Baker Academic

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Congratulations to Anders Runesson!—Chris Keith

Congratulations to Anders Runesson on winning the 2017 F. W. Beare Award from the Candian Society of Biblical Studies for his new book Divine Wrath and Salvation in Matthew: The Narrative World of the First Gospel!  You can read the information on the award here.  I've just started this book and am really enjoying it thus far.  Prof Runesson's main argument thus far is that Matthew's Gospel should properly be read as a Jewish text, not a "Christian" one.  As part of that, he also emphasizes an approach to Matthew's inception history rather than its reception history of Christian interpretation.  He's also offering some good methodological observations along the way.  I'll pass along one that obviously resonates with me:

"History, academically defined, is, then, best understood as a conversation between the past and the present" (xxii).

Congrats again, Prof Runesson.  I'll be giving some more thoughts on this book in due course.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Additions to Your Gospel of Matthew Syllabus

For my upcoming Matthew intensive, I am compiling a reading list that is accessible, online, and sheds light on contemporary social concerns. Today I was alerted to this piece by Robert Myles:

"Homelessness, Neoliberalism, and Jesus’ ‘Decision’ to go Rogue: An Analysis of Matt. 4:12-25," in Reading the Bible in an Age of Crisis (2015).

You may require an account to access this. It is well worth a read. It will certainly spur classroom debate!

I have also decided to use this short article by Dale Allison as an example of assessing a problem in the text of Matthew:

Allison observes:
The six paragraphs addressing the law concern anger (Matt 5:21-26), lust (Matt 5:27-30), divorce (Matt 5:31-32), oaths (Matt 5:33-37), revenge (Matt 5:38-42), and love (Matt 5:43-48). Many biblical scholars label these paragraphs “antitheses,” because in their view Jesus and Moses are at odds with each other. The Law of Moses permits divorce (Deut 24:1-4), oaths (Lev 19:12; Num 30:2-3; Deut 23:22), and retaliation (Exod 21:24-25; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21). Jesus, with his repeated “but I say to you,” prohibits all of them. Yet there are problems with supposing that Jesus contradicts the Law of Moses. Matt 5:17-20 says explicitly that Jesus has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. To the contrary, people should obey and teach them. One could scarcely be any clearer. It looks very much as though Matt 5:17-20 is located precisely where it is in order to prevent readers from imagining that Jesus, in the paragraphs that follow, intends to undo the teachings of Moses.
He then asks, "But how can this be, if Jesus abolishes divorce and oaths and forbids retaliation?" I plan to have my class read this article aloud. Allison's solution to the problem is not as important (pedagogically speaking) as the problem itself. Most devotional readers of the Bible are not attuned to the problems that generate scholarly discussion. I hope to use this example to teach the practice of asking critical questions. To my mind, the ability to ask critical questions (both informed and interesting) is the first step toward creating a thesis statement.


Monday, June 19, 2017

(Get Woke) Resources for Matthew

As I gear up for teaching Matthew's Gospel in week-long intensive format, I must choose a few articles for pre-class reading. I generally like to assign introductory material that is available online. In doing so, at least two factors are paramount: (1) my students need articles that are legitimately meant for first-year seminarians; (2) it makes things easier on all involved if my students can get this pre-reading done without the purchase of a textbook. (I do assign books but I don't like to assign them for pre-reading.) In addition to these two primary factors, I prefer authors with an eye to social impact. My students (by default) are practical and "woke" seeking to be more so. From time to time, I encounter the rare soul who loves the material for the sake of the material. Usually, however, my seminarians are serving communities in poverty (regardless of race, some outside North America) and not strangers to the many challenges associated with poverty. So if I can, I try to include resources that are relevant (or provide a foundation for socially informed discussion).

