Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eyewitness Testimony

Judy Redman has a dynamite article in the newest edition of Journal of Biblical Literature 129 (2010) 177-197. "How Accurate are Eyewitnesses? Bauckham and the Eyewitnesses in the Light of Psychological Research." I am thrilled to see it finally in print!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Passover among Christians

I read with interest a newspaper article this morning which described a growing practice among liberal Christian churches in Houston, of celebrating the Passover as well as Easter. It is celebrated with a Christian interpretation of the lamb, with Jesus' passion at its heart. Some of the local Jewish communities are concerned that their festival is being usurped by the Christians, stating that the Christians are taking their holiday and symbols and investing them with meanings foreign to them. They are not happy with this new Christian tradition. One rabbi said that he doesn't mind having other groups celebrate Passover as long as it is celebrated as Jews would do.

Being a historian of early Christian, my first reaction to this is well, what is new? This is the exact conversation (with the same complaints) that the early Christians and the early Jews were having in the first and second centuries. Most Christians in this period celebrated Passover as a Christian holiday altering all the symbols so that they pointed to Christ. Our earliest homily is by Melito and it is the homily he preached at Passover. It has this classic reinterpretation, which also ends up being very anti-semitic in its orientation as you might well imagine. Easter isn't mentioned in any documents as far as I know until the fourth century (Nicaea, 325). When it is mentioned by Socrates Scholasticus (380), it is recognized as a local custom that was not biblical (that is Jesus and his apostles didn't command it) but had developed in the catholic churches as a way to celebrate the resurrection.

UPDATE: Link to Melito's sermon

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Poster Art

Here is the poster artwork for the approaching conference, Hidden God, Hidden Histories. I think it is stunning and look forward to the conference. It is open to the public, so if you are in the area, stop by for a session or two. I'll post a final schedule soon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

About Patterson's review

I have been asked by some of my blog readers to respond to Stephen Patterson's recent RBL review of my book, The Original Gospel of Thomas In Translation. It is a review, and normally authors don't respond to them. It represents one scholar's opinion of another's work. There is not much more to say than that. Some scholars have highly praised my works. Others do not. Patterson is among the latter.

Why the difference in scholarly assessment? When reading reviews of books, I always try to keep in mind that every scholar comes from a particular position, and that position likely has impacted how he or she reviews a book. In the case of Professor Patterson, he is a strong supporter and member of the Jesus Seminar and its new project on Christian Origins. Central to that project is the position that the earliest Christians were non-eschatological wisdom folk, as was Jesus. They use their earliest literary stratification of Quelle, and the Gospel of Thomas to demonstrate this thesis.

Where do I differ from Patterson? I argue that the Gospel of Thomas does not all come from the same period. And if we make a full literary-critical analysis of the gospel that we will see that the oldest materials in the Gospel of Thomas are eschatological, and these have been softened over time to focus on more mystical traditions as the gospel grows and develops within a church setting.

Patterson wrongly calls my method "form-critical". It is not. A form-critical approach, as we all know, is an approach whereby variant readings of a saying are compared and through this comparison a primary oral originating version is projected. I never do such a thing in my book. I am not comparing versions of sayings to come up with an oral originating version of the sayings or of the Gospel of Thomas. In fact, I think that the form critical project is defunct. I have included an entire three chapters on my method in Recovering, which I call a new tradition-historical method, and include within it a strong critique of form criticism in light of studies in orality and rhetoric.

What do I do? I begin with an observation that the form critics make and with which I do agree. The form critics have successfully demonstrated that the sayings tradition has been reworked with communal interests in mind. In other words, it has been secondarily developed. One of the places where we can see this development most prominently is in the passages where sayings have been worked into dialogues between Jesus and the disciples, especially when those dialogues are about issues that were concerns for the church, but likely not concerns for Jesus' followers during his lifetime. This is my starting point to identify material in the Gospel of Thomas that has been secondarily developed by the church.

There are a number of such dialogues we can identify in the Gospel of Thomas. And the issues raised in them are post-resurrection concerns. The disciples are asking Jesus when they are going to see him again, when the new world is going to come, what diet they should follow, whether or not they should be circumcised, and so forth. All of these issues are easily traced to issues that were facing the church in its formative years.

My method proceeds by analyzing these dialogues, their themes and their vocabulary. From there I continue a structured literary analysis of the rest of the sayings, identifying those which contain similar themes and vocabulary.

After making this analysis, I examine what sayings are left, and what I discovered is that the sayings left have an imminent eschatological outlook and a christological outlook that is remarkably similar to the first Christianity that was associated with Jerusalem and the tradition of James. I also noticed that the sayings I could identify as secondary were of another variety altogether, focused on encratic and mystical traditions that were readjusting, tempering, taming, whatever you want to call it, the earlier eschatological perspective.

The long and short of it is that Professor Patterson and I are never going to see eye to eye on the Gospel of Thomas. So Patterson's review should come as no surprise to any of my readers. It certainly does not come as a surprise to me. My thesis does not fit the Jesus Seminar model, and in fact, if taken seriously by the Jesus Seminar, would uproot it. I am never going to support the program of the Jesus Seminar which has a particular version of Jesus and the early church which it wishes to promote even when the evidence points in another direction as is the case with the Gospel of Thomas, and also in my opinion Q.

The questions that one should ask of Patterson is why a literary-critical analysis (and even form-critical if one wanted to) is possible and successful for the synoptics and Quelle, but not for Thomas? Why is it possible to make a full literary-critical analysis of a text we don't even possess, and yet not so with the Gospel of Thomas? Thomas is exactly the kind of text that Bultmann would have loved. It is as close to an "oral" text as we are going to get. We have the brains and the tools to do this as I have demonstrated in my book, and yet it is resisted. Why? Is it because we will see that the early tradition was eschatological? That Bultmann was right after all?!

I continue to object to being read as someone who wants to "stratify" the Gospel of Thomas. This is Patterson's model and language not mine. I am not identifying layers, something I repeatedly state in my work. I see the text as a rolling text, as shifting in its contents gradually as it was performed and copied. I hope if I repeat myself enough perhaps I will soon be quoted properly on this subject and that the secondary literature that will be written in the future will speak about my position accurately.

I also want my readers to know that my two volume work was originally a single volume and the publisher broke them up because of the length. So they really are companion volumes written together. This means that the second volume, the commentary, was written as an appendix to support my arguments in the first volume. It is like an extensive footnote system for my own analysis of the Gospel of Thomas (see p. xi Recovering; p. ix Original). The commentary was never intended to be a full commentary representing all material that was ever written on each and every saying. I write in the introduction that I am not including in my commentary references to the Gnostic hermeneutic but instead have focused on an alternative hermeneutic which sees the Gospel as an example of Syrian religiosity, which is the argument I am making in Recovering.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Women Yesterday and Today 1: The Wage Gap

March is Women's History month. So I am going to be devoting a good portion of my blogging this month to a series I'm calling: Women Yesterday and Today. To start off the series, I thought I would highlight a few statistics that are very troubling.

Women are now 50% of the workforce. On average women earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men. Just one year (!) out of college, women already earn less than their male colleagues earn, even when they work in the same field with the same degree. At ages 66 and older women are twice (!) as likely as men to be poor. It has taken 40 years (!) to begin to close the wage gap by a meager 12 cents.

What is really alarming is just how much the wage gap widens the older women get. One year after graduation, women average 80% of the salary their male counterparts are earning. Ten years later they are earning 69% of the salary of their male counterparts. Even when researchers control for all the known factors that can affect earnings (hours, occupation, parenthood, etc.) their research shows that one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained. Over time, this unexplained portion of the pay gap grows larger and larger.

The AAUW has an interactive map HERE where you can hover over any state and find out the wage gap stats closer to home. It is sad to view these stats. Among college grads, women in Texas are earning 70% of what their male counterparts are earning. In my home state Michigan, it is even worse: 68%.

Last year, President Obama began to work on this problem by signing into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The second part of this legislation has been stalled in the Senate, but it will finally receive its hearing. On March 11, the Senate will hold a hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is an update of the 46-year old Equal Pay Act. If you want to read more about this legislation or if you want to send your senators a letter to support this legislation, go HERE (AAUW website page). They have set up the website so that it is very easy to create and send your message, either via email or on letterhead. It took me two minutes.

I will come back to this topic again since April 20th is Equal Pay Day. And HERE are some pay equity ideas for action for that day if you want to make the problem more visible around your local area.

All stats are taken from AAUW.