Friday, March 05, 2010


The 2010 meeting of the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR) began tonight. Attendance appears to be down quite a bit from last year, if memory serves. This time last year wasn't exactly plush, economically speaking, so I'm not sure the economy is the main factor at play here. But maybe it is. Or maybe tomorrow will be different. I dunno.

Anyway, I attended tonight's "New Testament I" session, which featured three rather interesting papers (the fourth, "Gossiping Jesus Into Being: The Oral Processing of a Social Personage in the Gospels" [John Daniels, Flagler College] was, unfortunately cancelled).
  • The first paper, "Eschatology and Soteriology in 1 Peter" (Alexander Stewart, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), examined the "now" and "not yet" aspects of the language of salvation in 1 Peter. The paper doesn't exactly break new ground; Stewart acknowledged that he was taking aim at a more popular-level conception of salvation in "the American church." And his focus, as is often the case in discussions of "now" and "not yet," was on the relation between the present and the future. As I mentioned to him in a conversation after the session, however, the question that interests me is the relation (and the distinction!) between the present and the past! That is, if the "new age" is supposed to be different from the "present age"—with its suffering, injustice, etc.—and if early Christians believed that Jesus' death and resurrection inaugurated the new age, what's changed? I still don't think Stewart has addressed the question, though he emphasized conversion (and, I think, the inclusion of gentiles among God's chosen people) as the difference. Something still seems missing to me, but I enjoyed the way Stewart's paper framed the question for me (albeit indirectly).

  • The second paper, "Neglected Considerations in Understanding the Structure of the Book of Revelation" (Kevin Larsen, Mid-Atlantic Christian University), raised questions about Revelation's structure (sequential or cyclical) and, relatedly, its genre. Larsen—whose training is in the gospels and who acknowledged at the start his novice status among the apocalypses—reads Revelation salvation-historically, with Jesus and his climactic role in the story of salvation not figuring into Revelation's narrative until chapter 12. There were a number of interesting observations, I thought, but then again I, too, know very little about John's apocalypse. What I appreciated most, however, was Larsen's insistence that Revelation, as a text, spoke to and was written for real first-century CE people. This is a truism among NT scholars, but with Revelation in particular the temptation to read the text as written for (and about!) later Christians too easily leads interpretation astray.

  • The third paper, "One Saturday in Capernaum: Mark's Gentile Appropriation of the Sabbath" (Ricky Shinall, Vanderbilt University), discussed gentile [mis]understandings of Jewish Sabbath observances and then read Mark's portrayal of Jesus healing and teaching in the Capernaum synagogue on the Sabbath. In Shinall's reading, Mark has little knowledge of or use for Jewish Sabbath observance, except that Sabbath does present a useful occasion for teaching and healing. So, unlike the superstitious Jews (in Mark's perspective, not Shinall's), Jesus is uninhibited in his Sabbath observance and, just as importantly, isn't lazy. Shinall closed by suggesting Mark's misunderstanding of Jewish Sabbath observance supports a Roman rather than Palestinian provenance for the gospel. Unfortunately, there were too many other ways to read the evidence (e.g., whereas gentiles mistakenly thought Jews fasted on the Sabbath, Mark has Simon's mother-in-law serve Jesus and his companions after Jesus healed her fever [Mark 1.31]), though presumably, outside the confines of a 25-minute paper, Shinall addresses this (I would prefer to locate the Sabbath controversies within an inter-Jewish framework; Shinall cited E. P. Sanders and J. P. Meier to explain his preference for a gentile framework).

I missed the presidential addresses, which was too bad given that Jodi Magness presented what I presume was an interesting paper: "Truth and Fiction: The Talpiyot Tomb in Context." The reception afterward (which I did not miss, of course) was perhaps the best-supplied SBL reception I've ever seen. I had the pineapple and some grapes, but there was sushi, various dips, and many other selections. I was thoroughly impressed.

That's it for Day One. I'm looking forward to tomorrow; I'll let you know how it goes. If you'd like to see the program, it's available online on SECSOR's website.

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