Review of the Pope on the Baby Jesus

Anyone who wants to save time in the run up to Christmas can read John Crace's review of Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives here.

The spoof on Benedict's appeal to the work of other scholars is great. My favourite line being:

"Marcus Reiser has suggested there is some confusion about the naming of Jesus, arguing that Emmanuel was his real name. This need not detain us long. Emmanuel was a very common second name in Israel at the time. More surprising is that his nickname, according to the great Marian scholar Martin Dibelius, was Jay-Z."

SBL: Good and Bad

I had no real inclination to post detailed reflections on this year's SBL Annual meeting in Chicago. Mark Goodacre pointed out that the use of Twitter was an important part of proceedings this year, and even I had a go at it. Not sure what I think.

Instead, I thought I would list 5 good and 5 less good aspects of the Conference for me, in no particular order.


1. People: always the main event, getting to spend time with so many people who (a) share a professional interest and some of whom (b) you also count as personal friends. It was especially good to connect with members of the Chester TRS Department, my dear, dear friends Alan and Ellie Kreider and Brad Braxton, and many other US and UK friends.

2. Papers: the usual mix, but the highlights were a session on Gender, Sexuality and the Bible, Dale Allison's whirlwind presentation in the John, Jesus and History unit (also mentioned by Mark Goodacre) and Thomas Schmeller's elegant negotiation of the bridge between 2 Corinthians 1–9 and 10–13. I also very much enjoyed the session honoring Chris Rowland and discussing the recent Festschrift in his honour.

3. Meetings: On Saturday morning I met Clifford Green, who is Executive Director of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in English project (one more volume to come in 2013) to discuss wider dissemination of the articles gathered together in Pacifica 25.2 (July 2012) which I edited. Green's book on Bonhoeffer's Theology of Sociality was what reconnected me Bonhoeffer's importance, so it was a pleasure to meet with him before going to hear David Congdon talk about Bonhoeffer's understanding of mission.

4. Receptions: Friday and Saturday nights were quiet. Monday was Chester, Oxford, Kings and Scottish, with T & T Clark/Bloomsbury and Sheffield on Monday. T & T Clark's was the best of these.

5. Books: Only 6 purchases of which the most important are NA28 and Konrad Hamann's biography of Bultmann, which I plan to read slowly alongside a re-reading of Bultmann himself over the summer break.

6. Chicago: sorry this makes 6, I wrote the others first, but this also needs to be mentioned. Its a great city.


1. The McCormick Conference Centre: The epitome of dystopian architecture. Everyone hated it, and not just because of the distances.

2. Bars: reception bars were lightening fast to dismantle at the appointed time, and hotel bars almost all shut up shop by 1am. This left little incentive to stick it out for those 3.30 a.m. discussions about life, the universe and the state of the discipline.

3. Sessions: we need less of them, with fewer papers in each session, to ensure better discussion and interaction by a greater number of qualified and knowledgeable people in the room.

4. Travel: 24 hours door to door: enough said.

5. Books: too many at only 20% discount which meant that they remained unaffordable.

Anyone else have a top 5, or 3, or a list of groans?

Oh, and watch this space for a new reception to be introduced into the Programme Book next year in Baltimore

Fellowship for Biblical Studies National Conference

One of the things that I miss about the biblical studies scene in the UK is the annual meeting of the British New Testament Conference (which has, by all accounts, just held a very successful meeting at King's College London and at which a panel of scholars reached definitive agreement about what the discipline of New Testament studies actually is and is for … or am I being optimistic?). Here in Australia there are few opportunities for biblical scholars to gather from across the country. Therefore it is good to know that the inaugural conference of the Fellowship for Biblical Studies is due to be held here in Melbourne on the 24–25 September 2012. The programme for the conference is as follows:

9.30 Mark A. O’Brien    “Creativity
and Limitation in the Making of Biblical Texts”

10.10 Judy Redman        “Finding a lost sheep”

 10.50    Morning Coffee
(in the café area)

 11.10 Ian Young     “‘Neither Can Live While the Other Survives’: Linguistic
Dating of Hebrew Biblical Texts vs Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible”

11.50 Adam White    “Value Formation and Value judgement: Graeco-Roman paideia
as a backdrop to Paul’s judgement language in 1 Cor 4.1-5”

12.30 Dermot Nestor    “Is ‘Israel’ in the Merneptah Stele?”

1.10  Lunch (in the
café area)

2.00 Sean Winter    “Dung as Idolatry: The Meaning of skubala in Philippians 3:8”

2.40 Martin Shields    “Was
Elihu Right?”

3.20     Afternoon
Tea (in the café area)

3.40  Alexandra
    "Jude's Citation of 1 Enoch and its Significance"

4.20 Jon Kenneth Newton    “Story lines in the Book of Revelation”

5.00pm Lucy Davey,    “The Importance of the Chiastic Structure in the Book of

5.40pm Wine and Nibbles (in the café area)


