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The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity
The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity
by Jeffrey J. Butz
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.52

2.0 out of 5 stars Not one to take too seriously, but it has good bits, 27 Sept. 2014
This book about James, the Lord's brother, is full of flaws but very readable. Butz's thesis is that the original Christians were adoptionists, and if Christians today abandon the Trinity and the incarnation and become adoptionists, they will then be acceptable to muslims as co-religionists. Butz claims that from Nicea onward came "James's erasure from orthodoxy" (pg121), and with it a wrong view of Jesus.

As another reviewer has pointed out, he puts across the family-friendly analysis of Mark 3:20-21 very well indeed (chapter 2), and I think that is the highlight of this book.

But at times, Butz seems to have no idea what he's talking about, eg this on the PJ: "the Protoevangelium of James - a book wholly about James" he writes (pg 16). How do errors like that get into print? Peculiarly, he later gets this right, calling the same book "a nativity story" (pg 170). Conveniently, he doesn't mention the scholarly view that the PJ is a Jewish Christian text, which would otherwise expose as erroneous his claim that Jewish Christians "all believed that Jesus was the natural born son of Joseph and Mary" (pg 131). To the contrary, the PJ and the Gospel of Matthew very much suggest that many Jewish Christians believed in the virgin birth.

That's the tip of the iceberg. For someone claiming to bring the latest scholarship to the ordinary reader, he doesn't do scholarship justice. Take this for example: "there is also a growing consensus among scholars that most of these Jewish Christian groups were influenced to a greater or lesser extent by Gnosticism, which was well established throughout the Roman Empire by the end of the first century" (pg 131). What?? Gnosticism was well established throughout the Roman Empire by the end of the first century??? This is a growing consensus in someone's dreams, not in academia. Nothing in that sentence can be taken at face value.

Here are some more pearls:

1) "In the English translation of the Greek New Testament..." (pg 9). Note, "THE" English translation. Only the one, then. This spoils a good point about the tendency to translate as 'James' (for Christian figures) what is otherwise translated as 'Jacob' (for other figures) in the New Testament.

2) Judaism, Christianity and Islam are "Western" religions (pg 185).

3) "Soon the memory of their ["James and the rest of Jesus' siblings"] importance, and even of their existence, was tragically lost" (pg 101). The memory of their existence was lost? Only to people who don't read the Bible, obviously, and are they the target audience?

4) On pg 18, he touches on the new perspective on Paul, but does not allow its insights to permeate his argument, instead making out Paul and James to be ideological enemies (eg 159-60).

5) Following the Apocryphon of James, Butz speaks thus: "James assigns the disciples to different mission territories ... this is likely the actual history" (pg 127). That's cleared that up then.

6) "One of the very few common conclusions reached by the many scholars engaged in the current quest for the historical Jesus is that Jesus' arrest and crucifixion were a direct result of his terroristic protest in the Temple" (pg 165). I think many such scholars would disassociate themselves from his use of the word 'terroristic'.

7) Here's a good one: "in Jesus' words, "my Father's house"". Actually, those are not Jesus' words. What Luke 2:49 actually says is "among my Father's things". Still, that's a common one, though Butz should have know this, before prefixing it with "in Jesus' words".

8) "...the Ebionites used the story of the flight to Pella as the basis for their claim of direct descent from the Jerusalem church" (pg 128). Unsurprisingly, Butz cites no source for this gem. No doubt he is aware of the heresiologist Epiphanius very dubiously linking the Nazarenes with Pella. But there is no evidence of that being an Ebionite claim. In fact, Epiphanius said that they were two different groups anyway.

9) "The Naasenes [mentioned by Hippolytus] are almost certainly the same group we know as the Nazarenes or Nazoreans (i.e., the Jerusalem church or their descendants)" (pg 129). You just can't say "almost certainly". In fact, there is very little, if any, ground for such an assertion.

10) Suggesting a possible source for Paul's statement that James saw the risen Lord (1 Cor 15), Butz informs us, "The Gospel of the Hebrews may in fact may be the source of the rival James tradition that Paul makes use of" (133). This may, in fact, be wild speculation that Paul had a copy of the Gospel of the Hebrews in the AD50s. Perhaps an advance copy from the publisher!

11) "Jewish scholars have little problem with the reliability of the Pseudo-Clementines" (pg 137). That's a bit sweeping!

12) Thinking such a thing could never happen, Butz writes thus: "Gentile Christians keen to adopt the practices of the Law? Gentile men keen to be circumcised? The illogic of all this is rather obvious" (pg 158). Fine, except that Ignatius highlights just such Law-orientated Gentiles in the early second century. Butz seems unaware of that.

13) Butz says that 2 Timothy 4:6-17 "are likely his last written words" (Paul's). That's something with which very few scholars today would agree.

There's a baker's dozen. I'll throw in another: "The great wisdom of the founding fathers of the United States is seen nowhere more than in their erection of a sturdy wall of separation between church and state, something that Jesus would surely endorse, considering his command to "render unto Caesar..." etc. (pg 184) Actually, that probably wasn't how Jesus' worldview worked.

Other points of note: drawing on Crossan, Butz believes that James was "an influential figure in Jerusalem even before Jesus began his ministry"; drawing on Crossan again, he believes that the Gospel of Mark is Pauline propaganda against Peter, James and John; following Eisenmann, he believes it possible that the Lord's brother was one of the 12 disciples; following Bruce Chilton, he says Jesus was of the Nazirite disposition.

There's a lot of F.C. Baur, Robert Eisenmann and Hyam Maccoby in this, but not enough balance, and it certainly isn't right to claim that this brings the benefits of modern scholarship to the ordinary reader. It's too selective in the wrong way.

To the stated aim of the book then. Supposedly aiming to heal division between Gentile and Jewish factions, Butz does the opposite. He says that what he calls 'Gentile Christianity' or 'Pauline Christianity' are in the wrong in two broad ways: in claiming to be orthodox themselves, and in branding Jewish Christianity unorthodox. His solution is to change sides, to brand 'Gentile Christianity' unorthodox and follow his notion of 'Jewish Christianity'. (I won't even go into academia's ongoing debate about what 'Jewish Christianity' actually was or is, since Butz doesn't either.) Changing sides is hardly the only answer one could suggest. (Pritz in 'Nazarene Jewish Christianity', to illustrate a contrasting approach, argues that Jewish Christianity shares much common ground with Gentile Christianity in terms of orthodoxy, and Pritz shows well that it's down to 4th century heresiologists (eg Epiphanius) that Jewish Christians are unfairly branded 'unorthodox', when there is good evidence to the contrary. Butz doesn't explore this. Rediscovering common ground of orthodoxy is not his mission. He wants us all to think that all Jewish Christians were adoptionists!)

Butz dramatically says that the fact that Jesus never abandoned his Jewish beliefs and practices "slaps us modern day Christians across the face" (pg 155). I thinking he's judging that every Christian needs a good slap and then should pay more attention to him. He should write a better book first, one that will withstand closer examination.

For a less dramatic assessment of how Jesus' followers remained faithful Jews, read Oskar Skarsaune's 'In the Shadow of the Temple'.

Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 3 [DVD]
Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 3 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Lee Bergere
Offered by Futuremovieshop
Price: £29.90

4.0 out of 5 stars This is not the CGI version, 26 Sept. 2014
This is not the CGI version - it's an earlier DVD edition of a decade ago. For 'purists' like me, this is more desirable than the CGI version! Some effects here are risible, but they are the original version! If you want the later CGI version for its more modern quality, that's also on Amazon.

Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity by Smith, Jonathan Z. published by University Of Chicago Press (1994)
Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity by Smith, Jonathan Z. published by University Of Chicago Press (1994)
by N/A
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Nine tenths a masterpiece, 16 July 2014
Smith's study on how the antique 'mystery' religions got mistaken in the modern era for antecedents of Pauline Christianity is nine tenths a masterpiece, and one tenth somewhere towards the other end of the spectrum, which I will come to last.

Entitled to reflect the task of painstakingly sifting through evidence, the book delivers in spades. A shamefully broad brush of a summary is as follows: we have virtually no evidence of the content of the ancient mystery religions apart from what was written by Christians in the 2nd, 3rd & 4th centuries. What they found in mystery religions in their day struck the church fathers as having similarities to what they had been doing in their Christian rituals since the first century. Were the mystery religions copying them? There is no real evidence to say. Where they just breathing the same cultural air? We cannot tell. A classic Christian apologetic was available to the church fathers - that is, to write reports of the mystery religions that made them sound more like Christianity than they really were. Although Smith hardly draws this point out, the church fathers were rather fond of making it look like ancient beliefs were unsuspecting signposts to the ultimate truth found in Christ and the church. Not content to leave us a Christianized version of the mystery religions (making it more difficult for us to say what their real content actually was), the likes of Jerome even added details to them to make them appear more Christian still.

In an extraordinary twist of the Reformation, Protestant ideologues turned this on its head. To make a stick to beat Roman Catholicism with, they co-opted the church fathers' words to make it appear that the mystery religions were actually the genealogical antecedent of the be-robed priestly rituals of the accursed Catholics. The Protestants constructed a new ideal: that primitive Christianity was free of religious ritual JUST LIKE PROTESTANTS ARE, whereas the accursed church fathers had developed benighted rituals polluted by the mystery religions, and poisoned the roots of European Christianity. With a sleight of hand, the mystery religions skipped from the earlier fakery of being Christianized to the new illusion of being the dark heart of Roman Catholic hocus pocus.

But in another turn of events, the Protestants' work was then seized on by anti-Trinitarians who found it a useful tool for beating all mainstream Christianity with, claiming the Christian conception of God was derived from paganism. The history of religions school then built an entire corpus on just the sort of dubious academic principles the Protestants had engineered: that is, artificial taxonomy, based on uncritical categorisations of things that appear to have similarities while ignoring their key differences. Enter Frazer's 'The Golden Bough' and much else. And this is a version of the 'truth' the internet is awash with. In fact, the root of all this nonsense is Protestant anti-Catholic rhetoric which was a misuse of the evidence to begin with.

Academic method is very much Smith's point. He shows how shoddy scholarship on this subject - virtually all either anti-Christian polemic and pro-Christian apologetics - has been a non-starter for real academic progress in this subject for generations. From Frazer's Golden Bough to the correspondence of American presidents, it is a history of scholars missing the point, the day being carried by presumptions due to not unpicking the wilful errors of prior generations of scholars. This book is a demonstration of how rigorous academic method can now bring a house of cards crashing down. The history of religions school didn't just get many things very wrong, but were part of a whole chain of cause and effect, with poor taxonomy, misuse of language, and weak method at best.

Nine tenths a masterpiece. The one tenth of disappointment is what Smith offers in place of the house of cards he has destroyed. He supposes that such correspondences that might exist between mystery religions early Christianity - if they cannot be explained by one leading to the other - might be explained another way. Good so far. But he then throws his lot in uncritically with Burton Mack's speculation that Jesus was a wandering Cynic preaching marginality, only for his message to be distorted into something more Jewish afterwards. We are in the territory of supposed redactions that will never be found of Q which has never yet been found either. Smith acts as cheerleader, forsaking his role as the sifter of evidence. As N.T. Wright points out about this thesis: 'Mack may be equally in danger of setting up a new, merely different, myth of Christian beginnings, in which his own heroes, a Cynic-style Jesus and his Cynic-style early followers, take centre stage instead.' (The New Testament and the People of God, pg 453) Smith says Mack's version of non-Pauline Christianity is a bit like the mystery religions were before they became more ritually orientated (we're on uncertain ground here). On the way to setting the scene, Smith makes claims as familiar as Mark not having a resurrection narrative (ignoring the one in Mark 9:31) to posit a Christianity that was originally free of a dying and rising God but acquired this element at the same time as the mystery religions did, supposedly around the 2nd century. That's the one tenth anyway.

Don't be put off. It's a fine, fine book. Worth it just to see how Gilgamesh and Ishtar are put to use as an example of how very ancient religions of the near east did NOT believe in dying and rising gods. Their religion was very much about keeping their dead in their place, not out of their graves to destroy the lives of the living.

Gerald Downing's review in JTS observed a few further flaws, and that Smith is not the first to press with this sort of analysis, also noting Smith's approach to Mack's polemic in which Smith's critical faculties are unwarrantedly switched off. JTS, 1991, no.42, pg 705.

The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God
The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God
by Margaret Barker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Hidden Tradition of Margaret Barker, 3 May 2014
Barker's thesis in this book is essentially that the true religion of Israel was the worship of two gods. Of these, Yahweh is a lesser god, and the other is the Most High God. Of these two. her main focus is her lesser god Yahweh: he is, she says, a guardian angel, not the Most High God. Also, she says, the four archangels Gabriel, Michael, Uriel and Raphael are aspects of Yahweh - not separate beings. Also, Melchizedek is Yahweh. Also, Israel's High Priest/King would become Yahweh in the temple. If that's not complex enough, she argues that this was the true religion; but that this true faith was destroyed by Israel's King Josiah and his reforms, until restored (she says) by the first Christians. Her method is to divide the Biblical heroes (as traditionally held) of the Old Testament into two camps who she pits fiercely against each other.

Team one - her good guys - can be summed up by these words: kingdom of God, believers in two gods (the Most High and Yahweh), Enoch, Melchizedek, Isaiah, with the garden of Eden, Solomon's temple and mysticism in the Holy of Holies, sacred trees (indeed), apocalyptic, theosis and hidden secrets, sacred anointing oil, sacral monarchy/priesthood, Miriam, Wisdom literature, and the Biblical 1&2 Chronicles, and a wide range of pseudepigrapha and apocrypha. Surprising how she mixes things together.

Team two - her bad guys (some or all of the time) - can be summed up by these words: monotheism, the Biblical 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings and Deuteronomists, King Josiah, Ezra, the Law of Moses and openness and transparency - and the promotion of Moses over anyone in Team One.

Team Two were products, in her argument, of a time after the exile to Babylon, and they misrepresented Israel's history. Team one is more ancient, a hidden realm kept alive by ancient underground groups who emerged after hundreds of years in the Qumran group and the earliest Christians. She says the earliest Christians subscribed to Team One, not Team Two.

Abraham and Aaron seem to have a claim made for both teams, without Barker making this very clear at times.

Some of her battles are: Hidden wisdom (good) vs revealed Mosaic Law (bad). Two gods (good) vs monotheism (bad).

Barker stitches her argument together by speculating on ambiguous and sometimes contradictory data in a wide range of ancient texts and then saying her interpretation is what 'must have been'. You get a lot of 'must have been so' type assertions. Some fairly unlikely things are introduced as 'it is possible that' and 'could have been' and 'could very well be' and, before you know it, have transformed into 'must have been', so that her thesis becomes an authority without the production of conclusive evidence.

Basically, there are some interesting ideas and flights of the imagination here, but to a significant degree they've been let out of the cage without scholarly discipline and academic rigour. However, she presents her thesis as if she has discovered the formula to Coca-Cola.

There's the potential for this to be so much better. Barker has read widely and obviously has a lively mind, but this product is not in the world of academic peer reviewed standard.

The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (New Studies in Biblical Theology)
The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (New Studies in Biblical Theology)
by G K Beale
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.48

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want to read just one book about the temple..., 16 Sept. 2010
... you probably can't do better than read this book. Without doubt, the central place of the Jerusalem Temple in the thinking of God's people, not least Jesus' early followers, has been strangely overlooked until recent decades. It's the ideas of the Temple, rather than its marble stones, that permeate the Bible, and I am sure the benefits of reading this book will be with me for years to come. It's helped deepen my intellectual understanding, my spiritual walk and my worship. I am sure this book will lead to more insight into the thought life of early Christianity in particular. Anyone doing academic study concerning the temple in the Bible needs to read this book.

Women and the Kingdom
Women and the Kingdom
by Faith Forster
Edition: Paperback

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good one!, 16 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Women and the Kingdom (Paperback)
I was fascinated by the details of the beneficial rights of women leaders in the Old Testament, which give a reasonable degree of counterbalance to unthinking assumptions of total oppression of women in ancient times. It turns out that people weren't always so unenlightened. This is a very human book, which provided me with an illuminating journey, for example into the stories of Mary and Martha, et al. The book left me with no doubt about how scripture honours women's spiritual and practical contribution to the life of God's people. The evidence of female leadership as well as women's ministry in the Bible was irrefutable as far as I could see. The exegesis of the difficult passages in Paul's letters makes sense, and helps to understand the cultural and religious background that Paul himself doesn't set out - this helps to dispel the grounds of misogyny that have been read into the text by those who must surely be unaware of the background set out here. Concerning Paul's letters, I felt more time was spent on background than on exegesis, but that will probably benefit a lot of readers, and mostly the book is pacy. The way it sets out problems and then unlocks them makes it a good read. It's a rounded book which I'd recommend to anyone who wants a shorter read making the case for women's ministry. For me, practical insights and stories from the authors' own experiences add value, especially if you work in a context where both men and women minister.
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