Baker Academic

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lonergan, Authenticity, and Plato's Cave

If you have not yet discovered Jonathan Bernier's new blog "Critical Realism and the New Testament" here is your chance. Jonathan's blog relates his expertise in New Testament studies to his fascination with mathematician, priest, philosopher, and theologian, Bernard Lonergan. In his latest post, he wonders if Plato's cave allegory might give us a better way into the notion of "authenticity" in New Testament studies.

Bernier writes, "Thus we can see that the criteria did not fail because they did not measure up to the task for which they were formulated but because more fundamentally that task did not measure up to intelligence or reason." Against Chris Keith (who has published on this topic more than anyone else), I think that I agree with Bernier on this point. Chris has taken the line first put forward by Morna Hooker: the traditional authenticity criteria were not invented to authenticate historical material. But (and this is my counter point) researchers develop new tools all the time without  a full view to their range of application. If we are to criticize the criteria for authenticity, we must do so on two levels: (1) our notion of "authenticity" carries baggage of false assumptions about what historians do with data and facts; (2) the individual criteria - judged each upon their own logic and output - often create more problems than they solve.

Perhaps once Chris has returned from his holiday, we can revisit this topic.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Inkling Edition of Sumney's Bible Introduction

Fortress Press has made Jerry Sumney's excellent introduction to the Bible available in an e-format. I was part of the team that enhanced this edition. It includes:

...the full text of the print textbook PLUS the chapter summaries and primary sources from the print Study Companion, PLUS enhancements that engage students like never before!
• Audio and video clips that further explain key concepts
• Poptips, links, and callout boxes for deeper learning
• Guided tour, slideshow, and hotspot images for visual learners and better understanding
• Self-tests that lead students to additional information about questions they answered incorrectly
• Social note-taking that optimizes group study and whole-class inquiry and discussion
• Full-text search capabilities, bookmarks, highlighting, and note-taking features for discovering, synthesizing, and retaining important information

In addition to being part of this team, I was also the lead author for the study companion. This companion text (available in both print and e-formats) is heavy on excerpts from Ancient Near Eastern texts (both inside and outside the Bible) and questions for discussion/reflection. It is written for beginners.


Chris Keith and Hard-wired Reading Strategies

Dr. Keith writes of his hermeneutical development for Pete Enn's "Aha" series:


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dr Chris Tilling, “Paul, Evil, and Justification Debates”—Chris Keith

Below is Dr Chris Tilling's lecture from the 2014 Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity Conference at St Mary's University, Twickenham.  It's title is "Paul, Evil, and Justification Debates" and basically Chris takes on the world.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Christopher Skinner, “Overcoming Satan, Overcoming the World”—Chris Keith

Here is Dr Christopher Skinner's lecture from the 2014 Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity conference here at St Mary's University, Twickenham.  It's on the role of evil in the cosmologies of Mark's Gospel and John's Gospel, entitled "Overcoming Satan, Overcoming the World," and opens with a quotation from George the Animal Steele!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Anthony Le Donne: “Jesus told me that if I looked upon Daisy Duke with lust in my heart, I was guilty of adultery”—Chris Keith

Pete Enns is hosting a very interesting series of blog posts on his blog under the theme of "aha moments," where scholars and non-scholars alike are (or will be) discussing the process that took them away from an overly conservative reading of Scripture.  Don't miss the latest installment, from the Jesus Blog's own Dr Anthony Le Donne.  It includes such classics as:

"Lust was a big deal when I was an adolescent. For boys of a certain age, lust is a fulltime job."

"Jesus told me that if my right eye continued to sin, I should pluck it out. And here I was looking upon Linda Carter with both eyes!"

"But any way you slice it, Ezra 9-10 is deeply troubling—especially so to folks with an owner’s manual view of the Bible."

"A high view of Scripture—for me at least—is one that views the Bible as much more than an owner’s manual."

This entry in the "aha moments" series shows why it was such a privilege to work alongside Anthony for two years.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dr Tommy Wasserman, “Variants of Evil in the New Testament”—Chris Keith

Here is Dr Tommy Wasserman's lecture from the 2014 Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity Conference at the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible.  Tommy evaluates several instances where issues involving evil and Satan likely prompted scribes to alter the text of the New Testament.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Prof Dr Loren Stuckenbruck, “How Much Does the Christ Event Solve?”—Chris Keith

Here is the video of the keynote lecture from our 2014 Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity, delivered by Prof Dr Loren Stuckenbruck and entitled "How Much Does the Christ Event Solve?"  If you're interested in the relationship between Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, you do not want to miss this.  Loren weighs in pretty heavily on recent Pauline scholarship.  The question and answer session at the end is also illuminating.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Interview with Simon J. Joseph (Part Two) - Le Donne

I was able to interview Simon Joseph earlier this week about his new book: The Nonviolent Messiah: Jesus, Q, and the Enochic Tradition. Today I conclude this interview. You can read part one here.

