Baker Academic

Friday, November 29, 2013

The SBL Memory and Historical Jesus Session--Chris Keith

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the Historical Jesus program unit session on social memory theory this past SBL alongside Rafael Rodriguez, Zeba Crook, and Paul Foster.  It was no doubt lively, as Foster accused me of being thin-skinned and I accused him of publicly shining his halo. 

To a large extent, though, I confess that it felt like two groups talking right past one another.  Someone on Facebook or the blog said we have different views of "history" and "truth" and I think this is accurate.  Rodriguez and I both gave overviews of social memory theory, arguing that it is not a replacement for historiography but has implications for it because it addresses the nature of "tradition."  Those implications are not insignificant, as they indicate to us that the game of historical Jesus studies as it has been played is broken; thus we are not interested in playing that particular game anymore.  We both believe that historical Jesus studies is still vibrant and possible, but we dismiss the attempt to quest after the historical Jesus by atomistic approaches to the tradition that attempt to separate the past and the present in the tradition too neatly.  Crook argued that experimental psychology indicates that memory distortion means that we cannot quest after the historical Jesus at all and are thus at a New No Quest.  Foster argued that Rafael and I are not doing historical Jesus research as defined by Meier, Crossan, Sanders, et al.  Jens Schroeter made a cameo from the audience, dropping some thunder from on high and reinforcing the point that social memory theory is not antithetical to historical critical research; rather, it provides hermeneutical perspective on what it means to transmit and write "history."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Social Memory Theory and the Gospels: The First Decade--Chris Keith

I'll shortly get up some thoughts about the SBL session on memory and historical Jesus studies.  On that topic, though, I can now share that video is available for my inaugural lecture as Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary's.  You can access it here.  The lecture is entitled "Social Memory Theory and the Gospels: The First Decade."  My presentation at SBL was based on it, and the published version will appear as a two-part article in the journal Early Christianity.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Memory Session: Open Reflections

To my great discontent, I was not able to attend the Historical Jesus session dedicated to social memory applications in Baltimore today. This session featured our very own Chris Keith alongside Paul Foster, Rafael Rodriguez, and Zeba Crook. I would love to hear from those of you who attended. Feel free to comment below. I trust that all involved will keep this conversation civil.


Jesus and Buddha - Le Donne

The title to this post, my friends, is how you attract web traffic. It isn't technically deceitful because this is a weblog about Jesus, but this is a blog post about Buddha.  I couldn't help but stray from topic today.  This is absolutely fascinating.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Dale Allison: ICC James

In Baltimore this week for the Society of Biblical Literature. I'll publish my highlights next week, but I am anticipating that one of them will be a panel review for Dale Allison's expansive James commentary. One of the key talking points will be his controversial thesis concerning the social setting of James.  On page 43, he writes:
“James represents Christian Jews who did not define themselves over against Judaism. That is, our book emerged from a Christ-oriented Judaism, from a group that still attended synagogue and wished to maintain irenic relations with those who did not share their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. In such a context the Epistle of James makes good sense.”
If you're attending the conference today (Monday) clear some time at 4pm (Peale A - Hilton).


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tom Wright, Paul, Slaves, and Bloggers (here listed in order of importance)

Tonight Tom Wright and Fortress Press will host a get together in Baltimore with a handful of bloggers to discuss his new title, Paul and the Faithfulness of God.  Among the first topics discussed in this book is Paul's letter to Philemon (which, I should add, is an unexpected and brilliant move). It just so happens that the world's foremost expert on slavery in Pauline soteriology also blogs a bit and will be there.  Of course, I'm referring to the robustly mustachioed John Byron. He details a question that he has prepared for Tom here.

Should be a good time.


Friday, November 22, 2013

"For the first time in the history of modern Jesus research..."

I was flipping through a glossy catalog that the fine folks at ISD sent me yesterday. I was particularly excited to see this title: The Originality of Jesus: A Critical Discussion and Comparative Attempt by Per Bilde. You might recognize Bilde from his work on Josephus. If I ever have an extra $100 to burn, I'll be sure to spend it on late fees related to my borrowing of this book. In all seriousness, this looks like a very interesting read. But what struck me about this book was the description provided by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht:
For the first time in the history of modern Jesus research Per Bilde aims his scholarly interest at the originality of the historical Jesus. Accordingly he examines the historical Jesus and 14 contemporary Jewish Palestinian figures who, in one or more respects, can be argued to be comparable to Jesus. He comes to the conclusion that Jesus can be regarded as similar to a number of these figures, however, some more than others, and that he appears to be unique in some other respects.
That first line is a great example of how little control authors have in the promotion of their books. "For the first time in the history of modern Jesus research..." It certainly catches the eye and I'm sure that was the purpose of the phrase. My guess is that if Dr. Bilde had any say in this promotional copy, he might have put it differently.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

