Surprise Festschrift for Telford and Barton (Gupta)

FSbookThis SBL was a very special one for me – my co-editor (Kristian Bendoraitis) and I presented a surprise Festschrift to my doktorvater Dr. Stephen C. Barton (University of Durham). The FS offers essays jointly in honor of Dr. Barton and Dr. William R. Telford (also retired Durham faculty).

On Saturday night, Kristian and I planned a dinner at SBL with Dr. Barton – it was Dr. Barton’s very first SBL! We were very grateful to be able to present the book to him in person.

This summer I had a chance to do some research in England, and I was Telfordable to announce the book in person to Dr. Telford.
These are two exceptionally kind-hearted, wonderful men who have made a deep impact not only with their scholarship, but also with their mentorship with students and guild leadership. They are both very deserving of this honor.

The book is called Matthew and Mark across Perspectives: Essays in Honour of Stephen C. Barton and William R. Telford (the subtitle will appear on the printed book). The publisher is Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, in the LNTS series. A fun note – part of the reason we chose the LNTS series is that Dr. Telford’s dissertation monograph was the very first JSNTSup volume (#1!), and JSNTSup became LNTS – an extra tribute to his work.

FS3The emphasis of the volume is many perspectives and methods. Not only have Barton and Telford approached the Gospels from different perspectives, but each one has impacted scholarship by use of many perspectives. Telford is especially known for his traditio-historical work, but also reception of the Gospels in film. Barton is especially appreciated for his work in social-scientific criticism, but has done great work in literary criticism and theological interpretation/spirituality. Currently he is interested in emotions in the New Testament.

Contributors to this honorific volume include (with * noting those associated with Durham as faculty or alum):

-Kristian Bendoraitis*

-Prof. Francis Watson*

-Prof. Helen Bond*

-Dan Fryer-Griggs* (studied with Telford)

-Dr. Craig A. Evans

-Dr. Donald Hagner

-Louise Lawrence

-Nijay K. Gupta* (studied with Barton)

-Prof. James D.G. Dunn*

-Prof. Loren Stuckenbruck*

-Peter Francis (appreciation for Telford)

-Prof. Walter Moberly* (appreciation for Barton)

These contributors were eager to honor Barton and Telford, and we had a nice time at the Durham reception celebrating with Barton (Telford was not there).

We are hoping for a release of the book relatively early in the New Year 2016. The Table of Contents with chapter titles can be found on the Bloomsbury website.


SBL 2015 – In Review (Gupta)

At 10:30PM last night I arrived home from the annual AAR/SBL. When I think about SBL, these ten words come to mind

-Engaging papers

-latest books

-good eats

-Great friendships


Keener3.jpgI think I averaged about 3-4 hours of sleep a night! (Though, I very much enjoyed rooming with my George Fox colleague Paul Anderson – known worldwide for both his Johannine scholarship, and rocking a great mustache)


Here is my review of SBL 2015

IBR – I am nearing the end of my service on the board of the Institute for Biblical Research. It has been wonderful to work together with such fantastic leaders (Tremper Longman is the current president).

Lincoln ByronIBR Research Groups: Over the last several years, IBR has grown in its afternoon (4-6PM) research groups. I attended a fantastic session on prayer in the OT, with a thoughtful paper by Dan Block on Moses’ relationship with God in prayer.

IBR Annual Lecture: OT theologian Craig Bartholomew spoke about history and theology and the Old Testament. Great discussion with Sandy Richter (Wheaton) and NT Wright (St Andrews). It looks like we keep returning to the same questions about how Christians study Scripture in the academic world.

SBL Sessions: Truth be told, I had a hard time adjusting to east coast time, so I couldn’t stay awake during sessions! But I enjoyed a few. I caught Bruce Longenecker’s paper in the Paul, Politics, and Powers group – interesting discussion of where theology meets real (economic) life. I attended the review session of Michael Gorman’s Becoming the Gospel, and also the review session of John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift. Both were engaging – outstanding respondents in both sessions (first time hearing Miroslav Volf in person)

Friends, old and new: Great to catch-up with my Durham buddiesDurham Dinner (Kristian, Ben, and John), my co-blogger/co-writer Chris Skinner, IBR friends like Craig Keener, Ayo Adewuya, and Beth Stovell, NT friends like Sean Adams, Joel Willitts, John Byron, and Tim Gombis, Wesleyan friends like Andy Johnson, Mike Gorman, Dean Flemming, and David Capes (I consider David a secret Methodist masquerading as a Baptist), and publishing friends like Katya Covrett, Bryan Dyer, Michael Thomson, Dominic Mattos, and David Teel. A very special highlight of this trip with getting to have dinner with my doktorvater Dr. Stephen C. Barton (now retired from Durham, his first SBL ever!). David Lamb was one of the “new friends” I made – great guy. Also – had lunch with Prof. Andrew Lincoln (“Master, dismiss your servant in peace, for I have supped with my hero…”).

Books2015Books: Wonderful resources and scholarship as always from Zondervan (like Garland’s Theology of Mark), Eerdmans (Paul and the Gift), Baker (completion of Keener’s Acts series); but very excited about some releases from Fortress and Baylor. I managed to show great restraint and only bought three books this year: Paul: An Outline of His Theology by Michael Wolter (Baylor), The Pauline Debate by NT Wright (Baylor), and Christ is King by Josh Jipp (Fortress).

(PS. Speaking of books, I will have another special book announcement that I will unveil in a separate post, stay tuned…)

(PSS. Fun to see the galleys of Mike Bird’s forthcoming Romans commentary! Good on ya, Mike!)Bird1

GombisHow was SBL? SBL is always a double-edged sword – there is so much going on that there is always something for everyone. But that is also the challenge – it has such a fragmented nature that one feels quite lost and aimless (esp in Pauline studies, where there are so many Paul groups and the Paul-guild is scattered like seeds in the wind). In the future, I would like to see a common place where Paulinists can gather in a shared desire to think about the discipline and many people can engage, not just the senior leaders -though of course we must still have the eminent work of that leadership.


Friday Book Corner: Scholarship on Matthew and Mark (Gupta)

In the next several months, I am going to roll out some series for Crux Sola that will help me blog a bit more intentionally and regularly. The first series (that will go on indefinitely) is the Friday Book Corner where I will do book notes, short book reviews, and longer multi-post reviews of major books. Today’s offerings are all related to Matthew or Mark.

Ian Boxall, Discovering Matthew: Content, Interpretation, Reception (Eerdmans, 2015). The subtitle really says it all – Boxall (who has also written an excellent commentary on Revelation) introduces the text of Matthew in a concise way. First Boxall introduces the challenges of interpreting Matthew, various approaches to studying Matthew, then he engages with several key themes or blocks of Matthew (e.g., Infancy Narratives, Jesus fulfilling Law and Prophets). There are many fine introductions to Matthew out there, but I think Boxall’s unique contribution is really his interest in Matthew’s reception.

GundryRobert Gundry, Peter: False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew (Eerdmans, 2015). The reality is that, indeed, Matthew’s Gospel is hard on Peter, but Gundry goes as far as to argue that Matthew wished to portray Peter as a false disciple. Having read through Gundry’s arguments, I think this theory is plausible, but there is no convincing evidence – and Gundry acknowledges that the other gospels tend to demonstrate a fallible, “dull” even, but rehabilitated Peter. It is hard to imagine Matthew wanting to present this portrayal in light of what appears to be strong leadership from Peter in the early church.

GarlandDavid Garland, The Theology of Mark’s Gospel (Zondervan, 2015). This book is an incredible achievement and a highly valuable resource. This work, at over 600 pages, explores nearly every nook and cranny of Mark’s thought and Garland draws from his significant expertise in Gospels studies (including a wonderful commentary on Mark, and also on Luke and Matthew). Towards the beginning of the volume, Garland offers his own reading of Mark’s Gospel which almost amounts to a mini-commentary in and of itself (pp. 99-178). Topics treated in this volume include Christology, theology (of God), the kingdom of God, the secrecy motifs, discipleship, atonement/salvation, and eschatology. I think the best material in the book is on the topic of discipleship; I think the weakest area is the chapter on atonement, although I recognize that is a notoriously difficult topic to treat. One thing that was impressive to me – Garland has managed to stay pretty well up to date on Markan scholarship. I am fairly certain (as we are nearing January) that this volume will make my Crux Sola “Best Books of 2015”!

Re-Post: Counting the Costs: On Pursuing Life in Academia (Skinner)

Sad AcademicLast year, right around this time, I published the following post. Since it’s “application season” once again, I figured I would re-post for those who need either encouragement or sober warning…..

This morning I received my program book for the annual SBL/AAR meetings in San Diego. The last time the meetings were held in San Diego was 2007, which consequently was the last time I was there. I was just days away from defending my dissertation and I was in town for a job interview—a job I didn’t get, by the way. Anyway, thinking about my last time in San Diego got me thinking about my own journey in academia, and it occurred to me that it’s that season once again for so many hope-filled academics. It’s the season when grad students, ABDs, freshly-minted PhDs, and in some cases, those who’ve been on the job market for years, set about preparing (literally) dozens of documents for hiring committees; you know, those notorious committees that (1) may not ask for an interview—which is understandable; (2) may not even look at your materials—which is somewhat less understandable; and (3) in many cases, won’t even acknowledge that they’ve received your materials, let alone that the job you were hoping for has been filled—which is inexcusable. I have been on the receiving end of all three of these (non) responses in my career, and I feel your pain. (BTW, if you have time, check out this pretty spot-on indictment of how unethical the hiring practices in our profession can be for people in this very situation I’m describing.)

