Baker Academic

Monday, May 29, 2017

What Would Jesus Resist?

The accumulation of wealth. Preoccupation with security. The use of power to secure more wealth at the expense of those who suffer already. Jesus would—and did—resist these things. And (relatedly) Jesus resisted evil. Jesus saw himself in open war against the spiritual world. The battlegrounds included systemic corruption, physical illness, and demonic possession. Jesus' view of Rome was probably colored along these lines too.

So what? Do any of these historical claims provide the modern person with marching orders? I am usually one to be cautious on this point. After all, the voice of any prophet requires context to make sense. Voices from antiquity do not often translate easily into modern contexts. Applying Jesus' teachings to modern politics—even when his message was overtly political—is usually a recipe for frustration. So much nuance is needed that once the historian homes in on a point, it is obscured by all of the necessary qualifications.

But then there is the rare case of obvious evil. In such cases, I think it's irresponsible to obscure Jesus' teachings with academic caveats. This brings us, again, to Donald Tr*mp.

Just after November 9th, one of my students sent me this comic. It's become a repeated triptych along my mental landscape. Artist Corey Thomas means to convey something of the African American experience post-11/9. But this strip captures something about American religious borders too.
images from
Notice the use of borders in this strip. (1) As is common to comic strips, we see blocked borders between the first illustration (one of shock and worry) and the second (one of jubilation). (2) The hallway and doorframe borders illustrate the proximity between the black POV and white counterparts; (3) The final illustration shows the cubical dividing the protagonist from his white, evangelical (perhaps allied) coworker.

Somehow—and this is true for most folks I know whether conservative or liberal—the election of Donald Tr*mp was a highly disorienting experience. For many of my neighbors, 11/9 exposed precarious fault lines. The old categories of conservative vs. liberal just didn't work anymore. Those borders were tiresome and reductionist. But at least they were familiar. I've starting calling these new camps "nationalist" vs. "resistance" narratives. I'm not the only one who has been looking for new language. For example, the alt-right has adopted the terms "cuck" and "cuckservative" to redefine the new landscape. To be clear: the nationalist narrative is framed by white nationalism. This comic strip is correct: whatever else 11/9 was about, it was about race.

Not every Tr*mp voter is an overt racist. The real trouble is with the white, evangelical majority that allowed the alt-right narrative to thrive by looking the other direction. My guess is that most white evangelicals know the narrative is evil. If so, the accusation of racism isn't overblown. Unfortunately, most white evangelicals think that racism is something you feel rather than something you support unwittingly. But (and this can't be denied) there are enough overt racists in America to warrant an overtly racist political movement. The fact that we allowed white supremacy be rebranded as "alt-right" is part of the problem. Tr*mp was willing to stand on this platform.

So my take is somewhat different than Corey Thomas' view that "after prayerful consideration they decided that their God anointed the naked racist to be their leader." I differ because I sincerely doubt that there was much prayer involved in electing Tr*mp. I do not fault Thomas, however, for assuming that 81% of white evangelicals knowingly perpetrated a national sin.

I sent this comic strip to a Jewish friend. My friend is deeply invested in Christian well-being and knows more about Christianity than most Christians. He truly loves his Christian neighbors but he is worried about us. When I sent him this comic, he confessed that Thomas had captured something of his own disorientation. He said, "I feel the same way about my Christian neighbors."

Then there is my colleague who confessed that she couldn't be around men after 11/9. Even with men she loves and respects, there was something about the election of Tr*mp that made her male colleagues difficult to navigate.

Three borders: race, religion, and gender. Somehow our national sin, our collective evil, has made our old fault lines even more precarious. So which fault line poses the greatest threat? The answer is determined by which border is nearest to your front door. For some it's islamophobia, or xenophobia more generally. For some it's the mortal peril faced by millions of citizens of the greatest generation and baby boomers who will be failed by America's medical and pharmaceutical industries. As for me, I survey the landscape and see a world preparing for war. I see America failing at a crucial moment in environmental history. So I am most worried about my children. Tr*mp did not create these fault lines. He has, however, made them far more dangerous.

