Who’s Reading Who?

This two-part conversation on “reading” and interpreting authoritative texts asks the question, “Who’s Reading Who?”—that is, who is doing the “reading” of authoritative texts and whose readings are prioritized?

FEATURING a draw for a 200£ book credit from Bloomsbury open to graduate students and adjunct instructors! Come to both parts and enter your name twice for a chance to win!

The first session will focus on interpretive authority and authorities. From constitutional originalism to historical criticism of the Bible, certain modes of reading and interpreting texts are deemed “objective” or “neutral.” Speakers will analyze these modes of reading and interpretation, drawing attention to their pitfalls and the ways in which they elide or silence other ways of approaching authoritative texts.

The second session will look at forms of “reading” that critique dominant forms of interpretation. How do scholars engage with authoritative texts in order to critique and provide alternatives to dominant, so-called objective forms of reading? What are some available community-based practices of textual interpretation, and what does ethical “reading” look like in these communities of accountability? What can practices like chanting or singing tell us about how different people approach authoritative texts?

Part 1: Authority and Authorities

Chance Bonar

Shaily Patel

CJ Schmidt

Jason A. Staples

Stephen L. Young

January 28, 2021, 3:00–4:30 pm EST

Registration: https://virginiatech.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_eWRKLeBYTF-9ze1yvHnT3A

Part 2: Interpretation and Ethics

Ericka Dunbar

Charlotte Eubanks

Lynn R. Huber

Lauren E. Osborne

M Adryael Tong

February 5, 2021, 3:00–4:30 pm EST

Registration: https://virginiatech.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ckS4hIaiSh2AxkOw375zgw

Primary Text Lab I: Apocryphon of James

The BRANE Collective is thrilled to launch a new series, the Primary Text Laboratory, with an inaugural event on Apocryphon of James! This series brings together a panel of scholars to examine closely a single text from different perspectives, in an open conversation on any aspect of its interpretation. Our aim is to share infrequently studied texts with a wider audience and to provide a space for interested researchers to chat about the texts they love!

Have a primary text you’d like to discuss? Propose a Primary Text Lab! Proposals from scholars at all stages, including graduate students, are warmly welcome. The BRANE Collective can help facilitate, including connecting with scholars you’d like to invite. See the Event Toolkit to get started!

For this first event in the series, we have a panel of scholars with diverse approaches on Apocryphon of James. This fascinating text is not so well known as some of its Nag Hammadi peers, but it offers a distinct opportunity to discuss topics such as reception of Jesus tradition, genre designations of texts about Jesus, and early portrayals of the apostles. Come join us for an exciting discussion and learn more about this text’s contribution to our understanding of early Christian literature.

Wednesday, March 31
2:00 – 3:30pm Eastern time (US)/7:00-8:30pm UK time

Please register here

A link to the text will be sent with your registration confirmation.


Karen L King, Kimberly Bauser McBrien, Sarah Parkhouse,
Elizabeth Schrader, Kristine Toft Rosland

Karen L. King is trained in comparative religions and historical studies and is the author of books and articles on the diversity of ancient Christianity, women and gender studies, and religion and violence. Her particular passion is studying recently discovered literature from Egypt, including the Gospel of Mary, the Apocalypse of James, the Gospel of Philip, and the Secret Revelation of John.

Kim Bauser McBrien is interested in the New Testament and early Christianity, with a focus on the role of memory in the preservation and production of tradition in the canonical gospels and extra-canonical literature of the first three centuries. Her work specialises in Apocryphon of James, including themes of social memory and pseudepigraphy. She also has published on biblical studies pedagogy in the undergraduate classroom.

Sarah Parkhouse researches early Christianity, and has particular interests in the second century, diversity within religious thought and practices, and how locality shapes and is shaped by religion. She has written a book and articles on ‘dialogue gospels’ and has just started a project on Coptic literature and artefacts within the Egyptian landscape.

Kristine Toft Rosland works on the Nag Hammadi Codices and Egyptian monastic material from the fourth and fifth centuries. She specialises in the Apocryphon of John, its textual variants, and its Christology. Her methodological interests also include fan fiction, and she has published on its application to the relationship between Apocryphon of John and Genesis.

Elizabeth Schrader’s research interests include textual criticism, the New Testament Gospels, the Nag Hammadi corpus, Mary Magdalene, and feminist theology. Her article “Was Martha of Bethany Added to the Fourth Gospel in the Second Century?” was published in the Harvard Theological Review. Her work has been featured by both the Daily Beast and Religion News Service.

New PhD Showcase: Julia Lindenlaub, “The Beloved Disciple as Interpreter and Author of Scripture in the Gospel of John,” with Chris Keith, Anne Kreps, and Hugo Méndez

image shows an illuminated 16th century Ethiopian codex open to the Gospel of John. John the Evangelist is depicted in the process of writing John 1.

Thursday, Dec. 17, 9:00 am PST/12 noon EST/5:00 pm UK
Please register here

A handout that will introduce participants to Dr. Lindenlaub’s dissertation will be sent out to all registrants before the meeting.

This event will be live captioned by a professional CART provider.


Chris Keith is the author of many books on early Christian text production, literacy, and book culture, including The Gospel as Manuscript: An Early History of the Jesus Tradaition as Material Artifact (Oxford University Press, 2020), Jesus against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict (Baker Academic, 2014), Jesus’ Literacy: Scribal Culture and the Teacher from Galilee (T&T Clark, 2011), and The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus (Brill, 2009).

Anne Kreps researches early Jewish and Christian scriptural practices, with a particular interest in Valentinian and Gnostic Christianities.  Her forthcoming monograph, The Crucified Book, examines early Christian theories of sacred writing, centering often-neglected non-canonical material. She is also interested in New Religious Movements, particularly those who look to the Essenes of antiquity to shape group identity. 

Hugo Méndez is interested in Johannine literature, ritual uses of biblical texts, and early Christian martyr cults. His forthcoming book is entitled Inventing Stephen: The Early Cult of the Protomartyr in Late Ancient Jerusalem, and he is now working on a new book that challenges the ways scholars have used biblical texts to reconstruct Christianity in the first and second centuries, with a focus on rethinking the so-called “Johannine community.”

“Low Tolerance” Happy Hour

image shows an assortment of beers and liquors, a coffee cup with Yiddish insults, and two bags of junk food.

Register here for BRANE’s Low Tolerance Happy Hour, Dec. 5, 1pm Pacific/4pm EST/9pm UK! Join the cutting edge of scholarship, mixology, and indigestion! Let’s share our unwise conference drink or food choices. As always, inclusive of gender, of alcohol and/or caffeine tolerance, and of ten-dollar hapax legomena.

SBL/AAR Virtual Coffee Line

Got FOMO? Missing casual chatting, planning, debriefing, beaming, or kvetching at the conference, whether or not you’re registered this year? Invite your friends to stand in the virtual coffee line with you, or drop by to see if anyone’s already there. We’ll announce a few set times, but feel free to register once and line up whenever you want!

New PhD Showcase: Dan McClellan, “Deity and Divine Agency in the Hebrew Bible: Cognitive Perspectives”

The BRANE Collective is proud to open our new PhD showcase series with a spotlight on Daniel O. McClellan’s 2020 dissertation, “Deity and Divine Agency in the Hebrew Bible: Cognitive Perspectives.”

Dan will discuss his new research with Debra Scoggins Ballentine, Mark McEntire, Brian Rainey, and Jen Singletary. Join us!

Thursday, Oct. 22 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm EST
please register here for the link and pre-circulated material


Debra Scoggins Ballentine focuses on ancient Israelite and Judean history, religion, and literature, viewing literary and material data as social artifacts that reflect engagement with their contemporary contexts. She is the author of The Conflict Myth and the Biblical Tradition (2015), which analyzes how ancient authors adapted traditional mythic themes of divine combat to further specific political and theological ideologies.

Mark McEntire‘s research interests span the entire Hebrew Bible, engaging concepts from death and violence, through urban life, to the reception of biblical themes in popular music. Two of his recent books, Portraits of a Mature God (2013), and An Apocryphal God: Beyond Divine Maturity (2015), trace the narrative development of the divine character in the Hebrew Bible and beyond.

Brian Rainey is interested in the comparative study of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East, including anthropological, sociological and cognitive theories of “ethnicity” and their usefulness for the study of ancient societies; Assyriology; biblical mythology and Christian theology; and the development of “monotheism” in the ancient world. He is the author of Religion, Ethnicity, and Xenophobia in the Bible: A Theoretical, Exegetical and Theological Survey.

Jen Singletary researches the languages, religions, and cultures of the ancient Near East (including Israel and the Hebrew Bible), especially scholarly rivalry and collaboration in the ancient Near East in the second and first millennia BCE, as well as concepts of deity in a comparative perspective. Her forthcoming book is entitled Objects of Their Trust: Manufactured Objects, Divine Qualities, and Attributes as Deities in the Ancient Near East.

Revelation Before the Bible, Part II: “What is Scripture? An Introduction to Biblical Assemblages,” feat. David Lambert in conversation with John Barton, and Laura Carlson Hasler, and Chontel Syfox

Moderated by James Nati

Tuesday, Oct. 20, 11:30 PDT/ 2:30 EST/ 7:30 PM UK

Please register here for the link

A precirculated paper will follow for all registered participants

Recent scholarship has emphasized the fluidity of canonical boundaries in the late Second Temple period, how “authoritative scriptures” at the time could include more than just biblical texts. But such accounts still presume the existence of a very specific sort of “scriptural” relationship to texts—whether non-biblical or biblical—in particular, an often dubiously attested authority structure and instructional setting. These developments raise a fundamental question: What is Scripture? Is the idea of Scripture a natural, inevitable component of human religious experience? Do people relate to sacred texts according to regular, defined patterns?

In this workshop, David Lambert will address these questions based on a chapter, “What is Scripture? An Introduction to Biblical Assemblages,” from a forthcoming book project, in conversation with John Barton, Laura Carlson Hasler, and Chontel Syfox.

David Lambert is the author of How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture. His work aims to identify tendencies present in the history of biblical interpretation in order to elucidate “untimely” aspects of the Hebrew Bible itself. He is currently working on a book project, “Is Bible Scripture? Reassembling the Biblical in Ancient Judaism and Beyond.”

John Barton‘s research interests have included the prophets, of the Hebrew Bible, the biblical canon, biblical interpretation, Old Testament theology, as well as biblical ethics. He is the author of many books, including Oracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel after the Exile, What is the Bible?, Ethics in Ancient Israel, and most recently, A History of the Bible: The Story of the World’s Most Influential Book.

Laura Carlson Hasler‘s research focuses on the relationship among texts, monumental spaces, and cultural power in Jewish antiquity. She is particularly interested in how Hellenistic Jews used texts to adopt and adapt symbols of empire to facilitate recovery. She is the author of Archival Historiography in Jewish Antiquity, which argues that the form of Second Temple Jewish texts like Ezra-Nehemiah and the Greek editions of Esther are read best as archives.

Chontel Syfox’s research focuses on the reception and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Second Temple Jewish literature, with an emphasis on using gender-nuanced interpretative methods to better understand the developing literary character of these texts and the world behind them. Her forthcoming monograph (under contract with Brill) explores the construction of gender in the Book of Jubilees’ depiction of the biblical matriarchs.

Announcing the New PhD Showcase

The BRANE Collective is excited to announce a new series showcasing the work of newly minted PhDs in conversation with established scholars. Our first two events are coming up:

Daniel O. McClellan
“Deity and Divine Agency in the Hebrew Bible: Cognitive Perspectives”
Discussants: Debra Scoggins Ballentine, Mark McEntire, Brian Rainey, and Jen Singletary
Thursday, Oct. 22 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm EST
please register here for the link and precirculated material

Julia Lindenlaub
“The Beloved Disciple as Interpreter and Author of Scripture in the Gospel of John”
Discussants: Chris Keith, Anne Kreps, and Hugo Méndez
Thursday, Dec. 17, 9:00 am PST/12 noon EST/5:00 pm UK
registration information to follow

Stay tuned for scheduling information and join us to celebrate and discuss the work of 2020 PhD graduates!

Do you know a 2020 PhD whose work should be celebrated and and discussed in this series? Let us know by filling out this form. We can help make it happen!

Literary Creativity and Forgetting

A BRANE Collective Panel convened by Jenna Stover-Kemp
Thursday, Oct. 8 10 am PDT

[Image Credit: Guy Laramée, Whale. https://guylaramee.com/project/2017-18/


We who study ancient Mediterranean texts tend to be concerned with successfully transmitting the past: from scribes copying to performers memorizing, we highlight the preservation of what has come before. Even our departures from the preservation model still emphasize direct connection to the past. New texts rewrite, interpret, or even defy older ones, but in doing that, continue to reflect them.

But what if forgetting is just as important a part of ancient text production as remembering? What new insights might we gain if we change our emphasis on forgetting as loss to forgetting as a site of productivity? In this workshop, we will explore how forgetting functions within the literature of Jewish antiquity and what the forgotten yields in terms of creativity in the tradition. While remembering texts bring them forward in time, the very process of transmission requires disconnection from predecessors and originals, abandoning some details, obscuring others, and combining precursors in creative ways. We will examine examples of literary creativity as acts of cultural forgetting intertwined with memory, theorizing the role of loss in the formation of the tradition.

Papers will be precirculated to registered participants.

