Thursday, June 2, 2011

Christology and Authority in the Gospel of Mark

By coincidence I independently came across two articles by Daniel Johansson in the space of a few minutes. Obviously, a divine sign that I must share these articles both from the Journal for the Study of the New Testament:

Daniel Johansson,  "Kyrios in the Gospel of Mark",  Journal for the Study of the New Testament September 2010 33: 101-124.

He writes: "The thesis is, in short, that the ambiguous use of κυριος [in Mark] is intentional and serves the purpose of linking Jesus to the God of Israel, so that they both share the identity as κύριος." (102-3, emphasis in original.)

Against the common view that the title κύριος  plays a relatively insignificant role in the Gospel of Mark, this article argues that Mark uses κυριος to set out important aspects of Jesus’ identity. The first instance of κύριος, which refers to both God and Jesus (Mk 1.3), is seen as the key to Mark’s κύριος Christology. The difficulty of determining whether κύριος refers to God or Jesus in many of the following passages should be understood in light of this. Mark used κύριος ambiguously to link both God and Jesus to the title. While the evangelist maintains that there is only one κύριος , he also claims that Jesus shares the identity of being κύριος with the God of Israel.

Daniel Johansson  "‘Who Can Forgive Sins but God Alone?’ Human and Angelic Agents, and Divine Forgiveness in Early Judaism" Journal for the Study of the New Testament June, 2011 33: 351-374.

Was forgiveness of sins viewed as a divine prerogative, uniquely reserved for the God of Israel in early Judaism? While some scholars think this was the case, others have questioned or qualified such a view, arguing that other figures, such as priests, prophets, various messianic figures, or angels, could forgive sins in the place of God. This article surveys and critiques the main evidence that has been put forward to demonstrate this. The outcome is mainly negative. With the possible exception of one or two passages which may ascribe the authority to pardon sin to the Angel of YHWH, no firm evidence can be found which demonstrates that other figures than God forgave sins. Various strands of early Judaism conceived of human and angelic agents who interceded on behalf of others, expiated sin and mediated forgiveness from God, but they all seem to have shared the view that forgiveness is divine prerogative.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Review)

Craig, William Lane. The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2000. ISBN: 1-57910-464-9. 156 pp.

In this short book William Lane Craig tackles the question of the resurrection of Jesus as a historical problem.  Craig is currently Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, having received doctorates in philosophy and theology. In addition to his academic work, Craig is a prominent Christian apologist having engaged in many debates from the existence of God to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. 

Craig makes no secret of his evangelistic aims – the preface notes the intended audience as “those who may believe in some kind of God or Supreme Being, but doubt whether He has revealed Himself to us in any decisive way.” (7) To Craig, God has been revealed in history through the resurrection of Jesus. Craig writes that there are two ways in which the Christian can affirm the resurrection of Jesus. The first is the historical evidence and arguments; however, the failure of the historical evidence does not mean the resurrection did not happen. The second ‘evidence’ is the “assurance that Jesus is risen because God’s Spirit bears unmistakable witness…that it is so.”(8) While I was initially critical of the inclusion of this argument from the historical perspective, Craig’s purpose is not just the “historical evidence” but the confession that it is the “son” that rises. 

Chapter 1: Death and Resurrection is relatively brief. Craig tackles post-enlightenment thinking on the place of humans in the universe. Are we really just an insignificant product of natural selection? What are our options in this world? What is the meaning of life without resurrection? Craig proposes four which I will leap frog to the fourth as I did not pay close attention to the non-historical arguments. The final position is that an affirmation that there is God and immortality which gives life significance and value.  This idea of immortality is a segue into the crux of the chapter from a historical perspective, that is, the concept of “resurrection from the dead.” (20) Again we find a list of four but in terms of what resurrection is not. The biblical view of Resurrection is not : “immortality of the soul alone” but a state where “body and soul [are] in unity.” (20);  reincarnation but that “a man lives only one lifetime and then is raised from the dead and judged by God.”(21); resuscitation where an individual returns to earthly life to die again, but resurrection is to “eternal life, and a person raised from the dead is immortal.” (21); and finally resurrection is not translation – a Jewish view  of immediate assumption into heaven. Resurrection is the “raising up of the dead man in the space-time universe, and the resurrected man is still part of the created world.” (21) For the Christian, the resurrection is an end times event where God will “raise up all those who have died and so reconstitute them as whole men of body and soul in union.” (21). Craig presents the backdrop of resurrection as a physical concept of both body and soul. This understanding is important for an orthodox defence of the resurrection, and is one that accurately represents the resurrection belief in the time of Jesus and, as Craig and I would argue, the earliest Christians. 

Chapter 2: Some Blind Alleys deals with the alternative theories to historical resurrection that may be popular among skeptical treatments but are “unanimously rejected by contemporary scholarship.” (23) Craig deals with the “conspiracy theory” that the disciples stole the body (cf. Matt 28:13-15) as logically and ethically implausible. He goes on to cite 18th century scholar William Paley to provide an unsatisfying positive case – with some good and some bad arguments – for the reliability of the gospel accounts.  He briefly deals with the “apparent death” and “wrong tomb” theories which do not have much going for them in contemporary debate. Finally, he comes to the “legend theory”, that which is widely known in New Testament studies. The purpose of the following three chapters are to argue the positive evidence for the resurrection accounts as history in favour of the legendary theory. 

Chapter 3: The Empty Tomb is where Craig finally gets to the historical arguments. There are three lines of evidence for the resurrection: “the empty tomb of Jesus, the appearances of Jesus to his disciples, and the origin of the Christian faith. If it can be shown that the tomb of Jesus was found empty, that He did appear to His disciples and others after His death, and that the origin of the Christian faith cannot be explained adequately apart from His historical resurrection, then if there is no plausible natural explanation for these facts, one is amply justified in concluding that Jesus really did rise from the dead.” (45) 

In establishing the empty tomb, Craig begins with the burial of Jesus: “If it can be shown that the story of Jesus’ burial in the tomb is basically reliable, then the fact that the tomb was later found empty is also close at hand.” (46) He discusses the burial in 1 Cor 15, Acts 13:28-31 and Mark 15:37-16:8 while demonstrating a common Christian tradition on Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and appearances. Craig contends that the burial account is very early and shows no signs of legend, widely attested and the witness of the women to it is “historically probable.” (59) Craig’s sober use of historical criteria on the NT sources has him conclude that “If one denies this [the burial], then one is reduced to denying the historicity of one of the most straightforward and unadorned narratives about Jesus…”(63) On an aside, for an excellent short study on the burial of Jesus within his historical context I highly recommend Craig A. Evans’ essay in Jesus, the Final Days (ed. Troy A. Miller). However, this sound method comes to a temporary halt when Craig controversially defends the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. (63-7) I do not have the relevant knowledge to delve into the issue, but my understanding is against the authenticity of the Shroud.

Having firmly established the likelihood of Jesus’ burial Craig presents 9 arguments in favour of the discovery of the empty tomb. He begins with the early pre-Pauline creed of 1 Cor 15 stating that “When Paul then says “He was raised,” he  necessarily implies that the tomb was left empty.” (67) This is the best way to understand the linguistic choice, especially in the context of  physical resurrection expectations.  The gospel accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb are pre-Markan and it is early and historically likely due to – Aramaic expressions, lack of legendary development, the discovery by the women, etc. He notes that both Luke 24:11-12, 24 and John 20:2-10 contain independent witness to the “investigation of the empty tomb by Peter and John”  (78), with special attention being given to the Gospel of John as having access to the eyewitness testimony of the beloved disciple who Craig identifies as John the son of Zebedee. (81) Craig defends the historicity that some of the disciples investigated the tomb (78), and that the Matthean apologetic  Matt 28:11-15 evidences that polemics against Christians acknowledge that the tomb was in fact empty. If it was not, we would expect Christian’s to partake in tomb veneration. Craig believes that these (and other) points “constitute a powerful case for the fact that Jesus’ tomb was actually found empty on Sunday morning by a small group of His women followers” and that objections to this are not on historical grounds, but theological/philosophical ones.(85-6)

Chapter 4: The Appearances of Jesus is the next piece in the puzzle for the historical argument in Craig’s positive argument for the resurrection of Jesus.  He follows the “testimony of Paul” in 1 Cor 15 in order to demonstrate that the disciples had appearances of Jesus. He notes the appearances to Peter and the twelve which are also attested to in the gospels. He discusses the appearance to the 500 – Craig speculates it does not appear in the gospels as it took place in Galilee, and there appears to be no reason to make up such a large number if it simply did not happen. Significance is found in the evidence related to James and Paul who were both transformed by their experience to join the Jesus movement. Following these more scanty appearances he turns his attention to the gospel accounts contending that they are “fundamentally reliable historically.” (100) His first contention in this regard is that there was insufficient time for legends to develop, citing Muller’s critique of Strauss and more recently A.N. Sherwin-White. By arguing an early date for the Gospels as well as authoritative control by the apostles and presence of eyewitnesses within the Christian communities Craig tries to squeeze out any plausible opportunity for legendary developments.

Craig defends the view that the appearances were physical appearances, beginning with Paul.  While many in favour of Jesus’ physical resurrection will separate Paul’s experience as visionary, Craig contends that unlike Stephen’s vision of Jesus (Acts 7:54-58), Paul’s was an appearances manifested by light and sounds. But this aside, Craig’s view of resurrection was one that was physical in nature balancing the whole 1 Cor 15 future body debate. Similarly, “the gospels prove that the appearances were bodily and physical.” (110)

Chapter 5: The Origin of the Christian Faith draws on the explanatory power of the resurrection in light of the fact that “even the most sceptical scholars admit that at least the belief that Jesus rose from the dead lay at the very heart of the earliest Christian faith.” (127) The resurrection of Jesus explains how the disciples came to see him as Messiah (and re-imagine the role) and Lord (e.g. Acts 2) Craig believes that the onus is on those denying the resurrection to provide a satisfactory origin for the Christian faith from Jewish precedents. The argument is that the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection is a mutation of the expectations held by the Jews (such as Jesus’ resurrection being separate from end times resurrection of the Jewish people). While it has been argued elsewhere that it was the empty tomb that lead to the belief that Jesus was resurrected, Craig believes that this would have simply lead the disciples to believe Jesus was translated such as with Enoch and Elijah.(132)

Craig concludes the chapter summarising his conclusion from the three sets of historical evidence. He writes, “Each of these three great facts – the empty tomb, the appearances, the origin of the Christian faith  - is independently established. Together they point with unwavering conviction to the same unavoidable and marvellous conclusion: Jesus actually rose from the dead.” (134)

Chapter 6: Finding the Resurrection Faith acts as an epilogue for those who have been convinced by the historical evidence. Citing 1 Corinthians 15 Craig notes that a Christian faith without the resurrection would have been “simply false” (135) and the proclamation that Jesus was Lord, Messiah and Son of God would have been “stupid” for he would have been simply another Jewish prophet meeting an unfortunate end. The resurrection is a necessary truth to the Christian message and Christian life where (1) God acted in time resurrecting Jesus from the dead, (2) confirmed Jesus’ claims about his unique relationship with the Father and divine authority and (3) shows “Jesus holds the key to eternal life”(141ff). The last 11 pages are essentially an alter call bringing the work back to the evangelistic aims noted earlier on.

