Baker Academic

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Weekly Standard on Jesus' Wife

Journalist Charlotte Allen surveys the latest farce by Simcha Jacobovici. She helpfully reminds us of the prolific imagination that produced the book:
Jacobovici’s The Exodus Decoded (2006), produced by James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar), claimed to have located the Ark of the Covenant, among other artifacts. Another Jacobovici documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus (2007), asserted that a collection of ancient ossuaries, or bone-boxes, found in Jerusalem once contained the bones of Jesus and various members of his family, including a son and a “Mary” who Jacobovici argued was the Magdalene. Jacobovici’s The Nails of the Cross (2011) claimed to have located Jesus’ crucifixion nails—or at least something close. His The Jesus Discovery (2012) argued that squiggles on yet another Jerusalem ossuary spelled out the story of Jonah and the whale, which early Christians regarded as a prefiguring of Jesus’ resurrection. Jacobovici deemed the first-century ossuary to be the “earliest Christian artifact,” but most New Testament scholars were unable to see much more than decorative lines on the bone-box.
I was interviewed for this article, as was Mark Goodacre. Unlike my interview with Maclean's, I'm happy to commend this piece as an apt survey of the current state of affairs. I will point out, however, that none of what I said about Jesus' stances against traditional family values, wealth, or the fiscal collectivism of early Christianity made it into the article. Go figure.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

“[F]aith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.” 

                             ~Jürgen Moltmann

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Things that I might Say in San Diego - Le Donne

James McGrath has invited Chris, James, and I to be part of a panel discussion for the Blogger and Online Publication session at AAR/SBL. I'm not sure if Crossley will show up. He's sort of the the Axl Rose / Holy Spirit of Jesus studies; you just never know about his blow. Dr. McGrath suggested that we might leave a bit of space to discuss more recent topics. For my part I continue to be fascinated by the many changes to the peer-review process as we biblical scholars learn to navigate and exploit online media. So I might talk a bit about the climate that created Mary Magdalene's recent paparazzi.

What other recent blogger and online events warrant discussion?



Blogger and Online Publication
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Room 1 B (Upper level) - San Diego Convention Center (CC)
The session will conclude with a panel of scholars who blog (including Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, among others), talking about key moments in the intersection of academic blogging and Biblical studies from recent months. One of the great things about blogging is that it allows discussion of Biblical studies and other academic news over the course of the year. This panel thus makes room for discussion of topics that could not be foreseen when the program was finalized in April. Expect mention of specific topics and panelists on the scholarly blogs prior to November!

James F. McGrath, Butler University, Presiding
Kimberly Majeski, Anderson University (IN)
Biblioblogging: A Bridge for Church and Academy (30 min)
James Linville, University of Lethbridge
May Contain Nuts and B.S. (Biblical Studies): The Politics of Academic Legitimacy Online and the Need to Properly Theorize the Category “@%!#*! Loonie” (30 min)
Other (90 min)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Giveaway - The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals

I am grateful to Oneworld Publications for donating a copy of my book for this giveaway. You can enter to win a copy in one of three ways: (1) link this post via some form of social media and comment below saying you did; (2) visit the Oneworld religions page and comment below saying you did; and/or (3) tell us what Jesus would have named his two imaginary children and why.

I'll announce the winner in a couple weeks.


Winners of the Longenecker Giveaway—Chris Keith

According to the True Random Number Generator, the winners of the Longenecker giveaway are the posters of comment 2 and comment 5, Wil Charles and Damon Williams.  If you both will email me at, I'll arrange for you to receive your copies of Hitler, Jesus, and Our Common Humanity.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Psalm 1 by Rodger Kamenetz

I am privileged to participate in the Ryterband Symposium steering committee. Ryterband is among the oldest interfaith lecture series (the oldest, some claim) in the U.S.A. and features a prominent Jewish voice annually in the Dayton area. Tonight we host celebrated author and poet, Rodger Kamenetz. If you've never read or heard him, here is a taste:


Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Son of Mary': Evidence of Jesus' Illegitimacy?

