Love him or not, engage his work or not, scholars are still left, whether first-hand or through a secondary medium, to grapple with the profound effect Burton Mack has had on the field of New Testament and early Christian studies. More often than not, scholars of religion encounter his influence indirectly, through a myriad of interpreters, detractors, and other interlocutors who have interacted with him over the years. Whether one looks to the Jesus Seminar and the work of Robert W.
Smith, or the religio-cultural analysis of Elizabeth Castelli—to name just a few—one repeatedly finds the imprint of Mack in one form or another. The fabric of early Christian discourse, woven out of the ideologies, social textures, arbitrary moments in history, and the myth-making practices evidenced in and through early Christian narrativizing strategies, produces a fine garment that is seductive and compelling, hiding the fact that, beneath the bedazzled and bedazzling outer layer, there is nothing but the nakedness of raw bio-power and random human actions.
We see, then, the fragility and instability of human attempts to make sense of the world and create meaning in the very moments when the absence of sense and meaning is most acutely felt. While some might view this emphasis as resulting purely from Mack's own whims and whimsy, we would argue, rather, that the impulse behind Mack's work is thoroughly grounded in the broader historical-critical enterprise in biblical scholarship.
Conzelmann was himself a student of Rudolf Bultmann — , and, alongside his Bultmannian orientations related to interpreting the teaching of Jesus outside of an apocalyptic context, he was also among the forerunners of the redaction-critical approach to the study of early Christian narrative, which was a development out of the form-critical approach made popular by Bultmann's work on the Synoptic Gospels. Indeed, Mack's seminal book on the Gospel of Mark— A Myth of Innocence —is in many respects a development of the redaction-critical insights that Conzelmann had offered in the mids regarding the Gospel of Luke.
The groundwork was securely laid in this earlier study of the Hellenistic Jewish wisdom tradition for Mack's subsequent work on the Gospels and the historical Jesus. Yet in a similar vein as other, earlier historical-critical scholars from the United States who had studied in Germany, Mack brought back characteristic elements of the German tradition and refocused those through a specifically American lens.
Already in a previous period of biblical and church-historical scholarship in the United States, interpreters such as Philip Schaff — , Charles Augustus Briggs — , and Arthur Cushman McGiffert — , all associated with the formative period of a distinct strain of American critical biblical and church-historical scholarship at Union Theological Seminary in New York, intentionally and vocally rearticulated their German training in an American context.
These scholars understood the unique contours of American politics, religion, and society to be a major factor in the reconfiguration of their German learning. Thus, rather than being an anomaly, Mack represents a robust and venerable intellectual trajectory in American biblical scholarship, one that bears a distinctive, even if in Mack's work often implicit, critique of the German historical-critical tradition. In this respect Mack signals a strong disdain for any celebration of New Testament theology or early Christian Heilsgeschichte , as was characteristic of the German tradition.
With an accent on deconstructing the Christian mythic framework, exposing the ideologies and social practices operative in and reflective of early Christian discourses, and, to be sure, politicizing the methodologies of historical investigation, Mack turned his German training on its head. Rather than his disciplinary work participating in a continued promotion of Christian triumphalism, which was and still is so often the case with German historical-critical biblical scholarship, Mack used his own mastery of the masters' methods to do the exact opposite: he sought to provide a counter voice that would disrupt the modern scholarly paradigm of Christian origins and its concomitant Christian theological constructs.
In our view, Mack's profoundly influential work A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins provides a productive point of entry into some of the significant issues at stake in his approach, as his interest in rhetorical and discursive formations, concern for the historical afterlives and legacies of biblical texts and cultures, and critique of biblical scholarship all come together in this study. In Foucault's perspective, scholars have generally narrated the history of ideas as that which harbors a great deal of continuity and causality between events and epochs where there actually may be little to none.
Scholars then utilize such continuities, which Foucault claims are characteristic of phenomenology and dogmatism, to project contemporary concerns into the past. Further, the notion that this Jesus figure is somehow reliably traceable through the words of the gospel narratives, or that the Gospels provide a stable description of ancient realia and the historical Jesus, actually reflects modern, mostly Protestant, interests.
According to Mack, the methodological questions common to New Testament scholarship have been both consciously and unconsciously beholden to these other investments. It is precisely at this point that Mack suggests that the subject must be changed and that scholars might do well to dig somewhere else. This effort requires a shift in focus from locating individuals and singularities in fixed points in time and space to locating the multiple, often competing, discursive formations that shape the objects and people in their socio-historical settings. In Mack's view, such an approach as applied to the study of the New Testament and Christian origins means that it is the narration of the lives of Jesus, and not the historical reality of his personage, that ought to become the focus of historical investigation.
To this end, Mark's Gospel emerges as a site where the critic can detect both Mark's argumentative strategies as well as the historical legacy of the Gospel itself. He asks: What if the notion of a single, miraculous point of origin was acknowledged for what it was, not a category of critical scholarship at all, but an article of faith derived from Christian mythology?
Then the quests would have to be turned around. Not the mythic events at the beginning, but the social and intellectual occasions of their being imagined would be the thing to understand. What if the historical origins of the Jesus movements were not all that dramatic? What if the formation of the gospel was regarded as the origin of the Christian notion of dramatic origins?
The fantasy of an order of things without precursor might actually be capable of explanation. If so, Christian and scholarly obsession with the notion, whether in full or partial mythic dress, might be explained as well.
It might even be possible to say something about the persistence of such a fantasy in modern times, a fantasy that, apparently, modernity has not been able to challenge. Following each of the above-mentioned trajectories leads Mack to provocative suggestions for the study of Mark, Christian origins, and the history of religions.
For example, in excavating the Markan milieu Mack proposes not a singular miraculous origin point for Christianity e. That is, the Gospel of Mark represents a fictional , highly idealized, response to the world in which it is situated: moreover, this was a world characterized by violence, social unrest, and uncertainty. Any violence enacted or imagined in their present against Jews, Romans, and others is simply an act of retribution—and is wholly justified.
This myth was so convincingly foundational that it subsequently became the origin point for Christian views of Christian origins and accumulated weighty theological, rhetorical, and social baggage as it traveled throughout time and space. Origin stories may recall what happened, to be sure, and yet they also do more than that rhetorically. Mack picks up this theme and, in the last chapter of Myth of Innocence , outlines what is at stake in the Markan legacy of naturalizing innocence as the core of the Christian myth.
Turning his focus to the modern American milieu in which New Testament scholarship takes place, Mack suggests that it is none other than the Markan myth of innocence that contributes mightily to the American Christian narrative of origins: from manifest destiny to contemporary proto-imperialist proclivities, the American story is a story about innocence and new beginnings. And this latter context is precisely that in which scholarship on the New Testament and early Christianity takes place.
From a genealogical perspective, the Gospel of Mark and its seemingly innocent connection to Christian origins is a formative element of the modern search for Christian origins. Modern scholarship is thus shaped by the very past it seeks to investigate— prior to the investigation itself! Burton Mack's legacy through A Myth of Innocence alone is vast and varied, and it is impossible to fully circumscribe its parameters in the space we have here.
Wimbush has taken up an excavation project in the most thoroughgoing manner, both with his recent scholarship and in the creation of the Institute for Signifying Scriptures as an independent scholarly organization. As a criticism of religion, the study of scriptures signifies a history of world formation, self-identification, and discursive practices in the present. In this way, a broader analysis, engagement, and criticism not just of the field of New Testament studies, but also of religious and theological study more generally, is a desideratum.
Examining the mythic foundations of our epistemic frames of reference, including the further myths that are produced in the process, is clearly one positive outcome of such an excavation project. Scholars such as Burton Mack harken us back to the call of the critic, to that impulse inherent not just in the biblical historical-critical enterprise but in the broader aims of engaged critical scholarship in academia and in the public sphere.
The critic is one who exposes the humanity of ideas, who shatters the illusions of innocence not for the sake of sadistic enjoyment but for the high calling of ethics, an orientation towards making the world a more transparent place by exposing the many illusions upon which it has been built.
To be sure, early Christian texts and social histories are not the root of all the world's evil, and perhaps Mack can be faulted for his failure to expand upon his ideas and critique the study of religion more systematically. What we learn from Mack in this moment, though, is that the work of the critic is never over and every radically engaged thinker like Mack ought to expect the not-so-innocent myths of their own work to be exposed by another who would come after them. Every act of losing innocence results in the generation of a new myth of purity, and for that reason the study of religion is necessarily constituted by moments of rebirth and death, of baptism by water and fire, on the fairground and after the circus leaves town.
Mack's brilliant and controversial A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins occurs toward the end of the book and, indeed, reflects its central thesis. It is an observation that completely changed my own orientation not simply to the Gospel of Mark, but toward the ancient Jesus movements as a whole, and it continues to guide my work now. Having offered a survey of the Jesus movements up to the time of Mark, including a reconstruction of the historical Jesus, an analysis of Q, an approach to various streams of oral tradition, and finally an extended examination of the Gospel of Mark itself, Mack concludes: It is now possible to emphasize that Mark's accomplishment was an authorial, intellectual achievement.
It was created by effort, intellectual effort, and it is marked by conscious authorial intention. Mark was a scholar. A reader of texts and a writer of texts. Mark's Gospel was not the product of divine revelation. It was not a pious transmission of revered tradition. It was composed at a desk in a scholar's study lined with texts and open to discourse with other intellectuals. Such a claim forced me to rethink everything I thought I knew about, every approach I might have taken to, the origins of Christianity, and is more radical in its implications than some of the book's other, more famous contentions.
