John Schütz, Revered Scholar of Paul, has Died

I just heard via Jack Sasson the sad news of Prof. John Howard Schütz’s passing. John was professor Emeritus in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was severely brain damaged in a bicycle accident in 1985, at the prime of his career.  He received his MA and PhD at Yale Divinity School and spent a year in Germany in the late 1950s as a Fulbright Scholar. He also spent a sabbatical year at Oxford University at Jesus College in 1972-73.  After that, he published his first book, Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority, which was initially published by Cambridge and subsequently by Westminster John Knox Press. He was in the process of writing a second major scholarly book when he had his accident. John’s scholarly contributions before his accident were many and he was one of the most insightful and brilliant scholars I have ever known. His emphasis on the social world of Paul was one that informed the scholarship of so many of us in the 1970s through the “Social World of Early Christianity” SBL sessions inspired by Wayne Meeks, Abraham Malherbe, and others.

John Schutz

I  first knew of John Schütz as a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the 1970s through his book Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority that was a very important influence on my own work on Paul, subsequently published as my dissertation, Things Unutterable (University Press of America, 1986). I first met John face-to-face in 1985 after moving to the College of William and Mary as a young visiting Assistant Professor of New Testament. I regularly attended an informal South East regional group we called SCRAM (Study of the Culture and Religion of the Ancient Mediterranean) that would meet at various locations once or twice a year–Chapel Hill, William and Mary, Duke, etc. It was a wonderful group with the likes of Robert Wilken, Tom McCollough, Dale Martin, Tom Finn, Bart Ehrman, David Halperin, Robert Gregg, Elizabeth Clark, and many others sharing recent research and socializing together. When I took the position here at UNC Charlotte I continued to be a committed part of the SCRAM gatherings. The group sadly and gradually faded out and John’s accident was a huge blow to all of us.

Schutz

Just after I published my latest book Paul and Jesus in 2012 I had an email from John’s daughter, Amy Kelso, who is an attorney with UNC Charlotte. She had read about the book and thought her father might enjoy reading it. I shipped her an inscribed copy and she gave it to him that Christmas. Amy told me at the time that John’s short term memory was gone but remarkably, his long term-memory remained and she thought he would enjoy reading my book in “spurts.” John spent his last years in a retirement community with his wife who remained his sole caregiver these many decades.

I am sad to learn of John’s passing. All who knew him will understand the great respect and affection I had for him as a human being and an amazing scholar.

Understanding Bible Fundamentalisms

An oldie but goodie from the ever-insightful R. Joseph Hoffmann.

Fundamentalism

I’ve been puzzling about this recently: whether there is anything that Christian and Muslim fundamentalists have in common. I’ll leave the Jews and the Sikhs and Hindus to one side for a minute. Just because I want to.

 

First of all, you have to have a book to be a fundamentalist. It’s no good trying to say you take your religion seriously if you don’t have a page to point at or a verse to recite.

 

Theoretically, various gurus can exert the same sort of control that a book can exert over the mind of a true believer. But usually gurus begin by pointing at books as well.

 

That’s what both Jim Jones of People’s Temple, Inc., and David Koresh of Branch Davidian fame did. They were just the messengers, albeit the ones you had to sleep with to get the keys to the kingdom.

Read the entire essay here.

Killing Heretics: Now and Then

Islamic violence must be called Islamic. To say that Islam owns it, produced it, and has to solve it is not saying that all Muslims agree with the tactics of ISIL, contract killers in Paris, or child killers in Pakistan.

 

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The notion of killing “unbelievers” or heretics, whether in the past, the present, or even in the future, is historically part and parcel of the three Abrahamic Faiths. Worshipping gods other than Yahweh brings a death penalty in the Torah (Deuteronomy 13:10-12). Paul declares a fatwah-like “death decree” (“destruction of the flesh”) on the man living with his father’s wife at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:5).  Christ returns, according to Paul, to burn those who “know not God and obey not the Gospel” (presumably everyone but the Christians) with flaming fire and eternal punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). Christian history, unfortunately, is–among many other things–a long tale of torture, murder, and “holy wars,” as as the late great Karlheinz Deschner so meticulously documented in his monumental 10 volume work, Die Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums. The Qu’ran commands the killing of all unbelievers, including those “People of the book” (Jews and Christians), who do not submit to Muslim Shari’a and take the status of Zimmis–forbidding all public practice of faith (just read through Surahs 8-9).

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In the aftermath of the murders in Paris this week we are assured “these are acts of terrorism and are not part of the Islamic religion.” We are told constantly, “this is not Islam,” these are just thugs wanting power. That is like saying the Roman Catholic Inquisitioners who killed “heretics” or the Reformers who slaughtered Catholics were not “really Christian.” From a moral point of view, perhaps not, but in terms of religious identity such disavowals are nonsense. Let’s call extreme views of ALL traditions “bad” forms of the religion, fine, but to deny that such violence and evil is perpetrated by “devoted” religious fanatics who take their faith seriously misses the power that such evil forces draw upon. They have convinced themselves they are doing God’s work and God is on their side–a sad and ubiquitous aspect of the violent history of ALL religious traditions.The issues are much more complex and I recommend these successive blog posts of Joseph Hoffmann as providing some clear thinking on what we are facing in our times when it comes to the new waves of Islamic violence:

Sex, Salvation, and Violence in Islam

Religion begins in violence. Its archetypes and myths are saturated in blood–the predations of Ishtar, the cannibalism of the Greek Titans, the binding of Isaac, the crucifixion of Jesus. Its holy books are full of violence.

Islam is no exception. It is the rule. It’s important to say however that no religion but Islam seems suicidally bent on making violence a permanent part of its contemporary world-view and operations manual. There seems to be no doubt that, at least as represented by its most visible adepts, Islam is the religion which brings us into closest contact with the religion of our vicious tribal past. Religions may begin in violence. But they usually do not survive through violence.

Owning Isis: Collective Responsibility and Personal Guilt

Islam, as I’ve argued here before, was never able to produce a coherent theological or “orthodox” tradition apart from its simple belief in the arkān al-Islām –the pillars of Islam. It did try, and once upon a time, in the storied Golden Age of Islam prior to the thirteenth century there were philosophers who offered a ray of light. Later on however that light was snuffed out by the likes of the imam Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī who taught (contra the much more learned Ibn Rushd) that philosophy and Islam had nothing to do with one another, and to the extent they did, the philosophers were heretics. The rigidity of that teaching deprived Islam of a Renaissance, a Reformation and an Enlightenment. Worse, it created a disconnect between Islam and modernity that still plagues a religion that–in some of its most visible manifestations–belongs to another time and place.

Charlie and Ahmed

It is not some sort of intrinsic desire to kill that makes them violent. It is a sort of pornographic idealism, supported by the worst possible reading of an ancient book, interpreted by the worst possible religious experts—many of them in their twenties and lacking any sort of educational qualifications to teach or preach fiqh.

We do Islam no favour by not asking it to take its share of the blame. We do it a distinct disservice by spreading the veil of the sacred, the untouchable, around it-closeting it off from critique, satire and serious discussion through the imposition of blasphemy and anti-defamation laws.

 

 

Thirty-five Years and Counting…

Tomorrow I begin my 36th year of university teaching…1979-2013 marking 35 years. I am as excited as I was the day I first walked into a university classroom in August, 1979 at the University of Notre Dame.

NotreDameJamesWeb

I have been reading Jonathan Z. Smith’s marvelous little book, On Teaching Religion (Oxford, 2013) and I feel like I have been born again. Highly recommended for all teachers in the Humanities. More later on what I am teaching and working on this new academic year–no longer chair but going into high gear in terms of teaching, research, and writing…some amazingly exciting things in the pike.

