James McGrath has posted list of papers to be presented at the Blogging and Online Publications section of the 2013 SBL Annuel Meeting. The theme of student blogging will be the focus which includes my paper “The Dangers of Blogging as a Student.” To see the rest of the papers listed go here.
Below is the second half of my notes from last week’s Central States SBL/ASOR meeting in St. Louis. You can read my notes on Part 1 here.
René Such Schreiner (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)—“Spiritual Culling for Remnant in John 6: Sign, Signified, Wisdom, and Idolatry”
Schreiner claims that the feeding of the multitude passage in John 6 perfectly mirrors the classic “culling narrative” motif found frequently throughout the OT (especially in the Exodus, where “grumbling” leads to action and divine judgment). In John 6, the crowds (and often, modern interpreters) mistake the true meaning of the sign of the loaves and fish—note the thematic element of “seeing” vs. “not seeing” in 6:30. Using the postmodern language of “sign” and “signified,” Schreiner illustrated that according to John, the focus of the passage is not that the bread is the “sign” of Jesus, but that Jesus himself is the “sign” of God. In keeping with the culling narrative motif, Schreiner pointed out that the classic culling narrative involves a clear progression from human action to divine judgment:
- Person acts —> God judges —> God acts
However, in John 6, the culling narrative is reversed:
- God acts —> Person judges —> Person acts
At the end of the presentation, Mark Given commented that Scheiner’s paper supported the new wave of scholarship claiming that Jesus is not to be understood as God in the Fourth Gospel, but is instead meant to be taken as the very image, the signifier or logos (“idea,” or “communication”) of God in human form. My comment regarding the postmodern separation of signifier/signified in surrealist painter Rene Magritte’s The Treachery of Images unfortunately went unappreciated.
John Christianson (Missouri State)—“The Centurion in History and Literature: A Context for Reading in the Gospels”
Christianson, a grad student at Missouri State, entered the NT presentation room dressed in full centurion regalia to present his paper’s thesis that the character of the centurion in the Gospels counts as a “credible witness” in the first-century literature. Apparently, Julius Caesar mentions centurions by name in his war commentaries with the supposition that if such honorable men followed Caesar, then by extension Caesar too must be honorable. Christianson suggested that since the vast selection of references to centurions among first-century literary corpora were positive, then the characterization of centurions in the Gospels should also be considered positive. By extension, then, the various iterations of the so-called “centurion’s confession” in the Synoptics should be taken seriously as an attempt by the authors to lend credibility to their stories by having such a positive, trustworthy character bear witness to the remarkable events reported in their narratives.
John Strong (Missouri State)—“Censoring the Prophetic Word: Translating Ezekiel’s Profane Speech for General Audiences”
In what was probably the most thought-provoking paper presented at the conference this year (at least among the presentations I attended), Dr. Strong spoke on Ezekiel’s use of profanity in his diatribes against the Jerusalemites, and the tendency by contemporary Western translators to defang the prophet’s speech when bringing the text to life in English. For instance, the word Ezekiel uses to characterize the idols worshiped by the Israelites (gililim, if I heard correctly—I haven’t studied Hebrew yet), comes from the root word meaning “dung,” and a more literal translation might be that Ezekiel is referring to the idols as “shit-gods.” Strong went on to point out the various and numerous sexual innuendos and downright vulgar tirades scattered throughout the book, and noted that Ezekiel primarily uses this obscenity as a rhetorical form of “controlled rage” to shame the Israelites. Strong ended with two pertinent questions: 1) Can we retain the spirit of Ezekiel’s crude edginess in modern English translations of the scripture? Or perhaps the better question is 2) Even if we could, should we? In short, Strong answered, no. Ezekiel worked within a totally different context than our own, never expecting his text/speech to be read by general audiences, let alone general audiences in the 21st century. In sum, Strong concluded that any translation must neuter the experience intended by the prophet himself. Consequently, I found myself wondering if the same is true of coarseness in the New Testament—for instance, should English texts of Philippians 3:8 include the literal translation of “σκύβαλα”?
