Baker Academic

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for This Week

The basic fact is that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish thinker and teacher appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed. That it became, through the intervening years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used sometimes as an instrument of oppression, must not tempt us into believing that it was thus in the mind and life of Jesus. 'In him was life; and the life was the light of men.' Wherever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them.

                         ~Howard Thurman

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Congratulations, Mike Holmes!—Chris Keith

Juan Hernandez shared on Facebook that Mike Holmes is retiring at Bethel University and also shared this video.

I'd like to take a moment and offer my sincere gratitude to Mike Holmes for his 35 1/2 years of service not only to Bethel but to the field of New Testament scholarship, especially text criticism.  Mike is a great scholar, but he's also an absolutely wonderful person.  He has encouraged me personally from the very beginning of my career and I've always been appreciative of that.  We've continued to be friends, and I was even honored to pose with him in 2015 at the SNTS in Amsterdam.  (Everyone was posing with their spouses.  Since our spouses weren't there, we posed together.)  Congratulations, Mike!!  Tell us where the SBL party will be, and we'll be there!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Render to Caesar....

Today friend of the program, Loren Rosen III posted this on Facebook. Not only is it an interesting conversation starter, I thought that his survey question summarized the various views quite nicely. He writes:

Happy Tax Day. I “rendered to Caesar” this morning.

But here’s something to ponder: Jesus command to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”, was... what?

(A) A clear distinction between religion and politics, implying that Caesar’s taxes were lawful and should be paid. Jesus was trying to transform the individual heart above all. While he opposed exploitation of the poor, he identified the problem not in sociopolitical structures but in individuals. (Martin Hengel, Victory over Violence.)

(B) An enigma which deliberately left the issue unresolved. Jesus wanted to make people think for themselves and decide on their own if Caesar and God were compatible. On top of this, he “probably slipped the coin into his purse while they were haggling over what he told them.” (Robert Funk, The Five Gospels.)

(C) A paradoxical command to revolt and pay taxes at the same time. Jesus was protesting both against Caesar as a false lord and against tax-evading revolutionaries. His punchline meant: “Pay back Caesar as he deserves, and give God the divine honor claimed by Caesar.” In so doing he was implying that tax-evading revolutionaries were the true compromisers with Rome. (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God.)

(D) A cryptic way of saying that Caesar’s taxes were unlawful but should be paid “with contempt” in order to rid the land of idolatry. Jesus’ punchline meant: “Give Caesar back his filthy coins, and give your total allegiance to God, so that Caesar and his coins may be removed from God’s land.” People should pay their taxes in contempt or as an act of non-violent resistance, meaning that Caesar had no valid claim on people, even if he was entitled to his filthy currency. (William Herzog, Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God.)

(E) A cryptic way of saying that Caesar’s taxes were unlawful and should not be paid at all. Jesus’ punchline meant: “Give Caesar nothing, God everything.” Jesus believed no one could serve two masters at the same time (Mt. 6:24/Lk. 16:13) and followed the early Israelite tradition that since God was king, no one else could be (Judg. 8:22-23; I Sam 8:4-7; Hos. 8:4). (Richard Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence.)

Thanks for your permission to repost this, Loren!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday Post: Was the Last Supper a Passover Meal?

One of the primary reasons it took me almost ten years to write Jesus and the Last Supper (Eerdmans, 2015), is because it took time to work through the complex debate over the date of the Last Supper.

Was the Last Supper a Jewish Passover meal? Or was it celebrated 24 hours in advance? Do John and the Synoptic Gospels contain different chronologies of the death of Jesus?

Here's an interview that I did for this year's celebration of Passover that gives an overview of some of my findings.

And to all those who celebrate, best wishes for a sacred Triduum.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

Study of the historical Jesus belongs to the diversity and pluralism of modernity, or, if you prefer, postmodernity, and there can be no easy appeal to the consensus on much of anything. The biblical guild is not a group-mind thinking the same thoughts. Nor are the experts a single company producing a single product, "history." As Chesterton says somewhere: "There is no history; there are only historians." The unification of academic opinion would be almost as miraculous as the union of the churches. If you are holding your breath waiting for the consensus of the specialists, you will pass out.

   ~Dale C. Allison Jr.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Issue 14.3 of JSHJ

Check out the latest issue of Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

My Next Book

Look, you should really read Near Christianity. It's good fun and it would make my publisher happy. Or maybe just pretend that you did and write a nice Amazon review. It's what complete strangers do for each other, after all.

But if you are too busy to pretend to have read my latest book. Do the next best thing: pretend that you want to read my next book! 

The book will be put out by Hendrickson, it is due out by the end of the year, and my co-author and I are presently revising the final draft. I cannot tell you the title yet but here is a word cloud based on the manuscript:

Look at all those fancy words!

The book is by me and a Jewish friend of mine. Here are a few topics we cover.

Rules for the road in inter-religious dialogue.

Differences in memory between groups.

Postures we take in dialogue.



Dirty-hippie liberals.

More soon....


[CLARIFICATION: this post refers to my "other next book". I should have been more clear on this point because I've recently referred to a different project in a recent post.]

Monday, March 27, 2017

I (Still) Believe on Sale for $2

Attn: eBook readers: “I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship” by Byron and Lohr and is only $1.99 right now:

The deal ends at 11:59pm ET on March 28.

Listen to me now and believe me later.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Help me write my next book.... pretty please?

My next book will be in the Oneworld "beginner's guides" series. It will be called, simply, "Jesus: A Beginner's Guide." Because Jesus (not specifically the historian's Jesus) is such a big topic, I will be doing something of a "deep cuts" survey of the evolution of an idea. I.e. this won't be another "greatest hits" book. Although, there are a few top-40 soundtracks on the playlist.

The book will include four parts: (1) Jesus, the Man; (2) Jesus in Early Christian Literature; (3) Jesus in Western History; and (4) Jesus in popular culture.

The first three parts are mostly finished. I now begin part four: pop culture. So I need your help.

What elements of pop culture should I include? Criteria: (a) it must be an element that reveals a characteristic of the culture; (b) it has to tickle my fancy.

Examples: Warner Sallman's Head of Christ; Jesus as a recurring character on South Park; Jesus on midwestern billboard ads.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

St Mary's Bible and Politics conference in June: Win a free registration!

The forthcoming Bible and Politics conference at St Mary's University (2-3 June, 2017) is drawing near. As you will no doubt be aware, it will involve critical analyses of uses of the Bible in politics in a range of geographical and cultural contexts roughly within the timeframe of capitalist modernity. The keynote speaker is Erin Runions. For details about the conference see here.
Brace Belden, also nice to stray dogs

As is the custom with the annual St Mary's conference, there is a competition for one free registration. This year it was decided that the competition ought to be "political" and about higher education (you'll probably find the Bible too if you look hard enough). So this year it is about who replaces whistleblower Edward Snowden as Rector of Glasgow University after his term comes to an end in April, 2017. There are a range of candidates for the position this year, such as heroic YPG/IFB revolutionary, antifascist, and anti-ISIS fighter, Brace Belden, and some others. The competition this year is this: in under 100 words, describe who you think deserves to be the next Rector. Leave answers in the comments section here or on Historical Chaos. The deadline for answers is Friday 24 March and the winner will be registered shortly after. The competition will be judged by the strictest and highest standards of objectivity.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Medical Practice in Antiquity

Today I've been reading this fascinating article by Sarah Yeoman at Bible History Daily: "Medicine in the Ancient World." Excerpt: 
Excavations have also revealed evidence of sophisticated dental practices in antiquity. In a mass grave at Horvat en Ziq in the northern Negev desert of Israel, a skull dating to about 200 B.C. was found that contains one of the earliest known dental fillings. A 2.5-millimeter bronze wire had been inserted into the tooth’s canal. Elsewhere, skulls recovered from the catacombs in Rome, which were in use during the first through the fifth centuries A.D., exhibit some rather pricey dental work: Several were recovered that have gold fillings.
I have often suggested to my students that Jesus probably lacked a full set of teeth. The information cited by Yeoman, however, is new to me. Of course, it probably bespeaks occasional practices of the wealthy and may say nothing of how a member of the artisan class might care for an problematic tooth.

I also found this interesting:
The famous Roman physician Galen (c. 129–199 A.D.), who was born in ancient Pergamon near the Asklepion, is generally regarded as the most accomplished medical researcher of the Roman world, and some of his surgical procedures would not be seen again until modern times. He successfully conducted cataract surgeries by inserting a needle behind the lens of the eye in order to remove the cataract, and his described methods of preparing a clean operating theater reveal a keen awareness of contagion.
I had studied Galen before but I was unaware of his use of sterile surgical instruments.

Certainly worth a read in full.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Praying for 45 with Ron Herms

In the church of my youth, we were taught to pray for our leaders. We always prayed for the President of the United States (regardless of party). Usually our pastor prayed that the president would be granted wisdom. Those were different times. I attended a different kind of church. The ethos of American Christianity was different. The integrity of the office of POTUS was much different. 

I will confess that it had not crossed my mind to pray for the 45th president. I have, however, been reflecting on Jesus' sermon on the mount since November 9. One of the most striking teachings of Jesus is Matthew 5:44: "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." So what would it mean to take this teaching seriously in our present political climate?

Ron Herms, New Testament scholar and Dean of the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences at Fresno Pacific University, suggests four ways to pray for 45. Herms recent wrote a series of posts on this topic:

Prayer #1: Every week. Every falsehood. I've identified four ways I'm praying for Donald Trump. The first is that "his folly would be exposed": this man operates in the shadows of conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and alternative realities. To him, I have no doubt, they are real. So, for the foreseeable future, truth-telling cannot be taken for granted. This is a start...  
Prayer #2: A few days ago I posted the first of four thoughts I've been praying for Donald Trump. Here is the second: I'm praying that "his arrogance will be broken." While some may hear this as judgmental-ism, nothing could be further from my intent. Such a prayer simply responds to his obviously arrogant and bullying behavior and recognizes that the people of God's kingdom have often prayed for and spoken to manipulative powers in such a way (Psalm 2; Daniel 4; Acts 4; and more). Some will say there are other, very different biblical prayers for rulers and authorities. True; my list isn't finished yet. :) For today (and in light of a lengthening list of manipulative moves by DT) this is enough...  
Prayer #3: Over the past few days I've posted two of four thoughts I've been praying for Donald Trump. Here is the third: I'm praying that "his deepest insecurities would find rest and healing." ALL of us have demons, fears, and insecurities, but most of us have the "luxury" of relative anonymity where we mask or hide them. As I pray in this way, my mind often goes to Zacchaeus in Luke 19 whose profile of wealth and struggles with physical and social stature have interesting parallels to our current president. Donald Trump is not a lost cause; this prayer believes that his future can be better than his past. Lord, have mercy…  
Prayer #4: Over the past few weeks I've posted three of four thoughts on how I'm praying about / for Donald Trump as US President. Here is the final thought: I'm praying "that his constant and public need for affirmation would be met with radical opportunities for generosity and compassion." The transformative power and deep satisfaction of giving oneself (and one's resources) away so that an "other" can flourish should not be underestimated. We're all fundamentally in need of both the gift of affirmation and the discipline of self-sacrifice; and we all benefit when those in leadership discover that to be true for themselves. This is how I'm praying for the welfare of my city / country / world (Jer 29.7).
 My thanks to Ron for allowing them to be republished here.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

2017 Christian Scholars' Conference

The 2017 Christian Scholars' Conference (Lipscomb University; Nashville, TN) is quickly approaching. I must confess I'm not exactly enamored of the name of this event, but I hear from others that it is one of the better small annual conferences. This year's theme is Memory, Tradition, and the Future of  Faith, and this year's plenary speakers will be James H. Cone (Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology, Union Theological Seminary), Marie Howe (Sarah Lawrence College, New York University), and Shaun Casey (senior fellow at the Berkeley Center; professor, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University). The 2017 CSC will also feature:
  • Greg Sterling (Dean of Yale Divinity School; The Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament) will deliver the Abraham J. Malherbe plenary address.
  • Carol Newsom (Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament at Candler; senior fellow, Center for the Study of Law and Religion) will deliver the J. J. M. Roberts Lecture in Old Testament Studies.
  • Margaret Mitchell (Shailer Mathews Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Divinity School) will deliver the Everett Ferguson Lecturer in Early Christian Studies.
Now listen . . . if these names aren't enough to coax you into making travel arrangements to Nashville, TN, in early June, let me sweeten the pot. I will be presenting twice this year:

  • First, Nick Zola (Assistant Professor of Religion, Pepperdine University) has arranged a panel discussion of memory, tradition, reconciliation, and pedagogy. Here's the session abstract: "Dr. Stuart Zola, former director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and current interim Provost of Emory University, will present some of the latest research on the neuroscience of memory—how the brain remembers and what factors impair effective communication. Three panel members, each leaders in their fields, will respond with how a more robust understanding of memory function can inform a range of disciplines: Dr. Rodriguez on how Jesus is remembered in the New Testament; Dr. Turner on how individuals reconcile with others and their surrounding systems; and Dr. Erbes on how students best retain and recall classroom information." Stuart Zola has presented at an SBL before, and I'm looking forward to learning from and responding to his work.
  • Second, John Harrison (Professor of New Testament and Ministry, Oklahoma Christian University) has coordinated a session on memory and the Jesus tradition. Here's the session abstract: "For several decades now, memory studies and investigations into early Christianity has opened new questions about what first followers remembered and what affect Christian rituals had on the formation of that memory. In this session, two papers will lead the discussion around specific applications of memory studies and early Christian practice. The Jesus tradition was first experienced by eyewitnesses and then handed down orally for others to remember. Can eyewitness memory actually be detected in the Synoptic Gospels? How did baptism come to function as a preserver, transmitter, and transformer of Christian memory?" With the imminent arrival of the second edition of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans) and the Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries project (Bloomsbury), this session will offer a critical view of the current state of Jesus research and its intersection with memory studies.
So we'll see you in Nashville in June! If you're coming, look me up and let me know. I can't wait to see you!