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Research

Work in Progress Publications Presentations Awards
Jason Combs

Work In Progress

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“The Shepherd of Hermas and the Problem of Non-Christian Epiphany.” In Experiencing the Shepherd of Hermas. Edited by Angela Kim Harkins and Harry O. Maier. Ekstasis: Religious Experience from Antiquity to the Medieval Period. Berlin: de Gruyter Press. Projected 2020. (Submission deadline is June 1, 2019.)


“On the Workers in the Vineyard ( )” in Narsai: A Complete Translation, eds. Aaron M. Butts, Kristian S. Heal, and Robert A. Kitchen (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press) -- Invited. (Submission deadline is July 1, 2019.)


“Dating the Sabbath-Worker Agraphon: The Fourth-Century Origin and Significance of Bezae-Luke 6.5,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament (Forthcoming.)


“Non-Canonical Gospels” in New Testament History, Culture, and Society: A Background to the Texts of the New Testament, ed. Lincoln H. Blumell (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center) -- anticipated Winter 2019. (Submitted to editor.)


“Historical Criticism” in Mormons and the Bible, eds. Cory Crawford, Eric Eliason, and Taylor Petrey (Oxford: Oxford University Press) -- Under Contract. (Submitted to editors.)

Publications

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“'Christ' after the Apostles: The Humanity and Divinity of the Savior in the Second Century” “Thou Art the Christ, the Son of the Living God”: The Person and Work of Jesus in the New Testament -- Sperry Symposium 2018, eds. Eric Huntsman, Lincoln Blumell, and Tyler Griffin (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018), 303-334.

“From King Ahaz's Sign to Christ Jesus: The 'Fulfillment' of Isaiah 7:17” in Prophets and Prophecies of the Old Testament: Text and Context -- Sperry Symposium 2017, eds. Aaron Schade, Brian Hauglid, and Kerry Muhlestein (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2017), 95-122.

"A Walking, Talking Cross: The Polymorphic Christology of the Gospel of Peter," Early Christianity 5 (2014): 198-219.

Recently the walking, talking cross in the Gospel of Peter has been interpreted as a popular belief or a common apocalyptic motif, irrelevant for understanding the gospel’s christology. I argue that the animated cross should be understood as a manifestation of the resurrected Lord. This is demonstrated through a comparative study of epiphanies from Greek, Roman, and Jewish literature in which gods are identified and manifest by their unique signs, including talking trees. Since this cross appears simultaneously with the Lord’s enormous resurrected form, I conclude that the Gospel of Peter represents a polymorphic christology.

For full article, click here or contact me.

"A Marriage-Gift of Part of a Monastery from Byzantine Egypt," Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 48 (2011): 79-88.
-Coauthored with Joseph G. Miller.

Edition of P.Duk. inv. 728 (early sixth century CE) appears to record the marriage-gift of part of a monastery from the wife to the husband. This document has several interesting features. First, it one of only a small handful of deeds written in the voice of a woman. It is also unique in its use of key language from both marriage contracts and free-standing deeds of gift. Although it is most likely a free-standing deed of gift, it is clearly associated with the contractual language of marriage through this statement: “Moreover, it is binding that you neither are able nor will be able to cast me out from your household for the entire time of my life until my death. But if you did want to cast me out from your household before my death without lawful cause or fornication, in that case this gift of mine is void and without effect everywhere presented.” Lastly, the document adds to the evidence for the lay ownership of monasteries in sixth-century Egypt, and includes language typical of the later, more ecclesiastically developed testamentary transmission of monasteries; for instance, the early 7th century Testament of Apa Abraham (P.Lond. 1.77). The papyrus fragment is nearly a foot in length (30 cm) and less than half a foot in width (12.6 cm). A high-resolution image is available at Duke Library

For full article, click here or contact me.

"A Ghost on the Water?: Understanding an Absurdity in Mark 6:49-50," Journal of Biblical Literature 127.2 (2008): 345-358.

In Mark 6:49–50 Jesus walks on water to meet his disciples in their boat. When they see him approaching, they cry out in fear: “It’s a Ghost!” Commentators have long assumed that the belief in ghosts haunting the sea was simply a timeless folktale that Mark adapted to highlight the disciples’ miscomprehension of Jesus — a major motif in Mark. Mark indeed sets the scene for a classic tale of a haunting specter through his use of the word φάντασμα (“ghost”), the nighttime hours, the necessary faint light from the approaching dawn, and the disciples’ fearful response. Yet I argue that Mark diverges drastically from a key component of ancient ghost stories that involve water: ghosts cannot walk on water. I review Greek and Latin sources that include accounts of ghosts and water to show the following: (1) water is a hazard for ghosts—e.g., the sea serves as the final resting place for the phantom driven into it and presumably destroyed; (2) water is a boundary for spirits—e.g.,  rivers function to impede the unburied dead from entering their rest and the buried dead from escaping their realm; (3) water is foreign to ghosts—e.g., one who dies at sea must remain forever lost unless called to a cenotaph on the shore; (4) since water is dangerous for the ghost, it is even used as a defense to ward off unwanted spooks.

