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..