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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Christian Origins List

The new Christian Origins list run by Bill Arnal and Zeba Crook has already provoked a bit of debate and reaction (more specifically its description) but it is worth noting again:

This list focuses on the social and historical location and the earliest Jesus communities, the development of their thought concerning Jesus, the development of their writings, the spread of their movement, and related topics: in other words, the stuff of Christian Origins. This is a moderated and scholarly list: lurking is welcome, but contributors to the list will either have knowledge of the languages, methodologies, and history of scholarship pertinent to the academic study of Christian Origins, or a willingness to become conversant in these. Contributors to this list attempt to understand the the various phenomena of Christians Origins exclusively from an humanist perspective: to explain the rise of Christianity and the development of Christian beliefs without invoking or relying upon such assumptions such as the existence of God, the reality of miracles, foreknowledge of the future, resuscitations of the dead, or any unique status accorded to Jesus, his earliest followers, or Christianity as a religion. This list takes the following quote of Jacques Berlinerblau with the utmost seriousness: “[T]he academic study of the Bible . . . desperately needs an infusion of learned critics who are willing to draw blood . . . Such an endeavor would not necessarily be exclusionary. All researchers would be welcome to participate as long as they pronounce something approximating a secular shahada, or profession of faith: to love critique more than God” (The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers must Take Religion Seriously [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005], p. 139).

Obviously I have interests here and I have wondered what a more explicitly 'secular' discourse might look like so this should prove to be of some interest. Significantly (for me) is that there are a fair few people of this mindset now around which may suggest that these are interesting times for the historical study of Christian origins.


Blogger steph said...

To draw blood?!!!! I don't think so - I'm a pacifist.

March 13, 2007

Blogger J. B. Hood said...

"love critique more than God"--wow, shouldn't be too hard for most of us.

James, Just came across Bockmuehl's book on Gentiles and Jews and early Xian ethics--wondering if I could request a blog review of this from you.

March 14, 2007

Blogger James Crossley said...

JB, is that Jewish Halakah in the Gentile Churches (or something like that)?

March 15, 2007

Blogger Alex Dalton said...

_Jewish Law in Gentile Churches_. Some of the chapters are previously published essays (like the one on "Leave the Dead to Bury Their Dead" - on which, see Crispin Fletcher-Louis's response in JSNT).

On the new list, I can't say I'm too excited and here's why. All of those viewpoints would be welcome on crosstalk; they'd just get criticized by a variety of people who may not share the same assumptions, which I see as a healthy and necessary thing. I hope it doesn't turn into an insulated safe haven for a bunch of "Q 1,2, & 3"-assuming, non-apocalyptic, wisdom-only teaching Jesus renditions, and closet mythicists. I already see a few members being allowed through the gates that seem a bit sub-par relative to regular crosstalk contributors.

I don't really get the quotation about loving critique more than God. On crosstalk, they say this wasn't intended to exclude Christians, but if that's interpreted literally, it certainly does exclude almost all of them. But if the quotation is just meant to emphasize that one should take a rational approach to historical matters regardless of worldview commitments, on that interpretation, I doubt it will give anyone much pause when considering joining. I presume that most people on crosstalk at least like to think they already do that. It looks suspciously like an ambiguous sort of scarecrow for believing scholars to me.

Anyway, I just think this isn't really too in line w/your vision, James. I see the need that you emphasize for more secular Biblical scholarship as having a much greater influence, and a much better chance of actually *being* critical scholarship, carried out within the wider diversity of the scholarly community, not by branching off into a sect that shares so many of the same presuppositions and becoming the online version of the Jesus Seminar. Of course, to do the former successfully takes a philosophical acumen, extreme patience, a sincere open-mindedness, and a congeniality that are all very difficult to cultivate. However, I do think you do very well in all of these areas, and thus, have the best chance of communication and persuasion.


March 15, 2007

Blogger Alex Dalton said...

