Baker Academic

Monday, July 27, 2015

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

“One example is the familiar parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), which in some ways might be better called the parable of the elder brother. For the point of the parable as a whole - a point frequently overlooked by Christian interpreters, in their eagerness to stress the uniqueness and particularity of the church as the prodigal younger son who has been restored to the father's favor - is in the closing words of the father to the elder brother, who stands for the people of Israel: 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.' The historic covenant between God and Israel was permanent, and it was into this covenant that other peoples too, were now being introduced. This parable of Jesus affirmed both the tradition of God's continuing relation with Israel and the innovation of God's new relation with the church - a twofold covenant.”

                                   ~Jaroslav Pelikan

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jesus and Memory at SNTS Amsterdam—Chris Keith

At the general meeting for the Society for New Testament Studies in Amsterdam next week, I am presenting a paper at the invitation of the "Memory, Narrative, and Christology in the Synoptic Gospels" seminar organized by Jens Schröter, Samuel Byrskog, and Stephen Hultgren.  Its title is "The Kerygmatic Narratives of the Gospels and the Historical Jesus: Current Debates, Prior Debates, and the Goal of Historical Jesus Research."  Here are the opening lines:

This essay will argue that several recent debates in contemporary Jesus studies have at their base a rather simple disagreement over whether the interpretations of Jesus in the Gospels enable or inhibit a quest for the historical Jesus.  This disagreement is, however, only seemingly simple  It masks complex and interrelated methodological and epistemological issues concerning (1) the nature and development of the Jesus tradition and (2) the task of the historian employing that tradition in order to approach the historical Jesus.

As some readers will note, this will extend some of my previous work.  It will do so with sustained engagement with several recent scholars as well as a group I'm calling the "post-Bultmannians": Ernst Käsemann, Günther Bornkamm, and Ferdinand Hahn.  I'm convinced that the post-Bultmannians have much to say to contemporary Jesus research.  I'll also be responding to some critical reactions to my work and others', though hopefully and intentionally in a way that progresses the discussion.

It should be an excellent seminar, though I'm of course anticipating some push-back.  The other invited papers are Francis Watson, "Social Memory and Writing in the Early Jesus Tradition" and Christine Jacobi, "Memory and Discourse: What Has Paul to Contribute to the Debate about Jesus and Memory?"

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Galilean Fishing Econ 101

Alicia J. Batten has provided a nice introduction to a much neglected topic over at Bible Odyssey:

Fishing Economy in the Sea of Galilee

This is one of those topics that I see referred to in many books about Jesus but with little support. Just another reason why Bible Odyssey should be a well-trafficked resource by undergraduates and seminarians.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Jesus against the Scribal Elite Reviews and Symposium—Chris Keith

Two more reviews of Jesus against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict (Baker Academic, 2014), have appeared or are appearing.  I'm happy to say that both are very complimentary.  The first is by Steven J. Stiles in Expository Times 126 (2015): 510-511.  The second is by Jody A. Barnard in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 37.5 (2015): 22-23.  I have also just received the essays contributed for the Syndicate Theology Symposium dedicated to Jesus against the Scribal Elite and edited by Chris Tilling.  Those assessing the book are Tobias Hägerland, Dagmar Winter, Christopher Skinner, and Jason Lamoreaux.  I have been very pleased at their insightful comments (criticisms and compliments alike!) and look forward to writing my responses here soon after SNTS and a trip to London in the next three weeks.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Book: I (Still) Believe

Zondervan Academic will soon release an interesting project edited by two friends of mine: John Byron and Joel Lohr. The title of the book says it all:

I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship

The table of contents is really quite impressive. Each of these senior figures tell something of their stories of continued Christian faith:

Richard Bauckham
Walter Brueggemann
Ellen F. Davis
James D. G. Dunn
Gordon D. Fee
Beverly Roberts Gaventa
John Goldingay
Donald A. Hagner
Morna D. Hooker
Edith M. Humphrey
Andrew T. Lincoln
Scot McKnight
J. Ramsey Michaels
Patrick D. Miller
R. W. L. (Walter) Moberly 

Katharine Doob Sakenfeld 

Phyllis Trible
Bruce K. Waltke

I, for one, am always interested to learn from my senior colleagues and to hear their stories. I'm curious to hear how the field has changed and how they have evolved personally. This book, I'm guessing, will also be important for those of us who are self-critical and self-reflective of the ideologies at work behind the scenes in biblical studies.

You can read more about this project here: 


Sunday, July 12, 2015

If Jesus is the Answer, What was the Question?

