Archive for November, 2007

2007 SBL Report

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

As promised in my last post, here are some brief comments about this year’s Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Keep an eye out also for Jim Davila’s roundup on Paleojudaica (he may even have some good photos) and April DeConick’s comments on Forbidden Gospels.

The meeting took place in sunny San Diego, California—a wonderful location. Usually I try to take some time at conferences to check out the city a little but most of my wanderings were relegated to the boardwalk behind the hotels and a trip to the nearest mall for gifts for loved ones. One night was dedicated to a death-defying trip south of the border to Tijuana. After polling about 1000 other academics, I could find only one other brave soul willing to join me on this “spiritual quest” (the “spirit” in this case was a bottle of Tequila); in retrospect, they are far wiser for it.

On day two I took in the papers of the Early Christian Families Group and an AAR session on “The Holy Child: Traditions of the Infant and Child Jesus”. In the evening I squeezed in at the end of the crowded session on “Books of the Gospel of Judas: An Evening with the Authors” and stayed around long enough to introduce myself to April DeConick (of Forbidden Gospels fame).

Day three was spent at two Christian Apocrypha sessions. The highlight of these sessions for me was the presentation by Abraham Terian on his forthcoming edition of the Armenian Infancy Gospel (due next year from Oxford). This is a long-neglected text that has been in sore need of an edition. I also enjoyed the session on the “Function of Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphical Writings in Early Judaism and Early Christianity.” Several of the panelists referred to recent discussion of the concept of “canon”—namely, that canons are malleable and differ from one group or one location to another; so it is difficult to speak of one Christian or Jewish canon as if it was universal. The topic of the fluidity of what is “canonical” has been mentioned on Apocryphicity quite often in recent months; so I followed this discussion with interest.

On the final day of the conference I stayed only long enough to present my own paper on “Heresy Hunters in the New Millennium.” The paper was received well—Pierluigi Piovanelli provided a positive response and those present echoed my concerns about anti-Christian-Apocrypha apologetics. The highlight of the discussion that followed the paper came when a student of Darrell Bock stood up, declared his own apologetic interests (very brave in a room full of godless liberals), and said that he was taking from the session a lesson about the need to be scholarly rigorous in his treatment of the literature (and that’s all we ask).

The best part of any conference is the interactions with colleagues and friends that come at receptions, dinners, and late-nights at the bar. You can live down the street from someone but only really see them once a year at SBL or CSBS. And you also get a chance to finally meet face-to-face scholars whose work you have followed and admired from afar.

To next year in Boston…