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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why Christianity Happened: from Jewish sinners to gentile sinners

This section is a combination of a macro-historical/macro-sociological approach along with some close reading of certain texts in order to explain historical change and how the Jesus movement concerned with Jews spread to gentiles very shortly after Jesus’ death. This section provides the important link, to put it very crudely, between Jesus and Christianity when it was law observant, the chronology of which I outlined in The Date of Mark's Gospel. The fifth section will deal with the next big step, the social reasons for the rise of non-observance and Pauline theology.

It is clear that the behaviour attributed to Jewish ‘sinners’ was more or less the same as that attributed to gentiles: the two categories were non-coincidentally overlapping to a high degree. Jesus’ mission to sinners provides the ideological impetus for the emergence beyond Judaism. But there were certain long term socio-economic features that were permitting, as it were, this spread. Macro-sociologists (e.g. P. Nolan, G. Lenski, and R. Stark [sort of]) have noted the emergence of universal religions (e.g. Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity via Judaism) in the context of the long term development of agrarian empires. This is for a number of reasons to do with increasing communications and Empire building which would bring diverse human groups in closer connection and gradually erode old tribal, parochial or ethnic views. I think this is right but there is a significant lack of evidence given (naturally enough though) by macro-sociologists to back up such grand claims. I qualify this (and in fact this is precisely my present major research topic) with reference to a universalising monotheism being much more widespread at, and much more developed by, the time of Christian origins (as should be expected from macro-sociological generalisations). And this includes much of so-called ‘pagan’ thought. Significantly, on Greco-Roman pagan monotheism, some of the research done has shown how, combined with various social and economic factors, paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of the Empire.

There were a few stumbling blocks for Judaism, should Jews wish, and presumably many did not, to develop into a more universalising religion. In terms of conversion to Judaism (more on this another time) there were problematic issues of circumcision (for men, obviously), kinship, ethnicity etc. But there were other aspects of Jewish thought that could actualise (to use a phrase I don’t use in the book) the potential to spark off a shift towards a more widespread, universalising trend, helped by wide ranging Jewish social networks which were part of and interacted with various non-Jewish networks. I give various reasons why, in light of the socio-economic circumstances of Galilee outlined earlier, the Jesus movement made the choices that set things in motion for the spread to gentiles very shortly after Jesus’ death.

In the beginning things were all law observant, at least ‘officially’. The rest of the chapter shows how the earliest gospel traditions were transmitted wittingly or unwittingly with the considerations of a shift from law observant Jew to law observant Jew and gentile. The key thing here is how the transmission of the texts are significant for pushing along these broader historical trends, how the the transmitted texts were particularly conducive to the long term currents of history. And I begin with…Q

Now calm down all Q sceptics for just one moment (and I know there are a few of you out there, including one well known one). I don’t define Q very strongly. In fact I leave much wide open and define what might be necessary for the debate. The debate functions with the loosest definition of Q as a shorthand for pre-Matthean, pre-Lukan sources and nothing more. While I believe in a general Q, I have not been convinced that this was necessarily a collection or a gospel or anything like that. Just sources for now, ok?

With that solved (note the sarcasm, please!), the real function of looking at early pre-gospel sources is that they were transmitted when the general changes I describe were taking place and so potentially back up my case. And surprise, surprise they do! Generally, there is nothing in what is generally labelled Q or earliest gospel tradition that contradicts any biblical law. There are passages that interpret biblical laws, just like Jesus did, just like plenty of others did. In terms of transmitting in light of certain debates relevant to the shifts I outline, I look in some detail at the washing of the cups passage and how this functioned in terms of contemporary halakic purity laws. This includes all sorts of details on the function of the impurity of handles and the transmission of impurity from hands to cups to drinkers and the various choices of words. The key thing here is the stress on morality. The same goes for the tithing passage which I also discuss in detail with some discussion of various herbs for any herbalists out there.

