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.

Post-Conference Thoughts

Mandy and I had a wonderful time at a conference this weekend. All of the papers were pretty good, though my favorites were Samuel Adams’ paper entitled “Poverty and Otherness in Second Temple Instructions” he dealt with a variety of literature from the Second Temple Period, but focused primarily on 4QInstruction and Joel Kaminsky’s “Israel and the ‘Other’ in Late Biblical and Early Rabbinic Thought.” Kaminsky has a monograph out that he drew from where he divides the world, in Israel’s view, into three sections:

1. Elect (Israel)
2. Non-Elect (Most of the rest of the world outside the land)
3. Anti-Elect (Canaanites, Amalekites, etc)

Several of the other presenters cited Kaminsky in their own work. I find the ideas that he lays out absolutely fascinating and a good challenge to the standard binary opposition of Elect vs. Non-Elect.

Carol Newsom’s keynote was also excellent, and actually tied in well with Kaminsky’s categories, though perhaps not deliberately. She spoke about God’s “other” being the gentile kings whom he fought and/or used. She set up a series of ways in which God interacted with this other. On one end of this spectrum was elimination, God destroyed the king, or Israel was supposed to destroy them. Near the opposite pole was assimilation. This side of the spectrum sees Israel assimilating the gentile king into their own theology. Cyrus, or perhaps Nebuchadnezzer, is the example par excellence of this way of dealing with the gentile king.

We also had a great time talking with Adam and Jenn. They showed us around Amherst, let us spend the night at their place, and otherwise made going to this thing possible. Add to that an excellent lunch on Saturday at a local pub (good beer too!) that left us to full to think about dinner, and the weekend was an absolutely wonderful time. I also had the opportunity to briefly meet John Collins since the conference was small and quite intimate.

The Other in Second Temple Judaism

This weekend Mandy and I will be attending a conference with Adam and his wife. The conference in question is titled, “The Other in Second Temple Judaism: A Conference in Honor of John J. Collins.” It is being held at Amherst College. I’ve been looking forward to this conference for some time now.

Carol Newsom, of Emory University/Candler School of Theology is giving the keynote entitled “God’s Other: The Intractable Problem of the Gentile King in Israelite and Early Jewish Literature.” I’ve read a few articles by Dr. Newsom on the wisdom literature, and I’m looking forward to hearing her lecture.

I’m also looking forward to hearing Samuel Adams of Union Theological Seminary in Richmond discuss “Poverty and ‘Otherness’ in Second Temple Instructions.” Dr. Adams recently had a book published on Second Temple Instructions, which I’d love to acquire, but won’t be purchasing any time soon.

I’m not sure what panels I’ll be attending for the second morning session, or the afternoon session. Several sound fascinating, but I will have to pick two. If I’m able to find an internet connection at Amherst I may post my thoughts throughout the day, we shall see.