Friday, April 30, 2004

The harmonizing tradition in Jesus films

In Hypotyposeis, Stephen Carlson comments on the recent Crossan story about The Passion of the Christ in which there seems to be some criticism of the act of harmonizing the Gospel accounts for the film. Stephen writes (excerpted):
I certainly agree that having four gospels instead of one harmonized text has proven to be much richer theologically and historiographically, but I'm taken aback at the apparent per se objection to any harmonization of the gospels. Unless one is to film a single gospel straight through, which is not common, film treatments of Jesus are going to use a blended combination of the gospels. Does this mean that the genre of the Jesus film is fundamentally illegitimate? I just don't get it.
I share this surprise at the strong reaction amongst some scholars to the harmonizing in The Passion of the Christ, not least because this is an age-old tradition in the Jesus films and The Passion of the Christ is far from unique in this regard.

There are essentially four important exceptions to the general rule about the Jesus films harmonizing the four Gospels to produce their narratives, The Gospel According to St Matthew, Jesus (based on Luke), Matthew and The Gospel of John. Otherwise, the Jesus films have narratives in which characters, scenes, motifs and more are drawn together from all four Gospels and none of them. One could give many, many examples but one that I have drawn attention to in the past is Mary Magdalene in the number "Everything's Alright" in Jesus Christ Superstar:
The various stories of the anointing of Jesus (Matt. 26.6-13, Mark 14.3-9, Luke 7.36-50, John 12.1-8) are rolled into one in the number 'Everything's Alright', and unlike any of the Gospels, the one who anoints Jesus is Mary Magdalene (cf. Luke 8.2). And shortly before this, Jesus' reply to Judas' criticism of Mary ('Strange Thing Mystifying') utilizes another story still, the Woman Taken in Adultery (John 8.1-11):

'If your slate is clean, then you can throw stones
If your slate is not, then leave her alone.' (Do You Think You're What They Say You Are?)
I think it's important to understand not only the principle of harmonizing in Jesus films, but also the elements that are repeatedly found appealing by the different film-makers. Certain motifs from the Gospels repeatedly prove popular to the film-maker and can be seen again in The Passion of the Christ. The trial before Herod (unique to Luke, see 23.6-12); Pilate's hand-washing (unique to Matthew, 27.24) and "we have no king but Caesar" (unique to John, 19.15) are all very common in film depictions of the Passion, and not surprisingly crop up again in The Passion of the Christ.

But the issue of harmonizing is clearly one that strikes a real chord with many scholars viewing this film and it does make me wonder whether it is a result of their general lack of familiarity with the Jesus film tradition. Consider, for example, Emily Cheney in Gibson's Gory Story on the SBL Forum. She notes that "It is primarily Mel Gibson's Passion Play, not an accurate portrayal of Jesus' death and the events leading up to his death because we have four versions in the New Testament, not one" and adds:
He harmonizes the four gospels, not respecting how each gospel is emphasizing different aspects and is written for different audiences, at different times, in different places.
Or consider Ched Myers, Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” Anti-Semitism and the Gospel: Mark’s Trial Narrative as Political Parody, who remarks:
One of the many problems with Gibson’s film is that it weaves in strands from all four of our gospel versions (not to mention his own gratuitous additions). Attempts to “harmonize” what are four very different versions of the Jesus story have long been discredited because they give the editor such wide license to pick and choose. This effectively creates a “fifth” gospel—or in Gibson’s case, anti-gospel. The only way to unravel Gibson’s fabric is to examine each gospel separately, in order to see their different emphases and purposes.
I am intrigued by the comment here that harmonies have "long been discredited". Of course it is the case that we academic types love to pour over the Synopsis, but we are not marking an undergraduate essay on the Historical Jesus when we are looking at The Passion of the Christ but at a film that is part of a tradition of Christian story-telling. Or from an article interviewing Francis Moloney, Moloney: 'Scene After Scene is Just Wrong' in Passion Film, we read:
Moloney argued against the way in which Gibson selected different verses from different gospels. "Each passion story has its own point to make," he said, adding that if the film puts a selection of all of them together, what you get is a "juxtaposition of material that doesn't belong together." A classic example he mentioned was that the last words of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, "My God my God, why have you forsaken me?" are "words of despair." The two writers "really wanted to show that Jesus really died an agonizing death, and that the answer of God to this death is the Resurrection in the very next chapter."
As with the other Jesus films, the cry from the cross "My God, my God . . ." is effectively recontextualized by the harmonizing, drawing in a selection of -- and sometimes all of -- the words from the cross. I quite agree that the harmonizing of the words on the cross does not allow us to understand the way in which Mark's narrative works, but then the film is not attempting to give us an exposition of Mark's Gospel.

Acts-L homepage

Martin Webber emails to point out that the old Acts-L homepage at Baylor University, along with the archive of older materials, has now disappeared. I've adjusted the link on my E-Lists and Luke-Acts pages so that they have only the Yahoo!Groups link. If anyone happens to know of the whereabouts of anything else for the list, I'd be happy to hear about it.

More on the Russian Biblical Studies site

I commented yesterday on Bible Studies - Русские страницы and drew attention to some concerns about articles of mine that have been reproduced there without permission. I wrote to the author of the site to express my concern and he emails me in response with an explanation. He says that he did ask for permission to reproduce many of the articles on the site but he could not always find the relevant email addresses and some people did not reply. Others, he says, may have just slipped through the net. So I had a look in my own correspondence and see that I did in fact write to the author of the site in response to an email he sent me on 27 November 2001. (I write well over 5,000 emails a year so it is not surprising that I forget some). My email of 27 November 2001 says that I am happy to encourage links to any of my articles but that I am not happy to grant permission to reproduce any of them. I might add that in some cases (e.g. Fatigue in the Synoptics) I do not own the copyright anyway and so cannot grant others permission to reproduce them. So I have asked the author to take my articles down.

The site in question has lots more articles and as far as I can see there are no statements about copyright or permission being granted. It is possible that there are others whose articles have been reproduced without permission; I have written to the author of the site to encourage him to add statements concerning permission where he has it, not least because I can imagine that others might be less gracious than I when their material has been reproduced without permission. I should add here that I think that what the author of the site is doing, bringing Biblical Studies to Russia, where books and journals are often scarce, is most valuable. For that reason it is all the more important to make sure that everything available on the site is there legitimately.

Text of AAR letter on-line

There have been comments here and elsewhere on the AAR decision to hold stand-alone meetings. The AAR web site have now made available the text of the response from the AAR board on this issue in relation to the petition organised by Karen King and Elaine Pagels:

A Message from the AAR Board

Robert Gundry article on The Passion of the Christ

I have commented previously on Robert Gundry's short article on The Passion of the Christ in the SBL Forum's Letters to the Editor. They have now re-ordered this page and sensibly given Gundry's article (as well as the other longer ones) a page of its own:

The Burden of the Passion
Robert H. Gundry

Stuart Miller on the "Who killed Jesus?" question

It is good to see the SBL Forum continuing to publish Letters to the Editor -- this brings alive the SBL pages as indeed a kind of "forum" for debate and discussion, adding a degree of diversity and interaction for the first time. The latest to be added is this interesting contribution:

The Question, Not the Answer, Is the Problem
Stuart S. Miller
The tendency to regard the defining moment in Jewish-Christian relations as the rejection by the "Jews" (as if the original followers of Jesus weren't Jews!) of Jesus at Golgotha rather than the rejection by Christians, subsequent to the crucifixion, of the halakhah, only serves to further deflect attention from Christianity's roots in Judaism. All the attention given to answering the question, "Who killed Jesus?" further misleads the adherents of both Christianity and Judaism from the truth. Christians continue to skirt the implications of their Jewish heritage for their faith and their relationship with the Jews. Jews, by responding defensively, only legitimize the falsifying of history that has allowed Christians for so long to regard them as the "Other." . . . .

. . . . New Passion plays, such as Mel Gibson's movie, only further mask the historical truth and do nothing positive for relations between Christians and Jews. The Church and Christian leaders need to set their own history and relationship with the Jews straight, not by readdressing, or compelling Jews to readdress, "Who killed Jesus?" but by finally teaching their adherents the undeniable truth about Christian origins. Empathy for the suffering of Jesus the Jew might then be transformed into a truly meaningful lesson.
Stuart S. Miller is Associate Professor of Hebrew, History, and Judaic Studies at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

Update (7 January 2006): thanks to Stuart Miller for notifying me of the revised URLs for the above: access "article" and letter (PDF).

