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Thursday, November 22, 2007


I'm with Jim West on this, this was the best annual SBL, though international SBL in Vienna will take some topping. Good to see friends and meet several new ones. I won't mention names as usual because I don't know if they want mentioning on the internet. Being on the west coast it was particularly tiring and I found myself going for a lie down on more than one occassion. I felt bad for doing so but needs must etc. And it did perk me up instead of completely flattening me for the conference.

The day time. The Bauckham session was particularly well attended. Now naughty Mike Bird is in for another telling off from me. Mike claimed that 'James Crossley gave some arguments against miracles figuring in historical studies.' That is not quite what I did. The point of my paper was a thought experiment: 'What if...Richard Bauckham is right about eyewitnesses'. As Bauckham used bits and pieces from eyewitnesses, I pointed out, does this mean they were eyewitnesses to miracles? If they were eyewitnesses to miracles then did the miracles really happen? If so, and given the use of approaches from professional historians and the general rhetoric of 'doing good history', then the discipline of history would have to be completely revolutionised, someting akin to ID replacing/seriously challenging evolution. If the eyewitnesses did not see miracles did they then invent stories. I explicitly did not make a single judgment on the rights and wrongs or accepting the supernatural (lots of 'rightly or wronglys' in there). I wanted to see what the answer might be and what happens next. In direct relation to all this, I also discussed the idea of re-writing history (esp. haggadic stuff but replace that with whatever model you like) and whether eyewitnesses you create fictive stories.

The whole discussion was relatively friendly, I thought. Bauckham seemed happy enough with the idea of the miraculous. There was one memorable moment in this discussion. When Bauckham asked for more humility when discussing the miraculous, someone clapped and 'whooped'!! This was also important (for me) because I had friends in the audience from HB/OT, including one who is a seriously good historian (the others are serious good but generally work in different areas to the traditional discipline of history). They were shocked at this kind of thing happening in an academic context (and glad they weren't involved in such debates) yet at the time it just seemed so normal to me given the kinds of debates I've been involved in over the past couple of years. I'm glad this was pointed out to me because I think I need this sort of reminder regularly (despite always going on about it). I had some excellent discussions with people of a similar mindset to me after the paper (and at the Sheffield/Phoenix), with some expressing great anger at the (anti-) intellectual pressure they face or have faced (I should stress that these were all broader questions of institutional issues rather than anything directly relating to the panel discussion). And in fairness Mike Bird did come up to tell me why I was wrong-ish in the nicest possible way.

My guess is that the allegation that I was attacking miracles is based on what people either know, think they know, or work out about me. Whatever my personal views on miracles are, and whatever anyone else's views on miracles are, the arguments I put forward shouldn't be a problem. I assume we can all agree that if we have serious arguments in favour of the miraculous (eyewitnesses) then the discipline of history (and the discipline of science) will have to be revolutionised. What I wanted to see was some acknowledgment of this situation. I also wanted people to realise that this is not what professional historians call 'doing good history'. That is not to make a value judgment: it is a basic description of the situation. Therefore, is the use of such rhetoric a contradiction?

Incidentally, I think Chris Tilling is going to put up the responses and Bauckham's response on his blog. If not, I'll make mine available here.

The social side, always the best side of conferences for me, won it for me. Several things in the evenings stand out: the meal hosted by the exceptionally generous Jim West (see his header - though minus the photographer and fellow eater Chris Tilling), the Mexican restaurants, that Aussie bar with hanging seats or whatever they were (a particularly fun time), the blogger meeting, the Manchester Grand Hyatt bars, a meeting with Mike Bird and SPCK (despite being utterly tired at this point), the Scottish reception, WJK reception and the countless others I strolled in and out of. See also Chris Weimer's comments on this. This will sound like a lie but it is not: these are the best places to discuss ideas. The Sheffield/Phoenix reception was in a very grand looking room and, as I said, I had some great (academic) conversations with various people, often, though not always about the Bauckham session. I also had plenty of discussions about my forthcoming work on the ideological and political contexts of NT scholarship and it was only on the social side of things that this could really have taken place.


Blogger Michael Barber said...

Thanks for your response--it was definitely my favorite out of the bunch. Thanks also for being willing to make it available.

It was nice to meet you.

November 22, 2007

Anonymous DtrH said...

'one who is a seriously good historian '

I didn't attend that session!


November 22, 2007

Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

Although I'm aware I might have got this hopelessly wrong, since I'm only commenting on your brief summary of the questions to Bauckham, I did find myself wanting to probe the eyewitness and miracle question slightly differently.

November 22, 2007

Anonymous Jim said...

The pleasure and joy was all mine. And, as an aside, you got the better of the argument in the Bauckham debate. It makes no sense to skirt the issue. If the Gospel authors were eyewitnesses then they saw miracles take place- or at least claim to. So to ask whether or not they really did only makes sense. It's what a historian- and a theologian- must do or they have abrogated their responsibility.

November 22, 2007

Blogger James Crossley said...

Thanks Michael: it was good to speak to you if only vriefly. Nice question btw!

Doug, I'll get back to you in more detail later but I deliberately distinguished between healings and miracles. Also, I'm thinking more about historians as historians in history depts. But your questions deserve more detail so it is probably not best to do that here.

Well, Jim, how could I possibly disagree with that?!

And, DtrH, I was very reliably informed, at SBL, that you didn't exist. Now I'm all confused.

November 22, 2007

Anonymous bd 1 said...

Compelled to respond: 'The Baukham session was particularly well attended'. That's a major understatement. Your fans and enemies wre splilling out into the hall.

'I found myself going for a lie down'. At a major international conference?! Good move - you seemed particularly perky every time I saw you.

November 22, 2007

Anonymous steph said...

Tintin - cringe. What happened to Moses - and if it comes to that, maybe the miracles would be nice too. Please...

November 23, 2007

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

We have yet another example of 'glass bubble' academic mentality. Anyone might think that historians or theologians are the only ones interested in knowing if the so-called eyewitnesses saw miracles. The question is almost at the level as today's children who have learned there in no Father Christmas with his reindeer.
Rocket science it is not.

It is interesting to note that a number of the gospel miracles occur during unlikely journeys to Gentile areas. The same literary device is used in Acts leading me to conclude that these sorts of journeys never happened, and there never was a mission to Gentiles by the earliest 'Christians'. All of the prophet's activities were in the temple, Jerusalem and Judea.

November 23, 2007

Blogger James Crossley said...

Geoff: 'The question is almost at the level as today's children who have learned there in no Father Christmas with his reindeer.
Rocket science it is not.'

This is one reaction I am trying to provoke without engaging in the questions of accuracy (you can work out the reasons why, and I am hardly unsympathetic with what you say). From the 'other' side, I would like acknowledgment that using the miraculous is just odd (irrespective of historical reality) and that this can hardly be used to describe 'doing good history'.

Again, I stress, I am discussing scholarly rhetoric and not questions of historical accuracy.

Steph: it's in the post.

bd1: very kind of you.

November 23, 2007


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