Baker Academic

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild' is a snivelling modern invention, with no warrant in the gospels.”

~George Bernard Shaw

Barry Smith's book: Jesus’ Twofold Teaching about the Kingdom of God

This RBL review by Daniel A. Smith has convinced me that Barry Smith's Jesus’ Twofold Teaching about the Kingdom of God should be next on my purchase list.


Paradise in Antiquity Review - Le Donne

I recently reviewed Paradise in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Views (eds. Markus Bockmuehl and Guy G. Stroumsa) for Reviews in Religion and Theology. I will not reproduce the entire review here, but here are the first and last paragraphs:

Paradise in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Views, (eds.) Markus Bockmuehl and Guy G. Stroumsa, Cambridge University Press, 2010 (ISBN 978-0-521-11786-9), xi + 260 pp., pb $95.00

This multi-authored book provides a number of masterfully framed windows into the worlds of post-biblical Judaism(s) and Early Christianity(ies) by analyzing the varied, but often overlapping, developments of the concept of paradise. It includes (1) an introduction by Guy G. Stroumsa, (2) thirteen chapters that explore the concept as manifested in Jewish and Christian thought with emphasis on those contemporary with Second Temple and rabbinic Judaism(s) and (3) an epilogue by Alessandro Scafi. This review will highlight a handful of chapters, observe a few shared themes, and offer an appreciative critique of this very fine work.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Initial Reflections on Allison's Chapter in Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity - Le Donne

For this week's conference in Dayton, both Chris and I are reviewing Dale Allison's chapter in our recently published book. Dale Allison is quite dear to both of us for several reasons and (just a guess) I think that both of our comments will take a very appreciative tone.

I imagine, however, that my review will push back a bit harder than Chris' will.  This has nothing to do with our personalities - Chris can push back with the best of them (just ask J.K. Elliott).  My bones are with the theme of "disillusionment" (to steal a word from Allison's chapter title) that undermines his confidence in making historical claims about Jesus.

If you'd like a window into the last 25 years of Jesus research and the shifting tendencies that mark this period, Allison's chapter is a must read. His autobiographical reflections in this chapter run deep and cannot be summarized here. But here is an excerpt. He argues

If you've read some of my work on Jesus and memory, you'll know that I concur with Allison's assessment of the frailty of human memory and the necessarily creative elements of memory. But where this becomes a problem for Allison, I do not find myself disillusioned - not in the least. I will not say much more here, but I do not think that "uncertainty" is a cause for concern for the historian. Therefore I am quite optimistic with Allison's suggestion that general impressions of Jesus might yield a great deal of fruit when the Jesus tradition is observed in toto. Dale suggests that episodes in the Jesus tradition that have been judged to be "inauthentic" can contribute to this overall impressionistic portrait of Jesus. For Allison this is a decided step away from nailing down historical facts. I understand historical facts and the ways that they are handled by historians differently.

I look forward to having this conversation in person on Friday.


Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

“Why couldn't Jesus command us to obsess over everything, to try to control and manipulate people, to try not to breathe at all, or to pay attention, stomp away to brood when people annoy us, and then eat a big bag of Hershey's Kisses in bed?”

~Anne Lamott

Historical Jesus at SBL - Le Donne

For those of you who will be attending the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Chicago (Nov 17-20), you might consider attending this historical Jesus section:

Historical Jesus
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: S502b - McCormick Place
Theme: Jesus beyond the apocalyptic – non-apocalyptic divide: options and openings
Robert Miller, Juniata College, Presiding
Robert Miller, Juniata College, Introduction (5 min)
Anthony Le Donne, Lincoln Christian University 
University of the Pacific
Jesus and the Problem of Epochal Romanticism (25 min)
Pieter Craffert, University of South Africa
What Are Apocalyptic Gospel Texts Evidence For? (25 min)
James Crossley, University of Sheffield
Jesus and the World Turned Upside Down…and Back Again (25 min)
Thomas Kazen, Stockholm School of Theology
Apocalypticism as world view and linguistic metaphor: Attempting a cognitive approach to Jesus’ utopian language (25 min)
Stephen Patterson, Willamette University, Respondent (25 min)
Discussion (20 min)

I was honored to be invited to present in this themed section. Here is my abstract for this paper:

This essay will situate Wrede, Schweitzer and other early adherents of the “Jesus as Apocalyptic Prophet” thesis within German Romanticism and suggest that this view of history defined much of the vernacular for modern Jesus studies. It will then examine an often overlooked element of the Jesus tradition, what this study will call Jesus’ “greater than” rhetoric. In doing so, the author will (largely) avoid the terms “prophet,” “apocalyptic,” and “eschatological” for heuristic purposes. Thus this essay will explore the possibility of epochal aggrandizement in the Jesus tradition without hinging the notion on the vernacular of Romanticism.

I will also be presenting in the other section of the HJ unit... more on that in a later post.


Interview with Mark Goodacre (Part IV: The Voyage Home)

Parts I, II and III can be found herehere and here.

ACLD: Francis Watson just published three short articles arguing that the "Jesus' Wife" fragment is an amalgam of Coptic phrases taken from Thomas. You might be aware that at least one of these was published on your blog. Is his chosen venue for publication indicative of a shift in media culture for biblical studies? What, in your mind, is lost and gained by the use of electronic and social media for the dissemination of original academic argumentation?

MG: That's a great question. I think we are still finding our way. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we'd had the internet, blogs, social media and the like back in 1960 when Morton Smith announced his discovery of Secret Mark! The greater exposure that the internet gives to finds of this kind enables more pairs of eyes to look at them. And that can be a good thing -- they can provide expert opinion from unexpected sources and they can help in the crystallizing the key questions. On the other hand, it can be a dizzying and confusing business, giving the opportunity for fringe views and rushes to judgement.

