Problematizing Religious Secrecy and Deviance

I just returned from Erfurt, Germany, where I attended a conference on Esotericism and Deviance put on by the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE).  I want to record some of my impressions of the conference and take-aways.

The word esotericism comes from the adjective esoteric, which has been used since ancient times to refer to religious movements and philosophical schools that keep at least some of their knowledge secret, so that it is reserved only for the members who join the group.  So in the case of the ancient texts I study, esotericism is equivalent to religious secrecy, and it is very easy to explore how groups tried to capitalize on the secrets for group bonding, and guard any deviant behavior or ideas within this secrecy so that the deviance is shielded from external gaze and retribution from society. 

My paper ("Deviant Christians") was on how this worked out for early Christian groups and affected their ability to recruit and survive intergenerationally.

The problem with esotericism comes when academics who study esoteric religious movements since the Renaissance have decided to call their field Esotericism.  You might not think this problematic until you realize that the term runs into trouble when esoteric religions meet popular culture in modernity and we end up with the wide distribution of occult secrets, a process that is now being called Occulture (occult+culture).  So Esotericism is no longer defined by religious secrecy.  It has become openly distributed knowledge.

What about deviance?  Is Esotericism then defined by deviancy?  It was clear from the papers at the conference that there was trouble in trying to deal with religious deviance and its relationship to Esotericism.  Scholars at the conference expressed great discomfort with the idea that Esotericism has to be deviant.  And I saw no real model emerge to handle this problem meaningfully.

I think the main trouble comes from the fact that to really work with the concept of deviance, you really have to do so from a sociological perspective.  You have to understand local culture and its dominant norms and what the esoteric movement is doing with them.  This means that what is deviant is going to change from locale to locale with many shifts over time and geography.  What is culturally deviant at one time, may become mainstream down the road.  So an esoteric movement might be deviant one day, and maybe move into the mainstream later on.  Does the religious movement remain esoteric in this case? 

I would argue that this question is not the question that needs to be answered.  What makes more sense to me is to problematize the issues that esoteric movements face and outline the patterns of response that result from the movements trying to handle these issues.  We can do this with ancient groups and modern groups the same.

  • How is the movement using religious secrecy as social capital and as a shield for its deviance? 
  • What social strategies does the group turn to in order to construct a movement that restricts its internal social network?  Why do this?
  • How does the esoterized group deal with issues like isolation and recruitment? 
  • Does the group lessen its deviance and begin to open its social network to outsiders? 
  • How does the group accommodate to societal expectations and traditional religious perspectives? 
  • How far does the group go public and reveal its secrets to increasing larger social networks? 
  • Or does the group stay isolated and secret, or become more isolated and secret over time? 
  • Why does the group choose these options? 
  • How do these options affect the long term survival of the group?

If we move to this kind of sociological problematizing, then deviance is most likely in the picture somewhere.  It is just a matter of trying to understand the dynamics of deviance within esoteric group formation and development.  No esoteric group is stable on any of these issues.  Esoteric movements are special because they choose to reserve their internal network to members only, and to bond around religious secrets which are very often deviant or countercultural.  This can only be mapped and understood on a case-by-case basis, which will reveal to us both variety and patterns of similarity.  It will tell us everything about the social process of esoterization and nothing about Esotericism.

All of this is to say that Esotericism as a field cannot be defined by deviancy, but it is essential for scholars who are involved in the field of Esotericism to unpack sociologically the relationship between deviancy and any given esoteric group.  While Esotericism cannot be defined by deviancy, it is a sociological dynamic experienced by esoteric groups that needs much more careful theoretical and historical attention.


Forging ahead: Leaving the Middle of Nowhere

It seems to me that we need a new introduction to biblical methodology that reflects what we have learned from postmodern philosophy. I envision chapters dedicated to complete revisions of our old tools, explaining where and why they went wrong, and then rebuilding the method from the ground up. I also envision chapters dedicated to newer methods that have entered our toolbox in the last twenty years. This would be an edited volume, written by various scholars dedicated to the project of revisioning our field and the way in which we approach the materials. It would not be a postmodern handbook which conceives of itself as "critical" and everything else as "non-critical". It would be a handbook that considers our field in the wake of postmodern critique in order to move us out of the Middle of Nowhere.

Leaving the Middle of Nowhere

A New Vision of Biblical Methods in the Wake of Postmodernity

Transtradition Criticism

If you have been following my blog over the years, you know that one of my keen interests is becoming aware of how we read texts and the assumptions we make as biblical scholars. Although I think that postmodern critique has been useful in highlighting problems of authorial intent, monolithic hermeneutics, and the politics of power, we must bear in mind that these problems were known to scholars of modernity already. The difference that I see between the modern and the postmodern discourses is that the postmodern critique has moved the conversations out of historical time into disembodied discourse without attachment to the empirical. This has left us in the Middle of Nowhere. It is suffocating the Humanities more broadly. It is isolating biblical scholars more and more from history, while supporting the growth of contemporary theological readings instead.

It is this move that haunts us now, and requires us, in my opinion, to re-examine our old tools and refashion them, rather than abandon them. We are in a crisis. The moment to act is now. We must return to a more pragmatic approach that takes seriously the empirical. Theory comes and goes, but the manuscripts, stones and bones remain. There are texts and there are authors and there are readers. And we need to deal with them as realities.

I have no desire to create some new grand theory. What I want to do is return to the old tools and identify why they failed. I want to remodel them in such a way that they work in a transmodern academic discourse, a discourse that moves us beyond the postmodern suffocation and the Middle of Nowhere.

I am stepping out here by beginning to talk about refashioning Tradition Criticism. I have finally settled on a name for the updated approach: Transtradition Criticism.

Transtradition Criticism

is an approach to texts, artifacts, and other cultural productions, which seeks to expose, explain and understand the production, meaning, use and transmission of t/Traditions within their historical fields of conversation. This approach is interested in investigating the dynamic interstitial spaces and networks between and across t/Traditions, exposing the politics of power and conceptions of the Other that support the structures of the t/Traditions. Transtradition Criticism is grounded in a pragmatic and embodied view of human beings as personal and social agents who actively and constantly (re)shape the t/Traditions to align with their experiences of themselves and their world. They are participants in personal and social conversations that support, create, modify and destroy t/Traditions.

I will post more as the remodeling continues.

Mellon Seminar Reflection 8: Whose history?

