Thursday, October 29, 2009

I love Internet Scholars

The thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice. That is great! This blog gives me a platform to discuss many issues (quite often among myself, might I add.) However, the anonymous nature of the internet grants everyone the platform to present themselves as highly educated scholars. This in itself isn't problematic to those who I know of who read this blog; but there are those who simply have no knowledge in the field of New Testament studies.

With this in mind, I believe it is a great time to have a look at some of the arguments and polemics which have headed my way over the past few weeks.

  1. Scholarship now believes Jesus did not exist?

    Original quote:

    "The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question." Robert E. Van Voorst, 'Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence' p. 14


    "In the decade since this quote was written, and even before that, serious scholars such as Price and Wells have presented strong cases for a purely mythical Jesus."

  2. Marcion wrote Luke and the Pauline epistles in the Second Century; then soon after Irenaeus changed them all to include Old Testament citations.

  3. This Muslim Apologetic that there is reliable early evidence that Jesus was not crucified by appealing to late texts which, essentially, deny the possibility of Jesus 'physically' being able to be crucified. Something in stark contrast to the "truth of Islam" he is using these sources to assert.

  4. Khalid Yasin arguing the unreliability of the New Testament because the modern titles read "According to..." and that is in the third person. Oh, and because they don't have last names. You see, a bank won't cash a cheque without a full name; therefore the New Testament cannot be trusted. Oh, and Paul wrote "all the books from Acts on." Seriously, this is gold.

    "I don't understand why people don't just read history." - Khalid Yasin.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Just Some Questions

Sorry if this is an elementary question, but after the fall of  Jerusalem where did all the Palestinian Jews go?

Did they join the Diaspora communities? Do we have evidence of them joining the Jews of Egypt? If they did, how did they deal with language barriers? Would we have had Aramaic speaking Palestinian Jewish Ghettos among Diaspora communities?

If anyone has any pointers on where to head with this regard, please do share! I have been thinking about the makeup of Christianity in Egypt and Roberts' explanation that they were probably highly integrated with the Jews of Alexandria. He states that the Hellenised Jews of Alexandria would have been more open to Christianity - but would there have been a newly established Palestinian Jewish community there post-fall?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thomas and Tatian

I just started reading Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship Between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron by Nicholas Perrin. At the moment, I am not sure if I agree with his case, however, it has to be said that I haven't found any of the excessively early arguments (e.g. Koester) persuasive in the slightest. My first thoughts are that he is pushing it a bit with the late date, however, there are many questions that have been raised by Gilles Quispel between the Diatessaron and Gospel of Thomas which need to be taken seriously. And as Perrin has rightly noted, scholars really haven't.

Anyway, why I am interested in the question has to do with my re-evaluation of Bauer. Thomas represents one of the earliest so-called Gnostic texts in Egypt - and depending on the original version, or in this case a Greek fragment, the model has to be adjusted. Do we go with the idea that the early Thomas contained an early proto-orthodox tradition  -some independent of the synoptics, which were later Gnosticied? Such would account for the simple fact that some of the common sayings demonstrate a clear theological gnosticising tendency. Do we acept the text as simply another mid-second century and beyond Gnostic text?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Books to Get my Hands on in the Near Future...

  • James F. McGrath, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context.

  • James G. Crossley, Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins 26-50 CE.

  • Nicholas Perrin, Thomas, The Other Gospel.

  • Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times
I think the only problem standing in the way is a thing called money. Especially for McGrath's book, at only 168 pages the tag is high!

Actually, I think I should address my lacking of theological understanding a bit:

  • Alister E. McGrath, A Fine-tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology
  • A McGrath, Theology: The Basics
  • Someone want to suggest something on the Calvinism-Arminian debate? {Thanks to diglot for bringing up the topic.)

Should the Pericope of the Adulteress be included in our bibles?

I am not sure how long it has been there, but over at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog there is now a poll on whether the Pericope Adulterae in the Gospel of John should be included in our Bibles.

I am not a text critic so I am not qualified to discuss the finer details of it, but there is a dilemma. Namely, we are pretty sure it is not an original part of the Fourth Gospel yet, to quote the TCGNT, "the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity."

What do we do in this situation?

Do we take the hard line view that only the four gospel autographs are authoritative or historically reliable?
If so, how do we deal with the fact that the Gospel narratives were originally orally transmitted? Or that Jesus' ministry was far greater than the portraits we received in the gospels?

I really don't know the solution, but in any case every translation is obligated to raise the question for the readers. I must say, for that reason I do love the TC notes that go along with the NET Bible. They are far more useful than a generic "Some early manuscripts do not contain this."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Early Christian Letter?

Here is what I hinted to yesterday - is this the earliest Christian letter or a representative of Manichaeism?

