Day 1 of SBL Atlanta

Today marked the first full day of the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting, and it was a eminently enjoyable and personally fruitful one at that. I have run into numerous friends, bloggers, scholars from my past, and scholars who I hope to be a part of my future. My friends and I are staying with an older gentleman from a local church who was kind to open up his house to us. On our way to the hotel, we encountered an individual with a huge chip on his shoulder who insisted on blasting the horn of his pimped out truck (deeply tinted windows, wide tires) for the greater part of a minute at the vehicle in front of him who was, by the way, driving the speed limit. When the truck finally passed the vehicle in front of him, the individual in the truck flicked the individual in the other vehicle off, but didn’t really drive away very fast. What gives? I understand that some of the sessions at SBL can get fairly heated, but I was struck by the contrast between the irrationality of this individual and the value placed on rational thought and congenial attitudes among those attending conference.

For the first session of the day I attended the new unit planning session for Meals in Ancient Israel and the HB/OT. Peter Altman discussed the methodological possibilities surrounding the reading of meals in the text of the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East. It is important that one draw from a number of different resources, text, archeology, anthropology, sociology, etc. Carol Meyers presented a paper in which she highlighted the role of the sacred in the daily sustenance that occurred in the households of ancient Israel. Timothy Stone pointed out that Ruth, when Boaz fills her garment with seeds, she appears pregnant, and that when Ruth gives birth to Obed, Naomi’s emptiness (Ruth 1:21) is filled. Finally, Michelle Stinson looked at the triptych of Sin, Judgement, and Restoration in the book of Isaiah, particularly as it reflected the table. The session was remarkably well attended, and the diversity of the group was very refreshing. Hopefully, the Society will accept this group’s proposal and that it will receive a long tenure. It concerns certain aspects of my current research in the theology/ethics of food in the Pentateuch, and I hope to be contributing to the group in future sessions.

I spent some time after this session at the book exhibit and picked up a couple that I need for my research in food, purity, and agriculture. There don’t seem to be quite so many heavy hitters books this year in comparison to last year, but one that I am excited about was the subject of the evening session I attended in the Ecological Hermeneutics section. The book was William P. Browns The Seven Pillars of Creation, a book placing biblical creation texts in dialogue with modern science, and it was reviewed along with Norman Habel’s An Inconvenient Text by three very capable and unique individuals. The first was my long time favorite, Terence Fretheim. His review addressed the hermeneutical concerns, quibbles, and highlights of the text. He brought much of his vision from God and World in the Old Testament into dialogue with the interpretations laid out in the two books; more or less, I find Fretheim a persuasive theologian. The other two reviewers, one a Christian scholar from India and the other a New Testament scholar, each brought up unique concerns and insights regarding the texts.

I was able to raise my own idea, the one I will be presenting tomorrow at 1:00, during the discussion that concluded the session. Habel made the statement that the sages were Israel’s scientists. I asked him and Dr. Brown if they thought the same could be said of the prophets to an extent. I make the point in my paper that the analogy could easily be overextended, and they raised cautions regarding this. Habel in particular brought up the fact that prophets are not merely empirically driven—though they often are—but that they are also driven by revelation, a word directly from God. This is true, but Brown was intrigued by the social scientific aspect of the prophetic occupation and with their keen eye for how the future will unfold. All in all, they agreed that my analogy is potentially fruitful. Score!

Then I headed to the Evangelical Philosophical Societies discussion of the question, Is Yahweh a Moral Monster. I wanted to hear fellow biblioblogger Matthew Flannagan take a stab at the question. He is, of course, one of those philosophical types. I’m not, so I’ll leave the evaluations to someone more conversant with Christian philosophy. I was struck most by the fact that Matt looks and sounds exactly like Dominic Monaghan who played Merry in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (sorry James, I’ve never watched LOST so I’m sticking with the LOTR connection). Richard Hess also spoke, and he drew attention (as did Matt, to a lesser degree) to what the text says against the backdrop that we often think it says. He highlighted the likely size (small) and nature (fort) of the “city” of Jericho and of the likely number of people involved in the battle (100 or less). He went on to point out other features of the Joshua and concludes that there is no indication of genocide in the text. I’m not sure that answers the question of the session, but it is a good discussion that needs to be had nevertheless.

All in all, it was an enjoyable day, and I am looking forward to tomorrow and to presenting my paper.

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5 thoughts on “Day 1 of SBL Atlanta

  1. i would like you to know that your reference to the guy driving the truck brought back fond memories of being passed by dozens of annoyed people on the interstate down to new orleans last year. you were also going the speed limit then, but in the left-hand lane, where the speed limit in reality is a bit more.

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