The seminar examined New Historicism for the past two weeks. Contrary to its title, New Historicism is not a method created by historians writing histories. It emerged from literary criticism among professors of Renaissance literature who were trying to illuminate literature with reference to historical sources and intertextuality investigating what Greenblatt (the originator of the approach and pictured here) calls Cultural Poetics. This approach developed in critic of New Criticism, not old-school German Historicism and Positivism. New Criticism is the common approach to literature with reads it ahistorically, focusing on single texts as enclosed units of narrative and imagery.

New Historicism or Cultural Poetics tries to examine the text in its context, while also asking how the text enforces the cultural practices that it depends on for its own production and dissemination. In this way, these critics draw attention to the processes being employed by contemporary power structures, like the chuch, state, and academy, to disseminate knowledge. They explore a text's historical context


its political implications, and then through a close textual analysis they note the dominant hegemonic position. New Historicism or Cultural Poetics is a politicized form of literary criticism with an eye toward historical contextuality. It is grounded in the critical theory of Foucault, the work of the Cultural Materialists, and anthropology of the variety espoused by Clifford Geertz who advocated writing "thick descriptions" of culture that explains human behavior within particular contexts rather than merely as part of symbolic systems.

After reading deeply into this scholarship, I really feel that New Historicism has a political mission. These critics are all about critiquing capitalism and market relations, and in my mind, retrofitting that critique back onto historical sources. So what they write often appears anachronistic, that is, bringing our contemporary values to play in the past. To their credit, they are aware of this, and so are willing to admit it in their analyses.

To do this, they read all literature and artifacts side-by-side with no distinction, mining what they call the cracks, slippages, fault lines and absences in the traditional historical narratives. While their willingness to eliminate canonical boundaries is to be applauded, I am less thrilled that they do not generally evaluate the differences in the media they examine. Various forms of materials were created with difference purposes and different intent, and what any of it can tell us about anything must be weighed carefully. A letter fragment and a gospel, for instance, are not the same thing. A masterpiece painting and a magical drawing in a recipe book are interesting, but they are not giving us similar information. What either might tell us needs discussion.

While I found much of their work stimulating, I was left a bit puzzled. How "new" is any of this? Historians have been dealing with cultural context, artifacts, and multiple texts for, well, forever. In religious studies, we have been dealing with breaking down canonical boundaries for over fifty years, and we have been discussing power relations and political agendas for at least as long. The differences are that historians are interested in getting at the meanings of the literature they are examining, and we want to investigate the politics of the time of the texts. New Historians are interested in exploring the various discourses that inform the literature they read, and are more motivated by contemporary politics which they think is somehow reflected in these discourses (in ways similar to the ideas of queer theorists or feminist theologians).

Mellon Seminar Reflection 7: Is knowledge a commodity?

Post-modernism and Post-colonialism were the subjects of the theory discussion this week. We characterized Post-modernism as "the collapse of the Grand Narrative" and Post-colonialism as "the writing of the 'Other'". One book that we reviewed was Lyotard (pictured),

The Post-Modern Condition

(1979) where the term was coined, 'post-modernism', to refer to the incredulity of the meta-narratives constructed by societies (how we can know everything through science; that we make progress in history; that there is absolute freedom; etc.). He points out how inadequate our big stories are, because they do not encompass us all. He is particularly critical of our commonly held narrative that knowledge must be efficient in order to be valuable. Thus if we can't prove that a certain type of knowledge is efficient or useful, it is pushed aside and we feel terror.

We highlighted the discourse of the Humanities in this light. The Humanities, because it does not offer efficient or useful knowledge, has lost its voice in the discourse of knowledge that pervades our society, particularly the scientific discourse. The discourse of knowledge that we are familiar with today is no longer a discussion of "is it true?" but "is it useful?" and "is it saleable?" Knowledge has become a commodity.

I keep thinking about our public education system and how much this discourse of knowledge has negatively impacted it. We now want teachers to give knowledge to the students like it is a commodity or good that can be exchanged, and


the student learn it. We judge whether or not this exchange has occurred by testing students and then tying teachers' jobs and salaries to their students' academic performance. The problem is that all knowledge is not a commodity, nor is all knowledge useable. And learning is not a contractual business exchange. While teachers have a responsibility to teach well, students and families have the responsibility to commit to learning even non-usable or non-applicable knowledge. Students' are responsible actors too. They are participants of power in their education.

Lyotard and other philosophers highlight two main discourses of knowledge: 1. the scientific discourse (efficient knowledge); 2. Narrative (non-efficient) knowledge. Lyotard also acknowledges the "sublime" which is knowledge at the edges of conceptualization, that can not be formulated via faith, imagination, or reason.

The post-modernists suggest that we set aside the metanarratives and focus on the fragmented stories or micro-narratives; that we live with a series of mini-narratives that are contemporary and relative. While truth doesn't disappear, it must be recognized as fragmentary. They call this fragmented truth "difference" so that knowledge becomes "difference". They do not want to understand difference as negative, as in "what it is not" (a cat is a cat because it is not a dog). What they want to say is that we are the ones who assign similitude to things; in reality there are just differences (a cat is a cat and a dog is a dog and they are different).

All of this raises a series of questions for me. While I am delighted to work on fragmented stories of the past, as a historian of 'heretics', I also must construct and operate from a larger narrative that makes sense of that past. I do not see unity as the enemy, nor do I see difference as the saint. We as human creatures are wired for narrative. Our brains work in such a way that we constantly construct unity from our own life's fragments, as we also construct differences. I would characterize humans as "comparativists" who understand unity and difference in relationship to each other. Narratives are necessary, even Grand ones, or life would be chaos for us all. So while the different must be embraced by the historian (and not judged negatively), the discussion of unity is still necessary. Any unity that is constructed must be reasonable and fair, one that accounts for the micro-narratives while also accounting for the practical course of history and the relationships between people and groups.

Thinking more about Traditions and traditions

When I think about my scholarship and my teaching, I am realizing that I am a tradition-critic in every sense of the word. Yes I am fascinated at tracking and explaining the emergence and transmission of traditions, but I am also involved in understanding the development of The Christian Tradition, as it is reflected and safeguarded by the normative churches. So I am involved in both aspects of the study of (T)(t)radition.

