Baker Academic

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Sacred Dissonance

I am excited to announce my new book:

Sacred Dissonance: 
The Blessing of Difference in Jewish-Christian Dialogue

This is a book about Jewish-Christian dialogue cowritten with Larry Behrendt. Sacred Dissonance has been four years in the making and represents many challenging, edifying, and earnest conversations on a number of topics. These include memory, the Shoah, dialogical posture, and sacred borders.

Amy-Jill Levine writes the foreword.

I'll be posting more about the book soon, but here are endorsements from Bruce Longenecker, Joshua Garroway, and Pete Enns to tempt your tummy:

“Honest conversations between Jews and Christians are as important now as any time in the past 2,000 years. Sacred Dissonance marks an important point in that sometimes difficult, sometimes joyous journey of mutual understanding, enhancement, and coexistence. In this book, we are privileged to read the conversations between two brave friends, one Jew and one Christian, who made themselves vulnerable to each other in the hard process of exploring the dissonances between their theological outlooks. The authors are masterful in their honest engagement, handling tough issues with critical poise and careful presentation. Here theological integrity is matched by an ethos of rhetorical integrity—a rare and exquisite accomplishment.”
—Bruce W. Longenecker
Professor of Religion and W. W. Melton Chair, Baylor University
Author of Hitler, Jesus, and Our Common Humanity

“Sacred Dissonance marks an important step forward in Jewish-Christian discourse. The essays
are candid and probing, the dialogues rigorous, insightful, and devoid of the platitudes so typical
in interfaith encounters. Jews and Christians wishing to learn more about each other—and
themselves—will enjoy the opportunity to eavesdrop on these rich conversations. I know I did.”
—Rabbi Joshua D. Garroway
Associate Professor of Early Christianity & Second Commonwealth
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

“I love this book. Behrendt and Le Donne model for us Jewish-Christian dialogue at its
best—witty, respectful, and full of substance. A wonderful contribution to the ongoing
conversation between the two faiths, a conversation that I can hope will become increasingly
commonplace.”
—Pete Enns, Abram S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies, Eastern University
Author of The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Fall/Winter 2017-18 Eerdmans Catalogue

Today I flipped leisurely through the most recent Eerdmans catalogue. As far as activities go it ranks somewhere between baseball pregame radio and a crossword puzzle. The catalogue marks the season and suggests a harvest of ideas. In this case, these are seeds of book proposals planted years ago. Here are just a few offerings from the Eerdmans' soil.


Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology (2 vols). Editors: Brad Embry, Ronald Herms, and Archie T. Wright.
Description: Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology offers more than seventy selections from Second Temple-era Jewish literature, each introduced and translated by a leading scholar in the field. Organized by genre, this two-volume anthology presents both complete works and substantial excerpts of longer works, giving readers a solid introduction to the major works of the era—the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the writings of Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, and the Septuagint (Apocrypha). 
The substantive introduction to each selection includes these elements: narrative description; author/provenance; date/occasion; text, language, sources, and transmission; theology; and reception during the Second Temple period. Additional student aids include a list of further readings on each selection, a section of maps, a glossary of biographical names, and a glossary of terms. With contributors and translators including such noted scholars as James Charlesworth, Sidnie White Crawford, James D. G. Dunn, Peter W. Flint, and James VanderKam, this anthology will be an essential resource for all students of early Jewish literature and emerging Christian traditions.

Paul and the Person: Reframing Paul's Anthropology. Author: Susan Grove Eastman.
Description: In this book Susan Grove Eastman presents a fresh and innovative exploration of Paul's participatory theology in conversation with both ancient and contemporary conceptions of the self. Juxtaposing Paul, ancient philosophers, and modern theorists of the person, Eastman opens up a conversation that illuminates Paul's thought in new ways and brings his voice into current debates about personhood.
Eastman devotes close attention to the Pauline letters within their first-century context, particularly the Greco-Roman fascination with questions of performance and identity. At the same time, she draws out connections to recent trends in psychology and neurobiology in order to situate Paul's insights in deep dialogue with contemporary understandings of human identity.

Dying and the Virtues. Author: Matthew Levering.
When death begins to strip away nearly everything that belongs to us, we discover that we need the virtues more than ever. We especially need to cultivate those virtues that can carry us through to the full and final fruition of our earthly journey. 
In this book Matthew Levering investigates nine such virtues—love, hope, faith, penitence, gratitude, solidarity, humility, surrender, and courage—that dying persons need in order to prepare themselves for the end of life. Retrieving and engaging scriptural, theological, and contemporary resources ranging from the book of Job to present-day medical science, Levering journeys through the various stages and challenges of the dying process, beginning with the fear of annihilation and continuing through repentance and gratitude, suffering and hope, before arriving finally at the courage needed to say goodbye to one's familiar world.
I'm looking forward to getting my hands on these items, each for different reasons. The Embry, Herms, Wright anthology is a must own. The introductory material and glossaries alone make these volumes worth their cost. NB: I can imagine nothing more relevant to the student of Jesus and Early Christianity than exposure to the literature circulating in (circa) the first-century. The Eastman book on Paul is intriguing. Listen to John Barclay's praise from the foreword: "She has traveled far, into philosophy (ancient and modern), neuroscience, and experimental psychology--mostly territory unknown to biblical scholars--and she has returned in triumph...." The Levering book tackles that ultimate topic of the human condition. Also it was conceived by Matthew Levering who is known for thinking and writing like Matthew Levering.

There are a number of other interesting books in this catalogue. These are just the first three on my 2018 reading list.

-anthony


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Assessing the Metal Codices (Not) Relating to Solomon

Over at PaleoJudaica, Jim Davila brings a bit of clarity to recent headlines re: the "Seal of Solomon."

Metal Codices Seized in Turkey

Worth a read,
-anthony

Thursday, October 5, 2017

St Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies

Max Botner sent along the following call for papers for the 2018 St Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies on "Atonement, Sin, Sacrifice, and Salvation in Jewish and Christian Antiquity."  We're happy to pass it along for readers who might be interested in attending or submitting a proposal.



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

“In both his teaching and his very presence, Jesus of Nazareth presented the ultimate criticism of the royal consciousness. He has, in fact, dismantled the dominant culture and nullified its claims. The way of his ultimate criticism is his decisive solidarity with marginal people and the accompanying vulnerability required by that solidarity. The only solidarity worth affirming is solidarity characterized by the same helplessness they know and experience.”

~Walter Brueggemann

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Peril of Jewish-Christian Friendship

The following is an excerpt from my recently published, Near Christianity: How Journeys along Christian Borders Saved My Faith in God. I wrote this book before the resurgence of neo-Nazism in American public discourse. Just a year ago, I had no idea how important Jewish-Christian friendship would become for our political discourse. I am more convinced than ever that inter-religious dialogue (especially with those who collectively remember what the early stages of Christian-baptized Nazism looks like) has a great deal to teach us as we fumble through a new political phase.

In this section, which occupies the troubled heart of the project, I interface with Richard Rubenstein. While I never met him in person, his writings have had a profound impact on me.

. . . .
I write these personal paragraphs in this chapter to explain how philo-Semitism has become integral to my faith. In keeping with my discussion of peril, I know that allowing anything to become entangled with my faith is dangerous. As odd as it might sound, my commitment to philo-Semitism has made me aware of a tendency that comes dangerously close to a personal crisis for me.

Richard Rubenstein’s book After Auschwitz is still as devastating today as it was when it was first published in 1966. When I first read it, After Auschwitz stopped me in my tracks for about a month. I could think of almost nothing else. Rubenstein explains how very dangerous Christian theology can be. I ultimately part ways with Rubenstein’s abandonment. He feels he must leave behind myth and the belief in a personal God. And I will ultimately want to nuance his portrait of Christianity. I must acknowledge, however, my debt to his book. It has given me vocabulary and definition that I did not have before. Rubenstein, in light of the Holocaust, believes that Jews must reinvent Judaism without the myth of Israel’s special status.

[He writes] "After the experiences of our times, we can neither affirm the myth of the omnipotent God of History nor can we maintain its corollary, the election of Israel. After the death camps, the doctrine of Israel’s election is in any event a thoroughly distasteful pill to swallow. Jews do not need these doctrines to remain a religious community."