These passages are important for social interaction and an analogy (and it is nothing more than that) with the rabbinic people of the land partly shows how these traditions would function among different groups, including interaction of people deemed rich and poor, so crucial as we saw. I also show from a social historical perspective how traditions could function in contexts related to the emergence of the Jesus movement. Moreover, they justify an overriding of certain expanded purity laws with an emphasis on morality and the moral issues raised are precisely the kinds of discussions found with sinners (Jewish and gentile). There is some discussion of how this provides one reason (among others) why these specific traditions were transmitted in earliest Christianity in the context outlined above and tied in with the causal chain already discussed. There are related discussions too e.g. gentiles in Q/earliest tradition (there is virtually no interest). The key thing is that a cluster of traditions intimately related to the issue of social interaction among different groups, including those relating to ‘gentile issues’ were transmitted partly because they were very useful.

I then go and apply this to Mark 6-8 in the light of what I wrote on Mark 7:1-23 in The Date of Mark’s Gospel. As a reminder to all you may not have bought the £65 book (ok, £30-ish pbk), I argue with reference to contemporary purity laws that this passage, including 7.19, is not an attack on food laws but a critique of the transmission of impurity from hands-to-food-to-eater, i.e. a critique of hand-washing before ordinary food (and note on top of this the constant contrasting of biblical law versus ‘tradition’). I take the usual view (though I was almost persuaded otherwise once) that the two feedings include one Jewish, one gentile, and that there is catch-wording (typical of haggadic traditions – see R. Aus) suggesting that there is something going on in terms of narrative interconnections. I add a few bits and pieces from Jewish cultural assumptions to back this up. So how does Mk 7.1-23 fit in here if I do not see food laws as an issue?

Well, it could be argued that all the stress on purity could mean that there is a concern for that widely held view that gentiles had some kind of inherent impurity (Alon’s influential view) and that Jesus breaks down that barrier. But it seems that there was no such thing as inherent gentile impurity. Instead, it has been convincingly shown (e.g. Klawans, Hayes) that gentiles were regarded as immoral and this was what was really 'impure' about them (though not inherent). And so there are various vice lists outlining all the naughty things gentiles got up to (idolatry, sex, theft, drinking etc.), the kinds of lists that make it into the NT. The kind of list that makes it into Mark 7.21-23… Now there are other lists without this frame of reference but notice that straight after all the gentile stuff starts happening in Mark 7. Mark 7:21-23 puts the concerns for gentile behaviour in story form if you like. On top of this note again the legal emphasis in Mk 7. On top of that note the catchword ‘bread’ in 6-8. I speculate that rabbinic traditions about bread-law-wisdom might be in the background too.

Anyway, this, I go on to argue is a major justification for law observance among Jews and gentiles in earliest Christianity. This, along with the ‘Q’ stuff, provides empirical examples. In one sense this is kind of window dressing because there overall argument does not depend too much on my readings being right or wrong. The readings are there to provde complementary empirical evidence. What is key, is that there is a movement toward gentiles that stays law observant in the early years, and that it extremely difficult to dispute.

So there is some discussion of the shift to gentiles. The final major section is how we get non-observance and here social reasons are used in a major way. At the time to my surprise (but not now) this final section has led to the most hostility from very conservative scholars but agreement from non-conservatives and the occassional evangelical. And next we’ll see how my tampering with approaches to social networks and conversion might explain the big step toward a new religion in its own right, the social reasons for the rise of non-observance and Pauline views on law and justification…

UPDATE: The 'Q' comments have been raging. Trust the Q-sceptical blogging community to have such sharp eyes for every single word (I mean that entirely as a compliment lest I be misinterpreted). See the comments on this blog, in addition to Mark Goodacre and Stephen Carlson. Any other Q related things I've missed, just let me know.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Why Christianity Happened: Sinners!

The third major section looks specifically at the role of ‘the sinners’ in the causal chain, as it were. This is the most technical section as it looks at the various terms for ‘sinner’ over approximately 1000 years, from the Psalms to the rabbinic literature and how this applies to the gospel text. It is also not explicitly tainted by social scientific approaches (that doesn’t last long though). Think of this section as the ideological impetus for the emergence of Christianity and non-observance of the Law.