This has led me to reflect upon another aspect of what my scholarship is about. Being in two religious studies departments over the last fifteen years, rather than theology or biblical departments, has made a difference for me. It has allowed me to grow in my critical examination and evaluation of The Tradition, rather than become immersed in a type of scholarship whose purpose (whether intentional or not) is to shore up and support The Tradition, to use biblical approaches to legitimate again the old normative story.

The more I reflect upon this, the more I realize that this is at the heart of the problem I see in biblical scholarship - whether or not we are willing to question The Tradition and its power of normation, whether we are willing or not to work the materials from the 'other' side, to see what is there and how what is there bears on the normative narrative and exegetical tradition that is centuries old.

My work is more than the retrieval of the 'other' side. It is an attempt to integrate the 'other' side into the story before and as the process of normation was underway. To do so means to cut into the story that The Tradition created, to see how it was put together in the fashion it was, and why. It has never been my experience that The Tradition is left intact. Yet, I have never felt that we are left with nothing. There is a new wholeness that emerges, although one that The Tradition may not (want) to recognize.

Thinking about Tradition v. tradition

Professor Kocku von Stuckrad from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands has been stranded in Houston due to the eruption of the volcano and the cancellation of his flight home after the Hidden God conference. So today he joined my seminar and discussed the methodology which he has been developing to analyze the history of Western Esotericism and published a few weeks ago in his new book Locations of Knowledge in Medieval and Early Modern Europe.

It was a pleasure to hear him discuss how he approaches the problem of pluralism in the ancient world and his constructive views. What struck me about our conversation was the difference in our usage of words. I don't know if this is because he was trained in Europe and I in the States, but it has caused me to pause again and consider again that even though we may be using the same words in our analyses, we do not necessarily mean the same thing.

Part of our discussion centered on the word 'tradition' which von Stuckrad has set aside in favor of another concept, 'discursive field'. He does so because 'tradition' means for him 'the' centrist religions and is not able to handle the material 'outside' 'the' tradition except on 'the' tradition's own terms. Discursive field, however, allows him to talk about any field of knowledge (like 'journeys to heaven') without being bound to 'the' tradition's perspective of it.

I identify as a tradition-critic. But my understanding and use of the word 'tradition' is not the same as von Stuckrad's. I don't use it to mean 'the' tradition or the Tradition, as a referent to the centrist religion and its normation. I use it in the sense of 'tradition' with a little 't': as those ideological holdings and practices belonging to a group and transmitted by them over time. I think that I am using the term 'tradition' in the same way that von Stuckrad is using 'discursive field'.

So this afternoon was enlightening for me, reminding me how careful I need to be to define the terms I am using in my academic writing, and never to assume that my colleagues, especially across the Atlantic, are using them in the same manner.

Self-perservation and the Gospel of John

I haven't been blogging too much lately because I have been up to my neck in research on the Gospel of John as I am preparing for the upcoming Hidden God, Hidden Histories conference. This research has been both enlightening and depressing, a sort of high and low of my academic journey.

I have known for a long time that traditions are conservative and self-interested, but what is coming home for me in a very real way is just how much the traditions are safe-guarded by the dominant group - be it the mainstream churches or the academy - and how far the dominant group will go to protect them. The interests and preservation of those interests often become the end-all, even at the expense of historical truth. The rationalizations, the apologies, the 'buts', the tortured exegesis, the negative labeling, the side-stepping, the illogical claims accumulate until they create an insurmountable wall that preserves both church and academy, which remain (uncomfortably so for me) symbiotic.

The entrenchment of the academy is particularly worrisome for me. Scholars' works are often spun by other scholars, not to really engage in authentic critical debate or review, but to cast the works in such a way that they can be dismissed (if they don't support the entrenchment) or engaged (if they do). In other words, fair reproduction of the author's position and engagement with it does not seem to me to be the top priority. The quest for historical knowledge does not appear to me to be the major concern. It usually plays back seat to other issues including the self-preservation of the ideas and traditions of the dominant parties - those who control the churches, and the academy with its long history of alliance with the churches.

I already know that what I have to say about the critical history of the Gospel of John and the origins of Christianity is going to be countered with the full force of the church and academic tradition that has built up around the fourth gospel a secure armor of 'correct' and 'permitted' interpretation, an exegetical tradition as old as the Johannine epistles that has worked to normalize, to deradicalize, to tame the beast. What I have to say is 'not allowed' speech, 'can't be' talk.

Even so I continue to study and write, to speak the unspeakable in my quest to remain fully engaged with the critical investigation of Christian history.

A call to dialogue between postmodernists and historical critics

I am so glad that John van Seters published his response (Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 9.26 [2009]) to Aichelle, Miscall, and Walsh's call for dialogue between historical critics and postmodernists (JBL 128.2 [2009] 383-404). I came across Seters article via the Dunedin School blog.

It will be no surprise that I hold very similar criticisms to Aichelle, Miscall, and Walsh's position. I have been wanting to take a moment to respond on my blog to this 'call' for dialogue since I read it last summer. So now appears to be a great opportunity to do so.

1. It has become evident to me especially in the last year that postmodernism is not a method, and should not be confused with a method, and is not a substitute for empirical research. It does not move us "beyond" the rigors of historical criticism. Rather Postmodernism is a set of critiques and attitudes toward texts and their interpretation that are largely dependent on modernism and historical criticism's own hermeneutic of suspicion.

2. The historian relies on empirical data gathered by using a critical, rational, contextual approach to the materials being studied. In Europe this is called "the scientific" approach to the study of religion rather than the "theological approach".

3. The postmodern approach, which divorces literature from historical context and questing for 'authorial' intent, is more amenable to churched traditions and theological readings which have been at odds with historical methods for 200 years. It claims that texts have a diversity of meanings that are located in the point of view of those reading it and the intertextual associations that those readers make. Thus many postmodernists want to conclude from this that historical interpretation is no more meaningful or valuable than any other. It is as 'ideological' and 'mythic' as the next. This conclusion is very dangerous and very inaccurate for some of the reasons that I outline in #4.

4. The historian is no idiot. Every generation of historians has critiqued its outcomes, well aware that personal biases affect the interpretation or assemblage of the data. In fact, this is a point that I first learned when I was an undergraduate in college in a history class. My professor called it "our colored glasses", and how it was necessary for us to be aware of them because they would affect our interpretation of the data. The fact that we all have biases that affect the interpretative process does not suggest that the historical critical method does not work or that it is 'mythic' or equivalent in validity with any other interpretation. On the contrary! The historian's own hermeneutic of suspicion and agreement to employ a critical or scientific approach to understanding our past demonstrates that the historical method works and that over time, as more and more historical interpretations and critiques of these interpretations are generated, we get a better and better grasp of our past and what was going on.

