Archive for February 2014

The Biggest Event on the Historical Jesus Research in Europe – Join us!   Leave a comment

Jesus and Brian
A conference on the Historical Jesus and his Times
20-22 June, 2014
King’s College London, The Strand, London, England
This ground-breaking conference uses Monty Python’s Life of Brian as a scholarly tool to help us consider our own assumptions as we reflect on the New Testament, Jewish history, interpretation and meaning.
Speakers are at the cutting edge of historical Jesus and first-century Judaea scholarship, and include: Martin Goodman, George Brooke, Joan Taylor, Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine, James Crossley, Philip Davies, Helen Bond, Steve Mason, Adele Reinhartz, James Dunn and Paula Fredriksen. There will also be celebrity guests, reflecting on the film and its initial reception, and obviously plenty of opportunity for discussion.​ A superb conference dinner, with star keynote speaker, will be held at historic Inner Temple, hosted by Rev. Robin Griffith-Jones, Master of Temple Church, on Saturday, June 21st.​ 

Costs: Early registration rate until end of April £180 for three days- lunches and refreshments provided. Reduced Student rate available.
£65 for conference dinner.
For further details and booking click here

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Posted February 27, 2014 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized

The Historical Jesus and the ODESSA File   Leave a comment


At the last conference of the British New Testament Society (August, St. Andrews – Scotland), I had the pleasure of engaging in several fascinating discussions. As an Egyptian free from the historical legacy of Europe wars, I found that the tensions between British and German scholarships were clear and that the debates over anti-Semitism not only survive but also impact on theological scholarship. I asked some questions about the emotional or perhaps theological prejudice burdening any discussions involving names like “Bultmann, Käsemann..etc.” and during one of the lunches a professor from a prestigious university said to me: “thanks for the points you made.. I think we Europeans sometimes need input from outside the continent regarding these issues. We NT scholars here still bear some of the burdens of WWII memories and that’s why you might have seen that more than us.”  Astonishingly, another professor taking the same train as me from Leuchars told me almost the same thing. The issue has a great effect on NT scholarship and its related disciplines; the Quest of the Historical Jesus and the Parting(s) of the Ways. This needs studies not on the Sitz im Leben of early Christians only but also our generation of scholars.

The Historical Jesus Conspiracy and the ODESSA File

On New Year’s Day 2013 I was on the train from Frankfurt back to Hamburg when I read a book that unveiled the whole problem with a high degree of honesty. It is Apocalypticism, Anti-Semitism and the Historical Jesus (John S. Kloppenborg and John W. Marshall (eds.). The essays in the book are not debating the authenticity of the Apocalyptic materials (if you are interested in that issue check this book). Rather, they are dealing with the motives and cultural contexts of the disagreeing ideas and studies over apocalypticism and the Historical Jesus. Kloppenborg surveyed the quests of the historical Jesus in the light of the different contexts starting from the Kulturoptimismus of pre-WWI Germany, through the problems of anti-Semitism in Germany to WWII and the post-war Modern Quest. Most important is the fact that later conservatives who were not happy with Bultmann and heirs accused the later constructions of the Historical Jesus and their methods of being some sort of a reproduction of anti-Semitic Nazi Jesus. The accusations and rough gestures were not only addressed against the Germans of the Modern Quest but also those who furthered their studies in the United States (Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, the Jesus Seminar..etc.). The main accusation was de-Judaizing Jesus through using the Criterion of Dissimilarity.

