Baker Academic

Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Levering offers to students the best introduction to Augustine devised so far..."

Question: How often do you get a book about Christendom's greatest theologian written by the greatest theologian of the generation?

Answer: Once a generation.

If you are even a little bit interested in theology, you'll want to own this book.  I cannot wait for my copy.

But don't take my word for it:

“Levering offers to students the best introduction to Augustine devised so far. He makes clear that Augustine himself was no ‘Augustinian’; even though he invented subjective angst and had an acute sense of sin, Augustine was also a humanist and a profound metaphysician. This book successfully inducts us into the bishop of Hippo’s integral blend of soul-searching, critical reading of sacred texts, ontological reflection, and social activism.”

—John Milbank, University of Nottingham

Thinking about Submitting an SBL Proposal?

This bit of advice comes from veteran SBL member, J.R. Daniel Kirk via Facebook:

"Attention young Biblical studies scholars: When Firefox won't let you submit a paper proposal to SBL, turn to Chrome."

I'd be interested in hearing any other tips on paper submissions. If you chime in, target your advice to first-timers.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Jesus and Geology Can Get You a New Car - Le Donne

In Houston, even the rocks cry out.... but was it Jesus or Charles Manson?

Prepare to be amazed.


Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Last week the Jesus Blog hosted a book giveaway featuring my The Historiographical Jesus and my Historical Jesus. The winner of the fancy book double dip is:

  1. I never win is hoping for the first time!
  2. Corby, you can never honestly say that you never win anything again. You can thank the fine folks at Baylor, Eerdmans and the True Random Generator at
  3. Do please comment below with your email so we can work out the shipping. It will not be published.
  4. Congrats!
  5. -anthony

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Enter to Win Two Books! - Le Donne


Believe it or not (are you sitting down?) two of the Jesus Blog book giveaway winners never claimed their prizes! After months of walking the Earth like Caine from Kung Fu looking for these fugitives from grace, I have given up. Luckily, these hard-hearted causalities will make room for a grafting of sorts.

Because it's Valentine's Day and I pretend to love you all, you get another chance:

The winner this time around will get two books: The Historiographical Jesus (my thanks to Baylor University Press for sponsoring) and Historical Jesus (my thanks to Eerdmans for sponsoring).

There are four opportunities to enter the contest

1) comment here,

2) sign up to follow the blog (and leave a comment saying that you did),

3) share this post on Facebook (and leave a comment saying that you did), and/or

4) sign up to follow @TheJesusBlog1 on Twitter (and leave a comment saying that you did).


The Blessed Virgin Mary by Perry and Kendall

I finally had a chance to flip through the new Eerdmans catalog. Among the many very intriguing titles, this one jumped out at me:

Here is the Eerdmans synopsis: This volume provides a concise, nontechnical historical introduction to the church's thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. The first part of the book sketches the development of Marian thought from the second century to the twentieth century. The second part contains an annotated bibliography of the most important and accessible English-language works on Mary.

Tim Perry, an evangelical Anglican priest, and Daniel Kendall, a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, have joined across the Reformation divide to provide an irenic, balanced volume for students and general readers interested in this most remarkable woman and the ways in which she has shaped Christian thought.

I will have to pick this up soon.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Joel Watts responds to Bernard Starr on the Huff Po

A while back, I linked to an article written by psychologist Bernard Starr on the topic of "Who Killed Jesus?"  Starr argued that the best answer to this question is that God did. Joel L. Watts of Unsettled Christianity responds over at the Huffington Post.


Modern Speakers of Aramaic—Chris Keith

The Smithsonian website has an interesting article (“How to Save a Dying Language”) on the efforts of Geoffrey Kahn at Cambridge to document the remaining Aramaic dialects in the world.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mark Goodacre on Thomas and Synoptics

Mark Goodacre has become the Marilyn Monroe of NT Studies. Makes sweet love to that camera every time.


Jesus and Bill O'Reilly

Further to this news, Tom Verenna anticipates an upcoming train wreck.

...but Tom, isn't it worth it to see Colbert weave his magic?


