Baker Academic

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

The icon of Jesus may not look like the man Jesus two thousand years ago, but it represents some quality of Jesus, or his mother, or his followers, and so becomes an open window through which we can be given a new glimpse of the love of God.

                     ~Madeleine L'Engle

Friday, December 19, 2014

Stephen Colbert and Elijah Typology

I watched the last episode of the Colbert Report last night. The schtick, it seems, is over. We will continue to see Colbert and his amazing talent on late night, but the persona that satirized American exceptionalism and egotism is no more.

Because I've seen nobody else mention it, I thought I would point out the clear use of Elijah typology in the episode. Colbert, instead of killing his persona, cheats death in the last of a reoccurring bit that features "Grimmy", that hooded, chess-playing Grim Reaper. This sets the stage for Colbert to emerge as an immortal. Rather than saying goodbye, Colbert and a about 100 celebrity guests sing "We'll Meet Again." Colbert hints at a return some day, joking that J.J. Abrams will reboot the Report in the future. He then, as a type of Elijah, is swept away heavenward in a chariot. This chariot (as we would expect) is driven by the patron saints of materialism (Santa) and the Republican party (Lincoln).

So to cap his persona's massive American ego, Colbert depicts himself as a divine figure. I imagine that most folks will miss the typology because the "chariot" is literally Santa's sleigh. But anyone familiar with the legends surrounding Elijah will see that (1) cheating death, (2) ascending to heaven in a sleigh, and (3) promising to return are suggestive of this typology. One might press further and suggest that Colbert models the same Elijah typology we see of Jesus in the New Testament. In any case, Colbert signs off "from eternity" as he skims along the top of the clouds.

I especially enjoyed the twist of including Canadian personality Alex Trebek in the sleigh. I won't ruin the final lesson learned by Colbert for those who haven't yet watched the episode. I will say, however, that Trebek's crucial message deconstructs Colbert's mythological ego with sublime irony.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Durham Ranked Highest among all Theology and Religious Departments in UK

I am very proud of my alma mater, Durham University. Durham's department of theology and religion ranked highest again among all UK universities. Congrats Dunelm!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Crossley on the Criteria and Vermes—Chris Keith

On Dec. 3, three of my PhD students and I made the journey into the city to hear Prof James Crossley, coblogger here on the Jesus Blog, present at King's College, London.  The lecture was titled, "Does Jesus Plus Paul Equal Marx Plus Lenin?"  Prof Crossley basically argued against an affirmative answer to that question but the paper was wide-ranging, as it was designed as something of a sampler of his new book, Jesus and the Chaos of History: Redirecting the Life of the Historical Jesus.  The presentation included much that we have come to expect from Crossley:  close attention to larger scholarly trends and their socio-political significance; the power structures at work in those trends; and some witty statements on the messiness of history ("Human beings just don't work that way") and modern politics ("The Tea Party and ISIS might not light everybody's candle. . . .").  There was also a (to me) surprise statement on his behalf that he's "coming around" to agreeing with positions of an early high Christology. 

His lecture emphasized two other things for me as well.  First, the work of really appreciating and articulating the influence of Vermes's 1973 Jesus the Jew is perhaps still only starting.  Obviously, most people in historical Jesus studies know that Vermes's study was important, even a watershed.  But I have heard several lectures here lately where scholars are emphasizing just how revolutionary it was.  This position is not just because of Vermes's emphasis on seeing Jesus against a Jewish background, which deservedly gets attention, but also for his noted dislike of structured "methodology."  Post-criteria Jesus research, which is specifically what Crossley is terming his work, is coming to recognize all the more what Vermes was already onto, which is that there really is a lot less strict methodology in proper historical work than historical-positivist historiography would lead one to believe . . . and that this isn't a bad thing because history itself is messy and does not submit nicely to our desires for tidy explanations.  This is, of course, not to suggest that there are no rules for the road, only to observe that approaching the past is not the same as following a set of instructions.  [In light of some discussion on Facebook, let me emphasize that this is not a wholesale endorsement of Vermes.]

Second, and strongly related, the post-criteria era of Jesus work is off and running.  I know there are those who will disagree with this position and, of course, I have something of a dog in this fight.  But Crossley, like myself and many others (Stan Porter gave a paper along these lines at SBL this year in a session in which I also presented), is done with trying to make the criteria of authenticity work.  I note this, however, because I want to pass along my favorite quotation from Crossley's lecture:  "The failure of the criteria is a blessing."  I love this quotation because it places what is (to me) exactly the right accent mark on this trend.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

The religion of the eighteenth century undertook a great work of reform. It waged war against superstition and ignorance. It obtained recognition for humanity in the eyes of the law. Torture was abolished, first in Prussia in the year 1740 through a cabinet order of Frederick the Great. It was demanded of the individual that he should place himself at the service of the community. English emigrants formulated in America for the first time the rights of man. The idea of humanity began to gain in significance. People dared to grasp the thought that lasting peace must reign on Earth. Kant wrote a book on Everlasting Peace (1795), and in it represented the thought that even politics must submit to the principles of ethics. Finally, an achievement which the spirit of the eighteenth century brought about  in the nineteenth century, came the abolition of slavery. The religious-ethical spirit of the eighteenth century desired then to make the Kingdom of God a reality on earth.

                                   ~Albert Schweitzer

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cornel West Public Lecture

Dr. Cornel West will be speaking in Dayton at 7:00 p.m., tonight (Dec 12). The event will be hosted by United Theological Seminary and held at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Dr. West has a longstanding relationship with United and we are pleased to invite him back to our community.

If you find yourself in Dayton tonight, we'd love to have you for this event.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Helen Bond on Sexism and NT Scholarship

The Jesus Blog is proud to host Dr. Helen K. Bond as a guest blogger today.  This post is
Part Two to Chris Keith's post yesterday.

As a 22-year old PhD student, I was ill equipped to deal with the sexism within our profession. I had been brought up in a household where men cooked, where girls played with Meccano, and women’s academic success was not only accepted but expected. Looking back, I suppose the warning signs were already there in my undergraduate degree. Only one of my lecturers was female, and she was safely pigeon-holed as a ‘feminist theologian.’ But the undergraduate cohort was half women, we did just as well as men in our exams, and I was blissfully ignorant of the trials to come.

Almost as soon as I took the step into postgrad work I knew something was wrong. I was the only female in a relatively large group of doctoral students (25 or so) and my fellow students treated me very differently. I noticed that they discussed their research with one another but to me they’d comment on my hair or my clothes. I had neither the background experience nor the vocabulary to articulate the sense of marginalization and resentment that I felt. Part of the problem was that I was ‘other’ in so many ways - the only person in her 20s, the only single student, the only person from the UK - so it was hard to pinpoint gender as the root cause of my isolation. At times I wondered if my male colleagues were right to trivialise me and my research: perhaps it was patently obvious to everyone but me that I wasn’t up to the task? It was only much later, at a theological college which took sexism seriously, that I learned to put a name to what I’d experienced – and started to formulate strategies to deal with it.

One of the difficulties is that sexism in the academy often manifests itself in small matters: the male colleague who calls me ‘my dear’; the elderly male professor who introduced me at a prestigious gathering as ‘Helen Blonde’ - realising his mistake, he added, ‘Well, she is a blonde’ (many of the delegates laughed); the visiting academics who ask my male colleagues about their research but talk to me about my children (or, worse, their own). A colleague of mine recently was the only female speaker at a conference; instead of introducing her with a flourish (as he had with all the male speakers), the organiser asked her to introduce herself! All of these are minor misdemeanours in the grand scheme of things. Often the slight is so subtle that others hardly notice. To complain might make me feel better in the short term, but it would get me a reputation for being ‘prickly,’ ‘over-sensitive,’ or ‘hard to work with.’ And we all know that that can be just as devastating to an academic career as poor scholarship.

Over the years, I’ve sometimes found unexpected allies. Older male colleagues with adult daughters develop great insights into what it’s like for women in the profession. Blindly oblivious in the past to the needs of their wives (who mostly gave up their own career aspirations to look after the home) their daughters often have first class degrees and PhDs, and are at the stage of trying to juggle their first steps in an academic career with family responsibilities. Suddenly these male colleagues observe things through their daughters’ eyes, and are shocked by what they see.

I’m also aware that we women don’t always help ourselves. It’s quite amazing how many women refer to their own research as ‘niche,’ or ‘non-mainstream’ – perhaps in an attempt to belittle ourselves before others get the chance. Women are much less likely to brag about our achievements, or to refer to our books as ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘seminal.’ Well meaning souls (usually male) have sometimes taken me to one side and suggested I cut my hair, lose the heels, and ditch the ‘bling.’ I could do all of this, of course, but somehow I wouldn’t feel like myself any more. And there has to be something rather ironic in a discipline which praises originality and independence of scholarship and yet expects those who engage in it all to look the same!

One of the things I like least about conferences (and particularly the SBL) is that question: ‘What are you working on?’ In the past, I tended to approach it much too literally, noting that as it was November I was really quite busy with teaching just now. Over the years, though, I’ve honed my strategy. I noticed that no one really answers this question literally at all – the most successful answers (by which I mean the ones that sound impressive to other people) start by outlining what research the person has had published in the last couple of years before ending up with a brief outline of current plans. Now I never go to conferences without my ‘what are you working on’ speech firmly in my head. (Of course, I only need to give it to men, women don’t usually ask).

My experiences in the academy are far from unique. They are all too common, particularly amongst women who don’t have a strong female support group around them. As I’ve become more senior, overtly sexist behaviour has become much less common, though it can still appear on the fringes of any gathering. I’m lucky now to have several female colleagues. Edinburgh’s School of Divinity has four full time permanent female members of staff in biblical studies, and Scotland’s ancient universities have seven women in New Testament (we’re meeting up soon to celebrate the fact).  But there’s still a long way to go. Female PhD students still report the same feelings of marginalization and isolation that I felt, and the number of women continuing into postgraduate work is pitifully low. (I’m convening a group to look at this, so if anyone has any suggestions as to how to recruit and retain female PhDs I’d be happy to hear from you).

What else can we do? I’m not in favour of positive discrimination (the last thing anyone needs is to be told by resentful competitors that she got a job because she’s a woman), but there are other strategies. We need to make sure that female scholars are represented in course bibliographies, and that their views are taken seriously in course curricula. Historical Jesus studies are particularly bad in this regard. Most are still in thrall to the cult of the male scholar, and many courses are even designed around the ‘great male scholar,’ treating the views of a handful of men as representative of Historical Jesus studies as a whole. (My own Historical Jesus course, for what it’s worth, is topic based, and we’re as likely to look at essays by Amy Jill Levine, Paula Fredriksen and Kathleen Corley as we are Crossan, Sanders and Wright).

As a female biblical scholar, I’ve often been landed with the ‘Women in the Bible’ class. This is something I’ve enjoyed teaching, but my longer-term hope is that one day it won’t be needed. Things are changing, and Paul’s views on gender are nowadays likely to be found in a mainstream Paul course, but there’s still a way to go before we can scrap the ‘Woman’ class completely. At a more senior level, people planning research papers and conferences might ask themselves whether any women might have something to contribute. (I still go to conferences or SBL panels at which every speaker is male). It’s all too easy to invite our friends to participate, and not to ask what an all-male cast list says – either to outsiders, or to people of the opposite gender within the discipline. And women too need to set aside time for networking (even if it’s not our natural habitat) and mentoring more junior colleagues. When you start to think about it, there are plenty of ways that we can make the discipline a more welcoming place for women. And that can surely only be to everyone’s advantage.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

#HeForShe, Sexism, and NT Scholarship—Chris Keith

Some while ago, I was one of many people who watched with admiration as Emma Watson introduced the #HeForShe campaign at the United Nations.  If you haven't seen the video, here it is.  After watching it, I couldn’t help but think about how some of these gender issues continue to play out in the small corner of the world that I inhabit.  My initial thought was that higher education generally and Biblical Studies specifically could pat themselves on their backs because they have come a very, very long way.  The back-patting didn’t last too long, however.  I couldn’t get out of my head three different experiences I’ve had.  All three involve my Doktormutter, Helen Bond at the University of Edinburgh, a brilliant scholar, fantastic PhD supervisor, and even better human being.  I’m honored that I get to continue to work with Helen as co-Chairs of the Jesus and Gospels Seminar of the British New Testament Conference.  I asked her permission to tell brief versions of these stories and she granted it.  I also asked if she’d write a Part Two to this post, where she could speak to her own experiences.  She granted that request, too, so consider this an appetizer to the main course that she’ll offer tomorrow.

The first experience occurred when I was a PhD student.  I was randomly having lunch with a senior scholar in the field who had been invited to lecture at Edinburgh.  In the course of the conversation, he stated explicitly that Helen had used her sexuality to advance her career.  I’m 100% that this person meant it as a compliment, that Helen had been shrewd and used everything she could to her advantage.  But it essentially came across as a statement that Helen wouldn’t have been where she was if she was ugly.  I was shocked not only at the statement but at the fact that he said it to her PhD student.

The second experience occurred at the tail end of my PhD studies in a research seminar that I can only describe as tragically majestic in every way possible.  I’ve written about it before here.  I mentioned in that post that Helen was presiding over this paper and that, at one point when trying to make the case for a sexualized reading of the woman at the well, Jesus, and the bucket of John 4, the presenter used hand motions to explain a bucket going in and out and looked at Helen like, “Right?”  Well, one thing I didn’t mention in that post was that—for some reason I honestly can’t now remember and I’m not sure it would matter if I could—in the midst of his case for his reading of John 4 and the sexual nature of the woman’s statement that Jesus had no bucket, the presenter said:   “Well, and we all know what women are like at cocktail parties, don’t we?”  When he asked “Don’t we?” he turned and looked right at Helen for affirmation, as if she was going to say, “Oh yes, that’s how I always am at cocktail parties, as is every woman I know.”

The third experience occurred several years ago in a meeting.  I was meeting with Helen and two other senior NT scholars.  One of the other two was addressing Helen in a manner that seemed overly-informal; it sure looked like flirting.  At one point in time, he leaned close to her and I instinctively thought he was going in for a kiss.  He wasn’t, but that’s how close he was.  Later on when I had a chance, I asked Helen what that was all about.  She told me that this person has always acted like that toward her, including calling her “my dear” and whatnot.  I couldn’t believe it . . .

. . . and I suppose that’s the problem that arose freshly for me after hearing Emma Watson’s speech and thinking about my professional world.  I had conveniently filed these away as isolated odd experiences.  But these types of things are quite clearly common for Helen.  I mention it, and write this post, however, because the real issue that I saw freshly was my response in each situation, which was simply and embarrassingly silence, a silence that permitted such things to continue unaddressed. 

I wrote to Helen and apologized for being part of the problem while thinking that I was not.  As mentioned before, I also asked if she’d be willing to address these issues here on the Jesus Blog.  Thankfully, she said yes, and that post is coming soon.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.

                             ~Desmond Tutu

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cornel West to be Hosted by United Theological Seminary on Dec 12

Dr. Cornel West will be speaking in Dayton at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, December 12. The event will be hosted by United Theological Seminary and held at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Dr. West has a longstanding relationship with United and we are pleased to invite him back to our community. 

For my part, I am looking forward to meeting Dr. West for the first time. I've been re-reading his dialogue book with Michael Lerner this month and benefiting from it all the more the second time through. While written in 1996, this book continues to speak aptly about contemporary America. I recommend it to anyone interested in race-relations or Jewish-Christian relations. While the dialogue is heated at times, it continues to be a model for an honest, authentic, and respectful posture toward the perceived other.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

You Win!

And by "you" I mean the person that goes by the name "83dub."

83dub, please comment below with your email address (this will not be published) and I will arrange to have Oneworld Publications send you a copy of my book: The Wife of Jesus.