I am back in San Antonio after six days in Chicagoland for the AAR/SBL 2012 Annual Meeting. As much as I enjoyed the gathering in San Francisco last year, this year was better. These are a few of my post-conference thoughts:
This year I realized that as wonderful as it may be to attend some insightful sessions, even more enjoyable is seeing old friends and colleagues. I met co-blogger Daniel James Levy for the first time (in person) at Midway International Airport and we did most of our traveling together for the week. Andrew and Kathleen Finch are a couple of friends who I met when I lived in Portland. They are two of the most wonderful people I know. They housed Daniel and myself at their place in Wheaton. I wish I could have spent more time with Andrew, but the conference consumed most of my availability.
I had to opportunity to reconnect with my friend and mentors Craig A. Evans, Jack Levison, Marc Cortez, and Douglas Estes. I was able to meet Justin Stratis of the University of Bristol to chat about doctoral work (yes, it appears that this is where I will be studying, but we need to work out a few administrative details first). Matt Emerson and Bill Horst met me for lunch meetings.
I was able to spend some time chatting with the most famous online publicist in the world of bibliobloggers, Adrianna Wright of IVP, and I met Trinity Graeser of Baker/Brazos for the first time. Of course, on Sunday night we had the bibliobloggers’ gathering (see some pictures taken by Joel Watts here) where I spent time with Michael Halcomb, Cliff Kvidahl, Bryan Lewis, James McGrath, Jeremy Thompson, Joel Watts, and many more who were present in the crowd.
In passing through the conference center I chatted with people like Benjamin Barkley, Jeremiah Bailey, Michael Barber, Tim Gombis, Jeremy Johnston, Matthew Montonini, Chris Tilling, Monica Rey, and many others (who I may add to this list as I remember). For most of the year I can talk with these folk via social media and/or read what they blog, but it is much better to see them in person.
It is difficult to recall and summarize all the sessions, but I think I can give readers a glimpse of my experience. If you have any questions about these sessions leave a comment and I will see if the notes I took can provide more detail. On Friday night I attended a presentation by Jack Levison titled “Dichotomies be Damned: Investigating and Inspiration in the New Testament” where he argued that the dichotomy of the Spirit coming upon someone without thought or preparation and the Spirit coming upon someone through thought and preparation is a false dichotomy. He showed how the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament combines both (a) knowledge of Scripture gained through study and (b) contextual inspiration for how to reword and reapply Scripture to the current moment. This session was part of the Institute of Biblical Research’s “Pneumatic Hermeneutic” Research Group.
Later that evening I went to a talk given by Scot McKnight where he argued (essentially) that Kingdom = Church. N.T. Wright responded arguing that Kingdom > Church (Church being a subset of the Kingdom). It was a very nuanced discussion that made me say “Yes!” to McKnight and “Yes!” to Wright.
On Saturday I didn’t attend a full SBL session the entire day. I did catch pieces of this or that paper, but not enough to summarize. Although I am not part of the Evangelical Philosophical Society it was their “External Confirmations of New Testament Historicity” that was the first session where I was present start to finish. It was a very good one. Craig A. Evans talked about the dating of New Testament documents and he compared our collection to that of other ancient writers. Craig S. Keener presented some thoughts from his new commentary on the Book of Acts discussing Luke as a reliable historian. Craig Blomberg provided several case studies where old information leads to misreadings of the biblical text (e.g., the myth that there was a “Camel’s Gate” into Jerusalem that would explain Jesus’ statements about the rich). The most paradigm shifting paper of them all would be given by my friend Jeremy Johnston titled “How Early Critics and Objectors Confirm the Truth of the Easter Story”. It sounds apologetic, and it was to some extent, but let me say this much: I think Jeremy’s near finished dissertation should strike a near death blow to the argument of people like Crossan that the Gospel of Peter is first century and that it contains traditions earlier than the canonical Gospels. Jeremy presents a strong argument that second century theological and apologetical matters provide a context for the content of the Gospel of Peter.
