Baker Academic

Monday, June 30, 2014

Elton John, Gay Marriage, and Jesus

Today Elton John spoke up again on the topic of Jesus. This is not the first time he's done so. In 2010 Sir Elton claimed that Jesus was a super-intelligent gay man. His comments today are much less controversial by comparison. The Guardian reports that, in John's view, Jesus would have supported gay marriage. Although, if you read the article, the headline seems to be a bit more direct than the quote:

"If Jesus Christ was alive today, I cannot see him, as the Christian person that he was and the great person that he was, saying this could not happen."

The Rocket Man is very direct, however, on the topic of Pope Francis. He loves him. Pope Francis "has taken everything down to the humility of faith.... He's stripped it down to the bare bones and said it's all basically about love and inclusiveness. That has to be encouraged by the Church of England as well."

I talk more about Elton John's Jesus in my The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals. 


More on 2nd Temp Jewish Identity

The always interesting Krista Dalton introduces the work of Seth Schwartz. His book, as can be seen from the title, covers more than the Second Temple period.


Friday, June 27, 2014

First Century Jews or Judeans?

Steve Mason and others have argued that the term "Jews" is anachronistic when discussing the first-century. Adele Reinhartz says not so fast.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

“Mike S.” Wins The Quest for the Real Jesus Giveaway—Chris Keith

True Random Number Generator55

As the above shows, the true random number generator has spoken and the winner of The Quest for the Real Jesus is the owner of comment 55, "Mike S.":

  • Mike S.June 13, 2014 at 5:57 PM
  • Count me in! and I already follow the blog
  • Mike S., if you'll write to me at, I'll get your information and send out the free copy of The Quest for the Real Jesus.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2014

    The Life of Brian, the Historical Jesus, and Michael Myers—Chris Keith

    This past weeked was the Jesus and Brian Conference at King's College, London.  The conference was a massive success and I look forward to the published proceedings from T&T Clark/Bloomsbury.  The roster of speakers was a veritable Who's Who and one thing that I particularly liked was that the topic itself seemed to inspire a lot more informality and hilarity from the speakers, though all the presentations were thoroughly academic.  Since there was frequent quotation of Monty Python's Life of Brian, I don't think that I've ever heard more cursing from a more distinguished group and to better effect.  It was great.  If I had to pick a single favorite presentation, it would probably be Guy Stiebel's, which was not only a fascinating discussion of archaeological evidence that relates to issues in Life of Brian but also downright hilarious and included shirtless pictures of Putin (see picture), a Roman vagina (scabbard, similar to here), and Roman phallus from Masada.  There were grumblings online and among some of the attendees about the fact that, at every tea/coffee break or lunch break, the organizers put all the speakers in one room with all the attendees in another room.  I would have to add myself the number who didn't appreciate that this inhibited break-time chats with the speakers, which is typically a highlight when it comes to conferences.  But that was one drawback to an otherwise tremendous success.

    I'm not going to describe every presentation in detail.  Mark Goodacre has already given a snippet of them here and here.  Instead, I want to offer just one reflection on an issue that came up really throughout the conference, namely the question of whether Brian is intended to be a Jesus figure.  I'm thus speaking into a running dialogue between Richard Burridge, who has defended the Pythons for carefully distinguishing between Jesus and Brian, and James Crossley, who has pointed out that Brian sure does seem to be functioning as something of a historical Jesus.

    I think that the truth is somewhere in the middle, and that the answer to the question "Is Brian supposed to be Jesus or is Brian not supposed to be Jesus?" should be a deliberately ambiguous "yes."  I suggest further that this is part of the brilliance and success of the film. 

    On a formal narrative level it is true that the Pythons were careful to distinguish between the character of Jesus, who is a Jesus from the Gospels, and Brian.  This is undoubtedly clear and I noted it in an earlier post as well.  In other words, when someone accuses the Pythons of making a mockery of Jesus, they can rightly defend themselves and others can rightly defend them by saying, "Yes, but Brian clearly isn't Jesus," and both defenses have been made, as was repeated at the conference.

    But, to agree with a point that Crossley made, the Pythons seem to give mixed signals when they address this issue and, in my opinion, Brian most definitely is a narrative vehicle designed to get the audience to think about Jesus even if he is distinguished from the character of Jesus.  For one thing, if it wasn't the case that Brian was a Jesus-esque figure, I can hardly see why a bunch of Jesus and Gospels scholars would be gathered at KCL this past weekend to discuss the film and the historical Jesus.  As a further matter, however, I would cite an interview of John Cleese that was shown during the conference.  Cleese points out that the Gospels are funny from a particular view, and makes some funny comments about Joseph trying to explain Mary's impregnation by the Spirit to his buddies down at the pub over pints.  If I understand Cleese and the context of his comments rightly here, the movie is designed precisely to enable this type of view of the Jesus story, whereby one can ask questions and imagine historically outside the ecclesiastical boundaries of interpretation.  What the Pythons presumably realized is that they could accomplish this effect much better with someone mistaken for Jesus than they could with Jesus himself.

