ECR Interview: Dr. Jonathan Rowlands


Undergraduate Tutor and Lecturer in Theology at St. Mellitus College, East Midlands

Areas of Interest/Research:

Historical Jesus Research, Theological Interpretation of Scripture, Matthew’s Gospel, Hebrews

What is it about your field that you love researching?

Definitely methodology. I’ve always been really interested with questions of how we study (and how we should study) the New Testament and Early Christianity. For me, the most inspiring pieces of scholarship aren’t necessarily the ones trying to say something new, but the ones that seek to ask new questions altogether. That’s when real change happens, I think.

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

We all approach our discipline(s) with biases, and inescapably so. Rather than trying to ‘overcome’ or ‘master’ them, we should embrace them and make them clear to our readers from the outset of our research. 

What is your current research about?

My PhD thesis (which I did at the University of Nottingham) was about the role of metaphysics in the production of historical knowledge, with special attention given to how this works in historical Jesus research. I argued historiography is always already metaphysical, and that no metaphysical framework can ever stake a claim to neutrality. As such, I suggested that we ought to resist one metaphysical framework from gaining a monopoly at the expenses of others; that we should be open to a plurality of metaphysical frameworks in the quest for the historical Jesus.  

Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?

There’s so many. My doktorvater, Roland Deines, for one. The standards and rigour he demands of his own scholarship is a constant inspiration. I also really admire the way Jens Schröter and Grant MacAskill draw from other disciplines in a way that does complete justice to them to produce work that is genuinely interdisciplinary. 

Outside of NT/EC, I dream of being able to write like Katherine Sonderegger and Sarah Coakley. Their prose is so worshipful, in the same way Marilynne Robinson’s novels are, which is maybe the highest compliment I could give someone’s writing. I also admire the way Robert Jenson was always so unapologetically ‘himself’ in everything he wrote.  

What books have been formative for you in your study? Why were they so important? How did they shape you?

Reading Gadamer’s Truth and Method as an MPhil student was a massively transformative experience for me and has shaped me perhaps more than any other single book I’ve read. I still don’t think that we’ve fully grappled with Gadamer’s argument and its implications for NT/EC, that we approach texts with an historically effected consciousness that always keeps ‘objectivity’ out of our grasps. 

If Gadamer is right that interpreting texts always involves a fusing of horizons (and I think he is), then I think we need to be much more open about what we bring to our scholarship, and much more accepting of what others bring to their scholarship. This probably explains the ‘big idea’ in my own work …

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

There are two main articles I’ve had published so far, one on the use of bird imagery in Matt. 23.37-29; Luke 13.34-35 which you can read here, and one on the state of NT studies, and how the theological interpretation of scripture might help (which you can read here). 

I’ve also written something more theological on the music of John Coltrane, and a more accessible study on Matt. 15.21-28.

Where can we follow you online?

I’m on twitter (@RowlandsJonny), but I don’t post nearly as much as I should! 

If we ran into you at SBL/AAR and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?

Full disclosure, I’ve never actually been! Confession out of the way, I could talk for days about music or films. I’m also completely obsessed with Liverpool Football Club. I basically cried the first time my wife took me to a game at Anfield, and my supervisor gave me a German bible for Christmas one year with a foreword by Jürgen Klopp, which was a great gift! 

Other than your thesis, what research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

I’m doing some research on Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and specifically the argument that it was an early Christian fabrication designed to strengthen Jesus’ messianic credentials. I want to push back against this idea, to argue that there is actually very little evidence that ‘birthplace’ was a messianic category given any thought whatsoever before the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives. I think this gives us some cause to rethink the ‘early Christian fabrication’ argument.

I’m also really interested in feminine portrayals of Jesus in the New Testament. I’m thinking here about, for example, the reference to Jesus’ breasts (mastoi) in Rev. 1.13 and his depiction as mother hen in Matt. 23.37-29; Luke 13.34-35. I’m hoping to explore this phenomenon in more detail in the future. 

>> Thank you so much, Dr. Rowlands, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and your work.

Are you a PhD student or Early Career Researcher working in Religion or Biblical Studies? If so, we’d like to hear from you. This website is dedicated solely to interviewing PhD students and ECRs on who they are, what they love about their work, and what has inspired them. If you’d like to be interviewed, head over to the Contact page and fill out the form. There’s no catch. Don’t be shy. Self-promotion is a virtue.

One Comment Add yours

  1. AKMA says:

    Just a note to observe that the link to ‘Reception History, Theological Interpretation, and the Future of New Testament Studies’ leads not to the article, but to an invitation to request the article from Dr Rowlands.


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