Monday, August 04, 2014

"Fifty bob Dodd"

While doing some reading today on John's Gospel, I came across an enjoyable tidbit about the great New Testament scholar C. H. Dodd (1884-1973):

"[He] had gained notoriety among scholars as “fifty bob Dodd” for his first tome on John."

This is from G. L. Borchert, John 1–11 (The New American Commentary  Vol 25A; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996): 40.  The reference is to Dodd's The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958).

Borchert explains in a footnote that "When Dodd’s work was first published, scarcely any commentary at the time had cost fifty shillings, and for scholars to purchase the work was a reflection of the high regard they had for his significant work."

Having read this, I then googled "fifty bob Dodd" and it turned out that it was a googlewhack. Not for long, I'd guess, as this blogpost is now likely to come up.  I wonder how long that will take?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jesus and Brian Conference, Day 2

William Telford and me
After a wonderful first day, the Jesus and Brian conference began again on Saturday morning with a paper from one of the real gurus of Jesus films, William Telford. He had a superb series of reflections on the ways in which the Life of Brian parodies the Jesus films, and his paper was superbly performed.  He does not just read his paper, in the manner all too common in the guild, but he acts it.  It was compelling stuff.

Just as compelling was the second paper, "Monty Python's Life of
Philip Davies and James Crossley
Jesus", in which first Philip Davies and then James Crossley took a more subversive look at the film and argued that it is not quite so benign in its intentions as it is depicted by Burridge and others.  After a coffee break, Helen Bond gave an eloquent and fascinating paper on laughing at crucifixion.

Helen Bond
The quality of the papers continued to be high. Guy Stiebel from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem talked about "Romanti Ite Domum: Identity and Expressions of Resistance in Judaea", with fine use of Powerpoint, including one picture of some kind of ancient phallus, which caused lots of sniggers (and some remarks about "bigus dickus").

Steve Mason
Last night I blogged about my hunger after the canape reception, but today I was forced to eat my words after we were treated to a delicious sandwich lunch, and I was even invited into the speakers' room where I got to hang out with the swells.  I do miss nice British sandwiches, so it was a treat, and I sneaked one last one in to enjoy with the first afternoon paper, Steve Mason on "What have the Romans ever done for us?", a really fascinating study of first century politics and relations between Judaea and Rome, with superb use of Powerpoint (and it's not often that you can say that).

Paula Fredriksen
After Steve Mason came one of my favourite scholars, Paula Fredriksen. I must admit that I still feel a little starstruck whenever  I talk to her.  Her paper was called "Are you a virgin? Biblical Exegesis and the Invention of Tradition" and the best use of clips from the film -- each short clip was followed by some reflections on the Biblical text.

The last session of the day kicked off with a fascinating piece by David Shepherd, who explored another Biblical parody, Wholly Moses, starring Dudley Moore, which was something of a critical and commercial failure.  Shepherd showed several clips and explored the difficulties with the film.  The second of his clips, in which Dudley Moore as Hershel "does God" after having come down from the mountain, I found hysterically funny, so much so that when my head fell backwards I knocked someone's bag off their desk. The last paper of the day was given by Aaron Rosen, who talked about "Sonofagod: Images of Jesus in Contemporary Art".

There was just enough time in between the end of the formal programme and the conference banquet for a swift pint in a German style bierkeller with big screens showing the World Cup, and we just caught Argentina beating Iran 1-0 in the closing minutes.

The conference dinner took place in the Inner Temple Hall, and was hosted by Robin Griffith-Jones.  Earlier in the day, Richard Burridge had mentioned that he would try to get a chance to introduce me to John Cleese, and I was delighted that he did so.  Here, for posterity is the pic.:

Richard Burridge, John Cleese, me
Joan Taylor kindly took the picture.  I was delighted to get the chance to chat to Cleese, who was utterly delightful.  At the dinner itself, the top brass sat on high table with Cleese, with Fredriksen to his left, Griffith-Jones to his right, and Ehrman opposite.  The food was excellent and the wine flowed pretty freely.  Afterwards, Cleese gave a short speech and then invited attendees to ask him questions about the film, with Michelle going around with the mic.  Cleese dealt graciously and amusingly with each of the questions and I could have listened to him all evening.  A really marvellous occasion.