Clearly, Joseph and Aseneth is not really code for Jesus and Mary Magdalene and there has been much convincing debunking carried out (on TJB too). However, flip side to debunking these sorts of sensationalist claims can be to allow less controversial ideas to get though which are not necessarily as clear cut as some people might think. One such argument is the claim that the matronymic Jesus 'the son of Mary’ (Mark 6.3) is evidence of a stigma attached to Jesus. Such an argument is found in Christian Today in their reporting of the Jesus and Mary Magdalene story:
The truly honest answer is that we don't know whether he was married or not. It would have been unusual for someone capable of supporting a wife not to have been married by the age of 30. It has been convincingly argued that Paul was married (though widowed) as it was a requirement for rabbis. However, against this is the question of Jesus' parentage; some scholars argue that he carried a stigma of illegitimacy (in Mark 6:3 he is called “the son of Mary", not Joseph) that would have meant he was an undesirable match.
Leaving the question of Jesus’ marital status aside (on which see, of course, Anthony Le Donne, and not on which see Mark 6.1-6), the idea that Jesus didn’t have a patronymic label implies that he was deemed illegitimate, a mamzer, etc. is indeed common enough, as Christian Today suggest. Or, on a more conservative reading, Mark 6.3 has even been used as indirect evidence for Jesus being born of a virgin.
Some form of this argument has longevity and, for all I know, maybe Jesus was deemed illegitimate. But Mark 6.3 is not necessarily strong evidence because, as has been noted plenty of times before but also often ignored, matronymic labels are found in some relevant sources. For example:
  • Joab, son of Zeruiah (2 Sam. 2.13), the sister of David (1 Chron. 2.15-16)
  • Antipater, son of Salome (Ant. 17.230)
  • The High Priest, Simon, son of Camithus [/Qimhith] (Ant. 18.34)
In this context, is Jesus ‘son of Mary’ really an indication of some sort of stigma? Might we not reverse the argument and suggest that ‘son of Mary’ reflects the idea that some had a more heightened view of Mary? Might it simply be that Joseph would have been, or understood to have been, long dead?
Whatever the best answer, Mark 6.3 might not be particularly strong evidence for the idea that Jesus was deemed illegitimate.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Breaking: Not Newly Discovered Text Says Nothing About Jesus and Mary!

The new book by Mr. Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. Barrie Wilson - The Lost Gospel - claims to have unearthed a dust-covered and coded text from the 6th century. While never once referring to Jesus or Mary Magdalene, the authors argue that "Joseph" is code for Jesus and that "Aseneth" is code for Mary. Bob Cargill has more details on this book here. In sum, Dr. Cargill is right to point out that this "Lost Gospel" was neither lost nor a gospel. The text has been well documented by scholars for long time and titled (appropriately) "Joseph and Aseneth." It is an historical fiction that explains how Joseph (Gen. 41:45) came to marry an non-Israel and how she adopted the worship and practices of Israel.

If you'd like to read the story of Joseph and Aseneth for yourself you can do so for free here:

If you'd like to know why so many sensationalized "discoveries" continue to surface regarding Jesus and Mary Magdalene, I've recently written a book on the topic. In addition to addressing the public's fascination with the possibility of a "wife of Jesus," I offer sociological evidence supporting Jesus' marital status. I draw from the earliest and best sources (first and second century sources) to support my arguments.

Endorsements include:

“A remarkable expedition, through an impressive range of intriguing topics and little-known ancient texts, mapping for us how this kind of historical work advances.”

~Joel B. Green, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary, California

"A fantastic read. Le Donne's quest for the historical wife of Jesus is as much about our contemporary phobias as it is about our past. What Le Donne did so brilliantly for Jesus in his book Historical Jesus, he now does for Jesus' wife. In this book, he lays out the best historical evidence for and against a married Jesus, the gay Jesus, the celibate Jesus, and the polygamous Jesus. What is so scandalous about this? Le Donne shows us it is all about sex."

