Witherington, Ben, III 1951-
WITHERINGTON, Ben, III 1951-
PERSONAL: Born December 30, 1951, in High Point, NC; son of Ben, Jr. (a banker) and Joyce (a piano teacher; maiden name, West) Witherington; married Ann E. Sears (an educator), June 4, 1977; children: Christy Ann, David Benjamin. Ethnicity: "WASP." Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1974; Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, M.Div. (summa cum laude), 1977; University of Durham, Ph.D., 1981. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Jogging, playing the guitar, jazz music, basketball, baseball.
ADDRESSES: Home—2004 Lampton Circle, Lexington, KY 40514. Office—Asbury Theological Seminary, 204 N. Lexington Ave., Wilmore, KY 40390-1199; fax: 606-858-2350. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Duke University, Durham, NC, faculty member, 1982-83; Ashland Theological Seminary, Ashland, OH, professor of New Testament, 1984-95; Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY, professor of New Testament interpretation, 1995—. Ordained Methodist elder, 1982. High Point College, faculty member, 1982-83; Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, visiting professor, 1988, 1990, 1992; Cambridge University, Bye Fellow at Robinson College, 1992, member of college, 1996.
MEMBER: Institute for Biblical Research, Society for the Study of the New Testament, Society of Biblical Literature, Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best biblical studies book of the year, Christianity Today, 1995, for The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth, 1999, for Paul Quest: A Study of the Apostle from Tarsus; John Wesley Fellow for Life.
Women in the Earliest Churches (monograph), Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Women and the Genesis of Christianity, edited by wife, Ann Witherington, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1990.
The Christology of Jesus, Fortress (Minneapolis, MN), 1990.
Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World: A Comparative Study in New Testament Eschatology, InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL), 1992.
Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, Fortress (Minneapolis, MN), 1994.
Friendship and Finances in Philippi: The Letter of Paul to the Philippians, Trinity Press International (Valley Forge, PA), 1994.
Paul's Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph, Westminster/John Knox (Louisville, KY), 1994.
The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth, InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL), 1995, 2nd eedition, 1997.
Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1995.
John's Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, Westminster/John Knox (Louisville, KY), 1995.
(Editor) History, Literature, and Society in the Book of Acts, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
The Many Faces of Christ: The Christologies of the New Testament and Beyond, Crossroad Publishing (New York, NY), 1998.
The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1998.
The Paul Quest: The Renewed Search for the Jew from Tarsus, InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL), 1998.
(With Catherine G. Gonzalez and C. Everett Tilson) How United Methodists Study Scripture, edited by Gayle C. Felton, Abingdon Press (Nashville, TN), 1999.
Jesus the Seer: The Progress of Prophecy, Hendrickson (Peabody, MA), 1999.
The Realm of the Reign: Reflections on the Dominion of God, Discipleship Resources (Nashville, TN), 1999.
The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2001.
New Testament History: A Narrative Account, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI), 2001.
(Selector and annotator, with Christopher Mead Armitage) The Poetry of Piety: An Annotated Anthology of Christian Poetry, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI), 2002.
(With Laura M. Ice) The Shadow of the Almighty: Father, Son, and Spirit in Biblical Perspective, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2002.
(With Hershel Shanks) The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story and Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus and His Family, HarperSan-Francisco (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
(Editor of extracts) Bruce W. Longenecker, The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI), 2003.
Revelation, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Darlene Hyatt) Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2004.
(With Darlene Hyatt) The New Testament Story, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2004.
The Gospel Code: Novel Claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and da Vinci, InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL), 2004.
Contributor to New Proclamation: Year B, 2003, Easter through Pentecost, edited by Harold W. Rast, Fortress, 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Ben Witherington III is a theology professor who "is generally regarded as a conservative exegete and historian, and in theological matters an evangelical," according to Daniel J. Harrington in an America article. A prolific author, Witherington produces at least one book a year, all of which deal with Christianity or Christian issues in one way or another, whether from a historical, rhetorical, exegetical, or sociological viewpoint. "My primary motivation for writing," the author once told CA, "is to advance the ministry of Christ and his church. There are of course secondary motives, such as helping my students to understand the New Testament, advancing the scholarly discussion on various issues, and the like. What influences my work is the study of the Bible and the ancient world in which it was written. This includes the study of Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, ancient history, the Greek and Latin classics, archaeology, and a host of correlated subjects."
