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.

5 Comments

  1. Kevin Davis said,

    November 26, 2014 at 10:49 am

    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.

    Not just many but most scholars teach and uphold the DH. The difference between scholars of fifty years ago (Westermann, von Rad, etc.) and today is that the DH has been supplemented by literary and rhetorical analysis. Also, there is less confidence in being able to assign the texts to a strictly delimited JEDP source, but very few scholars would dismiss JEDP altogether, much less the basic assumptions that underwrite source criticism. For example, Deuteronomy is still dated centuries after its purported context (Moses speaking to Israel on the verge of entering Canaan), and P is still dated to the exilic/post-exilic times and given weighty redactive control over much of the HB. So-called “post-criticism” leaves much of the DH in tact, but the focus is expanded to include literary criticism. Obviously, all of this varies depending upon the scholar in question, but I think someone like Brueggemann represents the mainstream of OT scholarship: where “history proper” only begins with the time of the latter prophets. Everything prior (including the exodus, conquest, and monarchies) is an imaginative reconstruction through exilic/post-exilic lenses and interests.

    I am rather conservative myself and disagree strongly with Brueggemann, but that is the current state of mainstream biblical studies, whether secular/academic or mainline/liberal Protestant. You should view Christine Haye’s OT course on YouTube for free. She teaches the OT survey course at Yale, and she does an excellent job teaching this mainstream liberal view. It is replete with the DH.

  2. Reed Here said,

    November 26, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    I’d be interested in the shape of the Psalter presentation. Any summary?

  3. November 28, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    SBL = Sorry Biblical Leftists

  4. mdc said,

    December 1, 2014 at 1:10 am

    I work at one of the hotels where it took place. From glancing at the material, I gathered it seemed pretty liberal. Still I got a kick out of looking at everyone’s name tag and meeting various pastors, teachers, authors and yes, bloggers that I enjoy!

  5. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    December 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I was taught the Deuteronomic Hypothesis as the “normal” reading at my liberal seminary.


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