The SBL meeting really begins in earnest on Saturday morning. I was scheduled to present a paper at 9am on Saturday morning in the section entitled “The Letters of James, Peter, and Jude.” It’s chaired by Duane F. Watson and Peter H. Davids, who is a well-known scholar and commentator on the NT (and who blogs at http://phdavids.wordpress.com/). Unfortunately, I had come down with a bad case of laryngitis on Thursday, and by Saturday morning, my voice had been reduced to a rasping whisper. So, I used my special angelic language to pray mightily that there would be a microphone in the meeting room. There wasn’t. Nevertheless, I pressed on, and rasped my paper out at my poor audience. Apart from my technical difficulties, I thought it went pretty well. I had a couple questions and comments from the audience, all complimentary.
My paper was titled Food, Fellowship, and Favoritism: Early Christian Meals as the Setting for James 2:1-9. This part of James depicts an early (Jewish-)Christian meeting where the attendees show favoritism to a rich man by offering him a fine seat, while they shame a poor man by telling him to stand away from them. Most commentators read the scene as a worship service, much like today’s typical church. The seating issue, then, has to do with who gets to sit in the best pew. More recently, though, commentators have argued that the scene is actually judicial; that is, the passage depicts a synagogal or ecclesiastical court that has met to adjudicate a case between the poor man and the rich man.
I argue, against these readings, that the evidence in the passage is better explained if we view the scene as an early Christian meal, modeled on the Greek banquet/symposium. If you’re interested in my arguments, check out my presentation copy here. And here is the link to the handout, which has an outline and a couple texts I refer to in my presentation. Now, be aware that this is a version specifically for oral presentation at the SBL meeting. I am still working on preparing the full version with all the references and footnotes (and much more detailed argumentation). I plan to submit that for publication by the end of the year.
Coming up next: Who won the debate over Greek pronunciation at the 2011 SBL?