I am aware that identifying belief  in documentary papyri didn't make it onto anyone's top-ten list of anything but it can be rather interesting. But then we get to a case such as this where it simply becomes a tad confusing:

(Click to Enlarge)

Here we have a papyri letter with many allusions we would simply interpret as Christian. We have the Father God, we have a Paraclete Spirit, we have a Paschal festival...but is it Christian?

I would say the answer will surprise you but I don't think anyone is yet to produce a real solid answer.

New York Times in 1943

I was searching for an image of P.Harr 1.107 to jog some discussion with but instead I came across this:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Larry Hurtado and Early High Christology (Video)

Here is a ten minute video with Larry W. Hurtado on his thesis popularly presented in How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God? On this point, I see it fit to recommend a recent interview that Matt from Broadcast Depth had with Hurtado. In the interview, Hurtado touched on a point too close to home. That is, a point that I see as relevant to all Christians in the field of NT studies:

One intellectual issue that I had to ponder early on and across the years (and I hope successfully) was how to engage with integrity the historically-conditioned nature of the biblical texts while also affirming their significance and function as scripture for Christian faith.  It seems to me that both extreme “liberal” and “conservative/fundamentalist” views actually agree implicitly on the same premise (which I regard as fallacious, or at least not incontestably true):  If the biblical texts are really historically-conditioned they cannot be “word of God”.  Recognizing the historically-conditioned nature of the biblical texts, the extreme liberal concludes they cannot really function as scripture.  Affirming the texts as scripture, the fundamentalist tries to dodge their historically-conditioned nature.  Worse yet, both views are fundamentally boring!  It would take more space than available here to lay out my own view, but in essence I think that it is theologically necessary to treat seriously the historically-conditioned nature of the biblical texts, and this is precisely integral to their scriptural function.

As a student of ancient history (as opposed to many who come to Biblical studies through theology) this has been at the forefront of my mind. One has to find the balance of recognising the New Testament documents as theology and as history - with the constraints that come with both. Gordon Fee was right on the mark here:

To see Scripture as both human and divine creates its own set of tensions. . . . God did not choose to give us a series of timeless, non-culture-bound theological propositions to be believed and imperatives to be obeyed. Rather he chose to speak his eternal word this way, in historically particular circumstances, and in every kind of literary genre. God himself, by the very way he gave us this word, locked in the ambiguity. . . . The issue is whether one is wont to begin with a theological a priori and conform historical questions to that a priori (= telling the exegetes what God could or could not have done before one looks at the data), or whether one starts with historical investigation and expresses one’s theological constructs in light of that investigation (= telling the theologian what God in light of historical probabilities seems to have done).
(Gordon D. Fee, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutic, shamelessly lifted from Ben Witherington, The Living Word of God.)

"Sorry, Greece is closed..."

While I was in England this time last year I visited a little travel agency in the small town of Batley, West Yorkshire. I was inquiring about going to Greece for a bit as the horrible weather of England was driving me insane. I really don't know what it was - but for some reason the travel agent informed me Greece was closed. Closed!

Look, I was a bit sceptical at first but she assured me that Greece was in fact closed.  The whole country was closed - just like countries often do. Who was I to argue - she was the travel agent and I was just some foreigner!? She then informed me that alternatively I could have purchased a nice holiday to other English destinations.

I wish someone had informed me that countries periodically close in Europe!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I never thought I would say this...

...but too much Martin Hengel. I have been speeding through Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine During the Early Hellenistic Period and Jews, Greeks and Barbarians: Aspects of the Hellenization of Judaism in the pre-Christian Period by necessity and I do not know how much more I can take. I guess the upside is that I am no longer ignoring the Hellenising influences in Palestine pre-Maccabees.

*Gets back to reading Hengel, "The Political and Social History of Palestine from Alexander to Antiochus III (333-187 B.C.E)" in The Cambridge History of Judaism vol. 4.*

Jesus Water™

Over at Broadcast Depth Matt has listed his ten top soft drinks. However, as I say, no matter what processed drink you put down your throat - nothing will match the purity of Jesus Water™

*May or may not turn into wine

Monday, October 12, 2009


My copy of A Bird's-Eye View of Paul (aka Introducing Paul) finally came! Of course, I don't have the time to read it for a few weeks but I am just so glad that it did finally come. One of my students saw it today and burst out laughing. The fact that it was written by Michael Bird and contains Bird in the title seems to have been the funniest thing she had ever seen.

In all honesty, I can identify with such sentiments. I purposely chose A Bird's-Eye View over Introducing Paul. The name and colourful cover were just far less generic which made  it an appropriate choice, especially as it is intended for "laypersons and undergraduate students and as a refresher for pastors and ministers." (6)

Anyway, the first chapter I will probably get to is Chpt. 8 "One God, One Lord: Monotheism and the Messiah" where it seems he follows the lead of Bauckham on "divine identity" and exegetes the standard Pauline Christology texts (e.g. 1 Cor 8:6; Phil. 2:5-11; etc)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Quote of the Day - I. Howard Marshall on Bousset's Christology

From The Origins of New Testament Christology by I. Howard Marshall (1990 reprint):

His (Bousset's) appeeal to religious parallels from outside Judaism easily turns parallels into influences, and much of the details reconstructions of myths that have been held to influnce the early Church has been shown to rest on a misreading of the sources. Finally, his attempt to distance Paul from Jesus by means of a hypothetical gentile church acting as intermediary must be pronounced a failure. (pp.18-19)

The Exalted Christology of Mark 12:35-37

The exalted Christology of the synoptic gospels is greatly underappreciated. In fact, in many cases the idea of high Christology in the synoptics is sneered at. Some argue that it isn't until the Gospel of John that we find the Christology that sets Jesus apart being a mere mortal prophet.

If I was to suggest that John 17:5 had its roots in primitive Christology I am sure many would dismiss it without consideration. However, I think we should give it a go. John 17:5 (ESV) states:

And now, Father,  glorify me in your own presence with the glory  that I had with you  before the world existed.
 We see a number of unique features here. Firstly, Jesus is clearly an exalted character. Secondly, Jesus shared in the glory of God. Thirdly, Jesus shared in the Father's glory in the realm of his human pre-existence.

I am going to go out on a limb and assert that these three features of an exalted Jesus who shared glory with God in a state of pre-existence is found within the Gospel of Mark. In fact, in a single few verse pericope of Mark 12:35-37 (ESV) which reads:

35  And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’
37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

So, just to set the scene here. Jesus is at the temple and we receive an exert of the sermon (or even a provocative opening?). Here, we find an open challenge to the Messianic expectations of the scribes. Namely, you say that the Messiah is the son of David? Jesus is setting out to demonstrate that the Messiah is to be so much more, so he moves to the scripture. He cites David under the influence of the Holy Spirit declaring: "YHWH said to my Adoni, Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet."

That's all good, but Jesus goes to identify the Messiah with the lord of the text. David himself calls the Messiah lord. So, to the three points from before. Firstly, the Messiah is identified as an exalted figure - he is even recognised as lord by David. Secondly, Adonai is in the glory and presence of YHWH during this discourse and was to be at His right hand. Thirdly, this all took place in a context of pre-existence.

Evidently, we find a very high Christology in these few verses of Mark. Just like the obviously high Christology of John 17:5, we find this short pericople espousing the same features in terms that appear to be just as strong - if not stronger.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

James D.G. Dunn on Robert Price

James D.G. Dunn (Jesus Remembered) on Robert M. Price's (Christ Mythicist) in the soon to be released The Historical Jesus: Five Views published by IVP:

On Price's use and abuse of the criterion of dissimilarity:
Price takes up the early form-critical observation that for the Jesus tradition to have been preserved it must have been of some pragmatic value, and he uses it to make the criterion of dissimilarity "all devouring." If every bit and piece of the Jesus tradition had a home in the early church, then "all must be denied to Jesus by the criterion of dissimilarity." Such an extension of the criterion of dissimilarity simply undermines what value it has. It is so a priori obvious that an influential teacher's teaching would influence his disciples and shape their own teaching and lives in substantial degree that the dissimilarity criterion does not help us to distinguish the one from the other.
James D.G. Dunn in The Historical Jesus: Five Views (IVP 2009), p.95
James Dunn on Price's use, or lack thereof, of primary sources:

Where I begin to become irritated by Price's thesis, as with those of his predecessors, is his ignoring what everyone else in the business regards as primary data and his readiness to offer less plausible hypotheses to explain other data that inconveniences his thesis. Why no mention of 1 Corinthians 15:3 - generally reckoned to be an account of the faith that Paul received when he was converted, that is, within two or three years of the putative events - "that Chris died...." Why no reference to Paul's preaching of Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23), his preaching as openly portraying Christ as crucified (Gal 3:1)? How can Price actually assert that "we should never guess from the Epistles that Jesus died in a particular historical or political context," when it is well enough known that crucifixion was a Roman political method of execution characteristically for rebels and slaves? I could go on at some length - "seed of David" (Rom 1:3), "born under the law" (Gal 4:4), "Christ did not please himself" (Rom 15:3). Yet Price is able to assert that "the not evidence a recent historical Jesus," a ludicrous claim that simply diminishes the credibility of the argument used in support. (p.96)
Yes, the question in your head is "why are you bothering with an idiosyncratic Christ Mythicist?" Well, such views seem to be believed by laymen with a polemical agenda against Christianity.