Reviewing Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Last Supper, Part Two (Skinner)

PitreHaving provided an introduction to the major questions and methodological approaches guiding Prof. Pitre’s book in my last post, I wanted to spend the bulk of today’s post emphasizing what I think are the major strengths of the book. Thus, comments here will consist solely of “words of praise” before I begin my formal chapter-by-chapter review (during which I will attempt to provide substantive discussion that includes both agreement and dissent).

1. Breadth of Research: I should begin with the observation that this book has been assiduously researched. I can honestly think of no better term than “impressive” to describe the breadth and depth of Pitre’s awareness and analysis of foundational works of scholarship on Jesus as well as ancillary works aimed at ferreting out a perhaps less-significant-but-still-related insight or piece of information about Jesus. Pitre demonstrates a strong grasp of the major movements in the history of Jesus research, their implications, their strengths, their weaknesses, and potential pitfalls in jumping to conclusions when it comes to the “assured results of modern scholarship.” He, in fact, eschews at every turn, what many would regard as fixed positions. I was particularly impressed at his acknowledgement that just prior to finishing this book, he was forced to delay publication so that he could reckon with the implications of recent research dealing with skepticism over the value of the criteria of authenticity. In fact, he writes that this book gestated for nearly ten years (!!!) before coming to full fruition. That sort of patience alone is laudable.

Pitre (like myself and many others) was trained by those using the criteria (indeed he acknowledges his indebtedness to John Meier, among others, in the book’s dedication and preface). I therefore find it praiseworthy that he would take the time so close to having the book published, to listen to those who have (rightly, I think) pointed out why those criteria are no longer useful. It appears that the social memory theorists really had an impact on his thinking! As I pointed out in my previous post, he still makes use of a modified version of the criterion of coherence, but he qualifies this approach. (For what it’s worth, I have discussed on numerous occasions both on this blog and on my previous blog, my own journey with the criteria. If you are interested see here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Pitre’s breadth of research manifests itself in two ways I’d like to highlight here:

a. Knowledge of Primary TextsPitre is at home in the NT (as one might expect) and in the    Hebrew Bible (including the Deutero-Canonical writings), and the LXX. He also discusses, often at length, Josephus, Philo, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal works, numerous Second Temple and Rabbinic Texts, and a host of early Christian writings. He has done his homework and is to be applauded. Let’s be honest, in this field, it can be a challenge to get your arms around the massive amount of ancient literature you need to fully examine an issue. Brant Pitre has, in my opinion, done the necessary leg-work to earn any informed reader’s respect.

b. Knowledge of Secondary Texts: Whether it’s commentaries, books about Jesus, articles on form criticism, or monographs on the Eucharist, Pitre also demonstrates thorough research in the secondary texts in English, German, and French. Honestly, what more can one ask for in a book in the field of NT/EC that purports to be a definitive treatment of the subject? (I have learned to pay attention and take note of this over the years; my Doktorvater, Frank Moloney, laments to me quite often at how North American works of Biblical scholarship have morphed into what he calls “English-only” treatments of the subject.) It’s often hyperbole to say, “so-and-so has read everything written on the subject,” but I can say that there was no point at which I thought, “well he missed that monograph,” or “what about this article?,” and there were many many instances in which Pitre’s treatment pointed me to something that I had not previously read or even been exposed to. I will learn much from returning to Pitre’s bibliography.

2. Attention to Detail: In my last post I spoke of Pitre’s “leave no stone unturned” approach. As this serial review progresses, I will point out how nearly every conceivable angle of an argument is considered. While I often disagree with his conclusions, it’s difficult to assail his careful concern to consider all sides of the argument.

3. Consistency in Applying Methodology: I always appreciate when a given scholar applies his/her stated methodology with consistency. Pitre’s consistency allows the reader to appreciate what is, overall, a very coherent argument. There is much to be said for writing an intricate and circuitous, 500+ page treatise, all the while making complex arguments but maintaining consistency.

These are, as I see them, genuine strengths of Pitre’s book. I will begin my critique of Chapter One some time in the next week. For now, I’m off to the annual CBA meeting in California. (I hope to see some of you there!)