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Back from “The Big Show” in Baltimore

November 29, 2013

I returned Wednesday this week (27 Nov) from the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (this year in Baltimore), 23-26 November, hence the lack of postings for the last week or so.  With ca. 10 thousand registered, hundreds of sessions (scores held simultaneously), and many hundreds of presentations, it is impossible to do more there than choose a few sessions of special interest.

I gave a paper in a session observing 2013 as the centenary of the publication of Wilhelm Bousset’s classic book, Kyrios Christos.  The papers from that session are to appear in due course in the journal Early Christianity.  The English translation of the book appeared in 1970, indicative of its continuing importance in the field of Christian Origins, and it was good that Baylor University Press obtained the rights to re-publish that translation (out in October this year), to which I contributed a new Foreword in which I surveyed the reception of the book, both the earlier German editions and also the English translation.

I also attended the Mark Seminar sessions, which featured a number of papers on various interesting topics.  The discussions in that group are always animated, but remain cordial and civil, an excellent example!  This year, for instance, there was vigorous discussion following a paper arguing essentially that Mark reflects a view of Jesus as simply a Messiah, and denying any “transcendent” dimension in the Markan narrative of Jesus.

In another session, there were interesting papers on the Public Reading of Texts in Early Christianity.  Michael Holmes considered various proposals for the origin, transmission and collection of the Pauline letter corpus.  And a young scholar from Lund, Dan Nasselqvist, discussed the various “readers aids” in early Christian biblical manuscripts, engaging my proposal that these reflect an accommodation to a diversity of “sub-elite” readers.

In addition, there were the many informal chats with colleagues from around the world, and perhaps the largest display of books in religion from hundreds of publishers.  Quite a show!  But now, back to my desk and the several things I’ve committed to write.

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  1. Tommy Wasserman permalink

    I was recently appointed an examining reader of Dan Nässelkvist’s thesis and will soon receive the material to read and respond to in a seminar in February. I am looking forward to it. His presentation at the SBL (his first time) was a small part of the material. I have been in contact with Dan for some years and pointed him to important publications relevant to his topic (including your work Larry).

    • I too was impressed by Nasselkvist’s interest and involvement in manuscript study, and will look forward to more from him. My only major concern about his SBL paper was that it seemed to presuppose public readers of ancient Greek texts as taking them up “cold” and without preparing themselves to read the manuscript, and so the paper was in danger of setting up a false set of alternatives: either such unprepared reading or private reading. Of course, even with the “readers aids” found often in early Christian biblical manuscripts, the texts would present some difficulty for most ancient readers if they simply took them up without going over them in advance. But that was never suggested. I take the “readers aids” supplied by early Christian copyists as intended to guide the lector in preparing to read the texts, suggesting “sub-elite” readers who could benefit from such guidance.

  2. Rick permalink

    Dear Larry, first of all sorry for my englis! My question is about the preexistence of Jesus. I would like to believe but from my lecture of the Gospels I have a lot of doubts. Can you recommend me any book in order to have more information about this essential matter for me? Thank you very much in advance

    • There are two questions in your query, Rick: (1) Do the Gospels affirm the “preexistence” of Jesus, and (2) do you believe . . . in Jesus’ preexistence (?) or that the Gospels do so?? I can only address the first question. GJohn certainly affirms Jesus’ “preexistence” in the opening 18 verses. The question, then, is whether the Synoptics do. I think most scholars would agree that there is no explicit affirmation of preexistence in them. The question is whether there are “hints” of this idea. For the argument that they do, see Simon J. Gathercole, The Pre-Existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), but Gathercole hasn’t persuaded everyone. The idea of Jesus’ preexistence seems to have surfaced decades earlier than the Gospels, and is reflected in Paul’s letters (e.g., Philippians 2:6-11). So, it would have been strange for the Gospels authors to be ignorant of the idea. But it obviously didn’t form a sufficiently crucial part of the emphases of the Synoptic writers to treat it.

  3. Professor Hurtado,

    Denying any “transcendent” dimension in the Markan narrative of Jesus would make it difficult to account for e.g. the transfiguration, the nature miracles and possibly the parable of the vinyard owner in Mark 12 1-9 culminating in the killing of the owner’s son by the tenants?

    • Well, yes, and many (including me) would agree with that. The author of the paper, however, contended that all these simply show a Spirit-endowed human Messiah. In my view, this comprises a false-alternative. But we scholars will likely continue to argue about the matter.

  4. Maybe what he is seeing is not about the nature of Jesus himself, but about how this particular author preferred to portray Jesus to his reading audience. . . . .

    • Howard: I’ve edited down your comment to what I think is your essential point, that GMark presents Jesus with particular emphases and purposes. Yes, certainly, for example, the presentation of Jesus in GMark seems particularly focused on Jesus as examplar for (Christian) readers, so both basis of their redemption/discipleship and also the pattern for it. That hardly would constitute evidence that the author is ignorant of, or rejects, a “transcendent” dimension to Jesus’ significance (as I suspect you’ll agree).

  5. Ali Hussain permalink

    As a person (who started reading the Gospels with a preconceived notion that they present Jesus as divine) , after reading them my view is that baring John the others do not present Jesus as divine . They frequently emphasize his limitations , his ignorance of various things , his human nature , dependence on God for performing the miracles , his prayers to God for help etc . How could the authors who wrote the synoptics could have ascribed such things to God had they thought him as divine ?

    • Ali, Your bringing to the question a rather over-simplified notion that for the writers to regard Jesus as “divine” he can’t have been human. But the remarkable thing about the Gospels (and what became “mainstream” christianity) is that there is both a robust affirmation that Jesus really was (and remains) truly human, and also truly partakes in God’s glory, functions, attributes, etc., and with God is worthy of worship. It’s wasn’t for them a “zero sum game”. Indeed, as I’ve observed in the chapter on the Gospels in my book, Lord Jesus Christ, the remarkable emphasis of all four Gospels is that Jesus is a Jew, from Galilee, locating him geographically, culturally, historically, even linguistically in specific time, location, etc. This is true also of Gospel of John. But it would be a mistake to think that this signified any reluctance to grant Jesus divine-like status. To be sure, they avoid (as does Paul & other NT writers) any hint of making Jesus a second or rival deity. Instead, he shares in the glory of the one God.

  6. Will any of the papers presented be available online for us to read?

  7. I’m curious, according to the view of Jesus as messiah, what date would be assigned to the gospel. Would such a view not necessarily push its composition up to the forty’s or early fifties?

    • Well, the position advocated in the paper in question does raise the sort of question you pose. I presume that the author holds a more generally-held view of the date of Mark, ca. 70 CE. That would make it curious for Mark to be naïve of, or resistant to, the sort of view of Jesus as worthy of cultic reverence and as sharing in divine glory that we have taken for granted in Paul’s letters from the 50s. Several of us, at least, were not persuaded by the presenter’s position on the matter and felt that Mark does reflect a view of Jesus as a Messiah having “transcendent” significance (as well as being the exemplar for disciples).

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