Baker Academic

Friday, December 22, 2017

Oral Tradition and Synoptic Verbal Agreement

In the published version of his University of Oxford doctoral thesis, Oral Tradition and Synoptic Verbal Agreement (Pickwick, 2016), Travis M. Derico takes a different approach to the question of oral tradition and the development and composition of the Synoptic Gospels. In the main, Derico notes, oral tradition is invoked by gospels scholars to explain variation among the gospels, since variability is the “one characteristic that is now almost universally acknowledged by New Testament scholars as being essential to oral tradition” (5). Nearly by default, stability and agreement—especially verbal, but also of order—is an index of the influence of written tradition.

Rather than appeal to the [in]famous variation of our Synoptic Gospels and offer an oral-traditional explanation of that variation, Derico takes aim at the assumption that stability results from the influence of written, literary tradition. (To be sure, the claim that written tradition is not or cannot be subject to similar forces of variability have been falling out of favor for some time now; see David Parker’s now-famous book, The Living Text of the Gospels [Cambridge University Press, 1997], and Parker’s massive influence over the practice and conception of NT text criticism.) If—Derico would say “Since”—we know that oral Jesus traditions influenced the Synoptic Gospels’ composition, we cannot equate agreement with literary influence and variability with oral.
[W]e do not know how [oral Jesus] traditions were composed, preserved, or transmitted; so we do not know the extent to which the Synoptic Evangelists might have produced the kinds of features we observe among the texts of their Gospels by reference to orally transmitted Jesus traditions; and so neither do we know the extent to which they produced those features by strictly literary means. (10)
Derico proposes an alternate research agenda. He suggests “we could hunt down and survey a large number of comparable parallel oral-traditional texts, and see whether they bear any relevant similarities to the Synoptics” (11). For this, Derico turns to the programmatic work of John Miles Foley (1947–2012), who offers three principles for identifying appropriate and relevant comparanda and for their comparative analysis: tradition-dependence (respecting the particular, idiosyncratic forms, features, and functions of each tradition), genre-dependence (comparing like with like rather than dissolving the vast variety of types of oral tradition into a single typology [viz., oral tradition]), and text-dependence (taking into account the textual dynamics of our evidence and its relation to oral verbal art, including especially the willingness to admit our ignorance in the face of lacunae in our evidence).

Derico sets out to “address the agreement in wording displayed among many parallel Synoptic pericopae,” in particular to “expose the consensus view [that agreement is evidence of the influence of literary, written tradition] to serious scrutiny” (15). Though Derico’s analysis privileges and focuses on verbal similarities among the Synoptic Gospels, the Introduction does end with one reference to that other significant kind of agreement among Matthew, Mark, and Luke: agreement in order (see p. 16).

Derico begins with a dense and careful discussion of the theoretical and empirical basis for the claim that verbal similarities of the kinds we see in the Synoptic Gospels (e.g., between Matt 16:24–28||Mark 8:34—8:1||Luke 9:23–27) could only result from a literary relationship and, moreover, that this literary relationship is the dominant or most important relationship between our texts as wholes. After spelling out the "standard argument" for this claim (see p. 28), Derico calls out one particular premise for further discussion: "Kinds or amounts of verbal similarity found in these Synoptic parallels could not have been produced by exclusive reference to oral traditions, except for oral traditions produced by means of a formal program of rote memorization" (28). The majority of the volume is devoted to discussing "four kinds of empirical evidence that New Testament scholars have used to support or rebut [this premise]" (37). These four kinds of evidence are: anecdotal evidence from common experience (see Chapter 3), anecdotal evidence from uncommon experience (see Chapter 4), transcripts of actual oral literature (see Chapter 5), and scientific studies of human memory (see Chapter 6). Derico summarizes the discussion of these four chapters on pp. 202–4:
Our examination has produced two main findings. First, the empirical evidence that has been presented in confirmation of statements of [this premise] is much weaker than is generally supposed. . . . Second, the evidence presented against [this premise] is rather stronger than has been advertised. (203)
None of this proves one way or another whether the patterns of verbal similarities between our gospels result from the use of oral or written sources, and Derico doesn't offer his argument in support of one or the other kind of sources. Instead, Derico's argument is much more restrained: The evidence underlying the claim that the Synoptic Gospels' verbal agreements must result from a literary relationship is "much weaker than is generally supposed," and, conversely, the evidence against this claim is "rather stronger than has been advertised." In other words, Chapters 2–5 don't argue for oral rather than written sources behind the gospels' verbal agreements; they only undermine gospels scholars' confidence that verbal agreements must be indicative of written rather than oral sources.

The last chapter presents the real innovation for gospels scholarship. In 2002–2003 Derico did ethnographic fieldwork in northern Jordan, in which he "recorded several oral-traditional narratives concerning an American missionary called Roy Whitman, who helped to found the small Jordanian evangelical Christian community in the late 1920s and served as its primary leader until his death in 1992" (205). Derico presents transcripts (in Arabic) of those oral-traditional narratives, along with English translations. Derico compares his recorded narratives with similar pericopae from the Synoptic Gospels (viz., narrative tradition without sayings of Jesus or John the Baptist), analyzing the appearance of verbal similarities between his (certainly) oral-traditional narratives and the gospels. Again, Derico's analysis is modest. He doesn't claim the transcripts of his narratives prove the gospels' similarities stem from oral rather than written sources; he demonstrates only that the kinds of similarities we see in the gospels appear also in oral-traditional narratives. Those same similarities in our gospels may result from the use of written sources, but thanks to Derico, we now know beyond any reasonable doubt that these similarities may also result from oral sources. This includes parenthetical agreements (e.g., Matt 4:18||Mark 1:16||Luke 5:2). I quote Derico's conclusion at length:
[I]n each of these cases it seems reasonable to argue cautiously ab esse ad posse: if we observe that one rather casual oral-traditional process produces certain kinds of verbal agreement, then we are probably justified in supposing that another equally or more deliberately controlled oral-traditional process could (ceteris paribus, and given a basic generic congruency between the texts transmitted in the two traditions) produce those kinds of verbal agreement too—and it seems a good bet that the mechanism of the first-century oral Jesus tradition was at least as deliberately controlled as the mechanism of the twentieth-century oral Whitman tradition. But in that case it is also possible that those kinds of verbal agreement could have found their way into the Synoptic Gospels by the Synoptic Evangelists' independent reference to oral Jesus traditions. (265)
Derico ends with a call for gospels scholars to pursue or commission ethnographic fieldwork seeking to discover, analyze, and comparatively present "the relevant sorts of oral-traditional data" in order to shed light on what is actually possible in the production of written texts like our gospels (266). The book also includes two appendices, the first with transcripts of Derico's oral-traditional narratives and the second with comparative analyses of the verbal similarities in those narratives. There is also a bibliography and three indices (modern authors, subject, and gospel and other ancient texts).

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was negatively predisposed to Derico's thesis when I first picked up his book. My own skepticism toward source-critical theories—Alan Kirk has not unfairly called me a "Synoptic source-critical agnostic"—is not motivated by a belief that oral-traditional phenomena fully explain the composition of and relationship between our Synoptic Gospels. Instead, my skepticism is a reaction against the confidence with which synoptic source critics build upon their presuppositions of literary source relationships between Mark, Matthew, and Luke. That does not, however, predispose me to prefer over-confident presuppositions of oral relationships.

But this is the beauty of Derico's argument: Nowhere does he over-extend his evidence. He clearly demonstrates (some of) the kinds of verbal similarities we see in the Synoptic Gospels within certainly oral-traditional narratives; he does not claim that those similarities prove our gospels are orally and not literarily related. Moreover, his use of comparative analytical methods strikes me as a significant advance over other gospels scholars' comparative works, especially the psychological experiments of Robert K. McIver and April D. DeConick. Derico is careful to compare like with like (the experiments described by McIver and DeConick do not provide useful comparanda for the Synoptic Gospels); he also remains circumspect in his conclusions.

Derico spends all his analytical energies on verbal similarities between the Synoptic Gospels (and comparable verbal similarities in his Whitman transcriptions). He does not address that other pillar of source-critical analysis: similarities in order of pericopae. This is a lacuna Synoptic Gospels source critics will want to address, either to redress Derico's thesis or to extend it.

On my reading, perhaps the most helpful aspect of his discussion concerns the individuated, particular phenomena that scholars lump together under the label "oral tradition" (or, worse, "orality"). In Chapter 2, Derico briefly critiques "speculative accounts of the characteristics of a universal 'orality' in which the early Christians are supposed to have participated" (33–36; p. 33 quoted). I quote him at some length:
To put it bluntly: there is no such thing as 'orality.' There is no monolithic psychological or sociological phenomenon that is uniformly displayed among or uniquely experienced by the members of 'oral cultures,' or the partially or totally illiterate members of 'chirographic cultures.' . . . Likewise, there are no universal oral forms or characteristics of oral literature which, when recorded in written documents, can be reliably distinguished from literary forms or characteristics. (34–35)
Biblical scholars interested in questions of media criticism, performance, oral tradition, etc. ought to commit this to memory; it would help them to do so if they read my Oral Tradition and the New Testament: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2014), esp. Chapter 4. The oral expression of tradition (or even of information more generally) is subject to the entirety of the breadth of human variability, whether at the individual, social, or cultural levels: it can be impromptu, scripted, or something in between. It can be informal or ritual, or something in between. It can be sacred, deviant, or something in between. It can be spoken by educated elites, illiterate peasants, or someone in between. And so on. The categories typically offered to us (e.g., "oral" or "literary"), these are inadequate at every level.

I might add one final recommendation. I'm not a fan of Kenneth Bailey's theory of "informal controlled oral tradition," and I'm particularly skeptical of the uses of that theory by gospels scholars (esp. James D. G. Dunn, but also N. T. Wright and Richard Bauckham, as well as those influenced by these three). Bailey's theory has been subjected to repeated (and thorough) debunking, and I've commented elsewhere that the debunking itself has been problematic. Derico spends over 50 pages discussing Bailey's theory (pp. 63–114), with over half of that space devoted to Theodore Weeden's critique (pp. 89–114). Those of you who think Weeden has disproved Bailey's theory—of which, again, I am no advocate—will need to deal with Derico's analysis, which I think puts Weeden's objections to rest.

This is an important book for everyone interested in the composition of the Synoptic Gospels, whether your interests are primarily source-critical (identification and analysis of written sources) or performance-critical (analysis of oral sources).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Did you beat up Travis Derico?

I'm preparing a review post of Travis M. Derico's published doctoral thesis (University of Oxford), Oral Tradition and Synoptic Verbal Agreement: Evaluating the Empirical Evidence for Literary Dependence (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016). I'll confess to being negatively disposed toward Derico's thesis (viz., the verbal similarities we observe between the Synoptic Gospels are not, ipso facto, sufficient grounds for presuming a literary relationship between those gospels). I am, I supposed, used to seeing "oral tradition" and/or "memory" conscripted into all kinds of arguments for which they are not well-suited.

I must admit, however, that Derico's book is very careful, methodical, clear, and clear-headed. In a field rife with overstatements, Derico's conclusions are judicious and fair. If you're interested or involved in source criticism of our Synoptic Gospels, this is a work you're going to want to read. And I'll post my review shortly.

But for now I want to know: Have any of you accosted Dr. Derico on some out-of-the-way playground or in some dark alley and pummeled him senseless? I quote from Oral Tradition and Synoptic Verbal Agreement:
For [Frans] Neirynck, the real problem with [Matt 26:67–68] is that, where both Mark and Luke have the soldiers blindfolding Jesus before ridiculing him with the demand that he prophesy, Matthew has left the blindfold out. The resulting story, Neirynck thinks, is incoherent—Jesus is asked to "prophesy" who hit him when he can see perfectly well who hit him; and this probably indicates that all the manuscripts of this text have been interpolated from Luke.

Neirynck's claim that Matthew's depiction of Jesus being mocked by the soldiers is incoherent in the absence of a blindfold suggests that Neirynck was never in any sort of physical fight. This is probably an overall good for Neirynck, but it evidently handicapped his ability to imagine the scene Matthew portrays. When a person is forcefully struck on the head (even once—even if the person is a trained fighter), he is likely to become temporarily disoriented. If a person is hit repeatedly from all directions with sticks or clubs (as may be suggested by the verb ῥαπίζειν), he may very quickly cease to know where he is, much less who is hitting him. Blindfold or no, there is no difficulty at all about the soldiers crying, "Prophesy—who hit you?" if one imagines some of the blows coming from behind. (242–43)
Whoever you are, whether you prevailed over Dr. Derico or whether he recovered and returned the favor, just know that your school-yard or back-alley aggression has made a contribution to biblical scholarship. This, I like to think, in addition to the milk money with which you may have walked away.

Watch this space for my review, which I expect to publish before the end of the year. And if you know Prof. Derico, congratulate him on a book well-written and offer him a thick-cut ribeye for his shiner.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Joseph's Review of Sacred Dissonance

Simon J. Joseph of the prestigious blog, gets the gold metal for being the first to review my new book, Sacred Dissonance.

Larry and I are grateful for his careful and generous reading.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

JSHJ issue and Alan Kirk's Q in Matthew

The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus has just published vol. 15, issue 2–3, which features a number of review essays of Alan Kirk's significant volume, Q in Matthew (which has already been discussed on the Jesus Blog; see here and here). Reviewers include:

  • Sarah Rollens ("Q in Matthew: A Review Essay")
  • Rafael Rodríguez ("Matthew as Performer, Tradent, Scribe")
  • Robert Derrenbacker ("Matthew as Scribal Tradent: An Assessment of Alan Kirk's Q in Matthew")
  • Mark Goodacre ("Q, Memory and Matthew: A Response to Alan Kirk")
The issue also includes a response by Alan Kirk ("The Synoptic Problem, Ancient Media, and the Historical Jesus"). I've not read the three review essays or Alan's response yet, but I'm terribly excited to do so.

The issue includes a number of other contributions, and I don't intend to slight them. But my focus is on the Q in Matthew conversation. Go look at the excellent issue James Crossley and Anthony Le Donne have put together.

Leave your comments below if you'd like to chastise Alan for those places where he continues to disagree with me. (If you agree with Alan, I encourage you to practice the ancient virtue of restraint and leave your comment un-posted.)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

The redeeming, reconciling power of art adheres even to the most radical manifestations of non-illusory art and anti-art. They are still oeuvres: paintings, sculptures, compositions, poems, and as such they have their own form and with it their own order: their own frame (though it may be invisible), their own space, their own beginning, and their own end. The aesthetic necessity of art supersedes the terrible necessity of reality, sublimates its pain and pleasure; the blind suffering and cruelty of nature (and of the “nature” of man) assume meaning and end – “poetic justice.” The horror of the crucifixion is purified by the beautiful face of Jesus dominating the beautiful composition. . . . And in this aesthetic universe, joy and fulfillment find their proper place alongside pain and death – everything is in order again. The indictment is canceled, and even defiance, insult, and derision – the extreme artistic negation of art – succumb to this order.

         ~Herbert Marcuse

Friday, December 1, 2017

You Should Read This Book (I Did)

I've just finished Bruce Longenecker's "wonderful book" (these are Anthony Le Donne's words, and I can't improve on them), Hitler, Jesus, and Our Common Humanity: A Jewish Survivor Interprets Life, History, and the Gospels (Cascade, 2014). At 183 pages of text, written in an accessible and engaging style, this book opens a window primarily onto one prominent New Testament scholar's relationship with and estimation of a Jew who felt the need to make his life matter when so many of his contemporaries, "whom Fate or Fortune robbed of their dream," had their lives denied them (from Rolf Gompertz's diary, 21 October 1949, recounted on p. 150).

There is much to learn from Longenecker's and Gompertz's writings here. More importantly, there is much to experience. This book makes me want to fly out to LA, to the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance, in hopes (i) that Gompertz is still giving his speech, "Snapshots" (see pp. 123–37) for a text of this speech), and (ii) that I might get to experience him deliver it while it still can be experienced.

Longenecker provides touchingly detailed surveys of Gompertz's life and, especially, of his book, A Jewish Novel about Jesus (2003; originally published as My Jewish Brother Jesus [1977]), which he wrote "to create understanding between Jews and Christians, so we may live together, side by side, respectful of one another, in dignity and peace." Longenecker also provides substantial excerpts from Gompertz's three diaries, which intermittently span the years from his graduation from high school (winter, 1945/46) to his fiftieth birthday (December, 1977), as well as the text of his "Snapshots" speech. The book concludes with a brief apologia answering why a non-Jewish NT scholar should write a book such as this, a wonderful and suggestive re-reading of the problematic passage in Matthew 27:25 ("His blood be on us and on our children!"), and suggestions for further reading.

I do have one caveat lector. Having just finished Longenecker's book, I think I need to order Gompertz's Jewish Novel about Jesus. I also plan to purchase Barbie Zelizer's Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera's Eye (University of Chicago Press, 1998). It may also be time to revisit Elie Wiesel's classic, Night.

If you give an academic a book . . .

I close with a quotation from Gompertz's speech, "Snapshots":
There were those who resisted, there were those who helped, in ways small and large, individually and collectively, at the risk of their lives, at the cost of their lives.

Collective hatred is wrong, collective guilt is worse." (Rolf Gompertz, "Snapshots" [p. 133])

[This post follows up on my previous post.]

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Dialoguing about Dialogue (the Plain Truth podcast)

In a southern Ohio roadshow this month, Larry Behrendt and I made several stops in Dayton and Cincinnati to talk about our new book, Sacred Dissonance: the Blessing of Jewish-Christian Difference. One of these stops was at the recording studio located in United Theological Seminary (in Trotwood). We got to talk about talking with folks who love to talk: David Watson, Scott Kisker, and Maggie Ulmer.

Their new podcast is called "Plain Truth: a Holy-Spirited Podcast." You can listen on one of two platforms:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Very, Very Simple Introduction to the Gospels

As you know, Dr. Peter Enns is a very, very simple person. So as my gift to him, I gave golden nuggets, frankenberry, and mere basics. If you haven't yet followed the Bible for Normal People podcast, maybe start here:

The pod is hosted by Pete and Jared Byas (Jared's solo podcasts are my favorite) and they interview really impressive people like Jon Levenson, Beverly Gaventa, and Walter Brueggemann. I am thrilled be be included if only to bring a bit more normal to the normalcy.

We start by discussing Mark's multiple endings. We reflect on the fact that there are four canonical Gospels rather than one official story about Jesus. I also talk a bit about how human memory reconstructs our perceptions of the past via story-telling.


An Authentically Fourth-Century Tomb

This week National Geographic published an article revealing the age of Jesus' tomb. No, scientists haven't proved that the traditional site, enshrined beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is actually the place where Jesus of Nazareth was laid after his crucifixion. But scientists have dated a broken marble slab, which was found beneath the marble cladding visible to visitors resting on the original limestone "burial bed" in October of 2016 when the tomb was opened, and confirmed that "the lower slab was most likely mortared in place in the mid-fourth century under the orders of Emperor Constantine."

For the earlier report of the opening of the traditional tomb of Christ, see here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

You Should Read This Book

Now that the 2017 SBL Annual Meeting is behind me, I'm beginning to look forward to the week ahead. This week:
  • my family will travel to Phoenix, AZ, for Thanksgiving;
  • Ohio State will continue to celebrate Coach Harbaugh's tenure Up North;
  • and I'll finish reading Bruce Longenecker's recent book, Hitler, Jesus, and Our Common Humanity (Cascade, 2014).
Longenecker tells the compelling and touching story of a Jewish family in Germany: Rolf Gompertz and his parents, Oskar and Selma. Rolf was ten—almost eleven—on the night of 9–10 November, 1938. Kristallnacht. The Night of Broken Glass. Shortly afterward, the Gompertz family fled Nazi Germany and landed in Los Angeles. From there, Rolf Gompertz has spent the life he was privileged to live—a life denied to so many of his fellow German Jews—confronting the ideology of hate, of the Nietzschean will to power in which the pursuit of one's or society's ends are freed from the bonds of any notion of morality.

Longenecker's story turns on Rolf's "most powerful memory." On the infamous Kristallnacht, as Nazi thugs pounded on the door of the Gompertz family's home, demanding to be let in, the then-10-year-old Rolf told his father, "Vati! If they take you, I'm going with you!" In that moment, a little boy's stand against evil seems small and ineffectual. Nearly eighty years later, that boy's enemies have faded into history while he himself continues to speak life into the world.

I've not finished reading Hitler, Jesus, and Our Common Humanity, but I've read enough to recommend it to all of you. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. GO BUCKS! O-H!!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Jewish-Christian Dialogue at SBL Boston

Hi all,

If you have been following this blog for the last few years (and have not completely written us off) you will know that I (Anthony) has been very invested in Jewish-Christian dialogue. Specifically, I have tag-teamed with Larry Behrendt of Jewish-Christian Intersections on a new book. We will be featuring a dialogue related to our book on Sunday at 3pm in Boston.

Come one, come all!

If you are feeling even more nerdy than usual, you might consider attending this session:

Jewish-Christian Dialogue and Sacred Texts

9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Room: Provincetown (Fourth Level) - Boston Marriott Copley Place (MCP) 
Leonard Greenspoon, Creighton University, Presiding
André Villeneuve, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary
Israel’s Eschatological Destiny in the Catholic Interpretation of the Prophets (30 min)
Stephen D. Black, Codrington College
The Merit of Abraham and the Christ Follower: The Purpose of Paul’s Use of Abraham in Romans 4 (30 min)
Adam Gregerman, Saint Joseph's University (Philadelphia, PA)
Catholic Statements about the Status of the Biblical Promise of the Land of Israel within the “Unrevoked” Jewish Covenant (30 min)
Rebecca Esterson, Graduate Theological Union
What Do the Angels Say? Scripture, Identity, and the Ascents of Emanuel Swedenborg and Baal Shem Tov (30 min)
Michael T. Graham Jr., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
To David? Paul's Use of Composite Quotations in Romans 3:10-18: Taking the Context into Account (30 min)
Andrew W Higginbotham, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Jacob...or Jacobs?: Discerning the Judeo-Christian Interlocutor "Jacob Kfar ..." in Rabbinic Context (30 min)
As Lennie G. will not be able to attend, I will be moderating in his place. And if there is a lull in the program, I will offer an interpretive dance inspired by Romans 11.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Schröter and Jacobi’s Jesus Handbuch—Chris Keith

Jens Schroeter and Jesus Blogger Christine Jacobi have edited a brand new Jesus Handbuch with Mohr Siebeck in the Handuecher Theologie series, and readers of the Jesus Blog will be interested in this.  I contributed an essay on the Gospels as kerygmatic narratives and the development of the criteria approach in the work of Kaesemann, Bornkamm, and Hahn.  See the description of the full volume below along with a Table of Contents.  I'm also told that an English edition will be coming out.  The Jesus Blog will be publishing a full review of the book in due course.

"The Handbook of Jesus („Jesus Handbuch“) provides an outline of current international Jesus research. It presents interpretations of the figure of Jesus in history of Christianity from its beginnings until the first decades of the 21st century. Furthermore, the activity, teaching and fate of Jesus in its religious, social and political context are dealt with. Thereby, actual discourses in hermeneutics of history as well as recent archaeological findings are considered. The last part of the Handbook is devoted to receptions of Jesus in early Christianity. The Handbook therefore provides an overview on the person of Jesus, his activity and fate as well as the receptions of Jesus in the history of Christianity. The contributors to the Handbuch are internationally renowned scholars from different countries. Therefore, the compendium also provides an overview on the current state of Jesus research."

A.Jens Schröter/Christine Jacobi: Einleitung 
B. Geschichte der historisch-kritischen Jesusforschung Jens Schröter/Christine Jacobi: Einführung – Martin Ohst: Der irdische Jesus in der antiken, mittelalterlichen und reformatorischen Frömmigkeit und Theologie – Albrecht Beutel: Das 18. Jahrhundert als Entstehungskontext der kritischen Theologie – Eckart David Schmidt: Die kritische Geschichtswissenschaft des späten 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts und ihre Auswirkung auf die Jesusforschung – John S. Kloppenborg: Die Einführung des MythosbegriEs in die Jesusforschung und die Entstehung der Zweiquellentheorie – James Carleton Paget: Das »Gottesreich« als eschatologisches Konzept: Johannes Weiß und Albert Schweitzer – Reinhard von Bendemann: Historischer Jesus und kerygmatischer Christus – Cilliers Breytenbach: Die literarischen Entwürfe der Evangelien und ihr Verhältnis zum historischen Jesus – Chris Keith: Die Evangelien als »kerygmatische Erzählungen« über Jesus und die »Kriterien« in der Jesusforschung – David du Toit: Die »Third Quest for the Historical Jesus« – Jens Schröter: Der »erinnerte Jesus«: Erinnerung als geschichtshermeneutisches Paradigma der Jesusforschung 
C. Das historische Material I. Jens Schröter/Christine Jacobi: Einführung II. Literarische Zeugnisse 1. Christliche Texte John S. Kloppenborg: Die Synoptischen Evangelien, die Logienquelle (Q) und der historische Jesus – Jörg Frey: Johannesevangelium – Christine Jacobi: Sonstige Schriften des Neuen Testaments – Simon Gathercole: Außerkanonische Schriften als Quellen für den historischen Jesus? 2. Nichtchristliche Texte Steve Mason: Griechische, römische und syrische Quellen über Jesus – Steve Mason: Jüdische Texte: Flavius Josephus III. Nichtliterarische Zeugnisse Jürgen K. Zangenberg: Archäologische Zeugnisse – Jürgen K. Zangenberg: Inschriften und Münzen 
D. Leben und Wirken Jesu I. Jens Schröter/Christine Jacobi: Einführung Mohr Siebeck GmbH & Co. KG Postfach 2040 D-72010 Tübingen II. Politische Verhältnisse und religiöser Kontext Daniel R. Schwartz: Politische Verhältnisse: Römische Herrschaft, Herodes der Große, Antipas – Lutz Doering: Religiöser Kontext III. Biographische Aspekte Stephen Hultgren: Jesus: Herkunft, Familie, Geburt, Kindheit – Stephen Hultgren: Die Bildung und Sprache Jesu – Lutz Doering: Jesus im Judentum seiner Zeit (Die jüdische Prägung Jesu) – Jürgen K. Zangenberg: Galiläa und Umgebung als Wirkungsraum – Jürgen K. Zangenberg: Jerusalem und Judäa als Wirkungsraum IV. ÖEentliches Wirken 1. Der soziale Kontext Jesu Knut Backhaus: Jesus und Johannes der Täufer – James G. Crossley: Jesus im politischen und sozialen Umfeld seiner Zeit 2. Das Handeln Jesu Joseph Verheyden: Jesus als Wanderprediger – Joseph Verheyden: Gründung einer Gemeinschaft: Ruf in die Nachfolge und die Bildung des Zwölferkreises – Hermut Löhr: Mahlgemeinschaften Jesu – Annette Weissenrieder: Heilungen Jesu – Bernd Kollmann: Exorzismen – Bernd Kollmann: Totenerweckungen und Naturwunder – Christiane Zimmermann: Frauen im Umfeld Jesu – Christiane Zimmermann: Jesus und das Volk – Darrell L. Bock/Jens Schröter: Jesu Perspektive auf Israel – Yair Furstenberg: Zöllner und Sünder als Adressaten des Wirkens Jesu – Martina Böhm: Jesu Verhältnis zu den Samaritanern 3. Die Reden Jesu / Das Lehren Jesu Christine Gerber: Das Gottesbild Jesu und die Bedeutung der Vatermetaphorik – Craig Evans/Jeremiah J. Johnston: Gottesherrschaft – Ruben Zimmermann: Gleichnisse und Parabeln – Michael Wolter: Gerichtsvorstellungen Jesu – Karl-Heinrich Ostmeyer: Das Beten Jesu, Vaterunser – Thomas Kazen: Jesu Interpretation der Tora – Martin Ebner: Jesus als Weisheitslehrer – Michael Wolter: Jesu Selbstverständnis 4. Das Ethos Jesu Friedrich Wilhelm Horn: Nächstenliebe und Feindesliebe – Friedrich Wilhelm Horn: Besitz und Reichtum – Michael Labahn: Nachfolge, radikaler Verzicht, »a-familiäres« Ethos – Michael Labahn: Jesus als »Fresser und Weinsäufer« 5. Die Passionsereignisse Markus Tiwald: Einzug in Jerusalem, Tempelreinigung (Jesu Stellung zum Tempel) – Hermut Löhr: Das letzte Mahl Jesu – Sven-Olav Back: Die Prozesse gegen Jesus – Sven-Olav Back: Kreuzigung und Grablegung Jesu 
E. Frühe Spuren von Wirkungen und Rezeptionen Jesu Jens Schröter/Christine Jacobi: Einführung – Christine Jacobi: Auferstehung, Erscheinungen, Weisungen des Auferstandenen – Samuel Vollenweider: Frühe Glaubensbekenntnisse – David du Toit: Christologische Hoheitstitel – Markus Öhler: Ausbildung von Strukturen: Die Zwölf, Wandercharismatiker, Jerusalemer Urgemeinde und Apostel – Tobias Nicklas: Jesus in außerkanonischen Texten des 2. und 3. Jahrhunderts – Katharina Heyden/Rahel Schär: Bildliche Darstellungen Jesu bis ca. 500 n.Chr. – Ulrich Volp: Ethik (Bergpredigt)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