That's all I have time for today. I need to get back to cleaning and organizing my office, but at least it is a start to the 'dialogue' called for by Aichelle, Miscall and Walsh.

What is it about biblioblogging...?

What is it about biblioblogging that invites misreading, mischaracterizations and negative assessments of other bloggers' posts? Is it the speed by which a post is 'read' or the desire to sensationalize everything written or the wish to inflame readers and spread fear among them or the easiness of stereotyping and plugging every argument into an either-this-or-that category when in fact the argument is complex?

What did I say yesterday? I said that as a historian I find the combination of historical-criticism, literary criticism and social-scientific approach to be the most advantageous. I said that I felt that nothing can replace historical-criticism and if we are going to recover history this is not going to be done via literary criticism alone. We must continue to train our students rigorously in historical-criticism even though post-modern interpretation is sweeping the academy.

I laid out the principles of historical criticism as I use them, so that all can see the assumptions I start with. I do this in every book I write too, because I want my readers to know what my approach is and what my presumptions are. There is no neutral text, and there is no neutral interpretation as I have said countless times (so often in fact that I am getting tired of needing to continue to write it, but I guess I do because other bloggers keep criticizing me for missing this very point?!). However, this does NOT make all interpretations equally valuable for the historical endeavor. This is where I draw the line on theological interpretation and confessional perspectives. They are fine for certain discussions, as long as they are not being paraded out as historical or confused with the historical.

As for the historical-critical approach and feminism. There is nothing anti-feminist about the historical approach in and of itself. What is anti-feminist is its application which has been controlled by white (mainly European) males since only recently. So the kind of history that has been recovered and written has been the history of the dominant group, and it is the history that justifies and sustains that group. Here again we are talking about white males who are in power and who wish to remain so. When our histories, whether religious or social or political, have been written and put into text books and taught to our children, it is the history of the dominant group - their master commemorative narrative - that we are disseminating. Now this is not new news. It is ho-hum by now and I imagine you are yawning.

So what have we done about this now that we have recognized it because feminist scholarship and literary critical methods have brought this to our attention? We have gone back and added a paragraph about important women in our textbooks and we have minted coins with Anthony's face on it, coins that we never use! But we haven't rewritten our histories to reflect what we are learning about the hidden histories and the marginalized past nor have we commemorated it as a society (this is especially true of our religious histories - which is why I am writing Sex and the Serpent). Why not add a paper dollar to those we use already, and put Anthony on it? Why not make a government holiday commemorating the Suffrage movement? Why not rename important boulevards with the names of women we wish to commemorate? Etc.

So the biggest "new" piece to the historical-critical puzzle which I included yesterday in my ten principles, is that the historical-critical method I use has been opened up to be aware of the marginalized histories, that - as my mom used to say - there are always two-sides to a story. As a historical-critic, I recognized a long time ago that the dominant story we are told in most of our texts is not the way things were (or for that matter 'are').

This is the call of our generation - to understand our past more fully and appreciate the variety and complexity of it. We need to give proper credit to the marginalized histories for their own sake, but also with the recognition that the dominant stories would not be what they are if those it marginalized had not lived.

Choosing your method

Today I want to address the issue of methodology which any reader of my blog knows is on my mind frequently. I see my generation of scholars in a precarious situation in terms of method because so many have left the hard work of historical criticism to pursue the post-modern literary trends that are of interest to so many in the academy, especially those scholars who are confessional or interested in contemporary theological interests. Literary criticism can provide the means to disengage with history while still leaving the impression that what has been done is a historical investigation.

I have nothing against literary criticism. In fact, various literary methods inform my research. But as I have argued in my publications and on this blog, literary methods alone are not a replacement for historical criticism, because they do not operate by the same assumptions and they do not seek to answer the same questions. I have discovered that the best methodological approach seeks to bring three fields together : historical criticism, literary criticism, and social-scientific criticism.



can replace historical criticism, and training in it is the best thing that we can give our students whether they know that or not. Without it, we run the risk of falling into the erotics of the text itself or apologetics, and confusing history with story (or worse theology) and


/re-contextualizing its conversation. So you have to choose. There isn't a middle ground. You can't research and write from a semi-historical method. There is no such thing. If you do this, you are allowing your confessional stance to influence your history. It is like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren't. Either you are a historian operating by the critical perspective, or you are not.

These are

the 10 'commandments' or 'operating principles' for the historical-critical interpretation of ancient texts

which inform my research:


There is no such thing as a neutral text.

There is always power and persuasion involved.


The author always has a viewpoint and that viewpoint is always engaging another viewpoint

(hidden or open) whether to


against it or to develop it or to interpret it or to pass it on.

3. When the text is read against the grain (not for its intended purpose of persuasion to its own viewpoint and its own 'history'), the social dynamics of the text become visible

and voices that are hidden by the author begin to emerge.

It is the job of the historian to not only concentrate on recovering the dominant voice(s) in the text, but the submerged and oft-silenced voices too



The text is not reporting history

, it is reporting theology and it is using story to do so. This makes recovering history extremely difficult because all is not as it seems. We need to ask questions such as why is the author reporting his history and his theology this way? What other histories and theologies does the author know about? What traditions has the author received? How has the author shaped those traditions? Why has he shaped them in the manner that he has? Who has something to gain by this view of history and theology? Who has something to lose by this view of history and theology? What are the author's assumptions and how do these impact the author's narrative? How is the author's narrative related to other narratives? How is the author's narrative related to history? Etc.


There is always something before, during and after the text.

The traditions it yields are part of a dynamic ideological, social, and religious network with strong geographical semblance. This geographical semblance developed along the roads, trade routes, sea routes, that connected the major cities and the various intellectual schools in those cities.


There is rarely (perhaps never) an either-or solution to our texts.

We must not expect things to fit nicely in two boxes. The real historical situation is complex and complicated, and any solution we develop must be willing to pull things out of the boxes and allow them to get messy.


There is no such thing as 'background' to a text or a tradition.

The text or tradition is fully immersed and fully engaged in the dynamics of ancient culture written and performed and transmitted from the minds of ancient people. The author isn't grabbing this idea from here and that idea from there, and so forth, and accurately representing them. The author is a person of his time and culture in which he is immersed in the richness and dynamics of his world where things are not laid out in neat columns, but are mixed up, and often confused. He may know bits and pieces of things due to his cultural exposure, but those bits and pieces may or may not be accurate representations of the ideas. Most often they have been arranged into some kind of pattern that makes sense to the author, but doesn't necessarily represent the bits and pieces accurately. For instance, if he were living in Alexandria, he likely is exposed to


. But this doesn't mean that what he knows about


is actually what the Hermetics were practicing in their lodge meetings. And his mixed up versions of things may become foundational for later people.

8. To understand the texts historically,

it is necessary to figure out the ancient mindset the best we can, mapping its assumptions and expectations, and allow those to inform our reading of the text.

This can only be garnered through a cautious cross-cultural study of the ancient peoples who lived around the


, reading from medical literature, studying archaeological remains, shifting through documentary evidence, engaging the whole range.


There is nothing new under the sun.

The perspectives transmitted in these texts are part of a social memory dynamic that constantly shuffles received traditions to align them with the present experiences of the individuals and groups.


The historian must remain skeptical of what the author of the text claims to be true or false.

What do I mean by 'confessional'?

I can't seem to find a satisfying word to describe religiously-invested scholars whose contributions are apologetic in orientation. When I used 'apologetic' people objected. When I used 'conservative-progressive' people objected. When I used 'theological' people objected. Maybe people just want to object? If someone has a better descriptor, I'd be happy to entertain it.

My point in using confessional (or any of the other descriptors I have tried out on this blog) is that scholars who are so invested theologically in a religious tradition and its maintenance are willing to suspend what we know to be factual about our world in order to read their scriptures as fact. These scholars confuse their confessional tradition with history and justify it as history, when in fact what they are justifying is actually theology.

Can a Christian be a historian of Christianity? Of course. But I would qualify this: only if that Christian is not invested in maintaining Christian theology as history in their academic contributions. That Christian must first and foremost be operating critical of the religion, and must be unwilling to cave in to the pressure of making theological claims historical knowledge. So training in historical-critical method is essential, as is vigilance in maintaining this orientation.

The never-ending confusion about perspective

As many of my readers know, I have written many posts already on the historical-critical method and how essential it is for scholars in biblical studies to make the choice between confessional scholarship and historical scholarship. As Jesus said, "It is impossible to serve two masters, or one will be honored and the other insulted."

There is a big difference between confessional scholarship and its working assumptions and historical-critical scholarship and its working assumptions, and we must never confuse the two. Confessional scholarship is willing to compromise and apologize in order to keep 'history' aligned with the faith tradition. It is willing to understand theology as history and write about knowledge in these terms. Historical-critical scholarship is built on the presuppositions of the scientific search for knowledge. It is unwilling to allow theology to be history.

If you are at all uncertain about this distinction, it is easiest to see it when you look at a religion that is not your own and the claims to truth that religion makes. Think about claims that are made about Mohammad, Buddha, or any religion that has "historical" founders or scriptures. Its views on their founders are theology historicized. They are religious truth claims that have been accepted as fact by believers from that tradition, and scholars who work in that tradition. Those outside that tradition recognize this easily.

The easiest example of this in Christianity (which I have also discussed on numerous occasions previously) is the physical resurrection of Jesus. Confessional scholars are willing (some even feel compelled) to allow for the physical resurrection of Jesus to be historical fact. Of course it is not. Dead bodies don't come back to life. And Jesus' body did not come back to life. This is a theological doctrine that was historicized in the literature of the early believers. Those outside of Christianity, and non-confessional academics in another field (like science) see this immediately.

The virgin birth story is another example. Confessional scholars are willing to allow for Jesus' birth from a virgin. This is theology that they have confused with history. Of course Jesus had a human father -whether it was Joseph or someone else. Children aren't born without an egg fertilized by a sperm. If you really want to get silly about this, in the case of Jesus, since he was male, he had to get his Y chromosome from somewhere. Since dads are the only transmitters of the Y chromosome, he had to have a dad. And it wasn't the holy spirit. Even the Valentinians laughed at that logic since everyone knew the holy spirit was Jesus' mom. She was a female!

Humor aside, this is a very serious issue for our field, and now that post-modernism is gripping the academy, we see the abuse of philosophy in order to bolster the positions of confessional scholars who want to continue to make the argument that their theology (and their scripture) is history. They confuse the idea that since all positions are subjective, the scientific position has no better claim to truth than their own.

Of course there is a difference, and in the case of the scientific approach is does a more accurate job recovering history than a theological approach because these approaches have different sets of assumptions they begin with. The scientific approach does not allow you to mistake theology for history, nor does it allow you to mistake the doctrines that developed in the religious tradition to be the history that the tradition says they are. The scientific approach knows that this is the way that the religion justifies its doctrines; it is no history. But confessional scholars are willing to excuse its religious doctrine for history and even bolster this justification by (mis)using philosophy, literary criticism and the social sciences to try and argue that there is nothing we can know for certain because there is no objective truth, so their truth is as historical as any other.

I can't write more today because I am home with a sick five year old (as I was yesterday). But I hope in the next few days to continue my train of thought, because I think this is the MOST IMPORTANT discussion of my generation - whether we are willing or not to abandon our field to confessional claims to knowledge and truth in the post-modern age.

Gender Inequality: Is the problem the bible?

The bible is the problem in our society, in as much as patriarchalism and male domination has been and continues to be interpreted as sacred decree, and mobilized in our lives as such. It is mobilized in ways that are both conscious and unconscious. It is insidious and it is structural and it is accepted as the way things are.

My position here is not new by any stretch of the imagination. It has been recognized since the 1800s when the Suffrage Movement was in full swing. In fact, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (pictured on the left) set out to revise the traditionally male interpretations, by employing the few women during her time who were educated to read the primary languages and had learned the history to write commentaries on all the passages from Genesis through Revelation that concerned women. She says that some of the invited women refused to participate in the project because they feared "they might compromise their evangelical faith by affiliating with those of more liberal views, who do not regard the Bible as the 'Word of God' but, like any other book, to be judged by its own merits" (p. 9). The preface to her book,

The Woman's Bible

, was written in 1895. She opens her book by identifying the problem with the traditional way in which the Genesis story has been interpreted by men who use it to demonstrate that woman is a sinner and inferior being (p. 7):

From the inauguration of the movement for woman's emancipation, the Bible has been used to hold her in the "divinely ordained sphere," prescribed in the Old and New Testaments. The canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of man, and for man, an inferior being, subject to man. Creeds, codes, Scriptures and statutes are all based on this idea...The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced...Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up.

