2011 Social World of the New Testament

Session 1

Questioning ‘Context’ in the Study of the Gospels

This paper highlights the dominance of ‘context’ in NT Social World and Markan studies and offers Bruno Latour’s critique of the ‘social’ as a timely corrective to this approach. Within scholarly work, ‘context’ can sometimes be described as a consensus of method, or even the only agreed upon consensus in a field of study. If, however, context is not something in which we can place other things, then more and more context will not achieve greater results in New Testament studies. We cannot simply take everything we know about the ancient world and put it together under the banner of ‘context’ as a way of revealing Mark, Matthew, Luke, or Jesus. Instead, Latour suggests the need to do the slow and sometimes painful work of establishing real connections which tell us something about the way that elements and agencies are gathered as groups, are traced and retraced, and (may) become stable through various means. The task is to establish such connections, not to assume their existence through the floating ether of ‘context’. This paper considers in particular the work of C. Clifton Black in his evaluation of ‘Mark as Historian of God’s Kingdom’ (CBQ 2009) alongside the approach of Latour. The question under consideration is not one of deciding whether supernatural elements in Mark’s gospel – such as Gods and demons – and sacred spaces like the Kingdom are ‘real’, but asking what difference they make, and through which ways and means they may mobilize and stabilize religious groups.

Session 2

Ed Kaneen (Durham University)

The Suffering of the Willing Slave: Discipleship as Slavery in Mark 10.44 in the light of Conceptual Blending Theory

The use of slavery as a metaphor is very common in the New Testament. Those appearing in the Pauline literature have been investigated regularly. However, there has yet to be a full treatment of slave metaphors in the gospels. Moreover, the extensive theories of metaphor from other disciplines have seldom made an appearance in the work of New Testament scholars. This paper will make a first step in addressing this by investigating one such metaphor in one gospel: ‘whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all’ (Mark 10:44). Conceptual Blending Theory will be used to understand this metaphor, both in the context of the gospel and of ancient slavery. The outcome is a metaphor which gives the physical suffering, and even death, that a slave might experience a positive valuation as the pinnacle of discipleship in the situation of Mark’s audience. In so doing, some of the most abhorrent practices of the ancient world are not condemned but prized, even glorified.


Session 3

Dr Stephen Barton (Durham University)

Joy among the emotions in early Christianity

In contrast with study of the emotions in the social sciences and classics, study of the emotions in early Christianity appears to be in its infancy. This paper argues that joy is among the pre-eminent emotions in early Christianity and that it is a prime indicator of what Mary Douglas calls 'living the sacred order'. In comparison with the emotion of grief, there is a strong contrast between an emotion requiring constraint and discipline on the one hand and an emotion allowed wide expression. What constitutes the difference is the first Christians' metaphysical horizon of realized eschatology. The coming of God's messiah, the crucifixion and resurrection of the messiah and the coming of the Spirit are salvific events that render grief otiose, inviting instead a kind of social and emotional effervescence captured at least in part in the language and display of joy. Paul's letter to the Philippians will serve as primary evidence for the argument overall.

Open Discussion

The second half of the session will consist of an open discussion concerning the future direction of the seminar and the appointment of a co-chair.