    Needless to say, historical Jesus scholarship is also designed to enable views of Jesus other than the Gospels' views.  But this leads to an important point that Crossley made, seemingly as a side comment, during his paper.  I want to pick it up here.  He pointed out that he teaches mainly evangelicals, and all of them seem to love Life of Brian but hate historical-critical Jesus scholarship.  As someone who grew up in the Bible Belt, I can affirm the general (though not ubiquitous) truth of his observation.  I know lots of conservative Christians who love Life of Brian but not John Dominic Crossan.

    Now, let me tie these previous two paragraphs together with a proposal that also helps explain why we teachers of historical Jesus scholarship love to use Life of Brian as a pedagogical tool, and especially with very conservative students:  Life of Brian functions in some (not all) ways, and for some (not all) groups, like a horror film.  Part of the thrill and rhetorical function of horror films is that they allow the audience to confront real fears in a safe space.  There really are serial killers out there, and some of them are as deranged as Michael Myers.  We know that this is actually a societal reality but it's almost too much to process it as a reality.  Confronting gruesome murder on the nightly news is categorically different from watching it on Halloween weekend at a theater and that's because of the differing genres and their relations to historical reality.  Horror films allow people to confront real fear in a context where the narrative provides boundaries for the fear, thus the frequent statement, "It's just a movie."  The horror genre is specifically designed to provide a safe space for confronting unsafe realities.  Life of Brian, though clearly not a horror film, nevertheless functions in my mind generically in a similar way with the particular audience that Crossley mentioned.  It takes Jesus out of a context of ecclesiastical sanction and places him (qua Brian) and the other characters of the Gospels in a context wherein it is not taboo to think of them in different ways.  It thereby enables--better, outright demands and seizes upon for comedic effect--the ability of the audience to conceptualize the Jesus story from the perspective that John Cleese mentioned in his interview, to think of events from the Gospels from a more day-to-day life perspective.  It's the juxtaposition of this "holy story" with day-to-life in all its silliness (or at least a distinctly Python version of silliness) that makes the film so great.  The audience, or at least one type of audience, confronts the historical Jesus in Life of Brian the way that it confronts Michael Myers in Halloween movies:  it's easier to face certain real possibilities in a genre that provides a certain distance from reality. 

    To go back to Crossley's observation, this is why, I think, some conservative people love Life of Brian but not John Dominic Crossan and historical critics.  It's not that they've (in most cases) worked carefully through Crossan's work and have formed their own counter-opinions in light of their own research.  Most of them encounter Crossan only on documentaries.  Rather, it's the difference of genre and relation to claims for reality.  Due to the genre (and the legitimacy of the "Brian is not technically Jesus" defense), some Christians and others who esteem the Jesus story can laugh at Brian, but not Crossan's Jesus.  Watching Brian is like watching a horror film but reading historical Jesus scholarship is (for some) like watching the nightly news. 

    Of course, and though it hardly needs saying, there are those who refuse to pay attention to the genre differences and the sophistication of what the Pythons were doing, like the Bishop of Southwark and Malcom Muggeridge.  And, with Burridge, I consider their response very unfortunate (although completely unsurprising).  There are also, of course, many for whom the historical Jesus is not something to be feared.  But I've here been trying to think through Crossley's observation about why some conservative Christians so quickly embrace Life of Brian while simultaneously rejecting historical Jesus research.

    Overall, I suppose my point is simply that the question of whether Brian in Life of Brian is supposed to be Jesus somewhat misses the point.  As far as I can tell, he both is and is not a Jesus figure.  On a formal narrative level, of course he's distinguished from Jesus.  But in terms of Brian's rhetorical function in the film, I think he clearly is intended to provide the audience a view of (the historical) Jesus, and that the movie is wildly successful in providing this comedic, though certainly not uninformed by research, perspective.  "Blessed are the cheesemakers."

    Monday, June 23, 2014

    So What is Divestment and Why are All the Kids Talking about It?

    If you've (a) been following the news this week and (b) have time for topics other than the World Cup, you might have seen that leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to withdraw funds from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions. This vote continues a series of moves (becoming more pronounced in recent years) to protest Israeli occupation in Palestine by Presbyterian leadership.

