Baker Academic

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Black History Month Promotion at Baylor University Press—Chris Keith

Friend of the Jesus Blog Baylor University Press is running a promotion for Black History Month:

Celebrating Black History Month, Baylor University Press is pleased to offer 40%-off plus free shipping on relevant titles.

Use discount code BFEB at their website: during the entire month of February.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Jesus was NOT a Liberal: A Post-Trump Reflection

In light of recent political events initiated by Donald Trump’s cabinet, Jesus’ mandates to care for neighbors, foreigners, and enemies have saturated social media. I confess that I—with explicitly liberal, anti-Trump motives—have contributed to this trend. Just last weekend I reposted this Facebook note from my friend, Larry Behrendt:
This is a message to my Christian brothers and sisters. I am a Jew who has studied Christianity to the best of my ability for the last 15 years. I have grown to love Christianity. As an outsider, I will accept your status as a Christian if you merely affirm to me that you are one. But if you can support this President and his proposed ban on refugees, which stands in direct opposition to the teachings and the life of Jesus, then the religion you are practicing bears no relationship to any I am familiar with. I urge you with all my heart to return to the religion of your Bible and embrace the refugee stranger as your neighbor. I get it: very few of us possess the ability to love our enemies. But if you are the Bible followers you claim to be, you know that God has ordered us dozens of times to remember that we too were slaves in Egypt, and commanded us to love the stranger as our neighbors. Do not imagine that God looks on our relatively safe and comfortable life in America, and thinks this is our due. The Bible recites how God has thrown his people out of their homes and into exile for failing to obey the Bible's commands. God ordered us to love and care for the stranger, knowing full well that we might be required to sacrifice some of our safety and comfort in order to benefit the poorest and most desperate of our brothers and sisters. The chance of your ever being injured by a terrorist is almost nil. The chance that you will have to confront your God is up to you to calculate. If you cannot act out of love of neighbor, then for God's sake and your own, act out of fear of God.
Larry happens to be liberal and Jewish. But one can find hundreds of statements like this from liberal Christians. Take this one from Stephen Colbert, a proud Catholic:

While we’re on the topic of Catholics, consider what another prominent Catholic said on the topic of refugees. Pope Francis said, "It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help."

So should we affirm the meme that tells us that "Jesus was a bleeding heart, long haired, anti-establishement, peace loving, hippie, liberal freak with strange ideas and two fathers"? Historically speaking, "bleeding heart" and "hippie" are anachronisms and Jesus probably had short hair anyway. But let's just focus on the word liberal. 

Was Jesus a liberal?


Jesus' politics didn't look like my modern, American politics. Jesus had no notion of the separation of Church and State. In fact his central message was about the "Kingdom of God." Jesus was a faith healer. Jesus was a preacher. Jesus (as much as it makes me uncomfortable) preached about hellfire sometimes. In these ways and so many others, Jesus was a conservative Jew of his time.

Yes, according to the biblical Gospels, Jesus did often argue and condemn what we might call "religious leaders." And, yes, these disputes did sometimes involve interpreting the law with compassion. But as Matthew tells it, Jesus was actually quite conservative about following Jewish law:
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:18-20)
So we must ask, did his many disputes with "religious leaders" stem from his liberalism? Or did Jesus start these arguments because he wanted his fellow Jews (Pharisees, scribes, priests, etc) to return to a more traditional understanding of the law?

After all, isn't shalom a traditional value? Isn't care for the poor a traditional value? Doesn't the Hebrew Bible mandate care for foreigners? On all of these points, Jesus seems to be quite conservative for his day. So if Jesus wasn't an ancient liberal, he most certainly wasn't a modern liberal.

But let's be clear: neither was Jesus a modern conservative.

Jesus' economic values are heresy to modern capitalists. Jesus' "family values" don't look anything like those of American conservatives. Jesus' stance against violence makes him altogether Amish compared to the likes of Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, and Obama. Pope Francis was undoubtedly correct that Jesus would find himself on the other side of Trump's great wall.

So what? Why should the modern conservative or liberal care about Jesus at all? Jesus continues to represent an awkward and uncomfortable obstacle to all modern, political discourse. His voice is challenging to modern Christians in particular because his self-proclaimed followers are on both sides of the aisle in America.