Sadly, this wrapped up my attendance at a wonderful conference.  I had a conference in Roskilde, Denmark, to get to, on Luke's Rewritten Bible (on which, more anon), so I jumped on the tube to Victoria and the train to Gatwick, in time to grab a couple of hours' sleep before my early morning flight.

The conference did continue today (Sunday) with several great speakers including A-J Levine, Adele Reinhartz and Bart Ehrman.  I would also really have liked to hear Richard Burridge's talk about the Malcolm Muggeridge and Bishop Stockwood programme.  Perhaps I'll be able to catch up via the conference video.  As far as I could tell the whole thing was being video-ed.

This pic. is nicked from the T & T Clark twitter feed, via Jim West's blog, and depicts Joan Taylor interviewing film editor Julian Doyle:

Joan Taylor and Julian Doyle
It's appropriate to conclude with a picture of Joan Taylor, who did so much hard work to make this conference a success.  It was a brilliant idea for a conference, superbly organized, with tons of amazing papers from top people.  And, of course, John Cleese.

Did I mention that I met John Cleese?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Jesus and Brian Conference, Day 1

Terry Jones, John Cleese and Richard Burridge
It's not every day that you get to go to a conference on Monty Python.  Jesus and Brian Or: What Have the Pythons done for us? is the mastermind of Joan Taylor at Kings College, London, with support from Richard Burridge.  The focus is Monty Python's Life of Brian (dir. Terry Jones, 1979), and how it interacts with scholarship on the New Testament, Christian Origins, the Historical Jesus and the history of early Judaism.  The conference began today at King's College London and continues for the next two days.

As a long time fan of Life of Brian, and with an interest in Jesus films, I could not resist the opportunity to make it to this one.  Luckily, I have a conference in Denmark beginning on Sunday, and the chance to stop off in London on the way there made it irresistible.  Having said that, travel was not straightforward.  We had a flight cancelled on Wednesday evening and another on Thursday morning and only made it in in the early hours of Friday morning.  With no more than a few hours sleep over the last three nights, this does make it more of a challenge than I had expected, but I have no doubt that it will be worth it.

Joan Taylor introduces the conference
The conference began at around 4pm today.  Immediately one could see several scholarly celebrities around -- A.-J. Levine, Bart Ehrman, Helen Bond, George Brooke, Martin Goodman, Adele Reinhartz, Philip Davies, James Crossley, Eddie Adams, and so the list goes on.  Kings College is right in the heart of London, on the Strand, with theatres and swanky restaurants all around.  As long as you are not in a car, it's a fantastic location for a conference.  I tubed in from Heathrow to Covent Garden and had just a five minute walk.

Joan Taylor introduced the conference with a lively and witty piece on "the Historical Brian".  She mentioned her delight that the Pythons themselves had expressed enthusiasm about the conference and her amazement to get a phone-call from John Cleese.  She looked also at the comparison between the Life of Brian and the Hollywood Jesus films, and especially King of Kings.  

Martin Goodman
George Brooke
Martin Goodman then spoke about "The Life of Brian and the Politics of First Century Judea" and there was a lively Q&A session afterwards.  George Brooke spoke third, on "Brian as a Teacher of Righteousness", and got the best laugh so far when he said that Brian "puts the mess back into messianism".  The audience were taking a little while to warm up, but they were gradually getting there.

From this first session we went upstairs for a nice wine reception, with a few of those posh little canapés going around on trays, the kind where you need about five hundred to fill you up.  As it turned out, this was the only food of the evening, so it was important to grab as many as you could, and I'm not sure that I was quite up to the job.  Rick Trainor, Principal at Kings, gave some opening remarks, and uttered the heresy that he had not in fact seen the film!

Terry Jones, John Cleese, Richard Burridge
After the reception, we returned to the lecture theatre for the highlight of the day.  In fact, I'm sure it will prove to have been the highlight of the whole conference.  Richard Burridge interviewed Terry Jones and John Cleese for an hour.  It was an utterly compelling session.  I have to admit that I was a little starstruck.  John Cleese took the lion's share of the discussion and pretty much everything he said was quite fascinating.

Cleese expressed genuine pleasure that the film had resulted in a conference like this, and said that it might just be one of the best things the Pythons had done.  He talked about how good a director Jones was, adding that it was because he was a megalomaniac.  He talked about an alternate story line that came to nothing about Brian (or some other character) failing to make it to the last supper.  He spoke in the most disparaging way about the media ("second rate scum") and expressed little surprise when Burridge mentioned how little interest they had shown in this conference.

Jones did do a Mandy voice at one point, and he generally seemed rather chuffed with the whole discussion while broadly happy to let Cleese dominate.  Burridge did a fine job of allowing them to relax and chat while at the same time reining them in a bit and asking some very interesting questions, including a discussion of the now famous Stockwood and Muggeridge discussion of the film, with Cleese and Palin, on Tim Rice's programme.  Cleese said that he was an admirer of Muggeridge and felt sorry for him that his responses to the film were so poor.

Terry Jones, John Cleese, Richard Burridge
If anything, the discussion with Cleese and Jones was too good.  The hour went too quickly, and I could have continued listening for hours.  There followed an opportunity to watch the film (via DVD projection) in the same theatre, but over half the audience including most of the top brass flocked out, perhaps having realized that two or three canapes is not quite enough for dinner, and going in search of food and drink.  If the timing was not ideal, it was still nice to have a chance to watch the film again, all the more so in appreciative company, and good to brush up on it ahead of a whole raft of lectures tomorrow, all of which look like they will be fascinating.

The first day of the conference was every bit as good as I thought it would be and better.  Richard Burridge has an article in the Church Times here: Is he more than a 'naughty boy'? and there is a pre-conference podcast here.

I will continue to live-tweet the conference tomorrow, along with several others, and all your reactions, using the #JesusandBrian hashtag.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Jesus and Brian Conference in London - tickets still available!

I'm surprised that this one is not already sold out, but the good news is that tickets are still available for conference about The Life of Brian coming soon:

Jesus and Brian: What did the Pythons ever do for us?
Kings College, London, 20-22 June

Full details are at the link above.  As a life-long fan of Life of Brian, I am really excited about this event.  In fact, I booked my ticket back in March, as soon as I heard about the conference.  I hope to live-blog most of it too (though sadly I'll have to miss the Sunday because I'll be heading to Denmark for another conference, on more of which anon).

There is a stellar cast of scholars lined up to speak at the conference, including Paula Fredriksen, Adele Reinhartz, Helen Bond, Bill Telford, Bart Ehrman, James Crossley, Philip Davies, Martin Goodman, George Brooke, Steve Mason, Amy-Jill Levine, as well as locals Joan Taylor and Richard Burridge, and so the list goes on.

While the programme lists Richard Burridge engaging in a "conversation with mystery guests" for the Friday evening, I have it on good authority that the guest will be Terry Jones himself!  Julian Doyle (editor) is also lined up to appear on the Sunday.  And there is another "mystery guest" for the Saturday evening who can't yet be named.

Booking details are here.  I look forward to seeing lots of you there for what is likely to be a really wonderful event.

He's not the Messiah.  He's a very naughty boy.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Maurice Casey (1942-2014)

Maurice Casey in April 2008,
Synoptic Problem Conference,
Lincoln College, Oxford
I was so sad to hear of the death of Prof. Maurice Casey at the weekend (see JimWest, Dominic Mattos, Larry Hurtado, Jim Davila).  Anyone familiar with contemporary New Testament scholarship will know of the massive contribution that he has made.

His enduring legacy will probably be the stimulation to rethink the Son of Man question, in two key works, one in 1979 (Son of Man: The Interpretation and Influence of Daniel 7) and the other in 2007 (The Solution to the Son of Man Problem), which we were delighted to have in the Library of New Testament Studies series.  Alongside this, and equally important, is his underlining of the necessity to study the Aramaic sources of the Gospels, especially in Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel (1998) and An Aramaic Approach to Q (2002).  In spite of the importance of these contributions, he made his mark in other major ways too.

