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The Gospel of John was composed...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for This Week

I am no friend of present-day Christianity, though its Founder was sublime.

                               ~Vincent Van Gogh

Friday, September 19, 2014

Jesus and Dale Martin in JSNT and Newsweek—Chris Keith

My thanks to Gene Harker for alerting me to this Newsweek article on a new essay by Dale Martin in JSNT. The link to the journal article is here and its title is "Jesus in Jerusalem: Armed and Not Dangerous." According to the Newsweek write-up and the abstract, which I'll include below, Martin highlights the fact that Jesus' disciples were apparently armed at Passover in expectation of a fight. I've never really bought into the wholly-pacifistic Jesus that my self-professed tree-hugging friend and colleague Dr. Le Donne espouses (and many, many others it should be said). This is partially because of precisely the issues that Martin appears to be addressing and partially because I like to imagine Jesus and the disciples unwinding on the weekend Fight Club-style. Regardless, I'm looking forward to reading this article. I'll report back in due course.

"In debating the meaning of Jesus’ arrest and death at Jerusalem, scholars have paid too little attention to normal Roman practices of dealing with persons found armed in public in Rome or other cities under their control. Moreover, the idea that only one or two of Jesus’ disciples were armed has been accepted uncritically in spite of the probability that more or all of them were armed. This article highlights the signi´Čücance of Jesus’ disciples being armed when he was arrested just outside the walls of Jerusalem, linking that fact with other details from the sources, such as Jesus’ opposition to the temple, the presence of Samaritans among his early followers, the absence of lamb at the last supper, and the fact that he was executed by the Romans as a ‘social rebel’. Jesus led his followers, armed, to Jerusalem to participate in a heavenly-earthly battle to overthrow the Romans and their high-priestly client rulers of Judea."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Secular Historians Don't Do It This Way

It was the early 1990s and I was taking my first class in New Testament studies. The professor was Rabbi Sandy Lowe and the class was titled "Jesus Seminar." It required my participation in several sessions of the Jesus Seminar.

We met at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, CA. This hotel looks like it belongs in a Miami Vice episode. On the first day of class a woman dressed like Aunt Beru whispered and pointed in awe, "That's John Dominic Crossan!" It was indeed; although, I had no idea at the time why that name mattered. Judging by the way she swooned, I guessed that he must be the Sonny Crockett of Jesus studies.

There were a few lectures, there were questions, there were answers... there were colored beads. If you're not familiar with the method, the Jesus seminar made a practice of voting on the sayings of Jesus using colored beads. There was a spectrum of four choices ranging from "Jesus never said this" to "Jesus certainly said this." The seminar fellows - about forty of them on this occasion - sat in a circle in the Flamingo's large conference room. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy; actually, they all seemed pretty nice. But I must say it was fascinating. I felt like I was watching a burgeoning cult. And, eerily, I couldn't stop humming "Hotel California."

I wish I could tell you who said it. Some scholar within the inner sanctum, someone with a particularly squeaky voice chirped, "I've been trying to figure this out, but I just can't. What the hell are we doing?" His exacerbation was met with an eruption of laughter. What he said next was a sentiment that I've heard in various forms over the past 20 years, but this was the first I'd heard it: "You know, secular historians don't do it this way."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Beyond Bultmann Giveaway—Chris Keith

We're very pleased to announce that the good folks at Baylor University Press are providing a copy of Beyond Bultmann: Reckoning a New Testament Theology (eds. Bruce W. Longenecker and Mikael C. Parsons) for us to giveaway!  If you want to win this book, and you know you do, you can enter by (1) leaving a comment saying you want to enter, (2) signing up to follow the Jesus Blog and leaving a comment saying you did, (3) sharing this post on social media and leaving a comment saying you did, and/or (4) sharing in the comments your favorite anecdote about Bultmann or studying Bultmann. 

We'll tally the comments up and let the random number generator give us a winner.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

The Gospels are not literal records of the ministry of Jesus. Decades of developing and adapting the Jesus tradition had intervened. How much development? That has to be determined by painstaking scholarship which most often produces judgments ranging from possibility to probability, but rarely certainty.

