Final Exam: Isaiah 6.1-18

Essay Question: Many very intelligent Christians and Jews recognize that this passage, read in the Catholic Church’s Lectionary on July 14, is not literally true. Many would, say King Uzziah may not have been authentic either.

But the same people think that a man named Jesus, from Galilee, was executed by crucifixion during the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate.  What do you think?  

Please submit your 500 word response in flawless biblical Hebrew or acceptable Hellenistic Greek.  Replies that do not conform to this instruction will  not be accepted.


In the year King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,
with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings:
with two they veiled their faces,
with two they veiled their feet,
and with two they hovered aloft.

They cried one to the other,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!”
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook
and the house was filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me,
holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.

He touched my mouth with it and said,
“See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

Williams on Vermes on Christian Origins

Rowan Williams

Those of you not familiar with Rowan Williams may know only that he is the archbishop of Canterbury, one in a long succession of postholders who began his career not exactly in the Church but in the dank cloisters of Oxford. (Reflect for a moment that the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, not always but often, choose scholars for leaders.  Can that be said in any other corporation, outside the university I mean?)

Rowan, who received his DPhil a few years before me (in the area then normally called “patristics”) when he was at Wadham and I was at Keble, have only one thing in common: we wrote poetry.  His is good and mine is bad.  That is not a plea for mercy and feint praise; it is a fact.  Have a look if you don’t believe me.

In the following review of Geza Vermes’s new book, Christian Beginnings, Rowan Williams provides a masterful précis of the way in which Vermes, whom he rightly calls the “doyen” of the literature of  late ancient Judaism (and early Christianity), conceives the development of the Christain movement. It is a refreshing and sane departure from some of obscurity that has had to be discussed on this site recently. And I highly commend the Vermes book as a solid and often insightful look, from the Jewish perspective, onto the origins of Christianity.

The most important thing for any theory of the origins of Christianity is that it be plausible.   This means meeting two conditions: (a) It should conform to the patterns of historical development that can be observed in cognate social and intellectual movements within relevant periods and cultures, and (b) As an explanation, it should not be more complex than the record it is trying to explain.  The second of course is the doctrine of the medieval scholastic William of Ockham, and became known as “ontological parsimony” or “the razor” in later philosophy:  Entia non sunt multiplicanda sine necessitate–Causes should not be multiplied beyond necessity.  

Unlike Dr Williams, William of Ockham, who was pronounced an “inceptor” (beginner) in theology after studying it at Oxford from 1309 to 1323, never received his Master’s degree and was pronounced a heretic by the papal court at Avingnon in 1326.

Be careful Rowan: you retire in December.

The review is taken from The Guardian:

Religions that claim universally relevant and abidingly truthful revelations have a clear interest in showing that their history is one of continuity. If you believe that your vision of God and reality in general is in some sense a gift from outside the human psyche, it won’t do to allow unlimited adjustments to that vision. But all human language does adjust to historical change, even when trying to stay the same; as Cardinal Newman observed, to say the same thing as your ancestors said, you may well need to say something apparently very different. So how do you resolve the question of what is genuinely an “unfolding” of the original vision and what is an arbitrary elaboration that distorts that vision?

Geza Vermes is the unchallenged doyen of scholarship in the English-speaking world on the Jewish literature of the age of Jesus, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls. In a series of deeply learned and lucid books, he has opened up the subject to non-specialist readers, offering some provocative and searching questions for Christian readers of their scriptures. In this book, he takes the story a little further forward, to trace the evolution of a distinctively Christian vocabulary up to and including the era when the first Christian creeds were being formulated. His subtitle flags up the climax of the story, at the Council of Nicaea in 325, when what he describes as a “revolutionary new formula” was agreed – thanks largely to pressure from a Roman emperor newly sympathetic to the Christian faith, and as eager as any contemporary politician to make it serve the cause of social cohesion.

The shape of the narrative as he tells it is one that most Christian scholars will recognise. In the beginning, Jesus of Nazareth, a charismatic wonder-worker whose profile has some parallels with fairly well-known Jewish saints and sages of his period, proclaims a radically simplified version of the law of Moses and the religion of the Hebrew prophets, with a special stress on the claims of those who think of themselves as having no claims – the destitute, the marginal, the failed. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of all is the way in which Jesus puts at the centre of his world the child, the one who responds without reserve to an unreserved gift of love. “Neither biblical nor post-biblical Judaism,” Vermes notes, “make of the young an object of admiration.” The early community of Jesus’s followers is shaped by charismatic phenomena – healing, prophetic ecstasy – tight corporate discipline, the expectation of the end of the world, and certain social rituals that reinforce the strong family-like bonds of the group. Parts of the family open up to non-Jews, others don’t. The language used about Jesus never goes beyond that appropriate to “a man of high spiritual dignity”.

What follows is a steady drift away not only from the religion of Jesus and of the first generation but, more seriously, a loss of interest in the essence of “charismatic Judaism” with its suspicion of formalism and its intimacy with God – and an increasingly negative attitude to Judaism as such. The greater the dignity ascribed to Jesus, it seems, the stronger the urge to denigrate and disown his Jewish identity and the Jewish faith itself. With the help of imported mythical, literary and philosophical categories, the Christian community develops a complex system of cosmology in which Jesus has become a co-creator, a pre-existent divine being manifested on earth. It is, in Vermes’s words, often a “poetic” achievement, a “majestic synthesis”; but it is undeniably something different from the religion of Jesus and the religion of Jesus’s first followers.

I said a moment ago that this is not an unfamiliar account for scholars of Christian origins. It has much in common with the picture elaborated in the great theological schools of the European universities, especially in Germany, from the late 19th century onwards. What makes Vermes’s version new is his refusal to follow these earlier scholars in their negativity towards Judaism and in the fact of his unparalleled familiarity with the entire spread of Jewish thinking in the age of Jesus and Paul. His Jesus is very much the representative of an intensified version of Mosaic and prophetic faith, set against a Jewish world that is dramatically diverse and bubbling with new and radical bids for defining Jewish identity.

But some of the themes of an earlier scholarly generation recur. John’s gospel has to be treated as a bit of an aberration – though Vermes rightly grants that we cannot write off John’s language as simply the result of borrowing from non-Jewish sources. Many, if not most, scholars would be very cautious now about too simple a polarity between “Hebrew” and “Greek” styles of thinking. Again Vermes is inclined to see “Platonic” themes as one of the elements that work the alchemical change in Christianity that will make it unrecognisable to its founder. There is an assumption that the basic alteration is a matter of turning the faith that Jesus himself held into a faith about him.

