Posted by: Ken Brown | November 25, 2008

Thoughts on SBL

Well my first trip to the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting is wrapping up and I wanted to compile some reflections before heading off to the airport to fly home (I miss home!):

I’ve very much enjoyed my time in Boston, though I could have done without the frigid temperatures. I didn’t think to bring gloves or a hat and couldn’t find any to buy that were not ridiculously overpriced ($100 for a pair of gloves?!) or covered with Red Sox symbolism (boo Red Sox!), so walking outside has been less than pleasant. It builds character I guess.

As for the meeting itself, I took Mark Goodacre’s advice and was very much a “tart”; perhaps too much so. I didn’t stay for the whole of even one session, just picking and choosing which papers I actually wanted to hear. Partly this was so that I could catch papers at simultaneous sessions, but mainly it was just because I didn’t take Goodacre’s advice about not burning the candle from both ends. I couldn’t help but wake up way too early each morning, but neither did I succeed in getting to bed at a reasonable hour, so any time I tried to sit through more than one or two papers in a row I’d start to nod off. Like Chris Heard, I figured it less disrespectful to leave early than to fall asleep in a session. Of course, I still managed to fall asleep a couple times, and even saw a few presenters do the same (Emmanuel Tov, reportedly, put his head on the table and took a nap after he finished giving a paper!). Perhaps because of this, I had the good fortune not to have to endure any truly awful papers (unless I slept through one!), but I’m afraid only a handful proved all that enlightening.

The highlight of the week, though, was the chance to meet with a number of people I had only previously known online (and a few total strangers). On Friday I got to have lunch with John Coleman, which was great (if you’re reading this John: Start blogging again! ;), then on Sunday night we had the biblioblogger dinner which drew a good 25 people. I’m afraid I didn’t get to meet even half of them, but I did enjoy good conversations with several people, including John Hobbins, Jared Calaway (whose paper on the Tabernacle in Hebrews I very much enjoyed before I even knew he was a blogger!), April DeConick and especially James McGrath. Chris Brady also recorded a podcast (with much mocking of Jim West), which I imagine he will post at some point, and Eric Sowell (who could easily pass as one of the Baldwins) wore a great shirt that said: “More people have read this shirt than your blog”! I was disappointed, however, not to get more of a chance to talk with Michael Halcomb, and didn’t even realize Chris Heard was there until he posted about the dinner. Ah well, it was fun putting faces to names and getting to chat in a less formal setting.

In fact, I found meals much more conducive to good conversation than the receptions the grad schools and publishers put on each night. I guess I’m just too much an introvert but walking into a room full of people I don’t recognize and trying to insert myself into their conversations is about as much fun as dental work. Apart from a couple of Princeton students whose names I have already forgotten, I didn’t make a single contact at those receptions, which is a shame because I was really hoping to get a better idea of where to apply for PhD studies. Good thing I still have a year to figure it out.

As for books, I made off well. I hadn’t set myself a specific budget but I was determined not to buy anything that wasn’t a truly excellent deal and I got about 25 books for less than $200. Actually half of that was spent on Brill’s 3 volume Context of Scripture, so I actually got 22 books for less than $100. I may or may not post a break down of how the prices on various books compared to online, but the best deals came this morning: Random House had all their display books available for just $1 a piece, and they had some great titles, including Henri Nouwin’s Return of the Prodigal Son, Geza Vermes’ volumes on the historical Jesus and all of Elaine Pagel’s books. Also, Zondervan was giving away copies of Christopher Wright’s book The God I Don’t Understand, on the condition that we post a review online. I’ve read about a third of it so far and it is excellent. Perhaps I’ll finish it on the flight home and post a review this week.

Speaking of which, if I’m going to make my flight I’d better log off and head out. I miss my family and can’t wait to seem them again! And to all my new friends, I’ll see you next year in New Orleans!

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Responses

  1. Good post! Yeah, I’d liked to have talked to others more too. I’m going to try to think of a way to make the whole thing more interactive next year. But, for the few words we got in, it was nice meeting you in person!
    -tmwh

  2. Yeah! And thanks again for organizing it!

  3. If you enjoy books by Geza Vermes then you should visit http://www.netzarim.co.il. Here is an expert on the historical person.

  4. This too was my first Annual SBL (though I have attended the Northwest regional) What struck me most about this years SBL, was something I started to notice with the help of a session review Michael Fishbane’s new book. In his response to the other four scholars input was that he did not want to hide his voice in his latest book, Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology. The way he put was he did not want to become a ventriloquist of other scholars, but stand on his own while being informed by others. After that I could see how many scholars do hide behind other scholar’s skirts, and yet the best do not. One answered a question I had about his use of Umberto Eco’s categories developed from a post-gutenberg world to a text written in pre-gutenberg world of scrolls, which in turn were meant for oral performance. He answered by invoking, “Eco would probably create a category of a model hearer.” What I came away with was theology life for that matter and has to done on my own two feet inform by the word and in dialog with others.


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