James McGrath, professor of New Testament at Butler University in Indiana, is somebody you need to know. He’s a good scholar and a faithful blogger. He’s worth reading on a variety of subjects. He has good judgment and sound methods.
. In a recent post he collected some of the hubbub going on right now on the web regarding “an early high Christology,” a topic I have some interest in. In fact over the next few years I hope to return to the topic–though I never really left it, I got distracted–with what I trust is a more measured and mature reading of certain texts. In the meantime I thought I’d link to his Patheos blog.
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Dr. Jacob Neusner, author of hundreds of books on Judaism, has died at the age of 84. I have more of Neusner’s books than any other Jewish scholar. He has been an interpreter of Judaism to millions around the world for decades.
My rabbi friend, Stuart Federow, was a student of Neusner’s at Brown University. He writes a fitting tribute to him on his facebook page. I’ve copied it here without editing it. I’ve included it here for you. If you are a professor, take note of some of the ways Prof. Neusner engaged students. Go thou and do likewise.
by Rabbi Stuart Federow
I just read the incredibly sad news on the Facebook page of RabbiSeymour Rossel, that my mentor, my professor, my teacher, my friend, has passed away. Jacob Neusner was a professor at Brown University when i was a student there. A student there… HA! He is the one who turned me into a student. First paper for him, he handed back to me 6 times.. Seven times he would look over it and six of those times he would say, “wow, Stuart, so much better. Here, re-write it.” And i would say nothing, and re-write it, and hand it back in. The last time i handed it to him, he looked it all over, then started reading it with me sitting there. When he finished he looked up and said, “Good. Good Stuart.” I may have been upset with him, to say the least, But those words, “Good. Good Stuart,” had me walking out of his office on air. A couple of quick stories… He always showed up to class fifteen minutes early, so anyone who wanted to, could talk to him. The first class with him after the ’73 war began, the Yom Kippur war began, he showed up 15 minutes late. He came in, very upset, and announced to the class that Israel had lost the war, and that as he was speaking the Israelis were being slaughtered, Israel was no more. Then he sat down, and watched the reaction of the students. I was not prepared, as he must have been, for the reaction of the students. Weeping, wailing, crying. People saying that they were just not going to be Jewish any more. Anger. Questions said aloud about where was Gd? He let this go on, for I-dont-know-how-long, an eternity, which means probably only for ten minutes or so. Then he stood up, and told the class, after he settled them down, “I lied. Israel is struggling but she is not losing this war. I just wanted you to see your reaction.” He went on to say, to teach, that if we were so willing to give up on Judaism, to question Gd, with the loss of a country, when they can come up in a day and go down in a day, then perhaps our faith in our faith was not so strong after all. He reminded us of the psalm, “If i forget thee oh Jerusalem…” He reminded everyone of the faith of those who wrote that, They just promised to remember. Of course, the class wanted to lynch him. I didnt. I thought it was brilliant, even if everyone else wanted to slit his throat. That is what he did. Maybe not always the most adept at social graces, but much of my attitudes toward so much i learned from him. He was the first to voice an objection to the Secular Jewish community replacing Judaism’s system of Religion, namely of Gd, Torah, and Israel with the Death and Resurrection System of religion, exemplified with the pairing of The Holocaust (death) with Israel (resurrection). That Judaism’s system of religion was Gd (One, Indivisible, Unique) who gave a Divine Revelation (the Torahs both Written and Oral) to a specific People (the Jews). He foretold that trips to Israel would be paired with trips to European Concentration Camps, to exemplify this new system of religion foreign to Judaism’s thousands of years of history, and he was right. The Holocaust was death, and the rebirth of The State of Israel was resurrection, and as a system it had more in common with the Christian system of Religion than with anything that Judaism had ever been. Another story. He had just come from speaking at a small college, i think in the D.C, area, but i cant remember where. Maybe it was closer to Rhode Island, i just cant remember. I had to go see him for something and i walked into his office and he was just dejected. he said that he was asked by the students at that college, as they were used to doing so with their own professors, if they could call him Jack, or did he prefer Professor Neusner. He answered them by saying, I would prefer to be called Mr. Neusner. Those students were shocked and upset. He could not understand why. He said that on campus, it was always ‘professor this,’ ‘doctor that,’ even ‘Jack…’ But he never got to be called Mr. Neusner. He was not being standoffish or stiff, he thought he was being open and they asked him what he wanted to be called, so he answered them honestly. I told him that they misunderstood his response but that was their problem, and not his problem. He did not respond to that, but he asked me why I came by, and we started talking about something else. However, I felt it was just another example of how he was not exactly adept at people skills. One more story. A few years ago, he was invited to speak at The University of St. Thomas. Since he was always fifteen minutes early at classes way back in the early 70’s, i decided to get there early for his lecture. Sure enough he was helped in by his wife, Susan, if my memory serves me right. And shame on me if i got her name wrong, i spent enough time in her kitchen to not remember it. But he was already showing signs of not being well. They seated him at a table, from where he would deliver his speech. And he sat there alone. So, i decided to go up to him and introduce myself to him. I walked up to the stage and up the stairs and then i walked up to him. He looked up at me, and immediately said, “Hello Stuart.” Just like that. After almost 40 years. As we age, either our bodies betray our minds, or our minds betray our bodies. For Professor Neusner, obviously, it was the former. We chit chatted, and then i sat down. And, once again, i was transported over time to my student days listening, learning, as he spoke. He is the author of over 900 books. No, i never sent him a copy of mine. If he would have critiqued it, i am not sure i could have stood that, he would probably have given it back to me 100 times. Ive just wanted to do him proud. At any rate, at the end of his lecture, at the very end, he immediately did what I had noticed so many decades before, again, his first look after completing a speech, with her in the audience was to look at his wife for approval. Every time i saw him speak with her in the audience, he did that. And he did it again. I mentioned this to her at the reception, and she just smiled at me. Ok. Well. So pardon me for just waxing nostalgic. But he meant so much to me. Once a long time ago, over 20 years, it has to be, i fulfilled a promise I made myself. I had written down when his 65th birthday was going to be, and i promised myself that i would send him a birthday card when it rolled around. When he turned 65, i sent him a birthday card. I wrote that he had said in class that our perspectives change, and how he saw things then, would not be how he saw things at 65, and he gave that date, and I wrote it down and promised myself to send him a birthday card on his 65th birthday. I signed it, ‘Your student, Stuart.’ When he wrote me back to thank me for remembering, he mentioned that I was no longer his student. I wrote him back, and objected, saying that i still tried to read what he wrote, and i had some of his books, and had read most of the ones I had, and that, regardless of what he said, I was still his student.
I will always be his student.
Now, i envision him in the Yeshiva Shel Mala, the Yeshiva above, meaning the Yeshiva in heaven, and continuing to teach, even there. Baruch Dayan Emet.
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).
Here is the fourth and final part to a series on Paul’s missionary strategy. Make sure you go back and read parts 1-3.
Revisited When He Could
A close reading of Acts and Paul’s letters demonstrates another important aspect of Paul’s missionary strategy. Whenever possible, the apostle returned to the churches he founded for encouragement, correction, and support. These benefits could go both ways; that is the nature of reciprocal living within the body of Christ. The Christian life is life together, a shared journey, a common purpose and destiny. One of the key phrases we see in Paul’s writings is “one another.” Constantly Paul exhorts his followers to walk in his paths and “greet one another,” “love one another,” “forgive one another,” “encourage one another,” and so on. Paul knew that the Christian life could not be lived alone; it had to be lived in relation to “one another.” But Paul also knew that his churches continued to need his wisdom, passion, and spirit if they were to be successful.
There were times when Paul couldn’t return to a church he founded because he was either in prison or he was involved in another ministry. So when he couldn’t visit himself, he sent his coworkers as his representatives. These were not short-term associates, interns, or someone conveniently available. These were people who had walked with Paul through thick and thin. These were men Paul could trust. When his delegates arrived and stood before the community, they spoke for Paul and acted as his hands and feet in the church until Paul could be present again with them.
Although Acts never mentions it, Paul was a prolific letter writer. We don’t know how many letters he wrote to churches and individuals, but the New Testament contains 13 letters under his name. He likely wrote many more. When Paul couldn’t revisit a church or when he didn’t have a designated delegate to send, Paul wrote a letter. His letters were a substitute for his presence. Paul’s letters were not like our random email or quick phone calls; his letters were literary events. They took a long time and a lot of material resources (in our economy that would mean hundreds of dollars) to produce and send to his churches. Paul’s letters were collaborative efforts with coworkers, secretaries, and patrons. The courier who carried his letter not only delivered it, but read it to the gathered church. (Remember, not everyone could read or read well enough in front of a crowd.) It was the courier’s task to interpret Paul’s mood or teaching. In the end, Paul’s letters have become his lasting legacy.
Connect the Churches
When Paul preached the crucified Christ, those he baptized knew they were becoming a part of something greater than their local community. Through faith they were entering into God’s covenant with the patriarch Abraham, a covenant of promise for a world-wide blessing. In this sense, Paul connected his churches to the past. But Paul also connected his churches to the present faith-in-Christ communities that dotted the landscapes of Judea, Galilee, Syria, Asia, and Greece. Paul’s churches shared leadership, financial concerns (for example, the relief offering for Jerusalem), and a common purpose/theology. They sang the same hymns, read the same Scripture, spoke the same confessions, and practiced the same sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s table). They were collectively the body of Christ, locally present in their various cities. Today, denominational loyalties are on the decline. Because of this, contemporary churches can become more disconnected and isolated than in the past. Denominationalism, despite its dangers, has the advantage of linking churches to something outside themselves. With great affluence and impressive size some churches decide to go it alone, acting as if they don’t need anything outside themselves. Like an island to themselves, whatever they need, they grow (literature, leadership, missions, financial resources, and so on). At the same time, there is a growing, healthy ecumenism. Ecumenism focuses on commonalities rather than on differences. Like denominationalism, ecumenism has the advantage of connecting churches to the wider movement of God, drawing on shared liturgies and traditions, centering on a common mission and purpose, and developing financial resources and leadership. We have a rich history of great saints who have turned the world upside down. We are standing on their shoulders. To paraphrase Paul: these things happened to serve as an example, and they were written to teach us, on whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:14). The power and presence of the coming Kingdom are already here, operative in the church. Although we await the full revelation in God’s final and decisive act, He has given us the Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) to provide us examples and models. Paul is just one of those examples, but what an excellent example he is! If we were to take his gospel and his strategies, and if we were to walk boldly in the Spirit as did he, then future generations might say about us: “They turned the world upside down.”