Baker Academic

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Usually Happy Fellow Reviews Aslan’s Zealot – Le Donne

Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is an attempt to rehabilitate the *Jesus as a failed military revolutionary* argument that is well-known and well-worn in Jesus studies.  Aslan suggests that Jesus’ regional affiliations (Galilean militants), his enigmatic statement about Roman taxation ( ROMANES EUNT DOMUS ROMANI ITE DOMUM), attempts to keep his “messianic” aspirations a secret (a retread of Aslan’s undergraduate senior thesis), and a few of Jesus' statements about social discord make him a good fit as a proto-Zealot.  There’s more to his case, but almost every suggestion he makes in support of his thesis is as tenuous as the four mentioned here.

The strongest element of his case is the fact of the crucifixion. The fact that Jesus was executed as “King of the Jews” suggests that at least some Roman authorities recognized him as a political insurgent.  But this is not nearly enough to build the case that Aslan is trying to build: that Jesus was probably preparing his disciples for a militant uprising.

To be taken seriously on this point, Aslan would have to interact with David Chapman and/or Gunnar Samuelsson.  These scholars represent the most up-to-date researchers on the crucifixion in Jesus’ world.  Aslan cites neither.  If this key element of the book had been researched with more care, Aslan might have had a better chance of overcoming the many other deficiencies of this book.

Jesus’ preaching about God’s kingdom is undoubtedly political.  It makes sense that this teaching was directly related to the title posted on the cross (and/or the symbolic value of that title in Christian memory).  This much is not all that controversial.  Defining “political” is the key problem.  Reza Aslan’s book barely touches the vast sea of literature on this problem.  In short, this book is a surface-level (albeit well-promoted) rehash of an old puzzle in Jesus research.  Unfortunately, Aslan brings nothing new to the table that will help us solve the puzzle. He simply dismisses all of Jesus’ sayings about nonviolence as Christian invention.  This move isn’t unheard of, but he fails to make his case for invention adequately.

What has made this book controversial is not what Aslan says in the book.  What makes this book controversial is that many "Jesus consumers" (I just coined that phrase and I’m pretty proud of myself) are uncomfortable with Jesus books written by other-than-traditional-Christian authors.  Indeed, much has been make about Aslan’s lack of credentials, but was C.S. Lewis’ claim to expertise any different? [Insert your favorite Narnia joke here.]  —No—  Aslan might be guilty of inflating his résumé, but this is not what made the book controversial.  Sadly, I would welcome more other-than-traditional-Christian scholars in the field.  I really wish that I could endorse this book if for no other reason than to promote diversity.  I am convinced that the American news media’s fascination with Christian-Muslim relations has overshadowed the merits of Aslan’s thesis… or lack thereof.

There it is. If you were looking for a short review of Zealot by an established Jesus geek with fancy degrees, this is mine.  The rest of this review will be of less interest to casual "Jesus hobbyists" (I just coined that phrase too… I ought to drop the mic and walk off the stage now).

Is the Era of the White Whale Over? - Le Donne

Today I sat down to write my encyclopedia entry for the The Oxford Encyclopedia of Bible and Theology.  I was invited to write the entry for

"David, son of"

This title was the central test case for my proposed historiography in The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David. This book grew out of my Durham University dissertation of the same title.  For more on this book, see here.

In picking up this topic again, I have started to familiarize myself with how the research has evolved since I wrote the book. What is more striking by far is not the content of the research, but the media by which the content can be accessed. I began writing my dissertation in 2002.  At that time I remembered thinking, how on earth did Joseph B. Lightfoot (or James D.G. Dunn for that matter) research and write without a computer?  It still baffles the mind.  I have heard horror stories of 3X5 cards cataloged in shoe boxes. The stuff of nightmares!

But equally baffling is the dramatic advances made in virtual access just in the past ten years. For example, today I found myself staring, mouth agape, at an online pdf of Terence Mullins' "Jesus, the Son of David." This article was one of my white whales in 2002. I was hellbent on reading everything there was to read on the topic and I simply could not get my hands on this essay.  The Durham University library is great, but this particular essay was nowhere to be found. I put in requests for inter-library loans to no avail. Other requests to Cambridge were met in a timely manner, but the library gargoyles were having fun at my expense in this case.  This story is not uncommon among researchers.  We all have our white-whale stories.

It occurred to me today that had I waited a decade to write my dissertation, I might have spent considerably less time trying to harpoon a single essay.  The era of the personal computer, the era of research software, the era of online access... my generation has no idea what it must have been like for our forebears.  Yes, we have much more primary and secondary literature to read, but there is really no comparing these eras.


My Interview with Josh Mann - Le Donne

Josh Mann interviews me about blogging over at his blog. His "Press Publish" series is an avenue for research for a forthcoming paper on blogging in religious studies.

Check in with Josh early and often to see more in this series.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Did Reza Aslan Lie about His Credentials? - Le Donne

The FOXNews interview with Reza Aslan that went viral yesterday has spurred much discussion about his credentials. This article at first things accuses Aslan of being a liar. The final paragraphs are most telling:
It may be that Aslan sensed a tougher interview from Lauren Green than he is accustomed to. Hence he immediately went into high-dudgeon mode, and made the ten minutes all about her alleged disrespect of him and his alleged scholarly credentials. But in order to change the subject he told a string of gratuitous falsehoods about himself. Perhaps that master’s in fiction writing came in handy. 
Is Aslan’s book worth reading? I have no idea. But he has earned enough distrust from me that I haven’t any interest in finding out.
If by "tougher interview" Matthew Franck means "unprofessional, Islamophobic farce", I would agree. It pains me to say this, but both the interview and this First Things article seem to be motivated by religious distrust. A more considered line of questioning comes from Stephen Prothero. Prothero writes on Facebook:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Wife of Jesus - Pre-order My Newest Book at Amazon - Le Donne

Save five dollars by pre-ordering now.

Reza Aslan on FOXNews (embarrassed to be a human today) - Le Donne

In the past few hours, I have been alerted by five different friends of this interview of Reza Aslan by Lauren Green of FOXNews.  If you are a human who would like a reason to be ashamed of your species, I highly recommend viewing the nine-minute interview.

I have been asked about Aslan several times since his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth was published. To see some preliminary thoughts on this book by friend of The Jesus Blog, Larry Behrendt, click here. I am only a few chapters into the book myself, so I will withhold my thoughts on the book itself for now. A few words are warranted about this debacle of an interview.

Lauren Green begins the interview in an almost accusatory tone. According to Green, the most important thing to know about Aslan is that he is a Muslim. She barely veils her contempt and is openly offended that a voice from Islam might have something to say about Jesus. She repeatedly returns to the fact of Aslan's heritage and faith. I think that this fact is interesting. Aslan disputes a handful of beliefs about Jesus by the Qu'ran and Hadith. I also think that a case might be made for an anti-American agenda (I will have to finish the book before I can speak intelligently about this). For both of these reasons, I think that asking Aslan about his motives for writing the book are warranted. But Green does so without courtesy or tact. Because she will not accept his answer, this interview fails to cover almost any of the topics related to the book. That Green calls the exchange "a spirited debate" at the end is comical. As one friend wrote me, the interview was "quite an exercise in refusing to listen to each other."

For Aslan's part, it is generally bad form to cite one's credentials rather than supporting the merits of one's argument. Green made it about Aslan's qualifications, so Aslan was well within bounds to do so once. But to do so repeatedly sounds a bit like Anchorman's Ron Burgundy: "I'm kind of a big deal." One of the biggest problems with Aslan's book is that he has several blindspots in his research. The most embarrassing moment of the interview might be when he points out how many footnotes are in the book. The other quote that came to mind was from Hamlet's Queen Gertrude: "The lady doth protest too much."

Thank you, FOXNews. We're all just a little bit less intelligent because of you.

p.s. Some interesting discussion re: Aslan's qualifications on Jim West's blog.

To read my review of Aslan's book:

Anthony Le Donne (PhD) is the author of The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals.

Friday, July 26, 2013

David Williams on Faith and Scholarship - Le Donne

I've been really impressed with David Williams' two posts under the heading:

Why You Must Be Dying to be a Christian Scholar

At the risk of damning him with faint praise, this guy really gets it. It is greatly encouraging to be understood - I had almost forgotten how much. Posts here and here.

