Monday, April 30, 2007

The Rights of Women vs. Multiculturalism

"Do you believe in the rights of women, or do you believe in multiculturalism? A series of verdicts in the German courts in the past month, have shown with hot, hard logic that you can't back both. You have to choose." (Johann Hari)
I have written about the evils of multiculturalism seen applied in the field of biblical studies, which Loren Rosson advocates repeatedly and foolishly on this blog. I have addressed Loren's hypertolerance for intolerance on more than one occasion, as when he implied that Paul's egalitarian formula of Gal 3:27-28 was immature and relinquished in favor of ethnic distinctions -- and the positive value of ethnic identity -- in Romans.

I wish that tragic reports like this would wake Loren up, but I fear he is doomed to patronize the honor-shame code of third-world cultures forever. Loren would make a fine legal official in Germany. Johann Hari reports about appalling cases there in which abusive behavior has been excused out of respect for the Muslim honor-shame code. Take the Moroccan immigrant (Nishal) whose husband beat her repeatedly and terrorized her with death threats:
"Nishal went to the courts to request an early divorce, hoping that once they were no longer married he would leave her alone. A judge who believed in the rights of women would find it very easy to make a judgement: you're free from this man, case dismissed. But Judge Christa Datz-Winter followed the logic of multiculturalism instead. She said she would not grant an early divorce because - despite the police documentation of extreme violence and continued threats - there was no 'unreasonable hardship' here. Why? Because the woman, as a Muslim, should have 'expected' it, the judge explained. She read out passages from the Koran to show that Muslim husbands have the 'right to use corporal punishment'. Look at Sura 4, verse 34, she said to Nishal, where the Koran says he can hammer you. That's your culture. Goodbye, and enjoy your beatings.

"This is not a freakish exception. Germany's only state-level Minister for Integration, Armin Laschet, says this is only 'the last link, for the time being, in a chain of horrific rulings handed down by the German courts'... Here are just a few:

"A Lebanese-German who strangled his daughter Ibthahale and then beat her unconscious with a bludgeon because she didn't want to marry the man he had picked out for her was sentenced to mere probation. His 'cultural background' was cited by the judge as a mitigating factor.

"A Turkish-German who stabbed his wife Zeynep to death in Frankfurt was given the lowest possible sentence, because, the judge said, the murdered woman had violated his 'male honour, derived from his Anatolian moral concepts'... A Lebanese-German who raped his wife Fatima while whipping her with a belt was sentenced to probation, with the judge citing his ... you get the idea."
Unfortunately, not enough people do get the idea. And until people like Loren learn to stop patronizing ethnic diversity, we're going to see more western courts follow Germany's lead.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

How Not to Chastise an 11-Year Old

I normally don't blog this sort of thing, but I can't stop laughing about Alec Baldwin's diatribe against his 11-year-old daughter over a cell phone. It's been made available online, thanks to his vindictive ex-wife Kim Basinger. Listen here.

I kind of like Baldwin as an actor. Of course, anyone who talks this way to an 11-year old (or 12-year old -- Alec doesn't seem to know his own daughter's age) is an ass, but for some reason I can't stop laughing each time I hear this. It could be Baldwin's heavy New York accent (which he does a good job of suppressing elsewhere), or it could just be that I associate the rant with his humorous, foul-mouthed, and hot-tempered role in Scorsese's The Departed.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Tolkien's Christianity and the Pagan Tragedy"

I still haven't read The Children of Hurin, but it sounds good -- dark and tragic, even for Tolkien. This reviewer understands Middle-Earth perfectly:
"J R R Tolkien was the most Christian of 20th-century writers, not because he produced Christian allegory and apologetics, but because he uniquely portrayed the tragic nature of what Christianity replaced... [He] reconstructed a mythology for the English not because he thought it might make them proud of themselves, but rather because he believed that the actual pagan mythology was not good enough to be a predecessor to Christianity...

