Baker Academic

Does Mark 16:9-20 represent a later addition to the Gospel?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 2

In the opening post of my review of Richard Hays's Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, I mentioned that each of Hays's four substantive chapters include five sections:
§1: the evangelist as interpreter of Scripture;
§2: the evangelist's use of Scripture to interpret and re-narrate the story of Israel;
§3: the evangelist's use of Scripture to interpret and narrate the story of Jesus;
§4: the evangelist's use of Scripture to shape and orient the story of the church;
§5: a summary discussion of the evangelist's distinctive hermeneutic.
The first chapter, entitled "The Gospel of Mark: Herald of Mystery," filters the shortest Gospel through these five sections. The first section ("'Take Heed What You Hear': Mark as Interpreter of Scripture") is less than one page long, which I find unfortunate. Even in this too-short discussion, however, Hays makes a critical point: Mark, who "rarely points explicitly to correspondences between Israel's Scripture and the story of Jesus" (p. 15), nevertheless exhibits a "deft but allusive use of Scripture" that "repeatedly gesture[s] toward wider contexts and implications that remain not quite overtly stated" (p. 16). This claim will be fleshed out in the ensuing discussion.

The second section, "Apocalyptic Judgment and Expectancy: Israel's Story in Mark's Narrative," provides significantly more substance. Hays explores Mark's portrayal of Israel's story according to "four narrative strands": "inbreaking judgment, eschatological restoration, the strange continuing resistance of Israel, and the shocking death of God's son" (p. 20). This section provides discussion of the first three of these narrative strands; the fourth is taken up in the next section (see below). Hays offers a robust discussion of the judgment of God against Israel's idolatry and unfaithfulness, inasmuch as "Israel has reached a moment of crisis" and now awaits the promised day of the LORD, which "should be heard not as a word of comfort but as a terrifying word of warning" (pp. 16, 18–19). The theme of judgment continues beyond the scriptural themes surrounding the introduction of the Baptist in Mark 1 and includes Jesus' ministry, especially in the prophetic action against the Temple in Mark 11 (pp. 26–29). This discussion, which continues on from earlier works (see, e.g., Watts, Marcus), is a marked improvement from remarks one still encounters from time to time that John came preaching the judgment of God but Jesus brought grace and forgiveness. Rather than disjoining God's judgment against ungodliness and injustice from the promise of restoration for his people, Hays keeps these two ideas intertwined: "the threat of judgment and destruction can never be sounded apart from the more fundamental promise of God's ultimate design to bring about Israel's deliverance and restoration" (p. 29). This, I think, exactly captures the textual dynamics in Mark (if not also the other Gospels) and his reading of the scriptural texts. The apocalyptic restoration of Israel resonates across multiples features of Mark's Gospel, from the Isaianic context of euangelion to the appointment of twelve disciples to Jesus' healing of the deaf and blind and others, all of which Hays reads in light of Mark 1.1–3, which "serve[s] as a sufficient indicator for the attentive reader" that God is restoring his people in and through Jesus' words and actions (pp. 32–33). However, despite Mark's portrayal of Jesus' ministry as one of fulfillment of prophetic promises, Hays describes Mark as "the most reticent about claims of fulfillment," which Hays uses to explain Mark's "remarkable decision not to narrate any resurrection appearances of Jesus" (33). The reader, just as the disciples at the end of Mark 13, are left in a fundamental posture of waiting and expectation. Finally, Hays discusses "the strange continuing resistance of Israel" in Mark in two passages: the parabolic theory in Mark 4.11–12 and the parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12.1–12. Hays's discussion of Mark 3–4 // Isaiah 5–6 helpfully draws out parallel movements between the two texts, though his discussion of "the beloved son" in Mark 12 misses, I think, a striking implication of Jesus' parable. Given the heavy presence of "Israel" in the parable and its evocation of the Isaianic song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5, the significance of Jesus as God's "beloved son" can only be grasped in light of Israel's election to sonship. For example, God sends Moses to Pharaoh to send out "my first-born son, Israel" in Exod. 4.22, and of course Pharaoh refuses. In the parable, the Temple authorities, who are questioning Jesus about his authority, find themselves on the verge of becoming like Pharaoh, opposing the redemptive movement of God (see also Mark 3:22–30), and imminently to be the objects of God's wrath. This reading, I think, strengthens rather than undermines Hays's approach to Israel's resistance to Jesus.

