Monday, March 23, 2009

discussion of an important resource

This isn't new, but I hadn't seen it before. Over at NT Gateway Mark Goodacre links to Rodney Decker's helpful review of the BDAG, the lexicon you'll want to buy when you find that forgotten $140 in your jeans pocket. For my Greek students, if you're wondering whether or not BDAG is worth the pretty penny it takes to get your own copy, Decker's discussion should help you make a more informed decision.

[For those of you whose girl/boyfriend(s) and/or spouse(s) are in my Greek class, I am in now ay responsible if your loved one(s) spends rent and/or food money on a book you'll never even want to look at.]

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SECSOR—final thoughts

Last weekend was my first SECSOR meeting, and though it really wasn't what I was expecting (and I'm not sure what I expected), I enjoyed myself. There was no way for someone like me (not a student, but not terribly experienced in the discipline just yet) to know who were credentialed professionals and who were graduate students pursuing their degrees; this had its positives and its negatives. Positively, it was easier for me to focus on the arguments being presented without being distracted by the presenter's authority (or lack thereof). Negatively, it was more difficult for me to contextualize the arguments I was hearing. I found myself categorizing some presenters as graduate students and some as faculty of some well-known institutions, and on at least two occasions I was wrong in both respects.

The book display was small. Not a criticism of SECSOR; this just helped me realize how spoiled we are at the Annual Meeting. I think I've always taken it for granted that all those books in all those booths with all those publishing reps "just show up" every November.

The opportunities for social and informal engagement were deficient; there was one reception on Friday evening and a coffee break on Saturday morning, but other than that it was difficult to find time and ways to meet other scholars in the region. Also, the papers were limited to twenty-five minutes (including response time), which meant that the discussions of each paper were always cut short. We were busy the whole time, so I'm not sure there's time for more social engagement (a reception on Saturday night would be wonderful, but I realize this would have to be funded). But there were six sessions for papers, in addition to two plenary sessions and a few business meetings. Perhaps this could be reduced to five? or four? I know I would have enjoyed meeting some of the established scholars of the southeast and some of the very promising graduate students coming up out of our region.

The people were all very friendly. There wasn't a single paper or response that I thought seemed ill-intended or overly competitive. Perhaps some were, but I didn't experience them. Instead, all the papers (with only one or two exceptions) were excellent both for what I was provoked to think about and for what I couldn't help but argue with. And all the conversations about the papers were genuinely constructive (again, as I experienced them). I personally enjoy the slightly agonistic dynamics of the SBL Annual Meeting, but the more congenial tenor of SECSOR also struck a chord with my begrudging spirit.

This meeting seems to be an excellent venue for regional graduate as well as undergraduate to expose themselves to the field of biblical studies (beyond just its products [viz., books and articles]), to learn how to formulate and present their ideas persuasively and respectfully. I was disappointed by the relatively few number of institutions represented, though I suppose the current economic situation (as well as last-minute scheduling problems) would have affected attendance. Even so, if my own students (current and those who've gone on to seminary or graduate research) are interested in experiencing (and contributing to) professional biblical studies, SECSOR seems to be a good place for you.

A few days ago I had many other thoughts bouncing around in my head, but like ping-pong balls in a leaky lotto machine, many of them have managed to escape through an open (and unattended) orifice. I enjoyed SECSOR 2009, and I'm looking forward to the next meeting, in Atlanta next March (check their website). I hope to see some of you there.

Oh . . . One last thing. If you do come to the 2010 SECSOR meeting, make sure you have detailed, thorough, and clear directions before you set out for Atlanta. I found that, unlike other meetings, it doesn't do you any good to check into the convention hotel and ask the attendant at the check-in desk, "Can you tell me where to go to check in for SECSOR?" They just look at you blankly, wondering to themselves, "Sex or . . . what?"

[PS: I completely forgot . . . here's a quick list of what I bought from the book sellers:

As It Is Written: Studying Paul's Use of Scripture. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Stanley. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008.

Matthew, James, and Didache: Three Related Documents in Their Jewish and Christian Settings. Edited by Huub Van De Sandt and Juergen K. Zangenberg. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008.

Hebrews: Contemporary Methods—New Insights. Edited by Gabriella Gelardini. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008.

I also ordered a copy of Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism. Edited by Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008. But I'm considering this book for one of my graduate courses, so I got this one gratis. Woo-hoo (and thank-you)!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SECSOR—day 3 (pt. II)

The last session—New Testament V—was, well, the last session. As I said in my previous post, this was poorly attended, comparatively speaking, but that's par for the course for these types of things. It was too bad, too, because all four papers were interesting and well worth the twenty-five minutes it took to listen to each of them.

The first paper, "Blood, Life, and Purification: Reassessing Hebrews' Christological Appropriation of Yom Kippur," presented by David Moffitt (Duke University), questioned the traditional reading of Hebrews in which Jesus' death, rather than his resurrection (or his life) provides the greatest moment of atonement. This reading depends on the view that Jesus' resurrection doesn't figure (or figures very marginally) in Hebrews and by the analogy of "two great redemptive moments" of Yom Kippur: the slaughter of the sacrifice and the sprinkling of the sacrificial, atoning blood. Moffitt rebuts the first claim, noting a number of instances when the resurrection is actually present or can be inferred in the text. He also emphasizes that blood in the Hebrew Bible and in Hebrews means life, not death; he then offers some ways in which his reading solves some interpretive problems throughout Hebrews.

The second paper, "Anti-Imperialism and Historiography in the Temple Cleansing of the Gospel of John (John 2:13–22)," presented by Janelle Peters (Emory University), suggests that John's account of the Temple Incident takes aim at Roman imperialism and presence in the land. Unfortunately, while Peters was reading her paper, my phone began to vibrate and I had to leave the room momentarily, and so my recollection of her paper is significantly flawed. In addition, I am not at home among Johannine scholarship. But I do vaguely (and so unhelpfully) remember thinking that her thesis was interesting and worth pursuing. I hope to hear her work presented in a future meeting, preferably one in which I can devote my attention with fewer distractions.

The third paper, "'Where the body is, there also the eagles will be gathered': Eschatology and the Arrest of Jesus in Luke's 'Little Apocalypse' and Passion Narrative," presented by T. J. Lang (Duke University), offered a reading of Luke 17.37 hinted at in the paper's title. Lang reads ἀετός ["eagle" or "vulture" (BDAG; s.v.)] as "eagle" and suggests that the Lukan Jesus is incorporating Rome in the saying regarding the circumstances of Jesus' parousia (Lang properly notes that Matthew, not Luke, mentions the parousia). His argument doesn't rely so much on the eagle as a Roman symbol (cf. Ant. 17.151ff.; War 1.650ff.) but rather on ἀετός as an imperial symbol in the LXX. This reading offers some intriguing possibilities for the Lukan gospel, especially the links between the Passion narrative and the travel narrative and for other things besides.

The fourth paper, "Matthew 26:64 and the Enthronement of Jesus," presented by Nathan Eubank (Duke University), read the Romans' parody of Jesus' enthronement (purple garment, crown of thorns, reed for a scepter, etc.) and Matthew's parody of the Romans' parody. I liked the the point that in Matthew's account the parodic has become ironic. A lot of good stuff in this paper, but unfortunately it was the last of the session and so my mind was halfway out the door.

So many good things said about New Testament themes, but at such an unfortunate time. For those of us who were unable (or unwilling) to attend this final session in order to get a head start on the journey home missed some good stuff. And so I'm not too sorry that I can't provide more information on these papers; if you were really that interested, you should have been there! And yet I am disappointed in myself that I can't remember these papers better than I can (though Moffitt distributed copies of his paper, so his is *ahem* crystal clear in my mind . . . at least, it could be if I need it to be).

I'll wrap up some loose ends on SECSOR in one more post. Since the conference ended, now, three days ago, things are fading the grey in my inexorably aging memory. But for those of you so inclined and living in or near the American Southeast, I heartily recommend next year's SECSOR meeting (Atlanta, 5–7 March 2010).

British PhD theses

Over at primal subversion Sean has mentioned a useful resource for finding and accessing British PhD theses. You have to establish a free account, which takes about five minutes. But after another five minutes poking around I've found a number of interesting theses (particularly one about Jesus in early Christian memory!), many of which were available for free download. This is a wonderful source that makes a vast amount of work, much of which was previously only narrowly available and difficult to find, much more accessible.

