Baker Academic

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Historical Jesus in the Time of Coronavirus by Joan Taylor

The Jesus Blog is pleased to host this guest post from Prof Joan Taylor.

It is Easter, and yet this is not a year when we will get together with family, or go to our churches and meetings to remember the events of Jesus’s last days. We will not gather together to celebrate the proclamation of his livingness. We are, in many parts of the world, in lockdown. We sign off emails by saying “stay safe.” We are anxious, isolated, and unsure what the future holds. We hear a lot about death. People are losing loved ones. It feels as if there is a demon on the loose, and any one of us could be taken.
Recently, it was me. My husband and I got the virus, and we went through the lonely days of seeing it play out. It felt like a creature that could move in different ways in the body it inhabited. Along with a cough and sore throat, for my husband it was headaches, muscle aches, tight chest, and a bad rash. For me it was soft to begin with, then it went to a fever, nausea, diarrhoea, loss of taste and smell, my nose feeling like it was inflamed inside, and I had an immense tiredness. It took a different shape on different days, and things went up and down. There was the fear it would turn worse, go deep into the lungs, but finally it weakened.

Over the course of days when I couldn’t do much, I thought a lot about Jesus of Nazareth, walking around Galilee, healing the sick. I thought of how Jesus ‘rebuked’ the fever of Peter’s mother in law (Mark 1:30-31). I rebuked my fever! It made me think of how much the folk beliefs of Jesus’s time would have made so much sense to people, before medical science worked out what viruses were. Even with all the knowledge Google could give me, the virus felt like a thing invading me and I wanted it evicted from my body.

There have been some great studies on how Jesus healed, by Stevan Davies, John Dominic Crossan, Pieter Craffert, Elaine Wainwright, Graham Twelftree, among others. Some scholars would say it was more a kind of psychosomatic healing, or his healing had a placebo effect, because he couldn’t really have cured anyone. Others look to anthropological models of how traditional healers work. I started to get really intrigued by the immune system, and realised how little we understand it. Covid-19 is mystifying because, while some people are succumbing because of known factors that make the immune system weaker, others who are strong and fit are also being defeated. It makes me think that somehow Jesus (like other traditional/alternative healers but more so) could do something to strengthen people’s immune systems very rapidly. When Jesus offered ‘release’ (the same word as ‘forgiveness’ in NT Greek), what was the effect, not only emotionally but physically, on the immune system?

As a Covid-19 sufferer, you are isolated, and fearful of passing the virus on to anyone. You feel like you are a source of contamination. No one should come near. You can only limp along together with a fellow sufferer, if you are lucky. Anyone possessed by a demon who made them ill in Jesus’s world was unclean, but Jesus, as a rule, directly touched people with his hands. In Greek, the word for ‘heal’ in the Gospels is actually quite often the same word for ‘save’, so synagogue ruler Jairus in Mark 5:23  falls at his feet and begs Jesus: ‘My little daughter is at the point of death: please come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be healed/saved, and she will live.’ It makes me think also about soothing touch, and what that also does to our immune systems. Yet here we are, and we cannot touch each other.

One thing that struck me too is that Jesus ‘saved’ people from the grip of demons/illnesses, and never apparently got sick himself, at least not in what the Gospels tell us. I have never noticed this before, that in a place where there were deadly diseases like tuberculosis and typhoid, it is actually an unstated miraculous feature that neither Jesus nor those to whom he passed on his power, who were commissioned to anoint people with oil and drive out demons (Mark 6:13), were hit with contagious illnesses.

What we are experiencing in terms of mortality in this disease is still not as bad as for people of the ancient world. There were not that many old people, for a reason. Children often died. Your spouse and close family members could die of some illness anytime. We are told that Jesus, with a reputation as a healer, gathered huge crowds. You bet he did!

I am very grateful now to be almost recovered. I know a lot of people were praying for us, sending us blessings and positive energy, and I felt that powerful warmth of care. I strongly believe it made a difference and am enormously thankful.

But I have also reflected on the causes of this particular virus, unleashed from a market trading in rare wild animals, ripped out of their natural habitats for the sake of human greed. We have a clear chain from the exploitation and abuse of the natural world to our current crisis, from greed to death.