Witherington's first three books, Women in the Ministry of Jesus: A Study of Jesus' Attitudes to Women and Their Roles As Reflected in His Earthly Life, Women in the Earliest Churches, and Women and the Genesis of Christianity, all examine how the Bible and other evidence from the early days of Christianity viewed the role of women. The scholar poses in these works that although early Christians did not abandon the existing patriarchal system, they reformed it, thus providing more opportunities to women. Critics of these books were not thoroughly convinced by Witherington's scholarship, however. A Choice reviewer, for one, noted that Women in the Ministry of Jesus overlooks some important feminist critics, adding, "This is a careful if not always convincing exegesis." And J. K. Elliott, writing in History Today, felt that the author "is somewhat over-enthusiastic in deducing from this material that Jesus' movement intended to strengthen the role of women."
Witherington's next book, The Christology of Jesus, is the first of many by the author that examine the life and message of Jesus, including Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth, The Many Faces of Christ: The Christologies of the New Testament and Beyond, and Jesus the Seer: The Progress of Prophecy. In The Christology of Jesus the author tries to determine just who Jesus conceived himself to be. Using historical material as well as the Bible itself, Witherington concludes that Jesus did, indeed, believe himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of Man; in fact, he saw himself as the incarnation of Wisdom itself. While many critics noted that this is a conservative stance, since Christianity clearly holds that Jesus was the Son of God, they also felt that it was a bold statement to make, given that the author would have to back up his thesis with tangible evidence. "Witherington here alerts us to the greatest weakness of his book," said Robert J. Miller in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. "Though some cases are argued at length, the evidence he offers is usually so meager and the argument so perfunctory that no one will be persuaded who does not already agree that the overwhelming majority of Synoptic material is historical." Similarly, J. Michael Ramsey, noting that Witherington assumes the facts in the Gospel to be authentic, commented in the Journal of Biblical Literature: "He has made an impressive case, and without question an impressive case can be made. Reputable scholars can be cited in defense of the authenticity of virtually everything in the Gospel tradition, and Witherington is quick to cite them. Yet as one heartily in agreement with Witherington's main contention, I am still uneasy about some aspects of his method. What I missed were his reasons for excluding as inauthentic those few passages in the Gospels which he did exclude, … [such as] Jesus' temptation in the desert …, and what he calls the 'epiphanic' miracles." Nevertheless, other reviewers were impressed with Witherington's work. For example, Thomas B. Slater asserted in the Journal of Religious Thought, "Witherington has presented a rather balanced critical and consistently argued scholarly work…. This book provides a good conservative attempt to reconstruct the meaning and message of Jesus."
Witherington later completed a complementary work to The Christology of Jesus titled The Many Faces of Christ: The Christologies of the New Testament and Beyond, in which he examines the various types of Christology from the viewpoint of Jesus' followers. The author concluded not only the obvious—that Christ's followers considered him the Son of God—but also that the evolution of this belief was not consistently progressive and that some forms of Christology worked better in converting and ministering to the Gentiles than others. Yet another approach to the study of Jesus followed with The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth, in which Witherington takes an historical approach to discovering the true Jesus.
With Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom and Jesus the Seer: The Progress of Prophecy, Witherington explores the tradition of wisdom and the nature of prophecy in their historical contexts and then applies them to the figure of Jesus, thus placing the Christ within the philosophical context of his times and culture. "Jesus the Sage represents an ambitious project that leaves the reader admiring both the daring and the competence of Professor Witherington," acknowledged John P. Meier in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. While Meier felt that the scholar's book leaves some questions unanswered, such as whether it can be agreed that there is enough evidence to support Witherington's conclusion that "Jesus presented himself as God's Wisdom in the flesh," as Meier noted, the critic concluded that "while some may wish to debate these issues with [Witherington], all will applaud his achievement in this stimulating book." In a review of Jesus the Seer, in which the author discusses the evolving viewpoints in Christianity that eventually led to viewing Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, Journal of Biblical Literature contributor Richard Vinson felt that the main difficulty was that Witherington, who explores the prophetic tradition from 1600 B.C.E. through 300 C.E., tries to "cover too much material to treat it in depth, or to interact extensively with scholarship on each section of his subject." O. Wesley Allen, Jr., writing in Interpretation, similarly felt that the ambitious scope of Jesus the Seer was the main problem of the book. Nevertheless, Allen asserted that "there is much to commend this project" and that "many biblical texts and characters are given fresh readings that can enlighten scholar and preacher alike."
Witherington has explored the philosophy and history of Paul in the same way he did Jesus in the books Paul's Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph and The Paul Quest: The Renewed Search for the Jew from Tarsus. And he has written numerous books on Scripture that he describes as socio-rhetorical commentaries, including such works as Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, and Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. All of these books have been heavily reviewed and commented on, especially in religious journals, but Witherington gained even more attention in both these publications and in more mainstream periodicals when he and Hershel Shanks published The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story and Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus and His Family.
The Brother of Jesus was quickly composed by Shanks and Witherington in 2003 after the amazing news was announced that the ossuary containing the bones of James, the brother of Jesus, was discovered. Since the ossuary's discovery several years ago (its existence was not revealed until archaeologists were fairly certain of its authenticity), there has been much debate about whether or not it is genuine. While the burial box has been dated to the time of James's life, some experts have pointed to the inconsistent lettering in the Aramaic inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," as proof it is a forgery, while others have noted that these names were common in biblical times and not proof that the James whose remains lie within are those of Jesus' brother. Another debate about the inscription is how it indicates that James was literally Jesus' brother, which would imply that Mary, Jesus' mother, did not remain a virgin her entire life, an important belief among many Christians who often assert that James was either a cousin of Jesus or a half brother from Joseph's wife before Mary. Whether or not the ossuary is genuine, it has brought new attention to the historical James, an important figure in early Christianity who has since been much neglected. Witherington and Shanks took the opportunity of the discovery to readdress the story of James in their book.
The first part of The Brother of Jesus is an account of the discovery of the ossuary, written by Shanks, a lawyer; the second part, written by Witherington, concerns the life of James and his important role in Christian history. While Booklist critic Ilene Cooper felt that Witherington relies too much on "conjecture" when writing about James, she asserted that "readers will come away with a solid introduction to James and an understanding of the rifts between the leaders of the Jerusalem church and Paul." Witherington, who takes the position that the James ossuary is genuine, further concludes that James deserves more attention and acknowledgment from Christians as the first head of the Jerusalem church. In an assessment similar to Cooper's, Francis J. Moloney wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that Witherington is not critical enough of the evidence, noting that the "'rumor' that the box was found in Silwan is taken as a fact, and his reconstruction of James's conversion to become a follower of Jesus is pure speculation." On the other hand, other reviewers appreciated this study as "a well-argued and truly fascinating study of the ossuary and its importance," according to one Publishers Weekly writer. And while Times Literary Supplement contributor A. E. Harvey felt that the claims in the book are "extravagant," the critic concluded that The Brother of Jesus is an "authoritative introduction to what is certainly an interesting, but hardly sensational, discovery."
Witherington once told CA: "My writing process is quite straightforward. I research a portion of a subject, and then I write about it. I repeat these two steps again and again. Finally I read and revise the whole in light of the more comprehensive understanding available at the end of the process. My writing is inspired by my living faith in Christ and my continuing fascination with the Bible."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, April 8, 1995, Daniel J. Harrington, review of Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, p. 26; April 7, 2003, Daniel J. Harrington, "An Amazing Discovery."
Anglican Theological Review, spring, 1995, A. K. M. Adam, "Of the Jews, to the Gentiles"; winter, 1999, Iain S. Maclean, review of History, Literature and Society in the Book of Acts.
Booklist, October 1, 2001, Steven Schroeder, review of New Testament History: A Narrative Account, p. 288; April 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story and Significance of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus and His Family, p. 1426.
Catholic Biblical Quarterly, April, 1990, Stevan L. Davies, review of Women in the Earliest Churches; January, 1996, Pieter F. Craffert, review of Paul'sNarrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph, and John P. Meier, review of Jesus the Sage; October, 1992, Robert J. Miller, review of The Christology of Jesus; January, 1997, Jerome H. Neyrey, review of Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians; October, 1997, Dennis M. Sweetland, review of John's Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel; April, 1998, Robert F. O'Toole, review of History, Literature and Society in the Book of Acts; April, 1999, Dean P. Bechard, review of The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary; April, 2002, Carolyn Thomas, review of The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, pp. 399-400; April, 2003, Jude Winkler, review of New Testament History, pp. 302-303.
Choice, July, 1989, A.-J. Levine, review of Women in the Earliest Churches; July, 1991, D. S. Ferguson, review of The Christology of Jesus; January, 2004, A.-J. Levine, review of The Brother of Jesus.
Christianity Today, December 12, 1994, review of Jesus the Sage, p. 39; October, 2003, Mark Galli, "The Article We Didn't Print," p. 11.
History Today, December, 1990, J. K. Elliot, "Sion's Daughters."
Interpretation, April, 1996, William P. Brown, review of Jesus the Sage, p. 198; January, 1997, John H. Sieber, review of Conflict and Community in Corinth, p. 95; July, 1997, Craig R. Koester, review of John's Wisdom, p. 312; April, 1999, Paul Walaskay, review of The Acts of the Apostles, p. 189; July, 1999, A. Andrew Das, review of Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Galatians, p. 314; January, 2000, Michael J. Gorman, review of The Paul Quest: The Renewed Search for the Jew of Tarsus, p. 77; October, 2000, O. Wesley Allen, Jr., review of Jesus the Seer: The Progress of Prophecy, p. 437; July, 2002, Mitzi Minor, review of The Gospel of Mark, p. 332.
Journal for the Study of the New Testament, December, 2002, Michael Knowles, review of New Testament History, p. 264.
Journal of Biblical Literature, December, 1986, Susan G. De George, review of Women in the Ministry of Jesus, pp. 724-726; summer, 1990, Carolyn Osiek, review of Women in the Earliest Churches, pp. 359-360; spring, 1992, J. Ramsey Michaels, review of The Christology of Jesus, pp. 141-143; fall, 1996, Bruce N. Fisk, review of Paul's Narrative Thought World, pp. 552-554; summer, 1999, Richard I. Pervo, review of The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 364-366; spring, 2001, Richard Vinson, review of Jesus the Seer, pp. 163-165.
Journal of Religious Thought, summer-fall, 1992, Thomas B. Slater, review of The Christology of Jesus.
Journal of Theological Studies, October, 1997, Jenny Read-Heimerdinger, review of History, Literature and Society in the Book of Acts, p. 777.
Library Journal, April 1, 2003, David Bourquin, review of The Brother of Jesus.
Maclean's, April 21, 2003, Brian Bethune, "Resurrecting James: A New Book and Film Shed Light on Jesus' Almost Forgotten Brother, Leader of the Earliest Christians," p. 48.
National Catholic Reporter, June 20, 2003, Francis J. Moloney, "Unearthing Clues to 'Jesus' Brother,'" p. 23.
Publishers Weekly, November 13, 1995, review of The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth, p. 36; February 23, 1998, review of The Many Faces of Christ: The Christologies of the New Testament and Beyond, p. 64; November 12, 2001, Jana Riess, review of New Testament History, p. S16; March 3, 2003, Jana Riess, "'All Ossuary, All the Time.' (PW Talks with Ben Witherington III)," p. 71, and review of The Brother of Jesus, p. 73; April 12, 2004, review of The New Testament Story, p. 62.
Reviews in Religion & Theology, May, 1999, Doug Chaplin, review of Grace in Galatia.
Theological Studies, June, 1995, Benjamin Fiore, review of Paul's Narrative Thought World, p. 358; December, 2001, Sharyn Dowd, review of The Gospel of Mark, p. 826.
Times Literary Supplement, September 19, 2003, A. E. Harvey, review of The Brother of Jesus.
Asbury Theological Seminary Web site, http://www.ats.wilmore.ky.us/ (May 26, 2004).*