Saturday, November 29, 2008

SBL Boston: Final Thoughts

I am away from home at the moment, enjoying the sights of Washington DC, so I have been away from the net most of the time and not able to post these assorted reflections until now.

(1) I didn't notice the divorce from AAR as much as I expected to. The TOTE bags looked different from usual (and they had run out before I got a chance to get mine on Sunday, which was annoying); the programmes were thinner; I didn't run into as many current or past colleagues from Religion and Theology departments, and there were fewer conference people around in general. Our hotel, the Boston Marriott Copley Place, was hosting a Bridge tournament and one was more likely to run into a bridge player than a Biblical scholar in the elevators. But on the whole, it felt like business as usual, just slimmed down a bit. I suspect that the AAR people would have felt the split more than we did given that they were meeting earlier. We had the same travel home on Tuesday, arriving to the Thanksgiving break.

(2) The organization of the conference was, as usual, excellent. I have nothing to complain about at all. Oh, except the lack of TOTE bags.

(3) The location was excellent. Although I got horribly lost on the Saturday on the way to the Cross, Resurrection and Diversity Consultation, it was easy enough to find places after a while, and there were plenty of people around to provide directions.

(4) But it was really freezing cold. Why on earth did I not take a proper thick coat? Have I got so used to North Carolina temperatures that I am forgetting what bitter cold is like?

(5) If you were willing to brave the cold, there were lots of great restaurants. I ate at three different Thai restaurants on three successive occasions, Saturday evening, Sunday lunchtime and Sunday evening and all were excellent.

(6) I didn't get a chance to go to the Book Exhibit this year so can't comment on that, but I heard good things about it. I wonder if I am the only person at the SBL who didn't darken the door of the Book Exhibit? Normally, I quite like walking round the book exhibit, though I find it a little depressing seeing so many new books out, especially when I don't have one of my own.

(7) I feel much less inclined to go on my usual rant about the presentation of papers this year. The ones I heard were, on the whole, excellent, with no examples of speed reading, few examples of bad timing and few examples of inaudible or incomprehensible reading.

(8) The sessions I attended were also very well chaired, which is also a plus.

(9) The academic highlights for me were at the new Cross, Resurrection and Diversity Consultation. I think this is going to be a fascinating section at the SBL and I am looking forward to future sections. I am pleased to have been invited to be a part of it and delighted to see that there is such interest in the group.

(10) The non-academic highlights were twofold, our visit to the Cheers bar on Friday evening, fulfilling an ambition of many years, with the souvenir pint glass to remember it by, and the traditional visit to the Bond film on the Monday evening, as enjoyable for the company as for the occasion.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some More SBL

It looks like I had reached Sunday night in my narrative of my own experience of this year's SBL Annual Meeting, and so we reach Monday. As usual, it was an early start, and the Synoptic Gospels Section Steering Committee Meeting. This was my last meeting with that group because I am standing down from this meeting. As usual, it was a most enjoyable and stimulating meeting and I will miss the group, but I have served for six years, which is quite long enough, and it is time for new blood. We had the meeting in the Sheraton and my goodness, did we get a lot of hassle from the staff there, who wanted to move us on as soon as possible because of the long queue. I then did a quite bit of blogging before going to the SBL Forum Advisory Board Meeting, also useful and interesting, and I agreed to serve another term. I dashed from there to the fag end of the Synoptics Section on Pedagogy and the Synoptic Problem. It's a section I would have liked to have attended in toto. By the time I arrived, it was the discussion, ably chaired by Mark Matson, and featuring contributions from Robert Derrenbacker, John Poirier and others.

I skipped lunch as part of my policy to avoid troughing my face too much this year, and found a little time to prepare to chair the 1pm session. I like to take some time to prepare when I am chairing, to work out how long we have, to check that I have everyone's names and job titles right, to think about how I am going to introduce the session and so on. It was the last SBL Synoptics Section that I would be chairing too and I wanted to make sure that I didn't make a mess of it. The session was on "Secret Mark After Fifty Years". We asked for a large room, and it was absolutely packed -- very few spare seats. We had worked hard to make sure that the panel was perfectly balanced. We began with Birger Pearson, "Secret Mark: A Twentieth Century Fake", a helpful summary of Stephen Carlson's and Peter Jeffery's cases, with some reflections on his own change of mind on the issue. Stephen Carlson himself was second, with a paper asking how the guild can save itself from one of its own. It was a polished paper, well read, and just right for the session. We then turned to those who defend the authenticity of the document, first Allan Pantuck, who had a nice powerpoint presentation that took the audience through some fascinating excerpts from Morton Smith's archive, though with no "smoking gun", as Pantuck admitted. Scott Brown had planned to speak on ten enduring miconceptions about Secret Mark, but had decided to limit them to five, and he got through four of them in the available time. The two respondents were Charles Hedrick and Bart Ehrman, both excellent speakers, and we had thirty minutes at the end for discussion.