To paraphrase Ernst Käsemann, Jewish apocalyptic is the mother of New Testament theology. This statement is true in content, but probably betrays an assumption that must be challenged. The assumption--and this is seen in much of Käsemann's work--is that there was something lacking in Jewish apocalypticism that is answered uniquely in the New Testament.

Today I viewed a magnificent lecture by Loren Stuckenbruck posted by Chris Keith. This lecture was the keynote address at the St. Mary's 2014 conference: "Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity." Loren argues compellingly that the worldview (including ideas related to the nature, problems, solutions, key players and timeline of the cosmos) of certain New Testament authors fit hand in glove with the worldview we find in numerous apocalyptic texts. In short, there is a false assumption made by several Pauline theologians (Käsemann, Martin, and Dunn are mentioned) that Paul's singular contribution to Jewish apocalypticism was the invention of "inaugurated eschatology." Loren challenges this assumption in his discussion of the problems of evil in "old" and "new" ages. Loren summarizes a common worldview we discover in several apocalyptic texts from the third century C.E. to the turning of the Common Era:
To talk about the Flood in some of these texts is also in the same breath to think about the present. . . . The Nephalim and mighty men of Genesis 6 were interpreted in several influential, Jewish, apocalyptic works as giant-sized offspring of disobedient angels and daughters of humanity whose destructive activity has led to a crisis in which God intervenes to destroy their bodies, punish the angels, and ensure the survival of humans. . . . who are integral to the created order. Those texts were not simply attempts to reinterpret the sacred past; they conveyed to Jews from the third century until the beginning of the common era an assurance that evil (however rampant and overwhelming it may be in the present age) is but a defeated power whose time is marked. Divine victory in the sacred past could even be understood as an expression of God’s royal power.  . . . Since God’s rule has asserted itself in the cosmos on a global scale, the present era is represented as a time when those to are pious can proceed with some confidence in dealing with the effects of demonic power, knowing that although it cannot be gotten rid of altogether before the ultimate end of things, it is nevertheless possible to address, to curtail, or to manage its effects. This understanding of sacred past and imminent future was not simply a matter of charting how time works, it was a way of defining what it meant to be God’s people in the present and it could manifest itself in terms of a theological anthropology that negotiated the relentless uncertainties of life with the certainty of victory under the covenant. (circa min.39ff)
And then, a bit later in the lecture:
The present is shaped by both an eschatological past a future that loops back as an inclusio to bring God’s activity in history to it’s proper end. The thing to get from these Jewish texts is that there is no flight attempt to escape the reality of suffering. At all. Absolutely no. And when we look to even what is presented about Jesus in the Gospels and even to Paul, there really is no escape either from suffering. … Evil is never destroyed; it is simply relocated when Jesus exorcizes demons. (circa min.49ff)
The title of Stuckenbruck's lecture is "How Much Does the Christ Event Solve?" Loren concedes at the beginning of the lecture that research presented will work toward the backdrop of that question rather than answering directly. It is, however, interesting that Loren hints (quite forcefully) toward an answer. The Christ event as conceived by Paul is an answer to the problem of evil in the world. But--and I hope that you'll listen to Loren's lecture rather than taking my word for it--those with first-century apocalyptic worldviews (including several NT authors) had a different narrative of evil than we do. Paul and Mark had a narrative and mythology of evil that could not be concluded once and for all by the death and resurrection of Jesus, only inaugurated. Moreover this notion of inaugurated eschatology was not invented by the New Testament authors.

As if Loren's lecture wasn't stimulating enough, I was struck again by the erudition of my friend Chris Keith (who organized this conference). Chris' question to Loren was nothing short of brilliant. Chris asks:
Is Jesus a Jewish answer to a Jewish question, a Christian answer to a Jewish question, or a Christian answer to a Christian question? (circa min.53ff)
I won't provide Loren's answer here even though I think it's fascinating. For the moment, I am stewing on the implications of the question. Or, to nuance the title of this post, if Jesus is the theological answer to the problem of evil, what was the nature of the question?

My deepest gratitude to both Loren and Chris for this lecture and the many new avenues it anticipates!


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Forthcoming Articles—Chris Keith

I wanted to alert readers of the Jesus Blog to a couple pieces of research I have forthcoming in the Journal of Biblical Literature and Catholic Biblical Quarterly.

The first essay, appearing in JBL in December (I think), is "The Oddity of the Reference to Jesus in Acts 4:13b."  As the title suggests, the main argument is that Luke's association of Jesus strongly with the manual labor class and illiterate status of the apostles in Acts 4:13 is odd because, in his Gospel, Luke ("Luke") has worked consistently to align Jesus with the scribal-literate class of interpreters.  It's an extension of an argument I previously pursued in Jesus' Literacy.  If you liked that, you will probably like this.  If you hated that, you will probably hate this.

