Baker Academic

Friday, May 31, 2013

Take an Online Class on Jesus Instructed by Anthony Le Donne

Have you ever wondered if anything good could come from the internet? Well keep wondering and let me know what  you come up with.  In the meantime, you might consider taking an online class that I teach called "Portraits of Jesus".

Here is the course description:
In this course we will examine some of the different "Jesuses" who have emerged through the ages, including several interpretations of Jesus in historical studies, and several interpretations of Jesus from art and literature. This course will weave together three primary threads: 1) the Jesus of history; 2) ancient representations of Jesus; and 3) the various modern Jesuses who embody various symbols, ideologies, collective memories, and cultural identities. Through lecture and discussion, we will examine diverse portraits of Jesus in history, literature, art, song, and film throughout history.
This class will run from early June to mid-July. It will be hosted and accredited by the oldest university in California: University of the Pacific. You do not need to be admitted to the university as a full-time student to take this class.  If you're interested and would like to learn more, email me at aledonne at pacific dot edu.

The entire course will be conducted online and has no course prerequisites. All you need is a reliable internet connection and some gumption to get started.  Details about tuition costs are still being discussed, but you can get a general idea here.  I'm not yet sure about the maximum students allowed per course, but I imagine that the early bird will get the worm.  Because I've provided the above email, I have removed the comments feature below.

Ten students have already expressed interest; this class will max out at thirty.  For details about tuition and registration, email me at aledonne at pacific dot edu.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cathar Christology - Le Donne

Every once and a while heretics turn out to be a whole lot of fun!  I suppose it takes one to know one.  How I came to study the thirteenth century Cathars this weekend is uninteresting, but what I found was the most bizarre Christology that I've ever encountered.

Disclaimer: we only know about Catharism through contemporary Catholic polemic.  Keep in mind that they were accused of bestiality, incest and *gasp* contraception, among other nasty things. In other words, their theological opponents accused them of being anti-Catholic at every turn when it came to sexuality (and a host of other issues). On the contrary, the Cathars probably practiced sexual abstinence to a great extent.  So take this all with a grain of salt.

It seems that (in keeping with their radical dualism) the Cathars believed in two Gods (one good; one evil) and two Christs (one celestial; one terrestrial). Both of the Gods had wives. The good God had two wives (sounds like the beginning of a word problem). The son of the evil God was Lucifer. Lucifer seduced one of the wives of the good God and she gave birth to Jesus. So one of these Christs was the son of Lucifer.

cf. this fine book.

Here is the question.  It is unclear to me which Jesus she gave birth to.

Was it the terrestrial Jesus or the celestial Jesus?

Tom Wright and the Book He didn't Write - Le Donne

It must be difficult to be N.T. Wright. The man publishes so many books that sometimes the books aren't even his.  Check out the sleuth work of Michael Bird here. If this "marketing snafu" teaches us anything it is that you can co-write a book with whomever you like and then just apologize for the misunderstanding.

In related news, J.D. Salinger and I are working on a new project together. Title and topic to be determined, but I'm pretty sure it will include zombies, a talking Jesus-lion, and an unlikely young wizard named Harry Potter.


Monday, May 27, 2013

The New Cambridge History of the Bible—Chris Keith

Last week in the mail I received my contributor copy of The New Cambridge History of the Bible: From the Beginnings to 600.  I was very fortunate to co-author with Larry Hurtado Chapter Four:  “Writing and Book Production in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods” (my contribution is found on pages 71–80).  This book will no doubt be the standard work on the Bible, in all its many languages, translations, adaptations, uses, etc. in the ancient world, for years to come.  I offer heartfelt congratulations to the editors, James Carleton Paget (Cambridge) and Joachim Schaper (Aberdeen), for their successful completion of a monumental task.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Questions about Jesus and Divorce - Le Donne

One episode in Mark that has traditionally been viewed by scholars to bespeak the teaching of Jesus (i.e. not invented by the early Church) is this:
1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered,“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:1-12; cf. Matt 19; Luke 16; 1 Cor 7).
For the sake of argument, let's say that Jesus taught something quite similar to this. What's the point? What is Jesus getting at?  It's not like the Pharisees were anti-family.  If anything, Jesus' other sayings about family  lean in this direction (e.g. Mark 10:29-30).

Is the motive to ramp up Scripture's teaching on divorce, or was the aim to undermine Moses' authority (thus the appeal to Genesis rather than a legal text)? What was the Sitz im Leben Jesu? Or, put another way, what made this particular (seemingly unique) teaching meaningful within Jesus' movement?


Is the New Pope Good for Jews?

In light of this story about Pope Francis, a friend of mine recently suggested that this pope might have an appreciative understanding of the Noahide laws. He (thank you, Joel) pointed me to this article.

There are a few places where Francis has been vague (perhaps intentionally so) but he seems to care deeply for inclusivity and fence mending, whatever that means to him. Let's hope that these hints are portents for more to come.


Oxford in 1970

Mark Goodacre has a really cool blast from past video over at NTweblog.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Top Ten Highlights of my Trip to Hog Territory - Le Donne

10) Saw my first real armadillo. It was road kill, but it still counts.

9) Ate at the famous Mr. Spriggs BBQ. The meat fell right off the blessed bone!

8) Was treated to see Star Trek: Into Darkness. My thoughts on this flick are here.

7) Saw Elena Blackburn complete five pull ups—one for every year of her life. Chin went right over the bar.

6) Saw the Tornado-savvy and focused Pastor Phil in his element. I learned about updrafts, clouds organizing, and tornadic storms. I never even knew that “tornadic” was a word. “Discover the Excellence!”

5) A lovely Arturo Fuente.

4) Met a dude named (no kidding) “Oklaben”. In addition to being handsome and bright, I was convinced that he possessed the coolest name on the planet. This was short-lived as I was soon told that his father is named “Oklahomer”. God bless America!

3) Had several edifying conversations about Paul's environmentalism.

2) Got to spend some time with the fine people of Fort Smith, Arkansas.

And the top highlight of my trip to hog territory: 

1) Was reminded that Christians can rise to be truly wonderful when pressed into action.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tornadoes and Christians

I spent the last five days in Oklahoma and Arkansas.  Although there were tornado sirens going off and tornadoes just north and south of me, I was never in any real danger. I spent most of the last two days watching the local television coverage.

Those who know me know that I often assume the role of an insider's critic to Christianity. Allow me to say that I have been quite proud of the Christians I've witnessed over the past few days.  The churches in Moore and the larger OKC area have delivered nothing short of saintly work.  They won't get any national publicity for it and they don't really want it.  I can say the same of the many folks near Joplin too.  We have our faults and they are many, but when it comes to disaster relief and care for victims, the Christian Church is a force of good in this world.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness and Religion - Le Donne

I saw the latest Star Trek offering yesterday (thanks to Pastor Phil who used his gift card to pay my way).

For the self-aware and un-geeky, here is the premise: This movie is a reboot of the original Star Trek story and characters—imagining that they are all young, living in a parallel universe and more attractive.  It also turns out that tinkering with the time-space continuum can turn you into a better actor.

I’ve always been sort of nerdy, but I’ve never been a Comic Con-nerd. I did, however, watch Star Trek regularly in my youth. It was a father-son thing. On the Star Trek nerd scale, I’m somewhere between comparing The Next Generation to Greek mythology and not knowing (or caring) what the Klingon word for “honor” is.  And I have indeed kissed a girl.

I really liked Into Darkness. These reboot films have been heavy on character development (rare in action/adventure flicks) and have brought in some interesting twists to a franchise that looked to have sung it’s swan song decades ago. Both this film and the last one haven’t taken themselves too seriously either. In case you’re interested, you might enjoy this latest film a bit better if you reacquaint yourself with The Wrath of Khan first.

The reason for this post—and what makes it relevant for religious studies—is that Into Darkness reminded me that I’ve never been impressed with the Star Trek treatment of religion. I’m not offended by a naturalist worldview, I just think that the writers have tended toward a superficial understanding of what makes religions tick. This is a severe limitation for any science-fiction mythology.

Divine Providence and Old Book Smell - Le Donne

My friends. Science, when done well, makes one happy. For example, I learned this in a used book store today:

"Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good-quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us."

from Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez


Behind the Gospels by Eric Eve—Chris Keith

Today in the mail I received a copy of Eric Eve’s new book, Behind the Gospels: Understanding the Oral Tradition

I was able to read the prepublication manuscript of this book, and it’s fantastic.  It is now the go-to first port of entry into scholarly discussion of how we got the Gospels and what the Jesus tradition would have looked like prior to its textualization in the Gospels.  Eve provides an introduction to the important scholarship from form criticism up to the present.  Although it’s heavily focused on the oral tradition, Eve takes clear account of the impact of memory studies as well, offering several chapters on this topic.  What makes this book so great is that Eve has a very balanced perspective on everything, taking stock of the strengths and weaknesses of all the major models for understanding the oral tradition.  Here’s his conclusion to whet your appetite: 

