The book by Chris Keith; Jesus against the Scribal Elite (Baker Academic, 2014) is one of those standing on my preferred reading list this fall. And having a brief look last weekend at the first pages, I met the following description that I both found amusing, pertinent, and well formed. And it certainly wet my appetite to read on (p. 5):
Matthew 23’s Jesus is not a vacation Bible school Jesus or a seeker-sensitive Jesus. That Jesus’s hair is nice and combed. His robes are sparkling white, and his face is aglow as he hovers about six inches off the ground. He hugs people a lot, speaks in calm tones, and pats little children on the head as he tells his audience, only four chapters earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, that the kingdom belongs “to such as these” (Matt 19:14…). The Jesus of Matt. 23 is of a different sort. He is fired up and within a word or two of unleashing some profanity in the style of a high school football coach. This Jesus’s hair is untamed. His clothes are beaten and tattered from a semitransient lifestyle. His face and neck are reddended by the Palestinian sun, and his feet are blistered, cracked, and calloused. There is a wild look in his eyes, sweat pouring down his forehead, and spit flying off his lips when he yells, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matt. 23:13, 15, 23,25 ,27, 29; 23:16). His message ends not with a head pat to a child and and aphorism about the kingdom, but with tales of murder and bloodshed (23:34-37).
When you finish reading Jesus tirade against the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 23, you might need a deep breath. Those who have grown all too accustomed to the teddy-bear Jesus may need to reasess wholesale their idea of Jesus. At the worst, we can point to thids text and affirm that, when early Christians such as Matthew commemorated Jesus’s life in the form of narrative Gospels, they portrayed a Jewish teacher who was embroiled in heated controversy with other Jewish teachers and gave as good as he got.”
One of the reasons why I had to stop a moment at this description, is certainly that I on the one hand know the teddy-bear Jesus all to well, but also – in spite of some exaggerations- I found that author’s focus on Matt. 23 interesting and appealing.
I am loking forward to continue reading this book!
Why study Philo of Alexandria? The question might be taken as rhetorical.But it might be good to reflect on it from time to time and make up one’s mind concerning why Philo is important. In fact, the upcoming book to be mentioned below might be read from beginning to end as an endeavor to demonstrate to the reader that Philo is indeed important. Others have been even more emphatic than me in their arguments for the relevance of Philo: Gregory E. Sterling published an article in Perspectives in Religious Studies (2003) with the provocative title “Philo Has Not Been Used Half Enough.” In this article he states frankly, concerning the importance of Philo in studying early Christianity: “I think that the Philonic corpus is the single most important body of material from Second Temple Judaism for our understanding of the development of Christianity in the first and second centuries. . . . I am convinced, that the Philonic corpus helps us to understand the dynamics of early Christianity more adequately than any other corpus” (p.252).
Philo of Alexandria is indeed a fascinating person, but at the same time also somewhat of an enigma, even to scholars who have long tried to understand him, his works, and his position in the social world of Alexandria at the beginning of our era.
My personal life this summer has been marked by retirement, selling and buying houses, packing – moving – unpacking and getting settled in a new place and region of Norway. The scholarly part of me….., especially in the last two or three weeks, has been occupied with proofreading and doing the indexes for The Philo book (!) to be published in upcoming November.
What a boring, tedious and wearisome work! Why can’t anyone come up with a computer program that can do such indexing work? Yes, I know there are some programs that promise to do exactly that, but how to do it with a pdf file? As far as I know, no program offers that ability!
The book as been given the very pertinent title: Reading Philo. A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria, and will be published by Eerdmans. A total of 9 authors from Australia, Canada, Finland, USA and Norway have been engaged in writing the volume, and as the editor I am very grateful for the willingness of these scholars to participate, and for the contributions they have submitted. I intend to give a brief presentation of the various chapters in some postings to come. Just to wet your appetite, you know! The book should be out in time for you to get it at the SBL Annual Meeting this November.
Hence, stay tuned!