Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SBL Retrospective: The Sessions

More than a month after the conference, this SBL retrospective is late (see early notes here and here)--but it is only a little later than last year's, and I'd like to comment on a few of the sessions in more detail later on. Without further apology:

As I feared, I spent most of Friday and Saturday confined to my hotel room, finishing up my paper for the Sunday morning Josephus section. However, I did make it out to the Friday evening IBR session to hear Tremper Longman try to justify why we still need more commentaries, to overdose on dessert, and to pick up my free book. (Joel Willitts summarizes Longman's main points here; Doug Chaplin isn't persuaded; my reaction is still percolating.)

On Saturday, I missed a couple good sessions on Romans (21-230, 21-336). Fortunately for me, Andy Rowell recorded the second session. I also missed the Bible Software Shootout (21-313). (According to the word on the street [scroll down for more links], the program I used most often didn't shine, but I have yet to hear it from Bibleworks's perspective.)

On Saturday evening I emerged for David Clines's presidential address. This was, perhaps, an odd choice, since the presidential addresses are always published in JBL, and they can be rather dull. But I was curious to hear what Clines had to say on the subject of "Learning, Teaching, and Researching Biblical Studies." Instead of the radical post-modern presentation I was expecting, Clines gave a good lecture on the importance of focusing on teaching, and teaching well. His enthusiastic defense of student-centred learning will not have been new to anyone familiar with the field of pedagogy, but it was refreshing to hear in this context.

9:00-11:30 a.m. Josephus - My paper to an intimate audience of about a dozen people seemed to go well despite competition from the session next door. When it was over the chair invited the panelists to join the other members of the group for lunch. A highlight of the conference.

1:00-3:30 p.m. - I caught the tail end of Eric Meyers's presentation on Archaeology in Galilee (22-203), and then walked down to view the Mississippi, and do a little shopping.

4:00-6:30 p.m. Historical Jesus (22-324) - Panel review of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 4: Law and Love. The comments by the Jewish scholars Lawrence Schiffman and Adele Reinhartz (as well as Meier's responses) were especially interesting. I decided to purchase the book.

7:00-9:00 p.m. New Testament Theology (22-403) - A panel discussion focusing primarily on Udo Schnelle's new New Testament Theology. I stayed long enough to decide that I could let the dust settle before trying to read (or purchase) any of the spate of NT Theologies that have been published in the last 5 years. Too many new books.

9:00-11:30 Pauline Epistles (23-138) - Several good papers and vigorous discussion. I had to smile when one presenter commented disparagingly about the "justification by faith" paradigm and the next referred critically to "the so-called New Perspective on Paul." My favorite was Akio Ito's impressively clear and helpful paper on Romans 8:10: "'The Spirit is Life' or 'the Spirit is Alive.'"

1:00-3:30 Pauline Soteriology (23-233) - Panel Review of Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God in which Campbell tries to show that he is not the Emperor. (This is not a negative judgement on Campbell's thesis--I haven't read his 1200+ page book yet--but from his presentation it appears the stakes are that high.)

4:00-6:30 Wandered the book exhibit; decided not to purchase books.


10:00-11:30 Book of Acts (24-106).

All in all, a fine conference with stimulating sessions, good conversations (not included in this review), a few new books, and a couple regrets. I wish, for example, that I had shared Bruce Fisk's experience exploring the lower ninth ward---or had even thought of the idea.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Final grades submitted yesterday.
End-of-term paperwork completed this afternoon.
Tomorrow we leave for Montana to catch the Empire Builder to Portland. So begins two weeks of much needed time away. There will be some course prep too, and, hopefully, a return to blogging... later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Paul, Mission and the End of the World Part II

When I checked the article on "mission" in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters this morning, I was happy to see that Paul Bowers agrees with me:
[F]or Paul the most decisive event of the End had already taken place in Jesus Christ....Throughout his letters the references and allusions to his sense of mission habitually take orientation from this consciousness. For him the End had already arrived, eschatological expectation had given way to eschatological experience, and the long-expected ingathering of the nations was now being fulfilled. He conceived of his Gentile mission as eschatological in nature principally not by virtue of some connection with a yet future event but by virtue of its evident connections with a past one.

