I am happy to announce that as of today, Wednesday, January 22, 2014, I will be joining forces with Njiay Gupta over at Crux Sola. We have decided to combine our blogging powers in an effort to conquer the blogosphere and pursue worldwide domination! Actually, Nijay’s invitation to join his blog was laced with greater humility than that, but I’m currently having delusions of grandeur.
Nijay has been blogging since 2007 and his focus has largely been on issues related to the interpretation of the Pauline literature. Most of my blogging has been related to the Gospels, the historical Jesus, and early Christianity. Between the two of us, we hope to blog about the entire NT, Judaism during the time of Jesus and Paul, and Christianity during the first four centuries C.E.
In the four plus years that I have blogging here at PEJE IESOUS, the most frequently visited pages have been my interviews with scholars working on the Gospel of Thomas. All of these interviews will be moved to Crux Sola. You will find these under the tab, Chris’s Pages. So, if you have me (or Nijay) in your blogroll or you have linked to this blog on your webpage, please make note of the change. Also, if you have subscribed to this blog (which I greatly appreciate), please subscribe over there and continue to follow what I’m doing. This will be my last post here at PEJE IESOUS. I appreciate those of you who have paid attention to what I’ve been doing here for the past four years!
Today in my Jesus and Gospels class, I was lecturing on the historical evolution of the critical methodologies used in Gospel studies since the 1700s. When I got to the form-critical concern to distinguish the Sitz im Leben Jesu from the Sitz im Leben der Kirche, I used the video posted below to serve as an illustration of how things old and new were “mashed together” (my imprecise term) to create stories for specific communities, and also how these traditions stand alongside each other–often undetected–in the same narrative. Interestingly, the video had varying impacts upon my students, some of whom are avid NBA fans and others who have never seen a game. For some students, the final shot of Michael Jordan fist-bumping Derrick Rose meant nothing, since they knew of neither player nor of their significance to the game. This division among the students created further opportunities for dialogue about how the Gospels are received today by different groups. (FYI: I posted this video several years ago and happened to run across it again today.)
In my post from yesterday I asked if the disciplines of history and NT studies were doing the same thing. There are certainly similarities, though, for the most part, I think the jury is still out on whether professionally trained historians would understand or acknowledge all of our so-called “historical” methods. Today, I want to raise a similarly-styled question that has come up in my reading over the past few weeks: Are scholars working with narratology on secular narratives doing the same thing NT narrative critics are doing (or think they are doing)? The answer to this question is not as “up in the air” as the question from my previous post. I think we can safely say that there is nothing within narrative-critical circles that approximates what secular literary critics call “narratology.”
I have been doing quite a bit of reading on this subject in recent weeks as I finish a Forschungsbericht on Markan characters for a book I’m editing. At the tail end of my research I re-read an article Stephen Moore wrote a few years back which then pointed me to a study by Scott Elliott, Moore’s former doctoral student.
In his essay, “Why There Are No Humans or Animals in the Gospel of Mark” Stephen Moore levels a critique against the dominant view of Mark’s characters within narrative-critical circles, with specific attention given to the first edition of Mark as Story. Seeking to bring narrative criticism into dialogue with both modern theories of “the novel” and animal studies, Moore suggests that Mark as Story in particular and contemporary narrative criticism in general have tended to treat characters anachronistically, insisting on the individuality of characters, especially the Markan Jesus. He correctly notes that the construction of one’s personal identity is of paramount importance for us moderns and that, no doubt, plays an important role in the modern novel. Moore argues that within narrative critical circles, we have often projected this concern onto our reading of the biblical narratives–an anachronism that ends up illegitimately informing contemporary understandings of characterization within narrative criticism. For Moore, a return to a pre-Cartesian understanding of ‘creatures’—in which there is no distinction between ‘human’ and ‘animal’—would be preferable for our attempts at narrative critical approaches to character, insofar as it would more accurately reflect Mark’s worldview.
In like manner, Scott Elliott has suggested that narrative-critical appropriations of Mark’s characters have proceeded illegitimately, armed with unwarranted assumptions about the nature of biblical narrative and an often inconsistent application of its stated methodology. He writes:
How might we read narratives like Mark without resort to what are arguably both anachronistic and ideologically suspect concerns about a character’s agency or subjectivity (e.g., his or her interior thoughts, feelings, or motivations)? Pursuing such possibilities, and concentrating on the processes of characterization rather than on the characteristics of individual characters, I am taking an alternative approach to New Testament narrative as a discursive mode that forces a radically different reading of the literary figure of Jesus in Mark’s gospel. It is an approach that, I believe, resonates with the Gospel of Mark itself.
Using a poststructuralist approach to narratology, Elliott contends that there is ‘no clear parallel in the larger sphere of literary theory outside biblical studies, much less in narratology specifically’. He goes on to point out ways in which most narrative-critical studies are inconsistent—largely in their nod to historical concerns—and argues for a ‘reconfiguring’ of the way narrative critics approach Mark’s Jesus.
These critiques show that there still is much more work to be done in narrative criticism (generally) and character studies (specifically) as scholars seek to refine narrative critical methods and bring them into dialogue with other disciplines. We also need to continually ask, as I did in yesterday’s post, do/will/can other scholars in the related disciplines of history and literature understand what we are doing in NT studies?
 Stephen D. Moore, “Why There Are No Human or Animals in the Gospel of Mark,” in Kelly R. Iverson and Christopher W. Skinner, eds. Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011), 71-93.
 Scott S. Elliott, Reconfiguring Mark’s Jesus: Narrative Criticism After Poststructuralism (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2011), 2-3.
 Ibid., p. 4.
I have recently been reading Beth M. Sheppard’s The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament (Resources for Biblical Study 60; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), and have found it to be a useful and insightful resource. The book is intended for students and I think Sheppard has successfully pitched the book at that level. We all know that the discipline known as “New Testament studies” is a strange beast, and while its task is often historically-driven (or, at the very least, historically-oriented), not all research in the field expresses a concern for history, nor are all of its historical claims rooted in an approach that would be recognized by professional historians. I often think (and have even queried some of my colleagues who teach in our History department): “What would a professionally trained historian think about our ‘historical’ approaches?” So, do NT scholars use the same methods and tools as the critical historian? This is a key question guding the book. Sheppard compares and contrasts the two disciplines while defining key terms, discussing theoretical and philosophical underpinnings, exploring obstacles to writing history, and providing examples of how the two disciplines proceed. This book is a welcome resource that raises questions we (and our students) need to consider.
I just received the cover art for my forthcoming volume, Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark (with Matt Hauge). The book, due out before SBL 2014, includes essays from Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Paul Danove, Joel Williams, Ira Brent Driggers, Elizabeth Shively, Susan Miller, Adam Winn, Cornelis Bennema, Matt Hauge, and yours truly. Essays in the first part of the book will explore and seek to clarify various angles for approaching Mark’s characters, while essays in the second part will be devoted to an analysis of specific characters in Mark.
A few days ago I received in my campus inbox, Tony Burke’s latest book, Secret Scripture Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha (Eerdmans, 2013; published by SPCK in the UK). I have now had a chance to read through the book and I think it’s a very useful resource for students and others needing an introduction to the Christian apocyphal literature. This book could not have come at a better time! I am starting a class on Jesus and the Gospels in two days (yes, our semester begins that early) and I always have a section on the non-canonical Jesus traditions. I will be using Burke’s book to start some conversations later in the semester. (Thanks to the good people at Eerdmans for sending this book along!)
Today in my New Testament intro class I was covering Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians and we were discussing Paul’s understanding of “apostleship” vis-a-vis his opponents (the so-called “super-apostles”). It’s quite clear from all that Paul has written that he regards his ministry as one characterized by suffering and powerlessness rather than power, wealth, and prestige. In fact, at the end of his “catalogue of sufferings” he affirms that he has labored “through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked” (2 Cor 11:27). I pointed out to my students that Paul intimates that he is often lacking “the big 3″–food, clothing, and shelter. Before discussing the above statement I actually showed my students this news story about the controversy over evangelical megachurch pastor, Steven Furtick’s new $1.7 million home. Initially, many were unfazed. However, after we watched the video I read aloud the entirety of 2 Cor 11, and several of my students sprang to life with some surprising insights. One even indicated that the picture I have embedded above looks like a modern version of how the “super-apostles” must have appeared to Paul’s Corinthian audience. If you get a chance to watch the clip, ask yourself how Paul might respond to Pastor Furtick. I know it was a fun exercise for my students.