Reflections on SBL - 2006

1. The highlight of the conference for me was finally being able to see the covers of Codex W first hand. There hasn't been much written on them since the 1930's, and it is now my mission in life to get access for a fuller autopsy. I don't want to make any premature pronouncements on the implications these covers hold for the study of early Christian book technology, but if manufactural markings on the spine of the (now loose) Codex W indicate that the covers were produced secondary to the text, then a number of interesting points could be made about how early Christian bookbinding affected the use and perception of the canonical gospels.

I am crossing my fingers about that access, though, and may just have to proceed on the basis of my time with the covers during the exhibition and the somewhat unhelpful photographs we currently have.

2. Lots of good papers in the Textual Criticism and Papyrology seminars. I was particular interested to hear response to Holger Strutwolf's paper (see my summary below from the NA/27 conference at New College). Lo and behold, he fared well in the face of Epp's just criticism that Strutwolf has appeared to have not actually said much about the textual tradition beyond Epp's original work on text types. As it turns out, Strutwolf's suggestion that we conduct criticism within the parameters established by the textual tradition of each text is an intriguing idea.

2.5. Peter Head's paper on Tregelles was fascinating, I hope that either shows up in print, or that he will make copies available to interested parties.

3. I haven't the slightest idea why they scheduled Hurtado vs. Ehrman at the same time as Gathercole vs. Dunn. Poor programming decision. But in the epic square-off between the "Lord Jesus Christ" guy and the "Misquoting Jesus" guy, Earliest Christian Artifacts emerged as the winner. Ehrman's critique centered around the fact that Hurtado spends a lot of time in the book simply retreading old scholarship on the various issues that occupy each chapter. I really don't have a problem with this, that sort of synthesis needed to occur in this area and many students and scholars of other specializations will benefit from it.

4. The Scottish Universities Reception was exactly how I thought it would be.

5. My paper in the Bible in Ancient and Modern Media section went quite well. It was a rather polemical paper, which is always a gamble. But the gamble seemed to pay off and I now hope to see it in print some time from now.


New College Biblical Studies Seminar

I will be giving a paper titled "A New/Old Look at John 21: Towards A Literary-Historical Reading of John 21" on 1 Dec. 2007 at the University of Edinburgh.

It really is a general overview of my thesis, and I hope at that time to recieve a great deal of criticism on the general flow of my argument as well as a few preliminary conclusions I have reached concerning the function of the Beloved Disciple, high frequency of literary self-awareness, and the provocative shift in narrative time in John 21.

Below is a small section of the paper that has direct relevance to this blog:

The initially obscure, hyperbolic reference made to “books” in John 21:25 has a clear set of parallels that would have triggered a network of rhetorical echoes in early readings of the text. The use of βιβλία would have conjured up an image of vast libraries of scrolls, such as the one referenced in a story contemporary to John in which Ptolemy asked Demetrius of Phalerum to collect all of the books of the world (which came to around 500,000). Here the narrative of Jesus overwhelms all the official literature of his day, that is, anything that was worthy of being written on a scroll.

This sets the stage for reflecting on how this rich seam of rhetoric in John 21 relates to the Gospel as a whole... The rhetoric of John 21:25 attempts to class the Gospel of John with the set of literatures related to the word βιβλία. This certainly comports well with Burridge’s estimation of the genre of John as bios literature, as relevant literatures would have also been published in the format related to the term. And this is contra Hengel’s take the hyperbole: “As all earlier Christian biblical texts were circulated as codexes[sic], i.e. in book form and using nomina sacra, in my view we may presuppose that this would already be the case with the first edition. This is one of the fixed Christian writing practices which goes back to the first century.” Though he arrives at this conclusion based on the papyrological record, there is no lexicographical merit to Hengel’s argument. In fact, I argue that it is the widespread Christian use of the codex in this period that would have pointed the rhetoric, having been specifically crafted by means of βιβλία at this pre-transitional stage in the lexicography of book technology. Hengel is right to characterize the use of the codex as a “fixed Christian practice,” but there is no evidence to suggest that βιβλία would have referred to one this early, and in this context.

Due to its position in the composition history of the Gospel, this raises an interesting question regarding the relevance of the rhetoric itself. If this rhetoric comes from the hand of the author, then it is simple to read the verse as a self-conscious attestation of genre. However, if it comes from the hand of a later author, whether of the entire chapter or simply vv. 24-25, it is possible to understand the hyperbole as a misreading of 20:30-31 that results in a series of literary and generic implications not considered by the initial author of the Gospel. This would mean that 21:24-25 sets up a retrospective generic expectation for the Gospel not explicitly intended by its author.

Either way, John 21:25 leads one to read the Gospel somewhat differently than the first conclusion of John 20:30-31. [Though I tend towards the former.] And either way, reading this text in light of its rhetorical connections to book culture in antiquity grants us a clear point of access into the self-perception of Gospel writers at the end of the first century... I am sure the writer of John 21 was pleased with stumbling across such an efficient, double-edged rhetoric.


CSCO - Gospel of Thomas Conference

The Centre for the Study of Christian Origins will be holding a session on MSS of the Gospel of Thomas on 8 Dec. 2007 from 3:00-4:30 PM at New College, University of Edinburgh.

If I am not mistaken, Prof. Hurtado will be walking us through a set of digital images of Thomas MSS, which are listed in the appendix of Earliest Christian Artifacts. (Which I must say, is an awfully interesting monograph. Not that I am biased or anything.)