With many of my colleagues and postgrads, I’ve just arrived back home from the Annual Meetings of the AAR and SBL in San Antonio, where Edinburgh was ably represented. Helen Bond spoke in a session on John’s relation to the Synoptic Gospels. Paul Foster spoke in the Q section reviewing new books by Sarah Rollens and Giovanni Bazzana. Larry Hurtado’s new book Destroyer of the Gods was itself the subject of a very interesting panel review. Edinburgh PhD student Teresa McCaskill gave a paper on the ecstasy of Hildegard of Bingen, Daniel Jackson a paper on divine presence in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and Elijah Hixson on a staurogram in a fragmentary manuscript of John’s Gospel.
For my part, I was a participant, together with David Frankfurter and Kyle Harper, in the panel review of Hurtado’s book, which raised crucial methodological questions about comparison in the study of religion. Larry has written a brief report on the session on his own blog. I was also part of the Extent of Theological Diversity in Earliest Christianity Seminar, where I gave a paper entitled “Whither Messiah Christology?”—an exploration of the curious fate of messiah Christology in early Christianity. I argued that, contrary to a view popular among New Testament scholars (e.g., George MacRae), patrists (e.g., Aloys Grillmeier), and rabbinicists (e.g., Jacob Neusner), it is not the case that early Christian writers abandoned messianism as a category and redefined “Christ” to suit their own theological projects. In fact, the interpretation of Jesus as “messiah” or “anointed” persisted both as a puzzle and as an opportunity for a wide range of early Christian writers, proto-orthodox, proto-heterodox, and otherwise: from Hebrews and Luke-Acts, to Justin and Tertullian, to the Gospel of Philip and the Pseudo-Clementines. The paper explored what these various early Christian messiah texts suggest about the extent of christological diversity in early Christianity. The research summarized in the paper forms a chapter of my new book The Grammar of Messianism: An Ancient Jewish Political Idiom and Its Users (Oxford University Press), forthcoming in March 2017. The book gives a programmatic account of the many, varied uses of the figure of speech “anointed” (“messiah,” “Christ”) in texts spanning the Hellenistic and Roman periods. I’ll have more to say about the book on the CSCO blog in due course; for now I urge readers to keep an eye out for it in the new year.