Several sources (including hints from Prof. Karen King) suggest that we will soon be hearing more about the controversial “Jesus’ Wife” fragment, brought to public attention back in 2012 by King. It appears that Harvard Theological Review will soon publish an article that will likely reflect the results of those tests that were to have been made on the fragment. These likely involve tests to determine if the fragment of papyrus is genuinely ancient, and perhaps whether the ink is as well. But we will have to wait for specifics.
In addition to the questions susceptible to physical testing, it will be interesting to see if the article addresses questions lodged by specialists in Coptic about the text.
And, of course, in any event, as Prof. King herself has emphasized repeatedly, if authentic, the fragment is an artefact of some early Christian, or circle of Christians, from the 4th/5th century, perhaps deriving from an earlier Greek text, but of no direct significance for questions about the historical figure, Jesus. The possible value of the fragment is what it may reflect about developments of ideas and issues in late-antique Christianity.
Another curious development was noted by Mark Goodacre in a blog-posting several days ago: It appears that the made-for-TV film sponsored by the Smithsonian Channel that was put on ice in 2012 (or some revised version of it) has now been aired . . . in French/France (but not, yet, in English). The link to Goodacre’s post is here.
The French version of the film is now available on Youtube here. It features Prof. King and others, especially those disposed favourably on the issue of authenticity. Malheureusement, nous n’avons pas le film en Anglais!
Last year I was interviewed for a TV production that is to be aired soon: “Bible Hunters,” which focuses on the 19th and 20th century figures “who searched Egypt for the world’s oldest biblical manuscripts.”
The two-part programme airs in the UK on BBC 2, at 9 pm on 13 and 20 February. It’s also airing on the Smithsonian Channel but I don’t have the dates or times for that.
You never know what use will be made of what you provide to such productions, or what kind of “story” they’ll tell or what “spin” they’ll put on it until the programme airs. So, I can’t say in advance what I’ll think of it. But I’ll aim to watch it and maybe blog on it thereafter.
In reading for review the recent (mammoth) multi-author volume, The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, Second Edition, eds. B. D. Ehrman & M. W. Holmes (Leiden: Brill, 2013), one of the things that caught my attention was in Michael Holmes’ contribution, “From ‘Original Text’ to ‘Initial Text’” (pp. 637-88). In a section of this essay he considers the question (posed by David Parker) whether the NT Gospels are “the kinds of texts that have originals” (p. 670; the section in question = 670-77).
Holmes’s response is to compare the nature and extent of textual variation evidenced in extant manuscripts of the Gospels and a number of other writings, including some other early Christian ones. He shows that, in comparison with the kinds of textual variation (and even dislocation) that one finds in texts such as Shepherd of Hermas. or Life of Adam and Eve (and we might also include Gospel of Thomas), the NT Gospels seem to have a greater measure of textual fixity.
To be sure, as Holmes freely notes, there are many textual variants evidenced in the early manuscripts of the NT Gospels, many indeed. But these, he points out rightly, are typically variations in such things as word-order (e.g., in phrases), tenses of verbs, individual words, etc. Whereas in the comparison texts, we have much larger textual variation, such as re-arrangement of material (as reflected, e.g., in comparing the Greek fragments of Thomas with the later Coptic text), the compilation of composite texts (again, Hermas and Didache are examples of the latter), and such. That is, with the Gospels we appear to have lots of small variations, but not much in the way of the larger types of variation reflected in some other writings.
This leads him to propose that the Gospels seem to display “what one may term microlevel fluidity and macrolevel stability” (p. 674). I find this handy terminology and a helpful distinction very much worth testing and using in considering the textual transmission of early Christian writings.
The closest that we get to any “macrolevel” variants in the Gospels are the “long ending” to the Gospel of Mark (i.e., Mark 16:9-20 in the “King James” Version) and the “Pericope of the Adulterous Woman” (i.e., John 7:53–8:11). But the latter does not appear in any extant witnesses earlier than ca. 400 CE. As for the Markan “long ending” (and the other alternative endings), this too isn’t evidenced in our earliest witnesses of Mark, and, in any case, the main body of Mark doesn’t show any disturbance or re-arrangement of material.
Holmes’s essay is a thoughtful engagement with the question of whether it is feasible to pursue the traditional aim of reconstructing the earliest extant text of the NT writings. I commend it to anyone else seriously interested in the matter.
For a somewhat similar argument, see this recent study: K. Martin Heide, “Assessing the Stability of the Transmitted Texts of the New Testament and the Shepherd of Hermas,” in The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue, ed. Robert B. Stewart (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 111-45.
I’ve just learned of the publication of another book addressing the “mythical Jesus” issue, by Professor Maurice Casey (Emeritus Prof, Nottingham University), with the provocative title: Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). The link to the publisher’s page on the book is here.