The first person on his feet was Helmut Koester, who came to the front and asked for the microphone. His contribution caused a bit of a stir, beginning with his lament that the SBL had now taken to "dishonoring the dead" and going on to suggest that Morton Smith could not have forged Secret Mark since it represented a form-critically earlier version of the Lazarus story of John 11, and Morton Smith was not a good form-critic. "If the Secret Gospel of Mark is a forgery," Koester said, "then I am the biggest fool in the SBL."

The session was a success, I think, with stimulating, lively exchanges, only some of them bad-tempered, key issues addressed and a large audience. Once it had finished, and my own direct involvement in SBL sessions over, I was ready to unwind. After a drink with a friend in the Champions bar at our hotel, the Boston Copley Marriott, four of us met and headed to Cambridge on the subway. We ate at the Intermission Pub and then watched the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace, at the same cinema where we watched The World is Not Enough during the SBL in 1999, the last time we were in Boston. It's not the best Bond film; it may even be the weakest since Licence to Kill in 89, perhaps longer. But it was still fun, and the last ten seconds at least partly redeemed it for me. Still, it's a great tradition to get to the Bond film at the SBL, and nice too to get over to Cambridge, albeit just for the evening.

And that was more or less the lot. I flew back on Tuesday, and one of the great pluses of living in America is that you don't go straight back to work. There are no classes, and a Thanksgiving break to enjoy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More of my SBL Meeting

It's Tuesday evening and I am home again, and I can now offer a bit more narrative and chat about the rest of how the SBL Annual Meeting panned out for me. In my previous post, I had reached Sunday lunchtime, and my second visit to a Thai restaurant, for the Cross, Resurrection and Diversity consultation's steering committee meeting. I did not know a lot about the group before being invited to join in but I find myself pleased to be involved. There was a lot of good feedback on both of Saturday's inaugural meetings, and it was encouraging to see the rooms absolutely packed. The organizers clearly did not expect these sessions to be so popular, and next year the chairs are going to ask for somewhere much bigger. And the plans for next year are already coming together very well. I look forward to enthusing about these plans here once they are firmed up.

Back to Sunday afternoon, I went along to the Q section at which there were four papers, the first by Duke PhD student Ken Olson who talked about the evidence for an Aramaic Vorlage behind a couple of key Q verses, arguing that they made sense in Greek and that there is no need to postulate mistranslation from the Aramaic to make sense of the texts. It was a great paper, well presented, and convincing, even if I did nod a little in all the papers given the previously mentioned candle-at-both-ends issue. Joseph Weaks from Brite Divinity School gave a paper on his doctoral research, which imagines that there was no Mark, and attempts to reconstruct Mark on the basis of Matthew and Luke. I am familiar with the research because I am on Joe's dissertation committee and I greatly enjoyed the presentation. There were some nice powerpoint slides at the end where he showed just how much we would lose from scholarship on Mark if we attempted to reconstruct it on the basis of Matthew and Luke. And next up was Jeff Peterson of Austin Graduate School who presented a nice piece on Q 1.31 and Q 22.64 as evidence for a Q Birth and Passion Narrative -- also excellent. It was the only one of the Q sections I was able to get to this year, but it was a shame to see it so poorly attended, only about eight or nine of us in the audience.

I had more Thai food in the evening, now for the third meal on the trot, and loving it. At 9, it was the Duke Reception, which was very well attended. The big event was Ed Sanders being given his Festschrift, introduced by Fabian Udoh. It was difficult for him to get heard in the big room, and Ed too chose to cut his remarks short because it was so difficult to be heard. But he did explain that his students had been crafty. Knowing him to have insisted that he would not like a Festschrift, they organized a conference in his honour and then published the proceedings in this volume.

So my narrative is up to Sunday night now. I'll add Monday later on, and then some general reflections on the highlights of the conference.

Monday, November 24, 2008

SBL Boston, It's Already Monday

So it's got to Monday before I have even had a chance to get the blogging machine out. I'm in between my 7am Synoptics Steering Committee meeting and my 9.30am SBL Forum Board meeting, and the opportunity has presented itself to check in briefly on the blog for the first time since arriving. I'll have to write some proper, ordered reflections in due course, but so far the meeting has been most enjoyable. It appears that I am not taking my own advice about not burning the candle at both ends and with only a few hours sleep each night, I am not always finding it easy to stay awake in the sessions I have attended though I have been Ok when I have been presenting or involved in some other way in a session.

Let me go back briefly, in the ten minutes or so that I have spare, to how my SBL has panned out. The highlight so far was the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition to visit the Cheers bar on Friday evening. I even have my souvenir mug to take back with me. It was a genuine thrill to see it there, and to walk down the stairs, even if a little surreal going in and seeing an interior somewhat different from what we saw on the series.

On Saturday morning, I attended the first of the two meetings of the new consultation on "Cross, Resurrection and Diversity in Early Christianity", chaired by Jimmy Dunn and featuring papers by Jeff Peterson and Jerry Sumney, with responses by Marcus Bockmuehl and Jennifer Knust respectively. A lively, entertaining, stimulating session, I thought, in an absolutely packed room, people spilling out into the corridors. Lunch was our Library of New Testament Studies editorial board meeting, over at the Vox Populi restaurant, and a little later I was speaking in the second of the Cross, Resurrection and Diversity Consultation sessions, again with people crammed into the room and spilling out of the door. I was speaking on Dating the Crucial Sources in Early Christianity with a response from April DeConick, followed by Simon Gathercole on Thomas as a witness to the development of Christianity, with a response by Stephen Patterson, and some lively and I think informative discussion. John Kloppenborg was in the chair. More anon on that session if I get a moment.

Sunday's breakfast meeting was the University of Birmingham breakfast, and I was delighted to see lots of old friends. Discovering that I had not left enough time to get across town for my next appointment, I grabbed a taxi and just got to the Radisson on time. This was for the Biblical Archaeology Society Fest where I spoke on "When were the Gospels written?" with plenty of time for interesting questions. I dashed back to the Sheraton, walking in the absolutely freezing cold, to the Sheraton, and joined the steering committee of the previously mentioned new consultation on Cross, Resurrection and Diversity Consultation, for their meeting. In a Thai restaurant for the second time, I decided just to have soup so that I slowed up on the relentless troughing that takes place at these meetings.

I've run out of time to continue my little sketch now because I have to dash to my next meeting, but I'll check in again when I get a moment. I look forward too to reading all the other blog posts on the SBL that are no doubt out there by now.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Enjoying SBL

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on Surviving SBL. It was in response to a request from Sean Winter who was, at that time, a newcomer to the meeting. This year I have had a couple more requests for my own tips about surviving the meeting, so I thought I would revisit and revise the original post, but now under the heading "enjoying" rather than "surviving" SBL. I am one of those for whom SBL is both duty and joy.

(1) Beer and Good Company: Find people you like spending time with (and who like spending time with you, I suppose!) and your experience will be ten times more enjoyable than otherwise. I have heard some people say that they find the SBL a bit of a maze and rather overwhelming. I have never found that, and perhaps because I have been lucky enough to spend time with people whose company I greatly enjoy. The intellectual stimulation will often come more from those small gatherings with friends over a beer than it will at the sessions.

(2) Choose Sessions Carefully: Don't be over ambitious about how many sessions you can get to. I used to treat the SBL a bit like the way I used to treat the Christmas Radio Times and TV Times when I was a child. I used to fill every moment in the day with telly, allowing just little slots for five or ten minute "breaks" in viewing. SBL sessions, though sometimes enjoyable, are no Christmas TV, and you can get conferenced out.

(3) Be a Tart: Don't feel obliged to stay for the whole of each two-and-a-half hour session that you go to. Several times I've got stuck in the world's most boring papers by accident because I was interested in the paper just before it or just after it. Once, I attended a paper in a packed room, over 100 or so in the audience, but I did not make a sharp enough exit when it had finished. I got stuck listening to the next paper with four other people and felt so sorry for the guy presenting that I felt obliged to stay and feign interest. Unlike the British New Testament Conference, where one is encouraged to be loyal to one seminar throughout the conference, you are allowed to be a complete tart at the SBL.

(4) Burning the Candle at Both Ends: Try not to burn the candle at both ends, socializing until late and then getting up before the crack of dawn for a breakfast meeting. I am talking to myself here. I walk round the SBL perpetually exhausted because I don't have the discipline to go to bed early when I have to be up early. Every year I tell myself not to arrange breakfast meetings, or get invited to them; every year I end up with breakfast meetings each day. I've done it again. Bummer.

(5) Budget beating breakfast buffets: To develop some advice from an older blog post, here's a tip for those at SBL on a budget: get to one of those great American breakfast buffets and eat to your heart's content. Don't be put off by earnest looking professor types who only visit the buffet once. Keep going for as long as you can. Eat so much that you won't want lunch. You can then make it through to the evening when you'll be just peckish enough to enjoy something else. In fact you might even be invited to one of those evening receptions where there is a lot of food. On days like that, you have only had to buy breakfast and the budget is looking healthier than it might have been.

Birmingham never gave me enough to travel, and so troughing my face at breakfast was my standard survival strategy. And the American breakfast buffets are great, though for Brits it can be a little off-putting to see Americans putting their fruit on the same plate as their sausage and bacon, or worse, putting corn syrup on their scrambled egg. So Brits abroad may need to avert their eyes. There is also an unappetizing pastey coloured concoction called "grits", which is to be avoided.

(6) Getting to Receptions: Receptions are a great way of meeting people, and can be fun. They are held by publishers, universities and others and are often generous in their invitations, and it is good, once again, to be a tart. There are signs, though, that the seven years of plenty may be coming to an end. This is the first SBL meeting since the split with AAR, the credit crunch is biting and universities and publishers are all feeling the squeeze. Several publishers no longer hold receptions and several universities have pulled the plug too. My guess is that there we will some cash bars instead of free bars, and less food at the receptions that remain.

(7) Presenting Papers: Regular readers will know that I have outspoken views on this topic, but I continue to be amazed by the lack of investment that many make in presenting their papers. The gist of my concern is this: far too many people simply read their paper out verbatim at SBL sessions in the most inarticulate way imaginable, often with no attempt to communicating with the audience. A particular problem is speed-reading. People write their fifteen page screed and have a bloody-minded determination to read through the whole lot if it kills them, whether or not it fits into the time. This is a particular problem with graduate student papers, and it is related to nerves. My advice: practise your paper beforehand and think about issues like pausing, breathing, adding light and shade and varying your intonation. I never cease to be amazed, though, to see seasoned scholars completely unable to time a paper, selfishly praying on the good will of the chair and the other presenters. This is really elementary stuff -- overrunning on a paper is egotistical and unprofessional. If you are chairing a session, be ruthless -- the presenter who is unable to time their own paper does not deserve your compassion. I feel like having a longer rant on this, but perhaps I'll save it for my conference thoughts.

(8) Seeing the city: It is very easy to spend several days in a city and not see the city. It's really worth taking some time out to see the city, especially a city as fine as Boston. Too many of my SBL memories merge into one because I spent 95% of my time on the inside of hotels and convention centres. Actually, my hope this year is that I might bump into Doctor Who. Meeting in the same city and at the same time this year is the New England Fan Experience, at which Peter Davison (the fifth doctor) is a special guest. It would make my day to meet him.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bruce Longenecker Appointment at Baylor University

Mikeal Parsons asked me to post this announcement here, and I am happy to do so. It is also available as a Word document here.

Baylor University is proud to announce the appointment of Dr. Bruce Longenecker to the W. W. Melton Chair in the Department of Religion. Dr. Longenecker currently serves as a Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He received his B.A. degree from Wheaton College, M.Rel. from Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, and Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Durham, England. Prior to teaching at St. Andrews, Dr. Longenecker taught at Cranmer Hall with St. John’s College in Durham, England, and in the Faculty of Divinity, the University of Cambridge, England. He is the author or editor of eight books and numerous scholarly articles.

Dr. Bill Bellinger, chair of Baylor’s Religion Department, said, “We are delighted to have Dr. Bruce Longenecker join our faculty. He is a devoted churchman, an accomplished scholar, and a seasoned teacher, and he is a wonderful addition to our department as we seek to fulfill the University’s vision of excellence in teaching and scholarship.” Interim Baylor President, David Garland likewise praised the appointment, “I have long admired Dr. Bruce Longenecker’s scholarship in the service of the church. He is the embodiment of Baylor’s twin commitments to the life of the mind and the life of faith, and we are very pleased to welcome him to the Baylor family.” About his election to the Baylor Faculty, Dr. Longenecker commented: “It is a privilege to be joining the Baylor team. Baylor University has won international respect for its distinguished upward trajectory, placing academic excellence at the heart of a holistic Christian liberal arts program. I look forward to the dynamic exchange of ideas that Baylor cultivates, and my family and I are eager to become actively involved in the wider Waco community.”

Distinguished colleagues in the field of New Testament scholarship have lauded the appointment. “Dr. Longenecker is an increasingly visible figure in the field of international New Testament scholarship. He will bring significant strengths to Baylor’s already excellent faculty,” commented Dr. Richard Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School. Dr. Beverly Gaventa, Helen H.P. Manson Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary, agreed: “Bruce Longenecker will be a genuine asset to Baylor’s already strong program. This is a splendid appointment for Baylor, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.” Dr. James D.G. Dunn, Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity, University of Durham said, “Dr. Longenecker’s research and publication record over the past few years can match any other in his field of whatever rank and experience. Given his growing range of mastery in several New Testament fields his appeal to would-be postgraduates and at the international level is bound to increase.” Dr. Markus Bockmuehl, Professor of Biblical and Early Christian Studies at Oxford University, observed: “Much as he will undoubtedly be missed in the UK, for Baylor to appoint Bruce Longenecker to a senior chair is a timely challenge and opportunity for him, and will clearly be seen as an appropriate recognition of his gifts by colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Dr. Longenecker is married to Fiona Bond, a graduate of the University of Durham, who has distinguished herself in strategic management of non-profit ventures (educational, artistic, religious, social and governmental). They have two sons: Callum (7) and Torrin (4). Dr. Longenecker will join the faculty in the Fall, 2009.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Warning to SBL Visitors from the UK: your pound is weaker

In recent years, UK travellers in the US have had a good time of it. The pound has been strong, and the considerable expense of attending the SBL has been reduced by the fact that buying books and eating out have seemed relatively cheap. This time last year, the pound was at historic highs against the dollar (£1 = $2.08 at the beginning of November 2007). Now it is at a six-year low, currently $1.469. The calculations for Brits abroad will be a little different this time round -- no more simple halving of the price to get the pound equivalent. Meanwhile, for those of us now drawing a salary in dollars, trips to the UK start getting much cheaper, and this Christmas we might be able to afford a couple of extra glasses of sherry.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Orality and Literacy VI: Literate authors of ancient texts

N. T. Wrong has posted on the Relative Unimportance of Oral Culture for Interpreting Biblical Books, reminding us of the fact that "Of those who wrote biblical books, the literacy rate was 100%". With the antibishop (thanks to Andrew Criddle for the term), there is always an enjoyable element of facetiousness, but his reminder about this blindingly obvious fact is actually a useful one because it forces us to think again about the role of the literate in a culture where there was widespread illiteracy, to come to terms with the role played by this elite. As Harry Gamble says,
In a community in which texts had a constitutive importance and only a few people were literate, it was inevitable that those who were able to explicate texts would acquire authority for that reason alone (Books and Readers, 9-10).
Moreover, as I have argued here (Orality and Literacy V: Illiterate Tradents), it is not just a question of taking literate authors of literary texts seriously. It is also a question of focusing on literate tradents. The idea of illiterate early Christian tradents remains problematic. Most of the tradents we know about were literate, and one of the earliest pieces of known tradition (1 Cor. 15.3-5) presupposes literate tradents and the importance of tradition interacting with what is written.

Now in that post, I did promise a note on Acts 4.13, where Peter and John are described as ἀγράμματοι, sometimes translated as "illiterate". Many commentators suggest that the word is more appropriately translated "uneducated" than "illiterate", not least because the same text, Acts, depicts Peter as quoting extensively, verbatim, from the Hebrew Bible (or perhaps more accurately here in Acts, the Septuagint). I make no presumption of historicity since it seems likely that Luke has composed those speeches; the point is that the author who depicts Peter and John as ἀγράμματοι in the same text also has them quoting their Scriptures verbatim. Therefore the likely meaning of the word, as Luke uses it, is "uneducated" and not "illiterate", and this verse does not provide a one-stop response to arguments in favour of the likelihood of literate tradents.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dating Sacred Texts on the Basis of Fulfilled Prophecy

In a recent post, the ever intriguing N. T. Wrong discusses the Scholarly Dating of Daniel to After the "Prophecies" were "Fulfilled". Here in the biblioblogging community, we are all on first name terms, so I hope the bishop will not mind my calling him Tom. Tom quotes and then argues against a character who sees "The practice of late-dating the books of the Bible . . . as a position of faith on the part of those scholars who do so"; Tom pays special attention to John J. Collins on Daniel, and the quotation is worth repeating here:
The issue is not whether a divinely inspired prophet could have foretold the events which took place under Antiochus Epiphanes 400 years before. The question is whether this possibility carries any probability: is it the most satisfactory way to explain what we find in Daniel? Modern critical scholarship has held that it is not.
- John J. Collins, Daniel, First Maccabees, Second Maccabees, with an Excursus on the Apocalyptic Genre (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1981): 11-12.
Tom's timely post coheres with what I have been arguing here (especially in Dating Game VI and Dating Game VII) with reference to the predictions of the temple's destruction in the Gospels. Allow me to quote from a section of my forthcoming SBL paper (31-32 in the current draft):
One of the standard arguments against the idea that Mark shows knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem is the reassertion of the text’s own character here as prediction. In his Introduction to the New Testament, David A. DeSilva suggests that “The primary reason many scholars tend to date Mark’s Gospel after 70 CE is the presupposition that Jesus could not foresee the destruction of Jerusalem – an ideological conviction clearly not shared by all.” But this kind of appeal, while popular, tends not to take seriously the literary function of predictions in narrative texts like Mark. Successful predictions play a major role in the narrative, reinforcing the authority of the one making the prediction and confirming the accuracy of the text’s theological view. It is like reading Jeremiah. It works because the reader knows that the prophecies of doom turned out to be correct. It is about “when prophecy succeeds”.
My concern about the popular appeal to what Jesus could or could not have done is that it does not take seriously the real issue, which has nothing to do with making a judgement about the historical Jesus. Rather, it is about observing the literary function of successful prophecy in the narrative in which it appears. The prediction only gains traction because the reader is saying, "Hey, yes! I know what that's about!" The issue is parallel to the one discussed here by Tom Wrong, and I am grateful to have his Daniel discussion to inform my own. James McGrath weighs in on Exploring our Matrix, with similarly helpful observations.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Professor Frank Walbank Obituary

Tomorrow's Times has an obituary of a renowned classical scholar whose works will be familiar to many:

Professor Frank Walbank: historian of classical antiquity
. . . . Throughout his life the bulk of this activity was devoted to the history and historiography of the post-Alexander period of ancient Greek history. By 1930 the publication of newly found inscriptions and papyri was transforming access to a period which had suffered from comparison with the Golden Age of 5th and 4th-century BC Greece; Walbank was among the first to see and seize the opportunity. The history came first, with biographies of two first-rank figures, Aratos of Sicyon (1933) and King Philip V of Macedon (1940). Lucid, comprehensive and judicious, they became and remain standard works of reference.

Behind them, however, lay the historian Polybius, whose surviving text, still substantial though a pitiful torso of the original 40 books, had had no commentary since the 1790s. From 1942 onwards Walbank set himself to fill that gap. Vol I, covering the fully extant books I-VI, came out in 1957, II in 1967 and III in 1979. Within that invaluable, peculiarly Anglo-Saxon genre of detailed “historical commentary” on ancient historical texts, they are reckoned to have set the gold standard: his appreciation of Johann Schweighauser’s 18th-century edition — “the more one works with this, the more one comes to admire its thoroughness and sound common sense” — applies with equal force to his own . . .
Walbank died on 23 October this year, aged 98.

Ellen Davis and The Green Bible

My colleague in the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke, Ellen Davis, appears on Duke Today to talk about The Green Bible:

C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles

Just spotted this on and it may be of interest to some:

C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles (London: Harper and Row, 1946)

Monday, November 10, 2008

SBL Paper on Dating the Crucial Sources in Early Christianity

My paper for a session at the SBL is now available online here. I was invited to write this paper for a new consultation on the Cross, Resurrection, and Diversity in Earliest Christianity (I have also been asked onto the steering committee). Session details are at the previous link, along with other papers for this consultation, and the paper is available here:

Dating the Crucial Sources for Early Christianity (MS Word)

Dating the Crucial Sources for Early Christianity (PDF)

Regular readers may spot some overlap with my blog sketches on the same topic, though the paper is longer and more detailed and on the whole post-dates the blog posts.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Dating Game VIII: John, Thomas and Authorial Self-Representation

With the momentous events of last night still fresh in our minds, I hope readers will not mind my returning to the question of dating, as we approach the conclusion of this series.

