Saturday, November 19, 2011

SBL/AAR in San Francisco + Update: My favorite moment

At the large book exhibit for the combined American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, there are some wonderful signs like this one. It's a chance to catch up on what has recently been published and what is about to appear. People are offered discounts not only for the duration of the convention but also until the end of December. I'm actually collecting such order forms for someone who couldn't be here so that option is a valuable one.

Editors are keen to converse about publishing possibilities with scholars. Authors can often be seen in the vicinity of presses that have published their work and the presses in turn will promote new publications with posters of titles and announcements of review sessions at the conference. I like to ask a press which of their books has sold well and what their new books are. Today I also asked a number of presses what Coptic texts they had published just to see what the level of interest for Coptic materials is.  The answer is, not much. Does a portable Coptic New Testament exist?

Sometimes, you get a booth that doesn't draw much interest. But it should be said (inspite of the above pic) that the SBL encourages confessional diversity about which there has been some controversy here. More recently, in the Chronicle, Jacques Berlinerblau reports on a session he attended in SF run by the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

He asks:

If it is taken as a given that God exists, that the Bible is His word and His Truth, and that one’s job is to cooperatively identify that Truth, then what happens to the scholarly ideal of critical inquiry? To what degree does a professor in a Pentecostal seminary have the right to challenge these articles of faith? And what happens to her when she does that?

How do Berlinerblau or Hendel or anyone else who is not a member of this faith community fit into any of this? Is participation in an SPS session open to all members of the SBL?

It would be wrong to ask these questions solely of Pentecostals. What many of us in the SBL have been alleging for years is that the prevalence of organized religious blocs in the Society creates a state of affairs that is unhealthy for scholarship on the Bible and Bible scholars.

Update: my favorite moment at SBL was a social one. Over cocktails with a new friend one evening I heard about his first teaching experience. "Remember when you told us about your first teaching day?" he said. (I'd had a nosebleed out of sheer terror and retreated to the bathroom to staunch the bleeding). "Well, it was similar. I thought I'd throw up. My palms were sweaty...I was very nervous. I knew that the students would be very familiar with the text--more than you or I would ever be--so I got each of them to read the same passage from their bibles. And as each one read a different translation, people began to hear that the Word of God wasn't saying the same thing. So I said, 'How can we reconcile these differences...?' And we had a great discussion. Afterwards, one of them said, 'This was wonderful! I had no idea what to expect and I am already looking forward to the rest of the class...' And I sighed and went home."

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