Baker Academic

Monday, March 2, 2015

“Finding Jesus” on CNN—Chris Keith

As something of a junky for Jesus documentaries, I was excited to be able to watch the first episode of CNN's "Finding Jesus" over lunch today.  The full episode is available online here.  It focuses on the phenomenon that is the Shroud of Turin but contains quite a bit of interaction with the Gospel texts.  Mark Goodacre, Candida Moss, Michael Peppard, Ben Witherington, and others make appearances.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Top Ten Things that Mr. Spock had in Common with Jesus

10. Both were Jewish.

9. Both were aliens, but embraced their humanity fully.

8. Both had human mothers.

7. Both died and came back to life... in a not-Zombish way.

6. Both flew away into outer space.

5. Both intentionally confused people about their true identity.

4. Both established their public persona apart from סרך היחד.

3. Both were basically nonviolent with occasional fits of rage.

2. Both put up with illogical and egocentric colleagues.

and the number one commonality between Mr. Spock and Jesus...

1. Both have a following that has become a religion.

p.s. any commonalities that I've missed?

Competition! Win an Exclusive Copy of Jesus and the Chaos of History!

To celebrate the UK publication of Jesus and the Chaos of History: Redirecting the Quest for the Historical Jesus, The Jesus Blog is giving away one free copy to someone from our loyal army of readers. is possible to reconstruct early Palestinian tradition and provide a way of thinking about this Jesus tradition as a useful means of understanding human society and historical change, rather than simply producing yet another Jesus portrait for the marketplace (though that will inevitably also be the case)...
All you have to do is answer these simple questions in the comments section by no later than Friday 6th March. The wittiest and/or smuggest answer will win.
  • Which contemporary (post-1945) scholarly Jesus (e.g. apocalyptic prophet, Cynic-like philosopher, wisdom teacher, Christian, all of them) would you send to the (metaphorical) gulag and why?
  • If you ruled historical Jesus studies, which Jesus, if any, would you impose on the rest of us and why?
Keep your answers relatively brief, just like Jesus-the-teacher-of-pithy-wisdom-sayings might have done. The winner will be judged by a specialist The Jesus Blog panel. Remember, if you overuse your razor-like wit, you may not win but you will at least have the privilege of being in an online comments section (assuming you aren't censored, obviously).

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Worst Statue Ever?

Today I find myself again researching French linguist, historian, and pseudo-scientist Ernest Renan. I'm a glutton for gluttons, it seems. This is not the first time I've made fun of the most influential anti-Semite in historical Jesus research and probably won't be the last. But today I was especially tickled by this statue in Tréguier Town Square.

At first I was offended that anyone thought it was a good idea to commemorate the man who forwarded the Khazar theory, leveraged phrenology to create hatred for Jews in Europe, and argued that Jesus became an Aryan. But upon second look, I thought that this statue might be the most fitting way to remember Renan. Not only is he slouched and tipping, his ignominious stature is juxtaposed with a most honorific lady of national pride. In fact, the more I look at this, the more I can't look away.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Cities of God? Conference at St Mary’s University—Chris Keith

Source: Wikimedia Commons
This May 22–23 , the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible at St Mary's University, Twickenham, will host an international two-day conference involving scholars of early Christianity, classics, and human geography:  "Cities of God?: An Interdisciplinary Assessment of Early Christian Engagement with the Ancient Urban Environment(s)."
The keynote address will be from Paul Trebilco, Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Otago, New Zealand: "Engaging–or Not Engaging–the City: Reading 1-2 Timothy and the Johannine Letters in the City of Ephesus"

Other presenters include:

Prof David Gill, University Campus Suffolk
Prof Eddie Adams, King’s College London
Prof David Horrell, University of Exeter
Dr Ian Paul, University of Nottingham
Dr Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer, University of Aberdeen
Dr Anders Runesson, McMaster University, Canada
Dr Anthony Le Donne, United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH, USA
Prof Chris Keith, St Mary’s University
Prof Steve Walton, St Mary’s University and Tyndale House, Cambridge
Dr Matthew Sleeman, Oak Hill College, London
Prof Paul Cloke, University of Exeter
Dr Volker Rabens, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Jena

There are some places for offered 20-25 minute papers. If you wish to propose a paper, please send a title and 300-word abstract to Prof Steve Walton at by 1st March 2015. For more information and to register, visit:

Registration is £65 (£40 students)

Food and accommodation:
Conference attendees are responsible for making their own arrangements for meals and accommodation. St Mary’s University has an excellent Refectory with reasonable prices for meals. There are also numerous local restaurants.  There will be a conference meal on Friday night.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

Jesus struck the ground with his hand and took up some of it and spread it out, and behold, he had gold in one of his hands and clay in the other. Then he said to his companions, "Which of them is sweeter to your hearts?" They said, "the gold." He said, "They are both alike to me."

