Baker Academic

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Statement of Solidarity with our Jewish Neighbors

The following is a letter jointly authored by the faculty of United Theological Seminary, of which I count myself a member. This was written last year but seems relevant today.

Statement of Solidarity with our Jewish neighbors

March 24, 2017
In light of the demonstrable uptick in anti-Semitic incidents since November, we the Christian faculty at United Theological Seminary offer this statement of solidarity with our Jewish neighbors:
Locally and globally, we have observed bomb threats targeting Jewish centers and schools, desecrations of Jewish gravestones and defacements of Jewish institutions. While this has been a national trend, we witnessed one such incident at a local institution — a public act of hatred in the form of a swastika.
We are greatly disturbed by this trend along with its historical precedents and implications. Not only does this activity evoke the hostility toward Jewish life and culture in Europe leading up to the Shoah, it is a symptom of the present political climate in America. In short, we acknowledge that these are acts of terror specifically targeting our Jewish neighbors. We also acknowledge that these incidents are part of a larger social trend, one that injures a wider network of neighborly relationships. Recent reports of our Muslim neighbors who have helped to restore Jewish cemeteries after vandalism are inspiring. We count this show of friendship as a courageous example for Christian hospitality.
We therefore stand with our neighbors and denounce this trend as both anti-Semitic and anti-Christian. Such hatred stands in opposition to the good news upon which our faith is built. Central to historic Christian doctrine is extravagant love as taught by the author of our faith, a rabbi who was first and foremost a Jew. We believe that Jesus’ entire life was lived as a Jew and that his central mission sought the wellbeing of the Jewish people and their neighbors. We also believe that Jesus’ command to love our neighbors extends the ancient Jewish teaching that all humankind is made in the image of our Creator and deserves respect. As such, symbols of hate are an affront not only to those targeted but to all of G-d’s children.
At the same time, we acknowledge that Christian history is replete with examples of Christians perpetrating or condoning acts of hatred. We at United Theological Seminary hope that we can help to break this pattern and to seek the well-being of our Jewish neighbors. Toward that end, toward the world to come, we stand and will act as we are led in the days to come. If there is a seed of collaboration to be planted here, we stand at the ready to listen and to participate. We invite others in our community to do the same.
In determined hope,
The faculty of United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio
Peter Bellini
Sarah Brooks Blair
Presian Burroughs
Wendy Deichmann
Thomas Dozeman
James Eller
Phyllis Ennist
Lisa Hess
Harold Hudson
Justus Hunter
Vivian Johnson
Scott Kisker
Anthony Le Donne
Luther Oconer
Andrew Sung Park
Joni Sancken
Jerome Stevenson
David Watson

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Game of Thrones Religion Book

Everyone needs a hobby and mine is teaching seminarians at a United Methodist place of higher learning. My day job is that I think deeply about fantasy literature, fake religions, and real baseball. The following book thus combines two of my central professional interests. Moreover, it is presently the number one rated new release in the category of comparative religions on Amazon:

Gods of Thrones will do three things for you. It will explain the fictional religions in George R. R. Martin's fantasy. It will explain ancient and modern religions using examples from the novels and HBO show. And it will bring more texture to your favorite plots, characters, and fan theories by explaining how the ancient and medieval worlds worked.

Here is an excerpt:
Premodern Jewish mythology tells of a subhuman creation called the golem. In most iterations of the story, the golem is formed of clay or mud and then animated by a rabbi or sage. In early forms of the myth, the golem is unable to speak, lacking much intelligence. But the golem is usually obedient, following directions well (albeit taking some directions too literally). As the myth evolves in later centuries, the golem gets too large to control or goes on a violent rampage. The golem is created by writing the holy name of God (or a variation of it) on the creature’s forehead or inserting a piece of paper with the name into its mouth. In some stories, the word “truth” is used. In order to decommission the golem, one letter is removed, changing the word from “truth” to “dead”. The most famous golem myth is set in 16th-century Prague. In this story, the golem is created to protect Jews against anti-Semitic attacks.  
 . . . perhaps the best analogy for Ser Robert Strong is the golem myth. First, both Frankenstein’s monster and Osiris are intelligent and able to speak. But like the golem, Ser Robert is mute and functions as an automaton. Second, neither Frankenstein’s monster nor Osiris serve as a personal bodyguard. But like the golem, Ser Robert’s primary purpose is to defend. Indeed he is reanimated specifically to fight Cersei’s enemies. Ser Robert’s story and golem mythology differ, however, in their religious significance. The golem is created by a holy man to defend the pious. By contrast, Ser Robert is reanimated by an infidel and thought to be an abomination. So it seems that Ser Robert Strong is stitched together using parts of multiple fictions.
As you can see, I take my day job very seriously.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Jesus: A Beginner's Guide

My most recent book, is now in print and can be purchased using your favorite legal currency. The idea with this book was to play in the space created by Jaroslav Pelikan. In other words, this is heavy on "Jesus through the centuries" and reception history. That said, the book begins with some basic historical Jesus elements and introduces early Christian literature. I conclude with a Jesus in pop-culture section. My hope is that this book might work as a supplementary text for classes on Christianity or World Religions.

Here is some praise for the book.

