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Back from San Diego

I’m back from the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, this year in San Diego, a busy but enjoyable four days of conference.  Aside from the sun and warm temperatures (25-27 Celsius), there were numerous interesting sessions and lots opportunities to chat with colleagues and long-time friends, many of whom I see only at this event annually.

Saturday morning, there was a panel discussion of Bart Ehrman’s recent book, How Jesus Became God.  I’ve blogged on the book earlier here and (with amendments) here, and reviewed the book in Christian Century, the review available here.  So, my own contribution was mainly some positive and critical observations already published.  But in this session I focused more on assessing how well the book served to inform fairly a general public about the matters discussed, and offered a mixed verdict.  My main complaint is that on some controversial matters, Ehrman seems to me to present his/one side of the argument without indicating that or why other competent scholars see things differently.  If all you want to do is push your own ideas, I guess that’s what you do.  But if you want to give a fair indication of scholarly opinion, then I think you have to do better.

As I’ve noted in earlier postings and reviews of the book, there are also some curious statements such as the claim repeated a couple of times in the book that the orthodox doctrine of Jesus’ “incarnation” is that the heavenly Son became “temporarily human.”  In fact, from Paul’s letters onward, so-called “orthodox” Christians emphasized that Jesus was and remains genuinely human, necessarily so because his resurrection and glorification are the model and promise of the future salvation of believers (e.g., Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:1-3).  But, on a number of other matters, Ehrman does a decent job of explaining things.  I was, however, a bit disappointed that so much of the session was occupied by Bart and Craig Evans arguing over warrants for judging whether Jesus was or wasn’t buried, when there were other substantial issues that could have been engaged as well.  In any case, it’s already hit the New York Times best-seller list and so will likely promote a wide popular interest in the fascinating phenomenon that I’ve researched and written about over some 35 years:  the early and vigorous eruption and development of devotion to Jesus, particularly the constellation of beliefs and devotional practices that are already taken as traditional in Paul’s letters (from ca. 50-60 CE).

The highlight of Saturday evening was a dinner at a Brazilian steak house, along with a number of contributors to the volume of essays:  Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism:  Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter Roth (the publisher’s online catalogue entry here.  I am genuinely touched by those who contributed to the volume, and myself honoured by it.

My own other presentation was a fresh autopsy analysis of P22 (P.Oxyrhynchus 1228), two fragments of a 3rd century CE copy of the Gospel of John, housed in the Glasgow University Library.  I posted on the results of my study earlier here.  The essay is to appear in a multi-author volume in due course.

 

“Bible Odyssey” Web Site: For General Readers

There’s a recently-launched web site providing information on the Bible for a general readership:  “Bible Odyssey” a link here.  It’s sponsored by the Society of Biblical Literature (the main/largest professional body of scholars in biblical studies and cognate subjects).  The site continues to develop, but already there are many brief articles on various biblical texts, personalities, themes, etc., and there is the opportunity to “ask a scholar” about something.

It’s good to see competent scholarship taking to the Internet increasingly, recognizing a responsibility for public dissemination of scholarly work.

The “Hellenists” of Acts: Dubious Assumptions and an Important Publication

It is a curiously widespread assumption that there was some major theological divide in the Jerusalem Jesus-movement (church) between the “Hebrews” and the “Hellenists,” but that is also a dubious assumption, as shown some time ago now in an important (but often overlooked) study:  Craig C. Hill, Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division Within the Earliest Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).  One reviewer (James W. Thompson) wrote: “The scholarly world will learn from this book that we can no longer speak of the radical division between the Hebrews and the Hellenists.”  It would appear, however, that the lesson is still to be disseminated and absorbed.

In Acts (and that’s largely where the argument turns) the only indication of differences in the Jerusalem church is in 6:1-7, which merely states that the “Hellenists” (i.e., Greek-speaking Jews, likely from the Diaspora and resettled in Jerusalem) complained that their widows were being neglected in the distribution of food.  Hardly evidence of some major ideological division!  If one wishes to treat this reference as a historical report, there are obvious reasons that such a problem could have arisen:  e.g., linguistic and cultural differences.  No need to manufacture some major theological divide.