Eric X. Jarrard Jenna Stover-Kemp Julia Rhyder James Nati
Madeline Wyse Annette Yoshiko Reed Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg


A Sea Change Event: Josiah’s Death in 2 Chronicles 35 as an Inverted Exodus
Eric X. Jarrard

This paper argues that Josiah’s death in 2 Chronicles 35 is an inversion of the exodus event, and thus a significant and intentional departure from its Vorlage (2 Kings 23). It begins by establishing an intentional allusion to the exodus event through both narrative inversion and shared vocabulary. This inversion, I contend, functions as a form of memory work intended to (re)construct identity in the post-exilic period. In this way, the Chronicler does not seek to replace or rewrite its Vorlage, but rather to refract—or contrafact—a self-reflexive rendering of previous events in order to create a more instructive reading of Israel’s past for the Second Temple period. Thus, this paper offers: (1) a plausible solution and explanation as to why Josiah’s death in 2 Chronicles 35 significantly deviates from its Deuteronomistic Vorlage while also remaining remarkably consistent to the Vorgeschichte derived from ancient Near Eastern treaty prologue formularies; and perhaps more importantly (2) insight into how an idea can crystallize into a physical space—a monument, stela, etc.—and then metastasize in a specific and eminently useful way in the imagination of a group.

Eric Jarrard‘s current project, Sea & Sinai, considers how physical spaces—monuments—affect collective identity as evinced in textual traditions in and beyond the Hebrew Bible. By examining how the sea and Sinai events are repetitively interlinked, this project demonstrates how non-legal texts adopt the ancient Near Eastern treaty prologue formulary to develop a stable and predictable model of time.

Accidental Apocalypse: The Condensation of Temporality and Metaphor 
Jenna Stover-Kemp

Scholarship has widely accepted that there is a direct link between prophetic and apocalyptic thought, though the characterization of the process of change is theorized in different directions. Whereas most studies take for granted the outcome of the apocalyptic, I will suggest that the apocalyptic is, in part, a hermeneutical byproduct of the acts of cultural memory that constitute the formation of the prophetic text. 

This essay will be a case study as I examine the diachronic layers of Isaiah 2:6-21 and suggest that as the secondary scribe adds a layer of text directly responding to Isaiah’s, they are recalling Isaiah’s text as a memory. But in their act of overwriting, they are causing aspects of it to be forgotten as they produce a new version of the literary product. I will examine this process as it pertains in particular to issues of metaphor and temporality, arguing that the secondary scribe reads Isaiah’s text, which focuses on the actions of the Storm God in the present, in light of deuteronomistic thought concerning idolatry. This hermeneutic moves that which reflected a “vertical” temporality (to borrow Benedict Anderson’s language) into a “horizontal temporality;” it likewise shifts the metaphorical into the literal. Though this literary layer and the corresponding new product does not reflect a shift into the apocalyptic, the collision of vertical and horizontal temporalities is a necessary precondition of the apocalyptic. The later-developed apocalyptic hermeneutic is not determined within this moment of text formation, but is an eventual hermeneutical byproduct of the condensation of temporalities and metaphor in the layers of the text.

Jenna Stover-Kemp is a Ph.D. candidate finishing a dissertation entitled, “Forgetting to Remember: Theorizing the Role of the Forgotten in the Production of the Hebrew Bible. She is interested in the dynamics of cultural memory reflected in the text formation practices of the Hebrew Bible. 

Forget-me-not: War commemoration in Judean festivals
Julia Rhyder

The Hebrew Bible is replete with narratives of warfare and collective violence. Yet for much of the history of Judah, these episodes were not commemorated in festivals. To be sure, they were recorded in the texts that scribes copied, interpreted, and revised over the generations. But in terms of the Judean festal calendar, collective violence and wars seem to have been largely ‘forgotten.’

This ‘forgetting’ changed during the Hellenistic period, when there was a far greater concern to integrate particular military victories and acts of collective violence into the celebration of festivals. An especially noteworthy example of this shift is 1 and 2 Maccabees, which promote the new festivals of Hanukkah, Nicanor’s Day, and Simon’s Day as a means of commemorating the military victories of the Maccabean revolt.

Given that the manner in which the past is remembered is contingent upon contemporary contexts, this paper considers what changed in the Judean culture and its political positioning which ensured that it became a priority to commemorate the wars and violence of the past. This investigation requires us to situate Judean texts that describe commemorative festivals within the context of broader eastern Mediterranean festal cultures, especially those that invoked the memory of war as means of legitimizing monarchy and facilitating cultural competition.

