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

Monday, January 29, 2007

More Scripture and Sk/cepticism Conference

More from the S&S conference. James Tabor discusses the significance of Albert Schweitzer while on April DeConick's new blog (and thanks to Loren Rosson for pointing this out), The Forbidden Gospels Blog, is a discussion of her paper on the critical study of Christian origins with reference to the issues of canonical and non-canonical literature.

Structure and agency in JSNT

The new JSNT looks particularly big with what appears to be lots of reflection on Andrew Lincoln's commentary on John. But given the recent discussions on this blog I thought I'd mention what ought be a very interesting debate:

Zeba A. Crook, 'Structure versus Agency in Studies of the Biblical Social World: Engaging with Louise Lawrence' Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2007 29: 251-275

Louise J. Lawrence, 'Structure, Agency and Ideology: A Response to Zeba Crook', Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2007 29: 277-286

Monday, January 22, 2007

Resurrection Debate: William Lane Craig at Sheffield

The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship publicity is out for William Lane Craig's tour of the UK. There are various debates up and down the country (well England), some on the existence of God, a lecture at Nottingham on what looks like the historical Jesus, something on the problem of evil, and so on. But this is the one you all want to see, right?

Was Jesus Bodily Raised from the Dead?
MAJOR DEBATE with Dr James Crossley

7.30pm, Tuesday 6th March, SHEFFIELD
University Student Union Auditorium, Western Bank,
S10 2TN

If nothing else, it should be fun. And it's free and open to all.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Some light on the Jesus Project

James Tabor has posted some further information regarding the launching of the Jesus Project at the forthcoming Scripture and Skepticism project. Here is an extract of a letter from R. Joseph Hoffmann further clarifying the situation (more details on Jesus Dynasty):

At the conclusion of the three-day conference, Dr R. Joseph Hoffmann, the current head of CSER (Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, the sponsoring organization) will announce plans for a new venture called the “Jesus Project.” The emphasis of the new project is to examine the shreds of tradition which bear on the historicity—the historical existence–of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus Project is not “a successor” to the Jesus Seminar. The ambitious work of the Westar Institute winds on. The Jesus Project does however acknowledge a certain incompleteness in the work of the JS, since, inevitably, when the sayings of Jesus have been pared down to just under twenty, or some 18%, of those attributed to him in the canonical gospels, questions inevitably arise not just about the fate of the others, but the historicity of the man himself. The Jesus Project is funded entirely by the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, its affiliates, and private donors.

It should be stressed that the JP, contrary to some advance media speculation, is not an attempt to disprove the historical Jesus. By he same token, its goal is not to create a historically plausible figure from the bits of evidence available, but rather to assess the nature and weight of the evidence itself. Attempts in the 19th and twentieth century to discredit all elements of the gospel record were pronounced a failure, though largely by a theologically driven method of inquiry. The JP will solicit the skills of New Testament scholars, historians, and social scientists in its deliberations. It acknowledges the bias and partiality of previous efforts to address this question, but regards the question as significant and deserving of greater attention than has been given it in previous decades. The proliferation of new theories of the non-historicity of Jesus, whatever their merits, and defenses of the historical Jesus whatever their weaknesses, make this an important area of investigation in the new millennium.

CSER wishes to stress that the members of the seminar will be selected by a vetting process, to be published in the form of announcements to universities, colleges and seminaries in March 2007. The davis conference does not constitute a session of the Project and speakers at this CSER conference have no formal connection to the Project.

The Seminar will meet twice a year—once in Amherst New York, and in Los Angeles California. Other venues may be announced as its work progresses and its conclusions are documented.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Theology and social context

One of the debates I keep having is the problem of explaining aspects of Christian origins largely in terms of social context. In the context of the Cold War, I can see why a stress on social context was a problem for Christians. But now I can't fully understand why it has to remain so theologically problematic now, at least that's the impression I get from verbal debates, including some on this blog. Given the usual Christian theological assumptions why should it matter if individual genius or socio-economic context is stressed as key causal factor? If God is in control of history, the world and all that, why should a theology sparked off by social context be problematical? And is there not a theological problem of stressing individual genius? I realise this may all sound very naive and I could be missing something obvious but it has been ages since I did my theology degree so forgive me.

