SBL San Diego: Review Part 3: The Book Exhibition

Seeing scholars wander through the vast book exhibition hall is like seeing children let loose in a massive candy shop – drool and all! Well, I drool with the best of them! Of course, it was my birthday recently so I had some money to spend, but I was not as lucky as Mike Bird with the freebies!

Anyway, I want to make mention of my top ten best picks (obviously catered to my interests)

1. Pauline Christology (Gordon Fee, Hendrickson): This is a mammoth volume that boasts of filling a void in our understanding of NT Christology. Fee makes the case that there has been no major study of the Apostle’s understanding of who Christ was/is that is exegetical in nature and not simply plundering Paul to unearth ‘origins’. A particular bone Fee has to pick is with Dunn – Fee finds (from 1 Thessalonians to the Pastorals) a ‘high’ christology throughout. Not surprising coming from Fee! Of course some of the best research and analysis is in 1 Corinthians and Philippians, but he shows great skill in each section. He also tackles the issue of the over-eagerness to find Wisdom or Spirit or Adamic christology in Paul. For Fee, this is often read into the text. This book deserves a place next to his God’s Empowering Presence on every Pauline interpreter’s shelf (incidentally I don’t own GEP, hey Hendrickson, hook me up!). See an extensive review of Fee by me coming up in Ashland Theological Journal.

2. The Ways That Never Parted (ed. Becker and Reed; Fortress press): This book is a collection of essays born out of a Princeton-Oxford conference that vigorously challenges the traditional notion of a ‘parting of the ways’ of Judaism and Christianity that supposedly happened in one place at one point in time (often said to be 70AD) with long-lasting results. If ever a group of scholars could turn the tide on this it would be scholars such as Daniel Boyarin, Robert Kraft, Martin Goodman, John Gager, and Simon Price. The voices of Judaism and ancient history weigh in along with NT scholars on this critical issue. I read the book nearly in full (nearly 400 pages) and it is really exceptional work and truly multi-disciplinary. A MUST-READ!

3. UBS Greek New Testament: A Reader’s Edition (Hendrickson): This is a hardcover text of the NT that footnotes words occuring 30 or less and offers English definitions. How is this different than the Zondervan? The footnotes are in columns so they are much easier to read. The font is excellent. And, the back of the book has a dictionary containing the rest of the Greek words (occuring more than 30X). Though heavy, the differences are weighty – wait for it…

4. Greed as Idolatry (Rosner; Eerdmans): Brian Rosner is a great exegete and a sane, balanced scholar who has established himself in Paul’s ethics and use of Scripture. In fact, his writing has influenced my work very much. My interests lie in metaphor theory and Paul’s ethics, so this book is right down my alley. I would recommend anything by Rosner, though, for model interpretation of Paul. More to come when I have read this particular book.

5. Jesus and Paul Reconnected (ed. Todd Still; Eerdmans): My friend Todd Still has done us a great service. He has gathered together some of the greatest NT minds on this stimulating topic of the relationship between Jesus and Paul. The cost of the book is a small price to pay for a collection that brings together John Barclay (go Durham!), Markus Bockmuehl, Beverly Gaventa, Bruce Longenecker, Stephen Westerholm, and Francis Watson (go Durham!). Again, more to come.

6. Our Mother Saint Paul (Gaventa; WJK): She is one of my favorite authors. This text (I am about halfway through) looks at how metaphors of nursing and motherhood are attributed by Paul to his own work. She especially draws out apocalyptic themes as one might expect.

7. Recovering Paul’s Mother Tongue (Susan Eastman; Eerdmans). I heard Susan at SBL and she is sharp and has a quick mind. I think we will be seeing some good stuff from her in the future. More to come on this book when I have interacted with it more.

8. Social Distinctives of the Christians of the First Century (Judge; Hendrickson). This is a collection of essays by Edwin Judge with an intro by David Scholer. Judge has influenced social historical approaches to Paul and it is nice to have this collection in print.

9. Paul, Judaism, Gentiles (Watson; Eerdmans): Francis Watson has thoroughly revised and expanded his thesis research that has been much discussed in Pauline studies. He previewed thoughts at British NT Society in September and he continues to stir debates. I would eventually like to do a comparison of differences in his thought from his earlier work.

10. Commentary on the NT USe of the OT (eds. Carson, Beale; Baker):A highly anticipated 1152 pages mammoth book (which I wish ended up in multiple volumes) that focuses on intertextual moments going beyond just quotations to allusions and even more subtle ‘echoes’. I have not received the book yet (I had it shipped), but I will do some more extensive reviewing of it when I get a chance to interact with it. Sadly I wish some of the authors came from the Annual Seminar on the Old in the New in UK (esp. Steve Moyise, Maarten Menken, Paul Ellingworth). But, the authors of this book are truly excellent choices (e.g., two of my former professors, Roy Ciampa and Sean McDonough; also former Gordon-Conwell prof Greg Beale). And, as you can guess, more to come from me on this!

(If I can make a ‘plug’, I chatted with Mike Gorman about his new book on Paul [Cascade Books] and as an introductory book for laypeople or younger students, it sounds very useful).

SBL San Diego: Review Part 2: Scholars to keep an eye on

Part of the fun of going to SBL is seeing some scholars in person whom you have always wanted to hear. This summer at SBL Vienna I got a chance to hear Gerd Theissen, Beverly Gaventa, and James Charlesworth. In San Diego I heard papers by Lou Martyn, John Barclay, Tom Wright, Loveday Alexander, Richard Hays, Ralph Martin, Douglas Moo, and Dennis MacDonald. But, what is also enjoyable is to see and meet those scholars who are now making waves and at the cutting edge of scholarship in the early parts of their careers.

Though not a ‘new’ scholar, I (along with Ben Blackwell) had a delightful breakfast meeting with Michael Gorman – a fine pauline scholar and humble man. He is balanced, articulate, and warm – an unusual and refreshing combination. I highly recommend his APOSTLE OF THE CRUCIFIED LORD textbook for any course on Paul – I have used it myself in teaching an intro to Paul’s letters. In my opinion, nothing comes close to its lucid, theologically-packed content.

I also had some time at the Durham reception with Todd Still (of Truett Seminary, Texas) who is a former student of John Barclay (when at Glasgow). Todd is sharp and his work on Thessalonians is remarkable. He is working on a commentary of Philippians among other projects. This guy is the real deal and, once again, a really nice guy. I think we will be seeing more and more from Todd. He has high aims and great mentors.

Honorable mention should be given to young buck Justin Hardin whose almost-in-print Cambridge thesis got a plug by Bishop Tom – be on the lookout for Galatians and the Imperial Cult? A Critical Analysis of the First-Century Social Context of Paul’s Letter (WUNT II: Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, soon).

And, to show that I appreciate areas of study even outside of Paul, I commend to you Dan Gurtner – a Gordon-Conwell alum and current professor of NT at Bethel Seminary.  Dan is currently working on a commentary on the LXX of Exodus for the Brill series.  This is ground breaking kind of work and I look forward to having a series of commentaries on the LXX which will aid NT and OT studies alike.

Speaking of LXX commentaries, apparently Mike Bird and Joel Willitts will be doing the 1 and 2 Esdras for that series.  I caught up with Mike at SBL for a short bit.

We look forward to a new generation of biblical scholarship with such people at the forefront.

SBL San Diego: Review Part 1: Sessions

Well, after 16 hours of journeying I made it home safely from San Diego back to Durham’s crisp air and cloudy skies. In any case, it is good to be home! I wanted to give some thoughts on the conference, but in order to make it more manageable to read, I am writing a series of reviews on different aspects of the conference. This one, on sessions, will be mainly focused on NT.

I arrived a 5.30pm on Friday in just enough time to make it Institute for Biblical Research’s session on Canon with John Goldingay’s discussion of the OT. This was vintage Goldingay, entertaining and generally coherent, though I was really exhausted. Most of us were looking forward to the debate that the respondent (Christopher Seitz) was going to initiate, but Seitz did not show. So, not much to say there. But, we did get a free book from IVP and free Starbuck’s coffee – not a wasted evening afterall!

I attended a session on Paul and Scripture featuring D. Swancutt, D. Campbell and Neil Elliott debating the wither and whence of Paul’s righteousness language in Romans. The session was organized with a roundtable of scholars who could respond – the roundtable included Linda Belleville, Pam Eisenbaum, Chris Stanley, Bruce Fisk, Mark Given, Roy Ciampa, Francis Watson among others. Where was Richard Hays?

