James Crossley's blog Contact: jgcrossley10 - AT - yahoo - DOT - co - DOT - uk

Saturday, April 29, 2006

BNTC 2006 Sheffield

The invite, call for papers etc are now available for the British New Testament Conference in Sheffield (31 Aug - 2 Sept, 2006). More on the Jesus seminar when it's finalised. The main speakers are:

Professor Graham Stanton (University of Cambridge)
Messianism and Christology: Mark, Matthew and Luke

Dr Peter Williams (University of Aberdeen)
Farewell to the Prologue of John

Professor Maurice Casey (University of Nottingham)
The Solution of the Son of Man Problem

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

If you're in Sheffield on Monday...

...I'm giving a paper to the Biblical Studies research seminar on

Social Networks, Conversion and the Spread of Earliest Christianity

It is a social-scientifically grounded explanation for the shift from a law observant Jesus movement to the rise of non-observance in earliest Christianity and why Paul had to develop justification by faith without works of the law in reaction to a widespread social problem in earliest Christianity.

So if you are prepared to sacrifice a couple of hours of your life that you will never get again go to the University of Sheffield Arts Tower, floor 11, by 11.00am on Monday 24th April.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Deinde and faith/secular

Danny Zacharias has re-opened the old favourite: faith versus secular scholarship. Here's further interaction with lots of agreement and development of Danny's points.

Both Stephen Carlson’s blog and Mark Goodacre’s interview with Alan Bandy got me thinking about the terms we are using in this discussion. Stephen Carlson questions the label “faith-based” while Goodacre is uncomfortable with evangelical and secular to categorize scholarship. Reading Mark Goodacre’s interview, terms that I wonder about are ‘personal faith’, and especially ‘academic scholarship’ throughout this whole discussion...Goodacre and Carlson (and Bandy and George Guthrie) didn't like the term 'faith-based' and 'secular'. I too don't necessarily like the labeling and classifications, but I think they are unavoidable for the most part. We put labels on everything to help make sense of things.

In one sense these points are valid but I also think it would be a problem in getting rid of some general academic label as Danny rightly points out (though he may not agree with the reasons I think this!). Individually there are Christian scholars who show little signs of how their faith guides their work or at least I can't guess. But it is the fact that the overwhelming majority of scholars have a faith background (and this is not just evangelical by the way) that the discussion will inevitably reflect Christian issues. Much of the history of scholarship (and I include here the Jesus Seminar) shows this I think and it is no coincidence that Marxism before liberation theology was largely ignored in the mainstream of NT studies when it was playing a significant role in the humanities. Incidentally, this doesn't mean that the Christian debates were somehow wrong or that the varied perspectives didn't provide their own insights. But it did mean that some big discussions were avoided. This is why I think is is dangerous (well in terms of academic debate) to lose the secular label otherwise we can just say everyone is welcome while effectively excluding secular people.

After thinking through this and trying to determine what irks me so much about the arguments for secular scholarship as "the higher road" is that the religiosity/spirituality that these types of statements allow scholars is incompatible with Christian discipleship- Jesus calls us to a whole-life faith.

Just for the record I don't believe that secular is automatically better or higher. I'm pushing for more voices and more perspectives. If there was a dominance of secular perspectives in the discipline at the expense of others then I would happily join in criticising that hypothetical establishment. I certainly don't think that evangelicals, Catholics, liberal Christians or whatever should necessarily hide their perspectives.

We put labels on everything to help make sense of things. Imagine a scenario where we got rid of them. Then one day James Crossley and I are talking about the resurrection. I think it happened and he doesn't. We exchange friendly blows to each others arguments (but I have the weight advantage and N.T. Wright is in my corner so I got it made in the shade) and finally James says- "you are coming from a faith-base that affirms at the outset the possibility of the miraculous", to which I reply "you are coming from a secular base assuming that the miraculous cannot happen".

Taken out of context I know, but our different perspectives lead to question neither side would have brought forward without such opponents.