So I have mixed feelings. It might well be a generation before we can be sure about the best way, in this blogging and social media age, to handle exciting new discoveries and dramatic new research. Most academics are basically digital immigrants and struggle to come to terms with the different way that things develop on the internet, and they feel uncomfortable about it. What has been fascinating about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife has been the way that it combines both old and new media. The peer-reviewed draft article for HTR and the high quality digital image are what the academics are most interested in, but these were released at the same time as video clips, FAQs and press-releases for journalists, alongside a big TV documentary. And naturally, that kind of invitation to great publicity naturally brings with it an invitation to great scrutiny. It's an invitation that many scholars were happy to accept.

ACLD: Do you think that this new Coptic fragment is a fraud?

If I were a betting man, and I am not, I would probably put a fiver on it. The key point for me, at this early stage in the analysis of the fragment, is that it appears to be dependent on a patchwork of pieces from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas. Not the Gospel of Thomas (the work) but the one specific Coptic edition of the Gospel of Thomas that we have, in Nag Hammadi Codex II. Now if that judgement is right (and it is provisional), then there are two choices. Either the author of the fragment copied from that specific edition of Coptic Thomas, in Nag Hammadi, before it went into the jar and was buried, in the late fourth century, or he copied from it after it came out of the jar. On balance, it is much more likely that he gained access to Codex II via one of the multiple modern editions than that he gained it in from that one copy before it went into the jar.


Week In Review

It's not too late to register for our conference in Dayton, OH - Oct 4-5. This conference features Dale Allison, Mark Goodacre, Anthony Le Donne, Jens Schroeter, Chris Keith, Loren Stuckenbruck, Dagmar Winter, Rafael Rodriguez, and Barry Schwartz.

Anthony reviewed David Watson's Honor Among Christians. Watson takes on Wrede's seminal "messianic secret" thesis from the perspective of honor and shame cultural cues. Here.

Chris announced a giveaway of our book. You can still enter here.

Anthony interviewed Mark Goodacre. Parts I, II, III and IV are here, herehere, and here.

Chris and Anthony both chimed in to praise the lovely loveliness of Goodacre's contribution to our conference and book. Here and here.

We announced that our conference in Dayton, OH (this TH and F) will be connected via live and interactive feed to the University of Edinburgh.

Anthony revealed his man-crush for McIver's work on memory and the Ebbinghausian forgetfulness curve here.

Anthony completed his interview with Helen Bond. Part IV is here.

Anthony summed up the Jesus' Wife Gospel controversy launched by Harvard Professor, Karen King here.

Chris wrote about the impact of our conference topic for Church concerns. While Scot McKnight argues that the historical Jesus is of no value for the Christian Church, Chris thinks that this topic is an important one to explore further. Link here.

Anthony embarrassed himself by gushing over the wonderment of historical Jesus scholar, Jens Schroeter here.

Anthony asked the question: "Would Jesus have looked like a Charlatan to you?" He recounted a conversation he had with a foul-mouthed Baptist on this topic.

Interview with Mark Goodacre (Part III)

Parts I and II can be found here and here.

ACLD: Your newest book Thomas and the Gospels takes your research in a relatively new direction. When you first stepped into the world of Thomas, did you find that the scholarly conversations about Thomas mirror the debates related the canonical Gospels? Or do these conversations have dramatically different talking points?

MG: Thanks for the plug! Well, the "and" is perhaps the most important word in the title. It's a book about Thomas and the Gospels, attempting to explain why I think that Thomas shows knowledge of the Synoptics.  That discussion is related to inter-Synoptic discussions and to related areas like historical Jesus research. One of my worries about the way that some scholars approach Thomas is that they do so in ignorance of Synoptic Problem scholarship, which they mistakenly regard as outdated and unhelpful. What I am trying to do is to bring the eyes of someone familiar with inter-Synoptic relationships to the issue of Thomas's relationship to the Synoptics.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Review of Watson's Honor Among Christians - Le Donne

I had the pleasure of reviewing David Watson's Honor Among Christians: The Cultural Key to Messianic Secret for a conference recently. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed reading the book. (David Watson will be welcoming us to the United Theological Seminary family next week for our "Demise of Authenticity" conference).

One of my most beloved seminary professors taught me that “you know that an exegetical thesis is worth pursuing when you find that the answer to your question unlocks the meaning of several other texts that are otherwise problematic.” In other words, rather than unlocking the meaning of a particular passage in isolation, the thesis creates a constellation of related meanings throughout the book in question. This is what made William Wrede’s Messianic Secret so influential. In the wake of Strauss’s Leben Jesu, historical critics were looking for a problem to solve and were convinced that it would be solved by parsing out Mark into strata.

Wrede asks two questions to begin his masterpiece: “What do we know of Jesus’ life? and…What do we know of the oldest views and representations of Jesus’ life?” Wrede then rephrases the two-part question like this: “How do we manage to dissect the Gospel tradition in these two directions: how do we separate what belongs properly to Jesus from what is material of the primitive community?” (Wrede, 4).

One can see the premise of his work implicit in these questions: Jesus is a figure obscured by the veneration attached to his name by the earliest Christians. Upon this premise, Wrede noticed that Jesus repeatedly silences such venerations and commands people to tell no one of his great works. Moreover, Jesus’ “messianic identity” is most often revealed to only a small group of disciples until the end of Mark’s Gospel. For Wrede, this odd behavior tied together to form a Markan theme. Mark was attempting to answer the problem of Jesus’ silence concerning his messianic status relative to his public persona. For Wrede, Mark’s agenda to overlay Jesus with secretive intentions created a second stratum with messianic veneration and an apologetic for Jesus’ otherwise humble persona. For Wrede, and countless scholars since Wrede, this made better sense of prohibitions addressed to demons, prohibitions following other miracles, the prohibition following Peter’s confession, and Jesus’ many and varied attempts to retreat from public view.