"I loved this book and will definitely be using it in my teaching. Hope the following will suffice: Le Donne's writing never fails to evoke, entertain and educate students - and this volume on Jesus is no exception. Covering Jesus' construction within historical enquiry to reception in pop culture this will be a welcome addition to the reading lists of many undergraduate programmes and an invaluable and accessible teaching resource."
- Louise Lawrence, University of Exeter

'This little book punches far above its light weight. In Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide, Anthony Le Donne has given us an excellent short cultural history of Jesus. From the letters of Paul to the Gospel of Mary, from the Alexamenos graffito to Timothy Schmalz’s “Homeless Jesus,” from Clare of Assisi to Martin Luther King, Jr.,  it is all here, expertly narrated and beautifully illustrated." 
- Matthew V. Novenson, University of Edinburgh

"Fresh, punchy and perfectly crafted for those with little or no background in this field of study,
Le Donne explains Jesus not only in terms of long ago, but through the centuries to today. He traces not one Jesus but many, each reshaped for different reasons. Ultimately, this book presents Jesus as a remarkably malleable entity, and yet a figure who is as critically relevant now as ever."
- Joan E. Taylor, King's College London

"As fascinating as it is wide-ranging, Anthony Le Donne's Jesus: A Beginner's Guide is a master class on a two thousand year long tradition of questing for, commemorating, and creatively appropriating Jesus. From magic bowls to Muhammad Ali, and with equal parts wit and learning, Le Donne canvasses a captivating range of sources to produce an engrossing account of the one the most important figures in history."
- David Lincicum, University of Notre Dame

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Book or Four

I realized a few days ago that in 2017 and 2018 I've published 4 books. This, of course, is too many. Therefore it is highly likely that a couple of these books will not be good. I am sorry to say that I am too close to the problem to see it clearly. The best course of action is for you to buy all four and determine for yourself which of these books were not worth reading. I have just finished a rough draft of number five (due out in November) so you will have to wait until then to determine how bad that one is. The worst part of all of this is that I've neglected this blog too often as a result.

This week I plan to pick up the pace a bit by writing about my writing.

Sacred Dissonance was cowritten with Larry Behrendt and published with Hendrickson. It is the book that took the longest and required the most of me in terms of emotion, new research, and personal reflection. Rather than recap the book, here is an email I wrote Larry yesterday.

Larry, it's been a minute since we discussed Xty/Judaism stuff. I had an experience this morning that I thought I'd share.

So for our birthdays (which are only days apart), Sarah and I bought each other a year-long Sunday subscription to the Times. When I had this idea I imagined myself sitting down with coffee and the paper on the front porch. That's exactly what I did this morning. I read a couple articles on the front page, looked at the best-seller list, and opened to the sports page. I can't tell you how much nostalgic joy I got from the tactile experience. So much of my youth was spent underlining stats and circling boxscores. There were no boxscores today. That was sort of jarring. But the AL and NL league leaders were there just as I remembered them. 20 years ago I might have written out several permutations of a trade to land Nick Markakis so I could flip him for some other player that always has a strong second half. Having the paper in my hands brought back the feeling of all of those wasted hours. With one key difference. The "leaders" section for batters begins with a category called "batting." This, of course, refers to batting average, a stat that I view with different eyes. For pitchers, the top categories is called "pitching." This is essentially a wins-losses stat. Not only do I look at this stat differently, I no longer care about it. It's interesting but it's not telling. Even so, I enjoy the experience of revisiting those old, outmoded categories. They are meaningful touchstones. They are part of the entire experience of holding a newspaper in my hands and wasting time with baseball. But nostalgia is almost always tinged with lament. I've changed. Baseball has changed. The world has changed.
This is not the place to reproduce the entire text or Larry's reply. The gist of this exchange was my sense that I experience the sacred far less now than I once did. Whether it is my relationship to the Church or baseball, I am simply in a different place than I once was. I have different categories by which I process the world. While I don't regret the path I've taken, I do miss crossing the border from mundane to sacred. This isn't a loss of faith or devotion. I still enjoy baseball (except when it sucks) and I still love my church (except when I don't). But my new categories incline me less to sacramental experience.

I think that my pursuit of Jewish-Christian dialogue was a decision to chase the sacred. In writing this book I wanted to understand what Larry finds sacred in Judaism and Jewishness. And I wanted to see my own tradition anew through his eyes. But the process of our dialogue has become sacred on another level. My pursuit of the sacred (because it's always something of social construct; see e.g. baseball) required some community of devotion. For me, people who are hanging out at the borders of Christianity are best equipped to help me process my own experience. Somewhere along the way, the process of dialogue itself became sacred to me. But, as the title of the book suggests, it is not a process that requires harmony of belief, praxis, or symmetry. It is an altogether different experience of the sacred.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

BASP Subscriptions

I'm happy to pass along the following from William Johnson of Duke University.  Some readers of the Jesus Blog may be interested in this offer for annual subscriptions to the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists.


Dear colleagues,

If you have papyrological interests, I want to point out to you the great deal offered by the American Society of Papyrologists. An individual ASP membership costs $35, and for that you will an annual subscription to theBulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists, almost 400 pages of high-quality papyrology spanning a wide range of subject matter, from editions to essays. Our new arrangement with Peeters Publishers allows us to offer this without shipping or other additional costs. 

Where else can you subscribe to a papyrological journal for $35? (Or $16 if you are a student!)

To become a member, simply go to:

and click on the membership button.

Memberships also go to support the Society’s other activities, for which see the blurb below.

With best wishes to you all,

William Johnson
Secretary-Treasurer, American Society of Papyrologists

Kiffiak Book Giveaway

Over at the Zurich New Testament Blog, they're running the following promotion for a free copy of Jordash Kiffiak's Responses in the Miracle Stories of the Gospels (WUNT 2; Mohr Siebeck).  Readers of the Jesus Blog may have interest in winning this study of over 700 pages!


This is your chance to win a FREE COPY of the acclaimed, 700+ page study by Jordash Kiffiak, “Responses in the Miracle Stories of the Gospels”!
The book has been praised by Andreas Lindemann in no uncertain terms:
Man wird bei einem derart umfangreichen, m. E. im besten Sinne als „innovativ“ zu bezeichnenden Werk Fragen und Einwände vorbringen können. Gleichwohl scheint mir die Studie von Jordash Kiffiak im Ansatz und in der sorgfältigen Durchführung der Frage nach der Bedeutung der „responses“ in den Wundererzählungen in ganz besondere Weise erwähnenswert zu sein.
(“With such an enormous work - and in my opinion one to be labeled ‘innovative’ in the best sense of the word - one might be able to raise questions and objections. Nevertheless the study of Jordash Kiffiak in its approach and meticulous execution regarding the question of the meaning of the ‘responses’ in the miracle stories appears to me to be worthy of mention in a very exceptional way.”)
To take part in the competition, you’ll need to do two things.
1. Write a two- or three-sentence comment, telling us why you need this volume from Mohr Siebeck’s WUNT II series.
2. Submit a one-page (500 words max.) piece, giving a fuller explanation of your rationale.
The prize will be awarded on the basis of not only logical argumentation but also creativity!
Note: this competition is for graduate students. Your document will need to have your full name, status (MA student, PhD candidate), program/specialization (NT, early Christianity, early Judaism etc.), current year of studies, title of MA thesis (if relevant) or PhD thesis, and the name of your institute. Send it to by Thursday 14 June 2018.
You can read a blog post summarizing the book here:

All the best!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

"Christian Origins and Social-Scientific Criticism: Past, Present, and Future" Schedule—Chris Keith

I'm happy to share the schedule for the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible's upcoming conference on May 25 at St Mary's University, Twickenham on "Christian Origins and Social-Scientific Criticism: Past, Present, and Future."  If you've not registered yet and would like to join us, you can do so here.


‘Social-Scientific Criticism’ now serves in New Testament studies as an umbrella term for a variety of critical approaches to early Christianity, which include cultural anthropology, social identity theory, social history, ancient and modern media studies, memory theories, human geography, ancient and modern politics, race theory, trauma studies, and others.  This conference gathers leading scholars to discuss the progress of the scholarly discourse from initial applications to the current state, as well as offer thoughts about the future. 

8.00–9.00       Registration
9.00–9.10       Welcome
9.10–9.20       Introduction to the Conference (Chris Keith) 

Session 1: Theoretical Origins and Texts
9.20–9.50       ‘From Honour and Shame to Theorizing Christian Origins’ (John Kloppenborg)
9.50–10.20     ‘Competitive Textualization in the Jesus Tradition’ (Chris Keith)      
10.20–10.50   ‘The Letter to Titus as a Site of Memory’ (Michael Scott Robertson)

10.50–11.20   coffee and tea break

Session 2: Violence and Identity
11.20–12.10   ‘Violence as Social Currency in Early Christianity’ (Sarah Rollens)
12.10–12.40   ‘The Death of John the Baptist and the Sociology of Beheading in the Ancient World’ (Nathan Shedd)
12.40–1.00     Open Discussion

1.00–2.00       Lunch

Session 3: Space and Language
2.00–2.40       ‘Diverse Futures of Social-Scientific Criticism of the New Testament: Affective, Spatial, Cognitive, and Digital Turns’ (Louise J. Lawrence)
2.40–3.20  ‘Apocalyptic Language in the New Testament: Can Cognitive Linguistics
Help?’    (Jamie Davies)

3.20–3.40       coffee and tea break

Session 4: Ethnicity, Race, and Ideology
3.40–4.10       ‘Whose Race Needs to be Noted? Further Reflections on Whiteness and Biblical Studies’ (David Horrell)
4.40–5.10       ‘Social-Scientific Criticism and the Bible: Investigating Ideological Trend’ (Taylor Weaver)

5.10–5.30       coffee and tea break

Session 5: Politics and Social-Scientific Criticism
5.30–6.00       Keynote Address:  ‘Cults, Martyrs, and Good Samaritans’ (James Crossley)
6.00–6.20       Respondent:  Hannah Strømmen
6.20–6.40       Respondent:  Yvonne Sherwood
6.40–7.00       Discussion

7.00                supper at La Dolce Vita for those who have reserved a place, otherwise the St Mary’s dining room will be open

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Adele Reinhartz on the Gospel of John—Chris Keith

Over at Ancient Jew Review, Adele Reinhartz has a fascinating retrospective on her contributions to the scholarly study of the Gospel of John.  Johannine scholars will no doubt recognize Reinhartz as a giant in the field, and rightly so.  She pitches these thoughts as a "break-up" with the Beloved Disciple, however.  She notes that she's come to abandon her three-tiered reading of the Fourth Gospel, thereby abandoning also the (still dominant) idea that the Gospel tells us something concrete about the Johannine community.  She now affirms that the Gospel moves on a "historical level" and a "cosmological level," not an "ecclesiological level."  She also notes that she's now convinced that the Fourth Gospel's anti-Judaism is not simply part of its overall narrative package, which it offers to Jewish readers, but the core of its rhetorical construction, which it offers to Gentile readers.  The whole retrospective is fascinating, and Reinhartz's work is as important now as it has ever been.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Another Fake Bites the Dust

I confess that whenever I hear about some newly discovered bit of fancy material evidence, I'm immediate skeptical. This was the case when I first learned of the so-called Jordan Codices. It turns out that caution was indeed warranted. While the artifact uses ancient materials, they are most likely forged says the Department of Antiquities Director General, Monther Jamhawi.

The trouble, it seems to me, is twofold as we lay another forgery to rest.

1. Forgers are good at their jobs and getting better.

2. Media coverage of the fraud will always been less than the coverage of the initial "discovery."

These two points are related. One wonders if the goal of the forgers isn't to fool folks only for a few years. A few years is enough time to ride a media wave and monetize it.