Towards the end of her introduction, she writes very openly about her own view as a woman living in 1895 (pp. 12-13):

The only points in which I differ from all ecclesiastical teaching is that I do not believe that any man ever saw or talked to God, I do not believe that God inspired the Mosaic code, or told the historians what they say he did about woman, for all the religions on the face of the earth degrade her, and so long as woman accepts the position that they assign her, her emancipation is impossible. Whatever the Bible may be made to do in Hebrew or Greek, in plain English it does not exalt and dignify woman...There are some general principles in the holy books of all religions that teach love, charity, liberty, justice and equality for all the human family, there are many grand and beautiful passages, the golden rule has been echoed and re-echoed around the world. There are lofty examples of good and true men and women, all worthy of our acceptance and imitation whose lustre cannot be dimmed by the false sentiments and vicious character bound up in the same volume. The Bible cannot be accepted or rejected as a whole, its teachings are varied and its lessons differ widely from each other...[in their discrimination of women] the canon law, the Scriptures, the creeds and codes and church discipline of the leading religions bear the impress of fallible man, and not of our ideal great first cause, "the Spirit of all Good," that set the universe of matter and mind in motion, and by immutable law holds the land, the sea, the planets, revolving round the great centre of light and heat, each its own elliptic, with millions of stars in harmony all singing together, the glory of creation forever and ever.

I find these words to be astonishing. In fact, I find the words written by both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Gage (I'll make a separate post about her soon) to be so brave and daring that I want to weep. How did these women find the courage to stand up and say these things publicly, especially at a time when the Suffrage Movement was trying to link up with the Temperance Movement? The Women's Christian Temperance Union was a powerful group of evangelical women who were religiously conservative, and wanted to get the right to vote in order to legislate their understanding of biblical morality in the form of prohibition. They argued that it was the God-given duty of women to oversee the morality of their families and they wanted the right to vote to bring that to the public and state.

In fact Stanton's position was disliked by Susan B. Anthony (pictured on the left) who wanted more than anything else to merge the two movements because Anthony recognized that divided the parties would never get enough political power to achieve the right to vote. She thought that if we changed the politics and got women the right to vote, that we would then be able to change the religion to reflect our political equality. So Anthony wrote to Olympia Brown:

I suppose your feeling of my change is the same as that of Mrs. Gage and Mrs. Stanton - that is because I am not as intolerant of the so-called Christian women as they are - that therefore I have gone, or am about to go over to the popular church. I do not approve of their system of fighting the religious dogmas of the people I am trying to convert to my doctrine of equal rights to women. But if they can afford to distrust my religious integrity, I can afford to let them.

Stanton and Gage disagreed with Anthony. They thought that the right to vote was essential, but that it alone would not change our equality as long as the Bible and the way it was mobilized to subordinate women continued. Even though Stanton still stayed in the coalition and even was elected its President (Gage left and founded the Women's Liberal Union), she never gave up this view. In her introduction (pp. 10-11), she writes that some of her female colleagues (she must be referring to Anthony) say that:

it is not politic to rouse religious opposition. This much-lauded policy is but another word for cowardice. How can women's position be changed from that of a subordinate to an equal, without opposition, without the broadest discussion of all the questions involved in her present degradation? For so far-reaching and momentous a reform as her complete independence, an entire revolution in all existing institutions is inevitable.

So here we find ourselves just over a hundred years later, ninety years after women got the right to vote. What has changed? Certainly we have made progress. Women are being educated, have careers outside the home, have changed some laws to make them more equitable. But look around. Look at the stats on the web. Women make less money for equal work outside the home. Women do not equally receive higher degrees, nor do they advance in their professions at the same rate as men. We have far fewer women judges than men, far fewer women legislators than men, and still no woman in the White House. The equal rights amendment failed. Our churches are run mainly by men, and even in those liberal protestant traditions, women are not seated in senior pastoral positions as frequently as men.

When I look around, what I see is that Stanton and Gage were right. For women to ever achieve equality in our society, our understanding of the bible and its interpretation must change.

Gender is on my mind

Perhaps it is just coincidence that as I finish off chapter 3 of

Sex and the Serpent

, I have begun to see the biblioblog world differently. I am becoming more and more aware of how insidious sexism is, how it is institutionalized, how it is around us in ways we don't recognize, how what we do or don't do fosters it without our knowing it. A simple thing like a blog roll and who is on it can make a huge difference. If that blog shows up on 200 other blogs every time the author posts, consider how that multiples her voice. Consider the thousands of readers of our blogs who might look at that blog roll and see her post and think, hey, that looks interesting, think I will go over there and check it out.

I am keenly aware that our time is not a feminist time, but a negative reaction to it, or some would say against it. I have even noticed a turning back for women, as if we are so exhausted with the fight, that we are hunkering down in the trenches and retreating just to try to keep some of the ground that we have gained over the last thirty years. And men continue to dominate the churches, men continue make more money for equal work (in fact we are now losing ground in this stat the last time I looked it up), men continue to dominate the courts and the senates and the congresses, men continue to dominate institutions of higher education, men continue to dominate the corporate world. What is happening in the majority of homes, I can only guess, but I do know this, domestic violence is continues to plague our country and it is statistically the men who are violent to the women and children they live with.

My suspicion is that much of the male domination continues because deep in our communal psyche the bible reigns, where women are dominated by men from chapter 2 of Genesis, and depending on your interpretation of Genesis 1:27, perhaps even from chapter 1 itself. In fact, Paul read Genesis 1:27 in a radically patriarchal way, understanding it to mean that only men are created in the image of God, leaving women to be the "glory of men" (1 Cor 11:7). The male domination we experience today is not just social, something that can be changed through reasonable measures we take in society-building, because the domination is divinely ordained. It is fixed, something that God set it in place and women deserve because they are the temptresses and sinners who wrought (and still wreck) disaster on men and the world. No matter if we agree or disagree with this, it is out there among us, in the communal consciousness. Matilda Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were right. The biggest obstacle to the equality of women in our society is the bible, the Genesis story in particular.

I have been lamenting this for a long time, but now I am becoming angry about it. I have taught on the subject of women and the bible for fifteen years, and yet it is now as I write about the subject that the hundreds of years of suppression, the hundreds of years of divine sanction for male authority and domination, the hundreds of years of women's often willing silence is rolling over me. At times is is hard for me to write because my feelings of pain are so strong.