Apologies for the Apologist: This book was first published in 1981 and according to my constructed chronology of Craig’s life this was relatively early in his doctoral study on the resurrection. It was not for another 8 years that his 400+ page Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. (Toronto: Edwin Mellen Press. 1989.) was published. I suggest that this may explain a number of the drawbacks in this book regarding Craig’s critical engagement with the gospel tradition. For example, in my opinion Craig failed to adequately defend his assumption on the reliability of the gospel tradition, or at the very least the historical reliability of the resurrection narratives he was working on. 

That said, the work is adequate and is representative of what I would view as a standard historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus. Those with an interest in the resurrection will find it easy to understand and follow, while those with a background in critical Gospel studies will find themselves disappointed at times.More thorough treatments for those with a lot more time on their hand include N.T. Wright's  The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3) and Michael R. Licona's recent The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach 

Note: This review was mostly written in July last year so I have not been able to remember any errors in need of proof.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fallacies in Dating the Gospel of Thomas

Just a few thoughts on dating the Gospel of Thomas.

1. A sayings Gospel and Q

The reasoning behind this argument is to draw a similarity between the genre of the Thomas and the hypothetical Q document. There are a few forms of this argument as follows:
The result is a date for Thomas comparable to Q, capped by the date of Matthew and Luke.
 Both arguments attempt to draw a similarity between the genre of the Gospel of Thomas and the hypothetical Q source. Yet when the argument is broken down the fatal flaws become blatantly obvious.

While it can be persuasively  argued that there was some sort of sayings genre of which texts like Thomas and Q may have belong to (e.g. Robertson), it does not necessarily follow that such broad a similarity as structural genre necessitates belonging to the same period. If we were to follow this argument to its logical conclusion, all sayings texts (Thomas, Proverbs, Sayings of Ahiqar, etc) must belong to the same period as Q and Thomas.

2. Developing Gnosticism

This next argument is as follows:
P1: Thomas represents mild Gnosticism
P2: Second century Gnostic texts have a more developed Gnosticism
C: Thomas must be early
I initially found this as one of the most persuasive arguments for some sort of early date for Thomas. On face value the logic is sound - over time the ideas were developed. However, it makes a number of assumptions.

First of all, the argument assumes a direct and continuing relationship between Thomas and later Gnostic texts. That is, it assumes that Thomas is an early text and over time these ideas were developed within a community using Thomas to produce later more developed Gnostic texts. However, except for notably later collections (e.g. Nag Hammadi) there is no evidence to suggest this direct relationship in the formative stage.

To demonstrate the point on a spectrum of proto-orthodoxy to Gnosticism:

Thomas could be contemporary with these "more developed" Gnostic texts, but as part of a completely independent school of thought, just as other proto-orthodox texts were composed independently of other gnostic texts. Alternatively, Thomas could have originated within the same stream as more developed texts and simply not included all aspects that we see as fundamental to 'Gnosticism'...

That is all for now as it is no longer peaceful and quiet here.

The Abhorrent Void: Robert Price and Historical Method

One of the most frustrating essays within Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth (ed. R Joseph Hoffman) is Robert M. Price's "The Abhorrent Void: The Rapid Attribution of Fictive Sayings and Stories to a Mythic Jesus." Through bad analogy and questionable premises the self-proclaimed leading authority on the Bible presents another reason to believe in an historical Jesus.

Beginning from the premise that there was no single historical founder of Christianity (i.e. Jesus), Price attempts to argue that it is plausible that the sayings attributed to Jesus were wholly fictive. In a nutshell, Price's underlying argument seems to be:

As the latter is a necessary conclusion of the former you would assume the emphasis should be on proving the first, which Price does not do. This makes us wonder-  what exactly is Price trying to prove? 

Price assume that there is no "single historical founder of Christianity" and that the founding of the movement/figure cannot be dated to the "4 and 6 BCE". In effect, we find the entire origins of the Christian movement uniquely removed from the constraints of a historical context. The implication is that Christianity has a pre-history long before the first century, and by the time we begin to receive our earliest sources there was no control over the Jesus tradition (or whatever we would call the tradition for a figure that didn't exist) by eyewitnesses or communities connected with eyewitnesses. Price then  reveals to us that there was "all the time in the world" to create spurious "myths, legends and rumours."

Of pressing importance is:
  1. Why should we believe there is no "single historical founder of Christianity" when all of our historical sources are clear on this point?
  2. Why should we abandon the first century origins of Christianity in order to pursue an indefinitely long development of Jesus tradition, when all our historical sources place the movement in the first century?
With the cart in front of the horse Price leapfrogs any justification and ambitiously proposes "three models, three analogies, to help us understanding the plausibility of positing a wholesale and rapid growth of a vast body of inauthentic Jesus traditions and even that it might have been expected." (110, emphasis mine)

(i) Kid Stuff
Price begins with the assertion that "many or most early Christians" believed that Jesus initially appeared "as a deity in adult form." (111) While I am not precisely sure about why Price believes this I suspect it may have something to do with his rejection of everything Paul says about Jesus and possibly a peculiar  reading of the Gospel of Mark. However, Paul in our earliest sources makes it clear that Jesus was "descended from David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3), "born of woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4) and had a brother named James (Gal 1:9/Josephus/Gospels). And I cannot imagine how Mark beginning with John the Baptist followed by Jesus' baptism necessitates an early predominate Christian belief that Jesus only existed as an adult. Mark did believe Jesus to be a son, with brothers and sisters: "the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”" (Mark 6:3)

Suddenly and without any specified reason, Price informs us that the early Christian's departed from this view and began to write infancy gospels and narratives about Jesus. Price then argues that by analogy, if this happened regarding the infancy stories then we can only assume that the same thing happened with the adult stories of Jesus (he was one day not assumed to be a person but then suddenly was?). Central to Price's argument is the immediacy at which Christian's began to create stories of Jesus. He writes, "Christian curiosity rapidly went to work filling the newly apparent gap" and "There was an immediate flood of stories." What evidence does Price have for this overwhelming flood of material as analogous to wholesale creation of the Jesus tradition? Two canonical stories (Luke 2:41-51 and John 2:1-10) and substantially later infancy gospels (Infancy Gospel of Thomas, etc). However, John clearly presents the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-10) not as an infancy story, but Jesus with his disciples.

(ii) The (Growing) Beard of the Prophet
Apple and Orange [source]
The next "analogy/model" is the "explosion of (universally spurious) hadith tradition of what the Prophet Muhammad said and did".(112) Price believes that the rise of inauthentic hadith traditions about Muhammad in the first few centuries of the Islamic era are the best analogy to the creation of the Gospel tradition. In fact, this model is a superior fit to that of near contemporary Judaism and early Rabbinic traditions developed by Riesenfeld and Gerhardsson which he rejects as "apologetics."

Price asks, "Why not consider the analogy of the Muhammadan hadith?" (116) There are many reasons, most simply that  the better analogy would be to compare near contemporary teachers and their disciples in a similar geographical, religious and cultural context and not with the informal traditions  associated with a 7th century political and military prophet collected over 200 years later from a completely different geographical and cultural context. Does this really need to be said?

(iii) From Muhammad to Nag Hammadi
Price suddenly blockquotes F.F. Bruce stating that evidence such as 1 Corinthians 7:19 demonstrates that "early Christians were careful to distinguish between sayings of Jesus and their own inferences and judgements." (The New Testament Documents:Are they Reliable? 33.) Price rejects this interpretation of what was happening in the mid first century  by pointing to the "deadly boring" Gnostic texts citing the Books of Jeu (3rd century), Gospel of Mary (late 2nd?) , etc. Again, Price is rejecting the relevant sources and context in favour of a strained analogy with a later and very different thought world.

On an aside, does the title of this section imply that Price has a "Muhammad-existed-before-the-Nag-Hammadi-texts conspiracy theory or is his chronology simply out of whack?

Did Price demonstrate the plausibility of "a wholesale and rapid growth of a vast body of inauthentic Jesus traditions and even that it might have been expected"? I cannot for the life of me see it, and I made sure I wore my glasses while searching.

Price's analogies barely make sense even if his improbable premises are assumed as true.  Placing the origins of Christianity in some timeless and relative realm allows Price to draw on any improbable analogy for the Jesus tradition, irrespective of their context.  It allows him to reject any forms of control that the historical context provides, whether it by relevant analogies or the question of eyewitness and informed communities. It is a rejection of the basic principle of analogy - similarity. "Maybe the first century was really like 3rd century Gnosticism" or "maybe it was really like this 7th century example" simply don't cut it in the realm of history, especially when it involves ignoring all of the first century evidence. The essay, like most of what Price has to say in recent times, is a first class exercise in polemics against "conservative scholars, apologists, and rank-and-file Gospel readers" (109) which in the process extends to undercutting mainstream scholarship.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Exploring Our Matrix has not been deified

Dr McGrath has not joined the Pantheon but has moved his blog to Patheos. I apologise for the inconvenience my earlier revelation may have caused.

Update your Feeds!

Two excellent biblioblogs have moved joining Ben Witherington, Scot McKnight and others at Patheos:
Feed is the correct word, right? Or is it feed subscription? Either way, just do it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bauckham on Divine Identity & Orthodox Christology

After a lengthy summarising of Richard Bauckham's thesis (including some snazzy tables) I came across his own:
In my view much work on New Testament christology has employed categories of thought that are certainly no less appropriate than those of the patristic definitions. In particular, much damage has been done by the standard distinction between functional christology and ontic christology. The former means that Jesus performs divine functions (such as saving and judging) but only as an agent of God, while ontic christology goes further in claiming that Jesus shares the being of God or is divine by nature. A widespread assumption has been that in the Jewish monotheistic context in which the earliest christology developed only functional christology is conceivable. Ontic christology is possible only to the extent that early Christianity moved outside a dominantly Jewish framework of thought, and the more scholars have come to think that most, if not all of the New Testament writings belong within a Jewish framework of thought, the more ontic christology has been pushed to the margins of the New Testament. There has been a strong tendency to read New Testament christological texts in as 'low' a way as possible on the grounds that their original Jewish context requires this. Obviously, the gap between the Christ of the New Testament and the Christ of later patristic orthodoxy grows deeper and wider.

While I entirely agree that Jewish monotheism was the context of thought within which early christology originated and developed, I think that the relationship of early christology and Jewish monotheism has been profoundly misunderstood. It is vital to work with categories that are appropriate to the texts we are considering, and it seems to me that the category most helpful for characterizing both Jewish monotheism and New Testament christology is that of divine identity. Jewish theology was much more concerned with 'who God is' (divine identity) than with 'what divinity is' (divine nature). Jewish monotheism defined the unique identity of God - what it is that constitutes God the only God - in a number of ways, of which the most prominent are that the God of Israel is the only creator of all things and the only sovereign ruler of all things. These were ways of distinguishing the one God absolutely from all other reality. The exclusive worship of only this one God was the appropriate way of recognizing his unique identity. When we read the New Testament with these ways of characterizing the unique identity of the God of Israel in view, it becomes very clear that the New Testament writings use precisely these uniquely divine characteristics to include Jesus within the unique identity of the God of Israel. When Jesus is pictured as seated at God's right hand on the cosmic throne in heaven from which God exercises his sovereign rule over all things, Jesus is being included in the unique divine identity. It is not that Jesus is exercising a divine function which God may delegate to someone other than God. Sovereignty over all things is a uniquely divine relationship to the world and belongs to who God is. Similarly, and even more unambiguously, when the New Testament portrays the pre-existent Christ participating in God's work of Creation, there could be no clearer way, in Jewish theological terms, of claiming that Jesus belongs - eternally - to the unique identity of the one God, the God of Israel, the Creator and Ruler of all things. This is why early Christians worshipped Jesus without supposing that they were abandoning Jewish monotheism. In terms of the definition of Jewish monotheism, the worship of Jesus as included in the unique divine identity made sense, whereas the worship of Jesus as someone other than God, to whom God merely delegated divine functions, would have been idolatry and effectively polytheism. Early Christianity remained monotheistic precise because it attributed divinity in the fullest (and only true) sense to Jesus, not because it made Jesus some kind of lesser divinity distinguished from God.

From this perspective all christology in the New Testament is equally 'high' since at least Jesus' status as exalted to the divine throne of the universe - the symbol of God's uniqueness - is everywhere presupposed and in this basic sense the New Testament writings share a common christology. Against the background of twentieth-century study of New Testament christology, I find rather astonishing to be able to say that, from Pentecost onwards, there was never a stage at which Christians did not consider Jesus to share in the unique divine identity, but I think this is true. In the New Testament there is christological development in the sense of drawing out the implications of this, but there is no development from 'low' to 'high' christology. New Testament christology is already the highest possible christology - but developed and expounded in Jewish theological terms. What made the difference for the Fathers was, first, a context in Hellenistic philosophy which highlighted divine nature rather than divine identity, and, secondly, the temptation to understand monotheism in a non-Jewish way, such that the uniqueness of the one God (the Father) could be maintained by attributing subordinate divinity to Christ. These problems required the Fathers to work through the issues of trinitarian and christological doctrine in order to reach definitions that adequately re-stated the claims of New Testament christology in a different intellectual context. These definitions are Hellenistic insofar as they give prominence to notions of divine and human nature (what it is to be divine, what it is to be human), but they also correspond to the New Testament's Jewish thinking about God insofar as the idea of divine nature is subordinated to a trinitarian understanding of God and a hypostatic (personal) understanding of incarnation. The Trinity is the Christian statement of God's identity (who God is) and the statement that the eternal divine Son made human nature his own in incarnation effectively includes the man Jesus within the identity of the one and only God.

And more...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Search Engine Monopolies: zagourepagoure

On the topic of search results, one of today's hits to my blog came from someone searching "zagourepagoure" on Bing. While my blog cannot tell you if R, Joseph Hoffmann is sexy, it is the only result for "zagourepagoure" on Bing and the only website on Google (although the latter index three books mentioning it.)

So, what is zagourepagoure? As far as we can tell, it is gibberish from a Greek Magical papyri:

Master angels
and good, rid
Dias, whom
Sophia bore, 
of the fever
gripping him,
on this
present day,
this very hour,
now, now quick-
ly, quickly.

Suppl. Mag 1.11

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

John Byron and The Myth of the Church's Golden Age

Over at The Biblical World Dr John Byron has a post on the Myth of the Church's Golden Age. Briefly noting a few of the controversies in the early Church he concludes:
The fact is, there never was a golden age of the church. The New Testament church was just as messed up as the 21st century church. And I take that as an encouragement rather than a rebuke from the past. The early church was full of greedy, bickering, sinful people who did not get along with each other, did not listen to their leaders and even split off from one another when disagreements became too heated. And sometimes their leaders said bad things about each other. Let's not forget that all of Paul's opponents were not non-believers, but followers of Jesus who happened to disagree with the apostle. Not unlike what we experience today. 
To all those attacking disputes within modern day churches: they are simply being true to their aims in restoring the church of the NT.

Cf. Craig L. Blomberg, "The New Testament Definition of Heresy (or when do Jesus and the Apostles really get mad?)", JETS (2002) 45/1 59-71

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scripture of the Early Church (Quote of the Day)

Ronald E. Heine writes:
"The Christians of the first century and the first half of the second had no question that the Old Testament was their Scripture. As the apostolic writings began to make their appearance, they were held in high regard. This was especially true of the Gospels. The Old Testament, however, continued to hold the undisputed position of Scripture in the minds of the Christians. Gradually, the Gospels appear to have been elevated to a status of equal authority with the Old Testament in Christian worship because they contained the words of Jesus. Nevertheless, it was the Old Testament that gave significance to the story of Jesus in the minds of the early Christians, and they continued to turn to it both to define and to justify their faith in him...

The Old Testament had a tremendous influence on the making of the early Christian mind; it was Scripture for the earliest Christians even before the Gospels were considered to be Scripture. According to the accounts given in the New Testament, the Old Testament was the earliest means for telling the story of Jesus. When we Christians think of returning to the sources of our faith, this earliest Christian Bible must head the list of those sources of we will misunderstand and misrepresent our origins."
 Ronald E. Heine, Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church: Exploring the Formation of Early Christian Thought (Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church's Future). (Baker Academic, 2007). 45, 46.

OT in the Early Gentile Church

These are just some quick notes from an email exchange with a friend regarding  her belief that the early gentile Church had no use of the Old Testament. Noting the search terms that get people here, this post might be useful! While NT scholars and historians use the NT to reconstruct earliest Christianity as best we can, the early church writings remind us that the OT was the scripture of the first Christians for at least 100 or so years.
Early church writers and theologians often commented on the Old Testament as "sacred scripture" and Christian communities which were most likely predominately gentile preserved the Old Testament (we have quite a few 2nd and 3rd century fragments; a 1st century Psalms manuscript is probably the earliest of Christian provenance.) Our earliest Bibles (e.g. Codex Sinaiticus) included the OT and they continue to do today.

