Monday, December 9, 2013

Report from the SBL session on Jewish/Christian identities

We attended the SBL/AAR Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland (November 23- 26, 2013). We promise a couple of reports from various sessions ranging from Jewish/Christian identities to Paul's theology in the making in the Corinthian correspondence.
The first report is on the session: 

Construction of Christian Identities Section (S23-114)
Theme: How Many Groups of Jesus Followers in the First Two Centuries?

Edmondo Lupieri, Loyola University of Chicago, Presiding
Clare Rothschild, Lewis University
Have I not Seen Jesus Our Lord?” (1 Cor 9:1c): Failure of the Markan Eyewitnesses as Pauline Propaganda
Sandra Hübenthal, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
Basileia, Jesus-wise or Mark-wise?
Michael A. Daise, College of William and Mary
First-Century Jewish Identity Under Rome
Monica Selvatici, Londrina State University
Constructing Christian Identity in Luke-Acts: The Purpose of Pharisees in Lukan Theology

Claire Rothschild’s paper dealt with Mark’s gospel and Pauline letters in which she challenged the traditional opinion about the author of the gospel coming from Peter’s circles. Her hypothesis is that the gospel of Mark was written as Pauline propaganda. This means that the Markan theme of the failure of the eyewitnesses demonstrates a historical association with Paul. In her opinion the Markan gospel is the first one to validate Paul’s authority as an apostle. Despite many significant differences between the undisputed Pauline letters and the Markan gospel this hypothesis, being highly speculative, seems interesting and brings some possible openings for future research on the relationship between Mark and Paul.

Sandra Hübenthal discussed the different views on the kingdom of God presented by the characters and the narrator of the gospel of Mark. She observed, that the narrative voice proclaims Jesus as the Son of God and urges the readers to accept that belief. On the other hand the narrative character Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God that is just at one’s fingertips and invites the followers to make an existential choice in that view. She argues that these two different views could represent the two views of the groups that were composing the second gospel. Hübenthal is convinced that there was no one single author of the second gospel we could refer to, but rather the gospel emerged as a group effort. In that view he studies the question, if the group standing behind the Gospel thought about the Kingdom of God Jesus-wisely or Mark-wisely.

Michael Daise offered a paper in which he argued that the level of diversity within Judaism of the first century would easily allow another group, namely the group of Jesus followers, to sustain one of the Jewish identities of that period. Daise enters into dialogue with Martin Goodman and his “Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations.” According to Goodman Jewish-Roman animosity that eventually resulted in the Jewish-Roman war was caused by intra-Jewish rather than Jewish-Roman conflicts. Daise expands on that and claims that the axe of the conflict was the material status of rich and poor. This argument serves the purpose of highlighting the intra-Jewish diversities at the time.  

The last but not least paper in the session was devoted to the analysis of the function of the Pharisees in  Luke-Acts. Monica Selvatici argues that the Pharisees in the Lukan corpus are portrayed more friendly than in the other writings of the New Testament. She points out that, e.g., in Luke the Pharisees never want to kill Jesus, but only catch him on words. In Acts the Christians of Pharisaic origin cause only one relatively little problem regarding circumcision (Acts 15:5). Selvatici concludes, that since the image of the Pharisees in the gospel was rather friendly (in comparison to, e.g., Matthew) and that Luke referred to those who converted from Pharisaic Judaism to Christianity - the Pharisees were of great theological importance for Luke.

The session dealt with various early Christian identities. I think the answer to the thematic question would simply be “many.” On the one hand, it is striking that there was actually no clear distinction between various groups within Judaism of that time, so Jesus followers were hardly distinguishable for the external observer (Daise). On the other hand, this indistinguishable group of Jesus-followers, in its very initial stage, coming from various Jewish groups (Selvatici), already was so strongly diverse regarding the views on the God’s kingdom (Hübenthal). Also, the members of the same group clashed among themselves with regard to anti-Peter and pro-Paul propaganda in Mark (Rothschild).

Monday, November 11, 2013

+ Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., 1935–2013

Last night Prof. Dr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor passed away in his sleep while convalescing after a recent surgery. Fr. Murphy-O’Connor taught for more than four decades at the École Biblique et Archéologique. He was a world-renowned biblical scholar and author of numerous books on St. Paul and the Holy Land.

Information from the website of École biblique.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Paul’s Graeco-Roman Context CBL 2013


July 16-18, 2013


Cilliers Breytenbach

 The topic of the colloquium is Paul’s relation to Jewish and Greek traditions. Paul the Apostle is an ‎excellent example for the cultural exchange so typical for the eastern provinces of the Roman ‎Empire during the early imperial age. He is a Jew from Tarsus, feels  himself, according to his own ‎words, as Hebrew descended from Hebrews, and as Pharisee according to the way of interpreting ‎the law. However, he writes his letters in Greek,  showing acquaintance not only with the Greek ‎translations of the Law and the Prophets, but also with contemporary Greek and Roman ‎philosophical concepts and rhetorical style. He lived and worked in several Roman colonies, his ‎letters are specked with metaphors from the military, and according to Acts, he possessed Roman ‎citizenship. Trained in Jewish traditions and raised in Greek, Paul was influenced by different ‎intellectual  worlds. He stands at the crossroads of cultural development. The invited contributors ‎of  the main lectures have been asked to discuss this phenomenon.

Paul’s life within the cultural ‎encounters of the first century suggests reception of  Graeco-Roman traditions. Paul the Jew, ‎believed to be sent to the nations, brought the  Gospel to the Graeco-Roman world. To make his ‎letters accessible to the audiences, it would have seemed logical to utilize language and modalities ‎which his addressees could understand. But how does he dress his Jewish-Christian gospel in the ‎garb of the time?

