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James A. Sanders (1927-2020)

I share with you an email from a friend and colleague, Dr. Craig Evans, regarding the passing of another great scholar from our midst, Dr. James A. Sanders. Though I did not know him, I did follow, appreciate, and benefit from his many works. J

3 October 2020

Dear SCT Colleagues:

I pass on to you sad news. As some of you may have already heard, James A. Sanders, born 28 November 1927, passed away yesterday morning, 1 October 2020. Jim was nearing his 93rdbirthday. I met Jim in Claremont, California, at the beginning of the fall semester in 1977. It was the beginning of my doctoral studies. Jim was 49 and I was 25. Jim was always a handsome, youthful fellow. In fact, he could have passed for Dick Clark’s brother! Jim had just moved from Union Seminary in New York to the Claremont School of Theology, to launch the newly built Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center (ABMC), which housed in its climate-controlled vault thousands of images of biblical manuscripts, including microfilm and microfiche images of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jim served as ABMC President until 2004. While at Union Jim’s colleagues included the likes of J. Louis Martyn and Raymond E. Brown.

Although Jim was not my doctoral supervisor (Bill Brownlee was), he played an important mentoring role while I was at Claremont and throughout my career. He and I founded in 1989 and then co-chaired the SBL program unit Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. This in turned led to the founding of the Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity (SSEJC) series published by Sheffield Academic Press, then later Continuum, and now Bloomsbury T&T Clark. To date, we have published 21 volumes in the SSEJC series and two more volumes are in the works. As you may know, Jim served as the President of the Society of Biblical Literature in 1979. Jim’s best known work is Torah and Canon (1972). Jim was also well known for his The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (DJD 4; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), whose conclusions were confirmed many years later by Peter Flint’s work on all of Qumran’s Psalms scrolls.

Jim and I co-authored Luke and Scripture (Fortress Press, 1993) and co-edited several books, mostly in the SSEJC series. We presented together at several conferences, at SBL and elsewhere. I had the opportunity to edit, along with Shemaryahu Talmon (1920-2010), a Festschrift in honor of Jim, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The 700-page book is called The Quest for Context and Meaning (BIS 28; Leiden: Brill, 1997). Contributors included Reginald Fuller and W. D. Davies. In recent years I helped Jim assemble his studies in two volumes: Scripture in Its Historical Contexts. Volume I: Text, Canon, and Qumran(FAT 118; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018), and Scripture in Its Historical Contexts. Volume II: Exegesis, Hermeneutics, and Theology (FAT 126; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019). Jim was awarded an honorary doctorate at Acadia University, where coincidentally I found myself on the faculty many years later. In fact, while at Acadia Divinity College I became friends with Jim Perkin, former President of Acadia University and himself a New Testament scholar, who had nominated Jim for the award.

Jim Sanders was a prince of a fellow. His wife Dora, whom Jim loved very much, died in June of 2016, at the age of 88. Dora danced, played the piano, the violin, and the organ. Dora participated in the American Dance Festival every summer from 1949 to 2004. She and Jim were quite the pair: Jim from Memphis, Tennessee, and Dora from New Jersey (and, spiritually, from New York). Jim and Dora had one child, a son, Robin David Sanders Sr., and two grandsons Robin David Sanders Jr, and Alexander Jonathan Sanders. It was Alex who in 2017 invited me and Ginny to fly out to California to attend Jim’s 90th birthday party. Although that visit was not possible, we did have opportunities to see Jim on other occasions in California and lunch with him. (Often when I flew to California in summers to teach at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, I had the chance to visit Jim.)

Jim was one of the best biblical scholars of our era. Of all my professors at Claremont (and they were all good), it was Jim Sanders who could bring together the exegetical and textual minutiae and the big picture. It was he who taught me what textual criticism really was and what biblical criticism was and wasn’t and how it could edify the Church. For Jim faith and scholarship were never at odds but were always complimentary. Some of my former and current grad students have complimented me by making that observation. Well, now you know where I got it. Jim will be sorely missed but his legacy will be a lasting one.

Best,

CAE

Craig A. Evans, Ph.D., D.Habil.

John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins

Houston Theological Seminary

Houston Baptist University

A “Forged” Gospel and Substitutionary Atonement

I had the privilege on May 6, 2016 of moderating a panel discussion at the Lanier Theological Library.  Mark Lanier, owner and namesake of the library, was out in California and made a surprise appearance at the end.  I guess the winds were in his favor.

The topics were diverse: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the notion of substitutionary atonement in Paul.  Those two topics were related only in that our special guest, Simon Gathercole, had written on them recently.  We rounded up some usual and unusual suspects for the afternoon’s discussion. Here are the key contributors:

David Capes (Moderator – Dean, Professor of New Testament, Houston Graduate School of Theology, Houston, TX)
Graham Cole (Dean, Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL)
Craig Evans (Dean, School of Christian Thought, John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins, Houston Baptist University, Houston, TX)
Simon Gathercole (New Testament Scholar/Teacher, University of Cambridge, England)
David Moessner (Professor, A. A. Bradford Chair of Religion, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX)

The video lasts for 90 minutes but contains a lot of great information on topics related to the New Testament.  I’m grateful to Charles Mickey and Brent Johnson for their help that day.  Mark Lanier took a big chance getting a non-lawyer to moderate, but I hope he wasn’t too disappointed.  I thought it was a good discussion.

 

Here is a link to the discussion:

http://www.laniertheologicallibrary.org/seminar-videos-2/

 

Rethinking Substitution

I had the great privilege of moderating a discussion at the Lanier Theological Library last week with a number of scholars from across the world.  The keynote speaker for the weekend was Simon Gathercole  of Cambridge, but also on the panel were Craig Evans (HBU, formerly of Acadia Divinity School), Graham Cole (TEDS), and David Moessner (TCU).  There were two topics for the day determined in the main because Simon Gathercole had written recently on them.  First, we spent time discussing  claims about the badly named fragment published in 2012, the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.  Second, we took up the thesis of Simon’s 2015 publication: Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement  in Paul (Baker Academic).  Defending Subsitution

Let me take up for now the latter topic.

Christians in general–Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox–agree on a variety of things but one key thing is this: through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection of Jesus God had acted to reconcile the world to himself.  Nearly all Christians agree with that.

What we don’t agree on and what the Bible does not clearly address is how: how does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus bring about this reconciliation, redemption, justification, adoption, etc., choose whatever metaphor or image you prefer.  So, for centuries, theologians have developed various theories of atonement.  There is the ransom theory, the recapitulation theory, the satisfaction theory, the moral influence theory, the Christus-Victor theology, and substitution theory.

Most evangelicals have cut their teeth on the substitution theory, and yet recently many scholars have begun to distance themselves from it.  They argue that it is not biblical or not fair or else they say there are better ways to frame how the death and resurrection of Jesus come to play in our reality.

Professor Gathercole has written the book DEFENDING JUSTIFICATION to say that we cannot, indeed, should not, dismiss substitution from discussions of Pauline theology.  Many scholars are talking about participation in Christ and Christ being our representative as better ways of understanding how the benefits of Christ come to people through the finished word of the Messiah.  I don’t see Simon denying those ways of framing the discussion, but I do see him trying to rehabilitate the notion of substitutionary atonement.

Gathercole takes up a variety of Pauline texts including 1 Cor 15:3-8, Rom 3:21-26, among others.  He argues convincingly that substitution is part and parcel of Paul’s thought on what scholars call the atonement.  It is not the only word on it, however.  As Mark Lanier himself pointed out, we cannot dismiss Paul’s notion that the death and resurrection of Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers that cause the masses to live nasty, short, and brutish lives.

This book began as the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia and is part of a series  by Baker Academic edited by Dr. Craig Evans.  It is well worth taking up and reading.

The video of the panel discussion will be available soon at http://www.laniertheologicallibrary.org

Many thanks to Charles Mickey, director of the library, and Mark Lanier, founder, for the opportunity.

 

E. Earle Ellis, 1926-2010

Six years ago this week my Doctor Father, Earle Ellis, died.  When he came to his final teaching post in the mid-1980s, I was his first graduate assistant and one of only five students who finished under him in about 25 years of teaching.  Dr. Aaron Son, one of his other students, informs us through Facebook that Southwestern Seminary has established a lectureship in Ellis’ honor.  I’m pleased to learn of this today.  It is an honor well deserved.  He was a great scholar, teacher and mentor. ellis

The inaugural lecture will be given by Professor Craig Evans who recently moved to Texas after decades of teaching in Canada, most recently at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia.  Dr. Evans is a good choice for an inaugural lecture because Ellis thought highly of him, and Evans in many ways continues along the academic trajectory begun by Ellis and many of his colleagues.  My memory may be faulty, but I seem to recall meeting Evans through Dr. Ellis in the late 1980s.

Dr. Son wrote Ellis’ obituary on the website of the Society of Biblical Literature.  The link is here.  It contains a list of his most important publications and some poignant details about his life. Ellis was a rigorous scholar who demanded and received a great deal from his students.  He was a lifelong bachelor and committed Christian.  He lived a life worthy of emulation.

Ellis leaves behind not only a group of grateful students but a number of important books he penned over his impressive career.  He established a research library which is now part of the collection at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He also established the Institute for Biblical Research, a collegial organization of scholars dedicated to the kind of reverent biblical scholarship which was the hallmark of Ellis’ life.  Information about IBR can be found here.  I’m pleased to have been elected to the board of IBR last year.

Thanks to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for highlighting and continuing his legacy. I hope one day to be able to attend and be part of the honor.

Rest in peace, Dr. Ellis.

 

 

Professor Craig Evans Joins the Faculty at HBU

The announcement was made yesterday, Tuesday June 9, 2015, that Dr. Craig Evans will join the faculty of Houston Baptist University in January 2016.  Here is the official announcement:

http://www.hbu.edu/About-HBU/General-Information/HBU-in-the-News/Press-Releases/2015/June/Dr-Craig-Evans-named-the-John-Bisagno-Distinguishe.aspx

Craig has been a friend for a number of years, and I’m thrilled at the prospect of him being a part of our faculty.  He will add a great deal of expertise to the School of Christian Thought at HBU.  His current post is at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia.  He will find the Houston winters much more agreeable, but he will definitely have to get used to the heat!  Welcome, Dr. Evans!Craig Evans

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