In the most recent post, we looked for corroborating evidence that Matthew and Luke indeed post-dated 70, something that their dependence on a post-70 Mark would of course lead us to expect. In this post, I would like to turn to the Gospels of John and Thomas. Is there knowledge of the destruction of the temple here too? I think that there is, though their greater distance from 70 may be reflected in the fact that there are fewer references now to the destruction of the Temple. In Thomas’s case, this is also no doubt a function of its genre (Sayings Gospel in which narratives about the Temple are of course absent) and theological proclivity (the relative lack of so-called apocalyptic eschatology). Nevertheless, both texts allude to the destruction of the Temple, John in 2.19-20, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days . . . “ and Thomas in logion 71, “I shall destroy this house and no one will be able to rebuild it.”

The more blatant signs, though, of the relative lateness of John and Thomas lie in their attempts at authorial self-representation. Where earlier Gospels like Mark and Matthew are anonymous and avoid attempting to project an authorial presence to lend authority to their work, the author of the Fourth Gospel makes claims to have been present, most notably in 19.35 and of course 21.24, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and wrote them down (καὶ ὁ γράψας ταῦτα). We know that his testimony is true,” similar in style and literary function to the Incipit of Thomas, “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.” In both, the authorial self-representation legitimizes the message of the book in a way absent from the earlier Gospels but found explicitly in later texts like the Apocryphon of James. John’s claim enables the author to establish his Gospel’s authority – he knows that the things he reports are true because he was there. In Thomas, there is a further step: the author was present and, moreover, he was privy not just to the public teaching but also the secret teachings (Incipit, Thomas 13).

There is a trajectory among these early Christian texts, from the absence of authorial self-representation in Mark and Matthew, to hints in Luke and Acts (with the first person found in Luke 1.1-4 as well as in the “we” passages in Acts), to the marked but nevertheless still unnamed authorial presence in John, to the explicit self-representation of Didymos Judas Thomas in its Gospel’s Incipit, a naming that also leads the reader to pay special attention to Thomas 13. The same texts likewise witness to a growing consciousness of predecessor texts, from the πολλοί of Luke’s preface, to the many other books that could fill the world in the last verse of John, to the twelve disciples sitting around writing their books at the Last Supper in the Apocryphon of James.

These observations depend in part on the work of Ismo Dunderberg, “Thomas and the Beloved Disciple” in Risto Uro (ed.), Thomas at the Crossroads: Essays on the Gospel of Thomas (Studies of the New Testament and Its World; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998), 65-88, especially 80-88, though his use of the term "authorial fiction" (derived from John Kloppenborg) is not ideal. The term “authorial self-representation” is preferable because it characterizes the process more precisely and less prejudicially, and uses terminology familiar in literary criticism.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Dating Game VII: Dating of Matthew and Luke

In the previous post in this series, we looked at the case for Mark's dating in the post 70 period, suggesting that the predictions of the destruction of the temple function to underline the authority of Jesus as the one who successfully predicted what the reader knew had now happened. The repeated and pervasive emphasis on the temple and its destruction is most plausible in this post-70 period. It is worth investing time on this question because if Mark was written after 70, and if Matthew, Luke and John are all familiar with Mark, then they too post-date 70. But does a closer look at the later Gospels correlate with this picture? For J. A. T. Robinson (Redating the New Testament), it was the lack of reference to 70 anywhere in the New Testament that proved decisive in his attempts at redating:
The fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and with it the collapse of institutional Judaism based on the temple - is never once mentioned as a past fact. It is, of course, predicted; and these predictions are, in some cases at least, assumed to be written (or written up) after the event. But the silence is nevertheless as significant as the silence for Sherlock Holmes of the dog that did not bark.
The claim is unimpressive, though, given that most of the documents in question are either written in the pre-70 period (Paul’s letters) or set in the pre-70 period (Gospels-Acts). What is remarkable is that documents set a generation before 70 appear to speak so clearly about the destruction of the Temple. For Robinson,
That Jesus could have predicted the doom of Jerusalem and its sanctuary is no more inherently improbable than that another Jesus, the son of Ananias, should have done so in the autumn of 62.
The problem for this perspective is that Jesus ben Ananias’s prophecy occurs in a document that post-dates 70, Josephus’s Jewish War. As with Mark, it is important to ask the question about the literary function of the prediction in the narrative, here in a document that climaxes with the story of Jerusalem’s destruction. Indeed, a comparison between Jesus ben Ananias in Josephus and Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew and Luke provides further striking parallels. The oracle Matthew 23.37-39 // Luke 13.34-35 has marked similarities with the oracle in Jewish War 300-1, the same threefold focus on the people, the city, the temple. Jesus ben Ananias cries “a voice against Jerusalem . . .” and Jesus laments “Jerusalem, Jerusalem”. Jesus ben Ananias singles out “the holy house” and Jesus says “Behold your house is forsaken.” Jesus ben Ananias raises “a voice against this whole people” just as Jesus exclaims, “how often would I have gathered your children.” Moreover, the same context in Josephus features a portent of voices being heard in the temple saying “we are departing from hence” (μεταβαίνομεν ἐντεῦθεν, War 6.299), similar to the implication here in Matthew and Luke that God has left the temple – “Behold your house is forsaken and desolate” (Matt. 23.38). Such prophecies and portents function similarly in each of the texts and they point to a post-70 dating.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Dating Game VI: Was Mark written after 70?