This is the book I'll be reading today on my eastbound flight from SFO:


A Very Important Book - Le Donne

In 2003 I thought that I was the only person in the world who was applying "social" and "cultural" memory theories to the Gospels. I had discovered this book and I felt like I was looking at Yosemite for the first time. Then it was Egyptologist, Jan Assmann and historiographer, David Lowenthal. These fellows were the intellectual children of French sociologist, Maurice Halbwachs. So next I read Halbwachs.  For all I knew, I had the theory all to myself within New Testament studies.  Then I discovered this:
Jens Schröter, “Von der Historizität der Evangelien: Ein Beitrag zur gegenwärtigen Diskussion um den historischen Jesus,” in Der historische Jesus: Tendenzen und Perspektiven der gegenwärtigen Forschung (ed. by J. Schröter and R. Brucher; BZNW 114; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2002),163–212.
I was not alone in the universe.

My next discovery, which was no less significant, was that a guy named Alan Kirk was working on something similar. I was lucky enough to find Alan's email address. I read his seminal SBL paper and learned that he was planning a project that featured sociologist and historian, Barry Schwartz. That project turned into this book, the first of it's kind in biblical studies.

If you're at all interested in social memory, Christian origins, or the latest in historical Jesus research, you must read Memory, Tradition, And Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity. Yesterday, Brian LePort offered a helpful introduction.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

See You in Baltimore - Le Donne

Every year I mark one or two "don't miss" sessions in my AAR/SBL program book. Here is one that I will attend come hell or high water. Even if Hebrew Bible isn't your thing, this session will not disappoint. Promises to be lively and discuss big picture developments.  I don't mind saying that there are a few really brilliant and entertaining personalities featured here.

Jewish-Christian Dialogue and Sacred Texts
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Tubman - Hilton Baltimore
Theme: Reflections on the Contributions of Jon D. Levenson: A Review of The Call of Abraham
Joel Lohr, University of the Pacific, Presiding
Gary Anderson, University of Notre Dame
Opening Remarks and Survey of Levenson's Contributions (20 min)
Leonard Greenspoon, Creighton University
The Early Years (15 min)
Richard Clifford, Boston College
General Reflections (15 min)
Leora Batnitzky, Princeton University
General Reflections (15 min)
Kevin Madigan, Harvard University
General Reflections (15 min)
Kathryn Schifferdecker, Luther Seminary
General Reflections (15 min)
Joel Kaminsky, Smith College
Concluding Reflections and Festschrift Comments (20 min)
Discussion (35 min)

If you plan on coming to this session and we've never met in person, do please introduce yourself. I'll be the guy in the Kaepernick jersey and the big foam finger.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bible Secrets…. Shhhhhhhhh!

I am uniquely unqualified to discuss the newest History Channel documentary “Bible Secrets Revealed.” Not only do I possess no expertise in film production, I haven’t even watched this particular production.  Moreover, I have a handful of friends and colleagues in Bible Secrets, so it would take special consideration to say anything tactfully less than entirely true.

But my interest here has less to do with the content or packaging of Bible Secrets Revealed and more to do with the question of scholarly involvement.  On such matters I turn to the handsome, charming, and allegedly British, Mark Goodacre; the man who never met a camera he didn’t like.
AL: Mark, you're the veteran on such matters... what would you say to folks who criticize individual scholars (interviewees) for the overall content of such documentaries? 
MG: I think it shows real lack of imagination. Any documentary is a group product, with script-writers, researchers, consultants, and of course there will be many things that any individual won't like, and it's kind of daft to criticize any individual participant for the whole thing. There are lots of things that didn't appeal to me about the first episode as individual pieces, but overall it did a superb job of setting out some of the issues. 
AL: Okay, so I'm a devil's advocate here. What about this reply: "But you must know what you're getting into based on previous work put forth by that particular channel." 
MG: That would also show lack of imagination or perhaps ignorance. Programmes shown on the History Channel are made by a variety of different companies. So the previous thing I worked on for the History Channel was made by Lightworkers Media in the UK, a completely different company from Prometheus, who are making Bible Secrets Revealed. That's not to say that the channel is irrelevant, but it amuses me first to see people criticizing the History Channel for being too conservative and then to criticize it for being too liberal.
Mark was kind enough to allow me to rehash this conversation for the purpose of this post.  I would reiterate another point that I’ve made in other contexts: the divide between scholarship and the general public is still too wide.  We need more scholars willing to interview, not less.



Monday, November 18, 2013


Thank you to Baylor University Press for hosting our last three giveaways. According to, the winner of Rudolf Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament and Oscar Cullmann’s Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr is:
Will the mysterious figure who posted this and shared our link on facebook please email Dr. Keith at with her/his mailing address?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Johnny Walker's Blog - Le Donne

If you're not yet a fan of Johnny Walker's blog, check it out.  It's as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Today he's posted an interview with me. Next week Johnny will interview Chris Keith about his forthcoming book. Actually, neither of them know this yet; but the power of suggestion is a powerful tool! - Let's see what happens.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Dr. Susanne Luther's lecture "The Ethics of Speech: Answers from the New Testament" at the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible is now available online--Chris Keith

I'm happy to say that video is finally available here for Dr. Susanne Luther's lecture "The Ethics of Speech: Answers from the New Testament."  Dr. Luther gave this lecture in October at the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible at St Mary's University College.  It's based on her forthcoming WUNT volume, Sprachethik im Neuen Testament.  We were honored to have Dr. Luther in London for the lecture.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chicago Tribune Review of The Wife of Jesus

My gratitude for Patrick T. Reardon's review of my latest book.

Reardon assesses the general "voice" of my writing against that of Reza Aslan's book.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Le Donne’s Taxonomy of AAR/SBL Participants

Your flights are booked. You’ve flipped through the program book a few times. You think you’re ready for AAR/SBL. Oh, sweet fool, you’re adorable! Of course you know that nobody is ready.  Not really ready. How can one adequately prepare for this conference when one cannot predict the elements?  I’m not talking about the weather; I’m talking about the constituent parts of the grand social experiment.  In order to really prepare you must know who you’ll meet in the wild.  Even so, the behavioral patterns of these rare birds have baffled scientists for over a century.

[revised using reader suggestions]

The Gladiator

You are a beautiful, but deadly beast. You anxiously await each annual meeting to demonstrate your prowess in theological Thunderdome. You must defeat every opponent and emerge victorious in both of your presentations (you feel that if you’re not presenting in at least two sessions, you’re not even trying).  Worse, you must “win” every conversation.  This might mean exposing an evangelical bias or getting a hearty laugh from a senior colleague.  You replay conversations in your head and wonder whether you might have sounded wittier if you had better timing or better voice inflection. Sadly, you very rarely know when the fight is over. You are looking for the thrill of just one more contest.

The Vacationeer

You are a professional with “study leave” or a “professional advancement” budget.  You shuffle around the book room for hours on end.  You might take in a paper here or there, but you’d be just as happy to see a film.  If there is a museum or a historic landmark nearby, you might get up early and catch a bus. On the rare occasion that you present a paper, you will shrug off questions from the audience. You’ve used the line, “That is a good point. I’ll have to think on that more.” Translation: “I’m on vacation. These are the fewest number of words that I can possibly say to you before I never think about you again.” You would just as soon discuss the quality of the hotel service or the crêpes you had for breakfast.

The Greenhorn

You are attending your first to third annual meeting(s) or have not been to a meeting for ten years or more.  You might be a student who is feeding your dreams of tweed-jacket paradise. You might have thought wistfully, “Maybe I’ll see James Charlesworth! Maybe he will invite me for a sauna and a robust discussion about the Testament of Solomon! He’ll be impressed that I’ve read the entire Pseudepigrapha and will invite me to do a PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary!”  You will be awed by the sheer magnitude of the book room. You simply cannot stop yourself from purchasing twenty or more books. The ideas are simply too exciting and the mark down is almost as good as amazon. You have highlighted the sessions that feature the “big names.” You will be disappointed to learn that most of these big names are Gladiators or Vacationeers.

The Observer

You have been around the conference world for millennia. You walk among academics unseen and only rarely tinker with their particular space-time continuum. You’ve seen Dom Crossan come and go.  You saw the great Bart Ehrman / Dale Martin debate.  You witnessed the John Barclay / Bob Jewett / Tom Wright extravaganza.  You’ve seen exhibitionists present in the LXX session, identical twins tag-team a presentation, and have tripped over drunken Sheffield professors passed out in the grand ballroom. You are surprised by nothing.  You walk the Earth like Caine in Kung Fu… walk from place to place, meet people, get into adventures.

