Monday, September 28, 2009

Earliest Christianity: One Church or Warring Sects?

Want to read  about unity and diversity in the early church?  Don't have time to read James D.G. Dunn's massive Unity and Diversity in the New Testament? Sick of Ehrman's focus and glorification of second and third century groups? Can't be bothered to wait for me to finish Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity: The Case for Proto-orthodoxy?

Well, then you're just lazy busy. In that case, there is a nice primer in James D.G. Dunn's The Evidence for Jesus. He devotes a chapter to the topic titled "Earliest Christianity: One Church or Warring Sects?"

I must say the title in itself is interesting, however, a tad misleading. In my opinion, it would be wrong to imply that some sort of sectarianism or diversity precludes the concept of "one Church" as, say, a Protestant would understand the term. As he makes the case, there was diversity in earliest Christianity.  But does diversity preclude the existence of a clear orthodoxy? I maintain no - and this is a point that Dunn leaves hanging for far too long in a work intended for such an audience.

In my own life, I wouldn't agree with some what my fellow Christians believe - however, these are all too the periphery. As a Christian who loves the early (in some cases pre-scriptural) creeds, I believe such a form is sufficient to maintain orthodoxy. (I can probably say this with more confidence than those with a theological background :))

So, after all the gloom of telling us that Paul was not the only guy in the early church and that there were people opposing him in expression of the faith, we finally get a touching moment on early Christian unity:
What united the first Christians more than anything else was their belief in Jesus - in Jesus as the climax of God's ongoing purpose for man's redemption, the one whom God had raised from the dead and exalted as Lord, the man who demonstrated most clearly what God is like. Clustered round this central distinguishing belief of the first Christians were a number of others on which they would all have agreed in essence, even if their outworking in fuller formulation and practical application diverged in differing degrees: God, the Creator and the Father of Jesus Christ, as one; salvation through faith in Christ; the experience of the Spirit; the Old Testament as scripture and the traditions of Jesus, both to be treasured as authoritative for faith and life; Christianity's continuity with Israel, the people of God; practice of baptism in the name of Jesus and of the Lord's Supper in remembrance of him; and the need for an ethical outworking of faith through love. Such is the heartland of Christianity still. (James D.G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus p.99)

But before ending I must add that I really believe that Dunn's image of first century diversity is clouded by his approach to early Christology. Dunn's view which rips the divine Christology from Paul and his favour for developing Christology within the 'Hellenist' Churches forces him to over emphasise some differences between those zealous for the law vs Paul. For example, on the later Jewish Christian sects (such as the Ebionites) he states:
For the Jewish Christians of the second and third centuries, Jesus was simply a prophet, James the first sole leader of the Jerusalem church was the great hero, and Paul who had transformed the faith by opening the door so wide to the gentiles was a renegade and apostate.(p.96)
However, can Dunn really argue this? I greatly disagree with Dunn's Christological approach and I see no convincing evidence that the Jerusalem church saw Jesus as anything less than exalted as part of the divine identity of YHWH.

As Larry Hurtado has shown in his extensive works on early Christology, "Devotion to Jesus appeared too early, and originated among circles of the early Jesus movement that were comprised of - or certainly dominated by - Jews...." (Lord Jesus Christ, p. 42). Furthermore, Jesus' divine identity was classifed in terms of first century Judaism in such an exalted manner. As Richard Bauckham states, “the highest possible Christology – the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity – was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them.” ("God Crucified" in Jesus and the God of Israel p.19)

So, in essence, read Dunn on early Christian diversity with his Christological view in mind.

New Books on the Way

A Bird's-eye View of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His MessageI just ordered two new books through Fishpond. Okay, with one book I got overcharged, but the second book was fine. Oh, and I got $19.20 off my order.

In the end it cost me $43.76 all up instead of $62.96 so I am rather happy with myself.

Update: This post looks really, really ugly.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I am known to be harsh in some of my reviews, however, I really have nothing on this. Hyam Maccoby was a contentious scholar painting an interesting portrait of Jesus, but more importantly in this case, of Paul. Maccoby essentially presents Paul as a liar - he wasn't really a Pharisee but a Hellenistic Jewish convert or Gentile immersed in Pagan and Gnostic belief.  John G. Gager, a rather prominent Pauline scholar (Dunn interacts with him a lot in TNPP) has this to say on Maccoby's thesis:

This book, I fear, moves us backward in virtually every area. Maccoby's treatment reads like a (surely unintentional) summary of nineteenth century polemical-apologetic "scholarship" of a liberal Christian variety: Jesus against Paul; Paul as the second (and real) founder of Christianity; Paul the opponent and falsifier of Judaism; the pre- dominance of influence from Hellenistic mystery cults on Pauline thought. Still, the book might have been redeemed with an ever so slight shift in its self- description. If, instead of representing it as a work of historical scholarship, the author had described it as a piece of historical romance (as, for instance, Hugh Schonfield has presented his works), we might have been able to enjoy it as fiction.
John G. Gager, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 79, No. 2/3 (Oct., 1988 - Jan., 1989), pp. 248-250
 Ouch. But sentiments I agree with.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rodney Stark and Michael Bird - Orthodoxy and Heresy

Following on my recent theme of orthodoxy and heresy [1, 2, 3, 4], Walter Bauer, Ehrman's Lost Christianities and Pagels I would like to plug a post by Michael Bird at Euaggelion on the issue. Bird has provided a number of great quotes from Rodney Stark's  Cities of God which I would love to share (and note here so I can find them at a later date!)
"Purely as a matter of faith, one is free to prefer Gnostic interpretations and to avow that they give us access to secret knowledge concerning a more authentic Christianity, as several popular authors have recently done. But one is not free to claim that the early church fathers rejected these writings for nefarious reasons. The conflicts between many of these manuscripts and the New Testament are so monumental that no thinking person could embrace both (p. 142)."

"Elaine Pagels stresses that the Gnostic writers 'did not regard themselves as "heretics"'. Of course note. But the issue of heresy is hardly a matter of self-designation. Let us assume that these writers (including forgers) sincerely believed that they possessed the truth and that the conventional Christians had it all wrong, while the conventional Christians were equally sure that theirs was the true Christianity. Within the confines of faith, the charge of heresy can be resolved objectively only on the basis of which side more accurately transmitted the original teachings of Jesus. That decision must come down to sources (p. 152)."

"Had the Gnostics prevailed, they presumably would be viewed today rather more in the manner that Pagels and other 'Ivy League' Gnostics would wish, assuming that such a thing as Christianity still existed. But the Gnostics did not prevail, because they did not present nearly so plausible a faith, nor did they seem to understand how to create sturdy organizations. Instead, most of them did and taught their own 'thing'. To sum up, the Gnostics gospels were rejected for good reason: they constitute idiosyncratic, often lurid personal visions reported by scholarly mystics, ambitious pretenders, and various outsiders who found their life's calling in dissent. Whatever else might be said about them, surely they were heretics. As N.T. Wright put it, they 'represent ... a form of spirituality which, while still claiming the name of Jesus, has left behind them every things that made Jesus who he was, and that made the early Christians what they were' (p. 154)."
 I believe Stark has hit the nail on the head. That is the point of my discussions on the topic and that of other commentators. As I have earlier noted, the problem with Ehrman and Pagels name dropping alternative 'early' Christianities is that they present (1) later schools of thought and (2) fail to discuss their legitimacy as first century alternatives. Would Ehrman and Pagels take the challenge to argue that Jesus was in fact a Gnostic? We know that Ehrman does not hold this view (see his Apocalyptic historical Jesus based on the earliest sources) yet he makes no qualification in Lost Christianities.

Stark is absolutely correct in stating:
Within the confines of faith, the charge of heresy can be resolved objectively only on the basis of which side more accurately transmitted the original teachings of Jesus. That decision must come down to sources.
As I have repeatedly stressed, we can make an argument for orthodoxy and heresy historically. What do our earliest sources say? When did these alternative movements emerge? Do the alternative movements fit the Jesus movement? Do they fit the context of late second temple Judaism? All legitimate questions that can give a 'faith-free' answer to the debate.

Finally Following Through With Something

I know, my blog is generally a place of empty promises where I simply do not have the time to follow up everything I wish to. However, we have an exception this time! I finally bought the books I complained about wanting a few months ago.

The first book  was the reason why I embarked on the journey all the way to Koorong. That is, Michael F. Bird's Are You the One Who is to Come?. I would have loved to get it earlier but Koorong really did take their sweet time getting the books in.

The preface of the book is upfront and sets the scene:
This volume argues that the historical Jesus understood his mission, ministry, or vocation (or whatever we want to call it) in messianic categories. Jesus understood himself to be designated by God as the Messiah of Israel. (p.11)
From what I have seen so far, the book is great! I would love to get into it a bit deeper to see how he deals with the absence of Messianic titles and affirmations in the earliest traditions. From first glance, it appears that his solution is to argue that Jesus' trajected his identity into the role of some sort of category of Messianic expectations (noting the diversity) which he sees as implicitly linked to his Messianic self-understanding, even if not explicitly admitted to. Stay tuned for a review of it once I am done.

The second book was Darrell Bock's Jesus According To Scripture. I still do not know why I wanted it (maybe Chilton's review calling it the Evangelical version of Raymond Brown?) but I saw it for only $16.95 (as hardback while it was $45 for paperback!) and decided to get it. Now the problem is setting aside time to get through it. Unlike Bird's book, I do not see myself getting through it for a long time.

Friday, September 25, 2009

In Memory of the Other Jesus

Nope, not the first person I saw named Jesus (other than Jesus, the Christ) during the gymnastic competition of the 1996 Olympic games when I was like 7 years old but the Jesus who also had some fun preaching woe to Jerusalem. That is, Jesus ben Ananus whom Josephus mentions in book of of the Jewish Wars. What I enjoy about this Jesus is how it has the potential to legitimise the apocalyptic preaching of Jesus within the gospels as pre-dating the fall and not necessarily being the invention of the later church.

So, without furthere adue the story of Jesus, son of Ananus:
But, what is still more terrible there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for everyone to make tabernacles to God in the temple,g (301) began on a sudden cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city. (302) However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say anything for himself, or anything peculiar to those that chastised him, but still he went on with the same words which he cried before. (303) Hereupon our rulers supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator; (304) where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet did he not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” (305) And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him who he was, and whence he came, and why he uttered such words; he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him. (306) Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, “Woe, woe, to Jerusalem!” (307) Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come. (308) This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; (309) for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, “Woe, woe, to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!” And just as he added at the last,—“Woe, woe, to myself also!” there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages, he gave up the ghost.
 What this story has reminded me of is that I am yet to finish Scot McKnight's Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus and Atonement Theory. With that in mind, this can be my non-spiteful quote of the day:

We have established that Jesus thought he would die prematurely, in the providence of God, and would probably die at the hands of those who rejected his mission as a potential source of rebellion. It only makes sense that one who thought he would die, who on other grounds considered himself a prophet, also tried to make sense of that death. We can assume that Jesus did not think of his death as a sad tragedy or as a total accident of history. After all, Jesus could have escaped Jerusalem during the night; he could have avoided all public confrontation; and he could have worked harder to maintain his innocence. (Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death p.177)


f This here seems to be the court of the priests.
g Both Reland and Havercamp in this place alter the natural punctuation and sense of Josephus, and this contrary to the opinion of Valesius and Dr. Hudson, lest Josephus should say that the Jews built booths or tents within the temple at the feast of tabernacles: which the latter rabbis will not allow to have been the ancient practice: but then, since it is expressly told us in Nehemiah 8:16, that in still elder times “the Jews made booths in the courts of the house of God” at that festival, Josephus may well be permitted to say the same. And indeed, the modern rabbis are of very small authority in all such matters of remote antiquity.
Josephus, Flavius ; Whiston, William: The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged. Peabody : Hendrickson, 1996, c1987, S. Wars 6.299-309

Quote(s) of the Day - Bauer and Silence

Indeed, we are mixing it up today with plurals!
Throughout the book [Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity] Bauer argues extensively from silence. This is always a difficult argument, since one must be able to establish that the silence is significant and not just accidental, that there ought to be something there which is missing. An argument from silence, to be persuasive, must present us with an absence that needs explaining and that can only be explained in a particular way. But quite often, Bauer simply uses silence as a space within which to create history out of whole cloth." (J. McCue, Bauer's Rechtglaubigkeit und Ketzerei p.31)

Specific details of Bauer's demonstration were immediately seen as problematic. Bauer was charged, with good reason, with attacking orthodox sources with inquisitional zeal and exploiting to a nearly absurt extent the argument from silence. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities p.173)

Positive German reviews of the first edition (1934) commended the ingenious approach of boldness of Bauer' vision; they joined, however, the moral critical ones in underlining Bauer's use of the "argument from silence" and excess of interpretation. (Eduard Iricinschi, Holger M. Zellentin, Heresy and Identity in Late Antiquity p.6)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Beginnings from Jerusalem

This is the book I really need that for some reason the university does not have in the library. A university with a research speciality in early Christian history.

Why? Oh, why?

I guess it would be okay if all he did was rehash the issues in Unity and Diversity in the New Testament but I am sure he would have done such much more. Oh, why is life so difficult? lol

The Creativity of Elaine Pagels

We all know Elaine Pagels, neo-Gnostic extraordinaire, has a habit of being, well, very creative when it comes to dealing with the relationship between orthodoxy and heresy in 'early' Christianity.

So, today at my wrath is a little dip into the Gospel of John and its use in the debate of orthodoxy and heresy in 'early' Christianity. (Note, by early, of course, I mean not all too early Christianity addressed by Bauer, Ehrman and Pagels in their respective works.) As I have often noted, the Gospel of John reflects metaphor and monotheism of Second Temple Judaism. For example, the issues of the divine Word (logos), light and darkness, etc can all be linked to the environment of Second Temple Judaism. The so-called Hellenistic prologue engaging with the divine Logos is simply a Jewish Christian exegesis on Genesis expressing Jesus' identity as (1) a part of the unique identity of YHWH (analogous to Wisdom) and (2) in terms familiar to Jews in the period (e.g. the light-darkness metaphors of John with 1QS). As I contend, we have no reason to suggest Hellenistic concepts or later gnostic dualism.

Now, we may very well excuse those who did not appreciate the 'Jewishness' of the fourth Gospel pre-DSS days or while it was fashionable to date it late pre-P52. Yet despite these recent discoveries and approach of recognising John as "the gospel most clearly engaged with Judaism" and "perhaps the most Jewish of the canonical gospels" we still have the same arguments being pushed. Pagels and Koester are just so hesitant to let the issue of John as necessitating Gnostic communities to drop despite Bauer's thesis on Gnosticism in Egypt falling on itself. As noted by Roberts (Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt) we simply don't have the physical evidence to backup the conjecture that Egypt was majority Gnostic in the 'period of silence'. Furthermore, as Llewellyn has shown in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity vol 7, there is nothing to suggest that the Egyptian community was Gnostic by use of the Gospel of John. It has been shown that the use of John in the period of alleged Gnosticism was no different to that of when we knew it was dominated by orthodoxy. Furthermore, as hinted to above, there is no reason to suggest that John necessitates Gnosticism - especially if we agree with Roberts that the silence may account for a group of Christians in close communion with Diaspora Jews. (Note to self, look up papyri letter on Christians hiding in Jewish synagogues to avoid sacrificing to the pagan gods.)

