Mandaean Convention in San Antonio (AAR/SBL Recap)

Mandaean Convention in San Antonio (AAR/SBL Recap) December 13, 2023

Photo of James McGrath speaking at Mandaean conventionIt was an honor to have the chance to speak at the Mandaean Convention in San Antonio. It was a small gathering, and they were incredibly hospitable to me and the other academics whom they invited. They served some of their characteristic treats, including ashure (Noah’s pudding) with date syrup, date balls rolled in sesame seeds, and a few other things. I spoke about John the Baptist as someone who would seem destined to be a cause for division between Mandaeans and Christians, yet who can also serve as a bridge for those interested in interfaith understanding.

It was striking that later in the event, one of the Mandaeans who spoke quoted the passage from Ginza that mentions not letting your one hand know what the other is doing when you give. There has never been a study of that saying (and I neglected to mention it in my book, alas) but it is just one more of the many examples of things that likely go back to John the Baptist and have thus represent points of commonality embedded in Mandaean and Christian sources.

The conference as a whole was great. I had lots of conversations about John the Baptist and the Mandaeans, and my paper on the way John the Baptist can explain the contents of the Q source was very well received. The paper was based on part of a chapter in my book that will be out next year, probably in October, John of History, Baptist of Faith. My general audience biography of John the Baptist, Christmaker, will be out in the summer. I also participated in AAR’s mentoring program and found it rewarding, and think those who signed up to meet with me did so too.

You can probably recognize me in Frauke Uhlenbruch’s recap of her experience at AAR/SBL in San Antonio. My book The A to Z of the New Testament was available at the conference and even though Eerdmans brought a very large number of copies, they sold all but a few of them. I also learned that the folks at Eerdmans really appreciate something about me that I feared them might not: my penchant for making parody song videos! Apparently they played my song “A to Z” at one of their meetings!

In other news, Phil Long reviewed the book. Here is a taste:

I agree with McGrath. It is important for Bible readers to understand how scholars do their work and how that benefits them as they read the New Testament. If understanding these things causes them to difficulties in their Christian faith, then perhaps their Christian faith was not quite as deep as they thought. McGrath’s The A to Z of the New Testament is a basic primer of key terms and ideas one will encounter in an academic study of the New Testament.

This book will be a great benefit not only for students about to take university-level classes on the New Testament but also for anyone wanting to go deeper than simple answers and Bible trivia.

On Twitter Alex Bernardo wrote:

Incredible introduction to the field of New Testament scholarship by @ReligionProf. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in the field of Biblical studies; he covers so many important issues in an accessible manner!

It really is amazing that you are able to condense so many technical issues into chapters that the average person can understand. I have already recommended it to several people at my church. Thanks for writing it!

I shared some things on Christianbook.com about the book. Here is a taste. They still have the best price I’ve seen for the paperback.

The academic study of the New Testament is not too hard for the average layperson in a church to understand. Plenty of students at university take at least one class on the subject. These texts seem all the more richer when we situate them in their time and place, when we dig deeper into the details. There are plenty of introductions to the New Testament but often they aren’t very easy for someone new to pick up. This book gets you into serious details of academic study in a way that is fun and entertaining. We all remember a time when learning was fun. That doesn’t have to change when we get older!

Happy to see that the Romanian translation of What Jesus Learned from Women is out and getting attention.

See also my interview with Sam Tideman about The A to Z of the New Testament, New Testament Christology, public scholarship, and much else. Also don’t miss that it is now available as an audiobook as well, and currently on sale for just $3.99 for Kindle!

UPDATE: I also spoke with Tripp Fuller on his Homebrewed Christianity podcast and that is now available as well!

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