Irony of ironies: my first SBL Annual Meeting presentation will be a paper titled “The Dangers of Blogging as a Student” for the Blogging and Online Publications section. I received notice of its acceptance yesterday. The title may seem contradictory coming from someone with little to no academic reputation at this point in time, yet a bit of one as a blogger. I think I am aware of the benefits and disadvantages of blogging as a student though. Originally, I had planned on proposing a paper that would discuss both sides of the coin, but I learned that others were presenting on the positives, so I chose to address the negatives.
I’m excited and grateful to the people overseeing the section who are giving me this opportunity. The Annual Meeting has become one of my favorite events each year. If you’re in Baltimore I hope to see you there!
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Central States Regional SBL/ASOR conference in St. Louis. In my humble opinion, the conference itself was a little lackluster—particularly so because of the notable lack of publishers in attendance. However, there were many good papers that were presented this year. Below are a few of my notes from the presentations I had the pleasure of attending.
Mark Nanos (Rockhurst University)—“Paul’s Polemic in Philippians 3”
Nanos began with a common thesis for those in the field of “New Paul” studies, namely that the apostle’s driving motivation is the desire for his audience to be enculturated into messianic Judaism. To that end, any reading of Philippians 3 that twists Paul’s words into an anti-Semitic polemic against first-century Jews must be abandoned in favor of a different interpretation. Nanos gave several possibilities for the referent of “Beware the dogs” in 3:2, including members of the Cybeline and Mithraic cults, but suggested that the phrase βλεπετε τους κυνας most likely refers to the Greek Cynics (i.e. “dogs”). Furthermore, Nanos pointed out that the polemic against the Cynics continues in 3:18–19, in which Paul characterizes adherents of the philosophical school as “enemies of the cross of Christ,” whose “end is destruction,” whose “god is the belly” and who “glory in their shame.” Nanos suggested that Paul here attempts to “out-Cynic” the Cynics by illustrating their motives as selfish and earthly in origin.
As a final note, Nanos pointed out a reference to a Talmudic characterization of Cynics as those who live in graveyards, burn incense, rend their clothing, and mutilate themselves (I can’t remember the specific reference here—does anyone have any idea where this came from?). Strangely enough, several of these descriptors seem to parallel descriptions of demonic possessions in the Gospels (see especially Mark 5:1–20, the “Gerasene Demoniac”).
Richard Freund (University of Hartford)—“The Church of the Annunciation (Greek Orthodox)/Mary’s Well”
I was primarily interested in this presentation because of the location of its subject—my wife Alyssa and I recently had the opportunity to visit Israel, and the Church of the Annunciation was one of my favorite sites. Freund, an archeologist and ASOR presenter, recounted the discovery of the remains of an ancient bathhouse beneath a series of tourist shops near the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation and Mary’s Well in Nazareth. A recent “sprucing up” of biblical sites by the Roman Catholic Church revealed the remains, which quickly (even if a bit sensationally) became referred to as “Jesus’s Bathhouse.” Freund and his team used GPR (ground-penetrating radar) on the site, which was discovered in the basement beneath “Cactus” gift shop/coffee house. The results revealed not only that the remains were of an Ottoman-era bathhouse most likely built upon a much older site, but also that the site spanned beneath several shops instead of just the one. Further research revealed that the older site likely dates to the Crusader period, but still probably sits upon an even older site still waiting to be excavated. Freund also included a brief excursus regarding the so-called debate over the historicity of the biblical village of Nazareth.
Joe Weaks (Raytown Christian Church)—“Formal Stylometric Tendencies in the Reconstructed Text of Q”
Disciples of Christ pastor and fellow biblioblogger Joe Weaks presented on his use of stylometry to “cast a wide net” in search of pertinent linguistic data while searching for similarities among texts, particularly among reconstructions of Q. While I am still fuzzy on the specifics of exactly how stylometry works (I’m an arts and humanities guy, give me a break!), I was seriously impressed by Weaks’ creation of a digital database of the grammatically and syntactically tagged text of Q, as well as a program that he designed to search through a total of 26 ancient corpora (including all the Greek NT texts as well as other pertinent related first-century corpora such as the writings of Josephus, Philo, etc.) for grammatical, syntactical, and lexical similarities. The sheer number possibilities for this proram’s contributions to the field of NT biblical studies is dizzying, and I can’t wait to see how this technology is used in the future, particularly in the fields of textual and redaction criticism. I wonder how Mark Goodacre might have used Weaks’ program for his recently published Thomas and the Gospels?
Immediately after church this afternoon, I will be leaving Kansas City for the 2013 Central States Regional SBL and ASOR Meeting in St. Louis. The keynote speaker this year will be Dr. Mark S. Smith, Skirball Chair of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University, who will give his lecture this evening on “Monotheism and the Redefinition of Divinity.” While I unfortunately will be unable to attend the plenary, I do plan on attending several of the interesting-looking paper presentations this year—ranging from Luke’s use of imaginative geography in Acts to (apparently) how translators edit out Ezekiel’s cuss words. Though schedules are always subject to change upon arrival, this is my tentative agenda for the meeting (see the full program here):
- 4 p.m.—Mark Nanos, Rockhurst University: “‘Judaizers’? ‘Pagan’ Cults? Cynics?: Reconceptualizing the Concerns of Paul’s Audience from the Polemics in Philippians 3:2, 18-19”
- 9 a.m.—Matthew Wade Umbarger, Newman University: “‘He Was With the Wild Beasts’: Echoes of 1 Maccabees 2:30 and 2 Maccabees 5:27 in Mark 1:13”
- 10 a.m.—Richard Freund, University of Hartford: “The Church of the Annunciation and Mary’s Well”
- 1:30 p.m.—John E. Christianson, Missouri State University: “The Centurion in History and Literature: A Context for Reading in the Gospels”
- 3 p.m.—John T. Strong, Missouri State University: “Censoring the Prophetic Word: Translating Ezekiel’s Profane Speech for General Audiences”
- 4:30 p.m.—Tom Schmidt, Wheaton College: “The Rhetorical Use of Irony in the Book of Revelation”
This agenda leaves a lot of room for trips to the publishers’ book display room, as well as enough flexibility to drop in on other presentations that didn’t catch my eye from the start. I’m especially looking forward to the books. Lots. and lots. of books.
I’ll post here again early next week with a brief report on how the meeting went.
As Joel Watts (2013 Annual Meeting’s Program Book is Online) and Anthony Le Donne (SBL 2013) have mentioned already, the program units for the 2013 Annual Meeting in Baltimore has been issued. You can access it here.
I think I may propose a couple of papers for next year. If anything comes of it I will let you know on this blog.
Mark Oppenheimer of the New York Times depicts AAR/SBL as follows:
“It was reminiscent of the Mos Eisley cantina in ‘Star Wars,’ filled with polyglot eccentrics. Dead languages lived (He speaks Latin! She reads Akkadian!). One saw robed Buddhist monks; priests and friars, collared or cassocked; nuns, in habit or not; imams in kufis; the occasional yarmulked Jew. And thousands more in rumpled khakis, name tag on lanyard like an officer’s medals. They clutched biblical concordances, Hebrew lexicons, Gospel commentaries.”
For those who mix sci-fi and biblical studies this should be a fun and acceptable description! For example, one could argue that the Biblioblogger’s Gathering at Kitty O’Shea’s looks a lot like the Mos Eisley Cantina. If you don’t believe me, see the pictures on the right hand side!
The rest of the article is a tad more serious as it discusses the labor disputs between the union Unite Here and Hyatt hotels and how AAR/SBL navigated these disputes after originally planning on using Hyatt hotels: “A Scholarly Affair with a Side of Activism”