Back from San Diego
I’m back from the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, this year in San Diego, a busy but enjoyable four days of conference. Aside from the sun and warm temperatures (25-27 Celsius), there were numerous interesting sessions and lots opportunities to chat with colleagues and long-time friends, many of whom I see only at this event annually.
Saturday morning, there was a panel discussion of Bart Ehrman’s recent book, How Jesus Became God. I’ve blogged on the book earlier here and (with amendments) here, and reviewed the book in Christian Century, the review available here. So, my own contribution was mainly some positive and critical observations already published. But in this session I focused more on assessing how well the book served to inform fairly a general public about the matters discussed, and offered a mixed verdict. My main complaint is that on some controversial matters, Ehrman seems to me to present his/one side of the argument without indicating that or why other competent scholars see things differently. If all you want to do is push your own ideas, I guess that’s what you do. But if you want to give a fair indication of scholarly opinion, then I think you have to do better.
As I’ve noted in earlier postings and reviews of the book, there are also some curious statements such as the claim repeated a couple of times in the book that the orthodox doctrine of Jesus’ “incarnation” is that the heavenly Son became “temporarily human.” In fact, from Paul’s letters onward, so-called “orthodox” Christians emphasized that Jesus was and remains genuinely human, necessarily so because his resurrection and glorification are the model and promise of the future salvation of believers (e.g., Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:1-3). But, on a number of other matters, Ehrman does a decent job of explaining things. I was, however, a bit disappointed that so much of the session was occupied by Bart and Craig Evans arguing over warrants for judging whether Jesus was or wasn’t buried, when there were other substantial issues that could have been engaged as well. In any case, it’s already hit the New York Times best-seller list and so will likely promote a wide popular interest in the fascinating phenomenon that I’ve researched and written about over some 35 years: the early and vigorous eruption and development of devotion to Jesus, particularly the constellation of beliefs and devotional practices that are already taken as traditional in Paul’s letters (from ca. 50-60 CE).
The highlight of Saturday evening was a dinner at a Brazilian steak house, along with a number of contributors to the volume of essays: Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism: Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter Roth (the publisher’s online catalogue entry here. I am genuinely touched by those who contributed to the volume, and myself honoured by it.
My own other presentation was a fresh autopsy analysis of P22 (P.Oxyrhynchus 1228), two fragments of a 3rd century CE copy of the Gospel of John, housed in the Glasgow University Library. I posted on the results of my study earlier here. The essay is to appear in a multi-author volume in due course.