Anything to say on this?

Deinde and the ever expanding Q

Good old, pool drawing Danny Deinde continues to interact with my book and I continue to be too stupid (I absolutely concede that criticism ;-)) to use the comments section. Now, in fear of opening the can of Q worms (now that's an images), I'll respond to this bit of Danny's comments which isn't a criticism, as Danny points out, but more for further debate:

Now here is my question-- if we are accepting the existence of Q though not as an actual document, can we speak of something 'common to Q', whether it be themes or words, etc? Especially if Maurice Casey's "dispersed set of traditions" (and I imagine Crossley is more than sympathetic to Casey in that he is his doctoral father, I believe) is applied to what we call 'Q material', can we speak of common themes? I would tend to think that if we are accepting Q as a swirling mix of oral traditions not circulating together as a unified tradition, then we cannot speak of a common theme--at least not in the sense of a purposeful common theme by the original tellers. Of course having said this, I can understand the possible existence of a common theme if the swirling Q traditions are all originating from the same person, Jesus.

In another fear of being accused of being an evangelical or something, I would actually accept - with a wee bit of qualification perhaps - the last sentence with reference to legal interpretation, especially as a lot of the synoptic material has a great deal in common in this area. My own interest is more the transmission of this material and the views this material reflects. There are some clear changes involving gentiles and law in earliest Christianity and these traditions were circulated at the same time. As this implies, one of the major reasons for chosing this material was because of its potentially early date (remember the time frame I went for was 26-50CE). For me the important question was how do these traditions deal with this effectively new social situation, especially as there seems to me to be a clear law observant attitude and little material explicitly concerned with a gentile mission right across the material labelled Q. This is part of the reason why I didn't feel the need to have a strong definition of Q because the question remains the same irrespective. As it happens, and here I could expect some response, there remains the good possibility that the passages I chose are early (the stuff on cups and tithing in particular), and if this is the case it almost does not matter if a vague Q, strong Q, or no-Q, is chosen. Put another way, the themes I outlined were across the synoptic tradition and is present in Markan and non-Markan material, then it must have come from somewhere and must be early. (Apart from my gentle nature, this was why I was keen to defuse the whole Q debate in relation to what I wrote a couple of months back: maybe I should have made this point more explicit?). Additionally, whether this can be labelled a purposeful theme or not (not an easy question to answer), it all refelcts something about the transmission of materials and what people were doing with the issue of gentiles with a theme of law observance.

Incidentally, writing this in a blog context, I feel very conscious of the possibility that someone like me who accepts Q, no matter how much it is qualified, could actually be in a minority.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Trial of Tony Blair

Last night on More 4 (repeated on Channel 4 on Thursday I think) was the ‘Trial of Tony Blair’, a drama about an egotistical and spin consumed Tony Blair standing trial for the Iraq war in 2010. Gordon Brown is the British PM and Hillary Clinton is US President. Robert Lindsay put in another great performance as Tony Blair with the many comedy moments coming from well-known Blair mannerisms. Just about everyone of any political stripe (including Brown and Cameron – after last year’s negative spin Brown notably comes across as indecisive) gets sent up without going too over-the-top. Blair, a recent and slightly cynical convert to Catholicism, is haunted by the Iraq war. Throughout there is tension and ambiguity as to why he is haunted. There is the problem of the horrifically high numbers of deaths which plays on his mind but also Blair fequently worries about his legacy and how people remember him. In the same scene Blair is almost evoking sympathy through being guilty but then he starts talking about how people will remember him. Repeatedly he talks about Iraq being ‘the right thing to do’ (a very typical phrase).

Tony Blair’s memoirs sounded very entertaining. The publisher did not like them and thought people might think Blair was weird for saying that after a night on intense praying he knew it was right to build a fifth terminal at Heathrow. The Blair phrase ‘the hand of history’ returns too many times in his memoirs. The publisher claimed no one would buy them if they remained so weird. Somehow, I doubt that.

There was some very effective uses of music. For a start they used what is probably my favourite song, at least over many years I never get tired of it, namely The Beat, ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’. The song itself is all about delusion and mental breakdown. And so is used early on as Blair faces himself thinking about all this. Another song used is Johnny Cash, ‘I Hung My Head’, all about the guilt suffered after the murder of an innocent man but with religious redemption as a remaining hope for the life to come.

Other bits of Blairite policy are mocked such as policies involving police powers. One memorable scene was Blair having to wait in Accident and Emergency for 4 hours and complain he was surrounded by blood and shit. He asked why they didn’t go private, Cherie Blair (though self-identifies as Cherie Booth at one crucial moment) says there isn’t a private A&E which leaves Blair puzzled over how he had missed out on that one when in office.

The programme knows that the key thing is, ‘could it really happen?’ The big problem, it seems to me, is that in reality no one would let it happen for the obvious reason that major powers regularly if not always have an aggressive and probably not legal foreign policy. If one goes, so they all go. This was one of the problems here in the UK over a trial for Pinochet (who gets a notable mention in the programme) was that there was a worry others might follow, e.g. Thatcher (who gave a heart-warming defence – still in real life by the way – of her old mass murdering friend). And surely there is no way the US would allow a former president to face similar charges. The programme gets around this (as did the US in real life?!) by pointing out that the US does not recognise the International Criminal Court. Moreover, the (Hillary) Clinton administration won’t back Blair for internal political reasons, namely worries about anti-war feeling among the electorate, and not for any idealism. Similarly in the UK Brown won’t veto the arrest of Blair due to behind-the-scene wrangling, electorate worries, defining a new Brown era, and even revenge for Blair’s behaviour in the 2010 election (Blair was worried that Brown might get a bigger majority than he did so leaked a damaging email).

But even so – and this is the real problem – would any leader of a powerful country really allow such a thing? Once one big western name can be done for illegalities at the international level, then so can another and given the history of international intervention and support, it would be a radically different western leader who did not do something they shouldn’t have done in terms of foreign intervention. Still, should the media want astronomical ratings then the real trial of Blair would certainly pull them in.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Scripture and Skepticism and the Jesus Project

In the previous post I mentioned about the blurred boundaries between the religious make up of the Jesus Seminar and the forthcoming Jesus Project who are apparently involved with the Scripture and Skepticism conference. But things are more blurred than I thought because James Tabor, a participant in the S&S conference, writes:

Although I am quite happy to be ranked among my superiors as “some of the biggest names in biblical studies today,” I think there is a bit of confusion between the upcoming conference, Scripture and Skepticism, at the University of California at Davis, and the formation of a group called The Jesus Project. Although I and lots of others will be reading papers or giving responses at the conference, this is the first I have heard of any Project of this description. I do think those involved will need to choose a new name since “The Jesus Project” as well as “The Jesus Film Project” are both efforts of evangelical Christian groups trying to carry out worldwide evangelism.

A while back I also received promotional information aside from the wider media promotion where the Scripture and Skepticism conference is tied in with the Jesus Project. But these comments obviously change at least my perceptions of what is happening. Now I have no idea who the scholars making up the Jesus Project (non-evangelical one) are. Perhaps they have broken away from the liberal end (as their comments on the Jesus Seminar might imply).

Can anyone out there shed any light on who will be participating in the non-evangelical Jesus Project? Anyone out there a member?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Danny and his Definitions

Being ok at some computer-y things and bad at others, I have to respond to Danny Deinde here because (shamefully) I don't know how to...erm...post a comment.

