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The Nonviolent Messiah: Part 2   3 comments


Back cover, click to enlarge

Earlier, we surveyed Simon J Joseph’s first part of his The Nonviolent Messiah. As we saw, the first part was Joseph’s view of the main problems in the historical Jesus scholarship and the models that depict him in a violent way (mainly the apocalyptic prophet of the impending judgment). In the following parts of the book, Joseph suggests a solution to the problem of the tension surrounding Jesus traditions. Joseph argues that the Essenic-Enochic literature provides us with the necessary views that explain  the theme of Christology  as found in Q which could be the key to understand Jesus’ historical message.

His strategy is to prove the similarity between Eschatology in Q and 1Enoch (mainly the Book of Parables) and the role of the Messiah in both (mainly the Son of Man and the Animal Aposcalypse) then we can claim the similarity of Messianship (Christology).


First, he surveyed the different definitions of Jesus’ Messianship which showed that scholarship is quite divergent on the matter. Joseph stated that the problem is that there is no such thing called “the Messiah” in Second Temple Judaism which produced “a plurality of Messianic ideas, expectations, typologies, titles, attributes, motifs, traditions and prospective candidates, and any attempt to pronounce a definitive, exclusive identification of Jesus as the Messiah is more at home in religious and theologically apologetic debates than in historical Jesus studies.”[1] However, Joseph later shows that there is some sort of a common denominator between these traditions which could be attributed to the Messiah in Judaism: he is of a Davidic royal ancestry and he has a decisive role in the war that will bring the eschaton.  But the case of Jesus in Q is not. Joseph uses Q 7:22 (Jesus’ response to John’s disciples) as a key statement of Messianship, but what sort of Messianship is it? Joseph finds in Qumran’s 4Q521 as the best parallel to Jesus’ answer.[2]

4Q521 2 ii Q 7:22
Blind see Blind see
Lame walk Lame walk
Lepers cleansed
Deaf hear Deaf hear
Dead raised Dead raised
Poor/Good News Poor/Good News

His analysis agrees with John Kloppenborg’s observation on this point.[3] Now we can see Joseph’s programme: how the definition of the Messianiship of Jesus is embedded in an eschatology that finds its prallel in 4Q521 more than the classic violent (war) Messianship feature.

He then moves to the next and most challenging topic in Christology: the meaning of the Son of Man title. Undoubtedly, the SoM is one of the distinctive features in Q as it appears 9 times. The SoM is certainly associated with judgment in other texts (Daniel 7, 4Ezra and 1 Enoch) and it has to be found in Q engaging with the theme of judgment, but in what way? here, Joseph seems to accept the stratification or shifting in Q  toward the judgment of this generation using the SoM.[4] However, again, I must say that I wish Joseph could have reflected more on the fact that the parallel sayings between GTh and Q show how this shift indeed took place when we see the same sayings in GTh without that title (and other Christological overtones). This could have certainly furthered his argument for the secondary nature of judgment sayings.  It is the Book of Parables, according to Joseph, that provides a similar conflation between two traditions of the Servant of Isaiah with the SoM.[5] The redactor of Q accessed this book to find a corresponding tradition that could explain Jesus’ eschatological proclamation (especially after his resurrection). Yet, this part is not strong enough to make his case. As we said the backbone of Joseph’s strategy is comparing eschatology, in which the Messiah operates, between the Animal Apocalypse (1 Enoch 83-90) and Q.

Joseph shows that the eschatology of both Q and 1Enoch are similar in their reversal of some concrete ideas in early Judaism: the Messianic Age is a return to the prelapsarian state: “The An. Apoc. envisions a return to the beginning, a universal transformation … there is no need to  war.”[6] What is the tool of bringing this peaceful universal transformation?  It is the role of the White Bull who actualised this transformation. The white Bull:

  • leads the cows
  • No mention of a Davidic royalty.
  • He/it is the archetype of the prelapsarian state and its restorer. Through him/it, the cow begets white bulls.

The third point is the pivotal one: Against Olsen’s thesis which aimed to show that the White Bull is a reference to Jacob,[7] Joseph convincingly finds sort of a divine Messiah who restores God’s likeness of the human state (before the fall), something resembles Adamic Christology in Paul.[8] But what about Q? Joseph shows that the Kingdom of God as the eschatological proclamation of Jesus shows the same features.  His argument appears in his treatment of 4 key verses in Q that should be understood within “radical wisdom of eschatology.”[9]

1- “Seek His Kingdom” (12:31): The Kingdom is proclaimed to be present in Jesus’ ministry.[10] This verse particularly prioritises seeking God’s Kingdom over the necessary needs which come through work; it reverses the normal day-to-day wisdom that praises work over everything else and resonates with the year of God, the jubilee, which is highlighted by Luke. Through showing several structural similarities with the fall in Gen 2-3, it also reverses the post-lapsarian logic of survival.

2- “Why Do You Call me Master” (6:46): this verse aims to go with the followers beyond acceptance or approval of an aphoristic saying to actualising eschatology i.e. a call for transformation.

3- “love your enremies” (6:27):  “the historical Jesus directly challenges the Jewish biblical tradition of war and violence.”[11] This is something understood in realising eschatology and transformation (1 and 2). This is understood in comparison with God’s behaviour toward the good and the wicked granting both the light of the sun and rain.