Likewise, it is a fallacy to assume that the persecutions depicted in Acts fell solely (or even disproportionately) on the “Hellenist” members of the Jerusalem church.  The reference to a major persecution in Jerusalem in Acts 8:1-3 makes no such division.  Instead, it claims, “all except the apostles were scattered” (v. 1).  Sure, Acts features the martyrdom of Stephen, and he’s described as prominent among the “Hellenists” (Acts 6:8–7:60).  But Acts also mentions the arrest and interrogation of Peter and John (“Hebrews”, 4:1-22), an imprisonment of “the apostles” (5:17-42), the execution of James Zebedee (another “Hebrew”, 12:1-5), and another imprisonment of Peter (12:6-11), which surely depict opposition against Jerusalem Jesus-followers irrespective of their language preferences.

Those who assert a theological difference typically make the Stephen narrative the key evidence, but that’s not a secure basis.  First of all, the opposition against Stephen is depicted as coming from fellow “Hellenist” Jews from the Diaspora, not from “Hebrews” either in or outside of the Jerusalem church (6:8-9).  Second, the charges against Stephen are variously depicted as “blasphemous words against Moses and God” (which isn’t all that clear), and the claim (NB: by what the author says are false witnesses) that Stephen was saying things “against this holy place and the law” (6:13).  On this basis (especially and oddly on the basis of what the text depicts as false testimony), Stephen’s speech is then read as some sort of diatribe against the Jerusalem Temple and the Torah, and this is supposedly the emphasis that made him and “Hellenist” members of the Jerusalem church distinctive and odious.

But, if you read Stephen’s speech without first assuming what it’s about, I’d say that one has a sustained diatribe about Israel’s failures to recognize God’s revelations, Israel’s disobedience to God, not particularly a focus on Temple and Torah as something to shed.

Moreover (and more importantly), Acts depicts the climactic offence in the Stephen narrative (that generates an enraged group to kill him) as his statement about Jesus’ exalted place in heaven “at the right hand of God” (7:55-57).  This is what triggers the crowd to drag him off for stoning, and it’s clearly a Christological claim, not some supposed condemnation of Temple or Torah.

As for Paul’s early opposition against the Jesus-movement, Acts depicts this as done (or at least beginning) in Jerusalem (e.g., 9:19-21), and Paul himself depicts Judean Jesus-circles as amazed that “he who formerly was persecuting us [NB] is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy” (Gal. 1:21-23).  (Paul’s statement that “I was unknown in person [τω προσοπω] among the churches of Judea” [v. 22] in context seems to mean that he was not known among them at that point as the advocate and fellow believer he had become.)

The widespread assumption that “Hellenists” held some kind of distinctive theological position at odds with “Hebrews” in the Jerusalem church seems to go back to F.C. Baur (early 19th century).  For some scholars subsequently, such as the great Martin Hengel, the “Hellenistis” have played a crucial role as what I have called “proto-Paulinists” (see my discussion in Lord Jesus Christ, 206-14).  But this seems to me to rest upon a rather shaky foundation of unexamined assumptions and unduly bold constructions.

Paul gives no hint that his opposition against “the church of God” (Gal. 1:13) was generated by anti-Temple or anti-Torah stances.  By all indications he was opposing Jesus-followers because of their Jesus-devotion.  And that’s how Acts treats the matter as well in the speeches ascribed to Paul:  Acts 22:19  (his actions against those who believed in Jesus), Acts 26:9-11 (acting “against the name of Jesus,” and attempting to “force them to blaspheme,” which I take to mean renouncing Jesus).

Paul’s “Persecution” of Jewish Jesus-Followers: Nature & Cause(s)

In email exchanges over the last couple of weeks, Paula Fredriksen and I have been comparing views on what might have been the nature of, and cause(s) for, the “persecution” of Jewish Jesus-followers that the Apostle Paul later lamented. There have been various proposals over the years, and hers is to my knowledge the latest.[1]  With her agreement for me to do so, I publish a response in this posting.

In a recent publication, she probes the matter by first addressing Paul’s references to being on the receiving end of floggings by fellow Jews (five times) in the course of his Gentile mission (2 Corinthians 11:24).[2] Her cogent hypothesis is essentially this: Paul required his pagan converts to withdraw from worshipping the gods of the Roman world. Given the place and significance of the gods in Roman-era life, this would have generated serious tensions with the larger pagan community. As he identified himself as a Jew and linked up with Jewish communities in the various diaspora cities where he established early assemblies of Jesus-followers (ekklesias), these Jewish communities could have feared that they would bear the brunt of these tensions. So, Paul was meted out synagogue discipline in the form of the 39 lashes as punishment on several occasions (he mentions five).

