When I was looking at PhD programs several years ago, I had an immediate interest in Cambridge and I emailed Prof. Graham Stanton with the hopes of becoming one of his PhD students. Stanton sent me back a very polite reply saying that he had recently retired and could not supervise my research. I ended up getting a fine education at Durham, but I know some of Stanton’s PhD students and friends, and everyone speaks very highly of this outstanding scholar and gentleman (who passed away in 2009).
While he was interested in Paul’s letters (particularly Galatians), Stanton made the most impact on the First Gospel and the study of its main character – thus, it is quite sensible that a Festschrift was produced in his honor under the title Jesus, Matthew’s Gospel and Early Christianity: Studies in Memory of Graham N. Stanton (T & T Clark, 2011; eds D.M. Gurtner, J. Willitts, and R. Burridge). The essays are as follows:
Sapere aude, “dare to be wise” : graduation address on receiving an honorary doctorate of divinity, University of Otago, New Zealand, 16 December 2000 / Graham N. Stanton –
The gospel of Jesus : Graham Stanton, biography and the genre of Matthew / Richard A. Burridge –
The gospel of Matthew from Stanton to present : a survey of some recent developments / Daniel M. Gurtner –
How did Matthew go about composing his gospel? / James D.G. Dunn –
Matthew as ‘gospel’ / Scot McKnight –
Determining the date of Matthew / Donald A. Hagner –
Graham Stanton and the four-gospel codex : reconsidering the manuscript evidence / Peter M. Head –
Fulfilling the law and seeking righteousness in Matthew and in the Dead Sea scrolls / Craig A. Evans –
A gospel for a new nation : once more, the [ethnos] of Matthew 21.43 / Wesley G. Olmstead –
Judging Gentiles in the gospel of Matthew : between ‘othering’ and inclusion / Anders Runesson –
Matthew and hypocrisy / Christopher Tuckett –
The twelve disciples in Matthew / Joel Willitts –
Memorial tribute to Professor Graham Stanton, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, 23 January 2010 / David R. Catchpole.
Two things strike me about the life and scholarship of Stanton. First, he is known as a kind man, someone everyone respected as a person of integrity and grace. Secondly, he was honest and humble enough to admit when he had changed his mind on a matter. These are characteristics that most Biblical scholars simply don’t have. Stanton is quite unique in that he was someone many younger scholars seek to emulate in sharpness of mind, but also in mature character.
While all the essays in this volume are interesting, I will restrict myself to commenting on the first six.
Burridge is up first with a discussion of Stanton’s (and his) own journey of studying the genre of the Gospels. The default scholarly position prior to about the 1970′s was that the Gospels were a unique genre and should not be “classified” definitively within an existing genre category. However, Burridge points out that “Stanton was…the first voice of protest against the critical consensus…and he makes the further significant point that they should be compared with ancient biographies, rather than modern biography” (p. 7). Burridge notes, though, that Stanton did not follow this line of thinking to its natural conclusion and showed hesitancy in his book The Gospels and Jesus where Stanton concludes his genre discussion with these words: “we can be almost certain that Mark did not intend to write the biography of Jesus in the Graeco-Roman tradition” (p. 12 of FS; pg. 19 of Gospels and Jesus).
This was disheartening for Burridge because he was going to defend his own doctoral thesis before Stanton and make the opposite case! It is quite entertaining to read Burridge’s reflections on the unpredictable course of the viva.
It was going alright until about half-way through when Graham said, “Well, we had better talk about the bit where you take my new book to the cleaners. What would you say if I said, a, b, or c?”, referring to the features which he thought must have puzzled ancient readers. I replied with some points from my thesis, to which he just said, “Yes, you’re right, I’m wrong and I’ll put it right in the next edition,” and moved on to the next question on his list! In that instant, I learned that an internationally leading scholar’s humility could be even more extraordinary than his intellectual ability and research. (13)
Burridge is an entertaining guide through the various stages of Stanton’s academic life. You can tell they were quite close and each one impacted the other for the better. This is a nice snapshot of the best that our guild has to offer in terms of cooperation within a community of learning.
