Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SECSOR: Day Three

Sunday morning had three sections I wanted to attend, but I had to balance my desire to hear papers with my urge to get home. Sunday morning papers can be sparsely attended, which is too bad. They're typically of the same quality as their earlier counterparts, and often the discussion (perhaps because of the lower attendance) is even better. Having had to present a paper on Tuesday morning at the SBL's Annual Meeting, I really do sympathize.

At any rate, I heard four papers Sunday morning. The first two papers were part of the ASOR/SBL: Archaeology and the Ancient World IV meeting, and the second two were part of the SBL: New Testament V meeting.
  • The first paper, which was moved from a later meeting because two presenters were unable to attend, was "A Sculpture Fragment from Iron II Moabite Khirbet Mudaybi': A Case Study of Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry for Interpretive Purposes" (Ted Carruth, David Lipscomb University), presented a sculpture fragment and the contextual information impinging upon its interpretation. This is about as far afield from my area of expertise as you can get and not be, say, a NASA engineer, so I have very little by way of comment. But it was interesting to see the kinds of deliberations archaeologists engage in and the kinds of argumentation deemed appropriate for those deliberations.

  • The second paper, "Was There an Economic Crisis under Antipas? Revisiting the Questions of Royal Estates and Taxation in Herodian Galilee" (Sharon Lea Mattila, University of North Carolina at Pembroke), took aim at the application of conflictual models of society as they are applied to reconstructions of first-century CE Galilean society (by, e.g., Richard Horsely, Douglas Oakman, and others). Mattila presented a circumstantial (though convincing) argument that the Great Plain (a.k.a. the Jezreel Valley) between the Galilee and Samaria would have been allotted to Herod Antipas rather than to Archelaus after the death of their father, Herod the Great, in 4 BCE. These lands would have been considered Antipas' private lands and would have provided him with considerable income. Due to time constraints Mattila was unable to adequately consider the question of taxation, but that really is the point. That is, if Antipas did not have control over the Great Plain (and so did not reap its fruits for his own wealth), then the funding for his building projects would have had to have found a different source, probably heavy taxation of the populace. Mattila's implied argument was that, since Antipas held the Great Plain, theories of excessive taxation that have been fashionable in the last three or four decades and have driven much of the sociological interpretation of this time are probably wide of the mark. This, I thought, was an especially interesting way to pursue this question.

    [At this point I had hoped to hear the paper, "How to Read a Book: Irenaeus and the Pastoral Epistles Reconsidered" (Ben White, UNC Chapel Hill), but unfortunately Mattila's paper ended about the same time as White's. If you happened to attend the New Testament IV session and you heard that paper, I'd be interested in getting a brief synopsis and any evaluative comments you might have.]

  • The first paper of the New Testament V session was "If Christ Has Not Been Raised—The Inefficacy of a Qualified Gospel in 1 Cor 15:17" (Mark Proctor, Lee University), offered a critique of certain interpretations of Paul's claim at 1 Cor 15.17 ["If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless and you are still in your sins"]. That is, some have read this verse as Paul's claim that, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, that forgiveness of sins is impossible. According to this reading, the resurrection is the essential factor in Pauline ideas of forgiveness; forgiveness, in other words, is a function (or result) of Christ's resurrection. Proctor argues that this is wrong on two counts. First, Paul typically locates the forgiveness of sins in relation to Jesus' crucifixion rather than the resurrection. Second, this interpretation neglects the rhetorical structure of Paul's arguments in this section. Instead, Proctor reads 1 Cor 15.17 as Paul's claim that, if Christ hasn't been raised, then his proclamation of the gospel—which trades heavily on the message of Jesus' resurrection—is worthless because he has offered false testimony about God. In other words, forgiveness might still be a real possibility between God and Paul's readers, but Paul's proclamation of that forgiveness would not be trustworthy if his message of the resurrection were false. Proctor's argument was convincing, though I lack the necessary knowledge to know the extent to which the interpretation Proctor opposes characterizes the scholarly literature.

  • The second paper, "From Qumran to Philo: Precedence for Paul's Use of Israel" (Thomas Whitley, Gardner-Webb University), compared the use of Israel among the DSS (1QS, CD, and the Temple Scroll) with the rather different use of the term among Philo's writings. According to Whitley, Israel is used among the Scrolls in a number of different ways: as a label for the nation at large, as a label for the group itself, and others. In Philo, however, Israel usually refers to a spiritual level achieved only by a select élite. Whitley finds elements of both Qumranic and Philonic uses of Israel in Paul (esp. Galatians and Romans). Whitley then made an appeal to sociological theories of identity, which I think was the right move to make. Unfortunately, Whitley makes a mistake common among biblical scholarship's appropriation of sociological inquiry in that he identifies two separate theories: "identity theory," which highlights the identity of the individual, and "social identity theory," which highlights the identity of the group. This, of course, is not correct; social identity theory (and the similar field, social memory theory) takes up the issue both personal and collective identity as fundamentally social processes. If Whitley takes account of this difference between sociological research and its biblical social-scientific criticism, I think he'll have a very interesting analytical perspective to bring to bear upon his data.

There were two other papers in the New Testament V session, both of which looked good in the program. But I hadn't seen my family in over forty-eight hours, and I was itching to get home. So I left. I am sympathetic to how frustrating it can be to be the last two presenters at a conference and to watch your audience melt under the heat of earlier papers and pressures of travel. My apologies to Annie Tinsley (University of Birmingham [UK]) and Presian Burroughs (Duke University). I hope your papers were well received and discussed.

And that was my experience of SECSOR 2010. Next year's meeting will be in Louisville, KY, which sounds like a fabulous venue. Hopefully the weather will be nice that far north, but I'm sure I'll survive. Although . . . I suppose that really is the sort of thing I shouldn't take for granted. See you all in Louisville!


TJW said...

I appreciate your attendance and your response. As I move forward, I intend to take your comments about social identity theory to heart and make sure to better nuance the point I wish to make. Moreover, if you have specific texts which have aided in your understanding of social identity theory, would you mind sharing them? I am always happy to find works that I have not read in these areas.

Rafael said...

I'm glad you found my blog, Thomas. And I'm especially glad you're taking my comments as appreciative interaction rather than critique.

The first (and perhaps most) helpful book I read was Richard Jenkins's Social Identity (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), though it's getting a bit dated. Still, this was a very stimulating book. You can also find a number of helpful articles and books by sociologists Jeffrey K. Olick, Barry Schwartz, and Gary Alan Fine. I've also found some helpful things among social and cognitive psychologists such as Jeffrey Prager and Eviatar Zerubavel.

Perhaps least deserving any mention (but still useful) is my discussion of these issues in the third chapter of Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus in Tradition, Performance and Text (London and New York: T&T Clark, 2010). The book is pricey, so it would probably only be feasible for you to find this if your library had a copy. But I have some pretty detailed bibliography there.

BTW: I was very impressed with your readings of the DSS and Philo. I know little about the former and almost nothing about the latter, so I appreciated the opportunity to see some detailed analysis of "Israel" in both corpora. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

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