Rubenstein observes that after the death camps, Jews (I do not think he can speak for all Jews) embrace a renewed dignity, strength, and vitality and live within the pain and joy of the present. He seeks no “pathetic compensations” in hope for a future life beyond the grave. “It is either this or return to an ideology which must end by praising God for the death of six million Jews. This we will never do.” Rubenstein nods to the place of lament within Judaism. The lament psalms, for example, have given Israel sacred space to accuse God and to protest God’s lack of action in the face of catastrophe. Almost all of the lament psalms, however, end in praise. Rubenstein, in referring to and then rejecting an “ideology which must end by praising God,” refuses to live within that mythology. “We will never again regard ourselves in the old mythic perspectives.”

It is possible that Rubenstein is voicing his vision for the future of all Jews. It is also possible that he refers to himself when he says “we” (as he seems to do elsewhere in the book). Whatever the case, it should go without saying that Rubenstein does not speak for all Jews. Jewish theological responses to the Holocaust are many and varied. [. . . .]

Where Rubenstein’s commentary becomes most challenging for me as a Christian is in his indictment of philo-Semitism. After expressing his abandonment for Israel’s special relationship with God, Rubenstein observes that Israel’s doctrine of election seems to be indispensable for Christians. He pinpoints an almost certain truth about Christian identity in this observation. “Unless Israel is the vessel of God’s revelation to mankind [sic], it makes no sense to proclaim the Christ as the fulfillment and climax of that revelation.” Christianity, in his view, requires Israel’s mythology more than Judaism does. “I see no way in which the believing Christian can demythologize Israel’s special relation to God without radically altering the meaning of Christian existence.” He then laments that as long as Christians require Israel’s doctrine of election, the Judeo-Chrisitan encounter will continue to be tragic. Because the consequence is that the Christians will continue to encounter Jews and Judaism as myth and abstraction. If so, we Christians will not be able to encounter the humanity of our closest neighbors.

His statement is so close to the mark that it is worth feeling its impact even without nuance. How much of Christian philo-Judaism is informed by a “mythological Jew” narrative? And if we cannot encounter the humanity of our closest neighbors, don’t we risk losing a crucial element of our own humanity?

. . . .

In the remainder of this chapter, I part ways to a degree with Rubenstein. But I post this as a singular unit to underscore the complexity of the problem. It could be that I move too quickly to a solution in the book. We Christians have a long history of dehumanizing our religious neighbors because we think our theology demands it. I remain convinced that Christians are (in large part) good people who mean well. At the same time, good people who lack self-awareness in times of crisis can become complicit in great moral failures.

I remain committed to a faith informed by Jewish-Christian friendship. But (as with all things related to my faith) I do so with a great deal of fear and trembling. I get the sense that I am tinkering with delicate things that are of enormous importance all too inadequately.

-anthony

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Happy New Year

To all of our readers celebrating Rosh Hashanah, have a good and sweet new year!

From all of us at the Jesus Blog.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 15.1

Today I got my hardcopy of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. I have a vested interest, but I always like publications with pretty pictures. Boy does this one have pictures! Black and white, color, from reliefs, mosaics, and from illuminations! Kudos to Andrea Nicolotti for this fine essay on the scourge of Jesus. And, as always, thank you to Brill for the quality of the final product.

The contents are as follows:

"The Scourge of Jesus and the Roman Scourge: Historical and Archeological Evidence"
Author: Andrea Nicolotti
Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 1 –59

"The Historian’s Craft and the Future of Historical Jesus: Engaging Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Last Supper as a Work of History"
Author: Jordan J. Ryan Source: Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 60 –87

"Ehrman, Bauckham and Bird on Memory and the Jesus Tradition"
Author: Alan Kirk Source: Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 88 –114

"John the Baptist and the Origin of the Lord’s Prayer"
Author: Jeffrey B Gibson Source: Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 115 –130

"Are the Parables Still the Bedrock of the Jesus Tradition?"
Author: Klyne Snodgrass Source: Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 131 –146

"Capernaum: A ‘Hub’ for the Historical Jesus or the Markan Evangelist?"
Author: Christopher B. Zeichmann Source: Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 147 –165

NB: that Jordan Ryan's article is an essay-length review of Jesus and the Last Supper by our very own Jesus blogger: Brant Pitre.

-anthony

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Jesus in apocryphal Gospels I: The Gospel of Philip





It is well known among those who know well that the so-called apocryphal gospels tend to polarize. Within a classification system of “orthodoxy and heresy”, they were traditionally marginalized in scholarship. New Testament scholars and church historians tended to repeat ancient polemics of the church fathers and heresiologists even unconsciously, claiming that these writings developed far away from the Jesus movement, that they include “alien Gnostic, philosophical elements”  and do not represent true Christianity. Recently, however, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Now voices are raised that argue for the particular (historical) value of writings like the Gospel according to Thomas, Philip, or Mary: They are thought to store knowledge of the early Jesus movement that had been suppressed by the majority Church, as for example the initial significance of women in early Christianity and the role of Jesus as a timeless teacher of wisdom sayings.

Scholarship, it seems, has no relaxed attitude towards apocryphal Gospels. In my upcoming blog entries, I will outline some portrayals of Jesus drawn from this tradition. I start with the Gospel of Philip (GPhil), whose existence is well known to a broad public since Dan Brown’s famous book “The Da Vinci Code” from 2003. 

Dan Brown formed his provocative thesis that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene on the basis of the GPhil, which is dated between the 2nd and 4th century and survived only in a Coptic translation of an original Greek text in Nag Hammadi Codex II. The manuscript has some lacunae. One of the most famous damaged parts of early Christian manuscripts is, in fact, found in this text. On page 63.34, it reads:   “[The Soter] loved Mary Magdalene more than [all] the disciples and [used to] kiss her [often] on her… “ Instead of the term “lips” or “mouth”, there is a lacuna in the text, stimulating the fantasy of modern interpreters. The original term could also have been “forehead”. Thus, the passage where Jesus is said to often have kissed Mary on her lips, is actually based on a modern conjecture. Moreover, the Gospel of Philip argues for a spiritual, not a sexual procreation. “Kissing” could have been understood as a way to transmit spiritual power and to privilege individual disciples with special knowledge.

What I have mentioned so far has been much discussed and might be considered old hat. Less well known might be the fact that, according to the GPhil, Jesus had an earthly and a heavenly father. On page 55.23–36, it is said: the Lord [would] not [have] said, ‘My [Father who is in] heaven’, unless he had another father, but he would simply have said, ‘My Father.’ Here the author of the GPhil probably quotes the Gospel of Matthew and interprets it in a particular way. Jesus was conceived in the normal way and his earthly body was composed of mortal flesh and blood. Only later, he received an immortal, “spiritual body” at his baptism in the river Jordan: Jesus revealed [at the Jo]rdan the [fullness of the kingdom] of heaven. ... The Father of all things joined with the Virgin who came down, and a fire illuminated him. On that day he revealed the great bridal chamber. It was because of this that his body came into being.  (GPhil 70.34–71.8).
 
The unusual interpretation of Jesus’ baptism in 70.34–71.8 can be understood to suggest that Jesus experienced at his baptism a fundamental and far-reaching transformation. Thus the GPhil has transferred the motifs of the union of the Virgin and the “Father of the all things” and of bodily origins from the synoptic birth stories with their miraculous elements to the baptism account. The baptism of Jesus is depicted as his second and authentic birth, where Jesus receives a new body.

Against the background of the Gospels that later became canonical, these Christological features appear rather strange to modern readers. They reveal a completely different view on both the bodily, earthly life and a new, spiritual existence. Therefore, the GPhil should not be interpreted as a text that contains old, forgotten or even suppressed secrets of Jesus’ earthly life. This text is based on a conceptual world that varies widely from that of the Canonical Gospels. Assessing the text from the perspective of the four Gospels would do it no justice.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about White Supremacy for This Week

Photo Atlanta Black Star
"People who have never been lynched by another group usually find it difficult to understand why blacks want whites to remember lynching atrocities. Why bring that up? Is it not best forgotten? Absolutely not!  What happened to the hate that created the violence that lynched black people? Did it disappear? What happened to the hate that lynched Henry Smith in Texas (1892), John Carter in Arkansas (1927), and Reverend George W. Lee and Lemar Smith in Mississippi (1955)? Where did the hate go that opposed the black freedom movement and killed Martin Luther King Jr. and a hoste of white and black civil rights workers?... What happened to the indifference among white liberal religious leaders that fostered silence in the face of the lynching industry? Where is that indifference today? Did the hate and indifference vanish so that we no longer have to be concerned about them?... Unless we confront these questions today, hate and silence will continue to define our way of life in America....