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Craig A. Evans Among the Consultants for this Series

I'm looking forward to this. Like most specialists on any given historical subject, I've never been all that impressed with the History Channel.  I hope that this series on the Bible (the Protestant Canon, in this case) raises the bar. Hard to do better than Evans for a consultant.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Hurtado on the Survival of Mark

Given that around 90% of Mark is represented by Matthew and that Luke incorporates around 60%, why did early Christianity keep Mark around at all? The venerable Larry Hurtado discusses this question and suggests an answer.

I might also add that we have numerous examples from the ANE where texts were cannibalized. That is, they were incorporated, authorship was "reassigned" and the primary text was destroyed. Notice, however, that we find at least two remarkable exceptions to this in Jewish scripture. We have overlapping traditions set side by side in the Pentateuch and a similar relationship demonstrated between Samuel/Chronicles. The presence of these texts in the Qumran library suggests that these concomitant shelf-lives are not merely explained by geographical preference. I might also add to this list the case of Jude/2 Peter. Could it be that there was an element of "sacred preservation" in Jewish culture that Christianity inherited?


Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

"When I think of the daily sequence of Old Testament readings, and of the Pauline Epistles, the Gospels: who could say that he understands immediately, simply because the language is his own? Only ongoing formation of hearts and minds can truly create intelligibility and participation that is something more than external activity, but rather the entry of the person, of my being, into the communion of the Church and thus into communion with Christ."

                                                            ~ Benedict XVI

Thursday, February 21, 2013

McKnight on Anti-Jewish Supersessionism

This conversation over at Jesus Creed should spur some interesting dialogue.


Jesus and Scripture by Steve Moyise—Chris Keith

Unexpectedly, I had to make a trip to the States last week.  I used the flight to read Steve Moyise’s book Jesus and Scripture, published in the US by Baker Academic and in the UK by SPCK.  Moyise first treats Jesus’ usage of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke.  Then he treats John’s Gospels, but focuses instead upon explicit citations of Scripture:  John 6.25–29; 10.31–39; 13.18–20; 15.25.  After covering the Gospels, Moyise has three chapters that show readers how historical Jesus scholars have moved from the Gospel claims about Jesus’ usage of Scripture to positing his actual usage of Scripture.  Under the “minimalist” descriptor (the Gospels show us little of how Jesus used Scripture), he discusses Vermes, Crossan, and Borg.  Under the “moderate” descriptor (the Gospels show us roughly how Jesus used Scripture), he discusses Dunn and Wright.  Under the “maximalist” descriptor (the Gospels show us exactly how Jesus used Scripture), he discusses Kimball and France.  Moyise locates himself in the “moderate” camp and says, “I find it difficult to believe that Scripture was vitally important to Jews and vitally important to Christians but not important to Jesus.  On the other hand, I find that the differences between the Gospels make it difficult to accept a maximalist position that Jesus said everything the Gospels say he did” (121). 

Moyise’s book is designed as a textbook and does an excellent job of introducing students to scholarly discussion of how Jesus used Scripture.  He puts more confidence in the criteria of authenticity than I am inclined to do, but my other significant criticism is that he throughout takes the “dark” interpretation of Psalm 22.1 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) on the lips of Jesus in Mark 15.34//Matt 27.46.  I think Holly Carey has argued convincingly against this interpretation.  But that’s a minor complaint.  Jesus and Scripture functions as a useful introduction to Gospels studies and historical Jesus studies by focusing narrowly on the issue of Jesus and Scripture.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bill O'Reilly is Writing a Book about Jesus - Le Donne

Just when you thought American politics and religion couldn't get more divisive:

There's this.

Boy howdy! things are about to get rabid.


Who Killed Jesus? - Le Donne

This author attempts to move past the historical and traditional answers toward a theological claim:

God killed Jesus.

As a Christian, I must say that I'm relieved that we're discussing this topic inter-religiously and with tones that reflect a bit of sanity.  As a historian, I'm a bit worried that the Romans are being let off the hook, so to speak. As a human, I'm troubled by a God who "kills" his child.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Stafford's Novel: Birmingham - Le Donne

My friend Tim Stafford has just published a new novel.  From what I understand, it is set at the beginning of the civil rights movement in the American South.  You can read about it here.


Does Anachronism Hinder Historical Knowledge? - Le Donne

I've found Dale B. Martin's Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation quite helpful.  It is generally bad form to pick out one paragraph of an otherwise fine work and showcase it in a demurring light.  Now that I've written that, I can do the opposite with only a hint of justification for my obvious breach of professional courtesy.

