Monday, June 13, 2005

The Open End

For some years there has been a group of theologians and philosophers of religion (and similar such people) who have held a monthly Monday night discussion group called "The Open End". It's a group I have occasionally joined in on myself, though the childcare commitments have made it too difficult for me to attend with any regularity. Its most famous member is John Hick [note: website down at the moment] and I count it as one of the privileges of working in the department here that I have got to know him. He has been a friend for years of Michael Goulder, who is also one of the Open End's regular attenders. Imagine giving a paper in front of such august people with such fine minds! Well, tonight I have been invited to address the group.

John Hick asked me to avoid anything too nit-picky; he said he did not want something that would be simply of interest to New Testament scholars. So I have decided to present a paper entitled "When Prophecy Became Passion: The Death of Jesus and the Birth of the Gospels", which is the working title for a book I am writing which focuses on the Passion Narrative. I gave a lecture under this title originally back in 2003 at Wellesley College, Boston, as the Elizabeth Luce More Lecture for that year. I then gave a greatly revised and different lecture under the same title as my presentation at Duke University in March as part of my application for the post there. On both of those occasions, I have learnt a lot that is going to help me rework and think about the project as I head towards publication, one day, of the book. I am sure that the same will be true of tonight's session.

Update (Tuesday, 10.07): it was an enjoyable evening, especially the wine, cheese and cold meats at the end. I spoke for forty-two minutes and there was then over an hour of discussion, all very wide ranging. It was a good test for me because it forced me to think, mainly on the hoof, about issues I do not usually think about, in particular the implications of New Testament scholarship for theology, religion and Christianity more broadly. It is too easy to go for defensive strategies like "I'm a historian, really", though such strategies are very tempting because I'm much more comfortable talking about history. John Hick asked several questions about the "person in the pew", by which he seems to mean, in this context, those who are ignorant of New Testament scholarship, concerning which I shared my views on the importance of finding ways of communicating Biblical scholarship better to that "person in the pew". I suggested that one of the elements that is involved is to be less disparaging than are some scholars about the challenge of working through the internet and the media. John Hick also asked me lots of interesting questions about incarnation and myth, but I don't think I had anything especially interesting to say on those, and the fact that I remember the questions more clearly than the answers I gave suggests that I should reflect some more on the implications of what I do for the broader theological questions that tend to interest me so much less than the historical ones that I find my more natural hunting ground.

David McLoughlin said that he thought my picture of Christian origins and the emergence of the Gospels was rather too friendly an affair and suggested that it was all more aggressive. I said that I suspected that my talk had unduly implied that it was too amicable and that in fact there must have been more fights.

Michael Goulder asked me how I dealt with the lack of patristic evidence for the kind of liturgical use of the Passion Narrative that I had postulated, partly following him. I replied that I am more convinced that the features to which I drew attention in the text admitted more of a liturgical origin for the Passion than a continuing liturgical use. The one piece of evidence we have for a kind of 24 hour vigil, in Egeria, is, I suggested, more to do with a rediscovery of the time notes in the Passion Narrative connected with the growth of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land than it is any actual reminiscence of earlier practice.

No comments: