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Conference Reflections – PaleoJudaica: Jim Davila – November 22, 2006
As promised, here are some thoughts about the sessions in which I participated at the SBL conference.
I got lots of feedback on my paper “‘Scripture as Prophetically Revealed Writings.” Often I didn’t know the names of the questioners and my notes are not always clear on who asked what, so I won’t attach names to specific questions, but here are the questions:
. Alongside the question of any altered state of consciously in the production of pseudepigraphic books, would it not also be rather convenient for the authors to have, for example, Jubilees or the Temple Scroll to advance their agenda? (I entirely agree with this and said that altered states of consciousness often converge with convenience.)
. What did the ancient authors mean by a “prophecy”? How would they have defined it? (My first shot at answering this was that a prophecy was a writing by a prophet, but see the next question.)
. Did everything a prophet wrote count as prophecy? If not, what made it a prophecy? (No, and this is a good point. A love letter or a note to the milkman would not be a prophecy just because a prophet wrote them. This raises the question of what genres count as prophecy and I need to defer this one to think about it more.)
. What did the ancient exegetes think about the prophetic books mentioned in the Bible but which are now lost. (I don’t know. It would be very interesting to trawl through the ancient Jewish and Christian literature to see if the exegetes ever commented on such lost books and, if so, what they said.)
. It was pointed out that the evidence I had collected came from a wide geographic area over a long period of some centuries and this made it problematic to generalize about. (I agree, but this was just an initial attempt to collect all [or at least much] of the relevant evidence.)
My paper “The Hekhalot Literature and the Jewish Apocalypses” elicited the following feedback.
. It would be worthwhile to see how well the model applies to groups that existed after the time of the ancient apocalypses but before the Merkavah mystics, particularly the Manicheans. (Indeed. I don’t control the Manichean literature, but perhaps I should at least have a look at the Greek Life of Mani with this in mind.)
. Was there an apocalyptic movement of which all the writers of the surviving ancient apocalypses considered themselves to be a part? (Perhaps there was from our [etic] perspective, but from their [emic)] perspective they often would have disagreed violently on important issues. For example, the author of the Animal Apocalypse advocates armed resistance during the persecution of Antiochus whereas the contemporary author of Daniel promotes pacifist martyrdom. It is hard to imagine that they considered themselves part of the same movement.)
. What can we say about the social context of the writers of the ancient apocalypses along the lines of my reconstruction of the social context of the Merkavah mystics in my book Descenders to the Chariot? (I can’t remember what I said here except that we have a lot less information on the former than the latter.)
. Can the model be applied as far back as to the book of Ezekiel, which is the font of much apocalyptic and mystical thought in Judaism? (I don’t think that this specific model would work very well with the book of Ezekiel, but Ezekiel is certainly a character who makes use of altered states of consciousness and had visions of the divine realm. My suspicion is that Ezekiel presents us with a much more realistic view of what a priest in the Jerusalem Temple was like and that Leviticus is a bowdlerized account by a movement that rejected the visionary elements of the Jerusalem cult.)
The session of the Pseudepigrapha Section devoted to my book generated a lot of good discussion and debate. Here are some reflections I and others shared at the time.
. One of my main objectives in writing the book was to get people talking about the methodology for identifying the provenance of pseudepigraphic books, and I am delighted that the book is getting so much attention. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter if I am right or wrong about the provenance of a particular book or even about any given point of methodology. What matters is that we are now discussing these issues on a more sophisticated level.
. The most general criticism from the panel was that I did not go far enough and that I should have approached the problems from an even more abstract and higher-order level (e.g., dispensing with or being even more sceptical of labels like “Jewish” or “Christian”). I don’t doubt that there is some truth to this and I am not surprised to hear it from this panel, which consisted mostly of OT pseudepigrapha specialists. But another important audience I am trying to reach is New Testament scholars, and the book was written for them too. I suspect some of them think (assuming they bother to read it, which I hope they do) that I’ve gone entirely too far as it is. Let’s see how far we get with level of abstraction and label-rejection before we call for more.
. The quest for the viewpoint of the original authors and audiences of these works is worth pursuing for two reasons, even though such questions are out of fashion. First, our job as historians of religion is to reconstruct the reception history of these documents from their inception to the present, so the original audience is one audience (of many) that we should consider. Second, we are already handed the agenda of finding the viewpoint of the original audience and author by New Testament scholars who want to know which texts they can use as first-century “Jewish background.” We specialists need to guide them on this question, because it is not going to go away.