EP Sanders’ famous definition of the gospel sinners has much more to it than many of his critics allow. His most significant advancement was the idea that they were not the common folk hated by the Pharisees. I think it is possible to go much further than this and argue that whenever the socio-economic status of the sinners is mentioned in Jewish literature they are always regarded as oppressive nasty rich types.

In the Psalms the sinners (usually, but not exclusively, resha‘im; LXX: hamartōloi), often contrasted with the righteous, cover a variety of naughty behaviour from acting as if there were no God, law-breaking, beyond the covenant etc. And in a number of Psalms they are violent, oppressive, exploitative rich people. A common theme is, naturally, the judgement of the sinners. It also follows quite naturally from this perspective that this language described gentiles and this is found in a number of Psalms. There are a number of other Hebrew words where the LXX uses hamartōlos but the message is effectively the same.

These ranges of meaning barely change in subsequent literature. In early Jewish literature (including the crucial Aramaic literature) the usual themes of non-observance, beyond the covenant, and judgement are all well attested. Again whenever their socio-economic status is mentioned they are oppressive rich types who revel in their ill-gotten gains. There develops, as Dunn stresses, a more intra-Jewish focus: your version of the law is beyond the law. They lack justice so they buy it. They are generally a bad influence. Various texts working with a basic this worldly reward theology have problems with these people flourishing but they manage to negotiate the problem in ways that may not seem entirely satisfactory to us (e.g. you don’t know how it will end for them) whereas those who have a more developed concept of life-after-death make sure that these people who seem to get away with everything will eventually burn, don’t you worry.

Early rabbinic literature can be quite general on the issue but all the usual themes occur, including the idea of intra-Jewish legal polemic. Again, whenever socio-economic status is mention it is one of oppressive rich. They will be punished of course but rabbinic literature also has another tradition where God cares for the nasty sinner.

Rabbinic literature is particularly illuminating as m. Sanhedrin and its interpretation in subsequent rabbinic tradition, along with parallel rabbinic texts, bring all the key themes and words together in the explanation of Sodom. What is interesting is that the sexual side of things is virtually ignored. For the rabbinic tradition it is the issues mentioned above which define these ultimate sinners and they are the most comically evil sinners I found [insert own joke here].

The translations of the biblical texts into Aramaic and Syriac follow the same pattern with some interesting twists. The r-sh-‘ root can translate all sorts of wicked behaviour, all in line with what has been mentioned but on an even wider scale if anything. The same goes for various other Aramaic/Syriac words used when Hebrew uses the r-sh-‘ root and the Greek uses hamartōlos. The same also goes for the use of Aramaic/Syriac debtor-sinner language which may well underlie gospel traditions and root attested at by the time of Jesus.

The linguistic evidence is extremely consistent and being this stable over c. 1000 year period is important because by implication the gospel language should fit the pattern. And, to look ahead, the constant overlapping of Jewish sinner and gentile sinner should prove important. As for what Aramaic word was used in the gospel, I think we have to leave that one open and also accept the possibility that more than one Aramaic word was used. It doesn’t matter too much as the relevant words are very similar and thankfully the gospels are steady in their use of hamartōlos, a word that also covers all the relevant points.

The synoptic tradition has some general uses, perhaps with reference to gentiles. There may well be echoes of intra-Jewish legal debates. But notice that they can be associated with tax-collectors who were regarded precisely as oppressive rich and sometimes beyond the law. The gospel tradition is, as we might expect, perfectly in line with the rest of Jewish thought on their general identity.

It seems as if Jesus was calling these rich people to repent, or better return to the law, the language typical of Jews returning to the fold. The idea of getting sinners to repent is found in Ezek. 33 and later Jewish literature, including the Aramaic debtors possibly repenting. This idea is also present throughout the gospel tradition. Even the much discussed parables of Luke 15 ultimately seem to reflect pre-Lukan tradition to in the sense that they are typical of Jewish repentance stories.

So far a non-controversial Jesus. But clearly Jesus’ association with sinners did cause controversy. Elements that would have got Jesus into trouble would have been his potential for success. It is unlikely that a Pharisee would have been delighted if a sinner chose Jesus’ way over theirs, just as we see the various intra-Jewish legal disputes in early Judaism and attested well enough in the synoptic tradition. Associating with such types would not have gone down well either. Sinners were regarded as having a negative influence on the upright and while Ezek. 33 was not ignored, it is in terms of the literary evidence a minority view to get sinners to repent. Why waste your time? Think also of associating with the oppressive rich in the light of the socio-economic circumstances outlined in a previous blog entry: we have plenty of examples of how these people really ought to be treated. What’s more, with the exception of the Lukan story of Zacchaeus, we have no real indication of how successful Jesus was. If they were not giving up their wealth oppressive rich ways (and some must surely have been reluctant to do so!) then Jesus was effectively sleeping with the enemy. Jesus’ opponents may well have had a strong point.

As a side issue there is no evidence that Jesus bypassed the Temple system in anyway and he is never criticised for doing so. There is only evidence to the contrary. The view that Jesus did bypass the Temple ought to be dropped. David Catchpole’s book Jesus People makes this point well.

This ties in neatly with the idea of Jesus trying to get the rich to repent, as mentioned in the other blog. But it also points forward and the rest of the book shows how the role of the sinners provides the crucial link to the expansion of ‘Christianity’ after Jesus’ death and the emergence of non-observance and Paul’s theology, esp. justification and law.

Two important recent football results

Man United 2-0 Liverpool

Biblical Studies 4-2 Some Opponents

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Why Christianity Happend: The Origins of Jesus' Specific View of the Law

The second chapter picks up on recent work done in the socio-economic context of Jesus’ Galilee and how the Jesus movement emerged. What I try to do with these approaches is to show it as the first part in the causal chain (don’t take that too literally) that sparked off the emergence of the subsequent movement.

In recent years Crossan and several others have used the work of G. Lenski and J. H. Kautsky. Lenski’s model as a whole is a static and descriptive one (though not exclusively – he also tries to explain the mechanisms underlying socio-economic change). His description of social relations in agrarian society has proven very popular in recent scholarship, particularly his stress on the marked social inequality.

This is a significant point but it does not explain what is any different at the time of Jesus. This is where I think the work of Hobsbawm and countless other Marxist and Marxian historians on peasant unrest is useful. What they argue is that peasant unrest is due to are real or perceived change in the peasant lifestyle. Frequently this will involve changes in land patterns and ownership. This generalisation is important for explaining why the Jesus movement emerged when and where it did.

Crossan’s use of Kautsky is also important here because Kautsky uses evidence from societies around the time of Christian origins to show that commercialisation and that land plays a key part in peasant unrest. This also ties in with urbanisation in such economic contexts because urban centres, as is widely agreed, siphon off resources from the countryside.

The evidence for this all is strong and well backed up. Perhaps more than anything the building and rebuilding of Tiberias and Sepphoris as Jesus was growing up resulted in peasant unrest and hatred toward these two urban centres. This, along with general unrest, is a powerful argument for once socio-economic reason behind the emergence of the Jesus movement.

I spend some time on this theoretical background. For some, such as the context group, the use of Kautsky and Lenski may not be anything new but I really wanted to show how this model could be useful for more traditional scholars (not least in the UK). But the main reason was to modify this model to explain Jesus’ specific view on the Law and how it could link in with the emergence of later Christian views on the Law.

One general reaction to the general socio-economic impact of urbanisation in Palestine was banditry. The role of bandits is well documented. What I would add to this is the role of the Law in this reaction. In several instances, Jewish bandits and their local supporters would utilise the law as a key part of their rhetoric of reversing the fortunes of rich and poor. This is also the case in reactions to Sepphoris.

Jesus was not a bandit but the categories of bandit and prophet were not always clear cut and they could gang up together at times. Let’s not forget that the political powers were not too bothered about neat distinctions and would kill prophetic figures just in case, including those like John the Baptist who also used the rhetoric of the Law. Let’s not forget how Jesus was killed either.

