Sunday, September 03, 2006

BNTC 2006 Highlights (For Me)

The BNTC in Sheffield was a glowing success. Congrats to the Sheffield biblical studies department for organizing a good show. It was the first BNTC that Mark Goodacre had missed in 10 years, and my first BNTC. I arrived a day early and got to walk around Sheffield (in the pouring rain) which included a look around the bookshops, checking out the library, and browsing the botanical gardens.

Graham Stanton's paper "Messianism and Christology: Mark, Matthew and Luke", was of natural interest to me since I'm working on a rolling project on Messianism in the Gospels (publishing one article a year on the subject). In the seminar groups, the Jesus Seminar,
James Crossley presented a rationale for a secular/socio-economic approach to historical Jesus studies. James did not convince everyone that "conversion" is essentially about sociological integration and any persuasion of beliefs is secondary. My own paper on Matt 8.11-12/Luke 13.28-29 went okay, although Maurice Casey and James Crossley took exception to my view of the temple demonstration was (partly) concerned with censuring Jewish nationalism, but I'll throw in my load with Wright, Evans, and Davies.

Crispin Fletcher-Louis gave a provocative paper on "Jewish Monotheism and NT Christology: Reflections on Recent Developments" and his idea that humans are the idols/icons of God was much pondered.

Peter Williams gave a superb lecture (both in content and in presentation) on the prologue of John's Gospel noting that the early ms and early interpreters usually make the breaks at v. 5 and sometimes v. 14.

Maurice Casey's main paper on "The Solution to the Son of Man Problem" was a summary of his research on the topic and follows up on Vermes' proposal of "bar enasha" as a self-reference.

I got to meet John Nolland (another member of the Aussie biblical studies Diaspora) and Sean Winter.

For me the highlight was the Acts seminar where we debated the unity of Luke-Acts. I gave an overview of research since 1993 and C. Kavin Rowe (Duke) and Andrew Gregory (Oxford) in turn presented their own ideas in relation to reception-history and what that contributes to the topic (see the 2005 issue of JSNT). Steve Walton put together a good and interesting seminar.

Andrew T. Lincoln was elected as the new present of BNTC and in talking with Andrew I learned that he actually reads this blog ocassionally - so congrats to Andrew.


James Crossley said...

Good to see you there Mike.

Got to say, I thought the conversion issue was brought down to a faith issue and not an academic one. One reason I think this is because it was only something I mentioned in passing and referenced my forthcoming work on this.

There is a mass of sociological literature on this, first century Christian and Greco-Roman material presented by JT Sanders and developed Rodney Stark, and early Jewish material by Shaye Cohen. I've added various things to these approaches (forthcoming). Yet I was constantly being told - including someone who had not been to the paper but reacted when I said what I worked on - that this was not the case because the sociological stuff is all based on modern western societies (which is not true) and that Acts says things happened by argument (typical in confessional responses and ignoring of social networks, including those of god-fearers, which is precisely how a debate could occur). In terms of conversion through social networks, it is a fairly conventional view among those who study such aspects of conversion in the ancient world and based on lots of detailed evidence.

The reactions of the couple of people who disagreed with me were virtually the same as the reactions found among the people being studied by sociologists and those people unhappy were all of a conservative evangelical persuasion. No proper counter argument was given. This is why it seems pretty clear I was dealing with a faith issue and not an academic one which is more for church and not an academic conference. As I've said, I have no problem with all perspectives but when debate gets reduced to this then the whole issue gets very problematic.

James Crossley said...

Incidentally, when I said 'typical in confessional responses' in brackets I meant those studied by sociologists.

Michael F. Bird said...

James, I don't have a problem with conversion having a sociological dimension, either resulting in sociological integration or being motivated by a desire to join a certain group, that's clear as day to me. But "social integration" is not the only reason why people convert. In some cases they are simply persuaded to adopt a new religious, ethical or social beliefs. That is not my own confessional/conversionist viewpoint retrojected onto the evidence, it also how historians see conversion happening. See the studies by Beverly Gaventa, Scot McKnight and Peder Borgen, and A.D Nock.

James Crossley said...

Yes, and this is why time after time after time sociologists come up with results between 50-100% of conversions through social networks. In virtually all cases you need a social network or friendship group to be able to argue. In terms of argument alone you will get nowhere in a historical explanation because it is basic description and a completely different issue to what I try to discuss.

Derek Brown said...

Thanks for the rundown Michael, it sounds like the conference was a good time. Crispin Fletcher-Louis' paper really intrigued me...any further descriptions of it (publishing date)?


Joel Willitts said...

James and Mike:

I am sorry I was not able to be at BNTS this year. I am especially disappointed not to have participated in the discussion. I realize I am only privy to your conversation here, but James I think you are spot on when you say that people are converted through social networks. Thus studying conversion from a sociological angel is totally appropriate. However, it is not necessarily the only way one can approach the question, even historically.

James Crossley said...

Hello again Joel (and well done on all the things since I last saw you!).

I think you are exactly right and that's why I was disappointed with some of the debate over this (this was also beyond the seminar incidentally): that a couple of people were just not having the social network side and coming up with all sorts of unfounded claims. I know some people find this threatening but I don't see why. Interestingly one evangelical actually came up to me and said that this is the way mission should be practised!

steph said...

Lots of good and fascinating fun - especially the discussions, tangents and diversions. I like the thought of studying from a sociological angel. Almost an oxymoron. On the other hand he could be truly inspired. (Now I'm being truly pedantic)

Joel Willitts said...

sorry for "angel"; of course I meant "angle" but my spelling when quicking writing is admittedly horrible

steph said...

Don't apologise! Nice typo given the context, so thank you for the fun! Mind you I had to double check that angel wasn't just American spelling.