Jesus is quite clear that God and nature are firmly on one side. The earth itself, the natural world, is in the hands of God, and operates according to God's design and care. Jesus looks to nature in his parables to understand what the Kingdom of God is about: God feeds birds and clothes flowers, and thus nature communicates God's message (Mark 4:26-32; 13:30; Matt. 6:25-33). In the 'Nature Miracle' stories Jesus and nature are linked: Jesus can calm down a storm, multiply more food to feed people gathered in community to hear him, or expect water to take his weight and walk on it (mark 4:35-41; 6:30-52; 9:1-10). 

Recently there have been the odd voices saying that somehow God has sent this virus as a punishment for sins, of one kind of another. However, in Jesus’s teaching, God does not punish people by nature, though nature will eventually join with God in the ‘birthpangs’ of the new age (Matt. 24:7-8). Jesus is clear that illness is not actually from God; it is from Satan. Jesus fights against Satan and all his minions.

In the present time, for Jesus, God makes the sun come up and sends rain on good and bad alike, and accidents happen here without God punishing anyone either (Matt. 5:45; Luke 13:2-5). Nature sustains humans, and God directs natural processes, with all their benefits and hazards to humans included. Nevertheless, in Jesus's teaching God does not presently have unfettered rule of the world; that is for when the Kingdom comes. To be on the side of God now, we are to care for the sick, the weak and the marginal, and for creation. We are to tend seeds, watch birds, and take lessons from the mustard trees (Mark 4:30-32).

For Jesus it's the human will, like Satan, that is outside God's control in this age. Human decisions are made by free choice. And we can make very bad decisions. Jesus really warns against greed (Luke 12:15). We can choose to be greedy, wilfully hurt nature and God's creatures and bring disaster upon ourselves.

So now, at Easter 2020, as I reflect on Jesus, I am left feeling both grateful to be better and also sad. I am sorry we all have to go through this, and lose so much. I study Jesus as a historian, but I also learn from Jesus. I hope this crisis can help us all understand more about Jesus and his call for people to repent. I hope we can share his beautiful vision of a transformed, better world.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Friday, December 13, 2019

Larry Hurtado Scholarship Fund at the University of Edinburgh

Professor Larry Hurtado PhD Scholarship Fund

Larry devoted his life to building up the study of New Testament and Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh, and many PhD students from all over the world have benefited from his friendship and guidance. In an effort to remember Larry's legacy, and even to build on it in a small way, we are delighted to announce the establishment of a new scholarship fund in honour of Larry. It will be known as the Professor Larry Hurtado Scholarship and will
support a PhD candidate at the School of Divinity working in the area of Christian Origins. We would very much value your support in this venture.

To give online go here.

Alumni and friends who are taxpayers in the USA can support the University through the University of Edinburgh USA Development Trust here

Tributes to Professor Hurtado can be found here.

Monday, December 2, 2019

In Memory of Larry W. Hurtado—Chris Keith

My friend and mentor, Larry W. Hurtado, passed from this life on Monday, November 25. It was Monday night of the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Diego, CA. Somehow it was fitting that Larry departed while the rest of us were at SBL. Larry loved SBL and was always in top form at receptions, recalling the events of the day, making introductions, and generally holding court. I heard about his death as soon as I entered the T&T Clark reception; it was something of a silver lining to a terribly dark cloud to receive the news while surrounded by so many of his former Edinburgh students and colleagues. We raised more than one pint in his honor that night and I think he would have liked that. I had just texted Larry on Saturday night from another reception, sending him a picture of me and Paul Middleton, another of his former students, letting him know that he was missed. His text back was ominous, telling me he would soon send an email update on his health and that it looked like it was the end. I received the email on Sunday morning in my hotel room and exchanged some further emails about plans for his library. That was last time I heard from him.

