Early Jewish Christian Relations at SBL: A 25 Year Retrospective

by Andrew Jacobs in

AJR is happy to host the Early Jewish Christian Relations SBL section’s 25 Year Retrospective. This panel met in San Diego at the 2014 annual SBL meeting and included Andrew Jacobs, Jeffrey Siker, Adele Reinhartz, Ra’anan Boustan, Ross Kraemer, and Susanna Drake. We bring you their responses here as a running series, beginning with an introduction by Andrew Jacobs.
— AJR Editors

In 1989, the first session of the "consultation" on Early Jewish/Christian Relations met at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Anaheim, California. Twenty-five years later, and about 100 miles away in San Diego, the Early Jewish Christian Relations Group sponsored a panel at the annual meeting considering the previous quarter century of scholarship in this vibrant, yet potentially fraught, subdiscipline. As moderator of this panel, I asked a sampling of scholars who have participated in the unit--along with its Founding Father, Jeffrey Siker--to contemplate the past, present, and future of "early Jewish Christian relations." Jeff Siker was kind enough to dig up the Founding Documents of this group (the original proposal and first-year report and request for renewal), which was shared among the panelists. (Click here to see the original proposal.)

Jeff Siker started us off with remarks on where the field was when he decided to propose this panel, and where he has seen it go since then, followed by the remaining speakers. All of them have graciously agreed to post their (lightly revised) comments in this new online forum, in order to expand the discussion more widely. Discussion in San Diego was lively and productive, ranging from the state of Judaism in New Testament studies, in other program units of the SBL, to some of the modern (and postmodern) concerns that motivate scholars to put ancient Judaism and early Christianity into academic conversation. Ideas for future directions emerged, as well as continuing concerns about the professional realities facing the diversity of scholars who engage in the study of intersecting and interaction beliefs.

In preparation for this panel, I compiled a list of all of the panels sponsored by the Early Jewish Christian Relations Group in its first 25 years (with the help of the SBL Director of Programs Charles Hawes and Programs Coordinator Crystal Anderson). (To see this complete listing, click here.)

Allow me to present here (as I did in the panel) some facts and figures to orient us. First, the changing description of the group:

At some point along the way, the "slash" disappeared, the "consultation" became a group, and two centuries became "approximately" four.

According to my count (which may be off):

  • In its first 25 years, Early Jewish Christian Relations hosted 60 sessions, nine of which were book review panels. Those non-book panels comprise more than 225 papers.
  • The very first paper was delivered by Burton Visotzky of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, entitled "Mortal Sins: Second Century Harmatology in Church and Synagogue." The final paper in 2013 was by Tessa Rajak, "Re-Assessing the Christian Takeover of the Septuagint."
  • The shortest paper title from 2002: "Ignatius' Jews" (by Daniel Boyarin); the longest, from 2006: "'Have you despised Jerusalem and Zion after you had chosen them?': Explanations for the Destruction of the Second Temple in Jewish and Christian Writings from the Land of Israel in Late Antiquity" (by Adam Gregerman).

Many of the group's sessions have been "open," but just as many have had themes; common topics for these themes include: "Judaizing" and Jewish-Christians; dialogue and "dialogues"; "construction," "discourse," and "identity"; Paul; texts and textual labeling; and Syria and the Syrian context (including, specifically, Antioch). The most frequent participant, including both presentation and moderation, is the group's current co-chair, Christine Shepardson (University of Tennessee, Knoxville).

In order to help visualize 25 years of scholarship, I prepared a word cloud from the list of programs and panels to demonstrate the topics (and people!) most often referenced in the history of this section.

We on the panel look forward to continuing the conversation on the Ancient Jew Review in the coming weeks. 

Andrew S. Jacobs is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Scripps College in Claremont, California. Follow at andrewjacobs.org and @drewjakeprof

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