Thank you David! And have fun on your bachelor party weekend; don't deconstruct anything that I wouldn't.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Review of Reza Aslan's Zealot

We at the Jesus Blog are pleased to welcome back Larry Behrendt for a guest post. Larry blogs over at If you've seen one of Reza Aslan's recent interviews, you won't want to miss this:

Did The Second Temple Stink? (A Book Review) 
Larry Behrendt

I am predisposed to like Reza Aslan’s latest book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan is a talented author, he’s not Christian and he’s writing about Jesus. What’s not to like? Another point in his favor: Aslan strives to understand Jesus in the context of Jewish first century Palestine.

But I ran into problems from the outset of Aslan’s book. In the first paragraph of the book’s introduction, Aslan states that “[t]he itinerant preacher wandering from village to village clamoring about the end of the world, a band of ragged followers trailing behind, was a common sight in Jesus’s time – so common, in fact, that it had become a kind of caricature among the Roman elite.” It would be interesting to learn that the roads in Judea and Galilee were so crowded with itinerant preachers and their ragged followers that even Rome took notice! But what causes Aslan to reach this conclusion? His proof is as follows:
“In a farcical passage about just such [an itinerant preacher], the Greek philosopher Celsus imagines a Jewish holy man roaming the Galilean countryside, shouting to no one in particular: “I am God, or the servant of God, or a divine spirit. But I am coming, for the world is already in the throes of destruction. And you will soon see me coming with the power of heaven.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Wife of Jesus (my latest project) - Le Donne

Until now I have held my cards quite close concerning my latest book:

The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals

You can now read the description of my book at the One World webpage:

The idea that Jesus was married continues to fascinate. Look no further than Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code for evidence. Or indeed Harvard Professor Karen King’s recent discovery of the so called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife – a piece of ancient papyrus that made the explosive suggestion in 2012 that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were man and wife. But most who address the topic either dismiss the possibility or propound conspiracy theories, often of Christian origins.
Approaching the subject from a fresh, historical perspective and without appealing to sensationalist stories or dismissing Jesus’ sexuality on theological grounds, Le Donne places Jesus firmly within his sociocultural context. By investigating gender and marriage norms – as well as a number of social outliers who defied them – he provocatively argues that Jesus might have been married before he was thirty years of age.  Le Donne then points to several indicators that suggest that Jesus was a sexual non-conformist and probably was single during his public career. It is a quest that illuminates the humanity of Jesus, while also revealing important connections between ancient sexuality and modern spirituality.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Jesus and Militancy (our latest poll)

After a week of media buzz circa Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, a few friends have asked me what I think about Jesus' militant uprising. I imagine that readers of The Jesus Blog are more informed than most about such matters (emphasis on the word *imagine*).

So I put it to you: did Jesus literally advocate militancy? 

Vote above and comment below

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Response to J. Keith Elliott's Review--Chris Keith

Back in 2010, I read one of the most scathing book reviews I'd ever seen.  Unfortunately, it was of my own book, The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus (Brill 2009).  The review appeared in the Journal of Theological Studies and was written by J. Keith Elliott.  You can read it here.  I should also add that shortly before the publication of the review, I won a 2010 John Templeton Award for Theological Promise from the Forschungszentrum Internationale und Interdisziplinaere Theologie at the University of Heidelberg based on the book.  So I received this harsh negative feedback in a context of simultaneously receiving encouraging positive feedback.

Elliott managed in the space of about three or four pages to criticize the cover of the book (which I didn't pick), the foreword of the book (which I didn't write), the price of the book (which I didn't set), the fact that I published a chapter in the form of an article too closely to the publication of the book (the time frame for which I didn't control), as well as my chapter titles and dedications.  He referred to my dedication of the book to a friend, my mother (for having survived two forms of cancer), my wife, and my (at the time) newborn son as "embarrassing and overblown."  He ended the review by taking the words I wrote to my son in the dedications out of context to make it look like I was dismissive of my own study.  The problem was not limited to the unprofessional act of dragging an author's dedicatory words to family members into an academic review that, ostensibly, was supposed to focus on the actual content of the book, though.  On several occasions, Elliott misrepresented the argument of the book and even attributed to me the precise opposite of what I claim in the book.  To this day I have no idea what prompted the review and its tone.  I had never met Elliott in my life prior to the next SBL when I made sure to introduce myself and ask a few pointed questions.

At the time, I offered no formal public response other than a quick comment on Mark Goodacre's blog when Elliott's review came up in the comment thread on Marks' discussion of another negative book review.  Elliott was a very senior scholar in the field of NT textual criticism and I was a very junior scholar.  There was no way for me to respond officially without it looking like sour grapes.  I did appreciate several blog discussions (here and here), though.

Earlier this year, the new editors for JTS learned of the review.  They were shocked and invited a response, offering to publish a formal apology before it.  That response, including the unreserved editorial apology, has now appeared in the online version of JTS and will appear in print in the next volume.  You can access the online version here.

Negative criticism is part of academia and to be expected.  We are not always right and our peers' job is to point that out sometimes.  Thankfully, though, this type of negative criticism is rare.  I appreciate the current editors of JTS taking the unusual step of rectifying such an odd review and offering me a platform to respond.

Update:  Brad Johnson comments on the journal taking responsibility for the review here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Zimmerman and Jesus - Le Donne

My friend Ian posted this on facebook:

Waiting in Mammoth Cave National Park -- so of course the Zimmerman trial was on a TV. Keep in mind. We don't watch TV at home. 
Christopher (age 8): This is the second strangest trial I have ever heard of.
Me: How many trials have you heard of?
Christopher: Two.
Me: What's the other one?
Christopher: Jesus' trial.
Me: Yep, definitely the second strangest. 
Next week, we will read Plato's "Apology".

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Le Donne and the Son of David--Chris Keith

I'm currently in the midst of finishing revisions on my inaugural lecture, "Social Memory Theory and the Gospels: The First Decade," to be given here at St Mary's in October.  It provides an assessment of social memory theory applications to the Gospels in the past ten years and, yes, of necessity will engage with recent criticisms that I regard as not wholly out of line but seriously misrepresentative of the breadth of the discussion.  I hope this essay will display just how many different applications the theory has already spawned.

Regardless, the writing of this (two-part) essay has provided me the opportunity to reconsider Anthony's  tree-hugger manifesto The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David (Baylor, 2009).  Anthony is rightly praised for the methodological contribution that this volume makes.  It was at the time the fullest application of memory studies to Jesus studies.  Furthermore, it did not rely solely on memory studies to make its contribution, but rather situated memory studies against a larger hermeneutical backdrop that included discussions of critical realism, Bultmann, Schleiermacher, and the whole kit and kaboodle. 

Unfortunately, though, I don't think Anthony has received proper due for just how groundbreaking the second half of the book is.  To my knowlege, it is the fullest discussion of the Davidssohnfrage.  Anthony argues convincingly that "Son of David," although a Davidic term generally, was more importantly a Solomonic term specifically.  He tracks the reception-history of this typological category and thus provides an excellent discussion of how Mark and Matthew, in their own ways, appropriated the category for Jesus.  It's an excellent demonstration of the methodological principles of the first section of the book in a concrete example--the Gospel authors were influenced simultaneously by their presents and their inherited pasts.

Since I've elsewhere in print criticized aspects of this book, I hope that readers of this blog will take my commendation of these aspects of the study seriously.  Anthony's contribution to scholarly discussion of Jesus as "Son of David" is just as pioneering as his memory research, even if the latter gets all the attention and pitchforks.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bart Ehrman, Me, and Jesus' Literacy--Chris Keith