At over forty pages, the third section ("Jesus as the Crucified Messiah") is by far the heart of the chapter, entailing nearly half its content. This makes sense, of course; the Gospel of Mark is about Jesus even more fundamentally than it is about either Israel (§2) or the Church (§4). This section examines Mark's use of Scripture to define Jesus' identity under four headings: Jesus as Davidic king (pp. 46–57), Jesus as the glorified Son of Man (pp. 57–61), Jesus as the God of Israel? (question mark in the original; pp. 61–78), and Jesus as crucified Messiah (pp. 78–86). Hays also comments briefly on the total absence of references/allusions to Isaiah's Suffering Servant in his discussion of Jesus and Scripture in Mark (pp. 86–87): "In sum, it is very difficult to make a case that Isaiah's Suffering Servant texts play any signifiant role in Mark's account of Jesus' death—at least at the level of Mark's text-production" (87). Throughout §3, Hays emphasizes the metaleptic function of Mark's references and allusions to Scripture. Indeed, Mark instructs his readers to read Scripture metaleptically, as Hays overtly claims in his discussion of Psa. 22.1 and Jesus' final words:
[T]o read Jesus' cry from the cross in Mark 15:34 as an intertextual evocation of Psalm 22's promise of hope is not simply an exegetical cop-out, a failure of nerve that refuses to accept Mark's bleak portrait of Jesus' death at face value. Rather, it is a reading strategy that Mark himself has taught us through his repeated allusive references to snatches of Scripture that point beyond themselves to their own original narrative settings and lead the reader to reevaluate the surface sense of the Jesus story. (85; italics in the original)
I am completely sympathetic to this reading of Mark's resonance with Scripture; it would be peculiar even in Mark's account of the death of the son of God if Mark, after the three-fold prediction of Jesus' passion and resurrection (see Holly Carey, Jesus' Cry from the Cross, LNTS 398 [T&T Clark, 2009]), recounted Jesus' use of Psalm 22's first verse and didn't intend his readers to recall the psalmist's ultimate confidence in God's abiding presence. This section, 40+ pages in length, provides much that is helpful for thinking about Mark's use of Scripture in its portrayal of Jesus. Even so, there are weaknesses. For example, Hays presses his otherwise interesting discussion of the allusion to Job 9.8 LXX ("who alone stretched out heaven and walks upon the sea as upon dry ground") in Mark's account of Jesus walking on the sea in 6:45–52. Job 9 also uses the verb "pass by" (παρελθεῖν) in its praise of the One who walks upon the sea (see Job 9.11), which Hays links to the strange detail recounted in Mark 6:48: "Jesus comes to them [the disciples], walking upon the sea, and he wanted to pass them by" (ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς). So far so good. But then goes on: "To these observations should be added the insight that the verb παρελθεῖν almost surely alludes to Exodus 33:17–23 and 34:6, where God is said to 'pass by' Moses in order to reveal his glory indirectly" (72). This, however, seems an allusion plucked out of thin air, based on a single word—παρελθεῖν, "to pass by"—that occurs well over 100 times in the LXX and whose details do not fit the Markan text (except inasmuch as Hays wants to find Mark portraying Jesus as the God of Israel): Moses asks to see God; the disciples ask nothing of Jesus. Moses is bold in his request; the disciples cry out in terror. God places Moses in the cleft of a rock; the disciples are in a boat on the sea in a storm. While many (perhaps even most) of the allusions Hays identifies and explains are compelling or at least plausible, more than once he extends himself too far and imagines echoes where, to my ear at least, there is only silence.

Before we move on from §3, we should acknowledge that many readers will have problems with Hays's discussion of "Jesus as the God of Israel?" (pp. 61–78). The analysis in this section often rightly identifies places where Mark blurs the distinction between Jesus and the God of Israel, for example in the way Mark narrates Jesus coming on the "way of the Lord" that John prepared in the wilderness, or in the disciples' dismay that Jesus commands the wind and the waves and they obey. Hays is also careful to acknowledge that Mark also makes distinctions between Jesus and God (see pp. 76–78). Even so, as I read this section I could not help but think that Hays was betraying something of his original intention (to pay "particular attention to the ways in which the four Evangelists reread Israel's Scripture" [p. 7; original in italics]) and reading the Gospels through the lens of later Christological developments. To be sure, Hays draws a connection between Mark's reading of Scripture and later Christological reflection: "Mark's story already poses the riddles that the church's theologians later sought to solve in the christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries" (78). All of this leaves me with the uneasy feeling that Hays is bent on justifying later orthodox Christological decisions via a reading of the Gospels. For example, his discussion of Mark 2.7 ("Who can forgive sins but God alone?"; pp. 64–66) jumps to the conclusion that Mark portrays Jesus as the embodiment of Israel's God without ever mentioning that God forgives the sins of the people through the temple cult in Jerusalem and its priestly personnel. If the traditional significance of the conflict between Jesus and the scribes centers on the means of atonement and forgiveness rather than on the identity of Jesus, Hays's discussion will have silenced Mark's echoic use of Scripture in this passage.

The fourth section, "Watchful Endurance: The Church's Suffering in Mark's Narrative," is much shorter, which again makes sense since Mark's focus is never on the community of Jesus' followers. Even so, this section struck me as unfocused; very little of these pages (87–97) focused specifically on the Church or Jesus' followers. Hays begins by tracing Mark's use of Scripture to frame Jesus' followers' experience of suffering and persecution, focusing especially on the allusions to Daniel in Mark 13. Strangely, he reads "councils and synagogues" in 13.9 as alluding to Jewish opposition and "governors and kings" [ἡγεμόνων καὶ βασιλέων] in terms of gentile opposition (p. 89), though in Judea and Galilee I'm not sure which gentile rulers had these titles (Pilate isn't referred to by title in Mark, and the only figures called "king" in Mark are Herod Antipas and Jesus, both ironically). Other than Hays's discussion of Jesus' persecuted followers, he discusses [Jesus'] "challenge to Caesar" and "the gospel for all nations." The first of these is relevant to this section only in the last paragraph, where Hays tacks on a reference to "the church's self-understanding as a community set apart from business as usual, a community that owes ultimate obedience to God, while rendering only the most provisional acknowledgement of Caesar's temporary grasp on power" (p. 94). This, I think, is not much of an advance on what we could have said about "the church" without paying attention to the echoes of Scripture in Mark. The second of these ("the gospel for all nations") is a little better, though it still has its problems. First, while Hays mentions relevant passages (Mark 11.17; 13.10; 7.24–30, 31–37 [too briefly], and 15.39), his discussion of most of these is too short to be helpful. Second, he never mentions the first possible allusion to the inclusion of gentiles in this section: the story of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5.1–20 (though see p. 93). Third, he strangely entertains the possibility that Mark's πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνησιν in Mark 11.17 may have appeared "anachronistic on the lips of the pre-Easter Jesus," even though these are words found in Isa 56.7! (p. 95; see also p. 389 n.150). Unfortunately, these weaknesses overpower any strengths in this ten-page section, and as a result Hays's discussion of the community of Jesus' followers—whether in Mark's narrative or in Mark's social context—is anemic and heft-less.