In 2 Timothy 3:16 the author exhorts his audience to continue in the practice they have learnt from the beginning:

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it  and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." 2 Tim 3:14-17 (ESV)

Clement of Rome refers to the Old Testament as "scripture"  and “sacred scripture” and uses it as the  source for much of his theology and teaching. A few random examples from his Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Clement) from the end of the first century:
  • He uses Psalms and Job to explain his theology of resurrection (26)
  • At 28 he states that God sees all things, quoting Psalm 139:7-10
  • At 45 he gives a high theology of the Old Testament exhorting the Corinthians to, "Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit."
  • At 53 he tells us that the Corinthians he is writing to "understand well the Sacred scriptures." He quotes and paraphrases Exodus 32 and Deuteronomy 9.
In the latter half of the 2nd century, Justin Martyr recounts an engagement with a Jew named Trypho. They discuss the Old Testament, issues of the 'New Covenant' (Jeremiah 31:31-32/Dialogue 11), the nature of the law and ritual before Moses, etc. Justin wrote:

For these words have neither been prepared by me, nor embellished by the art of man; but David sung them, Isaiah preached them, Zechariah proclaimed them, and Moses wrote them. Are you acquainted with them, Trypho? They are contained in your Scriptures, or rather not yours, but ours. For we believe them; but you, though you read them, do not catch the spirit that is in them.(Dialogue 29)

We also know that Greek and Latin speaking Christians learnt Hebrew in order to properly understand the Old Testament. It should be noted that most Jews and Christians of the time thought this was unnecessary as it was believed that the Septuagint Greek  translation was an authoritative translation.[1]  Origen in the third century learnt Hebrew to study the OT indetail. We have surviving copies of his homilies on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. We also know that the Syriac translation of the OT known as the Peshitta was used by gentile Christians such as Aphraat and Ephrem.
If Luke was in fact a gentile his intimate knowledge of the Septuagint is noteworthy. As there is much I have not read of the early Church Fathers I can only say so much.

[1] Philo, Life of Moses 2.37-40; Letter of Aristeas; Josephus, Antiquities 12; Irenaus, Against Heresies;  Justin Martyr, First Apology, etc.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Christ is Risen!

The first Christians understood that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures". But this is not the end of the story. The creed goes on that Jesus "was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." Today, Christians worldwide (in both East and Western churches) willl be celebrating the resurrection of Christ, proclaiming that Christ is risen!

The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Corinth – Paul, People and Politics (May 14, 2011)

What: Corinth – Paul, People and Politics (Society for the Study of Early Christianity Conference 2011)
Where: Macquarie University, X5B Theatre 1
When: Saturday 14 May, 2011

"In Paul’s letters to the Corinthians we see an early Christian society dealing with factionalism arising from varied interpretations of the Christian message. At the same time, Christianity was trying to define itself within the context of a cosmopolitan Roman city. Who were the main players in Corinth during Paul’s mission there?
What role did politics play in the early Christian church?" Speakers will include Dr Paul Barnett, Professor Larry Welborn, Dr Bruce Winter and more.

The event will also include the launch of  The Content and Setting of the Gospel Tradition  edited by Professor Alanna Nobbs of Macquarie University and Dr Mark Harding of the Australian College of Theology

More details here.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Craig Keener, The Gospels in Light of Ancient Biographies and School Traditions

Professor Craig Keener will be a presenting his paper The gospels in light of Ancient Biographies and School Traditions at Macquarie University next week.

Tuesday 12th of April, 7:05pm
Museum of Ancient Cultures X5B 321, Macquarie University
$5 members/$7 non-members

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Do It Yourself: Metal Codex Edition

With Easter just around the corner the time is ripe for new discoveries challenging the history of Christianity as we know it. If you want to keep this age old tradition alive we have some handy hints for you. This week we will we be showing you how to make your very own metallic tablet.

Before you get started ensure you have all the necessary materials (pictured).

The first step is to outline various shapes on cardboard and cut them out. A variety of shapes and symbols can be used. Favourites include:
  • Crosses
  • Palm Trees
  • Crocodiles
  • Alexander the Great. If you are unable to locate an ancient engraving of Alexander, you may find him on selected Greek Drachma coins.
You are not limited to Christian icons. To give an air of authenticity, I will also be using a Pegasus. How about spice it up with a Buddha?

Step two involves transferring these images to foil and creating a border. Metal coins are relatively easy and you can rub the image on with your hands. Cardboard outlines are generally harder, and you may use a sponge so you do not break the foil. To create the frame, I used a chain necklace.

I suggest getting a feel with a practice version, and playing around with it for some time. For example, I tried having Alexander the Great with Queen Elizabeth II (picture here). We would expect Alexander's face to be on a Christian text, but why would Queen Elizabeth II be on it? Silly.

The third step is quite simple, and involves attaching the foil (with imprints) onto cardboard. I wrapped the foil around the cardboard and used a clear sticky tape to finish off the attachment. By this stage your metallic Christian artifact should be close to completion.

The final step will require the addition of text. For an early  Christian theme I suggest Greek although others have had some success combining it with Hebrew. If you do not know what to write, why not visit your local museum and copy a text? Write the text with the felt pen, then wash off the ink. Do not be worried if you do not know the script, most letters look the same so just write them how you see it.  For this version I have taken a text from some third century letter. If you can figure out what letter it is I will send you an Amazon giftcard I have no use with (I think it's $10.50).

