Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Passion DVD Special Features

I am at my parents' place at the moment in Derbyshire, England, and I was pleased to spot their copy of The Passion (BBC) DVD sitting in front of the TV. I took a look at the "Special Features" and was pleasantly surprised to see that my article on The Passion and Its Historical Context was included. I was asked about this several months ago, and I gave my permission for it to be included. It's a small thing, I know, but it was a pleasure for me to see the article up there with the other handful of extras.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dating Mark After 70: Revisited

I am back in England for Christmas, but as usual I have brought my blogging machine with me and as time allows, I will continue to blog over the Christmas period, though probably with a little less regularity than usual what with eating, drinking and watching TV to do.

One of the central arguments in my recent paper on Dating the Crucial Sources in Early Christianity (Handout; Blog Series on Dating) was that Mark's focus on the temple, in which prophecies of its destruction, alongside a narrative climax that stresses its connection with Jesus' death, makes best sense in a post-70, post-destruction context. I suggested that arguments about whether or not Jesus actually prophesied the destruction of the Temple were largely beside the point. What I wanted to stress was the narrative function of prophecies like this in a text like Mark. It is all about the way in which the reader is led to recognize successful prophecy, and how that successful prophecy functions to legitimate the words of the speaker, and the text where they are found.

The inevitable difficulty, however, with an argument like this is that people do not actually hear the argument about narrative function and instead only hear phrases like "ex eventu", phrases that trigger a particular kind of response along the lines that "Jesus could have prophesied the destruction of the Temple", as if the argument had been "Jesus could not have prophesied the destruction of the Temple". Now if the discussion of the dating of Mark's Gospel is only allowed to constrain itself to the issue of whether or not Jesus could or could not have prophesied the destruction of the Temple, the argument is unlikely to move forward. It gets stuck on questions that unhelpfully draw in the writer's own prejudices about what Jesus could or could have done, could or could not have said. It is a bit like those discussions of Gospel miracle stories that get stuck on whether or not a given miracle could have occurred when the writer is attempting to reflect on its function in its narrative context.

What I am suggesting is that the way forward in this context is to by-pass the historical Jesus questions and to focus instead on literary context and narrative function, to notice that the clearest parallels to what is happening here in Mark are found in texts that post-date the events that are being prophesied. Josephus reports Jesus ben Ananias's prophecies of doom because they turn out to be accurate predictions of what in fact happened. The very point of narrating them is that the reader says, "Ah-ha -- they did not listen to Jesus just as they failed to listen to the prophets of old." Indeed, the story of the persecution of the prescient prophet (try saying that before breakfast) is one that provides a model for both Josephus and the Synoptic evangelists -- it is the old Deuteronomistic history's means of showing that the punishment of exile was an unavoidable consequence of the people's failure to hear the prophets' warnings.

I discovered Adam Winn's book about Mark late in the process of writing my paper on "Dating" and he has a helpful passage here that bears on the topic:
Much of the debate surrounding the authenticity of this prophecy has centered on whether is is an authentic Jesus tradition. The logic works in the following way: 'If it can be shown that this prophecy is an authentic Jesus tradition, it cannot be considered a vaticinium ex eventu and, therefore, Mark can be dated prior to the destruction of Jerusalem." But here, we suggest that this prophecy's identity as an authentic Jesus tradition is only indirectly related to Mark's date. Mark could have just as easily recorded an authentic Jesus tradition at a point after the temple's destruction as before it and doing so would make the tradition no less authentic. The days in which we concluded that Mark simply recorded all the tradition that was available to him are long past. We have come to recognize Mark as a creative and selective author who intentionally shaped his material. The prophecy then must be considered Mark's own prophecy that comes from either his (possibly authentic) sources or his own imagination. The focus of the debate over Mark's date of composition, therefore, should not be on whether this saying is an authentic Jesus tradition, but on whether Mark recorded (or created) this prophecy (essentially adopting it as his own) at a time before or after the temple's destruction (Adam Winn, The Purpose of Mark's Gospel: An Early Response to Roman Imperial Propaganda (WUNT, 245; Tübingen : Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 57-8).
It is, in other words, a question about the success of prophecy. The prophecies embedded in this narrative that stresses the destruction of the temple tell the reader about the prophet's authority. They are, by their nature, retrospective, celebratory, confirmatory of the speaker's authority and prescience. The point here is as it is in the Hebrew Bible: the prophets told them so, and just look at what happened.

Friday, December 19, 2008

RAE 2008 Results Out

The RAE 2008 (Research Assessment Exercise for British Universities, 2008) results are out today (HT: James Crossley):

RAE 2008

The means of representing the results is different from previous RAEs, where each department was given just one number, from 1 to the coveted 5*. This time, it appears that the number of active researches is given, along with a number representing the percentage of research activity in each of four major categories, from 4 (world leaders) to 1 (national quality) as well as unclassified (see Quality Profiles). The results for departments of Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies are here:

Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies

You have to do a bit of work with the results to work out how well everyone has done, but it looks to me like Durham is the clear winner in this category, with a whopping 40% in the 4 (world leader) category, and 20 in the 3 (internationally excellent) category. Next up are, I would say, Cambridge with 35% at 4 and 25% at 3, Oxford with 30% at 4 and 35% at 3, University College London with 30% at 4 and 40% at 3, then Edinburgh with 30% at 4 and 30% at 3. Manchester has 25% at 4 and 45% at 3; Sheffield has 20% at 4 and 45% at 3. My old University, Birmingham, has an honorable 15% at 4 and 45% at 3, a little below Nottingham with 20% at 4 and 40% at 3 and Aberdeen, with 15% at 4 and 65% at 3. I think that by these very rough indicators, weighing 4s more highly than 3s, and looking at the number of 4s and 3s together, this makes the top ten something like this:

1. Durham
2. Cambridge
3. University College London
4. Oxford
5. Edinburgh
6. Manchester
7. Sheffield
8. Nottingham
9. Aberdeen
10. Birmingham

I haven't "done the math" here, though by crunching in the numbers from all the categories, so this is a very rough indication.

After doing those rough calculations, I looked at the Guardian's ranked list, which comes out like this, with a radical difference with respect to Aberdeen; SOAS is higher and Birmingham lower:

RAE 2008: theology, divinity and religious studies results:

1. Durham
2. Aberdeen
3. Cambridge
4. Oxford
5. University College London
6. Manchester
7. Sheffield
8. Nottingham
9. Edinburgh
10. SOAS

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fifth Annual Ralphies

My nominations for the fifth annual ralphies are now up. In a break from tradition, I am moving them over this year to The Resident Alien.

Teaching Notes: On Instant Messaging with Students

Over the last year or so at Duke, and with encouragement from the deans, I have raised the caps on my classes, first to 70, then to 100 and above. The larger numbers have required some rethinking about how I do things. One of the great advantages of teaching somewhere like Duke is that one can ask for teaching assistants, and I have had three now each time that I have taking a larger course. And I am lucky to have outstanding Teaching Assistants. However, students still want to talk to their professors (I am speaking in American here) and frankly, I like talking to students and getting to know them. Without regular interaction, crafting the course as you go would be difficult. But how does one cope with interacting with larger numbers of students? Of course I have regular office hours, but only a small percentage of the class will come to the professor's office unless they have to.

A year or so ago I began to experiment with another way of interacting with students -- using Instant Messaging (IM). I decided to tread carefully at first because I was not sure if it would work, and I was not sure if I might find it too much of an imposition on my time. Would my time be dominated by endless IM queries? Did I want a student popping up with an essay question when I was on the second or third glass of the Beaujolais on a Friday night? So I did not advertise my IM contact details on the syllabus, but I let them know that I was available to talk on IM if they emailed me to ask for my details. Several students took me up on this and in each case I found the experience a rewarding one, and I decided to continue the experiment. I now publish my IM contact details on the course syllabus and I have found that many of the students enjoy using this means of communicated with me. It has several advantages.

One of the major advantages of using IM for students is that this is a very natural medium for them. They are using it themselves all the time to communicate with one another, and they find it easier to communicate through IM than they do in other more formal meda, even email. This leads to some productive conversations. They ask you what they want to talk about without feeling that they need to flower it up in an email. I have found myself wasting much less time with mis-firing email conversations. I misunderstand students less and they misunderstand me less. And sometimes I have been able to ask students quick questions about certain elements in the course, which can be very helpful for getting a feeling for the lie of the land.

This is not, of course, going to be an option for professors who do not do any IMing of their own to friends and family. My guess is that it only works for those who are already familiar with the medium, who enjoy using it. But there are practical difficulties that one needs to think through. The biggest one is that there are several different IM clients. Some students have YIM, some AIM, some MSN, some Google Talk, some combinations. When I discovered Pidgin, this problem was solved instantly -- it is a free multi-platform IM aggregator and you can pull everything together in the one programme.

But what about the problem of students imposing on your free time, popping up to chat to you about the course while you are communicating with your mates? So far, this has really not been a problem for me. My students have used this service really responsibly, and if they do pop up at an unusual time, they quite understand if I explain that I cannot talk. It has not made them any more demanding; quite the contrary -- they have been civil and appreciative. And there are also the options of playing with the settings on Pidgin (or whatever you use), hiding yourself when you don't wish to be seen online and so on.

In short, this experiment has been more than just "so far, so good". I have been surprised by how successful it has been.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Contemporary Memory Experiments and Jesus Traditions

April DeConick makes two fresh contributions to the ongoing discussion of the use of contemporary studies on memory and their use in shedding light on antiquity, human memory is THE factor and I was surprised too. I have been waiting for the book in which her article appears to arrive at Duke before adding another comment in this discussion, hence the gap since my last contribution on this topic.

The new article is April DeConick, "Human Memory and the Sayings of Jesus" in Tom Thatcher (ed.), Jesus, the Voice and the Text: Beyond The Oral and Written Gospel (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008): 135-80. The article is similar in several respects to the earlier piece Robert K. McIver and Marie Carroll: "Experiments to Develop Criteria for Determining the Existence of Written Sources, and Their Potential Implications for the Synoptic Problem," JBL 121 (2002): 667-87 though it improves on that one in avoiding some of its logical errors (for which see John Poirier, "Memory, Written Sources and the Synoptic Problem: A Response to Robert K. McIver and Marie Carroll", JBL 123/2 (2004): 315–322) and in the extent of its realization that "the synoptic problem is mainly a problem of literary dependence" (178-9). McIver and Carroll appeared strangely lukewarm on this issue (especially 683; cf. Poirier 316), though in the end they list several passages that they regard as establishing some kind of literary dependence. DeConick* adds several more (179), though she does not reflect on the fact that the passages she gives are different in nature on her preferred (Two-Source) Theory, direct borrowing (Matt // Mark and Mark // Luke) versus mutual dependence on a third document (Matt // Luke double tradition), an issue that is important because of the high verbatim agreement in these passages (cf. Poirier 317; cf. my blog post on the degree of verbatim agreement in Q).

But the discussion of the Synoptic Problem is peripheral in DeConick's article, where the main focus is on pre-Synoptic traditions, and in particular the question of how memory might have functioned in the transmission of those traditions. So is it possible for experiments with contemporary students' memories to shed light on the memories of the bearers of early Christian traditions about Jesus? I am sceptical about the experiments for the following reasons:

(1) The difficulties of transferring the data. Like McIver and Carroll, DeConick is sanguine about her ability to transfer the results from the experiments to the ancient world. In the conclusion to her article (entitled "What does it all mean?"), for example, the new experimental data is used in order to refute Rudolf Bultmann -- "In this case, the data says that Rudolf Bultmann's form-critical theory about orality was incorrect because his assumptions were wrong" (177). I admire this confidence, but I do not share it. The ways in which the memories of contemporary students are formed and trained are so different from the ways in which the ancients' memories were formed and trained that we simply cannot read off the results from one onto the other. We do not do it when we conceptualize ancient compositional practices and we should avoid it too when we conceptualize ancient memory.

(2) The difficulties of setting up the experiments. There is a related problem. It is not just that we have direct access to the modern mind and only indirect access to the ancient mind through the literary deposits, but it is also that we don't know how to replicate the conditions in which the ancients in general or the evangelists in particular worked. In one of their experiments, McIver and Carroll provided financial incentives for their subjects to repeat a joke word for word (674) and DeConick directed those in her experiments to repeat the materials "as accurately as possible" (142-3). But how far and in what way does this replicate the way in which early Christian tradents worked? Were they attempting to remember and retell what they heard "as accurately as possible", whatever we might mean by that?

(3). The text-based nature of the experiments. DeConick's experiments appear to work with a very text-based model. As far as I can tell from the descriptions of the set up of the experiments (e.g. 142-3), specific, fixed texts were always involved. The students either listened to the text on a tape, or they read it. Unless one thinks that early Christian tradents were at all times performing from a fixed text, what we are dealing with here is therefore quite different from early Christian tradition. Our best guess about the transmission of tradition in the pre-Synoptic period is that the process was a dynamic one in which material was communicated, not read aloud. It is important, in other words, to distinguish between memory of communicated tradition and memory of a text that has been read aloud.

(4). The use of unfamiliar material. DeConick's experiments used texts that would be unfamiliar to the students, a version of Thomas 75, a version of Thomas 97 and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas 10.1-2. The choice of these texts is understandable -- DeConick wishes to avoid contamination from previous memory (143). The difficulty with these choices, though, is that it sets up an experiment in which the students are immediately operating at a distance from the material that is being conveyed to them. In the transmission of early Christian traditions, this experience may have obtained at least once for every hearer, but that one off experience would be replaced subsequently by repeated hearings of the same, now increasingly familiar material. DeConick rightly discusses both short term memory and long term memory, but does not discuss the progress from unfamiliarity to familiarity, in interaction, repetition and creative re-interpretation. In other words, the students' brief exposure to unfamiliar texts is unlikely to replicate the early Christian tradents' encounters with the traditions they subsequently carried.

(5) Composition and creativity. The experiments' focus on memory, and the instruction to the students to attempt to engage in accurate reproduction, means that there is no room to factor in parallels to the creative, compositional work of the evangelists and, for that matter, of the tradents before them. The same difficulty obtains in McIver and Carroll's article -- distance from the source text is measured largely in terms of memory distortion with little attention to attempting to replicate the evangelists' own creativity. (See further Poirier, especially 318 and 322).

Lest I appear too sceptical, too harsh on what are, after all, innovative and interesting studies, let me finish with a positive word. The ancient historian's constant battle is the attempt to understand and describe a world that is so very different from ours. One of the weapons in that battle is the well chosen, contemporary analogy. Sometimes, in our bid to describe and analyze what is distant, we need good analogies. The experimental data on contemporary students' memories might well provide the kind of analogies that aid our attempts to do ancient history. They can help us to craft good questions, to make clear contrasts and to remind us where our evidence of the ancient world is wanting. It is important, though, to remind ourselves that contemporary analogies are always partial, often limited and sometimes misleading.

* I am employing what I take to be academic convention in talking about April DeConick's published work using her surname, where the emerging blogging convention is to use first names when talking about blog posts. I mention this lest anyone thinks that I have developed some unwelcome frostiness!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Genesis and Christian Theology Conference

Posted on behalf of Luke Tallon:

Call for Papers: Genesis and Christian Theology
14-18 July 2009
St Mary's College, University of St Andrews

The University of St Andrews is pleased to announce its third conference on Scripture and Christian Theology. Since the first conference on the Gospel of John in 2003, the St Andrews conferences have been recognized as one of the most important occasions when biblical scholars and systematic theologians are brought together in conversation about a biblical text. The conferences aim to cut through the megaphone diplomacy or the sheer incomprehension that so often marks attempts to communicate across our disciplines. We invite you then to join us and some of the best theological and biblical minds in careful and often lively interaction about one of the most theologically generative of biblical books: the book of Genesis.

We are now calling for papers that integrate close readings of Genesis with Christian theology. While we are particularly interested in explorations of the dynamic relationship between Genesis and Christian doctrine, we also welcome proposals that combine careful reading of the text of Genesis with theological attention to art, creativity, ecology, ethics, the history of interpretation (including New Testament usage of Genesis), or Jewish and Christian dialogue.

The call for paper proposals closes on 15 March 2009. Please visit our website for further details or to submit a proposal:

Sacra Scripta

I am posting the following on behalf of Ulrich Luz:

Sacra Scripta
the new Romanian journal for Biblical Studies

edited by the Centre for Biblical Studies
of Babes Bolyai Universität Cluj-Napoca
Chief editor: Stelian Tofana
Executive editor: Korinna Zamfir
Editorial board: Gjörgy Benyik, Ioan Chirilla, Erik Eynikel, Marius Furtuna, Hans Klein, Lehel Lszai, Ulrich Luz, Sorin Martian, Janos Molnar, Tobias Nicklas, Zoltan Olah, Joseph Verheyden

Two issues of ca 120 pages per year.

Articles are accepted in English, German, French and Italian.
Among the authors of the years 2007/08 were Ioan Chirilla, Walter Dietrich, Marco Frenschkowski, Hans Klein, Johannes Klein, Ulrich Luz, Daniel Mihoc, Vasile Mihoc, David Moessner, Tobias Nicklas, Constantin Oancea, Armand Puig y Tarrech, Stelian Tofana, Gerd Theißen, Michael Tilly, Michael Wolter, Korinna Zamfir

Subcriptions: for two issues 35 € incl. postage (in Europe) (for students 20 €)
Subscribers from Eastern European countries get special prices.
Applications for subscriptions to: Anisoara Taut:
Bank account: Associatia Diatheke, Banca Transilvania, Sucursala Cluj-Napoca, B-dul Eroilor 36. Please add: For "Sacra Scripta". IBAN: RO11BTRL01304205B80615XX

Please support the emerging Romanian Biblical Scholarship through a subscription for your library!

PhD Studentship in Biblical Studies: the Use of the Old Testament in the New

Posted on behalf of Susan Docherty:
PhD Studentship in Biblical Studies: the Use of the Old Testament in the New

Newman University College is offering a PhD Studentship in Biblical Studies for three years. The studentship is open to students from within the UK or EU, and the successful candidate will be required to take up the position on a full time basis on 1 April 2009 or earlier.

Applicants must have a good first degree (1st or high 2i) in Theology or Biblical Studies. An MA or MTh in Biblical Studies, or a closely related area, will be a distinct advantage, and a working knowledge of New Testament Greek is also highly desirable. It is important to demonstrate in the application evidence of the skills necessary to undertake independent research (e.g. details of research methods modules undertaken and/or successful dissertations completed). Those called for interview will be asked to supply in advance samples of their previous written work.

The successful candidate will be expected to focus on a specific topic within the general research area of the Use of the Old Testament in the New. She or he will be free to decide which book(s) of the New Testament and which aspect of the research area to study in depth (e.g. direct OT citations; OT allusions; the exegetical techniques of a NT author; the representation in a NT book of an OT narrative or characters; Septuagintal text-form; parallels in the Qumran texts, other ancient Jewish commentaries or Hellenistic literature; the biblical interpretation in the NT against the background of Second Temple Judaism; the contribution to this field of rhetorical or narrative criticism; the way the OT is used to develop the theological intentions of a NT author; comparisons between the use of the OT in the NT and other early Christian literature etc.). Candidates will be invited to state on their application form the aspect(s) of New Testament study in which they are particularly interested, and to outline a draft research topic/proposal.

The supervisory team will be:
Dr Susan Docherty (areas of expertise: Use of the OT in the NT, Septuagint, Second Temple Judaism);
And Dr Martin O’Kane, Visiting Professor of Biblical Studies at Newman University College and Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter (areas of expertise: Hebrew Bible, literary and inter-disciplinary approaches to the text).

For further information about the conditions of the Studentship, the application process and application forms please visit or contact: John Howard Research Office Administrator (; tel. 0121 476 1181 ext. 2246).
For informal enquiries/discussion about the topic or the supervisory team please contact: Dr. Susan Docherty (; tel. 0121 476 1181 ext. 2231).
Please note that the College will be closed over the Christmas holiday period, so it will not be possible to respond to any enquiries between 20 December 2008 and 4 January 2009 inclusive.

Closing date for applications: 23 January 2009; interviews to be held on 5 February 2009.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Accessing Early Christian Writings and related sites

I wrote about the end of the Early Christian Writings website last week (No more Early Christian Writings) in which I drew attention to a couple of versions of the site linked on Phil Harland's blog. Over on the Gospel of Thomas e-list, Michael Grondin notes that those were not the best, fully functioning snapshots because the links were not all working. With thanks to Michael, these are the best versions, now also linked by Phil Harland:

Early Christian Writings at

Early Jewish Writings at

There are other lost pages from Peter Kirby, one of which is his full text reproduction of Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus. Here is a good version of that:

Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus

Bear in mind that these captures are inevitably much slower than the original versions. I am still wondering whether it might be possible for me to grab a lot of this content, with Peter's permission, and re-host it here at the NT Gateway. I balk at it a little, though, because I am not always sure about the rights issues on some of the materials there and I have always been very careful here to make sure that I do not host anything that I am not one hundred per cent certain about.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mary Magdalene vase and accuracy in reporting

Deirdre Good mentions the following article from today's Telegraph:

Vase Discovery Linked to Mary Magdalene
Archaeologists have discovered vases of perfumed ointment which may have been used by Mary Magdalene to anoint the feet of Jesus.
By Nick Pisa in Rome

The find itself is genuinely interesting:
The Italian team have been digging for several months at the ancient Palestinian town of Magdala – from where Mary gets her name.

The archaeologists of the Franciscan academic society Studium Biblicum Franciscanum found the unopened vases dating to the first century AD conserved in mud at the bottom of a swimming pool in Magdala's thermal complex.
But the errors about the Biblical texts found in the report are remarkable; a bit of simple checking with an expert or even by spending ten minutes online would have revealed the problems:
Many believe that Mary Magdalene was the woman described in the Gospel of St Luke who anointed Jesus feet with oil and then wiped them with her tears and hair.
I don't know of anyone who thinks this, let alone "many". It is, of course, a famous identification in subsequent film and fiction based on Luke 7.36-50, but the woman in that text itself is anonymous. The article continues:
She is also described as a prostitute and is also present at the foot of the Cross when Jesus is crucified and was also the first witness to see Christ following his Resurrection.
As scholars over the last generation or so have been stressing repeatedly, Mary Magdalene is not "described as a prostitute" in early Christian literature. It is correct, however, that in one account, Mary Magdalene is one of the women reported as first seeing Jesus (Matthew Matthew 28.9-10) and in another, she is the first person to see him (John 20.10-18).

Updates (9.04 and 14.48): excellent comments by Todd Bolen on Bible Places Blog: Perfume Bottles Found at Magdala and by Jim Davila on Paleojudaica.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

E. P. Sanders and Moody Smith Reflect on Teaching

The latest edition of our Graduate Program in Religion Fall Newsletter features a real treat, reflections from Ed Sanders and Moody Smith on their experiences of teaching. The pieces are taken from a recent talk given at a lunch organized by the graduate students here:

GPR Newsletter Fall 2008 (PDF)

E.P. Sanders's piece, headed "Teaching and Learning", begins on page 3 and Moody Smith's, under the heading "Religion Graduate Students Luncheon", begins on p. 6. I strongly recommend them to you. Here is a quotation from Ed Sanders's piece to whet your appetite:
I shall briefly explain two of my efforts to get people actually to learn what is on the pages of the New Testament. Perhaps it should go without saying that this is a difficult task, but I shall nevertheless say something about the problem. The more time students have spent in church the more they think that the text consists of morals that are immediately applicable to themselves and that all the words meant then what they mean now. In fact, the worldviews of the biblical authors are not our worldviews, and it is difficult for people to comprehend things that they cannot fit into their own mental universe. It is in some ways easier for people to learn about an unknown religion than about their own. Now for my two efforts . . .

Second British National Patristic Conference

Via the British New Testament Society list:

Faculty of Divinity
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9BS

Second British National Patristic Conference

Wednesday 9th –Friday 11th September, 2009


We are inviting all those engaged in the research and study of early and late antique Christianity to this conference. Our aim is to acknowledge the wide variety of institutional contexts and inter-disciplinary research cultures, trajectories, questions and approaches, encompassing the history, literature, theology, practice, and material culture of the early Church, including questions of the relationship between Early Christianity and other religions, philosophies and social contexts both within the Roman Empire and across borders. The conference programme will provide opportunities for research presentation and discussion and will encourage communication and potential collaboration between participants.

The four keynote speakers are Frances Young (Birmingham), Stephen Mitchell (Exeter), Thomas Graumann (Cambridge), and Carol Harrison (Durham).

Researchers are now invited to respond to a call for papers of about 20 minutes in length, followed by discussion time. Please provide the following information by 15th January 2009, to Allen Brent, or by hard-copy to Faculty of Divinity, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9BS.

1. Your name and affiliation (if any),
2. Paper Title,
3. Abstract of approximately 100-150 words,
4. Brief statement of your current recent research and writing if appropriate.

We would expect to give notice of acceptances by the end of February, 2009. There will also be Workshops for Graduate students, grouped into areas of shared interests. Students are invited to indicate their area of interest and whether they would be prepared to make a brief, five-minute presentation of their work. The closing date for such offers is 1st May. We look forward to hearing from you for what is looking like a very well subscribed conference with some very important contributions from researchers in our fields of study.

Allen Brent
Thomas Graumann
Judith Lieu

Monday, December 08, 2008

Problems with studying memory in antiquity

On The Forbidden Gospels blog, April DeConick follows up her earlier post (discussed here, More SBL Dating Discussions) with a fresh post entitled SBL Memories 3: Become More Scientific. The first half of the post appears to be aimed at a kind of fundamentalist view according to which Jesus' words were recorded with verbatim accuracy in the Gospels, a view in which (of course) I have no stake or interest, so I will pass over it. About half-way in to the post, though, April turns to the section of my paper on the "missing middle" in Thomasine parallels with the Synoptics, drawing special attention to Thomas 57, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. April's disagreement with me here is based in part on a critique of an imagined model that I do not work with and which I regard as untenable:
What is the evidence that writers who have a literary document in front of them from which they are copying ever leave out the middle because they are rushed? Just based on logic, I would think that literary copying would be otherwise. That the copyist would be more careful to preserve the material he is using, that he is working slowly, that he can stop and go back and double check, and that he can erase and correct. Such is not the case, however, when an author is relying on human memory, when he cannot double check a written source.
Few writers who think that Thomas is familiar with the Synoptics are using a model of scribal copying, whereby the author of Thomas has a literary document in front of him. (Perrin may be an exception here, but see my comments on his work). The way I imagine the process is of familiarity with the Synoptics by means of memory through regular reading aloud (by himself or others).

April goes on to make several interesting observations about studying memory, and it is here that the real interest in the post lies. I will withhold any lengthy discussion until I have had the chance to read April's new article on the topic (I have the book in which it appears on order), but I will make a comment about the classic she mentions, F. C. Bartlett, Remembering: A Study in Social Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995; original ed., 1932). Bartlett's fascinating experiments with memory bear on the topic, not least given that one of his examples (72-3) features a "missing middle" similar to the one I have been illustrating in Thomas. It is worth mentioning that Bartlett was testing his subjects' memory of a written text. He gave his subjects a text called "The War of the Ghosts" and asked them to read the text a couple of times, and then he tested them for recall of the piece after selected periods of time, with interesting results, including a good example of an individual retelling the story without its middle section (in his first retelling, 20 hours after his reading of the text). I might claim that this coheres with my own view on Thomas's knowledge of the Synoptics, but alas, I have to confess that I can't help thinking that it does not recreate anything like the conditions that may be in view in antiquity, with communal texts read aloud by the literate to the community over a period of time, not a single unfamiliar text read by a modern individual and then recalled. Given my curmudgeonly scepticism on the transference of such studies to investigations into memory in antiquity, I am loathe to make anything of Bartlett's studies for our studies of issues like Thomas's familiarity with the Synoptics, even though they would help me, but I will concede one important point. Analysis of the way that moderns attempt to recall texts can at least stimulate our reflections on antiquity, even if that reflection ends up being about contrast more than comparison.

David Dungan Obituary

Thanks to Jim West for pointing out the following from the Knoxville News Sentinel:

The Obituary of David L. Dungan

Friday, December 05, 2008

More SBL Dating Discussion

April DeConick responded to my paper, Dating the Crucial Sources in Early Christianity (Handout; Blog Series on Dating), at this year's SBL Annual Meeting, in the second meeting of a new consultation on Cross, Resurrection and Diversity in Early Christianity, and now she offers some useful reflections on that response on her Forbidden Gospels blog, SBL Memories 2: Dating Our Sources. One of the things I like about April DeConick's writing is that she often gets me thinking -- she has a great way of approaching subjects from a distinctive angle.

In the current post, April speaks of division in the academy and I think the implication is that we are on different sides of that divide. One side uses "older models" that are now "being seriously questioned" while April emphasizes "three major shifts in the field" that "must be taken very seriously" (though she goes on to enumerate four). In spite of the talk about division, there are actually several areas here where we are in agreement. In each of the four categories, I will begin with our agreement and then make clear where we differ. Let me add a quick word too on "older models", to use April's term. I too am in favour of questioning older models, though they are not always the same ones that April wishes to question; sometimes April works with some older models that I wish to question. And sometimes, of course, the old wine is good.

(1). As April mentioned at the session, she agrees with my post-70 dating for Mark and so too for Matthew, Luke and John. This is an important agreement because it establishes a working model for dating the crucial works, Paul well before 70, the Gospels after. April's sketch, however, expands to inclusion of hypothetical sources and earlier versions of documents, which I avoided in favour of discussing the materials to which our texts bear witness. Unlike me, April is conservative on the existence of Q, and even speaks of different versions of the text, and their provenance. I am also sceptical about the existence of kernel Thomas. I have not done enough work on James and the Didache to express a firm opinion on whether or not they post-date 70. So April's pre-70 block is much more richly populated than mine. I would love to be able to share her confidence in that area, but I remain sceptical about the survival of key materials from the earliest period.

A further difference is that the model I discussed in the paper was a genealogical one. Where April organizes documents into groups, I attempted to sketch sequence, Galatians post-dating 1 Corinthians, Matthew post-dating Mark, Luke post-dating Matthew, John post-dating the Synoptics and so on. The reason that this kind of work might be helpful is that it can map the evolution and development of ideas from one literary work to another. Working on relative dating in this way is tough because we simply have to get our hands dirty engaging in study that a lot of us would rather avoid, Synoptic Problem, Pauline chronology, John's relationship to the Synoptics and so on. But the potential pay off is major and the work is worthwhile.

(2). April's second point, about textual criticism, echoes my own warnings on this subject, which I am happy to repeat:
It is easy to engage in this kind of discussion without thinking through the broader issues of what it means to talk about “texts” and “literary works” in antiquity. It is a somewhat hackneyed to point out the obvious facts that none of the autographs have survived and that there were no printing presses, but textual critics rightly remind us to behave like we actually know that that is the case. Too often, we lapse into treating our scholarly constructs as if they are the actual artefacts that they can only aspire to be. At the very least, we need to keep reminding ourselves in discussions like this that we are not dealing with fixed points and known entities but with reconstructions and approximations. (3)
Nevertheless, with the appropriate cautions in place, it is also worth reminding ourselves that the texts are all we have. The situation is no different here than it is for any other set of ancient texts. We are dealing with manuscript witnesses. Indeed, in many respects the situation is a great deal better for scholars of early Christianity because of the relative earliness of the textual evidence as well as the richness of the manuscript deposit. We have to work with what we have, and what we have is pretty good.

April offers a valuable caution against "basing our conclusions on 'same' words here and there", but as I mentioned in the session in response, this is why we should also look at patterns of agreement and disagreement, tracing parallels in structure, order, theme, motif and imagery as well as the more minor parallels in wording. My own caution in this area, previously expressed in discussions of the Synoptic Problem, and especially of the Minor Agreements, is that one should be wary of appealing to conjectural emendation as a means of resisting texts that are difficult for one's theory, not least given the fact that absent textual evidence is as likely to have caused further problems for one's preferred theory as it is to have provided solutions.

(3)-(4): I will take these together since they are closely related. I sympathize with the desire for memory experiments but I am highly sceptical of our ability to recreate the necessary conditions for providing useful information on the way that memory worked in the first century. As I mentioned in the session, one of my favourite television programmes is Doctor Who, and in a recent episode, the doctor and Donna went to Pompei in 79. I would have loved to have joined them and to conduct some experiments there. But as I also mentioned in the session, there are indeed useful experiments that we can do, using the texts that we have. As some of my readers will know, I have been an advocate for developing tests on Synoptic (and other related) theories with a view to seeing whether they work or not. Given our current state of knowledge, and tools available, serious work on the ancient texts we have is preferable to experiments on our contemporaries.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tony Chartrand-Burke on Secret Mark at the SBL

Tony Chartrand-Burke today offers an excellent summary of the session on Secret Mark at the 2008 SBL Annual Meeting, which I chaired, and on which I offered a briefer summary here in with my general travel diary from the conference (Some More SBL). Tony concludes his interesting post with some some of his own reflections and I would like to comment on these, not least because I think that Tony may be a little unfair to those he criticizes here:
Many who came out of the session may have been surprised at Brown’s demeanour. But I think it justified. The two main writers against the authenticity of the text, Carlson and Jeffery, are not biblical scholars. Their arguments are not based on the methodology used by biblical scholars. Yet many of their readers have been convinced by them, likely because their arguments merely confirmed in their minds what they hoped would be the case and not because the readers had sufficient knowledge of the contents of the text, nor of previous scholarship on it to make an informed decision.
First, Tony appears to underestimate Stephen Carlson's scholarship (I will comment on Stephen Carlson since he and his work is much better known to me than Peter Jeffery's). It is true that Stephen does not yet have his PhD in this area, but he is already an outstanding scholar whose work is widely admired by those in the guild. He was already published in New Testament Studies (Clement of Alexandria on the "Order" of the Gospels) before his book on Secret Mark was written, and he has, of course, made pioneering contributions to the advancement of scholarship on the internet. But the point at issue in both the book and the recent SBL session is one not of credentials but of the quality of scholarship. Stephen has produced some fine scholarship on an issue that has been log-jammed for years. Indeed it may be that the outsider's perspective has helped Stephen to shed light on the issue. I understand that some people disagree with Stephen's conclusions but I hope that we can all agree on the quality of the scholarship.

Second, I think we should be wary of the idea that those who agree with Carlson and Jeffery do so out of ignorance or prejudice. Speaking for myself, I wrote an endorsement for The Gospel Hoax because I read it carefully in the light of familiarity with other scholarship on the issue and I was persuaded by its case. I know of others who feel the same way.

Tony continues:
Furthermore, Brown and Pantuck have crafted some very detailed responses to Carlson and Jeffery that seem to be getting overlooked—Ehrman, for one, did not seem to be cognizant of the one article refuting the salt claim, and there were two allusions made to the size of Brown’s and Pantuck’s responses, as if thorough, detailed scholarly work was a bad thing. Brown is justifiably frustrated at the state of so-called scholarship (much of it he called “poppycock”) on Secret Mark.
I regard the remark about "so-called scholarship" here as unfortunate. Similarly, I regarded Scott Brown's references to "poppycock" in the session as unfortunate. On issues as important as this, it is generally preferable to keep one's language measured and to focus on the key issues of scholarly disagreement. I don't recall the references to "the size of Brown's and Pantuck's responses", though my guess would be that the point of mentioning it is that a response to a large and detailed piece is inevitably time-consuming; it is something that cannot be taken lightly. Nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind that Peter Jeffery has produced a lengthy response to Scott Brown's review of his book. Moreover, sometimes an author may legitimately choose not to respond to a review or an article, feeling that it is up to the reader to weigh the arguments on both sides.

Tony goes on to reflect on the role played by Secret Mark in the work of those he discusses in his recent "Heresy Hunting" article, but I am not sure how relevant this is to the discussion at the SBL, which was a balanced one in which I did not pick up any kind of ideological objection to the authenticity of the text.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Codex Sinaiticus Conference

I am working through the email mountain at the moment and see that I forgot to post this notice from Juan Garcés some time ago:

Codex Sinaiticus Conference
British Library, London, 6-7 July 2009

The Codex Sinaiticus Project, an international initiative to reunite the entire manuscript in digital form and make it accessible to a global audience for the first time (see, will host a conference devoted to this seminal fourth-century Bible.

Leading experts have been invited to present papers on the history, codicology, and text of Codex Sinaiticus, among other topics. A call for papers, registration information, and programme will be made available soon.

David L. Dungan

I was very sorry to hear of the death of David L. Dungan on Sunday, just days after lots of us had enjoyed his company at the SBL in Boston. Thanks to Jeff Peterson, Allan McNicol, Bob Derrenbacker and David Peabody for passing on this sad news.

No more Early Christian Writings

In spite of the dramatic announcement about its return back in October (Early Christian Writings on the way back), it looks like we will have to accept that Early Christian Writings and its companion sites are never coming back. Phil Harland has a couple of good stable URLs over at for those who want to access the site.

Blog Carnivals, Top 50s, Interviews and more

It has been a cracking few days of activity on the Biblioblogs. Jim West once again shows us that he is master of the art of writing a clear, comprehensive Biblical Studies Carnival:

Biblical Studies Carnival XXXVI

Perhaps we should just ask Jim to do it every month? Meanwhile, over on, the latest interview is with Mark Vitalis Hoffman:

Blogger of the Month December 2008

This is a timely interview -- Mark's Biblical Studies and Technological Tools Blog has made a fantastic contribution to the blogosphere over the last eighteen months. And then N.T. Wrong has published his new Top 50:

Biblioblog Top 50

And I am happy to see that the NT Gateway blog is up at number 2. And speaking of N.T. Wrong, the speculation about his identity continues, with contributions from James McGrath On the trail of N.T. Wrong, On the Trail of N.T. Wrong, Part 2 and On the Trail of N.T. Wrong, Part 3, with J. C. Baker weighing in with The Identity of N.T. Wrong and More Proof that Mark Goodacre is N.T. Wrong, and Pat McCullough adding his own suggestion on The Identity of N.T. Wrong.