The fifth and final section, "'Hidden in Order to be Revealed': Mark's Scriptural Hermeneutics" (pp. 97–103) brings Chapter 1 to a close. Hays describes Mark's Scriptural hermeneutic as an allusive language through which Mark is able to disclose Jesus despite the inadequacy of human language. All of this is fine as far as theological reflection goes. I would hesitate, however, to seriously entertain the notion that Mark thinks about his approach to or reading of Scripture in quite the way Hays does. (This is not to demean either author's reading of Scripture; it is only to differentiate what I think are two rather different hermeneutics.) For Hays, Mark pushes his readers to become competent readers of Israel's Scriptures: "Mark for the most part works his narrative magic through hints and allusions, giving just enough clues to tease the reader into further exploration and reflection" (p. 98). I'm not so sure. I don't see in Mark any real prods to push his audiences to search the Scriptures, unless "let those who have ears hear" and/or "let the reader understand" are such prods. Rather than pushing Mark's audience to re/read the Scriptures again, I think Mark's use of Scripture reveals something about his envisioned audience. (Here is my response to Danny Yencich's question to my original post: "If Hays had interacted more with Foley, where do you think it would have led him?") Mark's written Gospel employs an idiomatic use of Scripture (so far, I am agreeing with Hays); that is, Scripture provides the language and imagery in which Mark perceives, interprets, and responds to events in his world. That he uses that language without taking the time to unpack its dense (Foley would say "metonymic") referentiality suggests that he imagines himself communicating with audiences who also speak the language of Scripture. Rather than pushing his audience to a deeper understanding of Israel's sacred traditions, Mark is taking advantage of their understanding, leading them as they ask appropriate questions of their Scriptures (e.g., Who is this that the wind and the sea obey him? or, What must I do to inherit eternal life?) and pursue appropriate answers (Truly this man was the son of God). The language of Scripture is part of how Mark continues the "tradition of reception" of the Jesus tradition among his readers as he translates the stories he tells about Jesus from one set of media (oral preaching, oral teaching, informal storytelling, etc.) into a new medium (written narrative). The uninitiated reader may be perfectly able to follow the surface-level narrative of Mark's Gospel without any real problem. But s/he will lack the requisite "ears to hear" the resonating echoes of Scripture that Mark expects will lead his readers as they fill in the inevitable gaps in the story.

None of these criticisms should mask my appreciation for what Hays has accomplished in this rather lengthy chapter. And we should probably add another criticism: as Chris Keith has already mentioned, "the main text is full of ideas but the footnotes are light." Yes. But, again, the main text is full of ideas. Hays's discussion of the echoes of Scripture in Mark's Gospel joins an already star-studded cast of voices (Rikki Watts, Joel Marcus, Thomas Hatina, et al.) who have explored this territory. Readers familiar with these other voices will find Hays's discussion a worthy addition to this cast. Newer readers unfamiliar with them will find Hays's discussion a helpful point of entry into an ongoing and vibrant discussion.

Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 1
Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 2

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My First Editorial Foreword of JSHJ - Anthony Le Donne

Issue 14.1 of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus is now available. This issue represents the first under my and James Crossley's supervision. We are both grateful to Bob Webb who founded this journal and served as its executive editor for over a decade. The essays in this issue were submitted, reviewed, and adjudicated under Bob's leadership. That said, they fit well within the trends of memory and metacriticism that James and I discuss in our forewords. As we assume Bob's duties, we thought it fitting to reflect on the field and offer a few prospects for newer trends. Below I republish the first half of my editorial foreword:

The Third Quest in Retrospect
by Anthony Le Donne

What was the Third Quest? In retrospect it was a historiographical construct demarcating a period of Jesus research characterized by (1) the question of Jesus’ Jewishness and subsequently his eschatology, (2) a preoccupation with criteria for authentication, and (3) the tendency to chart the intellectual history in terms of quests. In this short space I will reflect on the key trends in Jesus research from the 1970s to early 2000s and critique a few common categories employed. I will then briefly introduce a few trends that move beyond the so-called “Third Quest.”

From the 1970s to early 2000s Jesus’ Jewishness was reconsidered, foregrounded, marginalized, and accepted as consensus. [1] Factors contributing to this line of questioning included (a) an effort to rethink New Testament studies in light of the catastrophic consequences of Christian anti-Semitism, (b) the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and (c) a reaction to the rigid distinction between Second Temple Judaism and Hellenism of previous generations. Jewish voices like David Flusser, Geza Vermes, and Amy-Jill Levine were finally normalized within a field dominated by Christian and post-Christian scholarship. Other mainstream voices like Dale C. Allison Jr., John P. Meier, E. P. Sanders, and N. Thomas Wright accepted Jesus’ Jewishness as a primary starting point for the study of his life. Moreover, this generation reached a consensus that Jesus’ Jewishness was central to his identity, aims, and impact (specifically, Jesus’ eschatology was reexamined in light of other texts of Second Temple Judaism). These developments—the consensus and significance of the starting point—were relatively new to the field. Whereas previous generations failed to normalize the views of e.g. Jacob Emden (1697–1776), Abraham Geiger (1810–74) and Joseph Klausner (1874–1958) the “question” of Jesus’ Jewishness was finally a matter of nuance and focus rather than a disputed starting point. Importantly, it rightly became the central focus of Jesus research rather than simply the starting point. The so-called Third Quest, therefore, did not rediscover Jesus the Jew. Rather, this period marginalized a European thread of research that promoted an Aryan or even Christian Jesus. Today Jesus’ Jewishness is no longer presented as a “question” in need of an answer; it is the premise and guiding focus of the Jesus historian.

A byproduct of the emphasis on Jesus’ Jewishness was the influx of maximalist readings of the Jesus tradition by scholars who defended the New Testament as largely historically accurate. Whereas previous generations mined the gospels for the kernels of Jesus’ originality (elements that set Jesus against his Jewish “background”), many Christian scholars embraced the affinities between Jesus and Judaism. This allowed them to look for and find a Jewish historical Jesus within a largely Jewish New Testament. In service to this goal, many of these scholars employed field-specific literary tools. This brings us to the second key characteristic of that generation.

From the 1970s to early 2000s a handful of field-specific criteria were regularly employed in Jesus research. Some scholars identified dozens of criteria, some avoided their use entirely. Even so, the criteria of dissimilarity, coherence, Semitic influence, embarrassment, multiple attestation, and multiple forms were staples of the period. These formalized criteria represented the logic of previous generations but took on concretized and popularized form. While many of the adherents of these criteria (myself included) voiced dissatisfaction with a number of these criteria and/or their application, the search for a scientific method often settled for a checklist of criteria. In their most optimal application, the criteria were used to fortify more sophisticated methodologies. This is no longer the case. Whereas the so-called Third Quest generally accepted the use of criteria for authenticating pericopae in isolation, Jesus historians now must defend the use of these criteria. But judging from the last decade of articles and monographs, most historians—John P. Meier being a notable exception—simply avoid them.

From the 1970s to early 2000s surveys of Jesus research had standardized a “quests” paradigm in keeping with Albert Schweitzer’s nationalistic and Eurocentric myopia. This paradigm imagined that the phases of Jesus research could be divided into epochs and the genius of “great men” within these epochs. [2] The so-called Third Quest was thus a beneficiary and dissident of the Old Quest, the No Quest years, and the New Quest. Key names of great German scholars (Hermann Samuel Reimarus, Albert Schweitzer, Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Käsemann) were often offered as heuristic representatives of each era. But rather than distinguishing itself from previous generations, this “quest” language betrays the neo-romantic tendency to aggrandize the originality of men who transcended their social milieux to inaugurate new epochs. So the very tendency meant to distinguish the so-called Third Quest from previous generations reveals the same historiographical drive. Indeed the normalization of Jesus’ Jewishness and the standardization of methodology do not represent original ideas but attempts to build upon the ideas of previous generations. Still the drive to categorize the history of ideas by great men and distinct epochs demanded a construct. The label given to this construct was “Third Quest.” Not only is the moniker suspect, the historiographical drive that led to the moniker is suspect.

If indeed the Third Quest (both as a misnomer and as a heuristic construct) has run its course, what now? . . . .

The full piece can be purchased at

1 I do not include the “Jesus Seminar” of the 1980s and 1990s under the (already dubious) ­label of “Third Quest” as it is clear that Bob Funk refused to allow his brainchild to be associated with it. See Robert W. Funk, “Milestones in the Quest for the Historical Jesus,” The Fourth R 14–4 (2001);; accessed: May 9, 2016. It should be said, however, that although Funk explicitly aligned his brainchild with previous generations of scholarship, the Jesus Seminar served as the foil (and catalyst) for several contributors to the so-called Third Quest.

2 Masculine language is used here to represent the prejudice of the age from which this ­historiography emerged.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Richard Hays on the Gospel of Mark and the Method of His Argument—Chris Keith

As time has allowed, I have been working through Richard Hays's Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels.  This book is big and impressive, an application of Hays's general approach to the Pauline epistles in his classic Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (1989) to the Gospels.  Along with a few other works, Hays's work on Scripture in the Pauline epistles set the tone for OT-in-the-NT research on Paul and became the springboard for all subsequent discussions.  To this day (i.e., over 25 years later) you can find new PhDs who use his definition of "allusion" or "echo" etc. for the basis of their study.  Only time will tell if this new book on the Gospels will have the same kind of impact, but I can say this with confidence (and I try to avoid saying this too often):  Any Gospels scholar or student needs to have a copy. 

The reason that this book is a must-have is that, in any given Gospel unit of tradition where a Hebrew Bible passage is cited, alluded to, or echoed, Hays gives almost every conceivable possible intertext.  Thus, this will certainly be for the Gospels the go-to resource for OT-in-the-NT, regardless of whether a given scholar agrees with Hays's own take on any given issue.

The book has a brief introduction, after which it treats the role of Hebrew Scripture in the Gospels in chapters on Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, in that order.  The comprehensive nature of the discussion is the study's chief virtue.  As Rafael has already noted, the introduction also gives the reader an insight into the circumstances under which the book was written, as Hays was in the midst of treatment for pancreatic cancer and a host of scholar-friends and Baylor University Press editors helped him with the editing and footnotes, etc.

This information possibly also explains some of the less-than-desirable aspects of the book.  For example, at times, the main text is full of ideas but the footnotes are light.  On pp. 78, then 83-86, Hays discusses the citation of Psalm 22:1 from the cross in Mark 15:34, a topic about which entire dissertations have been written (here, here).  Other than citing himself on a methodological point (85n.133), however, he engages/cites only one scholarly discussion, an essay of Crossan's from 1978 (84n.132).

So if you're looking for a full, complete, and up-to-date engagement with secondary sources, this won't always be the book you need.  But this is also pretty understandable.  If Hays attempted that, the book would be at least twice as big as it is, and it's already 500 pages.  Plus, any shortfalls in discussion of secondary sources is more than compensated by discussion of the primary sources, and here Hays shows himself to be a master.