It’s hard to put into words Larry’s impact on me and his other students. Others have written eloquent tributes that have focused upon his contributions to scholarship, his faith, and devotion to his wife, Shannon. All that is true and deserving of recognition, but I want to mention also some other matters. Larry was, in wonderful ways, a hard person to categorize. He was a Missourian and Pentecostal pastor who moved away from both but never quite left either altogether. American evangelicals loved Larry because of his arguments for early high Christology and flocked to study with him, but he was not nearly as conservative as many thought he was and did not think that early Jesus followers’ Christology was necessarily “true” because it was “early” or “high.”  Theological truth was another category for him, and he was adamant that no one was going to come to Edinburgh and argue their presuppositions.

In some ways he was a throwback historical critic who really did fit entirely within the British academic scene rather than the American one. Larry loved a pint, a pipe, and cursing. He was a ferocious champion for his students but also a harsh critic. He suffered no fools in print or in his office, and handed out few compliments. Once you finally received a compliment from him, you felt as if you’d climbed a mountain and put a flag in the top. At the same time, he was also genuinely warm, funny, and always had an open office door. He took great pride in having brought back Edinburgh’s New Testament program and great pride in his former students.

I cherish many conversations with him where he challenged me, corrected me, encouraged me, and congratulated me, and have not time to recount them all here. Instead, I pass along the most Hurtado-esque story I can think of, one that has already gone down in SBL lore.

Larry’s The Earliest Christian Artifacts once received a panel review at SBL. It was a packed room. Bart Ehrman took Larry to task for doing “theology masked as history.”  The offending matter was that Larry had labelled some of the papyri in his index with the phrase “New Testament” even though there was no such thing as the “New Testament” in the period to which those papyri were dated. Bart was right in the criticism. Larry fought for a bit, but eventually threw his hands up in the air and said, “Well, fuck it! I am a Christian.”

I saw Larry’s face several times when this story was recounted in his presence. I swear he took as much pleasure in the F-bomb as he did in the confession.  That was Larry W. Hurtado.

Friday, November 1, 2019

2019 JSHJ Board

2019-20 editorial board for JSHJ:

Executive Editors
James G. Crossley
Anthony Le Donne

Book Review Editor
Michael Daise

Editorial Board
Dale C. Allison, Jr
Jonathan Bernier
Michael F. Bird
Helen Bond
Pieter F. Craffert
Tucker S. Ferda
Tom Holmén
Richard A. Horsley
Obery Hendricks, Jr
Thomas Kazen
Chris Keith
John S. Kloppenborg
Amy-Jill Levine
Esau Mccaulley
Annette Merz
Halvor Moxnes
Sara Parks
Rafael Rodríguez
Sarah E. Rollens
Jens Schröter
Mitzi J. Smith
Joan Taylor
Graham H. Twelftree
Robert L. Webb


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Joan Taylor responds to the Israel Folau Controversy

The Jesus Blog is honored to, once more, feature a guest post from Joan Taylor, Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at King's College, London.

Her latest book, by the way, is fascinating. Have a look:

On April 10, the Tongan-Australian Rugby star Israel Folau expressed on social media his views on God’s plan for gay people, namely: “HELL – unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.” He stated that "hell waits" for drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators.

For this, he was hit with immediate censure. Rugby Australia decided to terminate his $4 million contract for breaching their code of conduct. The media and huge numbers of people around the world have joined together in condemning his remarks. He has now notified Rugby Australia of his intention to contest their decision.

He posted a saying from Jesus: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matt. 5:10-11). He has apparently expressed that he wants to do what God wills, and would sacrifice his rugby career. He is determined to follow what is written in the Bible.

And frankly it looks quite a lot like he is being severely condemned for quoting the Bible. This is a man of faith who wants to do the right thing.

In my view, the central problem is not with what is written in the Bible, but with certain Bible translations. The Bible was not written in English, and what is being quoted by Israel Folau as God-given wording is in fact a very dubious rendering of the original Greek. As someone who has spent my academic career working on the Bible and its historical context, I have long been worried about the way that passages of the Bible have been translated and/or interpreted to justify oppression rather than liberation, abuse rather than care. Over history, the Church has condoned numerous heinous crimes by basing itself on wrong understandings of what was written in the Bible. In this case, there is a glaring problem in the verse that Israel has used to justify his views. But he is, it seems, in a faith context in which this has not yet been explored. It is vital this is explored right now.

I am sure that Israel thinks he is abiding totally by what was written by the apostle Paul, using words that are part of Holy Scripture. When he stated that drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators were bound for Hell he is resourcing a translation into English of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (6:7-10), written in Greek. There is a picture online of Israel Folau reading the Bible as translated into English in the King James version, produced in 1611, and here the passage reads:
7.Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? 8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. 9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
The trouble is that the Bible as quoted here is an old English translation that has been identified as seriously faulty.

So let’s look at Paul, to begin with. He was on a mission to spread the word about Christ and worked hard to found churches. These were made up of men and women who were both slaves and non-slaves, Jews and non-Jews. Here in this passage he wanted to advise them about the right way of behaving, and deal with situations when they were harmed. Paul’s letter here is to the church he co-founded at Corinth, a Roman city in Greece, and this was a city in which men could behave badly. He starts off in this passage saying that Christian men should not go to court to challenge when they were defrauded of money. Actually, only free men could do this, but Paul says that even they should not try to seek justice in the court system. He then lists actions of men who were unrighteous and harmful and says – effectively – that they would not inherit the Kingdom of God. There was no point in seeking redress in court when harmed by them, because they would not be included in God’s perfect world when it came about anyway.

This is not ‘Heaven’: the Kingdom of God’ is a kind of utopia, and there was a kind of karmic concept of good following good, bad following bad, though with the difference that God can intervene and forgive at any time with repentance and changed actions, and you try to live now as if living in the Kingdom. And it is full of surprises. As Jesus said to the legal experts of his time, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matt. 21:31).

Would the wrongdoers go to Hell? In Paul’s way of thinking there was not really ‘Hell’ as such. “Hell”, as a later concept, was a blend of Roman Tartarus (a place of punishment), Gehenna (a rubbish tip where things got incinerated), and Hades/Sheol (a shadowy world of death-sleep). The King James version often translates the words Gehenna and Hades as “Hell”, so it is easy to get the wrong idea. Paul thinks of new life in Christ, in community, and a new way of being; the opposite of this was the punishment of destruction/death, given God’s anger about evil actions. This is not great, but it is not Hell (as in a place of torture), see 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10.

In terms of the apostle Paul’s own concerns with sexual immorality, Paul wanted people to be celibate like him, and even marriage was a concession (see 1 Corinthians 7), so he does not map on to contemporary understandings of relationships very well. Nevertheless, a key concern for Paul was love and respect. If I don’t have love, he said, I am just a sounding gong and clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1): all noise, nothing else. I am convinced that what Paul wanted to see was loving relationships. The concern for loving, respectful behaviour underpins everything he says about how people relate to each other. Even the threat of death/destruction was designed to make people realise there was a chance for true life, here and in the future, and in this passage it is actually a prod towards forgiveness. The point is: do not seek redress in court. Let it go. Turn the other cheek.

But who are the wrongdoers? What Paul wrote in his letters is not always crystal clear. Paul was very concerned here with the right way for men to behave, and Paul’s real concern is with abusive behaviour that attacked the weak. He is particularly concerned with what men should do, because men had the most power in society and could abuse, but we need to understand the behaviours in the light of what happened in the Graeco-Roman world in the first century, and the concerns are quite specific.

So, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 we have a list of male vices. Being a male adulterer, for example, was a huge man-to-man abuse, in that the adulterer was ‘taking’ another man’s wife. My own translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9 would be: “Or do you not know that unrighteous men shall not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: neither whoremongers (pornoi), nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor spineless cowards (malakoi), nor ‘male-bedders’ (arsenokoitai), nor thieves, nor covetous, drunk or reviling men, shall inherit the Kingdom of God”.

In the Greek text it seems very clear that the concern Paul has is with damaging male behaviour that would lead to a complaint by another man. All these can easily get lost in translations, done by different committees of translators at different times. So, one of the greatest outrages of Bible translation ever done has been that the word arsenokoitai is translated as ’homosexuals’ in many English Bibles from the 20th century onwards. The problem for all translators is that arsenokoites is a rare word. However, studies have shown that it is always associated with vices of seizing, or raping, and therefore it should be understood as involving male-on-male rape or coercion, and socially at the time it would be more connected with pederasts seizing boys. This behavior does not in any way map on ‘homosexuality’ as we understand it: it is not a word about same-sex love. It is a word describing abusers. To translate arsenokoitai as indicating homosexuals is utterly, totally mistaken, wrong, and itself a kind of abuse by faulty translation.

In the Jerusalem Bible and New Revised Standard Version we have 'sodomites’, which would only be right if the sodomy was understood as forced. The King James Version has more vaguely 'abusers of themselves with mankind‘, which does at least still ensure that the fundamental concern is with abuse (though here it is of themselves). But all these get interpreted as indicating ‘homosexuals’ thanks to certain interpretive trends.

Furthermore, malakoi, literally ‘softies’, indicates spineless cowards and weaklings in other comparable lists of male vices, but is translated in the King James Bible as ‘effeminate’, again making the Bible condemn male to female transgender people or indeed any male who seems to be ‘girly’ in the eyes of certain beholders. This again is wrong translation, and its ramifications are incredibly serious, as we see.

I am summarising here what has been written about by excellent scholars of the Bible and in many books and articles by gay Christians. Among the best work, I recommend: Dale Martin, ‘Arsenokoités and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences,’ in Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture, ed. by Robert L. Brawley (1996).

How could such English translations be so wrong, you may ask? The problem is that the King James Bible translators did not have access to all the wealth of comparative Graeco-Roman texts we have today. Then, 20th-century translation teams have tended all too quickly to follow what had already been faultily established. In terms of modern English Bibles, I would like to say there is one that has got it right, but this is not yet so. We have a huge lag between scholarship on this passage and some better Bible edition that will sort out a translation that has been responsible for untold misery and misunderstanding.

The passage in question is not the only one used by Christians to condemn homosexuality, but all of these other texts have also been shown to be either misinterpreted (not taking into account the historical and cultural contexts) or mistranslated. There is resistance to this correction. Once a view is formed, about the right wording, it is incredibly hard to change. But this change is absolutely vital. The Bible was not written in English. We sometimes need to work very hard to understand its meaning.

Truly, however, Paul never wrote that ‘homosexuals’ are going to Hell unless they repent. His Greek words have been lost in translation, bent into a meaning that fitted a world intent on condemning gay people. It is one of the worst things that has ever happened to his words.

And it is truly ironic that Israel Folau is accused of transgressing a code of conduct on account of abusive statements, when Paul was identifying precisely the harm done by abusers.

Our thanks to Joan Taylor for this thoughtful reflection.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Statement of Solidarity with our Jewish Neighbors

The following is a letter jointly authored by the faculty of United Theological Seminary, of which I count myself a member. This was written last year but seems relevant today.

Statement of Solidarity with our Jewish neighbors

March 24, 2017
In light of the demonstrable uptick in anti-Semitic incidents since November, we the Christian faculty at United Theological Seminary offer this statement of solidarity with our Jewish neighbors:
Locally and globally, we have observed bomb threats targeting Jewish centers and schools, desecrations of Jewish gravestones and defacements of Jewish institutions. While this has been a national trend, we witnessed one such incident at a local institution — a public act of hatred in the form of a swastika.
We are greatly disturbed by this trend along with its historical precedents and implications. Not only does this activity evoke the hostility toward Jewish life and culture in Europe leading up to the Shoah, it is a symptom of the present political climate in America. In short, we acknowledge that these are acts of terror specifically targeting our Jewish neighbors. We also acknowledge that these incidents are part of a larger social trend, one that injures a wider network of neighborly relationships. Recent reports of our Muslim neighbors who have helped to restore Jewish cemeteries after vandalism are inspiring. We count this show of friendship as a courageous example for Christian hospitality.
We therefore stand with our neighbors and denounce this trend as both anti-Semitic and anti-Christian. Such hatred stands in opposition to the good news upon which our faith is built. Central to historic Christian doctrine is extravagant love as taught by the author of our faith, a rabbi who was first and foremost a Jew. We believe that Jesus’ entire life was lived as a Jew and that his central mission sought the wellbeing of the Jewish people and their neighbors. We also believe that Jesus’ command to love our neighbors extends the ancient Jewish teaching that all humankind is made in the image of our Creator and deserves respect. As such, symbols of hate are an affront not only to those targeted but to all of G-d’s children.
At the same time, we acknowledge that Christian history is replete with examples of Christians perpetrating or condoning acts of hatred. We at United Theological Seminary hope that we can help to break this pattern and to seek the well-being of our Jewish neighbors. Toward that end, toward the world to come, we stand and will act as we are led in the days to come. If there is a seed of collaboration to be planted here, we stand at the ready to listen and to participate. We invite others in our community to do the same.
In determined hope,
The faculty of United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio
Peter Bellini
Sarah Brooks Blair
Presian Burroughs
Wendy Deichmann
Thomas Dozeman
James Eller
Phyllis Ennist
Lisa Hess
Harold Hudson
Justus Hunter
Vivian Johnson
Scott Kisker
Anthony Le Donne
Luther Oconer
Andrew Sung Park
Joni Sancken
Jerome Stevenson
David Watson

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Game of Thrones Religion Book

Everyone needs a hobby and mine is teaching seminarians at a United Methodist place of higher learning. My day job is that I think deeply about fantasy literature, fake religions, and real baseball. The following book thus combines two of my central professional interests. Moreover, it is presently the number one rated new release in the category of comparative religions on Amazon:

Gods of Thrones will do three things for you. It will explain the fictional religions in George R. R. Martin's fantasy. It will explain ancient and modern religions using examples from the novels and HBO show. And it will bring more texture to your favorite plots, characters, and fan theories by explaining how the ancient and medieval worlds worked.

Here is an excerpt:
Premodern Jewish mythology tells of a subhuman creation called the golem. In most iterations of the story, the golem is formed of clay or mud and then animated by a rabbi or sage. In early forms of the myth, the golem is unable to speak, lacking much intelligence. But the golem is usually obedient, following directions well (albeit taking some directions too literally). As the myth evolves in later centuries, the golem gets too large to control or goes on a violent rampage. The golem is created by writing the holy name of God (or a variation of it) on the creature’s forehead or inserting a piece of paper with the name into its mouth. In some stories, the word “truth” is used. In order to decommission the golem, one letter is removed, changing the word from “truth” to “dead”. The most famous golem myth is set in 16th-century Prague. In this story, the golem is created to protect Jews against anti-Semitic attacks.  
 . . . perhaps the best analogy for Ser Robert Strong is the golem myth. First, both Frankenstein’s monster and Osiris are intelligent and able to speak. But like the golem, Ser Robert is mute and functions as an automaton. Second, neither Frankenstein’s monster nor Osiris serve as a personal bodyguard. But like the golem, Ser Robert’s primary purpose is to defend. Indeed he is reanimated specifically to fight Cersei’s enemies. Ser Robert’s story and golem mythology differ, however, in their religious significance. The golem is created by a holy man to defend the pious. By contrast, Ser Robert is reanimated by an infidel and thought to be an abomination. So it seems that Ser Robert Strong is stitched together using parts of multiple fictions.
As you can see, I take my day job very seriously.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Jesus: A Beginner's Guide

My most recent book, is now in print and can be purchased using your favorite legal currency. The idea with this book was to play in the space created by Jaroslav Pelikan. In other words, this is heavy on "Jesus through the centuries" and reception history. That said, the book begins with some basic historical Jesus elements and introduces early Christian literature. I conclude with a Jesus in pop-culture section. My hope is that this book might work as a supplementary text for classes on Christianity or World Religions.

Here is some praise for the book.

"I loved this book and will definitely be using it in my teaching. Hope the following will suffice: Le Donne's writing never fails to evoke, entertain and educate students - and this volume on Jesus is no exception. Covering Jesus' construction within historical enquiry to reception in pop culture this will be a welcome addition to the reading lists of many undergraduate programmes and an invaluable and accessible teaching resource."
- Louise Lawrence, University of Exeter

'This little book punches far above its light weight. In Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide, Anthony Le Donne has given us an excellent short cultural history of Jesus. From the letters of Paul to the Gospel of Mary, from the Alexamenos graffito to Timothy Schmalz’s “Homeless Jesus,” from Clare of Assisi to Martin Luther King, Jr.,  it is all here, expertly narrated and beautifully illustrated." 
- Matthew V. Novenson, University of Edinburgh