So today I want to leave you with some words I wrote yesterday for chapter 3 of my book, about the women in Corinth who faced Paul and his patriarchalism, women who read Genesis 1:27 very differently from Paul - to mean that they too were created in God's image and should no longer wear the authority of their husband's on their heads:

"From Paul's argument we can gather that the women in Corinth had removed their veils (at least while worshiping) in order to align their social lives with their spiritual experience. They had mobilized their church by making their spiritual experience a social reality. Since they had been baptized in Christ and received his spirit, they believed that they had been recreated in the androgynous image of God. As such, the strict gender hierarchy of their immediate world had been abolished for them. Freed from these constraints, they tore off their veils, toppling the male hierarchy and dismissing the now-illegitimate authority of their husbands. This is an astonishingly brave action for them to have undertaken, since it would have marked them to other Jews and Romans as licentious women, even adulteresses, a point which Paul takes great strides to press home."

Creating Jesus 6: Unfulfilled expectations

There is one more impulse toward Christology that appears to me to be behind all of this. When the formation of new religious movements is studied from a sociological and psychological perspective, it is the case in prophetic movements that the death of the leader puts the community in crisis. There is a liminal period in which the movement has to reassess and if it is going to go on it has to choose new leadership and/or new direction.

Now I am not one to psychologize Jesus. I have no idea who he actually thought he was. But I do know that his close followers thought he was some kind of Messiah - be it a prophet, a king, or a priest. The question in scholarship has always been whether this perception of Jesus originated before or after his death, and much of the literature since Wrede's Messianic Secret has leaned toward after his death.

I'm not convinced. The way I reason through this problem is this: the criminal death of Jesus was a serious obstacle to the proof of his Messiahship. The Christians spend a lot of time explaining in their writings how it is that the Messiah would suffer and would be killed in the worse way possible, a death cursed by the law. And by in large their explanations did not convince very many Jews. So to develop Jesus into a Messiah figure after his criminal death doesn't make as much sense to me as trying to reinterpret the traditional Messianic expectations to fit new historical circumstances. This is what we would expect, in fact, given what we know about social memory formations. They take previously held expectations that are not fulfilled and shift them in such a way to make them conform to the historical reality and experiences of the community.

So I think it is very reasonable to think that a third impulse to create the Christology that the first Christians did was that their original expectations of Jesus while he was alive were not met in his death. In other words, the expectation of the Jesus movement prior to his death appear to have been that of a more traditional Messiah - likely some type of prophet-king - and when he did not fulfill that role, but was executed instead, they literally had to go back to the drawing board and reconfigure their thinking about who Jesus was in order for their movement to continue.

They did this by returning to their scriptures. But more on this in the next post.

Creating Jesus 5: Why did the Christians "create" Jesus?

After laying down the ground rules, the first thing that I think we need to tackle is why the early Christians began to construct the picture(s) of Jesus they did? In other words, what inspired them to form their first christologies? What impulse(s) caused them to want to understand Jesus in "divine" categories beyond their memories of him as their Jewish teacher and leader?

These are not easy questions for sure, and it is necessary to keep in mind that a complex of impulses worked in conjunction with each other to form Christology. As Christianity mobilized and became geographically more and more diverse, the Christological formulations will also diversify. My study of the literature has revealed three major Christological paradigms that are connected with different geographical locales. So I will discuss diversity very shortly.

For now, let's just consider impulse. Why develop Christological schema at all?

One of the strongest impulses I have been able to recover from the literature is the need for the early Christians to attach some meaning or value to the troubling death of Jesus. Allusions and interpretations of his death are across the literature, deeply engrained from the very beginning of Christianity. Yes, even in Q, and even in Thomas. Both know Jesus died, and both offer meaning to that death. Now our different sources know or offer different meanings for his death, but know about it they do.

Why was it so troubling? Because he died as a Roman criminal. His criminal death was a problem that I cannot overemphasize. It was good for nothing in terms of theology. It was not good for trying to convert Romans, and it was not good for trying to convert Jews. It in fact was a liability that the Christians apologize for and explain over and over and over again in their literature.

But we can imagine from the explanations they provide for Jesus' death that some of their first questions following Jesus' death were likely along these lines:

Why was our leader killed as a criminal?
Why did God allow this to happen?
Where was Jesus now?
What would happen next?
What are we supposed to do now?

A second impulse that I think we have to take very seriously, again because it is all over the various layers of traditions (age and geography), were the followers' claims to visions of Jesus after his death. They claimed to have apocalypses of Jesus, to see him or talk to him after he died. Although we might see these as only their stories, it is clear from their writings that they understood these visions to be significant religiously. And because of this, their religiously interpreted experiences influenced sharply the development of Christology.

Creating Jesus 4: Religiously Interpreted Experiences

Our sources are filled with claims of visions of the divine, hearing the voice of God, where the person says that he or she encounters God immediately and directly (what we call mysticism). It is not necessary for the historian to make decisions about whether or not the people in the stories really and truly saw God or heard his voice and move to explain this as hallucinations or madness. These internal or private "events" are similar to miracles. They are interpreted and given a very particular religious value. Whatever was experienced by the person (which I have no way of verifying or not, since it is an internal event) is understood by the person or those who transmit his or her story as authentic religious experiences (or in some cases like Simon Magus, inauthentic - remember the religious community holds the hermeneutical keys). Whatever may have happened in actuality becomes a religiously interpreted experience in our source.

Like miracles (which also may represent human experiences that have become religiously interpreted as miraculous), mystical experiences are very interesting to the historian because they tell us how the seer understands a number of things about his or her world. His or her religiously interpreted experience (particularly if the person is a founder of a tradition) can impact significantly the orientation and growth of the religion.

So although I won't say as an historian that a religion started when "God so-and-so appeared to Mr. so-and-so" and commissioned him (thereby making a religious claim historical fact), I can and should say that "one of the significant impacts on the origin of religion such-and-such is Mr. so-and-so's vision in which he understood God so-and-so to have commissioned him" (thereby understanding the religious claim as a hermeneutic that impacted the history of the religion).

