Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SBL Boston

Five days in Boston went fast. Between running around downtown on Thursday and Friday -- and was it cold last week -- and attending papers/receptions from Saturday to Monday, it was over and done almost as soon as it began. If my employer could only pay for these trips, I'd go to SBL every year!

It was nice to meet folks who for years I've known through online interactions, though I didn't meet quite as many people as I'd intended. I won't report on everything I did/heard/saw, just the highlights.

Saturday opened with a great session on honor and shame, revisiting the question with respect to women. Zeba Crook was the most provocative speaker (he was introduced by Dietmar Neufeld as a "rebel", which tickled me), calling for a refinement of Malina's model which maintains that challenge-ripostes could not take place between social unequals and that women didn't challenge men publicly. Citing various sources (Pliny the Younger, ancient Egyptian letters), Crook finds enough evidence that wives could compete for honor with men and be awarded it. He suggested that instead of sweeping assumptions about honor-shame cultures, we should focus on the "public court of reputation", since that court holds all the power and is wildly unpredictable. Moreover: "The public court of reputation does not have to account for it decisions [in favor of women]. It, ironically, is a tyranny, not a democracy." The examples of Thecla challenging Alexander (Acts of Paul) and the Syrophoenician women outwitting Jesus (Mk 7:24-30/Mt 15:21-28), according to Crook, show that the public court of reputation was fickle across the Meditteranean, and that women's voices weren't muted to the degree commonly assumed. Margaret McDonald, one of the respondents, while agreeing that Malina's model is perhaps too absolute, nevertheless insisted that the public court of reputation was less fickle, more predictable and consistently patriarchal than Crook suggests. I tend to agree with McDonald (and regard the counterexamples cited by Crook as more exceptional), though I appreciate Crook's stress on the public court of reputation. He noted in passing that this focus allows us to consider subcultures that are not honor-shame per se, like sports and the military, which is something I've blogged about before when considering, for instance, the evidence mentioned by Bob Sutton for more "assholes" (belligerent macho types) in the southern United States than in the north.

At noon I had a pleasant lunch with Dale Allison at Legal Sea Foods (this would be a favorite haunt of mine if there were one in Nashua) and then it was off to the book exhibit. I wisely refrained from buying every sixth book I put my hands on (I can usually get discounts when I order through my library), but it was hard to stifle impulses.

Later that day in the synoptic gospels section, Jeffrey Gibson (an excellent speaker) gave a presentation on the "Lord's Prayer", arguing against the eschatological/apocalyptic crowd, showing with enviable ease that whatever the prayer's matrix, it wasn't the liturgy of first-century synagogues. Apparently no data supports the idea of a synagogue in Nazareth, nor that synagogues were places of prayer (only Torah reading and instruction), and that Judeans didn't feel compelled to pray in a uniform way prior to the temple's destruction. Gibson argues (as he has before) that the real matrix of the canonical "Lord's Prayer" is a fear that the disciples will become members of "this generation" -- a plea for the disciples to remain God's loyal subjects. It's a plausible enough suggestion. Though I tend to see apocalypticism wherever I look in the synoptics, I also recognize that Jesus (whether the historical or canonical) wasn't a hyper-apocalyptic machine. In some places the apocalypse is in focus; in others it's in the background (as in some of the parables). The "Lord's Prayer" could cohere with an apocalyptic message without being apocalyptic itself.

In the same session James McGrath gave a paper on the "vanished" ending of Mark, suggesting that the ending of John's and Peter's gospels may resemble something like Mark's original ending. Around this time I was going in and out of the room trying to catch bits of another session going on down the hall -- the dating of sources for early Christianity -- with speakers Mark Goodacre, April DeConick, Simon Gathercole, and Stephen Patterson. (Mark had blogged his ideas in advance.) There was a heavy turnout for that session in a room that couldn't have been smaller. Listeners were crowded outside the doors, and one could hardly hear what was going on inside. Perhaps April will recap some of her response to Mark on her blog.

