Archive for January 2016

Jesus and the Temple by Simon J. Joseph   Leave a comment



Cambridge University Press has just released Jesus and the Temple: the Crucifixion in its Jewish Context by Prof. Simon J. Joseph of California Lutheran University. In my opinion, this book is part of what seems to be a Trilogy. A clear programme appears through these books and connects them together. His first book defines his understanding of Q and its place in the formative Christian period. His second book, which I reviewed earlier (pt.1 and 2), defines the image of Q’s Jesus as a nonviolent Messiah with a transformative eschatology that is not very far from the Enochic tradition. The third book puts his findings in action by attesting it against the wider historical milieu of Christian traditions in quest of understanding the original message of Jesus.

The Book

The topic of Jesus’ attitude towards the Temple is fundamental since his fate in several texts (prominently GMk and GMt) was associated with it. Jesus’ relationship with the Temple also shaped and defined the early Christian movement that was not far from it. However, the Gospels did not clarify exactly what offense Jesus made that led to his condemnation. Hence comes the book of Joseph which aims to use this theme to question the identity and scope of Jesus’ message. As I said before, the book is not far from his earlier books through which he developed an understanding of Jesus in Q.

The book starts and ends with the crucifixion: its historicity (ch.1) and meaning (ch.7). Within this event, Joseph states the problem of why Jesus was executed. Hence, he approached the Temple as a probable cause for his violent end, and how it was understood by early Christians (the sacrifice of the dying saviour).  It does not take too long until the rhythm of the book gets faster with rich footnotes in English and German and a careful survey of earlier views. Building up towards unlocking the enigmatic relationship between Jesus and the Temple, Joseph goes through the concept of the Law as it appears from the Torah to early Christianity, in an endeavour to understand Jesus’ possible attitude towards it. Joseph resorts to the vision of the law as it appears in the radicalised maxims of Q through which Joseph seems to go beyond the ordinary state of the law towads the transformed ethics in the realm of realised eschatology. Joseph’s thesis is well understood through his earlier works and is also in a clear agreement with John Kloppenborg who emphasised this specific point in his stratification of Q.

In the third chapter, Joseph defined the eschatological perspective of the Temple in second Temple Judaism just as he did with the Torah. He justifiable shows how the background of Jesus had a milieu of attitudes and forms of criticism against different elements of the Temple as an institution. This, as Joseph suggests, leads consequently to the variety of attitudes seen in Christianity, later.

In the fourth chapter, Joseph sets out the problem of the Christian attitude towards the Temple. He first starts from Q where he senses a “serious indictment” against the establishment in the prophetic saying Q 13:34-5 (See my comment section below) and 11:49-51. A “forsaken” Temple is not one in which sacrifices are either efficacious or capable of reconciling Israel and God. The Temple is a place where the prophets are killed.  Jerusalem has rejected Jesus, and its Temple is now “forsaken.”[1] Moving to Mark, Joseph concludes that Mark’s theology is clearly against the Temple and that the Markan Jesus has no place for the Temple in his vision of the eschaton. Albeit more conservative, Matthew follows Mark. When it comes to Luke-Acts Joseph indeed deems the Lukan attitude ambiguous.  going quickly through the rest of the NT texts, Joseph concludes: “among His people. The New Testament evidence for the historical Jesus’ relationship to the Temple is inconsistent and ambiguous.”[2]

Afterwards, Joseph proposes his own possible solution to the problem. After a critique of the earlier solutions, especially the ones that introduce Jesus with a violent apocalyptic and destructive tone, Joseph goes to a fresh and new corner. He asks a question that would challenge the conservatives across the Atlantic: what if the so-called Jewish Christianity could contribute to the problem by providing a more consistent image of Jesus’ attitude to the Temple? Hence comes Joseph’s bold contribution to the problem.

