SBL Notes, part one

I’ve been going over my notes, expanding them, looking up titles and such, in order to make these notes a bit more useful for you folks who weren’t at these particular sessions that I attended. I hope they’ll be found useful.

The only two sessions I attended were the Function of Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal Writings in Early Judaism and Early Christianity Consultation, at 9:00-11:30 am and 4:00-6:30 pm Monday 11/19. I took notes of all the talks. Between the two sessions, I was invited as a guest to the lunch of the steering committee, and I’ll describe some of that too. This consultation is particularly fascinating to me, blending as it does several interests of mine all into one: canon, apocrypha/pseudepigrapha, and their usage in early Christianity.

After a brief welcome by Lee Martin McDonald, the morning session began with Craig Evans, presenting “The Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: The Case of the Acts of the Apostles,” taking the place of the scheduled paper by James Sanders, “Non-Masoretic Literature in Early Judaism and Its Function in the New Testament.” Sanders has recently undergone surgery and was unable to attend, but Evans read some notes from Sanders prior to beginning his paper. Evans’ handout consists of five pages of “Parallels between Acts and the literature of late antiquity” taken from his Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies (Hendrickson, 2005), pp 373-78.

Evans first discussed two particular cases of parallelomania (which term he didn’t use, but I do), positing exact parallels between Acts and the Iliad in Dennis R. MacDonald, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? Four Cases from the Acts of the Apostles (Yale, 2003), and between Acts and the Aeneid by Marianne Palmer Bonz, The Past as Legacy: Luke-Acts and Ancient Epic (Fortress Press, 2000). [I also took down the name of Gregory Riley, who likewise writes on such mimesis, but neglected to note the import of the name. He’s probably as much in Evans’ sights as MacDonald and Palmer Bonz.] Evans mentioned that the reviews of both works are mixed, but generally negative. He mentioned a lengthy critique by Karl Olav Sandnes, “Imitatio Homeri? an appraisal of Dennis R. MacDonald’s ‘mimesis criticism'” (JBL 124.4 [Winter 2005]: 715-732) who provides helpful bibliographical background. Sandnes concludes, “MacDonald isolates subtle emulation from its advertising context. Subtle and concealed emulation without basis in a broadcast intertextuality cannot make up for slippery comparisons. His reading is fascinating and contributes to a reader-oriented exegesis. But he fails to demonstrate authorial intention while he, in fact, neglects the OT intertextuality that is broadcast in this literature” (p. 732), a point which Evans picks up later. Evans also referenced a review by Luke Timothy Johnson of MacDonald (Theological Studies 66.2 [June 2005]: 489-90), which concludes “M. can claim the Iliad as part of the Hellenistic intertexture for interpreting Luke-Acts, but he fails to show that there is anything uniquely in Acts and Homer that can be explained only by literary imitation. The book fails to convince on its central point, and fails to suggest what difference it might make for any reader of Acts if its central point were correct” (p. 490). Evans echoed the latter point, emphasizing that such potential parallels as suggested by scholars often serve no purpose exegetically, and would have had little impact on any reader unless they were more obvious and involved. This leads him directly to the fascinating counter-example to MacDonald and Palmer Bonz that both the narrative setting of Acts 2 and the text of the quotation there of Joel 3.1-5 (LXX/MT; English 2.28-32) are intertwined in such a way that Joel 3 is then presented as a prophecy of the time of the events depicted in Acts 2, which are likewise presented as the fulfillment of that prophecy, and the wording of the quotation and setting are both subtly adjusted toward making that connection. Thus the explicit or “broadcast intertextuality” (so Sandnes) in this case also indicates the “subtle emulation” (also Sandnes) in this passage. This is a direction that really needs following in Luke-Acts in particular, but also in every other location in the NT with explicit quotations from the OT–investigating the possibility of quite subtle effects on the texts surrounding such quotations, their context influencing and being influenced. A further question raised by Evans is: Do the suggested parallels actually help us understand the text better? If they don’t, knowing the above Joel-Acts example, then those parallels are very likely not there, as they would serve no purpose to either author or reader. (There was no respondent at this point to Evans because of the above-mentioned schedule change.)

Next was James Charlesworth, presenting “The Book of the People from the People of the Book.” His handout consists of a photocopy of photographs of columns VII and VIII of 1QpHab, the Qumran Pesher Habakkuk.

Drawing a point from Polybius’ Histories at the end of Book 12 (28a.8-10), he states, “Misinformed questions contribute to misinformed answers.” That is, in seeking to determine the structure of the “Book,” i.e. the canon, have we actually neglected the input of the people of the book? Charlesworth noted the number of copies of various books found at Qumran and discussed the importance of this more physical aspect of canonical treatment, with special emphasis given to the relatively well-preserved 1QpHab. When the Pesher Habakkuk was authored, the Hasmonean scriptio continua gave a certain latitude to the author of the Pesher to vary word divisions and alter letters in places due to their similarity (e.g., yod and waw). In the Pesher Habakkuk, things like the omission of a waw in order to connect two verses of Habakkuk more closely don’t show a lackadaisical textual criticism (an anachronism, in any case), but rather the value the author of the Pesher places on Habakkuk, in presenting the content in a new, slightly adjusted way which makes the point of his commentary clearer. The author shows by this that though Habakkuk didn’t understand the full import of the text he was writing, the Righteous Teacher does, because the meaning was in fact withheld from Habakkuk and everyone else until the end times. Likewise, the physical care taken in the production of 1QpHab shows the extremely high value of this text for the people who copied it: the raising and selection of the lamb for the skin, the involved preparation of the leather and ink, the careful sewing of the sheets of leather into a long scroll, the precise and careful ruling done so delicately with a very sharp blade, the careful writing with spaces, and especially the correction in different hands. This latter is seen in 1QpHab VII.1, where an אל which had been missed through haplography by the original scribe was inserted supralinearly by a later one in another hand, and in line 3, yet a third hand is seen in this column supralinearly adding ירוץ which had likewise been omitted. This shows they cared enough about this text to actually correct it. These physical characteristics are an important indicator of canonicity, as well, because, as Charlesworth said, “The canonical process is complex, and frequently opaque.” By this, I think, he means that our reconstructions of canonical theory have been repeatedly shown to be inadequate, and the physical realia can provide an anchor and some at least partly objective input into a re-evaluation of the canonical process. It’s an aspect that I’m very interested in, actually.

Andrei Orlov was Charlesworth’s respondent. He suggests the usage of the term “protocanon” to fill the gap between the complete absence of a canon and a fully developed, later, exclusive canon. He also noted that some of the same text-play that Charlesworth noted in Pesher Habakkuk is also present in later midrashim which were certainly written after the establishment of a canon including those texts being played with.

I’ll continue tomorrow.


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