Tuesday 25th September

9.30 Howard Wallace    “Arthur Boyd and his Bible”

10.10 Stephen Llewellyn    “Metaphors and Eunuchs: The Argument for a Different Reading
of Matt 11:12”

10.50 Morning Coffee (in the café area

11.10 Anne Elvey    "Rethinking Neighbour Love: Toward an Ecological
Materialist Conversation between Political Theology and Ecological Ethics"

11.50 Rachelle Gilmour     “Juxtaposed
Episodes of Biblical Narrative in Dialogue”

12.30 David
    “The Gospel of Matthew and Galilee”

1.10 Lunch (in the café area)

2.00 Robyn Vern    “Recent Study of Archaic Biblical Hebrew: shedding
new light on understanding Biblical Hebrew”

2.40 Steffen Joeris    “More than family
dispute: Mk 13:12-13a and Isa 66:5”

3.20 Afternoon Tea (in the café area)

3.40 Anne Gardner    “Gratuitous Repetition or Meaningful References in Dan 7:1b-2a?
Implications for an Ur-text”

4.20 Todd Stanton    “Toward a Comparative Method in Biblical Studies”

5.00pm Wine and Nibbles (in the café area

A mixed bag of papers to be sure, but it is good to see colleagues from Sydney attending in some numbers. As you may have spotted, I am giving a paper. I'll post the abstract for that tomorrow.

Luke’s Use of Matthew: Luke 1:31 as a Test Case

I am no scholar of the synoptic problem, but I was raised a Q sceptic and continue to remain comfortable with the notion of Luke's knowledge and use of Matthew.

But I looked again at one tiny aspect of the evidence that Mark Goodacre draws on in support of that notion: namely that Luke betrays apparent knowledge of the Matthean Birth Narrative at the following point:

Luke 1:31: καὶ τέξῃ υἱὸν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.

Matthew 1:21: τέξεται δὲ υἱόν, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν·

See, The Case Against Q, 56–57.

So far, so good. What is puzzling, however, is that Matthew continues as follows:

αὐτὸς γὰρ σώσει τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν. / and he will save his people from their sins.

The issue is that on the face of it, at least, this further clause would seem eminently in keeping with Luke's redactional interests. While Luke's use of the verb 'to save' is broadly similar to Matthew and Luke, the language of 'salvation' and 'Saviour' is distinctive not least in the following canticles (see Luke 1:47, 69, 77). It might, of course, be suggested that Luke has no interests in Matthew's etymological comment, or that Luke replaces the Matthean clause with the more explicitly Davidic: οὗτος ἔσται μέγας καὶ υἱὸς ὑψίστου κληθήσεται (Luke 1:32). It is also true that the notion of deliverance from 'sin' is always expressed using the verb aphiemi in Luke, rather than sozein. Nevertheless, the Matthean formulation would appear to be conducive to Luke's overall concerns.

I don't have access to Michael Goulder's Luke: A New Paradigm (the library copy is out), so it may well be that he offers an explanation there.

Any thoughts, Mark?

Fellowship for Biblical Studies: August 2012 Meeting

On Thursday August 9th I have the honour of addressing the Fellowship for Biblical Studies. Here is my topic:

The Church Triumphant?
Another Look at 2 Corinthians 2:14–17

Abstract: This paper proposes that the oft-discussed thanksgiving period in 2 Cor. 2:14–17 is to be understood as an inclusive portrayal of the common missional vocation shared by Paul and the Corinthians. This vocation is a participation in the ‘triumph of God’, that has initially taken Paul and the Corinthians captive, through public procession and intentional diffusion of the ‘aroma of Christ’: the gospel. This reading stands in contrast to the dominant reading of the passage (and of 2 Corinthians as a whole) as more narrowly focussed on Paul’s apostolic activity. The paper concludes with a brief consideration of the possible implications of this reading for an understanding of 2 Corinthians in general.

If you want to come you either need to be a member of the FBS or be a guest of a member (our little attempt at SNTS-like exclusivity!). The paper follows on from earlier work on Paul's use of the ambassadorial motif in 2 Corinthians 5:20 and the argument basically goes against the grain of all contemporary 2 Corinthians scholarship. We shall see how it goes.

