Friday, December 24, 2010

BBC Nativity Round-up

One of the nice things about being in England for Christmas is catching programmes like The Nativity as they air. The fourth and final part aired at 7pm last night on BBC1 and I really loved it. I can't wait to watch it all again properly. It's all on the BBC iPlayer, of course, though international users will need to use a little jiggery-pokery to make it show up for them.

It is good to see the programme getting some coverage in the blogs. As one would expect, Matt Page, over at the Bible Films Blog, is right on top of things, with his own Full Review and then a Review Round-up with further useful commentary, noting that it has been something of a hit, both critically and in terms of viewing figures -- it pulled in more even than The Passion back in Easter 2008. In particular, it's worth noting Doug Chaplin's four part, episode by episode review. I was hoping to do something similar myself, but travel made it impossible, so I am delighted to see Doug doing a better job than I would have done. My full review will follow in due course.

Also worth a visit is Helen Bond's blog post about her involvement as historical consultant on the series.

There have only been a couple of complaints, one from Jonathan Romain concerning the depiction of a rabbi in the series (BBC Nativity drama was not "anti-Jewish") and another where the Daily Express embarrass themselves over a couple of lines of dialogue.

Also worth noting is a nice piece on the BBC blog by Tatiana Maslany, who was brilliant as Mary,Tony Jordan's Nativity: I play Mary. The piece comes with the following clip:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Latest NT Pod, Was Jesus Born in a Stable?

I always used to post the latest episodes of the NT Pod here also on the NT Blog but I have got out of the habit since NT Pod 38.  So if you used to be in the habit of picking up the news of new episodes here, then I should add that there have been eight episodes since then, 39 to 46.  I won't tire everyone by listing them all, but will point you instead to the NT Pod web page or remind you that you can subscribe in your preferred reader or subscribe via iTunes. Or, of course, you can follow the NT Pod on Twitter or on the NT Pod Facebook page.

The latest episode, 46, asks Was Jesus Born in a Stable? It pays special attention to the translation of Luke 2.7, inspired by a recent article by Stephen Carlson, and it mentions also the Protevangelium of James 18-19 and Matthew 2.11.

Ehud Netzer Obituary

Today's Independent has an obituary of Ehud Netzer who died in October (see Paleojudaica, Jim West, Bible Places and elsewhere for more):

Ehud Netzer: Israeli archaeologist best known for excavating King Herod's winter palace

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Nativity BBC Miniseries: Trailer

There is now a trailer for the new BBC miniseries The Nativity, which airs next week (previous posts here):

It looks like an enjoyably traditional kind of presentation, with some beautiful photography. I am really looking forward to it.

The series is beginning to get some media coverage too. Jim Davila points to a feature in The Independent, The Jesus Story with a hint of Eastenders and there is a small website run by the Church Media Network with pictures and press information.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Most Embarrassing Book Meme: "The Q Document"

I was tagged by Deane Galbraith in the "Most Embarrassing Book Meme" (see also Jim West, Mark Stevens, James McGrath and others) and after a perusal of my shelves during a spare five minutes during my office hours today, here is mine.  As I mentioned recently, I am a fan of a full range of Qs and my embarrassing book is another of these:

The book is The Q Document by James Hall Roberts, a sensationalist novel published in 1964, akin to James H. Hunter's The Mystery of Mar Saba published in 1940. James Hall Roberts is actually a pseudonym for Robert L. Duncan (1927-1999) and in case you can't catch the wording on the back cover, it reads:

"Why did Red China want the Q document?

Why did the Vatican send someone to buy it?

Why did the Nazis believe it even though its discoverer was a Jew?

Why did a Catholic priest now contemplate murder because of it?

What did the Q document  reveal?"

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Nativity BBC Miniseries: airtimes announced

The air-dates for the new BBC Nativity, written by Tony Jordan, have now been announced over on the Red Planet Pictures website:

This Christmas on BBC One - Monday 20th to Thursday 23rd December 2010 at 7pm

Here is the rest of the blurb over on their website:
Tatiana Maslany and Andrew Buchan star as Mary and Joseph in Tony Jordan's adaptation of The Nativity for BBC One this Christmas.

Over four half-hour episodes the drama tells the traditional tale known to millions from a very human perspective.

With Mary and Joseph's enduring love story at the centre this familiar story is given a contemporary twist, as the drama follows Joseph and Mary from their initial courtship – Joseph desperate to win the heart of Mary – to his emotional turmoil at her unexpected pregnancy.

Tony Jordan said: "The challenge for me was to retell a story that has been told countless times before, a story that everyone knows intimately, yet to do so in a way that will still surprise and move you, to see parts of the story you'd never seen before.

"I really think that we've achieved that and I'm incredibly proud to have been asked by the BBC to be involved in such a wonderful project."

This gripping and vibrant adaptation shows the Nativity from a fresh viewpoint, highlighting how seemingly ordinary people reacted to the extraordinary and miraculous events that befell them.

Rich in colour and humour, the remarkable events that led up to Jesus's birth will unfold across the four nights, from the epic journey of the wise men to the poignant tale of Thomas – a poor shepherd – whose waning faith in God is revived as he kneels beside the crib of the newborn king.

Jordan's Nativity is a spectacular Christmas treat for the whole family.

Andrew Buchan as Joseph, Tatiana Maslany as Mary and Peter Capaldi as Balthasar are joined by an impressive cast including: Jack Shepherd as Melchior; Obi Abili as Gaspar; Art Malik as Nicolaus; Vincent Regan as Herod; John Lynch as Gabriel; Claudie Blakley as Anna; Frances Barbour as Elizabeth; Neil Dudgeon as Joachim; Al Weaver as Thomas the Shepherd; Ruth Negga as Leah and Gawn Grainger as Levi.

'The Nativity' is a Red Planet Pictures, K Films and Temple Street production for BBC One and CBC. It is distributed by BBC Worldwide.
It's nice to see that Mary's parents are Joachim and Anna, the names they have in the Protevangelium of James.  I am also pleased to see that the distribution is by BBC Worldwide.  For The Passion, the BBC partnered with HBO.  It is now nearly three years later and the miniseries has still not made it to the HBO channel or to DVD in the US.  Hopefully The Nativity will make it much more quickly to other territories as a result.

Teaching the Bible e-pub latest

The latest Teaching the Bible e-pub is now available from the SBL.

The Natwivity

No, that's not a typo; it's The Natwivity:
Welcome to the Natwivity. From 1st December you can follow Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, Wisemen and Others on Facebook and Twitter as the Christmas story unfolds . . . .

The Natwivity takes advantage of social media's unparalleled capacity to engage people as they go about their everyday life to re-tell the Christmas story in a fresh, personal way. People will be able to pick up the 'tweets' in their homes, in the high street using their phones and at work.

The Natwivity will give this famous story an immediate, real-life feel, transforming them from people 2,000 years ago to friends of the follower, who are going through the drama now. Followers will be able to read Mary's angst as she tries to come to terms with the birth of her child, and hear from the stunned shepherds after their encounter with a host of angels.
It's a harmonized Nativity story, featuring several tweets / status updates each day from different characters in the drama. It appears not to be in "real time" given that at the moment the story is focusing on the aftermath of the annunciation and Mary's visit to Elizabeth. There are no Biblical references supplied, so it might be a fun task to get your students to hunt down which parts are from Matthew, which are from Luke and which are from the tweeter's imagination.

There is a little mild humour too, e.g. the shepherds are currently washing their socks by night. Does this mean that in due course three kings of holly and tar will be appearing, one in a scooter, one in a car?

HT: Richard Goode.

John Bowden

I was sorry to read today on the T & T Clark Blog and Jim West's blog of the death of John Bowden.  I used to meet John from time to time in Birmingham when he was a tireless worker for SCM Press and his authors.  The chances are that even if you had not realized, you have read a Bowden translation -- Martin Hengel, Gerd Lüdemann, Hans Küng, Gerd Theissen, -- all these were his authors.  Sometimes his translation and publication work was so speedy that he would get the SCM edition of a book out more quickly than the Germans managed!  It's a great loss.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

My Favourite Qs

I am always surprised when people expect me to want to denigrate Q. As it happens, I am a big fan of Q -- I even "like" it on Facebook.   So it is good to see Jim Linville bringing up the question of the existence of Q as a possibility for a Science Fiction section at the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco next year.  And James McGrath invokes my name in the expectation that I may not be convinced.

Actually, I am a complete sucker for the comparison between fictional Qs and had a go at it back in my 2001 introductory textbook, The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze, Chapter 5:
“Q”, the letter used for the hypothetical source that allegedly lies behind much of Matthew and Luke, sounds mysterious and intriguing. On our way through the maze, here is something that has a sense of the thrilling. To many, the term “Q” quickly conjures up images from James Bond or Star Trek. Perhaps, the reader will think, this “Q” will be like the James Bond character “Q”, played by Desmond Llewellyn, ever able to provide some suitable new gadget appropriate to the occasion, equipping us ready to help us out of some implausible yet dangerous situation. Or perhaps it will be like the “Q” of Star Trek: The Next Generation, an ever powerful, strangely illusive, oddly irritating presence always lurking on the sidelines to divert us from conducting our affairs in the way we would like.
Without doubt, the study of Q does carry a thrill for many scholars and students of the New Testament. Some think that this lost source provides us with a window onto the earliest years of the Christian movement, and the work of uncovering Q is now often likened to the work of excavating material in an archaeological dig. Not surprisingly, the “discovery” in modern times of this lost document has led to something of an industry in New Testament scholarship, attempting to reconstruct its wording, its theology, its history, its origin. But before any of this is possible, there is a prior question, a question sometimes ignored, that requires careful attention: what is the evidence for this hypothetical document? How do we know that Q existed? Is the hypothesis based on solid ground or might the Q of Gospel scholarship turn out to be as fictional as the Qs of James Bond and Star Trek?
A little predictable, perhaps.  But no one else was making the comparison at the time, and it was irresistible.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Possibly the best Biblical Studies Carnival Ever?

Here at the NT Blog, we are up late at night every night, twiddling our thumbs, hanging around and waiting for something worth reading to appear online. Usually, it is slim pickings but tonight is one of those rare occasions when our hope is more than satisfied.  Deane Galbraith has one of the best, perhaps the best Biblical Studies Carnival ever over on the Religion Bulletin:

Biblical Studies Carnival נז (November 2010)

It will take you several hours to read it properly, especially if you follow all the links, as of course you are obliged to do. Galbraith fans gather around -- it's quantity as well as quality.

Deinde Blog Move

Danny Zacharias has been in touch with news of a feed change for the Deinde Blog.  Point your readers at the new feedburner feed.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Journal for the Study of Paul and his Letters

Thanks to Michael Bird for sending over notice of the new Journal for the Study of Paul and his Letters, announced over on Euangelion.  I am a bit late in announcing this one because of the pre-SBL rush.  Mike is editing along with Nijay Gupta, also well known from the blogosophere. Although it is not a free journal, there is a free sample first issue, which is in fact a free article from my colleague Susan Eastman, "Philippians 2.6-11: Incarnation as Mimetic Participation".

JSNT Latest

The latest Journal for the Study of the New Testament is a special issue on Wirkungsgeschichte. Articles are for subscribers and subscribing institutions only. Here is the alert:
A new issue of Journal for the Study of the New Testament has been made available:

1 December 2010; Vol. 33, No. 2



Jonathan Roberts and Christopher Rowland

Wirkungsgeschichte, Reception History, Reception Theory
Mark Knight

Wirkungsgeschichte and Visual Exegesis: The Contribution of Hans-Georg Gadamer
Martin O'Kane

Effective-History and the Hermeneutics of Ulrich Luz
Mark W. Elliott

Sachkritik in Reception History
Robert Morgan

Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation: Textures of a Text and its Reception
David B. Gowler

Hope for a Troubled Discipline? Contributions to New Testament Studies from Reception History
William John Lyons

Thursday, November 25, 2010

University of Birmingham job

A job in New Testament has just been advertised at the University of Birmingham:
Lecturer in New Testament and Theology
Salary from £36,715 to £49,342 a year

The School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion, College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham is seeking to appoint a Lecturer in New Testament and Theology. You will possess particular expertise in theology and biblical studies and how these relate to each other and to the study of religion/theology in the contemporary world. You will also have research experience at post-doctoral level, shown through a record of publications and have teaching experience at higher educational level. Ideally you will hold or be nearing completion of a PhD in New Testament Studies/Theology.

You will be required to provide advisory support for research, contribute to the design, development and delivery of programmes of study, and undertake research and administrative activities.

Closing date: 21st December 2010. Ref: 44432

To download the details and submit an electronic application online visit:  Alternatively, information can be obtained from 0121 415 9000.

Valuing excellence; sustaining investment

Return from SBL, #SBL10

The Tuesday morning of the SBL Annual Meeting tends to be a bit of a non-event.  There are sessions still going on, but they are attended by the speakers and just a smattering of people, those who are not yet fatigued and  those who do not have a flight to catch for a while.  I once had to speak on a Tuesday morning, Boston 1999, but on the whole I have been lucky since then.  I do try to make it to Tuesday morning sessions when I can, but this year I could not.

I had a nice breakfast, though, at the Corner Bakery opposite the Hyatt Regency, where I was staying.  And from there,  I took the metro to the airport -- much cheaper than a taxi -- and was lucky to meet friends at the airport and to have one last Sweet Water 420 before flying.

I enjoyed this SBL.  I found the Saturday, with my three speaking commitments, so exhausting that the Sunday and Monday seemed so much more gentle and relaxed in spite of the fact that I had lots on.  The session highlight for me was the inaugural Blogging and Online Publication section, and it is good to see that several of the papers from that session have already been posted on the blogs (e.g. Paleojudaica; more below).

Another highlight was going up and down in the funky lifts in the Hyatt Regency -- I really liked them.  I was a bit disappointed to discover late on Monday evening, when we tried to go all the way to the top, that the top two floors are closed off for the elite.

I heard several good papers this year and several pretty ordinary ones.  I must admit to being disappointed that everyone seems completely devoted to reading papers rather than presenting them.  I would like to see more people looking at their audience.  On the other hand, I was pleased with the number of clear handouts.  There were several papers that would have been greatly improved with nice handouts too.

It was interesting to see that several people did use Powerpoint and Keynote in spite of the charges.  I was pretty horrified about the $25-$75 speaker charges and hope that this is not repeated next year.  Three were especially memorable -- Bob Cargill and James McGrath at the Blogging session and Joe Weaks at the Synoptic Section.  Those three really showed the value of a strong illustrated presentation.

As usual, of course, the real highlight was the socializing with old friends.  I particularly liked the Irish pub, Meehans that was just down the road from the conference hotels.

And did anyone else take a day or two to realize that the book exhibit was in two different rooms?

Monday, November 22, 2010

SBL Atlanta 2010, Monday, #SBL10

As usual, it was an early star at the SBLt, this time for our Library of New Testament Studies editorial board meeting at 7am. Unlike previous years, the meeting was in a suite, with breakfast laid on, and it enabled us to have a decent and uninterrupted conversation.

The SBL gathers everyone together and so provides the opportunity for things like PhD vivas. I was examining a St Andrews University (UK) PhD and it was the first time I have done this kind of thing at the SBL rather than at the institution itself.  That was my major morning's activity.

A particular highlight this afternoon was the inaugural meeting of the "Blogger and Online Publication" section. Several of you might remember the discussion about this earlier this year.  Bob Cargill was chairing and he began by mentioning Charlie Haws and Jim West as key characters in getting the section going.  The speakers were all excellent -- Jim Davila appropriately beginning, followed by Chris Brady, Michael Barber, James McGrath and Robert Cargill.  I agreed with pretty much everything that the panel said, and I'd have thought that it would be ideal for the blogs to get the discussion going on these things.  The session was packed out, there were lots of interesting questions and comments, and it was all-round very positive.  More anon on this one.

I did the SBL tart thing for the last couple of hours today, taking in both the Cross, Resurrection and Diversity Section and the Bible in Ancient and Modern Media section, the latter a session on Anthony Le Donne's book and featuring Paula Fredriksen on the panel.

It has to be said, of course, that the highlight of the SBL is always the socializing.  I visited Max Lager's Wood Fired Grill and Brewery for dinner, and then retired to Meehan's Public House where we were treated very nicely, and got given a free bottle of Fuller's Vintage Ale.  Our friendliness and perhaps the British accent helped.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

SBL Atlanta 2010, Sunday, #SBL10

After the pretty exhausting day yesterday, today was much more relaxing and enjoyable. I went to the University of Birmingham breakfast first thing. This has become a bit of a highlight since leaving Birmingham over five years ago, and a nice way of keeping in touch with old friends and colleagues. I ate some rather odd sausages, chicken apple flavour I think they were.

I did the SBL tart thing this morning, flitting between several different sessions of interest. I particularly enjoyed Richard Wright's paper on 1 Cor. 11.2-16 in the Ritual and Gender section. I also enjoyed catching a couple of papers in the Intertextuality section, including Dukie Lori Baron who did a great job.

Today was a great day for free food -- didn't buy any all day. I wasn't expecting to get a free lunch, but it turns out that this is one of the perks of being on the JSNT editorial board. The food was that Mediterranean stuff -- olives, sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella, all that kind of stuff.

I finally managed to get my strength up to visit the book exhibit today too. I am not a big fan of the book exhibit -- find it depressing seeing all those books -- but I do like meeting people there, and I had a couple of good meetings with publishers.

Another good session today was the Synoptics Section. I went primarily because I wanted to hear Rebekah Eklund's paper on the crowds in the Passion Narrative, which she had initially worked on for my Passion Narratives graduate class last year. She did a great job -- clear, interesting, engaging. But it was a bonus also to catch several other interesting papers, including Joe Weaks's presentation on "MarQ", reconstructing Mark's Gospel on the basis of Matthew and Luke alone as a test for reconstructions of Q. I was on Joe's committee at Brite Divinity School and I really enjoyed his presentation. I don't know whether he forked out $75 for his projector fee but he had a great powerpoint.

It was receptions evening tonight and I took in three -- UNC Chapel Hill, T and T Clark and Duke. All were enjoyable, especially getting the chance to catch up with some old friends. Of course the days of the lavish food are over, but if you are lucky you can grab a cube of cheese and perhaps a cookie. Good if you are a diet.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

SBL Atlanta 2010, Saturday, #SBL10

Several days ago, when I actually checked the programme, I realized that Saturday was going to be a big day. Somehow, I had managed to find myself speaking three times on the one day.  The first of these is not, strictly speaking, part of the SBL Annual Meeting.  Rather, as some of you will know, the Biblical Archaeology Society holds its annual "BibFest" round the corner from the SBL and several of us go to address the conference there on topics of interest to us.  My topic this year was "Paul's Letters: Women, Men and the End", some reflections on the roles played by women in Paul's churches (specifically Phoebe, Prisca, Junia) and then some analysis of the troubling passages in 1 Cor. 11 and 14, with conclusions on the eschatological nature of Paul's views on women and men, in discussion of Gal. 3.28.  I like speaking at the BAS -- it is an audience of enthusiasts who always have interesting comments and questions, and who appear appreciative of our coming along to speak to them.

My second stint of the day was in the Ideological Criticism section.  This is where all the cool kids hang out, and it is not my usual haunting ground.  The topic was James Crossley's book Jesus in an Age of Terror.  My paper offered a critique of James's discussion of the "politics of the bibliobloggers" and it is probably something that I will offer here in the blog in due course to generate some further discussion.  Zeba Crook spoke second and discussed the representation of the context group in James's book -- and he had some critical things to say.  Bill Arnal offered a more sympathetic reading of James's book and Roland Boer offered some sophisticated and often very funny reflections on what James was doing.

James gave a response to our four presentations and there was a very lively discussion afterwards.  I am still reflecting on this session and I am not really sure what to make of it.  I think I'd like to read all the papers and James's response and to work out where things stand.  I'll come back to this in due course.  I did not have any time to chew over that session in my mind, though, because I went from a panel with the cool kids to a panel with the bigwigs.

Pat McCullough organized a session entitled "Finding your 'niche' in Biblical Studies".  There were five panelists, Christopher Hays, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Dale Martin and Paula Fredriksen and me. I have shared here in the blog the substance of my short presentation. I was hugely impressed with the other speakers, all of whom were witty, engaging, compelling. We had ten minutes or so each. The room was packed. There must have been two or three hundred people there, and there were people standing at the side. After we had finished speaking, the room emptied out a good deal, but then there was time for discussion of the topic and many of the contributions from the floor were excellent too.

I dined tonight with an old friend at Azio, an Italian place just a couple of blocks away from the conference and it was a hugely enjoyable evening. There is also a nice little Irish pub not far away from the conference hotels that is well worth a visit.

Finding your "niche" in Biblical Studies, #SBL10

A little later I am doing a stint in a section organized by Pat McCullough entitled "Finding your 'niche' in Biblical Studies" and featuring also Christopher Hays, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Dale Martin and Paula Fredriksen. One of the things I will be encouraging people to do is to treat all advice with a pinch of salt. When I was in the early stages of my doctoral research in Oxford, I was asked by one of the New Testament dons, "So what are you writing on for your DPhil, Mark?" I said that I had settled on a thesis about the work of Michael Goulder on the Gospels. "There are two things wrong with that topic," he replied, while we stood outside the Theology Faculty building at St Giles.  "It will be unpublishable, and you won't get a job." The problem was that that was what I really wanted to write about and I knew that the best chance I had of writing a decent DPhil (they are DPhils in Oxford and not PhDs) was to write about something that I was enthused about.

Luckily, there were others with different thoughts.  I suppose that the research would never have got off the ground if things had been different.  When I went to Ed Sanders with my idea about Michael Goulder, he said, "Well, I have said for years that someone should spend time with Goulder's work and I think it would be a fine topic for a doctorate."  And so I began the work on the thesis only for Prof. Sanders to tell me, not long afterwards, through clouds of pipe smoke in his room at Queen's College, that he would be leaving to go to a place I had never heard of in America, Duke University.  I was crestfallen and I remember thinking, "Why on earth would he want to do that?"

Well, I ploughed on with the research on Goulder and the Gospels, a DPhil orphan for a while, turned down by one potential supervisor, and only saved by the arrival of John Muddiman in Oxford in 1991, and I could not have had a more ideal supervisor.   As it turned out, I did get a job and I did get the thing published.  I enjoyed my doctorate and I am still pleased that I did not really listen to the naysayers.

I suppose that this is going to be the difficulty with the "Finding your 'niche'" session.  I imagine that there will be a lot of conflicting advice.  The thing is that every academic's experience is so different.  I am not sure that I would want to advise my students to choose to write about unpublishable, un-marketable topics.  And yet the key thing is to follow your nose and to write about the things that will enthuse you, whatever they might be.    I mean: I am baffled by the fact that many (most?) scholars appear to be so uninterested in detailed discussion of the Synoptic Problem, but I haven't let that prevent me from airing my own interest in it.

In fact, on this topic there is another piece of advice that I ought to offer, but which I have ignored: if you want a career, don't try to take on the establishment on a dearly loved, consensus topic.  I wrote a book called The Case Against Q in which I argued that the grounds for postulating the existence of Q are not as persuasive as the alternative, which accepts Marcan Priority but adds that Luke also knew Matthew.  Looking back on it now, I wonder if I might have been a bit naive to have been so confrontational so early in my career and to have taken so great a risk.  I could have played safe.

I suppose that the serious advice I would give here is that if you are going to take a risk like that, then make sure you fully understand your opponent's position, and make sure you go the extra mile to represent it as fairly as possible.  You will get nowhere if your readers can easily charge you with misreading, misunderstanding and misrepresentation.  In fact, that is probably much more destructive to a potential career than anything, the failure to attempt to represent the scholarship honestly and fairly.

I remember once talking to a PhD student about his plans for the future;  he handed me a sheet in which the research program was mapped out for the next twenty years, with projected publishing dates and everything.  I think what amazed me most about that was that the plan was made on the assumption that the student would have no new ideas for twenty years, that there would be a predictable pattern to his career.  One of the things that is so enjoyable about the academic's life is, for me, that it is unpredictable.  And you have new ideas all the time -- it's an inevitability of teaching and of continuing to read and research.

It is a question, I would say, of enthusiasm rather than obsession.  I have got pretty close to being obsessed with the Synoptic Problem, but I don't want to go the way of William Farmer and spend my entire career on it.  In fact, Ed Sanders once warned me that getting into the Synoptic Problem is like getting into quicksand -- he was concerned I would never emerge.  So I think it's good to put your ideas out there, to see what happens and to move on.

Sometimes the a major research project will emerge naturally from the topic you are studying.  I am finishing up a book on the Gospel of Thomas at the moment, but I got into Thomas because of Q.  While I was writing about Q, people kept saying, "What about the Gospel of Thomas?"  And so I became interested in Thomas.  And having become interested in Thomas, I began teaching courses on the non-canonical Gospels, which, in turn spawns further research into related topics of interest.

The process of scholarly interest in different topics is often accidental and unpredictable.  You simply don't know what new idea might pop into your head while you are teaching and researching, and I would discourage the tendency to identify yourself too strongly with any particular "niche" in Biblical Studies.  Very few of us only teach on our primary areas of interest and publication, and that breadth in teaching is our invitation to keep breadth in research and publication.  So finding a niche is good, but finding another after that, and another after that, is better.

Friday, November 19, 2010

SBL Atlanta -- 2010 vs. 2003, #SBL10

The last time the SBL was in Atlanta was in 2003.  It's funny to look back on the state of blogging at that time.  Now, you would struggle to keep up with all the SBL bloggers and tweeters.  Back then, we were only a handful, and it seems I was in prophetic mode in a post entitled Other SBL Blogs.  After having mentioned AKMA, Jim Davila's Paleojudaica and Stephen Carlson's Hypotyposeis, I wrote:
In years to come no doubt there will be myriads of other bloggers at the SBL and people will laugh as they look back to 2003 and say, "Good grief; were there really so few blogs in the olden days?" and we will be proud to have been there early on. AKMA will be prouder still -- he was even blogging at the SBL in November 2002.
Well, it's seven years later and now it does seem funny to look back on that simpler world.

Arrival at the SBL Annual Meeting Atlanta 2010, #SBL10

I've arrived in Atlanta for the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting.  There are thousands here for this conference every year and already I have run into lots of attendees.  Some of the enthusiastic ones are already proudly wearing their big badges in the necklace fashion.  Even those who aren't, though, can be spotted a mile off, especially the jacketed men, who are everywhere, and looking very much like academics, some of them suitably earnest, others greeting old friends loudly in the foyers of the hotels to make clear to everyone standing around how important, popular and genial they are.

I look forward to blogging the conference over the coming days, as time allows, and also to tweeting the conference.  You can follow me on twitter, or for the real deal, just go to the #SBL10 tag and read multiple live updates on the conference in the coming days.  Bear in mind that you don't even have to be a twitterer / tweeter to enjoy reading others' updates, on the ground, as they happen.

My really busy day is tomorrow, with a presentation on "Paul's Letters: Men, Women and the End" at the Biblical Archaeology Society's BibFest XIII and then later, at one, a paper on the "James Crossley and the Politics of the Bibliobloggers" in the Ideological Criticism Section, where all the cool kids hang out. Also reviewing James's book in that session are Bill Arnal, Zeba Crook and Roland Boer, and James is giving a response.  And at four, I'll be speaking in an interesting session organized by Pat McCullough entitled "Finding your 'niche' in Biblical Studies" and featuring also Christopher Hays, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Dale Martin and Paula Fredriksen.

But of course there are about ten thousand other sessions on over the coming days too.  Luckily, Nathan Eubank has distilled all the really good sessions, i.e. the ones involving people from Duke, over on Duke Newt.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Gospel of Judas and Stagnation at the National Geographic Website

In this week's Non-canonical Gospels class here at Duke, we discussed the Gospel of Judas and it gave me the opportunity to spend a bit more time thinking about the text and about the controversy it stirred up.  One thing is, I think, a bit disappointing.  Back in 2006, I praised the National Geographic website on the Gospel of Judas (Gospel of Judas megapost).  As well as being well designed and nice to look at, I was delighted that they had made available Kasser and Wurst's Coptic transcription as well as the committee's preliminary English translation, so that individuals could consult text and translation for themselves.

However, now over three years have passed and still the site has not been updated to reflect the corrected Coptic text and translation subsequently released in the critical edition of 2007 (Rodolphe Kasser, Gregor Wurst, Marvin Meyer, and François Gaudard, The Gospel of Judas, Together with the Letter of Peter to Philip, James, and a Book of Allogenes from Codex Tchacos: Critical Edition (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2007)).  Those who go now to the text on the website are therefore still seeing a preliminary version of a piece that was later updated (and there is a still a typo).

As Stephan Witetschek pointed out in his review of April DeConick's The Thirteenth Apostle, several of the criticisms she makes of the National Geographic preliminary translation were actually adjusted in the Critical Edition.  But DeConick's criticism carries force for as long as the website, which is where many will still go to  consult the text, features the non-updated version.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Just how much do we forget?

In writing my paper for the SBL Ideological Criticism section, reflecting on James Crossley's Jesus in an Age of Terror, I have been shocked to find out just how much I have forgotten.  In order to get a feel for the blogs discussed by Crossley, I went back and re-read lots of blog entries and I was shocked to see just how much I had forgotten.  I am not just talking about blogs that I have paid scant attention to at the time, but also the old favourites, like Jim Davila's Paleojudaica or N. T. Wrong.  The biblioblogs are full of wonderful and fascinating posts and heaps of erudition, and yet the vast majority of the posts vanish from our consciousness extraordinarily quickly.  I am not quite sure whether I find this encouraging or discouraging.  I think it is fantastic that there are so many brilliant posts still out there for us tap into whenever we have the chance, like scholarly diaries of major events in the academic life.  But on another level it troubles me that here we are, busily writing away, for our thoughts to vanish in the wind, making scarcely the most fleeting impact, when all this time we could have been spending more time on books and articles that might actually have some kind of legacy.

Just how rubbish is the search function on blogger blogs?

Ever noticed how rubbish the search function is on blogger (blogspot) blogs?  I am writing my SBL paper about "the politics of the bibliobloggers" in response to James Crossley's Jesus in an Age of Terror and I have been going back and reading lots of interesting old posts on different blogs.  Often, when those blogs are hosted on blogger, I use the search box at the top of the page.  Time after time, it fails to find the key posts.  A case in point: James Crossley discusses Jim Davila on Gabriel Barkai (Jesus in an Age of Terror, 43);  I go to Paleojudaica to get the relevant posts but a search on "Barkai" brings up nothing.  I then go to google and search "Paleojudaica Gabriel Barkai" and all the relenvant posts come up.  Given that blogger is affiliated with Google, I wonder why the blogger searches are so completely rubbish?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Oxford Seminar on the Synoptic Problem

Thanks to Andrew Gregory for sending this notice over.  This is also available as a PDF flyer.

2 December 2010

A special extended meeting of the New Testament seminar will take place on 2 December, when a Festschrift, New Studies in the Synoptic Problem (BETL 239; Leuven: Peeters Press, 2011), will be presented to Professor Christopher Tuckett. The seminar will take place in the Roy Griffiths Room, ARCO Building, Keble College, 2.15-6.00pm (with a break for tea from 3.45 to 4.15pm). Please note the extended time of the seminar.


New Studies in the Synoptic Problem


John Kloppenborg
Memory, performance and the sayings of Jesus

Joseph Verheyden
A road to nowhere? A critical look at the ‘Matthean Posteriority’ hypothesis and what it means for Q

Paul Foster
The extent of the recoverable Q material


Robert Derrenbacker
What’s the problem and why does it matter? The challenges and rewards of teaching the Synoptic Problem

Andrew Gregory
Studying and teaching the Synoptic Problem in Oxford, 1911-2011: some observations

with responses from Robert Morgan and Christopher Rowland


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tom Wright on the Apostles Junia and Mary Magdalene

I am teaching Paul this term at Duke and we have reached the part of the course where we look at issues connected with women and gender.  I was hoping to find some Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza on Youtube to show the class, but the only piece of her that I can find is her Burke Lecture from 2007 on another topic, and it is a video of her simply reading a script.  But while searching, I came across a short piece of a rather casual Tom Wright chatting about Junia and Mary Magdalene


It's an enjoyable piece, and it is good to see him so strongly behind the Junia reading given that he earlier assumed the Junias reading (Climax of the Covenant: 48, "these two men . . .").

Putting some of my articles online

I have been meaning to put some online reproductions of more recent articles on my homepage and I have now got round to it.  The newly uploaded pieces are:

“Mark, Elijah, the Baptist and Matthew: The Success of the First Intertextual Reading of Mark in Tom Hatina (ed.), Biblical Interpretation in Early Christian Gospels, Volume 2: Matthew (Library of New Testament Studies 310; London & New York: T & T Clark, 2008), 73-84 [PDF]

"Scripturalization in Mark's Crucifixion Narrative" in Geert van Oyen and Tom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark(Leuven: Peeters, 2006): 33-47 [PDF]

"The Rock on Rocky Ground: Matthew, Mark and Peter as Skandalon" in Philip McCosker (ed.), What Is It That the Scripture Says?: Essays in Biblical Interpretation, Translation, And Reception in Honour of Henry Wansbrough Osb (Library of New Testament Studies; London & New York: Continuum, 2006): 61-73 [PDF]

I have indexed these and other pieces on my articles page. I suppose I should add them to the NT Gateway too but it always feels a bit self-serving to be putting my own materials on the gateway.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bible and Archaeology Fest, Atlanta, November 2010

BAS (the Biblical Archaeology Society) has details of its Bible and Archaeology Fest XIII, in Atlanta, GA from November 19-21.  I am one of the speakers again this year and the site now has details of my talk:

Paul’s Letters: Women, Men and the End
Paul’s attitudes to men, women, sex and gender are famously perplexing. Is he an egalitarian or is he a misogynist? Why does he appear to endorse women in leadership roles at some points, and prevent them from speaking in church at other points? Several key passages warrant careful examination: Romans 16, where he mentions several prominent women; 1 Corinthians 11, where he appears to insist on head-coverings for women; and Galatians 3.28, in which he says that there is no “male or female” and that all are one in Christ. In our context it is easy to miss the fact that Paul’s attitudes to men and women are driven by one over-riding concern: The imminent end.

There are details also of the entire program -- just go to 13th Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest .

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Typo in National Geographic's Gospel of Judas ET

As I mentioned earlier, I'm checking up on materials for students in my Non-canonical Gospels class and spotted the following typo in the National Geographic English translation of the Gospel of Judas:
The cattle you have seen brought for sacrifice are the many people you lead astray [40] before that altar. […] will stand and make use of my name in this way, and generations of the pious will remain loyal to him. After hi another man will stand there from [the fornicators], and another [will] stand there from the slayers of children, and another from those who sleep with men.
It should, of course, be "him".

Is it illegal to call your son "Judas" in Germany?

I am preparing for a class tomorrow, as part of my course on Non-canonical Gospels, on the Gospel of Judas. While reviewing some video material for possible use in class, I came across this piece from the National Geographic documentary of a few years ago:

At 1:22, William Klassen says, "In Germany, of course, it is illegal to name your child Judas". This sounds like nonsense to me. I found the same claim made by William Klassen, presumably quoting from the same interview, in Herbert Krosney, The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot (Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2006): 3.   A little googling appears to confirm that there is indeed no law in Germany that prevents parents naming their sons "Judas".  Whether parents are inclined to call their sons Judas, and whether officials might have objected to such naming, are, of course, different questions.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Dale Allison's Constructing Jesus and Facebook

It is clearly going to be an exciting few months for those interested in Historical Jesus research.  Not only is Maurice Casey's Jesus of Nazareth on the way soon, but Dale Allison's Constructing Jesus is now out (see Loren Rosson's review on The Busybody).  Allison's publisher, Baker Academic, has a Facebook page now advertising the book and giving you the chance to win a copy:
Confused or curious about the historical Jesus? It’s time to get some answers from a luminary in the field. Dale Allison, author of the new book Constructing Jesus, has agreed to answer a few questions on the historical Jesus from our Facebook friends. So, submit a question. Three of the best questions will be passed to Dale for answer that we will post here, and the authors of those questions will get a free copy of Constructing Jesus (which retails for $55)!
Go to to join in.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Nativity: a new BBC drama for Christmas 2010

When I was watching the BBC Drama for Winter trailer below, in the hope of catching some Doctor Who, I was excited to see a very brief mention and still from a forthcoming new dramatization of The Nativity this Christmas. A little further exploration confirms that this is indeed a major new production, written by Tony Jordan, of Life on Mars, Eastenders and Echo Beach fame. The press release is here:

Stars align for Tony Jordan's Nativity on BBC One this Christmas
Andrew Buchan (Garrow's Law, Cranford), Peter Capaldi (In The Loop, The Thick of It) and rising star Tatiana Maslany (Cra$h & Burn, A Grown Up Movie Star) have been cast in a magical re-telling of the classic Nativity story.

Written by Tony Jordan (Life On Mars, Hustle, EastEnders) for BBC One this Christmas and produced by Red Planet Pictures in association with Kudos through BBC Wales.

Over four half-hour episodes the drama will tell the traditional tale known to millions from a very human perspective. With Mary and Joseph's enduring love story at the centre this familiar story is given a contemporary twist, as the drama follows Joseph and Mary from their initial courtship – Joseph desperate to win the heart of Mary – to his emotional turmoil at her unexpected pregnancy.

Tony Jordan said: "The challenge for me was to retell a story that has been told countless times before, a story that everyone knows intimately, yet to do so in a way that will still surprise and move you, to see parts of the story you'd never seen before. I really think that we've achieved that and I'm incredibly proud to have been asked by the BBC to be involved in such a wonderful project."
Although the press release does not mention The Passion, it looks to me like this project is inspired by its success, not least the idea of stripping a drama like this across several nights. The production team, however, appears to be different, and it does not look like the project has any tie-in with BBC Religion and Ethics. I will be on the look out for more over the next month or so, and will of course be commenting some more as the broadcast date draws near, and I look forward to reviewing. There are no pictures or clips yet, but there is the brief still in this preview, about two-thirds of the way through.

The still from The Nativity is at 1:57. But while one is watching, isn't it nice to see the ninth, tenth and eleventh doctors (Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith) all appearing in the same trail?!

Update (Friday, 9.55am): Matt Page has an excellent round-up of what we know so far over on the Bible Films Blog (and I've pinched his screenshot for here too -- thanks).

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Oktoberfest Biblical Studies Blog Carnival Extravaganza!

Jonathan Robinson of the ξἐνος blog has done an excellent job with the latest Biblical Studies Carnival, gathering together lots of highlights from biblioblogs from October:

Oktoberfest Biblical Studies Blog Carnival Extravaganza!

Next month, it is Deane Galbraith.

Teaching the Bible e-pub latest

November's Teaching the Bible e-pub from the Society of Biblical Literature is now available. There are several interesting pieces including an article Introducing the Real Mary Magdalene by Jaime Clark-Soles.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Charlesworth on Sunday on the Scrolls and Google

The big news items in our area this week was the story that the Dead Sea Scrolls are to go on Google Archive and it was widely covered on the blogs. This morning's Sunday programme had a feature on it, including an over-the-phone interview with James Charlesworth -- listen again for the next week or download the podcast.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The N. T. Wrong Archives

While doing a little googling tonight (about the pistis Christou issue), I happened, by chance, on the archives of the N. T. Wrong blog.  As a fan of the late, great anti-bishop, I had always been a bit disappointed that he had hidden his archives from his fans, and we had had to use nefarious means of digging them out.  But now, it seems that they have returned in all their glory, including all the pictures (like Captain Objective Genitive) and all the comments (like the legendary Place for all Off-Topic Hobbyhorse Comments).  Here is the place to go for all your favourite N. T. Wrong posts of yore:

N. T. Wrong
Contains the archives of the N.T.Wrong blog, April 2008-January 2009

The Strength of Duke's Graduate Program in Religion

Over on Duke Newt, Nathan Eubank draws attention to an article in First Things by Rusty Reno.  Its title is Schools of Thought and it offers reflections on the best places for graduate students to study Theology.  It is gratifying to see Duke once again placed at the top (along with Notre Dame) but it is disappointing to see similar errors once again being perpetuated about the program (see Duke the best place to study theology and First Things article rates Duke at the top for previous attempts to set the record straight).  Reno writes:
The main problem with Duke is, well, Duke. The Ph.D. program is run through the university’s department of religion, not the divinity school, and this has tended to restrict artificially the number of students admitted.
As I pointed out last time, this is incorrect. The PhD program is actually run by the Graduate Program in Religion, and not by the Religion Department. The Graduate Program in Religion is a collaborative venture involving both the Department of Religion and the Divinity School.  To illustrate the point, I might add that the current director, Grant Wacker, is housed in the Divinity School, and there are more Divinity School faculty in the program than there are Religion Department faculty.

The limited number of admissions to the PhD program is indeed disappointing, but this has nothing to do with the Religion Department but is related, rather, to the kind of pressures that are felt nationally (and internationally) at present, pressures shared by other great strong institutions and programs.  Nevertheless, one of the results of the highly competitive nature of the program is that it continues to produce the strongest students around.  A Duke PhD in Religion is a Rolls-Royce qualification.

As a member of the here maligned Religion Department, as well as of the Graduate Program in Religion, I would like to add that the collaboration between the Divinity School and us is one of the things that makes the program so strong.  It is not just that colleagues from the different entities get to work together, something that I value hugely, but it is also that the students get the best kind of experience because they are studying and working across the boundaries.   PhD students in the Graduate Program in Religion will often teach or teaching-assist in the Department of Religion, thereby gaining valuable experience in working with university undergraduates in the Arts and Sciences.  The same people also get the chance to teach and precept in the Divinity School, so working with students who are training for the ministry.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Young Jesus Chronicles

James McGrath draws attention to a great cartoon from a book called Young Jesus Chronicles, which has some nice previews online, including this one:

"Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, see me after class. Your book reports
are surprisingly similar."

It's a delightful cartoon and I suspect I will be using it in class too.  But it's clearly not a cartoon designed by an academic.  The saintly character on the right is the eponymous "Young Jesus" and an academic would never make Jesus contemporary with the evangelists.   And New Testament scholars would not dream of characterizing John's Gospel as "surprisingly similar" to the Synoptics.  This teacher might just deserve an F herself for not paying careful enough attention to the contents of the evangelists' book reports. Unless, of course, the younger author of the Fourth Gospel was inclined to be somewhat more "Synoptic" than he became in his maturity.

Powerpoint the "Ryan Air of Presentation Software"

Over on Bible Films Blog, Matt Page has a very helpful post on Using Video Clips in Presentations. He mentions that he is sad to hear that I have "now given up using video clips in lectures because they're too prone to go wrong". I had forgotten that I had said that in one of the extended episodes of the NT Pod, and I have long since repented of any such hasty decision and often show little clips in class. In fact just this morning, I shared a a Youtube clip of E. P. Sanders discussing Paul's concept of participation in Christ.

My reason for picking up on Matt's post, though, is to share a great line, to the following effect:
I know PowerPoint is the Ryan Air of presentation software (everyone slags it off but uses it anyway) and I know that smug mac types will be reading this safe in the knowledge that everything they do is better than if they did it on a PC, but here's something for us lesser mortals. I for one actually like PowerPoint. It's a tool that's widely abused, and the majority of presentations are just awful, but if you take your time to "get it" then it's a great, if somewhat flawed, tool.
The non-British readers may not be familiar with Ryanair, but it is the budget pack-em-in airline that everyone in the UK complains about but which nevertheless is widely used. Great analogy.

E. P. Sanders and Walter Matthau

I have always thought that E. P. Sanders looks a bit like Walter Matthau.  I remember sitting in one of his lectures in Oxford and watching someone in front of me produce a brilliant caricature, and it looked rather like Walter Matthau but with a bit less hair.  Unfortunately, there are not many pictures of Sanders available online so that I can compare the two men, but I am sure that those who have met Ed Sanders will know what I mean.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Walking, Talking Cross or the Walking, Talking Crucified One?

One of the pleasures of blogging is that it gives you the chance to float ideas that may be worthwhile or that may come to nothing. This is one of those occasions. This is an idea that occurred to me last week while preparing for my Non-canonical Gospels course here at Duke.  It's week seven and we are looking at the Gospel of Peter.  There may be nothing in this idea, which I shared with my class today, but I want to go through the discipline of writing it up so that I can get a feeling for its merits.  Comments are gratefully received, but I ask that you bear in mind that this is just a thought, a sketch, an attempt to see if something works.

One of the great mysteries of the Gospel of Peter is what on earth could have inspired the following remarkable passage:
9. 34. Early in the morning, when the Sabbath dawned, there came a crowd from Jerusalem and the country round about to see the sealed sepulchre. 35. Now in the night in which the Lord's day dawned, when the soldiers were keeping guard, two by two in each watch, there was a loud voice in heaven, (36) and they saw the heavens open and two men come down from there in a great brightness and draw near to the sepulchre. 37. That stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulchre started of itself to roll and move sidewards, and the sepulchre was opened and both young men entered. 10. 38. When those soldiers saw this, they awakened the centurion and the elders, for they also were there to mount guard. 39. And while they were narrating what they had seen, they saw three men come out from the sepulchre, two of them supporting the other and a cross following them (40) and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was being led reached beyond the heavens. 41. And they heard a voice out of the heavens crying, ‘Have you preached to those who sleep?’, 42. and from the cross there was heard the answer, ‘Yes.’
The idea of a walking, talking cross is almost unbelievably absurd, all the more so given the lack of precedent for it in the text, in which the cross was earlier completely inanimate, and did not enter the tomb with Jesus at burial.  One of the difficulties with the Gospel of Peter is that the only major textual witness (P.Cair. 10759) is late (eighth century), unreliable and riddled with errors, including many in this passage.  And so I have begun to wonder whether there might have been another error in the scribe's transcription of his text here.  My suggestion is that we conjecturally emend the text from σταυρον to σταυρωθεντα, from "cross" to "crucified", so that it is no longer a wooden cross that comes bouncing out of the tomb but rather Jesus, the "crucified one" himself.

This might at first sound like a bit of a stretch.  But what if our scribe's exemplar here used the nomen sacrum στα?  It is worth bearing in mind that another second century Greek Passion Gospel, the Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony fragment (0212), uses the nomen sacrum στα for σταυρωθέντα in a similar context (the burial). Perhaps our scribe's exemplar had the nomen sacrum στα and the scribe incorrectly assumed that it stood for σταυρόν. It would be an easy mistake to make, and it is quite reasonable to assume that the scribe's source text might so abbreviate.   Other texts (Codex Bezae, P46) similarly abbreviate the verb.

If my suggested conjectural emendation has any merit, this is how the text would appear:
καὶ ἐξηγουμένων αὐτῶν ἃ εἶδον, πάλιν ὁρῶσιν ἐξελθόντας ἀπὸ τοῦ τάφου τρεῖς ἄνδρας, καὶ τοὺς δύο τὸν ἕνα ὑπορθοῦντας, καὶ τὸν σταυρωθέντα ἀκολουθοῦντα αὐτοῖς· καὶ τῶν μὲν δύο τὴν κεφαλὴν χωροῦσαν μέχρι τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, τοῦ δὲ χειραγωγουμένου ὑπ' αὐτῶν ὑπερβαίνουσαν τοὺς οὐρανούς· καὶ φωνῆς ἤκουον ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν λεγούσης᾽Εκήρυξας τοῖς κοιμωμένοις; καὶ ὑπακοὴ ἠκούετο ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυρωθέντος ὅτι Ναί.
At this point, the sharp reader will no doubt want to point out that the emendation cannot work because Jesus has to be one of the "three men" coming out of the tomb, "the two supporting the one", so that the cross is an additional figure, not identified with "the one".  This reading depends, though, on the translation of ὑπορθοῦντας as "supporting", as if the two angelic figures are holding Jesus up. But ὑπορθόω, a rare word, probably means something like "raise up", "lift up"; the text is saying that the two men, who have descended from heaven and entered the tomb, are lifting Jesus up from where he was lying, and they are leading him out, the crucified one following them. This scenario is clarified in the next line, where the men are leading him by the hand. Thus the English translation would go something like this:
And while they were narrating what they had seen, they saw three men come out from the sepulchre, two of them raising up the one, and the crucified one following them (40) and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was being led out by the hand by them reaching beyond the heavens. 41. And they heard a voice out of the heavens crying, ‘Have you preached to those who sleep?’, 42. and from the crucified one there was heard the answer, ‘Yes.’
There are certain additional advantages that this reading could bring.  For one thing, it has never made much sense that the three men all stretch as far as -- or beyond -- the heavens, but the voice from heaven then addresses the cross back on earth.  In the revised reading, the voice in heaven directly addresses the crucified one, who is beyond the heavens.  Moreover, on the usual reading, the witnesses should be able to see the cross speaking, so there is no need for the note that they "there was heard the answer, 'Yes'".  Rather, they only hear the answer because it is the crucified one speaking, and his head is beyond the heavens.  And finally, the allusion to the "harrowing of hell"  here makes far greater sense if it is the crucified Jesus who has done the preaching, as in 1 Peter 3.19-20, and not some kind of cartoon cross.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Seventh Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament

Thanks to Hugh Houghton for sending this over:
The Seventh Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament will be held in Birmingham from 28-31 March 2011.

The theme is "Early Christian Writers and the Text of the New Testament"

Proposals are invited for papers of 30 or 45 minutes on this topic. Suggestions for workshops, presenting work in progress, are also welcome.
These, and any enquires, should be sent to

Further information (and a booking form) will be posted on the web page at

Papers from the Fifth Colloquium have been published as:
Textual Variation: Theological and Social Tendencies? (Texts and Studies 3.6)

Boring book titles and interesting books

Sean Winter comments that one of the greats, E. P. Sanders, confessed to dull book titles.  But of course if you are E. P. Sanders and you write a book on Jesus and Judaism, then that combination automatically makes the book interesting.  Ed Sanders is one of the only scholars who combines expertise in New Testament scholarship with genuine expertise in early Judaism, so if anyone should write a book called Jesus and Judaism, he should.

It occurs to me as another element in this discussion that there are some books that have titles that degrade in translation.  Hans Conzelmann's brilliantly appropriate title Die Mitte der Zeit (The Middle of Time) was translated into the terribly dull and generic Theology of St Luke.  As it happens, though, it is a very boring book, perhaps the most boring influential book written in our area.  Legend has it that one of its early reviewers said that he only knew that he had come to the end of the book because there was no more of it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Most boring book titles?

There is a great little discussion in the biblioblogosphere at the moment about the "most boring book title ever". It began on Biblical Hebraica et Graeca and has continued on a range of other blogs. Lots of the suggestions so far bring a smile, even if no one has yet mentioned Goulder and the Gospels: An Examination of a New Paradigm, which sounds like tedious stuff to me.  But speaking of doctoral dissertations that have been turned into publications, I think my favourite transformation ever is from The Rhetoric of Deracination in Q, a Reassessment which became, in its published version Jesus and the Village Scribes, which sounds much more interesting, not least because I didn't need a dictionary to find out what one of the words meant.

The difficulty with a lot of books that emerge from doctoral research is that there is something in the system that encourages us to write stuff that is boring.  When I mentioned to one of my teachers that I was trying to keep my style as lively as possible, he said, "But, Mark, DPhil theses are boring, bloody boring!"

Nevertheless, I rather admire those who manage to write something that is spectacularly precisely focused.  Many of the suggestions in the thread on boring book titles have isolated pieces that are actually somewhat admirable in their ability to spotlight something really specific.  Bear in mind that Darwin made his academic reputation on the study of earth worms.  All that stuff about evolution was a kind of subsidiary crater, of more peripheral interest.

I must admit that the things that I find boring are the books that are taking a well-trodden subject and exploring it for the umpteen-hundredth time.  I remember one of my fellow DPhil students in Oxford picking up a published dissertation in the Theology Faculty Library on St Giles, a book about Paul and the Law, and not one that anyone now remembers twenty years later.  "I ask you, what is the point?" he said.  That's what's really boring, hoping that you might have something fresh, persuasive and original to say about something like that.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Old Testament in the New Testament Seminar

Via the British New Testament Society e-list:

The next meeting of the Annual seminar for the study of the Old Testament in the New Testament will take place from Thurs dinner (14 April) to Saturday lunch (16 April) at St Deiniol’s Library, Hawarden, North Wales. The cost will be approximately £140 (the centre have not set their 2011 costs yet). The main papers are on the theme of Genesis in the New Testament (for the forthcoming Menken/Moyise publication) but there is space for 4-5 other papers. If you would like to offer a paper or find out more about the conference, contact Steve Moyise at

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Orthodox Redaction of Mark and the Question of Jesus' Father

In Jesus, Mary and Joseph!, James McGrath responds to the first element in my post on The Orthodox Redaction of Mark (and we both get a nice thumbs-up from Doug Chaplin) to the following effect:
It seems to me that, on the one hand, to suggest that Mark's readers would have thought he did not have a human father is to make too much of silences. As a rule, we assume that people have fathers, even when we don't mention them, and it seems to me that an exception to that rule would have required an explicit claim rather than silence. And while it is common for commentators to suggest that "son of Mary" reflected rumors that Jesus was illegitimate and his father unknown, that too seems to be reading too much into Mark's language, which is not followed by any defence of Jesus' legitimacy.
Well, James may be right, but the difficulty is that the Gospel itself does not provide the necessary clues, and this is where Matthew's (and several scribes') "orthdox redaction" comes in.  I am not suggesting that the author of Mark's Gospel thought that Jesus had no earthly father.  I don't know what the author of Mark thought because he does not tell us.  That is the difficulty with "silences".  The absence of key information invites the reader to speculate.  And in the case of Mark's Gospel, the person that I called "the unwary reader" might well assume that Jesus had no earthly father.  He is not named in key contexts when one would expect him to be named, like when Jesus is first introduced in Mark 1, or when his family is first mentioned in Mark 3.21 and 3.31-34, or when Jesus returns to his patris in Mark 6.1-6, and members of his family are named.  And, moreover, there are repeated references to another father, Abba Father, who addresses Jesus as his son, and who addresses others about his son.

So the way that I look at it is that the invitation is there to read Mark in a certain way.  And Matthew, Mark's first reader, is a careful reader and is attentive to possible mis-readings (as he sees them) and he makes sure that they are corrected.  And the genius of Matthew's Gospel is that he was largely successful in this project.

Nevertheless, James is right to draw attention to the oddity of Matthew's own answer to the question of Jesus' parenting.  He affirms the genealogy through Joseph right at the outset of the Gospel (Matt. 1.1-18), something he affirms elsewhere too (Matt. 13.55), but then he sticks right next to it a story that is usually read as affirming a virginal conception (Matt. 1.18-25).  The addition of the latter only serves to underline the point, however, about Matthew's "orthodox redaction of Mark".  It is this story, and the tension it throws up between simultaneously affirming Jesus' human parents and his divine origin that finds its way into Christian orthodoxy.  And in this Luke too, following Matthew's lead, plays a key part.

Death of Margaret Thrall

Sad news via Catrin Williams on the British New Testament Society list:

It is with deep sadness I report that the Revd. Dr. Margaret Thrall has passed away at a home for the elderly on the island of Anglesey in North Wales.

Dr. Margaret Thrall was the first doctoral student of Professor C.F.D. Moule at Cambridge University, and, between 1962 and 1996, she had a distinguished career in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales, Bangor. She was associate editor of New Testament Studies, and Editor of the SNTS monograph series (1991-6). She published numerous books and articles during her career, including Greek Particles in the New Testament: Linguistic and Exegetical Studies (1962) and her magisterial two-volume commentary on 2 Corinthians in the International Critical Commentary series (1994, 2000). In recognition of Dr. Thrall’s significant contribution to Pauline scholarship, she was awarded the Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies by the British Academy in 1997 and a Festschrift to mark her seventy-fifth birthday was published in 2003.

Dr. Thrall’s first monograph was The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood (1958), and in 1997 she was among the first women to be ordained to the priesthood in the Church in Wales. She was a member of the Church in Wales Doctrine Commission (1983-92) and served as Canon Theologian at Bangor Cathedral (1994-7). Margaret Thrall’s funeral was held on Monday, 11 October in Bangor Cathedral.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Orthodox Redaction of Mark

I have spoken on previous occasions about Matthew's redaction of Mark as something that shows a rich understanding of what is happening in Mark, and which sometimes attempts to take Mark's interesting ideas a little further (e.g. my articles on Simon Peter and John the Baptist [PDFs]). It occurred to me recently that a lot of what is happening in Matthew might be seen as a kind of  "orthodox redaction" of Mark, an attempt to fix some of the potentially troubling ideas and implications in Mark.

Take, for example, the question of Jesus' father.  In Mark's Gospel, Jesus does not have a human father.  He is "the craftsman, the son of Mary" (Mark 6.3); his father is in heaven and addresses Jesus directly as his son (Mark 1.11, 9.7) and Jesus calls him "Abba" (Mark 14.36).  Other supernatural beings know that he is God's son too (3.11).  The unwary reader of Mark might easily assume that Mark's Jesus, who simply appears on the scene as an adult in Mark 1, is some kind of god, perhaps the product of a union between a god and Mary.  Matthew sees the problem.  He gives Jesus a father, named Joseph; indeed, he begins the book with him (Matt. 1).  In redacting the Rejection and Nazareth story, he makes Jesus "the son of the craftsman" (Matt. 13.55) so that there can be no doubt about the matter.

The same phenomenon appears elsewhere.  Mark's Jesus, at his first appearance in the Gospel, goes to a baptism (Mark 1.9-10) which we have just heard characterized as a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1.4).  The unwary reader might easily assume that Jesus is going to John to repent and have his sins forgiven, so Matthew makes sure that there is no doubt about the matter and engages in an "orthodox redaction", making clear that this is an unexpected and anomalous event (Matt. 3.13-17).

Other examples include the abrupt ending of Mark, which concludes the story before Jesus has appeared to the disciples (Mark 16.1-8).  Indeed, the last time they were seen, they were fleeing from the scene (14.50).  For all the unwary reader knows, they might never have come back  But Matthew knows traditions like 1 Corinthians 15, and that Jesus appeared to Peter and the twelve and that these traditions were regarded as foundational by the earliest communities (1 Cor. 15.1-3), and he provides what Mark only leaves implicit, and narrates appearances to the disciples (Matt. 28.16-20).

Matthew's orthodox redaction of Mark was so successful that we now find ourselves reading Mark through Matthew's -- and also Luke's -- eyes.  His skill as a redactor with "orthodox" beliefs was that he rescued Mark from the potential to have been read and interpreted quite differently.