4-“Sons of the Father” (6:35c-d): on the path of eschatological transformation, becoming like  God is certainly the climax of the journey.

Now comes the result of Joseph’s study clear: both eschatologies have the same features, and the Messiah operating through them is acting as the peaceful restorer of prelapsarian state which is the divine likeness of the archetype of humanity.

It remains for Joseph to say that the Christology of Q here is distinctive in a major feature: Q has inclusive and exclusive Christologies, something we do not find in the SoM of the Parables. This is precisely the conflation of both the Son of God and Son of Man traditions in Q.

“Q’s concurrent identification of Jesus as the Enochic Son of Man and the Enochic/Adam Son of God conflates two distinct roles: the end-time judge and the tranforming Adamic Messiah. Both roles reflect strong first-century Jewish Apocalyptic traditions with strong wisdom components, but they are in certain respects thematically and theologically incompatible. There is a gospel of Jesus and a gospel about Jesus

Personal Comments

I would like to make brief comments. Let me start with the challenging point in Joseph’s method. In some cases the comparison is broad enough to enquire about the parameters of this comparison. For instance, in his key argument about the role of the Messiah as a transformer of the creation to its prelapsarian divine likeness, the comparison between Q and the Animal Apocalypse seems to me a bit ambiguous. The transformation (or as he uses the word metamorphosis) in the animal apocalypse is apparently ontological, not simply moral. It does resonate with the idea of new creation in Paul, but does Q understand Jesus’ call for discipleship and new eschatological moral conduct necessary imply an ontological transformation? this is something I cannot see in Q, or at least it is not present within this document (perhaps in the overall theology of the community behind it but this remains hypothetical).

A second point comes to my mind, Joseph went through a large number of materials around both Q and 1Enoch (NT and Qumran) to show the similarities. We have to be careful on this point because the relationship between these materials could change our view of the matters. In a point related to the first comment (the nature of transformation), we note that Joseph goes with the “Temple as community” theme beyond 1Enoch to the wider milieu of Qumran. He finds this idea mainly in the Rule of the Community (1QS) and connects it with Paul’s image in 1Cor. 3:16-7. Two problems arise: first, the yahad  יחד  as a Temple is indeed in 1QS but does it mean the whole community of Qumran as a Temple? scholars are divided on that but the direct and clear definition of the document itself, and thus I stick to John Collins here, is that the elite “Council of the Community עצת היחד ” formed of 15 persons (twelve scholars and three priests) are the temple… and even if we think that the Council of the Community and the whole community are identical, the message is that that community becomes a Temple for Israel when they preach the rest of the people, so it does not signify an ontological transformation/sanctification, while it could be so in Paul.

Adding to these points the fact, which Joseph asserts, that “there is no evidence on a direct literary dependence from the Parables to Q”[12] I find Joseph’s statement that “Q used the book of Parables”[13] perilous.

The book is of great significance to scholarship. While Q is not necessarily a product of an Enochic-Essenic group nor that Q accessed directly the Enochic literature known to us, the careful thematic similarities and theological connections between Q and the book of parables and the fascinating Animal Apocalypse make a very convincing case for putting Q in a milieu that breathed the same air of ideas found in 1 Enoch. Each point was carefully investigated, put against the gaps in our knowledge, and the cumulative argument is probably the most convincing amongst other portrayals of the intellectual profile of Q community.


One of the most challenging points was understanding the circumstances that led Q to jump in its traditions, through redaction, toward the apocalyptic interpolation and I think this book contributed significantly to this issue. The sociological speculation of so many scholars fails, in my opinion, to interpret the theological development of Q from the first to the following layers. This book proposes a theological standing for those who felt the need to develop the manual of Jesus’ sayings to serve their needs, not only “as a reaction to some social circumstances.” It is imprudent from then on to ignore Joseph’s theory on the matter and a critical examination in the direction of Enochic literature has become a necessity in Q scholarship after this book.

Mina Monier

Cambridgeshire, June 20th 2015

[1] p.97

[2] 118f.-123

[3] Excavating Q, 123 n.17

[4] A huge number of prominent scholars could be cited here.

[5] 160f.

[6] p.174-5

[7] A New Reading of the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch

[8] Cf. Rom 5:12-21; Phil. 2:5-11 on Adamic Christology in particular see James Dunn’s Christology in the Making vol1.

[9] or Sapiential eschatology as both Koester and Kloppenborg call it.

[10] p.199 for the treatment of the arrival of the Kingdom and other verses see 200f.

[11] p.216

[12] p.151

[13] p.159

Posted June 20, 2015 by Mina Monier in Reviews

The Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary By Simon Gathercole   Leave a comment

When I read on Larry Hurtado’s blog that Simon Gathercole has published his commentary on the Gospel of Thomas, I was interested to see it. I was more suprised when I learned that such a huge work was published a year ago since I almost saw no reviews or discussions about it despite its size and expected contribution. So, I went to the UL yesterday and went through it and would like to make a quick note for my friends and visitors.

So, The Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary is the second book of Simon Gathercole on this interesting ancient document. It is a huge volume (724 pages) with a book size introduction going through the different issues related to the GTh and a commentary on each logion of the 114 sayings. The commentary includes a note on the text and interpretation. It is a large piece surveying and commenting on a spectrum of views from earlier commentaries (Ménard, Pilsch, Nordsieck al.).

Gathercole sets out the contours of his work in the lengthy introduction. The conclusion of his earlier work has not changed: GTh is dependent on the Synoptic Gospels. His argument, unfortunately, has not developed either: If we can prove that GTh has common sayings with the Synoptic Gospels and shows redactional traces (Matthean and Lukan redaction of Mk) then GTh is dependent on them.[1]   This is of course something we should expect, although I wished he could have had deepened insights in such a large book after the dialogue he had with Kloppenborg and other scholars in an entire issue of JSNT.[2] Sadly, he systematically ignored more than 45 parallels between GTh and Q (I am not sure if he accepts Q) which show how GTh preserves sapiential or eschatological yet non-apocalyptic sayings, more coherent or plausible forms in several cases and free from Christological overtones. (on this matter see my comment on Goodacre’s book here).[3] However, in the commentary itself he admits the existence of these unavoidable observations without making any conclusion on why this is so[4] (!).

He makes his attitude towards the research of tradition-history clear: it is a “fallacious form-criticism method,” … “circular process” and therefore “the present commentary will therefore proceed without reliance on any such speculative archaeology, and will instead examine the form(s) of the text which we have in the extant manuscripts.”[5]

His conclusion of the 200 page introduction is that since GTh is a later secondary work with no new sayings, it “can hardly be regarded as useful in the reconstruction of a historical picture of Jesus.”[6]

The commentary is informative, large and detailed, rich in sources and helpful with its bibliography. Thus, both his introduction and interpretation are cautiously useful. It is certainly a good source of information for English speaking students.

[1] p.178f.

[2] March 2014 vol. 36 no. 3

[3] One of the interesting sentences he made on this point is that it is Goodacre who observed the peculiarity of the Matthean term “Kingdom of heaven.” ! [p.178]

[4] See for example his commentary on Logia 8, 65 etc. interestingly in Logion61 he says that “if this saying is dependent upon the Lukan version, it has in the process of transmission at some point lost its apocalyptic tone” (p.444). Of course the statement shows a great degree of speculation and a refuse to assess the phenomenon as a whole in the different sayings.

[5] p.34

[6] p.184

Posted June 13, 2015 by Mina Monier in Reviews

Review – The Nonviolent Messiah: Jesus, Q, and the Enochic Tradition   Leave a comment

I bought this book once it was published almost a year ago. I read some of its second part but then the merciless machine of my PhD research didn’t give me the chance to read the whole book carefully. The few bits I read gave me the impression that this is not “another book” in the long queue of books that hardly say anything new in the field of Q and Jesus scholarship. Since I am currently having a short break I went through the book carefully and I think it is worth talking to the readers and visitors of my blog about it.

So, The Nonviolent Messiah: Jesus, Q, and the Enochic Tradition is Simon J Joseph‘s second book in a series started earlier with Jesus, Q, and the Dead Sea Scrolls and continues with his upcoming publication Jesus and the Temple
The Crucifixion in its Jewish Context
 which is expected to be available in the next SBL meeting. The first book was his dissertation which sets out his method: arguing for a stronger connection between Q and Enochic tradition. Applying that, The Nonviolent Messiah aimed to deal with the Christology of Q in light of eschatological figures of Qumran and particularly the Animal Apocalypse (of Adam).

Part 1

The book comes in three parts: the first part is a survey of the different problems (methodological and exegetical) that build up towards the construction of the seemingly violent image of Jesus. He starts with the question of the sources and goes the scholarship on Q. Joseph makes himself clear in his adherence to the Two-Source hypothesis and the existence of Q against the different alternative theories. He also asks the important question: how helpful would Q be for our understanding of the Historical Jesus? this takes us to the discussion between Kloppenborg, Ron Cameron and Koester at HTR on the matter. [all papers are in the same issue: HTR / Volume 89 / Issue 04 / October 1996,]. He then moves to the famous thesis of Brandon’s 1967 Jesus and the Zealots. Simon refutes the elements which Brandon’s image of Jesus relied on. However,  because the violent Jesus is not necessarily confined in labelling him as a Zealot, he refers to two major elements that build up towards a kind of a violent Jewish prophet:

1- The violent behaviour of Jesus’ Father, the God of the Hebrew Bible.[1]

He comments on the opinions about how problematic the image of God who indiscriminately orders the slaughter of the Canaanites[2] is for the image of the loving Father in Jesus. This section surveys different theological approaches to the matter. He mainly takes an issue with the conservative “Herculean task of reconciling the God who commands the “indiscriminate slaughter” of an entire people with Jesus’ commandment to love enemies while still affirming the authority and inspiration of the bible.”[3] He responds to Daniel Gard’s thesis which considers this sort of divine violence “exceptional” and therefore cannot justify current scripture-based violence.[4] “Was the Jesus who taught ‘love your enemies’ simply mistaken, hypocritical, or deceptive when he grounded this ethic in the unconditionally loving and forgiving character of God?” asks Joseph.[5] “The Old Testament portrayal of God is ethically problematic”[6] he states, quite Justifiably, I must say. The matter, as I said, is theological in the first place: it relies on the religious persuasion of the reader regarding “the scripture.” However, jointly with Joseph, I would like to emphasise that the Old Testament does not have a specific and a consistent portrayal of God , and the New Testament has enough violence in some of its parts to qualify it to become equally problematic for conservative Christians who still stick to canon and revelation à la “people of the book” system.