I'll note one more thing, which is methodological in nature and I found very interesting.  On numerous occasions, Hays raises the possibility of a Hebrew Scripture intertext and claims that astute readers might catch the proposed echo or allusion.  These occasions add to the tapestry of Scripture that Hays is weaving, but there is not always an argument actually put forward that there definitely is or is not an allusion here; rather Hays says something to the effect of "those with ears to hear" will catch it, implying that others will not (48-59, 50, 52, 53, 69; cf. 75).  In principle, I'm not actually against this and I think the cumulative argument that Hays is making--namely, that the Gospel authors are steeped in Hebrew Scriptures and steep their narratives about Jesus in those same Scriptures--supports it.  But as I was reading, I was thinking, "If someone wasn't inclined to think this is an allusion, though [I studied with a scholar once who thought people get really carried away when it comes to spying HB texts lurking behind NT texts], how would he or she ever disprove it?  How would you argue against Hays?" 

That's when I realized the genius of Hays making the argument this way, by which I mean the relationship between his general argument that the authors alluded to and echoed the Hebrew Scriptures and his specific arguments in these instances of allusion or echo.  He's only argued that an informed reader, one might say "ideal" reader, would notice the connection that he sees.  Of course, this ultimately means a reader who reads the text the way that Hays does, but the interesting point is that he can always easily concede that not every reader or hearer of the text would notice this allusion.  So, theoretically, if we were at SBL and someone was feeling cantankerous (no doubt because they'd had to stay until the dreaded Tuesday morning spot to hear this paper and they arrived to the receptions the previous evening after everyone had already depleted the open bars) and responded, "Yes, but in 400 years of subsequent interpretation, not a single church father ever commented on this or noticed this intertext," it wouldn't really matter.  The cumulative effect of Hays's argument rolls right on because those readers apparently didn't have "ears to hear."  It's a good and right general argument, but Hays only ever needs "someone" "somewhere" to have been capable of noticing what he's proposing in order to incorporate some of these allusions into the argument.  I'm pretty impressed at how this type of argument innoculates itself against arguments to the contrary!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Jesus and the Last Supper: More Thoughts

Over at Crux Sola, Christopher Skinner is doing a serial review of Jesus and the Last Supper. He has invited me to respond to the review, so below are some further thoughts:

In Skinner's first part of his serial review, he omitted all of my arguments against historical plausibility (see Jesus and the Last Supper, pp. 45-46) and incorrectly said that I "state" an "intention" to “err on the side of historicity.” I appreciate that he was willing to go back and correct the omission from the original post. However, in his third installment, he still seems to be omitting what I say and critiquing things I did not say.

1. For example, Skinner claims that I “never” provide “any sort of statement about what the gospels are (in terms of genre)” or “how they function as historical (or even quasi-historical) documents.” This is demonstrably false. On page 46, I expressly state: “the four Gospels should not be treated as stenographs of Jesus’ teachings but as ancient Greco-Roman biographies.” Then I spend several pages discussing the implications of this for what I mean by historical plausibility (pp. 46-50). Why ignore this and then critique me for “never” giving any statement about genre?

2. He also claims that the list of “new Moses” parallels he quotes at length (from pp. 54-55) are texts that I “deem historically plausible.” This is also incorrect. In fact, in the very next line—which Skinner strangely omits—I deliberately left the question of their historical plausibility open: “Whether or not one accepts the historicity of each one of these episodes…” (p. 55). In reality, I made no judgments about historical value of any of these passages. I simply listed them to show what evidence has led other scholars, such as Dale Allison, to conclude that Jesus saw himself as a new Moses. Why leave out this line?

3. Skinner states that I appear to “reject” the classic “Three Stage” model of gospel formation. I almost laughed out loud when I read this, since I regularly teach Vatican II’s three-stage model of gospel development in Dei Verbum 19 to my graduate students. Though somewhat overly simplistic, this model helps show that the gospel authors selected some things from tradition, reduced some things to a synthesis, explained some things in view of the contemporary situation of their churches, etc. As a result, Skinner is right: the gospels are certainly not “raw, unadorned, historical ‘reporting’.” But I never said they were, nor did I treat them as such. Those are his words, not mine. I said they were ancient Greco-Roman biographies. And I explicitly stated that “the ipsissima verba” are “incontrovertibly not what the Gospel authors... ever intended to provide us" (p. 46). So why focus a critique on positions I did not actually espouse? Why set up a straw man?

4. Finally, there is Skinner's concern over treating the gospels “as though they are records of what actually happened." (Update: in my original post, I misquoted Skinner and used the word 'contain' records rather than 'are' records. I've edited this post to more accurately reflect his point.) As I understand it, the entire quest is predicated on the assumption that at least some of what is recorded in the gospels and other sources "actually happened."
 Didn't the crucifixion of Jesus actually happen? Aren't Lucian’s Life of Demonax and Josephus’ Life of himself records of things that “actually happened’? I for one think they are. To be sure, that is not to say the gospels or any other ancient biographies are "uninterpreted" accounts--there are no such things. Nevertheless, it is the task of the historian to try to the best of his or her ability to evaluate the historical plausibility or implausibility of a given teaching or action attributed to Jesus in the gospels. And this can't be done simply by appealing to global statements about "the gospels" as a whole, as Skinner seems wont to do. Each saying or action attributed to Jesus has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. That is how I proceed in Jesus and the Last Supper. The question is: if a scholar accepts the historical plausibility of some episodes and rejects the historical plausibility of others, the question is: What are the reasons for doing so? 

To his credit, Prof. Skinner say that he doesn't “want to be guilty of putting words” in my “mouth” or “characterizing my work unfairly.” I appreciate that. But so far, when it comes to several of his main criticisms, that is exactly what he seems to be doing. I hope that in the future he will reserve more of his critiques for arguments that I actually make and positions I actually take.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Does Mark 16:9-20 represent a later addition to the Gospel?