These are complex problems created by a world of geopolitical power-grabbing, capitalistic greed, generational hate, and an apathetic general public that Jesus never imagined. I doubt that Jesus could have conceived of a future when humanity would destroy the earth without God's help. What Jesus did understand—what he was uniquely prepared to preach about—was collective evil. Jesus knew well that collective sin required collective repentance.

I titled this article "What Would Jesus Resist?" It assumes that Jesus did resist that which he judged to be evil and that he would again. So, yes, I think Jesus would resist the global danger that is Tr*mp. I cannot read Luke 6 and think that Jesus has nothing to say about our national sin. Moreover, I think that impeaching Tr*mp may be part of a national repentance. But it will only be a the first step.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

Despite the tradition common to Matthew and Luke, nothing compels us to suppose that the Holy Spirit was a progenerative agent for Jesus' conception in the earliest form of the birth narratives. This is reflected in the earliest formal mentions of Jesus' birth, which were made by Paul in his letters to the Galatians and Romans. . . . Instead of being related to the birth, the Spirit is associated with the claim that Jesus was resurrected after his death; whereas Jesus' birth betrayed an ancestry that "according to the flesh" goes back to David, his status as Son of God is linked to the resurrection event in which the Spirit of holiness functioned as the divine agent.

                        ~Loren Stuckenbruck (The Myth of Rebellious Angels: Studies in Second Temple                                           Judaism and New Testament Texts)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bauckham Second Edition Giveaway!—Chris Keith

Richard Bauckham's pot-stirring and thought-provoking landmark study, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, is now out in a second edition from Eerdmans.  Those good folks at Eerdmans have decided to do a giveaway of one free copy to a reader of the Jesus Blog.  We haven't done a giveaway in a bit, so here are the rules.  You can enter by (1) leaving a comment, (2) sharing on social media and leaving a comment saying you did, (3) signing up to follow the blog and leaving a comment saying you did, and (4) a wild card entry.  The wild card entry will be SBL-themed.  You can leave a comment stating any of the following:  your favorite thing about SBL; your least-favorite thing about SBL; how you describe SBL to people who don't know what it is; why you will never miss or never go to SBL; what lie you tell people about on the plane on the way to SBL; how many drinks you had with Anthony Le Donne at the last SBL.

We'll leave the giveaway open for a bit and then announce the winner based on the comments.

[UPDATE: This book will be released in the UK at the end of June and distributed by Alban Books.  Their link for the book is here.]

Friday, May 12, 2017

Social Memory: A Hermeneutical Reset

Yesterday Chris Keith treated me to breakfast at Taste of Belgium in Cincinnati. Wonderful frites with a horseradish aioli sauce. But fries served with an omelette? Has the world gone insane? Chris and I (as we tend to do) talked about the past, present, and future prospects of social memory theory in Jesus research. It occurred to me on the drive home that scholars with native fluency in New Testament studies continue to misappropriate the findings of social memory. Either they emphasize the creativity and instability of memory or they emphasize the regular reliability and stability of memory. Both are surface-level observations that fail to see the undergirding hermeneutical reset.

The key question is still "where is history?" If history is "back there in the past" and human memory is creative and and unstable, memory cannot provide access to history. Alternatively, if history is "back there in the past" and human memory is reliable and stable, memory can and does provide access to history. Both conclusions miss the point: history is not "back there." History relates to what is "back there" insomuch as it continues the mnemonic frames and interpretive perceptions of the past. But "history" (like everything under the epistemological umbrella) is something we encounter now. In my reading of him, Ruben Zimmermann (happy birthday!) gets this point. History (and on this point I depart from Maurice Halbwachs) is not something that precedes or undergirds memory.