"Mere allegory along the lines of the Narnia series can do no more than restate Christian doctrine; it cannot really expand our experience of it. Tolkien takes us to the dark frontier of a world that is not yet Christian, and therefore is tragic, but has the capacity to become Christian. It is the world of the Dark Ages, in which barbarians first encounter the light. It is not fantasy, but rather a distillation of the spiritual history of the West. Whereas C S Lewis tries to make us comfortable in what we already believe by dressing up the story as a children's masquerade, Tolkien makes us profoundly uncomfortable. Our people, our culture, our language, our toehold upon this shifting and uncertain Earth are no more secure than those of a thousand extinct tribes of the Dark Ages; and a greater hope than that of the work of our hands and the hone of our swords must avail us."
It doesn't necessarily take a Christian to warm to this. Tolkien's fantasy, unlike most, underscores the tragic and hopeless plight of humanity. Whether we end up looking "beyond the world" for an antidote, we're left with unpleasant implications about our world which can't be avoided.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Medieval Dishonesty

Richard Nokes wonders about medieval honesty:
"I've started thinking about... medieval texts, and I'm having trouble thinking of ones in which honesty is portrayed as an important virtue. Sagas are basically out as an entire genre, given the praise of trickiness of the heroes. Patient Griselda's husband may be the Christ figure, but he's also a terrible liar, as are many other of Boccaccio's characters. Unless I'm forgetting something, I can't think of a single Canterbury Tale in which honesty is a virtue. I assume that somewhere in saints lives are those praised for their honesty, but all I can think of is Judith.

I'm not trying to suggest that honesty was not a medieval virtue, but I suspect that it was not a particularly important virtue. Loyalty, fidelity, piety, chastity ... these seem to be the prime virtues of the literature. Liars are punished in the Inferno, but nothing like traitors are."
Nokes is right, and the reason is because western medievalism was heavily shame-based by post-Reformationist standards. Doctrinal examples abound: Anselm's satisfaction model of Christ's death (emphasizing atonement to restore God's honor) contrasts with the later Protestant penal substitution model (advocating atonement for the sake of justice). And naturally, the more "honor-shame" your outlook, the more lies and deceptions become acceptable.

When we say that honesty is a western virtue, it needs to be qualified with the cliche that everything is relative. Medieval Europe may have valued honesty more than places like the Mediterranean did, but to later Protestants -- and certainly to today's secularists -- they seem pretty, well, "medieval" indeed.

(Hat-tip: Stephen Carlson for the reference.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Herod Antipas in Galilee

One of the recent RBL reviews merits attention.

Jensen, Morton
Herod Antipas in Galilee: The Literary and Archaeological Sources on the Reign of Herod Antipas and Its Socio-economic Impact on Galilee
Review by Mark Chancey

Last week I echoed the first sentence of Chancey's review: "One of the chief insights of the Third Quest for the historical Jesus is that to understand Jesus, one must understand Galilee". Naturally, the historical Galilee has proven to be as elusive as Jesus. The evidence has been used to argue that Jesus was descended from Gentiles, a multiculturalist cynic-sage (Burton Mack); from Hasmonean settlers, a "common Jew" like the Judeans (Eric Meyers); and from ancient northern Israelites, a distant cousin of the Judeans (Richard Horsley). But a common construct involves Galilee in the throes of economic crisis -- thanks to Herod Antipas, the arch-villain who has become the chief factor in legitimating one's understanding of the region.

Chancey endorses Jensen's thesis that Antipas wasn't a particularly remarkable ruler, and that Galilee didn't suffer the economic crises suggested by scholars like Crossan & Reed, Horsley, and Arnal:
"Far from showing any signs of decline in the decades prior to the First Revolt, the rural communities appear to have been flourishing, with public buildings, upper-class residences, and varied industrial and agricultural activity... Sepphoris and Tiberias were modest in comparison, smaller in size, with fewer monumental public buildings. 'Antipas, rather than imposing real novelties, brought Galilee up to date with some of the infrastructure already known in the area'. Jensen's analysis seriously undermines claims that Antipas' construction programs were massive in scale and led to the economic devastation of Galilean villages by draining away their resources."
In sum, according to Jensen (and Chancey), the idea that Jesus' activity was a response to harsh economic conditions created by Antipas lacks foundation. I'll have to read Jensen's book, not only since I take the opposite view, but because the significance of his thesis apparently points beyond the question of Galilee by raising broader questions. "It highlights the types of problems that occur when application of theoretical models is not accompanied by extensive review of the actual evidence."

