The Alamo and the "Masada Complex"

Prof. Lester L. Grabbe of the University of Hull has written a fascinating piece on cultural memory that juxtaposes the Alamo with Masada in Israel. In this article he takes a look at how two "last stands" were remembered and what sort of symbols they've become. It's not every day that biblical studies and San Antonio (where I live) history come together. Read "History and the Nature of Cultural Memory: The Alamo and the 'Masada Complex'".

Reading the Protoevangelium (or, Infancy Gospel) of James

I don't know if there are any experts out there on the Protoevangelium (or, Infancy Gospel) of James, but if you exist would you share your wisdom with me regarding the following question:

(1) What's the best introduction for getting a basic understanding of what's going on in this text? 

(2) What's the best commentary on it?

(3) What's the best resource for understanding the textual history of this gospel?

(4) What are some important articles one should read?

Fwiw, full disclosure, my primary interest is how John the Baptist and his family are depicted, so if that helps you determine which articles, books, and/or chapters to recommend, great! 


Some Advice for (Some) Current Seminarians from Down the Road

I completed my Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree at Western Seminary in Portland, OR. I was asked to write a couple short posts to current Th.M. students there who may be considering Ph.D. studies in the future. My first entry went live this morning: Transitioning to Doctoral Studies—Pt. 1. As I understand it, part two will post next Tuesday.

Oddly, I've found myself advising people about doctoral studies ever since I began my own. I know of five or six people—maybe more—who have talked to me at conferences or on the phone. Maybe my experience as an enrollment counselor back in the day has something to do with it. I don't know. I will say here what I didn't write in these blog posts: I'm not positive that I made the right decision in pursuing my Ph.D. Furthermore, I have pondered quitting dozens of times. It's not that I can't do the work. It's that I am aware that I was naive in my understanding of the job market when I began. In spite of being well-aware of the data there was something inside of me that presumed that I was an exception to the rule. This was a mistake. There remains a high probability that I won't find a job at the college or seminary level. This isn't pessimism, just reality. Therefore, I've been forced to ponder "Plan B" more than I'd like to admit. (I may be on Plan D or E by now.) So, I will say, if you're thinking about getting a Ph.D. because you want to teach at the college or seminary level, proceed with caution! Be aware that you may want to have a Plan B justification for doing so, e.g., the pastorate, leading a non-profit, teaching high school, etc. (In other words: don't place all your eggs in one basket.) Ph.D. programs are emotionally draining in themselves. It makes it even more difficult when faced with nihilism about one's vocational future. 

The Gospel according to Luke according to Marcion

I enjoyed Judith Lieu's review of Dieter Roth's The Text of Marcion's Gospel (Brill, 2015) for Marginalia. What interest me most is how recent studies of Marcion's text seem to be suggesting that maybe we should stop thinking of it as Luke's Gospel redacted, but just another version of Luke's Gospel, maybe one composed even earlier than the version available to us now. The most intriguing aspect of this discussion is the absence of Luke 1-2 from Marcion's text. As Lieu observes:

suppose, however, that rather than being a corrupt version of (canonical) Luke, Marcion’s Gospel was in fact an earlier precursor to it, perhaps producing the corollary that canonical Luke was to some extent a corrective to it. An example for this might be the birth narratives (Luke 1-2), which Irenaeus already accuses Marcion of excising, presumably because they contradicted his conviction that Jesus was sent from God without undergoing normal birth and therefore being possessed of a flesh different from that other mortals share. Yet students of the New Testament have long recognized the distinctive style of Luke 1-2, and the fact that there are few explicit continuities with the chapters that follow: might these chapters have been added subsequently, precisely to counter any views, such as those of Marcion, that questioned the full humanity of Jesus?

This has implications for the study of the Synoptic Problem, the general composition of early Gospels, etc. I have a hunch that this discussion could result in many other areas of related exploration in the near future. 

Two Relevant Articles for Students of Formative Christianity

I'd like to highlight two articles that are relevant for students of formative Christianity:

(1) One thing I learned in Israel this summer: we must be cautious when using the word "peasant" to describe first-century Galileans, especially Jesus and his disciples. The archaeological record brings that designation into question. Sharon Lea Mattila's "Toward an Alternative View of Village Life in Greco-Roman Palestine and Egypt" for the ASOR Blog. 

(2) As is well-known, the role of social memory theory in the study of formative Christianity, especially the historian's Jesus, has been a hot topic for a few years now. Over on The Jesus Blog Anthony Le Donne has posted comments that he made on the stability of memory as it relates to eyewitnesses along with those by Richard Bauckham and Chris Keith: Richard Bauckham Responds.

Shikhin Excavations with James R. Strange (Interview)

Last month I had the opportunity to visit several archaeological excavation sites in Israel. One of the most memorable was that of Shikhin. My traveling companions and I awoke before sunrise in order to reach Shikhin from Tiberias at sunrise. We may have gotten lost once or twice navigating the back roads, but eventually we made it without too much trouble. When we arrived, the group of hard-working volunteers were well on their way, kicking up dust, moving loads of dirt, sifting the soil, collecting any important artifacts that surfaced, and documenting each step of the process. One of the artifacts that we witnessed coming straight out of the earth was an oil lamp—an item which is significant to understanding Shikhin as will be explained in this interview.

Read the full interview here.

Visiting the "Jesus House" in Nazareth

You may have heard about the "Jesus House" by now. (If you haven't, here is the Jerusalem Post article: "First century house unearthed in Nazareth could be Jesus' childhood home".) Let me say from the beginning: I don't see any way to prove that this is Jesus' house. Even our guide—a member of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent built above the site—cautioned us against claiming anything concrete. She told us we must say nothing more than "maybe" regarding this house's connection to Jesus. I talked to a couple scholars while here. The most positive view I've heard is "probably first-century" but that's as much as we can say. The most negative view I've heard is "Where are the coins, ceramics, and other items that would allow us to date this location? There are none." So, we have no way to date the site with precision and it sounds like Ken Dark hasn't been able to provide this sort of information. [Update: It would be better to say, "According to the opinion of some, there hasn't been enough information provided to say anything substantial about this house's connection to Jesus". I confused the media hype over Dark's comments with Dark's position itself. My apologies.] 

On the other hand, the site has been venerated as holy for quite some time and there is a tomb built below it. Why a tomb? Well, this is very strange. Jewish purity regulations would lead us to think no one would build a tomb there while people were present, but what if it has become a venerated site? The tomb appears first-century as well. Maybe Jesus' family has left and it becomes a holy site very quickly, one where someone would want to be buried? This is all speculative and I don't think anything further can be said without more evidence. We may have a first-century home with a first-centry grave below it. It has been venerated for a while now. But we need far more data for say anything significant. Here are some pictures:

Unfortunately, my iPhone battery died before I could take pictures of the tomb, but I'll see if I can get some pictures from my friends to share.