Friday, August 19, 2005

Top Ten Jesus Books

Please excuse the absence....been away down in southern Taiwan

It's interesting to look at the different lists of books on Jesus put out by the Bibliologgers:

Scott McKnight
1. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
2. B.F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (long philosophical intro)
3. J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology. Vol. 1: The Proclamation of Jesus
4. C.H. Dodd, The Founder of Christianity
5. J.D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered
6. G.B. Caird, New Testament Theology, chp. 9.
7. G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew
8. H.J. Cadbury, The Peril of Modernizing Jesus
9. B. Wiebe, Messianic Ethics
10. D. Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom

Michael Bird
1. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
2. James Dunn, Jesus Remembered
3. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew
4. Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus
5. Annette Merz & Gerd Theissen, The Historical Jesus
6. E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism
7. Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus
8. Scot McKnight, The Teachings of Jesus in National Context
9. Henry Cadbury, The Peril of Modernizing Jesus
10. Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus

Sean du Toit

1. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
2. G.B. Caird, New Testament Theology, chp. 9. [Jesus and the Jewish Nation]
3. B. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus
4. Scot McKnight, A New Vision for Israel
5. Craig A. Evans Jesus and His Contemporaries
6. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew
7. R. H. Horsley Jesus and the Spiral of Violence
8. E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism
9. Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus
10 James Dunn, Jesus Remembered

Loren Rossen
1. The Historical Figure of Jesus, by E.P. Sanders, 1993.
2. Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, by William Herzog II, 1999.
3. Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, by Dale C. Allison, 1998.
4. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, by John P. Meier, 1991, 1994, 2001, ?
5. Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews, by Paula Fredriksen, 1999.
6. The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World, by Richard A. Horsley and Neil Asher Silberman, 1997.
7. Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, by Donald Akenson, 2000.

My own list would look something like this:

1. Thiessen and Merz, The Historical Jesus
2. Meier, A Marginal Jew Vol 1-3
3. Brown Death of the Messiah
4. Stephens & Winkler. Ancient Greek Novels.
5. Price. The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man
6. Metzger. A Textual Commentary on the New Testament
7. Crossan. The Birth of Christianity
8. Ludemann Jesus After 2000 Years
9. Helms. Gospel Fictions
10. Evans Authenticating the Activities of Jesus

There are several things I noted about the lists and comments, but most striking to me is the paucity of works that deal with the literary and methodological aspects of studying Jesus. Carlson has an excellent list of NT-related primary and secondary stuff but it is also light on methodology. Facts do not exist; they are constructions of methodology, and that is just as true of facts about Jesus as about anything else. Anything not supported by a reliable and publicly available methodology is simply assertions from the Well of Subjectivity. That is why I have included the works by Theissen and Merz, Helms, Evans, Price, Ludemann, and Crossan -- in one way or another they either reflect on or offer different kinds of methodologies. Several other works, such as Stanley Porter's recent work on criteria in HJ research, also do this. Conversely, that is why works like NT Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God and Sanders' The Historical Figure of Jesus are not on this list. The latter does not offer any methodological perspective for understanding the history, and the former is essentially an explication of NT Wright's theology about Jesus.

The lists on the Bibliologs tend to be slanted toward the conservative side of exegesis, one reason I have included the Stephens and Winkler collection of ancient Greek novels. I think many on the conservative side would be quite shocked to find out that the sequence of events at the end of Jesus' career -- entering the city to cheering crowds, being taken for a divine being, getting arrested, having a trial before the local potentate, being tortured, hung on a cross, and surviving it, are staple scenes in Hellenistic fiction. I doubt there is any history of Jesus in the Gospels, save what the writer of Mark brought in from the letters of Paul. In my view, familiarity with the motifs, stereotypes, construction practices, and conventions, of Hellenistic fiction should be mandatory for students of the NT. This problem of ignoring Hellenistic fiction also crops up in work that compares the Gospels to Hellenistic writing -- usually the scholar compares the Jesus stories to Hellenistic biography or history and ignores Hellenistic fiction. (ex: "A question too often neglected" Mattila, S. L. N. T. Stud. v41, 1995, 199-217). The underlying axiom of Gospel research is that the stories are history (criteria of historical presumption), and this is reflected in the choice of comparison. It is time that axiom was given up.....

I followed the links on Michael Pahl's and Steve Carlson's sites, and bumped across this:

Doug Chaplin writes:
Those who approach the historical data wishing to construct an alternative narrative of historical information (and only narrative makes data information in the discipline of history) to that of the gospels will be influenced for example by just how materialistic conception of history they have. Does historical event include, for example, healing (whether presumed to be psychosomatic or inexplicable)? Or exorcism (whether presumed to be a response of faith creating the right circumstances within that culture for the healing of a diseased mind by trust in a more powerful authority figure, or inexplicable)? These are not, strictly speaking, questions of methodology, but part of the basis of an overarching set of presuppositions or philosophical foundations.
I disagree. These are questions of methodology. Scholarly methodology is done by methodological naturalism; anything else is apologetics. Healings would be perfectly acceptable; miraculous healings would not. Many NT writers have attempted to dodge a commitment to scholarship by arguing that methological naturalism amounts to an unscholarly a priori. That is both unscholarly and incorrect. Methodological naturalism is the foundation of western scholarly and scientific work and predates the development of historical Jesus studies. Essentially such arguments put forward by apologists are like ecologists claiming that they needn't pay attention to conservation of energy laws because they are an a priori developed by chemists.

A further problem, quite apart from the claim that materialism is not a question of methodology, is that natural law represents a set of reliable and useful rules that permit others to understand and repeat one's inquiry. Once these are suspended under the rubric of a priori, how can inquiry take place in the utter absence of rules? All that is left is the preferences of the exegete.

Trevor Pinch outlined the problem in one of his books on psychic research and science. Once one suspends natural law, controlled inquiry is not possible. Imagine two test subjects, one in NY and one in Seattle. NY turns over a set of cards, and Seattle nails them, all 25, correctly and in order. Consider one restricted set of possibilities and where they go....

1. Seattle is reading NY's mind with ESP powers
2. Seattle is using clairvoyance to predict what card will be turned over.
3. Seattle is reaching out with telekinesis to re-arrange the cards in NY to the desired order.
4. Seatlle is mind controlling his witnesses in Seattle so that they report only what he wants them to report.
5. A bystander/witness in the experiement is doing 1,2, 3, or 4.
6. Some random non-witness has, for reasons of his own, decided to reach out and touch the experiment with some variation of 1,2,3 or 4.

...this eventually brings us to:

7. The world is simply an imagined event in the mind of Seattle etc.

Given the variety of posited supernatural powers (the Christian God is said to have unlimited power), how can one design a controlled experiment? Once you give up natural law as the basis for inquiry, inquiry must thereupon cease, since without repeatable rules no methodologically sound assertion can be made.


Anonymous said...

You've got a lot of patience to get through all those Meier books and Brown books. I get exhausted just looking at them in Borders or the library.


Michael Pahl said...

Michael, I am as guilty as the next in not knowing much about ancient Greek novels. I have a couple questions related to this thesis:

1) Do any ancient Greek novels have collections of teachings of the main character, or miracle stories, such as Mark has?

2) Do any ancient Greek novels base their main character on what was believed by at least some (many?) to be an historical person, and employ traditional stories about that person? We certainly know from Paul that early on Jesus was believed to have been an historical person who lived as a Jew and taught his followers certain things (the clearest and most direct example to this effect is 1 Cor 11 on the Lord's Supper).

3) Also, you note in your sequence of parallels that the main character "survives" the crucifixion, yet in Mark Jesus does not survive the crucifixion but (certainly from Mark's perspective) he in fact dies, and yet rises from the dead. Are there any parallels along those lines in ancient Greek novels?

4) Finally, how would you propose that this ancient Greek novel got mistaken for some sort of historical work relatively soon after it was written, even by some people who should not have mistaken its genre? (Of course this happens today, e.g. The Da Vinci Code, but no knowledgeable reader confuses the genre.)

Thanks for your thoughts on these questions.

Michael Turton said...

Hi Michael! Your great questions will be the basis for another blogpost later this week. Unfortunately I am traveling to southern Taiwan again M-T-W......


Anonymous said...

sanders has got 'indisputable facts' - therefore you just gotta believe it and wright ... well he's just plain wrong (he's got a big fan club tho - they'll probably make him a saint)

Loren Rosson III said...

Nice to see you come up for air, Michael. I figured your list would look a bit different from the others.

eddie said...

Hi Michael

One really needs to read The New Testament and the People of God in conjunction with Jesus and the Victory of God because that is where Wright lays out and argues for his method.

That the sequence of events at the end of Jesus' career are "staple scenes in Hellenistic fiction" does not mean that the gospel authors MUST have drawn them from there and not from actual happenings in Jesus' life. Because events are recorded or used as staple aspects of stories (both fictional or historical) does not mean that they can then not transpire in the real world. Yes it does open up the possibility that borrowing has taken place. But even without such parallels, the gospel authors (or any other author) may have just told a fiction.

Because of this there are few ways to tell. However, we can look to place the gospels within a specific contemporary genre (As Burridge has done. Do you suggest we place the gospels within the genre of Hellenistic fiction? or are the parallels limited to the passion portions of the gospel narratives?). We could look for independent corroborating testimony to events in Jesus life (perhaps Josephus?). Or we could look to the nature of the faith that produced the gospels. below I suggest the latter, athough there are problems with that method as in all the others.

I think seeing the gospels as concerned with what actually happened in Jesus life is a fair position to take in studying Jesus. Within the NT there is a concern with the actual happening of events, particularly the entire scope of Israel's past, which the Jesus event was then added to. Jesus and his first followers were Jewish and remained Jewish which is clearly reflected in most if not all the New Testament writings. A central part of their Jewish worldview (at that time) was the concern with actual happenings in history, specifically with YHWH's actions. Why would they abandom this way of thinking so central to their understanding of the world to follow a fiction?

I have to agree with Doug Chaplin's commnt concerning materialism and method. To state that "scholarly methodology is done by methodological naturalism; anything else is apologetics" is simply to argue (apologetics) that a particular method (naturalism) is a characteristic of what it means to be "scholarly". For me a scholar is someone who is (a) familiar with the many aspects of their field of study, (b) commited to the persuit of truth, and (c) does so in an informed and methodologically thought-out way. One need not apply the particular method of naturalism to fulfill the above.

Just because a significant part of the academy does work according to that method however does not mean that it is the only legitimate way to go about historical research. On what basis should one adopt the method apart from the supposed majority telling you that it is the way things should be done?

It seems to me that ruling out anything that cannot be explained through the natural sciences often simply results in circular argumentation. To say that it (an instance of a miracle) did not happen because 'they do not happen' is to exclude the only possible source of evidence, actual claims of their occurance in history. Further, one cannot exclude them on the basis that the natural laws represent useful and reliable rules (which most of the time they most certainly do). They ARE useful, but only useful testing hypotheses concering natural laws. Thus they can attempt to explain events along these lines. But the fact that there are natural laws does not mean that there is no God or that he cannot act within the natural world. Thus they cannot exclude the possibility of events occuring that are not the result of natural laws.

This is why methodological naturalism is tied to ones "overarching set of presuppostioins or philosophical foundations". If one does not believe in a god or that any god could not act within the natural world, then one will exclude the possibility of miracles and thus deny that any have occured in history. If one does believe in a god, that this god or gods are able to act within the natural world, and that they have good reason to believe that they have (either by testimony, first-hand expereince, the lack of natural explanation, or the character and plans of this god), then one will not wish to exclude the possibily of miracles from the historical task.

Thnx, Eddie

Anonymous said...

"Facts do not exist!" Great stuff. I highly recommend Wittgenstein.

If I concede that all facts are methodological constructions, I have no way of discerning any methodology from any other, and I am left with the final proverb of the Tractatus: "Concerning that which we cannot speak meaningfully, we must remain silent."

If facts do not exist, then all of dialectic ceases to be meaningful, and we might as well remain silent on all philosophy, and all scriptural criticism.

Of course that might be a *good* thing...