Bottom line: one doesn't need to fool experts forever; one only needs to rely on the facts that it will take a few years for refutation and that media coverage will atrophy over time. This brings me to a third point.

3. I have no doubt that the initial stories of these codices will continue to circulate and fool folks who are seeing them for the first time. Search engines will grab the initial reports more readily (as they have been more trafficked) and bury the reports of refutation over time (as they are less trafficked).

So you can expect to see these pop up from time to time on social media for years to come.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Image of Cerula, Catacomb of San Gennaro

BBC 4 reports on an image found in a catacomb in San Gennaro, Naples. The image suggests that Christianity continued to employ female bishops as late as the fifth century.

The super-duper, dynamic duo of Helen Bond and Joan Taylor featured here:


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

An Article on Renan

Will Theiss has written a nice article on Ernst Renan for Marginalia. It provides fascinating backdrop for Renan's scholarship and (I don't mind saying) is beautifully written.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Wayne Coppins's Review of the Jesus Handbuch

The Jesus Blog is pleased today to publish Wayne Coppins's detailed review of the new Jesus Handbuch, edited by Jens Schroeter and Christine Jacobi and published by Mohr Siebeck in their Handbuecher Theologie series.  This review will particularly be helpful for those readers of the Jesus Blog who can't read the Jesus Handbuch in German, though an English translation is planned. You can find Wayne on the web here and you can buy the book here.

The Jesus Handbuch: An Excellent Resource for Students and Scholars
Wayne Coppins, University of Georgia

Photo by Christoph Heilig from
Unlike the newest Star Wars movie, the Jesus Handbuch (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017) exceeded my high expectations. Since its success is due not least to the particular way that the volume has been conceptualized by the editors, I recommend that one begin by reading Jens Schröter and Christine Jacobi’s introduction to the handbook (1-14) as well as their introductions to each section of the volume (16-20, 126-130, 184-185, 488-489). In my judgment, the extensive discussion of methodological, hermeneutical, and historiographical considerations and developments in the section on the history of historical-critical Jesus research is especially important to the overall concept of the work. Accordingly, I have given somewhat greater attention to this part of the book in my review.

The contents of the volume are as follows: Preface (v-vi), Introduction (A: 1-14), History of Historical-Critical Jesus Research (B: 15-124), The Historical Material (C: 125-181), Life and Activity of Jesus (D: 183-486), Early Traces of Impacts and Receptions of Jesus (E: 487-561), List of Contributing Authors (563-564), Bibliography (565-617), and Indexes (619-685).

Because the individual sections are relatively succinct and presented with clarity, the handbook will be an excellent resource for students who wish to gain an introduction to a specific topic or to historical Jesus research as a whole. At the same time, since the authors have been given enough space and freedom to develop their ideas at the highest level, it will also be of great benefit to scholars in the field. With regard to the high quality of the volume, credit is due not only to the editors and authors but also to Lena Nogossek for her significant contributions to the realization of the project and to Matthias Müller for his excellent translation of the English essays (vi).

Let me now provide some brief comments on 22 of the 65 sections of the handbook, highlighting lines of argument that I regard as especially interesting, insightful, or significant. At the end of my review, I will conclude with one specific point of criticism and one suggestion for revision with respect to future editions of the handbook.

In his valuable section on “The Critical Historical Scholarship of the Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century” (pp. 37-42), Eckart David Schmidt claims that Ranke’s statement that the historian wants “merely to say how it actually was” should not be misinterpreted in a “positivistic” sense. In his view, this represents a misinterpretation both because this statement does not represent Ranke’s own program but rather a qualification or demarcation from the particular approach of Enlightenment pragmatism and because Ranke himself stresses shortly beforehand that “the aim of a historian depends on his point of view” (40).

James Carleton Paget provides an outstanding analysis of Johannes Weiss’s and Albert Schweitzer’s interpretations of the kingdom of God as an eschatological concept (55-65). In terms of content, I found it significant that Weiss revised his advocacy of thoroughgoing eschatology in the second edition of his work, namely by conceding that “not all ethical statements of Jesus must be exclusively traced back to his eschatological worldview” (61). Here, I was especially struck by the extent to which Weiss’s thinking prefigured that of Dale Allison, who modified his earlier views on thoroughgoing eschatology in a similar manner in Constructing Jesus (see 134n461 with 97, 134-135, and 144-146). Since Weiss and Allison both explicitly revised their earlier endorsement of “thoroughgoing eschatology,” I think that scholars should cease using this phrase to describe their respective views of Jesus’s eschatology. In terms of methodology, Carleton Paget rightly stresses the need to treat Weiss and Schweitzer as equal discussion partners rather than as representatives of stages of development (57-58). Indeed, in reading Carleton Paget’s section, I realized how a tacit acceptance of Schweitzer’s developmental framework had contributed to my failure to read Weiss’s actual work—sackcloth and ashes!

In “Historical Jesus and Kerygmatic Christ” (66-74), Reinhard von Bendemann provides a sympathetic yet critical analysis of the contributions of Martin Kähler, Rudolf Bultmann, and Luke Timothy Johnson. Notably, von Bendemann stresses that Bultmann was indeed concerned to uphold, better understand, and make theologically fruitful “a ‘historical’ connection between the historical Jesus and the post-Easter Christology and theology” (69). Moreover, he argues that Bultmann’s talk of “historical presupposition” should not be interpreted to suggest otherwise, and claims that Bultmann, like Schweitzer, did not suspend the quest for the historical Jesus or lead it to its end but rather attempted to make his own contribution to it (69-70).

