Jesus and Crossan (Part I)

Around Easter, various theories about the life, death, and (non) resurrection of Jesus tend to find their way onto various media outlets. Sometimes these theories are outlandish and little more than attempts at attention; other times claims about Jesus come from more respectable sources. In today’s and tomorrow’s posts, I examine one of the more respectable voices on the Historical Jesus (though a voice I often disagree with): John Dominic Crossan and his book Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.
John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan

In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, scholar John Dominic Crossan presents his reconstruction of the historical Jesus. Citing the fourfold accounts of the canonical gospels as presenting a problem for the Christian tradition when trying to determine the historical narrative of Jesus’ life,[1] Crossan endeavors to make use of historical-critical methodology in determining the true narrative, words, and actions of the historical Jesus. Considering the cross-cultural anthropology, Greco-Roman and Jewish history, and literary and textual considerations of canonical and non-canonical material,[2] Crossan seeks to find accounts that fits the known historical record, cultural expectations, and presents material unique enough to demonstrate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Crossan operates with a set of presuppositions that some may find difficult to accept, such as his philosophical naturalism on some points. Overall however, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography presents a narrative of the life of Jesus that, given the materials and criteria used by Crossan, presents a problematic image of the historical Jesus. Continue reading

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Early Christianity, Method, and the Body

Ancient Jesus Image

Earliest Extant Image of Jesus (here as Good Shepherd)

The academic study of the ancient world remains a field full of exciting realms of consideration. This remains especially true for historians of the early Jesus Movement and Christian Church, where numerous fields of study are in need of critical exploration, including conceptions of the human body and sexuality within early Christianity. As a means to further study of this period, in recent decades scholars have turned to consideration of the ways in which the body and human sexuality were conceived by early Christians. In this article, I employ the works of Bernadette Brooten, Peter Brown, and Dale Martin to offer insights into areas of critical needs in this field. As these and numerous other scholars have pointed out, the need for clear, critical, and contextualized definitions and an approach devoid of assumed chronological superiority are necessary considerations for future study of the body and sexuality in the ancient world. Here I argue that key to critically thinking about conceptions of body and sexuality in early Christianity are answering questions concerning the role the historical-critical method and the place of ethics in such a study. Continue reading

Book Review: Ancient Christian Worship (McGowan)

Ancient Christian Worship (McGowan)There are few times in history so important and yet so obscure as the years following the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, when the movement bearing his name transformed from a band of several dozen followers hiding in terror into an international community that would shape the subsequent history of the world. Despite the paucity of evidence from this period, historians and theologians alike continually return to the earliest years of the Jesus Movement, attempting to ascertain precisely who was doing what and how they were doing it. To help bring clarity to the all important aspect of Christian worship from this period comes Andrew B. McGowan’s masterful Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014). Continue reading

Book Review: Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods (Ed. Fiensy and Strange)

Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Early Mishnaic PeriodsA 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

Predestination and Freewill: Modern Scholars on Romans 7-9, Part II

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

BookshelvesMany context scholars emphasize the importance of remembering Paul’s Jewish-worldview[1] in reading and interpreting Romans.[2] Bruce Malina and John Pilch argue in their Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, that each of his letters would have been, to some degree, “pre-read” by collectivist recipients of the Ancient Mediterranean context.[3] Malina and Pilch believe that Paul was primarily apostle to the Jews living among the Gentiles, and thus place a strong emphasis on the elect status of the people of Israel within Romans.[4] Within his social setting, Malina and Pilch argue that Paul’s message was one of social and religious innovation and not conversion, which he only worked within the elect of Israel, though among the Gentile people outside of Israel.[5] Thus in commenting on Romans 7, Malina and Pilch argue that Paul writes concerning the relationship of the elect before Jesus’ death and resurrection and the current condition of those who have now becomes slaves to death. “Paul describes the before/after situation in terms of persons under the control of others (husband, slave owner, possessing spirit) who lose their control by death. A dead husband, a former slave owner, and an exorcised possessing spirit lose their entitlements to control others.”[6] Malina and Pilch read Romans eight in a similar manner, understanding Paul’s primary concern in light of “us” versus “them,” the elect controlled by the spirit and those controlled by the flesh.[7] In chapter nine, Malina and Pilch argue that Paul focuses solely on the elect of Israel as a people group marked off by the common features of “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs, and according to the flesh, the Messiah, Jesus.”[8] Regarding Romans 9:19-24, Paul’s construction of God indicates that He chooses whom to call and not call, and the comparison of the potter clearly indicated to the ancient Mediterranean audience that people have nothing to say about how God forms them. Thus, Paul can conclude that based upon his calling that God’s call goes to all of us Israelites, not only from those resident in Judea, but also from those resident among non-Israelites.[9] Thus Malina and Pilch’s social science commentary emphasizes Paul’s Jewish qualities in such a way that heightens the distinctive characteristics of Israel as the chosen people of God, though in a modified manner through Christ. Continue reading

Book Review: The Joy of the Gospel (Pope Francis)

The Joy of the GospelFew people alive today are more popular and polarizing than Pope Francis. No one seems sure quite how to respond to the Bishop of Rome, nor are they sure whose side (if any) he is taking in ongoing theological and cultural debates. Sensational media claims about Francis “revolutionizing” the Catholic faith are overblown, to be sure, but Catholics of a staunch traditionalist bent also right in noting that the current successor to Peter is no mirror image of his papal predecessors. It was thus with great anticipation that I read Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel, if for no other reason than to engage the Pope on his own terms. Continue reading

Rethinking Vinegrowers and Violence (Part Two)

Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Collaert

Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Collaert

Having examined Schottroff’s interpretive concerns in yesterday’s post, we now turn to her reinterpretation of the Parable of the Vinegrowers in The Parables of Jesus (Trans. Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.), in which she critiques a traditional allegorical interpretation of the parable, and reconsiders its meaning for today’s context. The crux of her reinterpretation argues that this parable speaks not to the allegorical rejection of the people of Israel, but rather cries out against the multilayered forms of Roman violence suffered by Israel. Continue reading

Rethinking Vinegrowers and Violence (Part One)

The Parables of JesusLuise Schottroff, in her work The Parables of Jesus (Trans. Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.) writes that the parables of Jesus of Nazareth contain a wealth of information concerning the meaning of his proclamation and vision, information that has historically been both influential and misunderstood (1). In as much as there are as many interpretations of the parables of Jesus as there are New Testament and parable scholars, the purpose of this paper is to examine Schottroff’s feminist perspective in her examination and reinterpretation of the Parable of the Vinegrowers found in the Gospel According to Mark 12:1-12. In her interpretation, Schottroff argues that this parable speaks not to an allegorically based rejection of the people of Israel in favor of the Christian Church, but against multilayered forms of violence against the people of Israel that calls those people to endure Roman oppression and seek non-violent forms of effecting demands. Continue reading

Cultural Differences and Biblical Interpretation

The Colosseum, Rome

The Colosseum, Rome

One of the biggest challenges for those studying the Bible involves reading and interpreting the scriptures in a manner consistent with their original context. Modern readers are distanced from the earliest written messages of the Christian tradition not only by time and space, but also by key cultural differences. In their book Understanding the Social World of the New Testament, Dietmar Neufeld and Rochard E. DeMaris compile a number of sources from scholars concerned with discovering the cultural understanding and context of the social world from which the writings of the New Testament came.[1] In this post, we outline some of the most important differences between ancient Mediterranean culture and the modern North American life, as well as some examples of how this cultural understanding can contribute to the interpretation of the New Testament. Continue reading

The Catholic Reformation of the Individual

St. Peters Basilica

St. Peters Basilica

The sixteenth century was for Western Europe a time of much socio-theological consternation and change. Numerous theological reformations occurred (or sought to occur) in a variety of social contexts, for a plethora of reasons, and employing numerous methodologies. One such reformation was that of the institutional Catholic Church under the auspices of such leaders as Girolamo Savonarola and Ignatius of Loyola. These two theologians, whilst occasionally interacting with the theologies of other contemporary reformation attempts apart from the Catholic church, crafted reformation theologies within the institution of the Catholic Church. In this essay we examine some of the reforming perspectives of these men, noting that central to their conception of reformation within the Catholic Church was the reformation of the individual Christian. Continue reading