On Sunday I moved around like a madman trying to catch papers in different sessions, never planting myself for too long. I heard a bit about ethnicity and Judean identity in the Persian period (from Gary Knoppers and Dalit Rom-Shiloni), before moving on to a second round of the book exhibit, then catching Mark Nanos' fine delivery of his paper on "Gentile dogs" in Philip 3 (which he had posted a while back and I blogged about here), then going downstairs a level to get a bit of the "John, Jesus, and History" group (many presenters there, including Richard Bauckham and Amy-Jill Levine), then aiming to catch Jim Davila's paper on Revelation (though he, like Goodacre and DeConick a day earlier, got stuck in one of those infernally small "Beacon" rooms at the Sheraton, and people were listening from the hallway). Later in the day I attended Chris Heard's witty debunking of The Exodus DeCoded, and I have to commend Chris for having the patience to address idiocy (as he has done in the past on his blog) instead of, as I prefer, just ignoring it. As Eric Myers (the opening speaker before Heard) stressed, there needs to be a more coordinated effort on the part of scholars to combat sensationalist claims in the media. Sensationalists have influence, after all, and do a lot of damage. I then skipped over (in spite of wanting to stay and meet Chris) to catch some of the Social Scientific Criticism of the NT section.

I capped off Sunday evening at the Duke reception, and got the surprise of seeing E. P. Sanders honored with a Festschrift (after he was toasted, he declared humorously that he doesn't even like Festschrifts). Chris Weimer managed to get his photo taken with the man, and I finally got to gab at length with Mark Goodacre in the flesh. I believe Doctor Who slipped into our conversation here and there. Weimer promises to come back at me again on the Jew/Judean issue, and we even (jokingly?) suggested a future SBL session with him as a respondent to my crusade for a change in nomenclature.

Monday morning involved a late breakfast and packing for noon checkout, so I didn't get to the morning session I'd intended to see -- "The Bible as a Construct of Scholarship", with prolific speakers like Hector Avalos, Philip Davies, and Zeba Crook. The Sheraton held my luggage long enough so that I could attend the early afternoon session on Secret Mark, however (where I got to meet Andrew Criddle). Birger Pearson spoke first, lamenting how used and abused he felt for having endorsed the authenticity of Secret Mark until he read Carlson and Jeffrey's books. Stephen Carlson went next, and his paper was flawless (in both content and delivery), envisioning a future in which a wiser academy won't be taken in by obvious hoaxes. The third speaker, Allan Pantuck, called into question Carlson's claim (in Gospel Hoax) that Smith was angry at having been denied tenure at Brown (showcasing correspondences to, from, and about Smith), but concluded cautiously. I would have liked to stay for the second half -- speakers Scott Brown, Charles Hedrick, and Bart Ehrman -- but coffee going through me (and a ride back to Nashua) called me away.

It all amounted to fun time and conversation, and I did a pretty good job of heeding Mark Goodacre's eight-point summary on how to enjoy the SBL experience in its entirety. And unlike Stephen Carlson, I didn't burn the candle at both ends, and so didn't get too wiped out!


Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

A pleasure to finally meet you in person at SBL too!

Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

Apparently my idea of burning the candle at both ends involved going to bed before 11. I must be getting old.

Blogger Judy Redman said...


Thanks for taking the time to do this. I want to chime in on this:
As Eric Myers ... stressed, there needs to be a more coordinated effort on the part of scholars to combat sensationalist claims in the media. Sensationalists have influence, after all, and do a lot of damage.

They do indeed. It is really disturbing to hear intelligent, well educated people who are quite analytical in their own fields of expertise spouting sensationalist hype as though it were well-researched and reliable. Unfortunately, the whole scholarly peer review thing often means that we're not ready to say anything until the general community has internalised the sensationalism as ultimate truth and moved on. :-(

Blogger Christopher Heard said...

Sorry I missed you, Loren!

Blogger Mark Goodacre said...

Interesting summary, Loren. It was great to meet you at last too. Cheers, Mark


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