“High/Early Christology”: An Emerging Consensus?

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Ripping!

Larry Hurtado's Blog

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted on a very informative and judicious (in my view) review of recent scholarly work on the emergence of “high” christology (which = Jesus regarded and treated as in some meaningful way “divine”) by Dr. Andrew Chester (Cambridge University), my earlier posting here.  Given the tone of one or two recent comments, claiming, e.g., that any such view reflects some sort of theologically “conservative” cabal, I thought it well to point again to Chester’s article:  Andrew Chester, “High Christology–Whence, When and Why?,” Early Christianity 2 (2011): 22-50.

As Chester observes, it’s really the evidence that seems to require the conclusion that Jesus-devotion erupted rapidly and originated in circles of Jewish Jesus-followers in Judea.  That conclusion (with variations in emphases) is now supported by a wide (and growing) spectrum of scholars.  (I even recall being challenged about the matter by a retired Jewish professor…

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Lewis Couldn’t Write About Aliens AND Centaurs — (Or, N.T. Wright on Pauline Authorship)

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Reformedish

paul and the faithfulness of GodWhen I got to seminary, I found out a lot of people think Paul didn’t all the letters attributed to him in the New Testament. Actually, it’s not just that some people don’t, but rather it’s the dominant position in non-conservative academia, and even many conservative scholars adopt it. The idea is that letters like Ephesians, Colossians, the Timothys, Titus, and 2 Thessalonians are later compositions, pseudepigraphal, either by an imposter, or a devoted disciple that claim Paul’s name and authority. Depending on how conservative you are, you might say that the earliest recipients would have, of course, known this, and so there really wasn’t fraud being committed, but rather this would have been seen as an acceptable instance of a very common practice. Or, you might just call it lying.

While I can’t get into all of the details, one of the main arguments against their authenticity is the…

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Review Part 1: Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh

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For good or ill, interpretation of Genesis 1-3 is the most publicized area of Biblical studies. For many folks it has become a battleground. Some hold that anything save a literal seven day Creation event circa 10,000 years is tantamount to blasphemy. “Just another example of Liberals falling sway to godless science.” While on the opposite end of the spectrum, yet, oddly holding the same hermeneutic, anti-theists see the Bible’s ancient cosmology as “just another example of the vast error that plagues the Bible.”

 

Though I have spent the last year dabbling in Biblical studies, I have yet to touch Genesis 1-3. When asked about it, I typically respond with agnosticism. I am more interested in the theological purpose of Scripture’s opening chapters than of its historical or scientific intent. However, my days of avoiding Creation week are over. I was enticed by a very provocative title to request a copy of Seth D. Postell’s latest book from James Clarke & Co. publishing (distributed by the David Brown Book Company here), Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh

 

Now, I have to confess from the get-go, Postell does not comment on Adam’s historicity. He leaves that hot-button for others to push. However, as will be clear, he does provide, I think, a very compelling and rich interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis that will likely prove significant for others who do choose to address the Biblical accounts compatibility with current scientific research. 

 

Due to the nature of this volume as a thoroughly academic work, Postell sets forth his thesis in the introduction:

when understood as the introduction to the Torah and the Tanakh as a whole, Genesis 1-3 intentionally foreshadows Israel’s failure to keep the Sinai Covenant as well as their exile from the Promised Land in order to point the reader to a future work of God in the “last days.” Adam’s failure to “conquer” (Gen. 1:28) the seditious inhabitant of the land (the serpent), his temptation and violation of the commandments, and his exile from the garden is Israel’s story en nuce. (Postell, 3)

As is clear, Postell follows his teacher, John Sailhamer, in understanding the Tanakh as shot through with eschatology from beginning to end.

Postell then begins the discussion with a recounting of Creation account’s history of Interpretation. Naturally, he addresses the pre-critical approaches first, taking a look at both Jewish and Christian exegetes, such as Jerome and John Calvin. Then the stage is set as he chronicles the critical approaches of the last five centuries, addressing recent studies (ie: within the last 50 years) in a separate chapter. Most significant to his thesis is the critical interpreters bifurcation between Genesis 1-2:4 as one source, and the rest of Genesis 2-3 as another, theologically contrasting source (which, if you’ve been following the web, has drawn attention here and here). A recent study that has questioned this picture of a disharmonious opening to Genesis is from, you guessed it, John Sailhamer. Evident from the first, Postell will follow Sailhamer’s challenging of the consensus.