On top of this there was a long literary tradition where the rich and poor would be reversed. Wealth itself in some traditions was simply equated with sin: sooner or later rich people would just sin and act against the law. Wealth was also said to lead to idolatry. Read these literary traditions in the context of Jesus’ Galilee and it is perhaps no wonder these theme appear in the teaching of Jesus.

The camel and the eye of the needle stands firmly in the tradition challenging the idea that law observance leads to a long life here on earth and replacing it with the rich being damned in the life to come (the afterlife is a very convenient place to resolve those kinds of problems). This passage also equates wealth/landownership with sin. ‘The rich man has observed the commandments but he will sin’, is part of the message here. Jesus is trying to show how the law must be observed (if simply isn’t a question).

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus also stands firmly in the tradition of re-interpreting reward theology and as ever it is done in terms of law observance. The rich man does NOT go to fire because he has mistreated the poor; no, he goes because he is rich. That simple. So Lazarus has a happy ending because he is poor. The conclusion to the parable is not added in light of Christian preaching on the resurrection, as is often argued, for the simple reason that Lazarus is the one who is to be sent back and is better read in the tradition of sending someone back from the afterlife to warn the living. And note the reference to Moses and repentance.

What these and other traditions show is that the repentance of the rich is a theme of Jesus’ teaching. They must repent, give up their wealth (or part of it) or else suffer. When Jesus criticises those who worry about food and clothes, he is following a tradition of criticising the behaviour of the rich.

This line of thought is also a part of Jesus’ actions in the Temple. The economic element in Jesus protest is well established (as I’ve argued elsewhere) but I now add another element, namely the idea that idolatry is a part of Jesus’ polemic. In other words, there is a tradition, I think, that remembers Jesus as one who accused the Temple authorities of idolatry. Of course they would have disagreed but in many ways that is irrelevant. Jesus may have been arguing that wealth led to what he regarded as the sin of idolatry.

So much for all that. The key thing, apart from explaining why Jesus specific spin on the law emerged is how these themes can take us along the next part of the causal chain [NB: don’t take this language of chains too literally! I do not mean a nice convenient movement with no other factors etc.]. In particular I next focus on how Jesus’ audience led to the spread of his teaching among gentiles after his death. The key thing here is the role of the ‘the sinners’…

Friday, October 20, 2006

Religion and US professors

Of relevance to the previous post perhaps are the findings of the faith of US professors. See Codex blog.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why Christianity Happened: Social History and Secular Approaches

The first major chapter is, for reasons that should become obvious, the most polemical chapter in the entire book. Perhaps with the exception of the evangelical reaction to my use of social networks, I have had a bit of stick from the odd individual (not many it has to be said and some of the conservative bloggers have not had a problem - a nice surprise!) for parts of this chapter.

The idea of explaining an aspect of change in Christian origins more through social scientific and secular approaches should be an obvious thing to do. However, the history of the discipline of Christian origins has shown that theology, description and even the supernatural have absolutely dominated, despite the constant rhetoric of ‘doing good history’. I make no claims of neutrality here, merely more perspectives.

The history of social scientific and social historical perspectives (for convenience I label both approaches social scientific from now on) in NT studies has had a patchy history. One of the great puzzles of social scientific criticism is its virtual absence between the 1920s/1930s and the 1970s. Up to 1930s there were various attempts by Deissmann, Troeltsch and Harnack, along with the ‘Chicago School’. There were Marxist contributions from Karl Kautsky and Friedrich Engels. But after this period there were only isolated examples such as E. Judge before the thoroughgoing approaches starting again in the late 1960s and early1970s.

One standard explanation for this seemingly strange fact is the influence of Barth and dialectical theology in contrast to the social gospel of liberal Christianity. The gospel, from this perspective, was radically other. At this time form criticism was also developing. Form criticism promised much with its emphasis on setting in life but realistically it was largely setting in faith.

I see nothing wrong with these two explanations but they need heavy qualification. Form criticism also emerged at the time of German fascism and many well known German scholars and contributors to the early editions of TDNT were committed Nazis. The natural consequence of this is a reluctance to analyse the social (and therefore frequently Jewish) context of the Christian traditions. Even after WWII plenty of NT scholars who were opponents of the Nazis were anti-Jewish in their theology, as Sanders devastatingly showed.The social context of Christian origins would not flourish in this context.

