Review of Capes, et al., Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children

Note: If you are involved in publishing and uninterested in the contents of this review, please nevertheless read the final paragraph on endnotes.

David B. Capes, April D. DeConick, Helen K. Bond, and Troy A. Miller, eds., Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado and Alan F. Segal, Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007. xviii + 480pp. $79.95, Hardback. Published in Bulletin for Biblical Research 19 (2009), 463-65.

The “Early High Christology Club” (EHCC) has been having a conversation at annual gatherings of AAR/SBL, and this volume honors the club’s cofounders, Larry W. Hurtado and Alan F. Segal. The book also lets the rest of us experience the nature of the interaction enjoyed by the EHCC. This volume reflects a joy and warmth of discussion that can be seen in the affection the authors communicate for both Hurtado and Segal. Another instance of this friendly camaraderie can be seen in the way the editors invited Hurtado to write an essay for Segal, and Segal to write for Hurtado, hiding from both that the essays would appear in the same volume honoring each of them simultaneously.

It is challenging to know how best to serve readers in a review of a collection of specialized essays. In what follows I seek to capture the thesis of each essay, sometimes accompanied by evaluative comments. There is a sense in which this book is like life. As ideas are exchanged in an open market place, wisdom cries aloud in the street. Different estimations of truth reflect different priorities and commitments. Let the reader understand.

April D. DeConick provokes serious questions about her ability to read ancient texts sympathetically when she alleges that the Gospel of Mark presents “adoptionist” Christology. It is obvious that the first audiences of this gospel did not see it her way. In fact, they long ago rejected her view. Perhaps it is not surprising that she thinks history unfair to regard Arius as a heretic.

Paula Fredriksen wants to see four terms retired: conversion (but see Acts 15:3), nationalism, religio licita (“legal religion”), and monotheism. I do not think hers will be a successful campaign.

Richard Bauckham examines the frequency and significance of the heavy use of the title “the Most High” in early Jewish literature. His very helpful tabulation of the use of this title includes only one canonical text, Daniel, “because it so clearly belongs chronologically with the” early Jewish literature (378 n. 11). He explores the use of this title to shed light on “how the uniqueness of the one God is understood” (40).

Adela Yarbro Collins seeks to answer’s Hurtado’s question, “How on earth did Jesus become a God?” She thinks beliefs about and devotion to Jesus grew from the conviction that he was the Messiah, and that reformulations and elaborations of his divinity owed much to non-Jewish Greek and Roman ideas and practices.

Pheme Perkins investigates “how resurrection and Christology are configured in Paul with reference to the work of Professors Segal and Hurtado” (69).

Eldon Jay Epp helpfully discusses the manuscript evidence on the Greek New Testament and provides several nicely produced charts. This essay is a service to all who think about these issues. Having brought significant clarity through his discussion, he reaffirms the idea that NT manuscripts are genuinely abundant.

Maurice Casey discusses prophetic identity and conflict in Jesus’ ministry. He does not think Early High Christology is needed to explain Jesus’ understanding that he would die.

David B. Capes has an insightful essay arguing for the preexistence and incarnation of Jesus from careful exegesis of Romans 9:30–10:13. This essay repays careful study and includes stimulating interaction with wisdom Christology.

Carey C. Newman appropriates “literary theories developed by Jacques Lacan, Peter Brooks, and Marianna Torgovnick to investigate how the Christophany functions as a pure signifier within the Pauline corpus” (156).

James D. G. Dunn comes to a conclusion that he says “is unavoidably speculative” (180) as he seeks to discern when the understanding of Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice emerged. He argues that the Hellenists (Acts 6–7) bridged the gap “between Jesus’ own talk of his death and the first Christian confession of that death as an atoning sacrifice” (181).

In a thoughtful essay, Helen K. Bond argues that the seamless robe of Jesus, woven all through, represents high priestly garb and contributes to John’s high priestly Christology.

I have learned much from what Larry Hurtado has written, but his essay in honor of Segal on remembering and revelation in John is not compelling. He writes, “the author was, I propose, perfectly aware that much of what he put into the mouth of Jesus was never spoken by Jesus in his earthly life, and, indeed, the author gives readers rather clear indications of this also” (213). This misunderstands John’s claims to understand after the resurrection what he remembered Jesus to have said before the resurrection.

Marianne Meye Thompson discusses a wide range of texts that discuss seeing God “face to face,” setting them next to others that assert the impossibility of this very thing. This discussion sets her up to highlight Jesus’ uniqueness as an eyewitness of God, which makes his testimony trustworthy.

Charles A. Gieschen examines the lamb Christology and angelomorphic Christology in Revelation, concluding that these present Jesus as both the visible form of Yahweh and as a flesh and blood man who conquered Satan by his atoning death.

John R. Levison seeks to shed light on Pauline scholarship by studying the theme of the Spirit of Life in the book of Ezekiel.

Jonathan Klawans summarizes everything that can be known about the Sadducees, concludes that their name does not go back to Zadok the priest who served David and Solomon but perhaps to some other by that name, and elucidates their beliefs by comparison to texts in the Wisdom of Ben Sira.

Rachel Elior surveys sacred space in 2 Chronicles, in the Prophets and Psalms, at Qumran, and then the way the concept is transformed in early Judaism and Christianity.

Paul Foster begins with a fascinating look at Vespasian’s rise to power and the politics of Roman taxation, and then speculates on the way Matthew 17:24–27 would have helped the Matthean community.

Alan Segal’s essay in honor of Larry Hurtado provides a review of Jewish scholarship on Paul’s religious experience, summarizing the views of Klausner, Flusser, Rubenstein, Schoeps, Sandmel, Segal, Boyarin, and Nanos.

Troy A. Miller argues from Hellenistic Synagogal Prayer 5, which is contained within the Apostolic Constitutions, for the Jewish character of Christianity in Syria through the fourth century (against Koester’s contention that Gnosticism was Syrian Christianity’s formative influence).

John T. Fitzgerald’s essay on anger, reconciliation, and friendship in Matthew 5:21–26 concludes the volume.

This attractively bound volume is a fitting tribute to Hurtado and Segal, and we can hope that such spirited, yet polite and even warm conversations can proliferate among scholars. Those interested in the contents of these essays will value these substantive contributions.

A festschrift such as this by definition contains scholarly and technical essays. People who write technical, scholarly essays like to write footnotes. People who read technical, scholarly essays like to read footnotes. I do not understand the editorial decision that a festschrift should have endnotes rather than footnotes. Endnotes are bothersome to readers, who are constantly slowed down by the process of turning to the back of the book. Endnotes might even be offensive to authors, because they imply that readers should not trouble themselves with this information that the author took the trouble to include. They are frustrating. Endnotes should be ended. They are a blemish on all academic publishing, and it is unfortunate that a book meant to honor two scholars should use endnotes. Those who do not wish to read footnotes can skip them, but why make life difficult for the rest of us by foisting endnotes upon us?

Join the Conversation


  1. Thanks for the review, but I admit your final paragraph was the most compelling. I detest endnotes and usually end up putting a notecard or bookmark of some kind in the back of the book when it uses endnotes in order to make use of them. It’s quite annoying!:0)It’s refreshing to know that I won’t have to worry about that with anything you might write!

  2. You said “April D. DeConick provokes serious questions about her ability to read ancient texts sympathetically when she alleges that the Gospel of Mark presents “adoptionist” Christology. It is obvious that the first audiences of this gospel did not see it her way. In fact, they long ago rejected her view.”

    Could you elaborate on how you know the first audiences of Mark’s gospel obviously didn’t read an adoptionist Christology in it. Also if she is speaking of what Mark presented it seems like the views of the various first audiences (do we even have access to them?) only carries a limited value.

    Thanks for the summaries. I’d like to see some more indepth interaction with some of the essays in the future if you had time.

    Bryan L

  3. Here’s an hour’s worth of evidence against the revisionist position that there were early “christianities” that were ultimately squelched by the political party that came to be known as “orthodoxy”:

    Mark was alive for at least some time after his gospel was written. If he was on record for the adoptionist position, is it really likely that there would be no historical evidence for his advocacy of his gospel being read that way?


    1. Jim:
      What early evidence do we have for how Mark viewed the christology in his Gospel? What do we have him on record for concerning how his Gospel should be interpreted? Couldn’t the question you posed equally be asked of the view that Mark had a high Christology? What kind of historical evidence are you looking for?

      It’s not that I think Mark did have an adoptionist christology, it’s just that I found your statement about April to be kind of surprising. Do you believe we should be confident in your ability to read ancient texts sympathetically?

      Bryan L

      1. I think Charles E. Hill’s argument regarding the NT canon is compelling: from the moment Jesus made 12 apostles, he built into the movement the idea that there were certain people who were authorized to testify to the message, to witness to the resurrection (see Acts 1). Note, too, the way that Paul relates in Galatians how these pillars gave him the right hand of fellowship–not that they made him an apostle, God did that, but they didn’t object to his message.

        Given this trajectory, for Mark to be in the canon it had to have been understood the way that the authorized apostles and their followers understood it. The later creeds did not invent the deity of Jesus or the Trinity. They captured and expressed what was believed from the moment the lights came on and Jesus was recognized as God.



  4. Dude — Dr. Dude — a hundred amens on endnotes. My readers know I’ve also been banging that drum for years. But not only for scholarly books; for all books. Long-gone are the days when footnotes made manual typesetting harder, so there goes that excuse. Anyone who doesn’t want to read them doesn’t need to read them. But if anyone wants to read them, he has to have two bookmarks. It helps no reader, and punishes many readers.

    And it punishes the author, who clearly intended the note to be readily-available to his text.

    In fact, if Congress proposed a law exacting jail-time for publishers who use anything but footnotes… well, I’d oppose it, on Republitarian grounds.

    But inside, I’d be split.

    Not that I have a strong opinion on the matter, mind you.

  5. Jim,

    I don’t think you really answered my questions. You first made a statement about what the first audiences obviously believed about Mark’s gospel and then about what Mark himself thought about his own gospel. I questioned both of those views and you seemed to answer by saying because Mark’s gospel ended up in the canon (a whole other complicated issue) so that shows that it was always viewed as having a high Christology.

    Bryan L

    1. But that does answer your question.

      The audiences were formed by Mark’s gospel and the other 3. They recognized the difference between the 4 gospels now in the canon and all the others.

      Did you listen to my presentation linked above? There is other info there that has to do with manuscripts from Larry Hurtado’s book Earliest Christian Artifacts.



  6. Jim,
    I think whatever answer you gave was kind of vague since I’m having trouble piecing it together and it appears you are basically saying it’s in the canon so it’s always been viewed as having a high Christology.

    I did not listen to your talk yet because I was hoping to get some simple and straight answers from you on my questions concerning statements you made. I may give your talk a listen to later if time permits. Do you have a condensed presentation of it like a power point file that you gave along with it or something? I think you may be a bit busy for a discussion like this on a blog and I realize you may not have any desire to go back and forth on this so I’ll leave it at that. Sorry for pressing the issue.

    BTW I thought it was interesting to find out from reading Hurtado’s book that we only 1 early manuscript of Mark’s Gospel that dates to the third century but we’ve found 3 manuscripts of the Gospel of Thomas from the 3rd century. We also have 2 manuscripts of the Gospel of Mary. This in comparison to 12 copies of the Gospel of Matthew and 15 for the Gospel of John. Makes you wonder how well Mark was accepted in the early church or at least whether Christian’s found it all that useful or edifying to their theology and practice. BTW just to clarify, the Gospel of Mark is my favorite Gospel.

    Take care,
    Bryan L

  7. First, thanks for your interaction with Brian L (above). While many evangelicals ignore the revisionist historians (with good reason, as they are generally a waste of time and of no use to the community of believers), it is nice to get thoughtful responses backed by actual archeological evidence. The talk you linked to was especially excellent and helpful.

    Second, 100% agreement on endnotes! Banish them to the isle of transliteration, please 🙂

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