In “The Literary Conceptions of the Gospels and Their Relation to the Historical Jesus” (75-86), Cilliers Breytenbach skillfully develops his own perspectives in dialogue with the history of research. On the one hand, in critical dialogue with Willi Marxsen and Rudolf Bultmann, he insists with Julius Schniewind and Ernst Käsemann that Mark is not a sermon in which the exalted one directly addresses the Markan community but rather a narrative in which Mark has “the earthly one speak to the disciples and not the exalted one to the community” (78). Moreover, he thinks that Jürgen Roloff has successfully demonstrated that “Mark presents the relationship between the Markan Jesus and the disciples of the Gospel as a past event” (80). On the other hand, Breytenbach criticizes Roloff for failing to distinguish between ‘Jesus’s history’ and ‘Jesus’s history according to Mark’ and stresses that the question of the closeness of Mark’s portrayal to the history of the earthly Jesus must be answered via tradition history and not through literary methods (80-81). Finally, Breytenbach turns specifically to the topics of narrative, memory, and history. Here, he claims that rather than being a record of events experienced by individual witnesses, Mark is based on the structured, secondary recollection of the community (83). Moreover, he argues that the Gospel of Mark as a whole, i.e. the macro-narrative, must be viewed as a fictional narrative rather than a historical one, while allowing that individual aspects of the plot may be used for a historical construction (83-84). Altogether, Breytenbach emerges as Wrede redivivus, formidably reasserting the concerns of the great master within the horizon of current New Testament scholarship.

Chris Keith’s section, “The Gospels as ‘Kerygmatic Narratives’ about Jesus and the ‘Criteria’ in Jesus Research” (86-98), examines the establishment of “criteria” for the determination of “authentic” material by means of a close reading of the work of Ernst Käsemann, Günther Bornkamm, and Ferdinand Hahn. Through a careful analysis of the metaphors they employ, Keith highlights both their fundamental assumption that authentic and non-authentic material are joined in the Gospels in a way that permits them to be identified and separated and their corresponding goal of detaching the authentic, original Jesus material from the kerygmatic narratives of the Gospels (89, 91, 94). At the same time, Keith perceptively points out that rather than limiting themselves to this approach, Bornkamm and Hahn looked for more than one way to the historical Jesus (93, 95). With respect to the implications of Keith’s analysis, it is crucial to stress to that Keith’s focus is not on “criteria” in general but rather on the emergence and logic of the criteria of authenticity with special reference to the assumption that it is possible to employ such criteria to get behind the Gospels to a Jesus who is still untouched by the interpretations of his first followers (96-97; cf. 121, 124 [Jens Schröter]). For me, Keith’s analysis raised the question of whether it is beneficial for scholars to continue using the terms authentisch/authentic, Authentizität/authenticity, and Echtheit/genuineness, since the shared use of these shorthand expressions can mask rather different assumptions and understandings of what is being claimed.

In his section on “The ‘Remembered Jesus’: Memory as Historical-Hermeneutical paradigm of Jesus Research” (112-124), Jens Schröter distinguishes between two “memory” models, one in which the concept of memory is related to “individual processes of memory of persons from the environment of Jesus” (115), and one in which “the concept of memory is used as a cultural-hermeneutical category” (118). For Schröter, the most fundamental difference between them is that the latter model “does not place the question of the origin and transmission of the Jesus tradition in the center but rather the question of the appropriation of the past from the perspective of the respective present” (120). Moreover, what one is seeking to grasp with this concept of memory is not “processes of preservation or forgetting in the memory of individuals” but rather “those processes through which communities form traditions that preserve the past that is relevant for their own self-understanding, a past that is made present time and again in texts, rituals, festivals, and places of memory” (120).

Steve Mason provides a wonderful discussion of the non-Christian texts about Jesus. In his section on “Greek, Roman, and Syriac Texts” (159-165), he suggests that these ancient sources do not provide independent information but rather make use of Christian tradition (164), while mentioning the possibility that Tacitus might be dependent upon Josephus for his information (163). Moreover, he argues that the phrase impulsore Chresto in Suetonius is probably not a reference to Christ or Christian missionaries (162). Mason’s discussion of “Jewish Sources: Flavius Josephus” (165-170) was one of my favorite sections in the handbook. Here, special mention may be made of his respectful dialogue with Richard Carrier’s thesis (JECS 20:489-514) that in Ant. 20:200 Josephus refers not to James the brother of Jesus but rather to James the brother of the high priest Jesus ben Damneus. While recognizing the intellectual merit of this proposal as an “original, alternative explanation,” Mason argues that it “creates more problems than it can solve,” since it “explains neither the accusation of transgressing the law … nor the fact that James is condemned with other men” and also leaves unexplained “the reaction of the other members of the Jewish leadership to the illegal proceedings” and “the presentation of a high priest who has overstepped his authority in legal proceedings, but not in an action against competitors within the Jewish leadership” (169). Thus, for Mason: “the simplest explanation for the text in Ant. 20 … remains the assumption that in Book 18 Josephus had already mentioned a Jesus, who was called Christos, to which he now refers” (169). 
Daniel R. Schwartz’s analysis of the “Political Conditions: Roman Rule, Herod the Great, Antipas” (184-197) is a tightly argued section marked by clarity of presentation and coherence of argument. What I found especially noteworthy was his thesis that from the beginning Rome’s endgame was to annex Judea, together his corresponding suggestion that Herod the Great’s long reign facilitated their decision to do so, insofar as it convinced them that it was possible to separate the Jewish religion from the state, so that the state could be conducted as a normal kingdom (194-195).

In his discussion of the “Religious Context” (197-213), Lutz Doering uses the categories of “integration” and “diversification” to describe Judaism in the Hellenistic-Roman period, noting that this approach represents both a continuation and nuancing modification of Sanders’ model of “common Judaism,” which rightly stressed what was common but did not give sufficient attention to the profiles of the different groups (199; cf. also 204).

From Stephen Hultgren’s section on “The Education and Language of Jesus” (219-227) I learned that our picture of the linguistic situation in Jewish Palestine has changed to a greater extent than I had realized. In short, it seems that, in addition to Aramaic, both Hebrew and Greek were in greater use than I had thought (225-226; cf. also 234, 239 [J. K. Zangenberg]).

In his section on “Galilee and Surroundings as Sphere of Activity” (230-237), Jürgen K. Zangenberg makes the valuable observation that with respect to the Galilean context of Jesus, the Gospels provide only an excerpt and not a representative Durchschnitt of the Galilean milieu. More specifically, the Jesus tradition creates “its” Galilee just as Josephus sets forth “his” Galilee in various works (230). Concretely, Zangenberg explains that “Galilee at the time of Jesus was a region set in motion by inner and outer factors” and suggests that the Jesus tradition’s emphasis on the personae miserae and the subversive character of the kingdom of God should be attributed not to an especially oppressive poverty in Galilee but rather to an accent set by Jesus himself (237). Notably, Darrell Bock and Jens Schröter develop a similar line of argument in their section on “Jesus’s Perspective on Israel” (338-348). Arguing that Jesus’s activity and teaching should not be explained primarily as a reaction to foreign rule and social oppression but rather have a more fundamental orientation, they claim that this is already probable because “Galilee at the time of Jesus was not characterized by far-reaching political and social tensions” (339).

In his section on “Jesus and the Political and Social Environment of his Time” (252-262), James Crossley sets a somewhat different accent than Bock/Schröter with respect to the situation in Galilee (Zangenberg arguably falls somewhere between them on the spectrum). Crossley is especially interested in the social effects of the urbanization projects, irrespective of whether the population regarded these developments as responsible for the changing life conditions (254). On the one hand, he is cautious about what can be said regarding the life standard, the extent of disturbances, the use of physical violence, and the “oppression” of the population in Galilee (254). On the other hand, he stresses that “in the time in which Jesus grew up in Galilee there were, in fact, dramatic upheavals, which probably also included resettlements and expulsions” (254-255). For me, a particularly illuminating insight from Crossley’s discussion of Galilee was his observation that what is decisive is not simply the political, social, or economic situation as such but rather “how certain changes were perceived by the population” (254, my emphasis).

Annette Weissenrieder’s section on “Jesus’ Healings” (298-310) proved insightful at many points. In my case, her documentation of the similar descriptions of the symptoms of the sick and possessed in the Gospels and in ancient medical literature was particularly instructive (300), for example the parallels to Matthew’s use of “moonstruck” (σεληνιάζομαι, 17:15) in Aret. SD 1.4.2; Gal.di.dec. 3.2 [9.902-903 Kühn]; loc.aff. 3.9 [8.175-177, 233]. In terms of the state of research, it is noteworthy that Weissenrieder challenges the applicability of the distinction between “disease” as biological sickness and “illness” as social (and ritual) experience on the ground that it presupposes a clear separation between the physical and social-cultural phenomena of a sickness, which she regards as problematic in light of the connection between them in the ancient texts (301).

In his section on “Tax Collectors and Sinners as Addressees of the Activity of Jesus” (348-356), Yair Furstenberg provides a fine discussion of the designation “sinner,” a classic crux interpretum. In critical dialogue with Sanders, Furstenberg argues that “sinner” is not a fixed category but rather a designation whose scope and meaning depends on the precise context in which it is used (350). Moreover, he suggests that the accusation of fellowship with sinners is specifically related to Jesus’s disregard of the existing conventions of table fellowship, according to which Jesus’s eating with evildoers called into question his moral integrity (350).

In “Jesus’s Picture of God and the Significance of Father Metaphoricism” (361-368) Christine Gerber consciously interprets Jesus’s picture of God in continuity with Jewish conceptions of God (361). In terms of methodology and content, a strength of her treatment lies in the attention she gives to the metaphorical character of the individual statements, which are interpreted with a view to “what from the ancient father conception is concretely transferred to God in each case” (366). Among other things, she notes here that “father” is a “term of relation,” which implies a relation that is characterized by lifelong duration and asymmetrical exclusivity. Negatively, she makes the interesting observation that there is no explicit talk of “fatherly love,” while granting that it indirectly comes into play in Luke 6.36; 15.11-32 (367).

Among the many striking lines of argument in Thomas Kazen’s section on “Jesus’s Interpretation of the Torah” (402-416), special mention may be made of the way that he attempts to situate the Jesus tradition in relation to developments in the halakic patterns of argumentation toward the end of the second temple period (408). Notably, this approach leads him to a different evaluation of the development of the tradition at many points. For example, while many scholars treat the rabbinic principle that acute danger to a person’s life overrides the Sabbath regulations (piquach nefesh) as the background context of Jesus’s arguments with his interlocutors, Kazen argues that the formulation of this principle represents a later stage of development, which was not yet in play for Jesus’s own debates with the Pharisees and was first introduced by the evangelists with a view to the current state of discussion in their day (409-410).

Michael Wolter’s section on “Jesus’s Self-Understanding” (425-431) reflects well his characteristic combination of exegetical precision and conceptual clarity. What is refreshing about this section is that rather than restricting his attention to a few classic texts, Wolter’s presentation incorporates an extremely wide range of texts and themes. In terms of content, Wolter argues at several points that Jesus claims to act in the place of God (426, 427) and states that “Jesus proclaims not simply the mercy of God, who forgives humans their sins, but he is God’s mercy orstated more fullythat God’s mercy takes place in his activity” (428). While many texts are drawn upon, it is notable that Wolter (431) gives only minimal attention to the so-called “titles of majesty,” which often play a larger role in this connection.

Michael Labahn achieves a very high level of conceptual clarity in his section on “Discipleship, Radical Renunciation, ‘A-Familial’ Ethos” (445-454). Indeed, for me his analysis gave much sharper contours and depth to many of my favorite themes and sayings in the Jesus tradition. Against Schweitzer, Labahn rightly argues that Jesus’s radical demands are not an “interim ethic” but rather “form a counterpole to structures of the present world and anticipate the kingdom of God” (454).
In his section on Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and his stance toward the temple (460-467), Markus Tiwald provides an instructive discussion of early Jewish positions on the temple (462) and the potential relevance of this material for interpreting Jesus’s temple action and temple saying (463-466). The significance of his analysis is not simply that he identifies Jesus’s action as a prophetic sign act rather than a “temple cleansing” but, more specifically, his twofold claim that Jesus, too, expected a new temple in the endtime and that he, as the messenger of the kingdom of God, saw it as his duty to reclaim the temple in the sense of his message, not as an abrogation but as an integration of the temple institution into the idea of the now dawning kingdom of God (464).

Christine Jacobi’s section on “Resurrection, Appearances, Instructions of the Risen One” (490-504) is chock-full of perceptive insights. Perhaps most fundamentally, she fruitfully develops the insight that “from a history-of-theology perspective the appearance experiences and resurrection faith are … to be understood not as caesura but as junction” (491). A strength of Jacobi’s analysis is her attention both to the tradition historical background of the Christian confession that Jesus was raised from the dead and to possible starting points in the activity of the earthly Jesus (492). Throughout she skillfully identifies patterns of interpretation that may have co-determined the character of the appearance experiences themselves or informed their interpretation, while consistently showing an appropriate sensitivity to points of difference with regard to proposed parallels. One of her most striking lines of thought involves the suggestion that the innovative Christian connection of an individual resurrection with the dawning of the endtime and the expectation of a general resurrection may have been informed by a post-Easter interpretation of distinctive features of the pre-Easter proclamation, e.g., the conviction that in Jesus’s resurrection the endtime resurrection of the dead is announced could have been formed by analogy to the connection between the episodic presence of the kingdom in Jesus’s activity and the future coming of the kingdom in power (500-502).

Let me now offer one specific criticism and one suggestion for revision. My criticism pertains to a statement found in Craig A. Evans and Jeremiah J. Johnston’s section on the “Kingdom of God” (369-378). With respect to Matthew’s preferential use of the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” they explain that “the difference is purely formal and reflects Matthew’s tendency to avoid the name of God, which probably follows the use of the contemporary synagogue” (376). In my view, this widely held interpretation is no longer tenable, having been effectively challenged by my UGA colleague Robert Foster in his article “Why on Earth Use ‘Kingdom of Heaven’?: Matthew’s Terminology Revisited” (NTS 48 [2002], 487-499) and then decisively refuted by Jonathan T. Pennington in his book Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Leiden: Brill, 2007). Rather than being attributable to a tendency to avoid the name of God, the phrase kingdom of heavens must be interpreted in relation to Matthew’s other ‘heavenly’ language (Foster) and, more specifically, with reference to its function in his heaven and earth theme (Pennington).

My suggestion for revision concerns the handbook’s treatment of the synoptic problem. My criticism here is not primarily directed at individual authors. In particular, while it is commendable that Ruben Zimmermann explicitly addresses the issue (382), I think it is also perfectly reasonable that many authors develop their argument on the basis of the two-source hypothesis without further justification. There is simply not space for everything within the confines of a handbook. Likewise, I think it is appropriate for John S. Kloppenborg to give exclusive attention to the two-source hypothesis in his valuable sections on “The Introduction of the Concept of Myth into Jesus Research and the Emergence of the Two-Source Theory” (47-55) and “The Synoptic Gospels, the Sayings Source (Q), and the Historical Jesus” (130-137). Instead, my criticism and suggestion for revision is principally addressed to the two editors. Due to the extent to which historical Jesus research is informed by the solution that one adopts to the synoptic problem, I think that a 2017 handbook on the historical Jesus needs to discussor at least highlightthe fact that at present the two-source hypothesis does not seem to command the same level of consensus as it did in some other phases of Jesus research. Moreover, in light of this perceptible shift, I think that it would be beneficial for the handbook to include at least some discussion of different solutions to the synoptic problem and their bearing upon historical Jesus research. How this should be done is less clear to me. One option would be to include a brief discussion of the synoptic problem and its relevance for historical Jesus research in the editors’ introduction to section C. Another solution might be to (also) add a new section after C.II.1.1 on the “Farrer Hypothesis and the Historical Jesus,” which could include a very brief discussion of other rivals to the two-source hypothesis in its opening paragraph.

Let me conclude my review by restating my conviction that the Jesus Handbuch is an excellent volume that will prove to be a rich resource for both students and seasoned scholars. I hope that the German volume will be widely read and that it will translated into English in due course.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Winner of the Snodgrass

The true random number generator has spoken.  The winner of the Snodgrass second edition from Eerdmans is the owner of comment 3.

True Random Number Generator  3Powered by RANDOM.ORG

Comment 3 comes from none other than "Wild Bill" Heroman:

Some of my best friends have seen snipes.

I like them best with Chick-Fil-A sauce.

Bill, if you'll send me your address to, I'll make sure that Eerdmans gets you the book.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Why Billy Graham Gets a C–

Allow me to say first and foremost, I personally hold the late Billy Graham in high regard. While I can find problematic elements of his theology, I stand in awe of Graham's political legacy. I admire his epic, bipartisan career in the same way that I admire Ted William's 1941 batting average. (I was never a Red Sox fan and I don't really believe in the value of batting averages anymore but nobody is likely to bat .406 again!) 

