Wednesday, 18 October 2017

For the Love of Gord

Gord Downie died today. For more than thirty years, he was the front man of The Tragically Hip, "Canada's band," until they played their final show last August. It is, I think, impossible to describe to non-Canadians what The Hip meant to Canadians, especially Anglo-Canadians. Downie wrote most of their lyrics, and his poetry--because that's what his lyrics really were--perfectly expressed everything that Anglo-Canadians want to be, while never shying away from reminding us of the ways in which we still fell short of our own ideals. His words showed us the people we wanted to be, while revealing the people that we really were. And that combination of ideal and reality was remarkably, profoundly powerful. And more: his life embodied his art. He spent his life advocating for indigenous persons and communities. Indeed, after being diagnosed with the terminal illness that has now claimed his life, he spent much of his remaining time traveling the country, visiting impoverished indigenous communities and advocating on their behalf. During The Hip's farewell concert, a night that was for the rest of us about their legacy and Downie's courage in the face of death, he made it about justice, pointing to Prime Minister Trudeau (who was in attendance) and publicly calling on him to address the ongoing injustices against indigenous peoples here in Canada. He was, quite simply, a good man.

Downie, I think, helps us better understand the thought of another Canadian, namely Bernard Lonergan. Lonergan often spoke of the need for love to transform the human subject into someone who is concerned with the well-being of others. He described such a transformation as religious conversion, and although his focus was upon how this worked itself out in the Christian--and more specifically the Catholic--tradition, he never limited the possibility of such love to said tradition. Indeed, Downie, as far as I know, was not an active member of any religion. Articulated from within the Christian tradition, one might say that he is a testimony to the reality that divine grace is not limited to the walls of any given church. However we might want to articulate it, it is not difficult to see in Gord Downie's life a pattern that Lonergan identified in his work: religious conversion, i.e. falling in love with something much greater than oneself, leads to moral conversion, i.e. the consistent option for values over satisfaction, for the common good rather than parochial self-or even group- interest. And in the final analysis, it was no doubt the presence of such love that attracted people to The Hip.

Monday, 16 October 2017

On Gendered Violence

There is currently on social media a trend wherein women (and to a lesser extent men) write "Me too" in their statuses, as a declaration that they have suffered sexual harassment. This seems an appropriate occasion to think about gendered violence (and let's be clear: harassment is a form of violence--not necessarily physical, for physical violence is just the tip of the iceberg--in that it violates the person's dignity and sense of security) from a Lonerganian perspective. As Lonerganian scholars such as Robert Doran and John Dadosky have said about their own writing, in what follows I make no effort to distinguish between Lonergan's thought and my own, as the former has so fully informed the latter that such distinctions are difficult to make.

Most fundamentally, from a Lonerganian perspective violence--gendered or otherwise--is irrational and thus invariably irresponsible. This differs from force, the application of which can at times be quite rational and responsible. If a man assaults a woman, he uses force to exercise violence against her. This is in all cases irrational and irresponsible. If she uses force to resist, that very conceivable could be a rational attempt to avoid injury to self, and thus quite responsible. But more interesting than this basic set of observations is to ask why someone engages in the irrational and irresponsible act of violence in the first place. In Lonergan terms, this will be inexplicably linked to the idea of alienation.

The sort of alienation of which we speak here is in the first instance an alienation from the best version of oneself, i.e. the version of oneself that is attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible. This supposes a view of the subject as something that can be cultivated. The attentiveness, intelligence, reason, and responsibility in view are not native capacities. Rather, they result from the intentional decision to develop the skills associated with observation (attentiveness), understanding (intelligence), judgment (reason), and decision (responsibility). Alienation is not simply a situation in which one is less than fully attentive, intelligent, reasonable, or responsible, but rather a situation in which one actively (although not necessarily consciously) refuses to develop said skills. Instead, the energy that would otherwise be invested in cultivating these skills is invested in justifying the refusal to do so, as well as finding ways to function despite such fundamental impairments in these basic human capacities.

A person thus alienated from her or his best self becomes inevitably alienated also from reality. Precisely because it is through attentiveness, understanding, judgment, and decision that we come to truly know and fruitfully engage with reality, the person who refuses to cultivate these skills is fundamentally incapable of truly knowing or fruitfully engaging with reality. Such a person experiences the world in a fundamentally distorted fashion. Fear substitutes for attentiveness, suspicion for intelligence, paranoia for reason, aggression for responsibility. Unable to escape a bewildering world from which one is fundamentally and existentially estranged, one irresponsibly sets out to control the many aspects of that world that operate in defiance of one's unreasonable expectations. Such control almost inevitably violates the dignity and security of other persons in one way or another. Sometimes this occurs overtly, through acts of irresponsible force, and sometimes it occurs covertly, through various forms of abuse, neglect, harassment, etc.

Due to sexual dimorphism, which results in the reality that female human beings tend to be on average smaller than male human beings in any given population, it is not at all unusual to find that alienated men frequently engage in aggressive conduct towards women. Precisely because the alienated man (and the move to gender-exclusive language here is intentional) is irresponsible, he has a tendency to prefer the quick and easy path to satisfying his need to control. Indeed, entire societies can (dys)functionally adopt such aggressive conduct as a foundational principle, with cultures that become distorted in order to warrant such social dysfunction. Alienated aggression against women becomes normalized, such that women who resist are deemed to be "bitches" or the like, even as women who do not resist are deemed to be "sluts," etc. But of course all this is just projection: irrational and irresponsible men cannot conceive of the possibility that other persons--male or female--might be more rational and more responsible than they are, precisely because they do not actually know what it means to be rational and responsible.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

From Gospel to Dogma

Last week, I had the honour of delivering a talk at Regis College in the University of Toronto, hosted by the Lonergan Research Institute. This talk focused upon how the gospels were seminal in the development of Christian dogma: not in terms of their content, but rather in terms of the processes that led from Jesus' life to the development of the very form of dogma itself that we find emerging at Nicaea, Chalcedon, etc. Here I drew upon a quote from Lonergan's Triune God: Doctrines (p. 49, with the Latin original on p. 48 opposite; yes, although a twentieth-century thinker, Lonergan often wrote in Latin, specifically those writings that started as lectures delivered at the Gregorian in Rome):
[I]n the ante-Nicene doctrinal movement there were not one but two developments that were going forward. During those early Christian centuries both the trinitarian and Christological doctrines were being developed; but this doctrinal development itself enfolded a second and more profound development in which the idea of dogma itself was developing.
What we find here are what we might term a substantial and a formal development, which operated in parallel. The substantial development was the specific content of the doctrines being developed, while the formal development was the mode of expression by which they were articulated. In effect, we are dealing with the difference between what Christians believed and how they communicated that belief. My primary interest in this talk was upon the latter.

Substantially, there are Christian insights in narrative texts such as the gospels and also in dogmatic texts such as the Nicene Creed. But formally they are very different. The movement from narrative to dogma is a profound one, in which sharpened intellectual clarity is achieved by virtue of intellect's increasing regulation of other aspects of the person when thinking about doctrine, which results in a concomitant decrease in the capacity to communicate to the whole person is decreased. What actually happens in the big picture is that narrative--and also song, and other forms that aim more fully at the whole person--becomes less concerned with communicating intellectual truths as forms more appropriate to the communication of intellectual truths come into their own (and thus we see a keen impropriety in comparing ancient narrative to modern narrative; they actually are not the same animal, as modern narrative is much more specialized than ancient). This much is really derived from Lonergan. My particular interest was in how the production of the gospels themselves contributed to this process.

My argument was quite straightforward. The gospels were developed and written in highly diverse milieus; that such communication in such milieus by necessity requires work to clarify concepts; and that this early work at clarification constituted perhaps the first major Christian movement towards dogma. There is strong reason to think that right from the off the church was at least culturally and linguistically diverse: consider the story of Pentecost in Acts 2, for instance, or that of the Hebraists and the Hellenists in Acts 6. This diversity would have only increased as the church spread into the Diaspora (which actually seems to have occurred quite early, perhaps as a direct result of Pentecost. If not then, certainly by the time Paul was converted, perhaps as little as eighteen months after Jesus died and certainly no more than three or four years). All such cultural and linguistic diversity made posed a sharp challenge to communication (indeed, the account of miraculous inter-linguistic communication at Pentecost makes clear that the early Christians were profoundly aware of this challenge). My argument is simply that this challenge to communication necessitated acts of clarification that would characterize the movement of Christian communication throughout the ante-Nicene period, and after.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Of Snake Oil and Titus Flavius

Someone on FB asked me to comment upon the following article, detailing Joseph Atwill's rubbish hypothesis that the "Story of Jesus Christ was 'fabricated to pacify the poor.'" After my response on FB reached its fourth paragraph, I decided to turn it into a blog post.

At the outset, the article requires a basic correction. It erroneously refers to Atwill as a "controversial biblical scholar." This of course is false. He stands to biblical scholarship, the hallmark of which is a commitment to rigourous historical thought, in much the same way that the snake oil salesman stands to medicine: what he peddles is somewhere between useless and toxic, and among those who know better there is virtually no controversy regarding the matter because we can all recognize pseudo-history when we see it. We can see clearly why this is the case by considering his own words, as quoted in this article.
What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of [Emperor] Titus Flavius as described by Josephus....This is clear evidence of a deliberately constructed pattern....The biography of Jesus is actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar.
A number of observations here. First, he is committing an elementary error, which sixty years ago Samuel Sandmel defined as "parallelomania." This error consists of the supposition that formal parallels must entail a causal or familial relationship. But correlation is not necessarily evidence of causation or family. One needs to do more than demonstrate such parallels. One needs to explain why we should conclude that the parallels indicate deliberate mimicry.

