SNTS in Marburg

imageThe Society for New Testament Studies (or Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas) held its annual meeting in Marburg, Germany, this past 30 July to 2 August. There were about 400 total attendees, including accompanying people, who enjoyed fantastic meals together, a trip to a local country restaurant, and a wonderful organ concert. (Photo taken from www.snts2019.com.)

Marburg is a beautiful city and a wonderful place to hold a conference. The city is almost picture-book beautiful, with the old town being on a hill, with a castle at the top. There are steep walks from the bottom to the market square and then to the castle, but the vistas are spectacular (there is also an elevator!). The old buildings in the city center are full of character. The famous Elwert publishers (who, for example, published Adolf Deissmann’s Bibelstudien) still have a bookstore in the town center, and there are numerous small restaurants with outdoor seating.

marburgThe university was founded in 1527, and so is the oldest protestant theological faculty in Germany (or so we were told). A number of well-known scholars have lived in Marburg through the years, including the Grimm brothers, who collected German fairy tales. The brothers studied law in Marburg, before Jacob continued his career by founding the discipline of Germanistik. The house where they lived is still standing, as is the house of their law professor, among other buildings.

The university is famous for its New Testament scholars as well. The long line of famous New Testament scholars includes Adolf Jülicher, Hans von Soden, Werner Georg Kümmel, Ernst Fuchs, Otto Merk, Dieter Lührmann, Friedrich Avemarie, and, of course, Rudolf Bultmann, who is still highly revered. Bultmann was professor from 1921-1951, during a terrible time in German history that required he be a man of conviction. We went on a tour of Bultmann sites. This included several of his houses, Heidegger’s house (they were colleagues), Bultmann’s church where he regularly took the offering, and the restaurant where the Marburgers gathered, among other places.

The SNTS meeting had its usual plenary papers, seminar meetings, and the presidential address. The conference was attended by scholars from a variety of places, but my impression is that the average age is getting higher all the time (mine included). The presidential address was delivered by fellow Canadian John Kloppenborg. He gave a very interesting paper on Pauline social networks that drew on recent work he is doing in social theory.

I was fortunate to be able to deliver a paper in the “Greek of the New Testament” seminar, chaired by Paul Danove and James Voelz. Other presenters in this seminar were Voelz of Concordia Theological Seminary and Adelbert Denaux of KU Leuven. We had robust discussions of all of the papers. My paper was entitled “Linguistic Stylistics and the Possibilities of New Testament Interpretation.”  I traced the development of linguistic stylistics from the Russian formalists to the Prague School to Systemic Functional Linguistics, and then applied it to examination of Philemon.

We also found out that, unfortunately, the New Testament Greek seminar has not been renewed for another term, and so a central part of New Testament studies will not be featured in seminars in the foreseeable future at SNTS. This strikes some of us as not just a major disappointment but a major gaffe by the society. Several of us pursued reasons for this decision but were not given satisfactory answers. The committee that makes such decisions appears to work behind closed doors and in obscurity, a bit like the Wizard of Oz, belching smoke but hiding behind the curtain.

My impression is that SNTS continues to be in a crisis—its attendees at its annual conference get older, it continues to have a sclerotic infrastructure, and unfortunately it continues occasionally to choose to go to places that many people do not wish to visit. However, despite all of this, Marburg was a great city to visit and hold the conference that was, all things considered, a great success.

— Stanley E. Porter

2 thoughts on “SNTS in Marburg

    • Thanks, Bruce, for the comment. As you know, when Jacob Grimm was writing, there wasn’t such a field as “linguistics” as there is today. I was putting all of his work on sound changes and other things under the broad title of Germanistik, the study of Germanic languages. I believe that this study was the foundation of all of what we would now call his linguistic discoveries.

      — Stan

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