To understand just how odd this omission was, it is worth looking at the discipline of history in the mid-C20. The French Annalists (e.g. Febvre, Bloch, Braudel) were providing some of the most creative interdisciplinary approaches to history. Marxist historians were also providing all sorts of new readings in history and themselves were producing major figures in historical writing (e.g. Hobsbawm, Hill, Thompson, Hilton, etc.). At this time the study of Christian origins produced nothing of the sort. Why?

Well, one key reason was that much of the social sciences were associated with Marxism and, not least in the context of the Cold War, this also meant atheism. I give a range of NT scholars (from the Evangelisch-sozialer Kongress right up to the present) and prominent Christians expressing a hostility to Marxism and its atheistic connotations. My favourite example remains Bornkamm’s attack on the Bolsheviks in the middle of his book on the historical Jesus (not to mention most space given to attacking such figures in his review of Sermon on the Mount). The threat of the Cold War included other issues e.g. a threat to liberty and free thinking, something many NT scholars had fought long and hard for. The Communist Party Historians’ Group (which included figures like Hobsbawm and Hill) did have intellectual constraints imposed on them, even though they disapproved. Anti-Stalinist EP Thompson even found Stalinist elements in the first edition of his work on William Morris and he was more than happy to tell himself off about this! There were also the problems with Communism in light of the events of 1956-57, not to mention the earlier questioning of Soviet morality by Orwell. All of this would only add to the suspicion for NT scholars.

Another problem of the association of Marxism with social sciences (and the Annalists) was that there was always the tendency to downplay the role of the individual in favour of broader socio-economic trends, something Christian scholars were never going to like, what with Jesus and Paul! And let’s not forget that the charismatic leader became one of the most significant models in subsequent social scientific criticism, not to mention the constant re-emphasising that social scientific methods do not explain away Christian origins. This was a big loss for Christian origins as plenty of non-Marxists (e.g. Braudel) were not over-keen on the role of the individual.

The social upheavals of the 1960s were to change things, as reflected in the recollections of the early pioneers of social scientific criticism (e.g. J. H. Elliott). Moreover, at this time non-Marxist social history with its increasing use of anthropology, was developing (e.g. K. Thomas). Weber was also being translated in to English and started turning up left, right and centre in NT studies.

What this shows, I think, are the problems of one social group (Christians) dominating the discipline. They had very good reasons to be wary (to put it mildly) of Soviet Communism but, unlike historians, the Christian perspective could not welcome social scientific or Marxian insights and this was a great loss.

I then move on to the importance of partisanship using historians and philosophers of history in order to stress the importance of secular perspectives and illustrate the Christian dominance of the field. The major societies are overwhelming Christian, Christians for obvious reasons already have a structural advantage with seminaries and theological colleges (and this can’t be helped of course). Moreover, would, for example, another discipline hold a prayer before a conference as the BNTC (with no official party line as far as I know) did in 2000, not to mention similar practices at other conferences? This, I think, is not good academic practice and allows (rightly or wrongly) some historically bizarre views to get a good airing (e.g. the resurrection really happened and can be proved!) NT Wright’s work along with other approaches to the resurrection gets reviewed in this context. Overall, of course, no matter how honest and rigorous individual scholars are, this means that the ways in which the questions are framed will be Christianized.

I then move on to those with ‘different’ perspectives, e.g. Vermes and his Judaism, Sanders and his concern to act as a conventional ancient historian, an increasing number of women in the discipline, to show how they all bring new and important questions and how this can be an inspiration for future perspectives (working class, non-Western, and secular). I also critique those secular views that ignore or reject Christian perspectives in the historical study of Christian origins. My main point here is to make the historical and academic study of Christian origins much more open to all perspectives while not ignoring the insights of Christian scholars (no matter how weird I may think some Christian perspectives!). But still, I do think that there needs to be some change in the ideological make up of the discipline, otherwise it will largely remain the justifications of various Christians, continuing intra-Christian disputes often in secular universities. The rest of the book is designed to provide a secular perspective on historical change i.e. one not grounded in the supernatural or the great individuals and one, building on the work of social scientific approaches to Christian origins, grounded in socio-economic reasons as various historians in history departments have been doing for decades.