That Paul did see a link between the Gentile mission and the Parousia is evident from Romans 11, but the exact nature of the relationship is left unemphasized and obscure in Paul's treatment, and no other Pauline texts clearly take up this particular theme. - W. Paul Bowers, "Mission," Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (InterVarsity, 1993), 617-618.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Paul and the End of the World: Reflections on Romans 15:19

Ever since hearing Robert Jewett give an illustrated presentation on "Paul's Mission in the Light of Ancient Maps," I have been intrigued by the idea that Paul's "missionary methods" were driven by his eschatology--by his conviction that spreading the Gospel would speed the parousia.

Jewett bases his interpretation on the Peutinger Map (pictured above), a medieval copy of a much earlier Roman map, that may have been based originally on a 1st century BCE original. According to, "The eleven sheets of parchment have a total length of 680 cm and are just over 33 cm high." The twelth sheet is missing, but most likely included the Iberian peninsula. On the eastern end, the map extended as far as India; the city of Rome was at the center of the world. (See here and here for more details).

With a height of 33 cm, the map is not to scale: Jewett observes that "Palestine is depicted as a strip of land with sea at the top and bottom, with the Jordan River system flowing horizontally and Jerusalem located above the Dead Sea" (Romans [Hermeneia; Fortress, 2007], 913 n. 112). But Jewett appears to suppose that rather than being a schematic subway-like map (so Livius), the map conveys an ancient view of the world--one that Romans 15:19 indicates that Paul shared:
“With this geographic framework, it is not at all mysterious that Paul would have thought of Illyricum as lying on a circle from Jerusalem, and that Illyricum was the closest point he had reached on the route to Rome. His framework is not chronological but, given his worldview, geographic—and eschatological, for the early Christian mission aimed at completing the circle around the known world centered in the Mediterranean, before the parousia" (Jewett, Romans, 913, citing Knox and Barrett for the relatively common suggestion about mission and the parousia).
James M. Scott has apparently argued similarly that Paul (1) viewed Jerusalem as the center of the world much like other Jews (cf. Ezek 5:5; Acts 2:5-13) and (2) that Paul's Gentile mission strategy was informed by the list of nations in Genesis 10. "Scott . . . suggests that Paul particularly longed to go to Spain because it was the last of the sons of Japheth who needed to be included for the fullness of the Gentiles to come in (Rom. 11:25)" (Schreiner, Romans [Baker, 1998], 769 summarizing Scott).

Moo responds to an earlier version of Jewett's model (defended by scholars such as Barrett and Dunn) by arguing that Paul's reference to "fulfilling the Gospel" in Romans 15:19 is merely a statement of good mission strategy rather than the fulfilment of an eschatological hope: "That Paul saw himself as a significant figure in salvation history, with a central role in the Gentile mission, is clear; but that he thought his own efforts would bring that mission to its conclusion is not clear at all" (Moo, Romans [Eerdmans: 1996], 893-4]).  

I am wondering about a third mediating possibility:
  1. Despite other passages, such as Col 1:24-29 and 2 Peter 3:9-12, I am not (yet) convinced by the argument that early Christians believed their work in spreading the Gospel would hasten the Day of the Lord, and that this urgency and sense of imminence motivated Paul's mission activity. 
  2. But what if Paul thought the coming in of the Gentiles signaled that the end had already begun? According to Tom Schreiner, "it is likely that the language used here reflects prophecies from the OT where the 'word of the Lord' has its inception in Jerusalem (Isa. 2:1-4; Mic. 4:1-4), and the Gentiles stream there to hear God's torah. Paul probably saw this prophecy fulfilled in his ministry" (Romans, 769). With Scott, Paul may have combined passages such as Isa 2:1-4 with the table of nations in Genesis 10.
On this reading, Paul is not hastening the day, he is living in it...while still anticipating its final fulfilment.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Anti-Evangelical Bias in Graduate Schools

For those who have been following the tempest-in-a-biblioblog-teapot* caused by Dan Wallace's post** complaining against anti-Dallas Seminary bias among Biblical Scholars, AKMA's comment (scroll down to #38) on the Jesus Creed is the most helpful I've read yet. There's plenty of good advice in the comment thread for students interested in graduate schools too. Update: Don't miss Scot McKnight's response. And Tony Jones's.

*For other posts on the same general subject see Biblia Hebraica, kata ta biblia, Exploring Our Matrix.
**And no, I haven't read all 513 comments in Wallace's comment thread. And yes, I'm baffled by Wallace's claim that most biblical scholars aren't Christians.

For my own thoughts on the intersection between faith and scholarship, see here and here.

In case you are wondering, I'm still recovering from SBL and end-of-term busyness....