(See also: Four Views of Galilee.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What Belongs to Caesar?

Last year at this time I did a series about the "Render to Caesar" passage of Mk. 12:13-17/Mt. 22:15-22/Lk. 20:20-26/Thom 100. It was a big hit and drew plenty of comments. So for those who want to revisit what the historical Jesus really thought about paying tribute to the emperor, here are the links.

The Options
The Answers
The Rhetoric

Happy Tax Day...or not.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

UnSpun's Biblioblog List

Other bloggers have mentioned UnSpun's Top 50 Blogs About Biblical Studies. Currently this blog is at #13 -- high but unlucky.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Amorphous Third Quest

April DeConick and Mark Goodacre have some pointed observations about the way the quests for the historical Jesus have been categorized. April thinks we have entered a fourth quest -- a peculiar claim, in my view, since many of the features she lists as characteristic of this quest have been associated with the third -- and Mark thinks (like Dale Allison) that numerically categorizing the quests has had its day and should be abandoned. Dale has been quite strong about this:
"The assertion that we have recently embarked upon a third quest may be partly due, one suspects, to chronological snobbery, to the ever-present temptation, where new is always improved, to flatter ourselves and bestow upon our own age exaggerated significance, to imagine the contemporary to be of more moment than it is." (Resurrecting Jesus, p 14)
Yes and no. I appreciate Dale's ongoing warnings about the past being given short shrift -- and he's right, as Mark points out, about the "no-quest" period (1906-1953) being a misnomer -- but it's demonstrably evident that scholarly labors have paid off since the 70s in ways far more progressive than before (which I list below). On the other hand, Mark has a good point about the third quest ceasing to be a useful descriptor on account of its diversity. But that's an irony, because it relates precisely to one of the defining marks of the quest (see 4 below).

The following significantly distinguish the "third quest" (the 70s to the present) from preceding quests.

1. An understanding of ancient Judaism without caricature (thanks mostly to E.P. Sanders).

2. Increased application of social sciences, which helps understand Jesus as the product of an honor-shame culture, and peasant society, in an advanced agrarian empire (thanks largely to the Context Group).

3. Intensified studies of the differences between Galilee and Judea (thanks to those like Sean Freyne, Richard Horsley, Eric Meyers, Burton Mack, and Mark Chancy -- all of whom have very different views on the matter).

4. The amorphous nature of the quest itself, mentioned by William Herzog, which renders the term "third quest" somewhat of a paradox--
"the absence of a cultural synthesis such as those that supported the first and new quests. The first quest grew out of the cultural synthesis of the Enlightenment which we call modernity, and the new quest was held together by a clear hermeneutical program that drew its inspiration from Heidegger [existentialism]. The third quest know no such synthesis. The lack of such an organzing philosophy or theology promotes diversity and exploration." (Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, p 33).
So I think there are grounds for continuing to use the term "third quest" despite (and because of) the absence of a cultural synthesis propelling it. I don't see a fourth quest emerging in the near future, because it would have to be reacting against something so diverse that there's really no vision to react against -- unless it's against the search for Jesus period. In other words, the only "fourth quest" I could see distinguishing itself is one which truly called for a "no quest", like William Arnal does in The Symbolic Jesus.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Secular Bible

Jacques Berlinerblau's The Secular Bible is a postmodernist's dream-handbook, calling for an end to biblical interpretation on account of texts being seeded with too many possibilities of meaning. The secular scholar, according to this wisdom, should not attempt to recover a text's original meaning, but rather address how the text has been understood and why it's so hard to understand. The subtitle of the book is "Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously", which is ironic, since there's not much left to take seriously by the time you reach the end.