I find this entirely reasonable myself. It fits the setting, Paul’s Gentile mission. It fits his own behaviour, continuing to identify himself as a member of his ancestral people all through his ministry as apostle to the Gentiles and herald of the gospel. It fits also with what we know of real and potential tensions over the matter of worship of the traditional deities (of household, city, nation, etc.).

But the next move in her argument seems to me less secure. She proposes that this hypothesis can also serve to explain Paul’s own opposition to the Jewish ekklesias prior to the experience that transformed him from opponent to proponent of Jesus and the gospel. That is, she hypothesizes that within a very short time after Jesus’ crucifixion, the young Jesus-movement spread to Damascus, and there began to recruit converts from local “god-fearer” pagans who had already begun to associate themselves with the synagogue(s) there. As “god-fearers” (she contends), they hadn’t been expected by the Jewish community to forsake their traditional gods. But, she further hypothesizes, from this early point the Jesus-movement required this of their pagan converts. This (she further proposes) would have created tensions with the larger pagan public of Damascus, and so Paul the devout Pharisee involved himself in helping to take punitive measures against Jewish Jesus-followers. This was to discourage them from requiring pagan converts to abstain from worshipping the gods, thereby to avoid trouble for the local Jewish community.

Moreover, crucially, she proposes that the punitive measure taken by Paul as persecutor was likely the same as handed out later to Paul as the persecuted: He participated in flogging Jewish Jesus-followers with the 39 lashes. But I’m not so confident of matters, and I’ll indicate why.

First, as to method, I’m not so sure of her posited premise, that we can equate the cause(s) and nature of the synagogue discipline given to Paul with the nature and cause(s) for his own earlier opposition against Jewish Jesus-followers. I think that we should analyse each separately first, and only afterward see if there are similarities that justify linking them. And when we do so, I think we see some differences.

As to setting, Paul received synagogue discipline in the course of his itinerant mission to establish churches in various diaspora cities as “apostle to the Gentiles.” I repeat that Fredriksen’s proposal that this likely generated tensions for the local Jewish communities makes sense of that setting. But what reason do we have in Paul’s letters (Fredriksen sets Acts aside as insecure evidence) for assuming that already in Damascus the Jewish Jesus-circle was effectively conducting a Gentile-mission, at least on a scale like that of Paul’s own later efforts, and, crucially, on the same terms? More importantly still, Paul’s references to his own persecution of the Jesus-movement seem to me to point to something different. I’ll simply highlight basic points, focusing first on Paul’s initial opposition to what he came to call “the church of God” (Gal. 1:13-15):