Tony Fisher's Greek NT Pages problem

Greg Bloomquist emails me to point out that the late Tony Fisher's Greek New Testament pages have encountered a problem -- one always gets an "Error! Database is busy . . ." message. I have written to a contact in the York University computing department in the hope that this can be fixed. It may be that in the long term we should approach York with a view to taking over the site so that it can be maintained on a more day-to-day basis. I will post any updates here. In the mean time, the Online Greek Bible provides a similar service if one is doing a simple search. That site is superior in one way -- it provides varieties of fonts for display, including unicode, but it is not able to tackle the more complex searches that Tony Fisher's site can. Also, I am not keen on the anonymity of the site -- I prefer web authors to be upfront about who they are.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Exploring New Testament Greek: A Way In

This new book has been announced from SCM Press:

Paula Gooder and Peter Kevern,
Exploring New Testament Greek: A Way In
This practical textbook for undergraduate students and serving ministers is specifically designed to teach the reader about New Testament Greek, and to enrich the readers understanding of Scripture. Features a regularly updated companion website with exercises and revision notes.
0334029422 £10.99 OUT MAY 2004

The site features an endorsement from me, indeed the only endorsement currently given there:

"· '… clearly fills a gap in the market.' Mark Goodacre, University of Birmingham"

I should therefore point out that I have not seen this book. I was asked to look at a book proposal in January 2003, and I have looked out my report and see that what I wrote was "This book proposal is a very interesting one, and it would clearly fill a gap in the market." I reported favourably on the book proposal, but listed several potential concerns too. I'll ask SCM if I can now have a look at the book.

Armin Daniel Baum homepage

On Hypotyposeis, Stephen Carlson draws attention to:

Armin Daniel Baum

He is at the Freie Theologische Akademie, Germany and this page features a CV and list of publications. I have added it to the Scholars: B page and have at the same time updated the links to several of the other pages there. (It still amazes me to see how few university sites bother to set up forwards from older pages. It is something I am always nagging about here, often to no avail. At least we have a set of good forwards set up from older pages in the Dept of Theology, but that's because I look after them).

Stephen also refers to one of Baum's articles available for download:

Die Diskussion der Authentizität von Herrenworten in altkirchlicher Zeit [PDF]

Note too several other articles of interest on the Freie Theologische Akademie site:

Artikel zum Download

Using Winzip on Pauline authorship

We had a fascinating seminar yesterday in the Graduate Institute for Theology and Religion here in Birmingham. Andy Pryke, from the School of Computer Science gave a paper called:

"Who wrote Paul? Can text analysis based on data compression techniques
(like "winzip") add to our knowledge?"
I will present some preliminary research which applies techniques from computer science and genetic analysis to the text of the letters attributed to Paul. The presentation will show visual representations of the relationships between these documents, and no background in computing is required. Feedback is welcome, particularly on (i) the utility of the method and (ii) the relationship of these results to those of traditional scholarship.
The talk was concise, clearly presented, patiently explaining the computing side of things so that we could all understand, and wanted to enlist the help of those present on the Biblical scholarship side of things.

As I understood it, Andy had applied compression techniques to all the letters in the New Testament in order to ascertain how similar each text was to each text, so that one could see -- for example -- how similar 1 Corinthians is each other letter in the New Testament, then how similar Romans is to each other letter in the New Testament and so on. The use of compression technology like Winzip is useful in this context because it compresses texts by looking for repeated patterns, allowing one to express the compressed text as a number, e.g. "The cat sat on the mat" could be represented as "Θ c@ s@ on Θ m@", thereby reducing the number of necessary symbols from 17 to 10, 0.59. One can then make a direct comparison with another text using the same code, Θ = the, @ = at, and see how similar the chosen text is. "Born of the flesh" could be represented as "Born of Θ flesh" using the same code, reducing the number of necessary symbols from 14 to 12, 0.88, so (obviously) quite different from "the cat sat on the mat". Likewise in the New Testament letters, each text was tested for its relationship to each other text and the degrees of similarity ascertained. The results of the 400+ different relationships can be plotted visually so that one could see where the clustering of similar texts occurred.

The results were interesting. The seven undisputed Paulines appeared to cluster together as very similar texts, but 2 Thessalonians was right there in the mix with them. Ephesians and Colossians were both a bit further away, though similar to each other, and Colossians more similar to the undisputed Paulines than was Ephesians. The Pastorals were way off -- more similar to non-Pauline texts like Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter than to the undisputed Paulines. And the Pastorals clustered together as similar to each other. The one real anomaly in the results was provided by 1 and 2 John, both of which came out as similar to the undisputed Paulines and less like the other letters in the NT.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Russian Biblical Studies site

Thanks to Holger Szesnat for this one. I'm afraid my Russian is non-existent so I have no idea whether this will be a useful site to readers or not:

Bible Studies - Русские страницы

The site has some English content too, including this essay;

Rick Strelan, "Who Was Bar Jesus (Acts 13,6-12)?"

Update (01:28): having looked around the site a bit more now, it seems clear that one of the things it does is to reproduce articles from around the internet. However, there do not appear to be any statements (in English at least) about whether or not permission has been sought. The site includes at least two articles of mine that are reproduced without permission and without any acknowledgement of their original location and this kind of thing is, of course, unacceptable.

Panel discussion of The Passion of the Christ

I took part last night in a Panel Discussion of The Passion of the Christ at the Light-House in Wolverhampton. It was an interesting experience. To be honest, I felt a little over-prepared. The other panelists had seen the film once each and were less familiar with the background than I. My natural enthusiasm, not only for the film but also for the opportunity to engage critically about it, meant that I had to be careful not to talk too much, a tough challenge.

Dr Deirdre Burke from the University of Wolverhampton spoke first. Her view was that the film was deeply disturbing and that there was anti-Semitism here of the kind that was likely to lead to people vandalising synagogues. The Rt. Rev’d Michael Bourke, Anglican Bishop of Wolverhampton, was more positive about the film and said that he had preached on it over the Easter period, but that he was a little concerned about the violence in the film -- graphic depictions of violence in the cinema could lead people to become desensitized to violence in the real world. Dr George Chryssides, also of the University of Wolverhampton, was pretty negative about the film. He felt that it did not stand up well as a piece of history and was misleading on several fronts. I tended to make the kind of points I've made here and in my article. I had just watched the film again and explained that because it engaged me strongly on an emotional and spiritual level, it was harder for me to exercise the kind of critical detachment that I would normally aim for in this kind of context.

Deirdre Burke expressed her concerns about the film in the context of talking about holocaust survivors, so I did point out that Maia Morgenstern, the actress who plays Mary the mother of Jesus, was the daughter of a holocaust survivor and the grandaughter of someone who died at Auschwitz. I still feel that this cannot be lightly brushed aside.

George Chryssides commented that the film was not recognisably set in Jerusalem -- he felt that it looked nothing like it and did nothing to evoke a Jerusalem setting in the viewer's mind. I found this interesting and it did make me realise that there are no long shots of the temple, for example, little that will make the viewer think of the Temple and its architecture.

The audience had widely varying views and seemed pretty representative of the reaction in the general public. Some love it, some hate it. One member of the audience introduced himself as a media studies lecturer and said that he thought the film awful and completely cliché ridden, slow motion, use of flashback etc. Predictably, perhaps, I tried to point out the differences between this film and other Jesus films, and specifically focused on the fascinating phenomenon of seeing events through Jesus' eyes, including seeing the view of the stone rolling back from inside the tomb. In fact I noticed this all the more in the viewing of the film beforehand -- there are many scenes on the road to Calvary where one is clearly seeing events as Jesus himself sees them, shaky camera and all. And during the scourging, it is Jesus who sees the devil and the demonic baby.

Another perspective on Simon of Cyrene in The Passion

As regular readers will know, I have commented here several times on the way that the character of Simon of Cyrene, played by Jarreth Merz, is depicted in The Passion of the Christ. To take an excerpt from my recent article, The Passion, Pornography and Polemic, for example, I commented:
At this point, when the viewer is strongly identifying with him, Simon is directly castigated by one of the Roman guards as “Jew!” This is the only character (other than Jesus who is called “King of the Jews”) in the entire film who is specifically characterised as a Jew. The point is important, not least given the fact that some critics of The Passion of the Christ have imported terminology into the film that is not found there. The film does not once, for example, castigate those in opposition to Jesus as “the Jews”, in spite of repeated assertions to the contrary. Moreover, the positive depiction of Simon of Cyrene as a Jew is clearly not accidental. This scene in The Passion of the Christ is largely dependent on Catherine Emmerich’s Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, especially Simon’s exhortations to the soldiers to stop. But where she makes Simon a pagan, Gibson insists that his heroic figure was a Jew.
Evy Nelson now emails me with a less positive take on the depiction of Simon:
Yes, Simon of Cyrene is called "Yehuda," but so is someone else, done so, by my reading, in contradistinction. One personifies as a type the Jew who fails to go the distance w/Jesus and therefore ends in despair and destruction. As I witnessed Simon's character development, I sensed that he represents the Jew who begins to understand who Jesus is and embraces that revelation, whereupon he casts aside his Jewish observance.

Stick w/me on this one. When Simon is first impressed, he is wearing a skull cap not unlike modern-day kippot (whether men did or did not wear such in 30 CE is, as I see it, a moot point; what matters in Gibson's Passion envisioning is how this item of clothing as symbol is realized) and at least one of his outer garments is striped in such a way that many Jews watching the film have identified it as a tallit, an item that we all recognize as a primary sign of Jewish belief and observance. These items he continues to wear as he, forcedly, assists Jesus in carrying the cross. When Jesus falls and is yet again brutalized by the Roman guard, Simon, right before he defiantly defends Jesus, casts off his outer garments, tallit presumably included. The camera clearly shows the clothing lying ignobly in the dust . . . .

. . . . . Is Gibson trying to communicate a subtext regarding Judaism here? Well, if you see the film again, notice that as Simon launches into his castigation, we are suddenly presented w/finely dressed men w/ostentatious tallit in the background of the scene. However, if Gibson is not consciously trying to communicate a subtext of antagonism or offense, then the nature of the scene is one that, nonethelss, can leave a Jew feeling uneasy. It is for reasons like this that Gibson should have, in my opinion, enlisted Jewish insight.

As for the skull cap, that too is lost at the point Simon completes his task on Calvary. If you watch the film again, notice how head coverings on men figure in the presentation of characters. Contrast, for example, the disciples at the Last Supper--nary a head covering--w/the multitude demanding Jesus' crucifixion. Even Sanhedrin member Joseph of Arimathea is without head covering when he attends in the lowering of Jesus' body from the cross.
I am grateful for this alternative, interesting take on the film. And let me reiterate that I do have some concerns with the film's perspective on and depiction of elements in the Passion narrative, concerns that may well have been less if Gibson had indeed, as Evy suggests, "enlisted Jewish insight". I hold to the view I have often expressed that Gibson was mistaken in not enlisting the help of an advisory committee of scholars from different backgrounds of the kind that The Gospel of John so wisely used. Having said that, I am not convinced that Simon's loss of his clothing is significant. It seems unlikely to me that it is intended to communicate any significant subtext regarding Judaism except in our initial viewing of Simon, it serves to affirm all the more strongly his Jewish identity. I have had a chance to think carefully about this and happily, Evy's email arrived yesterday, not long before I went to see the film for the third time, so I had a chance to watch the scene carefully. I must admit that I had not noticed the features Evy refers to before. My reasons for not finding the loss of clothing significant are twofold. First, it seems to me that it is simply that Simon is struggling with the cross, the violence and everything else. His loss first of some clothing and subsequently his hat / skull cap is a bit of realism -- he's been struggling with this heavy cross and with the trauma of the trudge to Calvary and it would be unrealistic to expect all his clothing to remain in tact. It seems reasonable to me to assume that his loss of his outer garments is not religiously significant. It is about verisimilitude. Second, the all important charge of "Judaeus!" (Jew!) comes after the loss of his outer garment. The film-makers have located the line that specifically encourages the viewer to think about Simon's Jewish identity after the point at which he loses some of his clothing. If there is any intention to convey a subtle anti-Jewish message here, then I think the film fails and works against itself. Where I think the issue of the clothing is interesting, and I am grateful to Evy because I had not thought about this before, is that it encourages the viewer to think all the more strongly about Simon's Jewish identity. And this is striking in the light of the fact that the source material, Catherine Emmerich's Dolorous Passion, Chapter 33, uses the clothing to signify to the reader that Simon was not Jewish:
At this moment Simon of Cyrene, a pagan, happened to pass by . . . . The soldiers perceiving by his dress that he was a pagan" (emphasis added).
I am grateful for the opportunity to have thought some more about this scene. I should also point out that Evy Nelson has an article on Christianity Today called The Latest Temptation of Christians.

Marie-Émile Boismard: Notice Nécrologique

The Ecole Biblique web site announces the sad news that Marie-Émile Boismard died on 23 April:

Fr. Marie-Émile Boismard, o. p. (1916-2004): Notice Nécrologique

This full obituary is written by Jerome Murphy O'Connor and reports on Boismard's life and research. There is a bibliography at the end.

Update (30 April): URL has now changed to:

Fr. Marie-Émile Boismard, o. p. (1916-2004): Notice Nécrologique

Monday, April 26, 2004

50% Scholars Discount for JSNTS

On a recent blog entry on Hypotyposeis, Stephen Carlson makes some interesting comments on Alan Garrow's forthcoming book, The Gospel of Matthew's Dependence on the Didache, and adds, "the $120 retail price from T&T Clark in that series may mean waiting until the SBL Annual Meeting". I am sure that it is worth mentioning that T and T Clark International are continuing with Sheffield Academic Press's tradition of providing half-price on hardback books in the JSNTS that are not otherwise available in paperback. This is an excerpt from a recent letter sent out with the recent T and T Clark International catalogue in March (page numbers refer to the current catalogue):
Our scholar’s discount scheme enables you to buy titles published in the following leading research series at half the normal retail price:
  • Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplements (see pages 4-10)
  • Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplements (see pages 13-17)
  • Library of Second Temple Studies (formally Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha Supplements) (see pages 22-23)
Now collectively known as the T&T Clark Library of Biblical Scholarship, these series offer the very latest research in all aspects of Biblical Studies, including innovative work from historical perspectives, studies using social-scientific and literary theory, and developing theological, cultural and contextual approaches.

Signing up for scholar’s discount is easy. Either e-mail us your details at or visit our new website and register on-line.

By registering for scholar’s discount you are entitled to 50% off all hardback volumes in The T&T Clark Library of Biblical Scholarship AND you qualify for special offers on countless new and backlist titles.
As far as I can see one can not yet register on-line, so it looks like the best route is the email one. But I have written to T & T Clark International to enquire further about the possibility of their adding a registering service for this discount on their new site and I will report on any update here. I should perhaps add in this context that I have recently accepted an invitation to become editor of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement series and will report further on this in due course.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Scholarly Smackdown Witherington latest

The latest email from Ben Witherington III has been added to beliefnet's Scholarly Smackdown on Jesus and Paul conducted between Elaine Pagels and Ben Witherington III. This time the order is reversed and Ben Witherington contributes first:

Scholarly Smackdown Round 3: Ben Witherington III

His topic is Gnosticism and the canon. Was there any fully-fledged Gnosticism in the first century? Witherington says no. There's one useful bit of bibliography, something I had missed: Craig Evans, "Thomas, Gospel of" in R. P. Martin and P. H. Davids (eds.), Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its Development (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1997): 1176.

I'm still not sure if this format is conducive to really decent critical engagement. The problem I mentioned before is exacerbated by reversing the order of engagement in this round so that here Witherington if effectively starting afresh. There's not enough actual conversation here.

Daniel Lapin asks Jewish activists to apologise to Mel

Thanks to Arne Halbakken for this link from WorldNetDaily

Jewish activists: Apologize to Mel
Posted: April 24, 2004
By Rabbi Daniel Lapin
Even the most hostile critic must concede that just as depraved films stimulate degenerate imitation, so do uplifting films stimulate noble behavior. That is certainly what has been happening with "The Passion." Wouldn't it be uplifting and even noble were the Jewish groups who earlier had insulted "The Passion," its maker, the Gospels that inspired it and indeed all Christians, now to issue an apology?

Wouldn't it be refreshing if those who earlier warned of anti-Jewish violence because "Gibson is spouting classic anti-Semitism" would now say contritely, "We were just plain wrong"? How about a "We're sorry" from those who threatened, "Mel Gibson's mouth has turned into a lethal weapon." Instead, what they are now saying is, "Just wait till those Muslims see 'The Passion.'"
One of the things that concerns me about the piece is the implication that it was only "Jewish groups" who were concerned about The Passion of the Christ. Many of the film's most vociferous critics have not been Jewish; and the famous "ad hoc committee", as Paula Fredriksen has tried to make clear, had as many Catholics on it as Jews. Still, Lapin appears to be right that the "dire warnings" turn out not to have been justified.