On the positive side, I like the author's "criticize and be damned" approach (on which see also here) which treats the integrity of religious texts the same as any other. And one can hardly dispute his claim that the texts of the Hebrew Bible, as we have them today, don't stand as products of single authors (having been edited, rewritten, and repackaged over and over again). But to go from this to embracing an extreme postmodern hermeneutic, and then hold secularism hostage to it, asks abusively much of us.

Not suprisingly, Berlinerblau focuses mostly on the Hebrew Bible since its process of textual assemblage was considerably more complex -- and more successful in burying original voices -- than in the case of the New Testament. But he considers Paul briefly in his chapter on same-sex eroticism (pp 101-115). After addressing texts like Lev 18:22, Gen 19, Judg 19, Rom 1:26-27, and I Cor 6:9, he concludes:
"The endeavor to extract the originally intended message of some putative biblical author concerning homosexuality is a hopeless task. It is an aspiration soaked in theological preconceptions about Scripture's underlying meaningfulness. It has no place in secular inquiry." (pp 112-113)
Where to begin with such nonsense? First of all, secular inquiry has nothing to do with postmodern assumptions about the irretrievability of original meanings. Secular inquiry is simply about interpreting texts to the best of our ability without regard for sacred convictions. Sometimes things may be unrecoverable, but it's not an inescapable rule of the game. Second, it's obviously possible to get a hold on original intentions (when recoverable) and leave one's "theological preconceptions" checked at the door. Secular and confessional scholars alike have proven capabable of doing this.

Someone like Paul may be an elusive figure, but some interpretations do him more justice than others. Yet in his survey of various interpretations of Rom 1:26-27 and I Cor 6:9 (pp 106-109), Berlinerblau refuses to acknowledge one as being any better or worse than the other: "secular hermeneutics is reluctant to champion any reading" (p 106). I think secular hermeneutics can do more for us than cop out as a general policy. An argument that Paul condemned homosexual acts committed only by heterosexual people is clearly bogus, and we should say so. (The ancients didn't understand sexual orientation like we do.) But an argument that Paul, as an honor-shame macho man, hated male homosexuality, but didn't have much to say about female homosexuality (if Rom 1:26 points to alternative heterosexual behavior instead of lesbianism) has a lot going for it.

At one point Berlinerblau tries distancing himself from death-of-the-author agendas and reader-response theory (p 81), but in fact there's little to distinguish his position from that of classical postmodernism. He may insist on a finite set of meanings seeded in scripture, but it's a very large finite set (p 82) -- large enough, I think, to accommodate Barthes' absurd notion that "writing is the destruction of every voice and point of origin".

I can't help but wonder if the need to erase original meanings stems, at least in part, from an unease with confronting certain historical figures on their own terms. If one doesn't like the biblical authors, but is tired of disliking them, pretending they don't exist becomes an oddly elitist alternative. (Berlinerblau does state that secular scholarship should be elitist in nature (p 7).) It allows the scholar to remain aloof from the question of our relation to these figures, and whether or not people like Paul are implictly "for" or "against" us, or can teach us in any way.

But in some ways that's a phantom fear. It's possible to like a biblical author despite his hostile and alien beliefs. Here I'm with Donald Akenson. He's as secular as they come, and says the following about Paul:
"However frequently one encounters distasteful attitudes in Paul's epistles, these moments are irrelevant. They should be treated as epiphenomenal, like a rain shower occuring in the face of a volcanic eruption. Whatever his rebarbarative moments, Paul seems to me to be the character who is most authentically defined of all the figures we find in the Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Talmuds... Paul is a jagged, flawed, and therefore totally convincing human being. And, unlike everyone else in the scriptures and the Talmuds, he has left us writings that are not merely ascibed to him by others, but are unassailably his own creation... When we finally become at ease with his angular personality, he talks to us in his oblique way of the historical Jesus and starts us on an historical pilgrimage that is pure joy." (Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, p 13)
We don't need to dislike Paul for his homophobia, intemperance, and sectarian hostility anymore than we need to dislike the shogun Ieysu Tokugawa for his xenophobia and penchant for ordering people to commit seppuku. This is especially true if (as Philip Esler explains) we're not obligated to agree with them.

Berlinerblau, like most postmodernists, has made a very limited contribution in arguing against a hermeneutic of overconfidence. I certainly agree with him that we shouldn't be avoiding hard questions about the nature of the biblical texts. But we also shouldn't be avoiding harder questions by pretending all voices under the texts are equally obscure.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Where Did the Flesh Go?

April DeConick offers a healthy Gnostic Easter Meditation, counter-balancing more orthodox reflections we're used to hearing this time of year. She has a nice take on the Valentinian understanding, but I strongly dispute any tracing of this back to Paul. She writes:
"We are very familiar with the 'orthodox' Easter story, the story of Jesus rising from the dead, a story interpreted to be a resurrection of Jesus' physical body, leaving behind an empty tomb. But there were many early Christians who regarded this as nonsense. Didn't Paul say that flesh would not inherit the Kingdom?"
He did say this, but I don't think it meant the original body stayed in the tomb and wasn't raised. The biggest obstacle to understanding Paul is his adamant hostility to "the flesh". It keeps interfering with his (equally adamant) insistence on the continuity between the old body and the new one.

Guest-blogger Alan Segal accounts for the ambiguity in terms of Paul's Pharisaic background. In-between the Sadducees (who shunned an afterlife because they already had paradise, of sorts, on earth) and the millenial revolutionaries (who needed a strong/"fleshy" idea of the resurrection for the sake of justice), the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the old body without necessarily bringing flesh into the picture. They seem to have grounded the resurrection in terms of Jewish apocalyptic, but not to the extent that angry millenarians did. After all, they did have a happier fleshy existence than revolutionaries and martyrs. Segal notes the rabbinic favoring of the first half of Isa 26:19 ("the dead shall live") over the second half ("their corpses shall rise"):
"We can translate tehiat hametim as 'vivification of the dead', even 'resurrection of the dead', but not 'resurrection of the flesh'." (Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion, p 608).
Paul was even more hostile to "the flesh" than most Pharisees, and like them he insisted on continuity between the old and new body. The metaphor of the seed (I Cor 15:35-38) suggests that God transforms the old body, no matter how dead and decayed, into a new glorified one. He's quite clear: the old seed itself is given a body (15:38), and the perishable itself must put on imperishability (15:53-54). Richard Carrier's two-body hypothesis is wrong: Paul believed the original body was raised, and so he presumably believed in an empty tomb.

The question is what happens to all the flesh from the old body. Is it still there but mixed with the spiritual? In that case "flesh and blood" would have been Paul's loose way of referring to an ordinary human body as yet unchanged -- meaning "flesh and blood in and of itself cannot inherit the kingdom". But Paul seems to have hated "the flesh" more than that. He's so consistently hostile to it in his letters that he probably believed it was all eradicated in the new body -- in which case the old body is so transformed that the flesh has been transmuted into (or supplanted by) something else altogether. I suppose that's what Paul's (unsatisfying) ambiguity is all about.

Between Death and Resurrection

Happy Easter to those who celebrate it. I thought it would be worth considering what the early Christians thought about human nature with respect to the resurrection.

In New Testament Theology Philip Esler tackles this question, first by outlining the "four major accounts of the nature of the person in Western cultures" (pp 234-251).
1. Reductive Materialism. A person is no more than a physical organism. Emotions, morality, and religious experiences can all be explained by science. Death is the end of life; there is no afterlife.

2. Radical Dualism. A person consists of a body and a mind/soul, sharply distinguished, and identified chiefly with the latter which can survive the death of the body.

3. Nonreductive Materialism. A person is a physical organism in relation to the world and God, which gives rise to capacities like morality and spirituality. Nothing survives of the body after death; resurrection is the hope for an afterlife.

