Monday, April 07, 2008

Travel Diary: Synoptic Problem Conference I

Oxford, England, 00:22: caught the train down from Birmingham to Oxford this morning, a journey that I did many times as a student; tried to finish reading one of the conference papers that I hadn't yet read and fell into a deep sleep. Walked up to Lincoln College, the location for a conference on the Synoptic Problem to celebrate the centenary (forthcoming) of the Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem of 1911. The idea is that the essays written for this conference will be revised for the volume to be published in time for that centenary.

I am enjoying being back in Oxford. I spent ten years here, nine of them as a student. I met my wife here and we had our first daughter here. The conference location, Lincoln College, is next door to my old college, Exeter, and I have already enjoyed walking around favourite old locations. Oxford does not change much, and the only major difference about the kind of student accommodation we are in is the addition of en-suite facilities to make the place more conducive to conferences like this. Back in my day, I had to walk down four flights of stairs to the basement to the shared, stone showers. Students today have it easy.

The conference began with lunch in the hall and then the first session of summarized papers. There are forty-three people in attendance, and most of these are presenting papers, most in summarized format. The essential idea is that the papers are written in advance and uploaded to the web (Papers), allowing plenty of time for discussion in each of the sessions, though not all have actually written their papers in advance, so some of the summaries are first-time presentations.

Eugene Boring chaired the first session and there were three papers, all from conference conveners, Andrew Gregory on Literary Dependence and the Synoptic Problem, Paul Foster on the History and Demise of M and Joseph Verheyden on Proto-Luke. Each one spoke for 15-20 minutes and the discussion was then another 45 minutes or so. Perhaps the majority of questions went to Paul Foster on his M paper, including my own on the question of "legendary" elements in M narrative material and John Kloppenborg's on the modelling of the theory. There were also comments from F. Gerald Downing, William Loader, Stephen Patterson and David Peabody.

One of the nice things about a British conference is that one breaks for tea at the proper time; I have been in America long enough to have forgotten what a pleasure it is to have a tea break at a conference. There were large, metal pots of tea of the old-fashioned catering variety.

We went from tea to the first main paper, Christopher Tuckett on "The Current State of the Synoptic Problem". The paper was ideal for the context. It was generally regarded as fair, rigorous, thorough and balanced, even if some would disagree with particular arguments, or particular selections of material covered. I was honoured that Prof. Tuckett referred to my work several times when discussing the Farrer Theory, and afterwards David Catchpole, who was chairing the session, offered "the oppressed minorities" a right to reply, me first on Farrer and then David Dungan on Griesbach. The discussion ranged to a variety of other topics, with comments and questions from, among others, Bob Derrenbacker, F. Gerald Downing, Dennis Macdonald, Maurice Casey (about the absence of Aramaic Q the survey), Paul Foster (why is Luke's use of Matthew more popular than Matthew's use of Luke?), Joseph Verheyden (are the 2ST crowd more introspective and prone to questioning their hypothesis than advocates of other theories?), William Loader (concerning the regular usage of the Synoptics in sabbath-by-sabbath worship, asking whether this distinguished them from other Graeco-Roman texts with which they are regularly compared) and others.

One general question that has already begun to raise its head is the one relating to oral tradition, literary dependency and modes of contact between documents and traditions. My guess, at this stage, is that that the issues here will recur over the coming days.

After Prof. Tuckett's paper, there were drinks. At this drinks reception, David Catchpole announced that the purpose of the volume for which we are writing is the celebration of the work of Christopher Tuckett. Prof. Catchpole spoke and Prof. Tuckett responded, thanking those assembled, but offering special thanks to David Catchpole, Bob Morgan and Christopher Rowland, all of whom were present.

From the drinks reception, we went to the hall for dinner. It was an excellent dinner -- fish course with a nice white wine; chicken for the main course with an acceptable red, and some kind of cakey pudding that I forget because of the arrival of the port.

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