Because Postell intends to conduct his study with a text-centered approach, he commits a great deal of space to setting forth his methodology. A fundamental assumption to his is that the “text in its final form embodies the intentionality of the historical author” (Postell, 44). I must add that Postell considers subsequent editors of the final form Torah as functional authors (thus, the redactors are assumed to have edited with purpose – not a bad assumption in my opinion). Being and evangelical, he understands “the final form Torah to be an accurate (“inspired”) interpretation of its pre-canonical form” (Postell, 44). While such theological considerations may be irrelevant, or even perceived as inappropriate, for some, I found them both helpful and reasonable.

Postell’s distinguishes his text-centered approach from other approaches by addressing its negative attributes. It is not ahistorical. He leaves room for the narratives to be understood as historical recounting, however, that consideration must be decided by determining the author’s intent. As he has already made clear, it is not divorced from authorial intentionality. For Postell, the text is “an embodiment of [the] historical author’s intention” (Postell, 48). It does not locate meaning in the reader. Thus, it is severed from connection to reader-response approaches. And last, it does not locate meaning in the canon, separating his method from Brevard Childs’ canonical approach. Postell continues his discussion of method by laying out the positive features of his exegetical stance:

First, the text in its final form is the locus of meaning. [He does not try to get “behind” the text] Second, while the locus of meaning is in the text, methodology does not minimize the importance of the events to which the text refers or the historical circumstances in which a text is produced. […] Third, a text is the embodiment of the historical author’s intention. (Postell, 55)

Finally, Postell closes with exposition of his method for identifying intertextuality, which follows Jeffery Leonard closely – I have not the time to recount it here.

The bulk of Postell’s study is in the final three chapters. I will discuss the arguments very briefly. Two chapers are devoted to analyzing Genesis 1-3 as an introduction to the Torah. The final chapter considers Genesis 1-3’s relationship to the whole Tanakh. 

I will consider these final chapters in tomorrow’s post.


Note: This book was provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review. 

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A Tribute to G. K. Chesterton

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         Though I often dedicate my reading to, admittedly, impersonal, artless historical-critical writings, a few months ago, upon receiving a copy of G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy from a friend, I allowed myself to wander into popular level apologetics. I anticipated a bland book, filled with positivistic claims, rich with overstatement and idiosyncratic suggestions—similar to what I had previously read in other famous apologetic works. Well, those who have read Chesterton will be grinning at my arrogant and insulting expectations. After the first page, I knew he was something else. Never before had I encountered a writer with such a brilliant prose or phenomenal command of language. I was enamored by his use of paradox and innovative reasoning.

          Like a great wizard, Chesterton enchanted the world. He gave me new eyes. I began to see the mundane features of life as incredibly mysterious and profound. The greenness of the grass was no longer a brute fact to simply be observed, but rather a whimsical choice of the Creator, an outpouring of His creative will. Gravity was not a cold and obligatory law of physics, but rather the result of divine pleasure and imagination. For the first time in my life I contemplated belief in fairies. Certainly Scripture is not exhaustive in its catalog of creatures, thus I am free to heed the testimony of the Irish and look for the sprites in the fields!

            Clearly, I found great joy in Chesterton’s thoughts. Not only was he imaginative, he was also compelling and persuasive. His case for the Christian tradition remains the best I’ve ever read. He had the great skill of demonstrating the explanatory power of orthodoxy. Like a key to an intricate lock, the Christian worldview answered the complex experience of Man. The riddles of the world found their marked replies in the wondrous tradition of the saints.

             G. K. Chesterton, the magnificent Falstaff of the Modern age, has left a deep impression in my life. I’d like to say he awakened the world for me, however, I fear I was the one sleeping. The potent spell that he cast over the trees and the beasts remains, and I take great joy in it. Like a happy captive, I am now bound to orthodoxy. Yet, to honor the prince of paradox, I must say, in that bondage I’ve found freedom. What power lies in ink spilled on a page!


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Review: The Wife of Jesus by Anthony Le Donne

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When I received my copy of The Wife of Jesus, I must confess, I was anxious about bringing it with me to my local coffee shop (that’s what we do in Portland). I knew exactly the kinds of reactions it would provoke and the connotations I would be forced to wear. There really aren’t many topics more controversial in the Christianized West than a challenge to the ‘orthodox’ understanding of Jesus.


Which is exactly why Anthony Le Donne wrote this book. Ultimately, not to challenge the content of the consensus view of an unmarried Jesus, but rather, to challenge the reason for the consensus view. 


Why, for two millennia, has the Church rejected a married Jesus? Is it for theological reasons? Well, no, marriage is not sinful or unholy. And granted that Jesus is fully human, and marriage is a very human institution, there would be no creedal conundrum there. If there is no theological reason, and no Biblical reason (the Canonical texts are silent Jesus’ “relationship status”), then what is the reason? And why does it cause so much scandal to suggest that Jesus was married?


Le Donne suggests that answering these questions will prove to open a revelatory window into our modern psyche. As we assess modern portrayals of Jesus, essentially the Western archetype for Man, we are able to learn much about our own culture. Jesus has become the object on which we project our fears and ideals. 


Le Donne traces earliest texts that explicitly mention Jesus’ marriage status, beginning with Christian asceticism in the second century. As Christianity became increasingly hellenized in the following centuries, sex and sin became virtually synonymous. Folks like Jerome proposed celibacy as the natural route to holiness – marriage and its entailing sexual relations would be hindrances to the saints. In this climate, it is no wonder that the Church rejected a married Jesus. 


He surveys a wide range of material throughout the course of the book. In one provocative chapter, Le Donne details the conceptions of Mary throughout history, how she has often been a sexualized character – either a prostitute (which has no basis in the text) or, more recently, the wife of Jesus. In another chapter, Le Donne recounts two examples of how Jesus  has been employed in order to forward contemporary concerns. He speaks of Morton Smith’s “gay Jesus” found in the forged Gospel of Secret Mark, as well as the polygamist Mormon Jesus who allegedly has many wives. In both cases, modern concerns are clearly being projected onto the Jesus of history. Ending his analysis of the modern psyche, Le Donne addresses the modern conceptions of Romantic love. Our current understanding of marriage as an institution primarily driven by love is a very modern notion. While romantic love has always been important, prior to the French Troubadours, it was not the primary reason why one would be married. Other concerns were much higher on the list.


In the final couple chapters, Le Donne addresses more directly the question of Jesus’ marital status. He lays out the relevant data both for and against a possible wife of Jesus. The primary argument for Jesus as a married fellow is found, quite simply, in the prevalence of marriage in Ancient Palestine. Marriage was the default, and usually by the age of twenty. One’s civic masculinity was contingent on marriage. It would be dishonorable to the parents to have a son – especially the oldest son – abstain from marriage. Le Donne concludes that our default position must be that Jesus was married, probably early on, prior to his ministry, and very likely, his wife may have died before his baptism. If we are to think otherwise, there must be evidence that suggests the opposite.


That brings Le Donne to his analysis of the relevant texts in the Gospels. In short, the evidence suggests that Jesus was a sexual non-comformist. He rejected the ancient practice of civic masculinity, opting rather for a life devoted to the Kingdom of God and centered on a new family that is not bound by blood. Like his mentor, John the Baptist, Jesus chose a life of celibacy.


While Le Donne’s arguments are clearly not represented here in full, nor are all of his considerations recounted, I hope many will be persuaded of the value of this work. I was especially impressed by Le Donne’s ability to address such a controversial subject without becoming sensational. He took a great deal of serious scholarship and made it very readable and provocative. The reader will not only learn much about Jesus and ancient marriage/love practices, but also about oneself. Readers will be left aware of our tendencies to employ Jesus for our own purposes, even when he would likely protest.


I highly recommend this book. If for nothing else, that you might take it in to a coffee shop and be able to have some good conversations. The Church need not fear a married Jesus, we can be open to such considerations. Oddly enough, the Jesus who chose celibacy, in my opinion, appears much more challenging to Modernity than a married Jesus. But if we are to be faithful to history, and faithful to Christ, we must let him challenge us, even if he comes across as “wholly other”.


NOTE: This copy was provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review. 


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Is Historical Jesus Research Orthodox?

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I would not have guessed that I would have found such a compelling challenge to Historical Jesus studies in a book on the Historical Jesu

s:

What is clear is that for the person who is committed to the canonical Gospels, or creeds as the church’s definitive narrative about Jesus, another narrative about Jesus will not play a faith-determining role. It will not because it cannot. Why? Because as Robert 

Morgan says, “The task of this theological discipline is to interpret the canonical witnesses theologically, and so inform the life and thought of the Christian Church.” (Jesus and His DeathScot McKnight, pp. 41)

I am an amateur Biblical scholar (and a fool prone to overstatement), but first and foremost, I am a disciple of Jesus – I am a student of the Apostolic Tradition. 

 

While I certainly enjoy historical study, especially when related to Jesus and earliest Christianity, I am forced to rethink its place in the life of the Church. The more one understands historiography, the more one understands the importance of interpretation. Now, don’t toss me away with the post-moderns, but their acknowledgement of the role that the historian has in historical (re)construction is undeniable. This is no detriment to history, it is simply a feature of it.

 

Once one realizes the importance of interpretation, a concern quickly arises regarding historical Jesus studies. The Gospels are examples of early Christian histories. They don’t consist of a simply list of discrete, brute facts. They are narratives with flow and direction. They are stories and commentaries on the life of Jesus. And for those within the Christian tradition, for those subject to the Apostle’s teaching – such as myself – they are authoritative interpretations of Jesus life. 


If this is so, where does this leave modern interpretations of Jesus life (ie: historical Jesus writings)? If the four-fold gospels are the Church’s definitive witness to the life of Jesus, the measure against which all others are judged, what role is left for today’s Jesus scholars?


Whatever their role, it is certainly a limited one. And it is necessarily subordinate to the Gospels themselves. Creedal Christians, those who claim allegiance to the Apostolic faith, are to illuminate and explicate the Jesus of the Gospels. They are not to provide alternative narratives of Jesus life – trying to peal back the interpretive layers of the Church to get back to the non-Christian Jesus. For Creedal Christians, the Christian Jesus is the historical Jesus. We do not contend with the four-fold witness, supposing that we, twenty centuries removed, can provide a better, more faithful portrait of Jesus for the Church today. No, rather, as humble students, we subject ourselves to the Church’s ancient witness and seek to understand and embody the Evangelists’ testimonies.


We are not innovators. We are tradents. We receive the Tradition, and then we pass it on to the next generation. Nothing more, nothing less. It may not provide the golden road to fame, but it will provide the the road to faithfulness. And on that road you will be covered by the dust of your Rabbi. There is no calling more noble. 

 

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Review: The Historical Jesus in Recent Research

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Let’s get right to it and disregard the need for a catchy introduction. 


James Dunn and Scot McKnight – to of the leading scholars in Jesus studies – have put together an excellent anthology of historical Jesus research in The Historical Jesus in Recent Research


It is no mystery that their has been an ocean of ink spilled over the Jesus of history. What began as a branch of theology has become a highly specialized field in its own right. Dunn and McKnight’s intent was to carve a path for new students to become intimated to the field. To present a representative collection of Jesus scholarship in the last century that prepared students for further study and familiarized them with the noteworthy trends. Without a doubt, they have accomplished that task. For that they are to be commended.


They divided the book into seven parts, each with a brief introduction by either Dunn or McKnight: (1) Classic Voices, (2) Methodology, (3) Teaching of Jesus, (4) Jesus: Who Was He?, (5) Jesus: Major Events, (6) Jesus and Others, and (7) Conclusion.


The strength of this anthology is its provision of famous, though, now antiquated voices, coupled with recent, more accepted scholarship. The reader will get a taste of the significant contributors of the past, such as excerpts from Schweitzer, Bultmann, Kummel, etc., as well as familiarity with current research trends. For example, contributions are provided from Amy Jill-Levine, Peter Stuhlmacher, Gerd Theissen and Richard Horsley. 


In my estimation, Dunn and McKnight balance the excerpts well. They provide a helpful amount of historic contributions, notably, a great representative contribution from Bultmann, however, they do not get bogged down in past voices. They provide enough to show the foundation of modern scholarship, while avoiding an anthology that is dominated by only partially relevant voices. Most of the contributions are from contemporary scholarship, as such, the reader will be equipped to address scholarship today and understand its trends.


The range of the contributors is exemplary of dominant scholarship today. Idiosyncratic voices were ignored and excluded, replaced with the representative players in German, British and North American scholarship.


I must admit that I am a bit biased toward this collection, because I generally share the sentiments of the editors. As such, they may have ignored scholars that others consider most important for an introduction, however, for this semi-Conservative North American, I was pleased.


In summary, Dunn and McKnight accomplish what they set out to do. I would recommend this collection to those who are interested in historical Jesus studies. It is admittedly a large book (nearing 600 pages), however, it is certainly able to be read in piece-meal fashion and need not be overwhelming. Those who are already familiar with Jesus studies will be much more appreciative – where else can you find such a phenomenal collection of the classics (who we so often read about rather than directly from) – yet, even newcomers should appreciate its clarity and extensiveness.

Note: This book was received free of charge in exchange for an honest review from Eisenbrauns press. 

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