Second, when thinking about such parallels, the fact that the gospels utilize preexisting elements from prior stories does not mean that what they report is fictitious. In fact, it doesn't mean much at all. Let's say that you tell me a story about your high school prom. Many of the features in that story will be stock. In fact, they will be so stock that I could probably predict with a high degree of accuracy the basic narrative that you will tell. Does it follow that you obviously never had a high school prom? Hardly. While, yes, it could be the case that you are employing such stock story features to bamboozle me, it is at least and probably considerably more likely that in fact you had a high school prom, and that you are simply conforming your story to the standard forms in which such events are narrated. Using a more concrete example, I often tell students about the fact that my first day as a full-time undergraduate student was September 11, 2001. When I tell that story, I intentionally employ many of the stock features of a "starting college" story--how excited I was, how I spent much of the previous week getting textbooks, how early class started that day and how tired that made me--precisely to heighten the impact of the unexpected, namely the way in which the events of 9/11 brought the joy of starting university to an abrupt end. In fact, this makes good cognitive sense. If you use stock features to describe the features of the story that aren't of central interest, that frees you to focus cognitive energy upon composing the feature of the story that are; and conversely, stock features allow me to focus cognitive energy upon that which is not stock and thus (you are telling me) more central. Such stock features facilitate communication in such a way that is probably indispensable. Thinking that the very presence of such stock features is of great historical import probably speaks to an impoverished awareness not just of historical thought but more basically of how humans actually think and communicate.

Third, we can ask whether the parallels he identifies are actually that significant. For instance, Judea is in fact not that big a place, and Galilee (where Jesus spent the bulk of his time) even smaller. Should we be horribly surprised if two persons traveling in the same small area just a few decades apart, using the same system of roads and paths, should go to the same places or even have similar itineraries? Coincidence hardly seems improbable. But that having been said, the accounts in any case actually aren't that coincident. For instance, two of Titus' major victories in the Galille occurred at Taricheae and Gamala: two cities that Jesus is never said to have visited! The only significance here seems to be that, if the evangelists were patterning Jesus' ministry after Titus' campaign, then they seem to have little familiarity with the latter.

Fourth, there is a significant chronological problem. The earliest of the gospels, namely Mark's, probably was written either during or even prior to the Judean War. Certainly, one can make a stronger argument for Mark's Gospel predating the Judean War than vice versa, and the gospel certainly predates Josephus' account of Titus operations during that war. Moreover, the core of Jesus' biography is already found in Paul's writings at least ten years before Titus ever set foot in Judea (in fact, Titus was probably not even a teenager when Paul wrote his earliest letters). As such, given the absolute dates involved, there is good reason to think that the basic outlines of Jesus' biography were in place at least a decade before the Jewish War, and if there is a causal or genetic relationship between Josephus' Jewish War and Jesus' biography empirically it is more likely that Josephus imitated Jesus' biography than the other way around.

Fifth, even if we grant the existence of meaningful parallels between Jesus' biography and Titus' operations in the Judean War, and even if we grant that these parallels indicate that the former mimic the latter, it would not follow that this imitation was carried out by the Romans in order to pacify the Judean population. That part of Atwill's argument seems to be predicated upon neither fallacies nor errors, but in groundless speculation.

As a matter of fairness, we should note that Atwill's hypothesis would perform well if logical fallacies, lack of attention to empirical data, and groundless speculation constitute intellectual virtues. I trust that I might be forgiven for suggesting that they do not.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Passover Hypothesis and Acts 12:1-4

Acts 12:2-4 has a passage that would be otherwise strange, unless you recognize the sort of multivalent usage that Brant Pitre identifies in chapter four of his Jesus and the Last Supper (cf. my previous post). In the NRSV, this passage reads as follows
1 About that time King Herod [Agrippa] laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover.
It is commonplace among New Testament scholars to suppose that "Passover" refers only to 14 Nisan, the day on which the initial sacrifice is slaughtered. It is then followed by the Feast (or Festival) of Unleavened Bread, from 15-21 Nisan. On such an understanding you have a very strange narrative here, wherein James is arrested and executed either before or during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, followed by the arrest of Peter during the Feast and an intention to kill him after the Passover (it is not clear if the statement that this happened during the Feast refers only to Peter's arrest, or also to the arrest and execution of James. I suspect the latter, but the narrative leaves some ambiguity). In other words, on the typical usage, you would have Peter arrested between 15-21 Nisan, with Herod Agrippa planning on executing him once 14 Nisan was past. The only way this would work is if he was arrested sometime during 15-21 Nisan one year, held for a full year until the following 14 Nisan had past. This seems somewhat unlikely.

This problem disappears entirely if, with Pitre, we recognize that "Passover" can also refer to the entirety of the festal week i.e 15-21 Nisan. Then we would have James arrested and executed no later than 21 Nisan, followed by Peter's arrest sometime between 15 and 21 Nisan, with Agrippa planning to have him executed at some point subsequent to the 21 Nisan. The timeline is suddenly not a problem at all. Insofar as a hypothesis' capacity to resolve indirectly-related difficulties should generally be reckoned as confirmatory, Pitre's understanding of the New Testament usages of the term "Passover" seems to receive confirmation from Acts 12:1-4. (Pitre, incidentally, has indicated that Acts 12:1-4 were originally intended to be in chapter four of Jesus and History, but ended up on the chopping-room floor. Quite understandable: as it is, the chapter weighs in at over 120 pages. Sometimes one simply has to let things go).

Incidentally, as I am somewhat obsessive-compulsive about such matters, the events in question probably occurred no earlier than 41, the first Passover during which Agrippa had control of Judea, and no later than 44, the last Passover before his death. Based upon what we know about Peter's movements during these years independent of this passage, I am inclined to favour 41 or 42, with the former seeming more probable to me than the latter. 43 and 44 generally strike me as non-starters.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Brant Pitre and Functional Specialization

As the godly know, there are few things more sublime than solid chronological work. That's what makes chapter four of Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Last Supper a thing of beauty. In this chapter Pitre addresses the ever-vexed question about the date of the last supper. He rightly notes that this question is the single most disputed chronological issue in NT studies. The issue turns upon a perceived contradiction between the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels, which indicate that the Last Supper took place on 15 Nisan, and the account in John's, which is typically thought to indicate that it took place a day earlier, on 14 Nisan. This perceived contradiction has become a significant point of contention in New Testament scholarship, as 15 Nisan is typically identified as being self-identical with Passover. The questions of whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal and whether Jesus was understood as a Passover sacrifice are both related integrally to this matter. Pitre's contribution is to show that the historical problem is based wholly upon questionable exegesis.

Pitre argues that scholarship has made the error of supposing that in all cases, when the gospels refer to Passover, they are referring to 15 Nisan. Against this, he argues that in late Second Temple Judaism, "Passover" could refer to at least four different things: the Passover lamb, sacrificed on 14 Nisan; the Passover meal on 15 Nisan, at which the lamb was consumed; the Passover peace offering, consumed over the period from 15-21 Nisan; or Passover week, also from 15-21 Nisan. Without getting into the complicated details, which span more than forty pages in Pitre's work, suffice it to say that he demonstrates quite persuasively that when the differing uses of the term are kept in mind, the appearance of contradictory claims between the Synoptics and John evaporates.

In Lonergan terms, what Pitre has done is recognize that interpretation must precede history. Before one can on the basis of ancient texts infer what happened in the past, one must first establish what said texts actually say on the relevant matter. The question "On the date of the Last Supper, is John correct or are the Synoptics?" is meaningful only if John and the Synoptics diverge on the dates that they report for the event. If they converge then certainly one can still ask whether or not Jesus ate his Last Supper on the date mutually indicated (Pitre argues that this date is 15 Nisan), but the question of whether to prefer John or the Synoptics becomes meaningless as there is no substantive difference. The historical problem--whether real or chimerical--is entirely the fruit of exegesis.

Incidentally, the potential objection that Pitre is "conflating" texts holds no water, as it supposes what remains to be proven, namely that the texts present divergent data on the matter of the Last Supper's date. If exegesis demonstrates that they do not, then no conflation is possible because there is nothing to conflate. If exegesis demonstrates that they do, then no conflation has occurred because one recognizes that they diverge. Also incidentally, of course our understanding about the possible meanings of the term "Passover" is itself the fruit of previous work. That literally goes without saying, and entails nothing more than the paired and really quite banal insights that one never comes to any question with an empty head and that what fills one's head is the fruit of previous discoveries.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Pre-70 John

Among the New Testament texts, the date of John's Gospel is, IMHO, one of the hardest to define. It's no Hebrews, which was pretty obviously written sometime between 50 and 70, and certainly no Romans, which written indisputably written c. 56-57. Given 21:18-19, it seems probable that the gospel was completed sometime after Peter's death. But in principle Peter could have died as early as 54. We know that he died under Nero, who reigned 54-68, and although this is often linked with the Christian persecution said to have broken out after the fire of July 64 there are reasons to disassociate his death from the fire. If so, then the Neronian datum can stand without locking us into July 64 as a terminus post quem. 1 Cor. 9:6 seems to suppose that Peter yet lives, and although it seems to be the latest text that references Peter as still living it can't be dated much later than 55 or 56. At most, it might increase the terminus post quem for John's Gospel to the late-50s. That said, given that the most concrete dates we have on Peter's death associate it with events of the mid- to late- 60s (the fire, Paul's death), a date of death at 65 ± 1 or 2 years is probably to be preferred. In terms of a terminus ante quem, Ignatius of Antioch--writing sometime between 98 and 117 (I'm wary of efforts to narrow the range down more precisely)--almost certainly knows John's Gospel. Given that Ignatius seems to suppose that his readers are also familiar with John's Gospel, one suspects that the gospel predates his use by a few years at least. As such, John's Gospel should not be dated earlier than the late-50s, or later than the 110s, with perhaps a more likely range from c. 65 to c. 100. A more precise date requires a very close examination of certain relevant texts.

