Skip to content

Jesus and the “Scribal Elite”: Chris Keith’s Latest

April 8, 2014

In the latest tome from one of our most prolific recent PhDs, Chris Keith offers an argument about the initial causes of tensions/conflicts between Jesus of Nazareth and what Keith terms “the scribal elite,” i.e., the formally trained class of Torah-interpreters of his time:  Jesus against the Scribal Elite:  The Origins of the Conflict (Baker Academic, 2014).

In Keith’s own words,

“I will argue that Jesus was not a member of the authoritative scribal elite class, but acted in some ways as though he were, and managed to convice some of his audiences that he was.  Among other reasons, this blurring of social categories prompted attempts to expose him publicly as clearly not part of the authoritative elite, thus beginning a controversy that soon spiralled beyond these initial concerns and ever closer to a Roman cross outside Jerusalem during Passover.” (6).

Without denying that other factors were involved in the escalating conflict in which the person of Jesus was central (e.g., Jesus’ healings & exorcisms, and features of his teaching, perhaps esp. his claim to be the spokesman and vehicle of the coming “kingdom of God”), Keith insists that “Jesus’ reputation as a teacher” was also a factor, and one too often overlooked.

One effect of his argument, as Keith notes, is to regard the “controversy stories” of the Gospels as more likely based on actual conflicts with “scribal elite” figures (even if in their present form these stories have been adapted to make them more meaningful to the intended readers).

Intended to be accessible and useful for “upper-level students as an introduction to the early period of Jesus’ ministry,” the book is also aimed to elicit scholarly reviews and responses.  Engaging the work of such influential figures as E. P. Sanders on Jesus, Keith’s new book deserves the consideration of anyone keenly interested in understanding Jesus’ ministry in its historical context.

From → Uncategorized

  1. Professor Hurtado,

    It is good to promote new thinking and ideas, but re this:

    “I will argue that Jesus was not a member of the authoritative scribal elite class”

    I have read a review of the book:

    and I am tempted to order it and read it (if I ever finish the second volume of James Dunn). But re the above words of Chis Keith I just find it difficult to envisage that Jesus was set off on the road to crucifixion by getting ideas above his social/intellectual position?

    Who were these “authorative scribal elite class”?

    Is the author saying there was an aspect of social snobbery toward a northern galilean type with a rough sort of accent or was there some sort of guild connected to the Temple who were jealous of their position and were deadly in their opposition to anyone without some sort of proven formal training and qualification who seemed to challenge their position?

    As one who has read the book, would you be willing to give an opinion?

    • Drawing upon a lot of research into the nature of education, literacy, writing, etc., in the Roman era, Keith shows how reading/writing abilities were of various levels and bore corresponding social consequences of status, etc. Jewish “scribes” of Jesus’ time were formally trained in reading and interpreting Scripture in particular. See, e.g., Christine Schams, Jewish Scribes in the Second-Temple Period, JSOTSup, no. 291 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998). Jesus spoke with the sort of authority and claim that was associated (argues Keith) with such scribes, and yet wasn’t trained to do so. This set up a conflict over his person early in his ministry. Other factors, of course, led to his execution. But Keith argues that this conflict with scribal authorities was an early stage.

  2. Granville Sydnor permalink

    Thank you for your self-promotion. I have it on my Kindle and started reading it last night. It is a much needed book. Thanks, again.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: