Report from Denver on the SBL meetings
I will share here a few thoughts on the SBL meetings that shall, of
necessity, be brief, selective, incomplete, and opinionated.
First, it was fun to see those whom I'd met before (e.g., Stephen Carlson)
and many who I'd previously known only in this forum (e.g., Jeffrey Gibson,
Mark Goodacre, Rikki Watts, Felix Just, Gordon Raynal, Gail Dawson).
Unfortunately, I was not able to see others who apparently were there but I
was not in the right place at the right time to see them (e.g., Bill Arnal).
Second, you must all rush out and buy a copy of Jesus in Johannine
Tradition, ed. by Robert Fortna & Tom Thatcher (Westminster John Knox
Press, 2001), so that we can discuss it here on XTalk. It was featured in a
session chaired by Felix Just, an advisor to XTalk's moderators. There was
a paper on John's use of Matthew, and commentaries on various sections of
the book by Tom Thatcher, Robert Kysar, Gregory Riley, Paula Fredriksen,
and Robert Fortna. The book contains 30 articles by a diverse range of
scholars representing many perspectives. Thatcher pointed out that
Johannine scholarship has a problem because the standard tools of Form,
Source and Redaction criticism work better for the Synoptics than for John.
Consequently, they had to rework some of the methodological issues that
Synoptic scholarship can take for granted. The main complaint about the
book is that there was no systematic attempt to consider the Synoptics as a
source for John. I'm not sure I understand this point, because the book
does contain 7 chapters on John and the Synoptic Gospels. In addition, the
Signs Gospel (4 Chapters) and Oral tradition (3 chapters) were given
sustained attention, as well as Q, GThomas, and other non-canonical
sources. There are also 7 chapters on The Fourth Gospel and Jesus,
including a chapter explicitly on the subject of the Historical Reliability
of John, as well as a review of 4G's knowledge of Palestine. The most
memorable comments from the panel, to me, were Paula Fredriksen's. For
example, she said that the collegiality of the Johannine scholars was a
refreshing revelation to one who had experienced the "Historical Jesus
wars," if I remember her phrase correctly. She also commented that if her
"Jesus" met Dom Crossan's "Jesus," they probably wouldn't recognize each
other, and might not even eat at the same restaurant! Fortna noted that the
book was intended for a wide audience, and was meant to be suitable for use
as a textbook. I look forward to reading the book, and hope that we will
have some good discussions about it here.
Jeffrey Gibson gave two papers, one on Mark 3:1-6 as a "Signs" story, and
another on Mark 3:22. Charles Hedrick commented that Jeffrey's paper was
the best read he had ever heard, or something to that effect, and I think
the same comment applies equally well to both papers. I hope he will make
both papers available for discussion here. Hedrick also gave a paper on
Secret Mark, and did a good job of showing that Secret Mark was certainly
not a forgery of Morton Smith, and more likely provides testimony to
textual variability among early Christian documents. He noted that most
reviews of Smith's work on Secret Mark is full of ad hominem remarks that
should be viewed as more of an embarrassment to the reviewer than to Smith.
This does not mean, however, that Hedrick necessarily thinks the Secret
Mark tradition actually goes all the way back to Jesus.
The Historical Jesus Section hosted two major sessions. The first was
chaired by N.T.Wright on Jesus and Purity and featured a presentation (by
live video transmission from England[?] ) by E.P. Sanders, and papers by
Bruce Chilton and Jimmy Dunn. Sanders main point seems to be that some
scholars make too much of purity rules; he said that most Jews were impure
most of the time, and that he could see no basis for purity laws as a
mechanism of oppression that some authors have made it out to be. Most
purity laws concern basic elements of life, such as birth, marriage, and
death. The rules about Leprosy, in his view, have been over-generalized.
Dunn provided a handout, which included specific references to points of
disagreement with Chilton, particularly in Chilton's Rabbi Jesus, and with
Sanders. Dunn made some interesting comments about John the Baptist that
seemed, in effect, to argue that John's Baptism was used as an alternative
to Temple sacrifice.
The second Historical Jesus section included presentations by Randall Buth
on Aramaic vs. Hebrew, and by Mark Goodacre on Crossan's "Prophecy
historicized or History scripturized." I am quite eager to get a copy of
Mark's presentation, as I was not able to follow it very well (my fault
with hearing, not his). Rikki Watts gave the final paper in the session, on
Jesus and the "Mighty Deeds" of Yahweh.
There was much more, of course, but this may give you some ideas about some
of the presentations.
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