As an almost scientific sociological experiment, we are polling the Jesus Blog community to learn a bit more about you. Feel free to register your vote above and comment below this post to explain your thoughts, hopes, and dreams.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Unintended Irony of Mark's Ending

People like to write about irony in Mark. I suppose that irony is fashionable these days (and I assure you that I write this ironically). But today I am more interested with an unintended irony in Mark: the extended ending(s). In short, Mark does not include an extended account of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. The earliest manuscripts simply end Mark on this note: 
As they [i.e. Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome] entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (16:5-8)
This ending indicates that Jesus has been raised from the dead but does not portray Jesus himself—walking, talking, eating, breathing—as such. Later interpreters, it seems, added a few more paragraphs to the conclusion so to portray the resurrected Jesus. Most modern Bibles will include this detail in a footnote before moving onto verses 9-20. In this extended section, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, Peter, to two other disciples, commissions the disciples, and ascends to heaven.

But even without these extra paragraphs, Mark’s story does indeed convey Jesus’ resurrection. This message is conveyed through the voice of a “young man” who looks as one might expect an angel to look. My point: even if read without Jesus’ appearances, the story ends with a heavenly assurance of the risen Jesus. So why embellish it?

My best and only guess is that Mark was extended for apologetic purposes. Here is the logic: if the news of a risen Jesus will elicit belief, how much more so will a portrayal of a walking, talking Jesus elicit belief? The fact that Jesus is no longer among the dead is good news. But the fact that Jesus has no interest in eating your brains is even better news! Mark's editors don't want to end with the women's horror. These editors want to end with a fully restored Jesus. I.e. Mark's editors embellish for the same reason that the Fourth Gospel does: "so that you may believe."

But the enlightened mind is a suspicious mind. Moreover the enlightened mind is not the sort of mind that Mark's editors have in mind. When we see an embellished ending, we lend less trust to the editor, not more. So the paragraphs meant to elicit belief end up doing the opposite. Such is the case for most of my students who encounter Mark's final footnote for the first time. Not only has Mark's extended ending outlived its purpose, it can and does have the opposite-than-intended effect.

Allow me to conclude with a suggestion: why don't we move all of Mark 16:9-20 to a footnote? This would better serve both the scholar and the believer. It would be a more honest rendering of Mark's first-century composition—which is what most seminarians want anyway in a translation. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Jesus and the Last Supper

Over at Crux Sola, Christopher Skinner has begun a serial review of my book, Jesus and the Last Supper (Eerdmans, 2015). I'm very grateful for the time he took to read it and write a thoroughgoing review. Please be sure to check out the Comments, where Chris has invited me to respond.

At some point, I’ll put up some thoughts here at the Jesus Blog. I am hopeful this engagement will spark some fruitful discussion.

With that in mind, three quick initial responses:

1. First, I’d like to thank Chris for the extensive positive feedback. I was very humbled by his “words of praise” (as he put it).

2. With regard to his more critical comments, Chris’ most serious charges seem to concern things I don't remember ever actually being in the book. Specifically, he levels the allegation that “later doctrinal formulations” are “driving the discussion.” I’m curious to see where he finds these. He has yet to give any specific examples, but assures me they are coming. I for one don't recall ever even mentioning any in the text. (This causes me to wonder whether he's attempting to read not only my book but also my mind.) Let me be clear: I wholeheartedly agree that we must avoid reading later doctrinal formulations back into the first century. And that's precisely why I focused the book entirely on Second-Temple Jewish themes such as the new Moses, Manna, Bread of the Presence, Passover, covenant, and kingdom of God.

3. In his initial post, Chris seems particularly concerned about my conclusions. However, historical investigation stands or falls on the strength of its arguments, not whether we are comfortable with the historical conclusions to which those arguments lead us. Therefore, I'm most interested in learning which specific arguments he finds convincing, which ones he doesn't, and why.

eBook Sale

You, dear reader, can save up to 80% on eBook editions of Zondervan Academic gospel commentaries. I am told that this is the biggest sale on gospels eBooks Zondervan Academic has ever hosted.  It ends on Thursday, August 11, 2016, at 11:59pm ET.

See especially, Andreas J. Kostenberger's ZIBBC on John.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Special Thanks to Leonard Greenspoon!

Last week I announced my newest book Near Christianity. I want to take a moment and thank Leonard Greenspoon for writing an interesting, thoughtful, and funny foreword. Here is a short excerpt:

“This book chronicles the many times Anthony has fruitfully engaged Jews in conversation—with what might appear to be a rather unexpected result: what Anthony learns about Judaism leads him to rethink some basic beliefs and practices within Christianity. And, as a result, this introduction, or better reintroduction, of Judaism into Christianity enhances and deepens his faith. What a marvelous notion! Even better because in Anthony’s skilled hands it does indeed work.”

Leonard's friendship and mentorship was especially helpful as I wrote the chapter in this book titled: "On the Border of Humor and Intimacy." I am grateful for his investment in this project.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

I believe in God, not in a Catholic God. There is no Catholic God. There is God, and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God - the Father, Abba - is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.

                      ~Pope Francis

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Jewish­-Christian Friendship - To What End?

If you happen to be in the San Antonio area on Thursday, November 17th, I'd like to invite you to a Jewish-Christian dialogue at the SoL Center. Friend of the blog, Brian LePort will host:

Jewish­-Christian Friendship: To What End?

