Bible Odyssey on Levi/Matthew the Tax Collector

In light of my forthcoming book and SBL presentation on the traditions about the Apostle Matthew as a tax collector and an evangelist, I want to mention a recent post on SBL’s website Bible Odyssey by Katelyn Schnoor and John Van Maaren on “Matthew (Disciple).” It notes that either “[t]he writer of the Gospel of Matthew might have been claiming that Matthew and Levi were the same historical person, or the author might have conflated two different persons (whether intentionally or by mistake).” I side with the latter view and offer my reasons for why this was intentionally done. It also has a helpful discussion of the names Levi and Matthew and an overview of the portrayal of tax collectors in Matthew’s Gospel.

Second Upcoming SBL Paper: “A Lost Source Identifying Matthew as a Toll Collector”

I have a second paper entitled “A Lost Source Identifying Matthew as a Toll Collector” accepted for the Matthew unit at the Society of Biblical Literature annual conference in Denver. I covered some of the different theories about why Levi was changed to Matthew as the one at the toll booth near Capernaum here and have written an article on the subject entitled “Re-naming the Toll Collector in Matthew 9:9: A Review of the Options” Journal of Gospels and Acts Research [JGAR] 4 (2020): 24–34 (see the article’s abstract here). In the article, I defended the position advanced in Ulrich Luz’s Hermeneia commentary on Matthew 8-20. In this paper, I will develop the hypothesis about a possible source that the evangelist could have stumbled upon that identified Matthew as a toll collector, leading the evangelist to change Mark’s story about Levi into a story about Matthew. I will have more to say about that in a forthcoming book. I hope to see you there if you want to find out more…

My Upcoming SBL Paper: “The Gospel of the Ebionites and the Synoptic Problem”

I have just heard that my paper for the upcoming Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Denver has been accepted. It is entitled “The Gospel of the Ebionites and the Synoptic Problem.” I cannot remember exactly what I wrote in the abstract for the paper, but I will be interacting with the arguments of James Edwards and David Sloan that the so-called Gospel of the Ebionites cited by Epiphanius was the source of either the special traditions in Luke or the double tradition shared by Matthew and Luke. Incidentally, they both reject the distinction that most modern scholars make between the Gospel of the Ebionites and the Gospel of the Hebrews, since Epiphanius does identify his text with a corrupted version of Matthew’s Gospel that is labelled “according to the Hebrews” (cf. Panarion 30.3.7; 13.2; 14.3). I will defend the majority position that the Gospel of the Ebionites is a distinct entity and that it depends on and creatively edits all three Synoptic Gospels at select points. My test case will be the fragments that introduce John the Baptist and narrate the baptism of Jesus (30.13.4; 30.13.6/30.14.3; 30.13.7-8). For an introduction to this text and a bibliography on it, see my entry for the e-clavis Christian Apocrypha.

The “Gospel of the Ebionites” Bibliography for E-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha

There is an extremely helpful resource online entitled e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha, which “is a comprehensive bibliography of Christian Apocrypha research assembled and maintained by members of the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature (NASSCAL).” I have compiled the bibliography for a text that scholars entitle the “Gospel of the Ebionites,” a text that is only cited by a fourth-century bishop and heresiologist named Epiphanius. I follow the majority of scholars in distinguishing this text from the “Gospel of the Hebrews,” though that is the text that Epiphanius assumed that he had in his possession. I will continually revise this resource over time, but please contact me by my work email listed on the page if you notice any of the following: resources that I should include, spelling errors (especially in non-English languages), formatting errors, or missing page numbers. I hope this will be a useful entry for scholars and students who are researching this Gospel.

My Chapter on Jesus Walking on Water in a Forthcoming Volume

A few years ago, I attended a conference at the Sydney College of Divinity. The edited volume that has come out of the conference is entitled The Future of Gospels and Acts Research (ed. Peter G. Bolt; CGAR Series 3; Sydney: SCD Press, 2021). Here are the contents of the book:

  1. Peter G. Bolt, Introduction: The Future is Now
  1. James R. Harrison, Social Stratification and Poverty Studies
    in First-Century Roman Palestine: An Evaluation of
    Recent Research on the Economic Context of the First Disciples
  2. Mary J. Marshall, Essenic Influence on Jesus, His Brothers,
    and the Early Church
  3. Emily Fero-Kovassy, ‘Doing the Will of the Father in Heaven’
    in Matthew 7:21: Polemics and Law Observance
  4. Timothy P. Bradford, Born Eunuch: Recovering an
    Ancient Metaphor
  5. Michael J. Kok, Jesus’ Imperial Authority over the Sea
    in Mark 6:45–52
  6. Chris Spark, ‘With a Noble and Good Heart’.
    ἐν καρδίᾳ καλῇ καὶ ἀγαθῇ (LUKE 8:15) in Graeco-Roman
    Cultural-Communicative Context
  7. Peter G. Bolt, Breathing in Enoch to Breathe out Jesus.
    An Aspect of Luke’s Apocalypticism
  8. Stephen Rockwell, Nathanael as a Remnant Figure in the
    Gospel of John: A Fresh Look at an Enigmatic Character
  9. John A. Davies, Many Abidings (John 14:2)
  10. Christopher Seglenieks, Τhe Μeaning of πιστεύω in the
    Gospel of John
  11. Andrew Stewart, What Did Paul’s Companions Hear?
    How the Syntax of ἀκούω Aids the Interpretation of
    Acts 9:7 and 22:9.

My chapter is on the account about Jesus walking on water in Mark’s Gospel. I will provide my abstract and a few sentences from my introduction to give you an idea about my thesis:

“The pericope about Jesus walking on the water in Mark 6:45–52 has been central to the debates over the Christology of Mark’s Gospel and whether it describes Jesus as fully divine or as an idealised human agent. Nevertheless, in line with some recent scholarship that reads Mark’s language of divine sonship in light of the Davidic messianic expectations within Second Temple Judaism on the one hand and the Roman imperial cult on the other, this essay will argue that the evangelist has been influenced by an older imperial ideology and that a Davidic Christology is the hermeneutical key to interpreting Mark 6:45–52. Specifically, the Markan Jesus was empowered to conquer and rule over the forces of chaos symbolised by the sea as the representative of the God of Israel and the royal heir of King David.” (p. 125)

“Building on the research of J. R. Daniel Kirk, Stephen L. Young, and Debra Scroggins Ballentine, I will argue that Mark 6:45–52 reproduced an older imperial ideology which portrayed a sovereign ruler subduing the forces of chaos that were symbolised by the tumultuous sea. In this way, Jesus exercised the regal authority that had been delegated to him by Israel’s national deity.” (p. 127)

Upcoming Classes this 2022 Semester

This semester I will be teaching my introductory unit Jesus and the Gospels and an advanced exegetical unit on the Synoptic Gospels, with a focus on the Gospel of Matthew. I will also be teaching a few different New Testament Greek units online. In terms of assignments, my introductory unit has two essays. The first one is in three parts and asks the student to describe a cultural issue (e.g., the beliefs and practices of the Pharisees), how it sheds light on a passage in a particular Gospel (e.g., the custom of handwashing in Mark 7), and how the passage advances themes throughout the Gospel. The second assignment is on the meaning of Jesus’s teaching about the kingdom of God. I also have two essays for the Synoptic Gospels unit. The first one asks students to note the similarities and the differences between the account of Levi/Matthew at the toll booth in the triple tradition, so the assignment is designed to get them to engage the Synoptic Problem, and to examine how “tax collectors and sinners” were perceived in that historical and cultural context. The second assignment is an exegetical paper on a passage in the Sermon on the Mount.

Forthcoming Book on the Evangelist Matthew

I will have a book on the Evangelist Matthew out sometime in 2023. As it gets closer to the date of publication, I will give more details about the arguments in the book. For my past work on Matthew, check out the following:

My Article on Morton Smith and the Carpocratians

I have a new journal article that should be available soon entitled “Morton Smith and the Carpocratians” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 97.4 (2021): 623-645. Here is the abstract:

“Before the publication of Morton Smith’s scholarly and popular monographs on the Letter to Theodore ascribed to Clement of Alexandria, scholars generally summarized rather than critically interrogated the heresiological sources about the Carpocratians. Smith’s historical reconstruction of the beliefs and praxis of Carpocrates, Epiphanes, and their followers, therefore, represented a significant advance in the academic study of the Carpocratians. Further, he added the Letter to Theodore to the database on the Carpocratians, though there is no consensus among scholars regarding the authenticity of this document. Nevertheless, Smith’s interpretations of the Patristic and Medieval testimonies about the Carpocratians have become outdated in the light of recent scholarship. More specifically, Smith undervalued the philosophical underpinnings of the Carpocratians’ worldview and overemphasised the antinomian and magical practices that were attributed to the Carpocratians by their Christian opponents.”

Wherever you line up on the debate over the authenticity of the Letter to Theodore, here are some reasons to check out this article.

  • It gives an up-to-date survey on the scholarship on the Carpocratians since Smith’s major publications on them in 1973.
  • While most of Smith’s theories about the Letter to Theodore and the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark have been extensively analyzed, including whether it is an ancient text or an antique or modern forgery, his reconstruction of the Carpocratians has been largely neglected.
  • Building on recent studies with more refined historical methodologies, I reconstruct some aspects of the Carpocratians’ beliefs and practices.
  • I offer a reading of the expanded version of Mark’s Gospel in the Letter to Theodore as presenting another rich young man who abandoned all his possessions except for his burial shroud for the kingdom of God, which the Carpocratians may have liked because of their social ethic about renouncing private property and hope for liberation from the material world altogether. Advocates of the forgery hypothesis tend to read the letter as reflecting an anachronistic conception of sexuality and imputing it back to the Carpocratians, so I invite all sides of the debate to evaluate this reading.

In the end, if I am completely wrong on the last point, I still hope that the article is a contribution to the study of the historical Carpocratians. I also discovered on the blog Evangelical Textual Criticism that there is a forthcoming volume on the Letter to Theodore (i.e. Geoffrey Smith and Brent Landau, The Secret Gospel of Mark: A Rogue Scholar, A Controversial Gospel of Jesus, and the Fierce Debate Over Its Authenticity). I also know a colleague is working on a monograph on the Carpocratians that was not available to me when I wrote this article and judges the Letter to Theodore to be a modern forgery, as does a recent PhD thesis on the Carpocratians that I did interact with, so the debate will continue.

Update: here is the bibliographical information of the two works that I mentioned:

  • Litwa, M. David. Carpocrates, Marcellina, and Epiphanes: Three Early Christian Teachers of Alexandria and Rome. London: Routledge, 2022.
  • Whitley, T. J. “The Greatest Blasphemy: Sex, Souls, and the Carpocratian Heresy.” PhD Thesis, Florida State University, 2016.

Review of My Book “The Beloved Apostle”

Ben, the “Amateur Exegete,” has offered a brief review of my book The Beloved Apostle? The Transformation of the Apostle John into the Fourth Evangelist (Eugene: Cascade, 2017). I really appreciate his summary and interaction with the case outlined in it. Here is how my argument unfolds:

  • The beloved disciple in the Gospel of John was an elite Judean disciple of Jesus who appears as an ideal witness in the Passion Narrative. He is present when Jesus announces that he will be betrayed, when Peter denies Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard, when Jesus is crucified, and when the empty tomb is discovered.
  • The beloved disciple is turned into the author of the Gospel in the epilogue, which was added to the Gospel in the early second century and may also be one of the earliest traditions about Peter’s crucifixion in Rome (one point I might revise if I was rewriting the book today is to allow for the option that the editors who added the epilogue may be right in identifying the beloved disciple as an author of an earlier edition of the Gospel).
  • The beloved disciple is identified as the Apostle John in the latter half of the second century and the apostle’s biography was filled out by conflating him with other figures named John (i.e. the Elder John of Ephesus and the prophet John who penned Revelation at Patmos).
  • Apostolic authorship was seen as important by some Christians to legitimate their texts (but there were also other criteria about the antiquity, universal appeal, and orthodoxy of the writings). Conversely, some Christians tried to discredit the book of Revelation, and perhaps later the Gospel of John, by attributing them to a discredited teacher named Cerinthus.

Anyways, I am grateful for this positive review and commendation of the book.

Merry Christmas

For all of my readers, I hope that you have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I will update you on my publications and current research in 2022. Best wishes!