Having demonstrated the absurdity of the idea that a ghost would appear walking on water, I then return to Mark’s Gospel. Mark is explicit that the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost when they saw him walking on the water—when they witnessed him doing one thing that ghosts did not do. To explain why Mark included this absurdity, I review another famous instance of a ghost story that deviates from expectations. In the Haunted House (Mostellaria), a Roman comedy of Plautus, the credulous nature of the credulus senex is exaggerated through his insistence on believing a ghost story that diverges from audience expectation to such an extent that it appears absurd. I conclude that Mark similarly emphasizes the disbelief of the disciples when he presents them believing the absurd instead of recognizing Jesus’s divinity—in Greek and Latin literature divine men and gods walking on water, but ghosts do not. Mark 6:49–50 indeed presents a striking example of the disciples’ miscomprehension of Jesus, not by repeating a traditional tale, but by diverging from it in a way that seemed absurd.

For full article, click here or contact me.

Presentations

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"The Shepherd of Hermas and the Problem of Non-Christian Epiphany."
With response by Harry Maier (Vancouver School of Theology).
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting -- Combined Session of Inventing Christianity and Religious Experience in Antiquity (November 2018).


"Soliciting Divine Manifestations: Proto-orthodox Practices in the Late-Second and Early-Third Century CE."
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting -- Combined Session of Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity and Religious Experience in Antiquity (November 2018).


"Dreams/Visions among Early Third-Century Proto-Orthodox Christians: Experience at the Boundaries of Discourse."
With response by Frances Flannery (James Madison University).
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting -- Religious Experience in Antiquity (November 2017).


"Dreams of Divine Chastisement: The Origin and Influence of an Early Christian Dream-Type."
North American Patristic Society Annual Meeting (May 2017)


"Dating the Sabbath-Workder Agraphon: The Fourth-Century Origin and Significance of Bezae-Luke 6.5."
AAR/SBL/ASOR Rocky Mountain-Great Plains Regional Meeting at the University of Colorado Boulder (March 2017)


"Christ in the Form of a Young Man: An Early Christian Epiphany-Type."
Disclosure, Inspiration, Epiphany: Divine Revelation in the Ancient Mediterranean;
Conference at King's College, London (May 2016)


"Christophany as Ecclesiology: Christ Manifest as Apostle in the Aprocryphal Acts."
International Conference on Patristic Studies, Oxford -- Apostolic Apocrypha Session (August 2015).


"Reading Reversal in the Markan Passion: Psalm 22 as 'Inverted Quotation' in Mark 15."
Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion -- New Testament IV Session (March 2015).


"Dreaming Christian: Tertullian's Epiphanies and the Construction of Pagan/Christian Identity."
With response by Stephanie Cobb (University of Richmond)
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting -- Combined Session of Inventing Christianity and Contextualizing North African Christianity (November 2014).


"'In the Eye of the Beholder': Art and Epiphanies in Greek Novels and the Apocryphal Acts."
North American Patristics Society Annual Meeting -- Christianity and Sophistic Culture in the Second and Third Centuries Session (May 2014).


"Identifying Dreams: Recognizing Jesus in Tertullian and the Acts of Peter."
North Carolina Religious Studies Association -- Ancient Mediterranean Session (November 2013).


"Constraining Christian Visions: The Problem of Polymorphy in the Apocryphal Acts."
North American Patristics Society Annual Meeting -- Second Century Christianities Session (May 2013).


"Dreams(') Matter: Idol-Demons and Early Christian Oneiric Techniques."
With response by Steven Larson (Ohio Wesleyan University).
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting -- Religious Competition in the Third Century C.E.: Interdisciplinary Approaches Section (November 2012).


Exception as Power: Reading Agamben in the Apostolic Fathers."
North American Patristics Society Annual Meeting -- Church Leadership Session (May 2012).


"Re-contextualizing the Walking, Talking Cross: Dualistic Christology in the Gospel of Peter."
Special session on the Gospel of Peter, including reviews of Paul Foster's commentary.
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting -- Christian Apocrypha Section (November 2011).


"Correcting the Commandment: The Effect of Early Christian Sabbath Polemic on the Text of Luke's Gospel."
With response by Bill Warren (New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary).
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting - Sabbath in Text, Tradition and Theology Consultation (November 2010).


"Jewish 'Fools' and their Gentile Foil: Reading Comedy in Mark 15:34-39."
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting - Synoptic Gospels Section (November 2010).


"Locating Luke 6.5D: Toward a Social Context for the Sabbath Worker."
Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion - New Testament II Session (March 2010).


"'They Thought it was a Ghost:' Understanding an Absurdity in Mark 6:49-50."
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting - Synoptic Gospels Section (November 2006).


"Roman Comedy and Pauline Humor: Rethinking the Metaphors of Slavery and Sons in Galatians 3.22-4.9."
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting - Pauline Epistles Section (November 2005).


"Entering Aseneth's Mouth: A Socio-Anthropological Approach to Community Boundaries in 'Joseph and Aseneth.'"
Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting - Social History of Formative Christianity and Judaism Section (November 2005).

Awards

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Lovick P. Corn Dissertation Fellow, The Royster Society of Fellows, UNC (2014–2015).


Travel Award, Graduate and Professional Student Federation, UNC (May, 2014).


Hugh W. Nibley Fellowship, Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (2009–2013).


Robert Miller Fund for Excellence in Religious Studies — Travel Award, UNC (2012).


Mitteln des Ministeriums für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst Baden-Württemberg. Stipend for study at Heidelberg University (January–July, 2006).

Graduate and Professional Student Senate Conference Travel Fund, Yale University (November, 2005).


Ezekiel H. Trowbridge Scholarship, Yale Divinity School (2005–2006).


Paul Wesley Chalfant Scholarship, Yale Divinity School (2004–2005).