Monday, June 26, 2006

Embarassment, Moses and Reversibility

That the Jews would create Moses, a seemingly Egyptian character, for their hero, seems unlikely. Particularly given that the Egyptians were their adversaries in the Exodus narrative. The criteria of embarassment demands that this be regarded as traditional material.

This argument, of course, seems somewhat absurd. Yet I've seen this argument used (some time ago in the BAR, in a response to an article in Harpers Magazine I can't get at my books, much less five year old magazines, so I apologize, for the umpteenth time, for a lack of more specific references). And as an employment of the criteria of embarassment, it's tough to fault. Moses' Egyptian adoption and Jewish birth seem to mask an Egyptian heritage.

But it seems from other evidences that this is extremely unlikely. They [i]did[/i] make up the character, and indeed the entire narrative. So how did embarassment go wrong?

We'll turn now to some common applications of the criteria in the NT, as pertains to the "Quest for the Historical Jesus." Firstly, we'll look at one I think is a false positive, and we'll look at why I think it so. Raymond Brown (among others) has suggested that the Petrine denial be viewed as historical by virtue of embarassment--why would Mark, sympathetic to Peter, make that up?

The first problem with this is the silence of Paul. Surely in his attack on Peter's hypocrisy, he would have benefitted from mention of Peter's supreme hypocratic act--the denial of Jesus himself. So why doesn't he?

This is not enough, IMO, to rule out historicity. But we can explain both Paul's silence and Mark's creation of the event without an historical kernel, which I think amounts to a substantial weight against: many of Mark's characters are a window into Mark's audience, and that is what we find here. Peter's denial is not the denial of Peter, rather it is the stumbling of the Christian more contemporary to Mark. The message is clear: Even Peter failed, and was forgiven.

A more solid positive can be found in the baptism, at least IMO. While some have argued that the baptism is representative of a Messianic annointing, I must confess that this strikes me as rather forced. Possible, I suppose, but not, to my view, terribly likely. I can't explain it outside of historicity, and because of that I think embarassment is successful here--it has arrived at a conclusion that is historical.

Which leads to the question: What makes the baptism different from Moses? Like the baptism, I candidly can't explain why Moses was made a seeming Egyptian. I could probably come up with some possibilities, but none that seem terribly persuasive to me. Without the benefit of archaeological evidence (as is the case in the baptism), we could quite justifiably conclude that Moses was, in fact, an historical character who was an Egyptian. We don't even have the benefit of other textual evidence to assess, like in the case of the denial. So what makes it different?

Which, as near as I can see, makes embarassment quite reversible (like so many other criteria. . .probably all of them). Yet it's still what I'd consider the single strongest evidence for historicity of a given passage: If I can't explain why they made it up, it's probably true.

I think, generally, too much emphasis is put on maintaining some sort of consistent methodology. This isn't science, and what it ultimately boils down to what one considers as having the most explanatory power. Such subjectivity may well be wrong. Unfortunately, I don't think there is much of an alternative. It is, of course, a double-edged sword as well. Negative criteria are frequently just as reversible. So what can we say with any measure of certainty?

While my reconstructions would tend toward the more conservative side, I paradoxically think the answer to that question is "Not much." I think it's pretty likely that the gospel authors were more or less familiar with the gist of Jesus' message and mission, so accord them some measure of accuracy on that general front. But specifics? Not a chance. The more I see efforts to establish these specifics, the more convinced I am that such efforts are quite thoroughly bankrupt.

The criteria I consider strongest can be reversed; really, what does that leave me?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tending the Dead Sea Scrolls

Kind of a neat article on tending the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nothing new for anyone who's paid attention to it before, but some readers might be interested, at any rate.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

But Does it Run Linux?

In a post that only the tech-geekiest of exegetes will find remotely relevant (I can't be the only one. Well, okay, I probably am. . .), I bring to you the first of what might be a monthly-ish feature. Or might never pop-up again. We'll see how it goes.

Choosing Bible Software brings a number of questions: How expandable is it? How are the exploiting the intelligence of their users to improve the product? But most important to us Slashdot reading geeks: Does it run on Linux?

For our first edition, we'll take a look at Bibleworks 5 (which I presume some people still have), 6, and 7. I'll attempt to install them using Crossover Offce and good old fashioned WINE. If installation is successful, I'll take a look at how functional the programs are under this environment. Today, this will be quite simple:

Bibleworks 5

Install went off without a hitch. Functionality was incredibly limited. Search worked off and on, though more off than on. The mouseover information provided in the panes, well, sucked. It lagged something awful, generally providing information on the word or verse I was mousing over thirty to forty seconds prior. When even these basic functions fail, I don't think I need to get into a more detailed look under the hood.

Bibleworks 6

Flawless. If there's a bug somewhere in the application under WINE, I couldn't find it. Not only flawless, but fast. Almost seemed a native Linux Application.

Bibleworks 7

Despite my best efforts, I couldn't get this to install.

Thus I'd reccommend the Linux enthusiast looking for a Bibleworks Version to stick with Bibleworks 6. User Created Databases can provide nearly all of the additional modules found in BW7, and thus there is no hurry to upgrade for the Microsoft despising exegete.

Friday, June 23, 2006

If Ever Oh Ever a Wiz There Was

Somewhat ironically, coming on the heels of my recent posts on silence regarding traditions between 2Peter and the Gospels, today I stumbled across an excellent example of the limitations of inferences made by partial silence.

On the Internet Movie Database, we find the following regarding Singin' in the Rain

The American Film Institute voted the movie #10 of all time, the highest rated musical of the list.


Now, we might conclude from this, after viewing the American Film Institute's list, that neither the author of the bit of trivia, nor the editors of the IMDB, have seen the list in question, because their information is patently false. The highest ranking musical (and, IMO, the greatest movie ever made, but that's another issue) comes in at number 6: The Wizard of Oz.

Such a conclusion would seem unfounded, however, as they did get Singin' in the Rain's position right (number 10).

So we might conclude, instead, that they had not seen the Wizard of Oz, and thus didn't know it was a Musical. This suggestion, however, borders on lunacy based on the other available evidence. That the editors of the largest movie database on the web would not have seen the most watched movie of all time (having been seen by over 1 billion different people since its debut) is unfathomable.

