London SBL overview

Well, another SBL conference has come and gone, and I want to review some highlights.  I managed to catch a variety of sessions from Paul, the Synoptics, the apocrypha to Nag Hammadi & Gnosticism, though unfortunately some clashed with sessions I would have liked to see such as ones on whether the term “monotheism” should be retained as a useful heuristic lens to study the biblical literature (see Ken Brown’s review).  I enjoyed all the papers in my session on Catholic Epistles  which reflected many diverse perspectives, from my view that the references to Peter/Silvanus/Mark in 1 Pet 5:12-13 are a literary fiction to construct the epistle as apostolic and give the impression of unity between Petrine & Pauline factions to the paper after mine arguing a conservative view that we should consider the hermeneutical consequences of differing views on authorship and suggested that the case against the authenticity of 2 Peter needs to be rethought, and  my paper received a mixed reception of both critical feedback and positive encouragement  (one aspect that may need to be improved is that some spotted an inconsistency in how I evaluated the historicity of the picture of John Mark in Acts; my view is that Acts depends on the Pauline epistles in [rightly] placing John Mark with Paul/Barnabas but the single association of John Mark with Peter in Acts 12:12 reflects a similar ideological development as in1 Peter to create a bridge between Peter and Paul).  The bibliobloggers meal, as noted by James McGrath and Sean Winter, was pretty well attended and good fun eating and drinking with friends.

To cover papers relevant to the Gospel of Mark, the first paper I attended was on the Similitudes and the Son of Man, which was a rejoinder to Steven Richard Scott’s article (first brought to my attention by the good anti-bishop Wrong) that argues for a distinction between the Lord of Spirits and the Name of the Lord of Spirits who is identified with the Son of Man and thus describes the Similitudes as binitarian.  If Scott is right, this has huge implications for Mark’s Son of Man christology, though the SBL paper provided a decent rebuttal to his position and it will be interesting to see how the debate unfolds (it was also cool to get to meet Steven at the conference).  It was also interesting to learn about archaeological excavations in Bethsaida, an important site in the Synoptic tradition and the home of Peter/Andrew/Philip according to John 1:44 (though cf. Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum in Mark 1:29).  Another paper I found largely convincing was by Alexander Kirk who challenged the view of Wright and France that the coming of the Son of Man in Mark 14:62 reflects the vindication and enthronement in heaven of the Son of Man with the destruction of the temple instead of the more traditional expectation of the parousia - among his points was that there was no single “Jewish” reading of the Son of Man figure in Dan 7 which contradicts France and Wright’s emphasis that first-century Jews could only understand the language as an ascent rather than descent of Son of Man, that Mark 8:29/13:26-27/14:62 all make better sense on the traditional interpretation, and that France & Wright are vague about what it is Caiaphas was predicted to “see”  in 14:62 (the rise of the church? Historical events leading up to the Jewish War?) since he most likely did not actually live to see the destruction of the temple (for an alternate view on the paper see Andrew Perriman, whom I also had the pleasure of meeting at the bloggers dinner.  I agree with him that Daniel may envision thrones set up on earth, but for me that supports the traditional interpretation for the apocalyptic coming of the Son of Man to earth to rule and judge both the pagan oppressors and the Temple elites).  I caught both sessions on Mark and the purity system, the first paper dealing with the relationship of Mark 7 and Romans 14 on the food laws (the co-presenters argued that an original dispute of Jesus over hand-washing and the relative priority of moral over ritual purity has been used in different ways by Mark and Paul rather than either influencing the other; naturally James Crossley was the first to respond :)) and the second arguing that Jesus’ healing of the bleeding woman and the dead daughter in Mark 5 (using a sandwich so that both events mutually interpret each other) is not meant to be anti-purity as it was not a sin to become unclean so long as one goes through the prescribed purifications before entering sacred space (i.e. the Temple) and it was naturally expected for healers to touch the sick (cf. Elijah, Elisha).  I don’t think there is any evidence for the historical Jesus superseding any commandments of Torah and tend to think Mark has a pretty detailed knowledge of purity laws.  Finally, I attended  a few papers arguing for a high christology of Mark (one building on Joel Marcus’ excellent scholarship), though I am not quite sure it is nearly as high as what we see in Paul or John, but that probably requires a separate post to interact with the various points made about whether forgiveness of sins was a divine prerogative (Mk 2:7) or if Mark intended to deny that Jesus shared in the goodness of God (10:18) or the curious substition where Jesus tells the Gerasene demoniac to tell how much the Lord has done for him and then who goes on to tell how much Jesus had done for him (5:19-20).  That is what I can recall at the moment, but let me know how your experience went if you attended London SBL..

