Danielle Tumminio and Candida Moss on Christian Martyrdom

I am currently writing up my review (which goes up on March 9th) of Candida Moss’ new book The Myth of Persecution, but here is a snippet of an excellent interview of Dr. Moss over at HuffPo.

But intriguingly, the historical evidence for systematic persecution of Christians by Jews and Romans is actually very slim. There were only a few years before the rise of the emperor Constantine that Christians were sought out by the authorities just for being Christians. The stories about early Christian martyrs have been edited, expanded, and sometimes even invented, giving the impression that Christians were under constant attack. This mistaken impression is important because it fosters a sense of Christian victimhood and that victim mentality continues to rear its head in modern politics and society. It’s difficult to imagine that people could make the same claims about persecution today were it not for the idea that Christians have always been persecuted.

And my favorite part:

You’re both a historian and a person of faith. Some of the historical evidence you offer in this book may be challenging for people of faith to read. Was it challenging for you to write? What would you say to those readers who might struggle with the historical evidence in this book?

In a word, yes. To those readers who might struggle with this book, I would say that you can appreciate the martyrs without subscribing to the view that Christians were, are, and always have been persecuted. We still have an obligation to get our facts straight, however painful that might be.

via Danielle Tumminio: Candida Moss on Whether Christian Martyrs are a Myth.

As many of my readers know, I’ve suggested something similar before about Paul and also about Ignatius.  I encourage everyone to check out the interview and return here on March 9th for my review.

Bill O’Reilly and the Polarizing Political Figure of Jesus

It has come to my attention that Bill O’Reilly will be publishing a book on the life and death of Jesus. This news has been making the rounds on the interwebs and of course I’m concerned. It isn’t necessarily because I don’t like O’Reilly, or because I find his views on generally everything to be atrociously flawed and morally questionable, but I am concerned because the last thing we need to happen is a “Which way would Jesus vote?” debate start dominating the conversation about the figure of Jesus.

Of course I’m aware that Jesus is often called upon by various politicians of all affiliations. But politicians most likely use this rhetoric to reflect what popular culture supports and, unfortunately, culture supports some crazy ideas. Consider sites like Rapture Ready (a website for fundamentalist Christians who believe the world will end within their lifetimes) which make the following (generally popular) claims about Jesus found in certain wings of evangelical Christianity:

There is one thing certain we can state, based upon the integrity of Bible truth. Jesus would never endorse or be a member of any party whose platform supports abortion, gay rights, and a general hostility to Bible-believing Christians.

Interestingly, Jesus is portrayed to have spoken thousands of words between all four Gospels, yet not one of those words was about abortion or gay rights. So what should one do about people who are hostile to Bible-believing Christians? Well, it gets a little hairy in this area, but there is that oft-quoted phrase “turn the other cheek.” So I’m not sure how certain anyone can be about endorsements for any particular political party.

When it comes down to it, scholars have enough trouble coming to any sort of consensus on what Jesus may have said and what he might have done, let alone what his political views might have been.

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And now that we’re on the subject, I don’t really hate bankers, or what they do, I just don’t want them doing their business in my house!

And those politicians on the right side of the aisle are not the only culpable ones. While Jesus spoke of social change in theological terms, he was not the liberal, leftist ideologue that some would suggest (like those at Jesus is (was?) a Liberal believe). He did not come to bring class equality, he did not come to preach against the corporate state (‘render unto Caesar’ and all that), he did not bring it to ‘the man’ (‘the man’ crucified him). He did not resolve to rid the world of poverty, he only eased their suffering by promising them a better world when they died (of leprosy, of starvation, of a beating by a slave owner, etc…); he certainly never promised the poor their freedom from their current, earthly state of poverty-stricken existence.

Yes, the authors of the Gospels portray him as feeding the multitudes, but he only does that occasionally as a demonstration of his similarity (sameness?) to Elijah/Elisha, who both performed similar miracles, and to show the power of god (which the poor would see when they died). He never lifted a finger to end poverty. The Jesus of the Gospels could care less about class warfare; in heaven, he would argue, the tables would turn. Here on earth, well, you’re stuck with what you have–even if that is nothing.

And while it may shock some of you, on occasion, he got involved in a little saber rattling. Jesus was not portrayed as a pansy. He had his moments of testosterone (can god have testosterone?) fueled rage and sometimes he was pretty blunt about what to do with those who crossed him (“those who are not with me are against me” and “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” and “these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence”).

