Baker Academic

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:



S20-126
Jewish-Christian Dialogue and Sacred Texts

11/20/2017
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.

-anthony

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."

Inhaltsübersicht 
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 info@mohr.de www.mohr.de 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?

-anthony

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.

-anthony



Friday, October 20, 2017

Aramaic Psalm 53

This is breathtaking. The acoustics produced by the architecture in this Georgian Cathedral are worth a listen. The choir is singing Psalm 53 in Aramaic.


-anthony

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Jesus the Free-Market Capitalist

PatriotHole's parody of the propaganda-lackey-who-must-not-be-named is almost too good.

OXFORD PHD Reveals Hidden CONSERVATIVE Book Of The Bible Where Christ Becomes A Self-Made Millionaire By Selling Mousetraps

Favorite line: "...the fish don't just attract mice. They attract all sorts of other animals like bears and lions. And they attack and kill people but Christ doesn't care."

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Sacred Dissonance

I am excited to announce my new book:

Sacred Dissonance: 
The Blessing of Difference in Jewish-Christian Dialogue

This is a book about Jewish-Christian dialogue cowritten with Larry Behrendt. Sacred Dissonance has been four years in the making and represents many challenging, edifying, and earnest conversations on a number of topics. These include memory, the Shoah, dialogical posture, and sacred borders.

Amy-Jill Levine writes the foreword.

I'll be posting more about the book soon, but here are endorsements from Bruce Longenecker, Joshua Garroway, and Pete Enns to tempt your tummy:

“Honest conversations between Jews and Christians are as important now as any time in the past 2,000 years. Sacred Dissonance marks an important point in that sometimes difficult, sometimes joyous journey of mutual understanding, enhancement, and coexistence. In this book, we are privileged to read the conversations between two brave friends, one Jew and one Christian, who made themselves vulnerable to each other in the hard process of exploring the dissonances between their theological outlooks. The authors are masterful in their honest engagement, handling tough issues with critical poise and careful presentation. Here theological integrity is matched by an ethos of rhetorical integrity—a rare and exquisite accomplishment.”
—Bruce W. Longenecker
Professor of Religion and W. W. Melton Chair, Baylor University
Author of Hitler, Jesus, and Our Common Humanity

“Sacred Dissonance marks an important step forward in Jewish-Christian discourse. The essays
are candid and probing, the dialogues rigorous, insightful, and devoid of the platitudes so typical
in interfaith encounters. Jews and Christians wishing to learn more about each other—and
themselves—will enjoy the opportunity to eavesdrop on these rich conversations. I know I did.”
—Rabbi Joshua D. Garroway
Associate Professor of Early Christianity & Second Commonwealth
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

“I love this book. Behrendt and Le Donne model for us Jewish-Christian dialogue at its
best—witty, respectful, and full of substance. A wonderful contribution to the ongoing
conversation between the two faiths, a conversation that I can hope will become increasingly
commonplace.”
—Pete Enns, Abram S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies, Eastern University
Author of The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Fall/Winter 2017-18 Eerdmans Catalogue

Today I flipped leisurely through the most recent Eerdmans catalogue. As far as activities go it ranks somewhere between baseball pregame radio and a crossword puzzle. The catalogue marks the season and suggests a harvest of ideas. In this case, these are seeds of book proposals planted years ago. Here are just a few offerings from the Eerdmans' soil.


Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology (2 vols). Editors: Brad Embry, Ronald Herms, and Archie T. Wright.
Description: Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology offers more than seventy selections from Second Temple-era Jewish literature, each introduced and translated by a leading scholar in the field. Organized by genre, this two-volume anthology presents both complete works and substantial excerpts of longer works, giving readers a solid introduction to the major works of the era—the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the writings of Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, and the Septuagint (Apocrypha). 
The substantive introduction to each selection includes these elements: narrative description; author/provenance; date/occasion; text, language, sources, and transmission; theology; and reception during the Second Temple period. Additional student aids include a list of further readings on each selection, a section of maps, a glossary of biographical names, and a glossary of terms. With contributors and translators including such noted scholars as James Charlesworth, Sidnie White Crawford, James D. G. Dunn, Peter W. Flint, and James VanderKam, this anthology will be an essential resource for all students of early Jewish literature and emerging Christian traditions.

Paul and the Person: Reframing Paul's Anthropology. Author: Susan Grove Eastman.
Description: In this book Susan Grove Eastman presents a fresh and innovative exploration of Paul's participatory theology in conversation with both ancient and contemporary conceptions of the self. Juxtaposing Paul, ancient philosophers, and modern theorists of the person, Eastman opens up a conversation that illuminates Paul's thought in new ways and brings his voice into current debates about personhood.
Eastman devotes close attention to the Pauline letters within their first-century context, particularly the Greco-Roman fascination with questions of performance and identity. At the same time, she draws out connections to recent trends in psychology and neurobiology in order to situate Paul's insights in deep dialogue with contemporary understandings of human identity.

Dying and the Virtues. Author: Matthew Levering.
When death begins to strip away nearly everything that belongs to us, we discover that we need the virtues more than ever. We especially need to cultivate those virtues that can carry us through to the full and final fruition of our earthly journey. 
In this book Matthew Levering investigates nine such virtues—love, hope, faith, penitence, gratitude, solidarity, humility, surrender, and courage—that dying persons need in order to prepare themselves for the end of life. Retrieving and engaging scriptural, theological, and contemporary resources ranging from the book of Job to present-day medical science, Levering journeys through the various stages and challenges of the dying process, beginning with the fear of annihilation and continuing through repentance and gratitude, suffering and hope, before arriving finally at the courage needed to say goodbye to one's familiar world.
I'm looking forward to getting my hands on these items, each for different reasons. The Embry, Herms, Wright anthology is a must own. The introductory material and glossaries alone make these volumes worth their cost. NB: I can imagine nothing more relevant to the student of Jesus and Early Christianity than exposure to the literature circulating in (circa) the first-century. The Eastman book on Paul is intriguing. Listen to John Barclay's praise from the foreword: "She has traveled far, into philosophy (ancient and modern), neuroscience, and experimental psychology--mostly territory unknown to biblical scholars--and she has returned in triumph...." The Levering book tackles that ultimate topic of the human condition. Also it was conceived by Matthew Levering who is known for thinking and writing like Matthew Levering.

There are a number of other interesting books in this catalogue. These are just the first three on my 2018 reading list.

-anthony


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Assessing the Metal Codices (Not) Relating to Solomon

Over at PaleoJudaica, Jim Davila brings a bit of clarity to recent headlines re: the "Seal of Solomon."

Metal Codices Seized in Turkey

Worth a read,
-anthony

Thursday, October 5, 2017

St Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies

Max Botner sent along the following call for papers for the 2018 St Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies on "Atonement, Sin, Sacrifice, and Salvation in Jewish and Christian Antiquity."  We're happy to pass it along for readers who might be interested in attending or submitting a proposal.



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

“In both his teaching and his very presence, Jesus of Nazareth presented the ultimate criticism of the royal consciousness. He has, in fact, dismantled the dominant culture and nullified its claims. The way of his ultimate criticism is his decisive solidarity with marginal people and the accompanying vulnerability required by that solidarity. The only solidarity worth affirming is solidarity characterized by the same helplessness they know and experience.”

~Walter Brueggemann

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Peril of Jewish-Christian Friendship

The following is an excerpt from my recently published, Near Christianity: How Journeys along Christian Borders Saved My Faith in God. I wrote this book before the resurgence of neo-Nazism in American public discourse. Just a year ago, I had no idea how important Jewish-Christian friendship would become for our political discourse. I am more convinced than ever that inter-religious dialogue (especially with those who collectively remember what the early stages of Christian-baptized Nazism looks like) has a great deal to teach us as we fumble through a new political phase.

In this section, which occupies the troubled heart of the project, I interface with Richard Rubenstein. While I never met him in person, his writings have had a profound impact on me.

. . . .
I write these personal paragraphs in this chapter to explain how philo-Semitism has become integral to my faith. In keeping with my discussion of peril, I know that allowing anything to become entangled with my faith is dangerous. As odd as it might sound, my commitment to philo-Semitism has made me aware of a tendency that comes dangerously close to a personal crisis for me.

Richard Rubenstein’s book After Auschwitz is still as devastating today as it was when it was first published in 1966. When I first read it, After Auschwitz stopped me in my tracks for about a month. I could think of almost nothing else. Rubenstein explains how very dangerous Christian theology can be. I ultimately part ways with Rubenstein’s abandonment. He feels he must leave behind myth and the belief in a personal God. And I will ultimately want to nuance his portrait of Christianity. I must acknowledge, however, my debt to his book. It has given me vocabulary and definition that I did not have before. Rubenstein, in light of the Holocaust, believes that Jews must reinvent Judaism without the myth of Israel’s special status.

[He writes] "After the experiences of our times, we can neither affirm the myth of the omnipotent God of History nor can we maintain its corollary, the election of Israel. After the death camps, the doctrine of Israel’s election is in any event a thoroughly distasteful pill to swallow. Jews do not need these doctrines to remain a religious community."

Rubenstein observes that after the death camps, Jews (I do not think he can speak for all Jews) embrace a renewed dignity, strength, and vitality and live within the pain and joy of the present. He seeks no “pathetic compensations” in hope for a future life beyond the grave. “It is either this or return to an ideology which must end by praising God for the death of six million Jews. This we will never do.” Rubenstein nods to the place of lament within Judaism. The lament psalms, for example, have given Israel sacred space to accuse God and to protest God’s lack of action in the face of catastrophe. Almost all of the lament psalms, however, end in praise. Rubenstein, in referring to and then rejecting an “ideology which must end by praising God,” refuses to live within that mythology. “We will never again regard ourselves in the old mythic perspectives.”

It is possible that Rubenstein is voicing his vision for the future of all Jews. It is also possible that he refers to himself when he says “we” (as he seems to do elsewhere in the book). Whatever the case, it should go without saying that Rubenstein does not speak for all Jews. Jewish theological responses to the Holocaust are many and varied. [. . . .]

Where Rubenstein’s commentary becomes most challenging for me as a Christian is in his indictment of philo-Semitism. After expressing his abandonment for Israel’s special relationship with God, Rubenstein observes that Israel’s doctrine of election seems to be indispensable for Christians. He pinpoints an almost certain truth about Christian identity in this observation. “Unless Israel is the vessel of God’s revelation to mankind [sic], it makes no sense to proclaim the Christ as the fulfillment and climax of that revelation.” Christianity, in his view, requires Israel’s mythology more than Judaism does. “I see no way in which the believing Christian can demythologize Israel’s special relation to God without radically altering the meaning of Christian existence.” He then laments that as long as Christians require Israel’s doctrine of election, the Judeo-Chrisitan encounter will continue to be tragic. Because the consequence is that the Christians will continue to encounter Jews and Judaism as myth and abstraction. If so, we Christians will not be able to encounter the humanity of our closest neighbors.

His statement is so close to the mark that it is worth feeling its impact even without nuance. How much of Christian philo-Judaism is informed by a “mythological Jew” narrative? And if we cannot encounter the humanity of our closest neighbors, don’t we risk losing a crucial element of our own humanity?

. . . .

In the remainder of this chapter, I part ways to a degree with Rubenstein. But I post this as a singular unit to underscore the complexity of the problem. It could be that I move too quickly to a solution in the book. We Christians have a long history of dehumanizing our religious neighbors because we think our theology demands it. I remain convinced that Christians are (in large part) good people who mean well. At the same time, good people who lack self-awareness in times of crisis can become complicit in great moral failures.

I remain committed to a faith informed by Jewish-Christian friendship. But (as with all things related to my faith) I do so with a great deal of fear and trembling. I get the sense that I am tinkering with delicate things that are of enormous importance all too inadequately.

-anthony

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Happy New Year

To all of our readers celebrating Rosh Hashanah, have a good and sweet new year!

From all of us at the Jesus Blog.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 15.1

Today I got my hardcopy of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. I have a vested interest, but I always like publications with pretty pictures. Boy does this one have pictures! Black and white, color, from reliefs, mosaics, and from illuminations! Kudos to Andrea Nicolotti for this fine essay on the scourge of Jesus. And, as always, thank you to Brill for the quality of the final product.

The contents are as follows:

"The Scourge of Jesus and the Roman Scourge: Historical and Archeological Evidence"
Author: Andrea Nicolotti
Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 1 –59

"The Historian’s Craft and the Future of Historical Jesus: Engaging Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Last Supper as a Work of History"
Author: Jordan J. Ryan Source: Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 60 –87

"Ehrman, Bauckham and Bird on Memory and the Jesus Tradition"
Author: Alan Kirk Source: Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 88 –114

"John the Baptist and the Origin of the Lord’s Prayer"
Author: Jeffrey B Gibson Source: Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 115 –130

"Are the Parables Still the Bedrock of the Jesus Tradition?"
Author: Klyne Snodgrass Source: Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 131 –146

"Capernaum: A ‘Hub’ for the Historical Jesus or the Markan Evangelist?"
Author: Christopher B. Zeichmann Source: Volume 15, Issue 1, pages: 147 –165

NB: that Jordan Ryan's article is an essay-length review of Jesus and the Last Supper by our very own Jesus blogger: Brant Pitre.

-anthony

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Jesus in apocryphal Gospels I: The Gospel of Philip





It is well known among those who know well that the so-called apocryphal gospels tend to polarize. Within a classification system of “orthodoxy and heresy”, they were traditionally marginalized in scholarship. New Testament scholars and church historians tended to repeat ancient polemics of the church fathers and heresiologists even unconsciously, claiming that these writings developed far away from the Jesus movement, that they include “alien Gnostic, philosophical elements”  and do not represent true Christianity. Recently, however, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Now voices are raised that argue for the particular (historical) value of writings like the Gospel according to Thomas, Philip, or Mary: They are thought to store knowledge of the early Jesus movement that had been suppressed by the majority Church, as for example the initial significance of women in early Christianity and the role of Jesus as a timeless teacher of wisdom sayings.

Scholarship, it seems, has no relaxed attitude towards apocryphal Gospels. In my upcoming blog entries, I will outline some portrayals of Jesus drawn from this tradition. I start with the Gospel of Philip (GPhil), whose existence is well known to a broad public since Dan Brown’s famous book “The Da Vinci Code” from 2003. 

Dan Brown formed his provocative thesis that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene on the basis of the GPhil, which is dated between the 2nd and 4th century and survived only in a Coptic translation of an original Greek text in Nag Hammadi Codex II. The manuscript has some lacunae. One of the most famous damaged parts of early Christian manuscripts is, in fact, found in this text. On page 63.34, it reads:   “[The Soter] loved Mary Magdalene more than [all] the disciples and [used to] kiss her [often] on her… “ Instead of the term “lips” or “mouth”, there is a lacuna in the text, stimulating the fantasy of modern interpreters. The original term could also have been “forehead”. Thus, the passage where Jesus is said to often have kissed Mary on her lips, is actually based on a modern conjecture. Moreover, the Gospel of Philip argues for a spiritual, not a sexual procreation. “Kissing” could have been understood as a way to transmit spiritual power and to privilege individual disciples with special knowledge.

What I have mentioned so far has been much discussed and might be considered old hat. Less well known might be the fact that, according to the GPhil, Jesus had an earthly and a heavenly father. On page 55.23–36, it is said: the Lord [would] not [have] said, ‘My [Father who is in] heaven’, unless he had another father, but he would simply have said, ‘My Father.’ Here the author of the GPhil probably quotes the Gospel of Matthew and interprets it in a particular way. Jesus was conceived in the normal way and his earthly body was composed of mortal flesh and blood. Only later, he received an immortal, “spiritual body” at his baptism in the river Jordan: Jesus revealed [at the Jo]rdan the [fullness of the kingdom] of heaven. ... The Father of all things joined with the Virgin who came down, and a fire illuminated him. On that day he revealed the great bridal chamber. It was because of this that his body came into being.  (GPhil 70.34–71.8).
 
The unusual interpretation of Jesus’ baptism in 70.34–71.8 can be understood to suggest that Jesus experienced at his baptism a fundamental and far-reaching transformation. Thus the GPhil has transferred the motifs of the union of the Virgin and the “Father of the all things” and of bodily origins from the synoptic birth stories with their miraculous elements to the baptism account. The baptism of Jesus is depicted as his second and authentic birth, where Jesus receives a new body.

Against the background of the Gospels that later became canonical, these Christological features appear rather strange to modern readers. They reveal a completely different view on both the bodily, earthly life and a new, spiritual existence. Therefore, the GPhil should not be interpreted as a text that contains old, forgotten or even suppressed secrets of Jesus’ earthly life. This text is based on a conceptual world that varies widely from that of the Canonical Gospels. Assessing the text from the perspective of the four Gospels would do it no justice.