JZS Teaching Religion

Why a “Spiritual” Resurrection is the Only Sensible Option

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all affirm the doctrine of “resurrection of the dead” as a central tenet of eschatology–that is, the understanding of the “last things” or how human history is to end. One common misunderstanding, especially among Christians, is that resurrection of the dead is equivalent to the idea of corpse revival, namely that in order to “make the dead live” (which is the literal Hebrew expression), God would somehow revive the physical bodies of those who have long since perished and turned to dust or ashes–or otherwise been completely absorbed into our planetary ecosystem. This view of resurrection of the dead is often given the label of “literal,” which is taken to mean “actual.”  In other words, in the case of Jesus, unless one believes Jesus’ corpse was “literally” raised to life–i.e., his dead and mutilated body was revivified–then his resurrection would not be “literally” true. The alternative idea, that the “old body” is left behind, like a worn out form of clothing, with the dead “returning to life” in a new transformed state or “mode of being,” is often seen as a threat to Christian apologetics–i.e. the faith that Jesus was truly raised from the dead.

Spiritual BodiesWhat such a view misses is two important things. First, our earliest source for Christian faith in resurrection are the letters of Paul–who clearly affirms a “literal” but spiritual resurrection–for both Jesus and those at the end of history. The dead are raised in an embodied form–but their bodies are no longer “flesh and blood,” but transformed into what he calls a “pneumatikos” body–that is a non-physical “spiritual” mode of being. As Paul puts it–as Adam was “dust of the earth,” so Christ, as a “new Adam,” is a transformed “life-giving Spirit.” Second, the early Christian view of resurrection for the most part developed along similar lines. For most sophisticated Christian thinkers the resurrection of the dead, though seen as “bodily,” was no longer “flesh and blood” and did not necessitate any revival of the literal bones or perished remains of the deceased. After all, only a tiny fraction of human beings who have ever lived on this planet have identifiable “tombs” or graves, from which they might be raised. Clearly the idea of the dead “coming forth from their graves” might be viewed as “actual” but surely not “literal.” Using metaphors to express concepts beyond our physical experience is not robbing the concepts that lie within the metaphor of reality.

I realize that some of the latest gospel accounts of the “sightings” of Jesus present us with Jesus’ physical body–eating meals and displaying his wounds as “proof” that he is no “ghost,” but these have to be laid out chronologically alongside the complex of “appearance” traditions. I have written rather extensively on these subject in both my books (The Jesus Discovery and Paul and Jesus), as well as on this blog, see here. When all our accounts are taken together I am persuaded that Paul’s view of “leaving the old clothing behind” was the earliest–and was shared by the first witnesses he names in 1 Corinthians 15–namely Peter, James, the Twelve, and the “500” brothers.

The discussion of the important differences between the Greek affirmation of the “immortality of the soul,” and the Jewish concept of “resurrection of the dead,” is an essential part of this discussion. Most students of Christian Origins are introduced at some point to Oscar Cullmann’s classic Ingersoll lecture at Harvard in 1955, “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?: The Witness of the New Testament,” subsequently published with other essays in an edited volume, Immortality and Resurrection (Macmillan) by Krister Stendahl, now out of print. Fortunately, there is a version of the substance of lecture on the Web. What Cullmann showed so clearly is that one must not gloss over the important differences in these two classic Western ways of viewing death and afterlife. However, a half century of research subsequently has shown that the theological differences Cullmann pinpoints are not as airtight as they might appear, when viewed through the lens of the critical historian of ideas. The magisterial study of Alan Segal, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion changes the entire landscape of the discussion in this regard. Its rich content and analysis is essential to any informed discussion.

If anything one finds that there is a blurring between the sharp distinctions that Cullmann posited, with Jews affirming “resurrection of the dead,” or even “resurrection of the body,” in complex and nuanced ways, often parallel to so-called “Greek” views of immortality. One result is that the literal physical remains of the dead play little to no part, other than in a metaphorical way, in the more sophisticated affirmations that the “dead” experience ongoing existence either in another realm, or in an age to come. Thus in the book of Revelation (20:11-13), the “sea gave up the dead that were in it,” and those resurrected dead “stand” before the throne of God in judgment, but the writer obviously has no interest in affirming a literal recovery of “bones and flesh,” or reanimated corpses, long ago “returned to dust.”
Jews and early Christians were quite aware of the complex nuances of their affirmation of “resurrection of the dead,” and that a literal view of restored “bones and flesh” was not their central concern nor their most fundamental challenge. There was something much more profound at stake that had to do with an “anthropological” view of the whole human person–thus Paul’s category of a “new body,” but a spiritual one, not one of flesh and blood. This was in contrast to the “naked” state of death, before the spirit is “reclothed.” We are essentially dealing with metaphors here but the clothing analogy seems to be a good one, as Paul develops it in 2 Corinthians 5. He apparently likens the body of flesh and bones to old clothing, and one’s immediate “death” as a naked state of the disembodied “spirit,” (i.e., Greek “immortal soul”). Accordingly, putting on a “new spiritual body” is akin to putting on new clothing, with the old shed or left behind. In that system of understanding resurrection literal “tombs” are irrelevant, whether literally in the ground, or symbolically “in the sea.”