    If you're interested in a thoughtful Jewish reflection on this and its impact on Jewish-Christian relations, check out this article by Larry Behrendt. Here is just a taste:
    Jews have been the targets of organized Christian economic pressure for most of our shared history. Time permits only a brief discussion. ... 
    In more recent history, Christians sought to harm Jews economically by means of boycotts. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, various “Christian” campaigns were organized in Germany, Austria and Eastern Europe to boycott Jewish businesses. These campaigns adopted slogans such as “Don’t Buy Jewish,” “Buy Christian Only” and “Each to His Own.” Some of these campaigns worked at apparent cross-purposes. For example, shortly before World War I Ukrainians organized to boycott Jewish businesses because of alleged Jewish collaboration with Poles, while Poles organized their own anti-Jewish boycotts as a defense against alleged Jewish exploitation. 
    The first Nazi action taken against Jews was a nationwide boycott of German Jewish businesses that took place on April 1, 1933. On the day of the boycott, Nazi Stormtroopers painted yellow and black Jewish stars on the windows and doors of Jewish businesses, then stood menacingly in front of these businesses, daring customers to enter. The Nazis planned and supported this boycott, posting signs in Jewish neighborhoods saying “Don’t Buy from Jews” and “The Jews Are Our Misfortune.” A week later, the Nazis barred Jews from the civil service (including the practice of law) and fired all Jewish government workers, including teachers in public schools and universities. Historians now understand these actions as the beginning of the Holocaust.
    Why have I bothered to recall all of this ancient history? I am not trying to suggest that last week’s vote by the Presbyterians can be equated with boycotts enforced by Nazi Stormtroopers, or medieval efforts to ghettoize Jews and Judaism. I am saying that Presbyterian divestment will be seen by most Jews as part of a long, unfriendly and determined effort by outsiders (primarily Christians) to coerce Jews, hinder Jewish aspirations, and injure and destroy the Jewish people. Jews know their history too well to be fooled into believing that anti-Jewish economic sanctions sprang into existence in 1967, and will magically disappear when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is finally resolved.
    I highly recommend reading the entire article. For what its worth, Behrendt is deeply invested in the wellbeing of Christians and Christianity and is among the more fair-minded people I know.


    Saturday, June 21, 2014

    Thursday, June 19, 2014

    2014 Evil Conference Wrap-up—Chris Keith

    On May 23 and 24, we held the 2014 Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity Conference here at St Mary's University, Twickenham.  This was the inaugural conference of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible, and as the Centre's director, I could not have been more pleased with the outcome.  We had, at any given point, between 35 and 50 people in attendance, which was ideal for our purposes.  It was big enough for discussion but small enough to talk with whomever you wanted during the breaks.  Over the two-day period, we moved in a general chronological direction, starting with Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer's paper on "evil" at Qumran and closing with Paul Middleton's paper on the role of the devil in the Acts of the Martyrs.  We had papers from established scholars as well as current PhD candidates, and attendees came from the UK, USA, Sweden, Germany, South Africa, Israel, Ireland, and elsewhere.  (We also had what I think is a first--the usage of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" at a Biblical Studies conference.  We played this song whenever coffee/tea breaks were over and needed to call everyone back to the main room.)  Of course, all the papers were excellent, but judging from the responses of the attendees, Loren Stuckenbruck's keynote address was the highlight.  I will shortly post links to some of the lectures, which will include Loren's.  We will also have those of Chris Tilling ("Paul, Evil, and Justification Debates") and Christopher Rollston  ("The Rise of the Satan in Early Second Temple Judaism").  The contributions will all be published in a forthcoming WUNT volume, which Loren and I will edit.  On behalf of my colleague in the Centre, Prof Steve Walton, I thank all those who contributed in one way or another, and especially our PhD students, David Smith, Sarah Prime, and Helen Morris, who helped make sure things ran smoothly. 
    I'll also take this time to announce in an informal fashion next year's conference.  It will be on "Cities in the New Testament and Greco-Roman World."  We are still lining speakers up, and more details will be announced in due course, but it looks like it will be in late May again.  We welcome any and all to join us.

    Wednesday, June 18, 2014

    Congrats James Barker!

    Congratulations to James W. Barker, the 2014 Achtemeier Recipient!


    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

    Jesus against the Scribal Elite Youtube Videos—Chris Keith

    Baker Academic has now loaded onto Youtube several videos that we shot last November about my new book, Jesus against the Scribal Elite.  I've included one below and at the end of it are links to three or so others.  Some discuss the overall aims of the book, some its classroom usage, and some its methodology.  Thanks to Baker Academic, and especially Jeremy Wells, for doing this.  It's one of many reasons that I love working with them. 

