Last week was the annual British New Testament Conference. Last year I attended one day of the conference, having just moved to London from the USA. This year, though, I managed to get talked into doing three things. The first was the panel review of Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing in the Jesus and Gospels seminar. The scope of this book is breathtaking and I think all the panel members (me, Paul Foster, and Simon Gathercole) were impressed with how much work went into it. There were, however, disagreements and critical questions. We all raised questions about Watson’s argument that, although the Gospel of Thomas is often dependent upon the Synoptics in content, its genre represents a pre-Synoptics form of the Jesus tradition, a sayings collection. I think the arguments of Gathercole and Goodacre make this unlikely. On the positive side, I think this book stands as one of the most comprehensive applications of a Wirkungsgeschichte approach to early Christianity.
The second responsibility for me was a 45-minute lecture to the Social Worlds of the New Testament seminar, which they kindly invited. My title was “Social Memory Theory and the Gospels: The Past, Present, and Future of a New Methodology.” My eyes got a bit bigger than my belly, though, and I was really only able to address the past and present. My basic argument was that many applications of memory theory in Gospels research today seem unfamiliar with the work of Maurice Halbwachs, Jan Assmann, and Barry Schwartz, who make up the triumvirate that has shaped the discourse. As a result, some applications of the theory in Gospels research are out of step with those methodological foundations. I’ll take up this issue more fully in my inaugural lecture here at St Mary’s University College on October 16, “Social Memory Theory and Gospels Research: Assessing the First Decade.” I’m grateful to the Social Worlds session for the opportunity to get some early feedback on some of my thoughts.
The third responsibility I had was another panel discussion. This was again in the Social Worlds seminar. The co-panelists were James Crossley and David Horrell and our topic was “Social-Scientific Criticism as Social History,” but it mainly turned into a “Where do we go from here?” discussion. Horrell interestingly proposed that the term “social-scientific criticism” may not be needed anymore, as the goals of the scholars who introduced the term have largely been realized as social-scientific emphases have gone mainstream in NT scholarship.
On a side note, the weather was amazing in St Andrews, as it was for the International SBL a couple months ago. As someone who lived in Scotland for three years, I felt almost robbed of the experience of fist-fighting a wind and rain storm.