. The methods I have advanced in the book need to be applied by specialists who control the language and culture of particular areas (Armenian, Coptic/Egyptian, Ethiopic. Syriac/Eastern Church, Slavonic, etc.). They may well be able to refine and correct my conclusions about specific texts.
. One suggestion in the discussion was that junior scholars who wish to work with Second Temple literature and Pseudepigrapha should develop a subspecialty in at least one of the more obscure church languages and cultures that transmit OT pseudepigrapha. I also underlined the importance of team work in approaching such texts. Often a single pseudepigraphon is transmitted in more than one such language and we may need several specialists collaborating in order to understand the transmission and origin of the work. I hope that on the coat tails of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project I will be able to edit a collection of essay that gives an introduction and bibliography for each of these languages and cultures. I am discussing this with a publisher right now.
The ten-year retrospective panel of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Section looked both at what we accomplished and where we are going. In the business meeting at the end we decided that for the next ten years (at least!) we would approach the problem of Jewish and Christian mysticism chronologically, beginning with the earliest texts and moving forward each year. In 2007 we plan to hold one session on mysticism in the ancient Near East, another on mysticism in the Hebrew Bible, and a third session consisting of reviews of books published recently by members of the group.
A few other random notes:
On Monday I also attended S20-30, Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity, the theme of which was “the experience of possession.” I was especially interested to hear Guy Williams’s paper, “Spiritual Possession in Judaism and Paul’s Relationship with Christ,” in which he argued that Paul was possessed by the spirit of Jesus, a position that is close to mine — in my “‘Scripture’ as Prophetically Revealed Writings” paper — that Paul was channeling Jesus.
I also stopped for a while at S20-82, the review of DJD 17 (the Samuel manuscripts from Cave 4), on which I have already commented here. I was very sorry that Frank Moore Cross, the chief editor of the volume and my doctoral supervisor was unable to attend. I had been hoping to see him.
I also attended the business meeting of the Enoch Seminar on Monday evening and I can report that there will be another Enoch Seminar at Camaldoli in Italy in July of 2007 (and, yes, I plan to go). The topic will be Enochic Judaism and the book of Jubilees. There is also a tentative plan for a panel discussion at next year’s SBL in San Diego which will be devoted to the proceedings volume of the 2005 Camaldoli Enoch Seminar on the Similitudes.
SBL 2006 – Hypotyposeis: Stephen C. Carlson – November 18, 2006
Well, SBL 2006 is over. It was a very busy time, but I am happy to spend time with some old friends and to make new friends. Compared to last year, I spent a lot more time attending session, and less time in the book exhibit. By the time I got to the exhibit, most of the books I had wanted were sold out. Of course, having a paper in both the first and last session tends to cramp one’s book-buying style, but I’m nonetheless grateful for the opportunity to give the papers in the first place.
Fri. Nov. 17: I’m here at SBL. I’m staying at the Grand Hyatt. I’ve already spotted Jeffrey Gibson, Mark Nanos, and (from afar) AKMA. I had a great dinner in Chinatown. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, is my Synoptic Gospels paper.
Sat. Nov. 18: My first paper, Luke’s Panel Technique for an “Orderly” Account, was in the kick-off slot in the Sat. morning Synoptic Gospels section. Unfortunately, I was so excited that I read it a bit too quickly, but that gave the room plenty of time for questions. The questions were good, including one referencing a recent unpublished Australian dissertation which I had not heard about but which nonetheless seemed interesting. Another asked me about Mussner’s (as it took me a while to realize in retrospect) interpretation of “orderly” but I couldn’t hear the name clearly in the cavernous room, so I ended up talking about Fitzmyer’s interpretation, instead!
In the afternoon, I attended another session of the Synoptic Gospels section featuring Jane Schaberg and David Landry. Landry’s paper explored how Luke’s infancy account is compatible with the Farrer theory that Luke had knowledge of Matthew’s text.
Sun. Nov. 19: I attended the morning session in the TC section, which was devoted to Hort. Peter Head had a paper on Hort and Tregelles, and I finally got to learn how to pronounce the latter’s name (Cornish tray-GHELL-eez, not the French-like tray-ZHELL).
The afternoon featured a sesssion on Larry Hurtado’s latest book, with some captivating back-and-forth between Larry and Bart Ehrman. I particularly liked Larry’s insight in applying the term “scripture” to artifacts (i.e., particular copies of documents) rather than texts themselves, so he investigates whether copies were used as a scripture if they were designed to facillate its reading in public worship, as opposed to private study copies.