Photo The New Yorker
Just as the Germans should never forget the Holocaust, Americans should never forget slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree.... The cross of Jesus and the lynching tree of black victims are not literally the same--historically or theologically. Yet these two symbols or images are closely linked to Jesus' spiritual meaning for black and white life together in what historian Robert Handy has called 'Christian America.' Blacks and whites are bound together in Christ by their brutal and beautiful encounter in this land. Neither blacks nor whites can be understood fully without reference to the other because of their common religious heritage as well as their joint relationship to the lynching experience.... We are bound together in Amercian by faith and tragedy. All the hatred we have expressed toward one another cannot destroy the profound mutual love and solidarity that flow deeply between us.... No two people in America have had more violent and loving encounters than black and white people. We were made brothers and sisters by the blood of the lynching tree, the blood of sexual union, and the blood of the cross of Jesus. No gulf between blacks and whites is too great to overcome, for our beauty is more enduring than our brutality. What God joined together, no one can tear apart.... If America has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy with repentance and reparation there is hope 'beyond tragedy.'"

--James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011), 164-166.

Winner of Bates Giveaway—Chris Keith

The True Random Number Generator has spoken and the winner of Salvation by Allegiance Alone by Matthew Bates is the owner of comment 28:  Corby Amos.  


Read it. Great book - distinction between gospel culture and salvation culture in Chapter 9 is worth price of book. Would love to win this copy and give to my pastor.

Corby, if you could email me at chris.keith@stmarys.ac.uk, I'll make sure you get the copy of Matthew Bates's book.

Friday, August 18, 2017

On Statue Removal and Historic Forgetfulness

The late, great Frederick Douglass (more great than late according some) was repulsed by the aggrandizement of Robert E. Lee. After the Civil War, attempts to rehabilitate Lee's honor included visits to the White House and newspaper editorials praising his character. The hope (and this came from Lincoln first and foremost) was that the country would look forward to a renewed unity rather than backward to a litany of grievances. In other words, it was politically advantageous (read: politically correct) to rehabilitate men like Lee via a generous forgetfulness. But from Douglass' perspective the effort to honor Lee was tantamount to propaganda. With Lee in mind and with tongue in cheek, Douglass mused that "the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven."

Cultural forgetfulness can happen in many different ways. But the shrewd political mind can manipulate this process if indeed that is deemed advantageous. One way to coax a nation toward forgetfulness is by replacing one emphasis with another. In Lee's case, his sins were cloaked by newspaper editorials extolling his "Christian" character. Deep down he was a "gentleman" according to the new narrative. This narrative spoke of the man's character over and against his treasonous and morally bankrupt acts of war. A generous forgetfulness.

In 1894 Douglass wrote that he was "not indifferent to the claims of a generous forgetfulness, but whatever else I may forget, I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery; between those who fought to save the republic and those who fought to destroy it."

One of the consequences for rehabilitating Lee was to reinforce the social status of Douglass' people. In choosing to remember Lee as a fine, Christian gentleman, the nation was also choosing against the remembrance of other realities. I.e. the invention of Lee's moral character erected cultural blinders to the reality of continued persecution of the black populace. As a nation we were more concerned with triaging "white" shame and less concerned with remembering our collective sin. So Lee became a symbol to triage southern honor. And America began the process of white-washing its young, bloody history.

Lee's legacy was on the same post-war trajectory a generation later. His great sin continued to diminish while his great character continued to increase. This trajectory can be traced into the era of modern media.

Many (not all) statues and memorials of Robert E. Lee were erected on the southern landscape from the 1920s to the 60s. By the 1960s Lee's symbolic star had all but eclipsed his moral failure in the hearts of many "white" Americans. So we must ask, what does such a symbol mean if erected during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement? Haven't we moved beyond the category of a "generous forgetfulness" into outright propaganda? And isn't this exactly what Frederick Douglass warned us about?

If indeed some of these statues are relocated to museums we may have a partial solution. But I would suggest that these statues (if saved at all) are not appropriately placed in Civil War museums. They do not represent the Civil War. Rather, they represent morally bankrupt reactions to the African American experience. These statues do not represent a generous forgetfulness; they represent Jim Crow propaganda and anti-Civil Rights propaganda. In choosing to keep this propaganda around, we continue to enact a historic forgetfulness bordering on cultural amnesia. Of course, the chief problem with amnesia is that identities formed by past perceptions of reality are lost. We are in danger of losing our real-world continuity with history. In short, these statues facilitate our continued forgetfulness of history.

