British New Testament Conference Nottingham 2011

A good conference as ever. I’ll focus on the Jesus seminar (as ever, note the lower case ‘s’ so not to confuse it with Westar etc). And something else.

The panel review on the Pope’s historical Jesus was oddly agreeable, though I’m guessing this more about the different interests of the panellists: Angus Paddison spoke more on the underlying theology; I spoke on the ideological trends influencing the Pope’s work and the connections with Milbank and the whole Red Tory project; while John Lyons, in a 15 minute break from Facebook, deliberately took Ratzinger’s assumptions to their often peculiar logical conclusions. Alas, no one in Nottingham wanted to defend a Red Tory Christ, or attack a critique of it. Perhaps not everyone there is dedicated to the rhetoric of Big Society…? I thought this session was particularly useful for the Jesus seminar in that discussion could be widened from the usual (though important) questions to questions with broader cultural ramifications.

The panel review of Maurice Casey’s book was sadly missing Maurice Casey due to health reasons. It seems (I think, but happy to be corrected) that there was agreement on his general portrait of Jesus, and certainly a lot of appreciation, with questions raised on specific issues. David Bryan raised questions on method (taking things more and more in the direction of Kähler); Eddie Adams spoke on the kingdom of God and the origins of the second coming; Karen Wenell spoke on God and what might be meant by context; Helen Bond spoke on Jesus’ death and Markan creation; and Mark Finney spoke on resurrection (questioning some standard scholarly views on bodily resurrection in early Judaism). Casey gave a passionate response (well, he wrote a passionate response, only to have some disappointment of a session co-chair read it out) which also included some positive words about the work of CK Barrett who died recently.

There was a small amount of time for questions and I did get an opportunity to push what people meant/mean when they say or write things like ‘very Jewish’ and ‘thoroughly Jewish’ and, if we were to accept such ideas as analytically meaningful (I obviously think they have an ideological function), whether there are ‘not-thorough Jewish Jews’ or ‘slightly Jewish Jews’ or ‘a little bit Jewish Jews’. However, there wasn’t really much of a discussion (probably not a surprise and hardly the fault of the panellists) but I think literature on the ideological critique of the quest for the historical Jesus, including constructions of Jewishness and related scholarly rhetoric (e.g. Sugirtharajah, Kelley, Arnal, myself, etc) needs to be addressed at some point more widely in mainstream historical Jesus scholarship. This is both a standard sort of critique we might expect of dominant views in the humanities and much of scholarship continues to make the problematic move of using Judaism with superficial positivity whilst actually maintaining the old myths of superiority.

While there was some excellent discussion at drinks, coffee breaks etc, what was perhaps most frustrating (for me and some others) was the lack of interaction with some broader and, I think, basic concepts in the sessions. For instance, the questions raised at Mike Sandford’s paper on postcolonialism and the historical Jesus would typically concern questions of intentionality and whether Jesus consciously opposed Rome or was he really opposed to Jewish leaders (and thus not interested in Empire) seemed to miss the point entirely. Rome, empire, dominant ideologies etc affect people in a whole host of ways whether they know it or not or like it or not, whether in the face of overt colonial presence or puppet regimes. People manifest symptoms or reactions to social contexts, not least Empire, and a variety of ways. The lack of appreciation of this made it difficult for even something like postcolonialism – now a long established topic in biblical studies – to be discussed properly by the audience and that was a pity. Exegesis is fine but there seems to be little interest in the ways in which ideas are shaped, no matter how many of us bang on about it. I think this is probably a much bigger problem in British biblical studies thanks in part (I think) to the strong the empiricist tradition which remains influential. Interestingly, almost all of those who also felt the lack of engagement with ideas beyond conventional historical criticism (in the biblical studies sense) were from non-British intellectual traditions.

There was, of course, much more going on but one moment is well worth highlighting in light of the previous blog post. Whilst perusing the bookstalls, there just so happen to be a promotional talk by Wright on his New Testament for Everyone. To add to the strange coincidences, and this came as a real surprise to me, someone actually asked Wright about his translation of 1 Cor. 6.9 (‘…practising homosexuals of whichever sort…’) and whether his theological presuppositions influenced his translation. It seemed to me to be a very serious question rather than a joke and the discussion was certainly a serious one. After the discussion, whilst looking on with a mixture of amusement and curiosity, the next question (again, a very serious one and not a joke) was on the same issue (I think it was something about ontology and the difference between non-practising and practising homosexuality but I couldn’t quite hear). Discussion of these questions at the promotion has been doing the rounds on Facebook, including some eyewitness testimony and some apparently verbatim quotations. Shame our new friend BW16 hasn’t picked up on this yet!

James Crossley

Update: BW16 has

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10 responses to “British New Testament Conference Nottingham 2011

  1. Pingback: An Objective Queer Analysis of the British New Testament Conference 2011 | BW16

  2. A very interesting analysis of the conference, and I did indeed pick up on the last point! In fact, my take on the whole conference was a little different from yours… see http://bwsixteen.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/an-objective-queer-analysis-of-the-british-new-testament-conference-2011/

  3. ….and dogmatically denied anyone believed in it and mistook the Greek flesh for soul… Passionate? Passionately what? Passionate sounds full of love. It wasn’t. I’ll say he was passionate. Passionately something else. I reckon there’s a naughty young Kiwi above somewhere, all a bit naughty wierd and queer. Speaking of queer, just another aspect of Tom. Fifteen variations? He must have had practise. Oh what a double life he leads. Good conference – the whisky? A little too anti critical, anti interdisciplinary, but good duck heckling. I found the drink reception draining. Oddly. It should have been fulfilling. I’m sure it’s intensely helpful to know that there is an elementary textbook designed to process Christian students reading theology and staying in the Christian faith, and I’m enthralled by the thesis which explores ways to ‘bring young people to the Catholic church’. Jolly good. Professor A has missed his calling in the theatre. And Professor X – oh well that’s just pilbankian rouge tory ‘theological academia’. Thank you for your fine review and appropriate and very much appreciated impersonation. 🙂

    • I think passionate is a fair representation: it is clear the HJ has been Maurice’s (adult) lifelong interest and his final paragraph about truth, Barrett, Sanders, Vermes etc showed just how much it all means to him.

      • That’s true, I misunderstood you. I thought the passion was a reflection of his response to the papers, which was passionately critical, while he regretted that he was unable to deliver more thorough criticism due to the fact that the contributers had provided their papers so incredibly late…

  4. weeeird late night dyslexia.

  5. Pingback: More on N.T. Wright’s practicing homosexuality | BW16

  6. ok i dont understand the 16 part. bw, sure, ben witherington. 16?

  7. It was very interesting to see Prof Larry Hurtado’s own response to the conference, which in its own way is special. Instead of linking to it, however, I will link to my response: http://bwsixteen.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/the-victorian-straight-jacket-of-subjective-empiricism-in-british-new-testament-studies/

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