The John, Jesus, and History Group in the second afternoon session was jammed packed into a small room, probably because it featured such heavyweights as Craig Evans, Richard Bauckham, and Ben Witherington, III. (I was too late for Sean Freyne’s paper.) I’m not a fan of the Lazarus = Beloved Disciple position that BWIII defended, but his defense of it was unforgettable.
Mon. Nov. 20: The morning session featured Ken Olson critiquing Clayton Croy’s case that Mark’s original ending after 16:8 was lost. This was really stimulating. In the afternoon, Mark Goodacre presented his Pauline paper on Galatians. He did the ex-temp approach that clearly stated his position and left plenty of room for questions. I wish a lot more papers at SBL would be like that.
Tues. Nov. 21: My second paper was in the final session of the annual meeting in the TC group. I left some extra time for questions, and I had a good colloquy with Margaret Mitchell over 2427. Klaus Wachtel gave a paper that explained the coherence-based genealogical approach being used by Münster for the new Editio Critica Maior. I feel like I’m begining to understand it, and it was very helpful to see graphs epitomizing the interrelationships between witnesses in the textual tradition. Since I’m a visual person, I wish the ECM would include such visual aids. Another highlight was that I finally got to meet J. Keith Elliott.
SBL Day 1 (Friday) – NT Gateway Weblog: Mark Goodacre – Novmber 22,2006
Going to the SBL Annual Meeting when you are living in the USA is a different experience from going to it from abroad. You don’t have to deal with the jet lag, you get home much more quickly, and you don’t have to go straight back to work when you return. And sometimes, you live close enough to the meeting that you can drive to it. Washington DC is about 250 miles north of where we live in North Carolina, and for the first time ever I drove from home, with a close friend who had been staying with us for a couple of days, to the meeting location. It was about four hours of actual driving, all very straightforward, especially as I didn’t do any of the driving. It turns out too that there is a great place called Cracker Barrel every fifty miles or so, and you can stop off there for breakfast, brunch or lunch and get a good meal (and especially their raspberry lemonade). The only difficulty was finding our way to Union Station where we were to drop off our hired car, and then finding our way to the hotel from there. But I was still there in time there to meet an old friend at 7pm for an amazing dinner in a place called the Chop House, which served very, very good brewed-on-site beer and some very expensive food.
We were lucky to be staying in the Renaissance Washington, which was one of the main meeting hotels. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t get to any of the DC sites, the monuments or anything else, during the four days of the conference. But my excuse is that I am saving that up to do properly with the family some time.
SBL Day 2 (Saturday) – NT Gateway Weblog: Mark Goodacre – November 22, 2006
One of the changes in recent years is the arrival of 9 a.m. meetings. I can’t say I am too keen on this innovation. That extra morning used to give one a chance to get everything in order before the serious business began. Now, the conference comes crashing in very quickly. Straight after my breakfast meeting, I dashed to the Convention Centre for the first time to catch the first Synoptic Gospels session. I prioritize Synoptic Gospels sessions because I co-chair the section with Greg Carey and I regard it as important to try to hear all papers in the section if at all possible. A particular highlight for me was Stephen Carlson’s paper Luke’s Panel Technique for an “Orderly” Account, which I found pretty persuasive — and very interesting. I hope he has the chance to publish this in due course.
I forgot to take my badge with me this year. In fact I don’t remember receiving it. But it turns out that it is very easy to get a replacement.
Later on Saturday was a session I had put a lot of work into organizing, the second Synoptic Gospels session, this time on the Birth Narratives. The session was chaired by Loveday Alexander and was divided into two. The first half celebrated twenty years of Jane Schaberg’s The Illegitimacy of Jesus, with Schaberg giving a review of the book and reactions to it and Gail Streete offering her reflections. Sadly, Amy-Jill Levine, who was to be the second respondent, was unable to make it to the meeting because of ill health. The second half was led off by David Landry, whose paper looked at Luke 1-2 as a “hostile takeover” of Matthew 1-2, developing the idea that Luke disliked Matthew’s Birth Narrative and tried greatly to improve on it. There were two responses, one by Robert Miller and one by John Darr. I was particularly intrigued by Robert Miller’s response, which confirmed a point I make in the first chapter of The Case Against Q, that the majority of those who accept the Q hypothesis do so because they have not given the Synoptic Problem any extended critical thought (note that I say the majority, and not everyone — I know there are plenty who do, of course). Miller said that he had devoted a total of no minutes thinking about the Synoptic Problem over the last twenty years, a claim he repeated when pressed in various of the questions. Actually, the Q sceptics were out in force; I am afraid that I asked a question and so did Ken Olson, Jeff Peterson and Mark Matson.
