Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (Brill – New!)

Tom Holmen and Stan Porter have edited a four-volume series with Brill, Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (a total cost of $1329!). While none of us can ever afford to buy this, I will torture you with some attractive essay titles:

Volume 1:

“How to Marginalize the Traditional Criteria of Authenticity” (Dale Allison)

“The Historical Jesus: How to Ask Questions and Remain Inquisitive” (Charlesworth)

“Remembering Jesus: How the Quest of the HJ Lost its Way” (Dunn)

“From the Messiah Teacher to the Gospels of Jesus Christ” (Riesner)

“Historical Skepticism and the Criteria of Jesus Research: My Attempt to leap Over Lessing’s Ugly Wide Ditch” (Theissen)


“The Parable of the Goose and the Mirror: Historical Jesus Research in the Theological Discipline” (McKnight)

“Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel” (Moyise)
“Jesus and the Partings of the Ways” (Bird)

“Prophet, Sage, Healer, Messiah, and Martyr: Types and Identities of Jesus” (Evans)

“The Context of Jesus: Jewish and/or Hellenistic?” (Porter)


“Jesus Tradition in the Gospel of John (Moody Smith)

“The Birth of Jesus” (France)

“The Death of Jesus” (Green)

“Jesus and God” (M.M. Thompson)


“Riddles, Wit, and Wisdom” (Thatcher)

“Words of Jesus in Paul: On the Theology and Praxis of the Jesus Tradition” (Pokorny)





Did the ancient Greeks think their statues were alive?

Right now I am researching on early Jewish and Christian idol polemic. It is common for Biblical scholars to argue that the Jewish diatribe against pagan idol worship is a caricature and, in fact, “pagans” (like Greeks) knew that their cult statues were not really gods, but symbols and sometimes a means of communication or point of contact.

In my research, I want to show that the state of the issue is much more complex. While Greek philosophers seemed to have a distaste for viewing the statues as the real deity, it seemed that in the wider culture there was serious ambiguity. This engages in the wider issue of how images and statues were viewed in general (e.g., statues of leaders and heros, commemorative statues of the dead, etc…).

My argument is going to be that statues served as objects that fill that middle space between the mortal/visible world and the “other”/invisible world – at such a juncture, the statue (in Greek imagination) does actualize the divine presence. Or, a statue of a dead person does, somehow, act as more than just an object, and yet other than the human person. One example, known well to classicists I image, but new to me until recently, is Pausanias’ story of the athlete Theagenes. Here is Pausanias’ account. It is hilarious and insightful! (I will share more on my research over time, I am sure).

When he [Theagenes] died, a man who had been one of his enemies while he was alive came to the image [memorial statue] of Theagenes every night and flogged the bronze as though he were causing pain to Theagenes himself. The statue finally put an end to this hybris by falling on the man and killing him, but subsequently his children proceeded to prosecute the image for murder. So the Thasians dumped the statue into the sea, following the judgment of Drakon, who, when he wrote laws dealing with homicide for the Athenians, banished every non-living things if any of them, in falling, happened to kill a man. After a time a time, however, when the earth yielded no crops to the Thasians, they send envoys to Delphi, and the god responded by telling them that they should receive back their exiles. But although in obedience to this advice they received them back, they obtained no relief from the famine. Therefore they went a second time to the Pythian priestess, saying that, although they had done what was commanded them, the wrath of the gods was still upon them. Thereupon the Pythia answered them: ‘You leave unremembered your great Theagenes.’ And they say that when they were at their wits’ end as to a means by which thy could rescue the statue of Theagenes, some fisherman, after putting out to sea in search of fish, caught the statue in their net and brought it back to the land. The Thasians set the statue up where it originally stood, and they now have the custom of worshipping him as if he were a god.” (6.11.2-9)

You may be interested to know that it was probably the special court, the Prytaneum, that took up this charge against the statue – as this was the special court that dealt with grievances against physical objects!

Follow up: Habits of a Researcher?

I asked before what kind of path we should cut out for ourselves in research. I am still working on that but a commenter offered a link to a very useful Inside Higher Ed article called “The Myth of the Muse.” I really enjoyed this short article. The “myth” is that too many people are waiting for their Muse (inspiration) before putting pen to paper. The best advice in the article is this: “articles and books get completed when ideas meet hard work over sustained periods of time”. So true.

The advice offered in the article challenges the uninspired to write a little bit every day. Personally, I would find this daunting and rather unproductive. Instead, I try to dedicate 4 hours a week (usually all-at-once) to writing towards some research project. Honestly, I always look forward to that little “getaway.”

What are some of your research-time habits?

A New Commentary Series: Resonate (IVP)

I would just like to mention a new Biblical commentary series by IVP called “Resonate.” The editors seem to all come from Multnomah University/Seminary and the series is non-technical.

Here is the series explanation: “The aim of the Resonate series is to provide spiritual nourishment that is biblically and theologically orthodox and culturally significant.” Also, the purposes include: “guiding, guarding, and growing readers as they move forward in their own spiritual journeys.”

I have had a chance to read most of the first book, The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town (Paul Louis Metzger). I had pretty high expectations for a new commentary series, but I must admit I was a bit disappointed. While his exposition is overall fair, the illustrations and cultural connections to today did not really impress me. Also, a NT prof will inevitably have quibbles with accuracy. For example, Metzger says that the woman at the well “resorts to theologizing in an attempt to change the conversation” (75). I think Metzger is too quick to devalue the fact that the Jewish decimation of the Samaritan temple not so long before was the proverbial elephant in the room. I recognize, thought, that I am not the target audience. This series probably would work well for a high school or college Bible study in terms of “fit” and interest.