    Monday, June 16, 2014

    Jesusology and a Suffering God - Le Donne

    In my first semester at United Theological Seminary (this Fall) I will be teaching a classed titled “The New Testament and Suffering.” It is a topic that has fascinated me for some time. Suffering is everywhere in the biblical story. Whether we’re talking of exile, remembrance, lament, crucifixion, final judgment, or future hope, suffering is central. Strange then that much of my religious experience has involved masking or marginalizing this element of the human experience. I have learned well from my fellow Christians how to avoid talk of suffering and to give every testimony a bright, Jesusy silver lining. For this reason and others I am looking forward to developing a more “Christian” way to think about God, the Bible, and suffering in conversation with my students.

    One of the books I will be assigning is Terence Fretheim’s The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective. (Tip of the hat to Brad Anderson for recommending this book to me several years ago.) This may seem an odd choice for a New Testament class, but it was the first book that came to mind when I decided to teach it. Fretheim’s portrait of a suffering God tied to a suffering people has become crucial to my thinking on this topic. In preparation, I picked up this book again recently. Here is an excerpt from the first pages:

    Friday, June 13, 2014

    Expositus Kickstarter—Chris Keith

    Friend of the Jesus Blog Joshua Mann has a Kickstarter campaign going for an online resource he's created called Expositus, which aims to be a digital platform for the Humanities.

    If you'd like to support it, you can find the site here.  Below is a bit from the site explaining its purpose:

    "Humans need the humanities--subjects like history, literature, religion, and philosophy that are at the heart of culture, the soul of human existence.
    With a platform for discussion and resources designed for both scholar and learner, Expositus prospers a community that, together, can help advance and share our knowledge of the humanities.
    You can see the live concept at"

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

    The Quest for the Real Jesus (Brill 2013) and . . . GIVEAWAY!—Chris Keith

    I've just finished writing a review of The Quest for the Real Jesus (ed. Jan van der Watt) for JTS.  I'll provide the link in due course but wanted to share some thoughts now.  Overall the book was a very insightful and enjoyable read on the relationship between historical Jesus research and New Testament theology.  I especially liked the format.  The first essay is Michael Wolter's main lecture from the 2011 Radbound Prestige Lectures at Radbound University Nijmegen, where the volume's editor, Jan van der Watt, serves as Professor of New Testament.  The rest of the essays are from NT scholars, NT theologians, and systematic theologians.  They all respond in one way or another to Wolter's initial essay, so the reader feels like s/he's listening in on their conversation.  The contributors are Cilliers Breytenbach, R. Alan Culpepper, James D. G. Dunn, Craig A. Evans, Christopher M. Hays, Martin Laube, Michael Licona, Robert Morgan, and Notger Slenczka.

    I'll copy here a short section from the review, which describes Wolter's proposal:

    The book’s emphasis on the theological contours of historical Jesus research begins in Wolter’s opening essay.  Wolter situates his discussion as a mediating position between the opinion of Reimarus, who believed that the historical Jesus behind the Gospels was historically accessible and theologically significant in contrast to the Christ of faith, and Kähler, who believed the historical Jesus behind the Gospels was historically inaccessible and theologically insignificant, since theological significance resided solely in the Christ of faith.  Wolter proposes instead a third path.  After providing a catalogue for the different approaches to Jesus in critical enquiry (“historical Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” “earthly Christ,” “Jesus Christ remembered,” “Jesus from Nazareth,” “Jesus’ self-interpretation,” and “the real Jesus”), Wolter argues that “the real Jesus,” which he defines as “an ontic reality beyond the images that people have been making of him since the time he lived” (12), “definitely exists” but that “we cannot really say anything about him” because any perception is “contaminated with particular interpretations” (13).  Wolter proceeds, however, to argue that the theologian, as opposed to the non-theological historian, can go further in his or her knowledge since “the real Jesus” is Jesus as he is known and vindicated by God.  Wolter sees this vindication in the resurrection of Jesus and visionary experiences in the early Church, whereby God affirmed “Jesus’ self-interpretation.”  Wolter concludes, therefore, that for the theological historian, historical Jesus questions must ultimately “be answered by the self-interpretation of Jesus” (17). 

