November 16, 2017

Jesus, Memory, and History at SBL: Top Picks

Here are my top picks for the papers and sessions in Boston this week that I personally can't stand to miss. If your paper is somehow not on my list, it probably just means you're a different kind of nerd than I am. But hey, we kind of knew that already, didn't we?

9:00am - 11:30am: Synoptic Gospels
Ancient Media and Memory Theory. . . A Panel Review of Jesus' Literacy (Chris Keith) and Q in Matthew (Alan Kirk); Also featuring Helen Bond and Francis Watson
1:00pm - 3:30pm: Josephus  
Showcasing the ongoing work of the Brill Commentary Series' authors, Steve Mason and Chris Seeman will present with 20 minutes of discussion following each paper
1:00pm - 3:30pm: The Historical Paul
The inaugural session, about which I blogged recently.
4:00pm - 4:30pm: Jonathan Bernier will be applying the 'New Perspective on the Ancient Synagogue' (Lee Levine, Anders Runesson) to the phrase "your synagogue" in James 2:2.
9:00am - 11:30am: Hellenistic Judaism; Josephus; Philo of Alexandria  
This panel in honor of Tessa Rajak includes Loveday Alexander, Martin Goodman, Erich Gruen, and Steve Mason
1:00pm - 3:30pm: Historical Jesus
Of special interest here is that Murray Smith will be following Dale Allison's unique work on "recurrent attestation" in order "to build a composite picture of the kinds of things Jesus most likely said" in anticipating future events, some imminent and some farther away. 
5:05pm - 5:25pm: Chris Keith's intriguing paper is entitled "Competitive Reading Cultures in Early Christianity" (Apparently, the program chair's dog ate all the abstracts.)
9:25am - 9:50am: Christoph Heilig applies Narratology (!!!) to Paul's metaphor of the Roman Triumph in 2 Cor 12
10:00am - 10:30am: Brian J. Wright previews aspects of his forthcoming book, Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus
10:30am - 11:00am: I am not making this up! A little bird told me that Helen Bond is going to sit and have her hair styled like a Roman noblewoman while Francis Watson reads a paper which attempts to answer the question, "Why Did Paul Care about Women's Hair Length?" Maybe *YOU* can think of a reason to miss that, but I seriously can't.
Image result for ancient roman statue hairstyles for women
Pictured here: ancient matron, Edith Grimley
"Like, I suppose you could do better than that!"

As usual, there are dozens of interesting papers I won't be able to attend, but I may sneak in to hear a few of them where possible. I'm also hoping to watch Christopher Skinner shake and shimmy to Macho Man or Disco Duck... and I might ask Michael Barber to groove on some Hamster Themed Christmas Tunes... and I'm pretty sure Anthony Le Donne is going to tango metaphorically with Larry Behrendt... but you'll have to scan Facebook for that kind of thing, if you're reaaaaly interested. 

To enjoy THAT KIND of exquisitely scintillating SBL action, you've got to do more than just lurk here on my blog. You've gotta grab your dancing shoes and jump on into the fray.


November 12, 2017

Historical Paul at SBL: Theory & Methods

Don't miss this! If you're going to Boston next week, and you care about NT/History, come check out the two inaugural sessions for this new program unit focusing on The Historical Paul. Here are the details, from the SBL Annual Meeting Program Guide (app):
1:00pm - 3:30pm, Sunday, 11-19 (S19-243): Approaching Pauline Biography  
This consultation seeks to reinvigorate the study of the historical Paul by working to conceptualize him as a plausible human person, a social actor with comparanda both in the Roman world and in other societies. In this inaugural session, papers will address the theoretical and methodological questions involved. 
9:00am - 11:30am, Monday, 11-20 (S20-147): Varieties of Judean Expertise in the Roman World  
The aim of this session is to juxtapose various forms of Judean religious expertise attested in the Roman period, with a view to reconstructing a specific backdrop for Paul and his Judean rivals.
The Sunday session promises greater attention to historiographical theory and methodological issues, with the most intriguing paper being presented by Benjamin White: Practicing Paul: Outline for a New Approach to Pauline Biography. Just look at this fascinating abstract:
Scholarship on Paul since the nineteenth century has proceeded in the same historiographical mode as Jesus research: discern which data from within the tradition can be secured as authentic and then construct a narrative of Christian origins that has been stripped of its canonical trappings. For the study of Paul, this has meant sloughing off Acts and discerning which of the canonical letters should be discarded as pseudepigrapha. The promise that such an approach held has come under scrutiny among historical Jesus scholars, yet Pauline Studies has yet to catch up. Perhaps this is on account of the prospect of having authentic writings of Paul, whereas for Jesus we have only ever had subsequent traditions. This paper argues that the data for reconstructing the historical Paul are not that dissimilar to the data for accessing the historical Jesus. In the first half of the paper I explore the problems of the dominant mode. Determinations of an authentic Pauline literary style, arguments for the presence of anachronisms in particular letters, and admissions of the inability to place a letter within an already perceived Pauline biography are considerations that cannot bear the argumentative weight they are intended to carry. The second half of the paper argues that our only access to Paul is through early Pauline traditions and that it is precisely from within these early memorializations of Paul (manuscripts of Pauline epistles, Marcionite prologues, varieties of acts and apocalypse traditions, second century writers who refer to Paul) that we should begin our work, asking what gist memories they share in common. Decisions about authentic Pauline epistles should occur later in the investigation and from within the framework of what the critical examination of the traditions has secured.
While the Monday session mostly appears to provide the standard inference of contexts from readings of texts, a special treat here will be Sarah Rollins: Paul as a Mediating Intellectual. Again, to whet your whistle, the abstract:
This paper explores the social positioning of Paul as a mediating intellectual who uses the space in his letters to imagine a new social form, though it is unclear the extent to which this form was ever realized in reality. Through this analysis, Paul emerges as a kind of educated, axial figure who wanted to create a diverse constituency among his audiences, and his function as this sort of figure result from his social mobility, his familiarity with diverse cultural forms (some perhaps perceived as exotic by those he encountered), and his (perceived) positionality of marginalization.
I know Rollins' work, thus far, only through her online publications, which demonstrate an exceptional penchant for historical thinking, and I'm dying to see how White's suggested approach to Pauline Studies compares to recent advances in Jesus Studies.

These two sessions are high on my list. Come check them out!

Maybe I'll see you there...

November 4, 2017

Historical Inferences (Case Study JB1117)

In this brief blogpost (about an early French Canadian), Jonathan Bernier illustrates precisely how arguing for a hypothesis about the past is different from arguing about the contents of a text. From there, he succinctly explains:
what constitutes a historical hypothesis is not ultimately our observational apprehension of the data but rather our inferential apprehension of the relationships between the data. That is to say, history is not exegesis: it is not the interpretation of documents followed by pronouncements about whether their claims are true.
Oh, how these words sing to my soul!

Jonathan goes on to point out that proposing a single scenario is not enough until we compare that scenario against other possibilities, asking "does this hypothesis explain a greater scope of relevant data than does any competitor?" These are critical distinctions which separate savvy historians from "historical critics" who mainly cast judgment on the "reliability" of textual content.

Literary criticism, exegesis, and bold suggestions are a popular package among NT scholars, but that package is not a viable substitute for proper historiographical work. If you need help understanding and recognizing this critical distinction, there are not many resources I'd recommend more highly than Docteur Bernier's published books and online blogposts.

Happy reading...
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