Martin writes:
Some might argue that even to raise the question of Jesus' sexuality is to introduce an anachronism. But who says anachronism is wrong?  Only if one is "playing by the rules" of modern historical criticism can anachronism even be raised as a delegitimating factor.  Why should a modern person, a modern Christian or non-Christian, be worried about anachronism?
At first glance this statement seemed absurd to me.  Of course we will try to avoid anachronism as best we can if for no other reason than this: my historical portrait of Jesus has to make sense to me.  Further, when I write, I have several mentors looking over my shoulder in spirit.  This is to say that "me" in this case is a collective identity projection.  I will always be trying to make my historical subject make sense for myself and the ghosts I carry with me.  If my Jesus seems at odds with what I've been taught of his historical context, I've got some explaining to do. 

But not all anachronisms are created equal.  We can trot out examples of Moses' wristwatch in The Ten Commandments or da Vinci's seating arrangement of The Last Supper.  But these are too easily debunked.  What about sex and gender?  The difference between gender and sex (although there is an obvious overlap) is that gender refers to how folks understand their identity while sex can be limited to physicality.  It may well be that the ancients did not make this distinction.  (Although one wonders about the difference between arsenokoitēs and malakos in Paul's thinking.)  But sometimes I wonder whether an undue fear of ancient/modern analogues is more of a hindrance than a help. Sure there must be many attitudes and postures with regard to human nature that are analogous.  Should we assume that our experiences are chronologically idiosyncratic until proven otherwise?  Isn't it better to acknowledge some basic analogies and then nuance the differences from there?

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Sign of Self-Preoccupation Bordering Paranoia - Le Donne

This brief commentary on an SNL sketch distills the very worst about politically conservative defenders of Christianity.  First, Christianity has been around for awhile and we're pretty well represented.  A little mockery (even if offensive) shouldn't threaten us.  Secondly, as compared to modern celebrities, political parties, gays, Muslims, fat people, etc., SNL mocks Christianity very rarely.  Third, this FOX schil is missing what is funny about this sketch: it is mocking Quentin Tarantino.

Observation: it is a sign of gross self-preoccupation, bordering paranoia, when you miss the punchline because you're convinced that someone is mocking you.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Just How Limited Was Jesus?

My good friend Thomas Rauchenstein is tinkering with a fun topic on his blog.  I don't imagine this cup of tea will appeal to all of our readers, but you will find Thomas smarter, more gracious, and more open-minded than most.  I've also seen him hogtie a Canadian goose in flight.  I could try to describe it to you, but words fail.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Development of the Gospels

This is an interesting discussion involving some very interesting characters. My thanks to Christopher Skinner over at Peje Iesous.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week - Le Donne

"Jesus becomes the captive of the hysterically religious, the chronically fearful, the insecure and even the neurotic among us, or he becomes little more than a fading memory, the symbol of an age that is no more and a nostalgic reminder of our believing past. To me neither option is worth pursuing. Yet even understanding these things, I am still attracted to this Jesus and I will pursue him both relentlessly and passionately. I will not surrender the truth I believe I find in him either to those who seek to defend the indefensible or to those who want to be freed finally from premodern ideas that no longer make any sense."
                                                                                                          ~John Shelby Spong

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nijay Reviews Our Book - Le Donne

My thanks to Nijay Gupta who has reviewed Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity. If you aren't a regular follower of Nijay's blog already, you should know this: signing up for regular updates from Crux Sola will purchase you at least a decade less of purgatory (nontransferable, but I'm talking this over with legal).


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Did Jesus Live an Alternative Lifestyle?

Further to this conversation and because I got a phone call from the Big Nasty (more on this mystery man in a later post), I have concluded that "sexual deviant" is too distracting in discussions about Jesus' nonconformist approach to marriage and family. Yet I still need a phrase that is a bit jarring. In all of my research, it seems that marriage in Jesus' context established a man as a civic entity. Social and fiscal well being flowed from this institution. Jesus, on the other hand, suggests that his followers live in ways that would have been seen as contrary to social and fiscal security.  In short, not only was it abnormal to choose not to marry, but it would have been seen as counter-cultural.  Choosing not to marry in Jesus' culture would have been as aberrant as choosing not to have a bank account in modern western society. Of course, this assumes that Jesus was never married - and I'm not quite willing to go there - but if he chose not to marry, this is the conversation that we're forced to have.