“It should by now be clear that thinking about the oral tradition behind the Gospels has moved on a long way since the days of classical form criticism.  It also seems clear that any account of the pre-Gospel tradition has to reckon with the interplay between stability and flexibility, recollection and interpretation, novelty and conformity to cultural expectations, and the needs to understand the past in light of the present and the present in light of the past, and that this interplay is extremely unlikely to have resulted in either photographic recall or total invention.  Finally, oral tradition has increasingly come to be understood within the context of social memory, and it may be that in future research memory will turn out to be a more useful category than oral tradition.”  (p.185).

Congratulations to Eric on a fine volume! 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

My Doppelganger

I preached at 1st Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith today where I met my doppelganger. Handsome as all hell.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

~Albert Schweitzer

Friday, May 17, 2013

Review of The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation

Amy-Jill Levine reviews Zev Garber, ed. The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation. Shofar Supplements in Jewish Studies Series. West Lafayette Purdue: University Press, 2011.
This review is not short of one-liners for which Prof. Levine has become famous.


p.s. my thanks to Ovidiu Creanga for bringing this to my attention.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why I Thank God for Bart Ehrman - Le Donne

Academia is a business of argumentation. We are trained to falsify our own assumptions to varying degrees of success.  We are also trained to appraise the strengths and weaknesses of our colleagues' arguments with varying degrees of honesty.  The byproduct of such a state of affairs is that almost no professional scholar can agree with a colleague 100% of the time.  This is a happy byproduct.

It just so happens that we spend most of our time focusing on the 5 to 10% that makes for good debate.  (By the way, keep this in mind the next time that someone laments that there is a different "historical Jesus" for every historical Jesus scholar.  In my view, most of us agree much more than we disagree.)  This is why Tom Wright and Marcus Borg could tour the world for a decade with their Siegfried and Roy act.

So I am quite happy to say that I agree with about 80% of what Bart Ehrman writes.  This statement will scandalize some demographics and seem par for the course to others (no surprise there).  Some folks are going to think that 80% is too high a percentage as I am a professing believer and Prof. Ehrman is a dreaded heretic.

Hurtado on Jacobovici

A brief but spot-on critique of Simcha Jacobovici's spin of the so-called Gospel of Jesus' Wife.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Goodacre Questions Nag Hammadi Discovery

In his JSNT article, Mark Goodacre asks:

How Reliable is the Story of the Nag Hammadi Discovery?

Here is the abstract:

James Robinson’s narrative of how the Nag Hammadi codices were discovered is popular and compelling, a piece of fine investigative journalism that includes intrigue and blood vengeance. But there are several different, conflicting versions of the story, including two-person (1977), seven-person (1979) and eight-person (1981) versions. Disagreements include the name of the person who first found the jar. Martin Krause and Rodolphe Kasser both questioned these stories in 1984, and their scepticism is corroborated by the Channel 4 (UK) series, The Gnostics (1987), which features Muhammad ‘Ali himself, in his only known appearance in front of camera, offering his account of the discovery. Several major points of divergence from the earlier reports raise questions about the reliability of ‘Ali’s testimony. It may be safest to conclude that the earlier account of the discovery offered by Jean Doresse in 1958 is more reliable than the later, more detailed, more vivid versions that are so frequently retold.

Congrats to Chris Keith!

Great news here about the British Academy/Leverhulme grant won by Chris Keith and company. The proposed three-volume project sounds fantastic.  Wish it were already published.


Monday, May 13, 2013

What is the Shelf Life of Social Memory Theory - Le Donne

Some trends last longer than others.  I was aware of this banal reality when I was writing my The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David.  At the time that I wrote, I had no reason to believe that "memory" would become a trend in biblical studies.  I did, however, observe a memory trend in other fields of the humanities.  Not wanting my book to have a short shelf life, I began, not with "memory" but with philosophical hermeneutics and "typology".  I then juxtaposed a few conceptually analogous categories. It seemed to me that the "hermeneutical spiral" had a great deal in common with the trajectory of human memory (both autobiographical and collective).  My motive was to build from a foundation that has had a tried and true place in biblical studies and then to bring in a relatively novel idea.

To my surprise, the time was ripe for the topic of memory in Jesus research.

Shortly after I finished the book, I sought out Dick Horsley for advice.  Prof. Horsley is always on the cutting  edge of interdisciplinary study and rides trends like a top-notch surfer boy.  I was worried that if I hitched my wagon to "memory" I would crash and burn as soon as the shelf life for the trend had expired.  (I've been reading St. Paul, so I'm trying to mix as many metaphors as I can.)  Prof. Horsley's advice was that I shouldn't distance myself from the trend—that I might as well see it through.  So far, it has been good advice.  Memory has indeed become a trend and we are only scratching the surface.

Still, I continue to be cautious.  Is this memory thing going to be like "critical realism"?  I.e. will only a couple people really swim in the theory while a generation of others dog paddle?  Or will social memory theory be like literary/narratological studies?  I.e. will it continue to evolve, adapting exciting developments from other fields of study?  I guess the key distinction here is that the latter remains (at its better moments) attentive to how parallel conversations are developing.  I'm cautiously optimistic.

This week's poll is meant to gauge how cautious and/or optimistic I should be.
Something is screwy with our google blogger poll gadget. I have removed said poll. -acld

Saturday, May 11, 2013

I'll be Speaking in Fort Smith, Arkansas, May 18-20

If you happen to be in the Fort Smith area next week, feel free to drop in on a presentation series I'm giving at First Presbyterian Church. The titles of my presentations are:
1. The Architecture of Creation and Community
2. Becoming a Temple in Three Impossible Steps
3. Creating Family between Chaos and Function
4. Paul’s Vision of Righteous Relationships
The second of these is a short sermon (around 10 mins) so that one is just an appetizer.  

As I'm flying into OKC, you can be certain that I'll be visiting this fine establishment.


Friday, May 10, 2013

John Barclay Lecture Online—Chris Keith

If you follow this link it will take you to the video of Prof. John Barclay’s lecture, “Paul and the Gift: Gift-Theory, Grace and Critical Issues in the Interpretation of Paul,” here at St Mary’s University College on May 3.  The video includes a short introduction from me, as this was the official launch of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Positive Examples of Collectivism? - Le Donne

One barrier that stands between our culture and that of Jesus is the difference between individualism and collectivism. In service to a recent writing project, I've been searching for examples of collectivism in ancient narratives. My hope is to illustrate the difference.

One might think of individualism as a typically western default position. In general, the countries of Western Europe and those colonized by the British have tended to privilege the rights and well-being of the individual. These cultures also tend to emphasize personal achievement even at the expense of family or group identities (+ printing press + fenced land + Magna Carta etc.). It is often argued that individualist cultures nurture a greater sense of competition. Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, emphasize family identity and group ideals, often at the expense of individual needs, desires, and achievements.* Jesus’ culture was closer to what we would call collectivism as compared to modern, western individualism.

In trying to provide examples of collectivism, I asked several friends for help. Invariably, all of the examples that came back were seemingly negative examples of collectivism.  E.g. Achan's execution, Ezra's demand for collective divorce, and the like. Not all of my advisers were American nor conservatives. They were, however, all modern westerners.  So I pose two questions: 

1) Are modern westerners simply too entrenched in individualistic ideals to understand the virtues of collectivism?

2) If the answer to number one is 'no', what are some positive examples of collectivism from ancient narratives?


*Cultures of individualism can also value collective identity and well-being. Conversely, cultures of collectivism can also value individual desire, need, and achievement. The difference here is which concept of well-being is primary. I should also clarify that I have no intention to promote one cultural system as intrinsically better.

Jesus’ Literacy Paperback Winner—Chris Keith

As you can see below, the True Random Number Generator has determined that the owner of comment seven is the winner. So would “Josueraul” from the comment below please email me at so that we can arrange for T&T Clark to send you your copy of the book?

I've signed up to follow. :-)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wes Anderson Bible

The Royal Tenenbaums or John 1

If you like Wes Anderson and you like the Bible, maybe you'll like the Wes Anderson Bible.

Like most of his films, this is a rated-R translation, but almost all Bibles are.


p.s. I apologize for explaining the joke, but this image brings together the theology of John Ch. 1 (w/ Matt/Luke) and this quote by Eli Cash:  "Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn't."

The Passing of Geza Vermes - Le Donne

It is with deep sadness that I pass along the news of the loss of Geza Vermes. I echo the admiration of Vermes already offered today.  I also regret that I never got to meet a man that I have admired for so long.  We have  lost one of the most influential scholars of Second Temple Judaism and historical Jesus research - most influential not only of his own generation, but of any.

