2011 Synoptic Gospels

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

The Beginning of the ‘Good News’ of Jesus Christ (Mk 1:1): Listening for the Multiple Modes of Discourse in the Text and in Interpretation

The first verse of Mark’s Gospel (Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, [υἱοῦ Θεοῦ] NA27) offers readers a wealth of information for discussion; how individual interpreters will approach the matter of critical reading is just as interesting. In the early days of their use, literary criticism and social-scientific methods were often met with suspicion and where these were employed in an interdisciplinary model they were safely subordinated to the controlling interests of the historico-critical approach. Scholarship today recognizes that every critical methodology arises out of a cultural matrix and is shaped by ideological interests. I take Vernon K. Robbins as a dialogue partner because his ‘socio-rhetorical interpretation’ proposes a consensus–building approach that tries to straddle the old hermeneutical divides between historical, literary and theological models of criticism to produce an integrated reading. Robbins suggests that ‘no interpretive approach is entirely different from all others; no interpretive approach is entirely new. Every mode of analysis and interpretation is related somehow to others’. I will apply each of the three lenses (historical, literary and theological) to the first verse of Mark’s Gospel and using Robbins’s hermeneutic will then offer comments on the multiple modes of discourse present in the text and in critical interpretation.

Hannah Brooks (University of Cambridge)

‘Begin at the Beginning’: The Different Beginnings of Luke’s Gospel.

The proposed aim of this paper is to use the literary-critical approach of narrative criticism to explore three different ‘types’ of narrative beginnings within Luke 1-3. Due to the distinction within narrative criticism between discourse, story and plot, the identification of the beginning of a narrative may not be quite as straightforward as it may first appear. As such, the paper will, first, explore the importance of the preface of Luke’s gospel (Luke 1.1-4) as narrative paratext and as the beginning of the narrative discourse. Secondly, the paper will explore Luke 1.5-2.52 as both the beginning of the narrative story and plot and also as an ab ovo or ‘natural’ beginning, that is, one that begins with an account of a birth or origins. Thirdly and finally, the paper will explore Luke 3 as a contrasting in medias res or ‘artificial’ type of narrative beginning. In each case the paper will pay close attention to how, from the point of view of narrative criticism, the three different beginnings ‘work’. It will also explore the characteristics and techniques particular to each beginning as well as their role and function within the narrative of Luke’s gospel.