Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Knowing the Currents 4

posted by xscot mcknight

In the 1980s, alongside the rise of narrative and literary studies of the Bible — which it so happens made people readers of the Bible again and not just archaeologists digging behind the texts, was the rise of the multi-disciplinary approaches to the Bible. Suddenly, people were studying the Bible from so many angles it seemed like a smorgasboard of options asking “Which method do you use?” One major grouping was the use of social sciences and I want to focus on two of those: sociology and anthropology.
The first studied the Bible from the angle of social description and sociological methods.
We started hearing stuff about how charismatic leaders led, how groups functioned, how the early church was organized as a social group among other social groups, and how leaders functioned within groups. Some applied modern sociological theories — say on conversion — to ancient texts because we assume humans are basically the same — which I did in Turning to Jesus.
I mention the following books that shaped the whole field:
H.C. Kee, Knowing the Truth
Bengt Holmberg, New Testament Sociology
G. Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity
From the angle of anthropology two names stood above the rest.
Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger
Bruce Malina, who applied and further developed the stuff of Mary Douglas, especially in a book called The New Testament World.

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Scott Watson

posted August 28, 2007 at 10:40 am

This is an important line of inquiry in NT studies,which has yet to be fully engaged by Biblical theology. It has produced substantial works in Pauling studies. One scholar,David Horrell of the Univ. of Exeter,has ventured into the field of Pauline ethics and the comtemporary world from this vantagepoint.
The “problems” have to do with the application of social scientific methods which themselves are laden with theoretical modern concepts which may not fit the ancient world itself. And there is also the reductionistic tendancy to lessen or marginalize the theological concerns of the texts.But overall this scholarly thrust can be viewed as a way of sharpening both the historical and contemporary hermenutical tasks,somethings that’s absolutely necessary for the ongoing task of the responsible contemporary appropriation of the NT documents.

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Scot McKnight

posted August 28, 2007 at 10:44 am

I do think we are seeing this in part in Jimmy Dunn’s Paul book but especially will be seen in his forthcoming second volume of his series The Beginnings of Christianity and we see it in part in Richard Hays’ several volumes, not the least is his book on The Moral Teaching of the New Testament, though Hays has a little more of a narrative approach.
But clearly you can see it in Gerd Theissen.

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Michael W. Kruse

posted August 28, 2007 at 11:59 am

Scot, when I was in sociology grad school in the early 1980s, a small book I found that was very helpful was Derek Tidall’s The Social Context of the New Testament: A Sociological Analysis, first published in 1984. I still refer to it every now and then. I see it is still in print so some folks must still be getting use out of it.
While maybe not fitting perfectly into this genre, Kenneth Bailey combines understanding of culutral context with his extensive theological training to open up passages like no one I have ever seen. I think Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Combined edition) is on of the best books I have ever read. We have been using his DVD resources (from in Sunday School for months now and it is transfroming lives.

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Michael W. Kruse

posted August 28, 2007 at 12:01 pm

Michael W. Kruse

posted August 28, 2007 at 12:02 pm

Scott Watson

posted August 28, 2007 at 12:13 pm

Are you talking about Jimmy Dunn’s new book?
Yes,you are correct,Gerd Theissen is the master in this area;but he’s come under critique,too. Richard Horsley critiqued his characterization of the Jesus movement over some of these concerns.There seems to be a continumm of people working to similar ends but coming from differnt (and eclectic)methodological perspectives.You have those working in ancient history and social history like Bruce Winter to the likes of Bruce Malina and the Context Group, which has a decidedly social scientific bent. J.D. Crossan & Jonathan Reed’s In Search of Paul epitomizes this perspective with focus on archaeology, ancient history, social description. It’s interesting how there is some convergence across theological lines of those working in these areas in their bringing out the Pauling critique of Roman Imperial ideology and society,from NT Wright(who was trained in Roman history, I think)to Dom Crossan and Richard Horsley.
Although a great book, I would not put Richard Hays’ book The Moral Teaching of the New Testament under this umbrella at all.

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Ray slaybaugh

posted August 28, 2007 at 1:24 pm

I was quite surprised not to find the excellant work of Gottwald who was the true pioneer with his tribes of yahweh and his introduction to the o.t.
As an anthropologist, i am horrified by his misuse of douglas’s group/grid concept. Instead i would recomend mary dougla’s sociology of perception.

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Scot McKnight

posted August 28, 2007 at 1:28 pm

Hays has some affinities to Wayne Meeks, if my memory serves me right, but his emphasis is literary and narrative, not the sociological.
I did not read Gottwald, but it did make a big impact on OT studies. Are you commenting on Gottwald’s use of Douglas’ group-grid or Gottwald’s?
And are you suggesting another good source of anthropological studies is Douglas’ Sociology of Perception?

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posted August 28, 2007 at 1:57 pm

Having read James D. G. Dunn in Seminary and afterwards, I have a little trouble thinking of him as “Jimmy”. Sort of akin to thinking of F.F.Bruce as a homeboy.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 28, 2007 at 10:15 pm

I was thinking this morning a little, on this post I think, or at least now I am- that every field is somehow related to NT, Biblical studies, in some way. The writings are related to life, and these fields are about life. And I think it’s good to look at the writings themselves at every angle we can, while making it our endeavor, at the core, to let those writings do the work they as God’s word want to do.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 28, 2007 at 10:16 pm

And I should probably say, as God wants to do, through his living word and ongoing Story, in Jesus.

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tim atwater

posted August 30, 2007 at 11:55 am

The overall problem — referred to by Scott Watson in #1 — — is the tendency to read in and read back through our eyes.
one example that jumps out —
Horsley’s The Cycle of Violence was interesting but he got so focussed on the idea that tax collectors must be smaller scale toll collectors and not rich guys that he never even engaged with the text of Luke 19 (Zaccheus). and Jesus emerges as a non-violent revolutionary (i agree) but themes of loving enemy are virtually suppressed — based on reading back through sociological grids, not based on a reading of whole text.
I liked his editing on Paul and Empire a lot more. and i think he pushes some good envelopes.

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