This brings us back to Donald Trump and his "America First" cabinet. The liberal argument against Trump is not that he is too conservative. In almost every way, Trump is not a conservative. The liberal argument against Trump is that he is not conservative enough. This, by the way, is also the Jesus-loving Christian argument against Trump. For us modern liberals, Trump stands against peace, against the outsider, against Jesus' economic values. He cannot call himself a follower of Jesus in these ways. He is not nearly conservative enough.

In my politics—I must confess—I am not like Jesus. I am not nearly conservative enough on matters of economics and foreign policy. And as I try to become more conservative on these matters, I find myself resisting Donald Trump's liberalism more and more.

Anthony Le Donne (PhD) is Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary and the author of Near Christianity: How Journeys along Jewish-Christian Borders Saved my Faith in God.

BREAKING - Jesus: "eternal fire for those who fail to welcome strangers"

Jerusalem (AP) -- Lord Jesus Christ spoke to disciples from the Mount of Olives condemning those who claim to be his followers but who refuse to welcome strangers. Speaking eschatologically, Jesus said:

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Jesus Trolls the Donald

Ed Kilgore of the New York Daily Intelligencer suggests that Rev. Samuel Rodriguez use Matthew 5's "Beatitudes" to rebuke Trump's proposed policies during his inauguration.

This was also suggested by James Crossley via Facebook yesterday. If so, I wonder whether such an act of protest does more harm than good. After all, as Kilgore acknowledges, typical listeners will not pay much attention to the subtly of the protest. Thus the passage would be heard by most as an appropriation of Jesus' words in support of Trump.

I wonder if any of our readers noticed this during the ceremonies and what they made of it.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

Jesus replied, "my precious child, when you saw only one set of footprints in the sand, that was because I moved to Canada."

                               ~Steve Ausburne

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Character Studies in the Fourth Gospel Winners—Chris Keith

The True Random Number Generator has spoken, and the winners of the Eerdmans and Jesus Blog giveaway of three copies of Character Studies in the Fourth Gospel are the owners of comments 100, 26, and 76: Jae Hwan Sim, Daniel K. Eng, and Chuck P.

Comment 100:

Shared on Facebook

Comment 26:

shared on Linkedin!
Comment 76:

Shared on FB.

If you are one of these people, you can email me at and we'll take care of getting your free book sent to you!  Congrats!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Memory and the 'Car Accident' Example Revisited

One of the favorite clichés of teachers who teach the fourfold Gospel tradition is this old chestnut: Imagine an event involving a car accident. Now imagine that four different people see the event, each from four different perspectives. Inevitably, you will end up with four different stories, each with a variance of (good, bad, ugly) details. Some details will be deceits. Some will be facts. And no one person has the whole story. Such it is with the four canonical accounts of Jesus' life.

I've always found this explanation of "memory" within the Gospels to be naive and misleading. (1) Nobody should assume that the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John were "eyewitnesses" in the way that the four car-accident-event perspectives would be. We may debate the importance of eyewitness testimony for the composers of these Gospels. But authorship by eyewitnesses cannot be assumed. (2) This analogy robs the composers of these Gospels of their creative genius—as if the narrative aspects of these stories are lies, damned lies, and statistics. I.e. the purpose of these compositions was not to give a police report. (3) The usual bottom line of this analogy is that the stable core of this event (that a car accident occurred) will be the same in every version of the event. While there is truth to this point—no eyewitness e.g. is going to claim to have seen a tennis match rather than a car accident—it fails to address the purpose of the interviewer. The police report of this event intends to get the details right, not the general gist of the thing. Everyone knows that a car accident happened, but we want to know more (why did it happen, how did it happen, who is at fault?). The gist is not enough if indeed we are interested in reading the Gospels closely.

But last week a good friend was in a car accident and I got to revisit the analogy from a new angle: that of compositional authority. My friend was hit head-on by another car with such speed and force that she was whiplashed and dazed. She never lost consciousness but her memory of the event was dubious. I met her at the hospital soon after and talked to the police officer who documented the accident. Whereas she told me that there was no police officer on the scene before she was ambulanced away, the officer assured me that (1) not only was he there, (2) he spoke with her and took her statement. Nothing too interesting here. Such discrepancies are to be expected.

What I found interesting was the problem of authority. At the scene of the accident the officer relied on the testimony of the eyewitnesses to get an overview of the details and construct an official narrative: the police report. He accounted for the relative and incomplete testimonies and the remaining artifacts. But as soon as he wrote his report—in fact within minutes of the event—the eyewitnesses were no longer authoritative. Moreover, all involved agreed on this social arrangement. After relying on eyewitness testimony, the witnesses themselves relied on the officers account as the authoritative narrative: because he had the big picture which made sense of all the different perspectives.

Days later my friend mentioned to me that she would like to read the police report to find out what really happened. She wanted to hear the bigger picture, the one she couldn't get from her own limited perspective. So she, an eyewitness, conceded authority to the police report, a document composed by man who did not himself see the accident.

This is where the social memory theorist will want to pay attention. The interesting thing is not that details vary. The interesting thing is that our social arrangements force us to concede authority to an external artifact that was composed by an authoritative collector of facts jointly perceived and reported. Importantly, it is the composition of a non-eyewitness that frames all subsequent debate about the event.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Christianity: outmoded and conceptually misleading.... but inevitable

This post relates to my latest book Near Christianity. Specifically, it ties to the interplay between the ideas of "belief and belonging." But I'll leave it to you to decide how it relates.

I was listening to an interview by Eugene Peterson tonight via the podcast, On Being. He's somebody who almost always sees the world differently than I do. He tends to zig wherever I'm accustomed to zagging. But I've always admired him. Even when I disagree with him, I do so hoping that he's right and I'm wrong. And I am usually challenged enough that I keep coming back for more. Also I love listening to octogenarians. All of the bullshit has been cast off and the remaining ideas remain because they are worth something. I've transcribed part of this interview because I want to use it in a class that I'm teaching (about the way ancient minds thought "religiously"). But I include it here for an altogether different reason.

[disclaimer: I've cleaned up a bit of the dialogue here. It is not word-for-word.]

Peterson: People ask “how do you mature a spiritual life” ….Eliminate the word “spiritual.” It’s your life you mature, not part of your life. 
Interviewer: The word “spiritual”—much more than when you first became a pastor—it’s everywhere now. I want to know how you hear that. What do you think about it? 
Peterson: Oh, I think it’s cheap. You’re taking a something and putting a name on it “spiritual,” which means it’s defined. The whole world is spiritual. And the word spirit is wind, its breath. Well, people are breathing all over the place; they’re all spiritual beings. But if you have a name for it, you can compartmentalize it. And that just wreaks havoc with the whole thing. And that’s why I don’t like the word. Because it’s too easy to say, “He’s such a spiritual person. She’s such a spiritual person.” Well, nonsense! You are too. If Church…if done well, there is no spirituality that you can define. 
Interviewer: Because it’s in everything you do? 
Peterson: That’s right. 
. . . .
Interviewer: You’re 83…. This last exchange just pointed out the complexity of dealing with words even though they are so precious. And I just wonder if other words—even the word “God” become too small after 83 pondering, after grappling with the immensity of who God might be.
Peterson: They do become too small.
Interviewer: Does the word “God” feel too small to you at this point?
Peterson: Yeah.
Interviewer: What do you do about that?
Peterson: I’m pretty much very circumspect about using it.
Interviewer: What about the word “Christianity”?
Peterson: Oh, that’s even worse. . . . the people who use the word “Christianity” mostly are thinking of an institution, uh, and that’s hard to get rid of. You know, most of us have negative experiences of the Church: certain churches, experiences we’ve had. So why don’t we just eliminate the word? Of course, that’s hard for me who is part of so-called Christianity.
Interviewer: exactly. I mean, you’re life and your writing is passionately interwoven with this—this enterprise, this aspiration of Church.

Peterson: That’s true.

Eugene Peterson, it seems, has gotten circumspect about godtalk. The words normally used for God conceal and mislead rather than reveal and convey. While I'm not nearly as cautious with my words as he (he's a poet after all), I think I know what he means. Perhaps the word "God" should always be footnoted with the old A.A. caveat: " we understood him." Or better: "God, as we understood it." Or as some of our Jewish friends render it, HaShem.

But what hit me hardest about this section was it's concluding resignation. Peterson suggests that the word "Christianity" is even worse. Too many negative associations with the institution. Too small a word for the life and lives it intends to label. "So why don't we just eliminate the word?" he asks. Well, it's not so easy. However outmoded, however conceptually misleading, "Christianity" is inevitable. It is inevitable because it is interwoven with too many of us. We know the word is fraught with problems. Maybe it's even a misnomer. But it is a misnomer built into us.

So part of the business of Christianity is the constant attempt to redefine ourselves and to communicate this redefinition to those who have misunderstood us. Because the words we've chosen were never adequate enough to reveal and convey. Inevitably, we will just keep failing. We're sort of stuck with the misnomer.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Historical Jesus is the Mediated Jesus

I am pleased to say that Dr. Crossley and I have successfully processed another issue of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. Issue 14.3 should be out within the next few months. Here is an early look at my editorial foreword: 

Foreword: The Historical Jesus is the Mediated Jesus

The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus has predictably changed in the past year reflecting both transitions of managing personnel and innovations within the field. Notably we have welcomed several new scholars to our editorial board and so too a new range of expertise. These include Helen Bond, Tom Holmén, Thomas Kazen, Chris Keith, Annette Merz, Halvor Moxnes, Jens Schröter, and Joan Taylor. This issue features an introductory essay by Tom Holmén and we welcome him to our board enthusiastically.

Another recent change is to our official subtitle. It formerly read Jesus in History, Culture, and Art. To better reflect the expertise of our board, we have changed this subtitle to Jesus in History, Culture, and Media. The addition of “media” to our stated interests invites potential authors to explore the reception of Jesus in both ancient and modern media. This includes historiographical concerns related to how Jesus was mediated in oral performance, textual artifacts, visual art, etc. It also includes the historiographical concerns related to how the historical Jesus is (re)constructed in modern contexts. Indeed, the “historical Jesus” if understood properly is a modern, historiographical construct that seeks to set the record straight concerning Jesus the man. (The discipline now recognizes pre-modern attempts to this as well.) As such, the historian interested in Jesus begins by finding something deficient or underdeveloped in previous attempts to mediate the Jesus of history. The fact that the historical Jesus is necessarily mediated, of course, is a key concern of hermeneutics (both ancient and modern). Research concerned with Jesus and media acknowledge that the means by which historical judgments are mediated impact how Jesus was/is received and accordingly reframed.

The present issue of JSHJ is illustrative of historiographical and hermeneutical media concerns in a number of ways. Tom Holmén revisits the social function of crucifixion in Jesus’ world and addresses the hermeneutical frameworks attested within the second-Temple period. Does Jewish interpretation of crucifixion suggest a way to mediate it in positive terms as we see in the case of Jesus? James McGrath offers a historiographical approach to Philippians 2:8’s possible allusion to Gethsemane. How should the historian treat a historical allusion mediated through an overtly Christological text? The article by Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts continues this journal’s general interest in the philosophy of history and continues a specific debate with Jonathan Bernier concerning critical realism. Have historians of Jesus rightly understood Bernard Lonergan and applied his insights legitimately? My article in this issue is focused on a recent development in modern media. What impact will Trump-era “fake news” have on the relationship between Jesus historians and the general public’s reception of professional research? This issue also features several book reviews. Gratitude is due to JSHJ book review editor Michael Daise.

Another brief comment (in two parts) is warranted concerning the relationship to reception and social frameworks (i.e. mediation) and historiographical reconstructions of historical persons, ideologies, events, etc.

