#50-2-Follow: 50 NT Scholars to Read and Follow: Chris Keith

#50-2-Follow: 50 NT Scholars to Read and Follow: Chris Keith April 2, 2020

This blog series spotlights 50 NT scholars and their research. The goal of this series is to introduce readers to a wider circle of scholarship than they have encountered. The majority of people on this list are early or mid-career NT scholars who are doing great research and writing. 


Explain why you love teaching and/or writing, and why it brings you vocational satisfaction.

I love teaching and writing because I’m endlessly fascinated by the earliest centuries of the Jesus movement. I suppose I’m fascinated by it because I grew up in the church, and so assumed uncritically a level of familiarity with the people, stages, and texts of that movement for most of my life. I then realized upon study that they were not familiar to me at all, and that in reality I knew next to nothing about something that had been extremely important to me and many family members for a long time. I now get to learn what I did not know that I did not know, and I really can’t believe people pay me to do it.

What is one “big idea,” emphasis, or theme in your scholarship that you hope impacts the way students and scholars read and understand the NT?

Such as there is one, I suppose it’s that the past and the present are always connected in some way or another, and conversely never disconnected entirely, but that this reality does not mean they’re connected in expected or predictable ways. Because of this emphasis, I’m always interested in, for example, how theological convictions of the earliest followers of Jesus (convictions that we might regard as historically inaccurate) were historically grounded in the sense of arising from a particular set of historical circumstances. Likewise, I’m always interested in how particular ideas or actions resulted in later states of affairs that could not have been predicted or intended at the time of their inception.

Who is your academic hero and why?

I can’t say I have an academic hero or try to emulate anyone, but two scholars I have always admired are Martin Hengel and Richard Bauckham, though not for reasons one might suppose. It’s not their particular ideas or arguments that I admire, but the way they have carried out their careers. Hengel did not know and Bauckham does not know disciplinary boundaries. They simply work on whatever topic they find interesting, with no apparent concern about whether “that” field of scholars will (or would) accept them as one of their own. They’re clear examples of scholars from an age before over-specialism. And when they go to work on a topic, they do it with a bulldozer. They tear down everything and build up arguments from the ground on the basis of the primary sources. The breadth of their learning and independence of mind are impressive.

Name a few academic books that were formative for you as a student.

 It’s not Biblical Studies per se (or at all), but early on Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was pretty important for me. I didn’t grow up evangelical exactly, but the church tradition I was from was socially, politically, and theologically conservative. That book gave me some wider sense of some of the distinctive cultural features of conservative theological traditions, in particular their love/hate relationship with academia.

H. Gregory Snyder’s Teachers and Texts in the Ancient World had a big impact on how I viewed teachers and their appeals to written authority as social capital in antiquity and is probably still my favorite academic book. The margins of my copy of that book are just filled to the brim with notes. Similarly, during my doctoral work, Harry Gamble’s Books and Readers in the Early Church was formative in that it made me think in new ways about how the whole history of early Christianity could be conceptualized as a kind of “book history.”


 Read Keith’s Work

Jesus against the Scribal Elite, rev. ed. (T&T Clark, 2020)

The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries (T&T Clark, 2020)

The Gospel as Manuscript (Oxford University Press, 2020)

My new book, The Gospel as Manuscript: An Early History of the Jesus Tradition as Material Artifact, is due to come out in April 2020. I’m excited about that because I’ve been working on it in one form or another since 2004. It details two phenomena in the early Jesus tradition associated with its materiality: (1) competitive textualization and (2) public reading in assembly.

Read Keith’s Work ONLINE


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If you ran into me at SBL, and you didn’t want to talk about New Testament studies, what would you want to talk about?

My wife and kids, BBQ, running, or University of Louisville basketball and football
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