Over at his blog Christianity in Antiquity, Bart Ehrman answers a reader's email about my monograph, Jesus' Literacy: Scribal Culture and the Teacher from Galilee (T&T Clark, 2011), a link to which is below.  He speaks positively of the study (and my first book, which he and Eldon Epp published in their Brill series) and gives a useful overview of some of the pertinent issues surrounding this complex, interesting, and controversial issue.  Bart and I are largely on the same page, as he notes, but he holds out some possibility for Jesus being able to read Hebrew.  So much of this issue must remain unknown ultimately, but I think that's very unlikely.  Ossuary inscriptions from the Second Temple period indicate that some level of familiarity of Hebrew existed even at the popular level.  But knowing a few words and using them in a funerary context is a far cry from being able to read sophisticated scriptio continua Hebrew documents.  Even in our own context, we wouldn't conclude from tombstones with Latin inscriptions that people in our culture can generally read Virgil's Aeneid, much less read it publicly.  These types of literary skills--reading and writing and/or copying lengthy Hebrew texts (and remember that not everyone who could read could also write)--resided mainly among the scribal-elite circles who had the leisure time to pursue such an education.  The vast majority of Second Temple Jews living off the land were illiterate, as they had no real use for literate skills and no time in which to acquire them.  Bart rightly cites the influential works of William Harris and Catherine Hezser in this regard, who both show that there was nothing like a public education system that reached the majority of the populace.  But even among the minority scribal elite who did receive an education, not all attained complete proficiency in reading Hebrew.  One of the documents from the Qumran community, 4Q266, includes a statement that members were not allowed to read Torah publicly unless they could do so without having to "sound out" the words.  And despite what many people say, there is absolutely no reliable evidence that reading and writing education occurred in synagogues in the first century.  That is a projection of our own literate society onto the world of Jesus.  There is no solid evidence that there was an elementary school in the synagogue at Nazareth, much less that Jesus attended it.

The New Testament showcases a disagreement between two Gospel authors as to whether Jesus resided in the scribal-literate class.  I've published in great detail on this issue in Jesus' Literacy and Bart cites this important Gospel disagreement in his post.  Mark 6.3 has Jesus rejected in the Nazareth synagogue as a teacher because he's a carpenter.  Luke 4 also has Jesus rejected, but not because he's a carpenter.  Luke even attributes public reading of the Scripture to Jesus.  So Mark thinks Jesus is outside the scribal-literate class and Luke thinks he's inside it, though both agree that Nazareth wasn't the highlight of his teaching career in the eyes of his contemporaries.  Interestingly, John 7.15 simply reports that one of Jesus' audiences was confused about his scribal-literate status.  I've argued extensively in Jesus' Literacy that the most likely historical scenario is that Jesus did not hold scribal literacy, but that some of his contemporaries probably thought he did.  This is the launching point also for my newest book, Jesus against the Scribal Elite.

Let me state two others things quite clearly.  First, saying that Jesus could not read the Hebrew Scriptures is not the same as saying he did not know them.  I think he clearly did know them, even intricately, but this type of knowledge acquisition was available through the public reading of Scripture in synagogue.  Second, saying that Jesus was a scribal illiterate is not the same as saying he was stupid.  This is another projection of our world onto the world of Jesus.  Most people in industrialized societies today receive an elementary education.  This simply was not the case in the ancient world and the vast majority (90% to 95% or even higher) were illiterate. If you're interested in these issues, here's a link to the paperback (and cheaper) edition of my book.  If nothing else, I hope that Bart's discussion and this post indicate that the issue of Jesus' literacy is not simply a novelty topic.  It relates directly to what type of teacher Jesus was and thus how he was received by his audiences (hostile and friendly).  All the Gospels agree on that.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Jesus against the Scribal Elite—Chris Keith

I’m happy to say that my new book, Jesus against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict, is now available for preorder on Amazon thanks to the great team at Baker Academic.  You can follow the image below.  The book is, I think, scheduled for publication in April 2014.

To my knowledge, this is the first book that deals with the very early period of the conflict between Jesus and authoritative Jewish teachers, asking how it was that Jesus came to be on their radars in the first place.  Most historical Jesus studies consider the controversy as a starting point itself that eventually led to the crucifixion.  This is correct, but overlooks the interesting issues involving how there came to be a conflict at all.  How is it that Jesus, unlike thousands of Second Temple Jews, came to gain their attention and concern?  Several chapters function as a more accessible version of the argument I forwarded in Jesus’ Literacy: Scribal Culture and the Teacher from Galilee concerning the historical Jesus’ scribal-literate status.  But this book moves beyond that argument and considers the broader exegetical and historical implications of it, specifically as it relates to the controversy narratives where Jesus argues with scribes, Pharisees, and others.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Peter Conference in Edinburgh and the International SBL: Initial Report—Chris Keith

