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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sheffield Biblical Studies Seminars

Here are the forthcoming main papers in the Dept of Biblical Studies at Sheffield (all start 11am). Not bad, eh?

PG Seminars, Spring, 2008

11 February
Joachim Schaper, University of Aberdeen
‘“... wie es eigentlich gewesen”: Methodology, Historical “Facts” and the Reconstruction of the History of “Ancient Israel”’

25 February
James Crossley, University of Sheffield
'Jesus in an Age of Terror: Scholarly Projects for a New American Century'

10 March
Ward Blanton, University of Glasgow
‘Of Paul and Homo Sacer’

21 April
Justin Meggitt, Cambridge University
‘Why Some Things do not Matter: The Problem of Magic and the Origins of Christianity’

12 May
Keith Whitelam, University of Sheffield
‘Forging History’

Friday, January 25, 2008

EABS new session

I should mention this, stolen straight from Reception of the Bible:

The Biblical World and its Reception, Seminar at EABS, Lisbon, 3-7th August 2008

The Biblical World and its Reception

Chair: W. John Lyons (W.J.Lyons@bristol.ac.uk)


This seminar aims to provide a forum in which participants can engage in the theoretical issues pertaining to the reception of the 'biblical world' throughout the last 2500 years and/or present specific examples of how biblical and chronologically related texts have been appropriated within later cultural, political and artistic contexts. Insights drawn from a wide range of range of disciplines are encouraged and the reception history of any relevant text from the biblical period will be considered suitable material for presentation and discussion.

This seminar will begin in 2008, and proposals for papers for that meeting may be submitted to the Chair. Audience participation on the day is warmly invited, and short papers will be presented with an equivalent time provided for discussion.

Agenda for 2008

The initial meeting of this programme in 2008 is planned to include a session of papers devoted to a special theme (The Bible and Popular Music) and an open session. Papers are invited for both sessions. There will also be a discussion of future topics and the direction of the programme.

More on this in the months to come...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The future of NT studies...

UPDATE: further remarks by Jim West, Doug Chaplin and Michael Helfield (toshunka, blog on early Judaism and related areas).

[NOTE UPDATES] ...at least in the UK, though certainly not exclusively. The following is not about condemning anything, just a description and kind of prediction. The following is the sort of thing I can't 100% but is worth speculating about. So what better place than a blog?

It's fair to say that NT studies in the UK is fairly traditional. By this I mean the fairly standard theological and/or historical criticism - incidentally, as I've tried to point out in the comments, I include conventional literary criticism. By this I do not necessarily mean this sort of approach is bad (I'd be condemning at least half my own stuff if I did). At least in terms of discussions I've had with others (for what that may be worth) and even the debates on the blogs, when people (from a theological and/or historical critical perspective) talk of the good and the great the heroes tend to be from the traditional perspective and little knowledge of some very smart people from different, non-traditional areas in NT studies. On the other hand, people from non-traditional perspectives are well aware of the heroes in more traditional areas. I make no judgment here but it seems to reflect the interests of the discipline.

Mike Bird somewhere on his blog said something about being broad or more specific. Broad effectively means Paul and Jesus. On one level this is right: to be expert in both, at least in terms of theological and or/historical criticism and/or fairly standard literary criticism, requires reading fantastic amounts of secondary literature, sometimes on some very precise verses or words (think about how much has been written on the word 'sinner'). This, in its own terms, can reasonably be called 'broad'. On another level, the primary literature isn't so much, I suppose (gospels, a handful of letters). The reason for this is obvious: the central texts of Christianity. However, I wonder if this could provide the seeds of not necessarily the downfall of historical criticism but at least the cultural centrality of Christian texts could lead to the emergence of new approaches to the NT.

Here's the speculation... The Bible obviously remains culturally popular but, a few exceptions aside, the majority of traditional criticism is limited in its popular appeal and there is some degree of irrelevancy. Now, remember I am not making a moral judgment here, I am just speculating a wee bit. Moreover, popular demands and irrelevancy should not necessarily dictate what people study and write about. But, the limited interest and relative irrelevancy of traditional criticism could lead the way to further inroads from (say) reception history interests and the less esoteric end of critical theory. The Bible is seriously important in politics and popular culture right now in so many ways and this is not getting studied to anything like the extent that we see in traditional criticism. On the other hand, how long can the NT be studied in the traditional historical sense? Will it soon be done to death?

In one sense it seems (and I am certainly no expert on this) that elements of critical theory have, rightly or wrongly, more or less bypassed NT scholars (though some NT scholars are now becoming engaged in these debates) and gone straight to Paul and effectively debated with Paul (e.g. Žižek). Bible and politics would be another area where biblical scholars have been largely bypassed but things may be changing (cf. Berlinerblau, Secular Bible). Politics and popular culture is a massive area waiting to be researched by more and more and more biblical scholars and there is plenty of material just waiting... It is certainly justifiable in terms of research grants. I'd also add to this my own recent interests in the ideological examination of scholarship in terms of current politics and social context.