In the previous post in this series, we concluded by looking briefly at James Crossley’s commendable effort to rethink the dating of Mark. If that attempt is unsuccessful, it is nevertheless worth asking how secure the standard scholarly dating is. One of the values of challenges to the consensus is that they can send us scurrying back to the texts to think again about the issues and to reexamine our reasons for coming to particular views. My own thinking on the subject has been strongly influenced by three recent studies which successfully reinforce the grounds for locating Mark in the aftermath of 70, Brian Incigneri’s The Gospel to the Romans, H. M. Roskam’s The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in its Historical and Social Context and John Kloppenborg’s article Evocatio Deorum and the Date of Mark”. Although these three disagree with one another on the details (e.g. the precise referent of Mark 13.14), all agree on the significance of the key text:
Mark 13.1-2, Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.
For many, so blatant a prediction of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem settles the question of Mark’s date – it is written in full knowledge of the disastrous events of 70. For Kloppenborg,
“The fact that this seems to correspond so precisely to what occurred invites the conclusion that it was formulated (or reformulated) ex eventu” (431).
For Roskam,
“The evangelist could not have presented the prediction of the destruction of the temple as an utterance of Jesus with such firmness unless he was very certain about its fulfilment” (86).
Objections to this view are ably discussed by Incigneri (Chapter 3, "No stone Upon another"), who stresses Mark’s “over-arching concentration on the Temple” (154), the destruction of which is so important in his narrative that it is implausible that it was still standing when Mark wrote.

One of the standard arguments against the idea that Mark shows knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem is the reassertion of the text’s own character here as prediction. To take one example among many, David A. DeSilva, in his Introduction to the New Testament, suggests that
The primary reason many scholars tend to date Mark’s Gospel after 70 CE is the presupposition that Jesus could not foresee the destruction of Jerusalem – an ideological conviction clearly not shared by all (196).
But this kind of appeal, while popular, tends not to take seriously the literary function of predictions in narrative texts like Mark. Successful predictions play a major role in the narrative, reinforcing the authority of the one making the prediction and confirming the accuracy of the text’s theological view. It is like reading Jeremiah. It works because the reader knows that the prophecies of doom turned out to be correct. It is about “when prophecy succeeds”.

The text makes sense as Mark’s attempt to signal, in a post-70 context, that the event familiar to his readers was anticipated by Jesus, in word (13.2, 13.14) and deed (11.12-21) and in the symbolism of his death, when the veil of the temple was torn in two (15.38). The framing of the narrative requires knowledge of the destruction of the temple for its literary impact to be felt. Ken Olson has alerted me (especially in a paper read at the BNTC three years ago) to the importance of Mark 15.29-30 in this context. It is the first of the taunts levelled when Jesus is crucifie:
So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!
For the irony to work, the reader has to understand that the Temple has been destroyed; the mockers look foolish from the privileged perspective of the post-70 reader, who now sees that Jesus’ death is the moment when the temple was proleptically destroyed, the deity departing as the curtain is torn, the event of destruction interpreted through Gospel narrative and prophecy.

The point that is generally missed in the literature, especially that which comes from a fairly conservative perspective, relates to the attempt to understand the literary function of the predictions of destruction in Mark's narrative. John Kloppenborg is one of the few scholars who sees the importance of the literary function of the predictions, noting the role played by the literary motif of "evocation deorum" echoed here in Mark, e.g.
This raises a crucial distinction between omens and rituals that (allegedly) occurred before the events, and their literary and historiographic use in narrative (446).
Discussions about whether the historical Jesus was or was not prescient may be interesting, but in this context they miss the point. The theme of the destruction of the temple is repeated and pervasive in Mark's narrative, and it becomes steadily more intense as the narrative unfolds. Jesus' prophecies in Mark attain their potency because "the reader understands" their reference.

Biblical Studies Carnivals XXXV

The latest Biblical Studies Carnival, on Abormal Interests, is superb:

Biblical Studies Carnival XXXV
Duane Smith