Baker Academic

Friday, December 30, 2016

Your New Year's Eve Party is Incomplete without a Free Book from Eerdmans!—Chris Keith

Want your New Year's Eve party to rock?  Of course you do.  So in addition to your tuxedo tshirt, cigars, party streamers, guacamole dip, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, how about a free book on the Gospel of John?!

Eerdmans is kicking off the New Year on the Jesus Blog with a giveaway of three (!) copies of the paperback edition of Character Studies in the Fourth Gospel.  This 724-page behemoth is the perfect party favor and conversation-starter between you and your friends and relatives, all of whom have absolutely no idea what you do in graduate school or as a scholar.  Not a student or scholar?  Then in addition to an increased likelihood of being in a profession with a bright outlook, your friends and family will be especially flummoxed by the fact that you spend your actual spare time accumulating this knowledge!  You'll be the Steve Holt of this party!  (Steve Holt!)

Edited by mixmaster Steve Hunt and the Rebellion (i.e., D. Francois Tolmie and Ruben Zimmermann), this book has short(ish) chapters on every. single. character in the Gospel of John from a narrative-critical perspective.  This book is perfect for those drinking games where you need to explain the narrative role of "Malchus" the earless wonder (and, oh yeah, you know it--that chapter is written by Christopher Skinner . . . IT'S ON LIKE DONKEY KONG!) or "The Co-Crucified Men" (Chelsea N. Revell with mixmaster Hunt).  It's also perfect for when you're flying home after New Year's and get seated next to that annoying passenger on the plane who won't take the hint that you just really don't want to talk about your profession because, unlike his nephew in Topeka, you're not actually a priest.  If he won't relent, back up the Johannine characterization dump truck on him and unload some Gail O'Day ("Martha: Seeing the Glory of God"), Catrin Williams ("Judas [not Iscariot]"), William John Lyons ("Joseph of Arimathea") or, if you're particularly desperate, Chris Keith ("The Scribes and the Elders").

This book is also perfect for the course on the Gospel of John that I'll be teaching the first week of the New Year at Baylor University as part of St Mary's University's faculty exchange network.  It's "perfect" because it's "required."

So can you simply not stand the excitement anymore?  Just share this post on any form of social media and leave a comment here saying you did.  Or leave a comment telling us your favorite Chevy Chase movie and quote (any answer other than "Fletch" will count half, but the quotes can vary).  Or sign up to follow this blog and leave a comment saying you did.  Or do all three.  After a little bit, we will let the random number generator tell us three winners and post them. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

The most significant thing in the whole document, when all is said and done, is that the Biblical Commission calmly and frankly admits that what is contained in the Gospels as we have them today is not the words and deeds of Jesus in the first stage of tradition, nor even the form in which they were preached in the second stage, but only in the form compiled and edited by the Evangelists.

                    ~Joseph A. Fitzmyer

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmastime vs. Xmas Entitlement

The following is an excerpt from my new book, Near Christianity. These paragraphs are taken from chapter 2: 

"On the Border of Always Winter and Always Christmas" 

In this chapter I quote C. S. Lewis's view on "Xmas." He writes, "Christmas cards in general and the whole vast commercial drive called “Xmas” are one of my pet abominations. . . . If it were my business to have a “view” on this, I should say that I much approve of merrymaking. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business." In the following, I contextualize this idea by using a passage from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.


Unexpected Grace

Peter, Susan, and Lucy are on the run. Edmond has chased the White Witch in search of Turkish Delight and so he is not with the rest of the children. The reader will remember, however, Edmond’s peril and the sound of the Witch’s sleigh. She is the one who rides on a sledge drawn by two reindeer. The sound of jingling announces her arrival because her reindeer have harnesses of scarlet leather covered in bells. She has turned Mr. Tumnus to stone and she holds Narnia under a curse: always winter and never Christmas. It is then only natural for the young reader to feel Lucy’s fear at the sound of bells:
It seemed to Lucy only the next minute (though really it was hours and hours later) when she woke up feeling a little cold and dreadfully stiff and thinking how she would like a hot bath. Then she felt a set of long whiskers tickling her cheek and saw the cold daylight coming in through the mouth of the cave. But immediately after that she was very wide awake indeed, and so was everyone else. In fact they were all sitting up with their mouths and eyes wide open listening to a sound which was the very sound they’d all been thinking of (and sometimes imagining they heard) during their walk last night. It was a sound of jingling bells. 
Lucy—and the reader with her—expects the sound of bells to mean doom. Instead the children meet the person they least expect: Father Christmas. When my children were reading this book with me, I asked, “Do you know who Father Christmas is?” Even though we never called St. Nicholas by this name in our house they were both certain that it was Santa. True to form, Father Christmas brings gifts. Unexpectedly, and true only within The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Father Christmas signals an end to the Witch’s magic. Or (if you are like me and read this story for merging mythologies) Father Christmas anticipates the end of exile and oppression. “Locks and bolts make no difference to me,’ said Father Christmas.”[1] His arrival marks the liberation from Narnia’s long winter.

This story, like every good Christmas story, contains an unexpected gift. The children, of course, receive gifts. But the greater gift is a literary irony: when almost certain doom is anticipated by jingling bells, an equally grandiose but opposite character arrives. The reader is taken from dread to hope in the process.[2] This unexpected turn is the gift. Moreover, it is only a gift if it is unexpected.

Now I come to my point. The children in this story are not asking for presents. They have written no letters to Santa. They—along with the young reader—are entirely unaware that Father Christmas is even in this story. Lucy is a refugee hoping to escape and survive. She is stranger in a strange land and under no illusion of entitlement. The gift (charis means both gift and grace in Greek) is not an entitlement. Doesn’t this make the arrival of Christmas all the sweeter?

The trouble with what Lewis called “Xmas” is that too many of us feel entitled to it. And if we feel entitled to Christmas, don’t we rob it of its most gracious virtue? Isn’t a sense of entitlement fundamentally opposite to a sense of grace? I am of the opinion that the appreciation of grace requires the experience of an unexpected turn.

Of course, those who celebrate Advent (and I would recommend this over a “culture war”) can hardly meet Christmas unexpectedly. Advent is about remembering and anticipating, after all. We can, however, anticipate without a sense of entitlement. My guess is that this will make Christmas time more enjoyable for our neighbors and for us.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: HarperTrophy, 1978), 114-117.
[2] To play up further the contrast between Father Christmas and the Witch, consider this: the Witch offers a false gift, Turkish Delight. This is a “gift” that takes more from Edmond than it promises. On the other hand, the historical St. Nicholas (upon whom Father Christmas is based) was the Bishop of Myra, which is located in modern-day Turkey. So in contrast to the Witch who promises Turkish Delight, Father Christmas is himself from Turkey. Given the Turkish connection, it may also be relevant that Lewis names the White Witch “Jadis.” The word for “witch” in Turkish is cadı pronounced, jah-duh. “Aslan,” in Turkish, means lion. (My thanks to folklorist and friend, Nathan Young for his help.)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christine Jacobi’s "Jesusüberlieferung bei Paulus?" reviewed in RBL—Chris Keith

Congratulations to Jesus Blogger Christine Jacobi on receiving an excellent review of her Jesusueberlieferung bei Paulus? in the Review of Biblical Literature! The reviewer is Kari Syreeni, who not only treats the details of the monograph but also the significance of Jacobi's study as an application of the so-called "memory approach" to Pauline studies.  (The Jesus Blog actually gets a mention toward the end!)

I include the closing of the review here.  I'll let Christine respond to the rest, but I appreciate Syreeni's closing interrogative, as I think he has perceptively noted what this methodological shift can entail.  He's actually entirely right that Jacobi's conclusions are open to different interpretations, because what one considers "maximalist" or "minimalist" is entirely based on what one is after in the first place.

"All in all, the book contains a series of meticulous analyses of Paul’s use, or nonuse, of
Jesus traditions. Both the merits and the problems of the book depend on its presentic,
contextual concept of memory. What we have here is nothing less than a new paradigm in
the study of Paul and Jesus traditions. This paradigm offers no easy routes from Jesus to
Paul. The proponents of a maximalist view may not find the new paradigm persuasive, yet they would do well to reconsider the concept of Jesus tradition. Not all early Christian
tradition is Jesus tradition, and not all use of traditional motifs and topoi is tantamount to
transmitting fixed traditions.

However, the new paradigm may not be quite so new after all. The reader may be left
wondering whether this is essentially much else than the Bultmannian line of reasoning.
At the same time, it seems that the paradigm is open to quite contrary hermeneutical
assessments. The back cover text articulates the minimalist conclusion straightforwardly:
“Im Licht des Christusgeschehens entwickeln Paulus und das frühe Christentum ethische
Überzeugungen, die später in den Evangelien als Worte Jesu weitergegeben werden.” By
contrast, the Jesus blog welcomes Jacobi as their new contributor by describing her book
as follows: “In this study, Jacobi argues that restricting consideration of Paul’s knowledge
of the Jesus tradition to mining his epistles for words and sayings of Jesus from the Synoptics is ill-conceived. One must, according to Jacobi, be more attuned to Paul’s own conceptualization of Jesus and the Jesus tradition. Focusing particularly on his usage of ‘in the Lord,’ she demonstrates that Paul ‘receives’ ‘Jesus’ as more of a hermeneutical sphere or orientation toward the past than anything else, and thus his reception of Jesus and Jesus tradition amounts to much more than simply repeating some words that Jesus may have said” ( Perhaps, then, less is more?"

Congrats Christine!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Jenny Knust and Tommy Wasserman's Breakthrough in Pericope Adulterae Research—Chris Keith

I'm just now getting caught up after the Society of Biblical Literature conference in San Antonio last month.  I will have more to say but have to pass along one of the most exciting things that happened.  In a session dedicated to applying the work of classicist William A. Johnson to issues in early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism, Jenny Knust presented some of the research that she and Tommy Wasserman have completed for a forthcoming monograph on the transmission history of the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11).  This presentation featured the para-textual evidence of Latin capitula and Greek kephalaia, chapter division systems in ancient mansucripts.  On some matters, Knust and Wasserman confirm what others have argued (including yours truly), which is that the passage likely entered the Gospel of John by the third century in a Greek manuscript but in the Latin-dominant West.  On other matters, however, Knust and Wasserman have broken entirely new ground by focusing on evidence that nearly everyone else (including yours truly) has ignored.  In so doing, they've demonstrated rather conclusively that the passage was not ignored in the Greek-dominant East until the twelfth century.  This thought that the story was ignored in the Greek East is attributable largely to Metzger's The Text of the New Testament:

"The account is lacking in the best Greek manuscripts. . . .  No Greek Church father for 1,000 years after Christ refers to the pericope as belonging to the fourth Gospel, including even those who, like Origen, Chrysostom, and Nonnus . . . dealth with the entire Gospel verse by verse.  Euthymius Zigabenus, who lived in the first part of the twelfth century, is the first Greek writer to comment on the passage." (319-20, 4th ed.).

In the commentaries on the Fourth Gospel that treat John 7:53-8:11, you very regularly find some version of this statement about Euthymius in the 12th century.  I'm happy to say that in my 2009 monograph I disagreed with Metzger's claim on the basis of the sixth-century Syriac Chronicle of Zacharias Rhetor (translatedfrom a fifth-century Greek text) and Nicon (possibly tenth century).  Knust goes further in challenging Metzger:  "Yes, prior to the twelfth-century the passage was overlooked in Byzantine homilies and commentaries, but somehow, and for some unstated reason, the pericope adulterae became important enough that it was granted its own, unique chapter." In short, most Byzantine manuscripts have an 18-chapter version of the Gospel of John, but a minority add a 19th chapter in order to include the story of the adulteress.  These manuscripts themselves are later, but three manuscripts in Family 1 (1 [12 cent. in NA28], 565 [9th cent.], 1582 [948 CE]) have a scribal note that states that (1) most manuscripts do not have the kephalaion about the adulteress, (2) John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, and Theodore of Mopsuestia do not mention the story, and (3) it is found in a few manuscripts, and in these it is in the 86th Ammonian section after John 7:52.  In light of the uniform nature of the comment, the particular fathers mentioned, and the possibility that the 10th-century scribe of 1582 had access to the library of Caesarea (argued by Amy Anderson), as well as some supporting evidence from Eusebius' scribal practices, Knust concludes that it is possible to date a 19-chapter Greek Gospel of John that includes the kephalaion of the adulteress to the fifth century CE.  Independently of this, however, the kephalaia, as a para-textual reference system, demonstrates conclusively that Greek scribal authorities "commented on" the Pericope Adulterae prior to the 12th century.

Jenny Knust and Tommy Wasserman have just re-written Bruce Metzger.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Why is Christmas on December 25?

Everyone knows that on December 25 unto us a child was born. He was born of historic lineage and became so popular that his legacy was mediated by fiction. Of course, I am referring to Humphrey Bogart. Yes, my friend, Bogart was born Dec. 25, 1899. Interestingly, Warner Bros circulated the rumor that he was born on January 23, 1900, hoping to avoid the Christ-typology.

What is my point, you ask? To you, I offer the simple lesson: don't bogart that point, my friend. Sometimes people weren't born when we think they were.

In the first six centuries of Christian expansion, Christianity was practiced somewhat differently from city to city (and importantly, from East to West). The date established for Jesus’ birth is an example of this variety. By the end of the 2nd century, May 20, March 21, and multiple dates in April were suggested for Jesus’ birthdate (I specify these dates using the modern calendar for clarity). Some eastern cities celebrated Jesus’ birth on what we now consider to be January 6. Concurrently, many other cities celebrated Jesus’ birth on what we now consider December 25. But it wasn’t until the 6th century that December 25 became the standard date for most cities that worshipped according to the Christian calendar.

While the subject of Jesus’ birth was interesting to Christians as early as the first century, our earliest sources—e.g. Paul’s letters and Mark’s Gospel—do not include nativity stories. And while Paul mentions a commemorative festival related to Jesus’ death (1 Cor 5:7-8), there is no evidence that the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke were celebrated as annual feasts until centuries later. And because neither Matthew nor Luke suggest a date for Jesus’ birth, later theologians were left to suggest, guess, and surmise when Jesus might have been born. December 25 was probably not seriously considered until the fourth century. (For more detailed names, places, and dates, see Thomas J. Talley, Origins of the Liturgical Year).

While Jesus’ birthdate was unknown to his first-century followers and disputed among later theologians, one assumption was common: every writer on this topic believed that Jesus’ birth was a theological event. In other words, God got involved and so the date probably wasn’t random. Whatever date it was, it would have to be theologically significant. Using this premise it became commonplace to believe that Jesus was crucified on the same date that that he was divinely conceived. Surmising that Jesus was crucified on March 25 (John’s Gospel associates Jesus’ crucifixion with the Jewish Passover feast; 14 Nisan), some theologians guessed that Jesus was also conceived on March 25. Andrew McGowan explains,
Connecting Jesus’ conception and death in this way will certainly seem odd to modern readers, but it reflects ancient and medieval understandings of the whole of salvation being bound up together.
Indeed, according to this logic, there are no coincidences in the divine plan. "In all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world . . . " 

Because many Christians believed that Jesus was conceived on March 25, they looked to December 25 as a logical birthdate, as it is nine months after conception. Others believed that Jesus was both crucified and conceived on April 6. Thus January 6 (being nine months later than Apr. 6) made better sense. In keeping with the logic that great theological events happen on important theological dates, many Christians also believed that Jesus baptism also happened on January 6. Indeed Christians in the Armenian Church continue to celebrate Christmas on January 6 (I envy their ability to wait until after the New Year for gift shopping).

The difference between December 25 and January 6 might help explain two things: (1) it explains why some churches eventually held feasts on both dates; (2) it also explains the tradition that there are 12 days of Christmas (thus measuring the time elapsed between Dec. 25 and Jan. 6).

Modern minds will no doubt have difficulty with the logic used to determine these dates. In order for one to conclude that Jesus was born on December 25 (for example), one must make four assumptions. First, we must grant that God chooses significant dates to intervene in human history. Second, we must grant that Jesus’ conception and death took place on the same date. Third, we must grant that March 25 is in fact the date that Jesus was crucified (which is disputed among historians) and so too was the date he was conceived. Fourth, we must grant that Jesus’ gestation period was exactly nine calendar months.

From the modern historian’s perspective, we must conclude that we haven’t the first clue of Jesus’ birthdate. Rather, December 25 is a theological guess that was not widely commemorated until the 6th century.  What I find most interesting, however, is that commemorating the life of Jesus restructured how Christians thought about their annual calendar. Conversely, once a commemorative calendar had been established, these traditions eventually restructured how Christians thought about Jesus.

This is just one of the fundamental things about history that apply
As time goes by

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Everything you thought you knew about the first Christmas is wrong

As I serve as the official ghost of Christmas past for the Jesus Blog, I should remind you that I've pointed our readers before to Stephen Carlson's revisionist history of the iconic stable scene in Luke's Gospel.

Brice Jones does an admirable job as the ghost of Christmas present here: 

We are now accepting applications for the ghost of Christmas future. Long-haired freaky people need not apply.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

As we retell the story of weary travelers, a star, shepherds, and the Magi, I hope that we also focus ourselves on the message that this child brought to this Earth some 2,000 years ago. A message that says we have to be our brother’s keepers, our sister’s keepers. That we have to reach out to each other, to forgive each other, to let the light of our good deeds shine for all. To care for the sick, and the hungry, and the downtrodden. And of course, to love one another, even our enemies, and treat one another the way we would want to be treated ourselves. It’s a message that grounds not just my family’s Christian faith, but that of Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans; nonbelievers and Americans of all backgrounds. It’s a message of unity and decency and a message of hope that never goes out of style.

                                                                   ~Barack Obama

Thursday, December 1, 2016

New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1

Our new advertisement from Eerdmans (left column) features a book that sold out very quickly at this year's AAR/SBL conference. Check out this description and you'll see why:

New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1 More Noncanonical Scriptures 
Brent Landau, Tony Burke
Compilation of little-known and never-before-published apocryphal Christian texts in English translation. 
This anthology of ancient nonbiblical Christian literature presents introductions to and translations of little-known apocryphal texts from a wide variety of genres, most of which have never before been translated into any modern language. 
An introduction to the volume as a whole addresses the most significant features of the included writings and contextualizes them within the contemporary (quickly evolving) study of the Christian Apocrypha. The body of the book comprises thirty texts that have been carefully introduced, annotated, and translated into readable English by eminent scholars. Ranging from the second century to early in the second millennium, these fascinating texts provide a more complete picture of Christian thought and expression than canonical texts alone can offer.
Need I say more?