Sunday's breakfast meeting was the University of Birmingham reception and a great pleasure to see old friends. I was really annoyed last year to have to miss the Birmingham reception because I had another breakfast meeting at the same time. In fact Sunday was university reception day for me, and the three universities I have known, first Birmingham where I taught for a decade, then later Oxford, where I was student for almost a decade, and then Duke, my current university.
At one we had the third Synoptic Gospels session, this time a panel on Simon Gathercole's new book published by Eerdmans, The Pre-Existent Son. This was a session I organized relatively late in the day, beginning last March, when I was approached by Eerdmans. It seemed like a very good idea. The three respondents to the book were James D. G. Dunn, Rikk Watts and Deirdre Good. The fourth was to be Maurice Casey, making a rare appearance at SBL, but sadly he had to drop out last week because of health. The section sent its best wishes for a speedy recovery.
I took the first ten minutes or so of the session to introduce Simon and to summarize the book. Jimmy Dunn then took 15 minutes, and Rikk Watts and Deirdre Good also took 15 minutes each. We had a 5 minute (or so) break followed by Simon's 25 minute response to all three respondents, and then there was plenty of time first for more panel discussion and finally for views from the floor. First up from the floor was Richard Bauckham who said, among other things, that Jimmy Dunn conceived of monotheism in unitarian terms, and that he conceived of others' Trinitarian views as tritheistic. He also chided Rikk Watts for using the divine name in his presentation in spite of his claim to be using emic language. And he added that it is impossible to talk about these issues solely using emic language.
In spite of the interesting discussions, the thing that will remain with me for the longest will be, I think, Jimmy Dunn's strongly worded critique of his former student's book, which he accused of "wooden literalism", of "tritheism, ditheism or modalism"; and he said that Simon was in need of a "refresher course in hermeneutics". I am afraid that I could not resist adding after he had finished, "I am tempted to say: don't hold back; tell us what you really think." Simon defended his book bravely, and had not had either Deirdre's or Rikk's responses in advance, so he did particularly well on those.
I tend to find presiding a little stressful because you have to keep alert for 150 minutes and there is a lot to look out for and not just speakers, time and audience. So I always feel very relieved when it is over.
I went to the John, Jesus and History session next, a disaster of room allocation, one of several at the meeting. Its allocated room had only enough space for forty people, and Felix Just stood outside guiding people to the new room, also far too small, with people sitting on the floor, crowding into the doorway and so on. Sean Freyne was first up and talked about Galilee in John. Next up were Craig Evans, Richard Bauckham and Ben Witherington III. Unfortunately, I missed a lot of what they said because I was now sitting down in a chair and not on the floor and I couldn't stop drifting off, a very annoying habit when one is interested in the material. Actually, I think I heard most of Witherington's talk, which was a tour de force, arguing that Lazarus was the beloved disciple and the author of the Gospel, that Simon the Leper was the father of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, and that the Gospel owned the name of John because it was redacted by John of Patmos. It was the kind of harmonizing reading that I find implausible but entertaining to listen to.
Sunday evening was receptions evening, for me first Oxford and then Duke, both great places to meet old friends, and some new people.