[Sorry. The website is called EThOS and is available here.]

Monday, March 16, 2009

Useful Links

Over at Biblical Studies and Technological Tools, the following list of links appeared (in early February; I've been meaning to get to this for weeks). At any rate, some of these look like very useful tools, and at the very least I wanted to have a place where I could find the link easily. That's what this is. But you, too, might find these useful. If you do, let mgvh know you got there from here.

SECSOR—day 3 (pt. I)

The New Testament IV meeting addressed the theme, Theological Issues in the Interpretation of the New Testament. The meeting started at 8.30 am, which wasn't really a problem, but the room had an unlocked door about three feet from the lectern, and from time to time a hapless late-arrival would open the door, take a step or two in, and realize their conspicuous location. That door should probably have had a sign on it. But otherwise, the meeting was interesting.

The first paper, "Christian Triumphalism and the Discourse of Christian Origins: The (Mis)Appropriation of the 'History of Religions School' in Contemporary Scholarship," presented by Diane Segroves (Vanderbilt University), began with the work of nineteenth-century Religionsgeschichtliche Schule ("history of religions school") co-founder Wilhelm Bousett and sought to demonstrate the (inherently?) triumphalistic perspective masked by a "scientific" approach to the history of religion (see, e.g., the problems attached to spät Judentum ["late Judaism"]). She then focused her attention on the work of the "New History of Religions School," including Martin Hengel but especially Larry Hurtado. Like me, Segroves is also looking at the consequences of the essentialization and categorization of Judaism and Christianity as distinct phenomena, though she approaches these questions from a theory of religion perspective (whereas I am trained as a biblical scholar). She helpfully distinguishes the tasks of seeking after origins (genealogy) and pursuing comparative analyses (analogy). And though she does identify some interesting (and problematic) continuities between Hurtado and Bousett, I'm not sure she's adequately accounted for the very significant differences. Of course, she only had twenty-five minutes, and she could only do so much.

The second paper, "Neglecting Widows and Serving the World? Acts 6:1–7 as a Test Case for the Promise of 'Narrative' in Theological Exegesis," presented by Joel B. Green (Fuller Theological Seminary), problematized the distinction between history and theology in Luke-Acts and attempted to show and the two not only inform one another but are pursued simultaneously in the narrative. He offers the intriguing suggestion that Luke does not narrate the apostles' delegation of "table-service" [διακονεῖν τραπέζαις; 6.2] positively, but that he views their shirking of this responsibility negatively. Green's reading takes into account the description of the community's unity (threatened in 6.1–7) as a work of the Spirit and suggests that, in Luke's point of view, the rupture of that unity was an affront (attack?) to the Spirit. This is precisely, again from Luke's point of view, what the apostles should have been concerned with. I like this. I have argued in a couple of unpublished papers that Luke has a subtle but still negative view of a number of episodes often read positively, in particular the story of Gamaliel (Acts 5) and of the split between Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15). Despite my appreciation of Green's paper, I wonder how much Luke might have been satisfied not that the disciples delegated the responsibility for serving tables but that by appointing the Seven the disciples were making provision for this to be taken care of. In other words, the apostles didn't ignore table-service, and I'm not sure Luke would have insisted that they ought to have served tables directly rather than indirectly.

The third paper, "Could it be Satan? A Narrative Ethical Reading of the Ananias and Sapphira Story, Acts 5:1–15," presented by Douglas Hume (Pfeiffer University), continued a narrative reading of the Acts (see Green's paper, above), and explored the implicit role that s/Satan and or wicked spiritual forces were at play in the Ananias and Sapphira story. I remember being reminded of Luke's demonological language for stories that in otherwise don't seem to concern demons or spirit-possession (the healing of Peter's mother-in-law [Luke 4.38–39; cf. Mark 1.29–31] and the healing of the bent woman [Luke 13.11–13]). Sadly, after that I was distracted, and by the time I came back to Hume's paper I had missed too much to really remember how he argued his point. This isn't a criticism of his paper; I think I just hadn't had enough coffee. If you know Douglas Hume, please convey my apologies.

The fourth paper, "Reinterpreting the Shema: Covenantal Theology in the Fourth Gospel," presented by Lori Baron (Duke University), was an excellent paper examining the Shema (Deut. 6.4–9) as context for John's gospel. Famously, all three synoptic gospels, and probably Paul, cite the Shema at some point. (Actually, I think the Shema is formative for Pauline theology, especially the vigor with which he defended gentile inclusion apart from circumcision, kashrut, etc.) John, however, doesn't. But Baron rightfully notes that the language of "oneness," especially as it applied to God, is rampant throughout the Fourth Gospel, and she argues that the Shema is in the background here. Well, I'm not sure Baron used the word "background," and if she did I don't like that term. Rather, I think we can examine the ways the Shema may have framed the theology inscribed in the narrative and the text's reception in the first century. In my opinion, Baron's argument sounds a lot like Daniel Boyarin's very intriguing midrashic reading of John's Prologue in Border Lines (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). This reframing of John's gospel in more thoroughgoing Jewish terms offers some intriguing possibilities for understanding the text. Baron's paper was an interesting and exciting part of that larger project.

After the New Testament IV session, there was only one more meeting before the conference ended. I debated skipping the last session, but decided against it (there were some paper titles I thought were intriguing). Then I debated leaving early (I was really missing my family at this point), but decided against it (there were only five of us in the audience, and the presenters deserved to have us there). All four papers were interesting, and I'm glad I stayed. I'll have to tell you about them. But later, in the next post.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

SECSOR—day 2 (pt. II)

I am currently cutting the New Testament III meeting, which features a panel discussion of Joel B. Green's Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible (Baker Academic, 2008). I've not read the book, and since it isn't narrowly aligned with my current interests I'm not likely to for a while. Plus I'm not very keen on panel discussions of books, which isn't to say they're pointless but that I, at least, don't readily see the point. Unless someone wants to have a panel discussion of Structuring Early Christian Memory, in which case I very readily see the point. And so should you.

At any rate, I did attend the New Testament II meeting, which focused on the theme "The Gospels and the Historical Jesus." The first paper, "Making Matthew's Genealogy Count," presented by Stephen Carlson (Duke University), considered the numerical problem of Matthew's genealogy (viz., that Matthew claims forty-two generations from Abraham to Jesus but lists only forty-one, unless we posit a "missing generation" or we count someone twice). Carlson very reasonably suggested that Matthew (or Matthew's source) intends David to be counted twice (he's named twice in 1.6, but more significantly named twice in 1.17). I can't shake the feeling that trying to figure out the mathematics of Matthew's triple series of fourteen generations (γενεαὶ δεκατέσσαρες) is a bit like trying to learn chemistry from a cookbook: The chef doesn't need to focus narrowly on why sugars caramelize under heat or alcohol evaporates in the pan; she just takes advantage of the fact that it does. So also for the explanation of Matthew's genealogical account: no matter how we think Matthew got to fourteen (inclusive counting here, exclusive counting there, counting someone twice or [unusually] reckoning the "Babylonian deportation" [μετοικεσία Βαβυλῶνος] in the counting, or whatever) the important thing is that he does. I don't think, then, that we should read 1.17 in light of 1.2–16 but the other way round: 1.17 tells us how to read 1.2–16. I'm not entirely sure if Carlson would agree with me here, but that's okay.

The second paper, "The Son of Man Must Suffer and Die," presented by Michael Zolondek (Florida International University), set out to authenticate the complex of tradition in Mark 8 from Peter's confession through Jesus' Passion prediction, Peter's rebuke [ἐπιτιμάω] of Jesus, and to Jesus' counter-rebuke of Peter as Satan [Σατανᾶ; 8.33] and one who has in mind human rather than divine things [οὐ φρονεῖς τὰ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων]. Zolondek's employed fairly standard historical Jesus tools, especially the criterion of embarrassment, in his discussion of this passage, and (again) as an example of biblical historical criticism this was fairly representative of the field. My problem, soon to be published in multiple venues, is that the traditional historical-critical tools are bankrupt (to echo strongly April DeConick's thoughts [start here]). The argument that the early church wouldn't have created this or that bit of Jesus tradition (that Jesus was baptized by John, or that Peter was the satan, or that Jesus was demon-possessed, or whatever) fails to explain, then, why the early church preserved and reproduced those traditions in their performances—written and oral—of the Jesus story. I deal with this fairly extensively in ch. 7 of Structuring Early Christian Memory, so I won't rehash the arguments here.