As readers of this blog know, I am fortunate to have a full-time job teaching in higher education and in my area of specialization. I am also fortunate to teach in a part of the country that allows me to be relatively close to my extended family. In many ways, it’s like I have found one of Wonka’s golden tickets. Those closest to me will tell you that I genuinely love what I do, and as I have grown in my teaching, I have also had relative success in publishing my research. Still I find it possible to be very cynical about life in academia. So much of this is related to my own experiences. With so many of my own students requesting letters of recommendation for graduate school at the moment—some with an eye on landing a job in academia—I felt the need to get real for a moment. I’m speaking to my students in this post, but I invite you to listen in, if you’re interested. (I apologize in advance if I come across as Debbie Downer.)

Life in academia is not for the faint of heart. It is a path fraught with rejection at every turn. Each stage of the process brings more opportunities for rejection. Some think the rejection stops after you’ve landed a job, but actually there are more opportunities to experience the sting of a brush-off. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the untold possibilities for rejection, as I see them:

(1) Applying to doctoral programs: This is the first test we must all pass. I know several people who were not admitted to any doctoral programs during their first trip through the process. At least one of them currently has a doctorate from one of the best schools in the world, a full-time teaching post, and a monograph that has just been released. This sort of rejection is not the end of the road. Just know that it’s a possibility. Fortunately, I was admitted to the doctoral program of my choice, but there were other schools that said “no” to me. I shudder to think what would have happened had they all said, “no.” I was a young seminary graduate with a wife and small child. It might have been easy to give up on the dream and turn toward something more “practical,” more “gainful.” Applying to doctoral programs was my first hint that life in academia, along with being a highly competitive profession, has the potential to be a soul-crushing enterprise. (If after reading this bit of honesty you still choose to move forward, you should see Nijay’s comprehensive work on this subject.)

(2) Applying for jobs: This is clearly the most soul-crushing process of them all. I was on the job market for three full years after earning my Ph.D. If I’m being honest, I was applying to jobs for at least two years before I finished. After losing my job in 2009—another story for another day—I spent an entire academic year living in a three-bedroom house with my wife, three kids, and my in-laws. (How’s that for soul-crushing?) During those three to five years, I probably put out 50-60 applications (and killed several baby sequoias in the process). I had a dozen or so interviews and several on campus visits before I finally got a job. In one instance, I was CERTAIN there was going to be an offer in a week. Eight weeks later I was informed via email (yes, that’s right, an EMAIL) that the search committee was cancelling the job due to lack of funding. Can anyone say, rejection? (Just in case you think I’m alone, you can also see some of the details of Nijay’s employment journey here.)

(3) Presenting your research: I try to attend several professional meetings every year, and I have not missed an SBL meeting since 2005. I have given several papers at SBL and elsewhere, but I have had numerous proposals grounded on the tarmac before they could ever take flight. For instance, for four straight years I put in a proposal to read a paper in the Johannine Literature section, and for four straight years my proposals were shot down. To make it worse, each of those proposed papers went on to be published somewhere, but I could not get the Johannine Literature group to give it a sniff. Finally, this year, for the first time I will read a paper in the Johannine Literature section.

(4) Publishing your research: After surviving the gauntlet of rejection presented by the previous three stages, you now have arrived at the part of academic life that continues to offer you various and sundry opportunities to experience soul-crushing rejection. This is the part of the job that no one tells you about. Especially if you are in a “publish-or-perish” institution, you will find yourself face-to-face with the realities of this sort of rejection. Just this week I got word that an article I wrote over two years ago was finally accepted for publication. I had previously sent the article to three different journals. In all three instances, one reviewer liked it and the other wasn’t sure. Practically, this means that each time I submitted said article, it was rejected. After re-working it three times in response to previous reviewers’ comments, I was finally able to get it into a form that two outside readers found acceptable. Thankfully, each rejection served to make the article better, but each time it was “back to the drawing board.”

All of this is to say nothing of the processes of applying for grants, external funding, sabbaticals, promotion, etc. Academia is a profession in which you consistently put your fate in someone else’s hands, without the promise of anything in return. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment….maybe a bunch of us are, but not everyone is going to be able to sustain such continued rejection and emerge unscathed. Sure, there are those anomalous individuals who get into every program to which they apply, earn the doctorate, get their dream job right out of the gate, and have everything they write accepted for presentation and/or publication. In my admittedly limited experience, however, those people are the rare exceptions rather than the rule.

To my current and former students I say: If, after all of this, you still want to go forward, I do understand. Life in academia is sometimes crazy, often beautiful, and always interesting, and I’m  not sure I would be this fulfilled doing anything else. Just be sure come in with your eyes open and continue to count the costs.