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New Testament Studies at the Turn of the Millennium: Questions for the Discipline1

  • Larry W. Hurtado (a1)

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In choosing the title for these reflections, I have attempted to note not only a transition in the occupant of the Chair of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology in the University of Edinburgh, but also the historic period in which this transition takes place, in the closing years of one millennium, approaching the threshold of a new one. In an effort to engage the interests of a wide circle of readers in various scholarly specialities, I have also chosen to discuss (though only in very limited depth) several major questions, each of which could occupy us for much longer than space here permits. I hope at least to underline their importance, and to sketch a rationale for the positions I shall advocate. I cannot hope that this sketch will persuade anyone not already inclined to my views, but I can perhaps indicate that they are not without reason. If a thorough treatment is not possible here, I shall at least endeavour to be clear, and this may better stimulate the reflections of others.

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2 For a historical survey of New Testament scholars in the University of Edinburgh, see now O'Neill, J. C., ‘New Testament’, in Disruption to Diversity: Edinburgh Divinity 1846–1996, eds. Wright, D. F., Badcock, G. D. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996), 7397.

3 Schlatter, Adolf, ‘The Theology of the New Testament and Dogmatics’, in The Nature of New Testament Theology, ed. Morgan, R. (SBT ss 25; London:SCM, 1973), 117166; Cullmann, Oscar, ‘The Necessity & Function of Higher Criticism’, in The Early Church, ed. Higgins, A. J. B. (London: SCM, 1956), 316; Ebeling, Gerhard, ‘The Significance of the Critical Historical Method for Church and Theology in Protestantism’, in Word and Faith (London: SCM, 1963), 1761; Brown, R. E., The Critical Meaning of the Bible (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1982).

4 I draw mainly here upon my eighteen years in the Department of Religion of the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.

5 See, e.g., Casanova, José, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1994); Kepel, Gilles, The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994; French 1991).

6 ‘Religious Studies’ also designates the faith-oriented programmes of parish education in Roman Catholic circles, the adjective in ‘Religious Studies’ is unavoidably ambiguous. For a recent collection of papers examining the field, see Klostermaier, K. K., Hurtado, L. W. (eds.), Religious Studies: Issues, Prospects and Proposals (University of Manitoba Studies in Religion, 2; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991).

7 See, e.g., the standard survey by Quasten, Johannes, Patrology (3 vols.; Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, 1986 [1950]).

8 The theory of a ‘Q’ collection is of course quite widely accepted, though there remain sharp differences over what it may have contained and whether it represents a ‘gospel’ or functioned in some other way. See, e.g., the various points of view in Kloppenborg, J. S. (ed.), The Shape of Q: Signal Essays on the Sayings Gospel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). For a critical assessment of hypotheses about other Christian sources earlier than the surviving Gospels, see, e.g., Meier, J. P., A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1991, 1994) 1: 112141.

9 Note, e.g., the recent study by my Edinburgh colleague, Lim, T. H., Holy Scripture in the Qumran Commentaries and Pauline Letters (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997). For more comprehensive discussion of the sources I mention here, see now Mulder, M.J. (ed.), Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (CRINT 2/1; Assen/Maastricht: Van Gorcum; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).

10 I have attempted to draw upon such research into the Jewish religious matrix in my study of the origins of devotion offered to Christ in earliest Christian circles: One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988; 2nd ed.Edinburgh: T & T Clark 1998).

11 My own current research programme, ‘Christ-Devotion in the First Two Centuries’, involves the sort of integrative research I describe here. In addition to the several essays that have already arisen from this research, I hope to produce a book covering this subject.

12 Cf. now the very interesting recommendations of Gottwald, N. K. about scholars bringing to conscious reflection their ideological tendencies and preferences (‘Triumphalist versus Anti-Triumphalist Versions of Early Israel’, Currents in Research: Biblical Studies 5 (1997): 1542, esp. 26–28.

13 I am encouraged in my view by the somewhat similar criticisms of postmodernist historiography given by Richard J. Evans, ‘Truth Lost in Vain Views’, Times Higher Education Supplement (Sept. 12, 1997), 18; id., In Defence of History (Oxford: Blackwell's, 1997).

14 So far as I am aware, ‘hermeneutics of agape’ is my own phrasing and the inferences as stated here my own. But for the following paragraphs I gratefully acknowledge the fertilisation my thoughts have received from LaFargue, Michael, ‘Are Texts Determinate? Derrida, Barth and the Role of the Biblical Scholar’, HTR 81(1988): 341357, discussions with Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer, and from several essays by my friend Jeffrey, David, e.g., ‘Mistakenly ‘Logocentric’: Centering Poetic Language in a Scriptural Tradition’, Religion and Literature 22 (1990): 3346; Common Sense, Moral Accountability and the Intellectual Life’, Revue générate de droit 25 (1994): 429443. Note now his larger study, People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996).

15 Barthes, Roland, The Pleasure of the Text (New York: Hill & Want, 1975). I thank my colleague Kevin Vanhoozer for pointing me to this work, and for discussions of these matters as I formulated my thoughts for this lecture.

16 Thus, for example, a hermeneutics of agape would have very critical things to say about the author's likely meaning in a work such as Hitler's Mein Kampf!. But even radical critique is fully within the scope of agape guided by seeking to serve truth and promote human flourishing.

17 David L. Jeffrey, ‘Mistakenly ‘Logocentric’’, esp. 36–39.

18 I use the English translation from Krailsheimer, A. J. (trans.), Pascal Pensées (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966), 256 (saying #739). French: ‘La vérité est si obscurcie en ce temps, et le mensonge si établi, qu'à moins que d'aimer la vérité, on ne saurait la connaître’, Pascal, Blaise, Pensées: texte de Léon Brunschvicg (Édition Lutetia; Paris: Nelson, 1955), p. 431 (#864; #863 Lafuma text; #793 Chevalier text).

1 A slightly revised version of the inaugural lecture as Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology in the University of Edinburgh, given 2 October 1997 in New College.

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New Testament Studies at the Turn of the Millennium: Questions for the Discipline1

  • Larry W. Hurtado (a1)

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