Many of these verses were used during the inquisition to torture heretics and were justifications to launch the crusades. Whether they were right or wrong (wrong, in my opinion) it just demonstrates how that liberal, hippie (not to be confused with ‘hipster’) Jesus with the ‘anti-war’, pacifist attitude is a myth (in John 2.15, Jesus made a whip out of cord and he whipped the crap out of people for goodness sake!). But it is a myth in the same sense as the conservative, anti-gay, pro-guns Jesus that the right loves so much.

“I’m saving this lamb from the evil butchers–it’s free-range for this guy!” – Said Jesus never.

As Candida Moss has pointed out, Jesus did offer some semblance of free health care, healing poor and curing people without ever taking a cent. Obviously there were some caveats, because god, but these were largely faith-based (you don’t see poor people acquiring a referral because of their HMO in order to be touched and healed by Jesus, for example). So the whole concept that Jesus wouldn’t stand behind universal health care seems a little out of place.

The Gospels are also pretty clear that being poor and being a Christian are sort of hand-in-hand. He tells a rich man that in order to follow him, he must give up all his possessions (because he will be rewarded ten-fold by his faith after death in heaven):

“Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.”

After this man left, he states that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” In other words, according to Jesus, get poor or GTFO! This doesn’t quite jive with conservative capitalism, does it?

Similarly, while not in the Gospels, god (and therefore Jesus) advocates communism over capitalism and those who refuse to adhere to it cannot be a part of the Christian church. Period. Do not pass go, do not collect eternal life. And if you refuse to give up all your possessions and then lie about it, well, god strikes you dead.

So am I concerned about O’Reilly’s foray into historical Jesus studies? Oh, god yes. I’m terrified. But I’m terrified because of the way lay people and politicians will continue to construe and deconstruct the Jesus we have–even as unstable and contradictory an individual as he may be–and scholarship will continue to remain within a relatively isolated community of experts. In other words, books by the Bill O’Reillys and the Clint Willises (author of Jesus Is Not a Republican) of the world are the only books on Jesus that anyone will read. Because they will be the only books available and accessible.

Besides, broadcasters and talking heads don’t have the facts straight when it comes to their actual jobs (reporting the news). Bill O’Reilly can’t seem to figure out what causes the tide, so just how well do you think he’ll do getting the historical Jesus right? Keep in mind, scholars can’t even seem to figure it out entirely–and they’ve spent their professional career trying to find answers. I’m betting that O’Reilly will not produce a very accurate picture.

He is already imaging Jesus much like how he views himself, a “beloved and controversial young revolutionary” who is constantly persecuted, but who fights for that in which he believes. It is a stunning pseudo-autobiographical portrayal of Jesus through O’Reilly’s eyes. And had O’Reilly been trained in the field, he would know that George Tyrrell pointed out this troublesome factor of historical Jesus scholarship decades ago. But O’Reilly isn’t a scholar, nor even an educated layman on the subject; he is a pundit on a news network with an agenda (like all politicians and political-pundits). That is precisely the problem.

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“I should write a book on Jesus… but also on aliens.”

Jesus’ portrayal in the Gospels is multifaceted because we have at least four portrayals. But the nuance of the figure of Jesus is much greater, and so limiting Jesus to particular synchronic values does nothing but narrow his value to everyone. Even as a secular student of history, I can find value there because the study of these nuances is important to all–not conservatives, not liberals, not any particular sectarian group. So this is my plea to everyone: leave Jesus out of politics. You are not salvaging history, you’re destroying the future (of history).

Books to Review

And I have a plethora.

Seriously, though, I do have a lot of them.  I am in the midst of reviewing some I have already started on this blog (but haven’t found the time to finish) and I have a handful I just received that I plan to review this month.  Here is the stack I have waiting for me:

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Since I am anxious to start the review process, let me give some first impressions of these books (in the order they are listed in the picture):

Thomas Brodie’s new memoir is interesting.  My first impressions were somewhat skewed in two directions prior to even seeing the book: (1) Richard Carrier’s not-so-positive review and (2) my great respect and admiration for Brodie’s work over the past few decades.   But I’m not at all impressed with Carrier’s review as I feel it takes the genre of Brodie’s work for granted.  Brodie is not writing a ‘mythicist book’, but a memoir about his life, his discoveries, the directions he has taken with his scholarship, and the direction that his scholarship has taken him.  As someone who has read (and enjoyed) the memoir of another Irish Catholic New Testament scholar (John Dominic Crossan’s, A Long Way from Tipperary), Brodie’s book fits perfectly within such a category and shines, in my humble opinion.  The first few chapters I’ve read demonstrate his struggle with the question of Jesus’ historicity through his time in the ministry, living in different parts of the world trying to teach the New Testament critically as a devout Catholic theologian and as a trained historian.  In many ways I’m sympathetic to Brodie’s positions–not because I think Jesus is a fiction, but because I find his reasoning to be justified within the framework of his career as an expert in literary criticism, as someone tested within the field of New Testament.  He could not have reached this conclusion lightly and therefore I am sympathetic, even if I disagree with the strength of his premise (i.e., Jesus never existed).  But I still have more to read and so I will continue to review it as I can find the time.

Mark Goodacre’s work is always a pleasure to read.  It always engages you critically and tends to have a Cartesian quality that challenges those long-held presuppositions of a text about which you never knew you had.  When I first read his Case Against Q, I was instantly persuaded (though, admittedly, I did already have my doubts about Q for some time).  With the Gospel of Thomas, I likewise started from a position of doubt; that is to say, I suspected that the author of Thomas had a familiarity with the synoptics.  Mark Goodacre’s new book does not strengthen my suspicions as much as it forces me to interact intellectually with them.  Thomas and the Gospels takes all my inclinations and lays them out for me to see, with a range of textual criticism and analysis for which Mark Goodacre is known.  He presents each argument, thus far that I’ve seen, with the intent of demonstrating the familiarity he argues for, rather than simply restating his premise over and over as I’ve seen in so many other studies on Thomas.  I anticipate that I will continue to enjoy this volume and the functionally-useful arguments that Goodacre gives throughout.  I can’t wait to continue reading this one!

Candida Moss’s new book The Myth of Persecution looks extremely promising, conceptually.  I hesitate to speak more about it yet because I am participating in a blog tour for this book in March and would much rather share my thoughts on it then.  However, I will say this is on a subject I have blogged about recently.

cpcisChanging Perspectives is a relatively new project under the Copenhagen International Seminar Series.  The goal of this project is to “publish volumes of collected essays and research articles, which have had a significant effect on the methods and scholarly research of its author as well as on the field of Old Testament and its related disciplines in the course of the last 50 years.”  I have received two volumes of the four to review: Thomas Thompson’s volume and Niels Peter Lemche’s volume.  I am confident in saying that both of these volumes are must-owns for anyone who wants to do serious scholarship in the field of Old Testament and literary criticism.  They are exceptionally important.  Some of the articles are known to me through my years of dialog with Thomas, who has on occasion directed me to them prior to the publication of this book.  However, some are new to me and many of which I would have to order through inter-library loan or pay to get my hands on them.  Thankfully, having them in this volume solves all of that as I can easily reference a particular argument, especially over stages of its development, which is very helpful.  I also learned something about NP Lemche that I had not known: he has a history of being a non-minimalist!  Who knew?!  I didn’t.  But now I do!  Thus we see the evolution of his critical mind in action from the 1980’s (where we see a more conservative Lemche) into the present (into the minimalist we all–well, most of us anyway; the smart ones–love).  I cannot recommend these two volumes enough and would quite enjoy reviewing Philip Davies’ forthcoming volume as well as John Van Seters’ volume, so long as Acumen is feeling generous enough.

Paul and Jesus by James Tabor looks to be a thought-provoking book.  I should preface this short introductory review with the fact that James and I do not always see eye-to-eye, but I like him as a person and find him to be a very serious scholar.  And I see both of those attributes reflected in his new tome on Paul.  I also see some not-so-distant (yet still faded) reflections of Hyam Maccoby and Gerd Lüdemann, along with Bultmann in this hypothesis.  The idea that Paul is really the man behind the movement of Christianity, rather than Jesus, is not new in and of itself.  In fact I would agree with this argument, as it seems that Paul’s theological foundation has played a pivotal role in the early Christian movement.  I won’t say much more until I’ve completed the book, but I do believe this title is worth every New Testament scholar’s consideration, as Tabor presents some challenging arguments that must be dealt with in new ways (as the old ways simply do not cut it, as Tabor demonstrates), even if his premise does not convince a whole lot of people (though particularly those in the more conservative wings of scholarship will find his reconstruction of the early Christian movement unpalatable).

Finally, we come to it at last.  But what exactly it is… Well, I am just not sure.   I get the feeling that Douglas Templeton is trying to do something very, shall we say, flamboyant with the literature, make it burst forth from the pages as would a description of a novel as explained by Derrida.  I’m just not sure what is going on and the volume comes across as very pop-culture-meets-anecdotal-meetup-group-esque.  I want to like this book, but it is so weird I just can’t begin to get attached to the discussion (that is, when I find it).  Honestly, I don’t think I have a firm enough grasp on the functionality of the book, if there is such a thing, to appreciate it.  Someone, I’m sure, will love it.  That certain ‘someone’ just isn’t me.

Why I Love Instagram

Here are some of my favorite Instagram photos.  Yes, I took these.  No, you cannot use these photos without permission.  Yes, you can enjoy them.

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The 2013 Acumen Publishing ‘Religion’ Catalog is Up!

You can all sit in joy (and joyness) and flip through the digital catalog here:

http://www.acumenpublishing.co.uk/pdf/Acumen-ReligionCatalogue2013.pdf

And make special note of pages 26-27!  ‘What is there, on those specific pages?’ you ask.  Well, none other than a feature on the Copenhagen International Seminar!  Especially the new and forthcoming volumes of the new series in CIS: Changing Perspectives!  In addition, you will find ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ in paperback form, in full color, ready for those interested to preorder!

Here is a screen capture:

ciscatalog

Go check it out!

Did the Greeks Get a Building from an Ancient IKEA?

Pretty awesome!

Italian archeologists have unearthed the remains of a Greek temple-like structure dating back to 6th century B.C. They also found details on how to build it. Written in detailed codes, the collection of how-to instructions was found among the remains.

It says “Product is not covered under warranty.” Damn you, IKEA!

Much like the instruction booklets of the Swedish home furnishings company, IKEA, various sections of the elaborate structure were inscribed with coded symbols showing how the pieces slotted together. Shown here is one of the coded slabs. “So far we have uncovered 100 inscribed fragments, all related to the roof assembly system. The inscriptions also reveal that the palace was built by Greek artisans coming from the Spartan colony of Taranto in Puglia,” Massimo Osanna, director of the archaeology school at Basilicata University, told Discovery News.

Check out more photos and information here: Ancient Building Comes with Assembly Instructions : Discovery News.

Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries: Enslaved Women in a Modern World

I’m not sure how I didn’t know about this sooner.  A report in TIME World from last week caught my eye.  It seems that Americans were kept pretty much in the dark about this terrible atrocity:

They were the forgotten women of Ireland, kept under lock and key, forced to clean and sew, and to wash away the sins of their previous life while never being paid a penny. Some stayed months, others years. Some never left. They were the inmates of Ireland’s notorious 20th century workhouses, the Magdalene Laundries. And this week, with the publication of a government report into the dark history of the laundries, the women came that much closer to obtaining justice.

The laundries — a beneficent-sounding word that helped hide the mistreatment that took place inside their walls — were operated by four orders of Catholic nuns in Ireland from 1922 to 1996. Over 10,000 young women, considered a burden by family, school and the state, spent an average of six months to a year locked up in these workhouses doing unpaid, manual work. Some were kept there against their will for years. Their numbers were made up by unmarried mothers and their daughters, women and girls who had been sexually abused, women with mental or physical disabilities who were unable to live independently, and young girls who had grown up under the care of the church and the state. The laundries were “a mechanism that society, religious orders and the state came up with to try and get rid of people deemed not to be conforming to the so-called mythical, cultural purity that was supposed to be part of Irish identity,” Irish historian Diarmaid Ferriter told Ireland’s national broadcasting service, RTE, this week. Known as the fallen women, the workers were only entitled to leave if signed out by a family member or if a nun found a position of work for them, and if they tried to escape the confines of the home they were brought back by the Irish police.

via Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries: Report Exposes a National Shame | TIME.com.

This is very dark.  Some estimate as many as 30,000 women have gone through these slave mills.

There are a lot of implications here.  How many Popes knew about this?  When the laundries stopped running in 1996 (at least, I hope they have stopped), that was during John Paul II’s tenure.  Did he know about these laundries?

Catholic enslavement of women: Just another reason why I’m an apostate.

Here is where you can go to find out more and where you can find ways to help.

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