On Sunday I went to a session on “Perspectives on ‘the other’ in Josephus” where presenters talked about Josephus’ views of the Palestinoi, Samaritans/Samarians, Greeks (as represented by Haman in Esther), and non-Jewish proselytes. Since I am not well acquainted with the trends in Josephus studies I will say that the papers were interesting, but I am not qualified to assess them. That afternoon I attended a session on “Paul and Judaism: What Does Torah Observance Mean in the First Century Diaspora Context, and thus for Interpreting Paul?” Mark D. Nanos did a fine job introducing a large crowd to why this matters. I attended because it has been a question I have asked since becoming acquainted with E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism (i.e., OK, we see how Paul relates to Palestinian Judaism, but he did his work in a diaspora context). Christine Hayes paper “The Myth of Perfect Torah Observance” challenged the idea that Jews thought of Law observance as all or nothing as Paul argues and then Karin Hedner Zetterholm’s paper “Torah and non-Rabbinic Judaism”, though lacking a helpful title did provide a important discussion on what it may have meant for Jews in the first century to see someone as Torah observant or Torah breaking, e.g., some may not have seen Paul’s statements about eating Gentile foods with Gentiles as Torah breaking because it would have an example in which a Jew seeking the higher aim of Torah. Anders Runesson ended the session with an interesting study on the two types of synagogues we find in the ancient world: public and private. He proposed that these two different types of synagogues need to be considered when reading about Paul.
I ended the day Sunday by attending the session titled “Blogging and Professional Scholarship” where John Hobbins discussed “The Advantages of Reviewing Books Online and the Need for an Industry Standard”; Joel Watts discussed “From Blogging to Book: The Fruit of Accessible Scholarship”; Jarek Moeglich discussed “Peer-reviewed biblioblogging” using his group blog http://codexlovaniensis.blogspot.com as a case study for new ways to do book reviews; and Cory Taylor provided a fascinating social scientific examination of bibliobloggers, why some blogs gain a lot of traffic, how blogs function in the media, and much more. I found his blog, Ex Libris. I hope he will post his paper there.
On Monday I heard Richard Bauckham give a paper titled Papias and the Gospels where he presents his most recent research on Papias. At 4 PM I remained in the same room to hear a panel discuss books on the Gospel of Thomas written by Simon Gathercole and Mark Goodacre. While it is not a consensus by any means, I do think there is a shift away from dating Thomas to the first century and more like somewhere between 140-180.
My final session was Tuesday morning where I heard Anthony LeDonne’s paper “The Criterion of Coherence: Its Development, Inevitability, and Historiographical Limitations” most of which seems to correspond to the chapter he wrote in Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (at least this is what he indicated, but I have not read the book yet). Brian Pounds’ “Uses and Limitations of the ‘Criterion of Crucifiability’ was very interesting as well as he discussed how Jesus scholars work from a fact (i.e., Jesus was crucified) to questions about what kind of actions would lead to such a death (thereby eliminating historical Jesus models that did nothing to be crucified). He uses the “Temple Action” as depicted in the Gospels of Mark and John to ask whether this criterion works. I caught bits of the next two papers, but then it was time to begin my trek home.
Two quick thoughts: (1) Chicago = awesome. (2) McCormick Place = not awesome. I understand that McCormick Place was the best option as regards capacity, but it is isolated from the city in some sense (there are no food options outside the convention center) and this allows them to sell things like food and drink at ball game prices (I spent $8.05 for a small turkey sandwich one day and $11.05 for a panini sandwich with chip on another). So Chicago was a great city to visit again, but I hate McCormick Place.
Blogging Students and Scholars:
One conversation I had frequently was with people who are students (MA or PhD) or seeking a job who fear their blogging could prevent them from being accepted into a desired program in the near future or allow a potential employer to dig up some dirt on them. I think it is wise to be cautious, and I am sympathetic to those who “play it safe”, but personally blogging has put me in contact with so many great people, it has created a wonderful community online, and it was a large part of how I came to know people like Craig Evans and Jack Levison, two of my closest mentors. Also, it has not hindered me in my application for MA programs or my application for the doctoral program I aim to begin this year. I haven’t applied for jobs yet, so I don’t know if it will hurt me then, but I have no plans of quitting blogging. If I am hired I want my employer to know the real me. If I am not, then I know that it wasn’t the right position for me. This may sound naive. but as I said, blogging has opened a lot of doors for me. If it closes some that is OK.
That said, I have placed a new disclaimer on the upper right hand side of this blog that I do hope potential employers will recognize reminding readers of this blog that (as Robert Cargill notes) books and papers are the fruit of scholarship while a blog is a record of the development of that scholarship. I hope that readers of blogs will realize that those of us who blog are opening ourselves to the public before the finish, polished product is available. This is something that needs to be acknowledged.