You know, I was going to refrain from saying "and good luck with Bill Arnal as the moderator", but his latest moderation is a bit extreme and I had to chime in here. No discussion of whether or not Jesus was a Pharisee, and no talk of the Jesus tomb? These folks are directed to crosstalk? Its odd that Zeb would say that "what distinguishes this list from XTalk is in part the broader range of

Bill tells us that "Such questions, after all, tend to assume that trivia about Jesus is actually important in any way, an assumption that (of course) derives from Christian belief."

This seems a bit ridiculous. The importance of details concerning Jesus should be obvious to anyone studying the time period, let alone the origin of Christianity, or the man himself. History is in the details -- all of them. Apparently Bill is bored with Jesus and wants to aim his lense somewhere else. That's fine, but this kind of extreme idiosyncracy dictating topic selection on the list exemplifies more of a desire to skew history than to engage in it in an allegedly broader fashion. After all, the disconnect between "the historical Jesus" and "Christian Origins" that Bill and many others in the group apparently subscribe to, is hardly something that is accepted by the majority of scholars of Christian Origins(even secular ones), and Bill earlier invokes this criterion of debatibility amongst scholars against the very discussion of Jesus as Pharisee. So a fairly contentious and minority scholarly viewpoint is here acting as a filter for doing history.

It'll be interesting to see where Bill, if allowed by Zeb, will take this list. Perhaps he should ban any talk of the historical Jesus at all in describing Christian origins, given that he apparently doesn't think reference to this individual is all that explanatorily helpful. We could call it "methodological mythicism". If something like this could be done, the (desired?) leap into full blown mythicism would be much safer.


March 16, 2007

Blogger James Crossley said...

If JB does mean Jewish Law in Gentile Churches (thanks Alex) then I may do. I'm pretty familiar with a bit of it anyway (esp. let the dead, James/Antioch, and divorce essays) and law is one of my favourite topics. I could also add Crispin F-L's response and Bockmuehl's short response back in the subsequent JSNT (iif I'm in a good mood).

Incidentally, JB, any particular reason?

March 16, 2007

Blogger James Crossley said...

Alex, I see where you are coming from but the Christian Origins list is designed to be different from XTalk, and not in competition with XTalk. While people are more than wlecome to challenge the assumptions, there remain a variety anyway. Me, Bill, Zeb and a variety of others will certainly take different views on things (see e.g. the discussion of whether Jesus should be deemed a significant figure). This is why it isn't a safe haven for just one particular group of people.

And I'm always happy to argue these things beyond the list and on this blog where weirdly I'm usually in debate with evangelicals and believers in general.

Obviously, I would agree with you on the massive variety of perspectives and that is one thing I would like to see in the discipline as a whole. But I would think of this more as an interest group. When things get to publication or conference stage then the ideas can open up even further. But I see no problem in the abstract with like-minded people getting together and hammering out ideas. Think of different political groups.

Or think of evengelical conferences or even journals. Major scholars have been part of these but also continue to be active in the big non-party line conferences (SBL, SNTS, BNTC etc.).

I agree with Bill on his latest moderation. The topic was designed to move away from details of Jesus' life and from the Jesus Tomb. One good reason is that these are more XTalk topics, as you mentioned. Bill's point about the details of Jesus' life is important because CO does discuss the slightly more theoretical question of whether these issues are important for understanding the emergence of Christian origins. That has been discussed on the list and differing views have come forward from Bill, Zeb and me. But the general portrait, with all the accompanying details of who Jesus was is a more biographical concern that is well covered in XTalk. But if cases were made for why aspects of Jesus' teaching could/could not have led to the subsequent movement, that is a bit different.

On Jesus as Pharisee, I just wonder if that debate was really going anywhere. I tried to get a debate going over the relevance of the category Charismatic Leader in relation to explaining Christian Origins but it just went off in the typical direction of describing the historical Jesus. There's nothing wrong with that but there's no need to start a new discussion group for it.

March 16, 2007


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