I don’t often do this, but today I link to a post by a colleague and friend, Dr. James Tabor, in North Carolina. While I do not always agree with Jim on interpretive matters, I think this post makes a good contribution to the discussion.
People often challenge Larry Hurtado on the specifics of the historical question: how and when did the rise of religious devotion to Jesus take place? It is an important question for both history and faith. .
Recently a comment came into his blog so filled with errors that he felt the need to address it. Because it is a helpful summary of the question, I thought I’d link to it here for any of my readers who may have an interest.
Here is the URL:
Or click here to read it.
If you have kept up with modern biblical scholarship, you know the significance of what it meant for ancients to live in an honor and shame culture. The quest for honor and avoidance of shame were primary motivating factors for ancient peoples when the key figures of the Bible lived and flourished. Even today, honor and shame are determinative factors governing how people in different cultures live their lives. It’s present in western culture, but it sits under the surface.
If you are attuned to issues of honor and shame, you can account for a lot of what happens in the Scriptures. Jesus is not crucified because he taught a sermon on love; he was crucified on a Roman cross because powerful people wanted to silence him and shame his followers out of existence.
It struck me recently how “honor and shame” are such a pervasive part of modern biblical scholarship. I’ve seen it over and over again. Soon scholars will gather at the Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio (November 2016). They will meet, give papers, enjoy coffee, connect with colleagues and meet new ones. When scholars meet, there are three questions asked with a canapé in one hand and a glass of wine (for those who imbibe) or water (for those who don’t) in the other.
The first question is: where did you do your PhD?
The second question is: what have you written?
The third is: where do you teach?
Each question can be posed and interpreted as a challenge to honor.
If you studied at certain schools . . . honor. If you didn’t . . . well.
If you have written a book I’ve heard of or I know . . . honor. If not . . . well.
If you teach at a prestigious school I’d like to teach in . . . honor. If not . . . well.
Honor can be expressed subtly in the “honor nod,” a tilt of the head, a knowing smile. Shame can be expressed in the blank stare or “crickets” (let the reader understand). I’ve often seen good scholars overlooked, passed over, or ignored because they didn’t go the right schools, write a key book or teach in a significant place.
If you didn’t go to one of the top schools, then the assumption is you just wasted your time. But frankly, you can go to some of the top-rated schools in the world and come away with a second class education. Likewise, you can go to some no-name school and end up with a good education. It all depends on what you do with it there and from there. I heard a person with a masters degree from Harvard say that Alexander the Great founded the Roman empire. Really?
For those who are looking for a teaching post, know that the first questions the committee asks will be these same three: did you get your PhD from a prestigious school? What have you written that we should care about? Where do you teach (if you do) now? If you are not ranked highly after those three questions, you probably won’t be. I’m sorry. That’s just the way it is.
I don’t have any answers for this; it is just an observation. Biblical scholarship today is an honor/shame society. (By the way, the same can be said of almost every profession: law, medicine, business, etc.). Make sure you go to the best schools, write the best books, and teach in the best places. Then you will have honor.
This post is meant to be tongue n cheek, sort of. Quality scholars are often passed over or not taken seriously because they failed one of the three honor challenges.
Richard B. Hays completed his new book Echoes of Scripture in Gospels (Baylor University Press, 2016) in record time thanks in large part to the heavy-lifting done by Carey Newman and his staff at Baylor University Press. Hays was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2015 and underwent successful surgery in the fall. He stepped down from his role as dean of Duke Divinity School for medical treatment and used part of his recovery to finish up this book.
This book extends an earlier project, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Baylor University Press, 2014). It echoes an even earlier bit of research written up in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale University Press, 1993). In the book under review Hays turns his attention to the four New Testament Gospels with similar method and surprising results.
Hays is influenced by Eric Auerbach’s approach to “figural interpretation” in his book Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton University Press, 2013). Figural interpretation involves linking two texts so that a past person (or event) signifies that person as well as another in the future. The interplay between those two texts brings greater insight to both texts. Each sheds light on the other. It is a way of “reading backwards.” This has nothing to do with past predictions which are “fulfilled” in the future, although there are places when Gospel writers make those kinds of connections as well. At the heart of it is the notion that a text might mean more than a human author ever intended. Once a writer has released his text, later audiences are able to read backwards through significant events/persons in order to see connections to these earlier texts. The NT is awash in figural readings of the OT.
Hays does not spend his time working out and fine tuning a method. In a sense he has done that already in earlier books mentioned above. What he does do is work carefully through many Gospel texts listening for the echoes and helping his readers see and experience these in fresh and exciting ways. One of my favorite examples is in the episode when Jesus walks on the sea of Galilee (Mark 6). Although Mark does not make any explicit biblical allusions, the way he tells the story conjures up certain images from the first part of the Christian Scriptures. In particular, he notes how Mark says Jesus appears to intend to pass them by and ends the pericope with the hanging question: “who is this that the winds and the seas obey?” As Hays says, there is only one right answer to that question. It is found in Job 9, particularly the Greek version (LXX). I won’t spoil the ending completely but Hays and I both think there is a not-so-subtle identification of Jesus with the God who created the land and seas in the first place. Go back and read Job 9 in the Greek and it is apparent.
Hays is an advocate of an early high Christology, compared to the late, slow and low crowd. This means that the earliest evidence we have (the letters of Paul and the NT Gospels) are best read to include Jesus within the identity of Israel’s God. As a charter member of the early high Christology club, I’m glad to make him a full-fledged member.
This is an amazing book. I cannot recommend it any higher. I’m so glad to have it in hand as I’m thinking about a future book I’m working on entitled Matthew through Old Testament Eyes (Kregel, forthcoming 2018 or 2019).