Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SBL, Amazing Conversations, Friends, and the Historical Jesus

Well, Michael and I are back from SBL!
(For those of you who aren't familiar, SBL is the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Every November, thousands of nerds--I mean, scholars--converge upon some unsuspecting city and spend three or four days sharing papers, ideas, and drinks. All in all, a grand time).

This year's SBL was quick, but here's are some highlights:

Amazing Conversations: Saturday night Michael and I went out to dinner for our annual meeting of Catholic scholars and friends, such as Scott Hahn, Timothy Gray, Jeff Morrow, and Father Pablo Gadenz. I was excited this year to share the feast with fellow bloggers and Josh McManaway (New Testament student) Mark Giszczak (Catholic Bible Student). We had an unbelievable conversation about the future of Catholic biblical studies, the papal Synod on Scripture, the importance of philosophy in the formation of biblical scholarship, and several wacky theories of my own (such as the notion that the Pharisees were a priest-led movement) that I threw out at the end as the wine began to get to me. 

On Sunday night, I was invited by James Ernest (of Baker Academic) to have dinner with Dale Allison, Larry Hurtado, and Simon Gathercole. Again I was somewhat impetuous and turned the conversation to Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses the scholarly myth that the Gospels ever circulated anonymously. Well, boy, let me tell you--the sparks began to fly! Don't get me wrong, everything was friendly, but Bauckham has certainly touched a nerve and opened the door to an extremely memorable night of conversations. I was delighted to learn afterward that Dale Allison is wrapping up his own 'big Jesus book' which should be coming out from Baker. That will be a must buy.

Finally perhaps my favorite conversation of all was with Michael and Joel Willitts on the way back to the Airport Monday. We had a phenomenal talk about the precise nature of Jesus and Jewish eschatology, especially with regard to the new Temple and the restoration of creation. Joel, thanks for the time!! (As per your request: "in the New Testament, the restored creation will be both as concrete and as supernatural as the glorified body of Jesus.")

Famous Scholars: this year I met several scholars I had not met before. In particular, Michael and I had a fantastic conversation with Craig Evans (author of Fabricating Jesus and Jesus and His Contemporaries) about the authorship and historicity of the Gospels. Also a first for me was meeting Aquila Lee, (author of  From Messiah to Preexistent Son), who was kind enough to attend my paper in the Historical Jesus section. Then of course there was the pleasure of having dinner with Simon Gathercole and Larry Hurtado, both of whom I hadn't met before. 

Old and New Friends: Michael and I caught up with a number of old friends, such as Brian Gregg, my best friend from my Notre Dame doctoral days (and author of Jesus and the Final Judgment Traditions in Q), and Joel Willitts and Michael Bird of Euangelion fame.  We also bumped briefly into James Crossley, who was staying in our hotel. I also got to meet Danny Zacharias, who was also kind enough to come to my paper. On the other hand, as James pointed  out over at Earliest Christian History, the mood of the conference was somewhat serious and subdued: I am convinced that this was because the absence of certain jovial British blogger. (Chris Tilling, you were sorely missed!)

Historical Jesus Session: Finally, on Monday morning, I was pleased to be able to present a paper on "Jesus and the Messianic Priesthood" in the Historical Jesus section. In the paper, I argued that Jesus saw himself as a priestly Messiah (according to the order of Melchizedek) and that he deliberately organized his circles of disciples to parallel the pre-Levitical priesthood and the Sanhedrin. I also pointed out that in Jewish eschatology, the priestly Messiah was expected to suffer, die, and atone for sin. Although I went too long and didn't have time for questions, I think it went over well--although the contrast between the skeptical conclusions of the vast majority of the papers and my own approach was marked, to say the least. Along these lines, I did notice that I was one of the few scholars to actually cite and discuss ancient Jewish sources... The more skeptical papers seemed to ignore this context. (Echoes of the Jesus seminar.)

Anyway, that's probably more than you wanted to know. But all in all, it was a magnificent weekend of intellectual stimulation. I'm already looking forward to next year, when I will be able to spend all of my airfare moneys on books, since it will be in New Orleans! (At least I know the food'll be good.)


Moonshadow said...