BOOK GIVEAWAY - tell a joke, win a book

The upstanding citizens at Hendrickson Publishers are giving away three copies of my latest book. Sacred Dissonance is coauthored by Larry Behrendt and me, with a foreword from Amy-Jill Levine.

Rabbi Dana Kaplan writes of the book:
“Conversations between Jews and Christians have never been more productive. So, aren’t we done with Jewish-Christian dialogue already? In this book, Anthony Le Donne and Larry Behrendt answer this question with an emphatic “no.” By embracing rather than papering over the complex differences between Christians and Jews, Larry and Anthony show how an exploration of the things that divide us can lead to deeper faith and friendship.”
How to win? It's simple. To enter . . . 

1) repost this on social media (and comment below to say you have);

2) tell your favorite religious joke in the comments section (jokes of good taste have a better chance of being posted);

3) do both and double your chance of winning!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Was Joseph a Perv?

Was Joseph, the husband of Mary, a perv?

No. But Jim Zeigler might be. That is to say Zeigler's logic and assumptions about Joseph are altogether perverted.

Two days ago Zeigler, the Alabama State Auditor, defended the alleged sexual misconduct of Roy Moore. Moore is accused of initiating a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl.

According to the Washington Post Zeigler said, “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus . . . There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Let's not bury the lede. Zeigler's historical assumptions are wrong. His justification of Moore's alleged pervitude is repugnant. Lamentably, sexual abuse by a male in power is anything but unusual. That said, it might be worthwhile (secondarily) to answer a few questions about the characters we meet in the New Testament named Joseph and Mary.

Historically speaking, we know almost nothing about Joseph. He is not featured in the Gospel of Mark (our earliest narrative about Jesus) and Matthew and Luke are more interested in Jesus's heavenly Father than his mother's husband. The key literary point that both Matthew and Luke make is that Joseph was not Jesus's biological father but acted honorably toward Mary. We do not know how old Joseph was when he was betrothed. But the relevant cultural norms considered 20 years (or thereabout) to be the ideal age for men to marry. The average life expectancy was 40-45 years and the demand for progeny was paramount. So most men were arranged to wed shortly after puberty. For agrarian cultures in the Mediterranean this meant around 20 years old.

We also don't know how old Mary was when she was betrothed. Any assumptions based on her status as a "virgin" are without historical warrant. She was probably younger than twenty but there is no reason to think she was a "child" by the standards of her culture. It is possible that Joseph was older and that Mary was younger. Arranged marriages sometimes take this shape. But a large age gap is not supported by the evidence in this particular case.

Given how very little we know from history, we might address the question literarily and theologically. According to Matthew and Luke, Joseph and Mary had not consummated their betrothal. This is an important point for these narratives because the reader is supposed to believe that Mary's pregnancy was an act of God.

So unless Zeigler is trying to say that Roy Moore is the Holy Spirit (who would be much, much older than 20) his analogy is incoherent. Historically speaking, Zeigler's statement is in error. Literarily and theologically speaking, Zeigler's statement is perverted. Finally, and most importantly, Moore is not accused of pursuing a betrothal; he is accused of pursuing statutory rape. To justify such behavior by appealing to an ancient literary precedent—one that is not analogous anyway—shows just how much perverted justification goes into enabling sexual predators.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Christopher Rollston on the Jefferson Bible—Chris Keith

Over at Huffpost, friend of the Jesus Blog and friend of the Jesus bloggers, Christopher Rollston, has part one of a two-part article on the Jefferson Bible:  "Jefferson's Jesus: the Jefferson Bible Part 1, Gospel Texts that are Absent."
Dr Rollston speaking at St Mary's University

Here's a snippet:

"In the narratives of the canonical Gospels, there are multiple stories about Jesus raising the dead, people such as Lazarus (John 11:28-44), the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), the daughter of Jairus the ruler of the synagogue (Luke 8:40-56). All of these narratives are absent from Jefferson’s Bible. And within the Gospel narratives, Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52; cf. Matt 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43), but this narrative is absent from Jefferson’s Bible. And in the Gospel narratives, Jesus casts a demon out of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matt 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30), but this narrative is not present in Jefferson’s Bible. And in the Gospel narratives, Jesus cleanses ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19), but this too is absent from Jefferson’s Bible. And in the Gospel narratives, Jesus heals a man at the Pool of Bethesda, a man who had been unable to walk for some thirty-eight years (John 5:1-9). But this narrative is absent from Jefferson’s Bible as well. In fact, all of the Gospel narratives about the miracles of Jesus are absent from the Jefferson Bible. Entirely. In short, Jefferson’s Bible is without miracles."

Friday, November 3, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

I think that if Jesus was American and had a gun he'd still be alive today.

             ~Judah Friedlander

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Rachel Adler to Speak at Wright State

If you are traipsing through Ohio this afternoon, or even if you are meandering through Ohio, stop by Wright State University to hear Rachel Adler. Adler is among the first to interpret Jewish texts from a feminist perspective. Adler's 1971 essay, "The Jew Who Wasn’t There," is now celebrated as the first work of Jewish feminist theology. This event is jointly hosted by Wright State, University of Dayton, and United Theological Seminary. Here is the announcement from the Wright State webpage:

The 39th Annual Ryterband Symposium will be held on Thursday, November 2, 2017, in E163 Student Union, Wright State University.

Keynote speaker, Professor Rachel Adler, from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles will focus on Jewish Feminism. The first lecture, which begins at 4:00 pm, is titled “Women, Lament and Social Grief: An Historical Perspective” and the 7:30 pm lecture will be "From Feminism to Gender: The Evolution of a Jewish Feminist."

Both lectures are free and open to the university community and general public.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Remembering Luther Righteously

One of the points that James Dunn underscores with considerable force is the idea that "righteousness" in the Pauline thoughtscape should be thought of as "right-relationship." This is the sort of righteousness that I will advocate as I encourage my readers to remember Martin Luther righteously.

Like any historical figure, Luther is only intelligible within the network of relationships, power dynamics, and social possibilities of his time. He is embedded within his culture, therefore, and not transcendent. This may seem obvious to the readers of this blog because I've gone on and on about neo-Romanticism in western historiography. But given the level of hero-worship I'm hearing from Protestants these days, I need to risk another boring but true statement: the "great man" approach to history is almost always the wrong way to think of "great men." The common notion that every new era is launched by a great mind that envisions a new world order—a man who rises up above the myopia and social rigidness of contemporaries—is almost always misleading. Luther is not a singular hero. Indeed, his "great mind" was rarely heroic. Unless we remember Luther within the network of relationships that made him possible, he is not worth remembering at all.

One of the problems with thinking of Luther as a singular epoch-making hero is that this approach leaves little room for his anti-Jewish agenda. Those who celebrate his legacy are happy to forgive his belligerent hostility to systemic corruption. They are willing to laugh at his derisive humor aimed at other ideologues. And they tend to humanize Luther with foci on his married life, his general moodiness, and his struggle with Augustinian angst. It is more difficult, however, to deal with his anti-Judaism with a light chuckle and a shrug. Any serious attention to this feature of his agenda would render the hero narrative ignoble (and therefore nonfunctional). Perhaps this is why (this week) I see daily 5-10 Facebook posts about Luther and the 500-year commemoration of the Reformation but I see very few posts about his relationship with Judaism. There are exceptions but I find that most Christians either do not know about Luther's anti-Judaism or don't want to talk about it. Yes, Luther's legacy is connected to the advent of the printing press and a democratizing of Christianity. But his legacy is also connected with the ideological landscape of the Holocaust. The larger cultural network of relationships that made Luther possible also made it possible to dehumanize and commit violence against European Jews.

In my book, Near Christianity, I lean on the work of David Nirenberg:
David Nirenberg writes, “Luther launched an armada of arguments whose force led to the acceptance of his way of reading [Scripture] by many and its violent rejection by many more. It was the active prosecution of this conflict of ideas that reshaped the ways in which European Christians experienced their world, and heightened the dangerous significance of Jews and Judaism in that world” (David Nirenberg, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition [New York: Norton], 256). Also: “Luther’s reconceptualization of the ways in which language mediates between God and creation was achieved by thinking with, about, and against Jews and Judaism. Insofar as these reconfigurations diminished the utility and heightened the dangers Jews posed to the Christian world, they had the potential to transform figures of Judaism and their fates. How powerful this potential might be, and what work it might perform in the future, were not Luther’s to control” (267). Nirenberg rightly draws a connection between Luther’s (hermeneutic toward the) reading of Scripture and the foil he creates in Judaism. To his credit, Nirenberg also avoids a simplistic distinction between the so-called “early Luther” and the “later Luther.” Helpfully, he begins by examining Luther’s anti-Jewish work on the Psalms, a work representing the so-called “early Luther.” (Near Christianity, p. 220) [SEE ALSO]
My coauthor of Sacred Dissonance, Larry Behrendt, notes that "Martin Luther’s ally, Philipp Melanchthon, described Luther’s struggle against the Catholic Church as a triumph over law, works, and Pharisees" (Sacred Dissonance, p. 200). But Luther's ideological construct had real-world consequences too. Nirenberg explains that even before Luther published On the Jews and Their Lies, he "directly provoked the expulsion of the Jews from the electoral of Saxony in 1537 and from the towns of Thuringia in 1540, and sparked riots against the Jews in Brunswick in 1543" (Anti-Judaism, 262).

It seems like Jewish historians tend to be the ones to fortify Christian memory on this point. But why should this be? Why should it always fall to the historically persecuted to remember the network of power dynamics rightly?

To be fair, I imagine that professional, Christian historians are also interested in this topic but I don't see this work finding its way into Christian collective memory. Granted, historians of all kinds tend to have difficulty of all kinds disseminating their work to layfolk of all kinds. Such is the divide between seminary and pew. It just so happens that because of this 500-year celebration of the Reformation, pastors seem to be eager to preach about the beginnings of Protestantism. Wouldn't this also be an opportune time to network our collective memories toward righteousness?


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Stranger Things approach to the Gospels

If you are not up-to-speed on the Duffer Brothers's totally tubular series, Stranger Things, please stop reading now. Stop it. Just stop and go watch the first two seasons on Netflix. . . . what are you still doing here?

***Mild to moderate spoilers spoilers ahead***

Stranger Things is not the first show to echo, allude, quote, and frame itself around the previous generations pop-culture. Not the first; but might be the best. In this case, the show draws from the plots, tropes, and types of 1980's era science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Season two just dropped in full last week and its brimming with Easter eggs from Star Wars, Alien(s), Goonies, E.T., Flight of the Navigator, the Exorcist, Poltergeist, and more. You'll even recognize a couple actors who play with character types they helped create once upon a time.

The risk in such an endeavor is that such derivation can be derivative. But Stranger Things is able (indeed more than able) to wink to the audience repeatedly without distraction. While the characters are recognizable types, they engender empathy. While the plot is sometimes predictable, it is highly creative. Even if nostalgia for the 1980s isn't your thing, you would have to possess a heart of stone not to fall in love with Hawkins, Indiana. This show has all of the self-awareness and period-specific care of the Wonder Years. This is coupled with an cast of freakishly talented actors. It seems that the Duffer Brothers have super-psychic powers to anticipate their audiences feelings and questions so that they can pay them off is successive chapters.

As a consequence of my profession, this has me thinking about the Gospels and GMark in particular. GMark may indeed look like period-specific biography with derivative form and function. But, analogous with Stranger Things, GMark also creatively plays with types that assume the reader's knowledge of previous narratives. Sometimes these are followed and sometimes these are subverted. Indeed there is no single literary technique at work that explains their overarching application. Elijah/Elisha typology: yes. But these types are not made explicit in the places that seem to warrant a bold call out. Conversely, types like "David" and "Moses" are mentioned directly but no single character's typology determines where GMark will take its main character.

Moreover, as I read GMark, I do not find a single, unifying narrative framework that explains every trope and type. Cases have been made for single narrative derivations (e.g. Isaianic New Exodus; Psalm 22 midrash). But the extent and diversity of the echoes, allusions, quotations, and frameworks suggests that GMark is more creative than simple derivation. I get the impression, rather, of a mosaic of popular narratives.

This has me thinking that Stranger Things might serve as a teaching tool to illustrate how the Gospels function episodically. Each episode of the series plays with a theme from a 1980's movie. The overarching plot, however, is not predetermined by any single type. Analogous on this point is GMark's easy transition from David type, to Moses type, to Elijah type in unfolding chapters. GMark's key characters take on stereotypes but play out plot scenarios to unique effect. On the other hand, GMark comes together as something novel when all of these elements are narratively arranged.

The characters of Stranger Things, when faced with other-worldly drama, attempt to explain their extraordinary experiences in reference to mythologies like D&D and Star Wars. The characters argue about how to best analogize these mythologies. GMark's characters do the same in their arguments over how to interpret Hebrew Bible prophets, figures, and projected eschatology. This happens in both stories often enough that the implicit Easter eggs are easier to interpret as intentional literary devices. But what makes the characters function within both stories is that their voices sound recognizable. For example, the kids in Stranger Things admirably sell their dialogue as typical arguments that represented 1980's pop-culture.

I would be interested to hear from readers who are familiar with Stranger Things. How has the story worked for you? Which echoes, allusions, and types were most meaningful to you? Which callbacks to pop-culture best served the story? And do you find any parallels to Gospel composition?

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Top Ten Titles that Didn't Take for 'Sacred Dissonance'

Just yesterday I put my hands on my newest coauthored book Sacred Dissonance. This is a Behrendt and Le Donne joint with a foreword from A.-J. Levine.

I couldn't be more proud of this project. Well, I guess I would be a bit more proud if it wasn't so much a book about Jews and Christian in dialogue as it was, instead, a time machine that only allowed good things to happen as a result of using it. If my book was really a time machine, I could go back in time and kidnap Abraham Lincoln before he was shot and bring him into 2016 to get nominated by the Republican Party. Or I suppose it would be more worthy of pride if, instead of being a book, it was a dog who could talk. That would be so cool. I mean, if I had invented a real, live, talking dog.... well.

But short of the Lincoln or talking-dog possibilities, Sacred Dissonance is near the very top of things which give me pride. They say that pride cometh before the fall. So, naturally, I thought I'd follow this achievement with a really stupid blog post that will surely reveal nothing but my own banal depravity.

As you know, books generally have titles. These titles are selected using words that mean things depending on how they are juxtaposed with other words and inflected according to the norms of grammar. So, you see, titles are difficult things to invent. Here are a few of the titles that Larry and I considered before landing on "Sacred Dissonance: The Blessing of Difference in Jewish-Christian Dialogue." In descending order:

10. Judeo-Christian Values for the Willfully Ignorant: That Time I met a Rabbi and Now I'm an Expert

9. Guess Who's Coming to Seder? Cultural Appropriation Made Simple

8. Blah, Blah, Blah, Proselytization, Blah, Blah, Blah, Original Sin

7. Gettin' Jewy with Jesus: a Seven-step Guide to Offending Everyone

6. I am Groot: I am Groot

5. You Stole My Jesus Fish! the Gospel according to Puddy

4. An Anachronistic Anarchist: Alogical Alliteration alongside Alligators

3. My Bubbe Says I'm Tubby: Stuff our Grandmothers Taught Us about Fattening Up

2. The Leadership Habits of St. Francis: How to eschew Guns and woo Nuns

 . . . . and the top title that didn't take:

1. Who's that Shiksa at my Bat Mitzvah? A Feminist Companion to Dialogue written by Two Dudes

It's the perfect Christmas gift for all of your most Jewish friends!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Interview with Jordan Ryan

Last weekend I got a chance to interview Jordan J. Ryan about his new book, The Role of the Synagogue in the Aims of Jesus. The book is available to order via the Fortress webpage or wherever books about ancient synagogues and the aims of Jesus are sold. It is my great pleasure to showcase this book and introduce Jesus Blog readers to a rising star in Jesus studies.   
-Anthony Le Donne

ALD: So who the hell do you think you are?

JJR: Sorry, did I say or do something wrong?

ALD: No. That is just my ugly American way of asking you to introduce yourself. But thank you for the stereotypical "sorry".

JJR: Haha, that is the most American-Canadian interaction ever.

ALD: My thoughts exactly. So, then, who the hell do you think you are?

JJR: I'm a scholar of the New Testament and early Judaism, hailing from Toronto, Ontario, a Filipino-Canadian, who recently received a PhD from McMaster University in 2016. Currently, I am Assistant Professor of New Testament at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. Prior to that, I was Visiting Assistant Professor of New Testament and Archaeology at Wheaton College.

ALD: In that case, sir, a Shibboleth is warranted. Do you enunciate the second T in Toronto?

JJR: Absolutely not. It's pronounced "Chur-on-oh."

ALD: Okay, then. Let's proceed. Much of your work focuses on Jesus and synagogue culture(s). Would you talk a bit about this?

JJR: I've been interested in understanding Jesus in light of his Jewish context from the beginning of my studies as an undergraduate. Not only did it open up my eyes to the myriad of issues pertaining to Jewish-Christian relations, but it also opened up new avenues for interpretation and understanding of who Jesus was, and of what he taught and did. When I read through the canonical Gospels, I couldn't help but notice how prominent synagogues were in their narrative of Jesus' life and ministry. I was particularly struck by the fact that both the synoptic Gospels and John identify the synagogue as the primary locus Jesus' activities during his ministry. When I started looking into research on synagogues, I was shocked to find that synagogue studies had played next to no role in the historical study of Jesus, despite the emphasis of recent scholarship on Jesus' Jewish context and heritage. It seemed like a major lacuna that needed to be filled, especially in light of the exciting new archaeological discoveries and publications that were available at the time. So, I applied to do a PhD at McMaster University under the supervision of Anders Runesson, who specializes in the study of early synagogues. Within my first week at McMaster, Anders called me into his office to tell me that a synagogue from the early first century CE had been discovered in Galilee, and that he had connections with the excavation, and that he thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to participate in the excavation and learn everything that I possibly could about synagogues. That's how my first major research project was born.

ALD: So would you see your work as an extension of Runesson's? If so, how? And if not, where is your departure point?

JJR: That's a great question. There was a bit of an explosion of synagogue studies being published in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The reality is that, prior to that, there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what a synagogue actually was. I see the work that scholars like Runesson, Brooten, Levine, Binder, McKay, and others did in that period as laying down the foundations, determining what a "synagogue" really was in the early Roman period. They really weren't dealing with historical questions about Jesus. The work that they did helped to establish the evidence and control that data that I put to use in my work. So, I wouldn't exactly call my work an extension of Runesson's work, though he has been a major influence. I see it as another logical step in both synagogue studies and historical Jesus research. Where others like Runesson, were dealing with questions about how to define synagogues, I take their definitions as a starting point for historical investigation into how that understanding of "synagogue" impacts the historical study of Jesus - something that Runesson and others have not taken up. Runesson was (and is) primarily asking questions like “what was the origin of the ‘synagogue?’” and “how should we define ‘synagogue?’” I take the answers that he and others gave to those sorts of questions as a starting point, and ask questions like, “given what we know about synagogues, how does the institutional setting of the synagogue impact our reading of Gospel narratives set in synagogues?” or “given what we now know about synagogues, why did Jesus use them as the primary platform and locus for his ministry?”

ALD: How should we think differently about Jesus and Galilean synagogues in light of the discovery of the Magdala synagogue?

JJR: There are a few ways in which our knowledge of ancient synagogues has grown following the discovery of the Magdala synagogue. The most obvious point is that the synagogue at Magdala was in use during the first half of the first century CE. Magdala is in Galilee, in the lake region, which is where the Gospels claim that Jesus was active in his teaching, healing, and proclamation ministry. It used to be a matter of debate, especially in the 1990s, as to whether or not any synagogue buildings existed in Galilee or the Land in general prior to 70 CE, but the discovery of the Magdala synagogue probably puts that to rest. That said, I think that there's much, much more to what we can learn from Magdala about synagogues and early Judaism beyond the existence of synagogue buildings. We're still analyzing its architecture, and learning more about the communal, religio-political function of synagogues from it. Moreover, the discovery of the "Magdala stone," which features temple imagery, very clearly shows us that Galilean Jews maintained a strong connection to Jerusalem, and that the synagogue may have played a role in that connection. A further insight comes from the discovery of a carved limestone block located in the middle of a smaller benched room. It had two grooves on either side of its top face, and the current hypothesis is that it was used for reading scrolls.

The Magdala synagogue also features a mosaic pavement - the earliest synagogue mosaic pavement ever discovered. It was previously thought that mosaic decoration was a later development, but this discovery indicates a much closer connection between early Roman period synagogues and late antique synagogues which feature similar decor. One other issue that I am currently working on with Marcela Zapata-Meza, one of the excavation directors, has to do with the fact that we've identified an area of Magdala, right across the street from the synagogue that contains baths and vessels that we think were used for purity purposes. We're trying to understand the relationship between synagogues and purity, and this discovery may give us some more evidence to better grasp that relationship. It's also worth saying that the dig at Magdala is groundbreaking (pun intended) for another reason - Marcela Zapata-Meza, my dear friend and colleague, is the first Mexican woman to direct a dig outside of Mexico, which is worth highlighting. The two of us will be presenting jointly at the ASOR annual meeting this year in Boston on some of this material.

ALD: Your title "The Role of the Synagogue in the Aims of Jesus" echoes the work of Ben F. Meyer. How important has his work been for you?

JJR: The title of my upcoming book is an intentional allusion to Ben Meyer’s work. Like me, Ben Meyer also saw value in Collingwood’s philosophy of history, especially the concept of what Collingwood called “the inside of the event,” which is anything that be described in terms of thought. For Collingwood, events in the past involving human beings have an “inside” and an “outside,” wherein the inside was thought, and the outside was physical action. This led Meyer to the idea that, in order to understand the historical Jesus, we need to understand his intentions – the “inside of the event” of Jesus’ ministry. For Meyer, the aims of Jesus were tied to the restoration of Israel. Meyer’s work, though it has its flaws, was foundational and inspirational for me, as I sought to understand why Jesus used synagogues as the primary platform for his public ministry. In order to understand why Jesus did something, we need to understand his aims – the “inside of the event.” So, what I ended up doing in The Role of the Synagogue in the Aims of Jesus is exploring how synagogues played into Jesus’ aims, and why he made them the primary locus of his activities.

ALD: In your book, you write: "Luke 4:16–30 is undoubtedly Lukan, and its testimony has been shaped by Luke and by the processes of collective remembering. That is the nature of history, and there does not exist any account of something that happened in the past that is not similarly shaped by the process of remembering. None of this means that it does not recall or evince an event that actually happened. Again, we must remember that history is inferential, and that the evidence is not the past itself, but bears witness to it. A shift in language may help to illustrate this. Rather than saying that this passage 'goes back to Jesus,' it is better to say that it tells us about him."

Would you talk a bit more about the principle of inference?

JJR: The principle of inference has been a key one for me. I started working on my dissertation in 2011, following the release of a certain book titled "Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity," edited by a couple of guys who write posts about Jesus on the internet. That book encouraged me to start thinking about how to write history, and how to go about historical investigation. That led me to start reading deeply in the philosophy of history. Inference is a principle outlined by R.G. Collingwood and others who followed him. The basic premise is that history is an inferential science. What this means is that the historian is not interested in the data itself, but in knowledge of the past that can be inferred from it.

According to Collingwood, the business of history is “to study events not accessible to our observation, and to study these events inferentially, arguing to them from something else which is accessible to our observation, and which the historian calls ‘evidence’ for the events in which he is interested.” The ramifications of this are substantial. First of all, it shows us that it is not enough to establish the “reliability” or “authenticity” or any given testimony. There are more questions to ask, and much more to discover, because we are not enslaved as historians to what the sources say. So, when we are presented with testimony about Jesus, we need to ask not whether it is true or false, but what we might infer from it about the past. That means switching over from thinking about the Gospels as “testimony” to be verified towards “evidence” about the past to be interpreted. I actually think that this coheres in some respects with the results of recent studies applying the insights of collective memory.

Here’s an example. In my upcoming book, I deal with Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum in John 6. If we were to ask “is this authentic?” or “is this reliable?” in sense of “did the event narrated here actually happen exactly like this?” or “did Jesus say exactly these words?” the answer would probably have to be “no.” There are a number of reasons why scholars have argued that this is the case. For example, even on a basic level, we recognize that there is probably an issue of translation from the Aramaic or Hebrew that Jesus spoke to the Greek words written by the Fourth Evangelist, which is already in itself a layer of interpretation. Even beyond that, the exact language that John’s Jesus uses, meaning the specific words that are on his lips, along with tone and style, is essentially the same language used by the narrator. This is just one of the reasons (among others) why some scholars might question its “authenticity.”

However, that doesn’t mean that, once we understand the testimony, once we understand the intentions of the author of the Fourth Gospel, we cannot treat it as evidence and make inferences about what Jesus said, intended, and did on the basis of that text. Nor does it mean that the testimony is not “true,” or of no use to the historian. What it actually means is that we need to think about how the testimony can function as evidence, rather than treating the testimony as though it either is or is not an “authentic” representation of the past. One of the things that I note in my book is that, once we understand the “gist” of what the Capernaum synagogues teachings intend to communicate rather than trying to establish the authenticity of the words themselves, it looks quite a bit like the sorts of things we see associated with Jesus’ synagogue teaching elsewhere. In turn, that speaks to its direct relevance as evidence for understanding Jesus’ life, teachings, thought, and aims. This is one of the reasons why interpretation is so important in history, something that some of the contributors to this blog have also emphasized.

Some of my readers might notice that I have a tendency to make use of passages that many other historical Jesus scholars consider “inauthentic” or “unreliable” as data points in my portrait of Jesus, such as the “Bread of Life” discourse in John 6, or the incident in Nazareth in Luke 4:16-30. One thing that I want to be clear about is that I’m not saying that these passages are “authentic,” or even necessarily that they accurately represent the past. Those are issues that I'm not even really addressing. All that I am saying is that, regardless of their “authenticity,” we can make inferences about who Jesus was once we treat them as evidence rather than as testimony.

Many thanks to Jordan for his time. I look forward to seeing more from his mighty keyboard.