John the Baptist at #SBLAAR24

John the Baptist at #SBLAAR24 March 17, 2024

The official hashtag for the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting is something lots of people get wrong because they switch it every year in the interest of not giving one organization or the other permanent priority. This year it is #SBLAAR24. Before I write anything else, let me mention that the call for papers for SBL closes in a couple of days on March 20th so there’s still a bit of time to get your proposal in.

We’re going to have some great sessions and papers related to John the Baptist this year, including a review panel not only about my forthcoming book John of History, Baptist of Faith: The Quest for the Historical Immerser due out from Eerdmans in October, but also Edmondo Lupieri’s John of the Mandaeans which will be published by Gorgias Press. We are still working on finalizing the panel but we have several leading experts on the topics of these books lined up including Clare Rothschild, Joel Marcus, and Charles Häberl [UPDATE: Adela Yarbro Collins and Cecilia Wassen are now also confirmed as panelists].

I just finished reading through the proofs of my book, which means that the last thing to be done will be indexing. That’s going to be an arduous task unlike anything I’ve done previously. In the book I looked at a wider array of ancient and modern sources than in anything I have done previously. I interact with scholarship past and present and the book tackles not only many historical questions obviously related to John the Baptist but also ones that have not consistently been connected with him, such as the solution to the Son of Man problem, the sources of the Protevangelium of James (see below), the origin of Gnosticism, prayers attributed to John the Baptist in Syriac tradition and Mandaean texts both published and unpublished, and more. I can hardly wait for the book to be available and to see what kind of reception it gets, since I genuinely believe that it makes significant progress in answering a number of puzzling questions about Christian and Gnostic origins, as well as making a case for rethinking some assumptions and the interpretation of a number of familiar texts.

That book review panel is one of the sessions being held by the new SBL John the Baptist program unit and is co-sponsored by the AAR Traditions of Eastern Late Antiquity program unit. As I mentioned, it isn’t too late to submit paper proposals for SBL but it will be soon!

I will also read a paper in a session of the Interrelationship of the Gospels program unit at SBL. My presentation will be titled “Editorial Fatigue and the Baptist Source of the Protevangelium” and will represent further work done on a topic covered in my John the Baptist book, specifically elaborated for a volume focused on editorial fatigue. Editorial fatigue refers to the way an author using a source may copy over details that sit awkwardly in their new context. They rework their source, but at some point(s) don’t do so as thoroughly, leaving material the way it was in their source so that an inconsistency results, one that provides evidence that they were using the source in question.

Here’s the abstract for my paper:

In the case of the Synoptic Problem, editorial fatigue has proven to be a helpful explanation for certain features, one that allows us to determine the likely direction of change between source and redaction redaction. Within the Protevangelium of James, a close eye for the phenomenon of editorial fatigue allows us to achieve a higher degree of certainty about the sources with which the author was familiar, as Mark Goodacre has demonstrated particularly clearly. The present study will seek to determine whether signs of editorial fatigue may be used not only to discern use of a known source, but also of one that is hypothetical and no longer extant. More specifically, we will explore the case for the Protevangelium having reworked an earlier infancy story about John the Baptist, with its puzzling ending focused on John not a surprising edition but a less redacted remnant of that underlying source. The detection of such a source, and determination of its relationship to the Baptist infancy material in the Gospel of Luke, will contribute not only to the study of the Protevangelium and to the clarification of the usefulness of editorial fatigue in source critical investigations, but also to the effort to resolve the Synoptic problem.

Only a few months until Christmaker: A Life of John the Baptist appears in print. Pre-order from Eerdmans and you’ll probably get it significantly earlier than others. The best price on it is from ChristianBook which has it for almost 25% off, while the big monograph is 27% off!

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