Sunday, February 11, 2007

2 Peter & Jude Interview - Bob Webb

Dr. Robert L. Webb is a Canadian scholar who specializes in both the Historical Jesus and the Catholic Epistles. Bob was also Michael Bird's associate supervisor for his Ph.D thesis (so blame him!) and Bob has written or edited several volumes including John the Baptizer and Prophet: A Sociohistorical Study (1991), Nag Hammadi Texts and the Bible (1993), Jesus and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004), and Reading James with New Eyes (2007). He is also editor of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus.

MB: You have chosen two areas of specialization in your research, historical Jesus and the Catholic Epistles, what prompted your interest in these two areas?

BW: My interest in historical Jesus was spawned by a desire to round out my study of the NT, for I had focused on Paul in my M.Div. thesis and on 1Peter in my Th.M. thesis. I wanted to do something in the Gospels, and the subject of historical Jesus was (and still is) a hot topic. It sparked my interest and has held it ever since. My interest in the General Letters arose out of my Th.M. thesis. I find these "more neglected" books provide abreadth of diversity to NT studies that is lacking if one only focuses on Paul.

MB: In your view, what are the best arguments for and against Petrine authorship of 2 Peter? Where do you come out on that one?

BW: Well, to answer you first question, I'll say, "See my commentary when it is out." But on the second one, I do conclude that 2 Peter is a pseudepigraphic text.

MB: Does postulating 2 Peter as a 'Testament' or as 'pseudonymous' adversely affect one's view of biblical inspiration and the canonization of the NewTestament?

BW: Not in the least. I view this somewhat simply: The reason the books of the NT are considered authoritative and therefore canonical is because they are understood to be inspired by the Spirit of God. It is on the basis of their divine origin that they are authoritative, and not on the basis of the particular human author that was the inspired instrument. While these texts are fully inspired they are also fully human, in that human processes--including language, style, rhetoric, etc., but also pseudepigraphy--could be used in the process.

MB: What is your take on the reference to the transfiguration in 2 Peter 1.16-18?

BW: I'm not quite sure what you're getting at with this question, but my understanding of these verses is contrary to most modern commentators. Most understand the phrase in v. 16, "the power and coming" of Christ (better translated "powerful coming") as referring to the yet-future coming of Christ. In this view, then, the author uses the transfiguration in vv. 17-18 as proof of this claim about "the powerful coming", and so the transfiguration must then interpreted as somehow proleptically anticipatingthe yet-future coming of Christ. In contrast, my view is that the referentof the phrase "the powerful coming" of Christ (v. 16) is to the first coming of Christ; that is, to the past life of Jesus understood as a "powerful coming" in which God manifests himself as coming to his people in the ministry of the earthly Jesus. In this view, then, the transfiguration in vv. 17-18 supports this claim: the glorification and the heavenly voice demonstrate what God was doing in the ministry of the earthly Jesus, and in this view the transfiguration does not need to be 'transformed' (bad pun) into a proleptic anticipation of Christ's yet-future coming. Again, for full argumentation I'll refer you to my commentary.

MB: When Jude quotes 1 Enoch, does he think of Enoch as Scripture and did Jude really believe that Enoch uttered the prophecy that he is purported tohave?

BW: I'm not sure that it is quite as cut-and-dried as your question implies, for it depends on how one is using the term "scripture." So I'll answer but without using the term. Jude views Enoch as a text that has weight/authority in his community and was understood to convey truth. And so he cites it. Did he think it actually went back to Enoch? No. I think most literate people in his day would understand the genre characteristics of pseudepigraphic texts of apocalypses like 1 Enoch.

MB: What benefits are there to a socio-rhetorical interpretation of 2 Peter and Jude?

BW: A socio-rhetorical reading (as per Vernon Robbins' understanding) provide a inter-woven tapestry of ways of understanding how texts convey meaning. Thus a full socio-rhetorical interpretation provides an opportunity to explore a text from these various perspectives. It helps one to surface elements that might be missed otherwise.

MB: What do you think is the significance of 2 Peter and Jude for Christians today?

BW: The significance(s) will vary depending upon the context of today's readers. But to make one, rather general observation, truth still matters, whether doctrinal or ethical.

MB: You are the head of the Methodological Reassessments of the Letters ofJames, Peter, and Jude section at SBL. What has that seminar done in the past and what are they doing in the future?

BW: We are actually a "consultation" which has a three-year mandate: examine each of these letters in light of recent methodological developments thatare most often applied first to either the Gospels or to Pauline literature. So, we are exploring such methods as socio-rhetorical readings, post-colonial readings, narrative readings, etc. These are showing the riches that can be gleaned from fresh readings of these texts. We are going into the third of our three years. We intend to follow up with an application to become a full-blown section with a longer mandate. We will probably drop the "Methodological Reassessments" element in our name and simply focus continued study on these letters. We have not yet developed any particular themes yet.

MB: You are currently writing a commentary on 2 Peter and Jude, any idea on a possible publication date?

BW: [Sigh!] Writing a good commentary has proven far harder than I had ever thought! Knowing what it takes to write a good one has helped me understand why there are so many poor commentaries on the market. I hope to be finished within the next two years.

MB: Thanks Bob!

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