              ~Raymond Brown

Friday, September 12, 2014

Robert Myles’s Homeless Jesus

I (Chris) recently invited Robert Myles to do a guest post on his new study, The Homeless Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, which continues in a line of scholarship that emphasizes ideological and socio-economic factors in NT scholarship.  Robert is also blogging over at The Bible & Class Struggle.  I thank Robert for contributing the following.  Please leave any questions in the comments section, as I'm sure Robert will be willing to respond.

The Homeless Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew - Robert Myles

First of all I want to thank Chris and Anthony for inviting me to write this guest post on the topic of my new book on Jesus and homelessness. The Homeless Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (2014), published by Sheffield Phoenix Press, is an exercise in the burgeoning field of Marxist exegesis of the New Testament. For readers unfamiliar with Marxist approaches to biblical criticism, 'Marxist exegesis' focuses on the critique of ideology in biblical interpretation and also how issues like class conflict are essential to explaining cultural and historical change. 

My book examines the juncture between Jesus and homelessness by emphasizing how Jesus' experience of homelessness fits into his wider social, political, and economic context of the first century. The gap it identifies is basically that Jesus' homelessness or itinerancy has never been adequately integrated into its wider social, political, and economic context, despite this being a major area of concern for New Testament scholars. Jesus' homelessness is rather presented as an arbitrary choice, or consequence of his God-ordained mission, which Jesus seems able to freely enact at will. The book re-reads a number of pivotal texts from the Gospel of Matthew to expose how Jesus' homelessness is more likely produced as a consequence of these wider hostile forces.

Given that the book is also a work of ideological critique, my other overarching concern is the contemporary context of neoliberal capitalism and how this context has shaped scholar's presuppositions over the past forty or so years. James Crossley has recently drawn attention to some of these issues in his book Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism (2012). Neoliberalism is typically associated with the policies of the Reagan and Thatcher governments, particularly their ideas about personal responsibility, undermining of social welfare, deregulation of markets, and so on. It now blindly operates as a kind of hegemonic mode of discourse or theory of everything, and is tacitly accepted as a default ideology by most people in contemporary Western societies, including mainstream biblical scholars. 

In my book I demonstrate how neoliberalism has operated at the level of the ideological unconscious to heighten Jesus' agency, individualism, and ability to 'choose' homelessness, while simultaneously downplaying some quite obvious connections between Jesus and his economic context. This means that Jesus' experience of homelessness often gets 'romanticized' in contemporary interpretations, even when this seems to go against the grain of the text. A good example of this is the Flight to Egypt in Matt. 2.13-23. Recent scholarly attention has focused almost exclusively on how this story reconfigures texts from the Hebrew Bible, for instance, by echoing the figure of Moses. While these aspects are certainly interesting, the lack of attention to how this text functions as a narrative of forced displacement is a curious oversight. Right from his infancy Jesus is depicted not only as the Jewish Messiah, but also as a marginal, persecuted, and displaced refugee.

Towards the end of the book I put forward the case that Jesus' homelessness is, in part, a reason for his eventual execution by the ruling elite. This is because what emerges through the gospel is Jesus the expendable, the refuse of first-century Palestinian society. As a deviant outsider and perceived criminal threat, he is targeted for extermination. To envisage Jesus as an excess to dominant arrangements of power works to both undermine and challenge some of the more idealized readings of Jesus and his homelessness that have materialized in the past few decades.

If you’d like to read more about the kind of things I argue in the book, you can check out a couple of posts on my blog about Jesus and work and Jesus and class.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is Memory Selectivity Bad? - Le Donne

Here at the Jesus Blog, we're into hot topics from the 1930s. For instance we both have strong opinions about the dust bowl and don't get us started on the so-called "Hoover Dam." And we're not shy to point out that flappers are soooo 1920s. Whatevs! So it will come as no surprise that Chris and I have followed the career of French sociologist, Maurice Halbwachs with great interest.

