James McGrath to deliver address to Macquarie University

James McGrath to deliver address to Macquarie University

A well-known New Testament scholar will deliver an address at Macquarie University on Thursday, 18 July.

Dr James McGrath is a New Testament scholar and the author of multiple books, including two upcoming books on The Baptist

He told Insights the talk will more for a  general audience, drawing on some of the more detailed research to be published in his forthcoming study of John the Baptist,  John of History, Baptist of Faith: The Quest for the Historical Baptizer 
“One of the topics I wanted to tackle in the book was whether it is possible to reconstruct anything of the stories that followers of John the Baptist told about his parents and the event surrounding his birth,” Dr Butler said. 
“The Gospel of Luke tells stories about John’s infancy that many scholars consider likely to derive from an earlier source composed by adherents to the Baptist’s movement. There is also a section of an extracanonical text known as the Infancy Gospel (or Protevangelium) of James that has related material. So too does the Mandaean Book of John.” 
“Only one author had previously proposed combining the information from all of these into a single narrative, and I approached the topic expecting to show that this attempt cannot work. To my surprise, I found details in these sources to intersect and connect in ways that not only surprised me, but called out for explanation in terms of a common underlying source.” 

“In the biography of John the Baptist that is just being released, Christmaker: A Life of John the Baptist, it didn’t seem appropriate to dig into those sorts of topics. Yet if one is aware of this scholarly work that biographical portrait becomes even more persuasive.” 

“Even just from Luke’s Gospel we can tell that John was dedicated as a Nazirite for life, like Samson and Samuel in the Jewish scriptures/Christian Old Testament. What may never have come up before the case of John is the fact that a male of priestly descent who is dedicated to be a Nazirite is put in a dilemma. Nazirites were prohibited from trimming their hair. Priests were required to. You cannot do both. I won’t elaborate here but I think that tension that John was born into helped to set him on the path he would follow in his adult life. The presentation will connect the dots between the detailed source reconstruction in the monograph and the portrait of John that I offer in the biography.” 

“I hope that my longstanding connection with scholars and friends in Australia, including some fellow academics, will position me well to not make major blunders as I present cross-culturally. I lived in the UK long enough to know that having English almost as a common language doesn’t at all guarantee understanding.” 

“I am particularly excited to reconnect with the many Mandaeans who live in Australia. I utilise their texts extensively in this project and I hope they will be happy because of that.” 

“Inevitably there will be some who will be unhappy that I don’t view John in exactly the way Mandaeans do, just as there will be some who will object to a depiction of John that is not entirely in keeping with the way Christians have understood him. This project is a historical one and religious believers don’t always welcome those. I think that will more likely be a point of disconnect with some in the audience than the differences between the cultures of Australia and the United States. It depends who is in the audience!” 

“I will be attending a major New Testament conference in Melbourne after speaking at Macquarie. The Society of New Testament Studies mostly meets in Europe but periodically holds meetings elsewhere. I will be addressing the same topic at that conference, but in a way that gets into much more of the kinds of details that academics (and few others) are interested in.” 

The talk at Macquarie University is not the only event Dr McGrath has booked for his time in Australia. 
“I also have a good friend who is a minister and a fellow geek, who loves exploring the intersection of science fiction and Christian faith,” he said. 
“I hope that he’ll get back to me in time to know whether I’ll be speaking on that topic at his church, so that I know whether I need to pack my Starfleet uniform and/or my Tom Baker Doctor Who scarf.” 

“Those who’ve read my A to Z of the New Testament and those who read Christmaker will know that I am an academic who is eager to share the fruit of scholarly research with a general audience. That’s also why I blog and am active on the platform formerly known as Twitter.” 
“If readers are on social media, I do hope they will connect with me there, and more than that, I hope they will let me know what they found meaningful and helpful in my books. Readers may not think so, but their feedback often can and does influence what authors write in the future.” 

James McGrath’s address on John the Baptist takes place on Thursday, 18 July from 7pm to 9pm at Macquarie University. The event is organised by the Society for the Study of Early Christianity. To attend, RSVP to SSEC@mq.edu.au by Monday, 15 July. 


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