ALD: In your book, you claim that Jesus was “consistently nonviolent.” This would seem to contradict some passages in the Gospels that suggest otherwise. You will, no doubt, be accused by some readers of cutting out and dismissing several passages that are problematic for your thesis by labeling them “inauthentic.” Have you overextended your thesis by concluding that Jesus was “consistently” nonviolent?
SJJ: I understand that my proposal of “thoroughgoing” consistency might be difficult for some to accept, but I find this ironic for several reasons: first, because we all value (even insist upon) consistency in our everyday lives – in our friendships, relationships, social networks, when/where we buy our favorite foods, use various products and services, etc. We all expect and anticipate a certain level of consistency in these things (otherwise we go elsewhere).
    On another level, we value consistency as an ethical good and tend to equate it with integrity, reliability, and, most of all, trustworthiness. The less consistent people are, the less we tend to trust them.
    On an even more pertinent level – when many conservative Evangelicals approach the Scriptures, they hold a consistent view of Scripture: everything in Scripture is categorized as “inerrant” because contradictions would undermine the authority of Scripture. The irony, of course, is that this very faithfullness to the consistency of Scripture creates interpretive problems – because the Scriptures do not appear to be consistent but rather contradictory in many instances. Scriptural inerrancy affirms the necessity of consistency but must do so by denying inconsistencies. It’s important to point out that it is the critical detection of these very inconsistencies that has so often resulted in major theoretical advances in biblical scholarship (e.g., the Documentary Hypothesis, the Synoptic Problem, redaction criticism, etc.).
     Often the default position is that Jesus’ inconsistency represents some kind of divine “mystery” and is therefore beyond investigation or scrutiny. In a different context, the concept of divine mystery could be affirmed, but in this instance, it is not likely, and highly problematic. First, the Gospels are human productions, literary products of a particular time and place that reflect their authors’ attempts to preserve the inspiring words and deeds of Jesus, and they were as unavoidably influenced by their own cultural resources, personalities, and interests as we are. Second, this is essentially a confessional, not a critical position. Criticism means making choices, decisions, and judgments – and justifying those choices – with evidence and reason, not presupposing that everything in the text is authentic.
     Put simply, I propose that Jesus was consistent when it comes to the topic of violence. What this means is that he was nonviolent personally, theologically, and eschatologically – even if the authors of the Gospels were not. This dissonance between the Jesus of history and the canonical Gospels is axiomatic in critical biblical scholarship. We shouldn’t shrink from this. In fact, embracing this dissonance effectively undermines the domestication of Jesus in the Christian theological tradition and might yet help restore the controversial Jesus that we still find everywhere on the pages of the Gospels. I am tempted to conclude that if our research is not controversial, then we are not doing our jobs properly.

ALD: Simon, as you may know, I’m a pacifist and a Christian. I also make my living as a Jesus historian. I would like nothing more than to believe in a thoroughgoing non-violent messiah. But allow me to push back a bit here. I imagine that Jesus struggled with the role of violence (be it divine or otherwise) in the coming of God’s kingdom. I’m also willing to imagine a Jesus who changed his mind on this topic. Moreover, we have an analog with Malcolm X. MX seems to have changed his tune on a number of topics toward the end. So I would take issue with the assumption that a “confessional” rather than a “critical” position has made me less receptive of a thoroughgoing non-violent Jesus.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Great Resource for Intro to Bible / Hermeneutics Classes - Le Donne

If you haven't been keeping up with Peter Enns, shame on you! Pete has had yet another brilliant idea. He has asked several biblical scholars to write briefly of an "aha" moment that moved them toward a more sophisticated reading of Scripture. His latest is guest blogger is Christopher Skinner.

You can also read posts in this series by Charles HaltonMichael PahlDaniel KirkJohn Byron, and Pete himself.

These posts are concise and just the right tone for undergraduates. If you're teaching an introduction to the Bible or hermeneutics class, you might consider a few of the above as required reading. You can look for my post in this series soon.


Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer on "Evil at Qumran”—Chris Keith

Continuing our posting of lectures from the 2014 "Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity," I am happy to share today Dr. Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer's lecture on "Evil at Qumran."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Christopher Rollston, "The Rise of the Satan in Second Temple Judaism"—Chris Keith

Some of the lectures from the 2014 Evil Conference of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible are becoming available on YouTube.  I'll feature some here, starting with this great lecture from Dr. Christopher Rollston from George Washington University on "The Rise of the Satan in Early Second Temple Judaism."  As a teaser, Dr. Rollston suggests here that the Accuser's role in the book of Job should be read much more positively than has typically occurred.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Holy Moses, Batman!

Since it's only been a couple hours since the last Bible movie, now we have this to talk about:

Is it too much to hope that Michael Keaton plays Aaron?


My Interview with Simon J. Joseph (Part One) - Le Donne

I recently had the great pleasure to read The Nonviolent Messiah: Jesus, Q, and the Enochic Tradition ​by Simon Joseph. As I say in my back-cover blurb for this book, it is the finest book to date on the topic of Jesus and non-violence. In hope that I can help this book get the reception it deserves, I approached the folks at Fortress Press about interviewing Simon.

ALD: Simon, you have a wide range of interests including early Christianity, the Dead Sea Scrolls, modern religious practices, and film production. What made this topic particularly interesting to you? How did it come about?
SJJ: I did my doctoral work on Q at Claremont Graduate University and after I published my dissertation – Jesus, Q, and the Dead Sea Scrolls – I knew that my next major project would focus on the relationship between Q and the historical Jesus. In 2011, I published an article in New Testament Studies that examined the question of why Q does not use the term Christos or messiah. At the time, I was working on a number of sayings in Q’s “Inaugural Sermon” (Q/Luke 6:20-49) that highlight a very radical orientation of nonviolence. I thought it would be interesting to see if there was some kind of connection between the absence of traditional Davidic messianism (which tends to be represented in terms of military violence) in Q and alternative, perhaps even nonviolent messianic ideas. There were, after all, many prospective messiahs in Second Temple Judaism, corresponding to a rich variety of Judaisms at that time.

ALD: What’s the central thesis of The Nonviolent Messiah? Why is it important?
SJJ: The central thesis of this book is that Jesus’ nonviolence is not taken seriously enough in New Testament studies or Jesus Research. While it is at times acknowledged, and at times even presupposed, its implications – if historical – have not been fully registered or integrated with other aspects of the Jesus tradition. After publishing a number of articles on various aspects of Jewish messianism and Christology, this thesis really developed when I began noticing more conversations about religion and violence taking place in the mainstream media. I was intrigued by the idea of linking the problem of violence with traditonal ideas about Jewish messianism and Jesus’ identity as a messianic figure in a way I hadn’t seen done before. I knew that many people are troubled by some of the violence contained in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and that Christians have, through the ages, introduced a number of different ways of dealing with these texts, but I also knew that I would have to challenge the simplistic dichotomy of a violent OT God vs. a loving NT God. After all, there is more than enough violence in both Testaments to go around! My goal with this book is to encourage the critical discussion of violence in the biblical tradition and urge others to take Jesus’ distinctive nonviolence more seriously. I realize that not everyone will agree with my assessment of the data, but at least the stakes of the debate might be made clearer as I think the consequences of not resolving this particular problem are more serious than we realize. On the positive side, I think that many biblical traditions can be understood without appealing to violence as their interpretive key.

ALD: As you know, I’m very sympathetic to your conclusions. But I wonder whether you’re alienating many readers by assuming a hypothetical “Q” source. We conducted a poll on the Jesus Blog a few months ago and it showed that less than half of our readers are Q*berts like you and me. How do you see Q functioning in Jesus Research?
SJJ: One of my favorite things about The Jesus Blog is that it reaches both scholars and many people outside of academia who are interested in these discussions. I know that a lot of people are skeptical of Q studies because they think they are either too speculative or because they think that Q studies tend to undermine traditional ideas about Jesus and Christian Origins. This is not necessarily the case and I devote a whole chapter to this problem in my book. So while many of your readers – who are presumably a mix of academic and non-academic folk – have an opinion that they don’t believe in Q, I am working within an academic context where the two Documentary Hypothesis is still the dominant solution to the Synoptic Problem and I use it as a working hypothesis. Despite ongoing debate on the Synoptic Problem, Q is a very useful analytical tool that represents quite well how the Jesus movement actually developed – literarily, historically, ethnically, geographically, socially, theologically, and Christologically. This makes it an important site in NT scholarship and Jesus Research. Of course, the Jesus of Q is not the historical Jesus, so there are methodological constraints and restrictions that we have to be aware of. For those interested, John Kloppenborg has written an excellent article on this (“The Sayings Gospel Q and the Quest of the Historical Jesus,” HTR 89 [1996]: 307-344).

ALD: What is your understanding of Jesus’ relationship to Judaism? Where do you locate the historical Jesus within Second Temple Judaism?
SJJ: I come to the study of the historical Jesus as a New Testament scholar and historian with expertise in the Jewish origins of Christianity. It’s now a truism that Christianity became a distinctive and identifiable religion only by differentiating itself from “Judaism,” but our interpretive problem is that Christianity was a part of Judaism when it began, i.e., it was born within Judaism. Consequently, any historical (re)construction of Jesus or Christianity first has to account for this early formative period.
     In terms of Jesus’ Jewishness, I think it should be fairly obvious to all by now that Jesus did not attack “Judaism” or try to replace it with himself. We have to come to better terms with that. But I don’t think that Jesus was a “normative” or “orthodox” Jew either – whatever that might even mean in the first century – because if he was I find it hard to see why he would have been so offensive to his contemporaries. I tend to think that Jesus was not accused of “blasphemy” and “leading Israel astray” for nothing. So I think we need to keep Jesus in that middle position – a Jewish Jesus who offends traditional Jewish sensitivities.
     Furthermore, if we want to take the historical question of why Jesus was understood to be a Jewish messianic figure seriously (as opposed to the more theological question of whether he was “The Messiah”), we need to reconstruct that historical context.
     I was fortunate to have begun my graduate studies when the whole academic scandal about the delayed publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls was dying down, so I had an opportunity to assess the field after a lot of heated discussion had already taken place. I became particularly interested in the Essene movement and I was surprised by how little interest NT scholars showed in them. With very few exceptions, they are virtually ignored, and their relevance to the study of Christian Origins is sometimes flatly denied. I find this to be a major historical oversight. Are the Essenes ignored because they are nowhere mentioned in the NT or because they do not fit our social or religious identity constructions of ancient or modern Judaism and Christianity? My contribution to the historical problem of the messianic identification of Jesus affirms that Jesus was indeed regarded as messianic by his Jewish followers, that they absorbed ideas and practices from the larger Essenic-Enochic movement (only partially accounted for in the Qumran community and Dead Sea Scrolls), and that their apocalyptic expectations of a new Adam/messiah were fulfilled in Jesus. In short, what we call “Christianity” originated as a form of universalistic-apocalyptic Judaism with Jesus as its central redemptive figure. 

See part two of my interview here.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Leadership Principles of Jesus - Le Donne

I like airport bookstores. They provide something of a microcosm of popular culture. If you find yourself in this petri dish and your eye is caught by books about Jesus, you will inevitably find a book about the "leadership" of Jesus. You will find these books next to books by Donald Trump and Zig Ziglar. A quick search on amazon yields dozens of such titles. Here are just a few:

Jesus on Leadership
The Leadership Style of Jesus: How to Make a Lasting Impact
The Leadership Principles of Jesus: Modern Parables of Achievement and Motivation
A Life of Impact: Leadership Principles of Jesus
Gospel Driven Leadership: 5 Non-Negotiable, Unchanging, and Eternal Principles for Leading Like 

I confess that I've never read one. I've looked at a few tables of contents and skimmed a page or two. I have, however, read the Gospels several times over and I can't help but wonder: what would be the market value of this book?

The Leadership Failures of Jesus 

Chapter One: Confusing People on Purpose
Chapter Two: Sowing Seeds Haphazardly
Chapter Three: Alienating Your Family in One Simple Step
Chapter Four: Enabling Lazy and Disrespectful People
Chapter Five: The Art of Pissing Off Almost Everybody
Chapter Six: Sabotaging the Longevity of Your Career
Chapter Seven: Scaring the Bejesus out of People in Graveyards

Am I missing any chapters?


Friday, July 4, 2014

American Jesus - Le Donne

SBL Bible Odyssey Project--Chris Keith

If you haven't yet heard about the newly-launched SBL Bible Odyssey project, do yourself a favor and go to  The SBL used a NEH grant to create a massive online reference tool that makes New Testament scholarship quickly accessible for non-specialist readers.  There are a ton of entries, all written by scholars.  There are also maps and images, etc.  It's a tremendous tool for teaching and I plan to have my students use it as a first port of call in their research.  I was honored to author this entry on the Pericope Adulterae.  Congratulations to the editors and SBL on a job well done.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Shabir Ally on The Wife of Jesus

Happy Canada Day! It is only fitting that today I received an email (from Josh Mann, thx Josh) alerting me to a youtube review of my The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals. The reviewer is Shabir Ally, president of the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International in Toronto. It is clear that Ally has given my book a close read and has grasped the key elements of my arguments. You can watch the review here:

My thanks to Ally and to the folks at "Let the Quran Speak" for arranging this review.