  • Paul says his aim was to “destroy” the Jewish ekklesia (Gal. 1:13). The word “destroy” (portheo) used here typically was used to describe the ravaging of a place or people by an invading army or other pretty serious, even violent actions (e.g., 4 Maccabees 4:23; 11:4). The same term is repeated in Gal. 1:23, where Paul cites people referring to him as having sought to “destroy the faith” of Jewish believers. Paul doesn’t use this kind of language in referring to the synagogue discipline he received, or the opposition to his Gentile mission (e.g., 1 Thess. 2:14-16).   Something was sufficiently alarming to him, as a devout Pharisee, to justify this kind of severe action. Consorting with gentiles, not keeping Pharisaic food rules, even speaking against the Temple, wouldn’t likely have generated or justified it. And, as I’ve noted, we really have scant basis for positing a significant “pre-Paul” Gentile-mission in Damascus (or other places) such as required for Fredriksen’s hypothesis.
  • Paul says his strong actions against the ekklesia sprang from his being a superlative “zealot” (Gal. 1:14). That is, he doesn’t describe his opposition as what appears to be the more “ordinary” punishment/discipline that he received from several synagogues later. In ancient Jewish tradition, the term “zeal” was often associated with the biblical character, Phinehas (Numbers 25:1-13), famous for his rather ruthless action against a fellow Israelite who yoked himself to an idolatrous Moabite woman. Phinehas is praised for thereby saving Israel from divine wrath (a plague), and is lionized in a number of texts as the model for similar drastic actions (e.g., Sirach 45:23-25; Josephus 4.145-58; Philo, Spec.Leg. 1.54-57, and other references in the essay).[3] The offences listed by Philo as justifying Phinehas-type action were idolatry, apostasy, seduction by false prophets, and perjury. This list further suggests that what irked Paul the Pharisee was likely something serious that he regarded as endangering the religious integrity of his people. So, take your pick. But I’d suggest that (what he judged inordinate) Jesus-devotion could well have seemed an infringement upon the unique place of God in the eyes of a particularly vigilant Pharisee such as Paul. There may have been additional factors, but it seems to me fully cogent that Jesus-devotion was involved.
  • To my mind, this also tallies with how Paul describes his own change-experience that moved him from opponent to adherent of the young Jesus-movement: a “revelation of [God’s] Son” (Gal. 1:16). That is, the cognitive import and content was christological, a “revelation” of the high status/significance of Jesus. He doesn’t say that the experience involved a shift of view about a supposed Temple-criticism or Torah-laxity by Jewish Jesus-followers, or overcoming a prior objection to their converting pagans.
  • The most reasonable inference, therefore, is that what he came to accept and affirm robustly in all his letters (christological claims and linked devotional practices) was likely central in/among the things that he had previously found sufficiently offensive to demand his vigorous efforts to “destroy” the Jesus-movement. In an essay published years ago, I cited additional Pauline textual data as well that point in the same direction.[4]
  • To cite here another piece of evidence, in 2 Corinthians 3:12—4:6, Paul describes fellow Jews who reject the Jesus-movement. He says that they have veiled and hardened minds that prevent them from seeing (what he sees now) “the glory of the Lord” (3:18), who is Jesus (4:5), “who is the image of God” (4:4). Nothing there about Torah-laxity, or Temple, or anything other than the christological issue: Paul and fellow believers perceive Jesus’ high significance, whereas others (including particularly fellow Jews) don’t. That sounds like “Jesus-devotion” is the critical issue.
  • One further text: Romans 10:9-13 appears in the midst of Paul’s extended discussion of the widescale Jewish refusal to embrace the gospel (Rom. 9—11). Here, after lamenting what he calls their unenlightened stance (10:1-4), and then a remarkable appropriation of a biblical text in vv. 5-8, Paul declares that the confession of Jesus as “Kyrios” and accompanying faith that God raised him from death are the requisites for salvation (vv. 9-11), with “no distinction between Jew and Greek” in the matter (vv. 12-13). The point here is that this text too seems to me to make recognizing the significance of Jesus the central issue, for Paul, for Gentiles, and for his own Jewish people. This seems to me to confirm the suggestion that this had been the issue for Paul himself in the change of stance from opponent to proponent of the gospel about Jesus.

In sum, it seems to me that both the nature and the cause(s) for Paul’s initially violent opposition to the Jewish Jesus-movement were somewhat different from the nature and cause(s) for the synagogue floggings that he later received in the course of his ministry as apostle. I’m inclined to think that Paul’s initial Pharisaic zeal was incited, at least in part, by the christological claims and accompanying devotional practices that he later came to embrace, and that are reflected in his letters.[5] Indeed, his zealousness for his religious traditions may have even made him particularly sensitive to the implications of the christological claims and devotional practices of the early Jesus-circles, perhaps more sensitive than many others, including perhaps even those early Jesus-circles as well!  In any case, whatever the reasons for his strenuous initial opposition to the Jesus-movement, his subsequent shift to passionate adherent (e.g., Philippians 3:4-16) remains one of the most remarkable personal stories of the ancient world.

 

 

[1] See, e.g., Arland J. Hultgren, “Paul’s Pre-Christian Persecutions of the Church: Their Purpose, Locale and Nature.” Journal of Biblical Literature 95 (1976): 97-111, for a proposal not totally different from my own stance.

[2] Paula Fredriksen, “How Later Contexts Affect Pauline Content, or: Retrospect Is the Mother of Anachronism,” in Jews and Christians in the First and Second Centuries: How to Write Their History, eds. Peter J. Tomson and Joshua Schwartz (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 17-51.

[3] Torrey Seland, “Saul of Tarsus and Early Zealotism: Reading Gal 1,13-14 in Light of Philo’s Writings,” Biblica 83 (2002): 449-71.

[4] See Larry W. Hurtado, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 152-78, originally published in Journal of Theological Studies 50(1999): 35-58.

[5] I’ve laid out these devotional practices in several publications, beginning with my book, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Fortress Press/SCM, 1988; T&T Clark, 1998), 93-124; also in At the Origins of Christian Worship: The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion (Eerdmans, 1999), 63-97. On the christological claims and devotional practices specifically reflected in Paul’s letters, see Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2003), 79-153.

“Dynamic Oneness” Review: More

Some readers report problems accessing the online version of my review of Suzanne Nicholson, Dynamic Oneness (mentioned in a previous posting).  So, I make available the pre-publication version

Review: “Dynamic Oneness,” by Suzanne Nicholson

I’ve just received notice that my review of Suzanne Nicholson’s book, Dynamic Oneness:  The Significance and Flexibility of Paul’s One-God Language (Cambridge:  James Clarke & Co., 2011) is forthcoming in Journal of Theological Studies.  The online final version is available here.

“The Formation of the Jewish Canon”: Lim’s New Book

Over the weekend I finished the new book by my colleague, Prof. Timothy Lim:  The Formation of the Jewish Canon (Yale University Press, 2013), and I’m very impressed.  Though of relatively modest size (288 pp. including notes, bibliography & indices), it packs a lot between its covers, delivering a careful analysis of key evidence, informed engagement with prior scholarship, and a cogent proposal:  The traditional Jewish biblical canon derives from the Pharisaic canon, which was one of a number of lists of authoritative writings among various Jewish groups of the first century CE.

Lim is cordial and even generous in his treatment of other scholars, without pulling punches in noting any deficiencies in their handling of matters.  He goes into key evidence in considerable detail, showing the benefits of the sort of high-level language skills he possesses.  He weighs various factors, candidly noting where he makes inferences and judgement-calls, not over-claiming, but offering a way through the thicket of issues toward what seems to me a solid proposal.  In any case, I think that it’s now the book to note and engage on the question of when and how the traditional Jewish “Bible” came to have its contents.

Part of the evidence dealt with is, of course, in the NT.  And here, too, Lim, is a careful and reliable guide.  His handling of the Pauline citations and allusions to the Jewish scriptures is particularly worth highlighting.  Recommended!

“Oral Fixation” in NT Studies: Response

I’m pleased that my article giving a critique of some of the more extreme representations of “performance criticism,” which appeared a few months ago in the journal New Testament Studies has received an affirming response from Roger Bagnall in an email today, one of the foremost figures in papyrological studies.

My article is available on this blog site under the “Selected Published Essays” tab here.

Scholars really can’t be expected to agree all the time, and he and I have disagreed occasionally on this or that (as reflected in my review of his book, Early Christian Books in Egypt here).   But I also have enormous respect for Bagnall’s work overall, for he has been at the forefront of promoting the study of ancient papyri, e.g., as editor of The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology.

My article drew in part upon his little book, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011) to emphasize the place of various levels/types of reading, writing and texts in the early Christian period.  His earlier book, Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History (London: Routledge, 1995), is an excellent introduction to how Egyptian papyri are vital for ancient historical work.

I suspected that he’d basically find my article congenial to his own work, and it’s nice to have that confirmed.

Labels, Critiques and Fair Play

My posting yesterday in which I simply advocated that scholarly work be engaged before we label it provoked some interest, but also what I regard an ill-considered response from Robert  Myles.  I don’t spend much time scanning the blogosphere, so I usually don’t track what other bloggers may write about me or what I have to say.  But Myles sent a comment indicating that he’d blogged in response on his site:  “The Bible and Class Struggle” here.  So, I read it.

I’m both a bit puzzled and somewhat offended.  I’m puzzled because Myles seems to take my posting (and some earlier publications as well) as if I’m engaged in his own focus on “the class struggle” but on the other side of that struggle.  I’m not . . . not on the other side, trying to keep down the masses, or prevent new and different voices in scholarship, or . . . well, you get my point.  I fail to see anything in what I’ve written that gives reason to think otherwise (although I suspect  that Myles might take the preceding statement as simply indicative of an insufficiently raised consciousness).

Had Myles read my posting more carefully, i.e., with an attempt first to understand what I was saying instead of first pegging me and then filtering everything through this label, he might have noted (among other things) (1) a complete absence of reference to Marxism, class struggle, or any of the various newer  approaches in biblical studies, (2) examples given of “labels” were “conservative,” “liberal”, and my references to the American scene with the often frosty relations between these two camps, (3) my candid acknowledgement that there is no “disinterested objectivity” (contra the impression given in Myles posting that I’m some kind of naïve objectivist), with simply a plea that we try our best to treat with fairness and accuracy the views of others (especially those with whom we think we disagree). It’s also disappointing to have one’s views so curiously distorted.

At one point, Myles states that I’ve been criticized in print previously for my allegedly narrow view of biblical studies, citing an article by James Crossley published in the online journal Relegere here.  But Myles curiously fails to mention my responding essay in the same journal available here,  in which (among other things) I offer some corrections to Crossley’s representation of my views.

(Actually, the story about these two essays is interesting.  Crossley, a UK colleague, wrote and published his essay in which he specifically engaged some of my publications, and I learned of it only because one of my former students drew it to my attention.  When I read it, the unfortunate misrepresentations became immediately apparent.  So, I contacted Crossley, indicating that I thought he’d mis-read me on some points.  Crossley expressed some regret at the situation in which I learned of the essay and suggested that I contact the journal and request an opportunity to respond.  The editors apologized, acknowledging that they should have sent it to me and allowed a response.    And they kindly then invited me to write one.  For the record, before submitting that response, I sent it to Crossley for comments and any corrections to my portrayal of his views.  That’s just the way I ride.)

I’m also offended at some of the statements in Myles’s posting.  In particular, I take exception to the term “disingenuous”, which means “insincere, lacking candour.”  Effectively, to say that someone is being “disingenuous” is to accuse them of duplicity, of veiling their true position.  It’s a character-attack.  And that’s just the sort of inappropriate labelling that is so unhelpful, so misguided, misjudged, and counter-productive.  It is corrosive to the serious issues that Myles would like to pursue.

So, can we please discuss issues without impugning one another?  Could we please try, really hard,  to understand one another as a standard first step?  And how about this:  How about checking out our understanding of someone before we write a critique of them?    Just a thought.

 

More on “Labels” and Scholarship

Personally, I have little time for labelling scholars (e.g., “liberal,” “conservative,” etc.).  The only question for me is what someone is saying and the adequacy of their basis for saying it.  I hold the view that you should have to read a scholar’s work before you make up your mind about it.  How about that for radical!

But I know that lots of other folk, including lots of other scholars, seek to label everybody, and then use such labels through which to read/hear what someone says.  So, e.g., they’ll judge a book by its publisher, or by the institutional base of the author.  In the USA especially, this seems to be a big activity.  Nothing compares, of course, to the stupidly polarized political situation (Fox News has a lot to answer for when the last judgement takes place!).  But even sober scholars (who should know better) can be guilty of trying to peg other scholars and label them, often thereby determining in advance what to make of what these labelled scholars have to say.

Now it’s true that some people operate as activists of this or that “cause” or camp.  E.g., there are those who see themselves as defenders of a “conservative” position in NT studies, actively policing the lines to ensure that their notion of proper views are maintained, and quick to identify those not “conservative” in order to marginalize what they say/write.  Likewise, there are equally militant exponents of “liberal” positions who do similar things.  These folk actively fly a given flag, and operate as supporters of a given political stance in scholarship.  That they do so openly makes it better, actually, than the covert labelling often practiced by some others.

But to my mind, for scholarship to mean anything, the only thing that counts is what a given scholar says/writes, and how well based it is:  How well it takes account of all relevant evidence, how soundly it is reasoned, how well it engages the positions of others, etc.  Of course, the values, and even the personal qualities, of a given scholar may well shape what she/he writes.  Granted, there is no truly “unconcerned objectivity” in a subject as “hot” as the NT/Christian Origins.  But we can aim to be fair, honest with the data, transparent in how we work it.

I’ve occasionally been contacted asking if I’m “conservative” or “liberal” or “evangelical,” which actually pleases me.  For it suggests that maybe what I’ve written isn’t so easily labelled.  When asked, I may reply that I’m all those, and more, if I’m allowed to define what the terms mean.  But, really, I’m just a scholar of Christian Origins, seeking to understand what I regard as a fascinating phenomenon:  the origins and emergence of what became “Christianity”.  I’m sure I’ve got things to learn still (though I’ve been at it for nearly fifty years, as student and scholar), but I don’t know that I’m trying to fly some fleet flag or advance some party cause.  I’m just trying to do the best work I can, within my real limitations.  And I just want to assess what others do as best I can in terms of the same criteria by which I hope to be judged.

So, that’s the only label I think I would own.

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