Jeffrey Staley on John

Some new additions (and one update) to the Gospel of John Books and Articles page. These are all Word documents and are from Jeffrey Staley's homepage. Thanks to John Urquhart for alerting me to the new URL for the second of these items:

Jeffrey L. Staley, Reading with a Passion: Rhetoric, Autobiography, and the American West in the Gospel of John (New York: Continuum, 1995), full text of the pre-publication chapters.

Jeffrey L. Staley, “What Can a Postmodern Approach to the Fourth Gospel Add to Contemporary Debates About its Historical Situation?” in Robert Fortna and Thomas Thatcher (eds.), Jesus in the Johannine Tradition: New Directions (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001)

Jeffrey L. Staley, “Liar Liar and ‘This Woman’ in John 7:1-8:59: From Rhetorical Analysis to Intertextual Rereading” in Amy M. Donaldson and Timothy B. Sailors (eds.), New Testament Greek and Exegesis: Festschrift in Honor of Gerald F. Hawthorne (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003)

Scot McKnight, Jesus and the Twelve

Another addition to the Historical Jesus: Books and Articles page:

Scot McKnight, “Jesus and the Twelve”, IBR Studies (no date), Institute for Biblical Research web site

Review of Biblical Literature Latest

I am going to make up for being late on this last week by noting the latest from the SBL Review of Biblical Literature as soon as it's out. These are just the titles directly related to the NT:

The United Bible Society's New Testament Handbook Series
Reviewed by Susan Lochrie Graham

Bøe, Sverre
Gog and Magog: Ezekiel 38-39 as Pre-Text for Revelation 19, 17-21 and 20, 7-10
Reviewed by Michael Barram

Davis, Stephan K.
The Antithesis of the Ages: Paul's Reconfiguration of Torah
Reviewed by Gary D. Salyer

Gathercole, Simon J.
Where Is Boasting?: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul's Response in Romans 1-5 Reviewed by H. H. Drake Williams III

Koester, Craig R.
Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community
Reviewed by Steven A. Hunt

Patte, Daniel and Eugene TeSelle, eds.
Engaging Augustine on Romans: Self, Context, and Theology in Interpretation
Reviewed by Martin Ramey

Theissen, Gerd and Dagmar Winter
Translated by M. Eugene Boring
The Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria
Reviewed by John Byron

Witherington, Ben III and Laura M. Ice
The Shadow of the Almighty: Father, Son, and Spirit in Biblical Perspective
Reviewed by Seung-Ai Yang

Didache Garrow

A forthcoming book of interest in the JSNTS series:

Alan Garrow, The Gospel of Matthew's Dependence of Didache (London and New York: T & T Clark International, 2004).

This book maps the relationship between Matthew's Gospel
and the Didache.

While scholars agree that some form of relationship between these two texts must exist, no consensus regarding the precise nature of this relationship has yet been agreed. At the same time, serious consideration has never been given to the possibility that Matthew's Gospel was written with direct knowledge of a text substantially similiar to the single extant manuscript of the Didache.

If it may be shown that Matthew had direct knowledge of the Didache, then a number of significant implications follow, for example: new evidence is brought to bear on the Synoptic Problem; insight is gained into the pattern of first century Christian liturgical practice and belief; and a detail is uncovered in the story of Gentile incorporation into the Jewish form of the Jesus movement.
The book has an excellent accompanying web site:

Didache Garrow

It is run by the author, Alan Garrow and designed around the principle of a cube, with the main cube leading off to several different cubes. It takes a little while to get used to navigating your way around this web site, and you might find yourself making several false moves, but it's a fun idea and I'm all in favour of nice new ideas like this. The site includes details about the book, the author, background information, sample chapters, coloured texts and so on. A great example to others on the innovative use of the web to act as a companion to a monograph.

HTR on-line

Andrew Gregerman emails with the note that in my Featured Links: July 2001 I had a bunch of references to the reproductions of Harvard Theological Review. I have been gradually stripping these away from the site, but had missed this page. I've now added a note there.

Latest Explorator

Don't forget to look at the latest Explorator from David Meadows:

Explorator 6.52

One paragraph from New York Times linked there caught my interest:

Arts Briefing
By Lawrence Van Gelder

It includes some comments on the American newspaper coverage of The Passion of the Christ:
According to the initial findings of a study by the College of Communications at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, most articles that it categorized as straight news reports were either neutral or positive. Reaction to the film, about the last hours of Jesus, became more negative in editorials, reviews, critiques and feature articles. The preliminary report, part of a larger study of newspaper coverage in all 50 states, said that besides addressing general religious themes, the press tended to focus on anti-Semitism, violence and historical accuracy.
Yes, I would say that that was my impression too -- those were the three areas around which the comments have coalesced.

[And thanks too to David Meadows for a link to my article on The Passion]

Saturday, April 24, 2004

The Passion, Pornography and Polemic

I am so used to linking to and commenting on others' reviews and articles about The Passion of the Christ that it feels odd to point to something I've written myself. I hope that readers will not think me self-indulgent to do so. The latest article to be added to the Essays from Bible and Interpretation on The Passion is the following (with American spelling):

The Passion, Pornography and Polemic:
In Defense of The Passion of the Christ

By Mark Goodacre
April 2004

If you recognise sections of it, it will be because parts are adapted from blog entries here. But the majority of the article, about three-quarters of its 4,500 words, is new.

Vermes on The Passion of the Christ

Geza Vermes's article from The Guardian on The Passion of the Christ (see blog entry on) has now been reproduced on the Bible and Interpretation web site as part of their section Essays from Bible and Interpretation on The Passion:

Celluloid Brutality
Mel Gibson's film about Christ is horribly gory, historically wrong - and it will inspire judeophobia
By Geza Vermes
Friday February 27, 2004
The Guardian

Jim Davila reviews The Passion of the Christ

On Paleojudaica, Jim Davila has some interesting and insightful comments on The Passion of the Christ:

REVIEW of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ

Jim comments that "Speaking of Greek, it's strange that the sign on the cross only had the Latin inscription and one in Aramaic", which contrasts with John 19.20 which mentions Greek too. Jim suspects "some pre-Vatican II, pro-Latin Mass agenda here". This is an interesting point -- the lack of Greek in the film as a whole is sharply focused in this context where John 19.20 is clearly the source. It has me wondering how other Jesus films deal with the titulus. One of the difficulties it presents is that it can make the titutuls pretty big. Jesus of Nazareth (dir. Franco Zeffirelli, 1977) certainly has the full Johannine titulus with Greek, Latin and Hebrew but I am struggling to think of any other Jesus films that do. Here is a link to a picture of the cross with the full titulus from Jesus of Nazareth:

Jesus of Nazareth: cross with titulus

I would imagine that the recent Gospel of John (dir. Philip Saville, 2003) must have it, but I don't specifically remembering noticing it. I'll check.

Jim also comments:
I don't believe that anyone could take that amount of flogging and then get up again and walk for any distance, let alone do so carrying a heavy cross. Jesus would have gone into shock during or just after the flogging and would not have been of much use after that. Given the level of sanitation, nutrition, and medical care at the time, he probably would have died from the flogging alone.
The one thing I wonder here is over Josephus' description of Jesus ben Ananias in War 6.5.11, someone who was whipped under the Roman procurator Albinus until his bones were laid bare and yet who still, apparently, survives this appalling torture. Of course Josephus' description might well be exaggerated, but I do not think it implausible that the scourging of Jesus could have contributed to his relatively quick death on the cross (cf. also Jim's comment to this effect). The evangelists do not agree on whether it was three hours or six, but either way this is relatively speedy by the standards of ancient crucifixions, and apparently quicker than the death of the two robbers or brigands whose legs had to be broken according to John.

I agree with Jim about the level of realism and share the feeling over the comparison with, say, the second season of 24 (which was, nevertheless, great television). The comment that "At least The Passion didn't involve that kind of cartoon violence" contrasts a bit with Paul Flesher's "Mel's Jesus: A 'Real Man' or Just a Toon?".

Jim's remarks that "The crucifixion scene in the movie is physically impossible" seem pretty well founded and are worth reading; I had not thought about the pull of the hands on the nails and the looseness of the tieing, which I had not noticed. On the latter, compare the picture of the crucifixion in Jesus of Nazareth above, also pretty loose tieing of the ropes along with crucifixion through the palms.

I thought Jim's comments on the alleged anti-Semitism fairly balanced; I have written on this in a little more detail now in an article on Bible and Interpretation. As I also comment there, I could not agree more with Jim's "wish [that] he had worked with an advisory team of specialists". And finally, I think Jim's suggestion that the Satan in the film resembled the grim reaper in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey makes more sense than Bruce Chilton's absurd suggestion of Dr Evil and mini-me from Austin Powers (see blog entry on).

