2015 Synoptic Gospels

Session 1

Help for Lazarus: Failure and Prospect in Luke 16:19-31

The rich man in the parable of Luke 16:19-31 has been castigated for his treatment of poor Lazarus, sitting at his gate. Hays, Crossan, and Metzger, among others, offer differing perspectives on what exactly the rich man did to deserve the torments of Hades. In this paper we will listen to a spectrum of cultural voices, both Jewish and Greco-Roman, that establish the responsibility of the prosperous to share their material resources with the suffering poor. Within such an intertextual conversation—one that is consistent with the Lukan perspective on wealth and poverty—the inexcusability of the rich man’s lack of response to the destitution of Lazarus is pronounced. We will then see how in Acts there is a narrative sequel to this failure, with the accounts of the early believers’ handling of possessions and their response to the needy among them. It is in Luke’s second volume that this parable’s teaching about charity is concretized and presented as a commendable prospect for those in Jesus’ community of believers. 

George van Kooten (University of Groningen)

Matthew’s Magoi: An Exploration of Matthew’s Antiochene Gospel between Roman West and Parthian East

This paper researches the meaning and importance of the Magoi in Matthew’s narrative of the Star of Bethlehem. As New Testament scholarship seems to hold the consensus view that the Star of Bethlehem narrative is built on Balaam’s Prophecy, it has hardly if ever delved into the question of why Matthew referred to these visiting pagans as Magoi. Based on a full new assessment of all Graeco-Roman sources on the Magoi, and on the other Mesopotamian-Babylonian evidence gathered in the “Quellen zur Geschichte des Partherreiches” (Hackl & Jacobs et al., eds; Göttingen 2010, 3 vols), this paper argues that the Magoi are the king-makers of the Parthian empire.  Chronological stratification of all Graeco-Roman sources may suggest whether Matthew totally devised the story, or if there is some historical kernel to it. It seems that in Matthew’s own time the Magoi had become derided because of strongly anti-Parthian polemics. Matthew’s use of Magus, however, is distinctively positive, and seems to reflect the positive use of the term in the Augustan era, when there was a unique peace process between Romans and Parthians between 20 BC and AD 2. Subsequently, it is shown that this story had an enormous importance for Matthew. He did not see it as the fulfilment of Balaam’s prophecy, as the conspicuous lack of Matthew’s characteristic Old Testament fulfilment formula indicates. Rather, Augustan traditions regarding the Magoi, who were king-makers, performed proskynesis and were interested in political developments in Syria-Judaea, were now taken by him as the model of true discipleship: the Magoi are the first to perform proskynesis towards Jesus, to be followed by the disciples. Finally, this is brought to bear on the likely Sitz-im-Leben of Matthew in Syrian Antioch: it is this city from where the Roman legions marched against Parthia, and the city that was attacked by the Parthians in return. By bringing both Romans and Parthian Magoi into the narrative, Matthew portrays Jesus’ kingdom as an alternative kingdom, very different from Roman and Parthian conceptions of political power.

'Your sins are forgiven': Jesus’ Role at the Heavenly Altar and Mark’s Conception of Monotheism

While scholars continue to use the terminology “low” and “high” Christology as shorthand to signify that the Markan Jesus is either “merely human,” or “more than human,” many are becoming increasingly aware that the complexity of this issue is not solved by posing a simple dichotomy. This paper takes up the debate at a point that has been leveled by both sides as clear evidence for their respective positions, namely, the pericope where Jesus announces to the paralytic, “your sins are forgiven” (2:1–12). I argue that this pericope opens our eyes to two essential and interrelated issues: (1) Jesus’ current high priestly position (i.e. vis-à-vis the reader) at the right hand of God; (2) Mark’s commitment to a monotheistic framework (cf. Mark 10:18). In order to address these points, I propose the following approach. First, I take my cue from Elizabeth Struthers Malbon that the “ideal reader” of Mark’s Gospel is, in fact, a “re-reader.” I use this approach to analyze the ways in which Mark’s narrative communicates the significance of Jesus’ heavenly exaltation (Mark 1:3; 2:20; 8:38; 12:35–37; 13:26; 14:62). Second, I add context to the concept of heavenly exaltation by exploring Jewish texts that evince an “apocalyptic cosmology,” whereby the earthly Temple relies on its efficacy from God’s throne in heaven. Third, I demonstrate that a central component of Jesus’ heavenly “session” for Mark’s readers is his role as high priest in the heavenly sanctuary. I do this by both exploring narrative links between Jesus’ behavior as priest (e.g. 2:5) and Jesus’ trial before the high priest (14:62; cf. Acts 7), and by looking at Mark’s allusions to Scripture (esp. Ps 110 and Dan 7). Finally, I bring all these points to bear on my analysis of Mark 2:1–11. I suggest that this passage offers us, in nuce, Mark’s response to the objection, “Who can forgive sins but the one God” (2:7)? For Mark, the one God is glorified by the extension of God’s forgiveness through the exalted Son of Man—a figure who is not “merely human,” but who absolutely must be human. 

Session 2

Francis Watson (Durham University)
Eddie Adams (King's College London)
Wendy North (Durham University)

Panel Review and Discussion with Francis Watson of his 'Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective' (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2013)

Joint Session between Johnnine Literature and Synoptic Gospels Seminars

That there are four canonical versions of the one gospel story is often seen as a problem for Christian faith: where gospels multiply, so too do apparent contradictions that may seem to undermine their truth claims. In Gospel Writing Francis Watson argues that differences and tensions between canonical gospels represent opportunities for theological reflection, not problems for apologetics.Watson presents the formation of the fourfold gospel as the defining moment in the reception of early gospel literature — and also of Jesus himself as the subject matter of that literature. As the canonical division sets four gospel texts alongside one another, the canon also creates a new, complex, textual entity more than the sum of its parts. A canonical gospel can no longer be regarded as a definitive, self-sufficient account of its subject matter. It must play its part within an intricate fourfold polyphony, and its meaning and significance are thereby transformed. In elaborating these claims, Watson proposes nothing less than a new paradigm for gospel studies — one that engages fully with the available noncanonical material so as to illuminate the historical and theological significance of the canonical.

Session 3

Andrew Angel (St John's Nottingham)

Angry Gods and Thessalian Witches: What Virgil, Horace, Petronius and others in the Roman Literary Gang can teach us about the Son of Man

Resolution to debates about the meaning of Jesus’ Son of Man sayings founders on many factors, including the nature of the language of cosmic catastrophe. N.T. Wright has argued that this language refers to ‘earth-shattering’ historical events. Dale C. Allison disputes his reading of prophetic and second temple Jewish texts, asserting that this language is, as Wright argues, theologically rich but that it is literal and that it refers to the end and renewal of the world in the words of Jesus and Paul, citing in evidence cosmic catastrophe language in ancient Stoicism. Gerald Downing argues similarly on the basis of Stoic use of cosmic catastrophe language, and lamenting the fact that Greco-Roman parallels are rarely taken seriously in this discussion. On this basis,  Edward Adams has argued that comparison with the Stoic doctrine of ekpurosis supports reading ‘cosmic catastrophe’ language as referring to the end and renewal of the world. Wright has only offered a provisional reply to date promising to come back to this vexed issue at a later time. This paper offers further material for considering how Greco-Roman writings might contribute to resolving this issue of how early Christians would have used and heard the language of cosmic catastrophe, arguing that if anything they support reading this language as referring to events within history, and particularly what are perceived to be important historical events.

Mark 13 and the Return of the Shepherd

This paper will offer a heretofore unexplored avenue of interpretation of Mark 13, with a view to demonstrating the extent, and determinative importance, of the Zecharian framework. It will argue that Zechariah 13:7-14:5 is the underlying prophetic text which supplies the discourse’s shape and meaning,  and will provide further support for the parousia view in light of recent challenges by, e.g., N.T. Wright, Thomas Hatina, Scot McKnight, Michael Bird, and Rikki Watts. My proposal is that Mark understands Zechariah 13:7-14:5 to contain a series of events, beginning with the “striking of the shepherd” (Zech 13:7; cited in Mark 14:27) and ending with the “coming of the Lord with all his holy ones” (Zech 14:5; alluded to, in a textual combination with Dan 7:13, in Mark 8:38 and consequently 13:26-7). The events described between these verses in Zechariah are the tribulations of the remnant, the attack of Jerusalem, and the consequential affliction. By noting discernible exegetical practices of text combination in Mark, and by utilizing William Tooman’s criteria for determining reuse of scripture (uniqueness, distinctiveness, thematic correspondence, multiplicity, and inversion) as described in Gog of Magog (2011), this paper will demonstrate that the Olivet discourse is framed with overt allusions to these passages from Zechariah, and that the discourse itself is littered with numerous allusions lexically distinct to, and thematically dependent upon, Zechariah 13:7-14:5. Such a method will demonstrate that the arrangement of the discourse is dependent upon Zech 13:7-14:5 as a base text, and argue that the proper interpretation of the discourse is one that describes general suffering followed by disciple-suffering, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the subsequent return of the Son of Man with his holy angels.

Tommi K. Karjalainen (University of St Andrews)

By Which Name?: Exorcistic Solomon and Matthew’s Beelzebul Controversy

In this paper I claim that awareness of the traditions that saw Solomon as an exorcist (e.g. T.Sol.; Josephus, Ant. 8:42–49) is key to understanding Jesus’s obscure words, “By whose name do your sons then cast out demons?” (Matt 12:27). The evangelist employs the exorcism in 12:22 to present Jesus as a greater exorcist than the Pharisees’ sons, and even greater than Solomon. Although some scholars have seen a possible Solomonic connection in 12:23, this has not been applied to the narrative as a whole. Rather, Jesus’s words in 12:27 are widely explained as a general counter-accusation: If the Pharisees accept that some of their own sons perform exorcisms, what prevents Jesus from doing the same? This solution, however, undercuts what appears to be a central feature of the narrative, namely, the unique nature of Jesus’s exorcisms. I propose, instead, that the main force of Jesus’ rejoinder—“by whose name” (ἐν τίνι)—emphasizes the means by which exorcisms were usually performed. The historical evidence implies that the Pharisees’ sons rely on Solomon’s name to gain power over demons (Ant. 8.46). In Matthew’s account Jesus performs exorcisms without having to evoke Solomon’s—or anyone else’s—name (12:22). This explains the crowd’s wonder, “Can this be the Son of David?” (12:23). In this light they could not have made this connection without awareness of the exorcistic Solomon traditions. Thus the title ‘Son of David’ in this pericope does not only refer to the Messiah (1:1), but also evokes another son of David, Solomon, who was considered as the Jewish exorcist par excellence. In this way Matthew shows that Jesus not only exorcises in his ‘own name,’ but also forms an unprecedented threat to Beelzebul’s kingdom.