Gnosticism, Women, and Elaine Pagels

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

GnosticsFor today’s reflection, I outline and reflect on Elaine Pagels’ “What Became of God as Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity.”[1] In so doing I argue that while Pagels’ approach to the question of the divine feminine remains an important aspect of early Christian thinking, her characterization of the category “gnostic” remains unhelpful for framing the study of these documents. Continue reading

Book Review: Lord Jesus Christ (Hurtado)

Lord Jesus ChristMagnum opus remains a term best reserved for the crowning achievement of a scholar’s life and work, the pinnacle at the top of decades of research, writing, and sharpening arguments. These great works comprehensively examine and engage their field of work and, at their best, even redefine the field for years to come. Such is Larry W. Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. 746pp.). Hurtado’s magnum opus—now approaching fifteen years old—not only transformed the field of early Christian studies, but also continues to offer insights and ways forward for contemporary scholars. Continue reading

ECA: Second Clement

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Early Christian Authority.
The Apostolic Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers

The Second Epistle of Clement represents the oldest extant non-canonical Christian homily, a sermon that urges followers of Christ to recognize their debts to God and repent of their sins while displacing themselves from the sinful world and committing themselves to self-control and good works. This writing’s identification with Clement of Rome appears to have come from the letter’s connections with the Corinthians church, its early composition (understood generally as coming from the early second century), and perhaps with the shared quotation of an unknown scriptural source (see I Clement 23.3-4 and II Clement 11.2-4). In the extant texts Second Clement tends to follow First Clement, as in Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Hierosolymitanus and likewise follows the pattern of First Clement  in attributing the homily to Clement of Rome. Many scholars have rejected this view based primarily upon stylistic and citation differences and Second Clement’s relatively uncommon usage in the early centuries, especially among proto-orthodox fathers. As such, the author of this work is unknown, as is the place of its writing. Common suggestions place its composition in early second century Corinth or Alexandria. Continue reading

ECA: Gnostic and Anti-Gnostic

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Early Christian Authority.

Nag Hammadi CodicesSome of the clearest indications that the early Church faced disagreements and divisions have been preserved in the writings on Gnostic Christian traditions and writings opposed to such movements. While various strands of Christian thought differed in their use and interpretation of extant Jewish and Christian writings, both orthodox and gnostic groups seem to have claimed for the scriptures as a form of authority. The diverse knowledge of and use of such writings demonstrates that each group sought to preserve the uniqueness of their movement by the utilization of extant texts and traditions. In today’s post, we examine four extant works of the Gnostic/anti-Gnostic genre of literature, including the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, Epistle of the Apostles, Third Letter to the Corinthians, and Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora. Continue reading

Thinking About “Q”

Gospel WritersIf you read the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) you’ll notice a few things. First, Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain a lot (a LOT) of the same (or at least similar) stories and parables. In fact, if you sat down and compared similar how similar the Synoptics are, you would find that approximately 76% of Mark is mirrored in 41% of Luke and 45% of Matthew. In other words, a significant part of Mark’s gospel materials (the stories, parables, sayings, narratives, etc) seems to have found it’s way into Luke and Matthew’s gospels. This material is called “Triple Tradition” (or sometimes Synoptic tradition– it’s found in all three synoptic gospels). Examples of Triple Tradition include Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13), the Parable of the Sower (Mathew 13:1-9; Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8), and the Calming of the Storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). Continue reading

Comparing the Historical Jesus: Birth Narratives

This is part of our ongoing series comparing the perspectives of J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright on the Historical Jesus.

Birth of JesusCrossan understands the canonical birth narratives to be theological fictions, as Mark, Q, and the Gospel of Thomas, which he views as the earliest historical sources, do not contain any form of birth narrative. Drawing Jesus into parallel with Caesar Augustus, Crossan writes concerning the miraculous birth narratives that, “greatness later on, when everybody was paying attention, is retrojected onto earlier origins, when nobody was interested. A marvelous life and death demands and gets, in retrospect, a marvelous conception and birth.”[1] Crossan understands the birth narrative of the Lucan account as comparing the birth of Jesus to that of John, who Crossan argues to be more historically prominent.[2] Similarly, the Matthean birth and flight narrative seeks to portray Jesus in light of the life and exodus of Moses, reflecting a theological rather than historical origin.[3] Crossan argues that certain canonical gospel narratives, including the birth narrative, are not historically accurate but rather are theological narrative based upon a reading of Old Testament prophecies and events into the life and times of Jesus. Accounts of the virgin birth, the Davidic line, the magi, shepherds, angels, role of King Herod, and flight to Egypt are all derived not from historical events, but instead a specific reading of Old Testament texts[4] and general chronological data about the life of Jesus that would have been known by his earliest disciples.[5] Thus, Crossan places little historical importance on the birth narratives of Jesus, arguing that in all likelihood he was born and raised like every other Galilean Jewish peasant in the first century. Continue reading

Comparing the Historical Jesus: Sources

This is part of our ongoing series comparing the perspectives of J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright on the Historical Jesus.
John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan

Of great importance for all historical study are the sources used in forming narrative perspectives. Some historians are relatively inclusive in their acceptance of source material, drawing from a wide variety of disciplines and quality of material. Others are more selective in the criterion employed to discern source materials for their historical reconstructions. Crossan falls into the later camp, as he employs relatively few sources in his construction of the historical Jesus. Crossan believes that the fourfold narrative of the canonical gospels presents a problem for modern Christianity, and that the historical truth behind the canonical Jesus must be discovered using only the earliest materials.[1] For his construction, Crossan employs three forms of material. First, he engages in use of cross-cultural anthropology to provide a general understanding of the first century Jewish-Mediterranean context.[2] Second, he considers the accounts of the Greco-Roman and Jewish historians of the age, chiefly Tacitus and Josephus.[3] These accounts Crossan treats with a certain level of scrutiny on most points, [4] though some have argued that his critique on non-Christian historical sources only seems to appear in Crossan’s work when his construction cannot make sense of the status quo within the traditional historical record. Continue reading

Book Review: Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (Crossan)

Jesus - A Revolutionary BiographyIn Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan writes what he calls a “startling account of what we can know about the life of Jesus.” [1] 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. [2] Written for a popular audience, Jesus portrays Crossan’s personal “reconstruction of the historical Jesus derived from twenty-five years of scholarly research.” [3] 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. [4] 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.[5] 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.[6] Continue reading