The third paper asked, "Did the Evangelist Compose Matthew 13:36–43 and 13:49–50?" presented by Delbert Burkett (Louisiana State University). If you've read his Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-Mark to Mark (T&T Clark, 2004; helpfully reviewed here by Michael Pahl), then you know that Burkett takes an unusual (idiosyncratic?), decisively literary approach to the synoptic problem. Again, I am publishing on this very area and have serious problems with a paradoxically simplistic over-complication of the literary relationships of written texts. In my view (which features prominently here, if nowhere else), the texts are better conceptualized as embodiments of the Jesus tradition, but for all their material existence and potential (and even actual) influence over other embodiments of the Jesus tradition—written or oral—they remained in the first century embodiments and not text-fixations of the tradition. To identify one argument that I think needs some question, Burkett queried J. Jeremias's list of evidences for Matthean composition in the texts named in his title, and for a number of them noted the ambiguity of the evidence (i.e., that what Jeremias takes as evidence of Matthean composition may reflect Q, or may come from Mark, or may be characteristic of the tradition more broadly). But then when he moves to formulate his own position—that Matthew was a compiler rather than a composer—the ambiguity disappears and he has shown that supposed clues of Matthean composition are rather more meagre than Jeremias thought. I'm not sure the two options presented—compiler or composer—adequately captures the breadth of options available for us to think about the relationship between the evangelist and the gospel. But again, see my forthcoming Structuring Early Christian Memory.

The fourth paper, "Mark 7:15: A Scatological Approach," presented by Matthew Thiessen (Duke University), considered afresh the precise nature of the debate (and the conclusions) between Jesus and the Pharisees in Mark 7. Thiessen calls to our attention the failure of contemporary critical discussion of this passage to consider the physiologically obvious referent of τὰ ἐκ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκπορευόμενα ["things that come out of a person" (I'm tempted to type ἀνθρώπου)] is, well . . . scat. Thiessen doesn't adopt this reading himself, namely that Jesus considers defecating as a process resulting in impurity, but the question does bring some interesting evidence from (or, better, about) Qumran into view. Thiessen never referenced the lengthy discussion of Mark 7 in James Crossley's The Date of Mark's Gospel (T&T Clark, 2004), but in the post-presentation discussion he said he was familiar with (and persuaded by) James's reading (specifically of Mark 7.19b). I'm still not convinced that Mark has only kosher foods in view at 7.19b, but I agree with Thiessen (and Crossley) that Mark 7, along with other NT passages, portray Jesus as thoroughly engrossed in and affected by purity issues. That is, Jesus belongs to a socio-cultural world were purity—its loss, its renewal, its special role in relating to the Deity, etc.—just is a fact of life, like being licensed to drive a car in twenty-first-century America. Jesus isn't scandalized by purity because he never lived in a world where purity wasn't already always in the air. Now I've gone significantly beyond Thiessen's paper, but his arguments were variously suggestive for me, and I enjoyed his paper (despite its crappy title).

So as I say, I've avoided the New Testament III meeting. The New Testament IV meeting (tomorrow at 8.30 am) looks interesting. I'll comment on it tomorrow.

SECSOR—day 2 (pt. I)

This morning was the first section focusing on NT issues; the section was appropriately, if not creatively, entitled "New Testament I," and all four papers focused on Paul and/or Pauline materials (viz., Romans, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and the Pastorals and The Acts of Paul and Thecla).

The first paper, "Gentiles Who Keep the Law: Paul's Law-Keeping Gospel," presented by Jason Staples (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), examined the second half of Rom. 2, especially from 2.14 onward, and reappropriated this section of Paul's epistle for the core (rather than the margin) of Pauline theologizing. Staples attempted in particular to bracket questions of what Paul could or could not have said, especially from the point of view of traditional "justification by faith" theology, and to first ask what's going on in the Pauline text. I always find this type of endeavor, no matter how successful, as a useful reminder to keep the horse before the cart. I am especially interested in the thoroughly Jewish recontextualization of Paul and his writings, and I'm less interested in efforts to portray Paul's as a "Law- (= "Torah-") free gospel." Staples did an interesting job at showing how important a role both Israel and the Law—the Torah—play in Paul's theological discourse. For what it's worth (admittedly, very little), the paper I've proposed for the 2009 SBL Annual Meeting in November, entitled "Pulling at Paul: Romans 15 and Constructing the Christian Self" and taken up with a rereading of Paul's cultic language in Romans, especially chapter 15, considers very similar issues.