In the next chapter, Daniel Gurtner (also an editor of the volume) offers a survey of the study of Matthew “from Stanton to present.” He examines the development and progress (sometimes!) of critical scholarship in the study of Matthew on such topics as social-scientific criticism, Judaism, empire, wisdom, and comparisons of Matthew and Paul. It is hard to summarize this essay or capture its deft handling of scholarship, but I must say that it should be standard reading for anyone studying Matthew at present.
In Jimmy Dunn’s little essay on Matthew, he takes time to consider the method of composition and also the purpose of its composition. On the first matter, Dunn wisely refers to five “collections” of Jesus tradition that were probably at Matthew’s disposal: Mark, oral tradition which Mark also knew, Q tradition (in written form), Q tradition (in oral form), and “M” (tradition material unique to Matthew). Dunn especially highlights the debt Matthew owes to Mark’s pioneering of this Gospel form (bios raw form notwithstanding).
[T]he very fact that Matthew follows Mark’s pattern so closely, even when using the Jesus tradition in his own way or using other versions of Jesus tradition known to him, underlines the commitment which Matthew in effect took upon himself — that is, a commitment to use Mark’s Gospel genre for his own retelling of the story of Jesus and to follow the pattern of Mark’s build-up of his Gospel to the climax of Jesus’ death and resurrection. (45)
In terms of what Matthew is doing with this tradition, Dunn makes 9 points:
(1) Matthew puts less emphasis on Jesus as “Son of God” (than Mark) and more on him being “son of David.”
(2) Matthew weakens the Messianic secret motif.
(3) He carries on the “Son of Man” motif, but with slight theological differences.
(4) Similar to #1, Matthew is more interested in showing Jesus’ royal identity.
(5) Matthew takes further a concern to show Jesus as one who fulfills Israel’s Scriptures
(6) Matthew makes much of a Moses Christology, probably to appeal to Jews
(7) Matthew underscores, beyond Jesus’ identity as Messiah, he embodies the presence of God himself (see 55)
(8) Matthew seems to present Jesus as the presence of divine Wisdom
(9) Matthew highlights how various people worship (proskuneo) Jesus.
In Scot McKnight’s essay on “Matthew and ‘Gospel’”, he raises the question as to what it means to call Matthew a “Gospel.” Rather than focusing on genre, McKnight wonders if the term is more of a hermeneutic, where the term came to mean very early in its Christian usage “the declaration of the Story of Jesus as fulfilling the Story of Israel, and that means declaring that Jesus is Messiah, Lord and Savior” (p. 68). If I understand McKnight correctly, St. Paul was also “gospelling,” but the Gospels do this in a thoroughgoing way by recording that story in all its richness and depth, in a way only inchoate in Paul’s references to the “gospel.”
Lastly, I want to mention Don Hagner’s chapter on the dating of Matthew (ch. 6). He writes openly about a process he went through where he changed his mind about the dating, now doubting the earlier position he had that the dating must be in the 80′s. Currently, he thinks an earlier date is more plausible. He gives a variety of reasons, but ultimately urges scholars not to pre-judge the dating matter too quickly.
In determining the date of Matthew scholars should exhibit openness to the possibility of a date earlier than critical orthodoxy currently allows. Nevertheless, because of the indirect nature of the evidence, dogmatism – on either side – is of course out of the question. (92).
The other essays on the book are beneficial, but these are the ones I found most stimulating (though I probably should add my deep interest in Evans’ piece).
Those who have admired Stanton’s work will be interested in this FS, and those interested in Matthew and the Gospels will find much wisdom in these pages. This monograph reminds me of the good work that regularly comes out of the Matthew section of the SBL meeting, and I think Stanton would be proud of much that is going on in that group even in his noticeable absence.
