Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Review: Bird, Jesus and the Origin of the Gentile Mission (Part 2)

Bird begins his book by laying out the problem he sets out to address, giving a brief overview of the state of the question, and his methodology. I will tell you a little about what he has to say and then I will give you my own comments on the matter. Let’s begin with the problem.

The Problem
While the early Church included Gentiles in its evangelistic mission, the Gospels present Jesus as primarily focused on Israel. Consider the following passages.

Matthew 10:5-6: “These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Matthew 15:24: [Jesus said]: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

How does one reconcile such passages with the later practice of the early Christians of Gentile inclusion?

Indeed, Bird carefully lays out six reasons why the early effort to bring Gentiles into the Church is surprising:
1. Jesus was Jewish
2. As mentioned above, the Gospels describe Jesus as restricting his ministry to Israel
3. The Gospels never report Jesus making disciples in Gentile districts, and there are only a few references to Jesus even having contact with Gentiles (and these are often deemed inauthentic)
4. All of the early leaders of the Christian movement were Jews
5. The movement began in Palestine, not in the Diaspora
6. There was considerable debate about the inclusion of Gentiles later on

Bird’s Solution
After laying out the problem Bird lays out his proposed solution: “Jesus’ intention was to renew and restore Israel, so that a restored Israel would extend God’s salvation to the world. Since this restoration was already being realized in Jesus’ ministry” (3).

I think Bird’s answer to the puzzle is brilliant. What he in effect shows is that a careful analysis reveals that certain strands of Jewish eschatological hopes linked the restoration of Israel with Gentile inclusion. I will save a careful overview for the post on chapter 2, where Bird lays out his case more carefully―suffice it to say, if the Gospels are any indication about the prevalence of Isaianic eschatological traditions in Jesus’ teaching, one could hardly expect Jesus to not expect an eventual inclusion of the Gentiles.

In a survey of the history of the work done in this area Bird demonstrates that scholars have often made the mistake of assuming Jesus must have either been a radical universalist or particularist. Jeremias is one notable exception. Discussing his contribution, Bird explains that any attempt to reduce Jesus’ message to either of these two extremes “evaporates once Jesus is understood as operating within the story of Jewish eschatological hopes.” However, Bird goes on to explain to discuss some very significant questions raised by Jeremias’ work, describing issues that must be addressed further.

One important point Bird makes is that while he operated primarily within Israelite boundaries, given the state of affairs in the first century, Jesus could hardly avoid the issue. “Given that most of the Jewish populace was either living in Gentile lands or subjugated under Gentile hands, it would be strange if Jesus offered no answer to the ‘Gentile question’” (20). Rabbinic traditions reveal that their role and fate was debated within Jewish circles. It is hard to imagine Jesus simply being aloof when it came to the controversy.

Bird goes on to lay out his method at the end of chapter one. Since this is an issue that I have been working on quite a bit myself I found this section especially interesting. He begins by addressing what “historical Jesus” means. He writes,

“The ‘historical Jesus’ is not a positivistic or objective history of Jesus, but it comprises a fallible portrait of Jesus that emerges from dialogue with the textual history of early Christianity and in partnership with other readers of this history” (23).
Next, he explains a key problem: the primary purpose of the Gospels was to “convey the meaning and significance of Jesus for readers in the Graeco-Roman world, and not to write a life of Jesus which can cater to the interests of post-Enlightenment historiography” (23).

Yet, Bird is quick to point out that this should not lead us to conclude with the radical form critics that the Gospels were mere theological tracts devoid of contact with the historical Jesus. He writes, “the continued use of the name ‘Jesus’ and the absence (with a few exceptions) of the titles ‘Christ’ and ‘Son of God’ as terms of address for Jesus in the Gospels underscore the continued awareness of the pre-Easter history of Jesus.”

Going on, Bird cites the work of James D. G. Dunn: “What we actually have in the earliest retellings of what is now the Synoptic tradition . . . are the memories of the first disciples―not Jesus himself, but the remembered Jesus” [Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 130-31]. Here’s Bird’s description of what the Gospels are: “The Gospels are the interpretation and application of the memory for Jesus in the Graeco-Roman world” (24).

The problem then is separating the “history” from the “interpretation”. The problem is intensified by the fact of interdependence among the Gospel sources―i.e., which elements are attributable to Jesus and which are merely Mark’s? Bird writes, “The danger is that one maps the contours of the Marcan Jesus’ view of the Gentiles, and then attempts to pass this off as the perspective of the historical Jesus” (25).