N T Wright made an “invidious insinuation”, Kloppenborg says,  “that those who propose a cynic analogy belong to the legacy of the Nazi scholarship. ‘Have the New Questers, and the advocates of the Cynic Jesus, come to terms with the politically problematic analogy between themselves and those German scholars who, in the 1920s and 1930s, reduced almost to nil the specific Jewishness of Jesus and his message?’ [Cf. 3. N.T. Wright (Christian Origins and the Question of God. Volume 2: Jesus and the Victory of God [Minneapolis: Fortress; London: SPCK, 1996], 79 n. 233)]. Furthermore, Wright also dismisses the pre-WWII German scholarship as a no Quest period due to “‘the absence of serious Jesus study in prewar Germany.’ (on Wright’s views of Bultmann, Crossan, Mack and Koester check this). Birger Pearson accuses the Jesus Seminar of is based on an ideology that is like “is like that which produced the ‘Aryan Jesus’.” (‘The Gospel According to the Jesus Seminar’, Religion, 25 (1995), pp. 317-38) Wright represents a large number of conservative scholars who brought the so-called Third Quest to fight the de-Judaized Jesus of the Modern Quest. I would like to make some points:

1- It is horrible indeed to suggest that scholars who disagree with you are on the same side as the Nazis. Bultmann had two brothers, one died in WWI and the other was murdered in a concentration camp. He was deeply wounded by losing his best friend Martin Heidegger who chose to be with the Third Reich. Ernst Kasemann, Gunther Bornkamm and a long list of German Modern Quest scholars suffered and were persecuted by the Nazis. Kasemann was imprisoned, Bornkamm was fired from the university and was not allowed to teach because he did not accept the Nazi ideology. Later, this generation worked hard to eradicate the Nazi Volkisch theology of their former fellows who were not allowed to teach again according to the de-Nazification programme (examples are like Emanuel Hirsch and Paul Althaus). For the following 10 years after the war, those people suffered badly, I knew one of them personally who told me that they did not have heating in Marburg and had to share cigarettes and gloves inside the monstrously cold library… Bultmann had to bring them donated blankets from Union Theological Seminary to be able to physically carry on. That was the context in which Kasemann gave his 1953 lecture which inaugurated the Modern Quest…  I am not one of them but if I were I would have felt rather unhappy with associating  my work with the Nazis.

– Not everyone who sees Jesus as “less Jewish” is in agreement with Nazis and vice versa. Adolf Hitler once said: “Whether it’s the Old Testament or the New, or simply the sayings of Jesus according to Houston Stewart Chamberlain—it’s all the same old Jewish swindle. It will not make us free… You cannot make an Aryan of Jesus, that’s nonsense.” [H. Rauschning, Hitler Speaks: A Series of Political Conversations with Adolf Hitler on his Real Aims (London: T. Butterworth Ltd, 1939), pp. 57-58 (from 1933)]. Does this make the Fuhrer a Third Quest pioneer?

– Third Quest scholars such as the previously mentioned ones (and Sanders) did make some connection between the Modern Quest and anti-Semitism (or anti-Judaism) on the ground of their (criterion of dissimilarity CD) approach. The message of the Third Quest was to emphasise the Jewishness of Jesus and interpret him in the milieu of the so-called “common Judaism”. The alleged anti-Semitism of the Modern Quest made the Third Quest scholars gravitate toward an opposite stream, not because Jesus was not “quite Jewish” but because Judaism itself was not a unified entity that could be used as a reference or a datum for interpreting Jesus. The tendency to fit Jesus into Second Temple Judaism is difficult because no single person can be so! If you are a first century Jew, you cannot be an Essenic Pharisee or a Philonic Sadducee! Furthermore, what makes a Jew not Hellene? I am not talking in racial terms but rather in terms of the cultural complexity of the region. Any attempt to fit Jesus in a template requires a firm definition of the template and its dimensions, which is something that is becoming increasingly impossible in the case of “Judaism.”

post post-antisemitism call

Sanders’s point of departure in studying Jesus was a definition of a “common Judaism.” I do not disagree with the fact that some clusters in the Jewish tradition, including God-Torah-Temple pillars, formed distinctive features in the Jewish identity but they  by no means constitute any limits to that “Judaism.” The definition was challenged by Jewish scholars like Jacob Neusner who proposed the terms “Judaisms”  and Daniel Boyarin who convincingly showed that Walter Bauer’s thesis is applicable to the scenario of the formation of the so-called Orthodox (Rabbinic) Judaism as late as the fourth century. How did these studies affect the Third Quest? I think they contradict its rationale.

The problem is that the Gospels preserve traditions that ring bells in many of these Judaisms , so either we admit that there was a tendency by the communities behind the Gospels to set up a dialogue, through Jesus’ tradition, with these communities or to tear Jesus apart and give each piece to one of these Judaisms in order to avoid anti-Semitism. The fact is that Jesus’ Jewish identity was not challenged by any modern Quest scholar. However, denying the impact of Hellenism is and ruling it out from our strategy is just ahistorical. Jesus was definitely “dissimilar” and this does not make him “not Jew”. He was dissimilar just as much as Philo was to Rabbinic Judaism or Essenes to the Sadducees. He was so in his eschatological proclamation which was indeed unparalleled.

In a brilliant  lecture on the resurrection, given in Chicago, Wright said that the Germans lost faith in the idea of the individual leader and this was behind their faith in the community , the Gemeinde culture, which brought forth Form Criticism. Well, if Wright meant that Jesus’ uniqueness was eradicated by them, then I would like to quote Kloppenborg on an interesting observation: “E.P. Sanders’ contention that the synoptic Sabbath controversies and Mark 7.15, understood strictly as a saying about kashrut, are inauthentic because they represent views too radical to ascribe to a first-century Jew, point to a deeper question of the degree of nonconformity with common Second Temple Jewish practices that can be tolerated in a figure or movement that is called ‘Jewish’.” [Apocalypticism, Anti-Semitism and the Historical Jesus p. 2-3].

Finally, I would like to conclude by saying that we need to leave the burdens of history aside if we are acquiring a neutral (although this is not quite realistic) approach to the Historical Jesus. The progress in both Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity push us towards seeing a better role for the diverse community in forming the templates of Jesus traditions without fitting him into certain cliches.

If you did not watch the movie “The ODESSA File” or read its book then I would recommend it for you because it offers a scenario similar to the one proposed by scholars who think that Bultmann rose from the dead through the disguised anti-Semites who lived secretly in the USA to revive the Bultmannian ideas. (the ODESSA was believed to have been a true organization, but I’m not sure about the scholars’ conspiracy)




The Gospel of Mary (2) and Jewish Wisdom   Leave a comment


This is my second post on the Gospel of Mary (GM). The first one (click here) shed some light on the dialogue of the GM with a form of Jewish Christianity. Today, I would like to further my research to map the GM on the Religionsgeschichte track with few more observations which are open for criticism. What I will show today supports, as I believe, my reading of the Jewish Christian context of the earlier form of the Gospel of Mary.

Salvation History

It appears to me that GM absorbed some Gnostic elements including the stratification of heavenly powers as well as the forms of sin (GM 16,17). However, it preserves for us some interesting elements shared with Jewish Wisdom. in the discussion of the concept of sin, Jesus explains that there is no such thing in reality. Sin is not a material or a reality but a deed brought forth by humans when they commit acts similar to adultery (adultery in Jewish literature is not necessarily the sexual act … see Hosea for example). However, the consequence of the sin is sickness and death. One would argue that this could be a Pauline influence (Rom. 5 : 12). That could have been the case if corruption and death were brought by the father of humanity, Adam, at the beginning of Salvation-History. But this is not the case in GM which shows no interest in a historical narrative. What “the Saviour” provides here is a timeless Sapiential teaching, or in the Formgeschichtlich terms (Wisdom Saying). Although there is no direct explanation of salvation method, it appears to me that Jesus’ presence and his revelatory sayings are the presence of salvation (the Kingdom of the Son of Man is amongst you). There is no mention of cross or resurrection even if a presumption of a post-easter scene could be maintained.

Agreeing with Tuckett, this view is unorthodox in terms of Catholic Christianity. But it is also not quite Gnostic as we might hastily think. Comparing the concept of fall and salvation with other texts from the  library of Nag Hammadi is quite enough to make that clear (Apocalypse of Adam, Apocryphon of John ..etc.)  [for a detailed study see: Gedaliahu A G Stroumsa Another Seed: Studies in Gnostic Mythology .  and J Zantee ‘Gnostic Ideas on the Fall and Salvation’, Numen, Vol. 11, Fasc. 1 (Jan., 1964), pp. 13-74]

I find that the closest parallel to GM’s thought is the book of Wisdom of Solomon which denies the reality of sin as part of God’s act of creation and how it entered the world by humans deeds which brought death to reality (1: 12-16).

One of the interesting similarities is the uncommon expression “jealousy of death.”  This term exists in GM (16: 8). Unfortunately it is not part of the survived Greek texts.  Jealousy of death is the fourth power of the seven powers of  Wrath. This expression also exists in the Wisdom of Solomon 1:12 (ζηλοῦτε θάνατον). The Coptic translation of the Wisdom of Solomon also uses the same expression found in the Coptic Gospel of Mary (pkwh ‘m’pmoy) [apologies if the Coptic font doesn’t appear to you].  you can see the survived coptic translartions here:

From this I, by no means, say that GM is Jewish and non-Gnostic since Jewish Gnosticism, and in particular the way the Book of Wisdom was used, is well attested in history.

Beside these points I would like to draw your attention to an interesting saying (GN 10:15-16): For where the mind is there is the treasure”

At first sight this evokes Jesus’ saying:  ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Matt. 6:21 // Luke 12:34).  We can see that GM has it all the way around. in GM the treasure is where the mind (not heart) is, while Q has the heart where the treasure is. Of course one interpretation is that the GM switched the saying that puts the treasure as a target to the heart into a hellenistic form to make the mind (nous) as the target and the treasure is there … in other words, nothing to go to seek , everything is here in the mind. However, Gilles Quispel shows that the form of GM’s saying is attested in several Jewish-Christian texts (even non-Jewish Christians like Justin Martyr knew it that way and might have borrowed it from the Gospel of the Hebrews). [see: DAS HEBRÄEREVANGELIUM IM GNOSTISCHEN EVANGELIUM NACH MARIA, in Gnostica, Judaica, Catholica : Collected Essays of Gilles Quispel, Brill]

Unlike Tuckett, I find Quispel’s textual analysis more convincing in the light of the accumulated observations in these two blogs.

one final point:

is GM Marcionite?

My observations, if any were true, lead me to be disinclined to see Marcionism in the GM. Of course Marcion would be happy to see a text against strong Jewish elements, prominently the Law. However, this is not enough because GM itself from the Jewish Christian tradition even if it criticises another form of Jewish Christianity. Furthermore, if Marcion was a Pauline fanatic, it is difficult to reconcile him with a Gospel that preaches the present salvation in the wisdom and sayings of Jesus instead of the Kerygma of the Lord.

on the tension in the definition of the Gospel between the sayings and the Kerygma of the Lord please see:

Koester, H., ‘ΓNΩMAI ΔIAΦOPOI. The Origin and Nature of Diversification in the History of Early              Christianity,’ The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Jul., 1965), pp. 279

idem, ‘the From Jesus to the Gospels p. 9-10, 82-3

J. M. Robinson and H. Koester, Trajectories through Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971) 40-43.

 against it, see: C. M. Tuckett ‘1 Corinthians and Q’, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 102, No. 4 (Dec., 1983), pp. 607-619


If my observations make any sense, then GM MAY BE a development of a form of a Christianity belonging to the earliest Jewish milieu similar to the Christianity of Q and the Didache in which salvation is present  and the eucharistic offer is a gratitude not for the death of Jesus, as in the Pauline Kerygma, but for the knowledge granted to the community through Jesus… a community witnessing to an early belief in the sayings of Jesus to have the power to save. (cf. on Q and Didache’s soteriology see Koester from Jesus to the Gospels p.290)

 Mina Monier

James Dunn: a New Book in “Christianity in the Making”   Leave a comment


Professor James Dunn is preparing a new volume to be added to his highly acclaimed series on Christian origins called Christianity in the Making. He invited the members of the department of Biblical Studies at King’s College London to join him in a seminar with 4 sessions spread over 2 months to discuss each chapter of the book. Fortunately, I will be participating in this seminar.

It is not his first time to bring forth a new book after a series of seminar  discussions. Dunn’s major work, in my opinion, is his Unity and Diversity in the New Testament. This book was the first-fruit of an intensive seminar he was part of in Durham (I think in 1971) after the publicationof the English edition of Walter Bauer’s magisterial Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum with the title “Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity”. Dunn’s book was meant to engage with Walter’s work in a fruitful dialogue. The result was a book capable of setting out a reasonable balance between unity and diversity. In the second edition, Dunn stated that he was made aware of the progress made by Helmut Koester and James Robinson in building up, on Bauer’s theory, the Trajectories model of early Christianity. Dunn also engaged in a serious dialogue with the question of the development of Jesus’ Sayings tradition(s) towards an apocalyptic path (the development from Q1 to Q2) and what Koester calls Gnostisizing Proclivity towards the final form of Thomas.

However positive Dunn was in dealing with the then new approach to early Christianity, Dunn’s work suffered, in my opinion, two problems that were later inherited by his Parting of the Ways: 

1- He confined himself within the canonical works. I do think that the so-called “canonical” literature gained this label not only for its theological opinion but also its distinctive nature. I myself am a former student of Helmut Koester but I believe that the genre of the Gospel of Mark,  what Klaus Baltzer calls Die Biographie der Propheten,  is unique and its associated literature witnesses to good historical reasons to appreciate the NT’s integrity. However, the excessive prejudice inflicted on “non-canonical” texts and ideas should have been toned down by scholars in Europe in particular. Bauer’s main thesis was to dismantle the official ecclesiastical history, well represented in Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica, and the rich content of Nag Hammadi library confirmed many of his insights. Dunn did not, however, go too much beyond the NT canonical literature… perhaps GThomas was too impactful to be ignored.

2- Bauer, and later Koester’s two-volume Introduction to the NT,  showed that the study of the development of Christian thought should be geographically oriented as a response to the diversity it had. We cannot exaggerate the significance of such a perspective. It would be misleading to talk about an idea (Christology, soteriology, identity..etc.) on the timeline axis without the space axis unless you suggest that one specific doctrine prevailed over all Christendom at that specific date. Unfortunately, while Dunn argued for the existence of a complicated diversity in early Christianity, he did not show how these diverse Christian perspectives co-existed and developed (in trajectories).

This missing feature led him to write the next monograph on the Parting of the Ways which, instead of solving these issues, inherited them and complicated the problem. The Parting of the Ways (PW) was an important monograph indeed. It endeavoured to provide a parallel to Koester’s trajectories from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. As I said, the main problem this PW model suffered from was that the point of departure for these “ways” did not presume the geographical and theological diversity and therefore it resulted in some sort of a monolithic Christianity separating from another monolithic Jewish way. This is not entirely wrong since the element of Christian Kerygma did achieve a commonality defining “Christianity” against what E P Sanders calls “common Judaism”. Therefore it should not be discarded, but rather edited, enhanced and improved.. which, in my opinion, will result in the return to a modified Trajectories model.

Beside his exhaustive volumes on specific issues or events in earliest Christianity that became standard texts for students, Dunn’s ability to implement “Big Pictures” is precisely what we need at the moment to push forward in NT scholarship. He did provide big pictures of Christian diversity and later the parting of the ways, along with an openness for dialogue and this is precisely the reason behind the seminars he convenes before publishing his books.

If you are a British theology scholar then you should be proud of having James Dunn amongst the list of your great Country’s theologians including Lightfoot, C H Dodd and Norman Perrin.  I am not British, but I am certainly proud of belonging to King’s College London’s department which also has him as a visiting scholar and I’m super excited about that seminar!

two important notes: if you would like me to deliver your voice to him regarding anything in his earlier writings please let me know. Secondly, I won’t be able to discuss or talk about the current seminar or the book under preparation due to copyright restrictions.