I’m back from the Peter Conference at Edinburgh and the international Society of Biblical Literature conference after it, the latter of which this year took place in St Andrews, Scotland.  It was absolutely beautiful weather for almost the entire time.  I like international SBL because it tends to be more low-key than the annual meeting.  Really, the people who come tend to be locals wherever it’s held, young scholars trying to get paper presentations on their CVs, and established scholars with research budgets who use the international meeting as a vacation.  It’s a great mix and I enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Reply to Zeba Crook - Le Donne

A while back I posted about my response to Zeba Crook's JSHJ essay. If you're signed up for (free), you can have a look at it here.  (Content removed for legal reasons.) Today Dr. Crook responded:
In fact, no he does not have a "beef" even "to a lesser extent" with Allison (as the short rejoinder makes clear), nor does he come close to placing Allison in the same category as McIver (in any way other than an interest in the gist of Jesus). And nor, does he refer to Le Donne as "conservative." And no less, Le Donne is complimented and set apart from the other repeatedly in the article. Sorry folks, no irony here.
Zeb, thanks for checking in. To provide a bit of context, I'll paste your abstract:
Crook Abstract
Memory theory is being used, if not explicitly to buttress the reliability of the gospel portraits of Jesus, to do so implicitly by shifting the search away from the ipsissima verba Jesu toward the memory of Jesus. Rather than argue about what Jesus did not or did not say – the reliability wars – scholars now sidestep the issue by arguing that memory is inherently reliable in a broad or general way. Thus, the gospels are reliable not at the level of detail, but at the level of broad memory, impact, or gist. In this paper I argue that such optimism can only come by selectively quoting the troubling work of memory theorists, and by ignoring the full implications of memory theory.
and mine:
Le Donne Abstract
Zeba  Crook  argues  that  there  is  an  emerging  consensus  that  the  Gospels  are reliable historical narratives by those to have applied ‘memory’ theories to historical Jesus research. Crook argues that this emerging consensus betrays a selective reading of research done on ‘memory distortion’ in interdisciplinary study. This essay demonstrates that Crook misunderstands and misrepresents social memory theory both in and outside Jesus studies. A better understanding would have properly represented the spectrum from theoretical ‘presentism’ to ‘continuitism’ in memory applications/adaptations.
I do thank you for the kind words you say about my book in your essay. It does seem, however, that throughout your essay you refer to "conservative scholars" generally. As I am your chief conversation partner in this essay and you take issue with my use of the word "reliable", I could not help but understand the phrase "reliability wars" to be suggestive of warring camps.  I would be interested to know: who are these warring camps in your estimation?

As to your treatment of Dale Allison, I'll stick by what I wrote (pp.90-92) in the essay:

McGrath on Sacrificial Language - Le Donne

Those who followed our "child sacrifice" discussion last week might be interested in this post by James McGrath.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Remembering Percy Shelley - Le Donne

I was reminded that poet Percy Shelley died on July 8th of 1822 (anniversary yesterday). Shelley was one of those rare boy-geniuses whose body of work suggests a lifetime much longer than it was. He died before his thirtieth birthday. I gained an appreciation for Shelley from a college friend, but never knew about his musings in historical Jesus research until Dale Allison's Resurrecting Jesus (pp.59-60).

In Dale's discussion of Gehenna, he writes:
If, as it seems, Jesus muted the element of vengeance in his eschatological language; if in accord with the tradition about him, he proclaimed that God seeks the prodigal and graciously rains upon the unjust; and if, in the early sources, he shows no interest in either Joshua or Judges, books featuring violent holy war—then surely we might wonder whether he would have been comfortable with a traditional hell... To my imperfect knowledge, the earliest argument along these lines is about two hundred years old. It comes not from a theologian or biblical scholar but from a Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who lived before anyone knew the ABC's of source or redaction criticism. In his essay "On Christianity," he argued that the evangelists "impute sentiment to Jesus Christ which flatly contradict each other." Jesus, according to Shelley, "summoned his whole resources of persuasion to oppose" the idea of injustice inherent in hell; Jesus believed in "a gentle and beneficent and compassionate" God, not a being who shall deliberately scheme to inflict on a large portion of the human race tortures indescribably intense and indefinitely protracted" (Shelley, The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1:260, 253).  "The absurd and execrable doctrine of vengeance seems to have been contemplated in all its shapes by this great moralist with the profoundest disapprobation" (1:252-53).