Perhaps, then, they had seen it, but still wouldn't classify it as a Musical? Firstly, if we're not going to call a movie produced by Arthur Freed, with much song and dance, and songs that develop the plot, a Musical, I'm not sure what we should call it. Strictly defined, it meets the criteria of a Musical better even than the quintessential Musical Singin' in the Rain, where the songs are largely incidental, and used to give Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor a chance to dance.

Secondly, that they know it is a Musical is undeniable: They tell us as much on their page on MGM's masterpiece.

The most reasonable conclusion is that, as it often is, the Wizard of Oz was excluded from their frame of reference by virtue of being a children's movie. It simply didn't occur to them to include The Wizard of Oz as a Musical. Their silence on the Wizard of Oz betrays only their own lack of thorough consideration, not their lack of knowledge.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

More on 2Peter and the Gospels

I'd like to bring Kevin Rosero's comments on my recent post on 2Peter and the Gospels to my reader's attention. Kevin offers some helpful criticisms which I hope to address here, rather than in the comments section where they might escape the reader's notice.

I must confess that I am not sure why Kevin suggests that this is the type of tradition that might remain private--what would inspire them to keep a lid on a tradition that Jesus had offered an accurate prophecy? I see no hint elsewhere of such tendencies, so must plead ignorance as to the basis of this proposal.

Kevin notes that John, unlike Mark and Matthew, is not sympathetic to Peter, and thus his inclusion of this prophecy belies my suggestion that we should expect to find it in pro-Peter material. I had anticipated this objection, but had hoped (albeit incorrectly!) that it would escape notice until I could access my books, and provide some support for the notion that John 21 is interpolated. That said, I hope it is of sufficient acceptance (a very healthy majority, to my understanding) so as not to inspire objection among my readership if I suggest it to be the case without sources: The author of Jn.21 is not the same as the author of the remainder of the text (I'd actually push that back to before the Doubting Thomas pericope, but that's not necessary in this context).

John is not generally sympathetic to Peter, preferring to throw his text behind the anonymous and enigmatic "Beloved Disciple." Can the same be said of the author of Jn.21? Despite John's efforts to the contrary (eg.20.4), the primacy of the disciple whom Jesus loved is negated: It is Peter Jesus asks to "tend my sheep," and the beloved disciple bears witness to this. This isn't to say that the Beloved Disciple is negated outright (he does, after all, recognize Jesus first), but he is clearly trumped by Peter in 21.15-18.

This brings us to another indicator of Johannine Redaction. A patently accurate prediction is put on the mouth of Jesus, immediately preceding a seeming apologia for an inaccurate prophecy (whether that prophecy goes back to Jesus, or is a tradition brought about by the Johannine "community" isn't pertinent here--what is pertinent is that it was attributed to Jesus). It seems reasonable to suggest that pseudo-John's effort is to cushion the blow somewhat. To indicate that Jesus always knew exactly what he was talking about.

I think Kevin may be misapplying Occam's Razor in his suggestion that direct knowledge of the GJohn is an uncessary entity. 2Peter's knowledge of some earlier source is absolutely necessary--1:14 makes no sense without such knowledge. The question is whether that source is John or something else, and something else is the extra entity, unless it can be shown to reasonably exist. That doesn't mean that it's impossible that it exists, rather, that on the basis of the current evidence, there is no reason to suggest that it does. I'd suggest that pointing out the Greek word "delow" and paraphrasing a lexicon is insufficient grounds for that.

Regarding the possibility of an independent tradition of the Transfiguration, Kevin notes that Luke has changed Mark's six days to eight, and suggests that this looks like the artifact of a separate source. Firstly, I think it bears noting that it is not unreasonable to suggest that Mark's "six days" had some significance to his readership (days of creation, perhaps?). It is rather unlike Mark to give so specific a time period, and not one to waste words, it seems to imply he is up to something. Luke's changing of the number of days could represent either his ignorance or rejection of that symbolism. I think this is insufficient as a way to establishing an independent tradition--to do so it would need to be illustrated that 8 days was both un-Markan and un-Lukan, or at the very least sufficiently "un-Lukan" to raise eyebrows.

The change in wording (followed by both Matthew and Luke) need not represent a shared, earlier tradition. In fact, I'd suggest the evidence indicates quite the contrary: Mark is creating a deliberate parallel to his own gospel in the transfiguration, one foreshadowed by Peter's earlier proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. The earlier declaration of Jesus as God's son (Mk.1.11) is here confirmed. Matthew and Luke both seek to underline this--to ensure that the parallel is recognized for what it is, lest the less than astute reader miss it. One does not need to suggest (though I do endorse) that Luke knew Matthew for this to occur--it's a fairly recognizable parallel, and one that we might expect both to find on their own.

I'd suggest the evidence of Markan literary device in the words of God during the transfiguration is perhaps the strongest argument in favor of Markan authorship. The parallel to the baptism is quite significant in the Markan narrative as it signifies the inclusion of the disciples in the "Messianic Secret." If the words already existed as such, it is quite serendipitous for Mark. I'd suggest too serendipitous to be plausible, which brings us back to where we began: Mark made these words up, Matthew and Luke redacted them, underlining what Mark implies. 2Peter knows this. If not from the gospel, then how?

Thanks to Kevin for his kind words and thoughtful criticisms.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Possible Implausible

entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem-William of Occam


After this exchange on the IIDB, I thought I might post today about the relationship between 2Peter and the Gospels, and why I find Doherty’s position untenable on the matter—that 2Peter does not know the gospel traditions—untenable.

We shall turn our attention first to 2Peter 1:14, a passage that is generally considered to be reliant on the Gospel of John (21.18-19). Contends Doherty:

Helmut Koester, in his History and Literature of Early Christianity, p.295, refers to 1:14 as “the tradition that Jesus had predicted Peter’s martyrdom.” But the verb here is not one of speaking, it is deloo, to reveal, make clear, which places it without much doubt in the realm of revelation.


Doherty, in the discussion linked above, has since withdrawn “without much doubt,” however, since it still stands on his website, it will be addressed again here both for purposes of posterity and completeness.

delow does not necessarily have the connotation Doherty suggests it does. I provided a list on the previously mentioned discussion, which I will repeat here.

The epistle of Barnabas 9.8 refers to Abraham's "revealing" (deloi) "Jesus by two letters and the cross by one." Barnabas hasn't "placed this in the realm of revelation." He means it exactly as it reads: This is what Abraham was showing us here.

Likewise the Hermas Mandate 6.2.10. Hermas isn't suggesting that the information from this commandment comes from "the realm of revelation." It comes from the commandment itself. This commandment "reveals" (deloi) this. Roberts-Donaldson goes with "exhibits" here.

1Clem 24.3 (delonoin) likewise suggests other than your reading. Day and night "reveal" to us a resurrection. This doesn't occur in the "realm of revelation," it's what we observe in the passing of day and night--it was what they make clear, or what they show. Roberts-Donaldson here goes with "declare".

Leaving the ANF, let's take a look at Philo (certainly, I think, relevant for Doherty's suggestions, which necessitate a great deal of "Hellenist Judaism").

A full list of Philo's usage of the word would be quite lengthy, as he was quite fond of the term, but look, for example, at De opificio mundi 1:150 (delonuenwn). Here Yonge opts to translate it as "displayed." The qualities of the animals certainly don't appear in "the realm of revelation." On the contrary, they are clearly watched.

OT examples are abundant, of course. Est.2.22, 1Ez.3.15, 1Kings 8.36, there are a great many.

Josephus was likewise fond of the term, using it more than a hundred times in his writings, rarely in the context Doherty suggests (eg. Ant. 1.3, 13, 33, 39, 71, 125, etc.).

Heading, finally, the New Testament, Hebrews 12.25. Now, to be sure, the "words" in question are God's, which might make it, prima facie, appear to support Earl. But one doesn't need to dig very deep to see why this is incorrect. What is being "revealed" (deloi) isn't revealed by "revelation", it's revealed by proper interpretation of the words, at least in the mind of the author of Hebrews. KJV goes with "signifieth," NAS with "denotes," the RSV with "indicates."

Col.1.8. Epaphras' "revealing" (delosas) of the "spirit" of the Colossians isn't in "the realm of revelation." It's quite plain that what Epaphras did is tell them so. This one is, I think, most damaging, because Doherty suggests that the verb "not [being] one of speaking" rules it out as being received as such. It doesn't: Epraphas told them. Presumably he wasn't a mute.

This list could be expanded hugely. It not only fails to leave us “without much doubt,” it usually does not mean what Doherty suggests it does. It is used regularly for “indicate” or “show,” at a rate far greater than it is used to indicate a “revelation.” It fails to so much as hint at Doherty’s reading; all that can be granted is that it is “not inconsistent with” it.

So we turn, further, to the context—both in John and in 2Pet—to determine what, if any, dependence may exist here. What must be noted first, is that in 2Pet it is clearly assumed that the audience knows what he is referring to. It cannot simply be that Jesus had predicted he would die (which would fail to impress anyone and scarcely be worth noting), it has to be accurate. We need to assume that what was held to be an accurate description of Peter’s death was well-known to 2Peter’s audience. 2Peter cannot be the original author of this. Which, to maintain Doherty’s suggestion, leaves only the possibility that both had drawn from an existing tradition.

Yet if this tradition does not originate in the Gospel of John, then where? It is telling that nobody, save 2Peter, seems to have heard of it. Surely the other gospel authors would have seized on a tradition of an accurate prophecy? Even more surely, Mark and Matthew, both of whom are quite sympathetic to Petrine traditions, would have mentioned it? So why didn’t they?

The simplest answer to this, of course, is that it wasn’t known to them. But how, if such a tradition had existed, could they be so ignorant of it? This points not only to their lack of knowledge of such a tradition, but a lack of the tradition itself. This silence is uniform. Which would seem to evidence a Johannine creation. Postulating a third source for this—an independent tradition used by both Peter and John—based simply on lexical ambiguity, simply cannot be sustained. Occam’s Razor quite reasonably demands that 2Peter knows the GJohn.

The Transfiguration

Doherty suggests that the seeming description of the transfiguration (2Pet.1.16-19) is likewise representative of an independent tradition. Firstly, I will address his lexical argument:

Another question: Is all this the language of eyewitness of earthly events? The verb “gnoridzo” (make known—“told”—in verse 16) is a technical term in the New Testament for imparting a divine mystery.


Doherty’s suggestion that “gnoridzo” is a “technical term in the New Testament for imparting a divine mystery” is simply false. Col.4.7 is the proof of this:

Tychicus will tell (gnorizei) you all about my affairs; he is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.

There is no “imparting” of a “divine mystery” here. There is Tychicus telling them about his affairs. Far from a "technical term" for "imparting a divine mystery" it is a common term, sometimes used in relation to "divine mystery."

Moving onward, one must address Doherty’s emphasis on what is not shared in parallel to the gospel narratives:

Now, in 2 Peter, any idea that this scene had taken place during Jesus’ earthly ministry has to be read into things. The writer supplies us with no such context. Moreover, no mention is made of the presence of Moses and Elijah, or of Peter’s suggestion that three tabernacles be set up, or that the voice came out of the clouds, features found in all three Synoptic versions. Nor is any mention made of Jesus’ clothes or face being illuminated, features which might better identify the figure in the writer’s mind as a human one. All this makes it highly unlikely that he has drawn his knowledge of this “incident” from a Gospel account.


While he emphasizes what is different, he fails to mention what is patently the same: The words of God are remarkably similar to those spoken in Matthew. This curious parallelism is worked around by Doherty by suggesting the existence of a prior tradition, upon which both are developed.

For our analysis here, we turn neither to 2Peter, nor to Matthew, whom he most closely parallels. Instead we bring our attention to the Gospel of Mark.

It is first important to note that, putting aside the question of 2Peter for the moment, all existing sources regarding the transfiguration—both in and outside of the canon—are dependent on Mark. Nobody shows any awareness of any other narrative, save, working within Doherty’s suggestion, the words spoken by God on the mount. But if Matthew has another tradition with these words included, why is it in no other way manifested in his text?

The transfiguration fulfills multiple purposes in Mark’s gospel. Firstly, it provides further assurance that the climatic identification made by Peter shortly before is correct (Mk.8.29), this also relates to Jesus’ reception of God’s voice during his baptism (1.11)—what was private before is now shared with his disciples. Secondly, it leads to the confirmation of John the Baptist as Elijah, something Mark has led up to throughout his gospel, beginning in 1.6. Thirdly, it confirms what Mark has consistently negated in his gospel—Jesus is not Elijah (as discussed in Goodacre’s “Mark, Elijah, John the Baptist and Matthew: The Success of the First Intertextual Reading of Mark”,Presented at the Synoptics Seminar, British New Testament Conference, Cambridge, 2002).

