School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh
Areas of Interest/Research:
The Gospels, Second Temple Judaism, Loyalty, Gratitude
What is it about your field that you love researching?
I grew up reading the New Testament as if it were ahistorical, as if every text and character was exceptional. But it was only when I began reading books that tried to situate the New Testament within the world of Second Temple Judaism that the words and actions of Jesus and Paul started to make any sense. I learned that the people behind the New Testament were not exceptional; they, like so many others, were trying to figure out the place of Jews in a Gentile world they believed was quickly drawing to an end. And it is an especially exciting time to be involved in this kind of scholarship. It seems the less we treat the New Testament as a unique expression of ancient religion, the more we can know about it.
What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?
A key idea for me is that the Gospel writers were cut from the same cloth as other Jewish writers of the late-first-century CE, like 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch and Josephus. All are trying to navigate the world after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Writing apocalypse or historiography—or both in the case of the Gospels—these writers used scriptural language and historical analogies to answer two of the most pressing questions of the day: why had God allowed the Temple’s destruction, and what was the future of the Jewish people?
What is your current research about?
My latest book, Writing with Scripture: Scripturalized Narrative in the Gospel of Mark (LNTS 666; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2022), argues that Mark made use of a popular literary convention whereby new stories were fashioned out of scriptural language. Second Temple authors often modelled stories on well-known episodes in the scriptures: so you have stories of Abraham being rescued from a fiery furnace (à la Daniel 3), Judas Maccabeus besieging a city he is unable to go around (as Moses destroys Sihon) and Judith assassinating Holofernes in a tent (as Jael assassinates Sisera), to name a few. So when Mark has Jesus spend forty-days in the wilderness and call his disciples like Elijah or Herod Antipas making promises to the young girl like Ahasuerus, the scriptures are being used in the same way, as a compositional model. Scholars have tended to see great exegetical significance in Mark’s use of the scriptures—like the Psalms in the Passion Narrative—but my research suggests that sometimes the scriptures were used for no other reason than to tell a new story in familiar language. It also raises interesting questions about the historicity of episodes told in scriptural language: did scripturalization lead to the invention of non-historical episodes? My answer should equally displease radical and conservative exegetes!
Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?
It is so difficult to pick one! I deeply admire my doctoral supervisor, Helen Bond, for making so much sense of the Greco-Roman world behind the Gospels. If I could mention another, it would have to be Paula Fredriksen, who always gives such a clear explanation of the issues that would have been on the mind of a Jew living in the first-century.
What books have been formative for you in your study? Why were they so important? How did they shape you?
The book that first attracted me to biblical studies was James Dunn’s Unity and Diversity in the New Testament. It opened up a whole new world of questions I had never thought to ask before. The Vermes edition of Emil Schürer’s A History of the Jewish People in the Age of Christ made first-century Palestine come alive to me. And more recently, Eva Mroczek’s The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity revolutionised the way I approach Second Temple literature, not as footnotes to the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, but as valuable independent works that introduce us to a much larger literary universe than our canonical biases often allow.
Do you have any publications we can showcase?
My first book, Writing with Scripture: Scripturalized Narrative in the Gospel of Mark, is coming out in February 2022 with Bloomsbury T&T Clark in the LNTS series. A volume I’ve co-edited with Mona Siddiqui, A Theology of Gratitude: Christian and Muslim Perspectives, is also forthcoming with Cambridge University Press in 2022. It features fascinating chapters from Miroslav Volf, Linn Tonstad, Anthony Reddie, Robert Emmons and more, as well as a forward by Rowan Williams. Recent articles of mine include a study on the bizarre figure of Kenaz in Pseudo-Philo for the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha and another on the reception of Daniel 3 in martyr narratives forthcoming in Biblical Interpretation.
Where can we follow you online?
If we ran into you at SBL/AAR and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?
As a British-Australian with an American wife, we could probably bond over what we dislike about each of those countries. I also enjoy talking about dogs and sharing favourite pasta recipes.
Other than your thesis, what research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?
Since completing my PhD, I have been the Issachar Fund post-doc at the University of Edinburgh working on two projects, Gratitude and Loyalty and Fidelity: Christian and Muslim Perspectives. I have been lucky enough to work with the brilliant Mona Siddiqui and together we have an edited volume on gratitude coming out in 2022 with Cambridge University Press. In February we will be launching an international conference series for the Loyalty and Fidelity project at Union Theological Seminary, with speakers including Cornel West. And returning to biblical studies, for my next book I plan to look again at the Gospel of Mark and how it interprets the events of 66-74 CE compared with 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch and Josephus. The project is tentatively titled, Mark as Theodicy: An Early Interpretation of the Jewish War.
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