Baker Academic

Was Billy Graham's Public Influence Generally Positive?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Crossley on the “Rubble of the Criteria”—Chris Keith

I'm currently reading James Crossley's Jesus and the Chaos of History and really enjoying it.  Among other things, James has joined those of us who are skeptical of the criteria of authenticity.  I want to highlight something he says, however, because I think he's understood the implications of this shift rightly.  Here's the quotation:

"Emerging from under the rubble of the criteria, we are left with an old-fashioned view of interpretation, argument, and the combining of arguments for collective weight to make a general case" (Jesus and the Chaos of History, 44-45).

I'll say more about this later, but note right now that this is precisely why criticisms of those employing memory theory in Jesus studies for having failed to produce an example of how social memory theory itself indicates the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of individual traditions have misunderstood the theory from the start.  It's also why the charge that we're abandoning methodology altogether is equally misplaced.  What it does indicate, as I've said elsewhere, is that it is not the job of theory to do the work of the theorist.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Lovely Time in Twickenham and Chichester

I'm just back to Ohio from a busy, productive, and stimulating week in England. Highlights include staying with Chris Keith and family in Isleworth. I'm so very lucky to have as a friend the best and brightest mind New Testament and social scientific study! Chris helped me think through a few important topics related to my latest research on ancient concepts of ethnicity.

I also met several very fine scholars at the St Mary's conference related to the function of cities in earliest Christianity. I was especially glad to connect with Daniel Ho, David Gill, Volker Rabens, Paul Trebilco, Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer, Dominic Mattos, David Horrell, Anders Runesson, Ian Paul, Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski, and Joan Taylor. I don't mind saying that I sort of geeked out over meeting Joan. Her book on John the Baptist was among the first that I read in preparation for my MA thesis. I especially benefited from conversations with Daniel Ho, David Gill, and Paul Trebilco (a fellow Dunnite). The paper by Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer related most closely to my own work and the entire trip would have been worth it just to hear her paper: "Diaspora Jewish Attitudes to Metropoleis: Philo and Paul on City Life, Jerusalem and Rome."

I enjoyed many, many laughs and learned a great deal from my new hero Anders Runesson (pictured here with Chris and Piotr at an American-themed BBQ joint in Twickenham. Yes, such things exist! And, yes, Chris chose the location.) Anders' book boasts the distinction of being the first monograph specifically dedicated to the origins of synagogues. Oslo is surely landing a wonderful colleague and an excellent scholar.

I spent the remainder of my trip in Chichester with Jimmy and Meta Dunn. Jimmy and I worked together on a co-authored project, meandered around Chichester, and visited Chichester Cathedral. The red Chagall window is breath-taking and the Sutherland painting "Noli me Tangere" is among the few Mary Magdalene portraits that doesn't clothe her in red. A must see if you're ever in Chichester.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

"It's America, we commercialize everything. Look what we did to Christmas. Christmas is Jesus' birthday! Now I don't know Jesus, but from what I've read, Jesus is the least materialistic person to ever roam the earth. . . . Then at the end of the Jesus birthday season we have the nerve to have an economist come on TV and tell you how horrible the Jesus birthday season was this year, 'OH we had a horrible Jesus Birthday season this year, hopefully business will pick up by his crucifixion.'"

                  ~Chris Rock

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ugliest Man in History

Tonight I'm at Dulles Airport on my way to Twickenham for St. Mary's conference: Cities of God? That wasn't a question; I really am at Dulles. The conference just ends with a ?

As I put the finishing touches on my presentation I've realized that I must drop a section on physiognomy from my paper. It is a shame because this section included a wonderful description of everyone's favorite tyrant, Caligula. Here is part of the section I dropped:


Physiognomonic ideology supposed that it was possible to recognize personality traits by observing a person’s physical features. Analogs to “known” animal characteristics were often employed or presupposed.

Ps-Aristotle explains that “soul and body react on each other; when the character of the soul changes, it changes also the form of the body, and conversely, when the form of the body changes, it changes the character of the soul” (808b). In this view, one’s external characteristics reflected something of one’s personality and vice versa. Consider then this description of Caligula by Suetonius:
He was very tall, and extremely pale, with a huge body, but very thick neck and legs. His eyes and temples were hollow, his forehead broad and grim, his hair thin and entirely gone on the top of his head, though his body was hairy. While his face was naturally forbidding and ugly, he purposely made it even more savage, practicing all kinds of terrible and fearsome expressions before a mirror. (Cal. 50)
Caligula is a helpful example because he represents a figure who was almost universally despised in retrospect and who departs in so many ways from Suetonius’ physiognomic ideal. Suetonius emphasizes Caligula’s goat-like appearance and disposition: “The goat was of this appearance. Creatures with hairy legs are sensual . . . . He has a pale skin and is covered with black, straight hair, which is a sign of cowardice, which indicates stupidity and foolishness.”


So there you have it. Caligula's appearance mirrored the fugliness of his soul.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

Jimmy Fallon: “Norman Greenbaum -- you know, the guy who wrote Spirit in the Sky..."
Jerry Seinfeld: "I love Spirit in the Sky."
Fallon: "Great song. He goes, ‘I’ve got a home, I’ve got a summer home, and a little boat. I wrote one song.”
Seinfeld: “It’s a Jesus song; what’s the lyric?”
Fallon: “I got a friend in Jesus.”
Seinfeld: “Yeah. ‘I got a friend in Jesus’ . . . and the guy’s name is Greenbaum.”
Fallon: *laughing*

Seinfeld: “I need more information. . .”
Fallon: *laughing*
Seinfeld: “I need more information.”
              ~Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Is There a Trial of Jesus in Luke?

J. R. Daniel Kirk offers a close reading of Jesus' "trial" narrative in Luke. You might be surprised by what he observes: "In short, there is no trial in Luke. There is a pre-trial hearing, perhaps, something to gin up charges. But no trial. No sentence of condemnation. No aspersion of guilt."

Read the full post here.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Win a Copy of Skinner's Reading John!

The Jesus Blog and Wipf and Stock are excited to give away a copy of Christopher W. Skinner's newest book, Reading John! You can enter to win by sharing this post on any form of social media and commenting below saying how you shared. The more media vehicles you use, the more times you can enter. In addition, you can enter by telling us your favorite bad movie. I.e. this would be a film that you know is poorly made, formulaic, etc. but you simply love it anyway.

We will announce the winner next week.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Anticipating the Cities of God? Conference—Chris Keith

In an earlier post, we included the paper titles for the upcoming Cities of God? Conference at St Mary's University, Twickenham.  There's still time register for the conference and you can do so here

In anticipation, I thought I'd say a bit about a few of the papers I'm most looking forward to hearing (not counting my own and Steve Walton's, of course).  I'm really looking forward to Paul Trebilco's
"Engaging—or Not Engaging—the City: Reading 1 and 2 Timothy and the Johannine Letters in the City of Ephesus."  This is the keynote lecture and for a good reason. Trebilco is the world's leading scholar on Ephesus, at least among NT scholars, and we are thrilled that he's bringing his learning on this topic to the conference.
After hearing the world's leading NT scholar on Ephesus, I'm looking forward to hearing David Horrell, the world's leading NT scholar on 1 Peter and author of probably the single best introduction to Pauline studies in existence.  His paper is "Placing 1 Peter: Proposed Locations and Constructions of Space."  Also coming from Exeter and speaking on space in 1 Peter is Wei-Hsien Wan, who's presenting:  "The Making of Social Vertigo: Spatial Production and Non-belonging in 1 Peter."  I suspect these will be strongly social-scientific studies and I'm very interested.  I'm interested because of my work in social memory theory.  An unfortunate by-product of the "memory and historical Jesus" stuff has been that social memory theory's ability to speak to more issues has been overshadowed.  Maurice Halbwachs worked out his original ideas in reference to space and topography, though, in addition to other things, and produced a fascinating study on how crusaders re-discovered various famous places from the Gospels in different historical periods, basically re-arranging the topography of the Holy Land in each stage.  Social-scientific approaches to space have, I think, much promise for NT studies so these studies should be excellent.
I'm also looking forward to two papers on Jerusalem for much the same reasons:  Anders Runesson's "Jerusalem according to Matthew: The Sacred City of God" and Anthony Le Donne's "Both Jews and Judeans: Claiming Jerusalem as Polysemy in Urban, Rural, and Diaspora Settings."  Although I'm disappointed not to hear Runesson (recently appointed Professor of NT at Oslo) on synagogues, I'm glad that he'll be extending some of his work on Matthew.  Le Donne's paper promises to be an exciting contribution to the discussion of whether to translate Ioudaios as "Jew" or "Judean."  That discussion recently blew up afresh after an article from Adele Reinhartz on Marginalia.
Of course, I'm anxious to hear all the papers.  My colleague, Prof Steve Walton, has served as the main organizer for the conference and put together a wonderful group of speakers.  Please join us here in London, and especially for the wonderful dinner at La Dolce Vita Italian restaurant on Friday night.  But make sure to register so we know the numbers.  There are a few days left!


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

New and Unimproved Application of the Shroud of Turin!

Inside Edition does not provide the most substantive journalism you'll find. But at least they employ handsome scholars from time to time. Mark Goodacre provides about six seconds of clarity on an otherwise absurd report about the Shroud of Turin. It seems that computer imaging that projects aging in criminals has been used in reverse for the shroud. The result: Jesus was a von Trapp family singer.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

"[T]here is no perfect guide for discerning God's movement in the world. Contrary to what many conservatives say, the Bible is not a blueprint on this matter. It is a valuable symbol for pointing to God's revelation in Jesus, but it is not self-interpreting. We are thus placed in an existential situation of freedom in which the burden is on us to make decisions without a guaranteed ethical guide.”

                 ~James Hal Cone

Friday, May 1, 2015

Conference Q&A Sessions

If you have ever attended a professional conference, this is for you.

I especially love questions 3, 4, 11, and 13.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Who's afraid of the Cynic Jesus?

From Wikipedia

At the recent God, Religion and Politics: Election 2015 seminar, there was a non-polemical discussion between Michael Sandford and Justin Meggitt about Jesus and the Cynics after Meggitt’s paper, ‘Jesus, Insurrection and the Politics of Prefiguration’. One striking thing about this was that a discussion about Jesus and the Cynics could actually be non-polemical as this topic must have been one of the most polemical in recent historical Jesus scholarship. In fact, I recall Sandford giving a paper a few years back on how the Jesus movement along with various other groups interacted with socio-economic issues. These different perspectives included Essenes and/or DSS, prophets, bandits etc. and…Cynics. Sandford never made any strict connections (as far as I remember) but rather showed the sorts of ideological engagements that were taking place, as well as placing an emphasis on eschatological traditions which were sometimes seen as inherently antithetical on both sides of the debate. Nevertheless, there was a heated reaction from the some members of the audience about the use of Cynics in Jesus studies (bandits also provoked a reaction, but that’s for another time).

Why was the Cynic debate so heated, especially as adherents of the Cynic thesis would qualify this Jesus as ‘Cynic-like’? I’m not entirely sure myself (or indeed why I might have once felt the need to point out that I wasn’t an adherent of such a thesis, being caught up in my own particularly academic contexts as I was/am) but it was certainly tied in with the rhetoric of Jesus the Jew. Put crudely, the logic would sometimes go like this: Jesus was Jewish and therefore could not have been a Cynic; if you call Jesus a Cynic you are implying that he was not Jewish but Hellenistic or the like, possibly in a similar way to Nazi Jesuses (this link was indeed implied by opponents of the Cynic-like thesis). Now, there are debates to be had on the extent of Cynic presence (or otherwise) in first-century Palestine but the idea that a Jew simply couldn’t be a Cynic and a Cynic means you’re not Jewish (and I don’t think I’m overly caricaturing here) works with some problematic and essentialist assumptions of identity. 

Also from Wiki
It’s clear enough that both self-identifying and being identified as a ‘Jew’ could go hand-in-hand with other means of identification in the ancient world (associations, philosophical interests, etc.). It is also clear enough that different traditions could be in dialogue with one another, influence (consciously or unconsciously) one another, use similar language to describe the world around them, and so on. Comparisons between certain aspects of Jewish literature and certain aspects of Cynic philosophy have been made and such overlaps and shared interests must at the very least be theoretically possible. Moreover, as far as I am aware, no contemporary academic presentation of the Cynic thesis has ever claimed that their Jesus wasn’t Jewish.

There has been a lot of discussion about constructions of a fixed Jewish identity in scholarship as a backdrop to make Jesus ‘transcend’ this fixed identity (in ways simultaneously using the rhetoric of ‘very Jewish’). But why did the Cynic (-like) thesis cause so much outrage? One reason sometimes given is that it is theologically useless for the implicitly Christian discipline of NT studies and there is no doubt something in this (just read some of the most prominent reactions against a Cynic Jesus…). But even this needs to be qualified. The criticism that the Cynic (-like) thesis played into a particular North American liberal discourse is not without merit either and it is not exactly theologically useless from another perspective: is not difficult to see how this Jesus has its liberal theological uses (just read some of the prominent proponents of a Cynic-like Jesus). Perhaps it might be better to locate some of this debate in the ‘culture wars’ rhetoric, including such debates between churches.

Again, Wiki
None of this means that discussion of Cynicism is invalid for (ancient) historical reconstruction. I think Sandford was along the right lines in showing how presentations from the Jesus traditions through bandits to Cynics engaged with shifting socio-economic circumstances. Instead of asking whether Jesus was or was not a Cynic, it might be more helpful to think about how traditions negotiated the world around them and not be surprised if there are overlaps and similarities and so on. A study of Cynicism can shed light on the Gospel tradition in this respect, and vice versa. Scholarship has been interested in Jesus as ‘counter cultural’ for some time now; is not Cynicism at least analytically useful as a comparative phenomenon in this respect? Why be scared of that...?