Bird then states: “The primary way of off-setting this problem in Jesus scholarship is by employing the so-called criteria of authenticity” (25). Bird opts for multiple-attestation, embarrassment, historical plausibility, coherence and Palestinian context. However, Bird is quick to point out the problems of the criteria. He rightly comments that there is no agreed consensus on what they are or how they should be used. Likewise, he explains that calling them criteria of “authenticity” is problematic since their use can hardly prove anything is “authentic” or “inauthentic”. Moreover, an “inauthentic” saying or deed may indeed reflect the actual authentic attitude or teaching of Jesus. The best we can hope for is likelihood: “…an ‘authentic’ saying or event is one which we have good reason to believe is close to something that Jesus said―as close as we could hope for” (25).

Bird’s words here are telling? Why continue to speak of “authenticity” despite the limitations of the criteria? “With these caveats in mind, I shall continue to use the language of ‘authenticity’ for the reason that it is simply part of the grammar of historical Jesus research” (25).

Have we really come to the point where we have to continue to use virtually meaningless language simply because without it work would not be considered be other scholars in the field? It seems we have. For me, this assertion by Bird is almost as groundbreaking as the rest of the work in the book.

This book only confirmed the increasing sense I have that the use of the “criteria” of authenticity has nearly reached an impasse.

Elsewhere I have posted my own brief critique of the criteria—though my own thought has evolved quite a bit on the topic, I remain highly skeptical of their usefulness. In particular, I have been reading scholars such as Porter, Theissen and Winter who have leveled especially devastating critiques of the criteria.

The true problem however lies at a deeper level. Most scholars recognize that the criteria arose out of source-critical and form-critical assumptions about the Gospels. For one thing, form-critics viewed the Gospels through the lens of folkloric literature, concluding that the Gospels were actually the result of a long process of “traditioning.” According to form-critical "dogma", the teachings of Christ had been fashioned and shaped over a long period of time so that the Gospels ended up reflecting the communal traditioning process much more than Jesus’ teaching itself. Moreover, the early transmission process involved the creative invention of certain elements which because part of the Jesus tradition. The Gospels thus stand at the end of a long "traditioning" process through which the historical "core" of Jesus' identity and teaching was supplemented, adapted and according to some, even recast.

Yet, this view of the Gospels has increasingly come under fire of late. In fact, the recent SBL session on Richard Bauckham's new book, Jesus and the Eyewitness (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006) has underscored this point. Whatever one thinks about his conclusions, the recent work done by Bauckham has seriously undermined the old form-critical theories. The Gospels were written within the living memory of the eye-witnesses who saw Jesus. In fact, Bauckham marshalls powerful support from patristic sources that the early Christians resisted such creative tendencies in the transmission of the Jesus tradition.

Bauckham highlights the work of Papias, a writer who knew those who had been in contact with some of the disciples of Jesus himself recounts his insistence upon hearing the actual commandments of Jesus.

“I shall not hesitate also to put into properly ordered form for you [singular] everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down well, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elder―[that is,] what [according to the elders] Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4).
Bauckham goes on to draw on other studies--in particular, that done by Samuel Byrskog--who have also drawn our attention to the fact that eye-witness testimony was a key part of ancient historiography. Luke, in particular, makes a point to mention his dependence on them in the introduction of his Gospel:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, 2 just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent The-ophilus, 4 that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (Luke 1:1-4).
And while Luke is the only one who mentions the use of eye-witnesses in his text, it is important to note that the Gospels themselves are linked with eye-witnesses via their titles. Matthew and John were understood by the early Church as being the apostles (pace Bauckham); Mark was believed to have recorded Peter's eye-witness testimony. While these titles are assumed to be later additions by most scholars today, Martin Hengel has made a persuasive case for their authenticity (cf. The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ [trans. lohn Bowden; London: SCM, 2000]). For one thing the universal attribution of the Gospels from the earliest times to these four figures--there is not a single case of one of them being associated with someone else!--is indeed difficult to explain.

It is also hard to imagine why Matthew, Mark and Luke would have been chosen as pseudonymous authors. Matthew had been a tax collector! Mark and Luke were not even apostles! If the titles are later additions one would have to assume that the early Church chose an odd set of names to authentic these works. Indeed, later pseudonymous works were written under the names of Peter, Philip and other more likely candidates.

Of course, it could be (and has been!) argued that Luke’s reference to eye-witnesses (what the ancients referred to as “autopsy”) was only included for rhetorical effect and does not reflect Luke’s actual practice. Yet, given the recent work being done, it doesn't seem that we have any more certainty of that than the alternative! It would seem that simply approaching the Gospels in the manner of the form-critics is not any more "critical" than "pre-critical" assumptions based on Christian tradition. Or must "critical" scholarship avoid "critiquing" the "critical" assumptions of old?

What might also refer here to the work done by Berger Gerhardsson who has looked at the transmission of the Jesus tradition in light of the memorization and oral transmission of Rabbinic teaching (cf. The Reliability of the Gospel Tradition [Peabody: Hendrickson]. I neglected to read this until Brant recently pointed out to me that Gerhardson has made a very significant convert to his view: Jacob Neusner. Neusner originally opposed Gerhardson--now, however, it would seem that one of the world's foremost rabbinic scholars is convinced by Gerhardsson! Again, this hardly ever gets mentioned--and without good cause.

Moreover, beyond the form-critical assumptions of the past, source-critical assumptions are being challenged. Mark Goodacre has leveled an extremely powerful critique against Q. (Even Kloppenborg had to mention his influence during his paper at the Bauckham session at SBL this month). "Q-skepticism" is making serious inroads--especially among younger scholars who have less published and therefore less invested in the theory. Bird even writes in a footnote:

"In this study I will assume the four-source theory with Marcan priority and the existence of a hypothetical document called 'Q'. I confess, however, that although I continue to affirm the existence of Q I postulate its existence with far greater reserve than when I first started this study, due to several works, including Mark Goodacre, The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press 2002), and Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perin (eds), Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005)" (23 n 138).
Drawing portraits of the historical Jesus based on the traditional criteria of authenticity (especially of multiple attestation) would seem to be risky business.

Furthermore, in my opinion, historical Jesus research has also largely ignored the work being done in another very important related field: genre studies. While all historical Jesus scholars construct their arguments using the Gospels as sources, few even mention the critical question of the genre of the Gospels. I owe this critique to my friend Brant Pitre, who turned me on to the discussion. (I would have never have known the importance of this debate from simply reading historical Jesus scholars--how ironic is that?!) Reading authors such as Richard Burridge and Samuel Byrskog I have come to see how such work has made tremendous contributions to our understanding of the most important sources of the life of Jesus. Indeed, Burridge’s work has been extremely well-received by the academic community.

What has Burridge argued? That contrary to the assumptions made by form critical analysts of New Testament the genre of the Gospels is not sui generis. In fact, comparing the Gospels with other ancient works (e.g., Plutarch, Seutonius, Lucian) it becomes strikingly apparent that they fit well within the genre of Graeco-Roman biography (bios).

The Gospels therefore are NOT written to simply reflect the theology of the early Church―they are meant to convey to us about what Jesus taught.

It has generally recognized that the “criteria” arose out of the form-critical theories about the formulation of the Gospels. Now, however, those assumptions are coming under increasing scrutiny and being viewed with growing suspicion. How can we build portraits of Jesus on such theories. "Assured results"? I think not!

Having said that, it seems that building a historical Jesus on the old form-critical assumptions may be akin to building a house on shifting sand.

But, I digress.

I should say, I don't mean any of this as a criticism of Bird's work--the implications of what I'm suggesting here is beyond the scope of his study.

Monday, November 26, 2007

SBL Audio!

Hey bibliobloggers, I'm expecting some major hat-tippage on this one.... Blogger Andy Rowell, a doctoral candidate at Duke, has posted the audio of various papers read at the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion here. (Thanks to Evy Nelson for the heads-up!) Here is the audio of Richard Bauckham's excellent paper, which I mentioned in my prior post on SBL. And here also is the audio of N. T. Wright's "God in Public - The Bible and Politics in Tomorrow’s World.mp3".

The Papal Triple Crown and the Jewish High Priest's Miter

In order to celebrate the feast of Christ the King (the final day of the liturgical year, celebrated yesterday), I wanted to post just a brief piece of background on the Papal Triple Crown (frequently referred to as the papal "tiara"). Although it is little known, this crown has its roots (surprise!) in ancient Judaism. In particular, we find a direct parallel in the miter that was worn by the Jewish high priest!

Josephus--himself a first-century Jewish priest--gives us a detailed description of the High Priest's miter:

" The high priest's miter was the same that we described before, and was wrought like that of all the other priests; above which there was another, with swathes of blue embroidered, and round it was a golden crown polished, of three rows, one above another ; out of which arose a cup of gold..." (Josephus, Antiquities, 3.172; trans. Whiston, p. 90)

This liturgical head-gear was based on the description of the high priest's miter found in the book of Exodus:

"And you shall make a plate of pure gold, and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, "Holy to the LORD." And you shall fasten it on the miter (LXX mitras ) by a lace of blue; it shall be on the front of the mitre. It shall be upon Aaron's forehead..." (Exodus 28:36-38)

With such descriptions, we find the Jewish background for description of Christ as high-priestly Son of Man in the Van Eyck triptych I attached above (see picture). We also discover the background for the Catholic tradition that the Pope, as the successor to Peter, is not simply the chief bishop, but the High Priestly Vicar of Christ. I'm only speculating--perhaps someone could confirm this--but could the triple crown signify the threefold office: (1) Priest, (2) Prophet, and (3) King?

Along these lines, one day Michael and I will do a post on how Peter is depicted as the new High Priest in the Gospel of Matthew. For now, I will simply note the contrast between the confession of Peter at Caeasarea Philippi and the (anti-)confession of the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas at Jesus' Trial before the Sanhedrin:

Caiaphas, the old High Priest

"Tell us if you are the Christ,
the Son of God" (Matt 26:63)

Peter, the New High Priest

"You are the Christ,
the Son of the living God" (Matt 16:16)

Long live Christ the King and Priest!!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christ the King

Today the Church celebrates the end of the liturgical year with the feast of Christ the King.

I thought it appropriate to highlight my series on Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom.

I also, once again, highly recommend Scott Hahn's article, “Kingdom and Church in Luke-Acts: From Davidic Christology to Kingdom Ecclesiology,” in Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflections, Formation Scripture and Hermeneutics Series VI; eds., Craig Bartholomew, Joel Green, Anthony Thiselton (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), pp. 294-326.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Adventures at SBL

Wow, what a weekend! To sum it all up would take a book-length post!

This weekend was the annual gathering of the Society of Biblical Literature and this year it was here in San Diego. That meant, of course, that I got to spend time with two of my nearest and dearest friends: Scott Hahn and Brant Pitre.

In fact, about a year ago, when we discovered the SBL would be in San Diego, Brant discussed the possibility of staying with Kim and me. So for the past year we've been looking forward to this in a special way. He was nice enough to bring a bunch of books recently given to him which he already had copies of. This is only a few of them--there were a ton of them!

Martin Hengel, The Johannine Question (J. Bowden, trans.; London: SCM, 1989)

Giuseppe Ricciotti, History of Israel (2 vols; 2nd edition; C. Della Penta and R. T. A. Murphy, trans.; Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1958)

Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993)

Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, Paul Between Damascus and
Antioch: The Unknown Years
(London: SCM; Louisville: Westminster/John Knox,

We got very little sleep, but we had a great time talking shop and goofing off until about 3am. (I'll have a little more about that later!) It was especially nice to talk without worrying that the cell phone would somehow drop out!

Scott and Brant were nice enough to offer to speak at the local parish where my wife is the Director of Religious Education. Suffice it to say, the parishioners are still on cloud nine. In my opinion, these two guys are the finest Catholic popular speakers around. Put it this way, I've never seen either of them give a talk which didn't end with the audience giving an extended standing ovation... and this event was no exception.

Of course, the amazing thing about these two guys is that they're so much more than just great speakers--they are incredibly impressive scholars. Brant's latest book is coming out through Eerdmans and Scott's will be published by Yale University Press. (While many people know Scott through his enormously successful books which are accessible to non-academic audiences, one can only fully appreciate his real genius once one reads his scholarly work [here is a sample])

On Friday I went to the Evangelical Theological Society and met Scott. We heard an extremely insightful paper on Elijah typology in Mark's Gospel presented by Warren Gage. Although I had recognized many of the parallels before, Gage highlighted a number of things I had never considered, including Herod's wife's role as the new Jezebel and the crucifixion scene as a reversal of Elijah's battle with the priests of Baal at Mt. Carmel. It was outstanding.

I then went to the airport to pick up Brant and Brian, a friend of Brant's who came to sell some material at the parish event. Brant and I headed back over to the ETS for a session on Scot McKnight's important book, Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory (Baylor University Press, 2005). So much could be said about that session--to say the least, it was stimulating. Scot was very kind and it was great to talk with him. Brant got up and made some very important contributions to the discussion. A number of people there recognized his name from his important dissertation, complimenting his work with words of high praise (including McKnight!).

That evening was the event at the parish. It was jam-packed. Kim did an awesome job promoting it and orchestrating things behind the scenes (...she does all things well!). Special thanks also goes to the pastor, Fr. Michael Robinson, for his support and to Monika, my cousin, who put a lot of work into making that evening a success.

On Saturday we arrived at SBL... and to hundreds of thousands of books on sale at greatly reduced prices. Not having to fly home, I didn't have to be concerned this year with being able to fit my purchases into luggage--which I suppose isn't necessarily a good thing! My one major goal this year was to find Crispin Fletcher-Louis' book, All the Glory of Adam, at Brill--a publisher with outrageously high-priced books. I knew I could get it for a discount if I played my cards right. It turns out that they only brought one copy of each book on sale. I found it, but I had a dilemna: I could either buy it for 25% off, putting it on reserve and picking it up at the end of the conference (thus saving on the book price and shipping), or I could wait and see if no one put it on reserve by the last day and purchase it for more than 50% off.

It was a gamble, but I chose to wait and hopefully save more than half off the sticker price. Very few people know how important his work is yet (shockingly!) so I thought the odds were it would not be picked up. I kept checking to see if it had been bought all weekend long.

Some of the other titles I picked up included:

Craig Evans and Bruce Chilton, eds., Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (Leiden: Brill, 1999)

Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007)

James H. Charlesworth, ed. Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Princeton Symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls (3 vols; Baylor University Press, 2007)

Loren T. Stuckenbruck, Stephen C. Barton, and Benjamin G. Wold, Memory in the Bible and Antiquity (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007)

Birger Gerhardsson, Reliability of the Gospel Tradition (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2001)

Paul W. Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (New Studies in Biblical Theology 3; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)

Craig A. Evans, Ancient. Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA:. Hendrickson, 2005)

Karen J. Wenell. Jesus and Land: Sacred and Social Space in Second Temple Judaism. (London: T & T Clark, 2007)

David Flusser, Qumran and Apocalypticism (Judaism of the Second Temple Period 1; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007)

Roger T. Beckwith, Calendar, Chronology and Worship; Studies in Ancient. Judaism and Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2005)

Later on Saturday, Brant and I went to the panel discussion on Richard Bauckham's seminal new book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. It was very stimulating and one of the highlights of the trip. I think I'll be processing it for a long time to come. (The Word is going around that Chris Tilling is trying to post the papers on-line... here's to hoping!)

Certainly one of the highlights was getting time in with Jeff Morrow, who recently earned his Ph.D. from the University of Dayton. If you haven't heard that name, remember it--he is an amazing young scholar. Jeff presented two papers at SBL, "Genesis 1-3 in a Liturgical Context: The Role of Liturgy in Christian Theological Interpretation of Scripture" (for an abstract right-click here) and "The Politics Behind Thomas Hobbes’s Early Modern Biblical Criticism" (for an abstract right-click here). If I had one regret about SBL it was that I missed these two papers. (Jeff, if you're reading, I'd be happy to get a rough copy somehow).

Other highlights of the conference involved getting to meet some of the following people for the first time:

1. Michael Bird, co-contributer to Euangelion and author of one of the best new books on the historical Jesus, Jesus and the Gentile Mission (stay tuned for more of review of that one!). Michael is just as great in person as he is on the web. It was a real pleasure to get to know him a little better. He talked a little bit about the work he is doing on Messianic studies and it sounds great. Bird is an unstoppable force out there. In addition, to his work on the concept of the Messiah he has 5 other books in the works and they all sound fascinating.

2. Chris Tilling of Chrisendom. On Sunday night Brant, Chris and I had an impromptu get-together at the lobby of the hotel which lasted until early in the morning. It was a lot of fun to talk Scripture together. He discussed his dissertation with us and--wow!--it sounds like it is going to make a huge contribution to the field of Pauline studies. Reading his blog, you get a sense for his ability, but he's really got some incredible ideas. Move over N. T. Wright... Pauline scholars are going to be blown away by this guy.

3. Mark Goodacre, a.k.a., the "blog-father" of Biblical studies. He was very kind, charming and friendly--it was great to speak with him. Goodacre's work on Q has had a massive influence on me--and on other scholars. In the Richard Bauckham seminar, discussion of the two-source hypothesis (Mark-Q) could not be maintained without at least a reference to his work. I found that fascinating. Q is no longer an unquestioned assumption in the mainstream of Gospel studies and that is largely due to Goodacre's important critique. Yet it was clear that despite his success he remains extremely accessible and friendly to those of us just starting out.

4. Craig Keener, author of two of the most comprehensive commentaries you'll ever find--one on Matthew and one on John. If you haven't got these on your shelf, shame on you. In my opinion, they are an absolute must for any scholar.

5. Mark Giszczak, a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament over at Catholic University. Mark blew me away--a great guy, a gifted doctoral student, and--low and behold!--the author of a great blog, Catholic Scripture Student. (Check this paper on theological hermeneutics out!) If you're not aware of him, add him to your favorites. I know I will! (P.S. Mark, if you read this, sorry again about ditching you at dinner. I will definitely make that up to you!)

6. Richard Burridge, author of the seminal work, What are the Gospels? I just finished reading his book a second time through prior to SBL (I think his work is critically important), so it was a little surreal when I saw a man with that name on his name-tag pass by me on the street. He was very gracious and kind and it was great to put a face to a name.

7. Jim West, author of the Jim West blog and founder of the Biblical Studies on-line group. It was a real treat to get to meet someone I read on the internet all the time. I think he made me laugh out loud each time I talked with him--a well-read scholar and a great guy!

8. James Crossley of Earliest Christian History. Crossley was on the panel discussing Bauckham's work. I only spoke with him briefly but, like Goodacre, he was extremely kind. His critique of Bauckham was by far the best-written of the bunch.

9. Christian Brady, the Targuman. We only spoke briefly but he was very kind, learned and engaging. I clearly need to read his blog more often and add it to my blogroll.

10. Justin Smith, a student of Richard Bauckham at Saint Andrews. Justin described his dissertation project, which advances the genre analysis of the Gospels put forward by Richard Burridge and the work on ancient historiography done by Byrskog and Buackham. This looks to be a tremendously significant work in a very important area. It was great getting to talk with a man who is about to make a key contribution to the field.

11. David Mills, editor of Touchstone Magazine... a brilliant, kind and hilariously funny man with a lot of knowledge and experience.

12. Mark Strauss, author of one of my favorite books, The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: The Promise and Its Fulfillment in Lukan Christology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1995). We had a brief conversation about Davidic Christology. It was really great to get to talk with him. He actually introduced me to eminent scholar Max Turner, who directed his dissertation work (and who is also working with Chris Tilling!).

13. Robert Cargill, a Qumran scholar who put together the "virtual tour" for the San Diego Natural History Museum's Dead Sea Scroll exhibit. Cargill was in line behind me Tuesday morning before the convention doors opened (and I found out whether or not I had gambled successfully on that Fletcher-Louis title). Cargill did an excellent job presenting a balanced view of the site for the museum. You can read his blog--Virtual Qumran--here. Cargill is also the biblioblogger blog of the month over at You can read Jim West's interview with him here.

It was also greet to get time in with old friends, Alan Padgett, Rob Corzine, Matt Leonard, and Rodrigo Morales (who was just named the new Scripture professor at Marquette--congratulations, Rodrigo!).

Oh... and Tuesday morning, the last day of SBL, I got to the convention center early so I could be ahead of the mad dash for the book tables. I got my Flether-Louis at 50% off.

I love going to SBL!

And last but not least here's a picture of Brant and me with Chris Tilling at about 1:30am after our incredible conversation in the lobby of the Marriot.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Evans on "Retrieving" Q