~April D. DeConick, Chair of the Religious Studies Department of Rice University.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bruce Longenecker’s “Hitler, Jesus, and Our Common Humanity” and Giveaway—Chris Keith

I had the honor of reading a pre-publication copy of Bruce Longenecker's new book, Hitler, Jesus, and Our Common Humanity (Cascade, 2014).  It tells the story of a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, Rolf Gompertz (pictured to the right), who later wrote a Jesus novel in response to his experiences.  It also makes a contribution to Jewish-Christian dialogue.  It was unlike anything I've read in Jesus studies because of the way it blends several different genres in order to tell this overarching story.  Cascade has thankfully agreed to allow the Jesus Blog to give away two copies.  You can enter in the usual way with comments below indicating that you read the blog post, shared the blog post, or joined the blog.  Any comments about the content of what follows will count as an entry as well.

Bruce agreed to do an interview on the book in order to give readers of taste of it:

CLK:  What's the book about?

BL:  It engages the life of Rolf Menachem Gompertz. A devout Jew, Gompertz was raised in Nazi Germany and experienced Nazi atrocities first-hand. Those experiences were formative on him, shaping his outlook, his values, and his initiatives. Gompertz, who is currently 86 years old and living in Los Angeles, has lived a life worthy of consideration, respect, and emulation, so this book is about a life well lived.

Most importantly for “the Jesus blog,” in the early 1960s Gompertz wrote a novel about Jesus that was way ahead of its time (simply entitled A Jewish Novel about Jesus).  If the onset of “the third quest for the historical Jesus” is best dated to the appearance of Geza Vermes’s Jesus the Jew in 1973, already in the 1960s Gompertz was occupying the space that would later be inhabited by many third questers in the 1970s and beyond. In broad brushstroke, the emphases of his novel include: the Jewishness of Jesus, the vibrancy of Jewish covenantal devotion, the political matrix within which the Jewish leadership in Judea had to operate, and Roman involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus.

In his novel about Jesus, Gompertz bypasses some traditional forms of retelling the Jesus-story (not least, retellings that depict the Jews en masse as “Christ killers”), arriving at a fresh retelling that he characterizes as his “response to Hitler.” Let me give just one example of the sort of thing he does.

Gompertz foregrounds one piece of historical data that is missing from canonical accounts – that is, the likelihood that the ceremonial robes of the High Priest were held in the Antonia Fortress and would have been handed over only after Roman officials had extracted certain assurances or agreements from the Jewish leadership (for this, see Josephus, Antiquities 20.6–9). What are the parameters for retelling the Jesus-story if these realities are given a certain priority, with a Roman official in the position to manipulate the Jewish High Priest to do his bidding? Gompertz’s novel explores that terrain, in conjunction with other fresh priorities.

Obviously, I could say much more about the importance of Gompertz’s Jesus-novel. But what is also significant, and what I try to do justice to in my book, is the way that Gompertz has lived almost the whole of his life as a testimony against the social Darwinism that Hitler advocated. Whether in his Jesus-novel, in his other books, in his speeches, or in his life in general, Gompertz repeatedly testifies to the importance of recognizing and affirming “our common humanity” despite our ideological differences, especially in times when social power is dangerously employed to the detriment of some for the advantage of others. This is a timeless message that Gompertz has continued to voice, not unlike a Jew from Nazareth two thousand years ago.

CLK:  What made you want to write the book?

BL:  I regularly teach a course entitled “Jesus in Film and Fiction,” and since 2004 I have always included Gompertz’s Jesus-novel in the syllabus of that course. I made email contact with Gompertz ten years ago in relation to that course. As email exchanges between us continued, Rolf (as I’ll refer to him from now on) and I began to nurture a friendship that has continued to flourish over the years, to the point that he has honored me by enlisting me as his literary executor upon his death.