7 Responses to London SBL overview

  1. Hi Mike, good reflections.

    But I’m confused: “but for me that supports the traditional interpretation for the apocalyptic coming of the Son of Man to earth to rule and judge both the pagan oppressors and the Temple elites”. How is that the traditional interpretation? Surely that locates the event in the first century?

    Incidentally, I agree that there is a descent. It seems to me that two OT motifs are merged in these passages. One is the vindication motif of the Son of Man, the other is the familiar descent of YHWH motif to judge or to deliver his people from their enemies. But the critical issue is the frame of reference—events that would immediately impact the disciples or the end of the world?

    • Mike K. says:

      Hey Andrew, thanks for commenting and glad I got the chance to chat with you a little at the dinner. I think my view is that Mark understands the natural disasters, famines, wars, messianic pretenders, persecutions, the desecration of the temple by the “abomination of desolation” (whatever the original reference) in his generation (13:30) as signs that the end of the age was imminent. I follow Dale Alison and Edward Adams in taking the cosmic language of Mark 13:24-26 literally and that Mark expected the Son of Man’s coming to overthrow the powers that be at the full consumation of the kingdom on earth (Daniel may also have had a similar view that the oppressive reign of Antiochus Epiphanes would be apocalyptically overthrown as divine thrones are set up on the earth, though his vision too has been subsequently reinterpreted down to the present). I don’t think the history that has unfolded after the first Christian generation has looked anything like what Mark envisioned for the imminent coming of the kingdom and Son of Man. So I am not sure I can avoid the theological problem of the “delay of the parousia”, except maybe Christian theologians can use it to attest to Christ’s full humanity (e.g. even Jesus did not know the timing of “that day” in 13:32) or find new ways to reinterpret the future hope of the ultimate reconciliation of heaven and earth. Does that clarify?

      • That certainly clarifies, though it still doesn’t sound like the traditional interpretation to me. But I don’t understand why you think it necessary to take the cosmic language literally. It seems pretty clear to me that when this sort of imagery is used in the OT, it has reference to historical events. If Jesus uses it in the same way, then the problem of the delay of the parousia disappears. What in your view compels the literal interpretation?

  2. Mike K. says:

    Perhaps “traditional” is the wrong word. What I mean is that I think most Christians throughout history have seen these texts in Mark (rightly or wrongly) as “second coming” texts that refer to the literal descent of the Son of Man on a cloud in glory that is visible to all. I would guess that the reason why most Christians have not felt that the “delay of the parousia” is an issue is that they have always reinterpreted the analogy of the fig tree and the “all these things” that must take place “in this generation” and show that “he/it is near” (13:28-30) as referring to the events of their own or some future generation. Finally, about the cosmic imagery I may need to do a post on this but I have found the work of Dale Allison and Edward Adams convincing here on the interestamental, Jewish, Christian and Stoic literature. It is a fair point about the prophets and the cosmic imagery referring to the fall of Babylon or some other empire, but wonder what you think of this footnote by Allison: “For myself, however, I wonder whether some of these texts only appear nonliteral to us after the fact because we associate them with historical events that in the event were (against the prophets’ expectations) unaccompanied by cosmic signs” (Millenarian Prophet, p. 160, note 243)

    • I find Allison’s comment very strange. Why would we want to save the literal sense of the cosmic language at the expense of the credibility of the OT prophet—or of Jesus, for that matter? And why would Jesus make literal use of the imagery when he must have known that the fall of Babylon was not accompanied by terrifying cosmic catastrophe? The prophetic tradition might make the mistake once, but why would they keep repeating it?

  3. [...] Wright on Mark 13 To continue the discussion here on interpreting the ”coming of the Son of Man”, the following is an edited repost [...]

  4. [...] appears to me to be a later development (Acts 12:12; 1 Pet 5:13; Papias) (cf. my presentation at London SBL). Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

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