Mark Goodacre's stress on the arguments and evidence is important. That's what agreements and disagreements should be ultimately based on- even when we do recognize presuppositions of the author(s).

Yes this is what, following certain philosophers of history, I would call objectivity as distinguished from neutrality (or perspective or whatever) which is effectively impossible to avoid even if it can't be fully defined. And neutrality is not necessarily a bad thing: it is precisely what I think brings more and more questions to the table. Just think of the increase in women in biblical studies which was the only real reason why feminist and history of women has increased in prominence in biblical studies.

As to the term 'academic scholarship', it seems to me that people of a secular persuasion intechange 'secular' and 'academic' as if they are synonymous- they aren't. Neither is 'faith-based' and 'academic'. Essays from scholars of both persuasions can be really good and horribly bad- in the end scholarship rests on evidence that is publicly coherent and available.

Yes, I agree. I use secular more in terms of individuals in the discipline and the questions they bring. It is the one-sidedness of the discipline which some (with some justification I think) leads to questioning whether 'academic' is fair. It is nothing to do with faith based being inherently non-academic.

I have also been a little confused with some seemingly mixed messages from those of the secular persuasion. James Crossley encourages secular studies to bring more voices and ideas to the table- he says that Christians have a stranglehold on biblical studies. Then Thomas Thompson says this in his interview (which irked me to no end by the way): "They [evangelical scholars] now stand at a turning point where they are undergoing a very serious struggle for academic recognition which goes hand in hand with an equally serious struggle for academic integrity, which, for many of the individuals involved, is consonant with personal struggles of faith." Am I wrong that this is in a bit of contradiction to Crossley's desire for more secular scholarship?...I am perplexed.

I can't speak for Thompson and whether we would disagree I'll leave open but it shouldn't be a surprise that secular people disagree. There are a massive range of disagreements among secularists just as there are among Christians. To take an extreme example (which are always quite helpful in clarifying a position I find) I don't agree with Stalin!!!! I should also add that it seems I am addressing a slightly different issue to Thompson. I discuss the Christian dominance of discipline as a whole whereas Thompson appears to be discussing the role of evangelicals in the discipline.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Love Music Hate Racism, Barrow April 16

I should have put this in advance but didn't. Anyway it is still worth pushing given recent news (see below). Anyway, Barrow-in-Furness - where the far right British National Party (BNP) have been trying to make inroads in recent years but as yet meeting with no success - held their own Love Music Hate Racism gig yesterday. Love Music Hate Racism is in many ways the child of the famous Rock against Racism of the late 1970s. As well as bands (obviously) there were speakers including Henry Guterman who was a refugee and lost family members in Nazi Germany. People like Guterman speaking at such events really hits the message home. In addition to antisemitism he also spoke out against the Islamophobia, homophobia, and general racism associated with the BNP. There was also a genuinely good film on the history of racial tensions in C20/21 Britain and the Rock against Racism/Love Music Hate Racism tradition.

The Rock against Racism was a reaction to the fascist National Front and admirers of the right wing hardcore anti-immigration Tory Enoch Powell in the 1960s and 1970s, both of which brought together a frightening number of white youths. I remeber only too well the remnants of that lot in the 1980s. This threat has not gone away and the BNP is a kind of 'NF in suits' movement which has made some impact at local council elections. Some people have argued that this is due to a nice knew image. I'm not so sure. The British press has been hysterical in its treatment of asylum seekers and more often than not support from govt ministers (and they really can't win the battle of going far enough for the British press). The treatment of Muslims and Islam in the press has also led to some serious distortions of and just plain lies about that religion. These people are creating a social context in which the BNP can appear to be a valid alternative.

The BNP have made claims for being moderate and things like that. Some people have claimed they put leaflets forward denying the Holocaust (I haven't seen them but it wouldn't surprise me). The leader Nick Griffin has also been caught on camera saying all sorts of lies about the history of Islam, many of which I have heard repeated in the 'mainstream' and by a whole host of 'moderates'. The BNP regularly invent stories about the asylum seekers getting loads more state money than those among the white working classes.

The popularity of fashionable Islamophobia in the context of July 7 and the Danisg cartoons alone might suggest the potential for BNP support to grow and grow. But in the past couple of days there have been some reports which, if anywhere near accurate, is seriously worrying. Firstly Margaret Hodge claimed that white working class disillusionment hasled to 8 out of 10 white families in her Barking constituency being potential BNP voters in forthcoming council elections. Secondly a report just out has suggested that 25% of voters would consider voting BNP. On this see e.g. here and here.

Clearly there is a deep seated problem with poor white working classes who are for good reason disillusioned. But historically there has also been much anti-Nazism arising from the working classes through things like Rock against Racism and anti-Nazi bands over the years. The one thing that Love Music Hate Racism can do is to gather support from among from the working classes not only to oppose racism but aim anger at those who really deserve it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Antioch incident

Michael Bird argues the following on the incident at Antioch:

The real problem was not the food but the company it was consumed in. The objection of "those of the circumcision" and "certain men from James" was that these meals made Gentiles equals and not simply guests in the Jewish Christian community! Gentiles did not have to judaize/do works of the law/be circumcized in order to have the membership status and privileges of Jews. Circumcision of Gentiles is what links Gal 2:1-10 and the rest of Galatians with Gal 2:11-14.

Ok, here's some fairly non-systematic thoughts on the matter. As one of Michael's quotes makes clear, there are two major issues which arise in Jewish literature: food and idolatry. So it is at least possible that this pattern continues in earlyies Christianity. Idolatry can be eliminated for obvious reasons but food cannot be eliminated that easily. Moreover, the problem involves something to do with a Jew like Peter not doing 'works of the law' (Gal. 2.15-16) which appears to imply that some kind of law breaking (real or perceived) is going on and that Peter is involved in some way (I am hesitant to say if Peter did eat banned food as there is no explicit evidence - he may not have been able to stomach it for all we know - but the perception is clear). Given the range of Jewish and pagan texts which discuss the issue of food then this seems to me to be a very good contender for the problem. If Peter is associated too strongly with people eating pork or whatever it does (cf. Sanders) discredit his mission to Jews.

As for company, there is a problem with this argument. Paul's mission is recognised in Jerusalem (Gal. 2.9) and combined with this is the lack of any major evidence that Jewish and gentile Christians were not eating with one another or that this was an issue in earliest Christianity. Does this not suggests that there was no problem with the company being kept at Antioch?

And is circumcision an issue here. Again there is no problem in Jerusalem with circumcision. This is why I think food laws are a problem because if Peter is associating too much with lawless gentiles then he is effectively being identified with those kinds of people and this, again, seriously discredits a Jewish mission. Furthermore, is circumcision really included in the term 'Judaise' (cf. Gk Esther 8.17; War 2.454, 462-63; and Dunn's argument)?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

AAR/SBL Secular Panel

To answer a couple of questions there will be an AAR 'Wild Card' panel on 'The Role of Secular Viewpoints in Scriptural Studies: Past, Present and Future'. I will be on the panel along with Jorunn Buckley, Jacques Berlinerblau, Hector Avalos, Arthur Droge, Hugh Pyper, and William Arnal. My paper will be on the history of secular approaches to the NT and ways in which various big issues in the humanities were bypassed in NT studies. It will also include ways in which secular approaches can contribute to NT studies in areas of history, early Christian theologies, and modern politics.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Deliberate Deception?

I've resisted responding to this but I keep getting pestered so relented. Here is a link to a very conservative (I try to avoid 'fundamentalist' but I think that some people would use that phrase here) Christian website where someone called Paul claims that in my review of Blomberg's Contagious Holiness I was a bit bad. The reason I didn't want to respond is because I don't make virtually all the arguments attributed to me and there is just empty polemic aimed at me. Anyone can show the problems with an invented opponent!

Paul quotes me once and here it is with commentary:
"But when the result is a historical Jesus who is greater than anyone else and who can do spectacular supernatural things, one must wonder just how the words "historical" and "authentic" are being used."
One wonders where even to begin when trying to understand such a statement and the motivations for it.

Then he does try to unravel my logic with reference to 'implicitly banned categories':
In Crossley's thinking, Jesus could not [bold mine] have been both "greater than anyone else" and authentic. Nor could he "do spectacular supernatural things" and be historical. This is a logical fallacy, one presumably caused by the assumptions of naturalism (that the supernatural does not exist) and humanism (specifically, that no one can lay any claim to inherent greatness over another). One must ask, is God banned from history? Is he unable to act as he wills within his creation? For any scholar really concerned with finding out the truth, assuming such things should be anathema.

I didn't say any of that and naturally he provides no quotations from me. Anyone who has read this blog knows that I have said quite explicitly that such views have as much right to a place in discussion as any. I also argued against Blomberg's specific arguments for such things which I didn't think worked. Incidentally in favour of Jesus being superior Paul provides a defence based almost entirely on John's gospel which does not seem to me to be the greatest evidence. No mention of fourth gospel bias either (naturally). It is as if history speaks for itself and that historically Jesus must have been better. How? From a faith perspective fine. But how do you measure it historically? I'm not saying anyhthing either way but it is something that needs to be considered in a discipline which relentlessly uses the rhetoric of history.

Also, use all the language of logic you want but it will only work if you apply it fairly.

And this:

In the view of scholars such as Crossley, any such claims or supernatural acts by Jesus (a significant number of the activities ascribed to him in the Gospels) are just the result of stories growing greater with each telling, to the point that they became the Gospels we have today. Such adjustments to the facts might have been the result of wishful thinking, selective memory, or even deliberate deception on the part of the authors (or communities of authors) who produced them.

That's just a guess which is partially correct. But I've written in favour of a great deal of the synoptic history (not John, true). Not sure I would use the phrase 'deliberate deception', if it is implied that I said that. No, correction, never. That would be misleading and a misunderstanding of ancient concepts of truth. Incidentally, deliberate deception is certainly an interesting phrase...

And this:
I feel the question that is at the crux of the difference between such scholars as Crossley and those who accept the historicity of the Scriptures (such as Blomberg) is: what were the people who wrote the Bible trying to achieve? Were they simply ancient versions of "Oprah", trying to make people feel good without actually giving them anything good? Were they just a bunch of simple-minded people, wanting to preserve their traditions in the face of a changing culture? Were they charlatans, for whom deceiving the public was a means of making a living?

That has nothing to do with any opinion I've put forward and has nothing much to do with my motivations. To repeat yet again, I am quite open to a conservative model of the synoptic tradition. Once again he has decided what I think before going on to demolishing. Incidentally is it fair to imply simple-mindedness in this instance?

And there's more:
I've heard it said that biographies are only ever written by those who loved the subject, or those who hated ner. It seems to be the same with the study of biblical literature. Those who study the Scriptures are divided into two groups: those who believe it and want to live it, and those who despise it with a passion. The latter seem to want to set themselves up as the judges of Scripture, whereas the former realise they are inadequate judges, and instead allow themselves to be judged by the Word.

It isn't said that this is referring to me but the implication is pretty strong. But let's just assume I'm implied. I have no hatred for Jesus, the gospels, or the Bible. Yes, there are bits which are unsavoury but that's not untypical for the ancient world so the generalisation just doesn't work for me at least. So if I am implied there has been more inventing of my position. If not, who is he aiming at?

My favourite bit is this:
...cynic in me says that he also looks a rather tormented individual, but that may just be fatigue due to his social schedule...

Can't argue with that.

Seriously, Paul, you don't have to but at least try to tell the truth and not invent my position. Perhaps some quotation from me is worth using. Or find someone who genuinely argues the case you wish to demolish.