I am a biblical scholar and historian of the early Christian period. I have an undergraduate degree in Music, graduate degrees in Comparative Literature and Classical Studies, and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, specializing in the New Testament and early Christianity. I am currently a visiting assistant professor at the University of Houston where I teach a variety of religious studies courses [sample syllabi here] and the Honors College’s core great-books course, the Human Situation.
As is quite apparent, my educational formation took a variety of turns, most of which is not even visible from the list of degrees mentioned above. It was not until after my bachelor’s degree in Music (classical guitar), that I became an avid reader. At first my interests were in reading comparative mythology, Jungian psychology, books on Buddhism, Taoism, Mohammedanism, the occult, Greek philosophy and literature, ancient Near Eastern myth and history, quantum physics…. and of course, Nietzsche.
It soon became clear that my interests were crystalizing around the fields of comparative mythology and religion, so I decided to pursue an M.A. degree in Comparative Literature at Indiana University. There my interests took on new directions. I became interested in philosophies or methodologies of interpretation, French literature, and Christian medieval literature and allegory, which I decided to major in. Other interests were also brewing which led me to pursue other M.A. degrees. I was fascinated with Greco-Roman literature and philosophy, but more so with its religions, and I became more and more interested in the religious and literary life of the 1st century BC to the 3rd century AD. It was only natural at this point to add early Christianity into the mix. I learned Greek, read (and reread) the New Testament in Greek, and soon found myself interested in the Jesus movement and Christian origins in their Greco-Roman religious, political, and literary contexts. I also became interested in how interpretive traditions were formed and their relationship with the texts they purport to interpret. I was discovering how, in one sense, the emerging Christian movement was a series of complex interpretive processes, wherein texts were being written to reinterpret early texts, or even historical events, and these texts were then also subjected to re-interpretations, and these to yet further re-interpretations, and this goes on and on, and is still going on and on and on…. Nietzsche himself had proposed that history progresses through a series of interpretive—often mis-interpretive—processes. It was now all becoming vaguely clear to me. This interplay between text and interpretive tradition soon became the foundation of many of my current interests. I will spend much time blogging about this and how it figures into both the making of the Bible and how the Bible is perceived by today’s public.
The paradigm in biblical studies had shifted while I was a graduate student, from looking at the early Christian movement in the context of the Greco-Roman world to looking at, and rightfully so, understanding, Jesus, Paul, and the early Christian movement within the context of late Judaism (2nd c. BC–1st c. AD). In honesty, this shift had already started with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. As a student of early Christianity, I was initially surprised to learn, as you might be too, that messiah, resurrection, day of judgement, holy spirit, and son of God were all Jewish ideas [the latter also prevalent in the Roman imperial cult (I hope to write about this topic at a later date)], which were quite pronounced in the Judaism prior to and during Jesus’ own era. That was it for me. I was hooked. I became increasingly interested in Jewish apocalypticism, Jewish messianism, Jewish literature of the intertestamental period, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jewish historian Josephus, Philo of Alexandria’s philosophical reinterpretation of Hebrew scripture, and the phenomenon of martyrdom which extending itself throughout this time period, from those recounted in the book of Daniel and the books of the Maccabees (circa the 160s BC) to those in the book of Revelation and beyond. Recalling my earlier interest in the phenomenon of interpretation, I soon began to see that each one of these texts grappled with making sense of their world through the process of reinterpreting, perhaps even reinventing, the past. The past was re-presented, in other words, through various interpretive guises in order to address the concerns, hopes, and fears of specific historical communities.
With this growing interest, I decided to abandon my Ph.D. in Medieval literature and go for one in Religious studies, except I now found myself living in France! So I did a Ph.D. in French (I would not suggest this to anyone!!) at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, then a part of the Sorbonne, and wrote my dissertation on Paul’s Old Testament interpretive method: “Τύπος et typologie dans le christianisme ancien. Une critique de l’image de Paul comme fondateur de l’exégèse typologique.” And voila! I was now Dr. DiMattei! — by no means was this as easy and spontaneous as I make it sound here (plein de souffrance, à vérité).
This was by no means the end of my education; in fact I could say that it was merely the beginning. My interests were still growing. I continued to read the voluminous secondary literature on Paul and managed to pump out a few scholarly articles on Paul’ scriptural hermeneutic for my colleagues [see here], but I also got involved and interested in historical Jesus research. What is that, you ask? I hope to return to this subject in the future and blog about it, but meanwhile you can check out the syllabus for the Historical Jesus course I created here and gather an idea of what it’s all about.
So Paul, Jesus, the Gospels, and the Judaism of the first-century became the staples of my existence. Yet I was to take another turn, one that brought me to my current projects working with the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible as some of my colleagues prefer. These interests culminated around a quest to learn about the compositional nature of the Bible, how it came to be, and who wrote the texts that eventually were stitched together in what later generations labeled “the Bible.” I have already outlined these interests in my Welcome page, which you can reread here. So it is here, at this juncture of my ever-expanding quest for everything biblical(!), that I now find myself a blogger….