If you really want to have some fun, hide it outside and pretend to find it while a journalist is around.
Should a collector be interested I will be posting this item on Ebay.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Still Kicking

Just an update to inform people that I am actually still alive. Much of my spare time over the past few months went towards Saturday's New South Wales state election. Trying to convince 4.5mil people to vote in a particular way is not easy. It was probably for the best that I didn't blog during that time, as I am sure no one actually cares about NSW politics.

And a final piece of news before I go -the wedding cake at the Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will be a traditional fruitcake, featuring a floral theme, including an English rose.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The true Church history

I don't know what factional Protestant school Jim West went to, but here is the true story of Christian denominational history:
Alternatively (to repeat my older diagram):

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blog Accreditation Success

My application has been pending and a judgement has been made:

All we need to do now is get this seal on Australia. Although I thought that was the whole point of paying Oprah to come over...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus

Michael Bird has shared his essay contribution to the massive Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus. It is a well done essay on the parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism, and Bird carefully places the origins of this parting as a consequence of the the life of the historical Jesus. It is well worth the read.

I just looked up the contents pages (available on the side column here as pdfs) of this 4 volume set and it looks amazing and exhaustive.

Edit: Ekaterini G. Tsalampouni made a very similar post just before me. Everyone knows I don't know modern Greek well enough to copy her that quickly, although it has improved with the episodes I have been watching of the Greek version of Come Dine With Me (Κάτι ψήνεται) recently.

Book Giveaway at The Biblical World + more

John Byron, Associate Professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary,  over at The Biblical World is offering the chance to win a copy of Mark Goodacre's The synoptic Problem a way through the Maze (T & T Clark).

I would enter but it is never in anyone's charitable interest to send a book all the way to Australia. You do not understand how badly we get ripped off on academic books by retailers  (e.g. a paperback of Wright's Resurrection of the Son of God for $100USD/AUD.) For that reason one of my best friends is a place called The Book Depository. I am not sure how it compares to Amazon for those inside the USA, Canada and UK but it is great for Australian buyers.

And related to a recent post, Jim West's review of The Content and the Setting of the Gospel Tradition is now up here. West notes that "Mercifully, the editors and essayists didn't trouble themselves with the relatively absurd question as to whether Jesus existed or not." But on that point, Dr Chris Forbes who contributed the introduction to historical Jesus studies in  Chapter 10: "Who was Jesus?" debated Dan Barker on the very question. What is better than that? The audio of the debate is exclusively found here with a semi-serious summary here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Goodacre and Mythicism

I apologise for another post on Jesus mythicism, but for those of you that don't follow Dr Mark Goodacre's NT Podcasts he has a new podcast on the subject: NT Pod 47 discusses the question "Did Jesus exist?"

He also references his November NT Pod 44, "What did Paul know about Jesus?"

John Barclay on Josephus (Video)

With a recent post on Josephus it may be appropriate to share these video interview with Professor John Barclay on Josephus. So here is to some easy Sunday watching:

Josephus: the man and the myths. Part I from CPX on Vimeo.

Josephus: the man and the myths. Part II from CPX on Vimeo.

The second video focuses on Josephus on Jesus, and even the claim that Jesus did not exist. Don't you hate it when a talk about Josephus on his own terms gets hijacked by silly claims.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Early Christian Papyri Resources

Professor Larry Hurtado has shared an updated version of Christian Literary Texts in Manuscripts of Second andThird Centuries, originally a very useful appendix in The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Hurtado's book and Colin H. Roberts' Manuscript, Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt  are two texts that got me very interested in papyrology and the rise of early Christianity in Egypt.

And this brings me to my next point. Hurtado undertook some his research for this book while Visiting Fellow here at Macquarie University, in collaboration with the Ancient History Documentary Research Centre.The Papyri from the Rise of Christianity in Egypt project has a few useful resources for those interested in a wide range of questions that make use of papyri.Chief of these is the Conspectus of Texts which lists, dates and summarises a whole stack of pre-Constane (or abouts) literary and documentary papyri relating to Christians and Christianity. In addition to these, there is the publication of the various New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity volumes which are useful for those interested in the rise and perception of early Christianity in the greater Graeco-Roman world.

And for those interested in how ancient historians approach Jesus and Gospel studies, academics and former students of the Ancient History department have put together a new volume: The Content and the Setting of the Gospel Tradition to soon be reviewed by Jim West

Robert M. Price, one of America's leading authorities on the Bible,

Yes, I had a little chuckle as well. But according to Prices' own homepage regarding his newish book The Case Against The Case For Christ (American Atheist Press, 2010):
New Testament scholar Robert M. Price, one of America's leading authorities on the Bible, has taken umbrage at the cavalier manner in which Strobel has misrepresented his field of study and won't take it any longer. 
And on the other hand:
...[Strobel] consults alleged experts... He does not appear to have done any competent investigation on his own or consulted any genuine authorities on the relevant subjects... 

I am not going to go down to the level of that blurb -  but Dr Price is most definitely not one of America's leading authorities on the Bible.On the other hand, to claim that scholars such as the late Bruce Metzger, described by Bart Ehrman in his popular Misquoting Jesus  as "the world's leading expert in the field [of textual criticism.]", were not genuine authorities in their field is  not just deluded but offensive.

And if contributing to Christian apologetics somehow nullifies all scholarly credentials I would assume it also carries over  to Prices' focus on polemics.

One of Australia's leading authorities on everything...although posting something with a slightly apologetic tone may nullify any expertise I do have.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Three Schools of Jewish Philosophy

In Wars 2.119 Josephus writes that:
For there are three philosophical sects among the Jews. The followers of the first of whom are the Pharisees; of the second the Sadducces; and the third sect, who pretends to a severer discipline, and called Essenes.

In Antiquities 13.171 Josephus expands on the classification of these schools:
At this time there were three sects among the Jews, who had different opinions concerning human actions; the one was called the sect of the Pharisees, another the sect of the Sadducees, and the other the sect of the Essenes. (172) Now for the Pharisees, they say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate, but are not caused by fate. But the sect of the Essenes affirm, that fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination. (173) And for the Sadducees, they take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the cause of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly. (Cf. Ant. 18.11-22.)
But how useful is Josephus' three fold distinction of Jewish philosophical schools? We may note his mention of the  " fourth sect of Jewish philosophy" of Judas the Galilean.  On the other hand, we may view the fourth school as a subschool of the first: "These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty; and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord." (Ant 18.23) 

But as Dr McGrath asked,  what of the "tribe of Christians", followers of the Jewish wise man Jesus? (Ant. 18.63-4) Why would they not constitute a "fifth philosophy" from among the Jews? What about the other Jewish sects we know of that failed to get a mention? As James H. Charlesworth writes,
"We also generally agree that there were more than three main schools of thought among the Jews in ancient Palestine. Today, we all admit this schematization is anachronistic and systematically excludes such major groups as the Samaritans, Zealots, Sicarii, Baptist groups, Enoch groups, the Jewish magical groups, the Boethusians, scribal groups, Galilean miracle-workers, Roman quislings, and many others who claimed to be faithful Torah-abiding Jews. It also excludes the group from the first century that eventually became most powerful: the Palestinian Jesus Movement." (James H. Charlesworth, "The Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Discovery and Challenge to Biblical Studies," in The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Vol 1: Scripture and the Scrolls ed. J.H. Charlesworth, p.7.)

Noting the inadequate nature of Josephus' three school distinction, how should we approach it?

I would suggest that it is as a literary device, part of a consistent push by Josephus to relate the Jewish world to Greek thought and engage his Hellenistic Roman audience. At times he meets the Greek conception while at others he makes use of strong analogy.  The three groups of Jewish thought are intended to draw analogy to the philosophical tradition. To point out the obvious, the terms "schools" and "philosophy" are appealing to a Roman understanding and not a contemporary Jewish classification. Furthermore, the classification/distinction of the schools with regard to human actions and fate has a lot more to do with philosophical thought than Jewish sectarianism. In a broad sense it may be suggested that Josephus is presenting groups of Judaism as analogy to the schools of Greek philosophy - Pharisees are presented like the Stoics(Life 1.12: sect of the Pharisees, which is of kin to the sect of the Stoics, as the Greeks call them), the Sadducees as the Epicureans and the Essenes are like the Pythagoreans.

As an afterthought, the three philosophies are those that Josephus claims to have personally tried out:
and when I was about sixteen years old, I had a mind to make trial of the several sects that were among us. These sects are three:—The first is that of the Pharisees, the second that of the Sadducees, and the third that of the Essenes, as we have frequently told you; for I thought that by this means I might, choose the best, if I were once acquainted with them all; (Life 1:10)
Note (subject to the Greek I do not have on hand) the implication of there being more than the three sects that were among the Jews at the time.

Historical Fallacy of Negative Proof

Paul Newall writes:
The fallacy of negative proof occurs when the lack of evidence for something is taken to justify the conclusion that it did not exist. The logical error involved becomes obvious when shown as a syllogism:

P1: No evidence has so far been found for A;
C: Therefore A did not exist/happen.

This is a formal fallacy: what is needed is an additional premise, to the effect that no evidence for A will ever be found subsequently.

A good example of this fallacy is found in studies of historical figures or events, especially religious ones, such as the debate over the historicity of Jesus or the existence of Atlantis. Where a person is referred to in stories or sagas, say, but no other evidence of their actual existence is found, should we conclude that the person is fictional? Notice that there is a considerable difference between claiming that the lack of evidence proves that the person did not exist (i.e., the negative proof fallacy) and asserting that the likelihood of their historicity is small; however, an elaboration of how such probabilities are assigned is still required.

Paul Newall, "The Logical Fallacies of the Historian" in A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy), pp.270-1.

R. Joseph Hoffman (ed.), Sources of the Jesus Tradition Contents

Below is the contents of the new volume Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth (Ed. R. Joseph Hoffman). The volume is comprised by members of the Jesus Project and as you will notice many of the essays follow closely to the 2008 conference, although a few papers are not included.

Preface: Of Rocks, Hard Places, and Jesus Figures
R. Joseph Hoffman

An Alternative Q and the Quest of the Earthly Jesus
Daniel R. MacDonald

Jesus and the Brothers: The Theology of the Imperfect Union
R. Joseph Hoffman

Popular Mythology in the Early Empire and the Multiplicity of Jesus Traditions
Justin Meggitt

Bayes’s Theorem for Beginners: Formal Logic and Its Relevance to Historical Method
Richard C. Carrier

The Abhorrent Void: The Rapid Attribution of Fictive Sayings and Stories to a Mythical Jesus
Robert M. Price

Jesus’ Dispute in the Temple and the Origin of the Eucharist
Bruce Chilton

The Authorised Version of His Birth and Death
David Trobisch

Prolegomenon to a Science of Christian Origins
Frank R. Zindler

“Every Plant Which My Heavenly Father Has Not Planted Shall Be Uprooted”
Robert Eisenman with Noelle Magana

On Not Finding the Historical Jesus
R. Joseph Hoffman

Assessing the Evidence: Philosophical and Legal Perspectives
Ronald A. Lindsay

Paul as a Witness to the Historical Jesus
Gerd Ludemann

Jesus’ Apocalyptic Vision and the Psychodynamics of Delusion
J. Harold Ellens

Epilogue: The Canonical-Historical Jesus
R. Joseph Hoffman.

So far I am not too impressed by the book.
And apologies for any transcription errors.