A Conversation between Anthony Le Donne and Larry Behrendt

Measuring against previous eras, Jewish-Christian friendship is experiencing a renaissance. But what is the benefit of this friendship? Can Jews and Christians be spiritual allies? Larry Behrendt will interview Anthony Le Donne about his new book, Near Christianity: How Journeys along Jewish-Christian Borders Saved my Faith in God. Le Donne will discuss how his Jewish friends and mentors enhanced his Christian faith. We will also discuss A Sacred Dissonance, a forthcoming book that Behrendt and Le Donne have co­-authored, focusing on how Jewish­-Christian similarity and diversity serve as a source of creative and spiritual energy for both Jew and Christian. The evening will conclude with questions and answers from the audience. Anthony Le Donne will be available to sign his book at the end of the session. Admission: $15.
If you are planning to attend AAR/SBL, we'd love to see you a day early! Larry and I hope to go for drinks with a few conference folks after this event.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016


My newest book:

This extraordinary book is Jewish-Christian dialogue at its very finest. Professor Le Donne lives out what he teaches. As a Christian, he learns about God, forgiveness, faith, and love from his Jewish friends, and the wisdom he gains is to be treasured. In his allowing his friends to ask him the most difficult questions, he shows the heart of a seeker for truth—ultimately the heart of a teacher on fire for divine friendship made concrete in love of neighbor.
                         —Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 1

Biblical scholarship's most conspicuous medium is the printed word: monographs, journal articles, reference works, even electronic forums like blog posts and other social media. Our discipline's primary currency is ideas, and these are usually encountered through the things we publish.

But the printed word has its downsides. Our books and articles may convey our ideas to wider audiences, but they can also conceal us, the women and men behind the ideas. Every semester I try to get my students to see the authors behind the texts they read, whether the authors of modern secondary course texts or the writers of ancient primary sources. Commentaries don't tell you what a text means; they tell you about an author and what she or he thinks a text means (or, I'm discovering with my own work, what they once thought a text meant). Monographs are not comprised of disembodied ideas; they are the products of years of embodied labor, involving the fluids associated with the body—blood, sweat, tears—and affected by all that befalls the body—health and vitality; illness and decline.

Sometimes the flesh-and-blood author is difficult to detect behind the ink spread out upon the page. While this is usually by design, it is always unfortunate. That is not the case with Richard Hays's most recent volume, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Baylor University Press, 2016). The title is, of course, evocative of Hays's now-classic work, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale University Press, 1989), which in many ways began the tidal shift in the discussion of Paul's use of Israel's scriptures. We no longer read the Apostle merely as a proof-texter who lifted words from the Hebrew Bible and twisted them to serve his own interests; today it is not difficult to find scholars who see in Paul's letters evidence of a creative and attentive reader who shaped and was shaped by biblical traditions and texts. A similar perspectival shift has already affected scholarship on Jesus and the Gospels, and not without reference to Hays's work on Paul's letters. (Think names like Juel, Watts, Marcus, and many, many, many others.) For this reason, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels will struggle to make as monumental an impact on the field of NT scholarship as did its older sibling, though that is perhaps an unreasonably high standard. But we'll turn to the book in a minute; for now, I want to keep our focus on the author.

Hays begins with a seven-page preface that does what all prefaces do: it introduces the reader to the book (pp. xiii–xix). Here Hays offers the standard fare; he offers some explanation of how the book came to be, describes his own interest in the book's subject, and mentions how this book relates to other material he has published (especially his Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness [Baylor University Press, 2014]).

But then the preface ceases to be standard and becomes . . . what? It becomes moving. Unlike other prefaces, the preface to Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels pulls back the curtain to reveal the author as a human being, to make visible the book that follows as an embodied work that participates in all the hopes and fears of life in this Now/Not-Yet. The move from "standard" to "moving" really begins here:
In July 2015 I was suddenly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In light of this shattering diagnosis, I stepped down from the deanship immediately and went on medical leave. As I write these words in early October 2015, I have been through two months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and it is still unknown whether the treatments will have been sufficiently effective to make it possible for me to undergo surgery. If so, my prognosis will be uncertain. If not, my life expectancy will be short. (p. xiv)
My personal life has been touched by cancer (as I explain here); the words attributed to Amanda's Army in this graphic perfectly expresses my sentiment. My prayers, weak and ineffectual as they may be, are for Richard, his body, and his family.

The remainder of the preface describes "the remarkable events of the past two months" (p. xv), a span of time that, in addition to the myriad personal and existential affairs that require attention in the wake of a dire prognosis, saw the completion of Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. While every published book (and article) is the product of a team effort, Hays explains the unusually robust contribution that friends have made to the present volume, from Carey Newman and his staff at Baylor University Press to Hays's research assistant to four NT scholars who undertook the task of taking one of Hays's four massive chapters (on Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) and getting them ready for publication. (I will leave these individuals unnamed, for the most part; see pp. xvii–xix for their identification and a description of their extraordinary work.) When the reader finishes reading the preface, s/he comes away with a sense of relief that this 500+ page behemoth went live while its author was still around to see his work published and while readers might still have access to the embodied perspective behind the work.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: Reading this book, and offering one of the very earliest of reviews, affords me a sense of honor. There will, I'm sure, be occasions to argue and critique. But those occasions will not detract from my gratitude for playing even this small part in the story of this book.

Okay. On to the book itself.

As early as p. xvi, Hays explains the primary objective of Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels: "this book seeks to shed light on the whole range of scriptural interpretation and hermeneutics in each of the four Gospels." Later, in the Introduction, Hays restates this objective: "this book will seek to trace the ways in which the Gospel writers themselves articulated their message through deep engagement with Israel's Scripture" (p. 6). This last statement already reveals a vital component of Hays's thesis (viz., that the Gospels exhibit the marks of their authors' "deep engagement with Israel's Scripture"), though Hays is also careful to acknowledge that this feature common to the four canonical Gospels is not identical in all four texts. All four bear the marks of Israel's sacred traditions, but they bear those marks in various and variant ways.

