Nine Books I’m Currently Reading (Skinner)

Ok, so I just checked and in my last three weeks of blog inactivity, Nijay has literally posted 14 different times. (I think he’s trying to make me look bad.) During that period I have been a little busy, first finishing exams and then finishing up a paper I’ll be giving at this conference in London in a little more than a week. When I return from London I have a bunch of stuff to post about, but for now, I thought I’d mention a few books that I am reading at the moment as I plan on reviewing them here on the blog. Summer is a good time to catch up on (late) book reviews and other books I have been too busy to pick up. Here are nine I’m currently reading, seven of which I plan to discuss here:

Black Book1.  C. Clifton Black, The Disciples according to Mark: Markan Redaction in Current Debate (2d ed; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).

I am currently reviewing this one for Biblical Theology Bulletin. I received it awhile back when I was working on my book on Markan character studies and I found it extremely useful for my historical overview of Markan research on the disciples. This is a second edition of Black’s revised dissertation, which was an “instant classic” when it was first published back in 1989. Black’s insightful analysis of the different types of redaction criticism, as well as the failures and successes of redaction critical method remains poignant and thought-provoking. The substance of the original book remains the same, though Black has added a lengthy “Afterword” (43 pages) in which he discusses redaction criticism in the 25 years since the initial publication of his book. I have several thoughts about this book that I hope to share in due course.

Burke Book2. Tony Burke, Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013). 

I am currently reviewing this one for Catholic Biblical Quarterly. Tony (whom I have not yet met) has a very good blog named Apocryphicity, devoted to all-things-Apocrypha. If you’ve read his blog, you won’t be surprised by the quality of this book. Those who know me well know that I love to research and write, but they also know that I am a teacher first. That’s why I love getting solidly-researched, well-written books aimed at students. I am not finished with the book yet, but I can already tell you that it’s a great fit for the classroom. I do intend to try it out the next time I have an opportunity to teach a course on the non-canonical literature.

Ehrman.Plese Book3. Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Plese, The Other Gospels: Accounts of Jesus from Outside the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Like the previous book, I am also reviewing this one for Catholic Biblical Quarterly, though I have yet to do more than simply leaf through a few pages. Back in 2011, Ehrman (who is well-known to anyone who might read this blog) and Plese (a leading authority on Christian Gnosticism) published a book entitled, The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations, in which they provided original language texts–complete with text-critical discussions–and translations of non-canonical writings about Jesus. This book covers the same writings from that previous volume but with English-only translations and without all of the scholarly jargon. Like the Burke book, I think this has the potential to be a useful classroom resource. I will say more about this once I’ve had a chance to go over it in greater detail.

Keith Book4. Chris Keith, Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). 

I am reviewing this one for Theology. I read (and really liked) Chris’ related book, Jesus’ Literacy , and I have already read the first two chapters of this one. Chris writes that this book is part three of a three-part “Spielbergian” project (my words, not his) in which he deals with various issues and various angles related to the literacy of Jesus (see here and here for the previous two works). I have made no secret of the fact that I think very highly of Chris Keith’s scholarship. He is a creative, intelligent, and productive scholar, especially in light of his age. I look forward to working my way through the rest of the book.

Bennema Book5. Cornelis Bennema, A Theory of Character in New Testament Narrative (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014).

This book came to me in the mail awhile back. I have been asked by Fortress Press to provide a review here on the blog (which I will due by summer’s end) and was just asked today to review it for a journal. I have had a chance to look over several chapters (but, if I’m being totally and completely honest), I have only really perused the four or five sections in which Cor interacts with my own work. This is not as utterly self-serving as it sounds. In November I will be on a panel with Cor, Alicia Myers, Steve Hunt, Frank Moloney and others at SBL in which we deal with Johannine characterization. I already know that I have some strong disagreements with Cor, but I also find his work stimulating. One of the strengths of what I’ve already read is that Cor is definitely read up on all of the important research in this area.

Myers Book6. Alica Myers, Characterizing Jesus: A Rhetorical Analysis on the Fourth Gospel’s Use of Scripture in its Presentation of Jesus (LNTS; London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, 2014).

