Joe Hoffmann on Romney, Mormonism, and Lying for the Lord

I don’t always agree with Joe Hoffmann, but when I do, you can be sure it is about something he says epically.  Here is a snippet:

No one expected the enemy to take this form. At one point, in reply to Romney’s third asseveration that he was not advocatng a three trillion dollar tax break and that the President’s statements were “simply inaccurate,” (“I don’t know where you’re getting this stuff”) Mr Obama simply looked disappointed and mildly shook his graying head. How many at that point wanted someone to say pointedly “I’m getting it from you, Governor–it’s what you’ve been saying for eighteen months.” Except we all know what Romney would have said, in that Jon Lovitz/Tommy Flannagan style he had adopted: “No I didn’t. You’re making that up, too.” Post-truthfulness, to be effective, must be pathologically coherent.

via Lying for the Lord: The Mormon Missionary Rides High « The New Oxonian.

Visit his blog and read the rest.

Craig A. Evans – Doubting Morton Smith and Secret Mark

Craig A. Evans has an interesting, if not thought-provoking, discussion of Secret Mark that is worth reading.  I am not sure where I stand on this debate.  I know James Tabor and Joe Hoffmann both have different opinions about Smith, and they would know better than I would (and probably better than Evans, since they were students).  But I can say I don’t accept Secret Mark as anything more than a fabrication (possibly ancient, possibly modern); I don’t believe this was part of the Markan tradition.   Either way, I suspect there will be another article soon enough arguing the opposite.  here is a snippet:

At the 1960 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Morton Smith (1915–91) announced that while examining a number of old books and papers in the Mar Saba Monastery in the Judean Desert in 1958 he discovered three pages of hand-written Greek in the back of a 1646 edition of the letters of Ignatius. These pages purport to be a lost letter of Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), written to one Theodore, in which a longer, mystical (or “secret”) Gospel of Mark is discussed. Two passages of this work are quoted, one of which describes Jesus teaching a young man, wearing a linen sheet over his “naked” body, the “mystery of the kingdom of God.” In 1973, Smith published his find, now known as the “Secret Gospel of Mark,” in a lengthy, learned volume (Harvard University Press) and in a briefer, popular version (Harper). Although a number of scholars were willing to accept the find as authentic, or at least were willing to accept Smith’s account, a number of other scholars suspected the find was a hoax and that perhaps Smith himself was the hoaxer. The matter continues to be debated.

About half of the participants view Smith’s find with suspicion, if not as an outright hoax. These include Chilton, Jeffery, Piovanelli, and me. The other half of the participants, including the hosts, remain convinced that Smith told the truth. (The authenticity of the find itself, of course, is another matter.) On his blog, Tony has chronicled his thoughts, explaining why after hearing the papers and the discussion he still thinks Smith indeed made the discovery and that Smith was not involved in any way in a hoax.

via The Bible and Interpretation – Doubting Morton Smith and Secret Mark.


Is Mythicism Close to its End?

Many readers now are quite aware that I am no longer a ‘mythicist’ so I am not against James’ assertion that it is dying.  But I’d like to state quite plainly that the lack of historical veracity for a figure of Jesus is still a problem that has yet to be adequately addressed by scholars.  James might well be a part of the “mainstream academic fold” that ignores the question, accepting it based on old, dated methods but that doesn’t mean the question has gone away.  As someone who is agnostic about the question of historicity, I believe that the question cannot be put to rest under scholars directly (as opposed to indirectly, so common in studies of the historical figure of Jesus) deal with the questions academically.  This is what Carrier and I both hope to accomplish.

In other words, unlike those Zeitgeist mythicists, so dogmatic in their claims and parallelisms, historical Jesus agnostics (as I would label myself) are more concerned with coming to an answer using valid, critical methods.  Carrier’s two volume work will address problems with current methodology in historical Jesus scholarship–something desperately needed.  But his work also proposes a new method, utilizing mathematics.  I don’t think its fair that James dismisses his methods out of hand, as something inappropriate for historical reconstruction, especially since he doesn’t seem to fully grasp it or understand how to use it.   And I don’t think Hoffmann’s dismissal of it as irrelevant is useful either, since he first championed his methods and now rebukes them (due to his personal issues with Carrier or because of other issues, I cannot say).  And what I know of Carrier’s method actually takes into account the current flaws in historical Jesus methods and does an amazing job correcting them precisely by checking all assertive (i.e., overstatements, hyperbole, etc…)  claims that fail to support the data in an honest way.

In my volume, ed. with Thomas Thompson, the New Testament community is asked to directly address its own questions regarding historicity.  It is not a book for mythicists, nor is it a mythicist book.  It is a book which reopens the question of historicity back up for academia and, in a large way, readdresses the subject in a minimalist way.  Are we actually asking appropriate questions when we ask them about a historical figure?  Can that figure be recovered?  Would it matter if he or she were?  Are we failing to read the books of the New Testament the way they were meant to be read if we read them in search of historicity?   And so forth.  The book takes a stance, neither for or against historicity, but seeks only to ask scholars to take the time needed to validate their own presuppositions with the data.  And if it cannot be done, I would ask that scholars recognize the validity of an agnostic position.


Lead Codices Updates from Margaret Barker and Philip Davies

Some new emails have come in and I’d like to share them with everyone.  Margaret Barker wrote me this morning with some additional clarification to her previous email which I will post here in its entirety.  I do not believe she has been made aware of the email discussed over at Daniel McClellan’s blog along with the bronze vs. lead plates which look identical, so I sent her a followup with some discussions and links and look forward to hearing back from her.  Here is her email:

I have just read someone quoting yr blog, and what comes over is not what I intended. This was my fault for being so brief.

No known Xn iconography from the first generation is a fact, but there are verbal images which give a good idea what any Xn iconography wd have been.   There is plenty in the lead codices that corresponds to the verbal imagery of the first Christians: they are sealed books for a start, the overall theme of Revelation; there are palm branches; seven branched lamps; patterns of eight pointed ‘stars’  or similar;  and other images that cannot be identified with certainty.   I will not add to the current speculation.

Sorry about this


I believe her last line is most relevant, of course.  I think we all need to be watchful of such things.  I think we need to also be careful that we don’t rush to any hasty conclusions about them (not the least of which because they appear to be fakes after all); especially which where the symbols and imagery are concerned.  Joe Hoffmann remarked in an email:

I fail to see how the iconography will be dispositive for an early date since these would then need to be the earliest known, sine qua non, examples of the images.  So, Huh?  Everyone backing away from preliminary hasty judgements does not bode well for the profession!

Mark Goodacre also brings news from Philip Davies.  Mark left a comment on my blog earlier this morning with the following important information:

I mentioned the Thonemann analysis to Philip Davies over on the Biblical-Studies list and he replied, “Many thanks – I had tried to read ‘Alexander’ but was frustrated by the confusion of letters. This makes very good sense. What is disturbing is that I was not told of this deciphering. But it adds to some evidence I am collating that some at least of these are pretty modern, after all.”

From R. Joseph Hoffmann: A Discourse on Method

R. Joseph Hoffmann once again weighs in on the recent discussions concerning the Jesus Project. Unlike the previous entry posted here for him, this article handles a wide variety of issues; from detractors and apologists to methods that should be employed by the Project, its a great read through and through. Joe, the floor is yours…

A Discourse on Method: The Jesus Project

R, Joseph Hoffmann

Even before the Jesus Project had resolved itself into a critical mass of scholars with ideas, goals, and vision, bloggers of various persuasions pronounced its fate. It was quickly bloggled into one of three things: More of the Same Old Thing, A Radically New Thing, or a Thing that Wouldn’t Make a Difference whether old or new. To chop these positions finely: the first group consisted of apologists—those who believed that the questions proposed by TJP, or their formulation was impertinent, so were happy to declare the question dead at asking; but also of skeptics who had seen the grunts and groans and fissiparation of previous quests and seminars and were skeptical that anything really new would come from another set of scholarly calisthenics. The second group, which might have included me but didn’t, was giddy at the prospect that stalwart scholars were going to blast the timidity of the Jesus Seminar when it came to the edge of the Big Question, and march on to Baghdad, if the analogy between Gulf I and Iraq isn’t an inappropriate one. I was not the inventor of the preposterous slogan “What if the Most Influential Man in Human History Never Lived?” but I should have been its destroyer. I was however the “creator” of the suggestion that the non-historicity of Jesus is a testable hypothesis and can no longer be ignored and I still believe it. The second group also included, along with people who wanted to ventilate their “myth theories” in a serious forum, many who were interested in the formative power of myth in the creation of social groups and religious movements. The third group, mainly post-Christian and post religious skeptics wondered why in the twenty-first century anyone would worry about such an issue: whatever motives underlay the founding of TJP they were not (surely) as important as such pressing matters as getting God out of the Pledge and getting evolution back into the schools. For two years seriously concerned people wrote, emailed and phoned asking whether I had nothing better to do with my time.

