SBL/AAR 2015 Annual Meeting in Atlanta

I am currently in Atlanta, Georgia at the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion 2015 annual meeting. So far I have had the chance to meet a lot of people face to face whom I have previously only known online, including Daniel Gullotta, Michael Kok, Wayne Coppins, and Simon Joseph. It’s great to have the chance to make connections like this.

Screenshot 2015-11-22 at 1.08.31 PM

Tonight I will be attending the Bloggers’ Dinner at AAR/SBL in Atlanta, hosted by James McGrath.

I’ll be posting about the sessions that I have been attending in some subsequent posts. I am greatly enjoying this conference!

-Matthew Ferguson

Posted in Academic Conferences, Announcements | 2 Comments

Presenting at the AAR Western Region 2016 Annual Conference

I just received news that my abstract has been accepted to the American Academy of Religion West Coast Region 2016 annual conference. I will be presenting on ancient polytheism and the problem of defining Paganism as the cultural and religious “other.” The conference will be taking place at my alma mater–the University of Arizona!

Screenshot 2015-11-22 at 1.19.31 PM

Here is the abstract for the paper that I will be presenting:

“The 4th century CE saw radical change in Mediterranean history, with the rise of Christian monotheism and the decline of polytheist Greco­-Roman religion. Initially, Christian conversions occurred more rapidly at urban centers, whereas in rural regions the local populations were slower to abandon traditional polytheistic religion. These rural practitioners of polytheism, therefore, received the title “Pagani,” which originally referred to country dwellers, but came to be associated with non­-Christian forms of religion.

What is noteworthy about this development is that the term “Paganism” was an appellation that was originally given from outside of polytheist communities, by Christian monotheists who were describing their theological “other.” In fact, even the term “polytheism” was not coined by practitioners of Greco­-Roman religion, but was used by monotheists to describe worshipers of multiple gods. In turn, Pagan polytheists would describe Christians as “atheists,” because of their denial of multiple divinities.

Although Paganism retreated into the background, following the 4th century rise of Christianity, various forms of polytheistic religion were dominant in the Mediterranean for several preceding millennia. These polytheist religions­­ and the mythologies and philosophies that they produce ­­are important pillars of Western culture, and yet few today understand Greco-­Roman religion as it was originally practiced. This problem of studying dead religions has lead many Classical scholars to describe ancient polytheism as “desperately foreign” from modern religions. Even today, “Paganism” is often used as an umbrella term to describe non­-mainstream religion. If scholars, however, wish to study polytheism with as much seriousness as we study mainstream religions today, the role of the Pagan as the cultural, religious, and spiritual “other” needs to be seriously reevaluated.

This paper aims to break down some of the social and conceptual barriers between polytheism and monotheism, by evaluating parallels in theology, mythos, and community between these seemingly disparate worldviews.”

I look forward to visiting Tucson again after being away for a couple years!

-Matthew Ferguson

Posted in Academic Conferences, Announcements, Classics, Religious Studies | 2 Comments

Whitney Shiner, “Creating Plot in Episodic Narratives: The Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark”

Screenshot 2015-11-19 at 10.29.53 AMIn my last post I discussed Lawrence Wills’ comparison of the Gospels’ literary genre to the Life of Aesop, as a hybrid of ancient novel and biography, in The Quest of the Historical GospelIn this followup post, I will also discuss Whitney Shiner’s comparison of the Life of Aesop to the Gospel of Mark in Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative. The same book also includes an article by Richard Pervo–titled “A Nihilist Fabula: Introducing the Life of Aesop“–which (as the title suggests) likewise discusses the Life of Aesop, and so I will discuss a few points of Pervo’s contribution, as well.

Continue reading

Posted in Ancient Biography, Ancient Novel, Classics, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Lawrence Wills: “The Life of Aesop and the Hero Cult Paradigm in the Gospel Tradition”

In an earlier blog essay I compared the genre of the New Testament Gospels with The Certamen of Homer and Hesiod as a hybrid of ancient novel and biography. As I discuss in my essay “Are the Gospels Ancient Biographies?: The Spectrum of Ancient Βίοι,” there was a great diversity of biographical literature in antiquity, with some Greco-Roman biographies being scholarly and analytical (such as those of Plutarch and Suetonius), while others were more novelistic and hagiographical accounts of popular legendary figures. This distinction is discussed by Classicist Tomas Hägg in The Art of Biography in Antiquity (pg. 99), who writes:

“Simultaneously with the emergence of a bookish form of biography in the late classical and Hellenistic periods, vital biographic traditions were in progress at an oral or subliterary level, concerning in the first place legendary figures of great popular appeal … In contrast to the Lives treated in the previous chapter, which are the works of distinctive authors and largely remain under authorial control, these are anonymous; and they are ‘open texts’, with regard to origin as well as transmission.”

In my comparison of the Gospels with The Certamen of Homer and Hesiod, I argued that, if the Gospels are to be categorized as ancient biographies (a comparison that I do not oppose), then they fit most aptly in the latter category described by Hägg above, of biographical traditions at the oral or subliterary level about figures of great popular appeal. This comparison is based, in part, on the observation that the Gospels, like these popular Lives, operated as ‘open texts,’ which redacted and compiled large amounts of earlier materials (e.g. the Q Gospel, Signs Gospel, and Gospel of Mark), and were more centered around story-telling than critical analysis, with the biographical features of the text being largely peripheral.

61kLPcnPoqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As it turns out, I am not the first to make this comparison between the Gospels and novelistic biographies, since a number of scholars have also noted similar parallels between the Gospels and the Life of Aesop. Most notably, this comparison has been made by Lawrence Wills in The Quest of the Historical Gospel, in a chapter titled “The Life of Aesop and the Hero Cult Paradigm in the Gospel Tradition,” as well as Whitney Shiner in a contributing article to the volume Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative, titled “Creating Plot in Episodic Narratives: The Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark.” Since both of these authors make arguments highly relevant to my earlier comparsion between the Gospels and The Certamen of Homer and Hesiod, I think it will be worthwhile to discuss each of their contributions here on Κέλσος.

In this first post I will discuss the arguments of Lawrence Wills, and in a subsequent post I will discuss those of Whitney Shiner.

Continue reading

Posted in Ancient Biography, Ancient Novel, Classics, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Good Blog Series on the Authorship of the Gospels

 (PhD in Religion, Baylor University, 2010) has been writing an intersting blog series on the authorship of the Gospels, over on his academic blog Know Thyself (Γνῶθι Σεαυτόν in Greek). Among the topics discussed are the internal anonymity of the Gospels, when their manuscripts received their titles, and the 2nd century patristic evidence of the Gospels’ authorship. Parts one, two, three, and four of his series have already been written, and Reich plans to say more.

Know Thyself

This subject is obviously of great interest to me, since my dissertation topic is on ancient authorship, and I particularly plan to evaluate the authorial traditions of the Gospels in light of the publication and authorial practices of other Mediterranean literature during that time period. I recently did a review of Michael Kok’s new book on authorship of Mark, and I appreciate Reich’s recent contributions to this topic, as well.

-Matthew Ferguson

Posted in History, Patristics | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Blog Housekeeping

Two days ago was the three year anniversary of when I first created this blog. I started Κέλσος during the first year of my PhD program, and blogging since then has been great for making academic connections, organizing my thoughts and arguments, and also spreading information about the ancient Mediterranean world to a broader audience. Blogging here has also been a learning experience, and, I must admit, it has often been rather exhausting. 

Now that I am starting work on my PhD dissertation, I’ve decided to close a chapter in this blog’s history. After three years I have written a lot of material, and I plan to write more, both as I work on my dissertation and my book project. However, I would also like to focus the future of this site on this new material.

As such, I have decided to close comments on this blog for posts that are older than six months old. I take the time to write detailed answers to comments on this site, and it is has been difficult to continue doing so for posts and discussion threads that are multiple years old. I figure that half a year is a good timespan for my posts to circulate, get feedback, and have discussion. Some blogs close comments much earlier, but I think that six months is a good window to still allow latecomers to have a say.

I’ve also decided to focus Κέλσος more on my Classics, New Testament, and ancient history work, while I use my other blog, Civitas Humana, for my philosophy, naturalist, and secular humanist writing. Some of my older philosophy essays are still on this blog, but in the future I will be posting new content on these topics on Civ.

-Matthew Ferguson

Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment

Some Scholarly Bibliography on the Historical Jesus and the Apostle Paul

Last Spring quarter, when I was taking graduate seminars on the New Testament and Christian Origins at UC Santa Barbara, I compiled a bibliography of notable scholarship over the last several decades on the historical Jesus and the apostle Paul as part of a class project. Since it is a useful reference list, I have decided to include the bibliography below.

(Note: While I recommend the books on this list, because they are important contributions to the field, that does not constitute agreement or endorsements, especially since they offer a wide range of differing views.)

Historical Jesus: 

Allison, Dale. Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.

Allison, Dale. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.

Allison, Dale. Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters. New York : T & T Clark, 2005. 

Allison, Dale. Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998.

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Beilby, James and Paul Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.

Borg, Marcus. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus & the Heart of Contemporary Faith. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

Borg, Marcus. Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship. London: A&C Black, 1994.

Borg, Marcus and N. T. Wright. The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.

Bornkamm, Günther. Jesus of Nazareth. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1960.

Boyarin, Daniel. The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ. New York: New Press, 2012.

Broadhead, Edwin Keith. Jewish Ways of Following Jesus: Redrawing the Religious Map of Antiquity. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.

Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reasons to DoubtSheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014.

Charlesworth, James. The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2008.

Chilton, Bruce and Craig Evans, eds., Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research. Leiden: Brill, 1998.

Crossan, John. The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus. New York: Harper Collins, 2012.

Crossan, John. Who Killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.

Crossan, John. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

Crossan, John. The Cross that Spoke: The Origins of the Passion Narrative. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.

Crossan, John. In Fragments: The Aphorisms of Jesus. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983.

Continue reading

Posted in Bibliography, Historical Jesus, Historical Paul, History, Religious Studies | 10 Comments