Finally, I have no doubt that our historic forgetfulness is built from a seed of truth. Lee exhibited certain elements of upright character. Perhaps he was a gentleman when he wasn't bathed in the blood of entire towns. I also have no doubt that Hitler was a conscientious vegetarian. But I wouldn't tolerate a statue of him outside Whole Foods.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

CSSSB’s Next Book is Available from Eerdmans—Chris Keith

I'm happy to announce that the next publication from the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible at St Mary's University, Twickenham is available from Eerdmans Publishing CompanyThe Urban World of the First Christians is a collection of essays from our 2015 Cities of God? conference that assess early Christians' engagement with urban contexts.  It's edited by Steve Walton, Paul Trebilco, and David Gill.  Once our current book giveaway wraps up, we'll see if our friends at Eerdmans might let us do a giveaway of this one.


From the Press:

DESCRIPTION
In the tradition of The First Urban Christians by Wayne Meeks, this book explores the relationship between the earliest Christians and the city environment. Experts in classics, early Christianity, and human geography analyze the growth, development, and self-understanding of the early Christian movement in urban settings.

The book's contributors first look at how the urban physical, cultural, and social environments of the ancient Mediterranean basin affected the ways in which early Christianity progressed. They then turn to how the earliest Christians thought and theologized in their engagement with cities. With a rich variety of expertise and scholarship, The Urban World and the First Christians is an important contribution to the understanding of early Christianity.

CONTRIB UTORS:

Piotr Ashwin- SiejkowskiIan Paul
Cédric BrélazVolker Rabens
Paul ClokeAnders Runesson
David W. J. GillMatthew Sleeman
David G. HorrellJoan Taylor
Chris KeithPaul R. Trebilco
Anthony Le DonneSteve Walton
Jutta Leonhardt-BalzerWei Hsien Wan
Helen Morris

Friday, August 4, 2017

Downing’s Critique and My Response in JSNT—Chris Keith

Just two days ago, I mentioned that the forthcoming issue of Journal for the Study of the New Testament would feature a back-and-forth between me and F. Gerald Downing regarding my article, "The Narratives of the Gospels and the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Current Debates, Prior Debates, and the Goal of Historical Jesus Research" (JSNT 38.4 [2016]: 426-55), and that I would post links to the articles once they're ready.

The pre-print versions are now available online.  As promised, here are the links:

F. Gerald Downing, "Feasible Researches in Historical Jesus Tradition: A Critical Response to Chris Keith."

Chris Keith, "Yes and No: A Critical Response to F. Gerald Downing."

Unfortunately, I can't simply post the pdfs, but if any readers of the Jesus Blog would like to have a copy of my essay for educational purposes, you are welcome to write to me at chris.keith@stmarys.ac.uk.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Responding to F. Gerald Downing in JSNT—Chris Keith

The forthcoming issue of Journal for the Study of the New Testament will feature a critical response to my "The Narratives of the Gospels and the Historical Jesus: Current Debates, Prior Debates, and the Goal of Historical Jesus Research" (JSNT 38.4: 426-55) from F. Gerald Downing, entitled "Feasible Researches in Historical Jesus Tradition: A Critical Response to Chris Keith."  I accepted an editorial invitation to respond, and that piece will follow Downing's article ("Yes and No: A Critical Response to F. Gerald Downing").

I am not surprised to have received a critical response to my earlier article.  Historical Jesus studies is always a hotly debated subfield within New Testament studies, and right now there is much movement in the discussion with new proposals, defenses of the established, etc., etc.  I made much effort in my response to Downing not simply to say, "He has misunderstood me here," because we all know that those are particularly boring responses.  I'm relatively sure that I failed, though, because I do think that he misunderstood much of what I was arguing, and some of that may have been my fault for not being clear enough.  I tried, therefore, to clarify.  Nevertheless, there are simply some fundamental disagreements between us, and that's fine.

