Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Central States Regional SBL/ASOR conference in St. Louis. In my humble opinion, the conference itself was a little lackluster—particularly so because of the notable lack of publishers in attendance. However, there were many good papers that were presented this year. Below are a few of my notes from the presentations I had the pleasure of attending.
Mark Nanos (Rockhurst University)—“Paul’s Polemic in Philippians 3”
Nanos began with a common thesis for those in the field of “New Paul” studies, namely that the apostle’s driving motivation is the desire for his audience to be enculturated into messianic Judaism. To that end, any reading of Philippians 3 that twists Paul’s words into an anti-Semitic polemic against first-century Jews must be abandoned in favor of a different interpretation. Nanos gave several possibilities for the referent of “Beware the dogs” in 3:2, including members of the Cybeline and Mithraic cults, but suggested that the phrase βλεπετε τους κυνας most likely refers to the Greek Cynics (i.e. “dogs”). Furthermore, Nanos pointed out that the polemic against the Cynics continues in 3:18–19, in which Paul characterizes adherents of the philosophical school as “enemies of the cross of Christ,” whose “end is destruction,” whose “god is the belly” and who “glory in their shame.” Nanos suggested that Paul here attempts to “out-Cynic” the Cynics by illustrating their motives as selfish and earthly in origin.
As a final note, Nanos pointed out a reference to a Talmudic characterization of Cynics as those who live in graveyards, burn incense, rend their clothing, and mutilate themselves (I can’t remember the specific reference here—does anyone have any idea where this came from?). Strangely enough, several of these descriptors seem to parallel descriptions of demonic possessions in the Gospels (see especially Mark 5:1–20, the “Gerasene Demoniac”).
Richard Freund (University of Hartford)—“The Church of the Annunciation (Greek Orthodox)/Mary’s Well”
I was primarily interested in this presentation because of the location of its subject—my wife Alyssa and I recently had the opportunity to visit Israel, and the Church of the Annunciation was one of my favorite sites. Freund, an archeologist and ASOR presenter, recounted the discovery of the remains of an ancient bathhouse beneath a series of tourist shops near the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation and Mary’s Well in Nazareth. A recent “sprucing up” of biblical sites by the Roman Catholic Church revealed the remains, which quickly (even if a bit sensationally) became referred to as “Jesus’s Bathhouse.” Freund and his team used GPR (ground-penetrating radar) on the site, which was discovered in the basement beneath “Cactus” gift shop/coffee house. The results revealed not only that the remains were of an Ottoman-era bathhouse most likely built upon a much older site, but also that the site spanned beneath several shops instead of just the one. Further research revealed that the older site likely dates to the Crusader period, but still probably sits upon an even older site still waiting to be excavated. Freund also included a brief excursus regarding the so-called debate over the historicity of the biblical village of Nazareth.
Joe Weaks (Raytown Christian Church)—“Formal Stylometric Tendencies in the Reconstructed Text of Q”
Disciples of Christ pastor and fellow biblioblogger Joe Weaks presented on his use of stylometry to “cast a wide net” in search of pertinent linguistic data while searching for similarities among texts, particularly among reconstructions of Q. While I am still fuzzy on the specifics of exactly how stylometry works (I’m an arts and humanities guy, give me a break!), I was seriously impressed by Weaks’ creation of a digital database of the grammatically and syntactically tagged text of Q, as well as a program that he designed to search through a total of 26 ancient corpora (including all the Greek NT texts as well as other pertinent related first-century corpora such as the writings of Josephus, Philo, etc.) for grammatical, syntactical, and lexical similarities. The sheer number possibilities for this proram’s contributions to the field of NT biblical studies is dizzying, and I can’t wait to see how this technology is used in the future, particularly in the fields of textual and redaction criticism. I wonder how Mark Goodacre might have used Weaks’ program for his recently published Thomas and the Gospels?