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 Rollens: 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 Rollens' 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...


Doug said...

White's Remembering Paul is a great book. It sounds as though this session will take it further. I'm sorry I won't be around to hear it.

Bill Heroman said...

I haven't had time to even glance at Paul stuff in years, but the new SBL unit demands attention. Glad to hear your positive recommendation!

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