Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Top 25 NT scholars, here is 25 - 1! With ammendments!!!

There's alot of guys I'd liked to have included, but they didn't make the cut: Ben Witherington, L.T. Johnson, Charles Talbert, C.F.D. Moule, John Knox, M.D. Hooker, Graham Stanton, Peter Stuhlmacher, Scot McKnight, Oscar Cullmann, John Meier, John Barclay, J.L. Martyn, J.A.T. Robinson, A. Thiselton, H. Cabury, Wayne Meeks, John Dom Crossan, etc.

Criteria for inclusion is:

(1) Has made a recognizable contribution to NT scholarship and (2) their works either have or shall endure the test of time. These include authors who are my favourites and one's that I think are influential (at least upon me).

25. Richard Hays

His book The Moral Vision of the New Testament is a classic. Similarly his work on narrative theology and his championing of the subjective genitive reading of pistis christou warrant a ranking. His 1 Corinthians commentary also challenges the consensus of a realized eschatology at Corinth (instead the problem was not enough eschatology).

24. Adolf Schlatter

Underrated German scholar who wrote some good NT Theology books (only now available in English). Apparently memorized the entire Gk NT and TDNT was dedicated to him!

23. G. Bornkamm

His book Jesus of Nazareth is the best of the 2nd Quest. His book on Paul is quite disappointing, however, he did pave the way for work on redaction criticism in Matthew.

22. T.W. Manson

British scholar who worked mainly on the Gospels and the Jesus Tradition and produced several notable works like The Sayings of Jesus.

21. I. Howard Marshall

Still a sharp evangelical scholar known mainly for his commentaries on Luke-Acts, Johannine Epistles, Thessalonians and also the Pastorals. Various other studies on the atonement, perseverance, biblical interpretation guarantee his legacy.

20. Gerd Theissen

In hindsight, leaving him out was a mistake. Works on sociology on the NT were significant, I have enjoyed his studies on the historical Jesus in particular.

19. Joseph Fitzmyer

Catholic scholar who has made contributions to study of the DSS, Paul (Romans commentary; Pauline Theology) and especially Luke-Acts.

18. Hans Conzelmann

His work on Luke changed the course of study and impacted ideas of Christian eschatology.

17. F.F. Bruce

Commentaries on Acts (English and Greek text) are still models of scholarship and how philology, Archaeology, theology and history all go together. Bruce was the pioneer evangelical NT scholar. My college, Highland Theological College, has even named a lecture series after him. His New Testament History is still the best NT history book around in my view (over Barnett and Witherington). So many smaller books as well which made scholarship accessible to lay people (watch out - I might send him up the list later).

16. Raymond E. Brown

One of the finest Catholic scholars of his generation. His work on Johannine materials is well known. More importantly his massive works: Birth of the Messiah and Death of the Messiah are classics.

15. Richard Bauckham

I like anything this guy writes. He has that uncanny ability to take stock standard assumptions of scholarship and show how tenuous they are. At the moment I'm closing reading his Gospel for All Christians and continue to be impressed. His various articles on eye-witnesses and the Gospel tradition, parting of the ways, Son of God, etc. are all worth reading and frequently cited. Studies in Revelation are classics for that area of study. One scholar I could handle be stranded on an Island with.

14. Joachim Jeremias

German scholar who was doing serious Jesus study when it wasn't fashionable any more. His views of Aramaic are a bit antiquated now, but his work on the parables, eucharistic words of Jesus, NT Theology are classics. I spent my Ph.D thesis trying to refute his book Jesus' Promise to the Nations. Both a learned and pious man.

13. C.H. Dodd

One of the great 'Chucks' of British scholarship (with Barrett and Moule). His realized eschatology was a corrective to Schweitzer/Weiss (though he went too far), his work on the parables is memorable as his work on tradition and interpretation in the fourth Gospel. Other books on the Apostolic message and Jesus as the Founder of Christianity are good reading. There is a limerick about him too:

There once was a man called Dodd
Who had a name that was exceedingly odd
He spelt, if you please,
His name with three D's
When one is sufficietn for God

12. C.K. Barrett

What can I say, commentaries on John, Romans and 1 Corinthians are still worth looking at today. Other stuff on the Jesus Tradition in the Gospels and the Holy Spirit in the Gospels worthwhile too. His Acts ICC commentary is the standard for commentary writing and he has some useful small books on Paul and other NT Themes

11. Ernst Kasemann

Iconoclast German scholar who was of the Bultmannian school, but still his own man. He single handed re-initiated the 2d Quest for the Historical Jesus (in Germany anyway), interesting interpretation of the "Righteousness of God", a great Romans commentary and his dispute with Stendahl is classic.

10. Martin Hengel

My favourite German scholar. His works on the Gospel of Mark, Judaism, Zealots, Historical Jesus, Paul, Septuagint etc, all good stuff.

9. James D. G. Dunn

Starting in the 70s Dunn was writing good stuff on the Holy Spirit, then he moved to Paul and was part of the vanguard of the New Perspective. Works on Christology, the Parting of the Ways, Pauline Theology, the Unity and Diversity of NT, and now a massive 'Christianity in the Making' project. Must meet this guy some day.

8. N.T. Wright

Probably todays leading evangelical scholar - his early work on Paul (Climax of the Covenant, Colossians) are good reads. His Christian Origins and the Question of God series changed the way I think about the NT, Jesus and God.

7. E.P. Sanders & Albert Scweitzer

I declare number 7 a draw!

Sanders' work on Paul, Jesus and Judaism makes him one of the most influential scholars of the last 30 years. At the root of Sanders I think was Schweitzer, and the Old missionary doctor himself deserves a place in the top 10 (my oversight) given his works on Jesus and Paul.

6. Rudolf Bultmann

Major works on Diatribe in Romans, History of the Synoptic Tradition, NT Theology, commentaries on John and 2 Corinthians, major studies on theology too. (Though I still think that he was primarily an existentialist and NT was just his medium).

5. F.C. Baur

The Father of modern NT study, his work on Paul set the benchmark of study, particularly his analysis of Galatians.

4. Origen

Early Church Father was a master of language, and erudite. Don't let his allegorizing put you off, he still knew how to wrestle with the text.

3. John Calvin

Though primarily a systematic theologian, Calvin still composed superb and timeless commentaries on nearly everybook of the NT except Revelation because, he said, 'I donnot understand it'.

2. J.B. Lightfoot

The Old Master himself, treat on textual criticism, his paraphrases of NT passages in Colossians and Galatians are still excellent to cite in Sermons. Translations of the Apostolic Fathers too.

1. Martin Luther

'Exegesis is learned from the Masters' says Stephen Westerholm and he correctly had Luther in mind. His discovery of the 'righteousness of God' changed the course of history.

And in the words of the great American philosopher, Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

Rafael and Crossley on Authenticity

Rafael offers some interesting thoughts about authenticity in historical Jesus studies. I for one did feel pressure during the writing of my thesis to name things in the Gospels which I regard as inauthentic. I don’t like the idea of having to say 10 things about the Gospels I don’t believe before people take me seriously. My way out of it was to state that there’s a tonne of stuff in Thomas which I don’t think is authentic (I got that one from Wright); and also to admit that some actions/logia of Jesus in the canonical Gospels have a better case for authenticity than others.

In view of the Crossley-Rodriguez exchange, let me suggest two things:

First, scholars of a conservative ilk can have a tendency to favour the canonical sources over non-canonical one’s. For instance, Crossan and Reed, (Excavating Jesus, 87-88), compare the miraculous birth stories of Augustine (Seutonius, Lives of the Caeasars, 94.4.) and Jesus in the Gospels (Luke 1-2; Matthew 1-2) and they urge:

“If you take Jesus’ conception story literally, take Augustus’ literary. If you take Jesus’ conception story metaphorically, take Augustus’ metaphorically.”

They have a point! (Regardlessly, the fact that Jesus was regarded as a Mamzer, i.e. of illegitimate birth, is a piece of historical information consistent with the birth stories in the Gospels even if it does not finally prove them).

Second, the idea of authenticity is itself full of problems. The tentative nature of historical arguments means that labels of ‘authentic’ and ‘inauthentic’ are somewhat subjective and artificial (Hooker, ‘Christology and Methodology,’ NTS 1971). At the end of the day one cannot prove, much less disprove, anything that Jesus said or did with positivistic certainty. Moreover, even material that is deemed ‘inauthentic’ can still express and re-present Jesus’ own authentic viewpoint (Meier, Marginal Jew, 3.544; Charlesworth, Jesus within Judaism, 20). In fact, the entire Gospel tradition is ‘inauthentic’ in the sense that the Gospels are in Greek (not Aramaic) and there is very little chance that any authentic sayings have been uninterpreted in the transmission process. We have vox, vox, vox and more vox of Jesus. Perhaps we should prefer scales of probability (see Sanders and Davies, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels), but then again we must relate to the fact that ‘authenticity’ is simply part of the grammar of historical Jesus research, like it or not! I tend to think that an ‘authentic’ saying or event is one which we have good reason to believe that it is as close to something that Jesus said or did as we could hope for (Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 357, n. 30). This debate could of course lead on to a discussion about how to use the ‘criteria of authenticity’ in relation to authenticity. Another issue looming on the horizon is where does the burden of proof lie? – authenticity or inauthenticity? Personally, given the nature of the Jesus tradition, I think the onus should be on those who wish to prove inauthenticity; the catch 22 is that I don’t think any of the criteria can prove the inauthenticity of any saying/deed beyond all reasonable doubt, which means that we are again left with varying degrees of probability for authenticity.

New Blog and House Cleaning

Rafael Rodriguez, a Ph.D student at Sheffield (to my knowledge), has started up his own blog called: Verily Verily. Another biblioblogger to add to the list – and a good historical Jesus lad at that. Perhaps Rafael and I can tag-team James Crossley on a few issues (maybe like Anacan and Obi-wan versus Count Dooku – that analogy should probably offend everybody equally).

Also, I’ve updated Sean Winter’s blog to its new site: Sean the Baptist

I’ve also added Google Search to the side bar.


The good news for is that I’m going to SBL and ETS in November. It will be a chance for me to meet up with a crowd of people I have only known over the net these past four years!

I’m presenting a paper at ETS and I’m flipping through the SBL hand-book for all the sessions I want to go to. So many people to meet and greet. I’ve heard the SBL convention is bigger than Ben-Hur. Discounted books as well!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Notes and Quotes on Reed & Crossan

John Dominic Crossan & Jonathan L. Reed, Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001).

‘A major debate among contemporary scholars concerns wether the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic or nonapocalyptic figure. Quite often the disagreements gets nowhere, as both sides fail in any detailed analysis of those twin options. If he was apocalyptic, what distinctions and options are necessary to understand his apocalypticism? For example, was his God’s solution to evil the extermination or conversion of evil-doers? And were believers to wait passively or participate actively in that process? If he was nonapocalyptic, what, apart from that negation, was the content of the Kingdom of God? Our general hope in this book is to get beyond that impasse by insisting on the continuum in basic content from a covenantal through an eschatological to an apocalyptic Kingdom of God. Our specific hope in this conclusion is to locate Jesus and the kingdom of God movement more accurately among those first-century apocalypticists and/or protesters.’ (pp. 214-15).

Jerusalem Temple: ‘it was both the house of God and the seat of collaboration. It was both magnificent shrine and impressive fortress.’ (p. 243).

‘The parting of the ways arose because, for most other Jews, that Christian Jewish claim was incredible. The inclusion of pagans and the devastation by pagans were irreconcilable.’ (p. 324)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Klausner and the Historical Jesus

I would agree that the Third Quest has brought Jesus' Jewishness back to center stage in historical Jesus studies, but it would be wrong to conclude that studies dated pre-Meyer, Vermes, or Sanders completely ignored the Jewishness of Jesus. One book, greatly underused in historical Jesus study, is Joseph Klausner's Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching (trans. Herbert Danby; London: Allen & Unwin, 1929). Klausner says things in the book which only now are becoming common place - it is a must read for anyone starting out in HJ studies.

Here are some great quotes from my own notes:

‘But to cast wholesale doubt on the historicity of the Synoptic Gospels become more impossible the more widely we study all the branches of Judaism during the period of the Second Temple. Notwithstanding all the efforts of the authors of the Gospels to stress the great opposition between Jesus and Pharisaic Judaism, every step he took, everything he did, every word he spoke, all recall to us – chiefly by conformation though sometimes contradiction – the Palestine of his time and contemporary Jewish life and Pharisaic teaching.’ (pp. 126-27)

‘Only after such a process of selection [of material] can we come to recognize the historical Jesus, the Jewish Jesus, the Jesus who could have arisen out of none other than Jewish surroundings, but whom the Jews, from certain historical and personal reasons which we shall understand later, could not receive as their Messiah nor his teaching as the way of redemption.’ (p. 127).

‘The whole nation looked forward to the coming of the Messiah: but the degree of expectation was not the same with all.’ (p. 210)

‘A theory has been put forward [Wrede] that Jesus never regarded himself as the Messiah and only after his death was he acclaimed as Messiah by his disciples. But had this been true it would never have occurred to his disciples (simple-minded Jews) that one who had suffering crucifixion (“a curse of God is he that is hanged”) could be the messiah; and the messianic idea meant nothing whatsoever to the Gentile converts. Ex nihilio nihil fit: when we see that Jesus’ messianic claims became a fundamental principle of Christianity soon after his crucifixion, this is a standing proof that even in his lifetime Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah’. (pp. 255-56)

When Jesus abrogated the food laws in the law of Moses. ‘The breach between Jesus and the Pharisees was complete’. (p. 291).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Romans 8-11

I've been reading through Romans recently and looking over Thomas Tobin's book Paul's Rhetoric in its Context: The Argument of Romans. Tobin (p. 427) makes a good point that Romans 8 and 9-11 should be grouped together as one section since they both focus on eschatology (where most commentators link chapters 5-8 and 9-11).

Even so, I'm inclined to see 8.1-17 more concerned with a pneumatically drive ethic apart from law observance, so I think that 8.1-17 really lates back to chs. 6-7 with the focus on righteous living apart from strict law observance. I would be willing to posit 8.18-39 as a kind of bridging section that enables Paul to move from ethics to eschatological hope to the problem of Israel's continuing unbelief. The link between chaps 8-9 is quite natural. Afterall, Israel's failure to embrace her Messiah might lead one to question Paul's confidense in divine faithfulness in 8.18-39 since God's faithfulness apparently did not bring Israel to salvation. Thus, 9-11 obviously address the salvation-historical problem of Israel's rejection and Gentile inclusion; but it is also an apology for the fidelity of God's eschatological promises (i.e. 8.18-39) in light of Israel's failure to believe.

Just my thoughts on the matter!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Jim West and Interest in the Historical Jesus

Over at Biblical Theology, Jim West has an entry on Jesus, History, and Methodological Questions . He suggests that the Gospels are entirely kerygmatic with no interest in the naked history of Jesus as such. To give his due, the Gospels are theological and kerygmatic documents in their own right. Also, they are primarily concerned with the significance of Jesus for readers in the Greco-Roman world and not matting out minute historical detail. Even so, I cannot follow the Bultmannian notion that the Gospels are entirely divorced of historical interest in Jesus (even if their ‘historical’ interest was not historical in our modern sense of historical).

First, even if ‘Jesus died and rose’ was the most basic creedal formulation, it still requires or calls for explication of the identity one who is proclaimed as risen. Byrskog writes, “the kerygma, the story of the present Lord, remains, after all, intrinsically linked with the Jesus of the past” (Story as History – History as Story, 6) and Dieter Lührmann (“Jesus: History and Remembrance,” in Jesus Christ and Human Freedom, 46): “if the kerygma was in fact an historical given of this kind, and its substance was Jesus of Nazareth, an historical individual, surely one then must ask what support that kerygma had in that individual and his activity.” This surely indicates that Ernst Käsemann was right to insist that the historical Jesus was properly basic to faith.

Second, it is surely significant (as Leander Keck Who is Jesus? 3, observes) that the preferred term of address in the Gospels (with a few exceptions) for the Nazarene is ‘Jesus’ and not lavish Christological titles. The Gospels clearly differentiate between their post-Easter period and pre-Easter. Becker writes: “When the gospels define the time of Jesus as Christianity’s normative primeval time, they demonstrate their interest in the historical Jesus and show that they are not simply wanting to write a commentary on the post-Easter confession of faith” (Jürgen Becker, Jesus of Nazareth, 6).

Third, Jim’s understanding of 2 Cor. 5.16 (following Schweitzer, Bultmann and Schoeps no less) does not express Paul’s historical disinterest in Jesus. On the contrary, Paul states that he formerly viewed Christ from a worldly perspective but now comprehends Christ from the vantage of one who is “in Christ”. Paul may be referring to his former knowledge of Christ which operated with a false notion of messiahship or else acknowledging his prior hostility towards the Jesus movement. There is no depreciation of historical knowledge. Also, why project stories and sayings onto Jesus in a pre-Easter setting, if the pre-Easter Jesus carried no authority or significance? Surely it would be the risen kyrios who the congregations expected to hear from? A better reason is that persons were interested in the contours of Jesus’ life. I concur with Charlesworth: “The sheer existence of the Gospels – which include the celebration of the life and teachings of the pre-Easter Jesus – proves that from the earliest decades of the movement associated with Jesus there must have been some historical interest in Jesus of Nazareth” (Charlesworth, Jesus within Judaism, 13).

Fourth, Jim presents an unnecessary and unhelpful antithesis between history and theology. To be sure, there is no such as uninterpreted history (secular or religious), so there is no justification for stating that because the Gospels interweave history and theology that there is no history at all!

But I'll leave it there, and graciously let Jim have the last word!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Godless Britain

The other night I enjoyed Cristine Odone's documentary on godless Britian. All I can say is that if she thinks Britain is godless she should try Australia! Oz is a land full of self-made men who love to worship their creator.

What I liked about the doco:

The reason for unbelief ('people don't want to be told how to live their lives') rang true for me. I used to be an atheist/pantheist, not because I had read J.L. Mackie's, The Miracle of Theism, but simply because I didn't want anybody telling me who I couldn't sleep with. I saw Christians (not that I knew any) as overbearing, autocratic moral authoritians who sought to do nothing more than impose their beliefs on others.

More people think of themselves as 'spiritual' rather than 'religious'. That's a line straight out of the movie Monster-in-Law.

What I didn't like about the doc:

Odone has an almost Ritschilian view of religion as being virtually synonymous with ethics. I won't deny that faith and living go together, but I don't think the solution to a decline in church attendance is to get a little more marketing savvy about church so the masses can receive good, solid, objective, moral instructions. You'll end up with a cultural or nominal Christianity and a bunch of people who speak Christianese, but have no real attachment to Jesus Christ and his Church. The people of the UK don't need exposure to liturgy and a dose of moral authoritarianism, instead, they need a redemptive relationship with Jesus the Christ.

Odone is struggling with the question: how do I make people be good? Her answer is, change society, make it adhere to traditional Judeo-Christian values, and people will be okay. I say unto you, transform the people through the redemptive and renewing power of the gospel and in the end, they in turn will change society. Her view fails because, I think, it makes no sense to adhere to Christian values (which seem ludicrious and backwards in this day) if people do not have spiritual intimacy with Jesus Christ.

New Blogs

I have the pleasure of introducing two new blogs to Euangelion readers (Brandon and Jim might want to add them to the biblio-bloggers data base). The blogs are:

Paul and His Companions by Robby Holt.

The sub-title reads: This blog is about hearing and being shaped by Paul's letters to earliest communities of faith. What was Paul's Gospel? This blog will utilize (and synthesize) dramatic metaphors and narrative approaches to Paul's letters without getting tangled in questions of authorship.

Robby raises some good questions about the continuity and discontinuity of the gospel between Jesus and Paul:

1. What is the best way to understand the relationship between Paul's letters and the narratives about Jesus called "Gospels"?
2. What is the best way to think about the nature and content of Paul's gospel?
3. What is the best way to think about the relationship between Paul's Gospel, what he preached when founding or visiting churches, and what he wrote in letters to communites of those who already believed the gospel?
4. In the three synoptic narratives about Jesus called Gospels, Jesus preaches a gospel. His gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God (Matt 4:17, 23-24; 9:35-39; 10:4-8; 24:9-13; Mark 1:1-3, 14-15; Luke 4:18-21, 40-44; 8:1-3; 9:1-6; 16:16-17). Must Paul's gospel be a substantially different gospel? (See Acts 28:23, 31)
5. If Paul's gospel is essentially the same as Jesus' just from a different moment in the drama (after its climax rather than just before / during its climax), do the reflections above about Paul with Mark and Luke and then Paul and his co-laboring, co-suffering companions make much sense? Or would they fit better into a system of salvation orientation?

These are good questions and, as matter of fact, it is on my to-write-a-book-on-list! Anything to do with being cruciformed and articulating Paul’s gospel interests me, so I’ll be watching this blog with interest.

The second blog is Inklings from an Intern by Paul Winter (I think). This contains some good comments on Presbyterian liturgy (which I should have had a immersion course in before coming to Scotland) and some NT related stuff too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Written Gospel

On Markus Bockmueh’s page I noted a good link about the bookThe Written Gospel which is edited by himself and D.A. Hagner.

This book comprehensively surveys the origin, production and reception of the canonical gospels in the early church. The discussion unfolds in three steps. Part One traces the origin of the ‘gospel’ of Jesus, its significance in Jewish and Hellenistic contexts of the first century, and its development from eyewitness memory to oral tradition and written text. Part Two then more specifically examines the composition, design and intentions of each of the four canonical gospels. Widening the focus, Part Three first asks about gospel-writing as viewed from the perspective of ancient Jews and pagans before turning to the question of reception history in the proliferation of ‘apocryphal’ gospels, in the formation of the canon, and in the beginnings of a gospel commentary tradition.

Introduction Markus Bockmuehl and Donald A. Hagner;

1. ‘Gospel’ in Herodian Judaea William Horbury;
2. The gospel of Jesus Klyne Snodgrass;
3. Q1 as oral tradition James D. G. Dunn;
4. Eyewitness memory and the writing of the gospels Martin Hengel;
5. Who writes, why and for whom? Richard A. Burridge;
6. How Matthew writes Richard C. Beaton;
7. How Mark writes Craig A. Evans;
8. How Luke writes David P. Moessner;
9. How John writes Judith Lieu;
10. Beginnings and endings Morna D. Hooker;
11. The four among Jews James Carleton Paget;
12. The four among pagans Loveday Alexander;
13. Forty other gospels Christopher Tuckett;
14. The one, the four and the many Ronald A. Piper;
15. The making of gospel commentaries Markus Bockmuehl.

What is 'historical' about the 'historical Jesus'?

Rafael Rodriguez, a graduate student at Sheffield University, (I imagine he and James would have some good conversations) has written a good essay on the SBL forum entitled: "What is 'Historical' about the 'Historical Jesus'?". (I don’t know if Rafael knows it, but Gerd Theissen beat him to the punch in the catchy title: Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, ‘Der umstrittene historische Jesus. Oder: Wie historisch ist der historische Jesus?’ in Jesus als historische Gestalt: Beiträge zur Jesusforschung. Zum 60. Geburtstag von Gerd Theissen, ed. Annette Merz [FRLANT 202; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003], 3-7)

Rodriguez has written a penetrating article which a good read for anyone concerned with the problems and pains of trying to do historical Jesus studies.

His view of history as a synthesis of past and present also reminds me of Anthony Thiselton’s idea of hermeneutics as the fusion of horizons (i.e. between author, text, reader).

All in all, it is a good article as to how history is not a ‘thing-in-self’ that can be discovered, but neither is history purely a socially constructed entity. If I read Rodriguez correctly, we do have access to a historical Jesus, but only through the socially (and theologically) constructed reality that re-presents him, or as Dunn and Dahl would say, through the remembered Jesus. Rodriguez is worth quoting here:

Certainly the Evangelists — and the communities that nurtured the traditions they adapted and wrote down — understood the past of Jesus' ministry in terms of their present, but this is not to say that they (re)constituted their past completely. We also see in the gospels aspects of the past that are not especially conducive to the present of the later Jesus movements; this is usually what is meant when some logion or other is classified as "dissimilar" or "embarrassing." But Jesus's followers, including the Evangelists, constituted their present in light of the past. There was no perfect fit between Jesus and the circumstances of his later followers, but neither was the "historical Jesus" an unrecognizable figure, in need of updating, to those who endeavored to write his story.

Given that so many books on orality, memory, tradition and history are being written at the moment (e.g. Hengel, Stanton, Bockmuehl, Thatcher), this is a good little article to read as an introduction to the complexities and problems involved. I would like to have seen Rodriguez also delve a little more into epistemology (e.g. critical realism) since I think that epistemological questions must been engaged along side the sociology and historiographical issues as well.

Lamenting the Aussie Loss

As I lie here on the floor, prostrated before a picture of Shane Warne, I weep and wail in sackcloth and with an ashtray on my head, lamenting over the loss of the Ashes after nearly twenty years of holding them. There were children born, who are now teenagers, who never knew what was like to loose to England - how sad they should discover it this way. Alas, the dream is over, I'm leaving brigadoon!

As Ben Myers says, we should let them win ocassionally, so that it will keep them interested.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Gospel of John and the Historical Jesus

(The following blog is based on a question [or challenge] posed by James Crossley at Earliest Christianity).

The utility of John’s Gospel in relation to historical Jesus research elicits a range of responses. On the one end of the spectrum there is Maurice Casey (Is John’s Gospel True?) who contends that John is of no value for historical Jesus study. Alternatively, Craig Blomberg (The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel) urges that John should be taken as a reliable witness to Jesus. The dominant approach in scholarship is that several episodes and sayings in John may go back to Jesus’ ministry, but on the whole there is a large scale preference for the Synoptics in historical Jesus research. John Meier regards John’s gospel as an exercise in ‘systematic theology’. What follows are my prima facie thoughts on John’s Gospel and historical Jesus research.

1. A first issue is that of Johannine dependence or independence from the Synoptic (esp. Mark). I would contend (with Ashton, Bauckham and Mackay) that John knows of Mark and interfaces with it at times, however, he does not have literary dependency on Mark and also has access to independent traditions.

2. John at times appears to reflect the situation of his own day in a post-70 era and perhaps after Christians have been expelled from Jewish synagogues. There is evident in the strong invective polemics against the Jews (though not anti-semitic and simply part and parcel of normal intra-Jewish sectarian in-fighting), and perhaps most noticeable in the reference to disciples being dis-synagogued (9.22; 12.42).

3. One must be conscious of the significant and detailed differences between John and the Synoptics as well. In John the disciples are portrayed fairly positively, whereas in Mark there are fairly mixed impressions one gets about them. There is the question of dating of the last supper on either Passover or eve of the Passover. Did Jesus ‘cleanse’ the temple at the commencement of his ministry (John 2) or at the end of it (Mark 11)? John’s unique material is well known, the “I am” sayings, the various discourse (e.g. upper room), narratives peculiar to John (e.g. Nicodemus, Samaritan Woman, Lazarus), and the use of ‘eternal life’ instead of ‘the kingdom of God. At the same time these differences should not be pressed too far. Much of the material which appears to be distinctly Johannine actually parallels similar traditions in the Synoptics:

• The “I am” sayings resonate with the “I” sayings of Mk 6:50; Mt 9:13/Lk 5:32; Mt 12.28/Lk 11:20.
• The “I am the good shepherd” discourse of Jn 10:1-21 comports with the picture of Jesus as a Shepherd in Mt 18:12-14/ Lk 15:3-7 (Q) and his sympathy for the masses who have no Shepherd-leader in Mk 6:34.
• In Jn 12:25 the threat of losing and keeping one’s life correlates with similar warnings in the Synoptics (e.g. Mk 8:35; Mt 10:39; Lk 9:24; 14:26).
• The Father-Son theme that dominates the Fourth Gospel can also be found in the Synoptics (e.g. Mt 10:32; Lk 23:34; Mt 11:25-27; 13:16-17/Lk 10:23 [Q]).
• Even the notion of Jesus as a Son in the sense of being a divine emissary is not limited to John but emerges in the parable of the tenants (Mk 12:1-12).
• The theme of ‘eternal life’ rather than the ‘kingdom of God’ is different from the Synoptics, however, in Mk 10:24, 30, eternal life could function as a synonym for the kingdom of God.
• The unique knowledge that Jesus has of the Father in John is likewise present in Q (cf. Jn 5:20; and the ‘Johannine Thunderbolt’ of Mt 11:25-27; 13:16-17/Lk 10:23 [Q]). One should consider the arguments of Edwin Broadhead who has provided an interesting list of parallel sayings between John and Q. Perhaps they drew on a common pool of tradition.
• John, like Mark, arguably has his own Messianic secret motif where the nature of Jesus’ messiahship is only gradually disclosed (Jn 1:41, 49; 4:25; 6:15).
• The discourses of Jesus in John are plausible if understood as Johannine elaborations of Jesus’ self-disclosure and explanation of his parables to his disciples privately (cf. Mk 4:10-11; 7:17). The present form of these discourses could be an exposition or midrash of such sayings.

On the purported huge Christological chasm between John and the Synoptics, Eugene Boring points out that Mark’s Gospel has a fairly high Christology itself and utilizes a large amount of God language for Jesus. John has no doubt moulded and cast his presentation of Jesus along the lines of Jewish wisdom traditions, but such a framework can be traced back to Jesus himself (cf. Mt 8:20 [cf. 1 En 42:1-3]; 12:42; 13:54).

Why is John different to the Synoptics? Ben Witherington posits a reasonable answer: (a) John writes with a largely missionary purpose and parades a variety of figures in his Gospel including Samaritans, Jewish officials and Gentiles; (b) John drew on traditions not available to the Synoptic writers or else not in accordance with their outlines (e.g. Samaritan woman); and (c) John’s mode of presentation is more dramatic from that of the Synoptics. M.M. Thompson thinks of John as a “docudrama, a creative and dramatic interpretation of historical material.”

Martin Hengel has argued that the Fourth Gospel was authored by a resident of Jerusalem, who was an eye-witness to Jesus’ death, and later established a Christian community in Asia Minor. I would suggest that the fact that there are several places where the Beloved Disciple is invoked as the source and authenticator of material (19:35; 20:2-9; 21:24) indicates that at some point in the tradition eye-witness testimony was involved (Dunn 1991:358). Although the Beloved Disciple is, narratively speaking, an ‘ideal disciple’, he is not purely a symbolic character, but is regarded as a real person who validates the historical message of the Gospel (Charlesworth 1995). Lastly a sizable contingent of scholars recognizes that in the Fourth Gospel is a genuine deposit of historical information about Jesus which provides information concerning geography, individual sayings and events (see list in Blomberg 2001: 21).

John is clearly different from the Synoptics and the Johannine evangelist has taken the traditions he had access to and funnelled them through the trajectory of a christocentric Jewish wisdom theology and elaborated and explained much of the words and actions of Jesus for his audience. However, since the theological trajectory is sharp and so acute it is very hard (even harder than in the Synoptics) to determine exactly where history ends and theology begins, since the theological explication is woven so tightly around the tradition that in the fabric of the Gospel we have little chance of separating them (like trying to take the white out of grey!). As such John is definitely of use for historical Jesus study, but he is the second port of call and referred to as an arbiter or a consultant when needed. Thus John is fundamentally a narrative theology which has as it’s primary reference the ministry of the figure of Jesus in a pre-Easter setting, but the Johannine evangelist gives Jesus a theological microphone and a theological amplifier so that Jesus speaks more dramatically to Christians of his day, as indeed Jesus, through John, continues to speak with the same effect to Christians in our day as well!

Some bibliographic material that I have found helpful in the course of my studies:

Broadhead, Edwin K. 2001. “The Fourth Gospel and the Synoptic Saying Source: The Relation Reconsidered.” In Jesus in the Johannine Tradition. Edited by Robert T. Fortna & Tom Thatcher. Louisville: Westminster John Knox.

Charlesworth, James H. 1995. The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John? Valley Forge: Trinity.

Dunn, James D. G. 1991. “John and the Oral Gospel Tradition.” In Jesus and the Oral Gospel Tradition. Edited by Henry Wansbrough. JSNT SS 64; Sheffield: JSOT.

Hengel, Martin. 1989. The Johannine Question. Philadelphia: Trinity.

Maloney, Francis J. 2000. ‘The Fourth Gospel and the Jesus of History.’ NTS 46: 42-58.

Smith, D. Moody. 1993. ‘Historical Issues and the Problem of John and the Synoptics.’ In From Jesus to John: Essays on Jesus and New Testament Christology. Edited by Martinus C. De Boer. FS Marinus de Jonge; Sheffield: JSOT Press. 252-67.

Thompson, M.M. 1996. “The Historical Jesus and the Johannine Christ.” In Exploring the Gospel of John: In Honor of D. Moody Smith. Edited by R. Alan Culpepper & C. Clifton Black. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox.

Wenham, David. 1998. ‘A Historical View of John’s Gospel.’ Them 23: 5-21.

Witherington, Ben. 1995. John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The risen Jesus, Dale C. Allison and Mike Bird versus the Seven Headed Dragon

Dale C. Allison’s new book on the resurrection looks like an important contribution to the debate, aptly noted by Loren Rosson at The Busy Body .

I like Allison’s ICC commentary on Matthew (which is largely his work), Allison's book on Jesus traditions in Q (assuming there was a Q) is a good alternative to Kloppenborg, and his book on Jesus as Millenarian prophet is well worth digesting (although I favour Witherington’s book Jesus the Seer on how Jesus relates to apocalypticism).

It will take an awful lot of argument for me to swing away from my preference for Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God. I was not impressed with Ludemann’s idea of Paul and Peter having visions of Jesus based upon a projection of their grief and guilt stricken state, and (although I haven’t read Allison’s new book yet) I was disappointed that Allison is arguing for a grief-vision theory. For me it doesn’t work for a variety of reasons:

Proving that the disciples had grief stricken visions of Jesus is impossible anyway. This is data simply beyond our bounds. But even if they did, why, oh why on earth did they use the language of resurrection to describe it? When I was in the Army many moons ago I was on a training activity called the “Hydra” (named after the dragon) and I got so exhausted and dehydrated that I began hallucinating that I was fighting a seven headed dragon. In reality I was repeatedly punching a tree, but the thought of cracking all seven-heads of the Hydra with one left-hook was too much to resist so I did it anyway. Afterwards, in hospital, I knew that I had had a hallucination and I did not think that the Hydra was real. I knew what language to use to describe it. By analogy (and all analogies do break-down I know) there were oodles of visionary type language the Christians could use to describe a vision, but the repeated and insistent reference to resurrection, bodily resurrection at that, is an oddity in desperate need of explanation and I don't think grief/guilt visions make the grade.

If someone out there wants a non-supernatural explanation for the belief in the resurrection, I reckon your best bet is to say that something happened to Jesus’ body (thrown in a beggars grave, eaten by scavengers etc) but we don’t know exactly what; and to say that something happened subjectively to a group of the disciples, though again we just don’t know what. It is when you start trying to fill in the blanks with theories like the body was stolen, grief-visions, etc that you create more problems and questions than you solve. Sander's position is the best to take for those in this camp - something created a 'transformed situation' after the cruxifixion but we don't know what!!!

As for me, I reckon ton estaurōmenon, ēgerthē (Mk. 16.6). So in sum:
1. I’m sticking with Wright
2. I don’t think grief/hallucination theories work
3. The scoreboard reads: Mike Bird one, Hydra – nil!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tyndale House and Reading Books On-Line

This came out from an email from the Tyndale House Librarian:

The Tyndale Library catalogue lists almost every Biblical Studies book worth reading. Now you can read a large proportion of them online, thanks to Amazon and Google. Just look up the book at www.TynCat.com and click on the link to read it online. Passing on this news will transform you into an 'internet guru' in your community.

I went through the steps and did a search on Murray J. Harris' 2 Corinthians commentary in the NIGTC series and it worked pretty well. It is well worth having a play with.

Well done to Dr David Instone-Brewer

This resource is going straight to the pool room (Aussie vernacular for "I like it" and blogger for "going to my side bar").

Wright, Luther and the Gospel

N.T. Wright has argued, relying mainly on Romans 1.3-4, that Paul’s gospel is fundamentally the christological announcement that Jesus is the Messiah (in fulfilment of the great Jewish hope) and the true Lord of the world (over against the claims of the imperial cult). I think Wright is correct in what he affirms, but he unfortunately marginalizes (though he certainly does not deny) the soteriological aspect of Paul’s gospel as exhibited in 1 Corinthians 15.1-8, which focuses on the saving benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection. Nevertheless, Wright’s exegesis of Romans 1.3-4 finds a staunch ally in 2 Timothy 2.8 (side stepping the issue of authorship): "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel", and here the gospel is again christologically packed and eschatologically driven by the resurrection – soteriology is not present, but strongly implied I think. I would like to see Wright bring 1 Corinthians 15 a bit more into discussion of the Pauline gospel, all the same, those who think Wright has distorted the gospel or else is too enamoured with narrative approaches to Paul should consider the following quote from Luther:

“The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.” (Martin Luther, “A brief instruction on what to look for and expect in the Gospels,” in Luther’s Works [ed. E. Theodore Bachmann; 55 vols.; Fortress: Philadelphia, 1960] 35.118.)

This sounds almost like Wright! And here in Luther’s passing remark we find three elements of the gospel interwoven together, Christology, Soteriology and Narrative – this is a succinct and poetic description and I couldn’t have put it better myself. It also means that Luther was doing narrative theology 400 years before it became fashionable! Which reminds me of the words of Stephen Westerholm who states that in case of Luther “exegesis is learned from the masters” (pace those who want to emancipate NT study from its Lutheran spectacles!).

Monday, September 05, 2005

Minor Projects

Until my doctorate is conferred (Lord and examiners willing) I can't really work on turning the thesis into a book and since my notes on Galatians are somewhere between Brisbane and Aberdeen, I'm having to create new minor research projects to entertain myself on the side. Here they are:

1. ‘A Light to the Nations’ (Isa. 42.6 and 49.6): Inter-textuality and Mission Theology in the Early Church.

I find it interesting the way that Christian authors from Luke to Justin treat these texts and I am planning on writing a short piece (4000 words) on how this was the mission text par excellence in the early church.

2. The Marcan Community: Myth, Mayhhem and Madness

I'm reviewing Brian Incigneri's monograph The Gospel to the Romans for RBL Although I would marginally favor a Roman provenance for Mark, I think we are more readily left with either agnosticism (i.e. it was written for a community, no no-one knows where it is) or scepticism (i.e. Bauckham was right, the intended audiences are broader than any one community). I need to read monographs by Roskam and Peterson before I tackle this one. I have some interesting ideas on this topic and they will germinate partly in my review.

BNTC Blogs

James Crossley, Mark Goodacre and Sean Winter have all been busy blogging on the BNTC (conveniently summarized over at Stuff of the Earth by Michael Pahl). Glad to know that James Crossley got my joke which was my attempt at the genre of British humour known as self-deprecation, of which CoE bishops are masters of, Rowan Williams especially. Wish I could have made it in person. However, I was already booked to go to the Edinburgh Dogmatics conference and abandoning my wife for 9 days with two small children in a foreign country was probably not going to win me any points for husband of the year! So, next year my conference goals are limited to Tyndale, BNTC and maybe ETS/SBL.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Ecce Homo

Until I find a way to post a photo of myself on the "About Me" section, this shall have to suffice for the portrait of Mike Bird (for the very, very, very few who are curious as to what he might look like). Contrary to popular belief, I am not a chip off a chippendale! But I do have glasses which are mandatory for NT scholars who wish to excel in the academy.

Next Project: Gal 2.11-14

My next project is called:

(GAL 2:11-14)

The gist is that justification/righteousnessed is used frequently in the NT with a soteriological and forensic sense in my reckoning. However, to give its due, passages such as Rom. 3.27-31 and esp. Gal. 2.11-14 do edge towards a employment of justification as "covenant membership" (Dunn; Wright) or even "identity legitimisation" (Esler; Nanos) as well. Furthermore, the dispute at Antioch (and the incident is incredibly slippery to reconstruct ranging from what was the problem and who was involved) was not about "what must I do to be saved?" but rather it revolved around disputes concerning food and fellowship. But how does this context relate to justification, particularly when in passages like Romans 5 and James 2, justification has obvious soteriological meanings? In other words, how do the covenantal and forensic aspects of justification come together in Paul's narration of the Antioch incident and how he sees as being relevant for the Galatians? That is my next topic?

Hopefully in the coming weeks, I'll press on with it!