Baker Academic

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about White Supremacy for This Week

Photo Atlanta Black Star
"People who have never been lynched by another group usually find it difficult to understand why blacks want whites to remember lynching atrocities. Why bring that up? Is it not best forgotten? Absolutely not!  What happened to the hate that created the violence that lynched black people? Did it disappear? What happened to the hate that lynched Henry Smith in Texas (1892), John Carter in Arkansas (1927), and Reverend George W. Lee and Lemar Smith in Mississippi (1955)? Where did the hate go that opposed the black freedom movement and killed Martin Luther King Jr. and a hoste of white and black civil rights workers?... What happened to the indifference among white liberal religious leaders that fostered silence in the face of the lynching industry? Where is that indifference today? Did the hate and indifference vanish so that we no longer have to be concerned about them?... Unless we confront these questions today, hate and silence will continue to define our way of life in America....

Photo The New Yorker
Just as the Germans should never forget the Holocaust, Americans should never forget slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree.... The cross of Jesus and the lynching tree of black victims are not literally the same--historically or theologically. Yet these two symbols or images are closely linked to Jesus' spiritual meaning for black and white life together in what historian Robert Handy has called 'Christian America.' Blacks and whites are bound together in Christ by their brutal and beautiful encounter in this land. Neither blacks nor whites can be understood fully without reference to the other because of their common religious heritage as well as their joint relationship to the lynching experience.... We are bound together in Amercian by faith and tragedy. All the hatred we have expressed toward one another cannot destroy the profound mutual love and solidarity that flow deeply between us.... No two people in America have had more violent and loving encounters than black and white people. We were made brothers and sisters by the blood of the lynching tree, the blood of sexual union, and the blood of the cross of Jesus. No gulf between blacks and whites is too great to overcome, for our beauty is more enduring than our brutality. What God joined together, no one can tear apart.... If America has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy with repentance and reparation there is hope 'beyond tragedy.'"

--James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011), 164-166.

Winner of Bates Giveaway—Chris Keith

The True Random Number Generator has spoken and the winner of Salvation by Allegiance Alone by Matthew Bates is the owner of comment 28:  Corby Amos.  

Read it. Great book - distinction between gospel culture and salvation culture in Chapter 9 is worth price of book. Would love to win this copy and give to my pastor.

Corby, if you could email me at, I'll make sure you get the copy of Matthew Bates's book.

Friday, August 18, 2017

On Statue Removal and Historic Forgetfulness

The late, great Frederick Douglass (more great than late according some) was repulsed by the aggrandizement of Robert E. Lee. After the Civil War, attempts to rehabilitate Lee's honor included visits to the White House and newspaper editorials praising his character. The hope (and this came from Lincoln first and foremost) was that the country would look forward to a renewed unity rather than backward to a litany of grievances. In other words, it was politically advantageous (read: politically correct) to rehabilitate men like Lee via a generous forgetfulness. But from Douglass' perspective the effort to honor Lee was tantamount to propaganda. With Lee in mind and with tongue in cheek, Douglass mused that "the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven."

Cultural forgetfulness can happen in many different ways. But the shrewd political mind can manipulate this process if indeed that is deemed advantageous. One way to coax a nation toward forgetfulness is by replacing one emphasis with another. In Lee's case, his sins were cloaked by newspaper editorials extolling his "Christian" character. Deep down he was a "gentleman" according to the new narrative. This narrative spoke of the man's character over and against his treasonous and morally bankrupt acts of war. A generous forgetfulness.

In 1894 Douglass wrote that he was "not indifferent to the claims of a generous forgetfulness, but whatever else I may forget, I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery; between those who fought to save the republic and those who fought to destroy it."

One of the consequences for rehabilitating Lee was to reinforce the social status of Douglass' people. In choosing to remember Lee as a fine, Christian gentleman, the nation was also choosing against the remembrance of other realities. I.e. the invention of Lee's moral character erected cultural blinders to the reality of continued persecution of the black populace. As a nation we were more concerned with triaging "white" shame and less concerned with remembering our collective sin. So Lee became a symbol to triage southern honor. And America began the process of white-washing its young, bloody history.

Lee's legacy was on the same post-war trajectory a generation later. His great sin continued to diminish while his great character continued to increase. This trajectory can be traced into the era of modern media.

Many (not all) statues and memorials of Robert E. Lee were erected on the southern landscape from the 1920s to the 60s. By the 1960s Lee's symbolic star had all but eclipsed his moral failure in the hearts of many "white" Americans. So we must ask, what does such a symbol mean if erected during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement? Haven't we moved beyond the category of a "generous forgetfulness" into outright propaganda? And isn't this exactly what Frederick Douglass warned us about?

If indeed some of these statues are relocated to museums we may have a partial solution. But I would suggest that these statues (if saved at all) are not appropriately placed in Civil War museums. They do not represent the Civil War. Rather, they represent morally bankrupt reactions to the African American experience. These statues do not represent a generous forgetfulness; they represent Jim Crow propaganda and anti-Civil Rights propaganda. In choosing to keep this propaganda around, we continue to enact a historic forgetfulness bordering on cultural amnesia. Of course, the chief problem with amnesia is that identities formed by past perceptions of reality are lost. We are in danger of losing our real-world continuity with history. In short, these statues facilitate our continued forgetfulness of history.

Finally, I have no doubt that our historic forgetfulness is built from a seed of truth. Lee exhibited certain elements of upright character. Perhaps he was a gentleman when he wasn't bathed in the blood of entire towns. I also have no doubt that Hitler was a conscientious vegetarian. But I wouldn't tolerate a statue of him outside Whole Foods.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

CSSSB’s Next Book is Available from Eerdmans—Chris Keith

I'm happy to announce that the next publication from the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible at St Mary's University, Twickenham is available from Eerdmans Publishing CompanyThe Urban World of the First Christians is a collection of essays from our 2015 Cities of God? conference that assess early Christians' engagement with urban contexts.  It's edited by Steve Walton, Paul Trebilco, and David Gill.  Once our current book giveaway wraps up, we'll see if our friends at Eerdmans might let us do a giveaway of this one.

From the Press:

In the tradition of The First Urban Christians by Wayne Meeks, this book explores the relationship between the earliest Christians and the city environment. Experts in classics, early Christianity, and human geography analyze the growth, development, and self-understanding of the early Christian movement in urban settings.

The book's contributors first look at how the urban physical, cultural, and social environments of the ancient Mediterranean basin affected the ways in which early Christianity progressed. They then turn to how the earliest Christians thought and theologized in their engagement with cities. With a rich variety of expertise and scholarship, The Urban World and the First Christians is an important contribution to the understanding of early Christianity.


Piotr Ashwin- SiejkowskiIan Paul
Cédric BrélazVolker Rabens
Paul ClokeAnders Runesson
David W. J. GillMatthew Sleeman
David G. HorrellJoan Taylor
Chris KeithPaul R. Trebilco
Anthony Le DonneSteve Walton
Jutta Leonhardt-BalzerWei Hsien Wan
Helen Morris

Friday, August 4, 2017

Downing’s Critique and My Response in JSNT—Chris Keith

Just two days ago, I mentioned that the forthcoming issue of Journal for the Study of the New Testament would feature a back-and-forth between me and F. Gerald Downing regarding my article, "The Narratives of the Gospels and the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Current Debates, Prior Debates, and the Goal of Historical Jesus Research" (JSNT 38.4 [2016]: 426-55), and that I would post links to the articles once they're ready.

The pre-print versions are now available online.  As promised, here are the links:

F. Gerald Downing, "Feasible Researches in Historical Jesus Tradition: A Critical Response to Chris Keith."

Chris Keith, "Yes and No: A Critical Response to F. Gerald Downing."

Unfortunately, I can't simply post the pdfs, but if any readers of the Jesus Blog would like to have a copy of my essay for educational purposes, you are welcome to write to me at

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Responding to F. Gerald Downing in JSNT—Chris Keith

The forthcoming issue of Journal for the Study of the New Testament will feature a critical response to my "The Narratives of the Gospels and the Historical Jesus: Current Debates, Prior Debates, and the Goal of Historical Jesus Research" (JSNT 38.4: 426-55) from F. Gerald Downing, entitled "Feasible Researches in Historical Jesus Tradition: A Critical Response to Chris Keith."  I accepted an editorial invitation to respond, and that piece will follow Downing's article ("Yes and No: A Critical Response to F. Gerald Downing").

I am not surprised to have received a critical response to my earlier article.  Historical Jesus studies is always a hotly debated subfield within New Testament studies, and right now there is much movement in the discussion with new proposals, defenses of the established, etc., etc.  I made much effort in my response to Downing not simply to say, "He has misunderstood me here," because we all know that those are particularly boring responses.  I'm relatively sure that I failed, though, because I do think that he misunderstood much of what I was arguing, and some of that may have been my fault for not being clear enough.  I tried, therefore, to clarify.  Nevertheless, there are simply some fundamental disagreements between us, and that's fine.

I'll give a short preview of one such disagreement from my response because it concerns an issue that, for me, is at the core of my critique of some prior Jesus research:

"According to Downing, 'A claim to "authenticity" is a claim to certainty'.  No, it is not."

I will share the links to both articles when they're available.  I'm told this issue will be out in September.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Salvation by Allegiance Alone Giveaway!—Chris Keith

Friend of the blog Baker Academic Press is sponsoring a giveaway of Matthew Bates's Salvation by Allegiance Alone.  We know, we know . . . this is a blog about historical Jesus studies.  But we know that our readers are interested in the important developments in the study of early Christianity as a whole and this book has managed to cause a ruckus.  Here's the press's description:

"We are saved by faith when we trust that Jesus died for our sins. This is the gospel, or so we are taught. But what is faith? And does this accurately summarize the gospel? Because faith is frequently misunderstood and the climax of the gospel misidentified, the gospel's full power remains untapped. While offering a fresh proposal for what faith means within a biblical theology of salvation, Matthew Bates presses the church toward a new precision: we are saved solely by allegiance to Jesus the king. Instead of faith alone, Christians must speak about salvation by allegiance alone. The book includes discussion questions for students, pastors, and church groups and a foreword by Scot McKnight."

You know the drill.  You can enter the giveaway by (1) leaving a comment, (2) signing up to follow the blog and leaving a comment saying you did, (3) sharing the giveaway on any and all forms of social media and leaving a comment saying you did, or (4) the wild card entry.  For this wild card entry, you have to tell us a book or article that completely changed your opinion on something; you started the book or article holding one idea and you finished holding another.  It doesn't have to be limited Biblical Studies or New Testament Studies. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hilde Moller and the Vermes Quest—Chris Keith

Readers of the Jesus Blog may be interested in this new book in the Library of New Testament Studies.  Hilde Brekke Moller has written the first full assessment of Geza Vermes's impact on historical Jesus studies.

From Bloomsbury T&T Clark:

About The Vermes Quest

Geza Vermes is a household name within the study of the historical Jesus, and his work is associated with a significant change within mainstream Jesus research, typically labelled 'the third quest'. Since the publication of Jesus the Jew in 1973, many notable Jesus scholars have interacted with Vermes's ideas and suggestions, yet their assessments have so far remained brief and ambiguous. Hilde Brekke Moller explores the true impact of Vermes's Jesus research on the perceived change within Jesus research in the 1980s, and also within third quest Jesus research, by examining Vermes's work and the reception of his work by numerous Jesus scholars.

Moller looks in particular depth at the Jewishness of Jesus, the Son-of-Man problem, and Vermes's suggestion that Jesus was a Hasid, all being aspects of Vermes's work which have attracted the most scholarly attention. Moller's research-historical approach focuses not only on the leading scholars of the field such as E.P. Sanders, J.D. Crossan, J.P. Meier and C.A. Evans, but also sheds light on underplayed aspects of previous research, and responds to the state of affairs for recent research by challenging the rhetoric of current historical Jesus scholarship.

Table of contents

Part I: Introduction
Ch. 1: The Significance of Geza Vermes for Jesus Research
Ch. 2: Vermes and Jesus Research
Ch. 3: The History of Jesus Research: Mapping the Quest(s)
Ch. 4: Vermes' Jewish Jesus (1973)
Ch. 5: The Significance of Jesus the Jew (The 1970s and 1980s)
Ch. 6: The Jewishness of Jesus Before Vermes
Ch. 7: The Significance of Vermes' Work on the Son of Man
Ch. 8: Final Considerations on the Jewishness of Jesus Within Jesus Research
Part II: The Significance of Vermes' Hasid Theory
Ch. 9: Vermes's Hasid Theory and its Precursors
Ch. 10: The Hasid Theory Within Jesus Research After 1973
Ch. 11: Hanina Ben Dosa Heals From a Distance: A Case of Christian Influences Upon Talmudic Judaism?
Part III: Conclusions and Outlook
Ch. 12: Conclusion
Ch. 13: Outlook

Friday, July 7, 2017

Bultmannian Backlash

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book (an intro-level treatment) on Jesus. This is a short assessment of Eta Linnemann's reaction to Bultmann.

It would difficult to overstate the influence that Bultmann had on students of the Gospels, Christian origins, and the historical Jesus. Scholars endeavored to stratify the layers of the Gospels to discover what was original to Jesus, what was part of the earliest Christian preaching, or what was invented much later. The project was called “Form Criticism” and promised to apply a more scientific system of classification for the traditions of Jesus and the Gospels. For generations, historical-critical scholars were either motivated by Form Criticism or set against it in reaction to its success.

In some ways, Bultmann was a victim of his own success. Two related consequences of his project were: (1) Form Criticism became preoccupied with the social settings of the Church. Almost every word attributed to Jesus was thought to reveal something about a hypothetical community. Moreover, these communities were thought to be highly creative; they invented a mythology of Jesus based on their own religious experiences and social concerns. Rather than reconstructing a historical figure, these scholars began to reconstruct the imaginations of hypothetical communities. (2) Rather than making the “essence” of Jesus more attractive to modern folk, Bultmann became a villain to many Christians. His theories were so compelling that many people of faith had a visceral reaction to him. Some among the hyper-conservative rejected historical study altogether. This was the case with one of his own students: Eta Linnemann.

Eta Linnemann’s early work on the parables and passion of Jesus was much in line with her mentor’s project. She set out to explain the social settings that gave rise to the stories. The sayings of Jesus (for the most part) were composed by and for the early Christians. Supernatural accounts within the Gospels were wholesale invention. Linnemann did well in academia. Her books were widely read and she took a Professorship at Philipps University in Marburg. Indeed, she felt that her research was a service to God. But Linnemann had a crisis of conscience. After years of historical training and form-critical research, she concluded that no meaningful truth could come from her professional life. Worse, her research had created an obstacle to Christian preaching. She published the following reflection in 1985:

Today I know that I owe those initial insights to the beginning effects of God's grace. At first, however, what I realized led me into profound disillusionment. I reacted by drifting toward addictions which might dull my misery. I became enslaved to watching television and fell into an increasing state of alcohol dependence. My bitter personal experience finally convinced me of the truth of the Bible's assertion: “Whoever finds his life will lose it” (Matt. 10:39). At that point God led me to vibrant Christians who knew Jesus personally as their Lord and Savior. I heard their testimonies as they reported what God had done in their lives. Finally God himself spoke to my heart by means of a Christian brother's words. By God's grace and love I entrusted my life to Jesus.[1]

By her own words, Linnemann had “turned Evangelical.” By entrusting her life to Jesus, she was pulled from depression, idleness, and alcoholism. By any measure, her conversion transformed her with highly positive results. She, however, adopted an adversarial relationship with her past including her previous relationship with Jesus.

Linnemann spiritual encounter with Jesus, as she saw it, forced her to recant and repent from her former profession. She declared her historical study to be sinful and derided her former publications, “I regard everything that I taught and wrote before I entrusted my life to Jesus as refuse.”[2] She threw her books and articles away and invited her readers to do the same. Her new existential relationship with Jesus convinced her to throw away her previous portrait.

In my judgment, Linnemann’s experience echoes many students and seminarians who encounter historical Jesus research. It is common for these students to either embrace historical study (as Linnemann did in her early life) or choose an almost anti-intellectual path whereby faith and history compete (as she did in her later life). But it must be said that Linnemann’s particular reaction to her former life would not have been possible without a keen intellectual capacity to critique her own method. Her post-conversion publications take a bitter and hostile tone against university culture and historical-critical study more generally.

While her tone and rhetoric are extreme, Linnemann made an astute and necessary observation. The historian can only ever disguise her/his ideology with a veneer of objectivity. She argued that historical-critical study is not a method; it is an ideology rife with prejudice. Certainly she offers us a partial explanation for why historians continue to project their own biases and ideals onto Jesus.

While it would be misleading to label her as “postmodern”, Linnemann teaches us one of the most important lessons of the postmodern critique: scientific study tends to break down what it observes. The modern tendency is to parse, reduce, classify, and utilize. But what happens when the modern, critical eye turns inward? What happens when the intellectual mind begins to parse, reduce, classify, and utilize itself? The inevitable result is that we begin to critique the criticism.

[1] Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology: Reflections of a Bultmannian Turned Evangelical (Trans. Robert W. Yarbrough; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990), 18.
[2] Linnemann, Historical Criticism, 20.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Memory Studies Association—Chris Keith

Some readers of the Jesus Blog with an interest in memory studies may like to know about the Memory Studies Association, recently launched by Aline Sierp, Jenny Wuestenberg, and Jeffrey Olick. 

They have a website at
and are getting ready to have a major conference in Copenhagen in January.  Although the deadline has formally passed, I have word that they're still accepting some proposals for papers:

Second Annual Conference of the Memory Studies Association
Copenhagen, 14-16 December 2017
Founded last year in Amsterdam, the Memory Studies Association (MSA) aims at institutionalizing memory studies as a research field that is able to provide fundamental knowledge about the importance and function of memories in the public and private realm. The MSA’s objective is to provide a central forum for developing, discussing, and exchanging ideas about the methodology and theory of the inter- and multi-disciplinary field of memory studies.
By addressing crucial questions about the challenges and future of memory studies, this year’s conference will continue the fruitful debates that began in Amsterdam. A starting point of our discussions is to further define the ‘third wave’ of memory studies: One of the central problems of memory studies today is to adjust to the increasing heterogeneity of remembering without losing sight of national and local memory formations. Even in our globalized world, legal and mental borders are far from dissolved. The growing number of nationalist movements in Europe point to the continued virility of the national framework of remembrance.
This conference wants to address “memory unbound” as well as specific personal, familial or national memories and their mutual interrelations. It seeks answers to questions such as: How can memory studies continue to conceptualize the deterritorialized, fluid and transnational aspects of collective memory without abolishing the validity of the founding ideas of memory studies? Acknowledging the fact that memories relate not only to the presence of the past but also to imaginations of the future, how can we define the productive power of memory? Should memory studies merely be perceived as descriptive or should it also have an impact on actual political debates?
Confirmed keynote speakers and participants of this conference include: Marianne Hirsch (Columbia University), filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer (“The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence”), Jan Gross (Princeton University), as well as Ann Rigney (University of Utrecht), Fionnuala Dillane (University College of Dublin), Stef Craps (University of Ghent), Daniel Levy (Stony Brook University, New York), Siobhan Kattago (University of Tartu), Astrid Erll (Goethe-University Frankfurt), Jeffrey Olick (University of Virginia), Emilie Pine (University College of Dublin), Barbara Törnquist-Plewa (University of Lund), William Hirst (The New School, New York), Wulf Kansteiner (University of Aarhus).
 The Memory Studies Association aims to be the central forum for scholars from around the world and across disciplines who are interested in memory studies. Its goal is to further establish and extend the status of memory studies as a field.  As such, this second meeting of the association invites all those interested in being part of this important emerging enterprise. As an interdisciplinary forum for memory studies, we warmly welcome contributions from various research fields and explicitly invite transdisciplinary approaches.
Submissions of papers and panels can address but are not limited to:
  • Memory of migration of refugees and workers
  • Traumatic memories
  • Ethics of memory
  • Memory and the media
  • Memory and the global
  • Entangled or multidirectional memories.
  • Neuropsychological approaches to memory
  • Gendered memories
  • Geography and the memory of sites/spaces
  • Sociological approaches to memory
  • Memory in the digital age
  • Memory and cultural heritage
  • Teaching memory studies
We would like to encourage both the submission of “traditional” academic papers and full panels, as well as innovative proposals for workshops, film screenings, roundtable discussions and more. Please contact the organizers if you would like to discuss ideas or have questions.
The submission system is now open and will close on 1 July 2017.
You can find more information about the conference and venue at:
 Further questions can be addressed to Tea Sindbæk Andersen or to Jessica Ortner

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Eyeball Theology

Last week in my class on Matthew's Gospel, mine eyes beheld a wonderful student presentation on the form and function of righteousness in the Sermon on the Mount. This got us discussing the following saying:

"The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light" (Matt 6:22).

In keeping with the view that purity is represented by what a person projects, we discussed the ancient view that eyes (rather than receiving light) project light. In this way, Jesus reminds his audience that eyes are literally biological lamps. This is somewhat different than our modern reading of the passage. The modern reader is inclined to think that the eye functions as a "lamp" insomuch as it illuminates our vision. Cf. the New Living Translation: "Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. . . ."

The discussion led me to this very helpful summary complete with a few sources.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Bauckham Second Edition Giveaway—The Reveal

A long time ago the Jesus Blog announced a giveaway of the second edition of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Thanks to the good people at Eerdmans, we actually have three copies to give away. The winners were determined in the usual way, and they are:

Scott Robertson (no. 8)

Bill Heroman (no. 26)

Nathan Shedd (no. 50)

Scott, Bill and Nathan: Congratulations!! If you would email me your shipping address, I'll have Eerdmans send you the book.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Congratulations to Anders Runesson!—Chris Keith

Congratulations to Anders Runesson on winning the 2017 F. W. Beare Award from the Candian Society of Biblical Studies for his new book Divine Wrath and Salvation in Matthew: The Narrative World of the First Gospel!  You can read the information on the award here.  I've just started this book and am really enjoying it thus far.  Prof Runesson's main argument thus far is that Matthew's Gospel should properly be read as a Jewish text, not a "Christian" one.  As part of that, he also emphasizes an approach to Matthew's inception history rather than its reception history of Christian interpretation.  He's also offering some good methodological observations along the way.  I'll pass along one that obviously resonates with me:

"History, academically defined, is, then, best understood as a conversation between the past and the present" (xxii).

Congrats again, Prof Runesson.  I'll be giving some more thoughts on this book in due course.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Additions to Your Gospel of Matthew Syllabus

For my upcoming Matthew intensive, I am compiling a reading list that is accessible, online, and sheds light on contemporary social concerns. Today I was alerted to this piece by Robert Myles:

"Homelessness, Neoliberalism, and Jesus’ ‘Decision’ to go Rogue: An Analysis of Matt. 4:12-25," in Reading the Bible in an Age of Crisis (2015).

You may require an account to access this. It is well worth a read. It will certainly spur classroom debate!

I have also decided to use this short article by Dale Allison as an example of assessing a problem in the text of Matthew:

Allison observes:
The six paragraphs addressing the law concern anger (Matt 5:21-26), lust (Matt 5:27-30), divorce (Matt 5:31-32), oaths (Matt 5:33-37), revenge (Matt 5:38-42), and love (Matt 5:43-48). Many biblical scholars label these paragraphs “antitheses,” because in their view Jesus and Moses are at odds with each other. The Law of Moses permits divorce (Deut 24:1-4), oaths (Lev 19:12; Num 30:2-3; Deut 23:22), and retaliation (Exod 21:24-25; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21). Jesus, with his repeated “but I say to you,” prohibits all of them. Yet there are problems with supposing that Jesus contradicts the Law of Moses. Matt 5:17-20 says explicitly that Jesus has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. To the contrary, people should obey and teach them. One could scarcely be any clearer. It looks very much as though Matt 5:17-20 is located precisely where it is in order to prevent readers from imagining that Jesus, in the paragraphs that follow, intends to undo the teachings of Moses.
He then asks, "But how can this be, if Jesus abolishes divorce and oaths and forbids retaliation?" I plan to have my class read this article aloud. Allison's solution to the problem is not as important (pedagogically speaking) as the problem itself. Most devotional readers of the Bible are not attuned to the problems that generate scholarly discussion. I hope to use this example to teach the practice of asking critical questions. To my mind, the ability to ask critical questions (both informed and interesting) is the first step toward creating a thesis statement.


Monday, June 19, 2017

(Get Woke) Resources for Matthew

As I gear up for teaching Matthew's Gospel in week-long intensive format, I must choose a few articles for pre-class reading. I generally like to assign introductory material that is available online. In doing so, at least two factors are paramount: (1) my students need articles that are legitimately meant for first-year seminarians; (2) it makes things easier on all involved if my students can get this pre-reading done without the purchase of a textbook. (I do assign books but I don't like to assign them for pre-reading.) In addition to these two primary factors, I prefer authors with an eye to social impact. My students (by default) are practical and "woke" seeking to be more so. From time to time, I encounter the rare soul who loves the material for the sake of the material. Usually, however, my seminarians are serving communities in poverty (regardless of race, some outside North America) and not strangers to the many challenges associated with poverty. So if I can, I try to include resources that are relevant (or provide a foundation for socially informed discussion).

Here are three articles I'm using for my Matthew intensive:

William Loader, "The Gospel of Matthew An Introduction for Preachers"

Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J., "Honoring the Dishonored: The Cultural Edge of Jesus' Beatitudes"

Mary Kay Dobrovolny, "Who Controls the Resources? Economics and Justice in Matt 20:1-15"

Hat tip to the always useful NTGateway for pointing me in the right direction! The article by Loader serves as a brief, general introduction. It charts a few key themes in Matthew by focusing on the first five chapters. The article by Neyrey contextualizes one of these themes by focusing on what is arguably Matthew's most famous passage. Finally, I've selected a paper presentation by Dobrovolny. Admittedly, this paper is not meant for first-year seminarians. But I think it is just the right amount of challenging once the first two articles have been digested.

Are there other resources that would fit my interests and specifically focused on Matthew? I would love to hear suggestions. Remember, they must be accessible for first-year seminarians, available online, and socially aware.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

2017 Christian Scholars' Conference

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the 2017 Christian Scholars' Conference (no, I had nothing to do with naming this event) took place earlier this month on the campus of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. This was my first official CSC meeting, so I'm not the best person to evaluate this year's program. I participated in two sessions on the first day, and I attended a plenary address by Prof. James H. Cone, wonderful presentation by Prof. Margaret M. Mitchell, a panel discussion of Jesus in Christian and Muslim perspectives, and a series of papers on Augustine and John Chrysostom.

The first of my two sessions featured a 60-minute keynote presentation by Prof. Stuart Zola (Emory University), "How We Remember and How We Forget," which presented some fascinating information on the neuroscience of memory. Professor Zola's presentation brought out the link between perception and memory, which are perhaps distinguished only by time (perception = attending to stimuli in the present; memory = recalling stimuli that are no longer present) and are both subject to similar—if not exactly the same—dynamics of distortion, selectivity, omission, attention, and interpretation. As complex and impressive as the human brain is, it is not a recorder of information, either in the present or in the past. Seeing, then, may be believing, but it is no guarantee of truth, veracity, authenticity, or any other quality of correspondence with reality.

In personal conversation (and in print, I'm sure), sociologist Barry Schwartz has complained that memory studies are set up especially to expose and highlight memory's failure and that such studies are actually disinterested in the normal, proper functions of memory. Professor Zola's presentation put this predisposition (I don't quite say bias, but I nearly do) on display in interesting ways. For example, Prof. Zola showed a variant of the famous "how many passes" video (see below), in which not just memory but perception itself are shown to be remarkably fallible. But here's the question I would ask in response: How many people, given the prompt, "How many passes does the team in white make?" get the answer to that question right? The answer, I would wager, is very high, especially if we allow for a slight margin of error (say, ±1). So while it's true that "it's easy to miss something you're not looking for," it is also true that it's possible to accurately follow something to which you're attending, to which you're expending mental energy and effort to perceive and/or understand.

In the end, Prof. Zola's presentation concluded with a shocking claim: "The fundamental outcome of most communication is misunderstanding" (his italics). But this is a sensationalist and problematic conclusion. Or at least, I think it is, if I've rightly understood his point. 😏 True, misunderstanding is a constant feature of interpersonal and intercultural communication. But it is not the fundamental outcome, at least not most of the time. If it were, we would stop trying to communicate. Perhaps we usually miss or misunderstand this or that nuance. Perhaps sometimes we even fundamentally misunderstand an intended communication. But this is not the case most of the time, and only an artificial and blinkered re-creation of real-life scenarios—one as misleading as telling subjects to count passes when we really want to see if they'll notice a moonwalking bear—could truly lead us to think so.

All of this illustrates why memory studies are so vital for Gospels and historical Jesus scholarship. If we learn anything from Prof. Zola—and we surely do; his work is fascinating and well worth accessing—it's that neither eyewitness perception nor eyewitness memory are the guarantors of historical or factual truth that we often think they are, especially in judicial contexts. The connections between memory's contents and history's realities are forged on a different plane. Claims, therefore, such as Richard Bauckham's, which have just been republished in a second edition, that the Gospels reflect eyewitness testimony and are, for that reason, reliable, rest on shaky—even crumbling!—theoretical and empirical foundations. But I will return to this claim in the next post, in which I discuss my second session, "Remembering Jesus: Memory, Texts, and Baptism."

Monday, June 12, 2017


It seems that a book Dr. Keith and I edited/wrote has been cited in service to a clickbait agenda.

Tarico and Fitzgerald have clearly not read the book in question.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Baylor Grad Student Discount—Chris Keith

Our friends at Baylor University Press are currently running a discount intended for grad students but open to all. Use discount code BJUN at, which applies to books published before 6/11/2017. Happy shopping! 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Leftovers (HBO)

I tend to imagine the readers of this blog to be highly intelligent (yes, you!), close readers of sacred texts, and equipped with critical tools for interpretation. I also imagine that a subset of these readers are people of faith and/or religious practitioners. My guess is that many readers have religious upbringings but no longer practice. Or maybe you're a student of religion as an observant academic. If any of these guesses describe you, Damon Lindelof has created the perfect HBO series for you. The Leftovers is one of the most intelligent portrayals of biblical and popular faith I've seen on any screen.

The Leftovers wrapped up its third and final season this week elating some viewers and causing others consternation. Without revealing too much, the final episode spoke differently to different audiences. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and avoid the reddit controversies and arguments. I am in camp of highly satisfied folks because I appreciate endings that allow for multiple theories of resolution.

Almost any viewer who appreciates compelling storytelling, thematic development, and masterful acting will recognize the quality of the Leftovers. But viewers who are critical readers of the Bible and students of contemporary faith traditions will receive a double blessing. This series is replete with biblical symbolism: doves, floods, scapegoats, the Akedah, twins in competition, false prophecy, resurrection, Sarah's laughter, Job's theodicy, the Last Supper, etc. That said, these easter eggs are usually hidden in plain sight. The most obvious themes running through the narrative are persistent doubt and depth of grief.

In addition to the biblical themes, echoes, and motifs, the show ascends to brilliance in its exploration of contemporary faith. The premise of the series is that the main characters have experienced something like an eschatological rapture (called "the departure"). More specifically, these characters are those who remain. While many beloved family members have vanished, they are the "leftovers." As critical readers of the Bible will know, the rapture is not a biblical theme. It is a modern invention of popular theology. Indeed, this is the Leftovers in a nutshell: an intelligent and critical exploration of popular theology. Notably, Reza Aslan served as a consultant for the series. Whatever else you might think about Aslan's scholarship, he seems to understand popular faith quite well.

The show is not without flaws. When the series began in 2014, I gave up on it after three episodes. I had trouble with repeated convoluted introductions to new characters. Moreover, I had trouble internalizing the motivations of several key characters. But if you can refrain from quick judgements and allow the story to unfold, the development of the key characters is well worth the wait. Clearly, I gave up on the series too soon. Another flaw, in my opinion, is the show's failure to tie up a few loose ends. I will say no more about this now to avoid spoilers.

The Leftovers is a serious drama punctuated with authentic moments of humor. At times, the cinematography is visually stunning. The writers'/directors' attention to detail is impressive (even down to the images in the backdropped upholstery and music selection). And if you decide to bracket out the biblical and religious themes, the show can function as a well-crafted science fiction.

Finally, this entire series is contained in three seasons. It does not make the mistake of overextending its success and thus ending with a whimper. From alpha to omega, the Leftovers is heavenly.

Monday, May 29, 2017

What Would Jesus Resist?

The accumulation of wealth. Preoccupation with security. The use of power to secure more wealth at the expense of those who suffer already. Jesus would—and did—resist these things. And (relatedly) Jesus resisted evil. Jesus saw himself in open war against the spiritual world. The battlegrounds included systemic corruption, physical illness, and demonic possession. Jesus' view of Rome was probably colored along these lines too.

So what? Do any of these historical claims provide the modern person with marching orders? I am usually one to be cautious on this point. After all, the voice of any prophet requires context to make sense. Voices from antiquity do not often translate easily into modern contexts. Applying Jesus' teachings to modern politics—even when his message was overtly political—is usually a recipe for frustration. So much nuance is needed that once the historian homes in on a point, it is obscured by all of the necessary qualifications.

But then there is the rare case of obvious evil. In such cases, I think it's irresponsible to obscure Jesus' teachings with academic caveats. This brings us, again, to Donald Tr*mp.

Just after November 9th, one of my students sent me this comic. It's become a repeated triptych along my mental landscape. Artist Corey Thomas means to convey something of the African American experience post-11/9. But this strip captures something about American religious borders too.
images from
Notice the use of borders in this strip. (1) As is common to comic strips, we see blocked borders between the first illustration (one of shock and worry) and the second (one of jubilation). (2) The hallway and doorframe borders illustrate the proximity between the black POV and white counterparts; (3) The final illustration shows the cubical dividing the protagonist from his white, evangelical (perhaps allied) coworker.

Somehow—and this is true for most folks I know whether conservative or liberal—the election of Donald Tr*mp was a highly disorienting experience. For many of my neighbors, 11/9 exposed precarious fault lines. The old categories of conservative vs. liberal just didn't work anymore. Those borders were tiresome and reductionist. But at least they were familiar. I've starting calling these new camps "nationalist" vs. "resistance" narratives. I'm not the only one who has been looking for new language. For example, the alt-right has adopted the terms "cuck" and "cuckservative" to redefine the new landscape. To be clear: the nationalist narrative is framed by white nationalism. This comic strip is correct: whatever else 11/9 was about, it was about race.

Not every Tr*mp voter is an overt racist. The real trouble is with the white, evangelical majority that allowed the alt-right narrative to thrive by looking the other direction. My guess is that most white evangelicals know the narrative is evil. If so, the accusation of racism isn't overblown. Unfortunately, most white evangelicals think that racism is something you feel rather than something you support unwittingly. But (and this can't be denied) there are enough overt racists in America to warrant an overtly racist political movement. The fact that we allowed white supremacy be rebranded as "alt-right" is part of the problem. Tr*mp was willing to stand on this platform.

So my take is somewhat different than Corey Thomas' view that "after prayerful consideration they decided that their God anointed the naked racist to be their leader." I differ because I sincerely doubt that there was much prayer involved in electing Tr*mp. I do not fault Thomas, however, for assuming that 81% of white evangelicals knowingly perpetrated a national sin.

I sent this comic strip to a Jewish friend. My friend is deeply invested in Christian well-being and knows more about Christianity than most Christians. He truly loves his Christian neighbors but he is worried about us. When I sent him this comic, he confessed that Thomas had captured something of his own disorientation. He said, "I feel the same way about my Christian neighbors."

Then there is my colleague who confessed that she couldn't be around men after 11/9. Even with men she loves and respects, there was something about the election of Tr*mp that made her male colleagues difficult to navigate.

Three borders: race, religion, and gender. Somehow our national sin, our collective evil, has made our old fault lines even more precarious. So which fault line poses the greatest threat? The answer is determined by which border is nearest to your front door. For some it's islamophobia, or xenophobia more generally. For some it's the mortal peril faced by millions of citizens of the greatest generation and baby boomers who will be failed by America's medical and pharmaceutical industries. As for me, I survey the landscape and see a world preparing for war. I see America failing at a crucial moment in environmental history. So I am most worried about my children. Tr*mp did not create these fault lines. He has, however, made them far more dangerous.

These are complex problems created by a world of geopolitical power-grabbing, capitalistic greed, generational hate, and an apathetic general public that Jesus never imagined. I doubt that Jesus could have conceived of a future when humanity would destroy the earth without God's help. What Jesus did understand—what he was uniquely prepared to preach about—was collective evil. Jesus knew well that collective sin required collective repentance.

I titled this article "What Would Jesus Resist?" It assumes that Jesus did resist that which he judged to be evil and that he would again. So, yes, I think Jesus would resist the global danger that is Tr*mp. I cannot read Luke 6 and think that Jesus has nothing to say about our national sin. Moreover, I think that impeaching Tr*mp may be part of a national repentance. But it will only be a the first step.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

Despite the tradition common to Matthew and Luke, nothing compels us to suppose that the Holy Spirit was a progenerative agent for Jesus' conception in the earliest form of the birth narratives. This is reflected in the earliest formal mentions of Jesus' birth, which were made by Paul in his letters to the Galatians and Romans. . . . Instead of being related to the birth, the Spirit is associated with the claim that Jesus was resurrected after his death; whereas Jesus' birth betrayed an ancestry that "according to the flesh" goes back to David, his status as Son of God is linked to the resurrection event in which the Spirit of holiness functioned as the divine agent.

                        ~Loren Stuckenbruck (The Myth of Rebellious Angels: Studies in Second Temple                                           Judaism and New Testament Texts)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bauckham Second Edition Giveaway!—Chris Keith

Richard Bauckham's pot-stirring and thought-provoking landmark study, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, is now out in a second edition from Eerdmans.  Those good folks at Eerdmans have decided to do a giveaway of one free copy to a reader of the Jesus Blog.  We haven't done a giveaway in a bit, so here are the rules.  You can enter by (1) leaving a comment, (2) sharing on social media and leaving a comment saying you did, (3) signing up to follow the blog and leaving a comment saying you did, and (4) a wild card entry.  The wild card entry will be SBL-themed.  You can leave a comment stating any of the following:  your favorite thing about SBL; your least-favorite thing about SBL; how you describe SBL to people who don't know what it is; why you will never miss or never go to SBL; what lie you tell people about on the plane on the way to SBL; how many drinks you had with Anthony Le Donne at the last SBL.

We'll leave the giveaway open for a bit and then announce the winner based on the comments.

[UPDATE: This book will be released in the UK at the end of June and distributed by Alban Books.  Their link for the book is here.]

Friday, May 12, 2017

Social Memory: A Hermeneutical Reset

Yesterday Chris Keith treated me to breakfast at Taste of Belgium in Cincinnati. Wonderful frites with a horseradish aioli sauce. But fries served with an omelette? Has the world gone insane? Chris and I (as we tend to do) talked about the past, present, and future prospects of social memory theory in Jesus research. It occurred to me on the drive home that scholars with native fluency in New Testament studies continue to misappropriate the findings of social memory. Either they emphasize the creativity and instability of memory or they emphasize the regular reliability and stability of memory. Both are surface-level observations that fail to see the undergirding hermeneutical reset.

The key question is still "where is history?" If history is "back there in the past" and human memory is creative and and unstable, memory cannot provide access to history. Alternatively, if history is "back there in the past" and human memory is reliable and stable, memory can and does provide access to history. Both conclusions miss the point: history is not "back there." History relates to what is "back there" insomuch as it continues the mnemonic frames and interpretive perceptions of the past. But "history" (like everything under the epistemological umbrella) is something we encounter now. In my reading of him, Ruben Zimmermann (happy birthday!) gets this point. History (and on this point I depart from Maurice Halbwachs) is not something that precedes or undergirds memory.

In order for historians to utilize the findings of Social Memory we don't simply need a new method or new tools or new rules for the road. What we need is a hermeneutical reset whereby the human relationship to epistemology is reconsidered from the ground up.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Runesson’s Origins of the Synagogue for FREE!—Chris Keith

We at the Jesus Blog heard that your week was moving a little sluggishly and thought a free gift might make you feel better.  To that end, we pass along the fantastic news that Anders Runesson's groundbreaking The Origins of the Synagogue: A Socio-Historical Study is available for FREE on his site here.  If you're not familiar with Prof Runesson, who is also known as the father of The Angry Theologian (who, I'm told, might be heading to my alma mater, the University of Edinburgh), then start with this book to familiarize yourself.  For me personally, one of the most interesting developments in the last bit in NT studies is the explosion of synagogue studies, and much of that effort is related in one way or another to Runesson's work.  He's also just published Divine Wrath and Salvation in Matthew: The Narrative World of the First Gospel (Fortress, 2016).  I haven't read it yet, but will be soon thanks to the good folks at Fortress and will report back.  Thanks to Prof Runesson for alerting us that he is making The Origins of the Synagogue freely available!