So, what has this to do with the creativity of Pagels? Well, it was a long seqway into the issue of Pagels misrepresentation of Irenaeus in order to argue that the Gospel of John was the Gospel of the Gnostics later appropriated into Christianity. On pp. 149-150 of Beyond Belief Pagels states:

Irenaeus complains that Velntinus's disciples were "always quoting the Gospel of John," while suprisingly prominet "fathers of the church," including three of his revered mentors, apparantly were not.
To back this up Pagels cites Against the Heresies 3.11.7. Now, this is probably one of the most famous quotes of Irenaeus so it is dangerous to misrepresent it, but Pagels seems to have no qualms about it. In her opinion it seems, Gnosticism is the truth - and equally as legitimate. And with this in mind, she need not (1) establish the existence of a Gnostic Jesus or (2) existence of primitive Gnostic Christianity (or probably because no matter how hard she tried she could not).

So, what does AH 3.11.7 say? Is Irenaeus really complaining about the heretics using texts while the orthodox do not? Clearly not.

Irenaeus is making a clear points that even the heretics use the Gospel of John. The section Against the Heresies 3.11.7 is an exhortation of the four-fold gospel tradition.

Irenaeus says:

"So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these [documents], each one of them endeavours to establish his own peculiar doctrine."
Clearly, it is an exhortation of the authoritative nature of the 'canonical' gospels. One would even make a better case that Irenaeus is exagerating the use of the gospels by the heretics. He lists the Ebionites as abusing Matthew; the docetics (?) abusing Mark; Marcion's abuse and redaction of Luke; and the Valentians abusing John. They all do this in an attempt to justify their erroneous and "pecular doctrines" with the true gospels. However, as Irenaeus goes to demonstrate, their exegesis cannot consistently be supported by the text corpus.

So, when one is free to abuse the primary texts so readily on what basis should we trust her case for Gnosticism?

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

Recently on the UK radio show Unbelievable? prominent New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham and James Crossley (Uni. of Sheffield) have discussed/debated Bauckham's thesis of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Although I am yet to finish listening to the second session, I am sure I will endorse it (because the world needs my endorsment, right?). They both seem like qualifieid scholars. My opinion on Bauckham's thesis so far is that even if you don't entirely agree with him, he has put the issues many have had with the classical view of oral tradition under the spotlight. Surely, there is so many problems with the view; and Dunn has also recently had a go at putting some checks on anonymous traditions run-wild.

Anyway, you can stream the show online or you can download it as a podcast. I prefer the podcast as it lets you download the mp3 for later use.

For streaming: Part 1, Part 2


A short interview with Richard Bauckham by Dr John Dickson of CPX on Jesus and the role of eyewitnesses.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Photo of the Day

Although I have never had a "photo of the day", here is today's photo of the day:

With the dust storm this morning was so...apocalyptic?
The Qumran Sectarians would have been proud

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Books to track down tomorrow:

  • The Rise of Normative Christianity - Arland J. Hultgren [Morling]
  • The Beliefnet guide to Gnosticism and other vanished Christianities - Richard Valantasis [Morling: JC62 VAL]
  • The Oxford handbook of early Christian studies / edited by Susan Ashbrook Harvey and David G. Hunter. [MQ: BR121.3 .O99 2008]
  • Witherington's 1 Corinthians Commentary

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Context of John

And still, we have people demanding a Gnostic origin of the Gospel of John. Why I ask? WHY?

Bultmann proposing an early Mandaean Gnostic source for the Gospel of John - with a nice tale about an ex-Mandaean Gnostic convert to Christianity as author really shows the lengths that brilliant scholars go to to defend their own theoretical dogma. As it turns out, those arguing for a Jewish origin against the grain of scholarship at that time were right. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls we have come to appreciate the imagery of the Gospel of John as fitting the context of Palestinian Judaism.

What was often under attack was the prologue of the Gospel of John. We have Jesus presented as the divine word; we have imagery of creation and a sort of dualism present. Therefore it must be Gnostic?

Regarding the prologue, I would love to quote two great Johannine scholars:

We hope to show below that OT speculation about personified Wisdom and the vocabulary and thought patterns of sectarian Judaism, like the Qumran community, go a long way toward filling in the background of Johannine theological vocabulary and expression. Since these proposed sources of influence are known to have existed, and the existence of Bultmann's proto-Mandean Gnostic source remains dubious, we have every reason to give them preference."
Raymoned E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII p.56

We do not need to postulate any background to these verses other than Genesis 1 and the tradition of Jewish creation accounts dependent on it that speak of God's Word as his instrument or agent in creation. (Monotheism and Christology in the Gospel of John, Richard Bauckham)
When John uses the term "word" in the opening verses of his prologue, he means simply this: the divine Word that all Jews, on the basis of Genesis, understood to have been active in the creation of all things. (Monotheism and Christology in the Gospel of John, Richard Bauckham

In the end, it is unnecessary to look for a background in later Gnoticism (mind the anachronism that would be forced here). Jesus as the logos and creator is an intentional reference to Genesis 1. In John 1:3 we read, "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." The Word through whom all things were made is identifying Jesus as part of the identity of YHWH from Genesis 1. God spoke the world into being through His word.

This is typical Second Temple period Jewish thought and exegesis.
I believe the evidence that may very well seal the legitimacy of orthodoxy as historic Christianity would be through the Pastoral epistles. The Pastoral epistles have the potential to destroy any argument against early orthodoxy - and Bauer was one of the few critical scholars who actually noticed this. Therefore, for this reason to avoid the dilemma the pastorals would cause, Bauer went on to date the Pastoral epistles to the mid-late second century as a Roman response to Marcion (ca. 86-160) whose teachings peaked in the 140s in order to restore proto-orthodox trust in the Pauline corpus.