I'll give a short preview of one such disagreement from my response because it concerns an issue that, for me, is at the core of my critique of some prior Jesus research:

"According to Downing, 'A claim to "authenticity" is a claim to certainty'.  No, it is not."

I will share the links to both articles when they're available.  I'm told this issue will be out in September.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Salvation by Allegiance Alone Giveaway!—Chris Keith

Friend of the blog Baker Academic Press is sponsoring a giveaway of Matthew Bates's Salvation by Allegiance Alone.  We know, we know . . . this is a blog about historical Jesus studies.  But we know that our readers are interested in the important developments in the study of early Christianity as a whole and this book has managed to cause a ruckus.  Here's the press's description:

"We are saved by faith when we trust that Jesus died for our sins. This is the gospel, or so we are taught. But what is faith? And does this accurately summarize the gospel? Because faith is frequently misunderstood and the climax of the gospel misidentified, the gospel's full power remains untapped. While offering a fresh proposal for what faith means within a biblical theology of salvation, Matthew Bates presses the church toward a new precision: we are saved solely by allegiance to Jesus the king. Instead of faith alone, Christians must speak about salvation by allegiance alone. The book includes discussion questions for students, pastors, and church groups and a foreword by Scot McKnight."

You know the drill.  You can enter the giveaway by (1) leaving a comment, (2) signing up to follow the blog and leaving a comment saying you did, (3) sharing the giveaway on any and all forms of social media and leaving a comment saying you did, or (4) the wild card entry.  For this wild card entry, you have to tell us a book or article that completely changed your opinion on something; you started the book or article holding one idea and you finished holding another.  It doesn't have to be limited Biblical Studies or New Testament Studies. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hilde Moller and the Vermes Quest—Chris Keith

Readers of the Jesus Blog may be interested in this new book in the Library of New Testament Studies.  Hilde Brekke Moller has written the first full assessment of Geza Vermes's impact on historical Jesus studies.


From Bloomsbury T&T Clark:

About The Vermes Quest

Geza Vermes is a household name within the study of the historical Jesus, and his work is associated with a significant change within mainstream Jesus research, typically labelled 'the third quest'. Since the publication of Jesus the Jew in 1973, many notable Jesus scholars have interacted with Vermes's ideas and suggestions, yet their assessments have so far remained brief and ambiguous. Hilde Brekke Moller explores the true impact of Vermes's Jesus research on the perceived change within Jesus research in the 1980s, and also within third quest Jesus research, by examining Vermes's work and the reception of his work by numerous Jesus scholars.


Moller looks in particular depth at the Jewishness of Jesus, the Son-of-Man problem, and Vermes's suggestion that Jesus was a Hasid, all being aspects of Vermes's work which have attracted the most scholarly attention. Moller's research-historical approach focuses not only on the leading scholars of the field such as E.P. Sanders, J.D. Crossan, J.P. Meier and C.A. Evans, but also sheds light on underplayed aspects of previous research, and responds to the state of affairs for recent research by challenging the rhetoric of current historical Jesus scholarship.

Table of contents

Acknowledgements
Abbreviations
Part I: Introduction
Ch. 1: The Significance of Geza Vermes for Jesus Research
Ch. 2: Vermes and Jesus Research
Ch. 3: The History of Jesus Research: Mapping the Quest(s)
Ch. 4: Vermes' Jewish Jesus (1973)
Ch. 5: The Significance of Jesus the Jew (The 1970s and 1980s)
Ch. 6: The Jewishness of Jesus Before Vermes
Ch. 7: The Significance of Vermes' Work on the Son of Man
Ch. 8: Final Considerations on the Jewishness of Jesus Within Jesus Research
Part II: The Significance of Vermes' Hasid Theory
Ch. 9: Vermes's Hasid Theory and its Precursors
Ch. 10: The Hasid Theory Within Jesus Research After 1973
Ch. 11: Hanina Ben Dosa Heals From a Distance: A Case of Christian Influences Upon Talmudic Judaism?
Part III: Conclusions and Outlook
Ch. 12: Conclusion
Ch. 13: Outlook
Bibliography
Index

Friday, July 7, 2017

Bultmannian Backlash

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book (an intro-level treatment) on Jesus. This is a short assessment of Eta Linnemann's reaction to Bultmann.

It would difficult to overstate the influence that Bultmann had on students of the Gospels, Christian origins, and the historical Jesus. Scholars endeavored to stratify the layers of the Gospels to discover what was original to Jesus, what was part of the earliest Christian preaching, or what was invented much later. The project was called “Form Criticism” and promised to apply a more scientific system of classification for the traditions of Jesus and the Gospels. For generations, historical-critical scholars were either motivated by Form Criticism or set against it in reaction to its success.

In some ways, Bultmann was a victim of his own success. Two related consequences of his project were: (1) Form Criticism became preoccupied with the social settings of the Church. Almost every word attributed to Jesus was thought to reveal something about a hypothetical community. Moreover, these communities were thought to be highly creative; they invented a mythology of Jesus based on their own religious experiences and social concerns. Rather than reconstructing a historical figure, these scholars began to reconstruct the imaginations of hypothetical communities. (2) Rather than making the “essence” of Jesus more attractive to modern folk, Bultmann became a villain to many Christians. His theories were so compelling that many people of faith had a visceral reaction to him. Some among the hyper-conservative rejected historical study altogether. This was the case with one of his own students: Eta Linnemann.

Eta Linnemann’s early work on the parables and passion of Jesus was much in line with her mentor’s project. She set out to explain the social settings that gave rise to the stories. The sayings of Jesus (for the most part) were composed by and for the early Christians. Supernatural accounts within the Gospels were wholesale invention. Linnemann did well in academia. Her books were widely read and she took a Professorship at Philipps University in Marburg. Indeed, she felt that her research was a service to God. But Linnemann had a crisis of conscience. After years of historical training and form-critical research, she concluded that no meaningful truth could come from her professional life. Worse, her research had created an obstacle to Christian preaching. She published the following reflection in 1985:


Today I know that I owe those initial insights to the beginning effects of God's grace. At first, however, what I realized led me into profound disillusionment. I reacted by drifting toward addictions which might dull my misery. I became enslaved to watching television and fell into an increasing state of alcohol dependence. My bitter personal experience finally convinced me of the truth of the Bible's assertion: “Whoever finds his life will lose it” (Matt. 10:39). At that point God led me to vibrant Christians who knew Jesus personally as their Lord and Savior. I heard their testimonies as they reported what God had done in their lives. Finally God himself spoke to my heart by means of a Christian brother's words. By God's grace and love I entrusted my life to Jesus.[1]

By her own words, Linnemann had “turned Evangelical.” By entrusting her life to Jesus, she was pulled from depression, idleness, and alcoholism. By any measure, her conversion transformed her with highly positive results. She, however, adopted an adversarial relationship with her past including her previous relationship with Jesus.

Linnemann spiritual encounter with Jesus, as she saw it, forced her to recant and repent from her former profession. She declared her historical study to be sinful and derided her former publications, “I regard everything that I taught and wrote before I entrusted my life to Jesus as refuse.”[2] She threw her books and articles away and invited her readers to do the same. Her new existential relationship with Jesus convinced her to throw away her previous portrait.

In my judgment, Linnemann’s experience echoes many students and seminarians who encounter historical Jesus research. It is common for these students to either embrace historical study (as Linnemann did in her early life) or choose an almost anti-intellectual path whereby faith and history compete (as she did in her later life). But it must be said that Linnemann’s particular reaction to her former life would not have been possible without a keen intellectual capacity to critique her own method. Her post-conversion publications take a bitter and hostile tone against university culture and historical-critical study more generally.

While her tone and rhetoric are extreme, Linnemann made an astute and necessary observation. The historian can only ever disguise her/his ideology with a veneer of objectivity. She argued that historical-critical study is not a method; it is an ideology rife with prejudice. Certainly she offers us a partial explanation for why historians continue to project their own biases and ideals onto Jesus.

While it would be misleading to label her as “postmodern”, Linnemann teaches us one of the most important lessons of the postmodern critique: scientific study tends to break down what it observes. The modern tendency is to parse, reduce, classify, and utilize. But what happens when the modern, critical eye turns inward? What happens when the intellectual mind begins to parse, reduce, classify, and utilize itself? The inevitable result is that we begin to critique the criticism.



[1] Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology: Reflections of a Bultmannian Turned Evangelical (Trans. Robert W. Yarbrough; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990), 18.
[2] Linnemann, Historical Criticism, 20.