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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Posts worth reading, Vol 1

Over the past week or so I’ve read a number of excellent posts on other blogs that I’ve wanted to comment about. However, some of them I don’t really have enough to say to warrant an entire post. Most of them I simply don’t have the time to give a full post to. So, I’m going to lump them all into a single post, with links, a few observations from yours truly, and an overall encouragement that you read them.

The Thoughts of a Medialist – Kevin Wilson has a good read with a nice little anecdote about his own time at Johns Hopkins. What is perhaps most interesting in this entire debate is that almost everyone wants to say they are in the middle. William Dever does not consider himself a maximalist. Of course, Kevin doesn’t consider himself one either–though perhaps he considers Dever one, I don’t know. He also has some good thoughts on what amounts to demonizing people in order to “win” the debate. Which reminds me of a recent post by Art.

demonizing: the leading tactic in christian debate – Art is absolutely right. It’s unfortunate, but I’ve seen this all too often. Even recently, I’ve seen this take place. Honest questions are easily dismissed when the questioner can be made out to be something less than a person, or at least the type of person that one normally associates with.

Pensive Thoughts on Faith and Calling – Earl has some open and honest thoughts about calling. He and I have had many a discussion over coffee on this very topic. It’s always fascinating to watch as a person’s thinking on a topic develops, and Earl’s has developed greatly. As my comment on his blog indicates, I think the two of us are in a very similar boat. Regardless of all that, it’s a post worth reading and you should really check it out. It brings up some excellent topics, not least of which is the separation between the laity and academia in Christendom.

Not really a radical… – On a somewhat related topic, Wezlo waxes eloquent about how he’s not really a radical. I say he just needs to keep telling himself that. But in all seriousness, Wezlo brings up some good topics. The idea of seeing the way forward through the past isn’t new, but it’s always good to think about. Furthermore, Wezlo tries to differentiate between an activist and an idealist, a discussion that is worth having.

Sadistic Approaches to Teaching Biblical Languages – This is simply a brilliant post by John Hobbins. You should read it, twice. I have a few professors here at GCTS I’d like to force to read it. I’ve long been of the opinion that languages are best learned inductively. Memorizing endless paradigms, although helpful at points, is an extremely boring way to learn a language. The textbook I used for Hebrew I and II introduced each lesson with a sentence from the Hebrew Bible. Each time we learned something, we were learning it in context. It was a great way to learn. I’m taking Aramaic this semester, and although the language isn’t that different from Hebrew, the professor I have is much different from my Hebrew prof in undergrad. I was never made to learn paradigms, beyond the basic ones, in my undergrad Hebrew courses. Regardless of how one might feel on the necessity of learning paradigms, I managed an A+ in Intermediate Hebrew Grammar last semester. That means I did better than most of the people who had memorized all the paradigms. Yet, in our first Aramaic session of the semester, the class was assured that if one did not memorize a plethora of paradigms, one would not be able to achieve above a C in Hebrew, and likewise in Aramaic. All of this to simply say that there is no excuse for making a language boring and cold to your students.

At this point I’ll stop. Some great posts there, and I recommend you take a few moments to check them out.

Mosaic Authorship and Conservative Pentateuch classes

Where to begin? Yesterday was my first Theology of the Pentateuch class session. It’s a requirement for graduating from the M.Div. program here at GCTS (well, either that or OT Intro, but I thought Theology of the Pentateuch would be more helpful for me). I was hoping for a class that could introduce me to some of the critical issues surrounding the Pentateuch and also look at what theology the Pentateuch really espouses, and perhaps the differences between that theology and Christian dogmatic theology. Of course, I should have known better.

Dr. Neihaus is teaching the class. I haven’t had him yet, so it’s good that I get to take a class with one of the few OT profs here that I haven’t had yet. The class started out well enough, with us discussing three different form critical approaches to Genesis 1. I’m not sure if any of the approaches we looked at completely fit, but it was interesting. Then, somewhere along the line we ended up in Genesis 3, with Satan “possessing” the serpent. Which is something I’ve heard of before. But with the mention of possession we somehow ended up in the New Testament and for the next twenty minutes heard about demon possession and what not. Now, I’m not trying to be insensitive here. I know that many people feel that demon possession is a very real and present issue. I don’t take that road, but neither do I reject entirely the possibility of such things. Either way, it is my opinion that such discussion has no place in a Theology of the Pentateuch class, unless perhaps we’re talking about ANE ideas about demonic possession, or Azazel, or something. After this we meandered a bit, but eventually ended up on the topic of Critical approaches to the Pentateuch. I was enthused–for all of five seconds.

