Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Political Contexts of Vision

I just finished reading Elaine Pagels's new book, Revelations:  Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation, and thought I would collect some of my thoughts.  There have been many initial reviews that will, most likely, show greater verve and greater detail than what I am going to discuss here; this is more of a series of notes rather than a review, per se.  See Adam Gopnik's review in the New Yorker here. Moreover, three chapters of the book previously appeared as more technical articles, whereas the book is for a more general, non-specialist audience. 

What struck me is that the book is really about shifting contexts of visions, particularly John of Patmos's Revelation.  The different chapters of the book provide different political contexts from an imperial telescope to intra-Christian microscopes in overlapping contexts that slowly spiral outward in space and time until one finds oneself far away from the late first century setting (Pagels agrees with the majority of scholars who date the text to Domitian's reign).

The first context is the political context of the Roman Empire; it focuses on the enemies without.  It is the political context in which John mobilizes archaic symbols, particularly the chaoskampf of the (usually male) god conquering the (usually female) chaotic waters (often symbolized as a sea creature, the Leviathan, Rahab, or, in Babylon, Tiamat) and transforms them into a staunchly anti-Roman message.  Pagels admirably interweaves prophetic traditions, the emergence of the Roman Empire at large, the major political events of the first centuries BCE and CE, the specific effects of these events in Asia Minor, and the emergence of the Jesus movement.  While the scholarship in this chapter is nothing new--most NT scholars recognize Revelation as perhaps the most anti-Roman document in the New Testament--Pagels succinctly and vividly paints a picture that is engaging and informative.

Her second context shifts from telescope to microscope:  competitive prophetic figures and visions among the earliest "Christians" (placed in scare quotes since, as Pagels emphasizes, John of Patmos never calls himself such).  This is the context of enemies within.  Here Pagels sets up John against the rival prophets he mentions by code in the seven letters to the churches of Asia.  Her most interesting reading is how the message John proclaims would strongly conflict with Paul's or, perhaps more specifically, Paul's successors (since Paul would be long dead by now).  She specifically singles out Ignatius of Antioch.  John of Patmos rails against those followers of Jesus who have given in and assimilated in various ways:  sexual impurity (she reads this as a possible reference to intermarriage), food laws, and handling Roman money (idolatry since it has the image or "mark"(?) of the emperor-as-god on it).  Most interestingly, she reads "those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (Rev. 2:9) as Gentile Christians.  That is, those Pauline Gentile Christians who, following Paul's advice, do not follow the traditional food laws and would eat foods sacrificed to idols, likely are married to non-Jews, and, what is more, are not circumcised, yet consider themselves part of "Israel."  By the time of Ignatius, however, there would be a shift in the tides, as institutional authority sought to undermine or co-opt charismatic authority (at one point, going into an ecstatic state to say prophetically to obey the bishop; Philadelphians 7.1-2).

The third context turns to placing Revelation in a series of many revelations occurring throughout the ancient world in the second to fourth centuries CE, including Jewish, emergent Christian, Egyptian, Greco-Roman, etc.  Having visions was the way of the day.  She spends a great deal of time, however, on 4 Ezra and the Apocryphon of John, along with the other documents of Nag Hammadi in order to show the range of possibilities of revelatory documents at this time.  This is more of a programmatic chapter that largely introduces readers to the documents for which she famously introduced to the general reading public about 35 years ago now(!), and sets up the stage for what comes next:  deciding what is genuine and what is not--and who gets to decide?

The fourth context takes the first two and melds them together with the increased information from the fourth:  how do intra-Christian squabbles fit within Christian-Roman tensions, especially as one moves to the second to fourth centuries?  She sets this up in terms of who accepts and promotes Revelation and who rejects it all within terms of the sporadic persecution of Christians by Roman authorities as well as more written aspersions of Christians in books such as Apuleius' Golden Ass and Celsus' True Doctrine.  Revelation would be claimed (in spirit) by the New Prophecy movement (formerly called Montanism), and, oftentimes, those administrative folks (bishops) who preferred administrative authority rather than charismatic authority would condemn this movement and the books they most admired (Revelation and the Gospel of John) as false and heretical.  On the other hand, Justin (later Justin Martyr) and others such as Irenaeus would champion Revelation because they saw in its violent and anti-Roman imagery a reflection of what they saw in their own day:  "beastly" Romans killing Christians.  The apologists on the one hand sought to show that Christians were good imperial subjects; but on the other hand threatened that the events in Revelation would take place (being held back only by the good Christian subjects praying for its delay).  Irenaeus and Apuleius, from different perspectives, however, set up the critical discussion of discernment between true and false visions.  Revelation would be claimed alternately as true and false by different Christians.  Apuleius, however, promoted Isis as the true revealer of divine mysteries, and all Christian claims of vision as false.