Given these parameters, would it be responsible to say that Jesus lead an alternative lifestyle? I of course will explain exactly what I mean by this, but I would like to gauge reactions here before I put this in print.

Please see here and here before commenting.


What are You Giving Up for Lent? - Le Donne

This will be old hat for many of my readers, but every year around this time of year I am bombarded with conversations about Lent.  In a culture that is preoccupied with food, it is not uncommon to hear Christians use Lent to help them reinforce New Years resolutions and to achieve a Project Runway body.  Let's be clear: Lent has traditionally taken the shape of fasting, but I think we might have lost our focus.

In a letter to Pope Victor, Irenaeus wrote of the varying ways that Eastern and Western Christianities prepared for Easter:
The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their day last forty hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers (via Eusebius, History of the Church, 5.24).

The Conversation about Academic Freedom Continues—Chris Keith

This is an interesting take on academic freedom.  It is an interview that Christopher M. Hays did in promotion of his forthcoming book (co-edited with Christopher Ansberry) called Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism (SPCK).  Let me cite some of the last statements Hays makes:

But in the final analysis the controversy shows, I think, that this book really needs to happen, because we've got to stop firing critical Christian scholars from their evangelical institutions, and we've got to stop telling keen and curious students that critical scholarship is simply a fad or a pagan self-delusion...because when the bright and inquiring student realizes that the critical scholars have a point, they wonder if their own faith was a sham.

Clearly, this strikes a chord with Anthony and me in light of the travesty at our former employer where those in decision-making positions dismissed Anthony (after looking him square in the eye and saying his position was safe, I should add).  It's worth mentioning here, though, because of Hays's emphasis on the impact on students, which is often ignored in these controversies despite the fact that their voices are sometimes parroted by the angry party.  (More than once I heard the ludicrous accusation that I was trying to destroy my students' faith.  I wish the accusers had actually spoken to my students.)  One of our admirable colleagues at that former institution once said that if you think we should not discuss critical issues in a context of theological education, you had best hope that those issues never catch the student later on, because you have left him or her completely unprepared for how to deal with them.  I agree entirely and encourage readers of this blog who care about such matters to read the whole interview with Hays, as he discusses the anger that resulted from just such a lack of preparation.  I think the pastoral responsibility of teachers toward students in this regard is often neglected in favor of talk that stokes the controversy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jesus and a Question about Sex Talk - Le Donne

Working on a paragraph this morning and I have two questions.

1) If the cultural norm was marriage in first-century, Jewish Galilee and if Jesus chose not to marry, would it be appropriate to call him a sexual deviant?

2) If the denotative value of the word "deviant" is appropriate, does the contemporary connotative value of this word trump all else?  I suppose that I'm asking if calling Jesus a "sexual deviant" will mislead my more casual readers.

I am open to all suggestions for synonyms.


P.s. Please understand that I am not making any assumptions about Jesus' marital status. The above "ifs" are used purposefully.

Goodacre Spoils All of Our Fun - Le Donne

Mark Goodacre's lectures on Jesus and Mary Magdalene are now on youtube.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Was this Gesture by the Pope in 2009 an Indication of his Intentions? - Le Donne

Read more about Benedict's removal of his pallium at the tomb of Celestine V here. My thanks to Scott Walker Hahn for this image.


More On Pope Benedict XVI - Le Donne

Scott Walker Hahn just posted this on facebook:

Back on April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI did something rather striking, but which went largely unnoticed.

He stopped off in Aquila, Italy, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval Pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296). After a brief prayer, he left his pallium, the symbol of his own episcopal authority as Bishop of Rome, on top of Celestine's tomb!

Fifteen months later, on July 4, 2010, Benedict went out of his way again, this time to visit and pray in the cathedral of Sulmona, near Rome, before the relics of this same saint, Celestine V.

Few people, however, noticed at the time.

Only now, we may be gaining a better understanding of what it meant. These actions were probably more than pious acts. More likely, they were profound and symbolic gestures of a very personal nature, which conveyed a message that a Pope can hardly deliver any other way.

