Session A: Online Only
Simeon Burke, Cambridge Theological Federation, ‘From Sayings to Texts: The Development of Literary Contextualisation in the Early Christian Re-Use of Jesus’s Words’
If René Nünlist was right to note that the study of ancient literary contextualisation—the reading practice of attending to the immediate textual context of a word, line or saying—is still in its infancy, then how much more true is this of the study of early Christian literary contextualisation. In this paper, I address this problem by tracing a diversity of early Christian attempts to negotiate the immediate literary contexts of Jesus’s sayings. I argue that the development of literary contextualisation was a gradual one, moving from the decontextualised use of Jesus’s sayings in ethical discussions, to the use of contextual details in exegesis and, finally, the theorisation and articulation of literary context as a hermeneutical principle. This last reading practice, I contend, originates with two, significant early Christian authors: Tertullian of Carthage and Origen of Alexandria. This paper therefore opens up a fresh and much-needed, hermeneutical perspective on the early Christian re-use of Jesus’s words and offers historically contextualised explanations for the various reading strategies employed by the earliest readers of the gospels.
Andrew Doole, University of Innsbruck, Austria, ‘Making the ‘Bad Guy’ Even Worse: Early Christian Commentary on Barabbas’
Barabbas just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. In the canonical gospels he appears to have taken part in anti-establishment στάσις (Mark 15:7), even murder (Luke 23:19) and is thus designated a λῃστής (John 18:40) and a δέσμιος ἐπίσημος (Matt 27:16). The idea that the people of Jerusalem wanted him set free is credible; the idea that the Romans would set him free less so. Yet when later Christian commentators come to explain Barabbas, his status as a ‘bad guy’ escalates rather quickly as he becomes a type. But which type? For Augustine he is the sinner, guilty of “many crimes” yet receiving a pardon. For Origen he is the scapegoat sent alive into the wilderness, but he is also the evil in every human soul. For Hilary of Poitier and Ambrose, Barabbas is the Antichrist. The Judean insurrectionist also becomes emblematic of the sins of ‘the Jews’. I will look at patristic commentary on Barabbas to show how antisemitic sentiment and allegorical hermeneutics turn a single prisoner into evil personified.
Chloe Church, University of Exeter and University of Bristol, ‘Titian as Biblical Interpreter: The Construction of Sexual Violence in Titian’s Annunciation (1564)’
This paper is a reception-historical investigation of the sexually violent interpretation of the Annunciation to Mary (Lk 1:26-38) in Titian’s Annunciation (1564). The image falls into a subcategory of Titian’s paintings that represent scenes of rape from Greek and Roman mythology, for example his Rape of Europa (1560-2) and Lucretia and Tarquin (1571). This paper explores how Titian’s visual exegesis problematises a normative reading of the Annunciation narrative and raises questions about the nature of Gabriel’s visit. It uses a twostep methodology for image analysis, firstly focussing on the composition and the deviances from the biblical account. Secondly, it provides evidence for how and why the narrative is represented as a moment of sexual violence, with specific attention being given to the contextual factors that affected the interpretation. In light of the findings, I pose the question of whether any visual representation of the Annunciation can exist in isolation from themes of sexual violence; the tension between male/female, initiator/receiver, and active/passive making the Annunciation narrative innately problematic when translated into the visual mode.
Siobhán Jolley, University of Manchester, ‘Reframing Female Power: Davis, Barocci, and Mary Magdalene’
What does female power look like in the canonical Gospels? Taking the case study of Mary Magdalene and her reception in Barocci’s 1590 Christ Appears to Saint Mary Magdalene and Garth Davis’ 2018 eponymous film, this paper will offer one possible answer to this question: counter-hegemonic agency. In Christ Appears, Barocci inverts the typical dynamics of the Johannine Noli Me Tangere by presenting Christ reaching out to the Magdalene. In Mary Magdalene, Davis presents her as a close disciple of Jesus (against social norms and only contentiously integrated amongst the male disciples). Both artistic ‘adaptations’ (after Hutcheon) express female power through the Magdalene’s agency in responding to Jesus’ call(s), rather than passively awaiting his liberation.1 Using Bal’s notion of ‘framing’ to engage film, artwork and biblical text, this paper will argue that this theme is also present in the Gospel accounts. 2 It will thus propose a reception-critical reading of Mary Magdalene’s agency therein as a model for female power that is at once feminist, Christian and rooted in subversive action contrary to patriarchal norms.