Comfort with Ambiguity - Le Donne

After reading this really interesting article, (for which I must credit Dan Melligan), I thought I would ask:

In biblical studies, is it a virtue to be comfortable with ambiguity?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

“Jesus is the starving, the parched, the prisoner, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the dying. Jesus is the oppressed, the poor. To live with Jesus is to live with the poor. To live with the poor is to live with Jesus.”

~Jean Vanier

Friday, July 5, 2013

Latest Poll - SBL Baltimore, Monday, Nov. 25 (Which Would You Choose)? - Le Donne

It has come to my attention that Chris and I have been slotted in competing sessions at our conference in Baltimore. We're both scheduled at 4pm on Monday, November 25th. I have provided the roster for both sessions below. The first session features authors who have contributed to the use of "social memory" in Jesus studies (Keith and Rodríguez) alongside two recent critics of the use of memory in this field (Crook and Foster). The second session features a panel review of Dale Allison's long-anticipated International Critical Commentary on James as a platform for Jewish-Christian dialogue.

If given a choice between these two, which would you choose? You can vote above and comment below.

Research Award Essay—Chris Keith

Anthony was kind enough to congratulate me a while ago on winning a research award here at St Mary’s University College for my essay, “The Indebtedness of the Criteria Approach to Form Criticism and Recent Attempts to Rehabilitate the Search for an Authentic Jesus.”  This essay is my contribution to my and Anthony’s co-edited Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T&T Clark, 2012) and extends a line of argumentation that I first forwarded in an article (Chris Keith, “Memory and Authenticity: Jesus Tradition and What Really Happened,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 102.2 [2011]: 155–77).  T&T Clark, great folks that they are, have agreed to let me accept an invitation to put a slightly revised version of this essay on the Bible and Interpretation website.  I’m working toward that and will post here once it’s live.  In the meantime, I include the abstract of the essay that I submitted for the award competition below.

‘The Indebtedness of the Criteria Approach to Form Criticism and Recent Attempts to Rehabilitate the Search for an Authentic Jesus’ is primarily concerned with the usage of so-called criteria of authenticity in historical Jesus studies.  Although certain aspects of their logical framework date significantly earlier, scholars developed these criteria in earnest in the 1950s and 1960s.  Since then, they became standard features in historical Jesus studies, regarded widely as means by which scholars can separate the historical Jesus from early Christian interpretation of his life in the canonical Gospels.  This essay argues that the criteria of authenticity have not worked and cannot work as a historiographical method because they are essentially rooted in the historical positivism of modernity.  It has three main arguments.  First, it argues that the criteria of authenticity in historical Jesus research are, in reality, a 20th-century methodology known as form criticism, which New Testament studies abandoned decades ago.  Second, it argues that more recent developments in orality studies and memory studies demonstrate the impossibility of attaining “authentic” Jesus tradition, stripped of interpretation, which is the goal of the criteria of authenticity.  Attaining this goal is impossible because the past is always packaged in interpretive frameworks, whether for the individual or community.  Third, it argues that more recent attempts to integrate the criteria of authenticity into postmodern historiographical paradigms have not yet come to grips with the degree to which the criteria are incompatible with those paradigms as a result of their historical-positivist foundation.  Overall, I argue that historical Jesus scholars must abandon the criteria of authenticity since they seek an academic unicorn—uninterpreted past reality.  I propose that this frees scholars to work with the interpretive categories of the sources rather than in spite of them.’

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bono, Love, and Supersessionism - Le Donne

Most Christians believe in some form of supersessionism. This is to say that most of us believe that God chose Israel to bring Christ into the world for the ultimate purpose of establishing the Church. Or put another way: the teleology of God's covenants with Israel find fruition in Christianity. The implications of this belief should be (I say should be) obvious. Christian supersessionism fits hand-in-glove with anti-Judaism. We're sorry for those poor blighters, but God just can't bother with those old promises anymore.  Never mind what Paul says in Romans 11; we'd rather have a neat soteriology.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

McGrath and Rumney on 'Using Jesus' - Le Donne

I am predisposed to like this post because it promotes my blog. But I better appreciated McGrath's link to Gavin Rumney's reflection. See my comment after the McGrath offering.