This is not my first Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting, but it is my first annual meeting. This meeting differed in two ways from the two regional meetings that I have attended: (1) the national meeting is exponentially larger, and (2) there was much more dialogue and interaction.
My first session began with a visit to N.T. Wright’s annual lecture at the Institute of Biblical Research. Never having read any of Wright’s works at any length beyond a page or so, I decided that my first exposure to Wright might as well be live. Brian LePort has already highlighted the many posts covering Wright (although the majority covered Wright at ETS and not SBL) so I shall not do so here. In short, I thought Wright’s address was thoroughly enjoyable, his topic relevant and timely.
The SBL sessions I attended were SBL Theological Hermeneutics of Christian Scripture Group (History, Historicisms, and Theological Interpretation); SBL John, Jesus, and History Group (Glimpses of the Words of Jesus through the Johannine Lens Sessions A and B); SBL Development of Early Trinitarian and Theology (Interpretation of John’s Gospel in Early Trinitarian Theology); SBL Presidential Address (Intepreters: Enslaved/Enslaving/Runagate); and SBL Johannine Literature Section (Hellenistic Philosophy and Johannine Literature). I found all the sessions intellectually stimulating, and only wished that I coud have been to more.
One thing that struck me came during the discussions. I noticed that there were times where the presenters would either talk around a question or fail to answer it. In fairness, I understand that many questions are outside of the research done for the paper presented. At times, questions even tend to go outside of one’s field. I commend presenters for making an honest attempt to supply a response to a question. At the same time, I found hope in that those who are the creme of the crop in scholarship do not have all the answers.
I was also grateful for the willingness of scholars to help the aspiring ones. For instance, at lunch on Saturday, Samuel Chen, DPhil, of Oxford sat with Scott Ables, a George Fox graduate, and I. We talked about our areas of interest and about Dr. Chen’s experience at Oxford. Dr. Chen made a couple of remarks that brought back some interest in British doctorate programs. First, he said that while a program is primarily dissertation work, it is not always solely such. At times a supervisor will have the doctoral student do classes if there is any deficiency. Second, Dr. Chen mentioned that in British programs, theological languages like German and French require more of a mastery because in these programs one is generally expected to interact with German and French scholarship. Of course, this depends on the student’s area of study, but if this is the general tenor there, then it seems to stand in contrast to the American counterpart, where theological language education seem to be more oriented toward passing the exam.
I was surprised at least once during a couple of the sessions. For instance, in the Development of Early Trinitarian Theology session, one person in the audience raised the question of whether the Holy Spirit would eventually reveal Jesus as the Father. In the presidential address, I took President Wimbush’s call to be more inclusive of other religions’ scriptures to be somewhat pluralistic; do the ASOR and AAR at the regional meetings and will the reunion at the Annual Meeting 2011 fill this role, or did I misunderstand? In the Johannine Literature session, I took Dr. Troels Engberg-Pedersen to advocate an adoptionistic/Ebionite Christology, as well as to have a contorted reading of John 1:14 in that the Logos was incarnated only when the Pneuma descended upon Jesus. I may have misunderstood what Dr. Engberg-Pedersen was saying, but it seemed that Dr. R. Alan Culpepper also took note of Engberg-Pedersen’s view, for he brought up a question related to it. Lastly, in that session, (Dr.?) Volker Rabens had interacted with Dr. Gitta Buch-Hansen’s work in his his paper; Dr. Buch-Hansen was in the audience and made sure to bring her comments forward. I found it neat to see their live interaction in real time.
Lastly, I made sure to get to the impressive displays and grab a few books. 🙂