In order for historians to utilize the findings of Social Memory we don't simply need a new method or new tools or new rules for the road. What we need is a hermeneutical reset whereby the human relationship to epistemology is reconsidered from the ground up.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Runesson’s Origins of the Synagogue for FREE!—Chris Keith

We at the Jesus Blog heard that your week was moving a little sluggishly and thought a free gift might make you feel better.  To that end, we pass along the fantastic news that Anders Runesson's groundbreaking The Origins of the Synagogue: A Socio-Historical Study is available for FREE on his site here.  If you're not familiar with Prof Runesson, who is also known as the father of The Angry Theologian (who, I'm told, might be heading to my alma mater, the University of Edinburgh), then start with this book to familiarize yourself.  For me personally, one of the most interesting developments in the last bit in NT studies is the explosion of synagogue studies, and much of that effort is related in one way or another to Runesson's work.  He's also just published Divine Wrath and Salvation in Matthew: The Narrative World of the First Gospel (Fortress, 2016).  I haven't read it yet, but will be soon thanks to the good folks at Fortress and will report back.  Thanks to Prof Runesson for alerting us that he is making The Origins of the Synagogue freely available!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Prof Steve Walton Inaugural Lecture at St Mary’s—Chris Keith

Please join us at St Mary's University, Twickenham on Monday, May 15 for Prof Steve Walton's inaugural lecture:  "Doing Theology Lukewise"!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month by Jesus for this Week

"It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick."


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Crowd-sourcing Purity

Jesus Blog readers,

I am tinkering with the following paragraphs about purity concerns in Jesus' context. Inevitably, I've found myself attempting to summarize a massive amount of literature dealing with Israel's Pentateuch reception and application. I'm looking for help. What would you add/subtract from the following? Where have I made missteps?



Many (perhaps all) of Jesus’ contemporaries who lived in and practiced day-to-day Jewish life believed that their God was transcendent. Not only was God separate from the created order, God was holy in a way that made God fundamentally distinct from the world of humans. In the priestly story of creation, the elements of the Earth are said to be good. But only God is holy. Thus we see a very ancient worldview distinction between that which is common and that which is holy.

Unfortunately, in this worldview, the common elements of creation are subject to disorder and eventual death. Humanity—while fundamentally good—is prone to disorder and dominated by death. Or, put another way, humans live in the reality of impurity. Impurity is a power opposed to life; it is an infection that results in, physical, ritual, and moral disease.[1] God, on the other hand, is holy.

The narrative of Exodus—the story that provided the foundation of Israel’s collective identity—claims that God is holy and that it is dangerous for humans to be in God’s presence. God, however, provides a way for the Israelites to participate in God’s life-giving holiness. This is accomplished by Moses who follows divine instructions for creating a space for the transcendent God of Israel to reside on the Earth. It is then imperative for the priests to prepare the common people to approach this holy space. Thus certain rituals are established to cleanse Israel from impurity. It is therefore integral for God’s holy presence to reside in the land with the people.

Eventually, this holy site where God resides is built up as a Temple. In this culture, Israel’s God was present in the Jerusalem Temple. Israel’s instructions for pure living helped to orient the people to God’s Temple presence. Everyday actions like food, sex, farming, care for strangers, etc. became ways to orient the people to the holy presence of God.

[1] It is important to make a distinction between impurity and sin. Ritual impurity was inevitable and in most cases had nothing to do with human error. Childbirth, disease, contact with the dead, and bodily fluid caused impurity. Such elements of human life and death were not necessarily sinful but required purification through rituals. Moreover, these rituals (like baptism) were not difficult to accomplish. Moral impurity, on the other hand, was indeed connected with human error: e.g. worship of idols (Lev 19:31; 20;1-3); sexual taboo (Lev 18:24-30); murder (Num 35:33-34). In very basic terms, most of the rituals practiced in Jewish life related to the maintenance of life and death. Or, at least the elements that seemed most related to life and death (e.g. blood, semen, menstruation, food production). Much of the first part of Leviticus deals with ritual purification as it relates to Temple worship (the place where God resides on Earth). Much of the second half of Leviticus deals with broader issues of purity in every-day life (what scholars call the Holiness Code).