In this colloquium we will focus on the reception and implementation of Graeco-‎Roman traditions by Paul, who always remained a Jew. Taking his letters as point of departure,  ‎Pauline language, concepts, metaphors and style will be investigated within the  context of first ‎century Greek literature, including Jewish literature written in Greek. The  following questions ‎illustrate the broad range of potentially instructive lines of inquiry. Where do Pauline terms, ‎concepts and strategies come from, how and with which intention does he mix and recast them to ‎express his message and to give instruction to his congregations?

More information and registration:

Monday, February 18, 2013

A ‘Gospel of Jesus his Wife’?‎

Last September, there was a lot of fuzz in the media concerning  a papyrus fragment that would ‎describe Jesus as having been married.  What is it about? After a papyri snippet of 8 by 4 cm ‎containing a Coptic text, turned up, the (anonymous) current owner contacted professor Karen L. ‎King of Harvard Divinity School, granting her the permission to study and publish the fragment. The ‎first lines of the fragmentary text read as follows in English translation: ‎

‎“not to me. My mother gave me li[fe”‎
The disciples said to Jesus: “[‎
deny. Maria is (not?) worth it [‎
‎…” Jesus said to them: “My wife..[‎
‎…she will be able to be my disciple ..[‎

Given the obscure origin and circumstances of this ‘finding’, one automatically questions the ‎authenticity of the text. According to Karen King, the papyrus might have originated in Egypt in the ‎‎4th century CE and might contain a copy of an earlier text from the second half of the 2nd century CE. ‎To date, this is the only ancient snippet known to us that contains a text describing Jesus as  ‎referring to his own wife. The text demonstrates a strong affinity with other apocryphal texts from ‎the same period that underscore the importance of female disciples of Jesus, as for example the ‎apocryphal ‘gospel of Mary’ does. But let it be clear, 2nd century texts of that sort make absolutely ‎no mention of whether or not the historical Jesus was married. They show us there existed a great ‎variety of Christian factions and even subfactions holding diverse views on Jesus, which might ‎possibly ‎be influenced by the discussions on the ideal way of life (whether married or unmarried) ‎that was hotly debated among Christians in 2nd and 3th century Egypt.‎

Other scholars think, however, that the text on the papyrus is a forgery. They find it not only ‎striking that the little snippet contains several lines of text which are both relatively well readable ‎and understandable. Moreover, it seems very coincidental, that, of all persons, those few lines ‎happen to mention Jesus, his mother, his disciples and his wife all together. According to Francis ‎Watson, professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Durham University, the Coptic text on the ‎papyrus fragment has been copied line by line from another Coptic gospel, viz. the gospel of ‎Thomas. According to Watson, the author of this text has taken over words and sentences from the ‎gospel of Thomas and has simply placed them in a  different order to create a new text. After this, ‎Michael Grondin, compiler of a translation of the gospel of Thomas, gave strong evidence that the ‎little papyrus is a forgery. He points to a spelling mistake in the first line of the Coptic text and puts ‎forward that the exact spelling mistake is present in the easily accessible interlinear pdf-version of ‎the gospel of Thomas (Coptic text with English translation) which he put online years ago. Did a ‎modern forger make use of this modern text that is available online? A chemical investigation of ‎the age of the ink on the papyrus might give the decisive answer. Undoubtedly to be continued…‎

Text translated by Laura Tack from Ezra 46 (16/2012)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A tribute to Prof. Frans Neirynck

On October 20th, 2012 professor emeritus Frans Neirynck passed away in the Retirement Home of Saint Bernard in Bertem.  Frans Neirynck was born on May 15, 1927. He was ordained a priest on May 30, ‎‎1953 in Bruges and then he studied in the Faculty of Theology at KU Leuven, where he completed his doctorate in 1957 and defended his dissertation entitled "The Infancy Narrative in the Gospel of Luke" under the supervision of Albert Descamps. From 1957 to 1960 he was a professor in the Major Seminary in Bruges and on December 20, ‎‎1960 he was appointed successor of his supervisor in Leuven. He started as a docent (1961). In 1962 he became a full professor of New Testament exegesis. From 1968 to 1972 he was the dean of the newly established Dutch-speaking faculty of theology. With the support of his colleague Maurits Sabbe he initiated the English programme which boosted the international esteem of the faculty. Together with Maurits Sabbe he founded the Flemish Bible Foundation which was launched in ‎‎1968. He retired in 1992, but this does not mean that his scientific activity ended at that point.
As a scholar and researcher Neirynck was a tireless scholar who devoted his life to the literary study of the gospels. He argued and defended the priority of Mark, the two source theory and the dependence of John on the Synoptics.

In his work he was always very accurate and meticulous, he relied on an exhaustive overviews of the scholarship that reached far beyond to the twentieth century. He configured the data which he collected into useful exegetical tools in order to stimulate further research. He defended a pronounced and well argued position of his own and tested it in ongoing international dialogue with New Testament scholars all over the world. He published  numerous scientific publications, was the driving force behind the annual Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense, which had been founded in 1949, the Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses and the Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Thelogicarum Lovaniensium, the three Leuven institutions inextricably connected to him and the 'Louvain School'.

Prof. Neirynck was a member of international exegetical societies as well as the Belgian Royal Academy of Science and Fine Arts. In 1989-1990 he was the president of the prestigious Society of New Testament Studies. He supervised large numbers of students in the preparation of their doctorates and supported them beyond in their continuing research after the completion of their doctorates. Without exaggeration, one can say that Professor Neirynck left a mark on New Testament exegesis and more specifically on the study of the Gospels in the second half of the twentieth century.
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