Here are three articles I'm using for my Matthew intensive:

William Loader, "The Gospel of Matthew An Introduction for Preachers"

Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J., "Honoring the Dishonored: The Cultural Edge of Jesus' Beatitudes"

Mary Kay Dobrovolny, "Who Controls the Resources? Economics and Justice in Matt 20:1-15"

Hat tip to the always useful NTGateway for pointing me in the right direction! The article by Loader serves as a brief, general introduction. It charts a few key themes in Matthew by focusing on the first five chapters. The article by Neyrey contextualizes one of these themes by focusing on what is arguably Matthew's most famous passage. Finally, I've selected a paper presentation by Dobrovolny. Admittedly, this paper is not meant for first-year seminarians. But I think it is just the right amount of challenging once the first two articles have been digested.

Are there other resources that would fit my interests and specifically focused on Matthew? I would love to hear suggestions. Remember, they must be accessible for first-year seminarians, available online, and socially aware.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

2017 Christian Scholars' Conference

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the 2017 Christian Scholars' Conference (no, I had nothing to do with naming this event) took place earlier this month on the campus of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. This was my first official CSC meeting, so I'm not the best person to evaluate this year's program. I participated in two sessions on the first day, and I attended a plenary address by Prof. James H. Cone, wonderful presentation by Prof. Margaret M. Mitchell, a panel discussion of Jesus in Christian and Muslim perspectives, and a series of papers on Augustine and John Chrysostom.

The first of my two sessions featured a 60-minute keynote presentation by Prof. Stuart Zola (Emory University), "How We Remember and How We Forget," which presented some fascinating information on the neuroscience of memory. Professor Zola's presentation brought out the link between perception and memory, which are perhaps distinguished only by time (perception = attending to stimuli in the present; memory = recalling stimuli that are no longer present) and are both subject to similar—if not exactly the same—dynamics of distortion, selectivity, omission, attention, and interpretation. As complex and impressive as the human brain is, it is not a recorder of information, either in the present or in the past. Seeing, then, may be believing, but it is no guarantee of truth, veracity, authenticity, or any other quality of correspondence with reality.

In personal conversation (and in print, I'm sure), sociologist Barry Schwartz has complained that memory studies are set up especially to expose and highlight memory's failure and that such studies are actually disinterested in the normal, proper functions of memory. Professor Zola's presentation put this predisposition (I don't quite say bias, but I nearly do) on display in interesting ways. For example, Prof. Zola showed a variant of the famous "how many passes" video (see below), in which not just memory but perception itself are shown to be remarkably fallible. But here's the question I would ask in response: How many people, given the prompt, "How many passes does the team in white make?" get the answer to that question right? The answer, I would wager, is very high, especially if we allow for a slight margin of error (say, ±1). So while it's true that "it's easy to miss something you're not looking for," it is also true that it's possible to accurately follow something to which you're attending, to which you're expending mental energy and effort to perceive and/or understand.

In the end, Prof. Zola's presentation concluded with a shocking claim: "The fundamental outcome of most communication is misunderstanding" (his italics). But this is a sensationalist and problematic conclusion. Or at least, I think it is, if I've rightly understood his point. ­čśĆ True, misunderstanding is a constant feature of interpersonal and intercultural communication. But it is not the fundamental outcome, at least not most of the time. If it were, we would stop trying to communicate. Perhaps we usually miss or misunderstand this or that nuance. Perhaps sometimes we even fundamentally misunderstand an intended communication. But this is not the case most of the time, and only an artificial and blinkered re-creation of real-life scenarios—one as misleading as telling subjects to count passes when we really want to see if they'll notice a moonwalking bear—could truly lead us to think so.

All of this illustrates why memory studies are so vital for Gospels and historical Jesus scholarship. If we learn anything from Prof. Zola—and we surely do; his work is fascinating and well worth accessing—it's that neither eyewitness perception nor eyewitness memory are the guarantors of historical or factual truth that we often think they are, especially in judicial contexts. The connections between memory's contents and history's realities are forged on a different plane. Claims, therefore, such as Richard Bauckham's, which have just been republished in a second edition, that the Gospels reflect eyewitness testimony and are, for that reason, reliable, rest on shaky—even crumbling!—theoretical and empirical foundations. But I will return to this claim in the next post, in which I discuss my second session, "Remembering Jesus: Memory, Texts, and Baptism."

Monday, June 12, 2017


It seems that a book Dr. Keith and I edited/wrote has been cited in service to a clickbait agenda.

