If you are interested in learning more about scholarship on the New Testament, but at a lay person’s level, this is the post for you! It is about a podcast that might be (probably is) right up your alley, set up and run by two graduate students from Duke University who have worked with me over the past few years.
One of the real pleasures of teaching graduate students in New Testament/early Christianity at UNC is that Duke is just ten miles away, with its own graduate program. The New Testament program at Duke program in New Testament has a different focus from ours here at at UNC. To put it in the most simple terms, at UNC we have a more historically-focused approach and at Duke they have a more interpretation-focused approach. Of course, you can’t do one without the other. But I tend to teach historical topics to our students, with interpretation of texts as part of what we do; many of their classes are more focused on interpretation with history as the backdrop and corollary.
Neither approach is better than the other. They are simply different. But it is fantastic that the two programs are so close to one another. Graduate students in one program can take seminars at the other, faculty member serve on committees in both places, there are reading groups with faculty and students from both places. It’s an unusual and quite remarkable combination.
Two of the superb graduate students from Duke that I’ve had in my courses in recent years are Ian Mills and Laura Robinson. Together they do a podcast devoted to New Testament studies that should appeal to virtually everyone on the blog, just the kind of thing that many (most!) of you would find incredibly helpful.
Laura and Ian have agreed to submit two posts to explain the New Testament Review podcast. Here is the first one. They will be happy to address your comments and answer your questions.
Blog Post #1
The New Testament Review
Ian Mills and Laura Robinson
What is the “Messianic Secret”? The “New Perspective on Paul”? Why is ‘gnosticism’ sometimes written in scare quotes? New Testament studies, like any discipline, relies on a shared vocabulary that can be obscure to outsiders and initiates. The interested reader may open an academic commentary or download a journal article to discover that the author is answering questions or critiquing positions they did not bother to articulate. The academic study of the New Testament has a long history that provides contemporary scholars with a set of working categories and conventions.
The New Testament Review podcast surveys influential works of scholarship in the field of New Testament studies in order to demystify scholarly language and trace the genealogy of on-going debates. In each episode, we review a single work of New Testament scholarship that has exerted some significant influence on the field. We discuss, first, the state of the field when the piece was written. Then, for the bulk of the episode, we summarize the work’s argument. Finally, we treat the reception of the piece in subsequent scholarship.
So, to take up one of our opening questions: What is the Messianic Secret? Our Episode #2 explains that William Wrede identified a motif of secrecy in the Gospel according to Mark which he termed Das Messiasgeheimnis or “the Messianic Secret.” Wrede argued that this motif could not be rooted in the activity of the historical Jesus and was, instead, imposed across the Jesus tradition to explain why Jesus himself never claimed to be the Messiah. Although Wrede’s explanation of this motif convinced few scholars, his identification of the motif itself and diagnosis of the need for an ideological (rather than historical) explanation is now widely accepted.
Secondly, what is the “New Perspective on Paul”? Our Episode #8 outlines EP Sanders’ groundbreaking study of grace, covenant, and law observance in Second Temple Judaism. Sanders demonstrates that ancient Jewish literature does not reflect the system of merit and guilt that interpreters had read into Paul’s polemic against “works of the law.” This, along with Krister Stendahl’s observation that Paul did not suffer from a troubled conscience (covered in Episode #1), constitute the fundamental insights of this “new perspective.”
Third, scholars often place ‘gnosticism’ in scare quotes because, as covered in Episode #29, Michael Williams and Karen King argue that the use of this term as a category for a variety of religious movements in antiquity implies a degree of similarity or kind of historical genealogy that is not supported by the evidence. In response to Williams and King, some scholars have nuanced their use of ‘gnostic’ to refer to a more specific group of Christians, while others have abandoned the term altogether.
There is a tension at the heart of the podcast: We (Laura Robinson and Ian Mills) started recording episodes while preparing together for comprehensive examinations. These exams require doctoral students to respond to a series of essay prompts at a fairly high level, incorporating relevant scholarship from the history of the field. We wanted the podcast to be a useful review of important scholarship for future doctoral students studying for their own comprehensive exams. The episodes are not, therefore, thematic surveys or introductions to key concepts – but reviews of a specific work of scholarship. At the same time, we wanted to make the field accessible to outsiders and initiates. The result is a narrow and detailed discussion of New Testament scholarship alongside an explanation of technical terms and methodological assumptions in everyday language.
We do not have a Bart Ehrman episode published yet – although a review of his Orthodox Corruption of Scripture is coming down the pipeline. In the meanwhile, readers of this blog will find discussions of Ehrman’s scholarship in our reviews of Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy (Episode # 26) and Hindy Najman’s Seconding Sinai (Episode #34). Alternatively, the podcast website (https://newtestamentreview.blogspot.com/) allows listeners to search through our back catalog of episodes by topic, text, or name.