The second paper, "The 'Circle of Grace' in 2 Corinthians 1," presented by Hans Arneson (in the Graduate Program in Religion, Duke University), attempted to untangle the vexing phrase at 2 Cor. 1.11b [ἵνα ἐκ πολλῶν προσώπων τὸ εἰς ἡμᾶς χάρισμα διὰ πολλῶν ευχαριστηθῇ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν; "so that many people would give thanks for our sake for the gift [given] to us by many" (?)] via a less complicated passage, the "circle (or "cycle") of grace" in 2 Cor. 8–9. In the latter text Paul presents the cycle as one in which the Corinthians receive "in excess" from God, and from their excess give to "the saints in Jerusalem," who in turn do not give thanks to the Corinthians but to God who gave the excess. Arneson applies this model to 2 Cor. 1 and interprets χάρισμα as παράκλησις, a point strengthened by the clustering of παρακλη- language in chapter 1.

The third paper, "Androgyny and the Rhetoric of Conversion: Galatians 3:28c and the Problem of Audience in Galatians," presented by Ben White (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), won an award as the best graduate paper of the meeting (if I remember correctly; my apologies if I've misremembered the nature of the honor). White explored recent considerations of "the pagan world of the Galatians" and though was ultimately unconvinced by them (esp. that the rise and/or popularity of the Imperial Cult provides the best reconstructed originative context for Paul's epistle) does agree that Paul is aiming at a pagan context. White exploits the third deconstructed pairing of Gal. 3.28 [οὐκ ἔνι Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ἕλλην, οὐκ ἔνι δοῦλος οὐδὲ ἐλεύθερος, οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ; "There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male and female"], and especially the unexpected shift from οὐκ ἔνι . . . οὐδέ in the first two pairs to οὐκ ἔνι . . . καί in the third to argue that this makes better sense—much better sense, in fact—in an ethnic, northern Galatian context. I have serious questions about this thesis, in particular whether such a short passage (and I agree that οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ is not ancillary but just as important as the previous pairings, even . . . Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ἕλλην) can bear such reconstructive weight. Still, also a very interesting paper.

The fourth paper, "Reception of the Pastorals in the Second Century: A Test Case Looking at The Acts of Paul and Thecla," presented by Jeremy Barrier (Heritage Christian University) argued against a literary or even direct oral traditional relationship between the Pastoral Epistles and the second-century Acts of Paul and Thecla. I'll be honest here; I read more of Paul and Thecla while Jeremy was presenting his paper than I ever have throughout the course of my life, so much of the presentation was even further from my expertise than the other papers. Even so, his discussion of oral tradition and his refutation of an oral relationship between texts was interesting. I do think Jeremy evinced some of the standard (but still problematic) assumptions about oral tradition that are endemic in biblical studies (more on this later, I'm sure), but he can hardly be faulted for making assumptions consistent with the state of the question. (If I'm being too cryptic here, let me just say—only minimally less cryptically—that biblical scholarship too easily reifies oral tradition and treats as a thing rather than as a process or [a] set of processes that contextualize and frame [rather than serve as sources for] written traditions. But as I say, more on this later.) Jeremy's PhD dissertation, a commentary on The Acts of Paul and Thecla, is due out later this year by Mohr Siebeck. Interestingly, he has changed his view precisely with respect to the question of a literary relationship between Paul and Thecla and the Pastorals since writing his PhD. I gently recommended that rather than trying to revise his monograph perhaps he should just publish it as is and then publish an article later in the year taking the most recent commentary on Paul and Thecla to task!

After the New Testament I meeting I attended the plenary session, and for reasons of professional courtesy I won't make any comments here about that. [comment deleted] I did lunch in the convention hotel, which is to say I payed too much for too little food and no refills on my soda. And since this is my first regional SBL meeting (I don't count the International SBL meeting I attended in July, 2004, which is nevertheless somewhat similar) I'm struck by (a) how small the meeting is, and (b) how many other conventions are going on at the same time and seemingly in the same space as SECSOR. I take heart, however, that the attendees of other conferences are looking at me just as cross-eyedly and askance as I at them. Hold on just a sec . . . 

Oh yeah, buddy?! I'm not an MD; I'm a REAL doctor!

Sorry 'bout that. I'll write more later.

SECSOR—day 1

Today was the first day of the 2009 Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion meeting, the combined AAR, ASOR, and SBL southeastern regional meeting. I didn't attend any of the Session I meetings, but tomorrow there are a few sections to which I'm looking forward and about which I plan to write.

But I did hear two presentations tonight: first, Rebecca Todd Peters (Elon University), President of the regional AAR, presented her paper "Beyond the Financial Crisis: Rethinking the Moral Foundations of Political Economy."  Peters's paper was very interesting, especially given my affinity for capitalism. Peters, perhaps predictably, finds fault with the capitalist system, primarily in its assumption (reification?) of an individualistic anthropology. As a biblical scholar with a penchant for sociological theory, I found a lot to agree with in her critique of the individualistic foundations of Western culture (and especially economics), though I did not see myself in her description of capitalism. What made her paper interesting (and not just anti-capitalistic tripe, which it certainly was not) was her refusal to advocate a dehumanizing (my word) socialism that denied the importance of the individual. The task before all of us—whether you identify as a capitalist or otherwise—is to maintain a respect for and appreciation of the individual while simultaneously appreciating (and accounting for) the individual's embeddedness in social worlds. I'm not sure Peters's paper did this, but her call for a prophetic rather than a profit-centered motivation was interesting. I'm not sure these are mutually exclusive, but I think she's right that the prophetic conscience (and calling) ought to have economic impact. Other thoughts swirling in my head, but I must move on.

Second, Scott Spencer (Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond), President of the regional SBL, presented his paper, "Can We Go On Together With Suspicious Minds? Doubt and Faith as Both Sides of the Biblical-Interpretive 'Coin' (Luke 15:10)." Spencer's presentation was significantly more sermonic than was Peters's, but it was a serious academic discussion in its own right. Spencer challenged both perspectives—that suspicion ought to be the guiding principle in biblical appropriation, and that suspicion is invalid as an aspect of appropriating the Bible, even in communities of faith. Spencer focused on Feminist biblical critiques, which he both valued and appropriated critically (a refreshingly new approach, in my own limited experience). Spencer presented four considerations with respect to the Feminist employment of (and suspicion towards) suspicion as a hermeneutical tool, and I wish for the life of me that I had taken these down. He then finished with a brief reading of Jesus' "Lost Parables" in Luke 15, and especially the Parable of the Lost Coin. Spencer makes a case for the role of suspicion in motivating ongoing, tenacious, persistent engagement with the text, an engagement that may be motivated by a belief that to whoever seeks (ζητέω; cf. Luke 15.8) God in the text will find him.

All in all a promising start. I won't disclose how much I've spent on books (in case my wife looks online), but I will have some 'splainin' to do when I get back. I hope to summarize tomorrows meetings tomorrow, while they're still fresh.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

book notice

I was excited to read on T&T Clark's blog a pre-publication announcement heralding the imminent release of Minna Shkul's book, Reading Ephesians: Exploring Social Entrepreneurship in the Text. Minna and I did our PhDs concurrently at Sheffield, and I'm excited to see her work more widely available. If you only buy one book at the SBL 2009 meeting, it should be this one.

If you buy two books at the SBL, may I humbly suggest you pick up another volume mentioned in their pre-pub announcement? I recommend my Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus in Tradition, Performance, and Text. Note that T&T Clark's announcement ellides the last two words of my title, which I will read as a polite way of saying my title is too long. Also, it is interesting to see how another person summarizes my argument. For the most part theirs is an accurate description of my book, with one possible exception. I'm not sure I would have used the word obscured. What I would say is that social memory research has complicated the relationship between past and present. But overall I'm very happy with this announcement. Now . . . go and buy!

My Visual Bookshelf