If determining a date where simply a matter of determining the average of the possibilities than a "middle" date (i.e. one from c. 70-100) would be preferred. But that is not adequate historiography. A more robust procedure would inquire into whether there is evidence for whether John should be located before the 70 divide or after. Let us begin by considering the evidence for a post-70 date, beginning with 4:21. When Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that "a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem" must he not surely be referring to the destruction of the temple in 70? Two observations are in order. One, it's reasonably clear that the point of 4:21-24 is not the destruction of the temple but rather the soteriological consequences of Jesus' ministry. Two, that the statement is a prophecy after the fact referring to the destruction of the temple during the Jewish War seems highly unlikely given that it is mated with a prophecy that worship would also cease on Mt. Gerizim...something that did not happen during the war. A prophecy after the fact that reports blatant non-facts seems curiously strange. 4:21 probably tells us nothing about the date of the gospel. Similarly, 2:19-22 probably tells us nothing either. Yes, Jesus is reported to have uttered a prophecy that the temple would be destroyed and rebuilt, and yes, we read that the disciples eventually interpreted that as a reference to his own body. That reinterpretation could have occurred after the destruction in 70, in order to explain why the temple was not rebuilt, but it could have just as easily have occurred after the resurrection: exactly as 2:22 states. Indeed, I see no reason to doubt John on this matter, which suggests that the reported reinterpretation could have occurred as early as 30. Again, in turns of defining the date of John's Gospel, 2:19-22 is probably non-probative.

Sometimes it is argued that the Gospel must post-date 70 because 9:22, 12:42, and 16:2 clearly suppose the existence of the rabbinic prayer Birkat ha-Minim, which dates to the post-70 period. This is a non-starter, on so many levels. In fact, it is a non-starter on so many levels that I've written an entire book on the matter. The argument ignores a series of facts. For instance, we can be more confident that John's Gospel dates to the first century than we can be that the Birkat ha-Minim does. Or, we cannot be confident that it was originally an anti-Christian prayer, as this reading of 9:22, 12:42, and 16:2 must suppose. Or, 9:22, 12:42, 16:2 refer to expulsion from the synagogue with no references to prayer, while the material surrounding the Birkat ha-Minim refer to prayer with no references to expulsion from the synagogue. We are left trying to offer as background to 9:22, 12:42, and 16:2 by invoking a text that more likely post-dates John's Gospel than not, probably did not have the aim that it must have had if it is to speak to these Johannine passages, and in fact lacks almost any actual parallel with John 9:22, 12:42, and 16:2. New Testament scholarship's fascination with the Birkat ha-Minim is mischief best laid to rest.

In sum, I see nothing in John's Gospel that should incline us towards a post-70 date. Is there data that should incline us towards a pre-70 one? I think that there is. A key datum is 5:2, which tells us that "Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes." Note the present tenses here. This is exceptional for John. Typically, he assimilates his topographical descriptions to the narrative, typically using the imperfect. The slippage to present tense makes best sense to me if the author most spontaneously thinks about the Sheep Gate as a present reality, and that such thought has led him to neglect assimilating this description to the time of the narrative. Such spontaneity makes far better sense before 70 than after.

One might object that 5:2 cannot bear this much weight, and of course in a fuller treatment I would furnish more data than just this, but I would suggest that if there are no data that points at a post-70 date but there is a datum that seems more "at home" prior to 70, then pre-70 is the safer bet.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Eyewitnesses and the Hellēnistai

Reading the second edition of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses today, I came across an interesting suggestion. Building upon the idea that the "John" of the Gospel of John was a Jerusalem-based follower of Jesus (and that he is also the Beloved Disciple who features in the gospel), Bauckham suggested that the book's distinctive character might stem from its ultimate origin among a different "circle" of eyewitnesses than the Synoptic Gospels. I was already quite convinced that Johannine distinctiveness was largely a consequence of an author who was a disciple of the earthly Jesus was Jerusalem-based but not one of the Twelve, but the idea that he was a representative voice of a circle of eyewitnesses outside the Twelve had not occurred to me. It is is not without certain attractions.

One such attraction: this hypothesis makes good sense of the Johannine "we-passages." These passages talk in the first-person plural about having witnessed Jesus' glory (1:14b) and knowing that the author's testimony was true (21:24). When I reflect upon these passages in light of Bauckham's suggestion, it occurs to me that they are most naturally read as indicating that at least three eyewitnesses were involved in the development of John's Gospel: John, the Beloved Disciple, the two or more who know his testimony is true in 21:24, and all three or more of these who claim to have witnessed Jesus' glory in 1:14b. As I think about it, I suspect an implicit claim to eyewitness status in 21:24 because the gospel generally links knowing and seeing. For John, to know is to have seen, and if one knows that something is true that is typically because one has seen it. With regard to 21:24, this would only be true of those who had seen the things to which John testifies.

Another attraction: we actually do know of at least two distinct groups of Christians present in Jerusalem during the first year or two after Jesus' life, namely the Hebraioi and the Hellēnistai, the Hebraists and the Hellenists. It doesn't seem that they lived separate institutional lives, but the early Christians were cognizant that there were distinctions between them. While the majority of Jesus' Galilean followers were likely among the Hebraists, it is not unreasonable to expect that at least some of his Jerusalem-based followers were among the Hellenists. It strikes me as hardly inconceivable that the distinctions between Hebraist and Hellenist might not in part have been the grounds for the literary distinctions that we find in the Synoptic and Johannine traditions. Of course, it doesn't follow that either tradition closely resembled their written form at this point, but the idea that the developments that led to those written forms should be located in this first year or two should perhaps not be ruled out.

Interestingly, the above hypotheses (which is all they are: untested hypotheses) would have the consequence of grounding early Christian diversity at least in part in the pre-Easter period. Distinctions between Synoptic and Johannine traditions that can be seen clearly decades after Jesus' death could be in part the consequences of his operations. Put otherwise, following the traditional Lukan narrative that sees Christianity as initially expanding from a relatively small group Jerusalem does not require one to assume that Christianity was homogeneous. It was in principle as diverse as the people who joined Christianity during this period.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Yes, I am Crazy, and That's Okay

I recently shared with a colleague an idea that's been germinating in my head. He informed me that if I carried through the idea it would drive me insane. I pointed out that this was of course nonsense, as I'm already quite loco and have been since at least the mid-90s. But seriously. The idea is to do for ancient Israel and Judaism what Neil Ormerod has recently done for Christian history. Ormerod takes Lonergan's understanding of dialectic and a normative scale of values and uses it to sketch the dialectic development of Christianity. What emerges is not a detailed history, but rather an attempt at a "bird's eye" view of how social, cultural, and personal values have unfolded through the first two millennia of Christian history. Insofar as Ormerod starts in the first century, that is where I'd like to leave off. (I am of course quite aware that Jewish history continues well beyond that period, up to the present and presumably into the future, and the question of how to trace out Judaism and Christianity as parallel developments out of ancient Israelite and Jewish religion is an urgent one. It is however not my question, and not one for which I feel that I have or could reasonably develop the necessary expertise. I would of course be thrilled if my work aided those who do have that expertise and interest).

I'll give an example of the sort of narratives such a history might provide. If you look at Judges, there is a basic pattern. Israel follows after gods who are not YHWH, and consequently a new power oppresses them. Then God raises up a judge, and Israel throws off the oppressor's yoke. Now, certainly one should be very wary of treating this book as an exact account of what happened in Iron Age I Israel. But I would suggest that for the historian there is significant usable data in this basic schema. In Lonergan's understanding, as developed by Robert Doran, cultural values serve to both warrant and where necessary correct social values. Now, best we can tell, Israel at this time was a loose confederation of tribal groups that found its unity in common allegiance to the cult of YHWH. In Lonerganian terms, the confederation falls within the realm of social values, while the cult is that which warrants it. As such, when there is a tendency towards infidelity towards the cult of YHWH, there is a tendency for the confederation system to break down. Thus does Israel become less able to cope with would-be oppressors. The correction to such a situation lies with personal values, with the emergence of persons who have appropriated the necessary cultural values in such a way that they can correct their dysfunction and in turn that of the social values. These are schematized in Judges as exactly that: the judges. Deborah perhaps is the exemplar here, invoking the cult of YHWH to call Barak and in turn responsive tribes to action against Hazor. A breakdown in cultural values allowed a breakdown in social values, while a corrective force originated in personal values corrected for cultural and through them social ones. A fuller analysis would likely suggest that the original breakdown in cultural values was the consequence of, or at least correlated with, a breakdown in personal values, but this is a blog so we'll leave it there. The point is to begin thinking about the dynamic interaction of society, culture, and person, across the duration of Israelite and early Jewish history.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Nashville Statement

Many have been talking about the Nashville Statement today. For those unfamiliar with it, it was put together by the so-called "Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood"--i.e. a group of self-appointed evangelical Christian persons whose expertise in either human sexuality or Christian theology is less than evident--in order to define for all and sundry the nature of gender and sexuality. I will again deviate slightly from my normal focus upon Lonergan and scripture in order to provide some reflection upon the matter, for whatever such reflection might be worth.

Others have commented upon the view of sexuality evident in this statement. Myself, I'm going to focus upon the elephant dancing in the middle of the room. Evangelical Christianity historically has been predicated upon a radical understanding of the principle of sola scriptura, i.e. that (66 out of the 73 books that the majority of Christians consider to be in) the bible contains all that is sufficient for Christian doctrine. The fascinating thing is how little of these articles can be warranted from scripture alone. Indeed, as far as I know, there is nothing in scripture that speaks to trans-identity. Now, theologically one might be able to use material other than scripture to arrive at the conclusion that trans-identity is sinful (such an argument would have to articulated carefully, and with conscientious attention to its pastoral implications), but I do not reckon that you can get there from scripture alone. And this raises a question about the very existence of the Nashville Statement: if the bible contains all that is sufficient for Christian doctrine, then why is there any need for this document? Why do the signatories not think that the statement "Read the bible" would suffice?

An answer can be found, I suggest, in Lonergan, who argues that whereas Christian scripture aims to speak to undifferentiated consciousness, i.e. consciousness that is generalized rather than specialized, Christian dogma aims to speak to differentiated consciousness, specifically to consciousness primarily operating within the realm of the intellect. That is, scripture for the most part aims to move the whole person, whereas dogma aims to inform and persuade the intellect. As such, with this greater focus, the latter can achieve a clarity that the former often cannot. (The fruits of this distinction cannot be overstated. It might help explain why Paul, for instance, continues to boggle exegetes: because that which does not take the literary form of dogma is being treated as if it does). This is why, despite their stated abhorrence of creeds, virtually every fundamentalist group feels a need to put out a strongly-worded statement of faith. Quite simply, Christianity has developed to the point that such forms are necessary to clearly express its truths. In fact, it developed to that point by at least the fourth century. In the end, what the Nashville Statement perhaps reveals most profoundly is the intellectual crisis in certain forms of Christianity, which necessarily depend upon that which in principle they consider to be unnecessary.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Cosmos and Anthropos

In my previous post I suggested that the Moses narratives are grounded in an attempt to convey through cosmological myth the experiences provoked by Moses' person and operations. In order to do this, these narratives have to subvert such myth. The king, typically the exemplar of cosmic order, becomes the source of cosmic chaos as he subjugates the Israelites and resists YHWH's efforts to restore justice through Moses' work. Moses the murderer, a figure who should be seen as the profound bearer of injustice and disorder, becomes the agent of cosmic restoration to a just order. And in this subversion something remarkable happens: the foundations of a break with the very cosmological myth in which the Moses narratives are grounded.

One of the recurring problems in the social sciences is how to simultaneously account for how society and culture maintain integrity over generations and yet are constantly changing. How is American society and culture, for instance, recognizably American society and culture at any given point in American history, yet American society and culture at any two given points in American history might be radically different? In order to account for such a phenomenon, one must have some notion of a dialectic. There must be opposed principles at work within the given society or culture, the recurrent interplay of which constitutes continuity while generating change. In the Lonergan tradition, when it comes to culture it has been argued that one might generalize these principles as cosmology and anthropology: the difference between society understood as something grounded in the natural order and society understood as something grounded in human experience. What happened in the exodus, I would argue, was a significant break-through for the anthropological principle, with the human experience of suffering and need for freedom achieving ascendance over Pharaonic social cosmology.

This anthropological principle will recur throughout the Israelite and Jewish tradition. It is what we hear in the prophets, when they call out the wealthy for exploiting the poor, when Micah declares that YHWH seeks mercy and justice and humility, not sacrifices. It is what we hear in Jesus, when he says that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath, in Paul when he says that without love we are nothing. It is what we hear when the Pharisee Hillel says that the essence of Torah is that one should not do to others what is hateful to oneself. And while this anthropological principle surely did not originate with Moses (no doubt it had its origins in values held by the transhumant groups from which the Israelites originated; indeed, the very decision to opt for transhumance likely represents in part an anthropologically-driven desire to be free of control by what Voegelin describes as "cosmological empires"), certainly it was never the same after him.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Moses and Myth

Think about the great persons of our times. Think of, for instance, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Malcolm X. These are persons whose characters are experienced as being fundamentally different than those of other persons. They are felt as somehow transcending the ordinary limits of human possibility. When we want to express this experience, we turn to narrative. We tell stories about their great deeds, how they defied sheriffs and governors and other hostile folk who sought to destroy them and their people. We speak with awe about King sitting in Birmingham jail, a prisoner of conscience, or Malcolm X's courage in breaking with the Nation of Islam in favour of a moderate orthodox form of his religion, one that he came to recognize more fully affirmed the humanity of all persons. We tell these stories, which find a complement in the resources of modern historiography and the social sciences to provide analytical depth.

But imagine if we didn't have those resources. Imagine if virtually all we had was cosmological myth, i.e. narratives that seek to explain the reality of an ordered cosmos, one in which the sun rises and sets everyday, in which every year days grew intermittently longer and shorter as seasons change and crops are sowed and harvested, one in which the moon travels around the earth twelves times in approximately the time it takes for the seasons to complete their annual cycle. And when such cosmological myths constitute our only real way of accounting for order, they also become how we account for social order. The state is imagined as being as much part of the cosmic order as anything else. The same gods operating within the rounds of the sun or the moon or the Nile are the gods operating through kings. How do we describe someone like a Martin Luther King, Jr., or a Malcolm X, who comes along and disrupts the social order? How does one talk about a man who defies a king when kings are immanently part of the cosmos?

The answer, of course, is simple: you use the imagery of cosmological myth. But of course you must do so in ways that subvert that imagery. Historically, sheriffs were seen as exemplars of law and order. The Martin Luther King, Jr., cycle subverts that, recasting sheriffs as the source of injustice and violence and the "criminal" MLK as the one restoring order through adherence to a higher law. Likewise Exodus recasts Pharaoh, the exemplar of ancient Egyptian law and order, and the murderer Moses, as respectively destroyer and restorer of just order. Pharaoh destroys just order when he subjugates the Israelites to slavery. Moses' story as an adult begins when he commits a murder and must flee, but the murderer returns to restore just order by leading the captives to freedom. Suddenly the story of the plagues makes perfect sense. How, in a world of cosmological myth, do you dramatize the disorder that has distorted Pharaonic reality but by showing how continued refusals to act justly cause the cosmos itself to turn against Egypt? The Mosaic birth narrative also now makes perfect sense. How, in a world of cosmological myth, do you dramatize the imminent restoration of just order better but by showing how the entire cosmos--natural and social--conspired to save the human agent of that restoration from the very injustices that he must later confront? And of course the man who restores just order must also be the one who delivers a just law, and indeed any departure from the Egyptian cosmos would have necessitated a new conceptual basis for social order. Moses as prodigy, Moses as plague-bearer, Moses as law-giver: this connection of symbolizations makes eminent sense as an effort to explain the unexpected, for in a world of cosmological myth one must account for the unexpected through cosmological myth. Moses was the unexpected.

All the above explanations disappear without a historical Moses. Without the experiential core of a historical Moses, the biblical accounts of the exodus simply become the senseless agglomeration of disparate mythical images from a myriad of sources. Of course, Moses has become mythologized, and that because there was no other imagery by which to communicate the experiences that his operations generated. When all you have is cosmological myth, you communicate by cosmological myth.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Exodus in Our Time, Pt. IV.

The previous three parts that I wrote upon the exodus have ended up garnering more attention than I expected, with people asking if I was intending to write any more on the matter. So, I thought I'd write an originally unplanned fourth part, focusing upon bringing out more explicitly the Lonerganian underpinnings of what went before.

The first of these underpinnings has to do with what it means to know. As noted previously, for Lonergan knowing is not like looking. The answers are not given in the data. Rather, one infers the answers from the data. One does this by first attending to the relevant data, which in our case would consist of the biblical accounts of the exodus, the place of Moses and the exodus in Israelite and subsequent tradition, our knowledge of slavery in New Kingdom Egypt, our knowledge of Late Bronze Age southern Canaanites, other ancient Near Eastern material such as that relating to the Hyksos, etc. Few people are specialists in all of this material (and in fact I'm a specialist in none of it), so one must generally rely upon the work of specialists in these different areas. That in turn demands a degree of trust in and thus goodwill towards others (and thus we see that the conversion to love that Lonergan describes as "religious conversion" is--while perhaps not strictly necessary for the historian to carry out her or his work--a significant boon, for love excludes the paranoia that undercuts the trust and goodwill necessary for successful historiography). Attending to these various data, one then strives to understand the ancient world. One considers the various explanations that one might offer for the totality of the data. Then, one considers the conditions that must be present in the data before one can affirm any given hypothesis. Insofar as those conditions are met, one can reasonably affirm the hypothesis, and insofar as those conditions are not met one cannot. Ideally by this point one finds that one and only one hypothesis satisfies all necessary conditions for its affirmation, but when one finds a plurality of such hypotheses one must take on the harder work of adjudicating between possibilities.

The second underpinning has to do with the notion of the level of our time, to which the title "Exodus in Our Time" alludes. This was a favourite phrase of Lonergan's, and has come in some senses to sum up the entirety of his project. The idea of the level of our time is built upon the recognition that insights lead to further insights and that this process extends trans-generationally in time. We today discover that A is true. This leads our successors to discover that B is the case. This leads their successors to discover that C is the case. Eventually, after hundreds or thousands of years Z is discovered to be the case, even though by this point Z might evince little to no obvious relation to A. Such is my argument regarding the world-historical significance of the exodus. I would argue that the insight into human dignity implicit in the phrase "Let my people go!" became the genesis of a long, extended, process of insight building upon insight that has eventuated in our modern understandings of human rights and freedoms (and presumably will continue to make its presence felt for some time yet to come; we, after all, are not the telos of history). No, the exodus is not predicated upon such modern understandings. No, such modern understandings are absent from the balance of the biblical corpus, Jewish and Christian (the writers of these texts were not, after all, moderns). But, absent the exodus and absent the experiences that generated and are transmitted by these scriptures, we would not have arrived at our modern understandings of human rights (or, if we did, the path getting here would have looked quite different).

There is a reason then that the phrase "Let my people go!" has such resonance with us. It represents an insight foundational to what we as a species are becoming. The historian's joyous privilege is to investigate more closely the origin and impact of this insight.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Exodus in Our Time, Pt. III

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each in its own way claims to be the legitimate heir of the religion of ancient Israel. While we often point to Abraham as the figure that links them, thus the term "Abrahamic" religions, in at least Judaism and Christianity the figure of Moses looms much larger. The entirety of Jewish religious life is organized around remaining faithful to God's law, as communicated to Moses at Mount Sinai, and Christian understandings of the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are steeped in imagery associated with the exodus (after all, the Passover is precisely a commemoration of that event). In many ways, "Mosaic" would be a more appropriate description of Jewish and Christian religion than "Abrahamic." And thus can it reasonably be said that the core of the western religious tradition derives from the successful flight of enslaved persons from Egypt. At the fountainheads of western civilization--that remarkable fusion of Hebraic and Greek experiences--stand escaped slaves.

This has two obvious consequences. The first is that any effort to use the Jewish or Christian traditions to defend slavery ultimately must come up against the reality that such defense betrays the foundational impulse of these traditions. This first consequence has a further consequence: efforts to use these same traditions to support racism must up against that same reality. At its core, the exodus is a radical affirmation of human dignity, one that states that all persons, Egyptian or Hebrew, high-born or low, all deserve the freedom to live free from bondage and abuse. More, it introduces into history an insight that as far as I know was never previously so realized, namely that freedom is a sort of force in its own right. In the words of Ambassador G'Kar of Babylon 5: "There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand." This is not obviated because we see later biblical texts that suppose slavery as a given. All that reality says is that the radical affirmation of human dignity that is the exodus had not yet fully penetrated human moral imagination.

The second obvious consequence is that unreasonable denial of the exodus vitiates this radical core at the heart of the western religious tradition. And this has real consequences. When one apprehends that Christian religion in a very real sense can trace its origins back to a group of Semitic slaves flying to freedom, the white supremacists chanting anti-Semitic slogans in defense of monuments to slavery while wielding symbols of the Christian faith are revealed not simply as trollish haters but in fact deeply idiotic persons who do not even apprehend the very civilization they claim to defend. Add in that this seminal event happened not in northern Europe but rather in Africa, and they begin to look utterly foolish, even more than their home-made shields and bizarrely neurotic need to wear bicycle helmets and wield bargain tiki torches already have made them. Of course, such considerations cannot be used to adjudicate whether or not there was an exodus or a Moses, but given that the arguments against the historicity of either are hardly as strong as often assumed--in fact, they largely boil down to arguments from silence and the fallacious supposition that if the Israelites were of Canannite extraction they must have always dwelt in Canaan--then one wonders why, in the face of rising hate and renewed efforts to justify the past enslavement of entire human populations, we are not working more diligently to retrieve this vital core of the western tradition. We who are inheritors of the Jewish, Christian, and post-Christian secular traditions cannot fully become ourselves if we do not acknowledge fully the seminal debt that we owe to the wisdom and courage of slaves.

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Exodus in Our Time, Pt. II

If there is one thing I've learned during my years in the academy, it's the importance of the questions that we ask. The old saw--"Have you stopped beating your wife?"--makes this point clearly. The question, as formulated, permits as answers only "Yes," "No," or "Maybe." If the person queried says "Yes," then she or he has confessed to spousal abuse. If the person queried says "No," then she or he has confessed to spousal abuse. If the person queried says "Maybe," then she or he has confessed to spousal abuse. The form of the question excludes the answer "I have never beat my wife," and thus the person queried can only defend his or her self from charges of spousal abuse by refusing to answer the question as formulated. Likewise, when we turn to the stories about Moses and the exodus and ask "Are these stories true?", the form of the question permits only "Yes," "No," or "Maybe." Faced with such a question, we find ourselves in a historiographical hell of our own creation, as it leads to such fruitless questions as "How much must we judge as 'True' before we can judge the whole as true?" and "How much can be false before we judge the whole thing as false?" The fundamentalist and the counter-fundamentalist agree in saying "All must true or none is true," which has the necessary corollary "If anything is false all is false." But this of course is nonsense. If I utter ten propositions nine of which are true, these are not suddenly falsified because the tenth is false. The answer that converts "Maybe" into "In part" is an advance, as it allows us to say "This story is in part true," yet it still suffers from the same antecedent cognitional limitation that the afflicts the question. Put otherwise, we are dealing with a question mal posée.

We can see readily why this is the case when we recognize Lonergan's distinction between intelligence and reason. Intelligence seeks to understand. Towards that end, it asks questions that cannot be answered by "Yes," "No," or "Maybe." With regard to Moses and the exodus, it might ask questions such as Why do Moses and the exodus loom so large in the Israelite tradition?, and Why do we find such ready resonances between the Joseph and Moses cycles on the one hand and on the other material from the ancient Near East of the second millennium BCE? We might break these down into further questions. Why is Moses presented in this way? Why is he given this name, this origin? Why is he assigned the role of liberator? of seminal law-giver? What is the relationship, if any, between the accounts and realities of the exodus and that of the Hyksos? between that of Moses and Akhenaten? Etc? Once one advances a hypothesis on the matter, which is to say a comprehensive answer to these questions, then, and only then, can one ask whether it is true. This is the work of reason, which being concerned with rendering judgment does ask the "Yes" or "No" question, not regarding the truth of our sources but rather the truth of our hypotheses. Put otherwise, the origin of the question mal posée--"Are these stories true?"--is the failure to distinguish data, which intelligence works to understand, from hypothesis, which reason works to judge.

The failure to distinguish data from hypothesis is grounded in the antecedent myth that knowing is like looking, that objectivity is seeing what is there to be seen and not seeing what is not to be seen. And this myth seems to be the ultimate basis for most skepticism regarding the existence of Moses or the occurrence of the exodus (as well, I'd argue, for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth). Someone working from this myth might reason as follows: we have virtually nothing contemporary to the event, nothing that we can look at and say "Aha! This comes from the exodus! Now we know that it happened," and thus we must conclude that it did not. This of course is the etiology of a certain contemporary bias towards archaeological data, a frequent hobgoblin in this discussion (without artifacts of Moses and the exodus, we are told, we cannot say that Moses or the exodus happened): if knowing is like looking then surely that which I can behold with my own eyes is better known than that which I cannot, and indeed, if pressed strongly enough, absent such material to behold we must either reserve judgment or judge in the negative. But knowing is not like looking. It is inferential, and proceeds by asking the sort of questions enumerated above, most basically those about the relationship between the Moses and exodus accounts on the one hand and the broader Israelite tradition and ancient Near Eastern material on the other.

I am firmly persuaded that the evidence is such that we are significantly more justified in concluding that there was a Moses, that quite simply this conclusion provides better grounds for answering the above questions than does the negative judgment that they do not. The nature of the evidence is such that we are probably limited in what we can say about him. While it probably over-states the evidence to suggest that he was of Egyptian rather than southern Canaanite (and perhaps specifically Hebrew or Israelite) extraction, his name and the narrative regarding his upbringing would tend to point towards some degree of "Egyptianization." He seems to have at some point been instrumental in leading a sizable group of (predominantly but perhaps not exclusively) southern Canaanite slaves from bondage in the eastern Nile delta region, and these actions secured for him a place of privilege in the Israelite and later Jewish and Christian traditions. It is precisely that place of privilege that most compels me to judge it probable that he existed and played a foundational role in Israelite history. When we see such waves rippling in the water we look for the stone that caused them, and I have yet to see a better stone proposed for these particular ripples than Moses himself.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Exodus in Our Time, Pt. I

A few years back, I attended a doctoral defense wherein one of the examiner's asked the candidate if a particular distinction that she had made in her thesis was academic. I remember being struck by the remarkable impropriety of the question, if taken literally: an academic, employed by and sitting in the the academy, was critiquing an aspiring academic for being academic. But such a query raises a subsequent one: what questions matter, and why? It's with that in mind that I want to think about historical doubts regarding the existence of Moses and the occurrence of an Israelite exodus from Egypt. The reason that that should matter now should be obvious: given the current struggles over the legacy of slavery in our time, it is a question of some material relevance whether or not the single most defining event of the biblical tradition common to both Judaism and Christianity, and to a lesser extent Islam, was in fact the successful escape of thousands of slaves from captive labour. If the Israelites were never enslaved in Egypt nor escaped that slavery, that has potentially significant impact for the many persons who hang their hopes for freedom and a better life for themselves and their descendants upon this event. Given the significance of the matter, this will be a three-part post: here, I will address the ancient data, in a subsequent post the grounds for negative judgment regarding the existence of Moses and occurrence of the exodus, and in a third the cultural import of this entire discussion.