UPDATE: Dave Lincicum brought to my attention that he has co-edited (along with Markus Bockmuehl) a collection of essays by Stanton called Studies in Matthew and Early Christianity (WUNT) – it is coming out in May and totals over 500 pages!
In my Paul class on Monday we got into a bit 0f a serious discussion about how to hold together, for Paul, justification by faith and judgment according to deeds. I try to explain it in covenantal terms and allow both elements to be there (faith alone, and works as serious basis for judgment), but it is a notoriously complex matter.
Thus, I was ecstatic to see a notice in my email inbox regarding a new “Counterpoints” book from Zondervan - Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment (July 2013). The four views are, I think, chosen well.
Robert N. Wilkin: Works will determine rewards but not salvation: At the Judgment Seat of Christ each believer will be judged by Christ to determine his eternal rewards, but he remains eternally secure even if the judgment reveals he failed to persevere in good works (or in faith).
Thomas R. Schreiner: Works will provide evidence that one actually has been saved: At the final judgment works provide the necessary condition, though not the ground for final salvation, in that they provide evidence as to whether one has actually trusted in Jesus Christ.
James D. G. Dunn: Works will provide the criterion by which Christ will determine eternal destiny of his people: Since Paul, Jesus, and the New Testament writers hold together ‘justification by faith and not by works’ with ‘judgment according to works’, we should not fall into the trap of playing one off against the other or blend them in a way that diminishes the force of each.
Michael P. Barber: Works will merit eternal life: At the final judgment, good works will be rewarded with eternal salvation. However, these good works will be meritorious not apart from Christ but precisely because of the union of the believer with him.
I first came across F. Scott Spencer’s work when I was a salesman for Hendrickson Publishers and he published with us Journeying through Acts. I read his work again more recently as he was one of the contributors to a volume on multiple views on hermeneutics (Spencer taking the “Literary/Postmodern View”). Even when I had read his chapter, I wasn’t quite sure what this view was all about, but he takes up such a view again in his recent book from Eerdmans: Salty Wives, Spirited Mothers, and Savvy Widows: Capable Women of Purpose and Persistence in Luke’s Gospel (2012). Spencer’s not the first person to write a book on women in Luke - Barbara Reid has been very influential in this discussion with her book Choosing the Better Part. Also, there is a feminist companion to Luke (ed. A.J. Levine). Indeed, this isn’t even Spencer’s first book on women in the Gospels. In 2004, he wrote Dancing Girls, Loose Ladies, and Women of the Cloth: The Women in Jesus’ Life (Continuum). But this new book is not a rehashing of his 2004 volume. It has a persistent focus on Luke and his gospel.
How is this book different than other texts within the ambit of feminist biblical interpretation? While Spencer has a lot of respect for what he calls “FBI” agents (its an acronym, get it? Spencer gets this from the informal way Harvard students of Fiorenza refer to themselves), his desire is to study the gospel of Luke both in terms of faithfulness to the lives and plight of women in the world, and working from a hermeneutic of trust in God as he reads Holy Scripture. Spencer has no assumption that Luke was a bona fide feminist. Neither does he understand Luke to have an agenda where he wants to suppress and stifle the voices of women. Rather, he urges that a responsible study will reveal “the creative agency and capable activity of women in Luke’s Gospel” (x).
After an introductory chapter, he gives attention to 6 key episodes: Luke 15:8-10, Luke 1-2, Luke 8:1-3; Luke 10:38-42, Luke 4:25-26, and Luke 18:1-8.
If Spencer is anything, he is good at reading all the fine print of the text and thinking through what Luke actually writes. Sometimes you will encounter a strange or weak argument, but his project and the majority of his discussion are worthwhile. One bonus – Spencer is the king of puns. His cleverness keeps the text moving and helps the reader to stay engaged.
John T. Carroll is familiar to me as co-author of an excellent book called The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity. Thus, it was with great anticipation that I ordered his new commentary on Luke in the WJK NTL series. His commentary is rather short compared to other recent commentaries on Luke (Bock’s two volumes in BEC amount to about 2000 pages!; Joel Green’s NICNT is 1000+), but the NTL series tends to produce succinct commentaries that follow the flow of the text with concern for historical matters, exegetical conundrums, literary concerns, and theological ideas expressed in and through the biblical work. Carroll does all of this adroitly. The text also includes a fresh translation, in this case being a particular benefit because Carroll puts a lot of work into this, trying to be precise as well as stimulating. Thus, he translates (what we tend to see as) “kingdom of God” as “God’s reign.” Also, he renders the “Son of Man” language as “Son of Humanity.” This is a notoriously thorny issue (how to interpret the language of the “Son of Man”) and I don’t think Carroll’s solution is fully satisfactory, but I admire his attempt to translate it in a meaningful way beyond the tradition phrase.
In terms of authorship, Carroll finds the traditional association with Luke neither careless nor provable. Rather, he prefers to examine the gospel itself to determine a kind of “profile” of the (encoded) author: a Gentile, committed to God, the Jewish Scriptures, and the community of the Jewish people. So, this very well could be a God-fearer (p. 2).
A far as what this Gospel is about and why he wrote it. Carroll is not alone in thinking that this helps to establish a stable social identity for believers at the end of the first century:
Who are we as a people in light of recurrent conflict within synagogues and increasingly Gentile membership? How is Israel’s story—how are its Scriptures, its hopes, its future—still ours to claim? And with the embarrassment of our founder (Jesus) and his prominent successor (Paul) put to death through Roman judicial process, what place do we have in the Roman social order? The story Luke tells (in both Gospel and Acts) appears to take aim at precisely this sociorhetorical exigency: the need of early Christian audiences in urban centers of the Roman Empire to answer such questions, whether their own or those of others around them, and as the people for whom Jesus is Christ and Lord, to connect their own story to the ancient story of Israel. (4)
In terms of genre, Carroll follows Sterling by appealing to “apologetic historiography” (p. 5). As Carroll works through the text, though, he maintains a focus on the flow of the narrative itself – Luke’s story and how it shapes identity and teaches the community through a social, theological, and ethical vision.
The NTL typically features excurses peppered throughout the commentary. I was surprised that Carroll only included 4 of these, but they are certainly important ones: “Parallel Birth Announcements,” “Women in Luke’s Narrative,” “Poverty and Wealth in Luke’s Gospel,” and “The Reign of God and the Roman Empire in Luke’s Gospel.” In each of these discussions (of the second, third, and fourth topics), the conversations tend to be polarized in the history of scholarship. It is all the trend to see Luke as promoting women, focused on the poor, and anti-Rome. Carroll avoids this either-or in view of the complex nature of the third gospel. For example, pertaining to possible anti-imperial sentiments in Luke, Carroll says this:
Luke’s audience is introduced to, and invited to participate in, a counterreign defined by alternative practices and a fundamentally different notion of power and status, in a third space not dominated by the ideology of Rome, even if this counterrealm does not translate into overt revolution. And it is a space liberated from the malevolent, distorting rule of Satan. Yet for all of this, and despite Satan’s clam to have conferred power over the nations (4:6), the narrative does not paint Rome in unambiguously negative colors. (402)
Furthermore, Carroll says
As a third space, liberated from Satan’s control, this is a community whose identity is bound up with a crucified and risen Lord and whose character and future are defined in terms set by the reign not of Caesar but of God. Yet the movement that Luke terms ‘the way’ continues to navigate that Roman Empire, for the most part, peaceably, from within. (404)
What this means, in the end, is that Rome can easily be viewed as a destructive power in league with Satan. However, we also see signs that “God can make use of imperial power to accomplish purposes of liberation and salvation” (404).
As a whole, this commentary is very helpful when trying to work through the wider narrative of Luke , and you get Carroll’s take on the major exegetical problems in Luke. On the word-by-word or verse-by-verse level, space prohibits detailed discussion from Carroll, so if you go looking for a word study, you will be disappointed. This is a quick-and-easy-access commentary, but far from exhaustive. Carroll is a good reader of the text, sensitive to Luke’s story-telling mind. Carroll admits that he only scratches the theological surface of meaning and application, and then leaves it to others to take the ideas further. I recommend, if you use this commentary, to compliment it with other longer ones such as those by Culpepper (NIB) or Green (NICNT).
The online Methodist seminarian journal Catalyst just posted their Feb 2013 issue, which includes a short article of mine on some Pauline commentary recommendations. My recommendations change pretty much daily, but I will say that, right now, as I am teaching through Galatians, I find Richard Hays’ Galatians commentary (NIB) spectacularly rewarding!
For Catalyst, see here.
The Feb 2013 issue of Currents in Biblical Research is online.
This issue includes an article of mine called: “What is in a Name? The Hermeneutics of Authorship Analysis Concerning Colossians” – my desire is not to solve the authorship debate, but to examine how the landscape of study of authorship has shifted and changed over the years and how the issues are quite complex at the moment. Even our term “authorship” can mean a number of things.
Other articles in this issue include:
- Joel Edmund Anderson
The Rise, Fall, and Renovation of the House of Gesenius: Diachronic Methods, Synchronic Readings, and the Debate over Isaiah 36–39 and 2 Kings 18–20
- Judy Diehl
‘Babylon’: Then, Now and ‘Not Yet’: Anti-Roman Rhetoric in the Book of Revelation
- James A. Kelhoffer
New Testament Exegesis as an Academic Discipline with Relevance for Other Disciplines
- David A. Shaw
Converted Imaginations? The Reception of Richard Hays’s Intertextual Method
- David Hendin
Current Viewpoints on Ancient Jewish Coinage: A Bibliographic Essay
Scholarly apetite for researching and debating about Paul’s letter to the Romans is voracious. How can anyone keep up? Short answer: you can’t. So don’t try. But there are ways to stay up to date on scholarship. Commentaries are good resources for that. Articles sometimes offer overviews of current research. Well, luckily in the case of Romans, SBL recently published a collection of essays on Romans that makes accessible to non-specialists the ideas and contributions of a number of key NT scholars.
Jerry Sumney: “Reading the Letter to the Romans.”
Mark Nanos: “To the Churches within the Synagogues of Rome.”
Andrew Das: “The Gentile-Encoded Audience of Romans: The Church outside the Synagogue.”
Sylvia Keesmaat: “Reading Romans in the Capital of the Empire”
Katherine Grieb: “The Righteousness of God in Romans”
Joel Green: “Atonement Images in Romans”
Francis Watson: “The Law in Romans”
Rodrigo Morales: ” ‘Promised through His Prophets in the Holy Scriptures’: The Role of Scripture in the Letter to the Romans”
James Dunn: “Adam and Christ”
Ann Jervis: “The Spirit Brings Christ’s Life to Life”
Elizabeth Johnson: “God’s Covenant Faithfulness to Israel”
Caroline Johnson Hodge: ” ‘A Light to the Nations’: The Role of Israel in Romans 9-11″
Victor Furnish: “Living to God, Walking in Love: Theology and Ethics in Romans”
Since these scholars mostly distill and summarize their own contributions to Pauline theology and the study of Romans, I am not going to summarize each essay. This review will simply offer some “notes of interest.”
Nanos on church life: His wider argument is that the “churches” in Rome were not meeting completely independent of the synagogue. They met as a sub-set within the synagogal Jewish ambit. One excellent point Nanos makes regards the knowledge and use of Scripture in the churches.