The same is true of miracles. Although I won't say that Jesus walked on water (thereby making a religious claim historical fact), I can and should say that it is evident from the nature miracle stories that some of the first Christians understood Jesus in highly exalted categories, capable of doing what is not normally done by humans, like walking on water or multiplying food or walking through closed doors. These are actions that readers then and now would have attributed to divine men and gods, not your average Joe (thereby understanding the miracle claim as a hermeneutic that tells us something about early Christian theology rather than history).

Creating Jesus 3: we must say "no" to the miraculous

There is always a negative reaction to any serious discussion of miracles that I have in the classroom (virtual or real). The gut reaction that people have is: who is to tell me that miracles don't happen or couldn't have happened. And behind this lurks the claim that God can do anything God wants to do. Let's unpack this even though it makes people so uncomfortable (and as a warning, there will probably be a lot of things I am going to say in this long series of posts that will make for discomfort).

The claim to the miraculous is not the same as the claim to the unexplainable. Something might happen to me that I can't explain (in fact things happen to me quite often that I don't have a ready explanation for), but it doesn't become a miracle until I make it a miracle, a manifestation of the supernatural, by my interpretation of the event.

This is a very important distinction to make. Humans experience events all the time that have no ready explanation for them. But it is only our move to


those events as "miracles" and then as "religious miracles" and then as "religious miracles of a particular religious kind" that make the event supernatural and grant it miraculous meaning.

This is why I emphasized in so many of my ground rules that our sources are humanly-authored and reflect human experience and very particular interpretations of those experiences. We are NOT to assume what is said by these authors is what actually happened, could have happened, might have happened, or should have happened. Our sources are records of how the Christians came to understand their experiences and frame them religiously and yes, miraculously, in very very particular and even peculiar ways.

Traditional Greek Icon: Jesus Walks on Water

Let's take the example of Jesus walking on water. What are reasoned (or critical) explanations for the story?

1. The Christians made it up whole cloth to make a theological statement about Jesus: that what he could do was so miraculous that he could walk on water which no normal human being could do. This proves his divinity. Only gods walk on water.
2. There was an event that was remembered and interpreted as miraculous. This sort of miraculous embellishment happens all the time in storytelling. Need I remind us of a very recent event in which Eilan Gonzalez, the five-year old boy who survived a sea journey from Cuba on a homemade raft, became "The Miracle Child" over the course of a couple of days. His story became a story about dolphins protecting him from sharks so that he was in perfect condition when he got to Florida (they forgot to mention that his mom had wrapped him in her coat, tied him to an inner tube and gave him a bottle of water which allowed him to survive the elements). Then the Santerian priests began to embellish the "miracle" by saying that Eilan had been saved by "angels at sea." Although this is a religious miraculous interpretation, apparently it had developed from the five-year old's "eyewitness" testimony that he thought an angel kept him company at night. Finally his story was keyed to Catholic interpretation: Castro became Herod, Clinton became Pilot, and Elian became the Messiah. This is an example of a modern miracle during an age when we can document what actually happened and interview the eyewitnesses. I hope you can see from this the problems with eyewitness testimony even a few days after the event.

If the story of Jesus walking on water was completely fabricated or had its roots in some historical event, we can never know. We can conjecture all we want about a terrible storm in which Jesus and his disciples were caught on a boat and Peter almost drowned and Jesus was able to rescue him against all odds, but the fact remains that Jesus' walk on water is an interpretation that makes it a miracle. The miracle is framed in such a way that Jesus does something a normal human can't do. This works to prove to the audience that Jesus is a god.

So the ground rule remains the same: we must say "no" to the miraculous as history. The move to the miraculous is interpretative and theological. So while miracles might interest us as historians because they will tell us a lot about how Jesus was interpreted by the early Christians, they are not historical events - not in Christianity, not in Judaism, not in Islam, not in Buddhism, not in Hinduism, not in any religion.

Creating Jesus 2: Ground rules

Before we start on the adventure of determining how a Jewish rabbi became God, we need to establish the ground rules (our method and assumptions).

1. This is a critical venture, not an apologetic one. This is perhaps the most important ground rule we can put into place, and stick by at all costs. What the theologians back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries realized is that for the study of religion to be an academic enterprise comparable to the study of history or literature or the arts, it cannot be apologetic. If we want to understand how any religion comes into existence and grows, we cannot be invested in the promotion or rescue of that particular religion. We have to leave our own theological interests at the door.

2. We cannot grant special privileges to the religion we are studying. This means that we cannot allow for God to perform miracles when it is convenient for our explanations. We cannot suspend what we know to be scientifically true about our world and grant a religion special treatment or supernatural explanations. The critical study of religion is not about proving or defending one's own religious beliefs or the special claims of a particular religious community. It isn't about disproving them either. The critical study of religion does not amount to outsiders attacking what should not be attacked. It is about dealing fair and square with religion in an objective scientific manner using reason that relies on verifiable research, and not allowing for special knowledge of God, revelations, or privileges to be granted to the religion. For those people who want to use the post-modern avoidance strategy and argue that there is no objective truth but only pluralisms, well you need to go back and reread your philosophy and your science. Although the historical enterprise is recognizably subjective, this does not mean that it is unscientific or that it does not result in research that is as objective as possible.

3. We must suspend canonical thinking and boundaries. We must deal equitably with all of our ancient sources, having no preconceived judgments about them based on whether they are in or out of the bible, whether they support or deny traditional theological or christological formulations, and whether they were written by the winners or the losers in the battle over Christianity. There are no heretics or heretical literature, except in terms of how various historical groups may have perceived each other.

4. We begin with the assumption that Christianity did not fall out of the sky one day, but it originated on earth among human beings and developed in complex social, political, and religious environments.

5. The sources that have been left behind were written by human beings and reflect the complexity of the growth of Christianity.

6. Our sources are not neutral. They were not written to report objective factual history. They were written for a variety of reasons including apology and polemic and propaganda. They often reflect a communal interest, and thus do not necessarily tell us what happened but what the community wanted to happen, thought should happen, or wanted remembered about them.

7. Our sources are dependent on the human being, physiologically, psychologically, emotionally, socially. The stories they relate are the consequence of human experience and human memory which itself is a constructive process with many implications. Eyewitness testimony (even in those cases where we might have it in our sources) does not guarantee the "reliability" or "authenticity" of anything reported. Not only is intentional lying a possibility that we cannot simply set aside, but human memory (because it is a social constructive process) has been proven to distort. Social memory likewise.

With these ground rules in place, we will be ready to begin trying to figure out how Jesus became God.