Graham, to me, represents a bygone era of politics when relationships were not predetermined by party affiliation. I could also point to Graham's contributions to race relations when such a stance was resisted by many Southern Democrats. I think we ought to measure such steps relative to a person's contemporaries. But, of course, Graham's legacy will not be determined by his time in the Oval Office or his hopes for desegregation. His paragraph in history will be defined primarily by his prolific evangelism and the seeds he planted for modern Evangelicals.

It is this key element that makes Graham's legacy an interesting cultural puzzle. My guess is that one's opinion of American Christianity (generally speaking) is closely related to one's opinion of Billy Graham. I could be wrong. In fact, I admit that I am an outlier if my theory is correct; I feel generally disappointed with American Christianity and generally positive about Billy Graham. That said, I am more interested in what my readers think. With this in mind, I conducted a poll related to Graham's legacy in 2015.

Here is a screenshot of the final vote count (of 230 voters):

So why did approx. 70% of Jesus Blog readers hold a positive opinion of his public legacy? And why did approx. 30% of Jesus Blog readers hold a negative opinion? Or, in terms of rounded-up grades, why does Billy Graham get a C–?

If you want an immediate answer, you can read a few responses to the poll here

I should reiterate the limitations of this sort of poll. I didn't include a spectrum of voting options. I didn't ask a larger sample of political questions to determine my voting demographics. I promised to buy an ice cream cone for all of my liberal, university friends if they promised to vote (pro-tip: academics are coocoo for ice cream). And, worst of all, I knocked everyone's ice cream into the dirt and sent them to bed crying (academics are such babies).

In all honesty, I put out the poll for two reasons: (1) to determine how Jesusy my readers were. Billy Graham's legacy seemed to me to be a good (unscientific) litmus test for how many conservative evangelicals were reading my terribly heretical blog; (2) I wanted to get some data on Billy Graham's legacy before his passing. Folks tend to speak more kindly of the recently departed.

These 2015 results were somewhat surprising. I had guessed that Graham would get more of a 50%/50% split. Not so. So either more liberals view Graham's impact in generally positive terms or more conservatives were interested in historical criticism than I had guessed. I think its probably the latter. I should add that over 30% of Jesus Blog readers reside outside of the United States. So my American political lens might have distorted my initial guess.

I'll include two reader comments here that helped me makes sense of the data. The first helps me understand why Graham's grade was higher than I expected. The second helps me understand why is was "only" a low C given his many decades of popularity. Both commenters modeled, to my mind, reasonable and respectful dialogue.

(1) A generally positive commenter wrote:
I speak from the perspective of being raised by parents who were classmates of Billy Graham and held him up to us as a paragon. My father was an American Baptist minister, and every Sunday morning my siblings and I would awake to the strains of Beverly Shea and the Billy Graham Crusade Choir. My parents took us to a couple of his crusades, including one in the old McCormick Place in Chicago. Although I decry his anti-Semitic words in the oval office, I have difficulty viewing him cynically, not just because of my upbringing but also from following him long-term. Although I have few points of agreement with him theologically, I respect the integrity he tried to bring to his work. Let's not forget that he insisted on integration of blacks and whites in his crusades at a time that was not popular, in addition to promoting broad-based ecumenicity. His limitations were the socially influenced limitations we all face when our lives are viewed in retrospect. I think he sincerely tried to be a evening influence and, by virtue of that, had a positive effect.
(2) A generally negative commenter wrote:
I have fond memories of attending BG crusades in the UK in my younger days although from what I recall he always preached the same simplistic message. Of much more concern was his association with evangelical oddballs like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, his unhealthy relationship with various US Presidents and right wing politicians like Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Jesse Helms etc. Added to that was his apparent lack of criticism of some very dubious US foreign policy and human rights abuses in various parts of the World.........Vietnam, Latin America, Iraq spring to mind. Despite what Franklin and the BGEA now claim I don't remember him being very active speaking up about social injustice or against apartheid or in supporting the civil rights movement in the US.  While he may have preached to unsegregated audiences, most converts in the Southern States were sent on to segregated Black or White Churches and the leadership of the BGEA itself is still a very conservative white male dominated organisation. The only female Trustee is one of BG's daughters Anne Graham Lotz although many other of his extended family are on the BGEA payroll in various capacities including another daughter Ginny and 3 of Franklin's children. Remarks he has allegedly made on political issues in recent years seem to have been drafted and put out under his name by Franklin who has been using the BGEA to support his personal anti -Obama, anti- Muslim and anti -gay agenda. Any comments one sends to the BGEA website only appear if they are complimentary although Franklin's Facebook page does contain the odd response from somebody who disagrees with his dogmatism on everything from the State of Israel to police shootings of unarmed ethnic minorities
I appreciate that both comments eschew apologetic whitewashes. My gratitude to these readers.

What was lacking in any of the comments (and they are always more numerous on Facebook) is an accounting of Graham's primary mission. Graham was all about heathen converting, soul saving, Jesus promoting, and Bible waving. In short, he was an evangelist. And to this end, he was among the best in history.

With this in mind, many Americans are becoming less inclined to view heathen converting, soul saving, Jesus promoting, and Bible waving in positive terms. If so, Graham's popularity is a snapshot of America's past. It might be a recent past but I doubt there will be another American like him. It's not because there won't be some American version of Bono or Pope Frank who puts a good face on Christianity. I just can't see anyone doing it like Billy Graham did.

I probably won't be putting out another poll on Graham. While it would be interesting, it wouldn't tell us much and I am more interested in your comments anyway.