Tarico and Fitzgerald have clearly not read the book in question.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Baylor Grad Student Discount—Chris Keith

Our friends at Baylor University Press are currently running a discount intended for grad students but open to all. Use discount code BJUN at, which applies to books published before 6/11/2017. Happy shopping! 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Leftovers (HBO)

I tend to imagine the readers of this blog to be highly intelligent (yes, you!), close readers of sacred texts, and equipped with critical tools for interpretation. I also imagine that a subset of these readers are people of faith and/or religious practitioners. My guess is that many readers have religious upbringings but no longer practice. Or maybe you're a student of religion as an observant academic. If any of these guesses describe you, Damon Lindelof has created the perfect HBO series for you. The Leftovers is one of the most intelligent portrayals of biblical and popular faith I've seen on any screen.

The Leftovers wrapped up its third and final season this week elating some viewers and causing others consternation. Without revealing too much, the final episode spoke differently to different audiences. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and avoid the reddit controversies and arguments. I am in camp of highly satisfied folks because I appreciate endings that allow for multiple theories of resolution.

Almost any viewer who appreciates compelling storytelling, thematic development, and masterful acting will recognize the quality of the Leftovers. But viewers who are critical readers of the Bible and students of contemporary faith traditions will receive a double blessing. This series is replete with biblical symbolism: doves, floods, scapegoats, the Akedah, twins in competition, false prophecy, resurrection, Sarah's laughter, Job's theodicy, the Last Supper, etc. That said, these easter eggs are usually hidden in plain sight. The most obvious themes running through the narrative are persistent doubt and depth of grief.

In addition to the biblical themes, echoes, and motifs, the show ascends to brilliance in its exploration of contemporary faith. The premise of the series is that the main characters have experienced something like an eschatological rapture (called "the departure"). More specifically, these characters are those who remain. While many beloved family members have vanished, they are the "leftovers." As critical readers of the Bible will know, the rapture is not a biblical theme. It is a modern invention of popular theology. Indeed, this is the Leftovers in a nutshell: an intelligent and critical exploration of popular theology. Notably, Reza Aslan served as a consultant for the series. Whatever else you might think about Aslan's scholarship, he seems to understand popular faith quite well.

The show is not without flaws. When the series began in 2014, I gave up on it after three episodes. I had trouble with repeated convoluted introductions to new characters. Moreover, I had trouble internalizing the motivations of several key characters. But if you can refrain from quick judgements and allow the story to unfold, the development of the key characters is well worth the wait. Clearly, I gave up on the series too soon. Another flaw, in my opinion, is the show's failure to tie up a few loose ends. I will say no more about this now to avoid spoilers.

The Leftovers is a serious drama punctuated with authentic moments of humor. At times, the cinematography is visually stunning. The writers'/directors' attention to detail is impressive (even down to the images in the backdropped upholstery and music selection). And if you decide to bracket out the biblical and religious themes, the show can function as a well-crafted science fiction.

Finally, this entire series is contained in three seasons. It does not make the mistake of overextending its success and thus ending with a whimper. From alpha to omega, the Leftovers is heavenly.

Monday, May 29, 2017

What Would Jesus Resist?

The accumulation of wealth. Preoccupation with security. The use of power to secure more wealth at the expense of those who suffer already. Jesus would—and did—resist these things. And (relatedly) Jesus resisted evil. Jesus saw himself in open war against the spiritual world. The battlegrounds included systemic corruption, physical illness, and demonic possession. Jesus' view of Rome was probably colored along these lines too.

So what? Do any of these historical claims provide the modern person with marching orders? I am usually one to be cautious on this point. After all, the voice of any prophet requires context to make sense. Voices from antiquity do not often translate easily into modern contexts. Applying Jesus' teachings to modern politics—even when his message was overtly political—is usually a recipe for frustration. So much nuance is needed that once the historian homes in on a point, it is obscured by all of the necessary qualifications.

But then there is the rare case of obvious evil. In such cases, I think it's irresponsible to obscure Jesus' teachings with academic caveats. This brings us, again, to Donald Tr*mp.

Just after November 9th, one of my students sent me this comic. It's become a repeated triptych along my mental landscape. Artist Corey Thomas means to convey something of the African American experience post-11/9. But this strip captures something about American religious borders too.
images from
Notice the use of borders in this strip. (1) As is common to comic strips, we see blocked borders between the first illustration (one of shock and worry) and the second (one of jubilation). (2) The hallway and doorframe borders illustrate the proximity between the black POV and white counterparts; (3) The final illustration shows the cubical dividing the protagonist from his white, evangelical (perhaps allied) coworker.

Somehow—and this is true for most folks I know whether conservative or liberal—the election of Donald Tr*mp was a highly disorienting experience. For many of my neighbors, 11/9 exposed precarious fault lines. The old categories of conservative vs. liberal just didn't work anymore. Those borders were tiresome and reductionist. But at least they were familiar. I've starting calling these new camps "nationalist" vs. "resistance" narratives. I'm not the only one who has been looking for new language. For example, the alt-right has adopted the terms "cuck" and "cuckservative" to redefine the new landscape. To be clear: the nationalist narrative is framed by white nationalism. This comic strip is correct: whatever else 11/9 was about, it was about race.

Not every Tr*mp voter is an overt racist. The real trouble is with the white, evangelical majority that allowed the alt-right narrative to thrive by looking the other direction. My guess is that most white evangelicals know the narrative is evil. If so, the accusation of racism isn't overblown. Unfortunately, most white evangelicals think that racism is something you feel rather than something you support unwittingly. But (and this can't be denied) there are enough overt racists in America to warrant an overtly racist political movement. The fact that we allowed white supremacy be rebranded as "alt-right" is part of the problem. Tr*mp was willing to stand on this platform.

So my take is somewhat different than Corey Thomas' view that "after prayerful consideration they decided that their God anointed the naked racist to be their leader." I differ because I sincerely doubt that there was much prayer involved in electing Tr*mp. I do not fault Thomas, however, for assuming that 81% of white evangelicals knowingly perpetrated a national sin.

I sent this comic strip to a Jewish friend. My friend is deeply invested in Christian well-being and knows more about Christianity than most Christians. He truly loves his Christian neighbors but he is worried about us. When I sent him this comic, he confessed that Thomas had captured something of his own disorientation. He said, "I feel the same way about my Christian neighbors."

Then there is my colleague who confessed that she couldn't be around men after 11/9. Even with men she loves and respects, there was something about the election of Tr*mp that made her male colleagues difficult to navigate.

Three borders: race, religion, and gender. Somehow our national sin, our collective evil, has made our old fault lines even more precarious. So which fault line poses the greatest threat? The answer is determined by which border is nearest to your front door. For some it's islamophobia, or xenophobia more generally. For some it's the mortal peril faced by millions of citizens of the greatest generation and baby boomers who will be failed by America's medical and pharmaceutical industries. As for me, I survey the landscape and see a world preparing for war. I see America failing at a crucial moment in environmental history. So I am most worried about my children. Tr*mp did not create these fault lines. He has, however, made them far more dangerous.

These are complex problems created by a world of geopolitical power-grabbing, capitalistic greed, generational hate, and an apathetic general public that Jesus never imagined. I doubt that Jesus could have conceived of a future when humanity would destroy the earth without God's help. What Jesus did understand—what he was uniquely prepared to preach about—was collective evil. Jesus knew well that collective sin required collective repentance.

I titled this article "What Would Jesus Resist?" It assumes that Jesus did resist that which he judged to be evil and that he would again. So, yes, I think Jesus would resist the global danger that is Tr*mp. I cannot read Luke 6 and think that Jesus has nothing to say about our national sin. Moreover, I think that impeaching Tr*mp may be part of a national repentance. But it will only be a the first step.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

Despite the tradition common to Matthew and Luke, nothing compels us to suppose that the Holy Spirit was a progenerative agent for Jesus' conception in the earliest form of the birth narratives. This is reflected in the earliest formal mentions of Jesus' birth, which were made by Paul in his letters to the Galatians and Romans. . . . Instead of being related to the birth, the Spirit is associated with the claim that Jesus was resurrected after his death; whereas Jesus' birth betrayed an ancestry that "according to the flesh" goes back to David, his status as Son of God is linked to the resurrection event in which the Spirit of holiness functioned as the divine agent.