                 ~Islamic ḥadīth

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Aramaic background to the Gospels: speculating about euthus

 Following on from previous posts on Aramaic sources (here and here)…

Some of the possible Aramaic influences on the Gospels have a stronger explanatory force than others. Some are speculations and probably should remain speculations. Here is one such speculation for εὐθυς in Mark which I can't decide if it's a serious possibility or little more than a parlour game.

The adverb εὐθυς (‘immediately’, ‘at once’ etc.) occurs about 42 times in Mark which is a strikingly high amount. This much is commonly stated. One possible explanation which is very rare in scholarly literature (Pesch’s commentary on Mark is one exception, I think) is based on an Aramaic (or ‘Semitic’) influence. In the Septuagint (Gen. 15.4; 24.45; 38.29), εὐθυς can translate the Hebrew demonstrative particle, הנה (‘see!’, ‘behold!’, ‘lo!’, translation dependent upon how antiquated you feel), an Aramaic equivalent of which is הא. So one possible explanation for this εὐθυς saturation in Mark could be the (mistaken? deliberate?) translation of this exclamation, common of course in Hebrew Bible/OT narratives. This explanation could work with some passages in Mark (e.g. ‘And see! they left their nets and followed him’, ‘See! The leprosy/skin disease left him’)

Then again, Mark might just have a particular εὐθυς fetish because, so the conventional argument goes, he wanted to produce a fast-paced narrative. As I said, this is a speculative exercise. But still, even the conventional explanation for εὐθυς is not necessarily exclusive of the speculative approach here and it remains that there is an unusually high level of εὐθυς in Mark…

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Joel Lohr to Speak on "Using and Abusing the Bible" in NC

There are few people whom I respect more than Joel Lohr, Dean of Religious Life at University of the Pacific. If you find yourself near Elon University tomorrow (Feb 19, 2015), you'll want to know about this:
As debates continue to rage in America over same-sex marriage, abortion, gun control, evolution, immigration and stem-cell research, people of faith often look to their scriptures, particularly the Bible, for guidance. At times the Bible is wielded as a weapon to silence debate, to promote a cause, upheld as a moral standard for all, or is used as a source book for things like the golden rule or dictums like “love your neighbor as yourself.” But critics and people of faith alike are often found wondering how and why the Bible should be used, and whether there might be a definitive method in using the Bible in such debate. In short, who sets the rules? And why should any religious text—whether Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, or Sikh—be privileged in public debate? In this lecture, biblical scholar and religious dialogue expert Joel N. Lohr will map some of the territory before offering tentative guidelines for using sacred texts responsibly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dale Martin responds to Fredriksen and Downing

Today I was alerted to the latest JSNT. This volume features responses to Dale Martin by Paula Fredriksen and Gerald Downing. Dale offers a rejoinder. I will be reading these with great interest soon and very soon:


Monday, February 16, 2015

More examples of Aramaic sources?

In a previous post, I looked at the possibility of an Aramaic source behind Matt. 23. 26//Luke 11.41 and Luke 11.42//Matt. 23.23 by focusing on how Luke especially might have (deliberately?) read or redacted דכו (‘cleanse’, ‘purify’) as זכו (‘give alms’) and שבתא  (‘dill’) as שברא (‘rue’).

Discussing the possibility of Aramaic sources can be highly complex, particularly attempts at reconstruction of whole passages. In historical Jesus studies, the so-called criterion of Aramaic influence is regularly dismissed. This is both right and wrong. It is right in that none of the criteria take us back to the historical Jesus but thus wrong in the sense that it is not necessarily worse than the other criteria. But, like the other criteria, it might be possible to use Aramaic to get back to earlier tradition. Of course, even Aramaisms may not even do that—it is entirely possible, as critics rightly point out, that there could have been Aramaic influence on Greek traditions. But then the criteria should never have been used in a quasi-scientific sense anyway. So now, in addition to the examples of דכו/זכו and שבתא/שברא, I want to give another two examples where I think there is evidence of pre-gospel Aramaic sources before giving some suggestions about what else we might say about Aramaic and the Gospel tradition.

The first is from the Lord’s Prayer (if that’s the right title) and the (genuinely famous?) difference between Matt. 6.12//Luke 11.4:

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matt. 6.12)

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. (Luke 11.4)

In Aramaic ‘debt’ and ‘debtor’ (from חובא) is another way of talking about ‘sin’ and ‘sinner’. Chilton noted some time ago that such uses are common enough in the Isaiah Targum. Here debt/debtors can refer to people punished by the Messiah, people destroyed by God, wicked gentiles, enemies of Jerusalem, and so on. This is entirely consistent with all the conventional words for ‘sinner’ in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, all of which remained stable from the Hebrew Bible/OT through to rabbinic literature. The language of debts/debtor is also found throughout the Syriac Peshitta (same root) and used to translate all the standard uses of ‘sinner’ in the Hebrew Bible. Obviously, we have to be careful using translations as late as the Peshitta and the Isaiah Targum but lateness alone should not be used as a reason or excuse to discount this possibility underlying Matt. 6.13 and Luke 11.4. For a start, the Aramaic root is certainly known by the first century (e.g. 11Q10 21.5; 34.4). But also, related traditions using the language of debt are found in the Gospel tradition (in addition to Matt. 6.12//Luke 11.4, see Matt. 18.23-25; Luke 7.36-50; Luke 16.1-9).

Given the difference between Matt. 6.12//Luke 11.4, we might suggest the possibility of an Aramaic source. This time, however, Luke would not have gone for a significant change (as with ‘rue’ and ‘give alms’) but for a more straightforward understanding of ‘sins’ which would be less culturally specific than not including mention of ‘sins’ at all.

The second example is from Mark 2.27-28 and parallels:

Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the son of man is lord even of the Sabbath’ (Mark 2.23-28)

For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath’ (Matt. 12.8)

Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath’ (Luke 6.5)

This might be the best possibility of the generic use (with reference to the speaker/individual too) of the Aramaic idiom for ‘man’ (though the gendered term can be used more generally for ‘human’): (א)נש(א) בר. Throughout the Gospel tradition, the term seems to function as something like a title (as is almost inevitable if the term was translated from Aramaic to Greek with reference to Jesus). Aside from when there are obvious allusions to Daniel 7.13 (e.g. Mark 13.26; 14.62), it is not clear whether it is even possible to determine with any certainty that ‘son of man’ sayings necessarily reflect an earlier Aramaic idiom. In various cases they potentially could (e.g. Mark 2.10; Luke 9.58//Matt. 8.20), but in themselves they could equally have been a title which has come from Mark or whoever else wrote such passages in Greek. The son of man problem across the Gospel tradition is for another day but in the case of Mark 2.27-28 we do seem to have good evidence of an Aramaic source where it appears to function as a form of parallelism indicating its generic aspects (cf. Ps. 8.4). What’s more, the sentiment of justifying Sabbath practice in terms of being made for humanity was something known in, and associated with, Palestinian Judaism (e.g. Exod. 16.29; Jub. 2.17; Mek. Exod. 31.12-17; cf. b. Yoma 85b). But perhaps most significant is that both Matt. and Luke drop the generalising Mark 2.27 (‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath’) and clearly make sure that we are dealing with a title for Jesus alone: The Son of Man. The implication being, of course, that Mark has retained a more literal understanding of an Aramaic idiom.

These are, then, two more of the better possibilities of Aramaic sources underlying the Gospel tradition. I have noted that this remains limited in its use for historical Jesus studies, at least in the sense that it does not necessarily take us back to the words of Jesus. It is also of limited use for the Synoptic Problem. If there were lots of examples like Matt. 23. 26//Luke 11.41, Luke 11.42//Matt. 23.23 and Matt. 6.12//Luke 11.4 then we might be able to make a case for Q (an Aramaic Q or q’s at that). But I’m not sure that there are enough examples of such parallels in Matt. and Luke to do so (at least not to my knowledge) and so these one word or phrase examples alone only point to isolated cases which is not, statistically speaking, enough. Such examples might mean a qualification of a model of Luke using Matt., or vice versa, in the limited sense that there might also have been Aramaic sources alongside Mark and Luke or Matthew. One interesting possibility is that such Aramaic sources might, in whatever form, account for Papias’ confusion that canonical Matthew was originally written in the Hebrew (i.e. Aramaic) language (as I tentatively argued with Mike Kok at SBL in 2013)

Using such examples are limited. But pointing to the potential of earlier Palestinian tradition and accounting for some problems in the Synoptic tradition is something, is it not?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Misreading or Redacting Aramaic Sources?

One of the longest standing cases for a possible underlying Aramaic source in the Gospel tradition is based on Matt. 23.26//Luke 11.41 and the saying concerning the purification of cups:

First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. (Matt. 23.26)

So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you’ (Luke 11.41)

The case, made ‘famous’ by Wellhausen and his inspired suggestion, typically claims that Luke appears to have misread the Aramaic דכו (‘cleanse’, ‘purify’) for זכו (‘give alms’) and Matthew is therefore more likely reflecting a pre-Gospel tradition (Black: ‘quite certainly to be found in the wrong understanding of Aramaic dakko’; Casey: ‘represents a misreading’, ‘misread for the original…’). An almost as ‘famous’ critique (not unreasonably) casts doubt on whether it would have been possible to confuse (whether graphically, orally, aurally…) ד with ז.

Still, the two words remain quite similar, do they not? And I wonder whether this is such a problematic issue if we stop thinking about whether Luke made a ‘mistake’ (an ‘honest mistake’?) or ‘misread’ and instead think in conventional redaction critical terms of a more deliberate change (which is only hinted at by Black, though notably in the context of whether ‘the two verbs were originally identical in orthography’). For a start, there is a case to be made for Luke—or Luke’s imagined audience—not understanding the laws surrounding the purification of cups and so a deliberate change could help solve that particular problem. However, when we look at the passage in its immediate literary context, the possibility of an underlying Aramaic source becomes more of a possibility. In Luke 11.42//Matt.23.23, there is again evidence that Luke ‘misunderstood’ (possibly deliberately and polemically) tithing laws in his claim that Pharisees tithe ‘rue’ and ‘all kinds of herbs’ which is precisely not the case according to the Mishnah (m. Shebiit 9.1, ‘Rue, goosefoot, wild coriander, water parsley, and eruca of the field are exempt from tithes…because produce of their type is not cultivated [i.e. grows wild]’). What’s more, we have another potential Aramaic ‘misreading’ here of שבתא  (‘dill’; Matt. 23.23) with שברא (‘rue’), a view made ‘famous’ by Nestle in an equally inspired suggestion from 1904. Whether or not Luke could have mistaken ת for ר is perhaps beside the point (Black: ‘misread [quoting Loew]…mistranslation’; Casey: ‘misread’) a redactor certainly could have deliberately changed an Aramaic source so.

And is it not striking that we have two close Aramaic equivalents behind the Lukan and Matthean passages and would this not at least suggest the possibility of an Aramaic source in this instance?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tom Wright and the Americans

I am not qualified to weigh in on Paul Holloway’s recent criticism of Tom Wright. Holloway is a Paul specialist as is Wright, and I am not. Whatever professional disputes they have should be assessed by someone else. I will simply take this opportunity to say what Wright has meant for me as an American.

I have never been comfortable with America’s militant hegemony. As a young adult this especially troubled me when it was yoked with Christian exceptionalism. My angst hit a tipping point when I began my university education in Canada. Canadians have a love/hate relationship with America. They are acutely invested in American wellbeing but see clearly (in my experience) our imperialist and fiscally amoral tendencies. In conversation with theologians, seminarians, and intelligent lay-folks in Canada, I found that my Christian identity and my American identity were at odds. I was a muddle of contradiction: sometimes defending the America that I loved against hateful comments (a Canadian roommate said to me on the morning of September 11th, “What do I care? It’s not my country”); sometimes railing against America’s sense of collective vengeance.

I discovered Tom Wright in my fourth year of living in Canada.

Wright and John Dominic Crossan didn’t agree on much in those days, but they had this in common: they both argued that following Jesus and supporting a military hegemony are incompatible. Wright especially provided me with a theological critique of empire at a timely moment in my moral development. Say what you will about Wright’s notion of the “Kingdom of God” in Mark (I agree with Helen Bond that we might have played this card too often in Jesus studies). But his work allowed me to clarify some of my misgivings about the unholy union of Christianity and imperial power.