If these non-Jews attended Jewish communal meetings, they would hear the Scriptures read, translated, interpreted in regular, weekly sermons. Or are we to suppose that Paul expected those raised on Greek and Roman stories (but not those of the Bible) were meeting in households independent of Jewish communal affiliation, and that each already possessed these expensive scrolls (or had attendees who already knew them well enough from earlier exposure that they could now recite and explain them)? (21)
Righteousness as Covenant Faithfulness: Many of the essay contributors seem very comfortable equating Paul’s language of God’s righteousness with God covenant faithfulness. One can see the influence of Kaesemann, Hays, and Wright in this regard. Obviously Grieb’s book The Story of Romans has introduced this concept to a wider audience.
dikaiosyne and justice. In a number of essays, there is a concern from the contributors to associate dikaosyne (normally translated as “righteousness”) with the language of “justice.” I think this is a wise association, but how should this be expressed in translations? “Covenantal justice”? “Righteousness and justice”?
Keesmaat and Empire. Keesmaat makes a thoroughgoing case for seeing Paul’s letter as anti-imperial or theopolitical. She is obviously siding with Tom Wright in this and even makes it a point to argue against John Barclay (someone who is quite skeptical about reading hidden messages against caesar in Paul’s letters). Keesmaat’s way of discussing this matter involves a conversation with an imaginary person. I did not find this the best method for conveying her message, but her footnotes and bibliography are worth chasing up if this subject appeals to you (as it does to me!).
Jervis and the Spirit? Ann Jervis’ cogent essay entertains the possibility that one of the reasons Paul wrote to the Romans is to teach them about the work of the Holy Spirit. If he is building solidarity in the first few chapters with what the Romans already know about the gospel, then, for Jervis, it is especially instructive that Paul barely mentions the Spirit until the fifth chapter. This suggests “that his hearers (being converted by someone other than himself) do not know the critical connection between the gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and the Spirit” (140).
Annotated Bibliographies – for me, one of the most attractive features of the book is the annotated subject-focused bibliographies at the end of each chapter. This helps guide the reader towards deeper study, with extra information about the significance or argument of each entry.
Texts of Interest: It should be of no surprise that Rom 1:17-18, 3:21-31, and 9-11 are discussed by many of the contributors. It was more remarkable to me that Rom 1:3-4 figured prominently in several essays; but clearly it is important insofar as it is focused on the exalted identity of the Son of God.
Final Word: Again, a nice collection. This book will not dazzle those who want to read something new. Rather, this introduces good scholarship on Romans to those who have not kept up to date in the last 15-20 years.
Many essay collections seem to be a kind of topical potpourri – inklings and ideas from various scholars on a given topic. These end of being informative, but all-too-often they are forgettable. Once in a while, though, a book is conceived of, and contributors are commissioned, with a view towards driving the discipline away from something and/or towards something else.
I think of the book Richard Bauckham edited and promoted called The Gospels for All Christians (1998). As a result of the momentum behind that project, we are seeing much more caution regarding the use of the language of a “gospel community” (“Matthean community,” “Johannine community,” etc…). On a completely different topic, you have The Ways That Never Parted (Becker/Reed, eds, 2007), an essay collection that puts into question the idea of an early “parting of the ways” between Judaism and Christianity.
Well, editors Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne have shown their moxy by taking on the popular approach to Jesus studies that involves the use of “authenticity criteria.” These two are not alone in their suspicion of the value of such criteria: they gathered, for a conference and publishing project, a number of eminent Jesus scholars who also wish to wield methodological sledgehammers and endeavor to cry out in freedom from form-critical tyranny (Jens Schroeter, Loren Stuckenbruck, Dagmar Winter, Rafael Rodriguez, Mark Goodacre, Scot McKnight, Dale Allison Jr, and, last but not least, Morna Hooker who wrote the foreward).