Overcoming the classic prejudiced view against these groups, Joseph shows how the theology of groups like the Ebionites and the Nazirites is not necessarily later or secondary to the “canonical” ones. The Ebionite dietary, rejection of animal sacrifices and ascetic life are certainly not far from the information, albeit fragmented, we have about the early Jerusalemite Christians (prominently James) or even earlier (John the Baptist). Going beyond James Robinson’s speculation of the possible disappearance of Q along with Jewish Christians,  Joseph proposes a possible trajectory through which we can see the possible reality of Jesus’  Temple attitude and the Jewish Christian groups. Carefully assessing the hypothesis 20th century pillar of Jewish Christianity scholarship Hans Joachim Schoeps,[3] Joseph proposes that their attitude to the Temple was transformative: they did not necessarily abolish the Temple per se but they no longer considered the significance of the sacrificial system.[4] The plurality of the Jewish Christian groups must not be seen as a single sect, and hence they indeed provided a multiply attested memory of Jesus, if we give up on the canonical judgment against them.

In the light of Q’s early witness, through the conflicting Gospel accounts of the matter, to the multiply attested testimony of the Jewish Christian sects, it seems that the best explanation of Jesus’ attitude is that he had a transformative view of the Temple which turns it into an eschatological sanctuary by following the eschatological maxims and teachings rather than blood sacrifices.[5] This image is the most consistent one that could solve the different historical problems.

The final chapter provides a case for the secondary nature of the Christian understanding of Jesus’ sacrificial death (dying as a saviour) under the impact of Paul, the expansion in the Roman empire and the marginalisation of Jerusalem Church after 70 CE.


1)            Joseph engages critically with three problematic issues: 1- the common assumption of the Third Quest which enforces a conformist Jewish image that Jesus must belong to. 2- the insufficiency of the term “Jewish Christian” and its negative impact on research. 3- The ability to acknowledge the incoherence of the Temple attitudes in the Gospels… something we need to assert in the light of the successive books that recently dealt with the matter.[6]

2)            However, I wish I could see an unpacked discussion of the Temple attitudes in the Gospels, including Q (CUP monographs are usually very limited in word count). I personally disagree with the “anti-temple” interpretation of both Q 13:34-5 and 11:49-51. Indeed, Jesus had a negative perspective of the Jewish leadership and Jerusalem as a city, but the judgment was not automatically transferred to the Temple. The Temple was apparently the victim of the Jewish authorities. Q does not provide us with a clear positive or negative image of the Temple and, in my opinion, the different attempts of earlier scholars to suggest an attitude are speculative.  Does depicting the Temple as a place of conflict mean that the Temple itself is negatively viewed? I doubt it. This is clearer in the case of Luke whose special material shows Jesus’ deep commitment to reach the Temple and to stay in it until his arrest. This pre-Lukan tradition was known to Mark (14:49) who seems to have suppressed it. Yet, this commitment was not reduced by the aggressive attitude of the Jewish rulers, in Luke. Hence, Q 13:34-5 is not in conflict with the Lukan context which interprets the destruction of the Temple not in a negative sense like Mark (and Matthew) but because it falls victim to the failure of the Jerusalem’s authorities to recognise “the things that make peace” (Cf. 19:41-5 and 21:20-4). Just like Josephus, the one to blame for the destruction of the Temple is not God but the Jewish rulers. This is certainly not the case of Mark who curses the Temple through the off-putting fig tree incident. Indeed, Stephen’s speech runs against Luke’s theology but the book of Acts aimed to show diversity and Luke tolerated that clearly by combining apostles and figures (like Apollos) who were not entirely in agreement and harmony. Could Luke make a good case for Joseph’s argument within the Synoptic tradition? I would say yes, and this is not entirely new. Lloyd Gaston’s No Stone on Another suggested a non-Cultic devotion to the Temple in Streeter’s Proto-Luke (which combines Q and L), and I find this justifiable.

3)            The book is rich in bibliography, coherent and solid. The 6th chapter on Jewish Christianity is certainly provocative and stimulating. It will certainly bring more discussions since bringing “noncanonical” texts in the historical debates is sometimes a red herring. If you are not familiar with the topic, I would suggest that you start from this book since it will take you through earlier scholarship and will provide you with the foundations up to Joseph’s contribution this year.

[1] p.105

[2] p.132

[3] Cf. Jewish Christianity: Factional disputes in the early church

[4] Epiphanius’ description of Elchasai and his follows shows this seemingly contradictory view : they remained committed to Jerusalem as the centre of worship but they refused the blood sacrifice. The Ebionites also seemed to share this perspective (Pan. 19.3.5–7.).