The Artisan

You would much prefer to be isolated behind the comfort of a computer screen or an office. The conference is a necessary trip to the market.  You must showcase your wares and drum up new contacts. You might be a publisher or a bookseller. This will be your ninth conference of the year, but the last and biggest. You are tired of pretending that every new book proposal is a stroke of genius that will most certainly find a home with a good press. You might be a writer who needs to promote a book or test out an idea.  In either case, the annual conference is like taking medicine.  You have to do it just to check “due diligence” off the list; attending is just part of your job description.

The Resident Tourist
You do not attend the annual conference on a regular basis.  You happen to reside nearby the city of choice this year. You decided to attend because you don’t have to travel far to see the freak show.  You might be a pastor, priest, rabbi, or an interested lay person. You once saw [insert seminary professors name here] at a youth convention and you’re hoping to see what s/he has to say to these misguided Tower of Babel builders. You are quite shocked to learn that almost nobody present has heard of Francis Chan.

The Reunionist

You are one of the lucky souls who found babysitting for three glorious nights! You might not approve of how your mother-in-law cares for the kids, but you desperately need a few days of not managing someone else’s nasal mucus. You are going to pretend like you’re a grad-student again and celebrate this fantasy with others who enjoy the delusion. You’ll live through the seventh telling of that “funny story that happened back then” because it is worth it to see your friend laugh at her own story… again. You research restaurants and breweries weeks ahead of time to ensure that your reunions will have the appropriate ambiance. You’re not going to let committee meetings or academic panels ruin your fun. You’ve heard of a microbrew that must – MUST! – be sampled and discussed.

The Zombie

You thought that attending the annual conference was a good idea four months ago. You now, for the life of you, cannot remember what the hell you were thinking. You might have traveled across two or more time zones to present a paper that remains unfinished. You promised yourself that you’d finish it on the plane… but the in-flight movie was really just too horrible to look away. You shuffle from room to room looking for the one session you care about only to find that you’re in the wrong building. You will get stopped in the hotel lobby by a colleague who wants to tell you about a paradigm-shifting thesis. All you hear is, “Blah blah James the Just blah blah blah corn industry blah blah blah erotic poetry of the middle ages…” At some point you will have to choose between occupying a room with your snoring roommate or sitting in a crowded pub with three junior colleagues determined to detail the various ways in which Babette Babich has been misappropriated.

This list is nowhere near comprehensive. What have I missed?



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Devil Taught Him Greek - Le Donne

I have been reading Stanley Porter's How We Got the New Testament today to my great enjoyment. This book draws you in. For example, Porter begins by recounting a story about Scottish Theologian, John Brown (1722–1787).  As a boy, Brown was a shepherd from a poor family, but he was also a prodigy who taught himself Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.  Drawing from a story told by A. T. Robertson, Porter tells of how Brown got his hands on his first Greek New Testament.

Brown had heard that a bookstore in St. Andrews was selling a copy. Brown walks all day from his family's farm to purchase this book.
"What would you do wi' that book? You'll no can read it," the bookstore owner said. "I'll try to read it," John humbly replied. There happened to be some professors who had entered the shop, and they heard  this short conversation. One of the professors, probably Francis Pringle, professor of Greek at the university, asked the bookstore owner to fetch the Greek New Testament. Tossing it on the counter, he said, "Boy, if you can read that book, you shall have it for nothing." 
No doubt there was a lightness in John Brown's step as he walked all the way back from St. Andrews that day, new Greek New Testament tucked under his arm. He had eagerly taken up the book, read out a passage to the amazement of everyone there, including Pringle, and turned and walked out the door, his prize firmly in grasp.
Brown eventually gets into trouble.  It seems that superstition fueled by anti-intellectualism has a longstanding tradition in Christianity:
Some other young men became jealous of this shepherd who was becoming an accomplished scholar. These young men were studying for the ministry in the area, and one of them accused John of having gotten his knowledge from the devil.... Not only did he know Latin and Greek, but he also taught himself Hebrew. His increased knowledge lead to increased suspicion, with even his own pastor agreeing that witchcraft explained John's knowledge.
This is just the sort of reading that one desires on the last day of SBL when the book room is being broken down and a long flight is looming.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Further to the Resurgence of Appreciation for Rudolf Bultmann - Le Donne

I thought that this might be a good time to alert readers of a great quote about Bultmann from Ian Henderson. Saw this for the first time today.  Brice C. Jones continues to impress.


The Great Baylor Giveaway Part Three: Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament and Cullmann’s Peter—Chris Keith

Today we continue the Great Baylor Giveaway with installment number three.  Baylor has been re-publishing some classics of New Testament studies with new forewords.  Today we get to give away two works that are giants in the field.  The first casts an especially large shadow:  Rudolf Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament.  I continue to hear consistently that, to this day, no one has written a better theology of the New Testament than Bultmann.  Here you get both volumes in a single book with a new foreword by Robert Morgan.

The second classic is Oscar Cullmann’s Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr.  With the work of Markus Bockmuehl and the late Martin Hengel, recent years have seen a renewed interest in the preeminent disciple.  This stream of research goes back to Cullmann, however, and this re-publication includes a new foreword from my Doktormutter, Helen K. Bond.  Helen is also currently co-editing a new collection of essays on Peter from the 2013 conference on Peter at the University of Edinburgh.  I was there, and the conference was replete with references to Cullmann’s classic.

You know the rules.  You can enter in the following ways:  leave a comment; sign up to follow the blog (and leave a comment saying you did); post this on Facebook (and leave a comment saying you did); and tweet this (and leave a comment saying you did). 

For the wildcard entry category, you can also include your favorite quote from Airplane or Airplane 2: The Sequel.  Mine?  I’m glad you asked—“I am serious . . . and don’t call me Shirley.” 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

“A Christian community should do as Jesus did: propose and not impose. Its attraction must lie in the radiance cast by the love of brothers.”

                           ~Jean Vanier

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Antisemitism of Ignorance - Le Donne

In the past few days, this blog has generated some very interesting discussion related to Jewish-Christian dialogue and historical scholarship. Without a doubt, the action is in the comments. I have been especially proud of my friend and colleague Chris Keith who continues to model the tone and honesty that one expects from candid exchanges. Little is gained by walking on eggshells and Chris has never met an eggshell that he didn't fear to dance on. At the same time, care and sensitivity is warranted and Chris is a pro.  Friend of the blog and personal friend, Larry Behrendt (when he isn't playing provocateur) continues to make this blog a source of pride for me.  It has been an honor to learn from both men.

In addition to these two fellows, I have learned from many others.  One such person emailed me a couple days ago with a legitimate concern (s/he has given me permission to relay this anonymously). This person is a a committed Christian and a professional historian/theologian.  Moreover, this person is someone I respect a great deal.  My friend writes:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rome Killed Jesus? God Killed Jesus? Jesus Killed Jesus? - Le Donne

Candida Moss alerted us to a recent Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report. It seems that 26% of Americans believe that “Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.”

Further to this discussion:

Larry writes and I wholeheartedly agree: "Jesus was Jewish. It's high time we stopped acting like Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus (if, indeed, there was any such responsibility) is a matter of something inflicted on Jesus by an outside agency."

Of course, we should see Rome as an outside agency. If we want to get literal: Rome killed Jesus.

But what if we want to get theological? I wonder what the heuristic value might be of this statement:

Jesus was the person most responsible for his death.

This would not let Rome off the hook in anyway. I am not suggesting that any action warrants a death penalty. But, according to my Gospels, Jesus saw the writing on the wall. Jesus walked right into the storm. Jesus prayfully accepted the necessity of his death in the garden. Indeed, theologically speaking, the God of Israel moves around political tyrants like pawns on a chessboard.

So both literally and theologically, assigning "the Jews" blame misses the mark.


Hooks, Brushstrokes, and the Four Evangelists - Le Donne

A few days ago, the venerable Nijay Gupta posted an excerpt of Adam’s Parallel Lives’ of Jesus (WJK, 2011). Nijay asked what folks thought about these one-liners:
Matthew’s Gospel is the most Jewish of the four and the one that is most clearly oriented toward the Old Testament…
Mark’s Gospel is the most action packed of the four Gospels, with much more space given to the deeds of Jesus rather than his words…
Luke’s Gospel is the most social oriented of the four, laying special emphasis on Jesus’ concern for the poor, the disadvantaged, and those on the edges of society…
John’s Gospel is simultaneously the simplest and most profound Gospel…Its plainness and clarity make it accessible to new readers, and its depth continually challenges and stimulates those who know it well…
I promptly voiced my dissatisfaction and then promised to “check in later”, which I never did until this morning. So it seems that I’m something of a liar. You may want to take the rest of this post with a grain of salt.  But as it was Nijay's birthday yesterday (I could be fabricating this entirely), I thought that I'd revisit the topic.