Not that those other contentions were uncontroversial! Indeed, so contentious—and important—were the subsidiary claims leading up to the book's earth-shaking thesis that I suspect many people did not make it that far, and perhaps did not realize that A Myth of Innocence was, at least nominally, a book about the Gospel of Mark. Indeed, it is likely that many even of those who did read the book in its entirety did not necessarily conclude as I did that its thesis on Mark was actually the most dramatic and, in hindsight, influential claim of this dramatic and influential book.
The biggest distraction was of course that enormous red flag that Mack waved in the faces of maddened bulls: the nearly unthinkable notion that the historical Jesus could be best understood by comparison to Cynic philosophers. This claim, taking up about nine pages 65—74 in a volume of pages, is often still what Mack's name evokes, almost to the point of being a shibboleth. And it is crucial to remember, as so few of his detractors do, that Mack's endeavor on this point was indeed a comparative one.
Mack never claimed that Jesus was a Cynic; he claimed that Jesus's form of anti-conventional behavior was comparable to that of Cynics. And there was so much more to scandalize and inspire, still on points other than the central work on the Gospel of Mark itself. Mack argued, and indeed demonstrated, for example, with his extended analysis of developments prefatory to the Gospel of Mark, that there was no single Jesus movement or primitive Christianity: there were various and sundry different ways of using Jesus to think with ; and Mack went on to describe those quite different approaches essentially independently of one another, leading to the insight that we can think about Christian origins in terms of variety and diversity rather than uniformity of either behavior or ideology.
Most notable here—and enduring in terms of subsequent scholarship—is the identification of two contemporary forms of social behavior that have since proved to be extremely important for understanding the earliest followers of Jesus: schools and meal groups.
Mack was able to show that a significant proportion of the materials—especially proverbs and other sayings—that were attributed to Jesus in the gospels were the products of people who viewed Jesus as a teacher, and who viewed the continuation of his work in terms of scholarly kinds of activities. He was also able to show that other kinds of material reflected different kinds of social behaviors, especially those concerning shared meals.
Behind the Gospel of Mark's colossal act of organization and homogenization, we find not simply ideological diversity, nor again merely different groups of people, but even different kinds of social collectives. It is due to this dimension that A Myth of Innocence merits a retrospective in the JAAR rather than only in the Journal of Biblical Literature or similar biblical or New Testament journals : Mack's entire project, his entire approach to the origins of Christianity, is undergirded by a coherent and consistent theory of religion.
That theory of religion—that different kinds of social formations actively generate different kinds of self-rationalizing myths—is not especially arresting in and of itself. What is much more striking is that such a view—defensible, plausible, consistent—has been applied to the study of the documentary remains of earliest Christianity.
One felt, on reading A Myth of Innocence , that the field of Christian origins had finally entered adulthood, that it was establishing itself not as a theological or hermeneutical endeavor, but an element, a vital element, of the study of religion. And then, finally, we come to Mark itself.
The claim significantly demystifies the contents and character of the gospel itself. The author of the Gospel emerges from Mack's analysis as an intentional, comprehensible human agent, responding to problems and issues that might elicit analogous responses from ourselves. As Mack shows, Mark crafts a story of Jesus's life that quite consciously closely mirrors the events of the Jewish War of 66—70 CE, especially the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. These events, as well as the diverse histories of past Jesus-people, the epic of Israel, and other inspirations besides, are more vividly influential in Mark's casting than anything some Galilean gadfly might have done decades in the past.
And these events and circumstances do not simply serve as the arena within which an already-given story must more or less passively take form.
Emerging Approaches in New Testament Studies - Biblical Studies - Oxford Bibliographies
Rather, the Markan author deliberately brings together old ideas, old texts, culturally meaningful tropes, and actively shapes them into a story in order to address concerns about the world around him and not just about heaven, or God, or Jesus , concerns we can easily imagine ourselves having, had we lived in such a context. The gospel is a function of human activity, and fairly normal activity at that.
We are not forced to fall back on irrational and obfuscating appeals to some kind of absolute novum —an irreducible religious experience, a reanimated body, the presence of the Holy Spirit—to account for historical or ideological changes that appear, after Mack's redescription, to be rather quotidian not that we should appeal to such strange non-explanations even for more momentous changes!
Nor must we any longer think in terms of appealingly romantic notions of peasants, of oral tradition, and of a primitive and enchanted appropriation of the world. Not that Mack denies that the initial context for the Jesus movements was agrarian, nor again that some sayings and stories associated with Jesus were communicated by word of mouth. But A Myth of Innocence insists on what we should always have recognized: that the only evidence we have for the first followers of Jesus is, precisely, literary evidence, and that therefore it attests to a literate, actively creative, intellectual, and therefore mediated and disenchanted engagement with the world.