[5] pp.208-9

[6] See Wardle The Temple and Early Christian Identity (2008); Perrin’s Jesus the Temple (2011) and Charlesworth’s Jesus and the Temple (2014)


Posted January 23, 2016 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized

Helmut Koester: the Man   Leave a comment

The Scholar

For the vast majority of academics, Professor Helmut Koester is an important name that appears frequently in footnotes. He is known for his landmarks in NT scholarship and his contribution to the wider scope of early Christianity. Professor Koester and his lifetime friend James Robinson were behind convincing the American publishers and scholars to translate the book of Walter Bauer Orthodoxy and Heresy after it failed dramatically to sell in its homeland due to its publication timing (shortly before WWII) and its daring views. Koester and Robinson then produced one of the most influential classics in NT scholarship, the theory of Trajectories through Early Christianity. With his influential paper (GNOMAI DIAPHOROI: The origin and nature of diversification in the history of early Christianity) Koester completed Bauer’s project by updating it with the important findings of Nag Hammadi texts.  Later, Koester’s numerous books, papers and editorial works (Hermeneia series, HTR, Biblical Archaeology) have arguably changed the face of scholarship and made him one of the giants of the business. Of course Koester was not a media person and he remained loyal to his German discipline and accuracy until the end. He was accused of preposterous insinuations and theories of conspiracy but these accusations disappear like a puff of smoke along with the names of the scholars who made them, while he will remain as one of the scholarship pillars.   For Helmut Koester’s academic contribution, I refer the readers to his Festschift.

The Pastor

This side is probably unknown to the vast majority of scholars, so here’s my testimony.

I travelled to the United States to study theology. Under the umbrella of the Boston Theological Institute (BTI) I managed to take an advanced module with him at Harvard Divinity School (Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospels). There, I had the first shock by the intense readings and requirements which include 7 papers before the final exam. It appeared to me that going through Koester’s module will cause a deep impasse with the tradition of the church I belong to, but as someone with a scientific background I went for Koester’s choice which caused me enough trouble and consequences I have been dealing with in my Church until now.

Coming from Egypt and with an engineering background made the task of mastering Koester’s module at Harvard rather challenging. I spoke with him about my thoughts in an email message and in the same day I received a reply inviting me for lunch. In a beautiful Chinese restaurant not far from HDS, he gave me the golden advice which I have been following since then: “Mina, to be able to find yourself a place in a prestigious school in the future you need to realise that the matter is challenging. People with solid backgrounds in theology are many and the places are limited. With your background as a North African with Arabic as your first language, who studied engineering , you will need to put extra energy than them. You showed me one paper so far and it is promising.”  Since then, I realised where my starting point is in this race and I worked hard enough to impress him and master the course with “the highest possible mark” and a recommendation letter that granted me a place at the university where I am. Helmut was rather realistic which makes him sound a bit tough, but his kindness poured from his very words that sound a bit strict!

Through the journey, he did everything to support me as a pastor. At some point when I was under pressure from the conservative figures of the Orthodox Church, he phone-called his student: Demetrius, the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of America! and told him to support me until I move to HDS for a PhD.. something I could not do  due to the political and other uncontrollable circumstances in Egypt which forced me to return.

At some point later, I was treated badly by my own parish church after I wrote an article in a Russian magazine (Pravmir) explaining that the Orthodox Church needs to become more accessible to national  cultures in Africa including mine… that was something that kept the Greek hierarchy rather angry with me to the extent of not allowing me to have communion in my parish. Again, as a pastor he took the initiative to support me and to ensure that I am feeling well despite the fact that he was suffering from pneumonia that nearly killed him, followed by a car accident with his lifetime friend Klaus Baltzer and later a serious lung cancer surgery.

Helmut opened his house to his students. I remember that he invited his students to spend nights there. He always shared his food with them and I cannot forget the pleasant late nights with him around his beautiful lamp and the smoke of his pipe.

He never allowed to write his biography… I struggled  before convincing him to do his Wikipedia page. My reason to know more about his background is because I wanted to understand how he came to be so kind and loving. He once told me over that lunch meal I mentioned before: it was a tradition to invite a student to lunch to support him/her. This tradition is basically Bultmannian: Bultmann used to support his students with regular lunches  and free cigarette packs in the few years after WWII. The reason is because of the poverty of the Marburg students and Koester was one of them. Bultmann looked after them like his children and supported them with every possible means for them to complete their degrees. Koester felt that it is his duty to do the same to his students as well and I was lucky to be part of this.

Koester’s difficult background was also another element that shaped his character. I remember that in our meeting in Hamburg in 2012 he told me about his memories in this city where he was in the German army as an anti-aircraft soldier, being bombed by the British air raids and how he got wounded. That was preceded by a difficult boot camp experience in one of the German army isolated islands near the Danish coast. He told me how the German Wehrmacht crushed their ego under extreme conditions. His father who was the chief architect of Hamburg refused to join the Nazi party and was imprisoned for a while. Koester himself was a prisoner of war for a year or two (I cannot remember) before he returns to Berlin in a quest to find his family.

The suffering he endured in these years  shaped the strong character known about him. I remember well how he fixed the time of the wall clocks at HDS because they were  2 minutes different! and whenever I complained about any conditions , his memories embarrassed me and were enough to motivate me to work harder.

Our friendship never stopped and I redirected my travel to San Diego for the SBL to accept his invitation to stay with him and Gisela over  thanksgiving day. There, we shared lots of stories and funny memories.

The Christian

As a Lutheran Pastor, Helmut Koester was a committed Christian. He never imposed his faith over his academic work and he was good at this enough to perplex the conservatives and those of the Jesus Seminar who, in my opinion, are equally dogmatic. Koester was a descendant of German spirituality. His work with Bultmann influenced his views and made him passionate about his faith without compromising his work. He always emphasised the word “experience of faith” in his discussions with me. That might sound to me like Schleiermacher’s definition of Christian faith. This experience drove him in the most difficult situations from the war time until his final sermon given at the Lutheran University Church. His faith in near death situations made him ready “for the next experience” of the afterlife. Koester was calm and confident in God’s love and I had the honour to pray with him in several services and took communion from his hands. His view of the Historical Jesus the Victim of the Pax Romana and his balanced understanding of Jesus’ eschatology made his Christology “experiential” and visible in Koester’s own shared meals, his love and his worldview which was rather theological, if you know him well enough.

I always disagreed with him in theological matters. I remember his jokes and comments when we discussed Barth and Pannenberg (his former colleague in Heidelberg).

Yesterday I lost the most beautiful, loving and genuine friend I have ever seen. My sadness and my loss are too great to express in words. I will miss his jokes, wisdom, soups, nightcap drinks when I stay with him … and more than anything else, his comforting faith which was supporting me spiritually and intellectually.

I would like to share with you the very last words he concluded his module with, and they reflect his views on the matter of refugees today:

“The giving of Jesus, the only begotten Son, the Word that became flesh, is God’s documentation of love. “Thus has God loved the world that God gave the only begotten son so that all who believe are not lost but have eternal life.” The First Epistle of John formulated that in the statement that the essence of God can be described with the one word “love,” God is love. Therefore, the disciples are left with nothing else but the new commandment that they should love each other. That is the work of Jesus and that his why he gave his life. If they love each other, then Jesus has returned to them, then they do the works of Jesus, and will do even greater works than Jesus. The farewell discourses state that this return of Jesus in the works of love of the disciples is something the world will not “see,” because works of love are not glory and love that glorifies itself has lost its justification, its very essence.

Love is as messy as the shelter for the homeless people in the basement of our church, as objectionable as trying to give support to the second and third child of an unmarried young mother, as disgusting as speaking out for criminals who suffer abuse in prison, and as questionable as the welcome to undocumented foreign workers. This, however, is the final message of this Gospel (of John) that has preserved very little information about the historical Jesus and yet has drawn Jesus into the flesh and into history more than any other Gospel. At the same time, the Gospel does not allow the disciples to glory in the finding of their otherworldly divine selves; rather, it also draws the disciples into the uncomfortable worldly business of love. And this is ultimately the message of the story of Christmas, even if we do not read the Gospel of John but the story of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus is born to a homeless couple and worshipped by shepherds, undocumented aliens who have come across the border to tend the sheep of the wealthy owners for less than minimum wages.”


Memory Eternal!

Mina Monier

Cambridgeshire, January 2016


Posted January 3, 2016 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized