Thursday, June 25, 2015

Gospel of Jesus' Wife in New Testament Studies


In April 2014, Harvard Theological Review devoted an issue to the discussion of The Gospel of Jesus' Wife, a fragmentary text thought by many to be a forgery. Regular readers of this blog will know that this fragment has been a hot topic of discussion since the first media reports of its existence in September 2012. (You can find the many NT Blog posts on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife here).

New Testament Studies has now devoted its latest issue to a critical discussion of the authenticity of the fragment. After an editorial by Francis Watson, the following articles expound different elements of the problem:

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: Constructing a Context
Simon Gathercole

Christian Askeland

Andrew Bernhard

Myriam Krutzsch and Ira Rabin

Christopher Jones

Gesine Schenke Robinson

Congratulations to the editor and the authors for their fine work on this volume, and thanks to Cambridge University Press for making it available free for all, just as they did just over a year ago with the HTR volume.

See also this video from Simon Gathercole, posted a couple of days ago by CUP in tandem with the release of this issue of the journal:



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tribute to J. Louis Martyn by Joel Marcus

I am delighted to be able to share the following tribute to J. Louis Martyn by Prof. Joel Marcus, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins in Duke Divinity School.
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My former doctoral advisor, J. Louis Martyn, died on June 4 at the age of 89. A long, tall Texan from Dallas, he did not initially aim at an academic career. In fact, either before or after graduating from Texas A & M in 1946 with a degree in electrical engineering, he went into his father’s plumbing and air conditioning business for a while. Somehow I found out about this early on, and at a party at which the Martyns were present, remarked to Christopher Morse, then an Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York, how glad I was to find out that it was possible for a plumber’s son to become a theologian.  (My father was a building contractor.)  Christopher responded, “Yes, a sort of nuts-and-bolts theologian.” Lou was standing by, and he had in his eye the famous twinkle that I was to see many times afterwards. I am sad that I won’t see it again.

Something happened to divert Lou Martyn from plumbing (though he remained a very good plumber, carpenter, and general fixer-upper to the end of his life). For this, of course, New Testament exegetes are grateful. The diversion seems to have had something to do with a faith awakening, something to do with the electrifying experience of actually seeing someone hold a Greek New Testament in his hand and exegete it, and something to do with Dorothy Watkins, who preceded him by a year in matriculating to Andover Newton Theological School, and whom he married in 1950. He graduated from Andover Newton with a B.D. in 1953 and then went on to do a Ph.D. at Yale under Paul Schubert, writing on Heilsgechichte (a word he hated) in the Gospel of John and graduating in 1957. Moody Smith, who was his junior colleague at Yale, has remarked that Lou’s famous metaphor of the Fourth Gospel as a two-level drama was already present in the dissertation, years before he heard (probably from W. D. Davies at Union) about Birkat Ha-Minim, the rabbinic curse against heretics, which he uses in History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel to anchor the two-level analysis. And this in turn reminds me of a New Testament Colloquium at Duke, which Lou attended after he and Dorothy retired to Carolina Meadows in Chapel Hill in the late 2000s. The presenter referred to “J. Louis Martyn’s theory about John as a two-level drama,” and Lou interjected, “That’s not a theory.”

Theoretical or not, History and Theology, which Lou published in the same year that he became Edward Robinson Professor of Biblical Theology at Union (1967; he had been teaching there since 1959), changed the face of Johannine studies, cementing a turn already in progress (Barrett, Brown) towards seeing first-century Judaism as the primary religionsgeschichtlich background for the Fourth Gospel, but making this background come alive in a new way through a graphic reconstruction of the situation of the Johannine community in confrontation with the fledgling rabbinic movement. Though some aspects of this book are controversial, especially the use of Birkat Ha-Minim, it is, I think, safe to say that no postwar monograph has done more to determine the direction of subsequent Johannine studies. This is partly a tribute to Lou’s sparkling prose, to the way in which he mobilizes le mot juste and le exemple juste, and to the way in which he moves seamlessly from imaginative but factually grounded historical reconstruction to engaged theological reflection. All of these features characterize Lou’s subsequent work, which centered on Paul’s letters, especially Galatians, and climaxed in the publication of his volume on that epistle in the Anchor Bible (1997) and the essays collected in the same year as Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul. Lou used to speak of the way in which Rudolf Bultmann’s thought ran in a synchronous, mutually reinforcing pattern with John’s, even though they were separated by two millennia; it often seemed to Lou’s students and readers that the same was true of him and Paul. A former student has told me that, when she first came to Union, someone told her that the man teaching the courses on Paul actually was Paul.

As a person, Lou was unique. I have never met anyone like him. He was a great storyteller, but he also listened. I think my daughter’s sketch above captures this listening quality. He was a spellbinding lecturer, giving important words an extra push not with increased loudness but with intensified enunciation. But he was even better as a seminar leader, and even better than that in one-on-one conversation, because he always conveyed the sense that, however stupid you thought yourself to be, he was learning something from you. And I believe that he was, that he saw things in his students and, more widely, in his friends, that they didn’t see in themselves. For me, that is the definition of grace.

Joel Marcus
Duke Divinity School


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Tributes to J. Louis Martyn (1925-2015)

I was sorry to hear of the death of J. Louis Martyn last week. He is one of the greats of New Testament scholarship. Beverley Gaventa has a lovely tribute on the SBL site here:

J. Louis Martyn 

Among the bloggers, there are tributes from Sean Winter and Daniel Kirk, and the News and Observer has a tribute here:

J. Louis Martyn

This tribute includes a comment from my colleague Joel Marcus, who was one of Martyn's students:
According to Joel Marcus, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke Divinity School, what distinguished Martyn’s approach to the writings of the New Testament was a passionate urge to hear them with the ears of their first hearers. He saw the Gospel of John as a “two-level drama” that simultaneously tells a story about the earthly Jesus in A.D. 32 and about a Christian community caught up in the vicissitudes of late first-century Jewish sectarian strife. In his work on Paul’s epistles, Martyn highlighted their apocalyptic nature, by which he meant that in the gospel God liberates and redeems a hostile world.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Montreat Conference Center Lecture Series

You can join me and Prof. Ziony Zevit for a lecture series at Montreat Conference Center this May. Full details are available here:

Montreat Conference Center

Asheville, North Carolina

May 25 – May 31, 2015 | with Mark Goodacre, Duke University and Ziony Zevit, American Jewish University

This spring, the Biblical Archaeology Society will host a very special program in the spectacular mountains of western North Carolina. We invite you to join us for a week of expert Biblical scholarship, wonderful company and relaxation in the beautiful setting of the Montreat Conference Center, located near the charming town of Asheville, North Carolina. Professors Mark Goodacre of Duke University and Ziony Zevit of the American Jewish University will present a total of 20 lectures over the course of five days, offering participants an opportunity to learn about the latest in Biblical research from renowned Biblical scholars who are also two of BAS’s most popular speakers.

Here are the details of our lectures:

Mark Goodacre's Lectures

The Apocryphal Gospels

For centuries, people around the world have been familiar with the Gospels of the New Testament. The stories of the life and teachings of Jesus in the books of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John are perhaps some of the best-known accounts in the Biblical cannon. But what about the myriad of writings and accounts that did not make it into the “final cut” of the Bible that we know today? New Testament scholar Dr. Mark Goodacre of Duke University takes us on an exploration of the Gospel accounts that did not make it into the New Testament, and examines their implications for our understanding of the life of Jesus, his contemporaries and the world they lived in.

Lecture 1: The Proto-Gospel of James
A compelling prequel to the Gospels, the account known as the “Proto-Gospel of James” centers on the life of Mary and Joseph as well as narrates Jesus' miraculous birth in a cave in Bethlehem.

Lecture 2: Infancy Gospel of Thomas
This account introduces the bizarre adventures of the miracle-working, precocious, irascible
child Jesus.

Lecture 3: Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Thomas gospel is full of Jesus' sayings and yet contains no passion narrative, no miracle stories and no story narrative. However, this valuable text may nevertheless shed light on the historical Jesus and the development of earliest Christianity.

Lecture 4: Gospel of Philip
The Gospel of Philip is the most notorious among the lost gospels, and features the lines that gave rise to the fictional account of Jesus’ life that featured so prominently in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

Lecture 5: Gospel of Mary
A gospel written in the name of a woman, depicting Mary Magdalene not as the repentant prostitute of western Christian tradition, but as an important visionary and leader in the early church.

Lecture 6: Gospel of Peter
Written in the name of Jesus' right-hand man, the Gospel of Peter tells an alternative version of the Passion story in which a walking, talking cross emerges from the tomb on Easter morning.

Lecture 7: Secret Gospel of Mark
Discovered in 1958, the Secret Gospel of Mark depicts Jesus in a night-time encounter with a young man, but could this unusual text in fact be a modern hoax?

Lecture 8: Gospel of Jesus' Wife
First published by Harvard Divinity School in 2012, this tiny fragment features Jesus’ mention of "my wife.” But is it actually no more thana 21st-century forgery?

Lecture 9: Fragmentary Gospels
Many gospels only survived in fragmentary form. One of them, the Egerton Gospel, is a curious hybrid with similarities to both the Synoptic Gospels and John. Another, the Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony, is our earliest evidence of an attempt to blend the four gospels into one narrative.

Lecture 10: Gospel of Judas
First published in 2006, the Gospel of Judas instantly attained notoriety - could this really be an alternative take on the gospel story, in which Judas Iscariot is now a hero?


Ziony Zevit's Lectures

Sweet-Singers, Story-Tellers and Scribes

Most narratives in the Hebrew Bible are short, filling a chapter or less. Yet, despite an appearance of straightforwardness and simplicity, they are often complicated stories, whose characters, driven by unstated motivations, move in undescribed settings. This renders biblical narratives easy to read but difficult to understand. Understanding them, however, enables us to enter the thought-world of those who wrote them in ancient Israel, a world very different from our own. Hebrew Bible scholar Dr. Ziony Zevit of the American Jewish University examines the context of some of the most well-known but perhaps little-understood narratives of the Old Testament.

How Did the Bible Come to Be?

The Creation of the Cosmos

Abraham and the Binding of Isaac

Stories about Child Sacrifice

Why Was Israel Enslaved?

Reading the "So-Called" Ten Commandments

Some Characteristic Features of Biblical Narrative

Ruth and Real Estate

The Garden Story (Part I)

The Garden Story (Part 2)

There is more at the Biblical Archaeology Society website including details on how to register.


Sunday, March 08, 2015

Finding Jesus Episode 2 tonight on CNN

Episode 2 of the CNN Original Series, Finding Jesus, airs tonight at 9pm ET/PT. This episode focuses on John the Baptist and features contributions from me, Candida Moss, Michael Peppard, Nancy Khalek, Joshua Garroway, Joan Taylor, Nicola Denzey Lewis, Byron McCane, David Gibson and Ben Witherington III.

There's more on the CNN website here, including a chance to watch the first episode in toto:

Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery

There's also a Q&A that I did after last week's episode:

Finding Jesus: Shroud of Turin Q&A

The first episode did remarkably well in the ratings. It was the second highest rated CNN Original Series premiere ever in total viewers (well over a million):

CNN's Jesus Series Tops Cable News on Sunday

It's been good to see the lively discussion of the episode over the last week or so, in the blogs, on twitter, on Facebook and so on. I've done a couple more radio interviews over the last week too.

I hope to live tweet (live for those in ET and CT) during the episode tonight. You can follow me at goodacre. Also, Candida Moss will be answering viewers' questions if you want to tweet in on #FindingJesus or on the Facebook Finding Jesus page.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The "Apocryphal Urge" in Finding Jesus: A Response to Tony Burke

Over on Apocryphicity, Tony Burke has a characteristically lively discussion of the first episode of the CNN documentary Finding Jesus:

Finding Jesus Episode 1: Giving in to the Apocryphal Urge

Tony argues that the episode "demonstrates the apocryphal urge", by which he means "the temptation to retell stories from early Christian texts, thereby harmonizing disparate accounts and adding new details until a new account is created, sometimes even supplanting the original stories in the minds of readers (or viewers)."

Tony illustrates this "urge" in a variety of ways, citing my voice, Obery Hendricks's voice and the narrator's voice. While I enjoyed Tony's playful post, I would like to draw attention to several phenomena that mitigate his conclusions. The key point is the importance of understanding the medium. TV documentary is not the same medium as the academic lecture, as I am sure Tony himself knows from his experience participating in documentaries like Simcha Jacobovici's recent Biblical Conspiracies: The Lost Gospel, which explores the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene on the basis of a "decoding" of the pseudepigraphical work Joseph and Aseneth.


(1) Harmonization?

Tony suggests that the film "gives in" to the urge to harmonize the Gospels, noting that the film's introductory description of Joseph of Arimathea is drawn from different aspects in the canonical Gospels. It is important, though, to grasp something of the grammar of documentary film. You could in theory tease out what each evangelist says and where they agree and where they disagree. Speaking for myself, that's just the kind of work that I love doing! I write books on that type of thing.

But in a pacy documentary where you only have so much time, you have to find shortcuts while remaining as fair and accurate as possible within those constraints. So what we are looking at is not harmony but summary. And it is impressive that in spite of its use of standard summarizing techniques ("the Gospels say" where several details are combined), the episode still draws attention to specific Gospels. Tony does not mention that the episode regularly draws attention to what a specific Gospel says, including the use of on-screen references.


(2) Embroidering?

Tony suggests that contributors engage in "embroidering" the source material, i.e. adding things that are not in the text:
Series advisor Mark Goodacre says in the episode, “the gospels describe Joseph of Arimathea as being a sympathizer with the Jesus movement. He’s fascinated with Jesus; so fascinated that even after the crucifixion he wants to make sure that the right thing is done, that Jesus gets the right burial.” Goodacre is certainly embroidering here; the Gospels say nothing about Joseph’s “fascination” with Jesus, nor the motives behind his desire for Jesus to get a proper burial.
The idea that Joseph of Arimathea sympathizes with the Jesus movement I draw from the characterization of him as a "disciple of Jesus" in Matt. 27.57 and John 19.38. His fascination with Jesus I infer from this and from the description of his actions in reclaiming Jesus' body and burying it. It is, of course, possible that Joseph was not that interested in Jesus, but that does not seem like as strong an inference from the texts as the one that I am making. The idea that Joseph is trying to do "the right thing" is inferred from Luke's suggestion that he was "righteous".

In other words, there is a difference between "embroidery" (making stuff up) and inference (teasing out what the texts imply).


(3) Influenced by Mel Gibson?

Tony also suggests that my description of the scourging of Jesus in the documentary may have been influenced by The Passion of the Christ (dir. Mel Gibson, 2004). It isn't. It's difficult to know quite how to respond to this except to say that while it is true that I love watching Jesus films more than almost anyone else (OK, also Matt Page and Peter Chattaway), Gibson's film has exercised little influence on my historical imagination.

Incidentally, while Tony suggests that Gibson didn't think he was making stuff up, I'm not sure that's right. Gibson knew he was embroidering (e.g. "I felt that I had a pretty wide berth for artistic interpretation, and to fill in some of the spaces with logic, with imagination, with various other readings" [Interview here].) And chief among those other readings was Anne Catherine Emmerich, which absolutely dominates the film's screenplay.


(4) A flair for the dramatic?

Tony also draws attention to a place in the documentary where I discuss the crown of thorns:
One final point: Goodacre shows a flair for the dramatic when he says “they pressed [the crown of thorns] into his head so that you see blood trickling down his face.” Where do we “see” this? Certainly not in the New Testament Gospels, which only mention the soldiers placing, not pressing, the crown upon Jesus’ head.
I am tempted to be flattered by the idea that I have some dramatic flair! Unfortunately, the context of the comment shows it to be far more mundane. The documentary uses the Turin Shroud as a point of departure for discussing Jesus' Passion, and in the comment Tony quotes I am describing Jesus' passion according to the shroud, where blood trickles down Jesus' face from the presumed crown of thorns. I am, of course, a massive Shroud Sceptic (I know, I'm a horrible sceptic about all these things), but that does not mean that one cannot attempt to understand what it is that the artifact in question is attempting to depict.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Finding Jesus begins tonight on CNN

CNN begins its six part series, Finding Jesus, tonight at 9pm (ET/PT). Here's the series trailer:




And here's a clip from tonight's episode in which Obery Hendricks and I talk about the agony and shame of crucifixion:




I appear in all six episodes of the series and was also series advisor. I have spent quite a lot of time over the last few days doing interviews about the series including twelve on Friday alone! This one (Finding Jesus: New Series Likened to "CSI Jerusalem") was on CBN on Friday afternoon (via Skype):



You'll also see Candida Moss, Obery Hendricks, Ben Witherington III and David Gibson, among others, in tonight's episode, which focuses on the Turin Shroud, and uses the object to reflect on the character of Joseph of Arimathea.

Future episodes also feature Joshua Garroway, Byron McCane (Wofford Professor takes part in CNN documentary series), Nicola Denzey Lewis, April DeConick, Stephen Emmel, Christopher Rollston, Elaine Pagels and many more. Each episode explores the Jesus story by focusing on a particular artifact that is connected in some way with a key character in the story.

I have really enjoyed being involved with the series and I think you'll enjoy viewing it. I hope to comment on each episode as the series progresses, each Sunday night, and Candida Moss and I will be taking it in turns to do a Q and A after each episode airs.

I'll continue to tweet about the series and you can follow Finding Jesus on Facebook.