Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Getting to grips with the ancient world

I spent yesterday afternoon grading papers from my students in Sri Lanka and was pleasantly surprised by the quality - especially from those on the MDiv course.

Many of them showed a really good grasp of the material and genuine creative thinking about how reading the New Testament with an eye on its social context can help apply its message creatively to their present mission context. It was quite gratifying.

Today, I'll be writing - I'm aiming to draft a chapter of my MA on the economic location of the early Jesus movement. My supervisor has recommended that I just write and then see where the gaps are. This is a new way of working for me, so it'll be interesting to see how it works out.

The other issue that I'm looking forward to delving into is just how good is the reading by NT scholars of Roman history. The reason for asking this is that one of the key voices in the current debate - Justin Meggitt - based his approach to exploring the social and economic location of the early Jesus movement on the history-from-below approach that flowered in George Rude and Eric Hobsbawm's Captain Swing in 1969.

I remember when I first read Meggitt's excellent Paul, Poverty and Survival I felt my heart sink that a generation after an approach blossomed in secular history, NT scholars had finally caught up with it. I felt it particularly because even when I read history at Manchester in the mid-1970s, the approach was already being questioned by scholars who argued that all Rude, Hobsbawn, Thompson et al did was read their own sociological and philosophical theories back into the past.

I wonder if NT scholars are at risk of doing this with their use of particularly sociological models in their reading of the NT and its context. It's just a question... The context group of NT scholars have produced some fascinating and worthwhile work, much of which has enriched my understanding of the world the first Christians lived in. So I'd hate to think people thought I was dismissing it out of hand - I am certainly not doing that.

But I do wonder what regular (if one can call them that) ancient historians make of all this. In particular, I'm interested to see whether the ancient historians so loved of NT scholars have the same reputation within their own field. I just need to find a way of analysing that!


Geoff Colmer said...

Fascinating to see you mention George Rude. When I was in Rye I got to know George a little - he and his wife lived up the road. George was suffering from the early stages of Alzheimers. His wife Doreen, who was an amazing character who in her seventies/eighties was outrageously flirtatious. Cazz knew of George because he had written on the French Revolution which she'd studied at Bristol. George was a delightful gentleman, but a sad man, who paid a high price for his political allegiance. Thank you for bringing him, and Doreen, to mind!

Craig Gardiner said...

Hope the chapter goes well, the advice I was given was don't worry about getting it right just get it written. Eventually it worked, and then I had to go back and get it right!