Every conference has one. The guy whose cell phone makes him think he’s Ansel Adams. Awards for the most stunning photos await him. He snaps pictures of everything. The building. The building during sunrise. The building at sunset. Everything in the building: the artifacts, the sofas and chairs, even the way the light hits the dispensers in the wonderfully inviting bathrooms. We all know him—usually a male, of course—that guy who takes awkward selfies with every speaker who’s scrambling to make sure their PowerPoint is working or that they didn’t forget their handouts back at the hotel.
These scholars are praying their presentations don’t land them on their backs with questions or critiques (secretly) designed to make them look stupid and the questioner smarter, and yet they have to stop and force a smile with someone they don’t know. How often I’ve gently poked fun at this overly excited conference attendee whose actions scream, “I am the quintessential tourist—pose with me!”
This time, I was that guy.
Sponsored by the International Reference Library for Biblical Research (formally Ellis Foundation for Biblical Research), The Lanier Theological Library hosted a three-day New Testament conference on their sprawling, private estate in Houston, TX, on May 19–21, 2022. The theme, “Pastoral Implications of Pseudepigraphy and Anonymity in the New Testament,” drew biblical scholars from all over the world (literally) who gathered at this Disneyland for scholars to present their research on a topic usually reserved for the elite in academia. Designed to serve as a bridge between the church and the academy, this conference intended to draw out pastoral implications from ground laid by New Testament scholarship over the past few decades on the overlapping topics of pseudepigraphy, anonymity, and authority in the NT.
First, the Lanier Theological Library (LTL) is incredible. The brainchild of W. Mark Lanier—one of America’s most successful litigators and author of several Christian works—the library has books, of course (and lots of them). It is also staffed with the most gracious people who excel in hospitality. But it is not merely a library. It’s an experience. The LTL occupies ten acres of fortified space in Houston that tricks visitors into thinking they’ve landed in the rolling hills of medieval Oxford or walking down a quaint English village street in Cambridge. The property boasts rocky, cobbled streets, a sixth-century replica Byzantine Chapel (called “the Stone Chapel”), a row of old English-looking pubs and meeting houses (called “the Lamb & the Scroll”), expansive gardens, lakes, resident ducks, cottages for visiting scholars, and even a close-to-life-size train that rides the rails of the property.
The focal point, however, is the two-story imposing castle-like research library patterned after the most beautiful libraries of old Britain. Inside the building are what one would expect from a world-class research library—books, databases, reading rooms, and multiple study carrels situated in charming nooks throughout the property. But it has much more. Around one corner is an authentic DSS jar from Qumran (the only one in the United States). Around another is a first edition/first issue 1611 KJV Bible. There is also a “Mole” edition of the Tyndale NT printed in 1536. At one place are displayed various coinage from the first century along with other ancient artifacts excavated in the Middle East, dating back to the Late Bronze Age. There are too many surprises to list here. Yet other than the jar, pride of place must go to an authentic DSS fragment of Amos 7:17–8:1, housed in a temperature-controlled glass box under the cover of a blue velvet sash (photos are not allowed of this treasure–but it’s there).
The International Reference Library for Biblical Research (IRLBR) is in part directed by Dr. David Capes, who also directs the LTL and hosts a few podcasts and various lectures on-site for this academic think tank. Other IRLBL directors include Dr. Randy Richards (Palm Beach Atlantic University), Dr. Daniel Fredricks (Belhaven College, ret.), and Dr. Terry Wilder (Campbellsville University)—all of whom were participants in the conference held at LTL. Active NT scholars who gave papers represented both international and domestic universities and seminaries. They traveled from as far as South Africa, Australia, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. They included scholars from both coasts of the United States and the states in between. Wipf and Stock was on-site as well, forecasting a future published anthology stemming from this conference.
Over three days, the conference presenters read like a “Who’s Who” of NT scholarship, representing broadly evangelical and ecumenical constituencies. Respected voices such as Simon Gathercole, Steve Walton, and Paul Anderson were there. Daniel Gurtner and Lee McDonald were too. Madison Peirce, Christopher Porter, and Gregory Lamb gave talks. So did T. J. Lang, Murray Smith, and Vuyani Sindo. Steve Runge, Ched Spellman, and Peter Davids read papers, as did Jermo van Nes and Maurice Robinson. Julie Leyva, Sydney Tooth, and Chad Thornhill contributed presentations (turns out that in addition to leading the graduate Biblical and Theological program at Liberty University, Thornhill moonlights as an American Ninja Warrior!). Rounding out the list of speakers were William Bowes, Nathan Maroney, and Michael Robertson. Everyone addressed the thorny issue of NT pseudepigraphy and anonymity along with their implications for church life.
Then, there was me.
The guy with his cell phone snapping pics of everything and everybody like paparazzi at the Academy Awards. Through it all, I almost forgot that I, too, was there to contribute something more than annoying selfies. I had a paper to present, which I titled: “Forgery and the Fourth Gospel: Implications of Pseudepigraphy and Authority in the Johannine Corpus.” In it I challenge recent scholarship that argues for all of John’s writings being literary fakes or forgeries. Be on the lookout for mine and all the wonderful papers from the conference slated to be published by Wipf and Stock / Cascade in Summer 2023! Below are some of my award-winning pics from the conference … along with much better ones from Jocalynn Soliz—an actual professional working the conference. (Unless otherwise noted, the photos are mine.)
The Lanier Theological Library in Houston, TX (first opened in 2010). It is a 17,000 sq. ft private research library founded by Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm and patterned after architecture reminiscent of the University of Oxford. (Evening photo by Gregory Lamb)
Standing in front of the Lanier Theological Library, a group photo of all the scholars who participated in the “Pastoral Implications of Pseudepigraphy and Anonymity in the New Testament” conference sponsored by IRLBR. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
The two-story main hall of the Lanier Theological Library. On the bottom floor are the various archeological treasures and Bibles, as well as an entire C. S. Lewis collection containing handwritten letters and various works by Lewis. The ceilings were painted by Texas artist Richard McCluskey.
The “Lamb and the Scroll,” a charming English pub where we ate our meals at LTL.
Train tracks for a private close-to-life-size train operated by Mark Lanier surround the sprawling estate containing the LTL (the train was not operating during the conference).
Second Timothy 2:15 carved into a stone just outside the main doors of the LTL.
Statues and life-size replicas of sheep on the nearly ten acre fenced-off estate make for a tranquil setting for visiting scholars. The library building can be seen in the background.
A quaint English-styled cobbled street on the property of LTL. “The Lamb and the Scroll” can be seen on the street, which leads to the “Stone Chapel,” a replica of a sixth century Byzantine chapel on the property of the LTL. Several talks from the conference were held at the Stone Chapel; visiting scholars regularly lecture there, as well.
Inside the gorgeous Stone Chapel. The walls, archways, and rotunda contain various scenes from the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures painted by Texas artist Richard McCluskey (who also painted the ceilings of the LTL’s Main Hall). The artwork of the inner chapel is painted in a style modeled by the great European medieval frescos. (Right photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
More artwork inside the Stone Chapel’s ceilings and rotunda
Program for the conference and entry into the “Nut Room” of the conference inside the LTL
The International Reference Library for Biblical Research sponsored the event.
Dr. David Capes opened the conference in the “Malamat Room” and served as the main host throughout the three-day event. Capes also directs the LTL and hosts two podcasts on-site: Stone Chapel Podcast and Exegetically Speaking.
Day 1: Dr. Daniel Gutner (Gateway Seminary) presenting in the Malamat Room on “The Theory of New Testament Pseudepigraphy in Light of Second Temple Judaism.” (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Day 1: Dr. Lee McDonald (Acadia University) in the Malamat Room presenting a talk entitled “Pseudonymous Then and Now.” (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Day 1: Dr. Steve Walton (Trinity College, Bristol) presenting a paper in the Malamat Room called, “Whose Acts? And Does It Matter?” (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Day 1: Dr. T. J. Lang (University of St. Andrews) speaking in the Malamat Room on “Unstable Canons and the Fingerprints of Forgery: Introducing Uncomfortable Facts to Unsuspecting Christians.” (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Day 2: Dr. Jermo van Nes (Evangelische Theologische Faculteit) giving a presentation in the Malamat Room entitled, “Recycling Ancient Canon Criteria: How to Use Disputed New Testament Writings in Church.”
Day 2: Dr. Steven Runge (Grace School of Theology) speaking in the Malamat Room on “Moving the Goalposts? The Implications of Disputed Pauline Authorship for Pastoral Ministry.”
Day 2: Dr. Terry Wilder (Campbellsville University) in the Malamat Room delivering a paper titled, “A Pauline Theology from Pseudonymous Pastoral Letters.”
Day 2: Dr. Simon Gathercole (University of Cambridge) delivering a presentation in the Malamat Room entitled, “Are the Gospels Anonymous? Historical Evidence and Theological Implications.”
Day 2: Dr. Maurice Robinson (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) in the Malamat Room speaking on “The Woman Taken in Adultery: A Pastoral/ Congregational Quandary.”
Day 3: Dr. Peter Davids (Our Lady of Guadalupe Priory) in the Malamat Room giving a presentation called, “Pseudepigrapha, Anonymity, and the Authority of the Catholic Epistles: An Evangelical-Catholic Perspective.” (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Day 3: Paul Anderson (George Fox University) in the Malamat Room delivering his talk, “Anonymous Appellations in the Fourth Gospel—Confirming the Non-Identity of the Beloved Disciple AND the Mother of Jesus?”
Panel discussion on day two in the Malamat Room, hosted by Dr. Randy Richards
Panelists from left to right: Dr. Simon Gathercole, Dr. Madison Pierce, and Dr. Murray Smith (photos by Jocalynn Soliz)
Dr. Simon Gathercole and Dr. Madison Pierce enjoying a moment during a panel discussion. (Photos by Jocalynn Soliz).
Panel discussion on day three in the Malamat Room, hosted by Dr. Randy Richards
Panelists from left to right: Dr. Vuyani Sindo, Dr. Daniel Gurtner, and Dr. Sydney Tooth (photos by Jocalynn Soliz)
Day 2: Dr. Murray Smith (Christ College) in the Stone Chapel reading a paper entitled, “Anonymous or Apostolic? The Historical Foundations and Pastoral Implications of Receiving the Gospels as Apostolic Testimony.”
Day 2: Dr. Ched Spellman (Cedarville University) delivering his talk in the Stone Chapel: “Bear with this Anonymous Exhortation: The Hermeneutical Effect of Anonymous Authorship for Readers of the New Testament.”
Day 2: Yours truly, Dr. Cory M. Marsh (Southern California Seminary), in the Stone Chapel delivering a presentation called, “Forgery and the Fourth Gospel: Implications of Pseudepigraphy and Authority in the Johannine Corpus.” (Photo by Gregory Lamb)
Day 2: Dr. Vuyani Sindo (George Whitfield College) in the Stone Chapel giving a presentation he called, “The God Who Speaks: An Inquiry into the Authorship and the Purpose of the Book to the Hebrews.”
Day 2: Gregory Lamb (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) in the Malamat Room reading his paper, “Hebrews to the Hauptbriefe: How Have ‘Authenticity’ and ‘Anonymity’
Affected the Church’s Reception of Paul Since the Reformation.”
Day 2: Sydney Tooth (Oak Hill College) in the Malamat Room reading her paper: “Let No One Deceive You in Any Way: 2 Thessalonians in Church and Academy.”
Dr. Randy Richards welcoming scholars into the Malamat Room. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Drs. Cory Marsh and Chris Porter inspecting an Isaiah scroll in the library’s Main Hall. The authentic DSS fragment of a passage from Amos is on the close-end corner, hidden under the dark sash. Drs. Paul Anderson and Peter Davids are in the background. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Drs. Steve Walton and Maurice Robinson enjoying a moment during a coffee and tea break in the Nut Room. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Dr. David Capes talking about the history of the Stone Chapel before the conference began. From left to right: Dr. Murray Smith, Nathan Maroney, Dr. Christopher Porter, Dr. Gregory Lamb, Dr. Cory Marsh, and Dr. David Capes (photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Drs. Dan Gurtner and Steve Walton enjoying some fellowship in the Nut Room. Drs. Randy Richards and David Capes are in the back. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz).
Dr. Lee McDonald and Julie Leyva enjoying a coffee and tea break in the Nut Room. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Dr. Steve Runge asking a question during one of the sessions in the Malamat Room. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Drs. David Capes and Paul Anderson enjoying some discussion in the Malamat Room during a coffee and tea break. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Drs. Randy Richards, Maurice Robinson, and Jermo van Nes engaging in a conversation during a coffee and tea break in the Malamat Room. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Dr. T. J. Lang grabbing one of the gift bags given to presenters at the conference. In the back, left to right are William Bowes, Dr. Chris Porter, Dr. Madison Pierce, and Julie Leyva. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Drs. Chris Porter and Sydney Tooth standing in front of the complimentary gift bags. In the back, left to right, are Drs. Michael Robertson and Terry Wilder. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Nathan Maroney peering over the Amos DSS fragment and Isaiah facsimile scroll in the Main Hall. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Drs. Ched Spellman, Sydney Tooth, and Steve Walton enjoying some time together in the Nut Room during a coffee and tea break. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Dr. T. J. Lang and Julie Leyva exchange some ideas while Drs. Madison Pierce and Sydney Tooth look on in one of the many nooks in the library. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
A group of presenters enjoying a tour of the Main Hall of the library before the conference began. From left to right: Dr. Murray Smith, Dr. Jermo van Nes, Dr. Chris Porter, Dr. Maurice Robinson, Nathan Maroney, and Dr. Cory Marsh (photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Drs. Steve Walton and Randy Richards enjoying some fellowship in the Nut Room during a coffee and tea break. In the back is Dr. Michael Roberston. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Drs. Lee McDonald and Paul Anderson discussing the conference in the Nut Room. In the back are Drs. Michael Roberston and Randy Richards. (Photo by Jocalynn Soliz)
Me (Dr. Cory M. Marsh) being “that guy” with Dr. David Capes in the Main Hall.
With Dr. Paul Anderson in the Nut Room
With Dr. Terry Wilder in the Nut Room
With Dr. Randy Richards in the Nut Room
With Dr. Steven Runge in the Nut Room
With Dr. Dan Gurtner just outside the main doors to the Library
With Dr. Murray Smith in the Nut Room
With Dr. Ched Spellman in the Nut Room
With Dr. Maurice Robinson outside the main entrance to the Library
With American Ninja Warrior / Dr. Chad Thornhill in the Nut Room
With Dr. Chris Porter in the Main Hall
With Dr. T. J. Land in the Main Hall
With Michael Thomson of Wipf and Stock in the Main Hall; in the back is Emma Abernathy, one of the gracious hosts at the conference.