In the course of getting to know Rolf, I began to realize the importance of what he stands for and to respect his vision about living a life of significance. These are the things about him that humble me, and things that I want my children to know about. I then came to the realization that I also want my students to come into closer contact with Rolf beyond simply studying his novel. And in fact, his is a life deserving of commendation to a much wider audience, especially in our dangerous times. And so I wrote this book about one of my heroes.

I also wrote it very much conscious of my identity as someone who is not Jewish, and in fact, someone who is a Christian. There are two things to mention in this regard. First, for about five years during my twenties, I spent Good Friday reading Elie Wiesel’s important book Night, in which he recounts the evils perpetuated against him and other Jews in Nazi Germany. My book, with its title Hitler, Jesus, and Our Common Humanity, draws some of its motivation from those “Good Friday” experiences of my twenties.

Second, this book is my own small and insignificant gesture in the face of three sobering realities: (1) Christian involvement in anti-Semitic pogroms throughout history; (2) the failure of Christians to protest the atrocities against the Jewish people during the Nazi regime; and worst of all, (3) the likelihood that I would have been complicit in the Nazi program if I had been born in another place and time. So in some ways, I perceive the writing of this little book as an act of penance, both personal and corporate.

CLK:  The book situates itself very much within the context of Jewish-Christian dialogue.  What are your thoughts about where that dialogue is now and where it should go?

BL:  My own view, for what its worth, is that Jewish-Christian dialogue is a bit tired. That does not mean that it should not continue. It must continue. But what should its content be and how should it be configured?

I think we are at the point where Jewish-Christian exchanges should primarily be about listening to each other – to each other’s varied experiences of God and the world today. In the past there has been a lot of talking to each other about theological commonalities and differences; perhaps a freshness could enter into Jewish-Christian encounters if the emphasis shifted to prioritizing the act of listening to each other’s experiences.

Those encounters would also benefit from being conducted in conjunction with working jointly to identify, address, and offset the abuse of power in this world. There’s nothing like “working practically in love” (to borrow Paul’s words in Gal 5:6) to bring people together. And moreover, those encounters probably need to be conducted under the umbrella of the full spread of Abrahamic faiths – that is, as Jews, Christians, and Moslems together. These, it seems to me, are where the best prospects lie for future engagement.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sarah Prime on the Jesus and Brian Conference—Chris Keith

Sarah Prime, a PhD student in St Mary's University's Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible, has a lengthy review of the "Jesus and Brian" conference (held last Summer at King's College, London) on Marginalia Review of Books.  She summarizes the presentations for those who missed and offers some helpful reflections.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

TJB Endorsed Book Notice: Jesus and the Chaos of History

Book notice, Jesus and the Chaos of History: Redirecting the Life of the Historical Jesus (OUP, February 2015):

Here is the summary:
In Jesus and the Chaos of History, James Crossley looks at the way the earliest traditions about Jesus interacted with a context of social upheaval and the ways in which this historical chaos of the early first century led to a range of ideas which were taken up, modified, ignored, and reinterpreted in the movement that followed. Crossley examines how the earliest Palestinian tradition intersected with social upheaval and historical change and how accidental, purposeful, discontinuous, contradictory, and implicit meanings in the developments of ideas appeared in the movement that followed. He considers the ways seemingly egalitarian and countercultural ideas co-exist with ideas of dominance and power and how human reactions to socio-economic inequalities can end up mimicking dominant power. In this case, the book analyzes how a Galilean "protest" movement laid the foundations for its own brand of imperial rule. This evaluation is carried out in detailed studies on the kingdom of God and "Christology," "sinners" and purity, and gender and revolution.