Many scholars derive conclusions about the historical Jesus based on four major hypothetical assumptions:
1) Mark wrote first and Matthew and Luke, at least in some ways, borrowed from him [Of course, many do not necessarily believe that the titles of the Gospels reflect the actual identity of the authors; it is held that the Gospels were written anonymously, something Martin Hengel has contested, but I digress...]
2) The similarities between Matthew and Luke are explained by the idea that they both borrowed from a common source, "Q"
3) That the Gospel writers not only adapted the teaching of the historical Jesus but also supplemented it with other teachings which may or may not have been consistent with Jesus' own understanding
4) That Q represents the earliest and least "developed" source of Jesus' teaching
As a result of all this the two most important sources for historical Jesus scholars have been Mark and Q. Matthew and Luke are used essentially when they agree with one another--i.e., when Q material is located.
Scholars have thus had a huge interest in Q. While no "Q" document has EVER been found, scholars have managed to not only identify what was in Q, they have developed a concordance of Q and even figured out what the particular theology of "Q" must have been.
In a tremendously good article, "Authenticating the Words of Jesus" [in Authenticating the Words of Jesus (B. Chilton and C. A. Evans, eds.; Boston: Brill, 2002): 3-14], Craig Evans illustrates some of the problems inherent in such a project. Anyone with an interest in Jesus studies should be absolutely required to read this article.
Evans demonstrates the absurdity of much of the "Q" research being done out there by assuming Markan priority and imagining that Mark, like Q, had been lost to history. Could we reconstruct Mark from the remaining sources?
Together Matthew and Luke contain approximately 96% of Mark. But we know this only because we have Mark and so know what Matthew and Luek actually borrowed from it. Because Luke only contains approximately 60% of Mark, we would not know for certain that that part of Mark preserved only in Matthew was in fact from Mark. All that we would know for certain that came from Mark was what we found in both Matthew and Luke, that is, less than two-thirds of Mark. For example, only Matthew preserves both of Mark's feeding stories. Would scholars assume that two stories had been present in Mark, or would they assume that Matthew, who is fond of doublets (e.g., two demoniacs, 8:28-33; two sets of two blind men, 9:27-31 + 2-:29-34; two donkeys, 21:1-9), made a doublet out of what would probably be assumed to have been only one feeding story in Mark? [ 6-7]
After laying out a comprehensive account of the material we would be able to "retrieve" from Mark's story from Matthew and Luke Evans makes some key points.
Not only are there several pericopes missing, but many of the pericopes listed above would be considerably reduced in size or greatly altered from the way they are preserved in Mark, if they were reconstructed strictly on the basis of the parallell materials found in Matthew and Luke. (The apparent lengths of the respective passages in the list above are misleading, in that they create the impression of far more recoverable material than would actually be the case.) From this reconstructed Mark would we be able to discern Mark's christology? Could we infer from reconstructed Mark the situation and interests of the Markan community?

Mark's opening verse, considered by most commentators and interpreters of Mark as vital to the understanding of the Gospel, would not be part of this reconstruction? Would we know that Mark's key christological formulation is that Jesus is the "son of God"? Not only is Mark 1:1 missing, but Jesus' bold affirmation in response to the High Priest's question, "Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed?" (Mark 14:61-62), would be blunted ina reconstruction based on the Matthean and Lukan parallels... Moreover, Mark's confession through the Roman centurian would also be lost: "Truly this mas was the son of God!" (Mark 15:39). Whereas Matthew again follows Mark closely, Luke reads: "Certainly this man was innocent!" (Luke 23:47). Given these deviations from Mark, would scholars really be in a position to discern the christology of Mark reconstructed from Matthew and Luke? [9]
Evans goes on to point out several other issues. His point is clearly made: "If a reconstruction of Mark is based solely on what can be extracted from Matthew and Luke is missing so many important elements, then why should we assume that in the case of Q, which must be reconstructed from Matthew and Luke, the situation is different in any significant sense?" [10].
This has huge implications for Jesus research... however, five years later, it seems most scholars haved ignored Evans' point and Jesus studies have proceeded along the same paths. It is strikingly ironic to me that scholars continue to demand acute exegetical precision when debating the authenticity of a text (e.g., whether or not a particular "Son of Man" saying is related to Danielic eschatology), while making sweeping conclusions regarding authenticity based on extremely tentative assumptions about Q.
I think fifty years from now scholars will only shake their heads in awe of the disparity.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Clement on the Order of the Gospels

I just found a very interesting article by Stephen Carlson on Clement's list on the order of the Gospels in Clement over at Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway: "Clement of Alexandria's 'Order' of the Gospels." The article originally appeared in New Testament Studies 47 (2001): 118-25.

I find his analysis facinating. Anybody else want to read the article and comment on it?

In brief, Clement seems to break with the rest of the early Church in saying that Matthew and Luke were "written first". What is especially surprising is that Origen--a student of Clement--takes the "Augustinian" view (i.e., that the canonical order was the historical order, Matthew, Mark, Luke and then John)? How do we account for the divergence here?

Read the article and let me know what you think...

You might also check out Carlson's excellent blog, Hypotyposeis.