Hays begins with a discussion of "figural interpretation," a retrospective reading of the past in light of the newly unfolded events of the present. Reading the Old Testament (this is Hays's preferred term, rather than "Hebrew Bible") figurally is not as mechanical or restrictive as reading them predictively. The hermeneutical activity of figuration belongs to the reader rather than the author. "For that reason, a hermeneutical strategy that relies on figural interpretation of the Bible creates deep theological coherence within the biblical narrative" (p. 3; my emphasis).

I find all of this helpful, both for enabling a robustly but respectfully Christian reading of texts from the Hebrew Bible and for a historically sensitive reading of the Gospels (and other texts from the New Testament). Even so, I would quibble with Hays's formulation of the primary question. He asks: "How does each one [of the Gospel writers] draw upon the Old Testament to depict the identity of Jesus and to interpret his significance?" (p. 4). One gets the sense that Hays sees "the Old Testament" as something distinct from the early Christians' perceptions and understandings of Jesus, as if they turned to scriptural texts in order to communicate something they already knew apart from those texts. The influence of biblical tropes, themes, and images, however, belongs not to the early Christians' depictions of Jesus' identity but to their very apprehensions of him, both their perceptions and their interpretations. As I acknowledged earlier, this may seem a quibble. But I think the difference matters, like the difference between contact lenses and eyeballs, or between clothes and skin.

The primary thrust of the remainder of the Introduction (after the restatement of the book's purpose, quoted above) is a discussion of the book's design: its scope, structure, and method (pp. 6–14). As to "scope" (pp. 6–8), Hays is clear that this book is not about the historical Jesus, nor about the earliest Christian social contexts, nor about the development of an early "high" Christology. "Instead, this is a book that offers an account of the narrative representation of Israel, Jesus, and the church in the canonical Gospels, with particular attention to the ways in which the four Evangelists reread Israel's Scripture—as well as the ways in which Israel's Scripture prefigures an illuminates the central character in the Gospel stories" (p. 7, italics in the original have been removed).

As to "structure" (pp. 8–9), the book features one chapter for each of the four canonical Gospels, followed by a brief (twenty-page) conclusion. Each chapter is comprised of five sections: (i) an overview of a given evangelist as an interpreter of Israel's Scripture, (ii) the in/evocation of Scripture to re-narrative Israel's story, (iii) the in/evocation of Scripture to narrate Jesus' identity, (iv), the in/evocation of Scripture to narrate the role of the church vis-à-vis the world, and (v) a summary conclusion (p. 9; see also p. 14). Hays also briefly justifies the decision to address the three Synoptic Gospels alongside the distinctive Gospel of John together in a single volume (p. 9).

As to "method" (pp. 10–14), Hays offers at least three substantive points. First, Hays "presupposes that all four canonical Gospels are deeply embedded in a symbolic world shaped by the Old Testament . . . that their 'encyclopedia of production' is constituted in large measure by Israel's Scripture" (p. 10). The Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) context is also significant, but secondarily so. Second, Hays rehearses how he employs the standard terms "quotation," "allusion," and "echo," with some extended discussion of the last of these (pp. 10–13). "These terms are approximate markers on the spectrum of intertextual linkage, moving from the most to the least explicit forms of reference" (p. 10). This section includes Hays's one reference to John Miles Foley (in an endnote; see p. 370 n.21); in my view it is unfortunate that Hays has not been more profoundly influenced by the Foley's work on tradition and reception, both of which are central concerns in Hays's own works. Even so, Hays rightly grasps the academic task at hand: "not some arcane theory-driven methodology . . . [but rather] simple attention to the way that human language and storytelling ordinarily work" (p. 11). And again, "our discourse is inherently intertextual and allusive" (p. 12). Indeed. Third, Hays assumes Markan priority, but he also employs an ambivalent Q-skepticism: "It seems to me equally probable—indeed more probable—that Luke knew Matthew and that the verbal agreements between these two Gospel can be explained in this fashion rather than through positing a hypothetical Q source" (p. 13). It seems to me, speaking impressionistically, that Q-skepticism (in the specific guise of Markan priority without Q) is quickly becoming an equal rival—if not a dominant option—among non-source-critical scholarship on the Synoptic Gospels; for another recent significant work that rejects Q, see Francis Watson's Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Eerdmans, 2013). A fourth point, offered not so much as method but rather as clarification, concerns the legitimacy of the Evangelists' appropriation of the Jewish Scriptures. Here I think Hays preserves an unfortunate set of categories (viz., Christian and Jewish) and attempts to foster respectful and honest discussions between them. But these are our categories, not our texts'. Our authors—all four of them, in my view—wrote as Jews, of a Jewish messiah and other Jewish cultural and theological ideas, and did not approach the concerns and problems they faced with these categories at hand. Even Luke's use of the term Christian (Χριστιανός; Christianos) in Acts 26:28 understands this as a Jewish descriptor; a Christianos is something a Jew (like Paul, and like Agrippa) can be.

Despite these perhaps gnatty criticisms, the preface and Introduction set up Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels as an interesting, insightful, and engaging work of embodied literary scholarship. I'm looking forward to diving into the four substantive chapters on each of the canonical Gospels, though their length is also somewhat intimidating (Chapter 1, on the Gospel of Mark, comprises eighty-nine pages, along with twenty pages of endnotes!). It may be a while before you see pt. 2 of this review, though I can envision interacting with this or that point as I work through the chapter. So I encourage you to watch this space, but do so patiently. In the meantime, buy this book and read it along with me. And if you do, drop me a line to let me know what you think as you read it.

Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 1
Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 2