Douglas Campbell argued for a strongly contigent reading of Romans that, much like Galatians, involved a polemic against Jewish Christian missionary influences that sought to impose Jewish rites of identity on the Gentiles. This approach sees the interlocutor as more a present voice than simply a rhetorical one. Though I appreciate both Campbell’s rhetorical and apocalyptic perspective on Romans, there was too much speculation in terms of a Jewish Teacher in Rome.

Swancutt’s perspective was much different drawing in Stoic elements and interested in the reception of the readers. Also, Swancutt’s reading consistently appealed to Romans 1.16-17 as the thesis of the letter – a still much debated issue.

What was funny is that the conversation would have been quite strange to NT scholars of an earlier generation, and at the same time the same ‘Romans debate’ issues are still at the forefront.

Acts and Intertextuality

On the same topic, Loveday Alexander and Dennis MacDonald discussed how and to what degree Acts engaged in classical literature.  Just as critical discussion has engaged in the appropriate methodology to test the validity of finding echoes of the Jewish Scriptures in the NT (as Richard Hays has done), there is a call here for caution and clarity when finding allusions to Hellenistic texts.  This was an enlightening and much needed session (I saw Tom Wright in the audience, and in another session he commented on the importance of such conversations).

Paul and Empire

Perhaps the most intense and entertaining session (for Pauline students/scholars) was Prof.  John Barclay vs. Bishop Tom Wright in a debate on Paul and Empire.  The SBL Paul and Politics group has, for many years, been arguing that we should be paying attention to the anti-imperial undercurrents in Paul’s language of justice, honor, power, citizenship, lordship, kingdom and so forth.  Numerous books, articles, and monographs have been devoted to this endeavor.  However, some scholars, such as Barclay, have begun to be wary of this new ‘fad’ (though Wright showed the interest in this as early as Deissmann).  The issue is not whether we should be taking Roman and Hellenistic matters into the interpretation of Paul.  Certain Barclay’s classical training would suggest that.  What Barclay finds disturbing is this obsession with seeing Caesar under every rock in Paul’s rhetoric – as if the Empire was of great significance (as an enemy) in Paul’s messages.  Barclay is resistant to see anti-imperial echoes behind Kyrios, Parousia, Eirene, Dikaiosyne, etc…  For Barclay, if Paul wanted to say it, he would have said it.  According to the Lightfoot Professor, Paul’s drama of salvation did not have as its ultimate antagonist Caesar, but the ‘archic’ powers – all those forces and powers that are aligned against God.  The Empire of Rome is but one voice in a cacophany.  For Paul, the Roman Empire was ‘insignificant’.

The gauntlet has been thrown down.  I hope that Prof. Barclay (one of my supervisors) will soon publish on this topic so we can see the formal launching of an anti-anti-imperial school.  The discussion at SBL afterward was lively and I don’t think that such a controversy in Pauline circles has arisen since the early days of the New Perspective.  Durham has done it again – never a dull place for Pauline theology!

From some comments I heard around the conference, it would seem that Barclay had ‘won’ the debate.  In a sense he did because Wright was not responding directly to Barclay’s concerns.  But, there were clear limitations to Barclay’s illustrations and some remaining ambiguities.  Wright countered by arguing that Barclay’s notion of the centrality of the ‘archic powers’ was sound, but Caesar/the Roman Empire was an instantiation of this ‘archic powers’.  This I found to be a good notion.  Barclay was unrelenting in his resistence, though.  Barclay simply does not see Paul as interested in subtlely speaking subversively about the Empire.  Also, Wright said it was a matter of being a minimalist vs. maximalist when it comes to imperial rhetoric.  Barclay again refused to find middle ground.  He simply did not want to be placed on a spectrum and relativized.  For Barclay, Paul was almost completely disinterested in anti-imperial double-talk.  When Barclay was launching his attacks, I saw a lot of nods of agreement in the audience including B. Gaventa sitting nearby (who sometimes audibly wispered ‘yes’, ‘that’s right’ as if amening a good sermon!).  It would seem that some of the greatest minds in Pauline scholarship will be at loggerheads on the center of Paul’s rhetoric.  What is particularly interesting is that, in this debate, there is no ‘clear’ side for evangelicals to line up on!  Maybe this will be a more interesting debate than New Perspective after all!  Personally, I lean towards agreement with Barclay, but I think that such terms parousia and such phrases as ‘peace and security’ are tricky and it would have been very challenging for Paul to employ such loaded words/phrases without anticipating a subversive interpretation by his audiences.  How could he prevent that?  And if he couldn’t, why did he use it at all when he could have easily found other ways to communicate the same things without over-loading the terminology!  I am sure my inclinations are shared by others – cautious, but open to what Barclay is saying.

I would like to see a debate start even on my blog on this, but I have trouble articulating well Barclay’s position.  If I can get a hold of his paper (or some summary of it), I will post it.  Here is a question, what are the texts in Paul that are most seemingly overt anti-imperial statements?  I would ‘peace and security’ (1 Thess 5.3) is up there.  What else?  Please post comments.  I would like to take these to Barclay and see how he would respond.


SO, all said and done, this was a paradigm shattering SBL so well worth the work and cost.  More reflections to come.

Scholarship on 1-2 Thessalonians

In my pauline research, I am working through Paul’s letters (chronologically, hypothetically as they were written) and looking at how cultic metaphors are used.  My last couple of months have been in 1 Thessalonians.  Compared to Galatians and Romans there is very little good research on 1-2 Thess., but that is slowly changing.  As far as commentaries go,  my favorite has been Charles Wanamaker, in many ways because his attention to social and rhetorical aspects are well balanced with the more traditional interest in history and ‘theology’.  After that, certainly Malherbe and Bruce are worthy of note, though I do not like the format of either the Anchor Series or the WBC.  One major advantage of the WBC is the bibliography that appears before each pericope or section, but Bruce’s commentary is old enough to be a bit outdated and does not account for the excellent research that has appeared in the last couple of decades.

 After that, I appreciate the briefly but still informative commentaries by Beale (IVP) and Gaventa (Interpretation) who both have expertise in things apocalyptic.  Raymond Collins has authored a series of essays on 1-2 Thessalonians and has edited a collection of essays (both from Leuven UP) and these represent the best of scholarship on Paul’s letters to Thessalonica.  In the future, we look forward to a commentary by Helmut Koester (Hermeneia) and by J. Weima (Baker) – both from very different theological backgrounds, but will have useful perspectives.

CK Barrett in the pulpit as a nonagenarian

My family and I attend a Methodist church in Durham and Ben Blackwell (another Methodist) told me CK Barrett was on the preaching schedule for our area’s circuit a few times this year.  keep in mind, he just turned 90.  So, we decided to travel a bit further than usual to Langley Park to a small village church with about 20 members (15 in attendence!).  Between Ben’s family, mine, and Mark Mathews (with his 3 kids), we doubled the church!

In the Methodist church, often the ‘preacher’ leads the whole service.  Barrett was quite mobile, but he had a great deal of trouble reading the hymnal and liturgy.  When it came to the scriptural passage, he carefully inspected the text with his magnifying glass and unfortunately had to skip sections where he could  not make out the words.  But…then he preached – I give him credit, he is a truly marvelous orator – even as a nonagenarian!

 He spoke about Acts 26 where Paul is before Agrippa and shares his ‘message’ about turning unbelievers from darkness to light.  Barrett said that he felt that anyone like Paul who had at least some Hellenistic education would have thought of Plato’s cave analogy.  Barrett took us through Plato’s metaphor of the cave and the world…but Barrett explained that there is cognitive dissonance when you try to understand how that first person is able to break the chains and turn to see the true forms.  Barrett explained that the Christian gospel is able to bridge that logical gap with the person of Christ.

I certainly did not explain his ideas with the sweet rhetoric that he did on Sunday, but take my word for it – it was a real treasure to see Barrett as a pastor who uses his academic wisdom for the betterment of ‘everyday’ believers.  We spoke to him briefly afterwards and he was warm and kind.  To speak to him personally you would not know who he was.  He was a gentle, humble man.  To hear him preach, you still see the fire of a new testament scholar, and the passion of a preacher and expositor. 

I am happy to see Durham staff members participate in the life of the church.  My own supervisor, Stephen Barton, is an anglican minister and he also tries to bring his learnedness to a level digestible by the church – he is an inspiration to me in many ways.

Thank you, Barrett.  May your academic and ecclesiastical legacy carry on.