1. Historians interested in e.g. Jesus’ crucifixion must also be interested in the social frameworks that make sense of Roman execution practices. We must attempt to describe how the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion was received (i.e. mediated) by those impacted by Jesus’ death. Holmén’s essay, while not focused on Jesus’ execution primarily, contributes to our understanding of Jesus’ unique reception. In this case, the reception history of crucifixion is crucial to the historical fact of Jesus’ death. Something similar can be said of Paul’s reception of a historical memory as discussed by McGrath: the reception history is related in some way to the fact of Jesus’ death. These are examples of first-century realities being mediated—necessarily so—by interpretative frameworks. As such, understanding theorists such as (but not limited to) Bernard Lonergan ought to be primary to our historiographical interests. My hope is that this journal will continue to be a place for serious discussion on theoretical matters as well as the application of them.

2. Historians interested in Jesus must also be aware of their own social placement and indebtedness. No doubt e.g. the swell of anti-Semitism in modern Europe had some relationship to the proposal of an Aryan Jesus. Whether this mediation of the historical Jesus was self-aware or perpetrated unwittingly, the historian’s interpretive context matters just as much as the first-century interpretive context under observation. My article on fake news explores an emerging social framework that (I argue) warrants further consideration and invites self-reflection. My hope is that this journal will continue to be a place that welcomes metacritical analysis to explain how and why historical Jesus research has evolved and is evolving.

The articles in this issue represent various approaches to the “media” elements in historical Jesus research and illustrate the rationale for the change to this journal’s subtitle.

Anthony Le Donne

United Theological Seminary

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Goodacre and Still Named New Coeditors of NIGTC

Congrats to Mark Goodacre and Todd Still who have been named the new coeditors of New International Greek Testament Commentary Series.

Well deserved!


Monday, January 2, 2017

My 5 Favorite Documentaries this Year

The Jesus Blog normally does an end-of-year post or two. We sometimes choose a Jesus "Book of the Year" . . . . sometimes we pretend that we had a few "top posts" that are important enough to repost. But 2016 was Scheiße. So sorry if you (like me) wrote a book this year and we'd rather just forget it along with the rest of the events of 2016. Rather than focusing on what 2016 produced, I thought I'd mix it up. These five documentaries are only relative to 2016 because I happened to watch them in the last twelve months. I will rank them according to my experience of their intrinsic awesomeness from 5 to 1. So this is a Jesusesque "last shall be first" list.

5. One in a Billion. This is not your typical sports documentary. It doesn't retell the story of some famous game or personality. One in a Billion is a story about Satnam Singh. He is a 7-foot basketball player born in Punjab, India who is presently trying to make to the NBA. Chances are that he will never be a star and (even so) there are literally millions of people from his home country hoping that he will. I watched this with my 9-year-old son who had difficulty with the Punjabi accents at times. But we both developed a sense of empathy for Singh's struggle and gained a new appreciation for the sacrifice it takes to do something that nobody in a country of a billion people has ever done.

4. TIG. TIG follows comic Tig Notaro from her first attempts to break into stand-up comedy to her fight with cancer, finding love, and pursuit of motherhood. If you are a fan of comedy and/or humanity, Tig's story is fascinating and heartbreaking. My wife and I laughed hard several times too.

3. The Trials of Muhammad Ali. Like all Ali documentaries (I've seen them all) this film explores his career as a boxer. But this documentary puts a spotlight on Ali's political life relative to the Viet Nam war in a new way. In terms of quality of visual experience and story telling, this documentary is not as good as "When We Were Kings." But I felt that I got to see a different side of Ali's life with this one. For a few decades, Muhammad Ali was the most recognizable person on the planet. This documentary takes seriously the impact of his life outside of the ring.

2. 13th. This documentary tells the story of mass incarceration in America. It begins with the antebellum South and traces the relationship between blackness and prison through the Nixon years and into the present. This film creates a macrocosm for the topic in the way that "The Central Park Five" created a microcosm. I defy you to watch these two documentaries and not come away with a different view of jail time and the justice system in America.

1. Stories We Tell. Sarah Polley directs this documentary/biopic of her family. Without giving away too much of the plot, it is a reflection on a beloved mother who complicates the lives of everyone around her with a series of unexpected choices. I highly recommend avoiding reviews with spoilers. This film is well worth the experience without the taint of foreknowledge. I will say this: give it about 40 minutes before you give up on it. Beautiful, tragic, funny, and surprising.