Robert Webb on Jesus' Baptism

A new addition to the Historical Jesus: Books and Articles page:

Robert L. Webb, “Jesus' Baptism: Its Historicity and Implications”, IBR Studies (no date), Institute for Biblical Research web site.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Unicode: Tyndale Tech and some thoughts on Greek

David Instone-Brewer has uploaded to the web the latest of his Tyndale Tech newsletters (with thanks to Jim Davila on Paleojudaica for the alert). The topic is unicode, and especially unicode for Hebrew. As ever, it is full of useful bits and bobs:

Greek and Hebrew Fonts: Unicode and Older

I think my own experience of working with unicode is more positive than David's and for two reasons, first that I work with Greek a lot but Hebrew only a little and second that I work with PCs and not Macs. There are a few things I would add from my own experience and which may prove helpful to others:

(1) Palatino Linotype: if you are running Windows 2000 or XP you arleady have a unicode font installed called Palatino Linotype. This includes a Greek character set (not all unicode fonts do) and it looks excellent on both screen and paper. The reason that this is worth mentioning is that if you are running Windows 2000 or XP and require a really good Greek font, then you don't have to do anything.

(2) Inputting the text. This is the big issue. I have been using this excellent facility for some time now:

Unicode Classical Greek Inputter

This is designed by James Naughton and provides a very straightforward facility for you to type in unicode and then to copy and paste into your document. You can choose your preferred font (Arial Unicode MS, Cardo, Gentium, Palatino Linotype etc.). If you prefer mouse-clicking to typing, you can do that too. An additional advantage of this web page is that you can save it onto your hard drive and access it whenever or wherever you want, without being connected to the internet. So it's worth saving now while one has the chance -- it might not be there in a year's time!

(3) Quotations from the Greek New Testament: If in a given document you are simply writing out quotations from the Greek New Testament, there is no need to type this afresh. Here there are several options:

(a) Search or browse on The Unbound Bible, choosing "NA26, Accents (Unicode)" and copy and paste the results into your document.

(b) Do the same at the Online Greek Bible, choosing either "Athena" or "Palatino Linotype".

(c) Go to James Naughton's Unicode Classical Greek page and download the complete text of the Greek New Testament in an HTML help file or PDF. The advantage of this is that you can store it locally and use off-line.

Update (19.23): Paul Nikkel comments in Deinde on the Tyndale Tech email and the comments in Paleojudaica. He comments that "Actually the current Mac OS has Unicode support and as far as I know has had it since OS 8.5 or so. Also, contrary to the Tyndale article OpenType fonts are supported on the Mac OS X as far as I know, Mac Developers Article." Read more . . . . .

Update (Saturday, 22.24): Rubén Gómez comments in Biblical Software Review Weblog.

Update (Saturday, 22.32): Jim Davila comments in Paleojudaica. Minor note: Jim comments on Deinde, "If there's a way to link to individual posts on his site, I couldn't find it". You click on the "View comments" link and that gives you an URL for that post plus any subsequent comments on it.

John Ashton, Religious Experience of Jesus

The latest addition to the Historical Jesus: Books and Articles page is this article from my former teacher John Ashton of the University of Oxford, with thanks to David Mackinder for alerting me to this:

John Ashton, “The Religious Experience of Jesus”, 2002-03 James Lecture, Harvard Divinity School, in Harvard Divinity Bulletin 32/1 (Fall/Winter 2003): 17-20. [View whole issue in PDF]

More Crossan

The media can't get enough of John Dominic Crossan at the moment. This one, alerted in Bible and Interpretation, is from the Daily News:

Crossan examination: Jesus scholar looks at 'Passion' and politics of Christ
By Alexander Stevens / CNC Staff Writer
Thursday, April 22, 2004
"I've written about 20 books and I've gone on book tours, but I don't think I've ever had this kind of media attention," he says, on the phone from his home in Florida. "It's all because of this movie." . . . . .

. . . . . "I think he gored-up the movie," says Crossan. "No scholar has any evidence that the soldiers that scourged Jesus were sadistic brutes who thoroughly enjoyed their work, as opposed to soldiers just doing their job, and wanting to get it over and have a beer." . . . .

. . . . . . "By simply taking the last 12 hours of Jesus' life, he's made it seem as if the entire crowd of Jerusalem is against Jesus," says Crossan. "So here's what you've got (in the movie): You've got non-Christian Jews, and they're all bad, and you've got Christian Jews (such as Mary Magdelene and the Virgin Mary), and they're all good.

"Everywhere else I look, Jews are bad," he adds. "They're jeering Jesus all the way to the crucifixion. I don't see why Jews who, even if they dislike Jesus, would like what the Romans are doing to him.
I think that the problem with this is that it is inaccurate -- it does not accurately describe the way that the film depicts the journey to the cross. On the comment that "No scholar has any evidence that the soldiers that scourged Jesus were sadistic brutes", I would want to point out the evidence from Josephus, War 5.11 which suggests just this, that soldiers could be brutal and sadistic ("wrath and hatred . . . . by way of jest") in the act of crucifixion. It is not a far cry from that to imagining they could be the same way in scourging a victim.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Panel Discussion, Passion of the Christ

The Light House in Wolverhampton (U.K.) has an event on next Tuesday following one of its screenings of The Passion of the Christ and I'll be taking part along with several others:

Tues 27 April, 6.45pm
Mel Gibson’s film has caused a great deal of interest, from Christians and from people of other faiths and none. There have been comments about the role of cinema in evangelism, the search for authenticity by the use of Latin and Aramaic and accusations of anti-Semitism. An opportunity to hear a variety of views about the film and to express your own opinions. The panel will include: The Rt. Rev’d Michael Bourke Anglican Bishop of Wolverhampton, Dr George Chryssides and Dr Deirdre Burke Religious Studies Lecturers at the University of Wolverhampton, Len Brandes former President of the Jewish Congregation in Wolverhampton and Dr Mark Goodacre from the Graduate Institute for Theology & Religion at Birmingham University.
Cost: free. All welcome.

Further details available here.

Top Ten Bible News sites

Both Rubén Gómez on Bible Software Review Weblog and Jim West on Biblical Theology refer to this list:

Top Ten Bible News sites

It's located on, a site devoted to Theology discussion and resources. It's a useful site, currently anonymous, though I do happen to know the person who runs it. It is nice to see this blog in the list above, but there are noticeable absentees, most particularly Paleojudaica, which was the inspiration for me to get going in the first place and is without doubt one of the top biblioblogs. Although the list is at the moment effectively limited to blogs, I'd also want to reference at the top Bible and Interpretation. Although new on the scene, Deinde certainly looks like it is going to be a very useful resource too.

Crossan on the Four Gospels

Bible and Interpretation link to a short but interesting article on John Dominic Crossan in Wisconsin's Capital Times:

Author stresses 4 different Gospels
By Phil Haslanger
April 20, 2004

There are one or two great lines, including ""I would define a fundamentalist as one who doesn't like the way that God organized the Gospels". He also claims that "It's the multiplicity of the Gospel that crowns my work".

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Robert Gundry on The Passion of the Christ

Robert Gundry has a very interesting letter in the current SBL Forum:

Letters to the Editor

The letter (more of a short article) is headed The Burden of the Passion and you will need to scroll down a little to read it. Although it is not mentioned by name, he is responding directly to Paula Fredriksen's article in the previous month's SBL Forum entitled History, Hollywood, and the Bible: Some Thoughts on Gibson's Passion. This much is clear from his reference to "scholars [who] accuse Gibson of reading the Gospels through the contra Iudaeos tradition". It is all worth reading, but a couple of excerpts anyway. On Pilate:
. . . . we also know from outside the New Testament that he yielded to Jewish pressure on at least one occasion earlier than Jesus' trial (Josephus, Antiquities 18.55-59; War 2.169-74). Pilate's position was precarious . . . . and Pilate himself had complaints lodged against him (Philo, Embassy 299-305; Josephus, Antiquities 18.85-89), the latter of which led to his own deposition. So he had reason to get the jitters and cave in. And since he did cave in despite his belief in Jesus' innocence . . . . he himself does not look innocent in the least.
On the violence:
In this light, the nearly interminable beating of Jesus does not have the look of gratuitous violence in the sadomasochistic mode. Not at all! Its very length and brutality are designed to test the ability of Jesus to carry "the whole burden of sin" and prove Satan wrong. Unbelievers may not like this theology. It may disgust them. But believers or not, reviewers only expose their theological insensitivity to call the violence inflicted on Jesus "gratuitous."
On Satan:
Satan has a comeuppance too. When Jesus dies having successfully borne the weight of the whole world's sin, Satan collapses on the site of Jesus' death-and shrieks. Why? Because that is what demons do when exorcised, when cast out. Shortly before his passion Jesus said, "Now is the prince of this world cast out." Exorcistic language if there ever was such! Satan has had his/her day; but thanks to Jesus' burden-bearing, that day is over.
I didn't think it was "the site of Jesus' death"; but I will have another look when I see it again next week. Also interesting is Gundry's interpretation of the portrayal of the effeminate Herod Antipas. Someone should encourage Gundry to write a full article developing some of his fascinating insights on the film, if they have not already done so.

Incidentally, on reading Fredriksen's article again, it looks like it was written before she saw the film. She refers explicitly only to material she viewed in the earlier version of the script that was read by the "ad hoc committee" and (twice) to the film's trailer. There is nothing in this article that would require knowledge of the film itself.

AAR stands firm on stand-alone meetings

Also on Deinde, news of a response to the AAR Joint Meetings Petition headed by Karen King and Elaine Pagels. It seems that the petition has been unsuccessful. Deinde references Ryan's Lair for a copy of the announcement, which has it under the heading Excellent news from the AAR. The gist of it is that there is no change about the fundamental decision to discontinue joint meetings with the Society of Biblical Literature from 2008, but that a "task force" will be set up to look at the "implementation" of the decision. Additionally, "the Board instructed the executive director to begin exploring the possibility of holding periodic concurrent meetings with other relevant associations" including the SBL.

There is no report from this meeting yet on the AAR Web Site, though I was interested to read the AAR's FAQ about the decision, including answers to the questions "What was the AAR Board's process for making this decision, and why didn't you seek the opinions of members?" and "Is it accurate that the AAR did not consult with the SBL before making this decision?". Both of these FAQs date back to last July. Effectively their answer to the second question is "No".

Update: Jim Davila comments in Paleojudaica and concludes that "The response of the Board of Directors is not satisfactory. With respect, this is not over yet." It certainly seems extraordinary to me that the membership of AAR were not consulted about this major decision.

Deinde on The Myth of the Paperless Church

On Deinde "Tsar" makes some useful comments on Harold Scanlin's The Myth of the Paperless Church: Codex, Cognition and Christianity (mentioned here yesterday):

The Myth of Paper

I agree with the characterisation of the article:
While the majority of his article considers the codex and its effect on canon, he starts off by writing about the myth of the paperless office, which comes from the identically titled book by Sellen and Harper. Unfortunately, although he starts with this paragraph and names his article in line with it he doesn't dwell on this issue as it is relevant now.
Yes. Although the article is interesting, the title leads one to expect something slightly different. Scanlin begins by talking about paper's affordances as a reason for the unlikelihood that it will decline in importance. Tsar comments:
It is true that the electronic medium we have today is a poor substitute for the affordances of paper, but to be fair it is only recently that the affordances of this media have started to be realized. The trend since the 70's has been to recreate the properties of paper in an electronic format. Recently though the trend has shifted to understanding and applying the advantages of the electronic medium, such as XML format documents, wikis, dynamically generated pages among others. The important point here is that the strengths of electronic medium are not in the end user/content interaction but in the creation and transmission of the texts, precisely the areas that are of interest to Scanlin in his article but which he leaves unexplored.
One comment on the format of Deinde: it is a great deal easier to read on its blog-style main page than it is on its forum-style subpages. I wonder if all of the forum-style material could also be brought in to the main page with a permalink? Also, my own preference is to know who is writing what. The comments are intelligent and it would be nice to know who "Tsar" is.

Carlson on The Passion Part 2

Part 2 of Stephen Carlson's reflections on The Passion of the Christ is now available on Hypotyposeis. The topic is the question of the film's historical inaccuracies:

My Thoughts on The Passion of the Christ (2 of 3)

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Nigerian Association of Biblical Studies

This notice is posted on behalf of Dapo Asaju. Please correspond with him at the address below.

17th Annual Conference of Nabis
Place- Lagos State University, Ojoo, Lagos State, Nigeria.
Date- July 6-9th 2004

Full details available at:

This is for the Nigerian Association for Biblical Studies. Dr Asaju is
hosting the conference in his University and enquiries, correspondences,
topics of proposed papers etc should be sent to

Dr. Dapo Asaju
Department of Religions,
Lagos State University, Nigeria

I have also added a link to the Nigerian Association for Biblical Studies on the Societies page of the NT Gateway.

Francis Moloney comments on The Passion of the Christ

Thanks to Gail Dawson for the link to this article from The Tower Online, the newsletter for the Catholic University of America (free registration required):

Moloney: 'Scene After Scene is Just Wrong' in Passion Film
Portrayal of Jews is 'So Massively Negative,' Says TRS Dean
By Ryan Schanberger
Published: Friday, March 26, 2004

The themes of the critique will be familiar to most by now, the depiction of Pontius Pilate, the harmonizing of the Gospels, Jesus' carrying the whole cross while the thieves carry the crossbeams and so on:
I didn't like it as a movie," he said, criticizing the violence that "goes on, and on, and on." According to Moloney, the film lacked "narrative tension," and seemed the same all the way through. "In fact, I nearly fell asleep during the way of the cross."

"It's just historically wrong -- it's not what actually happened," Moloney said . . .
There are also some comments from an event at the Catholic University of America featuring Timothy Friedrichsen, William Loewe, William Dinges and Rabbi Jack Moline.

Paul Flesher and more

I have had a look around and have found a web page for Paul Flesher (see Flesher lecture on The Passion of the Christ):

Introducing Paul Flesher

A couple of the links are dead; for one the correct link can be found here: Wyoming Web Lectures on Religion. This is a project to provide full on-line lectures in real-media from key figures like Jacob Neusner and Rosemary Radford Ruether. This is a great idea and has obviously inspired the provision of Flesher's lecture on The Passion of the Christ.

Thanks to those who have informed me that standing to lecture is the norm among able-bodied Americans. Note that his web page provides a picture of Flesher standing to teach too.

Troy Martin

On Scholars: M I have added a link to the following:

Troy W. Martin
St Xavier University, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

The page includes a full list of publications.

One of Troy Martin's articles is available on-line in BSW's electronic version of Filología Neotestamentaria:

Troy W. Martin, "The ambiguities of a 'baffling expression'" (Gal 4:12), Filología Neotestamentaria 12 (1999): 123-138

Journal of Religion and Society on The Passion of the Christ

On Paleojudaica Jim Davila draws attention to The Journal of Religion and Society 6 (2004), a special edition on The Passion of the Christ. It may be worth adding that the same material also features in the Journal of Religion and Film 8 Special Issue no. 1 (February 2004). The Journal of Religion and Society version has the advantage of some PDF versions of the articles. The Journal of Religion and Film version has added five articles reproduced from the SBL Forum for March, by Nicola Denzey, Paula Fredriksen, John Dart, Frances Flannery-Dailey and Paul Flesher and Robert Torry. Unfortunately, there are a couple of articles from that edition of the SBL Forum not there reproduced, those by Gregory Allen Robbins and W. Barnes Tatum. Having said that, the useful thing about the addition of the SBL articles is that it provides some material written after the film has been viewed. The disappointing thing with the material from the Creighton symposium is that it is all from before the film has been viewed by any of the contributors. Perhaps they will have a follow-up featuring responses to the film?

Monday, April 19, 2004

James Tabor on The Passion of the Christ

When commenting on Waco earlier today, I noticed that James Tabor has flagged up a new entry on his Jewish Roman World of Jesus:

Personal Reflections on My Viewing of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"
James Tabor

One or two comments, though these will be familiar already to regular readers of this blog:
Jesus carried this unbelievably huge full cross, just like in all the traditional paintings, and at times that part of the film bordered on the ridiculous. This portrait, however appealing to tradition, is unsupported in either the Gospels (Greek word stauros means stake) or what we know of Roman history. It is worth noting that the two “thieves,’ crucified with Jesus, as this film portrayed things, had only to carry the “cross beam” to which the arms would be tied or nailed, not the entire cross. This would be in keeping with Roman practice, so why have Jesus bend and break for nearly 30 minutes of the film, carrying a “cross” that surely would have weighed over 100 lbs. Here, as in other places, presumably Gibson read his English Bible where the term “cross” is used, and guided by Sister Emmerich’s visions and Church tradition, decided that this was the way things were.
The source for Jesus carrying the whole cross rather than the cross beam is the report in the Synoptics that Simon of Cyrene helped with carrying Jesus' cross, something that has informed the traditional Christian depiction.

Tabor also writes, with reference to the article by Joe Zias:
Gibson also had Jesus’ nailed to the cross in the hands and feet, rather than through the wrists and the heel bones, as we know was actually the case.
But do we "know" this? The Zias article suggests that this particular victim's arms were tied -- he was not nailed through the wrists or hands. And we do not know, of course, how typical this one victim was. Josephus' evidence in War 5.11 is that victims were crucified in a variety of poses. In fact that passage is interesting also for another element in The Passion of the Christ:
So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies. [Courtesy of James Tabor, Josephus' References to Crucifixion]
I am interested here in that phrase "by way of jest", something that shows that the horrifying depiction of Roman soldiers deriving pleasure from torturing Jesus may not be far off the mark. It is a truly chilling thought.

Tabor also comments on the fact that it would normally take days for the victims to die and that crucifying victims involved making sure that the death was prolonged and agonising. But there is one thing here that is interesting in Jesus' case -- that the Gospels record that Jesus' death was relatively quick (six hours in the Synoptics and three in John). In John, the two other men needed to have their legs broken to bring about a speedier death.

Tabor also comments that "Not a single Jew is presented with any kind of character development". I think that this is incorrect, as regular readers will know. Simon of Cyrene, the only character whose Jewish identity is explicitly commented upon in the film, shows real character development, from reluctance to get involved with a random criminal to exhorting the soldiers to stop the violence.

Harold Scanlin article on the SBL Forum

A new addition on the SBL Forum and continuing its digital technologies theme:

The Myth of the Paperless Church: Codex, Cognition, and Christianity
Harold P. Scanlin

Schmisek, Chancey and Osiek on The Passion of the Christ

Bible and Interpretation point to this article in the Texas Catholic Newspaper:

'The Passion of the Christ'

Biblical scholars discern fact from artistic license

The article features the views of Carolyn Osiek (Texas Christian University’s Brite Divinity School); Brian Schmisek (Director of the University of Dallas’ Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies in Irving); and Dr. Mark A. Chancey (Southern Methodist University). Chancey's views can be read in full in his Bible and Interpretation article An Unacknowledged Passion. In this newspaper review there are some enjoyable comments, especially Osiek's summary:
“Artistically, it gets an ‘A,’ historically a ‘B+’ and theologically a ‘C.’ I recommend it, as long as one keeps a balanced theological mind. If one has never taken seriously the brutality of a Roman crucifixion, this is a good learning experience. . . . If the film will help us understand Jesus’ great act of love and his solidarity with the victims of torture, it is well worthwhile.”
Given many scholars' overreactions to the film, this article overall is quite refreshing, especially the acknowledgement of the artistic value of the film:
“If you want to portray it in cinema, there’s a lot that you want to fill in,” Schmisek said. “I’m not watching the movie thinking that’s the way it really happened. This was an artistic portrayal of (Gibson’s) interpretation. I would think most people know that it’s not a literal portrayal.”
There is also the frequently mentioned criticism about Jesus carrying his own cross:
Osiek and Chancey had difficulty with the carrying of the cross and crucifixion scenes. One of the inconsistencies, according to Osiek, was Jesus carrying the entire cross, whereas the two prisoners carried just the crossbeam. Jesus would likely have carried the crossbeam, she said.
But, as I have pointed out here before, the source for Jesus carrying the entire cross is the role played by Simon of Cyrene who can then carry the cross for Jesus. That is why in the Gospel of John film, with no Simon, one can have Jesus too carrying the crossbeam only.

Review of Biblical Literature Latest

I am a bit late on the latest from the Review of Biblical Literature. Some New Testament reviews:

Gathercole, Simon J.
Where Is Boasting?: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul's Response in Romans 1-5
Reviewed by James P. Sweeney

Lapham, F.
Peter: The Myth, the Man, and the Writings
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Lüdemann, Gerd
Paul: The Founder of Christianity
Reviewed by Michael Kaler

Reinhartz, Adele
Befriending the Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John
Reviewed by Jeffrey S. Siker

Witherington, Ben III, and Laura M. Ice
The Shadow of the Almighty: Father, Son, and Spirit in Biblical Perspective
Reviewed by Ronald R. Clark

Deinde: Discussion and Resources for Biblical Scholars

This new web site is available:

Deinde: Discussion and Resources for Biblical Scholars

It is run by Paul Nikkel (graduate student at the University of Sheffield), Rafael Rodriguez (graduate student at University of Sheffield) and Danny Zacharias (graduate student at Acadia University under Craig Evans). Paul Nikkel describes it in this way: "The purpose of the site is to provide news and commentary relevant to biblical scholars as well as resources and a place for discussion." Its main layout is in blog style so it would be useful to have an RSS feed. Looks like it could be a valuable web site.

Flesher Lecture on The Passion of the Christ

Bible and Interpretation's Essays From Bible and Interpretation on the Passion adds a link to a video presentation by Paul Flesher:

“The Passion” as an Icon
By Paul Flesher, Video Presentation, Real Player plug-in
(University of Wyoming: April 2004)

It's a 45 minute lecture. It is an accessible piece; it does not assume any major knowledge of the Bible, and takes one steadily through one Biblical scholar's reflections on the film. At about 20 minutes in he discusses some of the images that come from other Jesus films, citing Jesus Christ Superstar (for Herod Antipas), Last Temptation of Christ and Jesus of Montreal (for the cross falling on Jesus). As far as one can tell it is a recording of some kind of public lecture, with Flesher sitting down to address his audience. (Is this usual among American lecturers?) At about 27 minutes in the lecture finishes and there are some quite interesting questions.

Update (20 April): there is a web page linking to this talk here:

The Passion of the Christ discussion

Carlson on The Passion of the Christ

On Hypotyposeis Stephen Carlson has published the first part of his thoughts on The Passion of the Christ:

My thoughts on The Passion of the Christ (1 of 3)

This entry is not showing up in my bloglines subscription, perhaps because it is before Stephen changed the feed, so you may need to go to the link above if you have not already read it. Stephen writes, ""Passion" is not an intellectual understanding but a powerful emotional feeling, and Gibson deftly exploits the medium of film to evoke just such a response in his audience" and he speculates that "It is probably the intensity of viewer's unavoidable emotional reaction that is responsible for stridency of some of the reviews to the film", something I have often wondered myself. He explores the inappropriate use of the term "pornography" in reviews of the film and compares the violence here with the violence in Pulp Fiction and Fargo. I am looking forward very much to Parts 2 and 3.

Hypotyposeis thriving again

It is good to see Stephen Carlson's Hypotyposeis blog back with a vengeance. If, like me, you read all your blogs via Bloglines, you might have missed several entries. You will need to adjust the feed for Hypotyposeis -- unsubscribe from the old feed and then enter

Why Waco?

Also well worth mentioning is James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher, Why Waco?
Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America
(California: University of California Press, 1995). Chapter 1 is available on-line:

What might have been
. . . . A person familiar with the biblical texts could have perceived the situation in wholly different terms from the government's "hostage rescue." For the Branch Davidians, no one was a hostage. The only "rescue" they needed was from the government itself. In their view, the federal agents represented an evil government system, referred to in the book of Revelation as "Babylon." The idea of "surrendering to proper authority," as the government demanded throughout the next seven weeks, was absolutely out of the question for these believers unless or until they became convinced it was what God willed. As they saw it, their group had been wantonly attacked and slaughtered by government agents whom they understood to be in opposition to both God and his anointed prophet David Koresh. Their fate was now in God's hands.

The Waco situation could have been handled differently and possibly resolved peacefully. This is not unfounded speculation or wishful thinking. It is the considered opinion of the lawyers who spent the most time with the Davidians during the siege and of various scholars of religion who understand biblical apocalyptic belief systems such as that of the Branch Davidians. There was a way to communicate with these biblically oriented people, but it had nothing to do with hostage rescue or counterterrorist tactics. Indeed, such a strategy was being pursued, with FBI cooperation, by Phillip Arnold of the Reunion Institute in Houston and James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, one of the authors of this book. Arnold and Tabor worked in concert with the lawyers Dick DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, who spent a total of twenty hours inside the Mount Carmel center between March 29 and April 4, communicating directly with Koresh and his main spokesperson, Steve Schneider. Unfortunately, these attempts came too late. By the time they began to bear positive results, decisions had already been made in Washington to convince Attorney General Janet Reno to end the siege by force . . . .
Update: See comments from Jim Davila in Paleojudaica.


On this day when in 1993 77 cult members died in a fire at their compound in Waco. This morning's Guardian publishes an article from its archive, Funeral pyre at Waco : Two Britons among cult's survivors. Not long ago, Kenneth Newport published a fine book called Apocalypse and Millennium : Studies in Biblical Eisegesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), Chapter 9 of which is "Waco apocalypse: the Book of Revelation in the Branch Davidian tradition".

More on Waco later.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Blog break

The NTGateway blog is taking a break over the weekend but will be back on Monday. If you are waiting for an email from me at the moment, let me apologise. At the moment correspondence is coming in far, far more quickly than I am able to answer it. I do get to pretty much all correspondence eventually.

Latest from Bible and Interpretation on The Passion

Bible and Interpretation continues its series of essays on The Passion of the Christ with this one focusing not on the film itself (he has not seen it) but on the related question of Inter Jewish conflict in the Gospels as a way of reacting to the charges concerning anti-Semitism:

Inter-Jewish Conflict and the Passion of Jesus
To argue that the Evangelists all conspired to re-write history, condemning the Jews and exonerating the Romans, seems a little far-fetched
Anthony J. Tomasino

St Andrews Conference on Old Testament Interpretation and the Social Sciences

This notice posted on behalf of Prof. Philip Esler:

The St Andrews Conference on Old Testament Interpretation and the Social Sciences
Wed 30 June to Sun 4 July 2004

In 1994 St Andrews hosted a conference entitled 'Context and Kerygma: The St Andrews Conference on New Testament Interpretation and the Social Sciences'. Many of the papers presented were subsequently published in Modelling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context, edited by Philip F. Esler (London and New York: Routledge, 1995).

Now, a decade later, we are holding a similar conference in St Andrews. It will run from the evening of Wednesday 30th June 2004 to mid morning on Sunday 4th July 2004 and will be entitled 'The St Andrews Conference on Old Testament Interpretation and the Social Sciences.'

Participants will be accommodated in the delightful environment of St Salvator's College (as in 1994) and most papers will be given in or around St Mary's College.

The speaking slots for the conference are now essentially complete (see list of agreed speakers and topics below) and we believe that they will provide a rich exposure to the conference theme, especially for staff and postgraduates interested in social-scientific exegesis. The papers cover many general topics and also studies of particular texts.

The full cost of the conference including accommodation, food (including the Conference dinner) and diversions will be £285. But for those who do not wish to go on outings or attend the final dinner, or are willing to share a room, a cheaper rate (something close to £200) is available for the conference.

Please email Philip F. Esler ( to express interest or for further information.

List of Confirmed Speakers

Mario Aguilar, University of St Andrews, 'Symbolic Wars, Age-Sets and the Anthropology of War in 1 Maccabees'

Marvin Chaney, San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Francisco, USA, 'The Political Economies of Eighth-Century Israel and Judah' (provisional title)

Robert Coote, San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Francisco, USA, 'Tribalism in Ancient Palestine and the Hebrew Bible'

Zeba Crook, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, 'Modelling Exchange in the Biblical Era'

Richard DeMaris and Carolyn Leeb, University of Valparaiso, Indiana, USA, 'Can a Filicide Be a Worthy Judge? Honor, Vow, and Ritual in the Jephthah Story Cycle (Judges 10:6-12:7)'

Adriana Destro and Mauro Pesce, University of Bologna, Italy, 'Levitical Sacrifice in Anthropological Perspective'

John H. Elliott, University of San Francisco, USA, 'Euphemism and Dysphemism in the Biblical Communities and Their Cultural Roots: A Social-Scientific Study of Deut 25:11-12'

Philip F. Esler, University of St Andrews, 'What Solomon's Father Did in the Ammonite War: A Social-Scientific Study of 2 Samuel 10-12'.

Lester Grabbe, University of Hull, 'Prophets Ancient and Modern: Anthropological Insights on Israelite Prophecy'

Anselm Hagedorn, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, 'Ethnicity and Stereotypes in the Book of Nahum. Social-Scientific Insights into the Literary History of a Prophetic Book'

Jutta Jokiranta, University of Helsinki, 'The Prototypical Teacher in the Qumran Pesharim'

Carolyn Leeb, University of Valparaiso, Indiana, USA, 'Polygyny in the Biblical World: Insights from Haiti'

Bruce J. Malina, 'Identity Theory, Politics and the Pontifical Biblical Commission's The Jewish People and Its Scriptures in the Christian Bible '

Andrew Mayes, Trinity College Dublin, 'Freud, Moses and Monotheism'

Dietmar Neufeld, University of British Columbia, Canada, 'Body, Ritual and States of Ecstasy in the Old Testament'

Douglas E. Oakman, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA, USA 'Hermeneutics in Context: Biblical Interpretation in Dialogue With the Social Sciences'

John Pilch, Georgetown University, Washington, USA, 'Altered States of Consciousness and Visions in Ezekiel'

Richard Rohrbaugh, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Or USA, 'Purity and Assimilation in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs'.

Gary Stansell, St Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA, 'Wealth in Ancient Israel: or, How Abraham Became Rich'

Review of The Passion of the Christ by Helen-Ann Hartley

Thanks to Helen-Ann Hartley, Wilkinson Junior Research Fellow and Assistant Dean,
Worcester College, Oxford, for sending over her thoughts on The Passion of the Christ:

These thoughts are offered in response to a review in the Oxford Diocesan newspaper The Door (April 2004). The reviewer states that in his opinion, the film ‘can draw believers more deeply into the heart of their faith. And as an evangelistic tool for non-believers that will hopefully intrigue them and cause them to ask questions and further explore particularly the life of Christ under-emphasised here, I think it will do far more good than harm’. I disagree. The film is a deeply flawed account of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus based upon a synthesis of the gospel accounts with material from extra-canonical sources, heavily influenced by the Stations of the Cross. As such it provides no narrative context for the truly harrowing scenes of torture and crucifixion other than the theme of substitutionary atonement. (Incidently, a quick study of the credits reveals the special effects people have worked on some major Hollywood horror films).

We have no real inkling of the activities surrounding the Passover, other than the full moon and Mary’s quotation of the first question from the Haggadah. The use of flashbacks provides minimal, contrived links with the life of Christ and we are told nothing of his programme of teaching and healing. Jesus as the pre-emptor of Western dining culture, producing a table as though it came straight out of IKEA? I don’t think so. Pilate is portrayed as a dithering and reflective character (presumably picking up on the Gospel references to him ‘wondering greatly’ – Mk. 15:5 for example) whereas in reality he was a brutal individual who would have had no hesitation in condemning yet another Jew to death; Herod is a camp buffoon direct from a production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’; the chief priests and elders are a brooding lot who stay in their full regalia throughout, presumably because we are meant to see them as the real villains, they even accompany Jesus up to Golgotha. Jesus’s words ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’ are aimed at the chief priest and not, as in the Gospels, at the Roman soldiers casting lots. The Romans themselves are a mad bunch, almost animal-like in their relentless abuse of Jesus. Satan moves about the Jewish crowds and demonic children hound Judas to his death. The sense of total opposition between Jesus and the Jewish crowds (with a few exceptions) is pressed home. Gibson leaves in the line: ‘His blood be on us and our children’ (not subtitled) and in this perhaps the greatest distortion lies.

Aside from the debate over the supposed anti-semitism (or indeed whether it is even appropriate to use this term), it is not hard to see why many Jews have expressed great concern over the film. The film provides Christians with the opportunity to reflect on the suffering of Jesus but also more importantly, the chance to reflect on how the narratives of Jesus’ death have played a role in Jewish-Christian relations. The story of Jesus is surely about his life, death and resurrection and seeking to represent Jesus by showing us the last few hours of his life distorts the message. I wouldn’t see the film – read the book instead!

Crossan vs. Sanders

Bible and Interpretation post a notice of this article in the Globe and Mail from last Saturday:

Jesus the social reformer? It makes nice fiction
But they are also objectionable, not just to conservative believers, but also to a number of secular liberal scholars. The charge against Mr. Crossan is led by E. P. Sanders of Duke University in North Carolina, who is widely regarded as the world's most authoritative expert on first-century Jewish culture and history. Mr. Sanders describes himself as a "secularized Protestant" who was raised in the social-gospel tradition. He, too, would like to see a Jesus who fits into that tradition. As a sober historian, though, he realizes that there is no such thing.

"One may sympathize with the effort to find support for economic reform in the ministry of Jesus. It is frustrating to see inequality and injustice in the world today and not to be able to call on Jesus to support the many changes that are so badly needed," he wrote in the New York Review of Books. "The basic problem for such a thesis is that evidence is lacking." . . . .
As far as I can tell, all the quotations are taken from the New York Review of Books exchange between Crossan and Reed on the one hand and Sanders on the other. I have commented on this previously. Unfortunately, it seems that now none of that exchange is available for free.