My friend Pira Tritasavit recorded this session from SBL. I was not able to attend it, so I’m grateful!

John Dominic Crossan:

Crossan discusses a ‘theology of the Bible’. He asks about the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. One area of focus is whether the God of the Bible is violent, non-violent, or some mixture. In the Bible he finds both. Crossan reminds the audience that as Christians write about the Bible they must take into account the diversity of the text.

Crossan asks if the Bible judges Jesus or if Jesus judges the Bible. He asks if we are people “of the book” or people “of the person” with a book.

Bart D. Ehrman

Ehrman discusses how when he attended his first SBL session on textual criticism there were eight people present. When he debated Daniel Wallace recently there were fifteen hundred tickets sold at twenty dollars each. He says that if textual criticism can be made interesting, anything can be made interesting, and it should be.

He says scholarly discussion should be made available to the wider public. While criticizing ‘The Jesus Seminar’ he thanks them for doing this very thing. As members of our society scholars are responsible to make scholarly findings available to every day people, but not all scholars can do this nor should they.

Ehrman discusses how scholars should make scholarly findings accessible to the public. He says it is difficult and he notes that not all can do it. He says to write for the ‘Barnes and Noble’ crowd means not writing it for fellow scholars, but “for your mother”. The writer must work to make it accessible without making it sound like it’s been “dumbed down”.

Ehrman states further that one must be an actual scholar. He provides some “qualifications” for what makes an actual scholar who is qualified to write for “the general public”. This can be done after one has written for fellow scholars first. Then, and only then, one can write for a lay audience. If they do not do this they do not have the credentials to represent other scholars. They deceive the reading public if they aren’t accomplished and if they do not continue to do scholarship.

Ehrman states that “the serious scholar has gone the way of the dinosaur”. He says there is “too much generalized knowledge” and “too little expertise”. If scholars seek to write for a lay audience yet fail to continue to do scholarship they become merely popularizers.

See Michael Halcomb’s response to Ehrman here.

Amy Jill-Levine

“What’s new in biblical scholarship?”  There are several things. For instance it has been expanded regarding participants (e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, etc).

One main subject has been ‘the Jewishness of Jesus’. This is Levine’s concern. Prior to historical-critical scholarship Jesus was for Christians “by definition”. Jesus was unique. The historical-critical approach questions Christian dogmatics. The unique “ahistorical Jesus” is the one who dominates public imagination. Jesus is contrast with the Jews and the Jews are made to be the evil opposites.

As an example, Levine notes that in his Bible studies Jimmy Carter compared the Judaism of Jesus’ day to the Taliban. She gives some other examples as well. Too often Jesus’ Jewishness is erased. Jesus is constructed in a Gentile image.

Levine says that things like source criticism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and so forth continue to carry along the conversation. She asserts that Jesus’ divinity, and “what kind” of divinity he was, matters to understanding the New Testament. This must continue to be part of the study of Jesus.

Levine calls for more conversation and she finds SBL to be one of those places. Like Ehrman she calls for scholarly interaction with the church and synagogue. Also, she advocates for good historical work criticizing the idea that ‘reading from one’s background’ is the end all of modern scholarship (i.e. contextualization).

In conclusion, Levine says we are better after two centuries of critical scholarship. We are more aware of our errors and misleading tendencies. She thanks people in the pew for asking good questions and for providing us with the opportunity for study.

N.T. Wright

Wright begins with a parable discussing Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, and Revolution. These prescribe our narrative. You can’t understand the last two centuries these concepts.

The rediscovery of Lucretius, the Epicurean world, and the concept of a remote deity during the Renaissance formed our world and NT scholarship. Yet there may be other ways (Jewish?) to talk about who “God” might be and how he may act in this world.

Luther represents Reformation with his two kingdoms theology. We seek “spiritual salvation” not a worldly one. It is other-worldly.

The Enlightenment is our society in a “left-brained” world. One cannot obtain a Ph.D. in biblical studies without being left-brained. Right brained activities like narrative, virtue, and faith are cast aside.

Wright notes that the shift of biblical studies primarily to the United States is dangerous in that it ignores third world and non-English speaking scholars and it shapes Christianity through the Fundamentalist-Liberal grid.

This world of Enlightenment-Epicureanism moves us further and further away from the biblical world. It makes it harder for us to understand the early church and Christian theology, especially about the Kingdom of God. Both orthodoxy and non-orthodoxy have hid behind their questions without facing the newly reconceived ‘theocracy’ of the Kingdom.

Observations

Crossan made some solid points that I think many of my fellow evangelicals must consider, especially those who heavy ‘biblicist’ views. Too often the tensions of the canon are ignored in favor of smooth systematization. Crossan is right to argue that the Bible is too complicated for this, though his own reconstruction of the historical Jesus shows that his approach is as flawed.

Ehrman is correct that non-experts should not pose as experts. I don’t know that I agree that we are “over-generalized”. It seems to me that the academy is “over-specialized” (or as Wright states, too left-brained). Likewise, Ehrman’s criteria seemed more like an apologetic to the academy for his own “popularization” than a set of meaningful guidelines. I recommend reading Michael Halcomb’s response which I linked above.

Levine is an amazing scholar and I enjoyed her insights into the need for a more Jewish Jesus. As Craig A. Evans has noted the rediscovery of Jesus’ Jewishness was the great accomplishment of the ‘Third Quest’. Likewise, she was more level-headed than Ehrman in her discussion of how to bring scholarship to the laity and I thought she had some great things to say there as well.

Finally, Wright is Wright. It is hard for me to dislike his overall project. I agree with his criticisms of where scholarship has gone at times, though I would nuance that I appreciate the left-brainedness of it all, but I would like to see more right-brained thinking as well. He nails it that often our divisions come from a wrongheaded worldview where we ask the wrong questions resulting in the wrong answers. As a young evangelical in the United States it is all to true that the “sides” we must chose are artificial, yet we are demanded to chose none-the-less. It can be very frustrating.


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