Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Getting to Know John Byron Part 1

It is difficult to overestimate the influence that certain people have on an individual's life. John Byron, Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary, has been that person for me. He is been there for many of my ups and downs both personally and professionally, and I am honored to consider him a close friend.

John is also a wonderful scholar and that is why I am pleased to have him weigh in on my second "Getting to Know..." interview. This interview will be conducted in two parts.

Without further ado, here's part 1:

(1) John, tell us a bit about your background, family, etc.

I am the oldest of four children. I was raised in a family of tradesmen and although education was thought to be important I am the only one on either side of my family to go to college. My father attended an Episcopal seminary in Garden City, NY, but he did not receive any type of a degree. I grew up in the Episcopal Church but eventually moved to a more Charismatic focused church when the movement swept the Episcopal Church. I still have a fond place in my heart for liturgy and, in many ways, miss it.

I married my wife Lori in 1990. She has been a constant support to me. I don’t think I would be where I am today without her. We both love to travel and once realized that by our tenth anniversary we had lived in 3 states and 3 countries. Our record for the longest place lived is Suffolk, VA (4.5 years) but Ashland will soon break this record.

At the moment, I find the Anabaptist approach to theology quite attractive. While I still affirm the creeds, I view them as an outline of my faith rather than the source. There are things in the creeds that I would disagree with from a historical point of view, but I affirm as a part of Christian theology.

(2) Describe your journey from Elim Bible Institute to studying at Jerusalem University College before finally ending up at Durham to do your PhD.

Elim is a three year, unaccredited Bible College. I went there straight out of high school and was still influenced by the Charismatic movement. I have a sort of tortured relationship with my Elim past. I do not represent most if anything that would be “Elim” but I still have friends there and I can appreciate the influence that place had in my life. I often wish I had gone through a liberal arts program instead, but hindsight is always 20/20. Moreover, I met my wife there and that is the best thing that I walked away with.

After Elim Lori and I were on staff at a Mennonite church in Middletown, Pa. I was youth pastor there for three years and discovered that I needed to learn a whole lot more. It was during this time that I began to move away from the Charismatic movement. After 3 ½ years we left there to go to Regent University where I enrolled in the divinity school.

I was at Regent for four years and earned a MA in biblical and theological studies. Overall my experience was great. The professors were very good and helped me to move toward becoming a NT scholar. I have many of the same conflicted feelings about Regent as I do Elim. But in the end, my experience at both of those places has often helped me to understand where some of my students are coming from and to help them broaden their thinking.

I went to Jerusalem University College because I wanted to learn more about ancient Israel and Judaism. I originally went to earn a second MA, but circumstances and finances meant that I could only stay a year. In the end it was a great experience.

I ended up at Durham because one of my former professors at Regent had studied under Jimmy Dunn when he was at Nottingham. My wife and I went there in 1999 and I complete my degree in 2002. My Doctor Father was Loren T. Stuckenbruck who was an excellent supervisor. It was an outstanding experience and we both miss the people and the country.

(3) Give us a summary of your dissertation which has appeared in revised form in Mohr Siebeck (Slavery Metaphors in Early Judaism and Pauline Christianity.)

Slavery language in the Pauline epistles has been a focus of considerable scholarly attention over the last 30 years. The apostle’s unhesitating utilization of both the language and imagery of enslaved human beings has been a source of both intrigue and embarrassment in New Testament studies. Of particular interest is Paul’s self-identification as the slave of Christ. Interpretation of this phrase and its background commonly follows one of two possible avenues: 1) the phrase is viewed as an honorific title found in the LXX and borrowed by Paul from the Patriarchs, Moses, David and the Prophets; 2) the phrase is an adoption of symbolism from the institution of Greco-Roman slavery illustrating that Paul is in a similar relationship with Christ. Essentially, scholarly focus has been on Greco-Roman slavery and its possible influences on Paul. Conspicuously absent are attempts to situate Paul’s usage of slavery language within the context of Early Judaism. I demonstrate that Paul’s metaphor of slavery is located best within the traditions of ancient Israel and Early Judaism rather than Greco-Roman slave practices. This is accomplished through a history of traditions examination that encompasses the LXX, ‘Apocrypha,’ ‘Pseudepigrapha,’ Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, and Josephus. This approach makes it possible to recover the literary traditions surrounding ancient Israel and early Judaism’s self-understanding of themselves as the slaves of God. In the context of this examination, Paul’s slavery language is interpreted and compared with that of his Jewish contemporaries. The product is a Paul who is not so much borrowing images from society as he is continuing in the traditions that are part of his heritage as a Jew. At times Paul’s slavery metaphors do interact with images of the Greco-Roman institution. But in these rare cases, it is to assist him as he elucidates more clearly for his readers his notion of slavery to God and Christ. For Paul, Christ is the slave of God par excellence and to follow Christ in loyal obedience is equivalent to being his slave and ultimately to fulfill the obligations of being the slave of God. On the individual level this occurs by imitating the paradigm set down by Christ as the slave of God found in Philippians 2.6-11. In the context of the community it occurs by enslaving ones self to others in the same way as Christ enslaved himself to others. When Paul’s slavery language is interpreted in this manner, it helpfully places him within a broader discussion in early Judaism concerning what it meant to be a slave of God and how the obligations of such a relationship should and could be fulfilled. Slavery to Christ is not, then, an abstract concept adopted from societal images nor is it an honorific title. Slavery to Christ is Paul’s understanding of how the Christ event enables believers to fulfill their obligations to God as slaves.

(4) Tell us about current/ future research projects, particularly your work on Cain and Abel traditions in late antiquity.

The story of Cain and Abel narrates the primeval events associated with the beginnings of the world and humanity. But the presence of linguistic and grammatical ambiguities coupled with the lack of specific details provided translators and interpreters with a number of points of departure for expanding the story. The result is a number of well established and shared interpretive traditions between Jewish and Christian literature. While commentators are aware of these traditions, they are sometimes relegated to footnotes or parenthetical statements that seem to suggest the traditions are aberrations of the canonical story and therefore only curious artifacts.

My research focuses on how the interpretive traditions derived from Genesis 4 exerted significant influence on New Testament authors who knew rewritten versions of the Cain and Abel story. It is a wide-ranging study that analyzes how the Cain and Abel story was expanded and reinterpreted; and particular attention is devoted to considering themes developed in extra-biblical literature which made the story attractive to New Testament authors. My goal is to challenge New Testament scholars to appreciate these traditions within the broader interpretive context rather than within the narrow confines of the canon.

I have two articles published on the subject:

“Living in the Shadow of Cain: Echoes of a Developing Tradition in James 5:1-6” NovT 48.3 (2006): 261-274.

Slaughter, Fratricide and Sacrilege: Cain and Abel Traditions in 1 John 3,” Biblica (2007): 526-535.

I hope to have a monograph length work finished in the next year.

In addition to Cain and Abel I am completing a volume for Sheffield Phoenix Press entitled: Recent Research on Paul and Slavery. It will be available in July, 2008.

Part 2 of this interview will be found in a subsequent post.

1 comment:

Pauline said...

I agree with your assessment of Dr. Byron and his abilities. Each one of us has the potential to impact the lives of others in many ways. I am certainly glad you found a positive affect from knowing Dr. Byron. He has far reaching potential and will succeed in the path he chooses. Congratulations on the blog and look forward to more like it!