Busybody and Segal

Loren Rosson has managed to lure in Alan Segal to guest blog. This looks very promising.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why Christianity Happened

As mentioned earlier, I'll give an adve...overview of Why Christianity Happened. Today, just the aims and intentions.

The key aim of the book is to pick up on something I previously looked at, i.e. the shift in law observance from the law observant historical Jesus to the beginnings of non-observance in the early church. What I had previously done was largely a descriptive enterprise in the sense that I was concerned mostly with chronological details and only little attention was give to those big why questions I keep going on about. What I want to do in this book is to look at this question in a much broader socio-historical context as part of an explanation for the emergence of Christianity from John the Baptist and Jesus to the Jerusalem conference (i.e c. 26-50 CE). Think of it as an unholy union of me, Stark and Crossan.

The book begins with a comparison between what historians from history departments have done in comparison with the historical study of Christian origins and the reasons why Christian origins has missed out on so many important methods especially in the mid C20. It then goes on to place this partly in the context of a secular-faith divide and the problems of the Cold War. There is also some questioning of the strange use of supernatural explanations in Christian origins and how secular types could add a whole host of new questions.

The rest of the book is all about exploiting various methods from the social sciences and providing an explanation based on historical change. For all the excellent work done in social scientific criticism of the NT, the stress is rarely (with honourable excpetions) on explaining why we get from A to B (to put it crudely) but rather on description, e.g. what this text would be like in its ancient context, how it illuminates theology etc. There is nothing wrong with that, and I do not abandon this myself, but I just think it would be worth trying to change the emphasis. If we want to keep using the rhetoric of history and all that then perhaps it is worth trying to use some standard historical methods.

I apply various social scientific approaches to the emergence of Jesus and his specific spin on the law with reference to economic changes, Jesus' audience (with a chapter devoted to the question of identifying 'the sinners'), the spread of monotheism in the ancient world, the transmission of early traditions (including Q - extremely vaguely defined for all you sceptics out there - and a re-reading of Mk 6-8) with reference to changes in the ethnic make-up of the audience and the shifts in Law observance, and how the approaches of Stark and a variety of other sociologists of networks and conversion can be modified to show how the key step from law observance to non-observance among gentiles took place. Whether Stark et al would approve of what I've done with their stuff, I don't know, but I don't think it is contradictory.

So, I'll begin with the dreaded secular issue...but not today.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Attack of the Fundies!!!!

I've been receiving one of the periodic attacks by the hardcore conservative Christians (generally labelled fundamentalists - a term I'm not keen on but thought I should say it to distinguish from conservatives and evangelicals who are perfectly decent and engaging. Fair enough?). But these things happen. Anyway I had to close down the heated debate on the Wright post because that may well be part of it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mentioned with Zwingli

Thanks to Jim for this! But that picture should be banned (and now has been). I was young once...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Jim West on NT Wright, Wrightism and Wrightianity

Jim West has made a few comments on NT Wright in the light of the new NT Wright blog. E.g.

He’s got email lists devoted to his books, essays, and papers; he’s an “evangelical pop star”; people pay big bucks to attend his “public lectures” (two years ago he was within driving distance so I checked into it- for a paltry $175 I could go hear him speak!)

The funny thing about Wright is, if you’ve read one book by him, you’ve read them all. No matter if it’s a 500 page book on Jesus or a 200 page book on Paul. It’s like going to a movie and thinking that, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, maybe the ending will be different this time.

Doubtless Wright is a highly gifted man. And doubtless he’s famous. But Wrightly so? Other, lesser known scholars have said things better, more clearly, and certainly more concisely. But because they lack the high profile publicity pushing Wright’s works forward they go, sadly, unheard. Besides, what exactly does the good Bishop do besides research and public speaking? He’s not exactly a Pastor- so he has no responsibilities in that direction. He doesn’t teach- so he’s not got that hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles. He reads, he regurgitates it into the open mouths of the waiting, joyously anticipating flock of hatchlings huddled together in his safe, warm, dry, nest of exegetical certainty, and he makes an awful lot of money doing it.

