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).
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