That is why finding the decayed bones of Jesus in an ossuary, as might well be the case Talpiot tomb in Jerusalem, as I have argued here on this blog and extensively in our book, The Jesus Discovery, does not contradict the earliest faith in Jesus’ resurrection by his first followers. What has happened is that people have conflated the later accounts in the Gospels, especially in Luke and John, where Jesus clearly appears as a “revived corpse” and even asks for food to eat–declaring himself to be “flesh and blood,” with the much earlier views the gospel of Mark (with no appearances of Jesus), the fragment ending of the Gospel of Peter, and Matthew–that are much more compatible with Paul’s earlier view (50s CE) of “seeing” Jesus’ spiritual body. The idea those who “sleep in the dust” awakening, or the sea “giving up” the dead that are in it, makes it crystal clear that resurrection of the dead has to do with a transformed “heavenly” existence, not a revival of the scant remains of those long ago turned to “dust and ashes” as the phrase goes (Daniel 12:2-3; Revelation 20:13). One might also recall that, according to Jesus, those who experience the “age to come” and the resurrection of the dead, are transformed into an “angelic” state, no longer male or female with physical bodies (Luke 20:34-38).

Keith Akers, author of The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity, has a thoughtful post from a few years back titled “Implications of the Jesus Family Tomb at Talpiot” at his Website which is as relevant today as when he first wrote it. I really appreciated Akers’s book on Jesus and learned a lot from him. I have found anything he writes to be well thought through and valuable to read. In his essay on the Talpiot Tomb he raises the issue of how diverse groups of early Christians began to formulate their understanding of what was essentially affirmed in the teaching of “resurrection of the dead,” whether that of Jesus, or the raising of the dead more generally at the end of the age.

The Confusing Category of “The Supernatural”

I think the main problem in discussions between theists and atheists is the assumption that static categories like “the Divine,” the “supernatural,” the “natural,” and the “material” exist other than as our dualistic semantic projections upon the whole of reality as we can perceive it. Our experiences are never reductionistically “materialistic,” even in the proverbial “hard, cold” lab. Process theism, by whatever name (Whitehead, Hartshorne) seems a better way of thinking about our “reality” even if “God” might not be the word one choses to use given the connotations from “Classic” theism (omniscience and omnipotence).

Bottom line: the very nature of reality presents us with what appear to be “mechanistic” “time and chance” “atoms and the void” phenomenon (as per Jacques Monod), but also “mind” “thought” and other transcendent “spiritualist” phenomenon as well, that seem to exhibit will, reason, and the aesthetic–hence this very blog, this topic, and the any discussion thereof. It is a simple truism that there is no way to step outside of things and make “meaningful” nihilistic declarations about the non-meaning or hyper-subjectivity of our existence. As the old joke goes: “There are no absolutes?–Are you absolutely sure of that?”

“Mind and Matter”are no opposing realities but of one whole “panentheistic” reality as witnessed by our every thought and word. Most of us agree that “magical” thinking is not a credible casual factor in our universe (angels, demons, fairies, and projected illusions) but who among us can reduce to the “normal” or the purely “material” (i.e., the four forces/fields of gravity, electromagnetic and strong and weak nuclear) our wondrous and marvelous minds and our common as well as not-so-common experiences of reality? In other words, all natural phenonema are by definition supra-natural, if by “natural” one means a truncated mechanistic view of both our inner realities and all that we experience in our world of “nature.”

 

Don’t You Just Love Reasonable People Who Curse and Damn Others to Hell?

Someone just posted a comment on my article dealing with the forged ending of the Gospel of Mark, which most scholars take as a late addition to Mark’s otherwise masterful literary work. The traditional ending, now found in the King James Version, is one of three bogus endings, each of which “ruins” the original ending and skewers our understanding of how the traditions about the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection developed over the course of several decades. Anyway, here is the comment, damning me as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” to the fires of Hell:

Children of Hell

What is PATENTLY FALSE is not the Ending of Mark but all the ignorance and lies used to reject it, like this dumb article demonstrates.  All anyone has to do is read John William Burgon’s THE LAST TWELVE VERSES OF MARK, written over 130 years ago.  This textual scholar extraordinaire vindicated the reading factually from all the apostates who were trying to remove it from the Scripture.  Nothing since has come that overturns Burgon’s evidence.  Burgon was a REAL CHRISTIAN, born of the Spirit, and who knew the Scripture needed to be defended from all the unregenerate children of Hell, the wolves in sheep’s clothing who were attacking it.

You can read my article on “The Strange Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes all the Difference,” here, as well as a second article dealing further with the implications of Mark’s original ending here. Of course this reader has no idea that every academic who has dealt with this topic is thoroughly aware of Burgon’s work and most of us consider it unconvincing–not be cause we have ignored it, but because it does not stand up.

Fortunately we live in an era of post-Enlightenment scholarship where we can have civil discussions of such matters. Thank God the Inquisition is past history. Can you imagine if folks of this mindset ever had any real power or control over our freedom to critically read and evaluate the New Testament Scriptures? A very scary thought…

Let’s hear it for academic freedom and and a critical-historical exploration of Christian Origins!!

Hoffmann on the “Passion of the Christ Deniers”

Joseph Hoffmann is ever as entertaining as instructive. His recent post, just republished today on his blog, The New Oxonion, cleverly titled  “The Passion of the Christ Deniers,” is not to be missed. You can find it here.

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The recent uptick of interest in the historical Jesus is fueled partly by a new interest in a movement that was laid to rest about seventy years ago, but has received a new lease of life  from a clutch of historical Jesus-deniers.  The rallying point for the group is a site maintained by a blogger by the name of Neil Godfrey, an Australian university librarian who, like many others who have assumed the position, comes from a conservative Christian background.

In the broadest terms, the movement feeds and thrives on the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth never really existed. . .

 

‘Tis the Season: Upcoming Papers and Lectures

This weekend and next I will be presenting papers at two conferences.

First at the Elon University Conference on “Jewish Christian Relations,” Sunday, November 17, 1:00-6:30pm. The papers really look fascinating, not to mention the presenters:

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1:00 pm: Welcoming Remarks
President Dr. Leo Lambert (Elon University)
Dr. Geoffrey Claussen (Elon University)

1:05-2:00 pm: Reading Genesis
– Dr. Marc Bregman (UNC-Greensboro) – “Jewish and Christian Perspectives on the Sacrifice of Isaac”
– Dr. Ellen Haskell (UNC-Greensboro) – “Contesting the Kingdom of Heaven: Rachel as Counterpart to Christ in Medieval Jewish Mysticism”
– Dr. Malachi Hacohen (Duke University) – “Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael: The Future of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations”
Convener: Dr. Geoffrey Claussen (Elon University)

2:15-3:00 pm: Defining Jewish Identity
– Dr. Lynn Huber (Elon University) – “‘Those Who Say That They Are Jews and Are Not’: The Function of Jewish Identity in the Book of Revelation”
– Dr. James Tabor (UNC-Charlotte) – “Who is a Jew?: A Modern Conundrum with Ancient Roots”
Convener: Dr. Michael Pregill (Elon University)

3:15-4:15 pm: Evangelical-Jewish Relations
 Dr. Shalom Goldman (Duke University), “The Use of Hebrew and Yiddish by British and American Christian Missionaries to Jews: 1870-1970”
– Dr. Yaakov Ariel (UNC-Chapel Hill) – “The Rise of Messianic Judaism”
– Dr. Motti Inbari (UNC-Pembroke) – “The Christian Zionist Response to Israeli Land for Peace Solutions”
Convener: Dr. Jason Husser (Elon University)

4:30-5:15 pm: Jewish and Christian Feminist Ritual Innovation
 Dr. Vanessa Ochs (University of Virginia)
– Dr. Diann Neu (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual)
Convener: Dr. Toddie Peters (Elon University)

5:30-6:30 pm: The Future of Jewish-Christian Dialogue
– 
Dr. Stanley Hauerwas (Duke University)
– Dr. Peter Ochs (University of Virginia)
Convener: Dr. Jeffrey Pugh (Elon University)

Closing Remarks: Dr. Jeffrey Pugh (Elon University)

Lectures are free and open to the public. You can find more information here.

Baltimore SBLThe following weekend, also on Sunday, November 24, I will be among an impressive roster of scholars, all with very provocative topics, at the Biblical Archaeology Society “Bible Fest XVI” that meets in Baltimore. I will be speaking on “Was Paul the Jew the Founder of Christianity.” See here for full details and links to more information.

The BAS “Bible Fest” meets annually in conjunction with the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the American Schools of Oriental Research. These annual meetings draw together upwards of 15 thousand participants, many of them professionals in the fields of Religious Studies, Biblical Studies, and Ancient Near Eastern archaeology with papers on every conceivable subject. Each require separate registrations but the links above contain full information and non-professionals receive substantial discounts to attend.

“Bible Secrets Revealed” to Air Beginning November 13th on the History Channel

bible_secrets_revealed_logoBeginning air date has been changed to Wednesday, November 13th

Some months ago I had the pleasure of working with several of the producers of a new series for the History Channel provocatively titled “Bible History Revealed” commissioned by Prometheus Entertainment, the rather fascinating brain-child of Kevin Burns of which and about whom you can read more here. My interview ran for three hours as we zipped through the gamut of topics for the six programs covering A-Z with questions such as the following:

What did it mean to be a prophet? What was the purpose of these prophecies?
Why was Daniel not included in the Prophets section of the Bible?
What is the historical place of the book of Enoch?
What was a messiah?
What message did John the Baptist preach?
Were John the Baptist and Jesus at one time considered rival prophets?
Did Jesus see himself as a divine being?
What is the message in The Book of Revelation?
How do Jews, Christians and Muslims view the afterlife?
What was the most surprising secret revealed by the Dead Sea Scrolls?
How has the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls affected Biblical translations and history?
What does the Gabriel Stone say that might indicate a suffering messiah figure predating Jesus?
Why was the Ark of the Covenant so important and what about all the theories as to what happened to it and its possible current whereabouts?
What needs to happen for the Promised Land and End of Days prophecies to be fulfilled?
How has the Bible been misinterpreted in modern society?

Many dozens of my friends and colleagues were also brought into this six part series with similar questions, but tailored to their particular areas of expertise. Bob Cargill gives a partial list of participants here, as well an updated list of the six shows with their air dates here. All episodes air at 10 pm Eastern/9 pm Central:

“LOST IN TRANSLATION” – Nov 13, 2013
“THE PROMISED LAND” – Nov 20, 2013
“THE FORBIDDEN SCRIPTURES” – Nov 27, 2013
“THE REAL JESUS” – Dec 4, 2013
“MYSTERIOUS PROPHECIES”- Dec 11, 2013
“SEX AND THE SCRIPTURES” – Dec 18, 2013

 

Those of us who have done lots of these sorts of interviews know that of the hours we talk about nearly everything under the sun only a tiny fraction of what we say ends up getting used. I think this is fine as an overall method as it allows the producers and editors to take in the whole range of views and opinions on these controversial topics and the selectively try to represent the depth and breadth of scholarly views. Diversity in this case is a virtue not a vice. It is good for the public to understand that our field of “Christian Origins” in particular is a complex one with a variety of critical methods of inquiry that come into play in what we broadly call the “academic study of religions.” I think this promises to be a good series and I recommend it to my readers–if for nothing else than a nice overview of the diversity of academic positions and opinions.