Mind you, I’m not envious of his fame or fortune. I’m, to put it simply, surprised by it! Whenever Fortress or Eerdman’s announces yet another offering from his prolific desk I ask myself one simple question: why????????


There is a discussion group called Wrightsaid I believe (for those with knowldege of English pop music, or better camp English pop music there is a joke ready and waiting for that discussion group) but it is members/fans only. It would be very interesting to know what they talk about though.

And note this:

...I suspect the next, and quite natural, progression in the spread of Wrightism (or Wrightianity)...

So is Jim right in all this? (I am, of course, just a mere bystander, innocently reporting what I find and selecting by sheer chance what gets on this blog.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

David Instone-Brewer on the Date of Mark's Gospel

In the latest edition of Journal of Theological Studies, David Instone-Brewer reviews my Date of Mark's Gospel. I was particularly keen for interaction with someone like Instone-Brewer because unlike most scholars he has serious expertise both in NT and rabbinic literature and chapter 7 of the Date of Mark has a load of stuff on rabbinic purity law and its relevance for Mark 7. Anyone who has read his work on pre-70 rabbinic traditions, interpretation, divorce or seen him in action will know that he can be pretty formidable debating partner.

You can read the details for yourself and I have to say I really enjoyed it. What I'll do, as ever, is engage with the issues and criticisms Instone-Brewer raises.

Firstly, on my chronology of observance and non-observance in earliest Christianity, he claims the following:

However, he does not demonstrate sufficiently that this transition took place at this time in non-Pauline congregations, which is especially important for Mark because we might expect this to come from a Petrine community (if church traditions are of any value).

This is true but there's not much that can be done. The material for those associated with Peter in the earliest period is difficult enough to establish and then there is even more difficulty when trying to establish a specific theme. Also I think it is possible to to argue that general knowledge of observance and non-observance was available in earliest Christianity. For example, people knew what Paul was doing and some did not like it.

Instone-Brewer appears to accept my general argument on Mark 7.1-23 with Mk 7.19 as an attack on handwashing not food permitted in the Torah. He adds this:
An abbreviated form of teachings is certainly common in the Gospels and in rabbinic literature (especially the earliest traditions) and this reading helps to put what has often become a proof text back into its context.

This is something I have been thinking about for a while and Instone-Brewer has shown that it can be done with reference to the divorce traditions, not to mention rabbinic tradition, and Maurice Casey has doen with Aramaic sources. It is also the case that some of the rabbinic purity debates are in abbreviated forms causing some problems for later rabbinic interpreters who have to fill in the gaps. This too would show the assumptions made in the transmission of rabbinic and presumably other Jewish material from an earlier date. It will be very interestiing (for me at least) to see what Instone-Brewer somes up with when he gets to volume dating the rabbinic purity material.

On a related issue, with reference to Sabbath debates, Instone-Brewer says:
Crossley's case could be strengthened by some illustrations from rabbinic and early Christian literature. For example, there was an early rabbinic ruling allowing you to wave objects over someone on the Sabbath for the purpose of healing, even though other acts of healing were prohibited, which was amended in the mid-second century with the proviso that they must be objects which can be handled on a Sabbath (t.Shab. 7:23). This proviso was not mentioned in the earlier extremely abbreviated ruling because it was too obvious, but later rabbis felt the necessity to make it clearer. Similarly, some early church fathers felt the need to add a proviso to the ruling by Jesus against ‘all who look lustfully at a woman’ by adding ‘who is not his wife’ (Matt. 5:28 in Theophilus to Autolycus).

That sounds like a particularly interesting additional argument. I'd have to read through carefully but it certainly sounds like the kind of thing that could indeed strengthen the case.

I also like one of his final comments on Maurice Casey and myself professing no religious faith and 'what we might dismiss as ultra-conservative conclusions are certainly not a product of the author's presuppositions.' Now telling people I come to those kinds of conclusions will get me in trouble! ;-)