I will be interested in seeing the reviews of others in due time.

Hurtado’s Book on God in NT Theology

Over the break I finished reading Larry Hurtado’s fine book on God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon). It is a short read (just over 100 pages) and surprisingly fills an important niche since there are so few books on “God” in the New Testament, as Nils Dahl complained about a few decades ago.

In the first chapter, Hurtado covers a number of recent treatments on the question of God in the NT. While there have been a good number since Dahl’s call to scholarship on God, there is still work left to be done (especially on NT documents other than the Gospels and from Paul).

The second chapter examines the identity of the NT God. He is not just a general divine figure, according to Hurtado, but the same God of Israel. Specifically, his identity is bound up with his deeds (as in the OT); especially in his acts of “creation, calling, sending forth prophets, rescuing and vindicating, giving commandments, judging and punishing, and most importantly God’s acts in Jesus, sending him forth, handing him over to redemptive death, and raising him and exalting him to superlative glory” (p. 35).

In the NT, we find a greater emphasis of God as Father, especially as Jesus is revealed as Son (p. 38ff).

There is also a strong theme of God as “Living” – both eternal and one who gives resurrection life – to Jesus especially. Hurtado says this: “Jesus’ resurrection is not presented as a restoration to ordinary life but was seen as a catapulting of Jesus into the glorious/glorified life of the world to come” (p. 42). In this chapter (and others) Hurtado repeats his trademark expression that early Christian worship was binitarian, a “mutation” of traditional worship where Yahweh is paid devotion  by reference to Jesus. One of my concerns at this point is the vagueness of this language of mutation and reference, but I admit I am not familiar with Hurtado’s work and I have just checked a couple of his books out from the library.

Chapter 3 covers “God” and Jesus in the NT. Hurtado notes that Jesus “is subordinate and subservient to the purposes of “God”” (p. 55). By worshipping Jesus, the early Christians were not serving another god, but saw Jesus as “the unique agent of “God’s” redemptive purposes” (p. 61). Again, “”God” remains typically the ultimate recipient of worship, and the remarkable devotion to Jesus is intended as response to “God’s” installation of Jesus as rightful recipient of this devotion” (p. 64). It stands to reason, for the early Christians, that if Jesus plays such an important eschatological role, he must have also been involved in protological matters, thus reflection on his role in creation (e.g., John 1).

Chapters 4 and 5 are, respectively, on the Spirit and God, and his conclusions. I will stop the review here, as I did not find much noteworthy information to report.

Overall, I felt that it was a very good book because there is almost nothing like it – covering “God” in such a short space, and by a leading NT expert. For those, like me, who are not up-t0-date on all things Hurtado, it was a nice entry point to get the basic argument for his binitarian-devotion theory. He also hits all the major issues, if only briefly. I would give it a 4/5. Thanks Larry!

Charting Your Writing Career – how much, how often, on what?

Happy new year! The beginning of a new year brings thoughts about what is next. From an academic perspective, thoughts naturally turn to new writing projects. At SBL I had some good conversations with friends and scholars at various stages in their careers, from just beginning (like me) to seasoned, prolific writers. One thing seems to be clear. The expectations have changed considerably in the last half century regarding scholarly output. A generation ago, it seemed outstanding to publish more than three books in a career. Now, people like Mike Bird can write a whole book on the plane ride to SBL I would imagine.

I think there is more demand on writing more for a few reasons.

(1) It has gotten easier to gain access to information  – via ILL or Amazon or googlebooks, ATLA etc…

(2) Getting published is easier – I have a hard time believing that a PhD thesis published in NT studies would not make it into at one of the many monograph pubs.

(3) More publishers – the cost of making books is coming down (esp now with e-books) so pubs can publish more books. So there is “room” for more books in the market (though less and less in the libraries!).

(4) textbooks – 30 years ago, textbooks in Biblical academia was pretty much unheard of. For undergrad courses, you worked with one or two basic books that were out there. Marketers have probably seen a niche and sought to fill it – and then some.

I am sure there are more reasons. The bottom line is that, because it is easier to publisher, by the law of inflation it is becoming more and more competitive – the more books one publishes, the more prestigious the scholar (in theory, not always in practice as we all would recognize).

So where does that leave us? What is “feasible” for charting your career?

Some writers still believe that you should spend several years researching before writing a book. My outstanding supervisors were both models of patient, careful, well-researched scholarship. Neither of them would be considered “prolific,” but both are considered world-class experts in their fields. I deeply respect that.

On the other hand, take a Durham scholar like Jimmy Dunn – putting out now (in his retirement) larger books now than ever. He probably has a dozen good books left in him!

What is a reasonable course for beginners?

Perhaps this is over-ambitious, but I think I can manage one good book every three years. Monographs take a good amount of time. Commentaries as well. But publishers don’t like to wait around either. In any case, if I did one every three years, that would be 10 books during a career. That sounds like a lot. Certainly there are times when I will be serving on committees more intensely or travelling for a summer. But also there will be years when my teaching load is lighter (or repetitive) and I can work during the school year on research. And there is the coveted Sabbatical time.

For those of you post-PhD, do you have a writing plan? or is it more or less taking each project one by one? I am interested in your thoughts!