Saturday, September 05, 2009

BNTC 2009

I've just got back from the 2009 BNTC in Aberdeen (wonderfully chereographed by Dr. Andrew Clark). Like 2008 in Durham, once more, the rain adversely effected my travel from the event. My poor wife came to join me at the conference but her 2 hr train ride from Inverness to Aberdeen ended up taking 6 hrs due to a diversion through Perth and Dundee! Enough about the infernal Scottish weather, here's my summation:

The setting in Kings College was lovely and proved to meet all our needs, although the corridor that included the tea/coffee area and bookstall was a bit crowded at times. The food was fantastic and I always like Aberdonian Angus Beef on the menu. Several new books were there including Michael Lattke's magnum opus The Odes of Solomon in the Hermeneia series. James Crossley and I autographed a book for one dear lady who brought How Did Christianity Begin? and was amazed that both authors were present to sign her book. Good to catch up with friends in the NT world and was most glad that chaps like Todd Still and Bruce Longenecker had made the effort to arrive from Texas. So all you Yanks should come over and see how NT study is supposed to be done at the BNTC.

Excellent papers this year. Todd Klutz on the Eighth Book of Moses showed that Morton Smith's translation and postulation of three underlying texts was erroneous. At the Paul Group, there was a good presentation by Jeremy Hultin on "Watch Your Mouth: What the Prohibitions of Foul Language Tell Us about Colossians and Ephesians" and he nearly convinced me that eutrapeia means "wittiness" in a positive sense which is censured based on a model of sacred social space. I still think that based on context, it has to have some negative connotation of "coarse" or "vulgar" joking (if wit in general is out of bounds, then I'm in a lot of trouble). The juxtaposition with "thanksgiving" is also strange, but it was a good paper overall. The Paul group then had a panel discussion on "Does Romans Need Addresses?" with Philip Esler, Peter Oakes, Francis Watson, and Angus Paddison. I think Francis Watson brough up some great stuff when he pointed out that all historical-critics and exegetes want to say "yes", but often in the history of interpretation Romans has been interpreted without reference to a concrete social situation being imagined. Everyone rejected Karl Barth's notion that the differences between "now" and "then" are from "trivial" as Barth alleged. Even so, theological interpretation is not opposed to historical situatedness. David Parker continued on with the good tradition of text-critical papers at BNTC. His presentation on "Variants and Variance" had lots of pictures and funny quotes from ancient manuscipts (reminds me a bit of Peter Williams' paper back in 2006 on the prologue of John's Gospel).

On the final day I attended the second temple literature group and enjoyed Jim Davilla's paper on The Book of Revelation and the Hekhalot Literature which showed the various parallels between the two, but wisely did not postulate any kind of literary relationship, preferring instead a common origin in Jewish mystical traditions. After that was Darrell Hannah on "The Elect son of man of the Parables of Enoch" which pointed out that the son of man is pre-existent, not just in name, but ontologically as well. The son of man is known, named, and preserved ahead of his disclosure to all mankind. Regarding 1 Enoch 70.1 where Enoch is identified as the Son of Man, many suggestions have been put forward. Hannah looked at some evidence from Ethiopic texts which insert a preposition to the effect that Enoch is lifted up to the son of man, rather than identified as the son of man, but as Hannah notes, it is not persuasive. More likely (and I agree) the association of son of man with Enoch is a secondary interpolation designed to respond to Christian identifications of the Son of Man with Jesus. That said, and what Larry Hurtado brought up, the current edition of 1 Enoch still works as we get a surprising twist as to who the son of man is at the end of the parables of Enoch - none other than Enoch himself. Finally, Helen Bond's paper on "Josephus on Herod the Great, Domestic Intrigue, and the Politics of First Century Judaea" was a treat that focuses on Josephus' literary account of Herod in book one of Jewish War. She surmizes that Josephus' switch from a positive to negative portrayal of Herod is designed to show that kingship is a bad idea, whereas Israel should be ruled by Rome through a priestly theocracy instead. I think it works, but as several quesitoners pointed out, Josephus may be doing no more than following similar accounts of Judean kings who started well but finished poorly (e.g., David).


Dunc and Als said...

Thanks for the review.

But what makes you think you're in trouble if there is a prohibition on wittiness? :)

Eilidh said...

I hope you took notes from the Josephus paper!!

Mark said...

Michael - I too was in the Paul section@BNTC and very much enjoyed the papers there. I'm not sure the fact that a bunch of NT scholars universally rejecting Barth's rejection of contextualisation was a big surprise - turkeys and Christmas comes to mind. Barth thought theology belonged to Church before academy and to preaching before academic papers and they don't, so 'you do the math'.

But to be honest I thought (afterwards): Barth really did't get a fair run out - heremeneutical distance is trivial for him in a specific and special sense, I think. His point in Romans was that (i) the human condition (and its solution!) commensurates over 20 centuries, (ii) that this condition is a fundamental concern of the Epistle and (iii) that any reading of Romans that does not carry the force of this point has done it less than justice. His doctrine of Scripture allowed him take up the best of H-C scholarship - he was happy to go where the evidence (of his day) took him. And then said: but if you haven't heard the book on sin and salvation you still haven't interpreted Romans properly. He wanted, indeed insisted, on the closing of the hermeneutical distance because he thought that the ears of every generation are just as closed to this message.

I felt like in that Seminar session that we were close to overhearing a secular post-modern conversation about the doctrine of Scripture. Here the contributions differed. I wondered from John Barclay's comments if Scripture has any normative status or is just another text the relevance of whose meaning is to be explored qua text not qua Scripture; Elser's radical disjuntion between 'then' and 'now' left me thinking that the text only has exemplary status; it struck me that Waston's advocacy of exegesis as the way of closing the hermeneutical space was actually very Barthian (as I think he is at times, though I think Barth would mean by exegesis that Scriptural exposition is key); Eddie Adams question got close to a another point: Can we justify a special place for Romans as 'canonical focus' - which was close to asking (I thought): Were the Reformers right to put Romans front and centre? The whole 'audience' question veered towards a conversation about normativity (verboten territory) without really getting there and thus (inevitably) missing Barth somewhat.

There is lots to disagree with in Barth but in my view his insistence that the true interpretation of Romans necessarily involves facing the audience of every generation with the challenge of its message of sin and redemption is not one of them.

Thanks for the blog!

Mark Bonnington