James has already posted a report
on the Reception of the Biblical World session in Lisbon. I have to agree with him about Lisbon being a great city, though I suspect I saw a much more sedate and touristy version than he did. Strange then that EABS didn't have an empty session partway through for people to schedule a trip out. The end result seemed to be that people just took off at anytime, and you could not rely on anyone being there at a given time. The distance of the Faculty from the conference hotels meant you couldn't just pop in and see who was around (something I will definitely consider in future decisions about attending these conferences). I also understand (because I didn't go, of course) that one or two later sessions also moved papers around when speakers didn't turn up, which adds to the sense of a conference not quite comfortable with itself. I hope EABS will manage to sort this out because the three and a half hour slots are brilliant (though my timekeeping was pretty poor), much better than the SBL format, and the lack of dominant text based themes makes the possibilities much more exciting than the BNTC's depressing reliance on text seminars (yet another added this year on the Catholic Epistles!). The sooner the BNTC abandons these, the better!
Anyhow, enough whining.
The session on Reception history took place on Monday morning and was both great fun (very important) and full of academic interest (also important, but slightly less so :)
Emma England's paper on the retelling of the Noah story in children's stories analysed the ways in which the stories characters were represented as the tale was being re-told. Very striking was the freedom that these authors felt to refocus and alter the tale to achieve their own ends, whether moral or literary. One suspects that if asked about this, they would feel none of the guilt that many other bible readers would feel if caught out doing the same thing.
My paper was... well, my paper. I got away with arguing that Cash wrote a better apocalypse that John of Patmos, I think. Of course, I had loaded the dice somewhat, but, hey, it was my paper and hence my prerogative. I also felt a certain weight lifting from my shoulders. When I first started out writing about Cash, I took his own words about his puzzlement too literally and saw him as a poor exegete. But scrap the term exegete - as I wish we all would - and in fact his song is a great apocalypse, written by an inspired interpreter of the biblical texts. It was also good to get Depeche Mode's "John the Revelator" in there. Why bother critiquing Revelation when they did such a good job of it!
James Crossley's paper on the Manchester music scene was an inspired tour through the changing musical tasts of the late 70's thru early 90s. The use of biblical materials was spectacularly broad, but very noticably different as you went through Joy Division, The Fall, The Stone Roses and The Smiths. As James went on to show, so much related to the social setting of the music scene of each of the segments of the period, with each one's drugs of choice and differing takes on Manchester as either dull and dreary or as Madchester. There was so much there, and clearly James was enjoying himself hugely.
Whereas James and myself had kept biblical materials light or late on, Mark Blackwell started his paper with the Genesis 19 narrative of Lot in Sodom before going on to The Grateful Dead's song "Gomorrah". An excellent analysis of the song and its setting against the background of gay activism in the San Francisco of the late 70s ended the paper. Call me a bit hardcore, but I found the readings of the song with its "don't look back" motif against 70's San Francisco really intriguing and wanted more of that rather than the traditional readings that Mark started with. But that is the thing with presenting in a session - sometimes it is not just about your paper but also about the order in which they come. In Boston, the Cash Youttube paper follows two papers on Ruth and two on Job, before the Apocalypse and the Zombies hit town. Not a clue how to handle that yet .
James has written quite a bit about Reception History recently, here
, and here
, and I just haven't had the time to respond. We had a good chat about this with others on Monday lunchtime and it is clear that there are different views on what all this means. For some, the discipline will continue as it is, with the withholding of jobs being the primary means of restricting Reception History. For others, the discipline is on the verge of collapse as its narrow concerns become less convincing to those who fund our departments. I guess I am somewhere between the two. I think jobs remain an issue, and I think it wise for someone working in Reception History to try to write a traditional piece if they can easily do so (just to prove they can teach NT 101). But the truth of the matter is that there is no real difference between Historical Criticism and Reception History in terms of method - in fact, what else is the synoptic problem but a study in Reception History, or Schweitzer's Quest or Sanders' Paul? Anyone well trained in the skills needed for the latter, can do the former (if they have the language skills). They won't be a Neutestamentler in some people's eyes, but that breed is losing ground anyway. The fact is that New Testament studies is a narrow over-studied field (as anyone who strays into Patristics can tell you) which offers little in the way of exciting PhD topics for students. (Other will no doubt disagree, but then some people can get excited about anything - I certainly have in the past :) In the near twenty years that I have been doing this, Sheffield has had a significant influence on things, and its former students are placed at a number of institutions now. Some are very traditional, but others are not. Glasgow and Bristol, with certain folk in Oxford mean that more opportunities are available now than then and this can only continue, I think.
Perhaps the biggest change coming is that Reception History is going to lose any sense of embarrassment about itself. Unlike James, I don't think that Reception History and Historical Criticism will peacefully co-exist because they have different interests. I think that the former is going to 'colonise' (and I use that word advisedly) the current discipline of New Testament Studies and effectively make it a sub-set of Reception History regardless of its protestations. This is the obvious outcome of the ideological criticism of current scholarship and its social location. It is really all about naming the old discipline correctly. What is currently thought of as OT or NT Studies is really an imaginative game played by scholars and it is those people and their interests and ideas that are an irreducible part of what Reception History will one day call the 'Historical Critical method'. Personally I am looking forward to it :)