There is no shortage of literature available on the Christian New Testament. Whether you peruse Amazon or wander through your local bookstore, there is no denying that scholars, pastors, and writers aplenty have published their thoughts on the history and meaning of the New Testament. How do we make sense of all this literature? One way involves the consultation of conglomerate sources: those volumes written from a variety of perspectives by a number of scholars whose insights balance and inform one another. The Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014. 771 pages), edited by Margaret Aymer, Synthia Briggs Kittredge, and David Sanchez, stands as an excellent example of a New Testament reference work worth engaging. Continue reading
A longstanding problem for those attempting to study early Christianity involves the obscurity of the first centuries of the Common Era. Though nearly constantly reflected upon and studied since those years faded into the past, there remain numerous gaps in our understanding of the world and context of Jesus and his earliest followers. Unfortunately, this fact becomes especially noticeable when examining conceptions of how Second Temple Judaism and those living in Ancient Palestine impacted the subsequent shape of early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. To help address this gap and to introduce the recent textual and archaeological findings from this important period comes Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods: Life, Culture, and Society: Volume One (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), edited by David A. Fiensy and James Riley Strange. Continue reading
It’s that time of the semester again: presentations are being given, classes are wrapping up, and papers are due. The cumulative weight of the academic term is bearing down on students and teachers alike. And the holidays are coming, plans to see family are being made, and packages are beginning to arrive in the mail. I’ve recently received a number of packages in the mail, with gifts of a different sort–books to read and review.
Writing history is something of a difficult task, in no small measure due to the incredible amount of information that historians must shift through and subsequently leave out when offering their account of the past. Even a rote retelling of a single day in the life of a human leaves out certain contexts and events which occurred; how much harder is summarizing hundreds or thousands of years filled with the lives of millions of human beings and condensing their stories into mere pages. And yet, this is the task to which historians devote themselves. And it is the historical project of the Christian Church to which Tim Dowley and his team of contributors turn to in the second edition of the Introduction to the History of Christianity (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2013). Continue reading
In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan writes what he calls a “startling account of what we can know about the life of Jesus.”  Crossan, who currently holds a Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies position at DePaul University in Chicago, was co-chair of the Jesus Seminar from 1985 until 1996, and has written over twenty-five books on the historical Jesus and early Christianity.  Written for a popular audience, Jesus portrays Crossan’s personal “reconstruction of the historical Jesus derived from twenty-five years of scholarly research.”  In this work Crossan seeks to outline the life of the historical Jesus that he believes lay beneath the canonical Gospel accounts in a manner as accurate and intellectually honest as possible.  Upon reading this book, the reader will see that Crossan has assembled a variety of interpretations that, when combined with his theological and philosophical presuppositions and understanding of the canonical Gospel narratives, makes for a potentially persuasive and fairly historical narrative of the life of the historical Jesus.
As a part of the Jesus Seminar, Crossan’s name understandably carries with it a certain stigma in certain circles of theology and education. It must be noted that this review attempts to digest and comment upon this particular work from an academic and literary perspective. This review will not provide exegesis of Crossan’s theological or philosophical assumptions and considerations, but will only comment upon the coherency of his arguments as presented in a book intended for popular consumption. Of primary concern for this review will be considering its purposefulness and adherence to such general guidelines of any introductory study of the Gospels, such as those presented by Mark Allan Powell in his work, The Fortress Introduction to the Gospels. Continue reading
While much of the field of the History of Christianity (and indeed, history in general) focuses on the great people and ideas of the tradition or period being studied, the genre of “people’s history” seeks to raise awareness of the ways in which ordinary people have lived throughout time and space. Admirable as this project sounds, it is not without its problems. In my experience, many “people’s histories” tend to make significant assumptions concerning the materials they are handling, most notably that the great persons/doctrines of a tradition represent the elite (in this case, the upper class and/or clergy) and these persons and practices were neither accepted nor practiced by the everyday Christians. Such accounts thus tend to draw strong distinctions between the received history of doctrine and practice and “the way things really were,” claims which often seem based upon conjecture rather than historical evidence. This is in contrast to a more balanced view which, while admitting that differing people often have distinct nuances to their faith and practice, nonetheless concludes that the great people and doctrines of the Christian Church are indeed great because they were affirmed by the community of the faithful comprising the Christian Church.
With this paradigm in mind, I must admit that I began reading A People’s History of Christianity: One Volume Student Edition (Denis R. Janz, Editor. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2014) with some skepticism. Upon engaging this volume, I found that despite its occasional slips into the rhetoric of “elite clergy versus everyone else,” the contributors nevertheless do an admirable job of offering balanced insights into the lives of everyday Christians throughout the history of the Church that shows their connections with the received Christian tradition. Whereas “standard Church history” will introduce students to the theology and writings of Augustine, a “people’s history” remains more interested in what parishioners listening to Augustine preach in Hippo would have actually believed and how they lived out their Christian faiths. This Student Edition offers selections from the seven-volume Fortress People’s History of Christianity that provide accessible and useful material for engaging a side of Christian faith that is often overlooked. Covering everything from the earliest Jesus Movement to the Twenty-First Century, Ancient Judea and Rome to Latin America and Africa, and topics ranging from baptism to power, this volume encompasses a plethora of materials worthy of study and reflection. Continue reading