It became quickly apparent that Dr. Neihaus subscribes to the idea of Mosaic authorship of the Torah. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. I know many people who feel that Moses wrote the Torah (or at least huge chunks of it) and they are capable of researching things, and doing real scholarship. They’re also okay if you don’t think Moses wrote the Torah. Dr. Neihaus, however, very nearly equated belief in Moses writing the Torah with belief in Jesus as the Son of God. Such things are ridiculous. I actually asked him, during class, why we were assuming that Moses had to have written the Torah, since I didn’t remember anywhere within the Torah where it was claimed that Moses wrote it (of course, I’m of the opinion that even if it did claim such a thing that doesn’t require one to subscribe to Mosaic authorship of the entire thing). He agreed that there wasn’t much within the Pentateuch itself, so again we jaunted over to the New Testament and began talking about how Jesus says “Moses gave you the law,” which must clearly mean that he wrote the entire Torah. Himself. In the 2nd Millennium BCE. Except the part after he died. Because that would be crazy.

After a quick Bible search I see no reason that one who wanted to take a very conservative view of Scripture would be forced to conclude that Moses authored the Torah. In the Gospels Jesus often refers to the Torah by saying “Moses commanded such and such.” But this does not mean that Moses had to have written the entire thing. It would be much like saying “The founding fathers wrote in the constitution…” when we are actually talking about the Bill of Rights, or another later addition to the constitution. It is not inaccurate to use the former designation, now does it in any way whatsoever twist the truth. In addition, there are a few times were Jesus refers to the Torah as the Law of Moses, which I take to be a colloquial designation for the books, not an authoritative statement regarding their authorship. I’m honestly mystified as to why Mosaic authorship of the Torah is such a massive issue in conservative circles. I think one could even fuller affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and not hold to complete Mosaic authorship of the Torah. I’m of the opinion that the authorship of the Pentateuch is somewhat superfluous. To be sure, Seitz im leben can be helpful to interpretation. But ultimately the Torah tells us a story, and that story is true regardless of who wrote it.

Now, in fairness, I will be introduced to critical methods of examining the Pentateuch. It will just be from the perspective that those methods are invalid and wrong – perhaps borderline “unChristian.” I doubt we’ll do much looking at the Theology of the Pentateuch as compared to Christian dogmatics or to the rest of the Hebrew Bible. I thought quite hard about dropping the class. Mandy is of the opinion that as much as I need to read people who disagree with me on the “left” I also need to hear people who disagree with me on the “right” and decide for myself. She’s normally correct about such things. At least she and Adam are taking the course with me. All hope is not lost.

Back to the grind

Well, maybe not entirely. There are still about three weeks before classes start, but Mandy and I are back from visiting friends and family over the holidays. We’re going to attempt to enjoy the few weeks of relaxation before the semester gears back up again.

Our trip went well overall, and it was nice seeing Earl and Florrie, as well as both sides of the family. It really stinks to be so far from family, and Earl is going to be going to grad school/seminary next year, so he’ll be even further away. I’ve tried talking him into GCTS, but in all honesty it isn’t the school for him. Goodness, the conservatism here is making me more liberal. The thought of what it would do to Earl is horrific. As an aside, I sometimes wonder why Mandy and I are here at Gordon-Conwell, and then I remember – 1. Money (she’s basically going free), 2. it’s a real school (that is to say, academically it is robust and well-known), 3. It has turned out real scholars in the past, and the only other seminary that has turned out real female scholars in any number is Fuller – and that was way too far for our tastes.

So, Gordon-Conwell remains the correct choice for Mandy and I, but it can be extremely frustrating at times. I really need to find whatever liberal remnant is hanging out silently here and hook up.

Studying for Greek

So I’ve spent today working on some youth ministry stuff. I’m very excited about a lot of it, but I still need to do a little more thinking before I’m reading to begin sharing my ideas with the world. Still, be looking for something eventually, assuming I get the time to post about it.

At present I’m studying for my Greek I exam tomorrow. I know the Article Paradigm, ειμι (sorry, don’t have breathing marks figured out on my keyboard yet) paradigm, and the alphabet down pat. I think I know how to identify various types of adjectives. I understand how prepositions work, at least as much as I am supposed to at this point. I know all the vocab I need to. I’ve reread chapters 1-9 (what the exam covers) multiple times. I can identify the gender, number, and case of most nouns without a problem, and the ambiguous ones I’m normally able to identify with the help of the article. I know the Greek diphthongs, In short, I know what I’m supposed to know for this test. But if I do – why am I still nervous and why do I feel like I’m certain to fail? Either way, my feelings are a far cry from what they were a few weeks back.