OK, I have to be honest and say that I haven’t even looked at this one yet. Like the previous book, I just received this in the mail so that I can read up for our November session at SBL. I recently had the chance to meet Alicia who is moving to Campbell University, right down the road from where I teach. I will likely provide a review of this one closer to November, but I did want to mention it.

 

Crump Book7. David Crump, Encountering Jesus, Encountering Scripture: Reading the Bible Critically in Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013).

I agreed to review this one for Biblical Theology Bulletin, but I am not really sure what to say or think about it. This book is different in focus and content from the volumes I typically review and I’m just not sure what to do with it. Crump wants to look at the Scriptures through a Kierkegaardian lens while giving a nod to issues like authentic faith and Scriptural authority (issues I am a little tired of discussing in public), all while questioning the value of the historical critical method. It’s been an *interesting* read thus far. Tune in and I’ll say more once I’m done.

Finally, I’m also reading the competing 8. Ehrman and 9. Bird (et al) volumes….but don’t worry, I don’t plan to review either one here on the blog. There’s much too much of that going on in the blogosphere right now.

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The “Response Book”: A Few Reflections on a Uniquely Evangelical Phenomenon (Skinner)

How God Became JesusOver the past few days my social media feeds have been inundated with various posts about two recent books: Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God  and a multi-author “response” volume entitled, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart D. Ehrman. Various memes have even been created to promote one side or the other (see here and here). The latter book boasts an international lineup of evangelical luminaries, including Simon Gathercole, Craig Evans, Michael Bird, Charles Hill, and Chris Tilling. The book has also received endorsements from academic heavyweights like Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham. Many of the comments in my Twitter and Facebook feeds have offered words of praise for the “response book” while suggesting that Ehrman’s book is self-serving and part of the “same old story” he continues to tell. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I know several of the individuals involved in these projects, I respect all of them, and have benefited from some of their past work. That said, I wanted to take a moment to offer a few (perhaps unpopular) reflections on the things that come to my mind when I see yet another evangelical publication aimed at responding to or refuting the work of some scholar outside the evangelical fold. For the record, I have not yet read either book in this debate (both are on the way to my office), so I can’t yet speak to the substance of this particular “response book.” The following reflections are more about the culture that continually feels compelled to produce such responses:

(1) I remember sitting in my first theology course (at an evangelical institution) and hearing my professor lament that many in the evangelical world were too interested in reacting or responding to the arguments of non-evangelicals, with the result that they rarely, if ever, engaged in projects that were genuinely creative or constructive. Sadly, I have found this to be true over the past 15 years. Reacting to those with whom you disagree appears to be a critical part of the warp and woof of evangelical life. So many of the positive comments about the second volume that I have read to this point use descriptors like “brilliant defense” and “cogent response,” which at least gives the impression that those who are reading the book believe this is why the “response book” exists. This general impression makes me sad and a little uneasy, especially since I hold the conversation partners in this debate in high regard, as scholars and as individuals.

(2) To my mind there is an interesting irony in the “response” to Ehrman: the very faction that wants to strip him of his credbility unwittingly contributes to his acclaim. They end up giving him more attention when they really want people to stop reading him. Further, they also unwittingly give the impression that it takes five or six evangelicals to counter one non-evangelical scholar. Evangelicals can’t wait to read a book written by “some of the most learned and faithful scholars within evangelicalism” (an actual quote I read), but the wider, non-evangeical public often views this scenario as an army at war with an individual…which brings me to my next thought. 

(3) One word: Fear. Projects like this one give many non-evangelicals the impression that evangelicals are afraid of the arguments that contradict their own. Whether this is true or not is debatable.

(4) I know many gifted and creative scholars working both within and outside of evangelical circles. Those who get the most attention are not necessarily those who propagate a non-evangelical narrative or even a non-Christian narrative, though I often hear this critique. Generally speaking, those who get wide attention do so because of the quality of the work they put forward. Yes, Bart Ehrman gets a lot of publicity. Much of this is related to his ability to write compellingly for non-specialist audiences. He communicates, both on television and in print, in a creative and original way. You may not be thrilled with his narrative, but you can’t doubt his ability to connect with the wider public. When the evangelical faction as a rule begins to do truly interesting, creative, and constructive work, they may begin getting the same attention. However, this might also require a re-thinking of the evangelical narrative in which greater nuance is applied and ground is ceded to those with better, more compelling, and more convincing arguments.