In the year 1294, this man (Fr. Pietro Angelerio), known by all as a devout and holy priest, was elected Pope, somewhat against his will, shortly before his 80th birthday (Ratzinger was 78 when he was elected Pope in 2005). Just five months later, after issuing a formal decree allowing popes to resign (or abdicate, like other rulers), Pope Celestine V exercised that right. And now Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this venerable model.
What a very ancient and modern culture we live in.

Pope Benedict XVI to Resign - Le Donne

I'm utterly shocked...

One can only speculate what the descriptor "tired" might include. More will be revealed.


“God Runs with Scissors”: Warren Carter on the Crucifixion—Chris Keith

Baker Academic has just released Warren Carter’s Seven Events that Shaped the NewTestament World.  It’s a useful and interesting concept for a textbook.  Carter gives introductory readers a “lay of the land” for understanding early Christianity through seven important historical events that shaped that landscape:  the death of Alexander the Great; the translation of the LXX; the rededication of the temple; the Roman occupation of Judea; the crucifixion of Jesus; the writing of the New Testament; and the “closing” of the New Testament Canon.

I just finished reading the chapter on Jesus’ crucifixion.  It’s an excellent introduction to the meaning of crucifixion in Second Temple Judaism and the Roman Empire and how that relates to early Christian claims about Jesus’ crucifixion.  Carter answers in succession questions about who was crucified in the Roman Empire, why they were crucified, and why Jesus was crucified.  He then ends with reflections on various early Christian interpretations of Jesus’ death.

Carter is an excellent writer and has several interesting turns of phrase, including the title of this post which comes from p.103 in his discussion of Paul’s point in Gal 3.13 about Jesus becoming the curse:  “God has raised a cursed one to life.  God colors outside the lines.  God runs with scissors.  God is not bound by conventional rules.”

Ultimately, Carter argues persuasively that Jesus was crucified because he was perceived as a political threat:  “People didn’t get crucified for being gentle or spiritual or for saying their prayers.  They got crucified for being understood to be rebels” (96).

Noticeably absent from the chapter is any reference to Gunnar Sammuelson’s Crucifixion in Antiquity in the section on ancient crucifixion and any reference to the Ransom Saying (Mark 10.45//Matt 20.28).  But one can’t do it all in a textbook, and this comment aside I’d have no hesitation in requiring this book for a NT Backgrounds, Intro to the NT, or Gospels course.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Over at Jewish-Christian Intersections - Le Donne

I write a guest post over at Jewish-Christian Intersections. The link is here.

Jesus Blog friend Larry Behrendt compares Chris and I to a famous one-two punch from the '62 Yankees.  I suppose that I ought to be flattered, but I must say that I've always been partial to Mr. Berra.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

I feel sure that the earliest Christians experienced the continued presence of Jesus in their lives, not in some attenuated form but in the form of the resurrected Messiah, angel of the Lord, Son of man (all at once), who was enthroned next to God.

                                                          ~Alan F. Segal

Friday, February 8, 2013

Doing Historical Jesus Research between Docetism and Arianism - Le Donne

One of the things I like most about this book is Crossley’s analysis of the construction of a creditable center.  In short, societies tend to locate the acceptable limits of a cultural dialectic by pointing and laughing.  It’s the old civilization by way of atomic wedgie treatment.  We tend to find “whackos” or “extremists” and position ourselves to the left or the right of these village idiots to make ourselves feel normal.  For example, I think that Mike Huckabee is a complete tool (I didn’t always think this, by the way).  I also happen to think that Keith Olbermann is ninny.  See how easy that is!  You too can become a centrist in just two easy steps!  Just pick two extreme ends of a spectrum and learn two synonyms for “fool”.  Voilà, you’re a centrist.

When Christianity was emerging from the ashes of 70CE, it was quite dangerous to be seen as an extremist.  From the perspective of outsiders, it proved difficult to define Christian ideology.  Were they Jews?  Were they former Jews?  Were they inclined to religious orgies?  Were they against all physical pleasure?  Were they cannibals?  Were they good citizens?  There was a whole lot of mudslinging and name-calling and not-playing-well-with-others report cards.  One of the reasons for this was that early Christian identity lacked definition.  And here we arrive at the functionality of labeling heretics.  I’ll just point out two.

Resurrection and the Bride of Christ - Le Donne

James McGrath asks of the theological significance of this ancient Greek wedding gesture:

This interests me greatly. I will be checking in on the comments to see what sort of conversation emerges.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

On Being Unintelligent in an Undignified Way - Le Donne

Look, we can't all be William Horbury. Most of us have to choose to become selectively intelligent. In becoming a scholar, one chooses a thing and becomes an expert in that thing. Higher education is an experience of unfolding realization.  It is impossible to become an expert in one narrow slice of the pie without coming to some realization that it would take a long lifetime to become an expert in several slices.  Because you have learned the difficulty of becoming an expert in one thing, you gain an appreciation for how little you know about other fields of research.  Upon this realization, one is faced with two choices: lack intelligence in a dignified way or lack intelligence in an undignified way.

If a scholar can manage to lack intelligence in a dignified way, said scholar is generally given greater latitude when s/he chimes in on an issue within the realm of her/his expertise. This is not always the case; there are prickly personalities in every field.  But, in general, professionals know that they exist within a world of relationships.  They are not anonymous defenders of truth in cyberspace.  They are not hermit-gurus living beyond the borders of society.  They have to mill around conference book rooms wearing name tags.  Academia is a relatively small village so we learn to defer to others with more expertise much of the time. And we don't say things like this:
Your friend, Dr. Paul needs to meet Jesus, develop a healed and forgiven relationship with Him and then choose something more profitable to do with his mind.
I fear that, "Get away from Me. I never knew you," is looming large in the good Dr.'s future.
This is comment that was posted on Mike Bird's blog a few days ago.  It is one of hundreds of examples of banal arrogance that comes with the territory of theologically oriented blogging.  The ability to be unintelligent in a dignified way, to my mind, represents a discernible difference between professionals and your standard armchair theologian.  But isn't basic human decency a Christian virtue?

There seems to be a common myth (in the sense of falsehood) in the ether that education breeds elitism.  I have found the opposite to be true much of the time.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Libraries: Brick, Mortar, and Commemoration - Le Donne

So I was watching a TED talk by a lexicographist recently on my fancy Roku streaming device. (That sentence alienates most of our Pennsylvania Dutch demographic.) It wasn't a great lecture so I won't recommend it with a link, but one interesting thing that she said concerned the loss of serendipity with online media. She was making a strong case for online and open-source dictionaries but acknowledged that something might be lost in the move past bound dictionaries. Have you ever had the experience of flipping through a bound dictionary, looking for a word, and finding a different word that you've never seen before?  Serendipity, baby!

I feel the same way about brick and mortar libraries.  I can get almost everything I need online these days.  I live about an hour from the nearest theological library, so I am quite thankful for this.  But I have felt a particular loss of serendipity with my dot com explorations. Case in point: this book caught my eye while I was in the Durham University library once upon a time and it changed my life. (By the way, there is a newer edition of that book out now.)  If I had not found the brilliant work of Fentress and Wickham I would have been tempted to mirror my PhD supervisor's contributions to the field.  I remember thinking that Dunn's Jesus Remembered (not yet published at the time) was the best book about Jesus I had ever read.  I was thrilled to  be working with him and lamenting that he had got to the intersection of memory/ historiography/ Jesus first.  The work of Fentress and Wickham was a revelation to me and allowed Dunn to become a devil's advocate to my thesis.  He's quite good in that role.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Paul Foster’s Provocative JSHJ Article—Chris Keith

The application of social memory in the Gospels has picked up steam in recent years.  As such, it was inevitable that critical assessments of it would emerge on the heels of critical applications of it.  Paul Foster has recently published a largely negative assessment of it in his essay “Memory, Orality, and the Fourth Gospel: Three Dead-Ends in Historical Jesus Research,” JSHJ 10 (2012): 191–227.  As many know, Foster is an immensely productive New Testament scholar as well as one of the genuinely nicest people you’ll meet.  I have great respect for him and like to think that I enjoy his friendship.  This essay is provocative, as I suspect it was designed to be, and as such gets some things right and some things wrong.  I’ll concentrate here just on the first section, which treats memory.  Regardless of your thoughts on this issue, you really do need to read the article.  Foster is never one to ignore.

Foster’s chief complaint is that memory theory is being used “as a means of validating the historical authenticity of the Gospels” (191).  He refers to it as a “trendy” way of “claiming the community memories of early believers provide reliable access to the historical Jesus” (193).  This point about “reliable access” and similar assertions is important to his complaint because he repeats it throughout this section (191, 193, 198, 202).  For Foster, memory theorists really aren’t doing anything that the form critics weren’t doing (202), despite the fact that they disparage the form critics (198).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Richard III Illegally Parked for Over Half a Millennium

And then there's this:

My thanks to my sister for digging this up for me.

Paul Foster Calls Three Recent Advances in Jesus Research "Dead Ends" - Le Donne

I have known that an essay by Paul Foster on the topic of "memory" in Jesus research has been coming down the pike for several months now. This morning I received two emails and a facebook tag telling me that the piece is in circulation. Dr. Foster wrote this piece for the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus (vol 10). Mike Bird writes about it here.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Foster last summer in Edinburgh. It was a very brief meeting but he was terribly kind.  Prof. Keith, of course, has had more opportunities to interact with him.  I imagine that one of us will rejoin this conversation after we have a chance to read the piece closely.  Here is the abstract:

A Very Interesting Example of Memory Refraction - Le Donne

This piece is really worth a read. You may be interested to know that Daniel Schacter, whom is cited in this piece, is a major player in social memory studies and "memory distortion" specifically. Notice that a very dynamic mnemonic frame is established in the first story about the bomb. Notice that the "false" memory of the second bombing recounts an event that was witnessed by a family member. So, ironically, the "false" memory conveys a historical event quite well.

Interesting examples here of cryptomnesia too including a great example of narrativized typology.

Here are the last few paragraphs:

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable. 
We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections—but also great flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or indifference to them can be a paradoxical strength: if we could tag the sources of all our knowledge, we would be overwhelmed with often irrelevant information. 
Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.
...absolutely love this stuff.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Superbowl, Jesus!

I've been looking for a way to use one of these Vintage21 sketches.  Superbowl Sunday provides the perfect occasion for this one.

My favorite, however, is this one.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Happy Groundhog Day!

If only I were closer to Punxsutawney this fine day.


Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

We must not sit still and look for miracles; up and doing, and the Lord will be with thee. Prayer and pains, through faith in Christ Jesus, will do anything.

             ~George Eliot

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cultural Memory and Secondhand Interpretation - Le Donne

In reply to this post, Bill asks:
1. Isn't "tradition" (the oral transmission of Gospel material) a *form* of social or collective memory? What's the crucial distinction here?
2. I agree that eyewitnesses are rarely perfect, and thus hardly proof of accuracy, but do you agree or disagree that first hand memory is generally more accurate than second or third hand information?
3. Same question as 2, but I want to say, "first hand journalism" instead of memory. Just for hypothetical grins.
The short answer to number one is that "tradition" is the default way to think about what we might call cultural memory. But this default position is a concept that is far too rigid to communicate how cultural memory functions within a society (or as it intersects with autobiographical memories). At the risk of oversimplifying, tradition (how biblical scholars use this concept) is a calcified and surface-level aspect of cultural memory. Tradition might not render explicit the standard ways of interpreting a culturally defining episode, for example. The concept of cultural memory allows much more fluidity and creativity into the discussion. Werner Kelber has suggested that we should just stop using the word "tradition" when it comes to the Gospels.  I'd like to keep it around a while longer, but point out the differences between tradition and cultural memory... as I kind of just did.

On Bill's second point, firsthand memory is very valuable and can have an authoritative affect within the sphere of communicative memory (Aleida Assmann suggests that communicative memory is one to three generations of "living" memory). But firsthand memory is not always better than secondhand memory. Sometimes, a secondhand interpreter can have a more compelling and more plausible understanding of a figure/event. For example, Sherlock Holmes. Holmes knows what to select from an eyewitness testimony and interpret it "better". Yes, fictional... but totally awesome. If you'd like real examples, one might point to reinterpretations of black soldiery in the civil war. It took generations for historians to do a passable job with this data.  Within the Gospels, Matthew sometimes renders an event more plausibly than Mark because he understands contemporary Jewish categories better (e.g. Jesus' procession into Jerusalem). Just a few examples.


The City - Le Donne

As a Bay Area native and SF Giants fanatic, I am obligated to bring this to your attention. It has something to do with Jesus if you contort your brain a bit... let me know what you come up with.


Zwinglius Speaks!

The wait is over. Have a look at the sideshow: