldwide voted against Trump. I’ll concede that global Christianity wasn’t given much of a say in our election. Anthony’s other argument is that close to half of eligible Americans did not vote at all in 2016, meaning that considerably less than 2/3 of American white Christians voted for Trump. Unfortunately, as I already pointed out in my last post, white Christians turned out to vote in relatively high numbers compared to the rest of us; if Anthony wants to avoid election of candidates like Trump in the future, he might urge instead that more white Christians stay home on Election Day.
Anthony returned to his global perspective at the end of his piece, asking me to consider whether Jews worldwide opposed Trump in the same numbers as American Jews. The short answer is, I can’t account for all those Jews. I don’t have any way to gauge how the Jews of France (roughly 450,000 of them), Canada (400,000) or the U.K. (300,000) might have voted if they’d miraculously been granted U.S. citizenship (and, I might have wished, been given ballots to vote in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). My rough guess is that these Jews don’t like Trump any better than other French people, Canadians or Brits, but these Jewish populations (the third, fourth and fifth largest populations of Jews worldwide) aren’t large enough for anyone to bother to poll. At this point in Jewish history, more than 80% of Jews worldwide live in either the United States or Israel … so when Anthony asks about non-American Jews, he’s really asking me to consider the opinion of Israeli Jews. During the 2016 campaign, Israelis favored Hillary Clinton by about the same 2:1 margin we saw in the U.S. for non-Christians. Since the election, Trump has proven to be relatively popular in Israel—mostly reflecting that Israelis think Trump is good for Israel. I’m not sure what our election says about Israeli Jews, or Bolivian Christians for that matter, just as I don’t know what my favorable opinion of Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel says about me.
[By the way … Israeli opinion is not the same as Jewish-Israeli opinion. Some 21% of Israeli citizens are Arab, and other 4.5% are non-Jewish non-Arabs. I have no data distinguishing how Israeli Jews and non-Jews view Trump.]
Let’s end our world tour and return to the question I raised in my original post (which as I pointed out, was first raised by Anthony himself): how could so many white American Christians have voted for Trump? Or, as I put it in my post, how could so many white American Christians have voted for a person who seems to contradict every value I might associate with Christianity (humility, honesty, empathy, kindness and generosity)? The easy answer, the one I pointed to in my last post, is status quo: white Christians vote Republican. But there’s evidence that white Christians did not participate in this election in a status quo way.  The voter turnout percentage for non-Hispanic whites in 2016 was the second-highest measured since 1988—this despite the fact that the religiously unaffiliated (who are mostly white) voted in relatively low numbers (the “Nones” made up 15% of the 2016 electorate, compared to 25% of the general population). So if we measure voter interest by voter turnout, then white Christians voted for Trump with near-record enthusiasm. We can see this most clearly in the white evangelical vote—white evangelicals made up 26% of the electorate in 2016, same as 2012, even though the white evangelical percentage of the U.S. population is in decline and is considerably less than 26%.  
Where else should we look for an explanation for strong white Christian support for Trump? In Christian circles, much of the blame falls on Hillary Clinton, who is seen as a historically terrible candidate from a certain white Christian point of view. But much of the white Christian opposition to Clinton seems horribly overblown, and there’s no explanation for why Clinton (a practicing Methodist and former member of her church’s altar guild) should have been regarded as a mortal threat to Christianity. White Christians may have objected to Clinton’s political views, but these views were squarely in the Democratic Party mainstream, and it’s hard to see how these views were all that different from those held by previous Democratic Party nominees for President. I’ll grant that voters increasingly express unhappiness with politics in general and speak as if they vote for the lesser of evils … but this is a trend that predates the nomination of Trump and Clinton. No … the enthusiastic white Christian support of Trump speaks to interest in Trump, every bit as much as antipathy for Clinton.
We might ask whether there is something in Christian belief (for example, a low view of human nature) that leads Christians to support candidates like Trump. But I’m going to reject this idea quickly, because Christians of color did not support Trump. I’m ready to be corrected, but I don’t know of any schism between Black and white American Christian religious belief that might have led one group to vote Clinton and the other Trump. We can then ask whether Trump’s white Christian support was based on his appeal to white people. But again … while we do need to seriously consider Trump’s appeal to white voters, I need to emphasize how Trump’s appeal was limited to white Christians. White Jews (in the U.S., 90% of Jews are considered white) rejected Trump in large numbers. And the largest group of white non-Christians in America, those without religious affiliation (often referred to as “Nones”), mostly rejected Trump as well.
Let’s talk a bit about the Nones. Racially and ethnically, Nones represent a reasonably typical American mix: about 68% of Nones are white, 9% are Black, 5% are Asian, 13% are Latinx and 4% fall into another category. Compared to the general population, Nones skew a bit more white than average, are more male than female, are more likely than the average American to be unmarried, and seem to favor life on the west coast over that in the South.
One fact that distinguishes Nones: they are by far the fastest growing religious group in America. Over the past 25 years, the number of Nones has more than quadrupled, from around 6% to 25%.
Where are all these Nones coming from? Mostly, from the ranks of white Christianity. The vast majority of Nones were raised with some religious affiliation but have given it up. Nearly two-thirds of Nones were raised in either Catholic (38%) or white mainline Protestant (26%) households. More than 1-in-10 were raised white evangelical Protestant (14%) or in some other Christian faith (11%). While we don’t have a racial breakdown of those Catholics who have become Nones, we can surmise that most of them are white, as American Catholicism is rapidly becoming a religion of color: roughly 34% of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic today, compared to 10% in 1987.
The trends identified above come into sharper focus if we examine them generationally. The below chart shows the sharp decline in religious observance as we move from older to younger generations, in every religious group measured other than historically Black Protestants:
And if you’re thinking that Millennials will join the church as they get older, get married and have children … there’s simply no evidence for such a “religious life cycle.” Instead, the number of Nones in each generation is increasing over time, not decreasing. Few (7%) Nones even express an interest in looking for a new religious home. The decline in religious affiliation shows no sign of reversing, or even slowing down.
What do the Nones have to do with our main question, about why white Christians so enthusiastically supported Trump? The explanation begins with the advent of the American Religious Right. For this discussion, I’ll rely heavily on American Grace, the seminal 2010 study by Robert Putnam and David Campbell on religious life in contemporary America. According to Putnam and Campbell, the rise of the American Religious Right can be dated to the mid-1970s, when Americans unhappy with the sexual revolution of the 1960s reacted by embracing religious identity and church attendance—and the church preferred in this “aftershock” was mostly conservative and evangelical Protestant. Astute evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell drew on this religious fervor to create the Religious Right, aligning conservative Protestantism with conservative, Republican politics.
But the advent of the Religious Right triggered a counter-reaction of its own, beginning in the 1980s and becoming more evident by the 1990s, where the marriage of conservative religion and politics grew increasingly suspect. In 1980, Americans said they’d be more likely to vote for an evangelical candidate for President; by 1988 the majority of those polled said just the opposite. The number of Americans agreeing strongly that religious leaders should not try to exert influence on government decisions nearly doubled between 1991 and 2008. Symbols of the religious right, like Falwell and the Moral Majority, came to be viewed unfavorably by most voters, and “Christian fundamentalists” were increasingly identified with an unwelcome conservative ideological intervention in American politics. And significantly, the group that most strongly embraced this view of the Religious Right was the newly emerging group of Nones.
One might guess that the Nones began their dramatic growth during the upheaval of the 1960s, but in fact the 1960s produced a very small downtick in religious observance. It was not until the 1990s that Nones began their meteoric rise into national prominence. For the authors of American Grace, the timing of this ascent is no coincidence—it coincides both with the trend to view the Religious Right negatively and with a dramatic, more liberal shift in American opinion on such “culture war” issues as marijuana and homosexuality. Significantly, this shift in opinion was and is most pronounced (as was and is the growth of the Nones) among young Americans.
When surveyed, Nones give a myriad of reasons why organized religion no longer speaks to them. 16% of Nones surveyed indicate that an important reason for leaving their childhood religion was that their church or congregation “became too focused on politics.” A full 29% of Nones cite “negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people” as a reason they gave up religious affiliation. Notably, women and ex-Catholics are about twice as likely as other Nones to cite treatment of gays and lesbians as a primary reason they left the church.
More often, Nones say that they’ve left the church because of their “lack of belief.” But in most cases, the belief lacking is not that in G-d; fewer than 1/3 of Nones describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, 30% say they’re absolutely certain they believe in G-d or a universal spirit, and another 38% profess this same belief with less certainty. When asked for explanations for their “lack of belief,” Nones surveyed will mention “culture war” issues such as church teaching on evolution, a preference for “rational thought” and a lack of belief in miracles. What’s evident is that Nones express a conventional confidence in science, in distinction to an evangelical church that denies climate change, promotes “intelligent design”, invests $100 million to illustrate the literal truth of the Noah’s Ark story, and teaches that there were dinosaurs on that Ark.
[OK, I’ll grant that the Noah’s Ark people are probably a bit fringe-y even in white evangelical circles.]
Putnam and Campbell make the point explicitly: white American Christianity is doing a good job retaining its politically conservative congregants. It’s moderates and liberals (particularly young white moderates and liberals) who are fleeing the church to join the ranks of the Nones. And for reasons I cannot explain, Christians who have left conservative Christianity have not opted in significant numbers to join more liberal churches; they’ve instead left organized religion altogether to join the ranks of the Nones. Here, finally, is my explanation for why white Christians supported Trump so enthusiastically: the ranks of white Christianity have been drained of many who might have opposed Trump had they remained Christians. The rise of the Religious Right, and the reaction against the Religious Right represented by the growth in the numbers of Nones, has effectively divided what was once a more politically diverse group of white Christians into what is today one group of mostly conservative Christians and a second group of mostly liberal ex-Christians. If not for this divide, white American Christendom would have been more lukewarm when it came to Trump.
I should take a step back. There are other explanations we can give for the rise of the Nones; clearly, politics is not the only reason for this phenomenon. Moreover, I’ve ignored here how Nones are likely to become more liberal after they’ve left the church, under the influence of their new peers. Finally, I need to emphasize what I said in my first post: I’m talking here about general trends and not iron-clad rules. There are plenty of white Christians who loathe Trump—just not as many of them as I wish there were. There are politically liberal evangelicals. There are liberal churches in America whose congregants are predominantly white, as well as Nones who left liberal churches because they don’t like liberal politics.
Demography is not destiny … but at the same time, we’re witnessing a sea change in the history of American religion. Since World War II, large populations in the developed world have abandoned religion and religious identity. While the United States long bucked this trend, the growth of U.S. Nones shows that we’ll eventually join the ranks of countries where a majority claims to be either atheist or not religious, such as the UK, Japan, Germany, Australia, Spain, Canada, France, Denmark and Israel (yes, Israel; 42% of Israelis characterize themselves as secular and another 25% say they’re “not very religious”). But while religion may be on the decline in places like North America, it is booming in places like Africa. Religiously, the world is turning into what one researcher has described as “the secularizing West and the rapidly growing rest.” And perhaps not coincidentally, predominantly Black churches in the U.S. are holding on to their numbers, and there appears to be no crisis of unbelief among America’s Hispanic Catholics.
Maybe this is as it should be. Maybe we should express no surprise that global Christianity is losing its hold on the portion of the world which is relatively privileged and affluent, and seems to have the most to say to peoples struggling for a fair share of the planet’s resources and a fair say in the planet’s future. If Christianity today speaks most clearly to those with the least … as a non-Christian admirer of Christianity, I think there’s something in this that Jesus would approve.

From this perspective, white Christian American Trump supporters no longer seem so important to me … which might be why Anthony asked me to think globally in the first place.