Depriving us of a too-good-to-be-true Gospel that can somehow re connect us to a primal apprehension of reality, Mack in return endows us with a product of human labor that can now be understood rather than merely revered , a literary effort to make sense of unexpected historical changes and persistent social pressures. But there is more.
In emphasizing the author of Mark's intentional creativity, his myth-making efforts to address the circumstances of post CE Judaism, Mack's analysis is enormously corrosive of our confidence about the historical Jesus; it all the more firmly establishes the Markan narrative as, indeed, a myth, a fabrication. Mark did not so much recount the story of Jesus as invent it. I myself cannot help but think that this is a far more shocking conclusion than that the historical Jesus can be compared to Cynics, but it is also a liberating judgment, freeing us from an anchor that has held us to thinking about Jesus in only one way and so failing to note different possibilities, and which has also made it impossible for us to recognize just what an astonishing accomplishment the Gospel of Mark really was.
Our task has been transformed from stripping away the mythic accretions on some historical nugget of Truth, to the more productive work of examining how and why just this story, just that claim, was plausible and appealing to those who made it. The importance of these kinds of conclusions, of course, is not limited to the Gospel of Mark itself. A Myth of Innocence was a salutary reminder of the role of intentional human actors, and deliberate scholarly work, in the production of ideology, culture, and history. Life-Study of Romans. Witness Lee.
The Jefferson Bible. Thomas Jefferson. The God Who Justifies.
James R. Commentary on the Book of the Revelation. John Nelson Darby. Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism. David Alan Black. Days of the Living Christ, volume two. Cleon Skousen. Studies in the Book of Philippians. Ikechukwu Joseph. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary : Volume 3. Craig S. Paul and Gender. Cynthia Long Westfall. The White Horse. Emanuel Swedenborg. The Nonviolent Messiah. Simon J. The Figure of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians Felipe de Jesus Legarreta-Castillo. Prima Scriptura. Clayton Croy. Michael Fossett. Desiring Divinity.
David Litwa. Gilbert Soo Hoo. The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith.
Books of the Bible
Stephen Evans. I would exalt Krans, Beyond what is written to the main list. One not only learns about conjectures here, but also the earliest history of TC. PM, I think that Tommy has focused on more general works. If he were to expand to specific manuscripts, the list would instantly become enormous. I have added Dirk's monograph under scribal habits general. On the other hand, Christian is right, I will probably have to add another area of particular manuscript which will be enormous. Fee's works on patristic citations were mentioned in a special note. The volume by Epp and Fee is essential.
That would give you space to include: Metzger, Manuscripts otherwise your top ten is a bit handschriftlos ; Wachtel and Holmes for contemporary debates ; Metzger's Textual Commentary so you can know the only book most NT scholars ever consult on the subject [with which they only ever agree] ; and Royse.
- Structural Crystallography of Inorganic Oxysalts (International Union of Crystallography Monographs on Crystallography);
- Hansen Solubility Parameters: A Users Handbook, Second Edition!
- The Cayman Islands Alive! (Hunter Travel Guides)?
- Evangelical Textual Criticism: Top Ten Essential Works in New Testament Textual Criticism.
- Uncover Biblical Truth for Yourself.
- Scientific Computing and Differential Equations. An Introduction to Numerical Methods.
Otherwise someone should up-date Metzger. Might I ask where if any place can I find a list of all the types of Textual Criticisms methods? Plus of course the rules of Textual Criticism; the shorter reading is preferred et al. I'm writing a book on them and including the above method, CGBM.
Thanks for any help. At first I thought the "essential list" would be made up of various introductions giving a broad picture, but from many perspectives. Now I have reconsidered and revised the blogpost, and added asterisks to ten titles in various subjects instead. And I am sure you will disagree on some of the choices. Christian, the only reason I mentioned Dirk's monograph was that Hernandez, arguably not 'more general', had already been included.
New Testament textual critics have much to learn from Tov and others who work on the textual criticism of the other, older testament. Tov treats Scribal culture, scribal habits, etc. Thank you for this! Does anyone have any recommendations for essential online resources? I've got a list already, but I wanted to hear from the experts.
I'm including sources for manuscript images, general NTTC resources, and popular-level non-technical things--things a pastor could pass along. Hi Elijah! That sounds like a great project! I help Dr. Perhaps you might find some helpful resources there. Also, I would love to hear about any that you find as well, as we are always looking to keep the Portal up-to-date. Peter Rodgers, I agree. Since many textual problems in the Gospels relate to quotations from the OT, a good grasp of LXX TC is pretty essential to knowing what text was most likely to be in the exemplar from which the OT quotation was lifted by the author of the archetype.
Daniel Buck: Thanks for the encouragement Not just in the gospels. Tommy, Your ten with asterisks is an improvement.