Hooker expresses the kind of skepticism towards the authenticity-criteria that is indicative of most of the contributors. She writes, “Perhaps…the time has come to abandon the whole enterprise of trying to discover the ‘real historical Jesus’ (xiv). Why is she wanting to throw in the towel? A large part of it has to do with the tendency to focus on words and phrases, which ends up being too “cut-and-paste” for good historical study.
As with an expressionist painting, what we need to do is to stand back from it, rather than poring over details, for the closer we get, the less we see the whole” (xv).
What is the alternative to the old tools? Hooker would rather opt for “plain common sense” (xvii)!
In the introduction of the book, Le Donne does a fine job of explaining the problem with the authenticity-criteria and surveying how the contributors approach a solution. Some wish to do away with the criteria completely and work with other models and methods (like memory studies). Others think that some of them can be salvaged.
When it comes to the rise of skepticism towards the authenticity-criteria, Le Donne notes two commonly voiced concerns.
The first is a reluctance to fragment, isolate, and then privilege certain units within the Gospels. To do so is to degrade other portions of the Gospels deemed less ‘authentic.’ The second is a reluctance to aim for historical facts devoid of interpretation. To do so is to misunderstand the relationship between fact and interpretation and to degrade the value of ancient interpretations for the historian’s task” (17)
Ch1: The Indebtedness of the Criteria-Approach to Form Criticism and Recent Attempts to Rehabilitate the Search for an Authentic Jesus (Chris Keith)
In this chapter, Keith persuasively argues that the criteria-approach has its roots in form criticism. However, as the guild of Jesus scholars has moved away from form-critical approaches and assumptions, it makes little sense to continue to live and die by the criteria. The criteria try to filter out the opinions and theological nuances of the evangelists. Keith is extremely hesitant to approach the gospels in this way.
Ch2: The Criteria of Authenticity in Jesus Research and Historiographical Method (Jens Schroeter)
Some of the concerns expressed by Keith are taken up by Schroeter in his essay. He is particularly concerned to point out that the evangelists were not only reporting on Jesus, but also using the gospels as a platform to speak to issues of their own time and context. Schroeter contends that it is impossible to uncouple these things in the text because they are integrated seamlessly: “[the gospels] have taken up their traditions and historical information about Jesus’ activity in Galilee and integrated them into their own narratives, making the Jesus story transparent for their own time” (68).
Chapters 3-7 make up a section entitled: “Specific Criteria in the Question for an Authentic Jesus“
Loren Stuckenbruck deals with problematic studies on “semitic influence on Greek.” Le Donne gives attention to “the criterion of coherence.” Dagmar Winter looks at “the criterion of dissimilarity.” Rodriguez puts into question the “criterion of embarrassment.” And Goodacre talks about “the criterion of multiple attestation.” I will not survey these chapters. They were all insightful, but regarding the demise of authenticity, the devil is not in the details as much as in the attitude towards historical research as a whole.
Chapters 8-9 comprise a section called “Reflections on Moving Past Traditional Jesus Research“
Chapter 8: “Why the Authentic Jesus Is of No Use for the Church” (Scot McKnight)
Since I read this chapter (a few months ago), I have thought a lot about what McKnight says: every Jesus is a theological Jesus (173). And I think he is right. What does he mean? “The Jesus we construct is the Jesus we more or less believe in” (174). For McKnight, the problem with Jesus research, as it has been traditionally taken up by the academy, is that it has had a long pedigree of trying to deconstruct the canonical Jesus.
The historical Jesus enterprise is designed to take apart the Church’s Jesus, Christology, and the Gospels in order to find what is historical — and that means really said or done by Jesus over and against what was not said or done –and then to construct an image of Jesus on the basis of what survives the test.” (175)
It is really important what McKnight says here. He is not against historical research. He has no bone to pick with Darrell Bock (who studies Jesus in his socio-historical context). He notes that critical Jesus scholars are not just de-constructing the canonical Jesus, but they are all reconstructing their own Jesus based on “evidence” and “coherence” (if they find any).