In this space, I want briefly to address each of these positions directly—not to put straight a record that has not yet been written, but to alert both scholars and onlookers that we have everything to gain from confronting our critics as well as our theories.

TJP was never construed as a sequel to the Jesus Seminar. (I have now written that sentence eight times in different places.) That has not prevented linkages in the press of the “Mars-is-to-Earth …”variety. It did not begin as a corrective or a replacement to the Jesus Seminar. There is overlap only insofar as it is impossible to create a brand -new scholarly conversation without involving some of the same personalities and dealing with some of the same questions. Consider the Obama White House and the Clinton White House in terms of recidivist personnel and “issues”. I have said, recently and rather forcefully I hope, that the Seminar asked some of the wrong questions in the wrong order, skated past others, and that to accept any critique of TJP methodology, as it evolves, from a seminar whose own methods were often seen as risible would be–risible. Hence without being dismissive of the Seminar Jeremiahs who’ve been there, done that, TJP cannot proceed without an evaluation of what the Seminar accomplished, failed to accomplish, and the reasons for its performance. While I take the term “scientific” as it is used in the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion both cum grano salis and in its most German sense as “scholarly,” it’s my impression that all of those so far associated with the project take “scholarship” very seriously indeed and want this to be, at the very least, a faith-free process. My colleague April Deconick has recently offered her own superb assessment of the Seminar in a blog-series called “The Jesus Seminar Jesus is Bankrupt” ( Critique is always a postmortem enterprise, and I believe the post-mortem has begun.

From what has been said above, it follows that the other part of the category who see the JP as a rehash of the Seminar, the apologists, need to look again. There are certainly associates who hold to a “myth theory,” and there are others who hold to a non-super-naturalist or radical historicist position. There are textualists who believe that a careful and positivistic reading of canonical sources will provide more information than a “fuller” view of Christian origins, and others who believe that there is only a notional difference between what canonical and non-canonical sources have to offer. There are advocates of Matthew Black’s famous view that we need to get behind the text to an Aramaic context to understand what it going on in the translations (if that’s what they are) we possess, and others who think a Galilean folk hero has been inserted into a Greek myth. Obviously that degree of non-unanimity is discomfiting to those who think the New Testament is self-authenticating text without context, but it can hardly be seen as business as usual to invite a free and open discussion of these positions knowing that they cannot all be right.

As to the idea that TJP is “radically new,” let me be the first to say calm down. There has been nothing “radically”—that is, theological-foundation-shatteringly—new in this area since Strauss, and almost no one reads Strauss anymore. Even if they did he’s virtually impenetrable without reading the heroic Hegel first. There has been, to be sure, a great deal of jockeying to say something radically new, as though Jesus-research is no different from looking for a new isotope. I’ve said recently that at a certain point in contemporary New Testament scholarship the quest to be the puzzle-solver largely replaced the quest for the historical Jesus—another caution we can take from the Seminar. In a culture of celebrity, the slow pace of scholarship is painful; in a dozen interviews about TJP, the first question, almost without fail, is “What are you people trying to prove?” or “What’s the conclusion?” Presumably, if I had said that we had stumbled on impressive information that, prior to his ascension Jesus gave to James the instructions for making a camera, and that we now had photographic proof of the event, they would have hung up. But if I say that new papyrus discoveries, combined with some pretty impressive canonical clues, substantiate the claim that the followers of Jesus were a first century gay alliance, they become more interested. Reporters will call you back. As a matter of fact, TJP needs to be new, but new also in eschewing sensationalism and exhibiting a certain lack of intellectual concupiscence as we trudge on. It is not enough to be “non-theological” since what is not theological is not eo ipso “right”; the Project also needs to be bold enough to say that some conclusions will be out of its reach, either for lack of evidence or lack of measurement. Again, the analogy is the sciences. There is nothing about the world of the twentieth century (save global warming) that is physically different from the world of Thomas Aquinas’s day. Our mode of describing the same things about that world has changed dramatically, however, and with it our understanding of how life evolved and human beings assumed their place on the planet. There is nothing in the nature of old evidence that cannot provide better understanding if the right methods of description are developed. TJP, if it is new, will be new to that extent.

And finally to the indifferent, the skeptics-with-portfolio (as distinct from the “detractors” in group one). The question “What does it matter?” is a fair question. It’s a sort of distaff to the view that Jesus matters as a self-evident proposition—matters to the life of faith, to the heart, or, as a moral teacher, to our conduct—not just the necessary presupposition of the movement that bears his title, but as the centerpiece to the religious life. The slogan “What if [he] had never lived” was somewhat bluffly and mistakenly directed at them, as though the sole legitimating reason for the Project is to disabuse religious men and women of their beliefs. Yet why would a Jesus who “did not exist” be of more value to unbelievers than a Jesus who existed in the “ordinary” way and died in an ordinary way? And why would religious folk be troubled by any conclusion reached by any group with such a siloistic objective?

That Jesus matters in one sense is a statement of faith, therefore he cannot matter historically anymore than any other event can matter. It is not legitimate to read back into his original story, whatever that may have been and however it may have evolved, a significance that was three hundred years in the canonical and doctrinal making and millennia in the revising. It seems to me that women and men who have decided that most historical questions have no bearing on the meaning and purpose of life are dead right. That disjunct will have to be acknowledged and almost all scholars do acknowledge it today. But to say that “Jesus does not matter” is a different sort of statement and strikes me as immensely uncurious if not downright tiresome. Does it mean that the question itself is uninteresting because the asker has decided that religion, being bogus anyway, causes us to indulge in inherently silly pastimes? Or does it mean that the question lacks what Aristotle called “Magnitude”—greatness—as might be claimed, for example, for the question of the origins of the universe, or human life, or language?

I have to say that people who have asked me the question seem shocked when I ask them why they are asking it. As if to say, “You seem like an intelligent man; why don’t you know the answer yourself?” But it seems to me that intellectual curiosity cuts in two ways, and that people need to be able to say why they are bored by something as much as why they are intrigued by it. As you may gather, from this little discursus, my sense is that the people in group three are displaying hostility rather than boredom. I remember telling my mother once that I was working on a research paper on the history of Christian marriage and had become fascinated with how relatively late the Church decided to ecclesize nuptial arrangements. Her immediate “Catholic” response was that such inquiries are better left to bachelors and maidens and she hoped that I wouldn’t publish the paper. That kind of hostility. As to magnitude, I think it has to be said that the “big questions” are always etiological and hence always to a certain extent historical; where things come from matters, and without subscribing to historicist or originalist positions, I would find it odd to maintain that the origins of a religion—any religion—are not at least as deserving of investigation as the origins of the English language or the trans-Asian migrations of the early Americans. Some things are worth knowing not because they are matters of fact or de coeur, but because they have achieved magnitude by assent or influence. I would regard it as more informative to know why the “question” of Jesus is not interesting than to explain its interest.

And so to “knowledge.” TJP might begin where Descartes did in 1637 with the Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason. Those who have kept their sophomore philosophy anthology on the shelf will remember that Descartes had professed “perfect confidence” in the ability of reason to achieve knowledge. His own “project” involved a preparation which he compared to the architectural destruction of a whole town. Towns, he recalled, had not developed “rationally” but in fits and starts creating a chaos of a landscape. This he compared to the state of knowledge in the seventeenth century, heavily dependent on everything that had come before, when nothing that had come before achieved the systematic standard he set for himself. “We must begin,” he wrote, by “deliberately renouncing all of the firmly held but questionable beliefs we have acquired through experience and education.” And as we know, while Descartes was not occupied with the question of scripture, having learned a thing or two from Galileo’s fate, he was immensely interested in the question of God.

No one who lives in a post-Enlightenment and postmodern world can believe that Descartes fulfilled even his own hubristic agenda, but he did provide a “method” that TJP might consider (and is considering) as it moves along. In his seminal Book III, the philosopher proposes that a proper investigation should always include four parts:

1. “To accept as true what is indubitable.” That is to say, ascertain to the extent possible what is factual, and what is based only on the prestige of authority. This requires a method within the method. No other field of investigation is so authority-laden as Jesus-research. Thus the question has to be, ‘what sort of authority is it and does it have bearing on the kind of investigation TJP wants to be?’ Do scholars in Christian origins regard anything beyond the mere fact of early Christian literature and aspects of its context as “indubitable”?

2. “Divide every question into manageable parts.” This seems self-evident, but it has not been the pattern of previous investigations. Neither the question “Did Jesus exist?” nor “What did he ‘really’ say?” was manageable. Formulating the sub-questions and prior questions is likely to be a painstaking business. If it is not done systematically and in a free and open debate, the Project may as well disband now.

3. “Begin with the simplest issues and ascend to the more complex.” It seems to me that this is the one step we have a grip on—the early reports came from communities. Their historicity cannot be doubted. That is a simple fact. These communities were called into existence by an event or sequence of events, the precise nature of which scholarship has spent over two centuries trying to reconstruct. I do not think those reconstructions, from the most radical to the most “traditional,” can escape our scrutiny. The road from simplicity to complexity cannot be shortcut by an appeal to the sanctity of consensus. The scientific nature of TJP is on trial precisely at this point; can we be as iconoclastic and skeptical as the Cartesian method requires us to be or do we look for safe havens in the competing correctnesses of our educational or political investments?

4. “Review the process consistently, so that the objectives of the process (the “argument”) is always in view.” The “argument,” it follows, should not be a conclusion, a favorite hypothesis, an agenda. What Virgil says of “Rumour” (Aeneid, IV, 173) can be applied here to “Reputation.” It flies aloft, moves with a strength of its own—threatens every collaboration, and it threatens this one. The ability to keep an objective in view derives from the successful execution of steps one through three. The Seminar evoked attrition because it lost sight of an objective and became a cloud of unknowing rather than a cloud of witnesses. It is important that TJP does not become a sounding board for private or exotic fantasies about Who Jesus Really Was. In short, TJP must not become an opportunity for its members to proselytize others to their point of view.

Above all, Descartes understood the importance of deconstruction, landscape, and using precise measures for “what is known.” His naïve faith in certainty comes to us from a different world, with a different sense of “measurability” and expectation of success.

But I submit the process still has on its side simplicity and intellectual candor, and that is what I personally would like TJP to display.

R. Joseph Hoffmann Weighs In

Joe Hoffmann asked me to post this up on my blog for the time being.  Below, Joe weighs in on the recent exchange and comes out with his own feelings on it all.  Take it away Joe:

Memorandum to Myself : The Jesus Project

R. Joseph Hoffmann

Just as I was beginning work for my PhD at Oxford my supervisor was recovering from a bad time in British theological circles for having been a “founder” of the “Myth of God Incarnate” debate. With John Hick and others, Maurice Wiles had been blamed, even in the national press, for undermining the foundations of the Christian (read: Anglican) faith which had always been especially devoted to the doctrine of the incarnation.

The Myth-theologians were not especially interested in the historical Jesus but in pressing the fairly obvious point that the language of the New Testament is essentially derived from a time when gods did become men and men became gods—that is to say, antiquity. Coming fresh from the more energetic Germanics of Harvard Divinity School (I will not name names, but the years were 1976-1980), I found the whole discussion a little quaint. In fact, the former dean of Harvard Divinity School Ronald Thiemann called it that to my face, as I recall, during an interview in 1982. Oxford–England in general with its traditional antipathy for the splashiness of German and American biblical scholarship–arrived late to any interest in Nag Hammadi and felt that its obligations toward the apocrypha had been neatly summarized by a strange little collection by a certain Montague Rhodes James, a librarian, medievalist, and ghost- story writer, whose New Testament Apocrypha had appeared in 1924. Oxford repaid its debt to scholarship with the superb re-do of J K Elliott in 1994. What was happening at Claremont, Utrecht and Cambridge, MA in Coptic-Gnostic studies seemed robust and real compared to the cold-tea debates (as I saw them) when I arrived as a brash postgraduate at Wiles’s door in Christ Church.

This is a memorandum to myself as to why I no longer see the Dutch-American initiative in quite the same way, and why I think I missed the point and the wisdom of the Myth debate. The Myth of God Incarnate was not (to repeat) a seminar devoted to the historical Jesus. That there had been one was assumed with the same nonchalance as one would say “Well of course I had a grandfather. Where do you think I come from?” What there had not been is an incarnation—presumably also, while there was disagreement on some specifics, not a resurrection, virgin birth, or assorted other signs and wonders either. God had not become man. But like the Jesus Seminar later which trudged over some of the same ground the Myth seminar was greeted with a series of awful ripostes including a piece of apologetical nonsense called The Truth of God Incarnate. It was one thing to call Genesis a myth. It was OK to say, even, that Abraham was about as real as Oedipus. But were the canons of Christ Church and the Queen’s appointed theologian now saying that the word did not become flesh?

It’s sad in a way that the Myth seminar was doomed to be overshadowed by the gnostic gospels craze and other, equally important trends in New Testament Studies. Sad because the Myth seminar reminded scholarship beyond theology that the New Testament does not put itself forward as the story of a simple Galilean peasant who got himself godded through the reminiscences of his “community.” We can infer the community from the existence of the written sources, but in fact we only need to infer a writer and an audience for his work to explain the survival of the story. The twentieth century infatuation with the word “community” was itself a construct of theology in its attempts to depersonalize the origins of the gospels. But, as rule, communities do not write books, with the possible exception of the Jesus Seminar. Nor do communities invent the elaborate mythological framework we find fully fledged in the Fourth Gospel, but nascent in all the others. If by social memory we mean a “personality” whose character and actions can be recovered from the myth that encases it, or retrace the process that brought the transformation about I’m afraid I can’t see it at all in the New Testament. I do not think we are dealing with a man who became god, but a god who was made man. I think the New Testament is telling the truth about itself.

The growth of anti-supernaturalism and rationalism from Holbach’s day forward could deal with a man who became God only by ignoring the primary artifact—the story itself. Once you begin to demythologize (and even that once-radical word has become quaint) Jesus can be anything you want him to be. That in my view is what happened as theology tried unsuccessfully to fight for an “ordinary” Jesus whose message could be detached from the prevailing literary form we call gospel.

So my memo to myself (and anyone else who wants to share) is this: you can believe that the author of the Fourth Gospel was “mistaken” or “gnostic” or “inclusive” in using incarnational language, but the story he tells is not about a man who became God. The acts of Jesus, the words of Jesus and the deeds of Jesus befit someone who is God incarnate, the word of God. That’s also, more or less, the Christ of Paul’s Philippian hymn. It is fair enough for theologians and biblical scholars to say that this is the cultural ornamentation through which the significance of Jesus is being expressed by one social group who’d heard the Jesus story (yawn), but the story is the datum, not that guess, and the story is a myth. That’s what the Myth seminar was able to say with something approaching clarity—a clarity never achieved by later investigations—before it disbanded in 1980. The gnostic Jesus, whatever we may mean by that term, is a slightly more radicalized or de-historicized myth; the Lucan Jesus an artificially historicized version of the same thing. But each is to the datum as Subaru is to car. They are not perspectives on an historical individual, but variations on a mythic theme. In its most abstruse and literarily earliest form, it is Paul’s myth of Christ the Lord. In its most abstract and impersonal form, it is the Hymn of the Pearl. It is composite and as I’ve said elsewhere metamorphic—like all myths. But it does not provide knowledge of the life, profession, social status, or parentage of a man.

The Jesus Project: Offering Another Perspective on the Chilton-Hoffmann-Crossley Exchange

By Thomas Verenna

James Crossley recently commented on the exchange between Bruce Chilton and R. Joseph Hoffmann. I would like to weigh in with my own opinions on this recent exchange. I can only hope that my suggestions will prove useful to the Project and continue to generate the sort of dialog we have seen so far in the community. Although I respect James and Bruce a great deal, I feel some of their advice may be misplaced when one considers the goals of the Jesus Project as a whole. Overall I agree with where they feel the Jesus Project’s focus needs to be. This is a gem from James’ article which I feel was overlooked by the Jesus Seminar and should not be underestimated in the Jesus Project’s investigations:

There is enough work on social history and social anthropology and enough empirical data collected and analyzed to exploit these issues. Areas ripe for exploitation might include: social networks, ethnic interaction, and the origins of gentile inclusion; class-conflicts and the emergence of a new religion; universal monotheism, developments in communication, and the origins of the deification of Jesus; and so on. In each case, the influence of Jesus the individual could be tested.

