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The Rewards of Redescription: An Assessment of Burton Mack’s Influence on the Study of Christian Origins

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Chapter Summary

Burton Mack published his groundbreaking prescription for reimagining Christian origins, "On redescribing Christian origins" in 1996. Its ramifications resonated beyond Society of Biblical literature and fundamentally altered the terrain of the study of early Christianity. At that time, Christian origins scholarship had engaged in some important, albeit limited, challenges to the predominantly Lukan account of the development of the Christian tradition. The implications of that challenge had yet to permeate the discipline in any systematic fashion. The solution, Mack argued, lay with Jonathan Z. Smith's methodological approach to redescription. There is an elaborate discussion about the reception received by Mack's proposal. Mack's program sought an explanation for the origins of Christianity, not a retelling of the Christian story. The crucial caveat is that Mack's call to pursue explanations for Christianity be heeded. Summaries of theological tenets should not be allowed to get repackaged in scholarly form.

Keywords: Burton Mack; Christian origins; Christian story; Society of Biblical literature; theological tenets



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