...over at Vridar

Neil Godfrey, of Vridar fame, is in process of posting a very entertaining review of Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (related conference less than a week away). Because his cross-hairs are aimed at Professor Keith, I'll refrain from saying much. However, because Chris is uncomfortable with the word "postmodern" and I am quite comfortable with the word, I'll offer this rejoinder. Godfrey summarizes:
"Historical Jesus scholars appear to be on the way to replacing one set of failed tools with a lot of postmodernist mumbo jumbo."
While I will concede his point on the accusation of "mumbo," I must demur from the accusation of "jumbo." So glad we could have this exchange; I think we're all the better for it!


Mark Goodacre Interview (Part II)

The first part of my interview with Dr. Goodacre can be found here.

ACLD: In your essay for Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, you talk about the possible heuristic value of the criteria for instructing students new to Gospels scholarship. Will you continue to use the traditional criteria as pedagogical avenues to larger discussions in the classroom?

MG: I think so, yes. I was lucky enough to be taught by E. P. Sanders and his approach to what are now called the criteria was exemplary. He used what he called various "tests" as a means of cross-examining the
source material, and it is an excellent way to train new students. Unfortunately, unlike Sanders, many scholars fail to distinguish between materials of pedagogical value for introductory students who are being trained and materials that scholars should be able to take for granted.

When I teach the "criteria", I introduce them and then illustrate them, discuss them, and point out the problems. I think it's a great way of learning historical method. One is aiming to discover how historians work and this means learning their methods and then exploring them and then critically interacting with them. The critical interaction is essential, but it needs to come at the right moment. Quite often amateurs make the mistake of attempting critical interaction before they have immersed themselves in the methods.

...more with Dr. Goodacre will be published tomorrow.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thank you!

The Jesus Blog just reached 10,000 page views. I'm told that this isn't bad for a first month. Thank you for reading, linking, talking about us at the water cooler. We would ask, however, for James McGrath to stop sending us flowers. They are lovely and the poetry is quite nice too, but it's all just a bit overwhelming.

Our conference will be connected via live-feed to Edinburgh

Helen K. Bond, Director of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins, School of Divinity (New College) University of Edinburgh has agreed to host a live and interactive viewing of our Dayton conference for folks in the UK who cannot make it to Dayton.

Is Jesus a Person or a Symbol?

Good reading over at the NYT. My take, as simplistic as this might sound, is that religious ideologues (in general) confuse the truths that shape their collective identities for the symbols that point toward these truths. Of course, there must be a relationship between the symbol and the thing represented, so these must be overlapping fields. But, in the case of Jesus, we have been given multiple symbols for his person from the earliest Christian memories. Lord, Christ, Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God, Bread, Gate, Life, Lamb, High Priest, and the list goes on and on. We Christians should know better. Once this distinction is understood, we will be less scandalized by depictions of Jesus that don't look familiar to us.

Sidebar: Two entry points to the first person who can name the artist who created the imaged series of portraits above.

Interview with Mark Goodacre (Part I)

Over the next week, The Jesus Blog will be posting segments of my interview with Mark Goodacre. Our thanks to him for his time and insights.

ACLD: For our upcoming conference on Jesus and "authenticity criteria" in Dayton, you'll be presenting a paper on the limits of the so-called Criterion of Multiple Attestation. You've also podcasted (can this be used as a verb?) a bit about this. As I understand it, you like this criterion in theory, but remain unconvinced of its practical use in Jesus studies. In your mind, is the problem with Multiple Attestation related to the relative lack of independent sources? Or is there a more foundational problem with the idea of itemizing ancient traditions as either "authentic" or "invented" categories?

MG: Thanks for the interesting questions, and renewed thanks for the invitation to participate both in the volume and in the conference. I enjoyed writing the essay because it gave me the chance to articulate some concerns that I have had for some time when teaching the "criteria" in Historical Jesus classes. My podcast on the topic came out of that teaching too, in the Spring 2012 version of the course. (Yes, I use "podcast" as a verb too).

I think everyone, on a general level, ought to like this criterion. After all, who would seriously claim to prefer late, singly attested traditions to early, multiply attested ones? But there are serious difficulties in practice, yes. And there are some fundamental problems too with what scholars are actually saying when they invoke the criterion.

I can perhaps summarize my concerns with the criterion under three basic headings. First, I am baffled by the fact that scholars can argue simultaneously that a given tradition is both "embarrassing" and "multiply attested". This appears self-contradictory and frankly ludicrous to me and it suggests that something is wrong somewhere. Second, many scholars work with an unrealistic idea of the independence of early source material -- you have all these Christian communities in isolation from one another producing their isolated sources from isolated traditions. I don't believe in the model. Third, it seems likely to me that early, reliable traditions are more likely to be singly attested than multiply attested. Did the historical Jesus ever spit? Well, he spits in Mark, one of our earliest sources, but he does not spit in Matthew or Luke (or Q, M, L or Thomas). Here, I think Mark may be right.

To be fair to those who work with the criteria, what many of them do is more nuanced than dividing things into piles labelled either "authentic" or "invented". Even the frequently mocked Jesus Seminar attempt to be more nuanced than that by (literally) pointing to shades of grey -- and pink. But where we do need to be careful is in the kind of drastic oversimplifying that we often do in historical Jesus work, a drastic oversimplifying that leads to all sorts of over-confident statements about historicity and non-historicity of particular traditions.

...more with Mark Goodacre will be published tomorrow...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mark Goodacre on Multiple Attestation - Le Donne

I would like to echo Chris here concerning Mark's participation. I had the pleasure of hearing him deliver an early version of this essay when I was writing my dissertation:
Mark Goodacre, “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative,” in The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark; eds. Geert Van Oyen and Tom Shepherd (CBET 45; Leuven: Peeters, 2006), 33-47.
This essay helped me focus my own thoughts on the relationship between myth and memory in the Gospels. I do believe that this was presented in the Historical Jesus Section at SBL and I think that this is why I suspected that he might be interested in "historical" Jesus research.

Here is my summary of his contribution to our book from my intro chapter:

Mark will be presenting a synopsis of this at Dayton, OH, on Oct 4-5. Loren Stuckenbruck will offer a response.


Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God?

I just received news of this via Abingdon Press:

Join us at SBL/AAR for an afternoon of discussion:Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God?
Saturday, November 17th, 2012 - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM, SBL/AAR Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL.
McCormick Place Convention Center W196b
Bruce D. Chilton, Bard College
Baruch Levine, New York University
Vincent Cornell, Emory University
T. Emil Homerin, University of Rochester
Cynthia Rigby, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Elaine Robinson, Saint Paul School of Theology

This is a topic that interests me a great deal and (to my mind) should be on the radar of Jesus historians. Judging by the names involved in this conversation, this event promises to be a lively and frank conversation that includes an exploration of the many differences between sibling religions.


Mark Goodacre on Multiple Attestation—Chris Keith

One of the highlights of our upcoming conference, for me, is going to be hearing Mark Goodacre critique the criterion of multiple attestation.  When Anthony and I were putting together our list of contributors to the book and conference, we thought Mark would be ideal for this chapter.  For some reason that I now can’t remember, we thought Mark was itching to jump into historical Jesus research more fully.  We also knew that his substantial background in the Synoptic Problem would position him very well to address this criterion, which, like the Synoptic Problem, hinges on the relationship between Gospels.  To say that Mark delivered would be an understatement.  I think his chapter will now be the go-to piece of research for discussing this criterion.

Mark gives us a little preview in a podcast that he recorded earlier this year.  You can find it here.  To get the full treatment, come to our conference and hear Mark in person.

Craig Evans on The "Jesus' Wife" Gospel

Just in case you haven't had enough of this controversy, it seems that the editors at Harvard Theological Review have decided against publishing Karen King's essay on the so-called "Jesus' Wife" fragment. Our gratitude to Professor Evans who shared this via Check it out here.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

McIver's JBL Essay

Today I received a link to the newest Journal of Biblical Literature. I noticed this:

Eyewitnesses as Guarantors of the Accuracy of the Gospel Traditions in the Light of Psychological Research
Robert K. McIver, 529–546

I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing McIver's book (on the same topic) for Catholic Biblical Quarterly. I will not relay the entire review here, but here are a couple paragraphs:

It has become commonplace in Gospels/Jesus studies to point to the 30-60 year interval between the oral transmission of the tradition(s) and its calcification in writing.  Many emphasize this interval in support of the fortuitous eye-witness testimonies influential in the calcification process (e.g. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006]); others emphasize this interval to demonstrate the frailty of human memory (e.g. Judith C. S. Redman, “How Accurate Are Eyewitnesses? Bauckham and the Eyewitnesses in the Light of Psychological Research,” Journal of Biblical Literature 129, no. 1 [2010]: 177-97).  While much has been done in recent decades to contextualize this process within oral/aural culture and media studies more generally, Robert K. McIver’s monograph is the most comprehensive treatment to date on the cognitive psychology of memory and how this relates to the Synoptic Gospels.
             While many readers will demur from M.’s optimistic conclusions regarding the “authenticity” of the Synoptics, the brilliance of his study is found in the first four chapters.  Indeed, the first third of this book outmodes most previous appeals to the interval of memory between the crucifixion and the writing of Mark.  Henceforth, any work on the Gospels that repeats the words “reliability,” “accuracy,” “credibility” or “eye-witnesses,” but does not cite this book must be considered deficient.

Would Jesus have Looked like a Charlatan to You? - Le Donne

Today I saw the latest P.T. Anderson film, “The Master.” One of the best directed and acted movies I’ve ever seen.  But I’ll admit that I love almost everything he does (yes, even Punch-Drunk Love).  The Master is a film inspired by the legacy of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the scientology movement.  Here “inspired” means that the Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character is a leader of a new religious movement, but his character is not named “L. Ron Hubbard”. I am told, however, that there are many parallels and that these are intentional parallels.

This is the second film wherein P.T. Anderson features a religious charlatan. You might remember that “There Will Be Blood” featured a charismatic, charlatan preacher played by Paul Dano. It makes one wonder why this particular theme is important to him.  Whatever the reason, seeing this film reminded me of a thought experiment I have employed a couple times for pedagogical purposes.  When discussing the historical Jesus in Church settings, I have posed this question:  If Jesus showed up today and started doing the sorts of things that Jesus (purportedly) did in the Gospels, what would be your first impression?  In other words, if a holy man wandered into town and started casting out demons, and preaching politics, and healing via faith, would you be intrigued or repelled?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Jesus' Wife Controversy - Le Donne

To recap:

1) Karen King reveals that a private collector (of ancient artifacts) contacted her in 2010 about a fragment of papyrus containing the phrase "my wife". According to the source, this fragment is from an ancient Coptic "Gospel", Jesus is the proposed speaker of the phrase, and the fragment is possibly dated to the fourth century CE.
2) This news is picked up by the New York Times, Huffington Post, etc. in September of 2012.
3) Media Scheiße-Sturm.
4) Some NT scholars voice caution or argue that it is a fraud.
5) Others remain optimistic.
6) The dust settles and we are left where we started.