"Fresh, punchy and perfectly crafted for those with little or no background in this field of study,
Le Donne explains Jesus not only in terms of long ago, but through the centuries to today. He traces not one Jesus but many, each reshaped for different reasons. Ultimately, this book presents Jesus as a remarkably malleable entity, and yet a figure who is as critically relevant now as ever."
- Joan E. Taylor, King's College London

"As fascinating as it is wide-ranging, Anthony Le Donne's Jesus: A Beginner's Guide is a master class on a two thousand year long tradition of questing for, commemorating, and creatively appropriating Jesus. From magic bowls to Muhammad Ali, and with equal parts wit and learning, Le Donne canvasses a captivating range of sources to produce an engrossing account of the one the most important figures in history."
- David Lincicum, University of Notre Dame

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Book or Four

I realized a few days ago that in 2017 and 2018 I've published 4 books. This, of course, is too many. Therefore it is highly likely that a couple of these books will not be good. I am sorry to say that I am too close to the problem to see it clearly. The best course of action is for you to buy all four and determine for yourself which of these books were not worth reading. I have just finished a rough draft of number five (due out in November) so you will have to wait until then to determine how bad that one is. The worst part of all of this is that I've neglected this blog too often as a result.

This week I plan to pick up the pace a bit by writing about my writing.

Sacred Dissonance was cowritten with Larry Behrendt and published with Hendrickson. It is the book that took the longest and required the most of me in terms of emotion, new research, and personal reflection. Rather than recap the book, here is an email I wrote Larry yesterday.

Larry, it's been a minute since we discussed Xty/Judaism stuff. I had an experience this morning that I thought I'd share.

So for our birthdays (which are only days apart), Sarah and I bought each other a year-long Sunday subscription to the Times. When I had this idea I imagined myself sitting down with coffee and the paper on the front porch. That's exactly what I did this morning. I read a couple articles on the front page, looked at the best-seller list, and opened to the sports page. I can't tell you how much nostalgic joy I got from the tactile experience. So much of my youth was spent underlining stats and circling boxscores. There were no boxscores today. That was sort of jarring. But the AL and NL league leaders were there just as I remembered them. 20 years ago I might have written out several permutations of a trade to land Nick Markakis so I could flip him for some other player that always has a strong second half. Having the paper in my hands brought back the feeling of all of those wasted hours. With one key difference. The "leaders" section for batters begins with a category called "batting." This, of course, refers to batting average, a stat that I view with different eyes. For pitchers, the top categories is called "pitching." This is essentially a wins-losses stat. Not only do I look at this stat differently, I no longer care about it. It's interesting but it's not telling. Even so, I enjoy the experience of revisiting those old, outmoded categories. They are meaningful touchstones. They are part of the entire experience of holding a newspaper in my hands and wasting time with baseball. But nostalgia is almost always tinged with lament. I've changed. Baseball has changed. The world has changed.
This is not the place to reproduce the entire text or Larry's reply. The gist of this exchange was my sense that I experience the sacred far less now than I once did. Whether it is my relationship to the Church or baseball, I am simply in a different place than I once was. I have different categories by which I process the world. While I don't regret the path I've taken, I do miss crossing the border from mundane to sacred. This isn't a loss of faith or devotion. I still enjoy baseball (except when it sucks) and I still love my church (except when I don't). But my new categories incline me less to sacramental experience.

I think that my pursuit of Jewish-Christian dialogue was a decision to chase the sacred. In writing this book I wanted to understand what Larry finds sacred in Judaism and Jewishness. And I wanted to see my own tradition anew through his eyes. But the process of our dialogue has become sacred on another level. My pursuit of the sacred (because it's always something of social construct; see e.g. baseball) required some community of devotion. For me, people who are hanging out at the borders of Christianity are best equipped to help me process my own experience. Somewhere along the way, the process of dialogue itself became sacred to me. But, as the title of the book suggests, it is not a process that requires harmony of belief, praxis, or symmetry. It is an altogether different experience of the sacred.


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!