4. Integrative Dualism. A person is a composite of separate parts in relation to the world and God, but is identified with the whole. The soul might survive death; resurrection is the hope for the re-unity of body and soul in the afterlife.
I'm a (1) reductive materialist, but needless to say the NT authors lean in other directions, particularly towards (3) or (4). Tom Wright, in Resurrection of the Son of God, insists on (3), but Esler (pp 196-208) has offered a convincing argument for (4), based on texts like Heb 10-12, Lk 23:43, Lk 16:22, II Cor 5:8, Philip 1:23. In Hebrews especially, the faithful from the past applaud the faithful in the present, implying some form of lively existence in the interim state between death and resurrection. Esler's argument for integrative dualism in the NT is convincing (and even outside the NT: the dead Samuel addresses Saul in I Sam 28; Abel's soul speaks against Cain in I Enoch 22; etc).

Frankly, I'm not sure why people like Wright insist on "resurrection only" when there are texts which point to the idea of "lively souls" apart from, or prior to, resurrection. Is there a need to make the doctrine of the resurrection square with science (materialism) as much as possible? Does the idea of disembodied souls floating about somewhere now, in the present, raise unease with some Christians?

Who knows. I'm probably too reductive to perceive the hidden issue, if there is any. But I do wish a happy resurrection-day to all nonreductive materialists and integrative dualists, whatever your flavor is and why.

UPDATE: In comments many have pointed out that Wright is closer to position (4) than I was willing to grant. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that he underplays any activity of the soul between death and resurrection as much as possible. He emphasizes "sleep" in this period, and isn't wild about the idea of believers reuniting before resurrection (as in ROSG, p 217). I believe that's what Esler is getting at by referring to Wright's "resurrection only" argument (p 247; cf. pp 197-199), and that's how I've always understood him.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Secular Definition

I'm in the middle of reading The Secular Bible by Jacques Berlinerblau, the same author who recently criticized the ecumenical outlook of the SBL. I'll have more to say about it later, but for now, this is how Berlinerblau defines "secularism":
"What do we mean by 'secularism'? Our understanding is somewhat idiosyncratic. As we see it, secularism cannot be reduced to a political platform insisting on the categorical separation of Church and State... No particular emphasis is placed on the importance of living exclusively in the 'here and now'. Nor are we seduced by the lure of hyperscientific rationality and its ability to power our triumphant march through history. Secularism, at its essence and at its absolute best, comprises an unrelenting commitment to judicious and self-correcting critique... Secularism's 'job' consists of criticizing all collective representations... Voltaire's Candide was certainly on to something when he declared, 'isn't their pleasure in criticizing everything, in seeing faults where other people think they see beauties?' Secularism, as we envision it, is elitist and heretical by nature. When it aspires to become a popular movement, an orthodoxy, or the predicate of a nation-state, it betrays itself and is not likely to succeed." (p 7)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What Are They Saying About the Historical Jesus?

"I suggest that any portrait of the historical Jesus must come to terms with Jesus as both an apocalyptic prophet and a prophet of social and economic justice for oppressed people. Any portrait that does not integrate both these aspects generates a caricature of Jesus of Nazareth." (David Gowler, What Are They Saying About the Historical Jesus? p 142)
Sentiments which echo my own. For years I've thought the historical Jesus was a cross between Dale Allison's millenarian figure and Bill Herzog's honor-shame prophet. Some see these as contradictory, but like many people Jesus was capable of focusing on apocalyptic visions one minute, and social realities the next.

Gowler's book is hot off the press, and part of Paulist's WATSA ("What are they saying about...") series. He wrote an even better installment on the parables, and I'd recommend both for use in intro courses. The outline to the new book looks as follows:

Chapter 1. The Modern Quest
Chapter 2. The Continuing Quest
Chapter 3. The Jesus Seminar and its Critics
Chapter 4. The Eschatological Prophet and the Restoration of Israel
Chapter 5. The Mediterranean Peasant and the Brokerless Kingdom
Chapter 6. The Elijah-like Eschatological Prophet
Chapter 7. The Eschatological Prophet of Social Change
Chapter 8. Conclusion

So in terms of the scholars covered in the chapters, the breakdown looks like this:

Chapter 1. The liberal quest, Schweitzer, Bultmann
Chapter 2. Kasemann, Fuchs, Conzelmann, Bornkamm, Perrin
Chapter 3. Funk, Borg // Johnson, Witherington, Wright
Chapter 4. Sanders, Allison, Fredriksen
Chapter 5. Crossan
Chapter 6. Meier
Chapter 7. Theissen, Herzog
Chapter 8. Conclusion

Gowler does an excellent job representing the quest-periods and scholars, but I would have organized the material a bit differently. I think Crossan gets way too much attention -- a full chapter devoted to him alone (I don't care how popular he's been). I think he could have been placed in the Jesus Seminar chapter with Funk and Borg. Nor do I think Meier needs an entire chapter; he could have been grouped with Sanders, Allison, and Fredriksen. And I would have added Richard Horsley to the social-prophet chapter (Theissen and Herzog). So my outline would look as follows (less and longer chapters):

Chapter 1. (As is)
Chapter 2. (As is)
Chapter 3. "The Jesus Seminar and its Critics" (Funk, Crossan, Borg // Johnson, Witherington, Wright)
Chapter 4. "The Apocalyptic Prophet" (Sanders, Allison, Fredriksen, Meier)
Chapter 5. "The Social Prophet" (Theissen, Horsley, Herzog)
Chapter 6. Conclusion

But aside from nit-picking the outline, I think it's a fine intro book, with a conclusion one can hardly argue with (that Jesus was both apocalyptic and social). It's not very evangelical friendly, but I think it's right that Johnson, Witherington, and Wright were only brought in as critics to the Jesus Seminar.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Biblical Studies Carnival XVI

The sixteenth Biblical Studies Carnival is up on Brandon Wason's Novum Testamentum.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Crossan Dumps the Egalitarian Jesus

Addressing a stunned audience at the Regional SBL meeting in March, John Dominic Crossan announced his intention to form a new group of biblical scholars called The Context Seminar. Retracting his theory of Jesus the egalitarian cynic, the former co-chair of the Jesus Seminar repented of academic envy and plagiarism: "I made a career of ripping off the work of the Context Group and then making nonsense of it. But I've seen the light, and hope to redeem myself in the eyes of Malina and Co. I really want to put Jesus in better context."

Crossan, along with the the late Robert Funk, spearheaded the Jesus Seminar in efforts to make the results of liberal scholarship more sensational and in-your-face. With the Context Seminar he's starting over from scratch, but with the same eye on publicity: "It's going to be my own 'Context Group', but with all the notoriety of the Jesus Seminar. I want to sensationalize the honor-shame prophet just as Funk and I did the wisdom sage."

Crossan plans on redoing The Five Gospels and The Acts of Jesus -- "just as the Context Group scholars might have done", he ventures. He's more confident than ever about the reliability of the gospel data that can be traced back to Jesus.

When pressed for the reasons for his dramatic turn, Crossan admitted that the Hellenized sage was a product of his own cynicism. "Not that this is bad altogether," he insisted, "and I've never been concerned with unattainable objectivity anyway, only attainable honesty. So to be perfectly honest: the cynic had its place in the 90s, but he can't accomplish much for us in a post-9/11 world. Western people need more honor and less wisdom; more loyalty, less cynicism -- just like those who have been oppressed in the Muslim world. I'm convinced that the Context Group's Jesus is needed more than ever right now for the sake of multiculturalist understanding."

After their initial shock, many conservative scholars seemed supportive of Crossan's decision. But Context-Group members pounced, deriding it as a cheap political stunt. Bruce Malina barked: "Crossan is riding our backs as he always has -- he's just more upfront about it now." Richard Rohrbaugh emphasized that the Context Group has never wanted to be in the spotlight, and is not especially interested in assessing the authenticity of Jesus' sayings and deeds: "Our aims have been more modest and general than that, which is one reason we divorced ourselves from the Jesus Seminar back in the late 80s." Jack Elliott roared: "If Dom has given up the egalitarian Jesus, then I'm an evangelical. Mark my words, this 'Context Seminar' will only amount to heavy camouflage for a western democratic Jesus."