So where are we again? Well in sum, we still have (A) a Christian public that remains insecure about matters related to Jesus and sexuality, (B) a media culture that needs a weekly religious or sexual scandal to remain interesting, and (C) a cultural symbol (Jesus) who is flexible enough for ideologues of all ilks to project whatever meaning they want to onto it. I missing anything here?

Interview with Helen Bond (Part IV)

This concludes the Jesus Blog interview with Helen Bond:

Parts I, II and III of my interview with Helen Bond are here, here, and here. I would like to thank Helen again for taking the time to share her time and thoughts with us. Do please check out her new book (great classroom text) and the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins website.

ACLD: I'd like to ask you a question that I am asked often. If a student wants to pursue a PhD and is specifically interested in Jesus research, where would you send them? Having completed your PhD at Durham and having taught at Edinburgh, you have experienced two of the best. Outside of those two institutions, what would you say would be the top two or three universities for Jesus research?

HKB: Well obviously I'd have to say Edinburgh! We have an excellent and large body of staff who cover a wide range of specialisms, the largest single site theological library in the UK, and (just as importantly in my view) a strong sense of community. Our postgrad students usually finish on time, too, and have a good track record of getting academic jobs afterwards. But I know you said 'outside Edinburgh' . . .

A PhD in the UK is obviously rather different to one from the US, mainly because we go straight into the thesis (there's no coursework). This perhaps makes your supervisor all the more important, as that's the person who you'll have most contact with. So I went to Durham because I wanted to work with Jimmy Dunn, and then later to Tuebingen for a year because I wanted to work with Martin Hengel. They were both great universities in general, but it was the supervisor which was the main pull for me in both cases.

Its a bit hard to say where I'd advise people to go nowadays - many of the 'big names' in Jesus scholarship are retired. Apart from Edinburgh (!), I might suggest that people in the UK look at Tom Wright at St Andrews or James Crossley at Sheffield (they’re very different scholars!). In the US, I'd go for Dale Allison or Mark Goodacre. My sense, though, is that the days of the big Jesus book are over, at least for now (who has time to read them all?!) - and in any case that's not what's needed for a PhD. I'd advise people interested in historical Jesus studies to do their PhD in something a little wider - second Temple Judaism, Galilean archaeology, some aspect of the social or political make up of Judaea in the first century etc. There are plenty of contested issues still in Jesus scholarship, and choosing something related to one of these would be a good way in. A thorough knowledge of one of those areas will also prove more useful in assessing various portraits of Jesus than simply diving into the literature and trying to decide between competing views. And if we're widening out the lists of topics, then we'd want to include a much wider group of universities and supervisors - over here, Durham, King's London, Oxford and Cambridge would all be good places to look at.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Exclusivity and the Fourth Gospel

I was asked my my friend, Rev. Dan Melligan to write a guest post for his blog. My assigned topic was to bridge a sermon that I preached from Luke last week to a sermon series that Dan is preparing on the famous "I am" sayings in John. You can read it here.


Over at Nijay's Crux Sola:

I quite appreciated Nijay's review of deSilva's Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude.

This book had not been on my radar yet, so many thanks!


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jens Schroeter

When Prof. Keith and I decided to assemble the roster for our upcoming conference, we wrote out our "dream team" list. The names on this list represented the best scholars associated with the particular topics that we wanted covered. This list included names like Loren Stuckenbruck, Dagmar Winter and Dale Allison; we were being overly optimistic. To our titillated glee, our final roster looked just like our initial "dream team"... with one exception - we had not contacted Jens Schroeter.

I told Chris over and over that Prof. Schroeter would be impossible to get. Not only is he a tremendously busy person, he does not often attend conferences in North America. But because we are both great admirers of his work, Chris decided to email him anyway.

Prof Schroeter is the first New Testament scholar to apply Social Memory theory to Jesus research. Chris and I are both convinced that scholars will look back on this generation and point to his work on Jesus as a decided shift in the intellectual history of research. Jens Schroeter is the reason why both of us learned to read German. In my case, Jimmy Dunn handed me an essay Schroeter wrote and said, "read this." Even though Jimmy was not fond of the direction (i.e. my direction) he knew that the essay was important.

So when Chris knocked on my office door to tell me that Prof. Schroeter would be coming to our conference we almost burst at the seams (well, I almost did; my seams are much more strained than Chris' seams).  Here is my summary of Schroeter's chapter:

Here is a bit more about him:

Professor Schroeter will be presenting this at our upcoming conference in Dayton, Oct 4-5. We hope to see you there.

Register by clicking the above link or by contacting Robbie Collins at | 938.529.2201


Friday, September 21, 2012

Great reviews for Skinner and Iverson

Judging from these reviews, this book warrants a close read. Congrats to Kelly and Chris!


amazon link here.

Two Weeks Away

The conference related to our book, Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity is less than two weeks away (Oct 4-5). Chris and I are grateful to United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH and the University of Dayton for hosting this event.

To register online, click here or contact

Robbie Collins - 938.529.2201
Cost: $70 registration fee; Lunch $10

The Top Five Reasons I’m Bummed that Jesus Might not have been Married:

5) It's always fun to have an excuse to bring up Morton Smith's gay magician document. Boy, folks just don't forge and scandalize like they used to!

4) There was less of a chance that Mary nagged him about meeting a nice girl… encouraging him to show off at parties and whatnot.

3) I had planned to get at least 20 more minutes of lecture time out of this in my Portraits of Jesus class.

2) Because of the fragmentary nature of the papyrus, my I could look smart reading Coptic without having to remember any grammar.

…and the number one reason I’m bummed that Jesus might not have been married:

1) I was really getting tired of depictions of Jesus wearing a dress; I had quietly wished that this would help him into a handsome pair of trousers.


...and I was just starting to like the married Jesus!

Well, it was such a short-lived matrimony that I suppose there are grounds for annulment.

On the bright side, it's nice to see Durham trounce Harvard... yet again.


You Trying to Say that Jesus Christ Can't Hit a Curveball? (Part III)

C.S. Lewis, the posthumously canonized Pope of Evangelicalism, wrote this concerning Jesus’ understanding of incorporeal beings:  
Some people would like to reject all such elements from Our Lord’s teaching: and it might be argued that when he emptied himself of His glory He also humbled Himself to share, as man, the current superstitions of His time. And I certainly think that Christ, in the flesh, was not omniscient—if only because the human brain could not, presumably, be the vehicle of omniscient consciousness, and to say that Our Lord’s thinking was not really conditioned by the size and shape of His brain might be to deny the real incarnation and become a Docetist. Thus if Our Lord had committed Himself to any scientific or historical statement which we knew to be untrue, this would not disturb my faith in His Deity… (The Problem of Pain, pp137-138)*
If Aslan said it, I believe it, and that settles it.


*My gratitude to Robert C. Barrett (Ph.D. x2) for this quotation.

The Historical Jesus and the Church at the 2012 Jesus Conference—Chris Keith

As this blog should indicate, Anthony and I both have vested interests in historical Jesus studies and their lively future.  We also share the fact that those interests—to the best of our knowledge and intentions—are not apologetic in nature.  We, like many others, are quite happy to come to conclusions that more conservative (whatever that means) people might shy from if we believe the evidence leads us in that direction, quite happy to publish those findings, and, in Anthony’s case, to be fired for doing so (doubt he was that happy about that one though).  Nevertheless, and highlighting the tragic nature of what happened at our previous employer, Anthony and I are also both confessional Christians, preach and teach in church, and I even hold ordination.  We also, then, have vested interests in the Church and its relationship to scholarship.  And we will find room for such discussions on this blog, as the relationship between historical Jesus research and the Church is indeed an aspect of historical Jesus research and always has been. 

In that vein, one of the events that I’m most looking forward to at the 2012 Jesus Conference in Dayton here in a couple weeks is a roundtable discussion where we will discuss the contribution of Scot McKnight to the book.  Unfortunately, Scot was not able to come to the conference.  But his essay is important in its suggestion that the “authentic Jesus,” or even more broadly any Jesus that historical Jesus research produces, is irrelevant for the Church and its Jesus.  This is, of course, not new, as Martin Kähler argued along these lines famously.  But Scot offers some new reasons for taking this position.

There are, however, among our panelists, several scholars who would argue the opposite—that the Jesus produced by historical Jesus research is drastically important to the Church and how it functions in society.  Scot won’t be there to respond unfortunately, but nevertheless the opportunity to hear Dale Allison, Dagmar Winter, Mark Goodacre, Rafael Rodríguez, Jens Schröter, and others weigh in on this topic should be fantastic!  Of course, this will be one of several topics discussed, but I’m looking forward to this one.

Interview with Helen K. Bond (Part III)

Parts I and II of my interview with Helen Bond are here and here.

ACLD: Walter Wink, who we recently lost, was quite convinced that Jesus’ famous “turn the other cheek” saying was meant to shame a violent oppressor into acknowledging an equal relationship with the person being struck. In this view, Jesus was not advocating passivity to abused people. So too with the “go the extra mile” saying. Do you think Wink was reading too much into these symbolic actions?

HKB: Who said anything about being passive? I don’t think that proclaiming God’s imminent rule and the need to prepare for it is passive in any way. Its demandingly active, hugely political, and massively counter-cultural and threatening to those in authority. So I think that Wink is right that these sayings of Jesus have the ability to shame oppressors (if they took the time to notice), but I would be wary of restricting these sayings to Rome/political authorities. While the ‘go the extra mile’ saying may have originated in the context of Roman auxiliary troops, the ‘offer the other cheek’ saying would fit in any uneven situation – from feuds between rival families to violence in the home. Again, I think its human relationships on a more basic level that Jesus is talking about.

ACLD: One of the key points made by anti-Empire folks, is that the title “Son of God” (as applied to Jesus) is in direct opposition to Caesar Augustus’ title.  In other words, Caesar isn’t the son of God, Jesus is. Is this not the best reading of this title?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise... reviewed by Jared Calaway

Our gratitude for the very favorable review of our book by Dr. Calaway. He also generously included a link to the registration page of conference. ...see what I did there?

I have the spiritual gift of self-promotion; I was also sorted into Slytherin by the Hogwarts sorting hat.


Schedule of Sessions for "Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity" Conference

We have finally solidified our schedule for our upcoming conference in Dayton, OH (Oct 4-5). If you have been planning to attend and have not yet registered, please click the above link or contact Robbie Collins: | 938.529.2201. 

Cost: $70 registration fee; Lunch $10

For the complete schedule, click more:

On such matters, I defer to April DeConick

Yesterday my "Portraits of Jesus" class spent some time with Prof. DeConick's blog. With so many of us chiming in with knee-jerk takes on the Jesus' wife fragment, it is good to remember that we can lean on experts like April.

Seven Books that Must Be in Your Library - Le Donne

Okay, so I cheated. I suggested to Chris that we'd both choose five books and then I chose seven. I just couldn't leave any one of these out. But, for those keeping score at home, my list is better than his by two. Here are my votes in alphabetical order:

James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle

Required reading for most PhD programs and rightly so. It was difficult not to include Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism here; that book certainly represents a sea change in New Testament studies. But if I had to recommend only one of these "new perspective" books, I'd recommend Dunn's opus. The Theology of Paul the Apostle set the standard by which all books on Paul would be measured (and still are).  Also, he writes job letters for me, so I have to say nice things.

Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies

This book was formerly titled Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation. The more recent version is worth the additional purchase. Ever get mixed up on the difference between the Talmud and the Targums? Fearful of sticking more than a toe into the waters of Dead Sea Scrolls research? And what's the date on the Shepherd of Hermas again? This book is the best introduction of the vast sea that is Second Temple (and thereabouts) Jewish (and contemporary) literature. But the real reason that you want this book is for the scriptural, cross-listing index. Evans lists hundreds of parallels between the New Testament and contemporary literature - of course, it is up to the reader to decide how to use such parallels.

Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus

Modern biblical studies is rooted in German Protestantism. So many of our default positions come from a time and place that is now quite alien to us (I speak here as an American who was educated in Canada and the UK). Heschel's book is a brilliant introduction to these default positions. Time will tell whether her book becomes a standard classroom text, but it should.

E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism

I don't go in much for "Quest" demarcations, but it cannot be denied that Sanders led the charge on the most productive era of Jesus research in history. Honorable mention goes to Geza Vermes for his Jesus the Jew.   Who wouldn't want to read what Sanders, the greatest living New Testament scholar, has to say about Jesus?

Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus

Much like Bultmann (see Chris' list), Schweitzer's voice still sets the tone for the choir. Although we've nuanced his Quest paradigm a great deal, it is still his work that provides the basis for the field.

Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent

Best and most comprehensive book on the parables ever written. And I remain a big fan of Jeremais' masterful treatment. You simply will not have access to the earliest memories of Jesus unless you understand how the parables work. Snodgrass' book might provide the best window into this seminal thoughtworld.

N.T. Wright, New Testament and the People of God

This book (remarkably) has been overshadowed by his Jesus and the Victory of God. I almost wish that the second of these was never written. NTPG, when measured on its own, is epochal. Even if one disagrees with the overarching program, this book has generated more talking points in our field than any other in the past fifty years.


New Jesus Book

Just got word of this from the fine people at Baker Academic:
Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Moving past the controversy

If you'd like a sane first take from an expert on such matters, see here.

Jesus had a wife! (Part II)

Writing the phrase "Jesus had a wife!" is roughly equivalent to writing the phrase "Jesus had a penis!" Both phrases immediately suggest that Jesus had a sexual identity. Contextualized within a history of Christian culture that has been fearful of sexuality, you can create a nice little scandal with such information. For the record, I am not under the impression that most Christians (whatever that means - Xty is the most culturally diverse organized religion on the planet) are repressed puritans. But for a whole host of reasons most Christians like their Jesus to be asexual. Which, to me, is much more weird than a Jesus who had a normal human identity.

Look, I don't know if this thing is a forgery, or if it's an interesting window into what some folks believed about Jesus post-300. I'm not even sure which of these options would be more interesting. What I am sure about is that this a very old story dressed up in a new foreskin. The Jesus that we'd like to worship just isn't the Jesus that we find in our best historical reconstructions. If taken serious, more Christians should be scandalized that Jesus was circumcised on the eight day. But the fact that Jesus was Jewish has become commonplace. I suppose that a story about Jesus' fictional wife is a good reminder that he is deceptively familiar; there is so much about him that has been obscured by our overexposure to him.


Since St. Mary's is now officially claiming association, I now officially congratulate Chris. Much deserved, my friend! I know very few folks who have worked more diligently in such a short period of time.

Five Books that Must Be in Your Library—Chris Keith

This list reflects my interests in scribal culture, historical Jesus studies, and memory.  I have to stress that it’s not a list of the five best books in NT studies, but the five books that I would recommend to a potential PhD student in these fields. 

H. Gregory Snyder, Teachers and Texts in the Ancient World

My Doktorvater, Larry Hurtado, likes to cite Harry Gamble’s Books and Readers in the Early Church as a necessary read for any PhD student.  He’s right, but before Gamble I read Snyder’s study of texts and textuality, a revised version of his Yale PhD dissertation.  It changed entirely the way that I thought about the transmission of texts and, especially, the social and power structures that surround those texts in early Christianity.

Dale Allison, Constructing Jesus

Allison’s most recent tome is rightly considered a game-changer.  Perhaps the most important contribution is to methodology.  Allison is done with atomistic approaches to the gospel tradition.  Instead, his approach is to account for large patterns in the tradition.  I think this is going to be the way of the future in critical Jesus studies.

Rudolf Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition

This book’s presence on the list might surprise some people since I’ve spent considerable time and effort combating form criticism in some publications.  But it’s that effort that makes me appreciate all the more what Rudolf Bultmann accomplished.  He’s the greatest NT scholar of the 20th century for a reason, and this book lies at the core foundation of his entire project.  History of the Synoptic Tradition set the course for Gospels studies for decades because it shaped what an entire generation of critical scholars understood the Gospels to be.  Its presence is still felt today.

Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels

Anthony is working on a book where he argues that historical Jesus studies really starts with Josephus.  I’m open to that idea, but until he convinces me, as far as I’m concerned, it starts with Augustine’s Harmony of the Gospels.  At times, he’s making precisely the type of moves that later historical Jesus scholars present as novel and original.

Stephen Neill and Tom Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861–1986

This book is where NT Wright first calls the Third Quest the Third Quest.  Scholarly attention to that little nugget often overshadows the brilliant (and interesting!) description of New Testament studies by Stephen Neill.  It’s succinct, and the just the type of overview that someone entering the field needs, if nothing else to explain to others what in the world you do (or are going to do) with all your time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jesus had a wife!

...and nobody knew about it until the fourth century it seems:

The Next Ten Books that Every New Testament Library Should Have

Tomorrow Professor Keith and I will weigh in on the topic of most important books in New Testament studies. These books will not be the "top ten" books that every New Testament student should own. A list like that would include a Bible (e.g. The Access Bible), a biblical Pseudepigrapha, and a collection of commentaries (if you're starting from scratch, perhaps this). Our list will suggest the "next ten" books and thus we will assume that our readers have a few books on their shelves already. And, no, we will not be suggesting any titles with our names on the cover.


Interview with Helen K. Bond (Part II)

Part I can be found here.

ACLD: Do you think that there is such a thing as too much empathy in the task of historical reconstruction?  No doubt, we cannot help but project a bit of ourselves onto interesting historical figures, but this can’t always be a good thing.

HKB: You’re certainly right about the pitfalls of self-projection – and this has been the scourge of historical Jesus scholarship since it all began. Scholars now tend to be more open about their own preconceptions and agenda, but we need to be continually asking ourselves to defend our own decisions. Have I chosen x, y and z on good historical grounds, or because that’s the kind of Jesus I want to see? A Jesus who holds my own views? It’s often very hard to differentiate between the two, but we need to be continually on our guard.

ACLD:  In your discussion of the political backdrop for the careers of John the Baptist and Jesus, you say that while there is little evidence of uprisings during the 20’s, “tension was clearly brewing beneath the surface” (Bond, p.60). Very few historians would disagree with you on this point. In fact, it has become quite commonplace for North American and British scholars to talk about Jesus’ subversive stance against the Roman Empire. Do you think our interest in defining Jesus against “empire” tells us something about our own historiographical needs and/or motives?

HKB: Yes, quite definitely! I have the impression its actually much more common in the US than in the UK, and I think there's a good reason for that - probably all bound up with US angst about its own imperialism. The 'Jesus against Empire' seems to me to be an attempt to find a useful liberal Jesus for modern US Christians (Marcus Borg pretty much says as much in his latest book on Jesus). There's nothing wrong with wanting a useable Jesus, but he shouldn't be confused with the Jesus of history.

I actually think there's very little in the gospels that suggests that Jesus was 'anti-Empire' or specifically anti-Rome. Like most Jews, he probably saw history as a succession of Empires, all under God's control, and hoped that one day God himself would reign from Jerusalem. What set him apart from others was his overriding sense that God was coming to reign soon - in other words, his apocalypticism. I'm not saying that most people liked Roman rule, but apart from Hasmonaean times, it was how things had been pretty much since the exile. Josephus tells us that there were plenty of clashes between Jews and Romans, but most of these are in the 50s and 60s, when the Judaean governors seem to have had little ability (or perhaps interest) in arbitrating between the competing ethnic groups within the tiny province. It may not be very ‘cool,’ but I think Jesus was probably far more interested in human relationships between one another and God than in an empire that ruled though God's favour and was about to be swept away in the near future . . .

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Most Recent Project is Available! - Le Donne

I just laid my hands on this today. The book is called Soundings in the Religion of Jesus: Perspectives and Methods in Jewish and Christian Scholarship. Fortress Press, as always, really puts out a fine product.

From the beginning, I envisioned this as a good classroom text for courses on Jesus and courses on World Religions. Half of the chapters are written by prominent Jewish scholars and half are written by Christian scholars. All of us write with an eye toward contemporary Jewish-Christian dialogue. The idea here, and I admit that I think it is a good one, is to talk about Jesus and the "Religion of Jesus" (i.e. Judaism and/or Christianity, depending on your perspective) with unabashed religious commitments. So rather than hiding behind the veil of "objectivity" and leaving the reader to guess what agenda might be at work, this book is a step toward honest and responsible subjectivity.  But because there are multiple traditions represented (Reform, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, etc) and multiple regions represented (Canada, Germany, Israel, UK, USA, etc) this book provides several and varied portraits of Jesus.

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, each chapter demonstrates concern for the well-being of the perceived "other" in inter-religious dialogue. The tone of the book is not sectarian in the "us vs. them" sense of that word.

Interview with Helen K. Bond

ACLD: Helen, thank you for sharing some of your sabbatical time with me. I should tell you straightaway that I've assigned your introduction of The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed for my "Portraits of Jesus" class. Some of these students might be chiming in below with comments.

HKB: Thanks, Anthony, it’s lovely to talk to you - and I'm very glad to hear you're using my book with your class. It came out of a 3rd-4th year class on the historical Jesus that I've run for over a decade at Edinburgh, so I hope it helps to answer some of the things that students find difficult or just plain bizarre about Jesus scholarship. And I look forward to questions from your students!

ACLD: On the first pages of your book, you make a compelling case that reconstructing history is a necessarily imaginative endeavor. As a historian, do you see this as a problem to be solved, something to be embraced, or something else?

HKB: Definitely something to be embraced. As historians we need to be systematic about the way we do things - we have a few general rules and guides to help us - but we're misleading ourselves if we ever think that what we do can be described as 'scientific'. Especially with ancient history, we're continually having to live with a heavy load of uncertainty in all our findings. Sometimes a reconstruction might look plausible on a piece of paper, but we have to use imagination to ask ourselves what any given scenario might have felt like in real life - how would people have functioned in this way? is it really credible? And imagination is the only way I can think of that helps to neutralise our heavily interpreted primary sources - not to mention our own modern bias. Sometimes historical work seems like a very slippery endeavour - but it’s the complexities of it all that makes it so absorbing!

More with Helen here, here, and here.