Halbwachs (1877-1945) is now hailed as the father of "social memory" (although few social memory theorists today swallow his theories entire). Halbwachs believed that all memory is socially conditioned and framed. He also defined the sociological concept of "collective memory" in his study of how groups tend to remember and commemorate. Ah, the good ole days! But it has only been in the last decade that Halbwachs has been widely utilized in historical Jesus research. My own research built on his and extended it toward a concept called "memory distortion." In echo of Halbwachs many contemporary social memory theorists will grant that all memory is "memory distortion." After all, all memory is selective (by the way, memory selection is only one form of memory distortion). Memory requires the selection of thoughts and thought patterns that will not be forgotten. My own work has pushed this feature of memory back to the initial stages of perception. In short, to paraphrase Heidegger, to perceive is to construe.

But is this a problem?

We can easily come up with instances where memory selectivity is unfortunate or malicious. Indeed the very concept of "distortion" carries negative connotations. But recently I was reminded of why the selectivity of memory is so very important. This article relays a study of student recall. It seems that students who take notes longhand tend to remember better:
Students who take notes in longhand, in contrast, cannot write fast enough to get everything down and so must be selective. It is precisely that process—of summarizing, thinking about what’s most important, predicting what might be useful down the road—that helps those who take notes on paper.
These features of "summarizing, thinking about what’s most important, predicting what might be useful down the road" are all known well to researchers of memory distortion. Indeed all of the above focus memory and frames it within an agenda. Here the agenda involves making a grade. It is often the case, moreover, that students will be rewarded for taking something they heard in a lecture and transforming it into an original thought of their own. This process of creativity requires an ability to distort memory within acceptable parameters and account for their own ideas in relationship to previous thought patterns. I.e. the fact that students to not parrot their professor exactly is a virtue.

I think that this sort of research is fascinating and will continue to help Jesus scholars rethink the relationship between the Gospels and the historical Jesus.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Was the Gospel of John Composed Independently?

The above poll is meant to measure how many Jesus Blog readers hold the view that the Fourth Gospel was composed with knowledge of or direct dependence on Synoptic tradition.

Feel free to comment below.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Take a Gospels Trivia Quiz

This quiz is designed to make Christians feel stupid. So if you're a Christian and you like to feel stupid, this quiz is for you!

Kidding aside, this a bit obnoxious. But if you can get over that element, it is a clever way to combat the tendency to harmonize the Gospels. Enter at your own risk:


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

They say that after eating the mountain-apple and the earthquake, when things in our country had all gone awry, the Landlord’s Son himself became one of his Father’s tenants and lived among us, for no other purpose than that he should be killed. The Stewards themselves do not know clearly the meaning of their story: hence, if you ask them how the slaying of the Son should help us, they are driven to monstrous answers.

                ~Mr. Wisdom from C. S. Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress

Friday, September 5, 2014

Does Peter Enns Represent the Lord Correctly?

Friend of the program Peter Enns provides an excerpt of his new book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Dr. Enns offers a brief reading of Mark 12:35-37 (I'm guessing that he's not using Matthew, as Matthew goes an entirely different direction with this saying). According to the NRSV, this passage reads:
35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
37 David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.
Dr. Enns suggests that Jesus is using Psalm 110 to say something about his status as "messiah" in this passage. This is something that, according to Enns, "got him into trouble with some influential Jewish authorities of his day." But it isn't clear to me that Jesus is referring to himself in this passage. I've just posted this comment over at his blog:
Pete, I think you are quite right that Jesus read his Bible differently than I do. Indeed Paul, Matthew, John, etc. all use the Hebrew Bible in ways that wouldn't be acceptable in my classroom. So to your primary point, I agree. But I have a more exegetical question related to Mark 12:35-37. It isn't clear to me that Jesus is referring to himself in this saying. Could he have been referring to a popular misnomer concerning "the messiah"? I.e. could he have been speaking generally about "the messiah" for the sole purpose of making the scribes look bad? I'm asking because this passage is among the most vexing in the NT, not because I have the right answer.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Quest for the Real Jesus JTS Review—Chris Keith

My full review of The Quest for the Real Jesus: Radboud Prestige Lectures by Prof Dr Michael Wolter (Brill 2013) in Journal of Theological Studies is now available online here.  In the review itself, I made the mistake of referring to the university as "Radbound" instead of "Radboud."  Sorry 'bout that.