The fifth context, as we spiral away from Revelation for the most part, is how the document came into the canon by the skin of its teeth.  Much of this material is well-rehearsed from any scholarly account one might read on the books found at Nag Hammadi, except with a special focus on John's vision.  Few canon lists circulating in the early fourth century include it...except Athanasius's.  Set against the backdrop of Constantine's "conversion," Athanasius builds upon an interpretation of Irenaeus to turn the "Anti-Christ" (which is never, as such, mentioned in Revelation) from the Roman emperor to other Christians, downplaying the anti-imperial aspects of the document since he was trying to court Constantine's favor (except when the emperors are Arian or except when they would exile Athanasius).  Drawing again on the third context, we see how Revelation begins to beat out other revelations (such as those found at Nag Hammadi), how it gets into the canon, and how those others are suppressed.  We also begin to see another power-conflict:  the (more charismatic) monastic authorities (particularly Pachomius and Anthony) clashing with the episcopal authority in Egypt.  Pagels looks at the letters of the "fiercely independent" Anthony, looking at the recommendations of the monastic leaders who seek to inculcate experiences and not dogmatic adherence, finding in their letters and other writings sentiments that match much of what was found at Nag Hammadi.  She seeks, in this way, to demonstrate how the spirituality in the eclectic documents found at the site near a Pachomian monastery is, in fact, completely in line with monastic practices at the time.  Indeed, I should note that one thing I did appreciate about her discussions of the Nag Hammadi texts was an emphasis on the practices they prescribe, describe, or assume, and the attempt to put them into a particular social setting of spiritual reading practices.  As Ignatius co-opted charismatic authority for episcopal ends, however, so does Athanasius with his Life of Anthony, transforming the sophisticated, independent, learned seeker into an illiterate, obedient follower of none other than Athanasius himself.

In its ancient, medieval, and modern contexts Revelation would be redeployed by opposing parties to denigrate one another--each side claiming to be the dispensers of divine justice and claiming their opponents to be on the side of the beast, or anti-Christ.  But, Pagels seeks to end with the message of hope, as Revelation ends in a new Jerusalem after a long nightmare (something Ron Charles at the Washington Post wishes she would have spent more time on), and especially recovery of those more universally oriented "revelations" as the Gospel of Truth, the Secret Revelation of John (Apocryphon of John), and the Thunder:  Perfect Mind.  Works that are open to dialogue between divine revealer and human questioner, open to revision rather than the strict "no addition; no subtraction" legacy of the closed canon.

Others have offered various critiques--many wish, for example, that she would have a more substantial discussion of medieval and modern usages of the book, something which she does in passing in the conclusion and partly in the introduction.  I understand that critique; but I also understand why she might avoid it.  I would, however, direct people to a scholarly (and readable!) account of how Revelation has been used in more modern imperial contexts as Spanish and Portuguese colonized the Americas, how its imagery was used differently by colonized and colonizers, and then re-deployed in street art in Los Angeles in the twentieth century in David Sanchez's From Patmos to the Barrio.  Gopnik also critiques, for example, that sometimes gory, violent imagery is just...entertainment and not always political.

I offer a different question.  Mostly Pagels emphasizes the political contexts and implications of visions, but at times suggests that through the apologetic mission to show that Christians could be good subjects while not following Roman religious practices, they, and Philo before them, began to disentangle religion from politics.  I found this quite a striking statement.  Is this a de-politicization of religion tout court?  It is a disestablishment of politics to a particular religious form, but to all religion?  Her example is Philo's Embassy to Gaius, but that work does not really show a divorcing (however slight) of religion and politics so much as a form of religio-political diplomacy.  This is a minor point, however, concerning a passing comment she made.