    As far as I can tell, none of the respondents bought 100% into Wolter's proposal.  All of them praised aspects of it and some were very critical.  One of the most interesting things was to see which scholars chose to address the specific question of whether there is a categorical difference in doing historical Jesus research from a theological perspective, and which scholars chose not to address it.  For me, the two highlights of the volume overall were Christopher M. Hays's and Robert Morgan's essays.  Hays argues for a Gadamerian Wirkungsgeschichte approach to historical Jesus studies, where the differences between theological and non-theological approaches to historical Jesus research essentially amount to how, and to what extent, a researcher engages with Jesus' history of effects.  I'm still thinking on whether Wolter's conversation is one that, at the end of the day, we can really have.  But Hays convinced me that if it is to be had, it must look something like he proposes.  I do wish Hays had given some more attention to the significance of a Gadamerian approach for non-theological Jesus research, though.  Morgan's essay outlines how confessional Jesus researchers can incorporate the results of historical criticism into faith-images of Jesus.  It's a very interesting article, though its explicit definition of historical Jesus research as "subordinate" to Christian theology, and arguments for incorporating historical Jesus research "piecemeal" into an image of Jesus as a means to "safeguard" that image, were more than a little concerning to me.  In my mind, the problem is not a faith or non-faith perspective but rather whether that position is determinative for the scholar doing historical work.  For the sake of honesty in the discussion, or at least its appearance, one must preserve a place for the believing Jesus scholar who is convinced that he or she must follow the evidence wherever it leads.  What is abundantly clear in the volume, however, is that the question of the relevance of historical Jesus research for New Testament theology and Christian faith is nowhere near a consensus.

    Now, for those of you who have really only been reading this because of the word "giveaway" in the title of the post . . .  I happen to have an extra copy of the book and I'm going to give it away.  You know the rules.  You can enter to win by commenting below, sharing this post on any and all social media and leaving a comment, signing up to follow the blog and leaving a comment, or . . . for the wild card, telling us your 80s or 90s music guilty pleasure.  Mine is probably the Bangles.

    Monday, June 9, 2014

    Hurtado on Oral Fixation in New Testament Studies—Chris Keith

    Readers of the Jesus Blog who are interested in orality, textuality, scribality, etc., as it relates to the Gospels will want to make sure to read Larry Hurtado's article in the new issue of New Testament Studies "Oral Fixation and New Testament Studies? 'Orality', 'Performance' and Reading Texts in Early Christianity."  I saw an early version of the article and have been waiting for it to land.  Hurtado's main targets are advocates of so-called "performance criticism" in New Testament studies, who argue that, basically, when early Christians "read" texts they, in reality, performed them from memory.  That is, they did not actually read manuscripts.  David Rhoads is probably the most vocal leader of this group of scholars, whom I know well as the current co-Chair of the Bible in Ancient and Modern Media session, where many of them are active.  These are good scholars, but I've for some time not been convinced of this claim that all or most reading of texts in early Christianity was actually oral performance.  (My presentation at the 2014 Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity conference, and essay in the forthcoming published proceedings, was/is a critical engagement with Richard Horsley's work on this point.)  Hurtado's arguments are, to my mind, convincing.  I'll add further that I recently served as the "faculty opponent" for Dan Nässelqvist's PhD defense at at the University of Lund, where he was supervised by Samuel Byrskog.  Dan's (successful) PhD includes probably the most thorough study on the role of the lector in the first two centuries of early Christianity to date.  Like Hurtado, he argues thoroughly that when early Christians "read" texts, they actually did read manuscripts, not perform them orally.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    50% Discount for Grad Students from Baylor University Press

    Graduate students can get 50% off of everything on Baylor University Press' backlist if they sign up with the following link.

    Go to and fill out the form. Be sure to use your “.edu” email address.
    The discount code for the promotion will then be sent to you on June 14 and applies only to backlist books.

    Start shopping at

    Durham #1

    More props to my alma mater:


    Tuesday, June 3, 2014

    JC at the Jesus and Brian Conference--Chris Keith

    Oh goodness.  This just in from Richard Burridge:


    We can now announce that John Cleese will be our after dinner speaker for the Jesus and Brian conference on 21 June. The cost is £65 for a superb dinner and a talk from John Cleese in the beautiful environment of Inner Temple. You do not need to attend the conference itself as TRS staff or student, but day tickets are available for £32.50. On Friday night 20 June Python Terry Jones will also be joining us for conversation with Richard Burridge, and on Sunday 22 June there will be a discussion with the film editor, Julian Doyle, author of The Life of Christ/Brian. Tickets available till June 13. The link is:

    Congratulations to Stewart Penwell!--Chris Keith

    Congratulations to my PhD student, Stewart Penwell, for passing his confirmation panel at St Mary's University, Twickenham with flying colors!  Stewart is writing a very promising PhD on the usage of ethnic slurs in the Gospel of John.

    Sunday, June 1, 2014

    Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

    "Jesus knew there was a place for everything. It is not necessary everyone's place to come to Australia."

            ~Tony Abbott