Reception as part of Biblical Studies?
One of the problems of blogging that I have discovered already is the tension between the past, the present, and the future. While wanting to give some idea of how my interests have grown, I risk never actually starting to talk about the present, never mind the future. So let's try to mix things up a little bit here.
In November I presented a paper in the 'History of Interpretation' section at the AAR/SBL Annual Meeting in Philadelphia (‘When is a Jew Not a Jew? Gamaliel the Elder and the Reception of Luke-Acts?’). I am no fan of AAR/SBL meetings, finding the format of the papers a difficult one in which to have any kind of meaningful exchange. (I am tempted to say have less papers and more time, but I guess the meeting would collapse if people couldn't use their papers to get institutional funding). But if the audience includes the right people, the exposure can be very positive, and that was my experience last year. My point, however, is that opportunities to give papers on the subject are increasing and that Reception appears to be becoming a significant component of the SBL agenda (though obviously still dwarfed by traditional studies). Over the next few posts I want to outline some of these opportunities in more detail.
One aspect of reception that younger scholars can be wary of is the feeling that somehow it is 'not' New Testament really. To get a job, the received wisdom goes, you really need to do the basic stuff. (This feeling is not limited to this context - I did not do a PhD in Dead Sea Scrolls because I thought I'd have less chance of a job than doing either OT or NT. As it turned out, OT was scarcely any better and now I teach NT with an OT PhD!) I think there is some truth in this--anyone doing a reception study for their PhD, for example, would be wise to try to teach historical criticism and to publish more traditional essays as well. (Note, I am going to assume the British situation so any junior scholars wanting posts will need to be publishing long before they finish their PhD or they risk cutting down their employment opportunities considerably, especially as the RAE approaches.) This should not really be any more difficult for them than it is for anyone else. Reception is all about historical research after all, and it shares many of the same sensibilities. It has also been my experience that Reception often suggests creative ways into current debates on historical critical issues. As historical criticism becomes increasingly 'chastened' (to quote the editors of the Oxford Bible Commentary), so more space continues to develop within the discipline, even to the point where Reception itself can become part of the chastening process (witness the work of such as Margaret Mitchell on John Chrysostom and Paul, for example). Studies of the ideologies of contemporary interpreters are also significant here.
University Departments of Theology and RS will probably always want us to teach what Paul or Jesus thought and did, but my experience at Bristol is that once that is done at a fairly basic level, then anything with academic credibility goes. So I teach Historical Jesus at second level, but focus on the Questers and not the Historical Jesus himself, and a third level course on the Gospel of John, the first half of which is narrative critical study of the text and the second half is reception of that text in history (which, of course, ends up nicely circular since the former is an example of the latter). But I'll say more about the University of Bristol's attitude towards Reception in a later post.
For now, let me say that I think Reception has a great future in Biblical Studies. In the next few weeks I'll try to justify my optimism.