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St Andrews Atonement Symposium Recap

Words by Justin Duff, University of St Andrews; Photos by Tavis Bohlinger*

Last week, my co-organizers and I had the pleasure of hosting the 2018 St Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies. The theme and title of this year’s symposium was Atonement: Sin, Sacrifice, and Salvation in Jewish and Christian Antiquity. Beginning in 2011, the symposium was launched as a small conference designed to attract local PhD Divinity students and professors to a range of plenary talks from the St Andrews faculty. In the seven years since, the symposium has become a larger gathering for biblical scholars within and without the UK. St Andrews has hosted five more symposiums since 2011, with close to 100 attendees arriving last week. It has become a truly international gathering of PhD students and professors from Europe, Asia, North America, and the UK.

A welcome reception, including discount cards for St Andrews Brewing Company.

This year, I organized the conference along with Max Botner and Simon Dürr. Unique to the conference, each symposium is entirely planned and executed by PhD students in biblical studies. The PhD organizers oversee every aspect of the event, including topic selection, plenary invitations, confirming abstracts for short paper presentation, venue/catering, and grant proposals. We were pleased to receive grants from both the St Andrews Divinity school and the university’s Centre for Academic and Professional Development. Although the symposium was a lot of work, especially with thesis writing and other PhD responsibilities, it was a rewarding experience for myself and the other organizers. Each of us enjoyed the chance to design the symposium from the ground up, explore a topic related to each of our PhD theses, and network with other scholars.

Tom Wright was one of the featured plenary speakers at this year’s St Andrew’s Symposium on Atonement.

This year’s symposium featured some of the world’s leading experts on atonement within ancient Judaism and early Christianity: Christian Eberhart, Martha Himmelfarb, David Moffitt, Carol Newsom, Deborah Rooke, Catrin Williams, David Wright, and N. T. Wright. The organizers had the chance to get to know the out of town speakers over a welcome dinner on Sunday night before the symposium, and I very much appreciated starting the week with warm and collegial conversation. On Monday, the conference fittingly began “at one,” and for the following three days the eight speakers presented excellent papers and remained accessible to many of the visiting students for questions and conversation. Their presentations primarily addressed the concept of atonement within the Hebrew Bible and second temple Jewish texts. Each served as an intriguing foreground to the Wednesday papers on New Testament literature.

The plenary presentations were also accompanied by a number of short papers addressing atonement in biblical, Patristic, and rabbinic literature. The quality of the short papers was exceptionally high, with presenters hailing from universities like Oxford, Durham, Princeton, Yale, Berkeley, Duke, Notre Dame, McGill, Vienna, and of course, St Andrews. You know it’s a biblical studies conference when the Gospel of John section features papers by Jason, Jason, John, and James.

Opening wine reception in Lower College Hall, University of St Andrews.

Whether over a glass of wine at the Monday reception or some millionaire shortcake at Tuesday dinner, the symposium was a great chance for many of the delegates to catch up with old friends and meet postgraduate students from around the world. With everyone keenly interested in the conference theme, the St Andrews symposium remains a unique chance for scholarly conversation. Moreover, the medieval fishing village of St Andrews was an exceptional space for hosting the conference, with some of the UK’s best fish ‘n chips shops, North Sea beaches, and golf courses within walking distance from our symposium venue in St Salvator’s College. Many
of the delegates explored the sites and enjoyed exceptional sunshine for the Scottish summertime.

If you did not get the chance to attend this year’s symposium, the plenary papers will be published with Eerdmans Academic. The volume will also feature some of the exceptional short paper presentations. If you’d like more information about the papers, you can find the schedule and abstracts for the symposium at the following Academia pages: Justin Duff and Max Botner.


*Stay tuned this week for a day-by-day photojournalistic review of the 3-day St. Andrew’s Atonement Symposium, exclusively here on theLAB.


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Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is the editor of Word by Word's Lecture Hall and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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Written by Tavis Bohlinger