The Wife of Jesus

Anthony Le Donne is a young scholar who has tackled some tough subjects.  In this particular book he addresses the question recently on a lot of minds: Was Jesus married?  The book is entitled: The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals.  It is published by Oneworld Publications in London.  The first copyright is 2013 so I’m a bit late telling you about it.wife-of-jesus

Although the question whether Jesus was married has been around a long time, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code certainly kindled everyone’s imagination.  If you’re prone to sensational readings of history and wish to see conspiracies under every rock, then Brown is your guy.  More recently ,the announcement and publication of the badly named Gospel of Jesus’ Wife made it a matter of scholarly concern.  I’ll have more to say about that later, but what Le Donne has done is to take a controversial subject and make sense out of it historically and socially.  Perceptively, he notes that the modern response to the question—whether excitement or repulsion—has more to say about us than it does the historical Jesus.  In many ways the question of whether Jesus was married and how we respond to it provide a mirror of ourselves and our times.  In the final chapter he writes: “This book, in large part, has been about ancient and modern attempts to project sexual identities onto Jesus” (p. 147).

Le Donne examines a wide variety of texts from the ancient world,  accounts about the asceticism of John the Immerser in the NT Gospels to non-canonical accounts which some people take to describe an intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Philip.  Le Donne reads widely in Greek and Jewish sources contemporaneous with Jesus and in the first half of the Christian century.  He seems to be able to argue for it—yes, it is likely Jesus was married as was typical of most Jewish men­—and against it­—no, there is no solid historical evidence he was married.  As a historian, Le Donne knows the difficulty of arguing from the general to the particular.  What is true of most people is not necessarily true of a particular person.   Though most Jewish men married between the ages of 20 and 30, not everyone did.  There was already an impulse toward asceticism and self- denial in Jesus’ day.  John the Immerser and the desert covenanters of Qumran appear to offer contemporaneous examples.

Le Donne offers a helpful construct for what was typical of Jewish males in the first century.  The term he uses is “civic masculinity”; it represents the gender role most Jewish men would play in their day.  It would include things like marriage and having children, working a trade and taking responsibility for one’s economic well-being, passing the faith along, seeking to own and work the land, etc.  Jesus, according to Le Donne, may have been raised to accept this role, but he may have subverted it in his public ministry.  Jesus , he says, “invested in the two-sided coin of economic disobligation and celibacy.”  Such a lifestyle was probably considered “crazy” by ancient standards and “anti-family” by modern.

Mark Goodacre, NT Professor at Duke University, says it well: Le Donne’s book is “a crystal-clear, compelling yet historically robust account of what we can and can’t know about the wife of Jesus.”

Kyrios Christos Centenary Publication

David B. Capes:

I’m reblogging a post from my friend, Larry Hurtado. If you are interested in studies in Christology, you need to check out this volume of Early Christianity. It is dedicated to Wilhelm Bousset’s classic volume KYRIOS CHRISTOS published over 100 years ago.

Originally posted on Larry Hurtado's Blog:

The latest issue of the journal Early Christianity (vol. 6, no. 1, 2015) is given to several articles assessing Wilhelm Bousset’s classic work, Kyrios Christos (1913; English trans. of the 5th edition 1970; new edition of the English trans. Baylor University Press, 2013).  The articles derive from a special session held in the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2013.  Here is the table of contents:

David Capes, “Introduction:  A Centenary Celebration of Bousset’s Kyrios Christos” (3-4)

Cilliers Breytenbach, “Bousset’s Kyrios Christos:  Imperfections of a Benchmark” (5-16)

Larry W. Hurtado, “Wilhelm Bousset’s Kyrios Christos:  An Appreciative and Critical Assessment” (17-29)

Kelly Coblentz Bautch, “Kyrios Christos in the Light of Twenty-First Century Perspectives on Second-Temple Judaism” (30-50)

Lutz Doering, “Wilhelm Bousset’s Die Religion des Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter” (51-66).  (This article actually focuses on another of Bousset’s major works, which continued to be used, especially…

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Leaving HBU, Heading to HGST

After 25 years of teaching in the Department of Theology at HBU, I have made the decision to join the faculty of Houston Graduate School of Theology as their new academic dean.  The decision has been a hard one as you might imagine.  I have had several thousand students at HBU since 1990, and today they are all over the world doing wonderful things.  I will miss the place, the students, and my colleagues. HBU has had and continues to have a wonderful faculty who have gotten along well and worked productively over the years.  I have been around long enough to see a number of colleagues retire from HBU—A. O. Collins, Joe Blair, Gene Wofford, Peter Davids, for example.  Those teaching there now are a uniquely talented lot. I will miss them.HGST 2

I’m heading to Houston Graduate School of Theology.  The school’s website is It was started about 30 years ago by the Quakers and today serves an increasingly diverse group of students from various denominations.  It has many of the challenges you’d expect small, independent schools to have, but it has a president who is a gifted leader, Dr. James Furr. It also has a unique mission. What draws me is the opportunity to work with a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational population of men and women who sense a call to ministry and service to the world.  The students I’ve met have been dedicated and hard-working.  Under President Furr’s leadership, the school has become a good place in Houston to study theology, ministry, counseling, and leadership.  Our faculty and adjunct faculty come from various denominations, traditions, and communities.  If I can, in some small way, make the school a better place to work and study, I think I will have accomplished something important. HGST

“One God, One Lord”: Third Edition Forthcoming

David B. Capes:

One of the books most important to my thinking about Christian origins and the rise of religious devotion to Jesus is Larry Hurtado’s ONE GOD, ONE LORD. I’m delighted to see it is being updated and republished in this third edition. It is required reading in my courses on early Christianity.

Originally posted on Larry Hurtado's Blog:

Earlier this week I received the proposed cover for the third edition of my book, One God, One Lord:  Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, forthcoming November 2015).  Now I see that Amazon has notice of this edition as forthcoming here.   Originally published in 1988, there was a second edition in 1998, in which I provided a new 5,000-word Preface reviewing the discussion of relevant topics in the ten years between editions.  In this third edition, I provide a 20,000-word Epilogue in which I sketch the background of the book (in my own research development), and then devote the greater part of the Epilogue to tracing scholarly discussion of the main points of the book, engaging key scholars in the process.

Because I judge the net effects of the vigorous scholarly work reviewed not to have called into question anything significant in the original…

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The Origin of Heresy

Here is a  new book on my summer reading list:

Robert M. Royalty, Jr.  The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity. New York: Routledge, 2013.

It has recently come out in paperback which means it is more affordable for libraries and interested people. Origins of Heresy by Bob Royalty

Royalty will be part of a panel discussion on his book at SBL in Atlanta in November 2015.  The session is sponsored by a program unit called The Extent of Theological Diversity in Earliest Christianity.

I’ll give a more thorough review later, but let me for now just lay out the thesis.

Although nearly every religion today has a notion of heresy, the roots of the idea of heresy go back to early Christianity.  The Greek word “heresy” meant choice or school of thought.  Gradually, it took on more the meaning of a party or sect (with political overtones).  At first it didn’t have a pejorative connotation, but some Christian leaders in the second century and beyond gave it a negative cast.  Royalty’s book is about the origin of heresy in early Christianity and particularly what he calls “the rhetoric of difference and disagreement.”  The label “heresy” can be traced to the second century CE (especially Justin Martyr).  But there was a reality of difference and disagreement evident, according to Royalty, in second temple Judaism and first century CE Christianity.  In other words heresy existed before the word came into common usage. Royalty thinks the immediate followers of Jesus participated in this kind of rhetoric.  He is concerned not only for the origin of heresy but also the demonizing of “wrong-thinking” people in the destructive political and religious discourses that go on today.  Prior to being taken up into early Christianity the impulse toward branding certain schools of thought “heresy” can be situated in apocalyptic Jewish circles and contested ideas regarding “Israel.”  Since early Christianity begins as a reform movement within second temple Judaism,  it is no wonder that early Jesus-followers took up a similar kind of rhetoric to describe those who were “wrong-thinking.”

Royalty, along with other scholars and historians of the period, is committed to helping modern folk hear the suppressed voices of some of these other Christian groups.  But the “orthodox” (or right thinking) Christians were not the only ones dealing in this type of rhetoric.  Groups that later came to be identified as heretics–by the orthodox–were themselves adept at mocking their opponents and criticizing their teachings.   The rhetoric of difference and disagreement had deep roots throughout the Mediterranean world in the first few centuries of the common era.

If you’re interested in Christian origins, this is a book you need to read.  If you are in Atlanta for SBL in the November 2015, stop by our program and get a taste of what Royalty is up to.

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence

by James D. G. Dunn

Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2010, pp. 168, $20.00, ISBN: 978-0-664-23196-5Dunn's book

For over two decades scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have been involved in a vigorous debate over the origin and nature of early Christian devotion to Jesus.  James Dunn has been and continues to be one of the major voices in that dialog.  He dedicates this book to Professors Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado, two scholars who have argued that Jesus was worshipped early in Jewish Christian circles within a monotheistic context.  Dunn analyzes the NT evidence and draws a different conclusion. Although Dunn at first appears to answer the question with a qualified “yes,” he comes finally to a qualified “no”: “No, by and large the first Christians did not worship Jesus as such” (150—italics added).  Dunn’s ambivalence is evident throughout the book. He often remarks that the early Christians’ language and disposition toward Jesus is striking, remarkable, and without precedent in Judaism. Still he finds that the reverence addressed to Jesus is of a different order than reverence addressed to God.

After exploring the relevant language of worship (ch. 1) and the practice of worship (ch. 2), Dunn investigates (ch. 3) potential antecedent traditions within second temple Judaism (e.g., the angel of the Lord, Spirit, Wisdom, Word, and exalted human beings) which might permit the worship of Jesus within a monotheistic setting.  Finding none, he turns his attention to the NT evidence itself (ch. 4): Jesus’ self-understanding; the central claim that Jesus is Lord; the use of Yahweh texts to refer to Jesus (e.g., Phil 2:6-11, 1 Cor 8:6); Logos, Wisdom, and Spirit Christologies; Jesus as god/God; the contribution of John’s apocalyptic vision in Revelation; and various other themes.  Dunn concludes this chapter with a critique of Bauckham’s proposal that the NT texts indicate that early Christians included Jesus within the “divine identity.”  Citing the confusion associated with the language of “identity,” Dunn argues that “equation” is a better way of saying “that if Jesus is God he is not YHWH.”

As the conclusion makes clear, Dunn is concerned not only with the historical question but with two modern, theological problems: (a) the worship of Jesus to the neglect of God the Father and (b) the challenge of interfaith dialog.  By looking at the earliest available evidence, Dunn hopes “to clarify what lay behind the confession of Jesus as the Son of God in Trinitarian terms” (1).James D G Dunn

Few people are able to marshal the depth, breadth, and height of historical questions as skillfully as James D. G. Dunn.  His mastery of texts, critical judgment, and ability to make complicated matters accessible to a wide audience make him one of the most compelling voices in the study of Christian origins.  Not everyone will agree with all of Dunn’s conclusions—including this reviewer—but he raises the relevant issues which require us to think and rethink the status accorded Jesus in our faith.

Chris Tilling’s Recent Book

Chris Tilling’s important book Paul’s Divine Christology has been published in America by Eerdmans.   I paid nearly $100 for it 2 years ago. Now you can get it on Amazon or through Eerdman’s for $25 or so.  I recommend it highly if you have interest in how early Christians thought about and assessed the significance of Jesus.  Here are excerpts from an earlier post that laid out the thesis of the book.Tilling Eerdmans book


About 18 months ago I purchased a copy of Chris Tilling’s book Paul’s Divine Christology (WUNT 2.323; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012).  Because I was busy writing and  traveling, I had not had a chance to do anything more than browse it. This summer I’ve had a chance to sit down with mechanical pencil and highlighter in hand.

Chris is part of a new generation of scholars interested in the historical development of early Christianity.  Born in 1975, Chris studied at the University of St. Andrews and completed his PhD at the London School of Theology.  Although I don’t know exactly where he is teaching now, he has served as a tutor in New Testament at St. Mellitus College in London.

Chris Tilling

Chris Tilling

I don’t intend to do a full review of the book here but simply to alert you to a book which I—and many others—regard as an important contribution to the field.  I’ll engage him more fully in a new book I’m working on tentatively entitled An Early High Christology: Paul, Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel.  That one, God willing, will be published in 2017.

Paul’s Divine Christology is Tilling’s contribution to a debate which has been going on over the last 30 years regarding whether Paul’s Christology can properly be described as “divine,” in what sense, and how it came to be.  Tilling answers the question in the affirmative: Paul’s Christology is indeed a divine Christology.  Other scholars (Gordon Fee, Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, and I) have been arguing a similar point.  Assuming the work of others on this topic (Cullmann, Hengel, and Moule, for example), each of us has offered something unique to the discussion.  Tilling does a good job in setting the table, working through the primary and secondary sources, and offering a new pattern of data which had been noticed (by C. F. D. Moule) but not fully described.

A phrase which carefully summarizes Tilling’s approach is this: “the Christ-relation is Paul’s divine-Christology expressed as relationship” (p. 3). For those who have dabbled in Paul you realize that Christ-relation language is significant so significant that some scholars regard the center of Paul’s theology to be “participation in Christ,” a shorthand way of describing the many ways in which the Christ-believers stand in relationship to and participate in the life of Christ.  Christ’s relation to his people stands in direct continuity with YHWH’s relation to his people Israel.  To put it another way, when Paul speaks about the relation between Christ-believers and the risen Jesus, he used the same language and themes found in second temple Jewish texts to speak of Israel’s relation to YHWH.  Tilling consistently says the data forms a pattern which Paul himself would have recognized.  In Tilling’s own words:

[I]t will be maintained that this pattern of Christ-relation language in Paul is only that which a Jew used to express the relation between Israel/the individual Jew and YHWH.  No other figure of any kind, apart from YHWH, was related to in the same way, with the same pattern of language, not even the various exalted human and angelic intermediary figures in the literature of Second Temple Judaism that occasionally receive worship and are described in very exalted terms. (p. 73, italics original)

In brief, I think Tilling is on to something important which scholars have noticed but frankly  neglected.

I wrote the article “Christology” for Oxford Bibliography On-line.  When I revise the article—which I have been asked to do recently—I will be sure to include Tilling’s book. It is one of the most important books on Paul’s Christology written in the last few decades. If you’re interested in these matters, go out and buy your own copy of Tilling’s book.  If that is not possible, borrow a copy from your local library.  Even if the library does not have it, most will have some sort of interlibrary loan program.


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