Here goes:
Okay I am very slowly making my way through James Crossley's new book Why Christianity Happened. As I was a big fan of Rodney Stark's sociological account of Christian origins, I know I will enjoy this book. I actually considered for a time going into sociology instead of biblical studies, so I have a fair grasp of sociological methods.

I am a big fan of Stark's book and a lot of his sociology too (as is clear in the last chapter of the book).

James and I also got along at SBL and I enjoy winning these secular discussions when I argue with him or Berlinerblau or whoever ;-)

Winning? But not pool, eh, Danny!

Before I ask my question and hope for J.C. to answer, just a small critique of his book. One of the main thrusts of the book is that social sciences have not been fully utilized in the discipline and some biblical scholars, at least in the past, were wholly ignorant of s.s. methods. That's why I would have suggested a glossary for this book-- if you want readers of biblical studies to become familiar with s.s. methods via this book, then we need to understand the terms. One thing that always frustrated me about sociology was the 'ismations' and 'ationisms'-- An entirely new word with wide ranging connotations can be created just by adding 'ism' or 'ation' to it. I wasn't sure what all you were implying when you use the word 'Bolshevism' or 'McCarthyism' beyond the general and obvious referents. But maybe I'm just being nitpicky.

As it happens, I actually did mean the Bolshevism etc. in the general and obvious sense. I wasn't using them polemically or technically, just as basic historical terms (i.e. NT scholarship in the times of McCarthyism or McCarthy-style thought, NT scholarship in the conext of Bolshevism and the Cold War etc.). I am understanding you right here Danny?

As for a glossary, I am against this for my own work because, like Danny seems also to think, I really don't like technical terms as they frequently make the debate much more complicated than it really is (there are a few mildly sarcastic comments in chapter 5 which might give this away). I think a lot of the ideas from social sciences are very, very useful while being pretty simple (and I mean that in a very positive sense). Why over-complicate them?

I would also say this is one of those works that uses social sciences when they have been shown to be useful or could be useful. It is not a full blown social scientific approach like (say) something from the Context Group. Talking of the Context Group it is this group of people and others who have been presenting various methods from the social sciences to NT scholarship and they would be best at giving the definitions if required (as they more or less have done).

On to my question. Early on in J.C.'s book (sorry, don't have it in front of me) he talks about the dominance of the Christian perspective in biblical studies. Of course I will not argue with it. But then he goes on to say that the results of even the more liberal strains of scholarship like the Jesus Seminar is still 'Christian'.

What do others think of this? Can the results of the Jesus Seminar still be labeled as Christian or confessional scholarship? (some wouldn't call it scholarship at all!) What is our reference point for defining something 'Christian' anyway? Is it the common creeds, the agreed upon fundamentals-- however they be interpreted?

I would tend to think the findings of the Jesus Seminar are 'Christian' only insofar as they aggressively spread their findings to the church-- and by church I mean John Spong's denomination. They want to add works to the biblical canon, they don't believe Jesus spoke about eschatology, they thought he was a traveling sage who didn't enlist followers, barely said anything at all, did not rise from the dead, and was probably an illegitimate child. Now granted, scholars can argue and defend any position they want and many have done so very well and their scholarship is respected. But I think the Seminar has passed the point of being labeled 'Christian' for their scholarly findings. If their findings are still to be broadly labeled 'Christian', then so would any scholarship that has to do with Jesus, Crossley's included.

In broad terms I would see the Jesus Seminar as a liberal Christianity. Funk and Crossan and others were quite explicit in wanting to reform Christianity etc. and want to make an alternative theology available. Now of course various individuals are atheists or something non-Christian but there was a definite liberal Christian feel to the questions and answers. The sending of memeber to churches is another example.