More can be adduced from the obvious OT parallelism (eg. Ex.24.9-15). All of this points to two things: Mark is not drawing on an existing tradition, or at least there is no evidence of it. He is drawing in no small part on scripture to narrate the event. What does not spring from scriptural precedent is drawn from Mark’s narrative. It is difficult to imagine the transfiguration—or anything remotely like it—evolving in a different scenario, escaping everyone’s notice (save, again, the quote in Matthew), before finally finding it’s way into 2Peter. Once more, William of Occam’s voice can be heard across the centuries. It informs us, quite clearly, that Mark’s narrative is obviously created by Mark, with no awareness of any other tradition. It informs us equally clearly that 2Peter knows of it.

Disney famously described cartoon physics as “The plausible impossible.” What we have here, in the suggestion of so many independent traditions appearing between 2Peter and the gospels, without their knowledge of each other, is the converse of that. It is the “possible implausible.” It could be true, but it requires a fantastic number of coincidences, not least the silence of all other sources on the matters at hand.

Minor Update: Very minor. Just made some grammatical corrections, and fixed the Josephus reference (it had book and verse, but not what text it came from).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ummmm. . .Wow.

This is a rather. . .interesting take on the Da Vinci Code. Give it a read. No, really. It's entertaining if nothing else.

Yet review after review slugged The Da Vinco Code as boring, pathetic etc etc when it was the biggest seat-hanger of modern movie times. Who might have managed all those reviews I can never say but we must remember that the present Panzer Pope was previously heading the Congregation of the Doctrine, the Vatican’s Ministry which throttled humankind with the Inquisition.


Whole new levels of non sequitur. . .

What was interesting was when some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were being analysed and translated, one of the Biblical scholars, John M Allegro, discovered that he was being asked to heavily edit not only his research but remove all mention of the secret letter of Clement of Alexandria, a Church leader of the second century.


I wonder if Stephen Carlson was aware of the mention of Secret Mark in the Dead Sea Scrolls. I don't remember that being discussed in his book. Oh well, guess it's time for him to go back to the drawing board. Unless, of course, Stephen was in on the Vatican cover-up. . .*cue spooky music*

Allegro had some nutty ideas, to be sure, but I don't think this was one of them.

The Buddhist contribution to modern Christianity has been well camouflaged for obvious reasons and the Roman Church has officially banned all talk of the Essenes.


I'm sure these types of contributions go a long way to help Brown assure people his book is not an attack on Catholicism.

Ah, I could post quotes all day.

Friday, June 16, 2006

RBL Latest

Mark Goodacre has posted his customary entry on the RBL's latest. Particularly interesting to me are:

Romans in Full Circle: A History of Interpretation. I will quite certainly buy this book, based almost solely on this review. So if it turns out to suck, I'll know who to blame! Likewise (though probably not as immediately), Rhetoric and Reality in Early Christianities will find it's way on to my bookshelf, though the lofty price (I get paid in Canadian Dollars!) might persuade me to wait until I read more of what I have before purchasing it (or, more aptly, might persuade my wife to persuade me).

First Parable Entry on the Busybody

Loren Rosson III has his first entry in the promised series on parables up on The Busybody, addressing the Prodigal Son (Lk.15.11-32). While he provides much food for thought, I must confess that I disagree.

Loren's suggestion really only holds up if the parable is authentic to Jesus. While the Jesus Seminar may have thought it likely, I don't. An obvious caveat in this regard is its length: It is difficult to remember, and thus harder to attribute to early tradition.

Loren notes, regarding his perception of misplaced emphasis on repentence:

"[R]epentance" is never mentioned in the parable; the younger son comes home because he's hungry.

I think this argument is misplaced. Repentence is not mentioned in the parable of the lost sheep, or the parable of the lost coin either, but the meaning in both is, I think, quite clear. The analogue is between absent//sin and return//repentence in both of the preceding parables, and, I'd suggest, in the third. There are other analogues to further this: celebration occurs both in the parable of the lost sheep (15.6) and in the Lost Coin (15.9). This points, IMO, to the meaning of the celebration in The Prodigal Son, a meaning made explicit in 15.7 and 15.10. Likewise the rejection of the ostensibly greater--the 99 sheep, the 9 coins, the son who stayed home--is a theme found in all three parables.

It seems to me that this parallelism requires a remarkable coincidence, or a single mind working toward a single goal. It is not enough, I think, to suggest that that mind was Luke, working with existing material--the weave is too thorough for that to hold.

Additional weight can be found in the preceding of all three of these parables with an implied or explicit explanation (the Lost Sheep is implied by the grumbling of the Pharisees, the next two are explicit--15.7, 10). That Luke wishes us to read it that way is apparent, though without viewing it as Lukan redaction his wish might be irrelevant. However, there is a curious parallel in theme in the Lukan narrative and Lukan intent and the Matthean parable of the Two Sons (21.28-32). Employing (as I do) Mark without Q, it seems there is a better than passing chance that Luke has made clear what Matthew left oblique.

That said, if the parable is not viewed as a Lukan creation, then I think Loren has offered a convincing exegesis of it. But, in my view, that is a big "if." Nonetheless, thanks to Loren for sharing an interesting and thought-provoking take on the Prodigal Son.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Gager Again: Another Caveat

And one I'd fully intended to mention last time, but then forgot about through the course of my last post.

One of the key premises of Gager's work is that, in his seeming criticisms of Judaism, Paul is acting as an "unreliable author," a rhetorical ploy to lure the reader away from the correct conclusion, which Paul provides in Rom.9-11. Gager's reasoning here is that this reading will keep Paul thoroughly consistent. Of course, I could come up with another rhetorical ploy (with a spiffy name, though I don't know that I could top "unreliable author.") suggesting that it is the latter--Paul's praise of Judaism--that is unreliable. And, of course, therein lay the problem.

What it seems to amount to to me is nothing more than a spiffy ad hoc. An extra spiffy one, in fact: Rather than the mundane "He didn't really mean it!" which simply offers a defense, Gager tells us "Not only didn't he mean it, he actually meant the opposite!" and while the term "unreliable author" may sound measured and official, it really amounts to little more than that. I think it is fortunate that most exegetes cannot, in good conscience, employ this reasoning.

This relates, of course, to my earlier caveat regarding the emphasis on the necessity of continuity. If continuity comes at such a price that we need to read Paul with such arbitrariness, then I think we can do without. It amounts, IMO, not simply to reading into Paul, but outright distortion of him.

That said, while I hate to do so, my 'blog being in its infancy and all, my posting will likely be sparse at best and non-existent at worst for the next few weeks: moving is a pain in the ass.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Enticing Series on The Busybody

Loren Rosson III has what appears to be an interesting looking series on parables in "the coming weeks" over on The Busybody.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Mark Goodacre on Redaction Criticism

Mark Goodacre has a nice little entry on the NT Gateway Webblog about "what's wrong with redaction criticism."

He also alludes to an "as yet unpublished" paper arguing that before Mark, it was Jesus who was seen as Elijah, and that JBap as Elijah was a Markan invention. Somewhat coincidentally, I'd been toying with a similar idea just last week (by "toying" I mean discussing with my wife who has no idea what I'm talking about); but I can't think of how to reconcile the general belief that Elijah would precede the Messiah with the clear attestation of Paul that Jesus was recognized as the Messiah very early. I'm not sure that Jesus can be both. Perhaps an Elijah-like figure, but his Messiah-ship (is that a word?) seems to supersede being viewed as Elijah in the same sense that Mark views JBap as such. It'll be interesting to see how Goodacre deals with this conundrum.

Update: Looking at Goodacre's CV, I'm presuming that this is either the same or a somewhat revised version of his 2002 paper to the SBL.

Update Redux: As the comments on Goodacre's blog indicate, I presumed correctly.

Elaine Pagels on The Da Vinci Code

I just stumbled across this opinion piece by Elaine Pagels that seems to have escaped the blogosphere (though if it didn't, I suppose I apologize for the old news, though only half-heartedly, since that would only emphasize the dilettantism of the 'blog). Pagels has declared that it is what is true, rather than the plentiful factual errors, that have kept Brown on the best-seller lists.

What has kept Brown on the bestseller list for years and inspired a movie is, instead, what is true -- that some views of Christian history were buried for centuries because leaders of the early Catholic Church wanted to present one version of Jesus' life: theirs.


Yet when addressing this, Pagels seems to grasp at straws, for example:

Second, in texts that the bishops called ``heresy,'' Jesus appears as human, yet one through whom the light of God now shines. So, according to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, ``I am the light that is before all things; I am all things; all things come forth from me; all things return to me. . .


Yet this isn't quite true, or at least not true enough that Pagels' is leading the reader, rather than informing them. That "Jesus appears as human. . ." in the Gnostic gospels implies, to the lay readership (which her opinion piece is obviously directed to), that what Brown has to say is more or less accurate--the Gnostic gospels do portray a more human Jesus. Pagels is surely aware that this is false. She is also surely aware that many--arguably most--commentators do not see Thomas as Gnostic, and that "Jesus appear[ing] as human" is one of the reasons for that.

Pagels goes on:

People might end up thinking that they could be like Jesus themselves and, in fact, the Gospel of Philip says, ``Do not seek to become a Christian, but a Christ.'' As Irenaeus read this, it was not mystical language, but ``an abyss of madness, and blasphemy against Christ.''


This is just a nitpick, but in for a penny, in for a pound, as they say. I'm not aware of any commentator who would date the GPhillip early enough for Irenaeus to have read. I'll welcome any correction on this, of course.

Perhaps most notably, Pagels writes:

Worst of all, perhaps, was that many of these secret texts speak of God not only in masculine images, but also in feminine images. The Secret Book of John tells how the disciple John, grieving after Jesus was crucified, suddenly saw a vision of a brilliant light, from which he heard Jesus' voice speaking to him: ``John, John, why do you weep? Don't you recognize who I am? I am the Father; I am the Mother; and I am the Son.'' After a moment of shock, John realizes that the divine Trinity includes not only Father and Son but also the divine Mother, which John sees as the Holy Spirit, the feminine manifestation of the divine


It seems unfathomable for one as versed in Gnosticism as Pagels to suggest that the "feminine" is emphasized in Gnosticism. Perhaps she should have flipped back to Thomas; saying 114 might have refreshed her memory. Compounding this illusory notion, Pagels does, in fact, turn to saying 114:

We hear Peter saying to Jesus, ``Tell Mary to leave us, because women are not worthy of (spiritual) life.'' Peter complains that Mary talks too much, displacing the role of the male disciples. But Jesus tells Peter to stop, not Mary!


Pagels must be hoping her readers don't have access to the text of GThom., for, while Jesus does indeed tell Peter stop, the reasoning he gives can hardly be considered a pro-feminism rationale.

Writes Pagels:

No wonder these texts were not admitted into the canon of a church that would be ruled by an all-male clergy for 2,000 years.


While I hate to get in the way of good, solid historical-revisionism, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there were a great many reasons on the list ahead of maintaining the patriarchy.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

What I'm Reading Now


To be filed under the "can't-think-of-anything-better-to-blog" dept., here's what I'm reading now:

Paul Beyond the Judaism/Hellenism Divide (ed. Engberg-Pedersen). Having just opened the first page, I'm afraid I can't offer much comment beyond that I find the title to be quite tantalizing, pushing this entry ever farther into the dept. mentioned above. However, with contributions by such notables as Meeks and Stowers, I'm optimistic it will be a substantial offering nonetheless (for those keeping score, Crossan and Borg lost my internal debate, and remain unopened on the bookshelf).

Actually, "can't think of. . ." might not be wholly apt. I'm sure I probably could, but I lack the time. There is much cleaning to be done in anticipation of our coming move (while we technically have until July 19 to be finished here, I have no intention of returning after July 1), and so much cleaning I must do. Plus, me and my wife would like to go out before 1) She gets to big to do so comfortably and 2) we're parents. So this sad effort at an entry will, I'm afraid, probably be about it for today. And possibly tomorrow, but we'll see how keen I am on continuing to clean then.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Altman Still Babbling About the Dead Sea Scrolls

As Jim Davila has mentioned previously on his blog, one Neil Altman has been spewing nonsense regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls. His jabbering continues unabated by good sense.

It would be in the best interest of the scholars who believe in the antiquity of the Dead Sea Scrolls to discredit the Moshe Leah Scroll because of its striking paleographic similarities to the Dead Sea Scrolls. If those scholars acknowledge it as authentic, however, the obvious conclusion would be that the Dead Sea Scrolls would have to be dated in the medieval era - after A.D. 500 - at the earliest, and the myth of the Dead Sea Scrolls’ antiquity will have run its course. Neil Altman is a Philadelphia-based writer who specializes in the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has a master’s degree in the Old Testament from Wheaton Graduate School in Wheaton, Ill., and was an American Studies Fellow at Eastern College


Yessir. We now have conclusive proof that radiocarbon dating is a fantasy. It's probably just a nutty idea somebody came up to get more funding.

Edit With apologies to Jim Davila, it was of course him, and not Jim West, I meant with regard to previous mention of Altman, as my edit reflects.

Friday, June 09, 2006

New URL is functional

www.dilettante-exegete.com now forwards to this blog. The benefit is twofold: For the reader, it is easier to type (albeit only slightly). More importantly, it plays to my vanity to have an "official" domain name.

Editted to Add: The old url still works as well. I probably should have said that to begin with to avoid confusion.

Reflections on Gager's Reinventing Paul

While I was initially quite enthusiastic about Gager's book, further thought on it has left me more than a little disenfranchised. I suspect the combination of my enthusiasm for the New Perspective, coupled with a relatively novice background in it, led to a positive reaction to a book that, in retrospect, does not deserve it (and that, my friends, is why you should distrust me ;) )

While I'm not about to offer a full review of Gager's work, I will offer some comments that, despite my previously noted initial enthusiasm, will be overwhelmingly negative.

Firstly, one must puzzle over the dichotomy perpetually espoused by Gager of the "new" and "old" Paul (eg p.74, 105, etc. One need only open the book and thumb through to find examples--indeed that's all I did to find those two). I don't think the lines are as hard and fast as Gager seems to think--the "new" Paul is uniformly Gager's Paul, and if one wants to define it such, the terms really have no meaning. Sanders, for example, has Paul ultimately reject Judaism in the oft-cited quote from Paul and Palestinian Judaism (“In short, this is what Paul finds wrong in Judaism: it is not Christianity.”), to Gager, this is "old Paul" (p.14). Such a placement is nonsense. Sanders is, if not the father of the New Perspective (a title that arguably belongs to Stendahl) is at least the benevolent uncle that took it in when it was orphaned. By associating Sanders' Paul (who rejects Judaism because it has been superseded) with the "traditional Paul" (who rejects Judaism because it is a religion of legalistic works-righteousness), Gager renders much--even most--of the New Perspective meaningless. Instead of a new paradigm of Paul, his millieu and his audience; a paradigm that invites divergent interpretations and encourages dialogue, Gager leaves us with Gager's Paul, and the other Paul. The former, of course, gets the moniker of "new," and a clear rhetorical, if not actual, advantage.

Secondly, one must question Gager's insistence that Paul needs to have such a high degree of continuity. Is a reading that is consistent with both Galatians and Romans inherently better than one that isn't? Even setting aside what sometimes seems to be forced readings and sloppy exegesis, what makes the former better than the latter? For a clearer example than Galatians and Romans, surely the Paul of Romans has a much more mature theology than the Paul of 1Thess.? Should we, rather than reflecting on the differences and Paul's greater maturity, attempt to find a reading that is consistent with them both, as though Paul was the only static character in history? I find this specious at best.

Thirdly, and I think most importantly, one can't help but feel that Gager's stated concerns--the holocaust, Christian anti-Semitism--have come at the expense of objectivity, despite his insistence that they are secondary to his quest for history. The Paul of history was "all things to all men" because he was, by modern standards, a dishonest, two-faced, manipulative prick, really by his own admission. The Paul of Gager is "all things..." because he preaches a message that will sit well with both contemporary Jews and Christians. "Reinvented" is an apt description indeed, because I think such a Paul can only be invention.

What Paul needs to be is "rediscovered."

The Battle Wages On: Dilettantes and Exegesis

Chris Weimer may have been late to the party, but he makes up for it with a spectacular entrance. Chris pulls no punches in his attack on the ivory tower.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Leviticus, the Elite and the Dilettantes

The Good Doc' Jim West has offered another comment on his feelings regarding the right of dilettantes to interpret the Bible, this time suggesting that, since the Bible was always written for the elite, it should stay that way.

While Jim West is at least half right (we'll get to that below) in his example of Leviticus, I'm not sure that his principle (that it is written for the elite) holds all the way through. For example, what of books like Jonah? Or Esther? These stories do exist for "the man on the street," they do not require lengthy interpretations (though they've certainly been subjected to them), they are rather more like folktales, or urban legends, that have been put into print. Certainly their audience is not "the elite," as Jim would have it.

But even beyond that, the line at "the elite" is arbitrary, and fairly smacks of ad hoc. If it is moved just a smidge in either direction, either Jim will be excluded, or the dilettante included. Let's take a look at the real audience of Leviticus.

Jim informs the reader what that audience is, though promptly ignores the implications of that audience and his reasoning:

Leviticus is a priestly handbook, composed by priests (an elite class to be sure) for priests.


Of course, the Good Doc seems aware of the slippery position he's put himself in--the parenthetical note belies the tenuousness of his position. Because it's not written for a generic "elite," it's written for priests. Not only for priests, but priests living in a specific millieu. Jim West meets none of those criteria. So he broadens the terms, it's not the specific (priests) that is important to the audience, but the broader ("the elite"). Yet if this is the case, why is not a word in Leviticus written to that broader elite? It does not take a logician to find West's convenient line to be arbitrary rather than actual.

The list could go on. Was today's historical-critical exegete--professional or otherwise--the target audience of the Chronicler? Of the Deuteronomistic Historian? Of course not. The Good Doc' is exceedingly more qualified than me (or most dilettantes, for that matter) for a great many reasons, and in a great many ways. Claim to a tradition of "elitism," however, isn't one of them. He has no better a claim to being part of the intended audience than anyone else, because none of us are.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

RIP Lou H. Silberman

While probably a little redundant, having already been mentioned by Jim West and Jim Davila, former SBL president and Jesus Seminar Fellow Lou H Silberman passed away yesterday at the age of 91.

I'm not sure whether I should thank Dan Brown...

As reported by the Kansas City Star, tickets for their coming Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit are flying out, having sold "hundreds" already (the exhibit doesn't arrive until February 2007).

Good to see such an interest, though I have to wonder how many of the antendees will think they contain Christian gospels...presumably they'll learn otherwise by their attendance anyway.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Why I Distrust Crossan

As I contemplate whether the next book I tackle should be Crossan's latest offering (The Last Week, with Marcus Borg), it occurs to me that, while I generally enjoy Crossan's work, and invariably recommend it (despite my adamant disagreement with virtually every conclusion he reaches), I approach his scholarship with a jaundiced eye. It is not enough, in this instance, to suggest that the agenda he brings to the table has always seemed transparent to me: it doesn't need to be, he makes it quite clear to even the most Crossan-friendly reader (again, I apologize for the lack of specific references, still working from memory). In Jesus at 2000 (ed. Marcus Borg), during the Q&A session following his paper, Crossan notes that he "would not like" an apocalyptic Jesus, and likens apocalypticism to "divine genocide." Fortunately, Crossan does like Jesus, and while ostensibly the notion that Jesus was non-apocalyptic came before his liking for him, it at the very least opens the door to the converse. It is extremely serendipitous that, contrary to all appearances, Jesus did not, in fact, believe in divine genocide.

Taken on its own, that might set flags up, but is not likely lead to the baser distrust I have for his work in general. The nail in the coffin came in the form of In Search of Paul (with Reed). Paul, Crossan informs, was indeed apocalyptic (really no getting around that one). But then, with nothing leading to it demanding such "exegesis" (by which I mean eisegesis, of course), and absolutely nothing offered in support of his reading, Crossan informs the reader what he thinks Paul would have said. If asked about his failed apocalypticism, Paul would respond that, well shucks, sure he preached an apocalyptic message. But it wasn't central--it's not like he really meant it! How do we know Paul would say this? Well, Crossan told us so! Apparently that is good enough, because nothing else is offered. Apocalypticism is thus casually dismissed, while we continue our quest for a happy Paul, preaching a feel-good message of an egalitarian brotherhood of men and sisterhood of womyn (if you read the book, you too will be convinced that Paul would spell "women" with a "y". I soon learned that it was all but central to his message, easily surpassing the more overt eschatology and belief he lived in the Messianic Age).

Agenda rules the day in Biblical scholarship at large, I think--few are those who come to the table with none whatsoever. Indeed, as Arnal has--I think convincingly--shown, even the most Sandersian (It's just too good a word not to add to my regular vernacular) Jesus is frequently borne of a predetermined construction. But it is this dilettante's opinion that Crossan flaunts his too vividly, seemingly oblivious to its implications. A brilliant scholar, to be sure, but one I am not convinced is even making an effort at objectivity anymore.

And that, my friends, is why I distrust Crossan.

Monday, June 05, 2006

After these recent comments regarding the temple, and my admission of my own waffling on the temple incident, I thought I'd blog about my reasons for seriously questioning, if not rejecting outright, the historicity of the event I apologize in advance for the absence of references--most of my books are packed up for a July 1 move, so I am working largely from memory.

While this topic has been done a few times on various e-lists, it has not, to my knowledge, been seriously addressed by any contemporary scholarship. The temple incident is, by and large, taken as a given. I suspect this is largely due to its explanatory power, which is nearly universal. It provides an adequate culmination for the career of virtually any reconstruction of the historical Jesus, and leads nicely to his execution. Meier once noted that any Jesus who did not offend the authorities cannot be the historical Jesus: using that requirement, as it seems the majority of scholarship does, any HJ model fairly invites the temple incident. Yet this, IMO, is far more a product of what he was (Jewish), than who he was. Whether Jesus was a prophet of the eschaton or a social reformer, an expected focal point is the temple, since it was so emphasized in Jewish life. The temple incident, like a certain epistle writing Jew, is "all things to all people." I suspect this uniformity is what leads to the near consensus of the event's historicity; indeed, I am aware of but two scholars who deny its historicity--Paula Fredriksen, and Burton Mack. Because of this overwhelming majority, I will not focus here on arguments for its historicity, but instead on arguments against.

Firstly, it might be prudent to point to the temple incident as it is described in Mk.11.15-18. I think that there is a sizable majority who do not think the event transpired as described: Perhaps, most notably, as pointed out by Sanders and agreed upon by many, there is simply no reason for Jesus, whatever his message, to oppose the trade in the temple. The trade was devoted to the temple's very functioning: Without doves to buy, or coinage to exchange, temple tax would go unpaid, and sacrifice would be considerably more challenging, if not impossible. This points us to our first problem: I do not think the motivation ascribed by Mark (upon whom I believe John to be, either directly or indirectly, dependent) is accurate. But if Jesus did, in fact, overturn the tables, why did Mark not understand why? Why, for that matter, didn't anyone else?

Secondly, as Fredriksen points out, the temple was of considerable size. Nearly 169,000 square feet, and capable of holding up to 400 000 pilgrims during festivals. Who would notice such a gesture in such a space? Who would care? I recall an analogy from somewhere or other to overturning a table at an enlistment office during the draft, but even this analogy, while perhaps captures the right mood, does not fully capture the futility. It would be more analogous to overturning a table at Woodstock. Why would Jesus, if he is attempting to create a furor by his opposition to whatever he was opposing (this varies by scholar--which one prefers doesn't matter to the present point), do so in such a meaningless manner?

Thirdly, the OT parallelism for this event is plentiful (perhaps most notably, Hos.15.9 and Jer.7.30). This does not, in and of itself, point to much--many events described in OT terminology, in a wealth of literature, are described in ways that clearly parallel the OT (eg, Mark's "little apocalypse." No matter how Mark phrased it--whether in Tanachic terms or in gibberish, it really doesn't matter--the temple did fall). But taken together with other evidences, it provides a source--a "how" for Mark's invention of the narrative.

Finally (at least for now, the hour groweth late and I must be off--I might have more to add later), as Fredriksen cogently argues, it simply isn't necessary to explain the death of Jesus--it doesn't even provide the best explanation, IMO, as Jesus was crucified, but his followers weren't, and the movement seems to have continued unmolested by Rome for decades. Robbed of the explanatory power mentioned above, the weight in favor of the incident diminishes substantially.

In keeping with the dilettantist nature of this blog, it is perhaps most prudent that we close by reflecting on the conclusion of Fredriksen's most recent paper on the matter:

And that is how my own very apocalyptic, very Sandersian Jesus ended up not overturning the moneychangers’ tables, and saying nothing about the Temple’s destruction.


"Sandersian?" It seems to me convention demands we pronounce that "SanderZHan" (like Ephesian). Yet this potentially shifts the emphasis to the second syllable, distorting the correct pronunciation of the man's name. So I propose we buck tradition here, and pronounce it "SandersEan". Any thoughts?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I Just Felt My Baby Kick!

While not related to the general dillentasism I've dedicated my musings too, it is, I think sufficiently superficial to anyone but me to warrant mention anyway. Besides which, it's my blog, and if I want to talk about my coming little girl, then dammit! I will!

Some readers may know (and others are just finding out) that my wife and I are expecting our first child (a girl) in October. And I just felt it kick for the first time! Which may well be the coolest thing I've ever experienced.

So I Cracked...

Despite my adamancy that I would not, I was cajoled into seeing The Da Vinci Code yesterday. Despite my conviction that it would be terrible it...wasn't all that bad. Well, it's not bad if you can overlook how awful it was, anyway.

To be fair, I'm rather predisposed to hate it. As most of my readers will doubtlessly be aware, the story is pseudo-historical nonsense--the jabbering of people with axes to grind against Christianity at large and Catholicism in particular. Now, to be fair, a great many people come to the table in this field with axes to grind--probably even most--but for the love of God, at least make sure you have a stone to grind it on. It won't get any sharper trying to hone it with this wet noodle.

It's rather ironic, the first books I read on the historical Jesus as a young lad of sixteen were Baigent and Leigh's The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception and The Messianic Legacy. Fortunately, however, there were not shelves and shelves of dimestore paperbacks to supplement my ignorance at the time, so after a brief foray with Barbara Thiering (who seemed too ridiculous to be true even to my uninformed mind), soon found myself with Fredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth in one hand and Crossan's The Cross that Spoke in the other. Fredriksen led to Sanders, Crossan to Brown and the rest, as they say, is history.

If nothing else, I can console myself with the hope that surely some people will pick up Ehrman's book to supplement Brown's, and surely some of them will be intrigued enough to engage more serious literature. I can't be the only one.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

More on Ehrman-Craig Debate

The Resurrection Hypothesis passes all of the standard criteria for being the best explanation, such as explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, and so forth.-William Lane Craig


I must confess I find this statement quite baffling. While the "Resurrection Hypothesis," might account for the rise of Christianity admirably (indeed, I can think of few things that could more surely give rise to such a movement), it doesn't do so realistically. More importantly, it gives rise to more questions than it answers. The suggestion that it has greater "plausibility" isn't just wrong, it's wrongheaded.

The dictionary is our friend on this one:

2 entries found for plausibility.
plau·si·ble Pronunciation Key (plôz-bl)
adj.

1. Seemingly or apparently valid, likely, or acceptable; credible: a plausible excuse.
2. Giving a deceptive impression of truth or reliability.
3. Disingenuously smooth; fast-talking: “Ambitious, unscrupulous, energetic,... and plausible,a political gladiator, ready for a ‘set-to’ in any crowd” (Frederick Douglass).


Resurrection isn't simply not "apparently valid" or "likely," it's impossible. Dead people do not come back to life, that is, for all intents and purposes, a fact. I certainly respect the choice of people to accept the existence of forces--God or otherwise--that can defy natural law, but that doesn't mean that I need to accept their existence. It doesn't mean that I need to accord such possibilities an equal footing with more tangible, empirical phenomena.

All the fancy mathematics and formal logic Bill Craig puts out fails to account for one fundamental fact: The probability of an impossible event occurring is zero.

Ehrman summed this up aptly:

For that reason, Bill’s four pieces of evidence are completely irrelevant. There cannot be historical probability for an event that defies probability, even if the event did happen. The resurrection has to be taken on faith, not on the basis of proof.


Lee Edgar Tyler also gave this memorable quote on X-Talk:

If it happened it was a miracle (and if on the weird off-shot it happened by natural means unknown to present-day science then there's no point in being a Christian, at least in the conventional sense). ...The impossibility of resurrection *is* proven, and there are quite sound methodological reasons for dismissing its historicity if one wants to undertake a study of the origin and transmission of the Resurrection tales. And the metaphysical arguments as to why a historian ought to take the possibility of the miraculous into consideration in this case are in reality the irrelevancies.


Dead people do not come back to life; were this ongoing discussion linked to any other figure, ancient or contemporary, it would be met with gales of laughter should it ever try and make its way into the academy.

Also of note, regarding the discussion of the empty tomb, is Peter Kirby's excellent response to Craig on the historicity of the empty tomb.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ehrman and Craig on the Resurrection

The transcripts of a debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman are made available on the College of the Holy Cross website. A good read. I think Ehrman makes a cogent point about just how high a burden of proof needs to exist for such a claim:

"Even if you have eyewitnesses”. Suppose from the 1850s, we have an account of a pastor of a church in Kansas who walked across this pond during the fourth of July on a celebration, and there were twelve people who saw him do it. The historian will have to evaluate this testimony and have to ask, did he probably do it or not? Now these eyewitnesses might have said that he did it. But there are other possibilities that one could imagine. There might be stones in the pond, for example. He might have been at a distance, and they didn’t see him. There were other things that you could think of. If you were trying to ask for probabilities, what is the probability that a human being can walk on a pond of water unless it’s frozen? The probability is virtually zero because in fact humans can’t do that.


I might have more to say on this later, after a more thorough reading and an opportunity to digest the contents.

Hilarity ensues.

Without question, the funniest thing I've read on the Da Vinci Code since, well, the Da Vinci Code itself, which is pretty comical in its own right.

Q: So, the fact that they were ultimately less popular and successful than the canonical gospels means they're true?
A: As Elaine Pagels explains it, yes.

The Internet Theologian Explains the Da Vinci Code

Gold.

Regards,
Rick Sumner

Who do you think is the greatest living New Testament scholar, and why?

As wondered by Chris Tilling.

Like Loren Rosson III, I don't think I can narrow it down to just one, so I'll take four, in no particular order.

E P Sanders: A giant. Not always right, IMO, but always makes an impact.

Mark Goodacre and/or Michael Goulder: Do I have to pick just one of them? They may not have stopped the juggernaut just yet, but its pace has slowed and it looks to be coralled.

Paula Fredriksen: She may not be as prolific as a John Crossan, as well-published as a James H. Charlesworth, as diverse as a Joseph Fitzmyer or have made the impact of the other scholars I've mentioned, but she's right, IMHO, and that has to count for something.