Historical Jesus

My New Article in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus and How I Changed My Mind About Jesus Studies

The Journal of the Historical Jesus has published a new piece of mine: “Did Jesus Anticipate Suffering a Violent Death?: The Implications of Memory Research and Dale Allison’s Methodology.” I have long admired this excellent journal. In fact, I think I have read every article ever published in it. To be included in it is a great honor.

Here is a link.

I would like to share a little background on this piece, which has been part of a larger project I have been working on for a decade.

I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the historical Jesus and ancient Jewish cultic eschatological expectations. At the time, I was dissatisfied with the current state of historical Jesus methodology, particularly the so-called “criteria of authenticity.” I tried to use them but in a secondary way, employing them as “critical controls.” Yet I was still uncomfortable with them.

Shortly before submitting my dissertation to my committee, I read Anthony Le Donne’s outstanding book, The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David (Baylor University Press, 2009). I will never forget the experience. It is burned forever into my psyche. I was on an airplane and I vividly recall looking out the window and thinking, “This changes everything.

Le Donne’s book was the first monograph I read that applied the insights of social memory research to Jesus Studies. Like me, Le Donne was using the criteria as “critical controls.” I realized, however, that what Le Donne was doing was nothing short of revolutionary. I went on to read other important works that delved into memory research and its implications for Jesus research. Those by Chris Keith (this book as well as numerous mind-blowing articles) and Rafael Rodríguez (especially this book) were particularly illuminating. These further convinced me that a revolution was underway. I began to devour works by Alan Kirk and others who were doing pioneering work along these lines. My shelf of books devoted to “memory research” shelf ballooned. I devoured everything I could get my hands on–and still do.

Nothing was more influential, though, than Dale Allison’s, Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (Baker Academic, 2010). It is hard to explain how much of an impact this book in particular had on me. I will just say this: at the time I was still considering publishing my dissertation as is. Once I read this book, I realized I couldn’t. I didn’t agree with much of it any more, particularly, its use of the criteria of authenticity. With the publication of Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T&T Clark, 2012)–a volume edited by Keith and Le Donne– my convictions were sealed.

But what next? If we do not use the conventional criteria, how do we proceed? John P. Meier had written some powerful words in response to these developments in the fifth volume of his magisterial A Marginal Jew series. I have read every page of each volume and learned much from Meier. How might one respond to the Dean of Historical Jesus Studies?

Photo credit: David Burnett
From the 2015 SBL app.

I began to present papers at the Historical Jesus session of the SBL, which wrestled with these questions. I received some very helpful responses that further clarified my thinking.

One of the implications of all of this was that I realized my work had to turn to an area of New Testament scholarship I had tried to avoid: Pauline Studies. Don’t get me wrong, I love Paul. But the literature is vast. In New Testament Studies there are two major mountains–Jesus Research and Paul. I had scaled one, I didn’t think I could climb the other. Now I knew I couldn’t avoid it.

I put down my Jesus project and threw myself into Pauline Studies. The job I had at the time left little time for research and publication, but I spent every spare minute I had on it. I began by presenting some papers at conferences, including one at the SBL Paul within Judaism study unit. I also co-published some articles with John Kincaid. One of them was presented at a panel at SBL. Scholars such as N.T. Wright and Pamela Eisenbaum responded to it. I also co-convened a three-year Continuing Study on Paul at Catholic Biblical Association with Brant Pitre. All of this led Brant, John, and me to co-write a book, Paul, A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology, which was published last year by Eerdmans. The book was made possible by my move to the Augustine Institute Graduate School, where the President and Dean have enabled me to pursue scholarship.

After all of that, I returned to my Jesus project. I went back to my old SBL papers and retooled one of them. Paul played a more minor role in this piece, but the Pauline research was still played a part in the piece.

The end result of all of this work was this new article.

I am currently finishing up a monograph, a radically revised version of my dissertation. This article is a downpayment on that.

I want to thank JSHJ for publishing this. It is the result of a decade of reflection. I am so grateful to finally have it out there. I must say, I had to smile when received the news of its acceptance from the journal’s editor–Anthony Le Donne.

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