2008 New England Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature

On Friday, I had the pleasant experience of attending the New England Regional SBL meeting. Adam has already typed up his reflections. I will shamelessly steal his format and include my own thoughts here.

Before the conference:
Mandy and I decided to drive to Andover Newton Theological School. It was a good choice, in hindsight. There was very little traffic, and we made it in just over an hour. Of course, Adam had arrived far earlier than the two of us, so we met up with him and had coffee. We also met an editor from Hendrickson and helped carry around some tables. This afforded us a first look at some of the books Hendrickson had on offer. Having done this, we headed to the morning session.

The Morning Session:
I attended the David Narratives Revisted section. The most interesting paper of the morning was given by Ryan Stokes, a GCTS alum and current student at Yale University. His paper was entitled, “The Nature and Identity of the ‘Satan’ in 1 Chronicles 21:1.” The paper was fascinating, and Ryan did a superb job of presenting it. The conclusion was nothing new or innovative, but it was a solid “revisiting” of the issue. Jonathan Kaplan, of Harvard University, also gave an interesting paper. His paper title was, “The Limits of Monarchic Power: 1 Samuel 8 as ‘A Mirror for Princes,'” which caused me to become immediately interested. I would have liked it if Jonathan had spent a little more time fleshing out what a mirror for princes was (I understand the concept, but a bit more information about how he was applying it to 1 Samuel 8 itself would have been helpful).

Plenary Sessions:
The Plenary sessions were both fascinating. I’m not a huge student of the second temple period, but John Collins’ address kept me interesting. It was basically a “history of scholarship” on the topic, and accomplished that quite well. I know I learned quite a bit, and feel a bit more comfortable placing the books I have read on the topic into a kind of developmental spectrum.

The second session, with Peter Machinist was equally fascinating, though in a different way. He spoke of Frank Moore Cross’ contributions to Biblical and ANE studies. I have no read a great deal of Cross, but I have read and digested several of his articles, as well as two or three of the essays from Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic. The anecdotes that some of his students offered during the Q and A time were equally attention grabbing. I wonder if one day Mandy, Art, Earl, myself and a host of others will have similar anecdotes about Dr. Snyder.

The Afternoon Session:
Here I attended the section concerned with the Deuteronomistic History. Keith Bodner’s paper was excellent, but the one that was most interesting to me was Richard J. Thompson’s. Richard is a PhD student at Harvard, and his paper was entitled “The Neo-Assyrian Oath of Allegiance to ASHUR as the Basis for the Deuteronomistic Covenant with YHWH,” which is itself a bit misleading. That title is actually the title of his dissertation. He presented the findings from his first chapter, which are really only the Biblical source material. Nevertheless, I think the topic itself shows quite a bit of promise and I hope to keep tabs on how the dissertation progresses. I gave him my email address, and he seemed more than willing to stay in contact. I look forward to reading further chapters in his dissertation.

Other Observations:
Gordon-Conwell had a good showing, at least in the number of students. We even had someone presenting. However, not a single professor attended. Absolutely ridiculous. I realize our profs are busy, but this should be a non-negotiable for them, especially since the regional meeting was so close this year. Back to students for a moment though, it was somewhat interesting that I talked with more students from GCTS at SBL than I have here on campus.

I thoroughly enjoy professional conferences. Aside from the papers, which have been at least informative in my limited experience, it’s a great opportunity to meet people. I’m sure some of the novelty of drinking wine and chatting with Biblical scholars will wear off eventually, but for now it makes for an enjoyable afternoon.

Would it be too much trouble to publish papers online before the conference? I realize that expecting the individual presenters to print off 25-35 copies of a paper is probably impolite at best, but we all have the Internet now. I say slap the papers online as a PDF and let us download them ourselves. It would be extremely helpful to have a copy of the paper in front of me. I know that some only have abstracts of the paper completed when they submit them for consideration, but why not require the completed paper a week prior to the meeting? I think it would be a good idea, but I haven’t been the one having to complete a paper and present it yet, so who knows?

Finally, after the regional conference I’m even more excited about the national meeting in November.

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One thought on “2008 New England Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature

  1. Societal conferences can be tricky things, especially regionals. The presentations have a higher “bomb” rate and there are fewer papers that individuals (particularly profs) may be interested in. When I first joined SBL, I tried to make every conference. I’ve since discovered that sometimes it’s a waste of time and money unless there are a couple of presentations that really interest me. While the networking opportunities are good, the same can be accomplished at the national.

    On the pre-presentation paper, I understand your desire, but consider from the presenter’s perspective (wow that was a lot of accidental alliteration): while the paper may be presentation worthy, they may not consider it publication worthy. Putting things in print can be indicting and some presenters simply are not prepared for that degree of scrutiny. For many presenters (regional esp.), these are students working on their dissertations and, as such, are essentially in the middle of a topic. They don’t have all their bases covered yet and are more-or-less simply hoping for some feedback that they can use/consider. Putting something in print makes things far too easy for detractors. I do agree that common courtesy should be that each presenter provide at least a short handout, esp. if they utilize a number of textual examples.

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