Creation, Conflict and Cosmos: Plenary 1 (Stephen Westerholm)

The first plenary session in the Princeton conference on Romans 5–8 was by Stephen Westerholm on the topic of "Righteousness: Cosmic and Microcosmic"

Taking his cue from Paul's dikaiosune language in Romans 5:1 and 5:19 Westerholm sought to spell out the overall meaning and purpose of Paul's righteousness and faith language within his theology. The argument would be unsurprising to anyone who knows Westerholm's work. Righteousness is a category of cosmic morality: the ordering of the universe towards which human life (individual and communal) can be directed, or not, and in line with which human behaviour can (or can not) correspond. God's dikaiosune is God's action in re-ordering a disordered world. Paul's contribution lies in the largely pessimistic assessment of human capacity to be righteous, an assessment that is retrospective in the light of the Christ event, as well as the emphasis on faith as the believing response to the word of the gospel.

This soteriological framework, present in Romans 5.1 and drawing out all that Paul has been saying about the exemplary role of Abraham as 'believer' in Romans 4, is really what makes Paul tick. The language of 5:19, and the more objective, inclusive, perhaps even universal dimensions of Paul's soteriology, are to be read in the light of the basic righteouness/faith paradigm as outlined above.

As usual, Westerholm steered a path between aspects of the 'traditional' (pre-New Perspective), New Perspective and apocalyptic readings of Paul. The first question was asked, as one might expect, by Douglas Campbell who, rightly in my view, challenged the 'having your cake and eating it' aspects of Westerholm's presentation. Does God's 'No' to a disordered universe ground God's 'Yes' in the Christ event, or is it the other way round? My own concern was especially around Westerholm's use of wisdom literature as the primary matrix for understanding the meaning of righteousness within Judaism. By appealing to notions of 'the order of the universe' as something epistemologically and theologically prioor to notions of covenant, election and, of course, Christology, Westerholm continutes to read Paul primarily as a theologian of the human condition.

Boring, Commentary on Mark

I am teaching Mark again this year, both online in Semester 1 and face to face in Semester 2. It has provided a good opportunity to get to know some of the more recent commentaries on the Gospel that had previously passed me by (or that I had passed over as I made use of Hooker, Moloney and Marcus – the three commentaries I know best). It has been a delight to start to work in more detail with M. Eugene Boring's Mark: A Commentary (New Testament Library; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006). Although now a few years old, I have only just started reading and using it in earnest, and can thoroughly recommend it, not least to preachers in this Year of Mark.

Of special importance is Boring's insistently theological reading of the Markan story:

"[T]he story is about God, who only rarely becomes an explicit character, but who is the hidden actor in the whole drama, whose reality spans its whole narrative world from creation to eschaton, and who is not an alternative or competitor to the view that regards Jesus as the principal subject. To tell the story of Jesus is to tell the self-defining story of God." (3)

Boring makes the creative suggestion (building on his earlier research) that the author of the Gospel is suspicious of literary reminiscences of Jesus that took the form of sayings collections (Boring thinks that Mark knew Q or a Q-like collection). Such collections were 'dangerously open to contamination by sayings of Christian prophets' (14) and in their place 'Mark' writes an unparalleled (much less like a Graeco-Roman bios than many would suggest) and subversive narrative which is fundamentally kerygmatic rather than sapiential in its intent.

All of this has no small contemporary resonance. The teaching of Jesus in the Gospel takes its rightful place in the context of the claims that the Gospel makes about the identity of Jesus – no ethics without Christology. For that reason alone it would be a useful commentary for any preacher seeking to direct a congregation's attention towards the key kerygmatic intention of gospel texts (kerygmatic in the sense that they both narrate the gospel and call for decision). But this is a commentary that also draws on the latest Markan scholarship (throughout there is a judicious supporting case made for Marcus' deeply apocalyptic reading of Mark), leads the reader clearly into the detail of the Markan text, provides any number of helpful summaries and excurses, and is constantly alert to the text's capacity to surprise the reader into new ways of understanding.

The Markan text for the coming Sunday (2nd in Lent) is Mark 8.31–38. Here are a few lines from Boring's commentary on that section:

"The call to deny oneself does not mean to relinquish the enjoyment of certain things, as though doing without or enduring suffering as such made one holy or a disciple of Jesus. The word translated "deny" (aparnesastho) is found elsewhere in Mark only in reference to Peter's denial of Jesus (14:30,72). "Deny" is thus the opposite of "confess," "acknowledge"; the hearers are called to deny themselves rather than deny Jesus, that is, no longer to make oneself the top priority and the center of one's own universe … likewise, taking up one's cross does not refer to the inconveniences, or even the sufferings, that are a part of human life as such, as often interpreted when one's troubles are described as "just the cross I have to bear." The Markan Jesus is not commending endurance of the inevitable pains of life, but the voluntary taking up of the cross as sharing the suffering involved in discipleship and Christian mission." (244)

If you haven't yet bought a commentary to accompany you through the year of Mark, I can highly recommend the Boring commentary.