2- The Apocalyptic Jesus and his proclamation of the divine judgment.

Was Jesus an apocalyptic prophet? did he throw the flames of apocalyptic threats  as it appears in the multiply attested sayings of the judgment?[7] Joseph deals with one of the most controversial topics in Jesus scholarship: his eschatological message that defines his identity. He surveys the different opinions with a special focus on Dale Alison’s  arguments.[8] Joseph justifiably refers to the tricky problem of defining “apocalyptic” which makes categorising scholars difficult. Indeed, the  simplistic view of the two camps (apocalyptic vs non-apocalyptic) is rather misleading. The fact that apocalyptic language is prevalent in first century Christian literature does not automatically suggest that it bore the same content. We have inconsistent and irreconcilable traditions using the same language of apocalyptic expectation and therefore the matter should not be taken at face value. Joseph shares these concerns in this chapter. However, I wish he could have also referred to the fact that the development of the synoptic sayings and their redaction should be taken into consideration. This brings us to another point: while Joseph referred to the different traditions about God in Q (between unconditional forgiveness and the judgment brought against “this generation”) , I was intrigued to search for his opinion regarding the parallels between Thomas and Q which show how the sayings in Q experienced apocalypticising redaction, does Joseph consider the Gospel of Thomas developed independently from the Synoptic Gospels? [On Q and apocalyptic see an earlier post, on Q and Thomas see this post]

Again, Joseph asserts, the existence of apocalyptic judgment traditions does not deny the existence of the opposite traditions, what should we make of it? After surveying some opinions (with special interest in E.P. Sanders’ Jesus and Judaism) Joseph prepares the reader for his own take on the matter in the next part.

The first part is pretty much what you need to know about the eschatological Jesus debate in a comprehensive and well informed introduction. Simon Joseph is not re-inventing the wheel on this well ploughed topic and he understands how challenging it is to say something new[9] but actually he will add something new on the matter when it comes to part 2.

Because parts 2 and 3 are the analysis of his argument, I would like to leave it here for the next blog.

London,  10th of June 2015

[1] p.51f.

[2] Josh. 6-11

[3] p.62-3

[4] Gard ‘The Case for Eschatological Continuity’ in Show them No Mercy p.111-44

[5] p.65

[6] ibid.

[7] Q10:12-15; 11:29,32; 13:28,34-5 et al.

[8] the apocalyptic message exists pretty much in all NT writings and it is natural to draw a trajectory from John the Baptist to the Jesus movement through Jesus himself.

[9] He mentions that clearly in the introduction

Posted June 10, 2015 by Mina Monier in Reviews

Charlesworth (ed.) “Jesus and Temple” pt.2   2 comments



Charlesworth’s (ed.) Jesus and Temple: Review (2)

Previously, I surveyed the first half of James Charlesworth’s (ed.) recently published book Jesus and Temple: Textual and Archaeological Explorations. Today I would like to continue my survey through the second part of the book.

It is not said that the book is divided into two halves but the reader can see the difference between them easily. While the first half focuses on the OT and ends with Aviam’s interesting essay on the recent archaeological findings in the Capernaum synagogue in Galilee, the second half focuses on Christianity with foAur brilliant essays. The first two are written by Charlesworth and they explore Jesus’ and his followers’ attitudes toward the Temple respectively.

He starts his first chapter by surveying major opinions on the topic, including Walter Bauer’s opinion, which represents the German scholarship of his age perfectly. In his “Jesus der Galiläer” Bauer emphasised the Galilian more than the Judaean influence on Jesus. Jesus’ views were drawn from the prophetic tradition, with no interest in the law or cult … the Temple is not a place of worship but a “battleground.” Then Charlesworth moves to John D. Crossan who also views Jesus as the Temple’s “functional enemy.” He then moves to E. P. Sanders’ view that Jesus expected or even threatened the destruction of the Temple by the coming of the impending eschaton. Finally he mentions Nicholas Perrin’s view, expressed in his 2011 publication Jesus  the Temple, that Jesus belongs to a tradition of counter-Temple attitude expressed in several movements, including the Odes of Solomon, Qumran and John the Baptist who is inherited by Jesus.

Charlesworth rejects these views considering that they do not do justice to the Jewish reality of Jesus. In the case of Perrin in particular, he refuses Perrin’s attempt to put all these counter-temple traditions on a single trajectory, and I agree with Charlesworth on this point.

In his rejection of these earlier views, Charlesworth endeavoured to show how Jesus was attached to the Temple throughout his life. This appears, according to him, in the “possible” historical nucleus in the stories about Jesus’ visit to the Temple in his youth (Luke 2), which he suggests possibly reflects a tradition about his Bar mitzvah, his several visits to Jerusalem according to John and having the Temple as the centre for his teachings during his ministry in Judaea:[1]

and in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet. 38 Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.” (Lk 21:37-8)

” So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church[h] daily those who were being saved. ” (Acts 2:45)

Charlesworth also refuses to interpret Jesus’ Temple cleansing as an act against the Temple. Actually it was an act of zeal for the purity of the House of God. I agree with him about this point. I find it to be over interpreted when put in an anti-Temple mentality. However, presuming that the materials about Jesus’ actions in the Temple (teaching, debating and acting) report Jesus’ acts accurately, are they enough for us to determine his attitude? Certainly not and here Charlesworth’s approach starts to face some difficulties.

It is Jesus’ eschatological view of his situation that changes his perspective from the others. His criticism of the corruption of the priests, which Charlesworth approves, cannot be seen as a purely moral issue. It has its eschatological background in which teachings like the Lord’s prayer and his sermon on the Mount that include matters like loving your enemy or giving up on debts make sense. It is this eschatological domain in which Jesus “hijacked” Temple roles like forgiving sins, healing or teaching on purification.[2] Charlesworth does not touch upon that contextual problem. This is the functional opposition of the Temple. The question that should be asked first: in which domain was Jesus operating? Realised eschatology or normal life?

Charlesworth focuses on the materials in which the Temple is directly mentioned. Even this cannot reflect a single positive view of the Temple. For example he considers the parable of the wicked tenants[3] to be imposing a problem with open scenarios… the scenario that he introduced, with seeming approval, is that Jesus might have changed his attitude after the negative reaction he received in the Temple which followed his heroic entrance to Jerusalem.

To support his hypothesis about Jesus’ pro-Temple attitude, he endeavoured to show that  the first Christian generations held a positive view of the Temple as well. He carefully picked up the views that support his thesis in each text in the NT such as Catchpole’s view (Vis-à-vis Kloppenborg’s) on Q et al. Radical views against the Temple such as Stephen’s were toned down to target the corruption or rejection of the Messiah. Paul’s rhetoric about the Temple-as-community were seen to co-exist with the positive view of the Temple of Jerusalem.

In the two essays professor Charlesworth attempted to solve the difficult problem of identifying the attitude of Jesus towards the Temple by reconciling the several traditions about him and his followers in order to give one impression that Jesus was in favour of the Temple of Jerusalem. But is there a unified attitude coming from Jesus? and can we really consider that the views of the Hellenists and the Hebrews, and other diaspora texts, are reconcilable?

My thesis is on this topic and one of the challenges that I find when I  read these studies is when the author moves on in his study without defining what it is meant by a “positive” or “negative” attitude towards the Temple and from which perspective it is so.

While Charlesworth’s emphasis on Jesus’ strong Jewish interest in the Temple is justifiable, harmonising all the traditions in order to provide a single view is certainly impossible. He rejects Perrin’s method of putting all the alleged counter-temple movements on one trajectory while he tries to do the same on a wider scale.

The book provides a challenging and thorough collection of essays and I think it is a very important contribution to one of the most difficult questions regarding Jesus and the most important symbol for Judaism.

Its collection of essays give fresh insights from different disciplines and I think it is a must-read for students and researchers of the NT.

[1] Cf. Mt 21:23; 26:55; Mk 12:35, 19:47; Jn 7:14 et al.

[2] Mk 2:3 par.

[3] Mk 21:1f.//Mt 21:33//Lk 20:9// Th.65

Posted October 11, 2014 by Mina Monier in Reviews

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The True Herod: by Geza Vermes (yes!)   3 comments


T&T Clark announced a new book by Geza Vermes. It seems he left this draft before he left our world. Who was Herod the Great? How did he come to govern one of the most politically tumultuous regions in the world? Was he the heartless baby-killer of Matthew’s Gospel, or does this popular tale do Herod a great disservice? Geza Vermes, whose work on the Historical Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls has made him one of the most recognisable names in Biblical and Jewish studies, provides a new portrait of Herod. Vermes examines Herod’s legacy as a political leader, and a potentate, a man of culture, and an all-round smooth operator. Vermes opens up the fascinating character of Herod, from his sizable and fragile ego to his devastation at the execution of his beloved wife, an execution that Herod ordered himself. Beginning with the key historical sources (notably Josephus) Vermes moves on to consider Herod’s greatest legacy and testament – his extensive building works, which include the Temple in Jerusalem, Masada and Herodium. Colour images, combined with Vermes’ lively prose make this new picture of Herod an enticing and informative guide to one of Ancient History’s most misunderstood figures.


James Charlesworth’s review:

In this final book of his career, published posthumously, Geza Vermes’s insightful eye remains as sharp as ever. Rejecting the traditional villainous presentation of Herod the Great, and drawing on both literary and archaeological evidence, Vermes argues that Herod was a complex figure, capable of terrible acts but also of loyalty and diplomatic brilliance. Beautifully illustrated, and written with a real relish for presenting a personality almost larger than life, this book vividly explores the history of the Jews, Herod’s stunning rise to power, the convolutions of Herod’s personal and political life, his maniacal murders, monumental architecture, death and legacy. Herod has both horrified and fascinated us throughout the centuries, and this book superbly captures why.
Joan E. Taylor, King’s College London, UK
In The True Herod, his richly illustrated account of this much-maligned king of the Jews, Geza Vermes once again teaches us that to write great history is also — perhaps first of all — to tell a great story.
Paula Fredriksen, Boston University, USA
This is a fascinating journey into the past; the stimulating narrative causes the reader to ponder, wonder, and speculate about human frailties and fortunes. How does an evil genius succeed in building monumental cities and the Temple, even bringing peace to a tortured land? This biography of Herod, ‘a genuine tragic hero,’ is another of Vermes’s monumental achievements from a life devoted to research, study, and reflection.
James H. Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary, USA


Posted May 22, 2014 by Mina Monier in Reviews

“Jesus and Temple: Textual and Archaeological Explorations” – Review (1)   2 comments


click on the cover for more information

Finally, the long awaited book Jesus and Temple by James Charlesworth (ed.) was published last month. The book is a collection of nine essays dealing with the current state of knowledge and sources that we have about the Temple of Jerusalem and Jesus (and his followers). The book embarks on a tour de force of cutting-edge knowledge from the latest archaeological works on the Temple mount and sets them in dialogue with our literary sources to give a fresh perspective of them. Literary sources also include a rediscovery of some of the “non-canonical” materials circulated in the early church.

In the first chapter, Charlesworth takes us through a socio-religious description of the life and services in the Temple during the time of Jesus, which helps us to see how Jesus experienced it. The chapter surveys the different financial and religious activities that Jesus was probably involved in, as well as the kind of people and appointees he encountered in his visits to his “father’s house”.

The second chapter is, in my opinion, the most fascinating one. The prolific archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer introduces “Imaging the Temple Known to Jesus and Early Jews”.  Ritmeyer, who spent more than 20 years excavating the Temple mount, revisits the literary reports about the temple structure found in Josephus and the Middot in the light of latest archaeological findings. He shows that the long held opinion that Josephus’ report should replace the Middot’s is not the best explanation for the variety of their views. He shows that archaeology promotes Josephus’ description of the outer area while Middot’s inner court is better. This enables the two  reports to complement each other to give us a better imaging of the Temple. Ritmeyer surveys several images and drawings of the Temple according to the best of today’s knowledge of the Temple’s structure. The pictures are very helpful, especially the isometric ones.

The construction of Leen Ritmeyer

The construction of Leen Ritmeyer

The next three chapters of Dan Bahat, Lawrence Schiffman and Gary Rendsburg deal with the question of the significance of the Temple for the Jews liturgically and theologically. Schiffman surveys biblical and second temple literature to argue for the cosmological centrality of the Temple as the source of divine powers in the world. He shows the graduation of holiness inside the Temple itself from the city to the Holy of Holies. I think that the survey shows how and why the Qumran texts reflected a climactic level of the Temple’s centrality in the life of the Jews and this cannot be explained apart from eschatology.

By the end of the fourth chapter you should have a vivid up-to-date vision of Jerusalem’s Temple at the time of Jesus. The next chapter sheds the light on Jesus’ Birthplace, Galilee, and its relationship with the Temple. I must admit that I find it the most fascinating chapter for its concise treatment of the latest archaeological findings in Galilee and their theological implications. Mordechai Aviam investigates the “Reverence for Jerusalem and the Temple in Galilean Society.” Aviam believes that contemporary scholarship created a baseless emotional hostility between Galilee and Jerusalem by misinterpreting Jesus and Josephus. His argument is that archaeology shows how the Galilean society revered the Temple to a great extent. His argument hinges on the most recent discoveries of the ritual baths (mikvaot), stone vessels, clay oil lamps and, most importantly, the Migdal synagogue. The first two themes are directly related to purification (baths and hand washing) and it is interesting to see how they both disappeared from Jewish life after the destruction of the Temple. For Aviam, this shows how purity washes were exported from the Temple to Jerusalem’s periphery. Clay oil lamps were not also far from purity if we understand the role of the light in the symbolism of Second Temple Judaism (most importantly the menorah).

Finally, the climax of Aviam’s argument is found in his treatment of the recently discovered synagogue in Migdal, Galilee.  In the floor of synagogue a stone with striking decorations was found. The stone’s symbols gathered all the elements of the Temple and its Holy of Holies on its sides and the top of it appeared as an altar with the tools such as the rakes (Magrefot… interestingly we Arab speakers still use the same word for the same tool مغرفة). The position and content of the stone made it appear as a replica of the Temple’s Holy of Holies, which is unparalleled in any of the discovered synagogues. Aviam suggests that these discoveries point towards a high degree of affiliation in Galilee towards Jerusalem and its Temple.

The migdal synagogue stone

The migdal synagogue stone

Despite the fact that these discoveries are impressive and that they do show an affiliation to the Temple, this does not indicate more than a religious attachment to the building which occupied the centre of their faith in God’s covenant. Galilee still experienced high financial burdens due to its triple taxation system that ensured its poverty. Hostility towards the Temple was not towards Judaism but the people working on it in the privileged Jerusalem. This is what could be found in the NT, Josephus and in different ways in counter temple movements like the one found in Qumran. Anyway, this chapter paves the way for what I can see as the second part of the book (the Christian part).

I will leave the next part for another blog post because I will deal with it more critically.

Mina M.

Posted May 13, 2014 by Mina Monier in Reviews

Mark in Alexandria and Oden’s Gestalt   Leave a comment

In 1968, a commission (including my maternal grandfather) accompanied the Coptic patriarch Kyrellos VI  to Rome in a special visit to return the relics (head) of St. Mark the Evangelist. Happily, Pope Paul VI gave the relics to the Coptic patriarch who was later received in Cairo with great joy and huge celebrations for several days. The relics of st. Mark, which were stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants centuries ago and were smuggled to Venice, ended up in a beautiful shrine in the Coptic Patriarchate in Cairo. I used to go there on a weekly basis during my undergraduate years (my faculty of engineering is 10 minutes walk from the cathedral) and stay for some time for prayer. St. Mark the Apostle, Beholder of God and Evangelist (as the full Coptic title declares) has a very special place in the heart of every Egyptian Christian due to the classic or traditional ecclesiastical narrative that venerates him as the founder of Egyptian Christianity and the first παπάς of the Alexandrian See (the title was used in Alexandria way before Rome).


Patriarch Kyrellos VI and the relics of St. Mark (in the box with white cross) shortly after his arrival from Rome, 22 June 1968.


Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy

Like other ecclesiastical histories of ancient churches, this narrative went through centuries unchallenged until the early 20th century when Harnack stated in several places that Eusebius’ report cannot explain the complex phenomenon of early Egyptian Christianity. However, it was Walter Bauer’s  Orthodoxy and Heresy  (Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum) that offered the strongest critique against that scenario. There is a consensus in scholarship that the strongest part in Bauer’s case against the alleged precedence of Orthodoxy was his claims about the emergence of Egyptian Christianity. Mistakenly, some scholars represent Bauer’s case as argumentum e silentio i.e. because we don’t have sufficient information about the origins of Egyptian Christianity the classic scenario (about Mark as the founder of the Alexandrian church and his 10 successors as reported in Eusebius H.E.II.16) is baseless. Unfortunately, this misrepresentation is not uncommon. It is mainly due to the failure to fully digest the programme proposed by Bauer throughout his book, which hinges on 1- That there was a late driving force emanating from Rome behind the several ecclesiastical scenarios behind the foundation of the apostolic Churches 2- Ecclesiastical Orthodoxy had to provide a clear historical path from the apostles that deems the heretics as later, inferior and inauthentic corruption of Christianity. Bauer successfully showed how Eusebius drew on a legendary scenario given to him about the foundation of the Edessene Chuch. The careful study showed how that legendary history was meant to eradicate Marcion and other heretics systematically from Edessa. Bauer shows, carefully, how the scenario is not different in the case of Egypt. Therefore, the silence about the origins of Egyptian Christianity is not coincidental but could be deliberate if the official narrative appeared at the end of the second century at the time of Patriarch Demetrius who appealed to Rome in his struggle with Origen.

Without going the details of his research, the conclusion of Bauer was: the beginning of Egyptian Christianity was “heretical,” swinging between a Jewish Christianity (the Gospel of the Hebrews) and a gentile/national Gnosticism (the Gospel of the Egyptians) while Orthodoxy was as late as the first registered bishop of Alexandria Demetrius who tailored the legend of Mark to serve the apostolic needs for his claims. Bauer wrote his book in 1934, about a decade before the discovery of Nag Hammadi library. Helmut Koester, a strong proponent of Bauer’s thesis, was careful when he said that Bauer was “essentially right”; the scenario of the universal apostolic Orthodoxy that preceded the later heretical corruptions is terribly untenable. However, does this require the entire demolition of the Markan footprints on the shores of Alexandria? Just as Thomasene Christianity was shown by Koester to be indeed Edessan, despite the legendary nature of the records known to Eusebius, Mark’s place in Alexandrian Christianity should not automatically be entirely eradicated in the suspicious agenda of Demetrius.  It is difficult to impose a hoax about the origins of the Church of Alexandria, the second largest city of the empire and its intellectual centre. The presence of Mark in the course of Alexandrian history could have been enlarged and embellished by the ecclesiastical authorities in Alexandria to strengthen its position in Christendom and was perfectly employed by the Romans.

Several studies, from prominent scholars like Leslie W. Barnard, Cyril Roberts and mainly Birger A. Pearson whom I will return to, challenged Bauer’s extreme conjecture regarding Mark. In the light of their contribution, a modified model of Bauer’s thesis must be proposed. Quite recently, the Methodist scholar Thomas C. Oden offered an interesting contribution which I would like to survey now.

Oden’s The African Memory of Mark


Oden’s Book

Oden proposed an entirely opposite view to Bauer’s. His recently published book The African Memory of Mark
endeavoured to restore faith in the ecclesiastical narrative about Mark’s role in founding the Alexandrian Church. Oden mainly relied on external evidence beside the scanty data in the NT. The argument is that if we have such a huge and diverse amount of traditions about Mark and that these traditions converge on some major points, then the Gestalt of Mark’s apostolic role in the Alexandrian church could be maintained.

Defining “African Memory” in part I, Oden states that  the story was known throughout the different corners of African Christianity and it was retold by several churches through history. He depends on two types of sources: literary and archaeological. As for the latter, he mentioned the considerable number of places in Alexandria that were named after Mark’s events (mission, church, martyrdom). Oden accessed a good deal of materials about these places in contemporary and medieval Coptic sources. As for the literary evidence, he relied on: 1- Egyptian liturgical materials (the Synaxarium and liturgy attributed to Mark) 2-  Martyrium Marci which was part of the Acts of Mark, a late third early fourth century hagiography about Mark’s life and death in Alexandria. 3- The Coptic historian Sawirus Ibn al-Muqaffa’ (Severus of Ashmunin) who collected the different sources in the tenth century and wrote his very important History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria in Arabic. 4- The late patriarch of the Coptic Church Pope Shenouda III (who is by no means a source).

The book surveys these archaeological materials in an interesting way so that the reader enjoys going through Christian Egypt (Cairo and Alexandria). His access to Arabic materials enriches that survey. However, on the ground of historical reality, he did not dig deep in the origins of the names of these sites or whether they would really witness to independent testimonies about Mark’s mission. Legendary records are like a snowball that  expands through centuries and creates shrines and sites based on it, so he needed to go beyond the simplistic conclusion: (we have a lot of places named after Mark, he must have been there). Of course this was not the case in every single site he dealt with but that was the general approach.

Similarly his sources are not quite independent. Severus of Ashmunin relied heavily  on Acts of Mark (mistakenly confused with Martyrium Marci which is the part of martyrdom in the Acts). The original Arabic text of Severus’ History of the Patriarchs shows that he was quoting Greek words and terms and transliterating them in Arabic letters and that source was precisely Acts of Mark. Severus used it beside Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica and some other liturgical bits and pieces.  Instead of showing the literary relationship between his sources, Oden offered a synopsis from the different reports to construct a plausible traditional scenario about the life, mission and death of Mark.

Here, Oden appeals to the strongest evidence, and the most controversial one: Clement of Alexandria. Interestingly, Oden found that the recently discovered letter to Theodore by Morton Smith was too tempting for his case to ignore despite its disturbing findings about the Gospel of Mark for conservatives. He stated that the letter has gained universal validation and therefore should be maintained as a testimony to Mark’s activity in Egypt. Publishing the book by a press that identifies itself as “evangelically rooted” Oden seemed to be obliged to keep emphasising the “insignificance” of the Secret Mark Gospel quotations, deeming them as “heretical corruption of the canonical” .. something even Clement himself did not dare to say(!). Oden then shifted his focus onto Clement’s clear statements about Mark’s activity in Egypt (which includes writing the more spiritual edition of his Gospel).

In my opinion, the book offers many possibilities that are not necessarily less likely than what he calls “the Western approach.” But the excessive speculation weakens his “Gestalt.” Oden’s final conclusion is that all sorts of findings (literary, liturgical and archaeological) converge on: 1- Mark was with Peter in Rome 2- Mark was active in Alexandria 3- Mark had a distinctive position in the Church there. While the first one is nearly unbeatable, the second’s main evidence is primarily Clement’s letter to Theodore, not the dubious sources with excessive legendary nature. The third is untenable if compared to the huge diversity of the “church” if the singular term is accurate.

 Concluding Remarks

Thomas Oden’s book is by all means an important contribution to the subject matter for two reasons: first, it provides a host of information about the rich legacy of Mark in the Alexandrian Church as seen in literary, liturgical and archaeological sources. Secondly, it aims to give  well-deserved serious attention to the African memory which cannot be dismissed as a “puff of smoke” automatically. However, the limited reach on the question of Mark’s presence, detached from the complicated phenomenon of the Early Egyptian Christianity, weakens his case so that it still cannot explain the diversity of Alexandrian Christianity in its earliest known forms … Mark cannot be the founder of such a spectrum of “Christianities” unless Oden is happy to confine himself to the Eusebian perspective of ecclesiastical history.

Therefore, Walter Bauer is still “essentially right.” Christianity emerged in Alexandria within the huge Jewish population of the cosmopolitan city taking different forms of which a spectrum of Christian trajectories emerged. The silence about the first century and Mark’s “other” Gospel are well explained in the light of our increasing knowledge about the predominant Gnosticism (if the word is correct) at the earliest detectable strata of Egyptian Christianity. Mark’s presence in Alexandria and his secret Gospel do indeed support such claims. If the expansion of his apostolic role and the formation of a conventional narrative about Christianity was part of a later propaganda that aimed to affiliate Alexandria to Orthodox Rome, this backfired terribly in the first serious clash between Alexandria and Rome shortly before the full explosion in the council of Chalcedon (451CE). In 445 CE Pope Leo I sent a letter to bishop Dioscorus, who had just succeeded the mighty Cyril to the “See of St. Mark”, asking him to keep the tradition of following Roman rites “for since the most blessed Peter received the headship of the Apostles from the Lord, and the church of Rome still abides by His institutions, it is wicked to believe that His holy disciple Mark, who was the first to govern the church of Alexandria , formed his decrees on a different line of tradition: seeing that without doubt both disciple and master drew but one Spirit from the same fount of grace, and the ordained could not hand on anything else than what he had received from his ordainer. ” (letter IX.1).

Suggested Bibliography:

Barnard, L. W., 1966, Studies in the Apostolic Fathers and Their Background, New York: Schoken. p.1-22

Bauer, W., 1934, Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum, Tübingen: Mohr. ET: 1971 Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, Minneapolis: Fortress Press

Braun, S. G., ‘On the Composition History of the Longer (“Secret”) Gospel of Mark’, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 122, No. 1 (Spring, 2003), pp. 89-110

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

Pearson, B. A., and Goehring, J. E. (eds.), 1986, The Roots of Egyptian Christianity, Philadelphia: Fortress Press

idem. “Ancient Alexandria in the Acts of Mark,” ch. 3 in Gnosticism and Christianity in Roman and Coptic Egypt (New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 100-111

Roberts, 1979, Manuscript Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt, London: Oxford University Press

Posted April 4, 2014 by Mina Monier in Reviews, Uncategorized