- anthony

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Reception of the Jesus Tradition in the First Three Centuries (Helen Bond, Chris Keith, and Jens Schröter) - Chris Keith

St Mary’s University College now has the news release up for the small research grant that Helen Bond, Jens Schröter, and Chris Keith received from the British Academy.  The grant funds a planning year for the three of us toward a major three-volume reference work on the reception of the Jesus tradition in the first three centuries of early Christianity in both literary and visual cultures.  Accompanying this reference volume will be several monographs on focused topics and annual conferences in London, Edinburgh, and Berlin.  Importantly, though, the overall major project, for which we will apply for a larger grant at the end of this calendar year, will include funds for at least three PhD studentships (tuition plus stipend), one each at St Mary’s, Edinburgh, and Berlin.  These students will go through their respective programs as something of a cohort attached to the grant project, meeting together at the annual conference and (hopefully) publishing their studies as part of the overall project.  We are still a short distance from that, but this small research grant is the first steps in that direction.  If there are any potential PhD students who would like to be part of this exciting project, likely beginning in 2014 (but maybe 2015), please do not hesitate to contact Helen Bond ( or Chris Keith (  We can’t make any promises, but we’d love to hear from you.

This post is being simultaneously published on The Jesus Blog and the blog for the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins at New College, University of Edinburgh. 

Church Times review of Soundings in the Religion of Jesus

A friend recently send me a clipping of a review that I would not have seen otherwise. Because I'm not sure that there is a digital copy of this review circulating the interwebbernets, I've reproduced it here. I have corrected the reviewer's misspelling of "Eyal Regev" and I've probably added a few typos of my own along the way. The reviewer (Harries) is quite right that the book could have done more to distinguish between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.

I thank Rev. Harries and the Church Times (28 March 2013) for this generous exposure and close reading.


Monday, May 6, 2013

John Barclay on Paul and Grace/Gift—Chris Keith

We normally focus on Jesus scholarship and the Louisville Cardinals here at the Jesus Blog, but last Friday requires a quick diversion.  On that evening, Prof. John Barclay of Durham University (Doktorvater of our own Dr. Anthony Le Donne), launched the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible (CSSSB) at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham with a lecture entitled “Paul and the Gift: Gift-Theory, Grace and Critical Issues in the Interpretation of Paul.”  As many will know, the Greek word for “gift,” charis, is the exact same word that translators often render “grace.”  This lecture, therefore, went right to the heart of hot issues in Pauline scholarship since it concerned Paul’s concept of grace.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

In Honor of Kierkegaard's 200th Birthday

"When a lark wants to pass gas like an elephant, it has to blow up. In the same way, all scholarly theology must blow up, because it has wanted to be the supreme wisdom instead of remaining what it is, an unassuming triviality."

~Søren Kierkegaard

My thanks to theologian/philosopher Christopher Ben Simpson (author of this fine book) for the quote.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Over at Exploring our Matrix

We don't tend to use this blog as a platform for or against the Jesus-as-myth thesis, but Bart Ehrman's entry into the conversation makes it a bit more interesting.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Does Pharisees = Hypocrites?

A must-read post by Scot McKnight:


Special Lecture from Prof. John Barclay—Chris Keith

St Mary’s University College announces the launch of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible with a special lecture from Prof. John Barclay (Durham University) on ‘Paul and the Gift: Gift-Theory, Grace, and Critical Issues in Pauline Interpretation.’ The event will occur on May 3 in the Waldegrave Drawing Room on the campus of St Mary’s University College, with the lecture commencing promptly at 5:30 pm. This event is open to the public and free. For reservations, please contact Sam Chant ( and for information please contact Chris Keith (

Abstract:  This lecture attempts three tasks: first, to use the anthropology of gift and historical studies of gift-giving in the Graeco-Roman world (including ancient Judaism) to raise appropriate questions about Pauline and early Christian discourses concerning gift; second, to outline ways in which gift-giving can be and has been ‘perfected’, that is, drawn out to an absolute or extreme form for the sake of definition or polemical advantage; and third, on this basis, to outline some of the key configurations of grace in the history of reception of Paul, and thus to clarify central issues currently mired in conceptual confusion.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Could Jesus Read..... Nozick?

Which reminds me: I've been thinking about reviewing Bill O'Reilly's Killing Jesus. I'll do it if somebody loans me a copy of the book.


p.s. My thanks to Dean Pinter for this meme.