His book on New Testament Christology, the result of his Cadbury Lectures in Birmingham in 1985, is probably the best, clearest presentation of the view he so clearly articulates in its title, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God, and I still assign students passages from this book when we discuss early Christology.

Like almost all of his writing, the strength of that book is that it develops a coherent and stimulating thesis and argues it with clarity and force.  There is no messing about in Casey's writing.  He doesn't just present data for the sake of it but marshalls evidence as part of a stimulating argument.  He does what he needs to do without going on for ever, and his prose is crystal clear.  One of his much underrated books is Is John's Gospel True? (1996) in which he robustly lays out the case for distancing John's Gospel from the historical Jesus.  While many contemporary scholars disagree with the book, it's an ideal starting point for getting to the heart of the debate about John and history.

Casey was writing right to the end of his life and although I am not as fond as his recent book on Jesus mythicism as I am of his other works, it would be fair to say that his big book on the historical Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian's Account of his Life and Teaching (2010), makes a major contribution to Jesus research.  It's a lively read but it is also intense, passionate and full of the emphases that made Casey so important a scholar -- the emphasis on reading the source materials in their original languages, the importance of understanding accurately Jesus' historical context, and the stress on working as an historian and resisting the urge to warp the evidence with contemporary theological concerns.

I was lucky to meet Maurice on many occasions while I was teaching at the University of Birmingham.  Maurice was down the road at the University of Nottingham and was a regular at the conferences, and it was always a pleasure to chat to him at the British New Testament Conference.  I think the first time I met him was in a taxi I shared with Maurice and Michael Goulder.  They had been good friends for years, and my association with Michael instantly put me in Maurice's good books -- I always felt like I bathed a little in Michael's reflected glory.  Although I never heard them talk about this, I suspect that they respected one another not least because it's not always easy being a scholar of religion when you don't believe in God.

I have been sorry not to see more of him since I have lived in America, but I have happy memories of long discussions over dinner at the Oxford Synoptic Problem conference in April 2008.  In spite of his occasionally acerbic and witty remarks about others, I always found him delightful, kind and very funny.  I still remember clearly several elements in our conversation at dinner, at which his much-loved graduate student and close friend Stephanie Fisher was also present.  One was the observation that scholars often get much more conservative the closer they get to the grave -- they are trying to write their way into heaven, he claimed.  The other was a lengthy discussion about the properties of port, which, he felt, were insufficiently appreciated by many of those present at the conference.

And so I am pouring a glass of port now and raising it to Maurice, who will be dearly missed, and whose like we may never see again.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Jesus' Wife Fragment: Another Round-Up

It's time for another quick round-up on the latest in the Jesus' Wife Fragment.  Now that the documentary has aired, and people have had time to reflect on some of the recent developments, it looks like we are at the point where the story will begin to receive less attention on the blogs, and certainly less attention in the media.  There is a kind of cycle here, and the experience of the last four weeks has been similar to the experience of September-October 2012.

The major difference this time around was that the documentary, originally scheduled for 30 September 2012, actually aired (trailer).  I must admit that I didn't watch it live, and although some of us have in the past live-tweeted documentaries like this, there didn't seem to be quite the appetite this time.  So I went to our local cinema grill to watch the first two episodes of the new 24 instead, and watched the Jesus' Wife documentary on the DVR when I got home.  I'm sorry if I sound shallow, but for me Jack wins over Jesus' Wife every time.

The documentary itself was very little changed from the version that aired in France several months ago.  There are several things I really enjoyed about the piece.  The interviews with Karen King were captivating, and I greatly appreciated her lucidity and enthusiasm -- she is an absolute natural in front of camera.  Likewise, AnneMarie Luijendijk was great.  I had not seen her on TV before, and she was also a natural.  Whereas all Prof. King's interviews appeared to take place at Harvard, Prof. Luijendijk was seen at Nag Hammadi (and we even got a retelling of the classic "find" story, jinn and all, in a single-person version, with an actor playing Mohammed 'Ali Al Samman) and the Coptic Museum in Cairo.