If Vermes is wholly right, any claims about the “revealed” authority of traditional Christian faith are pretty dubious. The creeds are the product of a very secular chain of political and intellectual influences, serving to obscure the historical core of what was new in Jesus’s life and work. But the story is not so simple. Vermes shows how the sort of thing that was being claimed in the creed of 325 had very clear antecedents within a century of Jesus’s crucifixion – so that it is odd to speak of a “revolutionary” position advanced in 325. Everyone at the Council of Nicaea believed they were defending immemorial tradition; and they were right to the extent that extravagant language about who Jesus “really” was goes back a long way. Despite Vermes’s skilful argument, it is hard simply to deny that Christian scripture does show people praying to the exalted Jesus from very early indeed. Someone reading the convoluted texts of early Christian argument might well see them less as a series of baroque elaborations on a theoretical theme than as a series of attempts to capture an elusive but inescapable insight. Each effort generates more unfinished business; and the impetus is not to clarify ideas for their own sakes but to do justice to the sense that whatever Jesus introduces into the world is new and awkward enough to need a new vocabulary.

This connects with an aspect of the Jewish world of Jesus’s day that Vermes skirts a little. The authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls thought of their community in its remote desert setting as the “real” temple. The great structure built by King Herod in Jerusalem was an empty shell: God did not live there but among his faithful servants in the desert. Something of this carries over into the New Testament. Where does God “live”? Among his people; his name, his full, identifiable presence, is to be found among those who associate themselves with Jesus. And if the community around Jesus is now a temple, the high priest who offers sacrifice there is Jesus himself. Put that together with the idea that the earthly temple is a kind of sacrament of the eternal worship in heaven, led by a godlike archangel, and you can see how speculation about who Jesus really is begins to get some purchase. And as this develops into the idea that the angelic high priest really carries in himself the divine name and power, the full-blown doctrine of incarnation, the divine life being clothed in human flesh and blood, steadily takes form.

Vermes’s account, for all its lucidity, does not quite allow us to see the energy behind such a movement of ideas. Nor, as other commentators have said, are we helped to see why this particular charismatic wonder-worker rather than others attracted the extraordinary claim that he was the vehicle of unconditional creative power and the enabler of a new kind of worship – the paradox that the creed of 325 enshrined, in words Christians still use. This is a beautiful and magisterial book; but it leaves unsolved some of the puzzles that still make readers of the New Testament pause to ask what really is the right, the truthful, way to talk about a figure like the Jesus we meet in these texts.

A Farewell to Vridar and the Gang of Four

St Paul

Vridar’s  coterie of four can’t seem to decide what (beyond questioning my state of mind) they can use against my central contention–that Paul in Galatians 4 is arguing for the legitimacy of Jesus, with Hagar and Sarah on his mind, and so must have considered Jesus historical.

It seems to me that Paul’s interest in the legitimacy of Jesus is proved beyond reasonable doubt by Gal 4.4,5 and its comfy fit to the total argument of Galatians 4, and as such demolishes completely one of the standard props of mythicist arguments concerning Paul. I explore other reasons for Paul’s reputed “silence” about the historical Jesus, for anyone interested to read it, in my contribution to the Jesus process.  Essentially, the mythtics have shown gross ignorance of one of the central “discoveries” of Pauline scholarship, the “Opponent’s Controversy” eloquently laid out by my former teacher Dieter Georgi as early as 1957.  In a nutshell, Paul had every reason to eschew historical tradition because he was on the margins of legitimacy himself.  The language of Galatians, especially chapters 1-4, is significant and explicit evidence of Paul’s state of mind.  In their curious blend of outdated theory and selective (and frankly not very impressive) modern scholarship, the mythtics have simply lost the plot.

Serious discussion on the Vridar site is always drowned in (flubbed) point-scoring come-backs as though scholarship was an endless slanging match. Attempts to correct, explain, amplify or inform are slapped down by a cult so hysterically self-righteous that they must spend the time they don’t use making mistakes (limited, to be sure) high-fiving each other for insult. It is less like a meeting place for serious debate than an animal house food fight.  No wonder the site is relegated–not that it matters–to the “Fringe dwellers and conspiracy theorists” locker in Biblioblogs, which I hasten to add is not a serious measure of anything.

I first became aware of this site when out of the blue its host, Neil Godfrey, suggested that I had impugned his poster-boy myth theorist Earl Doherty by suggesting that Doherty was “a disciple of  (George)Wells” who “has rehashed many of the former’s views in The Jesus Puzzle (Age of Reason Publications, 2005) which is qualitatively and academically far inferior to anything so far written on the subject.”  Doherty himself acknowledges Wells’s influence (Wells now rejects Doherty’s thesis) as well as the dependence of his study on discredited earlier sources.

G A Wells: The Last of the Gentlemen

When pressed to explain what they think Paul is doing in Gal. 4.4,5 the Vridarians, or more precisely their leader, demur that they didn’t exactly say it was an interpolation (a later addition to a text by someone other than the author), they only “think” so, or have reason to think so; or ask for “proof” that the verse is as important to them–as an unbroken succession of mythtics from van Eysinga onward have made it; or change the subject to the much more obvious defeater–that Paul hated Jesus’s biological brother James.  When this proves tricky, they bring in (perhaps reluctantly, but beggars can’t be choosers: they also have highlighted the biblical expertise of magician-comedian-debunker James Randi) their rear-guard–the Paul-deniers  who say that the author of the letter has been invented lock, stock and tent. It is not clear when, or why.

Why what Paul said matters to a crowd that variously thinks he didn’t say it or never existed to say it I have no clue.  In fact the smorgasbord on the site is so arranged that sane views are sacrificed to a range of opinions that the host can then plausibly say do not (exactly) represent his own entirely responsible views on any given topic. In politics, this doctrine is called “deniability.” But in scholarship, the doctrine is called …  Sorry, it isn’t called anything.

Biblical scholar Randi

I doubt they will miss the minor credibility my occasional skirmishes there confers. In fact, I have the feeling my unannounced drop-ins had spoiled a private conversation, so private that many of them were surprised that their opinions were not widely shared by very intelligent people. Think Garp among the Ellen Jamesians. (I would have said Think Jesus among the Pharisees, but immediately they would have said, Hoffman [sic] thinks he’s Jesus!)

Perhaps they will take away two things from having become a band of cheerbrothers with no expertise, Bible for Dummies-level acquaintance with the texts they are claiming to know at a “professional level, and no hermeneutical skills: as new atheism is to atheism they are to taking the question of Jesus seriously. In fact, the scent, argumentative stance and petulance are imported directly from the Rational Response Squad manual, a group of atheist militants with a mission and a message: Religion is evil, and any scholarship that supports it needs to be knocked down. God is a myth and Jesus is a fairy. The distinction between atheism and Jesus-denial is put aside, for strategic purposes–in the name of “Reason.” I did try to offer some sensible (I thought) observations on this a few years ago, but Ajesusism was far too cancerous by then to be saved from its mistaken assumptions.

Bart Ehrman, taking stick from both fundamentalists and mythtics for being so wrong about Jesus

I am one of a very few scholars who has actually said that the question of the historical Jesus deserves a hearing, but Vridarian noise is making it impossible for anyone to hear. In the gay bar environment they have created (without prejudice to the population of gay bars–just the noise levels), serious discussion cannot happen. Just gunfire and bitch-slapping. Their dogged commitment to “debate,” lecture, appear knowledgeable, and harangue rather than discuss raises Paul’s question anew, ποῦ σοφός; ποῦ γραμματεύς; ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου; οὐχὶ ἐμώρανεν ὁ θεὸς τὴν σοφίαν τοῦ κόσμου; doesn’t it?

I suppose it comes partly from having moved too quickly from loving Jesus in their fundamentalist infancy to feeling that religion had deceived them and then latching on to mythticism, too quickly, as a cure.  That is presumptuous, I know; and who knows?  They do a lot of psychoanalysis on the site, so I suspect they will now want to work more towards developing a group therapy solution to the Jesus question.

Sadly, they are now the fringe of a fringe, ranging from disingenuous postmen-provocateurs like Godfrey and his minim to absurdists like Kenneth Humphreys and cultists like Carrier, Doherty and Acharya S. aka Dorothy Murdock–who seems to think my willingness to listen to her arguments was a proposal of marriage. Let me assure her publicly here: No men of God are coming with a wagon to take you away.

Their error is not so much in defending the talking points of an earlier generation, the good old days of radical criticism–mythicists like van Eysinga and Arthur Drews and J.M. Robertson–but in missing the fact that very liberal and sympathetic scholars like Conybeare and Goguel did the old girl in a hundred years ago. And not out of any religiously-vested interest or absolutist confidence in the sources. It took me a few times through the books of the leading lights of mythticism to see how error-riddled their premises were. I am not saying that to advance any argument against their major premises (which differed widely) but to warn people about error-riddled premises.

At any rate, I regretfully conclude after attempting a dialogue on Vridar that discussion in the interest of clarity is not wanted. It is over. Time to break up and slink home in abject failure. I will not sully your marshy playing field again. Though sullenly I think,  ימח שמו  Not that it has been a waste of time: nothing has persuaded me more completely that Jesus really existed than the arguments of the Vridarians.  Nothing.

Galatians 4: An English Translation

As a school exercise I sat down today, armed with my Liddell and Scott, a few choice reference books, my Nestle-Aland,  and an open mind to see if working my way through Galatians 4, now the topic of some discussion with mythtics, would solve any problems for me.

Is Galatians 4.4 an interpolation, the work of “a falsified Paul,” as hard-core mythtics like to allege?  Does the verse not fit integrally and tonally into the whole of the chapter?  Does not Paul’s emphasis on legitimacy and inheritance reflect (a) his own anxiety over his apostolic legitimacy and (b) his need to show that, as he is a legitimate preacher of the legitimate (or only) gospel,  the Galatians themselves have nothing to fear about their “acceptance” (adoption) as Christians on the road to salvation?

The chapter is much harder to crack than I had remembered from Harvard days:  it is full of periphrasis, half-thoughts, odd  constructions and the sort of unpolished associations that for Paul amount to an argument.  Many of these difficulties are smoothed over in modern translations, and have been even before “dynamic” translation became the preferred style of translators.  I have not been led into temptation but have eschewed all efforts to make Paul say what I want him to have said, which he often doesn’t.

Every translation as Voltaire said is “like a woman: the good ones are never beautiful and the beautiful ones are never good.”  There must be a nonsexist variant of that quote but I don’t know it.  In our time, this has meant that sexy, dynamic translations are often the bastard offspring of the translator’s consciousness, and the literal or “neutral” ones would only make sense 2000 years prior to their translating–if ever.  When there is any doubt about a word, I have given the Greek parenthetically.  But in essence I think it is all here.  In the final analysis we translate because we are trying to understand, not because we have understood something perfectly and just want to share it.  It seems to me that one of the more banal aspects of modern mythicism is its support of certain axioms that constitute its conceptual edifice: Galatians 4.4,5 is one prop in this house, others being the status of James, the “silence” of Paul (and the reputed lack of any developed Jesus-tradition prior to him), the (perfectly explicable) weakness of “external evidence” , and the liberal use of charges of interpolation, anachronicity, and the belief that analogy–whether to infrabiblical or classical sources–can only be interpreted as plagiarism or contrivance in the service of the myth.  Whatever else can be said for or against mythicism, its approach to evidence can only be compared to  a traveler’s decision to take to the rocky dead end next to the clear path that leads to the village because it makes more sense of the journey.  –Is this because John the Baptist was a myth too?

The result of this little exercise is unexciting for the most part, except that having done it I am more convinced than ever that the omission of 4.4,5 would constitute a lacuna fatal to Paul’s argument about legitimacy.  I continue to think that this chapter reflects Paul’s anxiety over the biological legitimacy of Jesus, whose “type” is Issac in the allegory.  While this insistence is framed as theology rather than biography (since Paul doesn’t write biography–something mythtics consistently ignore as part of their agenda), it is clear that Paul regards Jesus as legitimate in the same way that Isaac (4.28) is a legitimate heir capable of imparting the rights of inheritance–sonship.  Ishmael (who is not named in the allegory) is his opposite, the son of a slave, born in lust (4.23).  The slave-woman who “satisfies” Abraham’s physical needs is named, and then associated with Sinai and the “old” covenant; the mother of Jesus is merely “a woman.”

Does Paul’s insistence on an historically legitimate Jesus prove the existence of an historical Jesus?  That is not the claim that is being made–or defeated here:  the claim that is defeated is that Paul had no interest in, or did not “know” anything about an historical Jesus. Shift the topic as they try, mythtics are the group who have said repeatedly that Paul’s silence can be interpreted as his being unaware of any historical tradition concerning Jesus, a claim they then need to extend to the more extravagant notion that the “apostolic community” was simply an alternative Jewish myth-making factory.

Occasionally, even more absurd claims are made, usually because their approach to evidence involves the mythicists in such a tangle that they end up fighting against their own conclusions and self-contradictions.   It is self-evidently true that no “testimony”–let alone an allusion, as here–serves as sufficient proof of an event if it is presupposed that that person (a) is lying (b) did not exist or (c) has good reason to concoct a story. As I have said in my contribution to the Jesus Process however, warrants for skepticism rather than gratuitous suspicion and ham-fisted guesswork need to be applied to the sources we have.  Since the time of the histrionic Drews, with only a few exceptions, mythicism has earned its ornery reputation because of the emotionalism with which its proponents have approached the sources.

Translation since the time of Lorenzo da Valla has been a good way of sniffing out fraud, and quite bluntly–I find none here.  The failure of mythicism to convince scholars that it is a solution to the “question” of Jesus rests on its inability to  satisfy the demand for an alternative theory of Christian beginnings based on the best interpretation of the best evidence we have.  That was the challenge that Case handed down in the early twentieth century, and mythicisim has not budged beyond  that point, except to deny that it has not budged.

As before, I am confident that this wayward, spasmodic, self-interested voice and searching, rough-edged vocabulary is the voice of the real Paul, (convincingly) irreproducible by his studied imitators.

Lacking motivation for Paul’s creation of Jesus or the church’s concoction of Paul and the various paranoid conspiracy theories that are currently being put around to defend these notions, it will finally come down to sane interpretations of what history has left to us.  It has left us this:

[And if you are Christ’s, then Abraham’s according to the promise (3.29) ] ...

 mean, As long as the heir is a child, he is no better than a slave–even if he is lord of the manor; for he is subject to guardians and trustees until the time (προθεσμίας) set by the father.  So also with us: when we were children we were held in bondage to what is base in the world. But when the right time had come, God sent forth his son, having been born (γενόμενον) of a woman, having been born under the law to ransom the ones under the law so that they might receive sonship. And, as you are sons, God sent forth his son’s spirit into our hearts crying Abba, Father. So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and as a son, an heir (κληρονόμος).  But when you did not truly know God you were indentured to those which are not gods by nature; so now having come to know God—or rather being known by God (γνωσθέντες)—how can you turn back again to these weak and base things (στοιχεῖα), desiring to be slaves to them once more?  You heed days, months, seasons, years: I am afraid for you because I may have toiled for you for nothing (εἰκῇ). Brothers I implore you, be as I am, as I am of you: you did me no harm. It was I in my human weakness (ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκὸς) who preached the news to you first. And my appearance in the flesh you did not hate or reject (ἐξεπτύσατε), but you received me as a messenger of God—of Jesus Christ.  O, what has happened to  your grace? For I testify that it had been better [γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι εἰ δυνατὸν] had you pricked your eyes out and handed them to me. For what? that I have become an enemy for telling you the truth? Their [Paul refers to his opponents, cf 3.1f.] desire for you is no good: they want to shut you out, and be desirous [only] of them [ ἵνα αὐτοὺς ζηλοῦτε]. For [i.e., if there is a] a good reason of course it is good to be made over [δὲ ζηλοῦσθαι]—not only when I’m with you.  My little children, [for whom] I will not rest until Christ is formed [μορφωθῇ ] in you! I so wanted to be with you now, to change my tone [φώνην], because I have doubts about you.  Tell me then: you lot wanting to be under the law—do you hear the law? For it was written that Abraham had two sons, one of a slave [παιδίσκης] one by a free-woman [ἐλεύθερας].  But the son of the slave was born [γεγέννηται] according to the flesh, the son of the freewoman by a promise.  Now this is an allegory [ἅτινα ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα]; these women are two laws. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery: that is, Hagar.  Yet Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and [she] corresponds to what is Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jeruslaem above us is the free-woman—and she is our mother, as it is written,

Rejoice unbearing,  barren one

The ones not in birth pangs: break forth in shouting!

Because the children of the desert [τέκνα τῆς ἐρήμου = the desolate one]

Exceed the children of the one who is married [Isa 54.1]

Now we, brothers, are like Isaac, children of the promise. But just as formerly the one having come about [γεννηθεὶς] according to the flesh harassed the one having been fathered according to the spirit, even so now.  But what does scripture say?  Drive out the slave and her son!, for the son of the slave will not inherit [what belongs to] the son of the free woman.  So brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

The New Oxonian

A few years ago I participated in a colloquium at UCLA that included, besides myself, two other academics who studied various aspects of the origins of Christianity, and a lawyer, somewhat unjustifiably famous for battling “religious theists” [sic].  The latter category he habitually referred to as “religion” or “supernaturalism,” which in his head amounted to the same thing.

With a kind of cocksureness that always comes naturally to the malinformed, he told me minutes before delivering his spiel that he welcomed the opportunity to “set these religion scholars straight.”  I muttered something agreeable about the nature of scholarship–always being a willingness to accept correction, though privately I have always thought that Jesus’ words about lawyers are among the wisest things he is ever reckoned to have said.

At the end of his discussion, the three of us sat quietly.  Carol Backhos, a UCLA professor of Judaic Studies, who had kept track of the number of times the speaker had equated religion and supernaturalism in his…

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The New Oxonian

It is a — most — provoking — thing,’ Humpty said at last, `when a person doesn’t know a cravat from a belt!’ `I know it’s very ignorant of me,’ Alice said, in so humble a tone that Humpty Dumpty relented.

Preliminary: Of Words in General

Writing in defense of the language he loved and hated, H.L. Mencken wrote in The Smart Set for 1921 that “When two-thirds of the people who use a certain language decide to call it a freight train instead of a goods train, they are ‘right’; then the first is correct usage and the second a dialect.”

He was speaking of one of the minor irritants of usage that separate American and British speakers, “divided by a common language,” into those who love English because it isn’t French and those who value it primarily because it isn’t Spanish.  –The perennial war between Britspeak and Amerispeak…

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Being Humanist: The Atheist “Disqualification”

Over the past few years I have been harping on the idea that movement humanism (for historical reasons) hijacked a perfectly good word, picked its pocket and left it for dead.

I’ve been thinking more about the subject recently.  Every time I return to it I am accused by at least one well-wisher of wanting to hie back to the renaissance, when ceilings were floral, swimming in cherubs,  and the living was easy.  That is, if you were a pope or a prince. Even the use of a word like “hie” tells you a lot about me.

But–and you can breathe easy–this isn’t about history, or the Medici or even Pico della Mirandolla.  Though I do like a little Pico with my daily crossword. This is really about why it’s time for humanists to kick atheists out of their house.  They’ve had squatters’ rights for fifty years and the place is looking ultra-shabby.


First of all, a lot of atheists don’t even like to be called “humanists” unless when you say the word you really mean atheist.  Secular humanists in America have felt this way for years.  British humanists, who don’t like the word secular humansim because it’s too American, just use the word “humanism” when they really mean freethought which really means atheism.  The opposite of humanist when the word is used by secular humanists is presumably Goddist.

But in both cases, it’s a cheat: an attempt to tart up a word–atheist–that used to be considered abrasive and in some cases disabling.  It was unpopular in Britain and more unpopular in America to be called an atheist.  It was relatively okay to be an ethical culturalist, a secularist, and by a stretch a “secular” humanist.  In both countries,  not believing in God was subordinated to the more positive spin that the movement now dubbed “humanism” was really about how you acted once you declared your unbelief.

Paul Kurtz, “Father” of secular humanism

The “good without God” craze that sprouted during the early days of new atheism in the early 2000’s was nothing more than a re-potting of the same idea under the illusion it was new:  You don’t need the ethics of a bunch of first millennium goat herders and their sky god to be moral, they sensibly argued.  You just need an open mind,  a clean driving record,  and science. One of the leaders of the secular humanist dribble (that’s 10,000 short of a drabble) also specified “exuberance” as a nice thing to have, because exuberance isn’t passion and thus stops short of emotion. This in turn makes you reasonable: so humanism is all about reason.

Personally, I am also into passion.  Even fully-uniformed agnostics like Bertrand Russell were.  I am not a fourth century (BC) Greek nor a twenty-first century (AD) particle physicist at CERN–not that these folk didn’t have passion too. Without passion, why bother to know anything?    I need a little emotional kick in my life, and while I share that need with unbelievers–a good wine, an evening concert at Tanglewood, the ministrations of a dark-eyed beauty who tells me I am not as old as I feel–I know that these things are irrational.  They are simply human.  They don’t mean that there is no god, just that the God of one tradition taught the human race to look out for ourselves because too much passion was sin. Was he just being reasonable?

Have you stopped to think how much this whole discussion depends on the genetics of Anglo-American values and how irrelevant it is in Catholic (that is, ex-Catholic) Europe, where passion has not been outlawed by reason.  As religion in America and Britain was puritanical, so is its atheism.  Anglo-American atheism is rigid, scholastic, dull, unartistic and naive.  Its coordinates are Richard Dawkins and P Z Myers, the gamut from ex-Anglican to ex-Lutheran.  Enough said.  Maybe Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi made mistakes during their political careers.  But being full-blooded, passionate, culture-loving humanists was not one of them.

I can watch out for myself without God’s advice.  I have for most of my adult life.  But I rather enjoy having him around. Besides, despite his mixed feelings about sex and fornication, we have got excellent poetry, music, and some fine floral ceilings out of him.  It was hard not to fall in love with someone so decisive and easily upset. Yes, yes: don’t do the secular humanist thing and remind me of the wars, the atrocity, the Inquisition, the Holocaust.

In return, I promise not to mention perfectly reasonable atheist leaders like  Stalin and Pol Pot.

And you see the problem:  If the dividing line is simply the division between atheism and religion, then the challenge is to say what is the rule and what is the exception.  Which system produces the most monsters?

In a simple humanism, the question does not arise.  It does not arise because we know what a violation of the “human spirit” would be: any gratuitous war, offense against conscience, slavish obedience to a doctrine, whether religiously-inspired or naturalistically defended.  The splitting of the atom was a thing of wonder. The using of the power derived from that event to kill thousands of people was not a humanistic act. It is not humanly defensible, so spare me the political defenses. If religion wins this sweepstakes, it is only because it had held power longer and has been more successful in subordinating human evil (yes, I believe in evil) to religious purposes. There are equally inhuman events waiting in the wings to be given the imprimatur of science and reason.

If atheism were successful in taking over humanism’s  house–not to frighten anyone– the not-God who would take the place of the God who was, and who would rule in his place,  would be equally powerless to save us from our sins. (Do I hear the nasal tones of a new atheist in the background saying: That’s just the problem–thinking that we need someone to “save” us?).  Maybe it’s just in my imagination.

The sweetness and fallacy of Christianity is that it offered for our consideration a God who thought he could save the human race, but actually couldn’t. And we know enough to know that we invented that God.  Any humanist knows that.  But many atheists will blame–what?–the credulity of  “religious people”–not themselves, for not knowing it.  Where is the logic in that? Religious people did not create that God.  The human spirit did: your own ancestors did. And they wrote the books they then ascribed to him.  Reject him as you must.  And you must. But the way to salvation is far from clear, and the militant rejection of that god does not make you a humanist.  How could it?

We have been largely on our own since then.  You don’t need to be religious to know that.  You don’t need to be an atheist to accept it.  The biblical lord-god of hosts whose name is holy and who numbered his enemies in the tens of thousands has been quietly rejected, not just by atheists but by anyone who is paying attention.  In fact (I will pay a price for saying  this) he was rejected by Jesus.

He was not exposed as a monstrous fraud by science, but by religion.  In fact I worry about the people who think that news of this first hit the headlines with Richard Dawkins.   It was old news when Nietzsche wrote that “faith is not wanting to know what is true.”

And I don’t like the idea that if I call myself a humanist, I am really saying that I am an atheist and therefore can’t have God around.  Over time, humanists have  been religious, skeptical, spiritual…and atheists. They have been criminals and derelicts, rich popes and poor scholars,  lazy bastards like Nietzsche and hyperachievers like Fermi, geniuses like da Vinci and paedophiles like il Divino.  If you don’t know who il Divino was, stop reading this instantly and join the American Humanist Association where you can talk about how fucked up the idea of God is over beer and hotdogs.

I therefore plant my flag here:  I am a humanist. I respect my atheist brothers and sisters, but I do not have their confidence and I do not like their script.   My humanism is not a moral testing ground for how to live my life without intrusions from above or dogmas from below.  I believe that the reduction of humanism to some naturalistic calculus for some idiotic phrase like “meaning and value” is brainless and penniless. I believe that the phrase “secular humanism” confuses matters that are merely political, and explicitly American, with questions that can never be decided by religion or politics.

Above all, I regard it as foppish, ignorant and vain to allow “religious” persons to engage in a dialogue with  “humanists.”  Howso? In the hope that they will be “brought along”–enlightened, persuaded to see the error of their ways?

Humanism is not atheism.  It is not religion. And it is not a camp meeting to bring the factions together, or a writ of indulgence given by one side to the other. It is our natural assumption of the obligations the gods once performed on our behalf–pain and triumph, poetry and art, celebration and mourning–war and peace.

Below the surface stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say and feel — below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel, there flows
With noiseless current, strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.  (Matthew Arnold, 1870)

If an atheist reader does not recognize herself in that verse, it is clearly time to change lodging.

Humanism is not atheism, and atheism disguised as humanism is not atheism either.

On Not Explaining “Born of a Woman”

Fillipo Lippi, ca. 1450


**Update following**

There is a lengthy reply at the mythicist hub, Vridar, to my suggestion that Galatians 4.4 is efficiently explained by Paul being aware of Jewish polemic against the parentage of Jesus and the consequences for his theology if the challenge to his teaching went unchecked.  Rather than being an exegesis or explanation of the passage, it is predictably–in the style of mythtic assessments–an attempt to show how the interpretation is wrong, using arguments cobbled together from other mythicists, namely Earl Doherty and Frank Zindler and a gratuitous salute to a not very cogent passage from Bart Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.

Despite the effort to stretch out my argument beyond its actual extent, the post misses its mark by several hundred yards.

The facts briefly stated are these:

(1) There is no serious reason to doubt that Galatians 4.4  is “authentic.”  The fact that Tertullian does not cite it against Marcion suggests that it existed in the texts known to both men,  since  its “excision” by Marcion would almost certainly have provoked a rebuttal from Tertullian.  It is relatively certain that Marcion had “docetist” tendencies, but he was not a gnostic as that the term is usually understood.  Marcionite Christology (like the Alexandrian’s) was more invested in the heavenly Christ than the human figure of Jesus, but did not dispose of the human Jesus.  Tertullian is somewhat frustrated by this and spares no effort to skewer Marcion’s omissions: in this case, there does not seem to have been one.  That the verse was missing from the versions of  both writers is made improbable by two factors: (a)  its use in controversy prior to Tertullian (Irenaeus, Adv. , Haereses 3.22.1, and using “virgin” as a qualifier, 5.21.1)   and (b)  its linguistic and conceptual fit in the context of Galatians 4 as a whole.

(2)  “Born of a woman….” The Greek verb genomenon seems to occupy the attention of mythicists. A few commentators on the earlier post  have suggested, somewhat curiously and to no effect, that it means “made” not “born.”  The author of the Vridar post suggests that Earl Doherty has done extensive linguistic analysis of the term and on that basis believes it is an interpolation.

The Greek verb γενόμενον (genomenon) means “becoming” (from γέγονα, γίνομαι) and is an ordinary koine term for to be born–as in to generate offspring (Gk Matthew 2.1; and the preterits throughout Matthew 1.2ff, where the Vulgate has “natus est.”)  Normally, the verb gannao when used of a father means (somewhat archaically) to “beget” and of a woman, “to bring forth.” Luke uses it passively in 2,6 (Ἐγένετο) in the sense of “being delivered of a child,” and also the verb τίκτω, to bring forth, also used by Matthew at 1.25.

The standard usage does not permit “make” or “made” (factum est)  and the 1611 AV translation of the phrase as “made [of a woman]” can be attributed to two equally irrelevant developments:  (1) The fact that the church fathers and Nicaea finally settled on a credal language that insisted Jesus was “begotten”  or “begotten before all time” of the Father” and then, “begotten not made.” (ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων and γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα).  The Latin is even easier to decipher: “de Patre natum ante omnia saecula…natum, non factum,”  Born and not made.

That is to say, Nicene Christology explicitly ruled out the idea that Jesus was “made” in any temporal  sense  turning Paul’s simple suggestion that “when the time was right” (hote de elthen to pleroma tou kronou) into the idea of eternal “begetting.” In the suspect Latin translation of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, factum est muliere (and ex muliere virgine, which is not Pauline) are used instead of Paul’s Greek, and this error is perpetuated in Tertullian  and Jerome’s vulgate. As Nicaea’s creed was promulgated in Greek, it can be seen as a decisive overturning of the “Latin tendency.”

Inattentive to this theological solution, but also theologically unfriendly to the word “born”, the King James translators settled on the use of the word “made” in their translation of Galatians 4.4b.  Partly this is so because both Erasmus in 1516 and the KJ translators, though reputable critical and textual scholars,  in 1611 sometimes preferred the Vulgate to other manuscripts. But in the case of the KJV, their decision has been unanimously overruled by later translators. Thus, the mythicists are not quoting any standard translation based on historically appropriate usage but the 1611 Bible when they resort to “made,”   a fact which may say more about the antiquarianism of their resources or personal backgrounds than about their scholarship.

Much more significantly, and fatal to Vridar’s case, it makes no sense to offer up the Christological disputes of a later period as evidence of an interpolation at any stage of transmission,  since the Christological disputes move away from the ordinary translation of the passage as meaning to be born in the normal way.  As the question here however is not about Christological tendencies but what Paul wrote, Paul wrote γενόμενον.

The clincher for original meaning is that Paul uses the identical verb to summarize his argument in Galatians 4.29, which is virtually hidden from mythicist discussion of the earlier verse:  ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ τότε ὁ κατὰ σάρκα γεννηθεὶς  ἐδίωκεν τὸν κατὰ πνεῦμα, οὕτως καὶ νῦν — “But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the spirit, so is it now.” Here Paul is using an allegory based on the story of Hagar and Sarah in Genesis 21.9-12, but clearly is still arguing natural birthright and inheritance.

Giampietrino, “Mary Magdalene”

(3) The key elements of the verse fit tonally and argumentatively within the total context of the chapter.  They do not constitute an interruption of the sort that sometimes alerts us to additions and revisions to a text.  The elements are Paul’s legal theory of “justice” (צדק); his belief in the mysterious fatherhood of God relative to Jesus; his conviction that Jesus was necessarily human (“born of a woman,” אשה not a בתולה, “virgin”) and that, equally  necessarily, was born “according to the Law”–תורה–in two senses: as a Jew, and as a legitimate heir,  through whom rights or sonship ( אימוץ) could be inherited.  Any suggestion of illegitimacy had to be set aside, but set aside efficiently and non-controversially. Put the other way around, Paul is assuring the Galatians that there should be no doubt about their adoption (4.5-7; 29) because there is no doubt about Jesus’ legitimacy as an heir.  The question of legitimacy does not arise within my interpretation but within Paul’s logic.

(4) Forensically (though Gal 4.4 only begins the discussion), there are also questions of the status of the victim and the right of adoption or ירושה (inheritance).  The same notion is worked out narratively in the Joseph-story in the Gospel of Matthew (not known by, or else overlooked or irrelevant in Luke).  As with all scholarly contentions, I could be wrong but I will not be proved wrong by ignoring the most plausible explanations in favour of tendentious ones

* * *

For mythicism to be taken seriously, it needs to recognize that scholarship depends on evidence and on what is actually said. The evidence is that Paul actually says  in one his actual letters that Jesus was born in a natural way as a legitimate Jew, according to the Law.   The most reasonable way of looking at the verse is to see it  in the context of surrounding verses and Paul’s  stated purposes in Galatians –which is to save his fledgling and fickle converts from the clutches of preachers of other (more spiritual? more Jewish?) “gospels.”

Given his parlous situation, is it likely that Paul would say:

“Brethren, you have heard that Jesus was a bastard? Well,  I never met the man, but trust me : he wasn’t.  You’re safe. He was  just like you and me and any mother’s son. She was a good Jewish girl. Only–and write this down–the father was God. Why was the  father God?  I’m glad you asked.  Because God gave the law and you need to be freed from it–No God, no law, no freedom, no adoption.  Simple  as that.”

To drive his point home, at least for those who knew the story already, he recounts the story of Isaac and Ishmael through their mothers, Sarah and Hagar.  Ishmael was born out of expedience, “according to the flesh,” but even though Abraham would appear to be the natural father of Isaac, it is only through God’s intervention that his birth is possible.  God’s paternity in Galatians 4.29 helps to explicate God’s paternity in Galatians 4.4.

I acknowledge that this is a cheap (but serviceable) paraphrase of Galatians 4.3-6.  Even that statement would not prove the historical existence of Jesus but it would prove that Paul believed the historical Jesus existed, or more precisely that he believed a historically legitimate Jesus existed.  Only a reckless anxiety to deny this, which flies in the face of the evidence, would justify the energy spent to obliterate the verse.

Was Paul also trying to minimize the scandal pari pasu while promoting his gospel?  I will be the first to admit that there are other explanations for Paul’s emphasis on legitimacy in this section of the letter.  But unlike the situations at Rome and Corinth, Paul is not fighting against doubts about the end-time,  “immorality” or factionalism, or a simple Jewish-gentile antagonism in Galatia.  He is fighting against rumors and reports that have something to do with “wills” (as in trusts and estates and inheritance: 3.16-18)  in a specifically Jewish framework  (3.26-9): “If  you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s.”  It is a simple flow from this inversion (genealogically it should flow in the other direction), to the question of legitimacy.  But because Christ, not Abraham, is the source of legitimacy, the legitimacy of Jesus comes into Paul’s view. So at least indirectly does his historicity: 3.1-2.

Though he is not a Greek rhetor, Paul is good enough with words and argument to know when to be cursory and when to be expansive. The fact is that the “scandal” of the birth of Jesus (Mt 2.18-25) is never given narrative space in the Jesus-tradition that emanates from the early church, anymore than the slander concerning the resurrection being the theft of a body (Mt 27.62-65; 28.11-16).  But both seem to have circulated widely.  Despite what pious tradition and theology may hold, the development of the birth and virgin-birth tradition and the apologetic aspects of the resurrection-tradition were not spontaneous.  As I have argued for a couple of decades, they were counter-polemical.

The embarrassment for mythicists is that they are also implicitly pro-historical and show struggle within the early tradition over how to discuss the most inconvenient aspects of an unedited Jesus story.

I will be very interested to see whether the mythicists can come up with a better and richer explanation without simply cutting and pasting well-worn arguments together, and making a series of linguistic and textual blunders along the way.

**Update: 7/8/12:  James Tabor has written to remind me of the significant work done by Profesor Jane Schaberg, who died in April, on the question of Jesus’ legitimacy.  Jane taught throughout her career at Detroit Mercy College and until 1984 when she renounced her vows was a professed member of a religious order of women.  I knew Jane during my time at nearby Ann Arbor and we exchanged many visits and telephone conversations on the topic of the birth narratives, which was then her research focus.  

In her 1986 book for Sheffield Academic Press (The Illegitimacy of Jesus; rpt 2006), she argued that Matthew and Luke were aware that Jesus had been conceived illegitimately, probably as a result of a rape, and had left in their Gospels some hints of that knowledge, even though their main purpose was to explore the theological significance of Jesus’ birth.   Her acquaintance with the ben Panthera tradition and skillful reading between the lines is a splendid introduction to the subject.

Jesus Process Members Announced

As we work toward having a functioning website up and running in the fall of 2012 I am pleased to announce the charter members of The Jesus Process (TJP). It is likely that this number will be modestly expanded in 2013.

The project has the dual purpose of encouraging the non-parochial and non-theological study of Christian origins, including texts, artifacts, and ideas, and the dissemination of information, through its website, book-series, and other outlets, to professional scholars and others with an interest in its work.

TJP is not a professional society, but a consultation of men and women who feel an academic responsibility to the field of biblical studies generally and the study of early Christianity in its historical and social context particularly.  It advocates rigour, honesty, and methodological transparency in an age increasingly threatened by mere information, opinion-mongering and  web- and media-based sensationalism.

At the same time, its members hope to exploit advances in technology to create a public forum in Christian origins governed by consensus rather than private opinion and ideology.  For that reason, while membership in TJP is limited to those with credentials in the study of religion and closely related fields, including Semitic languages, archaeology, classical philology, and textual studies, its forum will be open to everyone who wishes to participate in a lively and civilized discussion.


Maurice Casey

Maurice Casey is a British scholar of New Testament and early Christianity. He is currently Emeritus Professor at the University of Nottingham, having served there as Professor of New Testament Languages and Literature. Casey has argued strongly in several books and learned articles for Aramaic sources behind the New Testament documents, including the Double Tradition and the Gospel of Mark as well as occasional passages found in the Gospel of Matthew or Luke. He has discussed many examples of these Aramaisms. He has also contributed works on early Christology and the use of the term son of man. His latest publication is Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teachings, (T&T Clark, 2010).  In 2010, he was honoured with a Festschrift, Judaism, Jewish Identities and the Gospel Tradition (ed. J.G.Crossley with a preface by C.K.Barrett. London: Equinox).

R. Joseph Hoffmann

is an American Scholar trained at Harvard and Oxford, a former senior scholar of St Cross College, Oxford, and former research associate in Patristics and classical linguistics at the University of Heidelberg.   Hoffmann has specialized in the development of the New Testament canon, second century Christianity, and the pagan milieu of the early church.  He is professor of historical linguistics and cultural studies at the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

Stephanie Louise Fisher

was born in Aotearoa New Zealand in 1965.  She went to the University of Victoria, in Wellington, earning two first class degrees, with an eclectic range of interests including history, anthropology, sociology, classics as well as music. She also worked as a research fellow to Jim Veitch on the history of the Lloyd Geering heresy trial.  She won two scholarships including the Commonwealth scholarship and the overseas research scholarship for research at Sheffield or Nottingham. choosing to work with Professor Maurice Casey from the University of Nottingham. She has been research fellow to Maurice Casey working on his book Jesus of Nazareth and his current book refuting mythicists.  She is now writing up her doctoral thesis on the Double Tradition, and publication may be expected in two or three years’ time.

James Crossley

has been at Sheffield University since 2005 where he is now Professor of Bible, Culture and Politics. He is particularly interested in the role of ‘religion’ as a human phenomenon and its relationship to social, economic and ideological contexts, especially, but not exclusively, how these relate to the critical study of the origins, use and influence of New Testament texts. His research extends from the historical Jesus and the Gospels, early Jewish law and constructions of Judaism to social and economic explanations of Christian origins, social history of contemporary scholarship, reception of the Bible in contemporary politics and popular culture and construction of ‘religion’ and the media.

Justin Meggitt 

is the University Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion and the Origins of Christianity at Cambridge University as well as a Fellow and Director of Studies in Theology and Religious Studies at Hughes Hall. He holds a Ph.D. and specializes in formative Christianity within the early Roman Empire, along with sectarian and utopian movements. His many publications include The Madness of King Jesus. London: IB Tauris (forthcoming 2012). ‘For who hath despised the day of small things?’: Quakers and Muslims in the Seventeenth Century (forthcoming) and Paul, Poverty and Survival. Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1998.

Roger David Aus

was born in the USA in 1940.  He studied English and German at St. Olaf College.  Aus went on to study theology at Harvard Divinity School, Luther Theological Seminary, and Yale University, from which he received his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies in 1971. Ordained in the Lutheran Church, Aus served German-speaking congregations in Berlin for many years. Aus has written several books, beginning with Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist (Brown Judaic Studies, 150. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988). His most recent book is Feeding the Five Thousand. Studies in the Judaic Background of Mark 6:30-44 par. and John 6:1-15 (Studies in Judaism; Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2010).  Such books have established Aus as a leading authority on the use of Jewish material to understand stories in the Gospels.

Deane Galbraith

has studied at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and is reviews editor for a new journal in reception history, Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception. His primary research interests are in the development and transformation of myth in the writing of the Pentateuch and ideological bias within modern Pentateuchal scholarship and is currently writing up a doctoral thesis at the University of Otago.

Jim West

is Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology; Adjunct Professor of Biblical Languages and Literature at Foundation University (The Netherlands); and Pastor of Petros Baptist Church, Petros, Tennessee. He has written a number of books and articles and serves as Language Editor for the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament and Language Revision Editor for the Copenhagen International Seminar.

Philip Davies

is Professor Emeritus at Sheffield University in the UK. He taught in Ghana before he was appointed at Sheffield. He is an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and has written four books on the subject.  His publications include 1QM: The War Scroll from Qumran, Qumran, The Damascus Covenant, Behind the Essenes, In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ and The Old Testament World, co-authored with John Rogerson.  His research interests are Intertestamental and rabbinic literature and Persian and Hellenistic periods. He is Joint founder with Professor Clines of the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, a Board member of the Supplement Series of monographs, Executive Officer of the European Association of Biblical Studies and Editor of Equinox Publishing.

David Trobisch

was born in Cameroon, West Africa, as the son of missionaries. He grew up in Austria and studied theology in Germany. He taught New Testament at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, Missouri State University, Yale Divinity School, and Bangor Theological Seminary.  As a scholar Dr. David Trobisch is internationally recognized for his work on the Letters of Paul, the Formation of the Christian Bible, and Biblical Manuscripts. He now lives and works in Springfield, Missouri, and Nussloch, Germany.  He has a wide range of affiliations and interests including  working with original manuscripts around the world from Heidelberg (Papyrologisches Institut), Ann Arbor (University of Michigan) to Cambridge, (UK Trinity College), Damascus (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate) and with microfilms at Washington D.C. (Library of Congress), Münster (Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung). He is also a founding member of Interfaith Maine, an initiative seeking peace and justice through deepening interfaith understanding and relationships.

Bruce Chilton

is Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College, and Rector of the Church of St John the Evangelist. He is an expert on the New Testament and early Judaism, and has contributed fifty books and more than a hundred articles to those fields of study. His principal scholarship has been in the understanding of Jesus within Judaism and in the critical study of the Targumim, the Aramaic paraphrases of the Bible. Jesus appears clearly as a rabbinic teacher in Dr. Chilton’s analysis, on the basis of his study of the Targum of Isaiah, which he has edited and translated in the first commentary ever written on that book. Dr. Chilton has earned degrees at Bard College, the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, and Cambridge University. Previous to his chair at Bard College, he held positions at the University of Sheffield in England, at the University of Münster in Germany, and at Yale University (as the first Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament.) His books include Beginning New Testament Study (Eerdmans and SPCK), A Galilean Rabbi and His Bible (Glazier and SPCK), The Isaish Targum (Glazier and Clark),The Temple of Jesus (Penn State University Press), and A Feast of Meanings (Brill). With Jacob Neusner, he has written Judaism in the New Testament (Routledge), a trilogy entitled Judaism and Christianity—the Formative Categories (Trinity Press International), and Jewish-Christian Debates (Fortress).  He contributed the article on the high priest Caiaphas in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, and for that reason was consulted by academic, governmental, and journalistic reporters at the time of the discovery of the tomb of Caiaphas outside Jerusalem. His works also include Pure Kingdom: Jesus’ Vision of God(Eerdmans), the first in a series of books on Jesus, and Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, (Doubleday, 2000).