Sunday, September 09, 2007

CONFERENCE REPORT (British New Testament Conference 2007):

Here are a few notes and thoughts gathered from this year's BNTC. I should emphasize that these are just my random thoughts about things that happened to make an impression on me, and there's no claim that they are complete, representative, or balanced.

The most interesting thing I learned was in the Social World of the NT Seminar in a session on magic. In the discussion of a stimulating paper by Helen Ingram, it was noted that in the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11, Jesus is said, oddly, twice (vv. 33, 38) to have "sighed deeply" before bringing Lazarus back to life. It seems that the actual meaning of this Greek word is "to snort like a horse," which rather changes one's mental image of the episode and raises the possibility that Jesus was engaging in a ritual performance of the sort known from ancient magical texts (and cf. Mark 7:31-37, esp. v. 34).

Later, in the NT & Second Temple Judaism Seminar we had a good discussion of the Testament of Abraham, on which I have also written in my book. I have grave reservations about the Testament of Abraham's use as "New Testament background," to which use it is still put today. My concerns have to do with doubts about its provenance: in the book I outline three possible origins, as a Jewish composition, a Christian composition, and a composition by a God-Fearer. The problem is that none of the scenarios provides a background in which the text makes complete sense. This may be in part because it has been transmitted rather freely, with a long recension, a short recension, and some variants of the latter surviving, none of which represents the original. But the incoherence of the document may lie even deeper, and we discussed the implications of recent suggestions that it contains a significant element of comedy (see the book by Jared Ludlow). I'm wondering now if trying to distil a coherent and systematic eschatology or theology of repentance from the Testament of Abraham is a little like trying to do the same for movies like Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey or Dogma (also here). That would explain a lot.

I mentioned Larry Hurtado's plenary address in the preceding post. Rather than try to summarize the lecture from my notes, I'll just quote the publisher's blurb on his book from Amazon:
Much attention has been paid to the words of the earliest Christian texts, yet Larry Hurtado argues that an even more telling story is being overlooked — that of the physical texts themselves. Well known for his nimble scholarship, Hurtado combines his comprehensive knowledge of Christian origins with an archivist’s eye to make sense of these earliest objects of the faith.

Hurtado introduces readers to the staurogram, possibly the first representation of the cross, the nomina sacra, a textual abbreviation system, and the puzzling early Christian preference for book-like texts over scrolls. Intended for intellectually engaged readers as well as New Testament scholars and students, The Earliest Christian Artifacts introduces the distinctive features of early Christian manuscripts, illustrating their relevance for wider inquiry into the ancient history of Christianity.
The manuscript-as-artifact is an area that is finally getting the attention it deserves, and I look forward to reading Larry's book.

Larry Hurtado lectures. Helen Bond is in the chair.

One other note on his lecture: at one point he commented in passing that 99% of the Oxyrhynchus papyri remain unpublished and are mostly still just sitting in boxes, unscrutinized. I believe he also said that about 5000 fragments have been published, which would leave, what, half a million to go? My Pseudepigrapha radar always lights up when I hear things like this. There are a few Old Testament Pseudepigrapha fragments among the published Oxyrhynchus texts. (off the top of my head I can think of a manuscript of 2 Baruch, a manuscript of 1 Enoch, and a reference to the Book of Jubilees ["Little Genesis") in a letter.) That implies that another hundred or more fragments and references remain to be identified in the unpublished materials. I guess those will have await the attention of some future "More More Testament Pseudepigrapha Project."

Finally, a message to Mark Goodacre: Cat Smith and Helen Ingram send their love.

If you'd been here, Mark, this could have been you.

Many thanks to Cherryl Hunt, Louise Lawrence, David Horrell, and their postgraduate assistants Dom, John, and Frances for all their hard work to give us a very successful conference.

UPDATE: Mark responds. (And happy belated blogiversary to his New Testament Gateway blog and also to David Meadows's Rogue Classicism.)

UPDATE: Reviews of Hurtado's book are noted here.

UPDATE (13 September): More reports on this year's BNTC are noted here.