Julia Rhyder is the author of Centralizing the Cult: The Holiness Legislation in Leviticus 17–26 (Mohr Siebeck, 2019), and is currently writing a book on festivals and war commemoration in Hellenistic Judean traditions.

Were All Texts Meant to be Transmitted?: The Three Vices Tradition in Early Judaism
James Nati

There is a tradition of “three vices” that can be found across a set of texts from the Second Temple period, including the Damascus Document, the Aramaic Levi Document, and the book of Jubilees. Each text preserves either a reference to or a depiction (or multiple depictions in the case of Jubilees) of the transmission of this tradition from the mouth of one of the patriarchs. In each instance, however, the list of vices differs slightly from the others. Scholars have attempted to explain how this tradition was altered in the course of its transmission, either by mechanical error or deliberate interpretive change, but these proposals are not very convincing. This paper suggests instead that it is an essential characteristic of this tradition that it is always transmitted differently. The various iterations of the list are not owed to mistakes or various interpretations of a prior list, but rather they reflect a tradition that was understood to be partially forgotten.

James Nati is interested in ideas of authenticity in biblical and Second Temple literature. He is currently putting some finishing touches on his first book, Textual Criticism and the Ontology of Literature in Early Judaism: An Analysis of the Serekh ha-Yahad.

Early Tafsīr: Literary Creativity at the Intersection of Remembering and Forgetting
Madeline Wyse

Early tafsīr (Quranic exegesis) thrived in the fertile space created, on the one hand, by a keen drive to collect and preserve midrashic and biblical traditions – traditions understood as necessary background to the Quran and perceived as at risk of being forgotten – and, on the other, by the fruitful uprooting of these traditions from their accustomed contexts and networks of association. As an extreme example, Poorthuis has demonstrated in the case of the story of David and Bathsheba that the early tafsīr tradition centered a collection of apologetic midrashim as the primary authoritative “Torah” account, while entirely passing over or forgetting the Hebrew Bible version. This displacement and erasure of the Hebrew Bible released both the midrash and the Quran from a web of otherwise compelling (and restrictive) interpretive connections. Midrashim that worked to excuse David’s crimes functioned quite differently without crimes to excuse. And Quran 38:21-25, which might otherwise have been read as a simple allusion to the parable of the stolen sheep in 2 Samuel 12:1-7, opened itself up to an array of possible new interpretations.

We will consider a subtler case in which the text of the Hebrew Bible and a version of a common midrashic trope are woven into an interpretation of the Quran in a space of simultaneous remembering and forgetting. The text in question is a retelling of the story of the Binding of Isaac, attributed to the early popular exegete and storyteller al-Suddī and included in Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī. With a close variant in the History of al-Ṭabarī, we will also consider what the tale reveals about the role of orality and textuality at the mnemonic interface between storyteller and written compilation, as well as the more elusive interface between Torah text/speaker and Muslim exegete.

Madeline Wyse is a Ph.D. student who is particularly interested in the theories of language and hermeneutics developed and variously deploying in usūl al-fiqh (Islamic legal theory), the Talmud, midrash and classical tafsīr (Quranic exegesis).


Annette Yoshiko Reed’s research spans Second Temple Judaism, early Christianity, and Jewish/Christian relations in Late Antiquity, with a special concern for retheorizing religion, identity, and difference.

Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg’s research focuses on the diverse ways in which historical rabbinic Jewish communities have imagined the Hebrew Bible as a revelation and the varied modes in which they have engaged with the biblical tradition in practice. 

“Can Feminism be Institutionalized?”

The Challenges to Forming Feminist Lineages in the Academy

a two-part conversation with Mika Ahuvia

Tuesday, September 15th, 1pm PST
Monday October 12, 1pm PST

Events will be live captioned by a professional CART provider.

Join Mika Ahuvia, scholar of late antique Judaism, as she launches her new project identifying and documenting the challenges of the present and envisioning a future for a more feminist and equitable academic culture. Ahuvia will present her guiding questions and framework for the project, with brief contributions from invited respondents, followed by a broader discussion. Please join us for one or both parts. 

Participants include:
Bernadette Brooten ◆ Elizabeth Castelli ◆ Krista N. Dalton
Carly Daniel-Hughes Pratima Gopalakrishnan Max Grossman
Chaya Halberstam Susannah Heschel ◆ Sarah Imhoff Karen King
Abby Kluchin Amanda Mbuvi Angela Parker Sara Parks
Kimberly D. Russaw Shira Schwartz Melissa Harl Sellew
Kay Higuera Smith ◆ Max Strassfeld ◆ Chontel Syfox
Hanna Tervanotko ◆ M Tong ◆ Karri Whipple