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Jesus’ Resurrection: Act of God

At a musical event last night where a Christian minister also spoke, he referred to Jesus as “rising from the dead, proving that he was God.”  I find no such statement anywhere in the NT.  Instead, the NT writings rather consistently claim that Jesus was raised from death by God.  And the effects claimed were that, thereby, the man Jesus became the foundation and pattern for the ultimate redemption proffered to his followers.

Granted, NT texts reflect the belief that the man Jesus was also the unique manifestation of the divine Logos, and the one in whom the “fullness of God” dwelt bodily (e.g., John 1:1-2; Colossians 1:15-20), and the one who “though in the form of God” became a “servant” (Philippians 2:6-11).  But, the NT texts also insist just as firmly that Jesus of Nazareth was a real first-century Jewish male from Galilee, genuinely mortal.  And this was demonstrated most obviously in his death.  He really died.

So, Jesus’ resurrection is presented, not as Jesus’ act, but God’s.  Look at Romans 4:24-25, for example, widely thought to derive from an early “pre-Pauline” confession.  Paul there refers to belief in God “who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead . . . for our justification.”  Or consider 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, perhaps the earliest extant Pauline epistle, where believers are portrayed as having “turned to God from idols,”  and await “his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead.”

Actually, a survey of all the NT references to Jesus’ resurrection will confirm this pattern, in which it is posited as the crucial act of God, not the act of Jesus.  For further discussion of this and other related matters, see my book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press, 2010), e.g., pp. 55-57 on Jesus’ death and resurrection.  I also wrote about the topic several years ago for the online magazine, Slate, here.

And the NT claim isn’t that Jesus proved “he was God,” but that God validated Jesus as the true Messiah and Son of God, and that God also exalted Jesus to the position of “Lord,” sharing the divine name, divine throne and divine glory.  To be candid, the NT writings portray a truly dead and helpless Jesus raised from death by God, in demonstration of God’s power over death, and also the validity of Jesus as the unique Son and Lord.

Moreover, the NT writings present Jesus’ resurrection as bearing important implications for believers.  For example, Paul makes Jesus’ resurrection the “first fruits” of a larger resurrection-harvest that is to include all who trust in him (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).   Note Paul’s assertion in Romans 8:11, that the same divine power that raised Jesus from death “will give life to your mortal bodies also.”

In short, in NT texts, the resurrected Jesus is the literal embodiment, the initial instance, of what the consummation of redemption is to be for believers.  So, it was pretty essential that it was as a human that Jesus was raised by God.  To portray Jesus’ resurrection as his own act demonstrating his inherent divinity is a gross misunderstanding of what the NT texts assert.

To be sure, the claim that God raised Jesus from death has profound christological import.  But it also has equally profound theo-logical import, positing God as the actor.  And it also has profound soteriological import, vividly positing the basis for the redemption-hope offered to believers.  It is precisely in his genuine mortality that Jesus’ resurrection serves in this richly meaningful way in the NT.

Whatever you make of the claim, it’s at least important to understand accurately what the NT writers were trying to assert!

Review of the Brill Greek-English Dictionary

There’s now an extended review of the recently-published Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, the large reference lexicon here.   I posted about the Dictionary earlier here,  I’m pleased to see that the reviewer agrees that it is a valuable and reliable tool for any serious work in ancient Greek texts.

Early Textual Transmission of the Gospel of John

I’m pleased to learn of the publication of an important study of the earliest extant evidence for the textual transmission of the Gospel of John:  Lonnie D. Bell, The Early Textual Transmission of John:  Stability and Fluidity in its Second and Third Century Greek Manuscripts (Leiden:  Brill 2018).  The publisher’s online catalog entry is here.

We have more early manuscript evidence for the Gospel of John than any other NT writing, including remnants of manuscripts dated to the third century, and in some cases the second century.  I’ve referred to Bell’s study in earlier postings, e.g., here.  Using an innovative approach that allowed him to measure the extent and nature of textual variation among the earliest witnesses to GJohn, Bell demonstrates that they exhibit an impressive stability in the transmission of this text.

Indeed, in another innovative step, Bell also compares the extent and nature of textual variation in these early witnesses to GJohn with the manuscripts of the 4th century and later, and the result is that the earliest witnesses compare quite favorably with the later ones.

So, against the oft-repeated claims of a “wild” and “chaotic” state and transmission of the text of the Gospels in the second century, Bell’s study piles up a considerable body of data showing otherwise.  I think that it should now be noticed by anyone interested in the early textual transmission of NT writings.

The volume is a revised version of Bell’s PhD thesis completed here in Edinburgh.  It’s another of the many excellent PhD studies completed here over the last twenty years or so.  Congratulations, Lonnie!

Biblical Citations and Allusions: Online Index

For a number of years now, the online resource, BiblIndex (Index of Biblical Quotations in Early Christian Literature) has been available here, though not widely enough noticed.

It’s a very handy tool. You can search for the number of citations and allusions of any verse, or whole book of the Bible.  You can search instances in particular early Christian writers/texts, or all Christian texts of a given period.  And it will bring up on screen the actual instances for you to assess.

By way of illustration, here are some figures that will show the relative usage of particular biblical books in Christian texts dated ca. 100-400 AD (the figures = combined citations and allusions):  Matthew (36,556), Mark (3,537), Luke (17,410), John (22,735).  Clearly, Matthew was the favorite, and Mark by far the least.

Among other selected NT writings in the same period, Romans (10,794), 1 Corinthians (14,596), Galatians (3,372), James (602), Revelation (2,425).

As illustrations of particular verses, in Christian texts 100-400 AD, for John 1:1 (1,088), Matthew 16:19 (132).

By far, as we would expect, Psalms leads with 41,780.  Compare this with Genesis (22,357), and Isaiah (18,655).  Compare the figure for Leviticus:  2,694.

The index is quite generous in what counts as an allusion, and so the specific figures may be adjusted by exercise of more exacting criteria.  But the comparative number of references to particular Old Testament or New Testament writings would likely remain the same, indicating which books were more frequently drawn upon.

Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments of Dubious Authenticity

In November last year, the popular press featured news of scholarly doubts about the authenticity of many of the numerous putative scroll fragments from the Dead Sea area that had come on the antiquities market in the last fifteen years or so:  e.g., here, and here.  Yesterday, I finally got around to perusing the published scholarly studies that generated these news stories.  The key publications are two lengthy articles in the journal Dead Sea Discoveries, which I heartily recommend to anyone seriously interested in the topic:

Kipp Davis et al., “Nine Dubious ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ Fragments From the Twenty-First Century,” Dead Sea Discoveries 24.2 (2017):  189-228.

Kipp Davis, “Caves of Dispute: Patterns of Correspondence and Suspicion in the Post-2002 ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ Fragments,” Dead Sea Discoveries 24.2 (2017): 229-70.

Davis has been a key figure in the analysis of these fragments, and these articles reflect an impressive scholarly effort that drew upon a variety of disciplines and technology.  So, e.g., detailed analysis showed that, although the writing material was old, in some cases the ink of the writing had been written on top of the sediment that had accrued on the writing material.  This leads to the conclusion that someone obtained blank pieces old writing material (e.g., parchment or papyrus) and forged the writing on it.  In at least one other case, analysis showed that ordinary table salt had been used to “fix” the writing.

But I was also (perhaps even more) impressed with the forensic analysis of the writing itself.  There was “bleeding” of the ink into the writing material (something you don’t see in truly ancient manuscripts).  In some papyrus fragments, the writing was across the (vertical) fibers, whereas the more common (and the easier) way to copy on papyrus was to write along the (horizontal) fibers.

Also, Davis and others noted the curious way that the fragments all contained sufficient text to allow readily identification as portions of biblical texts.  Having worked myself on the nineteen Greek fragments from Qumran Cave 7, only one of which has sufficient text to permit it to be identified with some confidence, this certainly added to my suspicions.

Over the last fifteen years or so, some wealthy private collectors have been keen to obtain ancient manuscripts, even fragments of ancient manuscripts.  Perhaps the most salient of these efforts is reflected in the recently opened Museum of the Bible (Washington, DC).  It now seems likely that at least some of the recently acquired fragments that purport to come from the Dead Sea area and are held by the Museum and some other collectors are fakes.  To be more precise, they are forgeries in the legal sense of the term:  fakes produced in order to make money from their sale.  The various collectors were duped.  Eager to acquire items, and naive about how to do so, they were taken in.

To their credit, the Museum administration apparently put notices on the relevant items on display indicating that there is scholarly debate about their authenticity.  But, along with the now notorious “Jesus’ wife” fragment, these dubious Dead Sea Scroll fragments warn us that there are people out there who are very ready to produce items that they perceive will appeal to this or that scholarly or collector’s interests.*  It’s another reason why we need to continue to develop scholarly expertise in the technical matters required to assess such items.

*It is sad and disappointing to see that the Harvard Divinity School web pages on the “Jesus’ wife” fragment here still (as of today) make no reference to the studies that demonstrate conclusively (in the minds of most others) that the fragment is a fake.  See the Atlantic story on the guy who produced it here, and Professor King’s acknowledgement that the item is likely a fake here.  Among decisive scholarly work showing the item a fake is Christian Askeland’s article here.

Postdoctoral Fellowships in the University of Birmingham

I forward notice from Dr. Hugh Houghton of postdoctoral fellowships relating to NT studies offered in the University of Birmingham.

We are delighted to announce the advertisement of three postdoctoral fellowships at ITSEE (the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham).

All involve work on Greek New Testament commentary manuscripts, to start this autumn. One is on the AHRC-funded Codex Zacynthius project, using multispectral imaging to recover the text of the earliest catena on Luke. Two are on the ERC-funded CATENA project, producing a catalogue of commentary manuscripts, identifying different stages in their history and development and making electronic transcriptions and editions of their text.

The posts would be suitable for Classicists or scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity with experience of working with Greek manuscripts.
Further details and links to the application portal may be found at:

Candidates may apply for one or more of these positions. The deadline is 11th April 2018.

In addition, the CATENA project is advertising a funded doctoral studentship on the Pseudo-Oecumenian Catena on Romans, suitable for candidates with expertise in Greek and an interest in manuscripts. Further information and application link at:
Closing date 9th April 2018.

Exorcism and Healing in Early Christianity

On the weekend last I returned from a short (but very interesting) conference on “Healing and Exorcism in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity,” held in Orebro School of Theology (Orebro, Sweden).  The focus, contributors and paper-titles are listed here.

My own presentation was, “The Ritual Use of Jesus’ Name in Early Christian Exorcism and Healing,” and here is my abstract:

“On the one hand, the use of Jesus’ name in early Christian accounts of healing and exorcism fits within the larger pattern of the invocation of powerful names (e.g., daimons, angels, etc.) in Roman-era exorcism and “magic”.  On the other hand, the invocation of Jesus to the exclusion of other beings/powers suggests something distinctive within that larger pattern.  This particular, even singular, focus on Jesus’ name (and the power/person it represents) likely reflects the unique status accorded to the risen/exalted Jesus in early Christian circles, and, along with some other distinguishing features, gives to early Christian exorcism and healing an identifiable character.”

I posited three main distinguishing features of early Christian exorcism and healing practice.

(1) The exclusivity of Jesus’ name, i.e., earliest texts portray Jesus’ followers as invoking his name alone, in contrast the the use of various and even multiple names/figures in non-Christian practice.

(2)  The early Christian ritual use of Jesus’ name was one facet of a wider devotional pattern in which Jesus figured centrally.  Here again, this distinguishes early Christian practice.  The evidence of various other forms of Jewish ritual practices, and “pagan” practices as well, typically involved invocation of names of powerful beings, but this was not attached to any further devotional practice directed to these beings.  But in early Christian circles, Jesus was invoked at baptism (the initiation rite), and in the collective worship gathering, hymns sung celebrating him, prayers directed through Jesus or to Jesus jointly with God, the shared meal understood as one in Jesus’ honour, et alia.

(3)  The simplicity of method in earliest Christian ritual practice.  Unlike the more elaborate practices portrayed in pagan and other Jewish circles, involving such things as elaborate and fixed spells, the use of fumigations and/or various devices, the reports of earliest Christian practice typically involve a simple command (e.g., to the demonic spirit).

The papers from the conference will appear in a volume to be published by Mohr-Siebeck in due course.  In the meantime, my thanks and appreciation to Dr. Tommy Wasserman and Dr. Mikael Telbe, and their various assistants, for a well-run, informative and cordial conference.


“Christianity at the Crossroads”: US Edition

In an earlier posting here I noted the publication of Michael Kruger’s very useful book on second-century Christianity:  Christianity at the Crossroads.  The US edition has now appeared (IVP Academic, the publisher’s online entry here).

This will make it easier for obtaining the book for use in courses, and it is an excellent introduction to that “Cinderella period” of Christianity.  Kruger wisely chose to provide copious references to primary sources, to guide students into the evidence, rather than to canvass all intricacies of scholarly debates about this or that matter.  But the major issues are certainly addressed, and the major scholarly contributions noted.

PhD Studies: Some Information and Advice

Further to my posting about the most recent data on academic posts in biblical studies, I thought to mention some previous postings in which I provide some information and advice about PhD programmes and studies.

I posted about a recent helpful guide for prospective PhD applicants here.

I’ve also offered some information about the structures of UK and North American PhD programmes, with particular reference to UK programmes in New Testament and Christian Origins here, and, with special reference to how we do things in Edinburgh here.

Academic Jobs in Biblical Studies

Those currently completing a PhD in Biblical Studies, and those contemplating doing so may want to look at the recent report on job-listings from the Society of Biblical Literature here.

The SBL sponsors perhaps the major job-listing facility (especially for North America, but also beyond), and so their figures on matters are likely representative for the field as a whole.

Key findings highlighted by John Kutsko, Executive Director of SBL:

  • Positions advertised in AY17 increased 4.0% compared to AY16. This increase in postings was primarily the result of increased listings for non-faculty positions.
  • The total number of faculty positions decreased by 8.6% year over year from AY16 to AY17. Within this percentage, several mixed findings can be highlighted:
    • Postings from research institutions are at an all-time low since SBL and AAR began collecting employment data in 2003.
    • The number of entry-level faculty positions increased by 11.4% year over year from AY16 to AY17.
    • The number of tenure-track faculty positions reached a six-year low.
    • The number of postings from baccalaureate institutions is at seven-year high.
  • For faculty positions, the most selected category for the annual course load shifted from three to four in 2016 to five to six in 2017.

The report highlights ongoing concerns about the job market in biblical and religious studies. The SBL Council, in collaboration with the membership and stakeholders in our fields, continues to focus on ways to address these concerns. For example, SBL sponsored the new resource, ImaginePhD. We encourage faculty and graduate students to utilize this career exploration and planning tool for the humanities and social sciences. In addition, SBL will begin to conduct further analysis of the job market in the context of annual new PhDs, and also cross reference this analysis with peer learned societies in the humanities and social sciences.

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