The documentary tended to play to a narrative that scholars of Christian origins will find familiar -- an ecclesial authority that is associated with celibacy and suppression of women is pitted against an anti-ecclesial counter-narrative in which the Jesus' Wife Fragment is now alleged to play a part.  In order to represent this visually, those speaking in favour of the fragment's authenticity -- Profs. King, Luijendijk and Bagnall -- were all presented in academic contexts, at their computers, in archaeological sites, in museums, whereas the other contributors, Dom. Henry Wansbrough and Robin Griffiths-Jones, were presented in churches and in recognizably ecclesial garb.  In so far as the forgery hypothesis came up, it was generally linked with "the Vatican", and the viewer was encouraged to think that it is only conservative types who were doubting the authenticity of the fragment.

The most disappointing element about the documentary was that it only appended one minute of additional material at the end to reflect recent developments, showing headlines in which the fragment was declared authentic.  The documentary concluded with the following statement:
"In short, there's much new evidence for its authenticity and none that it's a modern forgery.  The fragment will continue to stir controversy.  Scholars will continue to debate its meaning.  It will be some while yet before we can say whether the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is a footnote or a new chapter in the greatest story ever told" (emphasis original).
However, if the documentary itself came across as advocating very strongly for the authenticity of the fragment, the media more broadly has very much caught up with recent developments.  The highlight might just be Michael Peppard's remarkable turn on CNN:

(See the CNN HD version here). Like King and Luijendijk, Peppard is an absolute natural in front of camera -- he has a lightness of touch, and runs with the host's humour, but at the same time he is informative and lucid. By standing in front of graphic representations of the fragments, he is able to draw attention to some of the issues, including the writing round the hole.  (Yet still, we are dependent on images extracted from Harvard Divinity's PDFs; it would be wonderful to see good digital images released for detailed study).

Meanwhile, there are at least a couple of blog posts that are well worth reading for reflections on the fragment and the recent scholarly discussion.  First, Larry Hurtado comments:

The “Jesus’ Wife” Controversy: Scholarship, Publicity, and The Issues

And then Peter Head has some very helpful reflections on the lessons we can learn from this affair:

Pseudo-Gospel of Jesus' Wife as Case Study

Further, Münster has today issued a press-release that focuses on Christian Askeland's key contributions, featuring an endorsement from Prof. Stephen Emmel:

Gastforscher Dr. Christian Askeland entlarvt angeblich antikes Schriftstück / "Der sichere Beweis hatte gefehlt"
. . . . Prof. Dr. Stephen Emmel vom Institut für Ägyptologie und Koptologie der WWU, der den Nachwuchsforscher betreute, war von der Arbeit seines Zöglings fasziniert. Erstaunt habe ihn, der schon 2012 Zweifel angemeldet  hatte, die Entdeckung der Fälschung allerdings nicht, sei sie doch so offensichtlich gewesen: "Bislang hatte einfach der absolut sichere Beweis gefehlt", meint Stephen Emmel.
Dass Christian Askeland seine Wege von der Kirchlichen Hochschule Wuppertal, seinem derzeitigen Arbeitgeber, an die WWU führten, sei ein glücklicher Umstand gewesen: "Er hat über die koptische Übersetzung des Johannesevangeliums promoviert. Somit war er genau der Richtige, der das entdecken konnte", sagt Koptologe Stephen Emmel. Die Fälschung hält er sogar für recht jung. "Sie dürfte in den vergangenen zehn Jahren entstanden sein", mutmaßt der Experte.
Meanwhile, there has been some interesting discussion about the language in which some of the blog posts have been couched, culminating in a thoughtful piece on the Religion Dispatches blog:

"Gospel of Jesus’ Wife" Less Durable Than Sexism Surrounding It
Eva Mroczek

The article is well worth reading, and focuses on the issue of the language in which some of the discussion of the Jesus' Wife Fragment has been couched.  Eva is too gracious to mention that I also participated in the very thing she exposes here, by echoing language about the Lycopolitan John fragment as "ugly sister", and about which I apologized sincerely.  Since many have expressed bafflement at the use of this metaphor, and since Eva herself does not explain its origins, I should perhaps explain that it was an ill-advised attempt to play on Roger Bagnall's description of the Jesus' Wife Fragment on the day of its publication:
""We put it up on the screen, and we all sort of said, ‘Eeew,’ ” said Bagnall, one of the world’s leading papyrologists. “We thought it was ugly. And it is ­ugly. The handwriting is not nice — thick, badly controlled strokes made by somebody who didn’t have a very good pen.” (Boston Globe, 18 September 2012). 
The point was to note that its sister fragment was equally as ugly.  Nevertheless, I do see that the use of the metaphor is unfortunate and offensive, and I would like to reiterate my apology also in this context, and to thank Eva for drawing attention to it.

Update (Saturday, 1.42am): I forgot also to add a link to a characteristically interesting post by Jim Davila on Paleojudaica, Papyrus Forgeries?, in which he picks up on Roger Bagnall's statement, "I don’t know of a single verifiable case of somebody producing a papyrus text that purports to be an ancient text that isn’t" (New York Times).  See also Jim Davila's earlier comments in GJW: Another Goodacre Round-Up.

Note also that April DeConick is asking What are the facts about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife?, adding a note of caution about some bloggers' claims, and getting some strong support from James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, both of whom remain convinced about the authenticity of the fragment.  Simcha complains about pseudo-academic nay-sayers like me.  He calls us "sleeper-agents of Christian theology", though at the same time he notes that we "never sleep".

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Library of New Testament Studies has a new editor!

I decided several months ago that after several years as editor of the Library of New Testament Studies book series, the time had come for me to step down.  I have greatly enjoyed working on the series, and I am proud with what we have achieved over the last few years, with a fantastic editorial board and tireless work from Dominic Mattos at Bloomsbury, and recently with help from Katie Broomfield.

I have been editing the series almost as long as I have had a blog!  When I took over as editor in 2004, I was living in Birmingham, England, and the series was known as the Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series ("JSNTSup" or "JSNTS").  It was published by Sheffield Academic Press, and it was of course associated with JSNT.  I was approached by Philip Law and Rebecca Mulhearn, who were working for Continuum Publishers, which had just taken over Sheffield Academic Press, T & T Clark and Trinity Press International, eventually combining Biblical Studies and Theology titles all under the imprint T & T Clark International (later just T & T Clark).

It was always a pleasure to work with Rebecca Mulhearn, and then also with Rebecca Vaughan-Williams and in recent years with Dominic Mattos.  In fact, the scale of the work involved would make it absolutely impossible if it were not for such great publishers.  We changed the series name to the Library of New Testament Studies in about 2005, if memory serves.  This had become a necessity when the journal went to be published by Sage, so severing the link between the journal and the series.  The new name was easy to choose, not least because T & T Clark were already using "Library of Biblical Studies" in advertisements, and it cohered with other series that had come from Sheffield to the T & T Clark stable like the Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament ("LHBOTS") and the Library of Second Temple Studies.

While a great deal of the work is done by exchange of emails, running to thousands over the last decade, one of the most pleasurable aspects of the job are the contacts we have, and board meetings, at SBL Annual Meetings, International Meetings and so on.  I think it's those contacts that I will miss most now that I am stepping down.  I will also miss the intellectual stimulation that comes from discussing so many interesting and diverse projects with prospective authors, and scouting for strong manuscripts for the series.  There is nothing more satisfying than pursuing a project with a new author, and seeing it through from its beginnings in a simple email, a tip or a conference presentation, to its full maturity as a published book.

So this post comes by way of a massive thank you to those I have worked with over the last few years, my wonderful editorial board, all those who have read manuscripts for us, Rebecca, Rebecca, Alinda, Katie and most of all Dominic, who is a true star.

But more importantly, this post is to announce that the new editor is Chris Keith, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity and Director of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible at St. Mary's University College, Twickenham.  I could not be leaving the job in better hands.  Chris and I have been working together in the last few months during the transitionary period and I know he'll do a fantastic job. I am absolutely delighted that Chris will be at the helm and I want to wish him all the very best, and hope that he enjoys the job as much as I have.