McKnight makes it crystal clear that this is of no use to the Church because “When the Jesus we have (re)constructed is no longer orthodox or the Jesus of the canonical Gospels or the Jesus of the regula fidei, the Jesus we have is no longer the Jesus of the church, and a Jesus who is not of the church is not a Christian Jesus” (176). I find McKnight’s argument stimulating, but I am not quite sure what the relationship is, in his mind, between the “Church’s Jesus” and the Jesus of history. Does it matter if they are not the same? Should we not even wonder?
Chapter 9: “It Don’t Come Easy: A History of Disillusionment” (Dale Allison, Jr)
In this reflective essay, Allison is honest about his own journey in Jesus studies, and he confesses that even when he was doing mainstream Jesus research, he knew deep down that the tools available to scholars were quite weak and insufficient for the task (192). In more recent years, he has taken up study of memory and testimony. He is rather frank in his conclusions that we should have skepticism regarding the gospels as historical sources, as they cannot be treated as “immune to the systematic sins of human memory” (198). This does not plunge the historian into utter despair, but sounds a cautionary siren. At the end of the day, Allison recommends that Jesus scholars work in terms of “generalizations about and inferences from large quantities of data” (198): “The larger the generalization and the more data upon which it is based, the greater our confidence” (198).
Chris Keith concludes the book with a brief chapter outlining points of agreement and some disagreements among the contributors.
My Evaluation of This Book
Strengths. It is difficult to gainsay the collective argument build in this book. The authenticity tools are rusty and have been bent out of shape by misuse for far too long. Short of building a time machine, these anti-criteria scholars are convinced that we can never know the “real Jesus” (as he was in history, according to empirical fact, uninterpreted by memory or creed). I think that is right. I agree with the back-cover endorsers and even the title of the book – while this collection is pleading for the criteria’s demise, it is more of a good-bye to something already half-sleeping in the grave.
I was especially appreciative that the book is a kind of implicit honorific work in praise of Morna Hooker, particularly her prescient castigation of the authenticity criteria in 1972 (“On Using the Wrong Tool,” Theology 75:570-81). Several of the essays made it a point to say to Morna- sorry we didn’t hear you and “get it” forty years ago!
Another helpful feature of this book is the appeal to memory studies. I can see that this is the way of the future of Jesus studies. I am not sure how productive it will be, but it is not without promise.
concerns/weaknesses. I think the “gist” approach (McKnight’s catchword for Allison’s method) is sensible. However, with all this hubbub over memory, the lingering question I had while reading the book is this: don’t we need to associate these concerns with questions about genre? Some would argue that the evangelists are not even trying to be historical, so there is no real bother over whether they remembered well or not. I certainly would not go that far, but this idea that the gospels are a combination of memory, preaching, reflection on the OT, and moral instruction no doubt complicates the historical project. Do we need to come to some conclusion on genre before we ask about the failure or success of memories?
Secondly, and this is not that big of a concern, I wonder if it might have helped to have a chapter at the end written by someone sympathetic to the criteria (Helen Bond, for example)? Because the contributors are so thoroughly convinced of the utter uselessness of the criteria, it leaves one thinking – surely someone still finds this a helpful approach. Why? Perhaps that will just be left to the critical reviewers!
Overall, I wish to thank Le Donne and Keith for their energy and effort regarding putting the conference together and then getting it published. This book will definitely not go away. I am happy to have a first edition – I plan on selling it on Ebay when I retire, when it is in its 11th edition (does Ebay still exist? What will we have in 35 years?)
I was very excited to read that there is a second (revised/updated) edition of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels coming from IVP in September 2013. These famous “black dictionaries” get tons of use by me on a constant basis. It will be nice to have an up-to-date version of the “DJG”!
What’s new about the second edition? You can read all about it in the interview with the editors contained in this newsletter.