If Bauer were to acknowledge the pastorals as (1) authentic or (2) belonging to an earlier period, his entire argument of a lack of any sort of orthodoxy would fall through.

The epistles are focused very much so on defining orthodoxy, and asserting its historical and apostolic dominance over the later heresies that arose. The famed 1 Tim 3:16 establishes the Old Testament as canon - evidently trumping the Gnostic and or Marcion claim to apostolic heritage. We know that the Jesus movement arouse from the midst of the Palestinian Jewish context and we know that Jesus' unique relationship with the Father was built on the OT. Furthermore, it was the OT which establishes Jesus' ministry and position in light of Messianic expectations.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I just saw the worst attack on the accepted claim that everyone in the world believes that the gospels were in existence in the second century. The claim that they did not relies on two purely false assumptions.

  1. There are no manuscripts of the Gospel texts until after Constantine;
  2. No one mentions the Gospels or their texts until the third century;

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Quote of the Day - Bauckham on Christology

“the highest possible Christology – the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity – was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them.”
Richard Bauckham, "God Crucified" in Jesus and the God of Israel p.19

Friday, September 11, 2009

Jesus in Paul

Really, the next person to claim that Paul makes no mention of Jesus' teachings I am going to stab in the eye. People seem to feel all intellectual when they declare it and don't realise that everyone knows they haven't actually read the New Testament. I blame wannabe Jesus scholars like Doherty and Wells for such idiocy. (I am really not being nice today!)

Paul on the Last Supper

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Cor 11:23-26 (ESV)

See Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22.

Paul Paralleling Jesus in Matthew 5:32 on Divorce

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 1 Cor 7:10-11 (ESV)

Paul Paralleling Jesus in Matthew 10

In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
1 Cor 9:14 (ESV)

More Clear Allusions

Even when Paul ins't quoting Jesus, he is well acquainted with the sayings of Jesus during his earthly ministry. For example, Romans 12:1-15:7 draws on the Sermon on the Mount; When Paul speaks of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1), we can see Jesus said of himself in Matthew 11:29, “I am meek and lowly in heart”; The self-denying Christ of the Gospels is the one of whom Paul says, “Christ did not please himself” (Rom. 15:3); and just as the Christ of the Gospels called on His followers to deny themselves (Mark 8:34), so the apostle insists that, after the example of Christ, it is our Christian duty “to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1)"

If we want to ask ourselves why Paul did not spend time retelling the Gospels - why would he? The communities he was writing to would have already had access to the gospel narrative as well as Jesus sayings.

Marcus Borg states:
"But Paul’s letters tell us very little about the life and message of Jesus. This does not mean that Jesus’s historical life was unimportant to Paul, as some scholars have suggested. Rather, Jesus mattered greatly to Paul. Paul spoke of Jesus as Lord and as God’s Son, as did early Christians generally. He wrote about life “in Christ,” “Christ crucified,” and “imitating Christ.” But narrating the story of Jesus was not the purpose of his letters. Rather, as the literary genre of “letters” indicates, Paul was writing to Christian communities about issues that had arisen in their life together." (Marcus Borg, Jesus p.32)


Since we don't have Amazon in Australia we have to make do paying a lot for books. Well, that is, unless we fork out on the cash for the shipping.

The best substitute I could find is Fishpond. They are apparently Australian in some way, their prices are in AUD and for orders over $50 they ship free.

However, their prices are inconsistent - and have changed with some books drastically. For example, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple when from $35 to like $60 something. However, they are probably the cheapest place I can find for N.T. Wright's Christian Origins and the Question of God series.

  • The New Testament and the People of God (Vol 1)
    - Fishpond: $40.68 | Koorong: $89.95

  • Jesus and the Victory of God (Vol 2)
    - Fishpond: $42.98 | Koorong: $82.95

  • Resurrection of the Son of God (vol 3)
    - Fishpond: $47.27 | Koorong: $99.95

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fundamentalism = Religious AIDS

It is true.
And this is from all perspectives - fundamental Christians, fundamental Muslims and fundamental Atheists. I have come to realise that if you are a fundie it is because you have absolutely no critical intelligence. Seriously, the blindest people I have ever met. This ranges - we have the fundie Christians who attack people for not agreeing with a Jack Chick tract that states that the RCC created all the evils of the world; or whether it is an Atheist attacking a strawman and wondering why you aren't falling.

Utterly pathetic.
Any of you who have been paying attention to would be aware that there is a Paul conference coming up soon at thhe Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. On the conference's page the papers to be delivered are already available.

*downloads papers now before they disappear and have to be purchased*

While I am at it, the theme of the conference is going to be addressing 8 main topics:

What nomenclatures best represent the Judaism that Paul was in dialogue with: covenantal nomism, variegated nomism, ethical monotheism, etc.? What are the notions of covenant or works-righteousness that lie behind the use of these terms?

Is covenant a central notion in Paul? What are the merits of a semantic domain linkage between diatheke and dikaiosyne? Can one argue for an embedded covenantal framework in Paul’s thought? If so, does this framework supersede the Mosaic covenant (cp. 2 Cor 3:7-18)?

What is the relationship between creation and covenant in Paul’s thinking, specifically the motif of kaine diatheke and kaine ktisis (2 Cor 3 and 5 respectively)?

Does Paul move away from an Israel kata sarka to a notion of Israel kata pneuma? Is the new reality the ekklesia tou theou? Is this church part of, or distinct from, Israel?

Was Paul Torah-observant? Did Paul’s Christ transcend the Law, embody it or something else? Is Paul in continuity or discontinuity with the prophetic reading of the Law? Is Paul an interpreter or manipulator of Israel’s scriptures?

What is the relationship between Pauline studies and Jewish-Christian dialogue? Should Pauline studies take into account the post-Shoah context of contemporary ecumenical and interreligious dialogue between Christians and Jews?

Are the classical interreligious and soteriological models of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism acceptable or useful for Christian/Jewish dialogue? How do they relate to the typical dialogical positions of single and double covenant schemes? What is the best way forward?

Are the religious ends of Christianity and Judaism compatible? Is the church in mission with or in mission to the Jews? How should this apparent tension be portrayed in homiletics, liturgy, catechetics, etc?
I think it is a disappointment that James Dunn will not be attending.

More books to chase up

  • The Rise of Normative Christianity - Arland J. Hultgren

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Someone posted an anti-Catholic Chick tract that makes the claim that the Jesuits invented and maintain the Klu Klux Klan to scare people away from Protestantism and into the Roman Catholic Church. I questioned the reason for posting such utterly ridiculous and asked those who maintain the tract is true to provide some evidence for the conspiracy theories.

Evidently, they cannot. Oh, fundie hate is awesome. Apparently I am now a Roman Catholic!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


A debate between Kenneth Humphreys (the webmaster of the hilarious Jesus Never Existed) and J.P. Holding (Tekton Apologetics) on Premiere Christian Radio is hilarious. Humphreys sounds like the biggest uneducated hick to ever appear on the radio - his voice actually gives me a headache. He gets all worked up and screams at the microphone about conspiracy theories like an absolute loon.

When you get to his arguments you can't just help but laugh. They are either extremely shallow or they are just so forced. Either way, the conclusions he draws are most definitely necessitated by the evidence.
  • He argues that Tacitus is an interpolation from two mutually exlusive platforms. Firstly, he states that it is skilfully interpolated to mimic Tactius as it is (1) powerful and (2) short. However, his next argument that it is an interpolation would mean that the section itself was not an interpolation. He claims that the interpolation into Tacitus previously said Chrestianos instead of Christianos and was later changed. So we are meant to believe that the interpolation was originally flawed and someone had to re-do it? All without anyone else noticing...?

  • Jesus doesn't exist because we don't have the autographs of the New Testament. He then goes on to claim that because we don't have much early evidence of the NT Gospels (which he is completely wrong about - we have both manuscripts and citations from the 2nd century) means that he didn't exist. Really, this makes no sense. We have no originals of any ancient history.

  • He argues that the gospels arose late whereas we actually know the four-fold tradition was early, etc.
It really is hilarious.

The Pastoral Epistles as a Response to Marcion? Walter Bauer Refuted

Today's examination of Walter Bauer (Orthodoxy and Heresy in the Earliest Christianity) deals with his claims about the Pastoral Epistles (PE) and their role in enforcing orthodoxy. Bauer argues that the church forged the PE's in the name of Paul in order to re-establish him as an apostle after he was grabbed by the heretics (e.g. Marcion).

...I am inclined to see the pastoral Epistles as an attempt on the part of the church unambiguously to enlist Paul as part of its anti-heretical front and to eliminate the lack of confidence in him in ecclesiastical is difficult to find satisfactory evidence that the pastoral Epistles already were in existence prior to him [Marcion]... (228/9)

So, this is pretty much what I mean about the extent to which Bauer goes to argue his thesis. As it stands, most scholars who treat the works as pseudonymous date them to the end of the first century (Ehrman for example.) However, Bauer wishes to push the composition as an orthodox reaction to Marcion - evidently, pushing the composition into the 140s at the earliest. However, is such a late date really valid? Taking on only the external evidence this is what we can safely assume:
  • The canon of the Muratorian fragment (dated to the 150s-70 going with Metzger and even Ehrman; 190 for Harnack) testifies to the pastoral epistles as part of the Pauline corpus. Within this the author makes an effort to distinguish between 'canonical' texts (sorry about the anachronism) as well as acceptable reading. He places The Shepherd of Hermas in the latter category noting that "Hermas wrote the Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome..." Evidently, if this was a tradition received by the author there would be considerable doubt about the pastorals if they showed up on the scene in their own lifetime.

  • Irenaeus opens his Against Heresies (c. 180?) with 1 Timothy 1:4 so the same argument from above would apply here.

  • Our oldest extant manuscript witness to the pastorals is P32. This fragment was found in Egypt, dated to the very end of the second century and existed as being part of a codex. Assuming Gamble to be right on the existence of the Pauline corpus in circulation in the early second century; it would be reasonable to assume that this text was part of a greater corpus (Pauline or even closer to the NT?). Evidently, this would provide a geographically independent witness, outside of the control of the church of Rome in this period.

  • We have over 450 citations and allusions to the Pastoral Epistles from the 2nd century alone.

  • Polycarp more likely than not made reference to the Epistles to Timothy in his Letter to the Philippians (~120)
So, in my opinion - and actually taking an account of th evidence - I see no reason to entertain Bauer here any further.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Earliest Christian Artifacts

Okay, so it only just dawned on me.

From the preface of Larry Hurtado's The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Eerdmans, 2006):

When I was asked about what I was working on during my year-long research leave, and I responded that I was writing a book on the wider historical importance of early Christian manuscripts, the result was usually a blank stare, and a request to illustrate specifically what things I had in mind.

A blank stare was my reaction to seeing the book. Generally, I can't stop myself going after Huratdo's work. In fact, his work on early Christology is playing a big part in my definition of orthodoxy. However, the importance of the physical manuscripts is extremely important for the project I have embarked on. For example, much of my argument on orthodoxy and heresy in early Egypt is going to rely on the physical distribution and features of physical manuscripts within real time. As there is a general silence of sources (something I have to agree with Bauer on) we need to head off somewhere else for our 'educated' conjecture.

Anyway, it seems this book I first repulsed may very well play an important role!

Update: Michael F. Bird has an interesting article on "Textual Criticism and the Historical Jesus" in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 6 (2008) 133–156. The abstract reads:

This study argues that historical Jesus research needs to pay greater attention to the fi eld of textual criticism and study of early Christian manuscripts. It is accordingly argued that the fi eld of textual criticism impacts historical Jesus studies in at least three ways: (1) the textual integrity of the New Testament and the possibility of historical Jesus research; (2) the significance of the agrapha ; and (3) text-critical contributions to historical issues in life of Jesus research.

Origins of the Quran and Islam Ramblings

If we were to place the Qur'an and the New Testament side by side, it would be fair to say that the Qur'an has many more contentious issues. The form of the Quran itself makes this apparent - we have a recording of various speeches (as some have speculated to be oral lore) which are void of context. This context is filled in by the early hadith writings; that is - a number of writings produced hundreds of years after the death of Muhammad. So, as we would expect, the traditions are filled with legends - the Muhammad of the Qur'an is a mythic hero. He is a man who had the guts to lead armies against all odds; whilst he was the ultimate lover - taking in excess of 10 wives (and in addition concubines) and being able to satisfy them in a single night.

So, on what basis should one take such accounts of the compilation of the Quran as accurate -especially when the earliest Sunni and Shia accounts are mutually exclusive. If, however, we bring the criteria or embarrassment into the issue - we can paint an interesting story about the Quran. Although today Muslim apologists continually propagate that Muhammad went over the Quran one last time with Jibreel; which was later collected together after his death the true testimony of the early Sunni literature is so much more interesting.

What we have are shambles. We have men physically fighting over Quranic variants; we have variant versions of the Quran. For example, Ibn Massud's Quran had three less Surahs than that of Uthman's version (which became the official version in some sense), many verses were missing, the surahs were of different lengths and the order of the surahs was different. This in itself contradicts the apologetic approach to the sources and we can confirm it with our Quran manuscripts. If we take many of the fragments from the Sana'a find, we find the palimpsets to match Ibn Massuds variant readings in many occasions, furthermore, we find the surahs to be ordered very differently to today's version. When we turn to the version of Ibn Ubayy, we find that he had two extra surahs (chapters/books) of the Quran that were not found in Ibn Massud or Uthman's version.

In fact, we have no evidence of a Quran existing in the time of Muhammad. Our earliest evidence of the Quran occasionally backs up the state of affairs we find in the hadith literature. This is how I see it. In the beginning, we had an Arab (or Aramaic community depending on the credence we lend to Luxenberg?). This community was acquainted with the Jewish and Christian scriptures in some way - although it need not be literary, we could establish an oral source. When we find a story in the Quran it appears as one would recite a story that someone already knows. In fact, it is a story with a polemical agenda - to fix the image of the story we already have. You know of Abraham - but did you know that Ishmael was also a son of promise, etc? From here, who could we speculate Muhammad was? Was he a pious Arab god-fearer intent on harmonising the message of Christianity with the contemporary understanding of Judaism? Was he influenced by Christianity, rejecting the divinity of Christ in light of Jewish polemics? (This may very well be evidenced to by his complete lack of understanding of the incarnation and the Trinity - that is, seeing Jesus as the man-god offspring of the deified Mary and deified Father God.)

In my opinion, the above explanations may best explain how parts of the Quran first came into being. We have the poetic verses of the Quran, exalting God which many have pointed to as being of Aramaic Christian origin. However, we then have verses of convenience - Muhammad wants something done and he receives divine consent. Now, back to the incoherent narrative. When we look at the narratives of the Quran - they can be linked back to earlier apocryphal traditions. We have the stories of Jesus as found in the Arabic infancy gospel finding their way into the Quran. With this in mind, I believe it makes much more sense that the speaker was orally communicating traditions received to a group of pious followers with the intention of correcting the 'errors' they believed to be associated with these traditions. Jesus was no longer divine - but still virgin born, etc. Evidently, with the death of Muhammad his followers needed to elevate their message to that of the 'people of the book'. They, evidently, needed to become a people of the book. Of course, the irony of using the name Quran identifies the message as a recitation and not a book, but I guess they were too used to the name?

In establishing the book arose the Quran - a compilation of oral lore embodying the religious and military aims of the group.

In light of these ramblings, I should write a book on the origins of Islam.

To be continued one day...with references.

Defining Early Orthodoxy - A Small Note

The early acceptance and use of the Hebrew scriptures may very well be a defining factor of early orthodoxy. Throughout the New Testament corpus the OT is considered scripture and, to the point of the pastorals, it is God breathed and essential (2 Tim 3:16). Evidently, this makes complete sense in light of the fact that the Jesus movement arose as a strand of Second Temple Judaism.

The impact of this is that it writes off the Gnostics and Marcionites as legitimately early or orthodox.

Blah blah.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The early church fathers are sooooooooooo under appreciated.

I am not saying anything along the lines of accept them as scripture, however, we should really accept how useful they are. We have 1 Clement which was written prior to the turn of the century. We have Eusebius who records the history of the church from its very beginnings to his time - without forgetting to quote his sources!

I think an interesting task would be to compare the Christology of the church Fathers with that of the Pauline epistles. Briefly doing it, I notice that, in this case, Clement doesn't seem to be 'outdoing' the Christological statements of Paul. Hmmm, aye?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Books Update

Lord or Legend?
Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma

By Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy

This is a short book, only 180 or so pages in length, which summarises the larger work by Boyd and Eddy titled The Jesus Legend. The text deals with a number of issues - however, these are generally issues of later scholarship which have been rebirthed by less qualified scholars. The book deals with the work of G.A. Wells - a non-historian and non-Biblical scholar who earlier postulated that Jesus did not exist. His works have been pushed by Earl Doherty (another non-scholar). The book tackles the questions of historiography (how do we view the miraculous in history?) to the issues of oral traditions and general reliability. Some questions dealt with include as to whether there really was a conspiracy of silence about Jesus; was Jesus a Jewish version of a Graeco Roman cosmic saviour? Is the New Testament nothing but myth? Could the context of first century Palestine support such a myth?

In the end, it is a great book. Although they begin with the caveat that they are believing scholars, they end far more objective than the (pseudo)scholars with whom they interact. I would recommend this book as a great introduction, however, if you do have the ground knowledge in New Testament scholarship jump straight into The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (2007).

Jesus and the God of Israel:
God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament's Christology of Divine IdentityBy Richard Bauckham

I haven't read much of this book, but the back cover seems rather enlighting.

This book is a greatly revised and expanded edition of Richard Bauckham’s acclaimed God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (1999), which helped redirect scholarly discussion of early Christology. The basic thesis of this book, outlined in the first chapter, is that the worship of Jesus as God was seen by the early Christians as compatible with their Jewish monotheism. Jesus was thought to participate in the divine identity of the one God of Israel. The following chapters provide more detailed support for, and an expansion of, this basic thesis. Readers will find here not only the full text of Bauckham's classic book God Crucified but also other groundbreaking essays, some of which have never been published previously.

Before Nicea - A Debate Between Abdul Haq and Anthony McRoy

I have been writing a response to a little book called Before Nicea: The Early Followers of Prophet Jesus (1998) by Muslim polemicists Paul Addae and Tim Bowes (Abdul-Haq and Abdur-Rahmaan). The book attempts to make the case that the first Christians were proto-Muslims. That is, Christians who denied the crucifixion, the deity of Christ, etc. So, in short, absolute rubbish for anyone who knows about the unanimous first century attestation to Jesus' death by crucifixion.

My reasons for writing the response are two-fold. Firstly, an apologetic with response to the utter rubbish thrown out by these two individuals and, secondly, it gives me a chance to put my recent work on defining orthodoxy into some practical application.

Now - to actually bring a point to this post. Have a listen to the 'debate' between Abdul Haq and Dr Anthony McRoy (currently a lecturer at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology) on Premier Christian Radio's Unbelievable?

The description for the episode reads:
What did the first Christians believe about Jesus? Muslim Abdul Haq, the author of "Before Nicea" claims that key doctrines of Christianity were formulated through later councils of the church. He says that there is no good evidence that early Christians believed in Jesus' divinity or even his crucifixion.

Evangelical Christian scholar Anthony McRoy counters Haq's claims, insisting that the key doctrines of Christianity were well established in the early church and are implicit in Scripture.

After hearing Abdul Haq you will come to understand why his book is so easy to rip to shreds. For the show click here; or to download it as an mp3 here.

What someone really should have done is pointed out that Jesus is not divine because he is called the Son of God. We have the identity woven throughout the New Testament totally unrelated to son of God as an honourary title. However, if one wishes to argue regarding the title the best way would be through the discourses in John. In John, Jesus is not just the or a son of God; he is the only unique son of God. Here, the title is specific and exploding with Christological significance.

His issues with regard to the crucifixion are simply hilarious. He is trying to convince us that Mark testifies that it was Simon of Cyrene on the cross? Other than the fact that the narrative makes it impossible, the explicit references do an even better job. Take, well, anything from Mark for example. Mark 15:37, "With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last."

Now I feel kinda annoyed - Dr McRoy already gave out some of my punches!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

So, recent to do list:

  • Map out the locations of early missions from the first century - I assume the focus will be on Acts and the Pauline Epistles. Probably supplement these with Eusebius.
  • Wildly speculate on the population increases (????)
  • Run this speculation next to Bauer.
  • What do the papyri letters tell us about the distribution by the 2nd-4th century. Is Bauer correct?