Reflections on My First SBL Meeting

I just got back yesterday from my first ever attendance at a Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting. The motto for the SBL is “fostering biblical scholarship.” This I think they do very well. Of course, they foster many, many different viewpoints. Most of the participants are Christians, Jews, or secular. The spectrum goes from radical liberal to conservative (though there are very few conservatives). I went there on the recommendation of Iain Duguid, who said that the Ezekiel group was very collegial and encouraging of new scholarship. This I found to be true. All were very welcoming and encouraging. Disagreement never equaled attack there (so there is definitely maturity in this group).

The positive things from the conference: 1. Some very interesting lectures on individual passages. A lecture on the Zebulon prophecy in Genesis 49:13 was fascinating, and quite stimulating. There was also a lecture on the shape of the Psalter that I found largely convincing. Many of the Ezekiel studies were helpful as well, especially one by Casey Strine on the inadequacy of the term “exile,” and one by Madhavi Nevader. Daniel Bodi’s lecture was also very interesting. 2. The Ezekiel group in particular was a very welcoming and talkative group. It was very easy to meet people there and talk. 3. The book sale was remarkable. Many specialist books were available for actually reasonable prices. I got an absolute steal on John Gray’s recent commentary on Job, which is usually over $100 on Amazon, and I got for about $32. 4. The worship service on Sunday morning had an excellent sermon by Mark Strauss. 5. San Diego is gorgeous. There is simply no other way to describe it. I had a view of the marina, the bay, and the downtown from my 24th floor window. 6. The hotel was very comfortable (as it should be for those prices!).

Some negative things: 1. The predominance of lectures were from a very liberal-critical perspective. As a result, many of them were not useful to me, as I disagreed with their starting points. Especially unhelpful were the lectures on source criticism. While it is a valuable exercise indeed to seek to determine which verses quote which other verses, such studies can (and in many cases here, often did) atomize the text to the point of unrecognizability. In particular, I was dismayed to find that many scholars at SBL still hold to the Documentary Hypothesis. Honestly, I had thought that old beast dead and gone. I was hoping for more literary and rhetorical analyses of individual texts. 2. The presidential address was by a thoroughly liberation-critical scholar who spent the entire time talking about current politics and about 10 seconds talking about the Bible. 3. This is not really a negative, but it shows me how far I have to go, but the lectures on Ezekiel presupposed a huge amount of knowledge which I did not have, just beginning my research on the book. Fortunately, if I go next year (and I probably will), I will have a year to get up to speed (or at least further along than I was), and maybe get a copy of the lectures ahead of time.

Overall, the positive things outweighed the negative things, and I think that the Ezekiel group will prove invaluable in my research on Ezekiel.

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