Here is the (actual) Table of Contents:
1. Does Jesus Plus Paul Equal Marx Plus Lenin? Re-directing the Historical Jesus
2. Criteria, Historicity, and the Earliest Palestinian Tradition
3. The Dictatorship of God? Kingdom and Christology
4. 'Sinners', Law, and Purity
5. Camping with Jesus? Gender, Revolution, and Early Palestinian Tradition An Irrelevant Conclusion

Monday, November 10, 2014

Jesus married Mary, had two kids, a mortgage, and a gym membership that he only used twice

Once, just once, could we have a hoax that claimed Jesus married someone else? Does it always have to be Mary Magdalene? According to the newest medieval rumor mill, not only does Jesus wed Mary (identified as a prostitute), the holy couple had two kids.

Greg Carey discusses the latest book that makes this claim here. Greg seems more confident than I am that Jesus never married. But we agree that the supposed document "uncovered" in the British Library is probably bogus. Moreover, the hoax contributes to the longstanding tradition of sexualizing Mary Magdalene.

Our earliest and best sources for the life of Mary tell us that she was an independent follower of Jesus. She was not attached to any male relative or husband. For two thousand years her independence has drawn rumor. This is just one more example of the clichéd male imagination.



For a review of the book in question, Bob Cargill's is here:

Alban Books Discount for the Jesus Blog—Chris Keith

Elaine Reid at Alban Books, the UK distributor for Eerdmans and other presses, has generously offered readers of the Jesus Blog a 25% discount on select forthcoming books.  For the discounts on NT studies, click here.  For the discounts on OT studies, click here.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A.-J. Levine to Give Cadbury Lectures

If you're near Birmingham (think Ozzy Osbourne, not Emmy Lou Harris) between Nov. 25-Dec. 3, you might interested in attending the Cadbury Lectures. Amy-Jill Levine is speaking on the topic "Is the New Testament Anti-Jewish." Levine will give lectures related to the Christmas narratives, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus v. Pharisees, Who killed Jesus?, Paul, and the Epistle to the Hebrews.

If you've never heard A.-J. speak, you're missing something special. She is always sharp, original, and funny. For more information:


Friday, November 7, 2014

Stuckenbruck’s The Myth of Rebellious Angels—Chris Keith

On Facebook this morning, I learned that the first copy of Loren Stuckenbruck's new book, The Myth of Rebellious Angels, has been delivered.  It was delivered to his wife, so I suspect those of us who aren't married to Loren will have to wait a bit longer.  I'm looking forward to this one.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Social Memory is a Theory, Not a Method - Le Donne

I have heard of, but not read, Mike Bird's latest book. I hope to get my hands on it soon. I was surprised to learn that Mike has embraced Social Memory theory, as he was previously uninterested in the discussion. Indeed, less than a year ago, he told me that he "couldn't be bothered with it." I imagine now that he said this tongue-in-cheek because one of his star students was (at the time) completing a dissertation that utilized Social Memory in relation to the Acts of the Apostles. I will not be able to speak to the content of his newest book (Mike's books seem to multiply like rabbits), but I think that I will say something about method. 

Mike has recently described his response to Bart Ehrman as an apologetic. I can't help but read Mike's statement about his latest book through this lens:
In a nutshell, I’d say: (1) The Gospels are historically reliable and are reasonable guides to Jesus; (2) The Gospels were probably transmitted in a complex web of oral and written traditions. (3) Social-memory is probably the best hermeneutical framework for understanding the origins of the Gospel traditions.
I'd be interested to know whether he thinks that he is doing apologetics in his latest book. But, whether or not this is a key element of his method, it will be how his book is read by many. Readers will read how they read. I've experienced this very problem with my own writing. But I digress.

I would like to point out that Bart Ehrman is also interested in Social Memory theory and will utilize this research in an upcoming book. What does this tell us? Very simply, the interdisciplinary dialectic that we call "Social Memory" is not a method, nor does it prescribe a method for the historian. Mike is quite right that it is a theory that functions as a "hermeneutical framework." I am convinced that it is indeed quite valuable for the study of Jesus and Christian origins. I've been singing this tune for a while now. But, as Chris Keith has often said, Social Memory does not itself do the work of historiography. It is an undergirding theory. How one adopts and adapts it within one's chosen method is crucial. I look forward to learning how Mike has adopted and adapted Social Memory.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The 153 Fish in John 21:11—Chris Keith

I've recently been doing some research on John 21 for my next book, as well as for my SBL presentation in November.  One of the enduring curiosities of that chapter (one among many enduring curiosities of that chapter) is that the author states that the disciples' big haul of fish consisted of exactly 153 fish in John 21:11.  There are numerous places in the Bible that are simultaneously interesting and unclear, a combination that inevitably leads to some really intriguing interpretations.  John 21:11 has to rank up there with the best of them.  Augustine saw 153 as a triangular number, reducible to 17 (Wikipedia is actually helpful here), and 17 as the sum of 10 (representing the law) and 7 (representing the Holy Spirit) (Comm. Jo. 72.8).  Jerome observed that a Greek zoologist had counted that there were 153 different types of fish (Comm. Ez. 47.6-12).  The great Raymond Brown considered a number of interpretations and threw up the white flag:  "One cannot deny that some of these interpretations (they are not mutually exclusive) are possible, but they all encounter the same objection:  we have no evidence that any such complicated understating of 153 would have been intelligible to John's readers" (Gospel according to John XIII-XXI, 1075).  Interestingly, he proposes that, like the details in 19:35 and 20:7, the exact number is intended to give the impression that the Beloved Disciple is reporting the exact number of fish caught.  (He hastens to add:  "By way of caution we should note in conclusion that the explanation we have offered of the number's origin is not a solution to the problem of historicity" [1076]).  In a 2002 Neotestamentica article later republished in The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple (2007, Baker Academic), Bauckham takes us back to a numerical solution to the numerical problem.  Following M. J. J. Menken's 1985 dissertation published by Brill in NovTSup, concerning which Bauckham says, "I have seen no reference to it in any work of Johannine scholarship" (Testimony, 275n.15), Bauckham notes a number of supposed instances of numerical composition in GJohn.  For example, he argues that the Johannine prologue contains 496 syllables and the Johannine epilogue contains 496 words (Testimony, 277).  496 is not only a triangular number, but also the numerical value of "only begotten" in Greek (John 1:18; cf. also 3:16). On this basis, Bauckham then proposes that the presence of 153 is another instance of gematria, as 153 is the numerical value of the Hebrew for "sons of God," a phrase that appears in Greek in 1:12 and 11:52 (NB:  inarthrous in the former, arthrous in the latter).  Thus, gematria in the prologue parallels gematria in the epilogue, and Bauckham makes this one plank in an argument for the originality of John 21 to GJohn.

What to make of this solution for the 153 fish?  Honestly, I have no idea.  And I should be upfront about the fact that I don't have a better solution.  Further, it's abundantly clear that gematria was important for early Christians as well as the Fathers in their interpretations of Scripture.  For the life of me, though, I can't get my skeptical eyebrow to come back down when I'm reading this type of thing.

**UPDATE:  Thanks to Mikeal Parsons for pointing out his article on early Christian numerological exegesis ("Exegesis 'By the Numbers': Numerology and the New Testament," PRSt 35 [2008]: 25-43), wherein he addresses this and other issues.  Building upon Augustine's observation of 153 as a triangular number reducing to 17, he suggests that 17, being one "under" 18, indicates that the created order is "under" Jesus since 18 is the value of iota-eta, the first two letters of "Jesus."  (That 18 had special value for Christians for specifically this reason is clear in Barn. 9.7-9.)  That is, Parsons suggests the numerology expresses the theology present elsewhere in, e.g., Col. 1.16-17.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

"'God on the cross.' Never yet and nowhere has there been an equal boldness in reversal, something so horrible, questioning, and questionable as this formula: it promised a revaluation of all the values of antiquity."