                        ~Loren Stuckenbruck (The Myth of Rebellious Angels: Studies in Second Temple                                           Judaism and New Testament Texts)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bauckham Second Edition Giveaway!—Chris Keith

Richard Bauckham's pot-stirring and thought-provoking landmark study, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, is now out in a second edition from Eerdmans.  Those good folks at Eerdmans have decided to do a giveaway of one free copy to a reader of the Jesus Blog.  We haven't done a giveaway in a bit, so here are the rules.  You can enter by (1) leaving a comment, (2) sharing on social media and leaving a comment saying you did, (3) signing up to follow the blog and leaving a comment saying you did, and (4) a wild card entry.  The wild card entry will be SBL-themed.  You can leave a comment stating any of the following:  your favorite thing about SBL; your least-favorite thing about SBL; how you describe SBL to people who don't know what it is; why you will never miss or never go to SBL; what lie you tell people about on the plane on the way to SBL; how many drinks you had with Anthony Le Donne at the last SBL.

We'll leave the giveaway open for a bit and then announce the winner based on the comments.

[UPDATE: This book will be released in the UK at the end of June and distributed by Alban Books.  Their link for the book is here.]

Friday, May 12, 2017

Social Memory: A Hermeneutical Reset

Yesterday Chris Keith treated me to breakfast at Taste of Belgium in Cincinnati. Wonderful frites with a horseradish aioli sauce. But fries served with an omelette? Has the world gone insane? Chris and I (as we tend to do) talked about the past, present, and future prospects of social memory theory in Jesus research. It occurred to me on the drive home that scholars with native fluency in New Testament studies continue to misappropriate the findings of social memory. Either they emphasize the creativity and instability of memory or they emphasize the regular reliability and stability of memory. Both are surface-level observations that fail to see the undergirding hermeneutical reset.

The key question is still "where is history?" If history is "back there in the past" and human memory is creative and and unstable, memory cannot provide access to history. Alternatively, if history is "back there in the past" and human memory is reliable and stable, memory can and does provide access to history. Both conclusions miss the point: history is not "back there." History relates to what is "back there" insomuch as it continues the mnemonic frames and interpretive perceptions of the past. But "history" (like everything under the epistemological umbrella) is something we encounter now. In my reading of him, Ruben Zimmermann (happy birthday!) gets this point. History (and on this point I depart from Maurice Halbwachs) is not something that precedes or undergirds memory.

In order for historians to utilize the findings of Social Memory we don't simply need a new method or new tools or new rules for the road. What we need is a hermeneutical reset whereby the human relationship to epistemology is reconsidered from the ground up.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Runesson’s Origins of the Synagogue for FREE!—Chris Keith

We at the Jesus Blog heard that your week was moving a little sluggishly and thought a free gift might make you feel better.  To that end, we pass along the fantastic news that Anders Runesson's groundbreaking The Origins of the Synagogue: A Socio-Historical Study is available for FREE on his site here.  If you're not familiar with Prof Runesson, who is also known as the father of The Angry Theologian (who, I'm told, might be heading to my alma mater, the University of Edinburgh), then start with this book to familiarize yourself.  For me personally, one of the most interesting developments in the last bit in NT studies is the explosion of synagogue studies, and much of that effort is related in one way or another to Runesson's work.  He's also just published Divine Wrath and Salvation in Matthew: The Narrative World of the First Gospel (Fortress, 2016).  I haven't read it yet, but will be soon thanks to the good folks at Fortress and will report back.  Thanks to Prof Runesson for alerting us that he is making The Origins of the Synagogue freely available!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Prof Steve Walton Inaugural Lecture at St Mary’s—Chris Keith

Please join us at St Mary's University, Twickenham on Monday, May 15 for Prof Steve Walton's inaugural lecture:  "Doing Theology Lukewise"!