It will be apparent from the title that Casey (along with practically every scholar who has considered the matter) doesn’t buy the “mythicist” case. He is a long-time acquaintance and a well-published and noted scholar in NT. Because identifying a person as a traditional Christian is sometime invoked (by self-styled “sceptics”) as an excuse to ignore whatever he/she says about Jesus or anything to do with Christian origins, I’ll also mention that this hardly applies to Casey. He doesn’t argue with a view to trying to protect Christian belief or believers. Whatever the strength of his arguments, he’s not doing apologetics!
I haven’t yet read it (it just appeared), but I suspect that it will feature the no-nonsense and pull-no-punches approach for which he is so well known in NT studies!
I thank Steven Jake for notifying me of the interview he has posted with Prof. Dale Allison (a fellow NT scholar high on my admiration list) on questions arising in the relatively-recent re-appearance of the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was a mythical figure (another of the “zombie” theories that I’ve mentioned: ideas that get killed off with solid reasoning and evidence but then pop back up after a while when people who don’t know the history of scholarly debate hear it for the idea for the first time). I suspect that my posting this will elicit a torrent of inadequately-informed comments (and abuse), but . . . what the hey.
Allison’s stance is likely representative of scholars, not just scholars in NT/Christian Origins, but also other historians of antiquity. We’ve heard it all before. It didn’t convince then, and it doesn’t now. As he says, however, the new factor is the internet, which allows (for better or for worse) such ideas to be floated without first having to pass muster with appropriate critical testing. (And, then, there is now also the “X-Files” mentality: If the experts say something, it’s because they’re in a conspiracy and so “the truth is out there” somewhere else. Sigh!)
Anyway, the link to the Allison interview is here.
This last week brought reports of archaeologists discovering the remains of an early church site in southern Israel. There are reports (with photos) on the NBC online news here, and in Yahoo News here.
The remains are dated to the Byzantine period, later than what I usually survey as part of “Christian origins”; but one thing in the news reports moves me to comment. The Yahoo News report cites one of the archaeologists, Davida Eisenberg Degen, as referring to mosaic containing “a Christogram, or a ‘type of monogram of the name of Jesus’.” But, if you look carefully at the photo of the mosaic in question (the photo on the NBC news site shows it better), it’s clear that it is a stylized tau-rho, or what is often called a “staurogram”.
As indicated in several publications (by me and prior scholars), the earliest Christian usage of the tau-rho didn’t originate as a reference to the name “Jesus”, but was initially used by Christians as a scribal device in special, abbreviated forms of the words for “cross” and “crucify”. As such, the device seems to have been intended as a simple, pictographic reference to the crucified figure of Jesus (the rho superimposed on the vertical stroke of the tau, the loop of the rho apparently serving to depict the head of a crucified figure). The earliest examples are in manuscripts palaeographically dated to the early 3rd century CE. (For full discussion, see my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins, pp. 135-54.)
Subsequently, perhaps by the 4th century, the device came to be used as a “free-standing” emblem of Christian faith, referring generally to Jesus (and perhaps not so specifically to the crucified Jesus), as seems to be the function in the mosaic in question (and also on numerous other Christian items from this period). But, to correct the comment cited, the tau-rho doesn’t use the letters from Jesus’ name and isn’t a really reference to the name. By contrast, the familiar chi-rho uses the first two letters of the Greek word “christos” (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ), the less-familiar iota-chi (which in simple forms can look like a six-point star device) uses the initial letters of the Greek for “Jesus Christ” (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ), and the iota-eta uses the initial two letters of the Greek “Jesus” (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ).
The tau-rho, however, isn’t really a “monogram,” in that it doesn’t use letters that correspond to the name “Jesus” or any of Christological titles applied to him. Its origin seems, instead, to lie in early Christians seeing in this device an early and simple way of referring visually to the crucified Jesus.
I’m pleased to pass on news that the School of Divinity is advertising a post-doctoral fellowship in NT. This is one of the “Chancellor’s Fellowships” that are intended to attract newer scholars of great promise in research and publication.
You can see details on the position by going first to the University page describing the Chancellor’s Fellowships programme here. Then, scroll down to the link of the School of Divinity.
I spent part of my time yesterday going through the proofs of my article, “‘Ancient Jewish Monotheism’ in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods,” forthcoming in Journal of Ancient Judaism. The article originated in an invited presentation to the “Unity and Diversity in Early Jewish Monotheisms Consultation,” at the SBL Annual Meeting in 2010 in Atlanta, and has been revised significantly for publication. The article will appear in JAJ 4 (2013): 379-400. (The journal is a bit behind in its publishing schedule, so the 2013 issue appears soon in 2014.)