Katie Turner, ‘The Good Jew: Christian Representations of “Authentic” Judaism’
Midway through the 15th-century East-Anglian N-Town Passion Play, Jesus sits down to a Passover meal with his apostles. He relays God’s commandment to remember the Passover (Ex. 13:3-10) and explains the significance of the meal, before explicitly linking Passover to the Eucharist and his forthcoming death on the Cross. Meanwhile, on another stage, the High Priests Annas and Caiaphas, and their retinue, plot Jesus’ arrest and execution. They do not commemorate Passover as God commanded, or indeed, at all. The simultaneous performance of these two scenes highlights the juxtaposition of each group’s piety and priorities.
This paper will look at how the N-Town Passion Play positions Jesus as a ‘good’ Jew in order to communicate anti-Judaic notions regarding Jewish ‘ignorance’ of their own scriptures, before reflecting on how some modern dramatizations, attempting to ‘accurately’ represent Jesus’ Jewishness (often in an attempt to combat antisemitism), inadvertently do the same.
Elizabeth Corsar, St Padarn’s Institute & Julia Lindenlaub, University of Edinburgh, ‘Imagining the Composition of the Fourth Gospel in Late Antique Apocryphal Acts’
The circumstances in which the Fourth Gospel was composed were of considerable interest in late antiquity, as exemplified by two contrasting examples in the Acts of Timothy and the Acts of John by Prochorus. The former focuses on John as an editor of the Synoptic gospels and portrays him writing in response to these predecessors; the latter dramatizes John as a prophet receiving his gospel on a mountain top, responding only to divine revelation from heaven. While at first glance these imaginings appear starkly distinct, the Fourth Gospel itself evinces a multifaceted representation of its composition. This paper will examine John’s use of prior gospel material in the Acts of Timothy 8–10 in light of the Fourth Gospel’s original epilogue, as well as John’s prophetic portrayal in the Acts of John by Prochorus 2.28–32 in light of the original gospel’s indications of scriptural status. In this way, these texts attest the Fourth Gospel’s especially generative impact on late antique Christian authors’ imaginings of gospel composition.
Lynn E. Mills, Trinity College Dublin, ‘The Holy Spirit Variant in the Lukan Lord’s Prayer’
There is a little-known variant in the Lukan Lord’s Prayer which replaces “your kingdom come” with a request for the Holy Spirit to come and cleanse us. Textual critical study of variants has generally been divided into two approaches. The traditional approach seeks to find the “original text,” while the other examines variants in order to learn about the theology and history of the early church. To focus singularly on the Urtext excludes the value of variants which provide rich and illuminating insight into the transmission and reception of scripture. Indeed, reception history is widely acknowledged as shaping our understanding of the meaning of a composition. This paper analyzes the arguments for and against the authenticity of the variant and how this tradition may inform notions of cleansing by the divine Spirit.
Anna Budhi-Thornton, University of Manchester, ‘”It’s Raining Manliness”: The Complex Interaction of Masculine Ideals in the Gospel of John’
Recognising the complexities of gender construction in the New Testament is by no means a new phenomenon, especially when considering masculinity as has been discovered by scholars such as Conway, Wilson and Emmett. In this paper, I seek to establish and display the complex nature of New Testament masculine gender construction, both within a single model and in the interaction between two models of first century masculine ideals. To do this, I will analyse two events in the life of Jesus as described in the Gospel of John. Firstly, the violent way in which Jesus drives the people out of the temple (John 2:13-22) as an example of internalised complexity within the perception of Hebrew masculinity. Secondly, the torturous flogging Jesus receives from Roman soldiers before his execution (John 19:1-6) as an example of how Roman and Hebrew perceptions of masculinity can contrast and interact.
James Crossley, St Mary’s University/CenSAMM, ‘Apocalypticism at the Time of Christian Origins: The Language of the Oppressed or the Writing of the Elite?’
The old cliché that apocalypticism was the language of the oppressed has seemingly been made obsolete by a range of recent scholarship (particularly North American) which has emphasised that apocalypticism was a scribal and even elite discourse and a means of describing or constructing their own displacement. While this corrective has indisputable merit, the often-polarised debate can miss the point by attaching apocalypticism to a particular socio-economic position or status rather than understanding apocalypticism as a broader shared language which crossed status and class. This paper will provide relevant cross-cultural and first-century examples from Judea and Galilee to show how complex class dynamics were in the articulation of upheaval, imperialism, and a new world order. Particular attention will be paid to issues of class and status with reference to the leadership and adherents of ‘apocalyptic’ or ‘millenarian’ movements and how such movements related to changing social, economic, and political circumstances.