The second essay, appearing in CBQ next year, is "The Competitive Textualization of the Jesus Tradition in John 20:30-31 and 21:24-25."  In this essay, I argue that the Johannine "colophons" of John 20:30-31 and 21:24-25 support the argument that the author (or authors) of John's Gospel was (or were) aware of one or more of the Synoptic Gospels.  These passages don't prove that theory, but, so I argue, they show that John's Gospel is participating in a competitive textualization of the Jesus tradition, trying to best prior textualized Jesus books in a manner not unlike Luke 1:1-4.  This raises the question of what prior textualized Jesus traditions the author could have known and, in my opinion, though they are not the only options, the Synoptics are by far the most likely candidates.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

What Does Apocalyptic Mean as Applied to Jesus?

One of the most enduring discussions in modern historical Jesus studies involves the category of "apocalyptic prophet." Used in a sentence: Was Jesus an apocalyptic prophet? Sometimes this category is set against the category "teacher of ethics." Some Jesus scholars are heavily invested in these two categories being mutually exclusive. I'm a both/and sort of guy. But keep in mind that like both Montana and Young. So I'm not to be trusted. 

But what do we mean by apocalyptic? We learn a bit from apocalyptic literature contemporary to Jesus. But there are limits to the connections we can draw. Dale Allison, a famous advocate of the apocalyptic prophet application, reminds us that Jesus' teaching doesn't seem to exhibit the traits of "numerology, esoterism, with revelatory ascents, mythological beasts, and maplike forecasts" that are common in this literature. Allison does, however, argue that Jesus maintained an apocalyptic worldview. By this he means:
“Although God created a good world, evil spirits have filled it with wickedness, so that it is in disarray and full of injustice. A day is coming, however, when God will repair the broken creation and restore scattered Israel. Before that time, the struggle between good and evil will come to a climax, and a period of great tribulation and unmatched woe will descend upon the world. After that period, God will, perhaps through one or more messianic figures, reward the just and requite the unjust, both living and dead, and then establish divine rule forever.” (Constructing Jesus, p. 32)
You will not find a more succinct definition than this.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Brice Jones responds to Craig Evans--Chris Keith

Photo from
Over at the Brice C. Jones Blog, the blog's namesake, fresh off finishing his PhD at Concordia University and having it accepted for publication in the Library of New Testament Studies monograph series, pulls a Lee Corso and tells Craig Evans, "Not so fast, my friend!"

Evans published an article in the Bulletin for Biblical Research 25.1 arguing that autographs of the NT would have been around and copied still in the second and third centuries.  I haven't read the article myself, but according to Jones, Evans then moves this argument in an apologetic direction, arguing that the longevity of NT autographs leads to the stability of the NT text.

Photo from 
Jones notes some problems with the overall argument, starting with the claim that autographs were still being copied in the second and third centuries.  Jones states:  "There is not a shred of evidence for this claim."  And it goes on from there.  Jones ends by calling out the peer review process of the journal.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Does Jesus Really Have Nothing to Say about Gender Identity?

credit: Southern Poverty Law Facebook Page
If you have traversed in higher learning to any degree this century or last, you are aware of the notion that every truth claim carries a power dynamic with it. Allow me from the start to affirm that this is true. What’s that smell, you ask? Oh, that’s just the sweet aroma of power wagon-trailed in by my truth claim. Truth and Power are the Bo and Luke Duke of the hermeneutical world. You'll never meet one without the other. But it has only been recently that I realized how closely these dynamics relate. Truth and Power are the kissiest of cousins.

Of late I’ve found that even the shrug of my shoulders cannot escape the relationship in question. Every professor, pastor, rabbi, physician, and Apple employee understand the virtue of the shoulder shrug. Allow me to give you an example from my world.
Q: Does God command genocide in the Bible?
A: Well the word HRM doesn’t quite mean “genocide”; it’s a bit more complicated. But, honesty, you’re not going to be happy with any answer I have for you on this one.
Q: So how do you deal with that?
A: I really don’t have a good answer *shrugs shoulders* but what I want you to know is that God is love. I don’t believe that God would endorse any form of genocide.
As you see here, the shoulder shrug allows the answerer to reorient the conversation. This is a kind of hermeneutical jiu jitsu whereby the answerer can sidestep the force of the question and use the momentum of the questioner against her/him. If done well, the questioner goes flying over the broken bridges of Hazzard County into the hayloft of God’s love. 

So the power dynamic of the shoulder shrug works a bit differently. Instead of advancing on the Father of Lies (cf. Boss Hogg) in a full-frontal attack, the shoulder shrug allows the good ole boys of truth to say “I don’t know” with a humble smile and thus deflect any attack against them. I’ll admit that I’ve used this move myself. In fact I love this move about as much as E. Honda loves to slap dudes.

So you probably clicked on this link because the title promises something related to Jesus and gender. So far all that I’ve given you is a ramble about the Dukes of Hazard and karate moves. Okay, then, consider another example from my world:
Q: Does Jesus ever talk about gender or sexual orientation?
A: No.
Q: What about the whole “some are eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom” stuff?
A: That is a very enigmatic saying. And frankly *shrugs shoulders* scholars aren’t sure what to make of it. But what I want you to know is that God loves everybody, regardless of gender, orientation, etc.
Raise your hands if your not guilty of this sort of power move. Okay, you can put your hand down Dale Martin. We’ve all read your book and promise to read it again soon.

Recently I had this conversation with a friend who asked me if there is a “standard scholarly interpretation” of Matthew 19:12. My kneejerk reply was basically that nobody really knows what to do with it. And then I caught myself and realized that I was participating in heteronormative a power play. Because, in truth, queer theorists have been studying the various possibilities of this saying for decades. But most (all?) seem to agree that Jesus is indeed saying something about the larger questions about gender, birth, choice, etc. and not simply the specific case of Lord Varys. To shrug my shoulders concerning Matthew 19:12 allows me to keep Jesus out of the contemporary debates concerning gender identity. Worse, the shrug allows me to reinforce whatever pop-culture box I've constructed for Jesus.

Truth wagontrails power even when we do-si-do around it.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

What is "Mainstream Scholarship"?

Today I was reading what Wikipedia has to say about the "unknown years" of Jesus. I've been aware for a while of several fictions (false claims, hoaxes) about Jesus' globetrotting activities. You might have heard a few of these: Jesus visited England; Jesus visited Tibet; Jesus visited India; Jesus hosted a show for the Food Network. Because I don't watch the History Channel, my interest in popular fiction often leads me to Wikipedia as a second-best option.

During my fun-filled visit to Wikipedia I encountered a curious phrase: "mainstream scholarship." The author of this particular page uses this label several times. Sometimes a variation is used: "mainstream Christian scholarship." Examples include Marcus Borg, Dom Crossan, etc. Interestingly, this umbrella category also covers Bart Ehrman and Paula Fredriksen. I doubt very seriously that either of these fine scholars would welcome the label "Christian." Moreover, I wonder if the late Dr. Borg would have counted himself as "mainstream" in his final years.

But I have a bigger problem in mind. Does the phrase "mainstream scholars" assume the existence of disenfranchised scholars? One thinks of the standard disaster-movie cliché where a lone-wolf Ivy Leaguer predicts the end of the world but nobody listens until it's too late. Is this what the author has in mind? Or consider Dan Brown's sexpot symbolist (itself a fictional field of study) who jumps out of airplanes when he's not lecturing at Harvard. Because in my experience, the folks who get the most headlines, documentaries, and magazine covers are the ones with the theories that don't hold up to historical scrutiny. I.e. the Hollywood cliché is [...drum roll...] a fiction. There is no better way to get published than to come up with an idea that departs from the "mainstream." But - simply put - these folks who discover the Lost Ark or the secret history of Jesus as the Prince of Siam, etc. are not scholars. So I see very little value to the qualifier "mainstream"; indeed, it may be misleading.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Was Jesus Fatherless?

The Gospel of Mark represents the earliest surviving biography - if that what we should call it - of Jesus' life. It is often noted by commentators that Mark is either unaware of Joseph (of nativity fame) or simply fails to mention him. The most common solution given is that Joseph died while Jesus was a boy. Some have even conjectured the psychological profile of a young man who has taken on the responsibilities of breadwinning. But does this conjecture have merit in historical reconstruction?

First we should acknowledge that is was not uncommon for a man to die before his son reached the age of thirty. I've pointed out that, "If a child was fortunate enough to live to age ten, her/his chances of living to forty were roughly 60 percent. She or he would have a 50 percent chance of seeing the age of forty-five" (Wife of Jesus, 109). So we shouldn't be surprised that Joseph is not mentioned in Mark. Even so, this doesn't mean necessarily that Joseph died while Jesus was a boy. On the contrary, I argue:

We therefore should not assume that Jesus was fatherless. Nor should we conjecture that he carried the burden of a boy who had adulthood foisted upon him too early.