John Darr’s response had one particularly entertaining moment. Landry had extolled the virtues of Luke’s birth narrative, denigrating Matthew’s in the process. Darr began his piece by pointing out, facetiously of course, that Matthew’s Birth Narrative provides us with a rationalization for giving and receiving Christmas presents, and that we should therefore celebrate his contribution.
It was a good session. I suppose that one thing that I found a little disappointing was that there was not as much dialogue between the two halves of the session as I had hoped. And I suppose us Farrer types slightly skewed the discussion at the end by asking all the tough questions on Luke’s use of Matthew.
Speaking of Q, I did manage to get to some of the first Q section dealing with the Christology of Q, and which included a paper from Harry Fledderman.
Saturday evening was the Continuum (T & T Clark) dinner at Clydes restaurant, an enjoyable evening not least because I was lucky to be on a table with some great people. The food was OK and the wine was great. The dinner represented something of a move from former years when Continuum, like everyone else, had receptions. This was a more select gathering and, to be honest, a much more enjoyable occasion.
SBL Day 3 (Sunday) – NT Gateway Weblog: Mark Goodacre – November 22,2006
Sunday’s breakfast meeting was the University of Birmingham reception and a great pleasure to see old friends. I was really annoyed last year to have to miss the Birmingham reception because I had another breakfast meeting at the same time. In fact Sunday was university reception day for me, and the three universities I have known, first Birmingham where I taught for a decade, then later Oxford, where I was student for almost a decade, and then Duke, my current university.
At one we had the third Synoptic Gospels session, this time a panel on Simon Gathercole’s new book published by Eerdmans, The Pre-Existent Son. This was a session I organized relatively late in the day, beginning last March, when I was approached by Eerdmans. It seemed like a very good idea. The three respondents to the book were James D. G. Dunn, Rikk Watts and Deirdre Good. The fourth was to be Maurice Casey, making a rare appearance at SBL, but sadly he had to drop out last week because of health. The section sent its best wishes for a speedy recovery.
I took the first ten minutes or so of the session to introduce Simon and to summarize the book. Jimmy Dunn then took 15 minutes, and Rikk Watts and Deirdre Good also took 15 minutes each. We had a 5 minute (or so) break followed by Simon’s 25 minute response to all three respondents, and then there was plenty of time first for more panel discussion and finally for views from the floor. First up from the floor was Richard Bauckham who said, among other things, that Jimmy Dunn conceived of monotheism in unitarian terms, and that he conceived of others’ Trinitarian views as tritheistic. He also chided Rikk Watts for using the divine name in his presentation in spite of his claim to be using emic language. And he added that it is impossible to talk about these issues solely using emic language.
In spite of the interesting discussions, the thing that will remain with me for the longest will be, I think, Jimmy Dunn’s strongly worded critique of his former student’s book, which he accused of “wooden literalism”, of “tritheism, ditheism or modalism”; and he said that Simon was in need of a “refresher course in hermeneutics”. I am afraid that I could not resist adding after he had finished, “I am tempted to say: don’t hold back; tell us what you really think.” Simon defended his book bravely, and had not had either Deirdre’s or Rikk’s responses in advance, so he did particularly well on those.
I tend to find presiding a little stressful because you have to keep alert for 150 minutes and there is a lot to look out for and not just speakers, time and audience. So I always feel very relieved when it is over.
I went to the John, Jesus and History session next, a disaster of room allocation, one of several at the meeting. Its allocated room had only enough space for forty people, and Felix Just stood outside guiding people to the new room, also far too small, with people sitting on the floor, crowding into the doorway and so on. Sean Freyne was first up and talked about Galilee in John. Next up were Craig Evans, Richard Bauckham and Ben Witherington III. Unfortunately, I missed a lot of what they said because I was now sitting down in a chair and not on the floor and I couldn’t stop drifting off, a very annoying habit when one is interested in the material. Actually, I think I heard most of Witherington’s talk, which was a tour de force, arguing that Lazarus was the beloved disciple and the author of the Gospel, that Simon the Leper was the father of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, and that the Gospel owned the name of John because it was redacted by John of Patmos. It was the kind of harmonizing reading that I find implausible but entertaining to listen to.
Sunday evening was receptions evening, for me first Oxford and then Duke, both great places to meet old friends, and some new people.