Now there are some interesting developments. Some people we might have associated with the Jesus Seminar are joining up with the Christian Origins project and the new debate which will appraently question whether Jesus existed or not (and note the distincing from the Jesus Seminar). There is some association with some very sceptical non-religious types. But there remain some of the liberal Christian scholars. It will be interesting to see how this develops and how it will become defined and how members will define themselves. [UPDATE: SEE NOW THE ABOVE POST]. Danny is hitting on an interesting point of definition though because hard and fast defintions will inevitably break down with more and more detail.

I wonder if self-definition/identification counts here or not? If scholars identify themselves as Christian and see their work as having some significance for the church then that may be a useful definition. My approach was a little different: it was the statistical issues and their impact that interested me most.

But back to the present and past. I would describe myself differently from Spong etc. and the liberal elements and I don't think you could lable my work Christian. Here's why: I don't really care about what is and is not in the canon, I've no desire to reform Christianity and all that. These reform things may be honourable tasks but they are not my concern.

Also, there is a problem when you take the view that studying Jesus or the Bible is 'Christian'. As ever a couple of extreme examples can be useful. What do we someone who studies Stalin? Plenty of modern liberal democatic scholars study Stalin but are not Stalinists. If I want to study Hitler, what does that make me? Obviously, many non-fascists study Hitler and you couldn't (obviously) be described as fascists. I'm interested in Jesus and Christian origins for historical reasons (among others) but that alone cannot make my work 'Christian'.

What do you reckon, Danny?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Exeter CU suspended

'Christian Union takes legal action over suspension'
Alexandra Smith
Friday January 5, 2007

A Christian Union suspended from using student facilities at the University of Exeter is taking legal action against the student guild under the Human Rights Act, it emerged today.

The Exeter CU was suspended from the official list of student societies, had its student bank account frozen, and was banned from free use of student guild premises because Exeter's student guild claims the CU constitution and activities did not conform to its equal opportunities policies.

The rest from the Guardian article is here.

I mention this not because I want to make any value judgment but because a) I was at Exter for a short time and, obviously, many theology students were in the Christian Union and b) this debate could presumably spread across the country. I know several Christian Union members at Sheffield so this could be a upcoming problem. The Christian Union students I know have explained to me the splits and politics involved with the CU and related groups (all to do with evangelicals and charismatics, right?) and, if I remember rightly, I'm pretty sure that the CU remain the biggest Christian student group, and probably one of the biggest student union groups. Anyway, the whole issue seems to have a number of the usual tensions surrounding free speech and liberalism that will be present across the UK universities and it may well be worth watching to see what happens with this one.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Biblioblogs interview...

...with me. Here.


One one Presbyterian blog there has been some questioning of WJK and the publishing of naughty material (here and here). E.g. Why Christianity Happened. For example:

Here’s the provoking example from today:

Two times lately, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) has released books that embarrass Presbyterians and propound theology in contradiction to our Reformed convictions: in July, Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11 by David Ray Griffin, and in November, Why Christianity Happened, by James G. Crossley. The publishing house’s board of directors actually repudiated Griffin’s 9/11 book, but kept right on selling it.

I'll fairly predictably leave Griffin's book to one side and mention my own and defend a religious publisher for publishing something like this. The reason why is that this is an academic discipline and publishers like WHJ engage with an academic audeince. Therefore, I don't see why they should also publish material that would run contrary to the beliefs of a certain type of religious person. Think of the opposite: secular publishers publish religious and faith based books and quite right too. I know they are supposed to be more open in one sense but if a (say) reformed publisher did not do this then they are effectively damned in the academic world by closing down one side of the debate, not only in academic terms but for their own apparent audience. Do religious folk really need to be sheltered from non-religious views? Are they really that fragile? Unlikely. I interact with such people all the time and they are only too happy to tell me where I go wrong and good for them. And clearly given the amount of books dealing with non-religious or liberal people at least some presumably don't want to avoid alternative views. I could understand more if it was a publisher trying to get a minority view heard but the evangelical or reformed or whatever have a solid base and need not worry.