I also wonder:  while texts like Thunder:  Perfect Mind, and others, are quite eclectic and were placed in a very eclectic collection, are they necessarily as "universal" as she suggests in her conclusion?  I include non-canonical and canonical side-by-side, because that is the most accurate way to reconstruct the dynamic and fluid world of emergent Christianity.  But, when shifting perspective to modern inspiration, is there such a stark difference of "open" versus "closed," "universal" versus "particular" that aligns with non-canonical and canonical?  Can the canonical be creative, open?  Is the non-canonical always so?  I am thinking of J.Z. Smith's essay on canonization, where he compares the process of canonization to viticulture (or oenology).  We choose one fruit of many to make wine (though others do make wine out of other fruits), but then make a staggering variety of wines out of it through processing, cultivation, aging, etc.  We may choose a few books to be in canon, but we interpret them in so many different ways, ways that liberate and ways that oppress, ways that create and ways that destroy, ways that lead to and ways that block critical reflection.  Through the process of commentary and hermeneutics, creativity can still flow and transform--as well as stunt.

A final point--and a point that I am fundamentally in agreement with Pagels--is that the claiming of a vision, the affirming of someone else's vision, or the denial of a vision is a political act; it is an act where one is claiming a direct line to divine authority or the ability to speak on behalf of the divine.  While William James in his masterwork, Varieties of Religious Experience, sought to disentangle religious experience (particularly mysticism) from any form of authority over another (see the end of his chapter on mysticism) reflecting a broader tendency to privatize religion in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the truth of that matter is that, historically, such claims of experience and direct contact with the divine have had a social and political effects over others; those who claim such revelations so often claim that such visions demand that they claim authority over others (Paul is a quintessential example of this).  People use visionary experiences to claim authority over others, and shape their lives.  One of the major contributions of this book is that Pagels offers a fairly thick description of the macro and micro power struggles over the claims of vision of a single book.  We see the power struggle between rival visions within the same geographical region in the same group (Asia Minor); we see rival visions at the same time between different groups (Christians, Jews, and Romans); we see rival claims of authority by visionaries and those who deny them or co-opt them in institutional forms of authority.  (note:  For a full discussion of the intersections of authority and visions, I would direct people to Grace Jantzen's Power, Gender, and Christian Mysticism, where she argues these points alongside the gendered implications of such claims of authority of divine vision in male-dominated institutions.)  This is just as true of one's contemporaries as of one's predecessors.  Centuries after John of Patmos wrote Revelation, people affirmed or denied his vision--usually an eye on whether their opponents were doing with it, using it to delineate who was "in" and who was "out" in community formation.  This was also true with major, even universally accepted, figures of tradition, such as Moses; how much more so with contested figures.

The Christian Moses: Choosing a Path

The historian of ancient religion typically lives in a patchwork world.  The dearth of ancient evidence is a daily reality to which one submits oneself.  The study of Moses in antiquity, however, oddly presents itself as an embarrassment of riches.  In addition to the Hebrew Bible and Jewish sources, Christian, Muslim, and even “pagan” writers repeatedly retold stories of Moses, sometimes presenting an entire “life,” sometimes focusing on specific episodes or events, and sometimes referring to a general quality or ability of Moses.  Second Temple Jews revisited Sinai over and again, retelling how Moses received the Torah in new circumstances.  He was alternatively invoked as absolutely unique and a model for emulation.  Several events, tropes, roles, and images caught the ancient imagination:  the birth story; the burning bush revelation of the divine name; the signs and wonders he performed in Egypt; the Passover; the Exodus; standing on Sinai; meeting God at the Tent; holding hands up high in battle.  He was liberator, lawgiver, king, priest, magician, visionary, and, dare I say it, a "god."  Moses was and is central for Judaism, but also for Christianity and Islam.  As one historian, C. Umhau Wolf, noted, no other figure from the Hebrew Bible receives as much attention in both the New Testament and the Quran as Moses—outnumbering references even to Abraham!  
There is currently an upsurge in interest in early Christian mobilizations of Moses.  There is a recent monograph by John Lierman on Moses in the New Testament.  The Catholic University of America has recently held a conference featuring Moses in ancient and medieval Christian representation with a promised conference volume forthcoming.  With so much terrain to cover, what paths should one take?  Follow beaten paths, worn-questions and answers from other scholars—often an inevitable occurrence when faced with documents as over-scrutinized as the New Testament?  Seek new paths and questions, but risk being overwhelmed by the unknown?  How does one organize one’s evidence:  by author, corpus, historical period, or topic?  One must choose a path carefully:  one that is one’s own, but that crisscrosses others; one that is original but representative, related to others but coherent in scope.  One such path, I believe, is how ancient Christians represented Moses’ visionary abilities:  What exactly, if anything, did Moses see on the Mountain?  And why does it matter? 
Different early Christians would answer differently:  God, angels (because no one can see God and live!), darkness, the “pattern” of ultimate heavenly realities, and, yes, he saw Jesus.  New Testament writers, while making Jesus a prophet like (or greater than) Moses, tended to claim Moses did not see God (except in Hebrews 11).  Especially moving into the second through the fourth centuries, sometimes he “foresaw” Jesus (these are the “hindparts” Moses was vouchsafed); sometimes the eternal Christ was the being who met with him directly on the mountain; or, my personal favorite, when Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah was when they ascended their mounts, making the mountain a trans-temporal hub of some sort as if early Christians were watching Doctor Who.  
Early Christian alternatively affirm and deny Moses' divine visions, and whether they demote or exalt Moses has an important social context:  the authority of Christ and authority of Christian leaders, especially bishops, as mediators of divine realities.  There are many subtle variations to explore on this theme of “who benefits?” by affirming and/or denying Moses’ abilities.  Overall, however, denying Moses’ visions of God was often used to claim Christ as ultimate mediator, even as Christ was a prophet like Moses; affirmations of Moses’ visions affirmed his place in society as analogous to Christian leadership, which, as Andrea Sterk has emphasized, reaches its apogee in the writings of Basil of Caesarea:  as Moses stood between God and the people, so does the bishop.  As bishops aligned themselves with Moses, they tended to emphasize his positive visionary abilities and references to Exod 33:20 (no one can see God and live) fall away to passages like Num. 12:8 (Moses sees the very form of God whereas no one else can).  This will start out as my operating hypothesis.  This project, therefore, dovetails quite nicely with the questions that generated my work on the Sabbath and the Tabernacle in Hebrews:  who can access and mediate access to the divine?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Christian Moses: Getting Started

Today I had the opportunity to start working on outlining a new research project.  It is an exciting time, a time before my ideas crystallize, when they retain the flexibility of hypotheses.  It is when my flashes of insight have yet to become a sustained vision.  When there is the excitement of finding new things even in a field as overrun as New Testament and Christian Origins.  It is an important time, moreover, when I choose which direction I will go (even if the road winds, twists, and turns into new directions later).  It is an overwhelming time, since there are so many directions I could go.  My project, my passion at the moment is Moses.  Not just Moses, but Moses as interpreted by early Christians; how they represented him and why they represented him in the way they did.  It is about ancient exegesis and its social implications; interpretation and authority.  More to come!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Defining Jewish Difference by Beth Berkowitz

I just noticed that Beth Berkowitz's new book, Defining Jewish Difference, is available.  The book looks at the history of interpretation of Leviticus 18:3 ("You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.  You shall not walk in their statutes."), and how that verse has been reinterpreted throughout the ages in terms of the "ways of the Gentiles" as, sort of, a trump card in exegesis.

Here is the official description:

This book traces the interpretive career of Leviticus 18:3, a verse that forbids Israel from imitating its neighbors. Beth A. Berkowitz shows that ancient, medieval, and modern exegesis of this verse provides an essential backdrop for today's conversations about Jewish assimilation and minority identity more generally. The story of Jewishness that this book tells may surprise many modern readers for whom religious identity revolves around ritual and worship. In Lev. 18:3's story of Jewishness, sexual practice and cultural habits instead loom large. The readings in this book are on a micro-level, but their implications are far-ranging: Berkowitz transforms both our notion of Bible-reading and our sense of how Jews have defined Jewishness.
This has been long in coming.  I actually took a course from Berkowitz at Jewish Theological Seminary called "The Ways of the Gentiles," which was about this research.  That was probably...six or seven years ago...  My contribution to the class was to find echoes of this in the New Testament and early Christianity (I focused on the "walking" language in the Deutero-Paulines, especially Ephesians--if you look at Lev. 18:1-5 and the Holiness Code more generally, "walking" is the typical way of speaking of one's general comport--and the passage in Ephesians 4:17-24:  "no longer live as the Gentiles do" as potential resonances, though I recall being quite conservative in my conclusions).  If it is as good as her first book, Execution and Invention, it will definitely be worth the read.  At its current price, however, it looks like a library volume.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Jodi Eichler-Levine on Maurice Sendak

I good friend of mine, Jodi Eichler-Levine, has written an essay, "Where the Wild Things Aren't Just Jewish," in Religion Dispatches on Maurice Sendak and, I guess we could call it "inclusive chosenness" (don't blame her for such an infelicitous phrase).  Sendak, who died this past week, is most famous for the children's book, Where the Wild Things Are.  Jodi, by the way, researches the ways in which collective trauma (such as the Holocaust), holidays, and religious identity are expressed in children's books.  On her webpage (link on her name), she says this about her work, "In Professor Eichler-Levine’s current book project, which is under contract with New York University Press, she examines how Jewish Americans and African Americans incorporate traumatic pasts and religious ideals in stories young people."  Thus, it was a topical match made in heaven. 

Here is my favorite passage from the article:

"His response to the Holocaust was not material generativity, not the reproduction of Jewish children to spite Hitler; instead, it was a creative demand that we open up our humanity and transmit our imaginations through unsettling yet ravishing forms of media. The author whose illustrations first appeared in Atomics for the Millions forces us to rethink the imaginary “nuclear family.”"

It is an interesting article; take a look!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hebrews and Ritual Studies: Abstract and TOC

So as I finish up readying a draft of my monograph to send to publishers, I have thought a bit about a potential future project that would be more patently methodological in nature:  what, if anything, can different scholarly frameworks of ritual tell us about Hebrews?  How might Hebrews help us to rethink those frameworks?  So, I toyed with this idea a bit here, spoken of it with biblicists, with people who study ritual or "ritual" in other contexts, etc., and with their feedback I have come up with this as a preliminary abstract and table and contents:

The Epistle to the Hebrews and Ritual Studies:  An Investigation

Jared C. Calaway
Visiting Assistant Professor
Illinois Wesleyan University

This study responds to the increasing interest in “social-scientific criticism” in biblical studies and its relative absence in the most cultically-interested work in the New Testament:  the Epistle to the Hebrews.  There have been some pioneers in this regard.  David DeSilva employs a socio-rhetorical approach when considering the Greek and Roman social context of Hebrews.  On the cultic side, John Dunnill has brought Hebrews into dialogue with structuralist anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Mary Douglas, and Victor Turner, that looks at the structure or system of symbols and how Hebrews re-presents and transposes the symbol system of the Old Testament covenant.  Dunnill’s monograph is an important trailblazer in bringing Hebrews into dialogue with important trends in anthropology that have had analytic usefulness, but anthropology and sociology as disciplines have continued to develop new lines of social analysis.  In this project, I propose to analyze Hebrews with shifting lenses of anthropology, sociology, as well as the history of religions school that have been developed for the study of “ritual.”  I investigate well-known theories and more recent developments.  Each chapter is dedicated to a particular approach, and analyzes the effects of that approach when brought into dialogue with the Epistle to the Hebrews.  By dedicating each chapter to a different approach, I hope to elucidate what difference using a distinct sociological or anthropological theoretical model makes, what benefits are accrued, and what drawbacks can be found.  Within each chapter, I will examine how these theories can help us understand Hebrews on a couple of levels:  how ritual or ritualized actions are represented in the text, or Jesus as ritual expert; and how these theories help us understand the sets of social relationships between author, community, received tradition, and other groups that create different pressures and contacts, or the author as ritual actor.  Biblical studies historically has been an important ground for debating social theories developed by sociologists, anthropologists, and historians of religion from William Robertson Smith, to Mary Douglas, to Jonathan Z. Smith, and to Nancy Jay.  What, if anything, can discussing Hebrews in this manner contribute to refining, redefining, or exploring the potentials and limits of social, especially ritual, theories?

Table of Contents:

1.  Introduction:  Social Sciences, Ritual, and Biblical Research

2.  Hebrews as Cosmogonic Reenactment:  Mircea Eliade, the Myth and Ritual School, and the Eternal Return

3.  Betwixt and Between:  Arnold van Gennep, Victor Turner, and Liminality in Hebrews

4.  The Symbolic System of the Heavenly Sanctuary:  Claude Lévi-Strauss, Victor Turner, Mary Douglas, and Hebrews
5.  Performance, Display, and Efficacious Speech:  Jesus and Author as Ritual Performers
6. Ritualizing Jesus’ Sacrifice:  Pierre Bourdieu, Catherine Bell, and Hebrews

7.  Conclusion:  Insights, Blind Spots, and Next Steps

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Bible and the Environment

I have been thinking about developing a course to complement, in some ways, my Sexuality and Christianity course, in which I bring in feminist and queer biblical criticism.  I thought one important critical hermeneutic which I am less familiar with and most interested in is ecological.  Since I have been largely ignorant of it, I asked a friend for some book ideas. 

The first I have read is The Bible and the Environment by David G. Horrell.  It is a nice slim volume that provides a good primer for who is out there debating the Bible's role, positively and negatively, on shaping people's perspectives when it comes to environmental policies and more private choices and interests, what reading strategies (hermeneutics) are used on the different sides, and what biblical passages are the primary ones typically used to oppose or promote environmental policies and actions.

Interestingly, ecological criticism has had a fairly similar trajectory as feminist biblical criticism.  Firstly, there have been claims for each that the Bible has been the primary obstacle either to women's equality (see Matilda Gage's "Woman, Church, and State") or for shaping the Western Christian perspective that seeks to dominate and exploit nature (Lynn White, Jr., "Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis").  For both, the creation stories have been primarily at issue (creation of the sexes and Adam and Eve story for feminist readings; the "dominion" issue for ecology).  Eschatology has played perhaps a stronger role for resisting environmental policies than for resisting gender equality.  There has been a response to recover positive images and passages for women or for earth interrelationships, or re-read passages showing that those that seem to be harmful do not have to be read as so.  Another response has been to expose, resist, and then reject problematic passages of women (Trible's Texts of Terror comes to mind) or that do not appear to be eco-friendly.  One of the major exposures for feminist biblical criticism has been the thoroughly androcentric bias of the Bible; for ecological biblical criticism, the anthropocentric bias (although there have been "recovered" passages that decenter humanity within creation; e.g., the end of Job, or the passages where all of the elements of creation praise God--not just humans).  And there has been a backlash that resists the feminist or ecological hermeneutic. 

Overall, I thought Horrell provided a balanced discussion of the potentials and limits of ecological readings of the Bible, introducing how the Bible has been used to form perspectives that have supported or opposed environmental programs, alongside his own ideas of how to develop a responsible ecological hermeneutic that takes the recoveries and resistances into account.  It would be useful to orient oneself or to assign to I'd say an undergraduate class--a class either directly on the Bible and the Environment, or a class on critical readings of the Bible, where one introduces students to the various types of biblical criticism.

I will be looking forward to my next ecologically oriented readings concerning the Bible. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Appalled and Angry

I just discovered the lamentable firing of Anthony LeDonne from Lincoln Christian University here.  I met Anthony my first year at Illinois Wesleyan University when his co-biblicist at LCU Chris Keith came to IWU to talk about the demise of the criteria of authenticity through research employing memory studies (see a recent discussion of one of Keith's books here).  Anthony's firing appears to be due to pressure by donors and others because of his quite good popular book on the Historical Jesus.  Ironically, there is to be a conference concerning this research at LCU next fall, though it appears that the organizers are likely to move it in response to LeDonne's unexpected firing (here).

I am quite angry about this.  LeDonne's research is good, responsible, and creative.  He should be rewarded for his work rather than endure mistreatment.  I join with others who offer their hopes that LeDonne will quickly find an institutional home that values his important contributions and gives him the freedom to follow his arguments to their logical conclusions and to follow his creativity.  I already own a copy of the book that is at the center of this controversy; I assign portions of it in my classes.  I suggest that everyone else, too, buys a copy (link above) (1) to support this important scholarship and (2) to find out what good scholars are saying on the forefront of historical Jesus scholarship.  Then pick up his other book.