I attempt two things in the article: First, I engage the terminological issue of whether and/or how “monotheism” can be a suitable term for ancient Jewish religious tradition. As the typical dictionary meaning of the term = belief that only one god exists, “monotheism” obviously is problematic. It’s hard to find ancient Jews (or Christians) who denied the existence of all other divine beings. Instead, for them the issue was the validity of worshipping any deity other than the one deity of the biblical tradition.
But it is clear that Roman-era Jewish religion was noted for its exclusivity of worship, and the view often expressed that the worship of any other deity by Jews or other people was idolatry. So, I propose that we use the label “ancient Jewish monotheism” to describe this stance. NB: This isn’t dictionary “monotheism,” but “ancient Jewish monotheism,” which focused, not on the existence of other beings, but instead on the exclusive validity of the biblical deity as rightful recipient of worship.
The second object of my article is to lay out the evidence that ancient Jewish religion typically took such a stance. I propose that the most obvious indicator is the Jerusalem temple. No other deity referred to there. Unlike many pagan temples, no images of other deities. There are other data that confirm this exclusivity, both affirmations and descriptions of worship-practice by Jews and references to Jewish practice by non-Jews.
One other matter is the chronological factor. It appears that this firm exclusivity hardened and became more characteristic in the late Hellenistic and Roman periods. I propose that a major factor was the radical attempt by Antiochus IV (“Epiphanes”) to assimilate Jews religiously and culturally, which led initially to the Maccabean revolt. My proposal (not really uniquely mine) is that this crisis thereafter led to a hardened concern by Jews to protect their religious identity and particularity, worship (“cultus”) being the “red line” issue above all.
I’ve addressed this topic in several earlier publications as well:
- One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).
- “First-Century Jewish Monotheism,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 71 (1998): 3-26, republished in my book, How on Earth did Jesus Become a God? pp. 111-33.
- “Monotheism,” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, ed. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 961-64.
- “Monotheism, Principal Angels, and the Background of Christology,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Timothy H. Lim and John J. Collins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 546-64.
I give notice again this year of the programme of the Summer Biblical Study in Oxford, 27 July — 01 August 2014, sponsored by the Vacation Term for Biblical Study. This year, there will be a packed one-week programme that includes Old Testament and New Testament lectures focused on biblical texts, other lectures concerned with the interpretation/use of the Bible, e.g., the use of the OT in Handel’s oratorios, and lectures on images in modern Jewish art.
Professor Alister McGrath’s lecture, “Irrigating Deserts: C.S. Lewis and the Reading of Scripture,” will commence the programme. Accommodations in St. Anne’s College (Oxford) are very comfortable and within easy walking distance to the heart of Oxford.
It’s a great way for “lay” folk to upgrade their biblical studies and for ministers to do a bit of “professional development.” Also, those (e.g., from North America) planning a UK summer holiday-visit might take in this Summer Biblical Study week as well.
You can peruse the brochure here: VTBS 2014 brochure.
Academic posts come often increasingly rarely, so I pass on notice of two with closing dates for applications very soon.
Professorship of New Testament (Protestant Theological University, Groningen, The Netherlands)
Interested members are informed of the vacancy of a full Professorship in New Testament studies at the Protestant Theological University (PThU), Groningen campus, to be fulfilled from 1 September 2014. The University is affiliated with the Protestant Church in The Netherlands (see http://www.pkn.nl/overons/protestant-church/Paginas/default.aspx) and has locations in Groningen and in Amsterdam. In Groningen the PThU offers a three-year Master course (with variants in Parish Ministry and Spiritual Care), which gives access to the ordination in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, as well as a one-year international, ecumenical Master course; on the BA level the PThU contributes to the three-year BA course of Groningen University. The professor of New Testament is responsible for lecturing in the field of New Testament literature, on the master?s as well as on the bachelor?s level, with a focus on exegesis of the New Testament and Biblical theology. In Groningen the Protestant Theological University cooperates with the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of Groningen University.
Groningen is an attractive university city in the northern part of The Netherlands with a significant international population. There are several English speaking churches and an international school. Groningen is connected to Schiphol Airport by a direct intercity line.
Deadline applications: February 5th, 2014
Interviews: Groningen, Wednesday February 26th.
Full details at http://www.pthu.nl/over_pthu/Vacatures/
Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies (Durham University)
Durham University, Department of Theology and Religion is seeking to appoint a Senior Lecturer in New Testament (with, as desirable, an expertise in Second Temple Judaism), to replace Dr Lutz Doering who is moving to a chair in Münster. Candidates are expected to have a relevant doctoral degree, a track record of outstanding research and publication, and experience of teaching.
The closing date for applications is Feb 16th2014, with interviews planned for 21st March; the job start date is 1 Sep 2014. Full details of job description and person specification are available via https://www.dur.ac.uk/jobs/ where instructions on the application procedure may be found. For questions, contact email@example.com(Head of Department).