It is often stated today that there is "no evidence" for the exodus, by which is usually meant "no extra-biblical evidence." And certainly there is a degree of truth in that: there is no clear, direct data outside the biblical tradition for the exodus. But that argument seems hardly sufficient to merit the conclusion that the exodus did not occur. This is an argument from silence, and arguments from silence tend to be among the weakest that one will find in historical thought. The question with any such argument is always "Should we expect such data?" In this case, "Should we expect extra-biblical evidence of the exodus?" Precisely to the extent that we cannot answer "Yes" with confidence, to that extent the argument from silence is unsound. In this case, confidence does not seem high. Israel was hardly a particularly significant actor in the ancient Near East. Why its departure from Egypt should be noted is not clear. It is equally unclear why the Egyptians themselves should be expected to have recorded what, if we take the biblical literature at face value, would have constituted such an ignominious moment in their history. It is noted that no archaeological remains of the exodus have been found, but that forces us to consider what we should expect to find in the archaeological record. This tends to be left under-addressed in such discussions. We do, after all, know that persons with southern Canaanite connections were present in the southern Sinai--the route of the exodus, as described in the biblical account--during the Late Bronze Age. Yes, many of these persons seem to have been employed in mining operations, but their presence raises possibilities that a group of southern Canaanite slaves escaped from Egypt might well have had access to networks of support in the southern Sinai (indeed, the biblical text intimates that this group had such access throughout the Sinai and the Negev, perhaps not surprising given the transhumant heritage of the Canaanite peoples, the early Israelites included).

It is sometimes argued that the fact that the early Israelites were of Canaanite extraction furnishes evidence against the exodus. If they were Canaanites, the argument goes, they must have always lived in Canaan. This is highly dubious. As noted above, we know that ancient Canaanites existed outside of Canaan. We have abundant evidence of significant Canaanite populations in the eastern delta region of Egypt during the mid-second millennium, exactly where and when the biblical tradition locates the Israelites. And the interaction between the eastern delta region and Canaan raises a fascinating set of questions, because although we do not have Egyptian accounts of a figure named Moses or of something that looks particularly close to the exodus, we do have Egyptian accounts of peoples (whom they named the "Hyksos") who likely 1) came from Canaan; 2) dwelt in the eastern delta; 3) rose to great power in this region, so much so that they were responsible for bringing the Middle Kingdom to an end; 4) were defeated by Egyptian kings; and 5) left the region in significant numbers to return to Canaan. Compare this with the Joseph and exodus cycle, where we have a people who 1) came from Canaan; 2) dwelt in the eastern delta region; 3) rose to great influence in this region; 4) were enslaved by Egyptian kings; and 5) left the region in significant numbers to return to Canaan. Moreover, Pi-Ramesses, one of the cities in which the Israelites are said to have laboured, very likely sat at the site of Avaris, the Hyksos' capital. I am not suggesting that the Israelites should be identified with the Hyksos, certainly not in a hard sense (although I do not think it inconceivable to consider that the Israelites entered Egypt among the peoples known as the Hyksos, which appears to have been largely a covering term to describe a variety of groups and are often conceived in modern scholarship as having slowly infiltrated rather than invaded the delta). I am suggesting that the fact that both Egypt and Israel preserve memories regarding the rise and fall of southern Canaanite influence in the eastern delta, followed by a flight back to southern Canaan, seems to defy the likelihood of mere coincidence, and perhaps undercuts the argument that we have no extra-biblical evidence relevant to the exodus.

Thus far the relevant data. In my next post, I will consider more fully the grounds for negative judgment regarding the existence of Moses and occurrence of the exodus.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

No, Seriously: Racism is Evil

Okay, four posts in a row relating to the events that recently took place in Charlottesville, thus very much breaking my own policy regarding the focus of this blog. But it seems to me, the more that I reflect upon it, that these are the times that try intellectual traditions. Whether the tradition takes its cues from Lonergan or Marx or Freud or..., it is at times like these that the tradition in question reveals the extent to which it is up to the task not only of making sense of our world but also of providing intellectual grounds by which to engage with and change the world. For although we cannot think our way out of the situation in which we find ourselves, neither can we expect that a failure to think will do us much good.

Towards the above end, I will in this post think about a distinction drawn in Robert Doran's remarkable development of Lonergan's thought, Theology and the Dialectics of History. He distinguishes between two dialectics: that of contraries on the one hand, and contradictories on the other. "Contraries," he writes, "are reconcilable in a higher synthesis, while contradictories are not." In short, contraries are both/and, while contradictories are either/or. With dialectics of contraries, human flourishing is advanced through a creative tension between a limiting (or integrating) pole and a transcendent (or operating) one. The integrator holds together the dialectic as an integral unity, while the operator moves the dialectic towards new possibilities. So, for instance, one might conceive society as integrating by spontaneous intersubjectivity, i.e. the way that we naturally and unreflectively interact with one another, while it is moved forward by practical intelligence seeking to alter those interactions towards desirable ends. Fail to recognize the reality of spontaneous intersubjectivity and our efforts to transform society collapse as we do not adequately attend to the range of viable social possibilities. Fail to recognize the necessity of practical intelligence and harmful intersubjectivities are allowed to become or remain the norm. Put more abstractly, one cannot hope to achieve social revolution overnight, but neither can one expect that the world can or should remain unchanged.

But the more urgent matter for us to consider at this point in our history, I think, is the dialectic of contradictories, the exemplar of which Doran identifies as the dialectic between good and evil. When faced with such a dialectic, one must opt for one pole or the other, because between them there is not creative tension but rather destructive antithesis. In our situation, one either affirms the full humanity of all persons, regardless of skin colour, or one does not. One cannot compromise on this. One cannot say "Well, I see that you affirm the full humanity of persons of colour while that guy over there denies that they have any humanity, so we'll split the difference at half-an-humanity." Well, one can say it, but in so doing one has chosen to stand with the racists. One, quite simply, has sided with evil.

Of course, the above is heuristic. It sketches out how things should be in order to begin thinking about why reality so often falls short. In reality, choosing to affirm the full humanity of all persons does not mean that there won't necessarily be situations in which one finds that one's existing beliefs or practices functionally deny that full humanity. It does mean that one becomes increasingly alert to that possibility, and when faced with it as a reality one alters one's beliefs and practices so as to affirm the full humanity of all persons. Making the right choice does not make one perfect, but it does put one on the road to righteousness.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Love in a Season of Hate

I'm violating my own policy here by a third consecutive post on contemporary politics, but as I reflect upon our current situation I cannot help but feel that with the Charlottesville riot (interesting how that word is avoided) perhaps we've crossed some sort of Rubicon. Every generation, it seems, faces a defining moment, a "Nothing will be the same after this" moment. Sometimes they are obvious: the assassination of JFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the events of 9/11. Sometimes they are perhaps less obvious, and that might be the case with Charlottesville. But just as 9/11 forced the world to confront the reality of terrorism enabled by a distorted Islam, so is Charlottesville forcing at least the US to face the reality of terrorism enabled by a distorted Christianity. And like it or not, that is precisely what is happening here. Since 9/11, we've lived in fear of a distorted Islam enabled by Muslim-ish leaders who represent something very far from the best of the tradition. Now, we have to live in fear of a distorted Christianity enabled by Christian-ish leaders who represent something very far from the best of the tradition. This is the distorted Christianity of the George Wallaces, the Jerry Falwells, the Franklin Grahams: a Christianity that rose to prominence through the effort to maintain segregation, that cynically exploited the AIDS epidemic in order to depict LGBT persons in the harshest possible terms, that abetted the raise of virulent xenophobia in the post-9/11 era, and that now is quite happily getting in bed with the so-called "Alt-Right." It is to Christianity as Al-Qaeda is to Islam.

It's in this context that I find myself increasingly persuaded of Lonergan's wisdom in placing such emphasis in his understanding of human flourishing upon religious conversion. As I've mentioned in this space before, religious conversion for Lonergan is the conversion to ultimate meaning. It entails grounding one's being not in parochial group interests or narcissistic individualism but rather in something that allows one to see all of humanity, and increasingly all of the cosmos, as valuable and beautiful. In a word, it is conversion to love. It is what distinguishes between distorted religiosity and authentic religiosity, and thus why it can be described as religious conversion. Distorted Islam, distorted Christianity, are distorted precisely due to the absence of this religious conversion. It is the inability of these "Christian" leaders to love--to truly love, in a way that touches and lightens the soul--that drives their hatred and fear of others. Being so far from the best that humanity can be, they suppose that the values of everyone around them are equally decrepit. When you are the worst, you assume the worst.

With the assistance of David Bowie, Queen reminded us that although love is such an old-fashioned word it is still the one thing that makes all the difference. As we live through a season of hate, the necessity of love is all the more evident. If we are to oppose hate we must rediscover love as a civic virtue. In fact, that seems to be the real dividing line today. Not between Right and Left, or between Christian and Muslim, or between religious and irreligious, but rather between love and hate. Those who have been converted to love, whether Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or Jewish or atheist, whether female or male, trans or cis, gay or straight, will stand strong on one side, while those who have not will stand shrieking on the other. And I do believe that in the end the gentle strength of love will win over the violent weakness of hate.

Nazis, Memory, and the Gospels

I've long dreaded what will happen when the Greatest Generation, with its wealth of experience, passes away. And we are fast reaching that point. The last veteran of World War One passed away in 2012, ninety-four years after that conflict ended (the last veteran who saw actual combat died a couple years earlier). Taking that as a measure, the last World War Two veteran should pass away around 2039. The last Holocaust survivor will probably pass away a few years later, as these included children. But we have already reached the point when these women and men are no longer active members of civil society. Towards the end of the war Germany was forcing boys in their young teens into uniform; a boy of thirteen in 1945 would today be eighty-five, likely saw little to no action, and probably retired from his post-war career a couple decades ago. Older veterans--such as my grandfather, who served from '39 through '45--would be well into their nineties (my grandfather volunteered in '39. If he was still alive, would have turned ninety-five this year). A lone Dunkirk survivor showed up, in uniform, at a screening of Nolan's Dunkirk, and made international headlines; he was ninety-two. Again, we have Holocaust survivors who are a bit younger, but still into their seventies and eighties (and those with the strongest memories of that time will of course be towards the upper end of that range; a survivor who was three years old in 1945 would have a valuable story to tell, and we would do well to listen, but it would differ qualitatively from that of a survivor who was fifteen. But even that three-year-old would turn seventy-five this year). In many ways, the Greatest Generation's collective wisdom has already in large part disappeared from public life. At the very least, it's nowhere as prominent as it was when these women and men were in their prime. I am just old enough to have had schoolteachers who lived through those years. No one much younger than me could say the same.

This weekend brought home very strongly what a loss this truly is. Persons present in Charlottesville report that the majority of the Nazi losers who gathered there were Millennials. One friend who was there estimated that persons in that age range accounted for about 90% of the white supremacists who showed up. These are the great-grandchildren of the Greatest Generation, some probably the great-great-grandchildren. And I think that significant. I don't know about anyone else, but I can say that I know my parents and their lives very well (if forced, I could probably tell you almost down to the month what city or town my parents lived in), my grandparents and their lives reasonably well (I can certainly give you the broad outlines of at least what countries they lived in and when), but my great-grandparents and their lives barely at all. In fact, of my eight great-grandparents, I have memories of meeting just one, my mother's maternal grandfather, and really when I think about him all I can recall is a visual image of his face. I know nothing about my great-great-grandparents. And that for the most part is what the Greatest Generation is to the Millennials: people they can barely remember if they met them at all. No wonder such persons do not share my deep, instinctual horror of Nazism. They did not grow up surrounded by the women and men who suffered most from those years, who fought and lost in the struggle to stop the terror.

It is with this experience that I think about a particularly fruitless debate in recent historical Jesus scholarship, regarding how well eyewitnesses remember things. This debate is fruitless in that it rather misses the point of history. The debate views history as a game of Chinese Whispers, wherein the transmission of eyewitness experience is a matter of transcription. The historian's job, under such an understanding, is to identify transcription error in the transmitted information. But of course that's not how it works. When my grandfather would tell me stories about the war, he wasn't just relaying factual information. He was relaying an experience, or really an entire Gestalt of experiences. He was relaying his fears and his convictions about the matter. And frankly, when thought of from that perspective, does it matter if he made small errors, or if I did? I remember him talking about watching tanks burn at the Battle of Monte Cassino. What if that experience actually took place at the Battle of Anzio, and either he or I remember it wrong? Would that make a difference to how I understand the sheer horror that he communicated to me, about his realization that the crews were trapped inside, burning to death? I remember him talking about how my great aunt's first husband died thirty minutes after first seeing combat. What difference would it make if he was killed after forty-five minutes, or twenty-four hours, or three days? I remember being told that he was killed in the Netherlands. But what if it happened in Belgium? What difference would that make? The central point remains: my grandfather had at that point been in and out of combat for  years, and he couldn't get over the unfairness that someone he knew lasted so little time in the war zone. And that survivor's guilt is not a fact subject to transcription error, nor is the message that fascism and hate are awful because fascism and hate are exactly why he and so many of his generation had to suffer through such horrors.

This is one thing that I think that the scholars who work on social memory in the gospels have gotten very right: what matters most is the experience that is communicated, not the minutiae thereof. Of course, the details do matter. For instance, there have been persons who have claimed to be Holocaust survivors, who cynically even sought to profit off of such claims, but whose claims were shown to be false precisely because of the minutiae. That's an altogether different matter. It is an invaluable contribution. It is nothing less than the discernment of truth from error. Equally invaluable is the work of those historians who seek to calculate just how many were killed in the camps, or how the Nazis actually, concretely carried out their genocidal scheme. But none of that can be permitted to obscure the real importance of listening to persons who lived through those times, nor of preserving and passing on their stories. The real importance lies in the dramatic reality of human experience that they sought to convey, the horror and destructiveness of hatred and warfare. Likewise, the gospels seek to communicate a particular set of human experiences, all of which converge on those of Jesus's earthly followers, namely the experience of Jesus himself. These were experiences that changed them, and that change compelled them to change the world. And if history is to be anything more than pain-loving antiquarianism, it is to such experiences that we must attend.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Irrational in Charlottesville

I try to keep this space free of politics, as much I can, but as I watch the images coming out of Charlottesville today I just can't. I'm also currently planning a course on Religion, Violence, and Peace for the fall, which due to current events has become increasingly about the euphemistically named "Alt-Right" (there are other words by which I might more accurately describe such trouble-makers, but neither this blog nor the classroom is a space for such language). As someone who works on Lonergan and scripture, I am naturally thinking through these matters from a Lonergan perspective, and so I'll make some suggestions from that perspective about how one might think about what we see coming out of Virginia today.

Lonergan has a four-fold imperative: Be Attentive. Be Intelligent. Be Reasonable. Be Responsible. Let us take the question: are white persons systematically disadvantaged in the US simply for being white? One attends to the relevant details, such as statistical data. One exercises one's intelligence in an effort to understand the situation via inference from the details to which one has attended. One renders judgment, answering "Yes" or "No" to the question of whether white persons qua white persons are systematically disadvantaged in the US. Then, one operates in conformity with that judgment. In this particular instance the facts of the matter render only one reasonable judgment: No, white persons are not systematically disadvantaged in the US simply for being white. Persons born into poverty and who happen to be white might be systematically disadvantaged, but that is incidental to (and in some very real senses despite) their whiteness. By contrast, if one were to pose the question "Are persons of colour systematically disadvantaged in the US simply for being persons of colour?" the answer must, again, unequivocally, be "Yes." Any other answers to these questions (such as those that invoke such nonsense ideas as "reverse racism" or "white genocide") demonstrate a failure of attentiveness, intelligence, or reason, quite possibly--one suspects probably--all three.

This is where responsibility comes in. If--contrary to fact, intelligence, and reason--I hold that white persons are systematically disadvantaged for being white, and if--contrary to fact, intelligence, and reason--I hold that persons of colour are not, then this distorts my conduct. It renders it impossible for me to intentionally conduct myself in a responsible manner in situations wherein my positions on these matters make a difference. In principle I might end up behaving responsibly, but that would be accidental, and altogether despite my failures of attentiveness, intelligence, and reason. This is all to say that the pathetic losers polluting Charlottesville with their violence are unquestionably quite irresponsible, and they are irresponsible precisely because they are irrational. In turn, they are likely irrational because they refuse to properly exercise either their intellect or their capacity to attend to details. In short, what we see in Charlottesville is not simply a collective moral failure, although we do see that, but also a collective failure of intellect and reason. The cries of the Alt-Right are the cries of the unintelligent, the irrational, and the irresponsible.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Of Gnostics and Trans-Identity

N.T. Wright recently set off a minor dust-up in the blogosphere with the following letter to the Times:
Sir, The articles by Clare Foges (“Gender-fluid world is muddling young minds”, July 27) and Hugo Rifkind (“Social media is making gender meaningless”, Aug 1), and the letters about children wanting to be pandas (July 29), dogs or mermaids (Aug 1), show that the confusion about gender identity is a modern and now internet-fuelled, form of the ancient philosophy of Gnosticism. The Gnostic, one who “knows”, has discovered the secret of “who I really am”, behind the deceptive outward appearance (in Rifkind’s apt phrase, the “ungainly, boring, fleshly one”). This involves denying the goodness, or even the ultimate reality, of the natural world. Nature, however, tends to strike back, with the likely victims in this case being vulnerable and impressionable youngsters who, as confused adults, will pay the price for their elders’ fashionable fantasies.
The Rt Rev Prof Tom Wright
St Mary's College, St Andrews
Others have commented upon whether or not this is an appropriate use of "gnostic," or the extent to which the Rev. Prof. Wright might be misrepresenting ideas surrounding trans-identity. Those are legitimate questions, but not worth yet another blog post on the matter. What perhaps I can contribute is a distinctly Lonerganian response. Such a response is warranted because Wright in his work identifies his hermeneutics as a form of "critical realism." He more specifically identifies this critical realism as that promulgated by Ben Meyer, who in turn is very clear in identifying his critical realism with that of Bernard Lonergan. As such, insofar as Wright to some extent identifies with the Lonerganian tradition, it is reasonable to think about these comments from that tradition. And it just so happens that Lonergan was not silent on the matter of the gnostics.

For Lonergan, as I read him, the gnostic is not necessarily self-identical with the persons that ancient heresiologists described by that term, although certainly he would tend to envision them as some degree paradigmatic of the gnostic. Rather, the gnostic represents an inevitable moment in the dialectical development of human consciousness, where it has been apprehended that symbols (numbers included) can convey meanings, but the criteria by which to adjudicate the relationship between symbol and meaning have not yet been fully worked out. In other words, gnosticism represents a moment in the development of human consciousness wherein partial insights are routinely confused for complete insights. And if we are to accept that definition, then it is difficult to see how we can meaningfully describe trans-identity, whether articulated by transpersons or others, as gnostic. As such, regardless of what one makes of Lonergan's definition of "gnostic," it does seem reasonable to conclude that Wright's usage is not consistent with that found in Lonergan.

The above of course does not speak to whether what Wright says about gnostics or about trans-identity is true or not. Rather, it says that whether true or not, it is not grounded in Lonergan. I think this an important point to make, because while Wright has become virtually synonymous with "critical realism" in New Testament studies, it is worth noting that he frequently departs from the thought of Bernard Lonergan, from whom the critical realism to he claims some degree of adherence ultimately descends. The upshot then is that if one wants to understand Lonergan's critical realism, it is not sufficient to read Wright (or Meyer, or me), but one must rather read Lonergan.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Beyond Concept

I recently read an article by Damon Linker that argues that the real reason there are so few conservatives on campus is because the conservative notion of scholarship tends to foster a recurrent return to the same well-worn themes. He uses the example of Shakespeare: "Love in Shakespeare," "Justice in Shakespeare," etc. We can see simply comparable in New Testament studies. How many new studies of "Paul and the Law," for instance, do we need? What new can be said on the subject?

The reader at this point is probably expecting negative answers. How many new studies of "Paul and the Law" do we need? Not many. What new can be said on the subject? Not much. I'm going to defy that expectation, and say that in fact there is much more to be said, but that--and this is where we can very much see the wisdom in Linker's argument--this new work must be asking new questions. This is not simply a matter of using new methods. There is a remarkably unreflective "New Method Laundry" (to borrow a wonderful turn of phrase from Lonergan) active in biblical studies, which tends to confuse the mere act of defining and describing one's method with reflection thereupon (stating what I do is not quite the same as knowing why I do), but this is not what we're talking about. This is about asking genuinely new questions. When "Paul and the Law" is considered in New Testament studies, it is usually on the level of concept. We are asking "What does Paul mean when he refers to 'the Law'? How does he understand 'the Law'?" If we are particularly enterprising, we might ask "How does his understanding of 'the Law' relate to other Jewish or Christian writings?" We might push beyond Judaism and Christianity into the broader Greco-Roman world, and convince ourselves that we are being innovative. The above are of course all quite legitimate questions, but again, all remain within the orbit of concept.

There is an entirely different set of questions left untouched by such functional conceptualism. They operate on a level properly antecedent to concept, although in operational terms we tend to investigate them subsequently. Keeping with the example of the Law, they begin from the basic question, "What does law do for humanity?" They ask why human societies recurrently create laws. They situate the Jewish Law within that recurrent creation. They consider recurrent difficulties and challenges faced by any system of legal reasoning and practice, and how Paul might be responding to those. For instance, such queries might look at Paul's consistent tendency to play the language of law off against the language of justice (often in English rendered in terms of "justification" or "righteousness," but which have the sense of rendering or making something just), and consider how this relates to recurrent human struggles with the gap between law and justice. By such queries "Paul and the Law" begins to move from an almost-purely antiquarian pursuit of interest almost exclusively to persons whose antecedent theological commitments suppose that whatever Paul says on the matter must be normative for all persons at all times, and towards situating Paul within the great human adventure wherein disparate groups recurrently have struggled with the same sorts of dialectical conflicts.

Such questioning of course takes place. It has characterized the recent explosion, perhaps now showing signs of slowing down, of "postmodern" philosophical readings of Paul, which of course go well beyond the relatively narrow question of Paul and the Law. (With specific respect to Paul and the Law though, José Porfirio Miranda and Theodore Jennings have made some particularly insightful contributions of the sort described above, and the African-American theological tradition has produced a wealth of insights in its existentially-vital efforts to make sense of writings that were used to justify their enslavement). Yet biblical scholars have tended to shy away from asking questions of this sort within our vocation as scholars. In part this is probably because such questioning entails some solid grounding in such matters as social theory or political thought. Returning to the example of "Paul and the Law," this needs to be a grounding that not simply can say "So-and-so says X about the Law, and this relates to what Paul says about the Law," as this is still effectively conceptualism: it is the relating of one set of concepts to another. Rather, it needs to be a grounding that can render and defend competent judgments about what law does for human societies. Such competency tends to be beyond the ambit of the average biblical scholar. Such is not a critique but rather a statement of fact. The reality is that competence takes time and energy to develop, and already biblical scholars must investment much time and energy into developing the competence simply to be biblical scholars. This leaves only so much time and energy to develop competence in other areas. Where someone like Lonergan is of much value is that his investigations into knowledge provide ways by which to "streamline" the process of competence-development. Nonetheless, such competence is perhaps worth developing, as it can help move biblical studies from the ghetto of antiquarian conceptualism.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Method in Theology

If one looks at sites like Amazon for Method in Theology, one might likely find that they are low in stock. Of course, that is often the case with such sites (and I'm not above the cynical thought that these "only one left in stock" notices are just a ploy to get you to order now rather than wait). But in this case, they are meaningful. As some readers of this blog no doubt are already aware, later this year Method in Theology will be reissued in a new edition. This long-awaited new edition will constitute a significant moment in the history of Lonergan studies. In 1985, the year after Lonergan's passing, the Lonergan Research Institute in Toronto was founded, with a mission to preserve, promote, develop, and implement the work of Bernard Lonergan. With that mission in mind, the Institute undertook the herculean task of editing and publishing the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan (CWL). The aim of the CWL was to publish definitive editions of all of Lonergan's published and (at that time) unpublished work. In some cases this required that his Latin writings, produced while teaching at the Gregorian, be translated into English, and both the original and the translation made available. When complete in (hopefully) 2020, the series will contain twenty-five volumes, of which Method will be the twenty-third to be published (although actually volume 14 in the series). The CWL edition of Insight (also known as the 5th edition) appeared relatively early, in 1992. But a decision was made that Method in Theology--Lonergan's best-known work, alongside Insight--should be scheduled for a later date. A slightly altered printing of the existing second edition of Method appeared in 1990: Lonergan's preface was moved from page ix to x, and an errata was added on p. 406. But the CWL edition of Method in Theology constitutes a far more extensive revision, which not only incorporates such errata into the body of the text but will add appendices that will help readers to more fully grasp what Lonergan is doing in this work.

This new edition is currently at the press, and should be available this fall (I've heard October as a more precise date, but I'm not entirely sure how accurate that is). This has had a slightly chilling effect on my own work, insofar as I am avoiding any citation of Method in any of my writing until I can cite the new edition. But that's all right. There are far worse problems in life than waiting for a new and improved version of what one is working upon.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Rupture, Development, and Chronology

Not infrequently I have described my interest in the dates at which the New Testament texts were composed as the expression of a neurotic compulsion. There is probably some truth to that, perhaps even much truth. Indeed, sometimes when I labour upon the minutiae of the data I can feel Leo Strauss' words against "pain-loving antiquarianism" rattling around in my head. But the truth is that there is more than just neurosis going on, and that precisely because--despite my ironic self-deprecation (a Canadian vice that personally I think makes us quite endearing)--I am in fact driven by more than an antiquarian impulse. As I reflect upon my own work, I increasingly realize that at the heart of my scholarly endeavours is an effort to overcome what I have in print described as the "rupture hypothesis," i.e. the hypothesis that between Second Temple Judaism and the church stands an unbridgeable chasm. Actually, there are in this hypothesis two chasms, two ruptures, such that it should perhaps be better described as the hypothesis of double rupture. The first rupture is typically situated somewhere between Judaism and Jesus (Jesus himself is often identified as the party responsible, although sometimes the Baptist comes under indictment), the second somewhere between Jesus and the church (here Paul is often trotted into the dock). Within biblical studies, these ruptures are conceptualized in various ways, all of which tend in their turn to reveal unhealed biases. Sometimes these ruptures are conceptualized in terms of a contradiction between Jewish law and Christian grace (here we confront lingering but theologically and empirically dubious suspicions that anyone who thinks legally cannot experience divine favour, and that if such a person does experience divine favour such a person will ipso facto cease and desist their legal thinking); other times it is conceptualized in terms of a contradiction between Semitic monotheism and Hellenistic theology (here we confront pernicious yet facile narratives about the Hellenization of Christianity); still other times it is conceptualized in terms of a contradiction between spontaneous charisma and sterile institution (here we confront a whole series of hard-to-kill suppositions regarding the incompatibility of spirituality and routine). But ultimately the identification of such conceptions and generally-correlated biases is not what overturns the rupture hypothesis, no matter how salutary such identification might be. Rather, what overturns the rupture hypothesis is the relevant data. And the relevant data puts to the lie this hypothesis of the double rupture. Quite simply, the data clearly demonstrates that Jesus and his followers were fully grounded in Judaism, and it equally demonstrates that the church is fully a consequence of the operations carried out by Jesus and his first followers. Modern historiography can finally apprehend this dual reality because modern historiography has developed the capacity to conceptualize change with continuity ("continuity with change" being what I would consider to be a succinct definition of development).

So, how does chronology relate to this? I would argue that a lower chronology (i.e. one that tends to date the New Testament texts earlier than the consensus dates) bridges the putative ruptures more readily than any other. The earlier that the earliest extant Christian texts were written, the more plausible it is to identify them as fully Jewish. At the same time, the earlier that the earliest extant Christian texts were written, then the earlier that we can situate the specifically Christian developments evident therein. Put more synthetically: insofar as the most foundational Christian developments occurred while Christianity was most fully within the bosom of Judaism, we are able to more fully and clearly conceive the relationship between Judaism and Christianity as one that entails continuity with change. Of course, this is not an argument for a lower chronology. Such an argument can only be advanced by diligently--in a pain-staking if not pain-loving fashion--sifting through the relevant data. But if such an empirical argument grounded in the data is advanced, and if we judge said argument to be a reasonable hypothesis, and if we find that as a consequence we can more readily build a narrative that more fully appreciates the simultaneously Jewish and Christian character of these texts and the persons responsible for their creation, then barring biases that distort our understanding we should in fact be quite happy to welcome the consequent advance in our knowledge.

N.B. No, the early Christians probably did not regularly describe themselves as "Christians" during that era. Certainly, if they did, that self-description seems to have registered little in our extant data (although one must be wary of the naive supposition that the term could not have been current prior to its first extant use, a supposition that fundamentally seems to confuse knowing with looking). But in any case, as I am not talking about their own self-definition but rather our retrospective understanding of their development, this is a matter which simply does not matter. The decision to refer heuristically to these persons as "Christians" is quite different from and in no way implies the judgment that they referred to themselves as such.