BUT, on the other hand, are the universities prepared to appoint such people right now? Thinking of the UK, would the main departments make such changes? Would students feel comfortable doing a PhD in a non-traditional area given the very competitive job market? While there are definitely exceptions (Glasgow, Bristol, and, of course, Sheffield immediately come to mind), it is difficult to see NT studies in university departments being anything other than traditional. Again in terms of the UK, the British NT Conference remains a pretty traditional conference and unsurprisingly reflects the interests of British academia. Again there are the rumblings of change with at least one session on reception history. Though, in addition to the main seminars and andmain papers, and if I remember rightly, the short papers remain constantly traditional.

The interesting thing is that some of those places I mentioned have some young scholars (well, young in terms of scholarship). I said a few months back that it would be interesting to see what the British NT Conference will look like in the coming decades and this was the kind of thing I was talking about. There are some prominent (relatively) young scholars coming through so if they become part of the establishment then we may see things change.

This is no rant about the state of the discipline. I re-stress: I am only really describing and predicting. These are some thoughts reflecting the debates I've had with a couple of people over the past couple of weeks, months and even years. Am I making sense and (if so) am I (/they) wide of the mark?

You may very well say that...

From here

LONDON (AFP) - Eyebrows were raised in the House of Commons on Thursday when a motion calling for the Church of England to be disestablished was listed with the number 666, symbol of the AntiChrist.

"This number is supposed to be the mark of the Devil. It looks as though God or the Devil have been moving in mysterious ways," said Bob Russell, a Liberal Democrat MP among those proposing the motion for debate.

"What is even stranger is that this motion was tabled last night when MPs were debating blasphemy," he added.

The motion calls for an end to the formal link between Church and State in England -- embodied in the monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who is both head of state and head of the Church of England.

The number 666 is referred to in the Book of Revelations in the Bible: "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred, three score and six."

"It is is incredible that a motion like this should have, by chance, acquired this significant number," said Russell...

...and so on...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Quests for Jesus

Chris Tilling has (nicely) argued against Scot McKnight and Markus Bockmuehl, suggsting that the so called 'third quest' for the historical Jesus is not running out of steam and that restoration eschatology has much to lend the discussion. The comments on Chris' post are worth pointing out too. Doug Chaplin (here's your Xmas present Doug) pointed to Dale Allison's point that there never was a 'no quest' period (Casey made a similiar point). I'm not great fan of the periodisation either and many of the stresses ('Jewishness', social context etc) reflect NT studies more generally. Anyway, this is going to be a bit incoherent but just some assorted thoughts...

We certainly are living in different times. Think of the 80s and 90s: Sanders, Crossan, Jesus Seminar, Wright, Meier etc. There's nothing quite like that stir this decade. I maybe wrong here, but it seems to me that the big radical scholarship in the US is associated with Mack and the Christian origins group at SBL. Their questions seem to have Jesus as holding minimal importance and the stress is on myth making. In terms of historical Jesus this is significant because they put some stress on distancing from the historical Jesus. There have also been other similar trends of scholars moving into more general Christian origins and in some case HJ scholars moving on, with Jesus being one part of the story (e.g. Crossan, Wright, Dunn).

The use of non-canonical gospels also interesting. While there was some desire to use this material for historical Jesus studies (in many ways sort of hijacked by HJ studies), non-canonical now seems to have attracted plenty of scholars not originally associated with non-canonical studies to study the material in its own right or to see its C2+ function. Is that fair?


This decade has seen the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus and Bauckham's book did cause a major stir so...

I think I would probably agree with John Poirier ('the enterprise has momentarily slowed down') and Doug Chaplin ('Maybe these things just ebb and flow, but I can't see it going away') - see the comments on Chris Tilling's post.

3 things I would like to see that I have probably said before...

1. I've definitely said this too many times but one for the new year: I would like to see more serious attempts at a history that looks at broader historical explanations and (ironically?) not so much emphasis on the individual Jesus (cf. the Christian origins group above).

2. A genuine interest in Jesus as Jew. What I mean by this is a shift away from the easy rhetoric of Jesus being 'very Jewish', 'thoroughly Jewish' and viewing Jesus in his Jewish context before Jesus somehow transcends something or other in his Jewish context (Arnal's book on the Symbolic Jesus is important here). What I mean by this is that the scholarly construction of 'Jewish context' is often designed to make sure Jesus is better than it. This often involves conspicuously ignoring parallel Jewish evidence. Vermes' Jesus really was a threat and it seems to me that his challenge was taken on while at the same time made safe by scholarship. I'll have a lot more to say on this subject in 2008.

3. More and more on the ideological, social and historical location of Jesus scholarship. Not just the standard histories of scholarship but more and more on scholarship in context. I'll have loads and loads to say on this subject in 2008 so turn away now if bored already...