"Father Pablo Gadenz" ... I attended the same parish as he (and his parents and sister) in Eatontown, NJ in the early 90's.

Such an amazing man, a true blessing to the church in NJ.

Matthew D. Montonini said...

Michael and Brant,

It was so good to run into you guys just as you were leaving. Hopefully, next year we can get a chance to get lunch or dinner.

I wish you both the best and hope to keep in touch with you guys in the next year. I might have to pick your brains about PhD work.

Blessings in Christ,


Anonymous said...

I don't agree with your thesis of the priestly Messiah (I read more of an apocalyptic prophet and exorcist) but it's always distressing to hear echoes of the American Jesus Seminar and an un Jewish cynic like sage using criteria such as dissmilarity and coherence. I don't believe you can discuss the historical Jesus without putting him in his Jewish context with reference to Aramaic and Hebrew sources. Jesus was more likely to be a priestly messiah than a cynic like sage.

JohnO said...


Your paper was fantastic I have to say. Certainly Jesus is a prophet, an apocalyptic one at that. As one of the previous papers in that section argued, Jesus fits a Solomon typology which includes wisdom and exorcisms.

My big question comes down to Messianism. Without question all the early gospel sources link Jesus with the Davidic Monarchy. As you demonstrated there is plenty of precedent for an atoning Messiah in the DSS. And, Jesus fits the typology for a priestly Messiah well - especially taking the argumentation of Hebrews into account. The DSS in their reaction to the Hasmoneans split up the roles into two messianic figures, so the king was subordinate to the high priest. No reason they can't be in one person (which we also find in the DSS) like Melchezidek.

Now to my question. What affect does Jesus' priestly office of Messiah have on his davidic office of Messiah? Clearly Jesus did not fit the typology of the Davidic Messiah expected popularly, nor the entire breadth of vision of the prophets.

Anonymous said...

Brant and Michael,

Thanks for taking some time for conversation. The paper was thought-provoking.


One thing to think about. Ben Sira merges the kingly functions into the High Priest's role in the Hymn of the Ancestors. There also seem to be some indications within the OT of kings offering sacrifices (David and Solomon) come to mind immediately. It could be that the Melchisedek reference in Ps 110 is there to indicate that the kings did have a cultic role (more than simply a patron of the cult) that was not tied to Levitical descent. I haven't done enough on it, but my own work pushes me in that kind of direction.

Food for thought.

Anonymous said...


You forgot "and as Jewish"!


Anonymous said...


It was a real pleasure to meet you at SBL. Thanks for mentioning my name. To be more exact, the title of my book is From Messiah to Preexistent Son.

Brant Pitre said...

Dear Aquila,

Great to meet you too! Sorry about the misquoted title (I went back and fixed it). In my defense, at the time I wrote the post I had been reading your book and so it was buried under a pile of other books and notes and was inaccessible to me at the time!

I look forward to keeping in touch with you.


Anonymous said...

I think it all goes something like this (apologies to Margaret Barker):

Tabernacle (Aaronic priesthood, Mosaic Torah, some hope of a king at the end)

First Temple (Melchizedek king-priesthood, new "Temple Scroll" type Torah relativising Mosaic Torah and Aaronic priesthood, todah etc.)

Second Temple (Back to Moses, Deuteronomism etc., revived Tabernacle, Mosaic Torah again, Aaronic priethood again, no king)

Church (revived First Temple).

Thanks for your Sanhedrin bit: I had thought of that myself and its good to know I'm not barking up the wrong tree. Think also of the seventy sons of god/angels of the nations, and also Psalm 82, and various passages realting to judging angels etc.

Credo In Unum Deum said...

Dr. Pitre, you say in your essay in letter and spirit this year that the money changers were not extorting money and no hard evidence is produced for that interpretation. While that is true that no "hard" evidence is there, as Catholics, the unanimous witness of the Fathers is binding upon our interpretation. As far as I know, the Fathers unanimously interpreted the money changers as cheating and "robbing" the people. And according to Trent, Canon 4 I believe, we are forbidden to contradict the unanimous interpretations of the Fathers, even if they did not intend for their interpretations to be binding- Holy Church makes them so. Thoughts?