It is unfortunate that he employed these suggestions in such a limited and narrowed manner (applying these issues specifically to “the influence of Jesus the individual”). They can and should be expanded upon (instead of the “individual Jesus” which implies historicity, for example, these articles should be tested against the character or figure of Jesus, the authors intent, matters of intertextuality, literary composition, and the development of textual-tradition in the Jewish communities and later Christian communities throughout the ANE). I agree with James that these “ripe issues” are often overlooked or misrepresented by historical Jesus scholars. With the exception of a few scholars off the top of my head (Crossan and Mack most prevalent in my mind, but there are perhaps others as well), the Jesus Seminar et al seems to ignore the lack of orthodoxy in Judaism in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, instead opting for the dated perspective that Jews had some sort of unified interpretation of who and what the Messiah would be (and ignore the conclusions of the Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins in 1987 onward). The focus of too many studies rest entirely on Jesus’ sayings and deeds, as James rightly points out (but ironically, he is guilty of in his own study when he compares sayings and deeds to Talmudic sayings and deeds). But while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is done in an often backwards manner (the method of voting comes to mind, used by the Jesus Seminar; thankfully voting will not be used by the JP) or where authorial intent is often ignored or taken for granted–sometimes to ridiculous proportions (like N.T. Wright’s perspective that the author of Matthew 27:52 documented honestly that the saints really did rise from the dead and walked around Jerusalem).

I would like to see some of the project dedicated to textual structure, narrative creation, model use, eponymic character creation (often indicated by how their names correspond with their actions in the narrative), and to some extent, liturgy (in the sense that we must challenge long-held presuppositions about Paul’s letters being read aloud to congregations of Christians; likewise the Gospels) and the development of “Christian” as a designation (and what came before); these should be explored without the shackles of commonly-held presumptions. In other words, I feel some portion of the project should ask why the Gospel/Acts/epistle/pastoral authors wrote and who they wrote to. These questions cannot be answered as they have been previously (as Philip Davies would put it, “because it happened” is not an adequate reason).

Other questions should also be considered. Could those who read them be considered “full-knowing readers”? Did the authors intend to have their works read as history or something else? Can it be decided what genres we’re dealing with? It cannot be supposed that the Gospels are Graeco-Roman biographies, as Charles Talbert had suggested, as this has been challenged more recently by several scholars like Mary Ann Tolbert, Michael E. Vines, Thomas L. Thompson and Dennis R. MacDonald (the latter two being a part of the JP). Answering the question of genre (as well as the other questions proposed above) will not only provide for the project a new direction by which to judge the New Testament literature, but will answer some of those “big, big questions” that James talked about. If it is determined that the genre of the Gospel of Mark is Jewish Novel (and not Jewish/Graeco-Roman biography or history) that changes the direction of several perspectives, does it not? As Kurt Noll has discussed in a recent SBL article (Why Does the New Testament Exist?, SBL 2008), textual interpretation can change as rapidly as cultural memes, especially in antiquity. Where a letter may have been written with one purpose in mind, that would not change others from using the letter for another purpose entirely. So it may be that Mark’s intention was lost on the second wave of readers or used in a manner he never intended, much like how Paul’s letters were thrown about and used by different sects of Christianity in the second-third centuries CE. The answer cannot be known without first asking, then investigating the questions.

I also fear that Bruce and James are a bit biased in their desires to incorporate Aramaic scholars into the Project. After all, if you start with the assumption that “Jesus spoke Aramaic” (as both Bruce and James do), there would have to be some urgency to incorporate scholars into the project who can authoritatively speak about it, right? While Aramaic scholars should be included for other reasons, and while I feel they are useful for socio-cultural investigations, what should be apparent to everyone is that the statement “Jesus spoke Aramaic” is precisely what has yet been investigated and is not something we should start off assuming. If it can be shown that Jesus existed historically, in some form, using the specific methodologies this Project is working towards perfecting now, the question of “which language Jesus spoke” will have to be asked. But, it will have to be asked while investigating the socio-cultural world of that particular figure of Jesus. It can not even be suggested that Jesus was a Galilean (another oft-to assumed “fact”) and therefore spoke Aramaic, as this subject has also not been investigated thoroughly (it has only been assumed based on readings from the Gospels alone)–nor can it be investigated until the question of historicity has been established in any detail. Until then, all scholars on the project should be open to the possibility that the answer to the question “did Jesus exist” might make their questions obsolete (including those of mythicists–that statement was not just directed towards historicists). Remembering that fact (i.e. every perspective we now have might be turned on its head) will hopefully generate more interesting, thought-provoking questions that will likewise bring about more thought-provoking studies and one-on-one interactions between participants.

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