Sunday, 21 May 2006
A few weeks ago I reviewed James Tabor's book The Jesus Dynasty. Yesterday I received a courteous email from the author expressing thanks for the effort and describing it as interesting and well done. Say what you like, the man has class! In that review which you can find here there's mention of another book, Jeffrey Butz's The Brother of Jesus.
Butz is a Lutheran minister with a couple of Masters degrees. His discussion of James, Jesus' brother, is well worth reading.
James is long overdue for serious attention in the study of Christian origins. Would Jesus' brother recognize the Messianics, Seventh-day Adventists or United Church of God members as some kind of spiritual descendants? Maybe not. Apart from a couple of surface features like Sabbath observance and dietary restrictions, these groups in their theology actually look a lot more like the churches of the Gentile mission. Despite all the talk about returning to "apostolic" Christianity that Rod Meredith and others spout, modern Sabbatarian Christians are inheritors of 2nd century Catholic theology, scriptures and traditions. James' type of Christianity would look very out of place today, even on a Saturday morning in Charlotte or Cincinnati.
It sometimes seems that the least attractive option, the stolid orthodoxy of the "Church fathers", won out due to sheer bloody-mindedness and pig-headedness rather than any particular virtues. The victors have re-written history, thrown book burning parties and adopted the perverse hangups of Augustine (the blessings of Original Sin!)
Which is why Butz is fascinating. Here is a mainline pastor asking uncomfortable and critical questions. May the Force be with him.