Tag Archives: SBL

SBL Ahead

SBL: Society of Biblical Literature.

This weekend is the annual meeting. Circa 4,000 people. Over a mere 10 session blocks hundreds of papers will be delivered in sessions too numerous to count.

My first entry into this world was in Boston in 1999. It was mostly overwhelming and lonely. Being around thousands of people is bad for an introvert who doesn’t have sure places to go and people to see. I remember one really cool paper, and the rest is a blur.

I genuinely look forward to the meeting now, anticipating that I will likely enjoy it from start to finish. Whereas my initial experiences were often lonely and isolated, coming through a PhD program and entering the teaching end of the profession has expanded my connections innumerably. In fact, my greatest frustration as I look ahead to the coming days is that meetings and/or other commitments are keeping me from getting to some of the sessions I’d most like to attend.

So what are the keys to surviving SBL, the early years?

(1) Don’t worry about not presenting. Yes, people will ask. Yes, it feels weird to say you didn’t have a paper accepted this year. But it’s not the end of the world. I’ve been there recently, and SBL can still be a good experience.

(2) Don’t over-obsess about the “name tag game.” Yes, everyone looks at all the name tags. Yes, everyone will look at yours and immediately look away because they don’t know who you are. Guess what? You’re doing it too. It’s ok to not have everyone know your name.
My favorite solution for any awkwardness you might feel about this game: cheerfully greet everyone you catch reading your tag. “Good morning!” It really messes with people.

(3) Know thyself. If you like big scary rooms full of strangers and books, enjoy the book room. If you find them big and scary and full of strange types, try to stick to sessions.

(4) Somehow in the middle of all the apparent self-assuredness that you see, try to remember that most people there are real people. It’s easy to impute arrogance or a sense of self-importance on other people when you feel like an outsider. But if you look hard enough, or talk long enough to enough people, you’ll find a good number of people who don’t take themselves too seriously, even though they’re serious about their work.

(5) Feel free to introduce yourself to people. And, don’t take it personally if they have little time to chat.
IMPORTANT SURVIVAL TIP: If you find yourself face-to-face with your scholarly hero, and discover that you’re as tongue-tied as a 7th grader asking a girl to dance, immediately revert to the best question you can ever ask: So, what are you working on now?
RELATED: If you’re talking to someone uber-cool, try to act like what they’re doing is more important that your desire to have them think that you, too, are uber-cool, worthy of admission to their program, etc.

Finally, a story from SBL 06 in Washington.

On the last and great day of the feast… er… conference, I was walking to the book room before the morning session.

Tom Wright was walking there as well, and our paths joined as we got to the bottom of the stairs/escalators. Wright was uncharacteristically alone. I enjoy much of his work. I think I had met him once or twice before, though he clearly didn’t know who I was. And, he was clearly in a hurry to get his book buying done before Mike Gorman enlightened us on the wonders of justification by co-crucifixion.

Having nothing to talk to him about, but wanting to say something, I said the only thing I could. “Look! Tom Wright without any captives in his train!” I did not break stride.

This earned me a befuddled smirk which I happily took with me to the book room.

SBL. The memories.

Try to enjoy yourself.

Dissertation Publishing: What Do You Want to Know?

On Sunday at SBL in Atlanta, I am giving a presentation as part of a panel on publishing your dissertation. Yes, I’ve already outlined what I think I’m going to say. No, I’m not writing this thing on the plane tomorrow.

Now that I’ve cleared my good name…

My place on the panel is to represent the option of publishing one’s dissertation through an academic trade publisher.

So, especially if you’re a PhD student or recent grad, what do you want to know about that route for publishing the dissertation?

Books to Buy at SBL?

We are all thankful for the facade of “Presentation of Academic Research” as an occasion to have our favorite publishers gathered in one place every fall at a gathering we call the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting.

In an attempt not to overspend in the book room, I typically go in with a list and try to stick to it as much as possible. So I want to hear from you, good and faithful reader: what books should one be on the lookout for at SBL? What are the must-buys and why?

Here is a sampling of what’s on my list:

Because I’m about to get very serious about my Gospels Christology book.


Ditto. Plus, Allison has some important things to say on topics that interest me with regard to Jesus.

Seriously, look at that cover. What more do you need to know?

Because I keep looking for good resources to help my students learn how to read the Bible.

Because Mike Gorman wrote it and Revelation needs to be demystified.

What about you? What are you going to be looking for? Why?

My Thoughts on the Motion

In my previous post I tacked up an “FYI” about what some folks are hoping to see move forward at SBL this year. Now that I’ve had some time to think on it myself and see it through some other folks’ eyes as well, here are some of my thoughts.

First, it seems to me that the motion needs to be broken into four separate motions to be considered individually. They cover a wide range of issues which, though all aimed at shoring up the scholarship and standards of SBL, come at that issue from three very different angles.

The first motion looks to put the word “critical” back into the mission statement. I’m in favor of that. “Critical scholarship” is not redundant. There is evangelical biblical scholarship, Presbyterian biblical scholarship, Jewish biblical scholarship, agnostic biblical scholarship, etc. Any of these other adjectives may or may not be ways of doing critical scholarship. If so, they should be welcome at SBL, but if not then SBL is probably not the place for them.

Folks at Fuller like to kick around the phrase “believing criticism”. There’s something to that for those of us who are both Christians and in the scholarly guild.

My concern about adding this adjective is whether it is aimed at rooting out certain kinds of faith commitments while skipping by others. More on that anon.

Motion 2 seems the most problematic to me–and as several have pointed out, it’s the most problematically worded. As it reads, it could be taken to indicate that only doctoral students (not graduates or working scholars) are allowed to present papers at SBL.

But this motion is, in my estimation, going about upping the ante at the annual meeting in exactly the wrong way. As I see it, the problem with SBL papers is not that we have too little control over who presents but that too much control is presently being exercised. Too many groups are now invitation only, or narrowly defining what topics they will accept papers on. The centralization of control is weakening the claim of our annual meeting to be a place of genuine peer review and genuine presentation of the latest research being done on the ground.

Centralization of control in the hands of the session chairs is bad for SBL.

I think that rather than making student paper requirements more stringent, we need to use our computer technology to implement at truly blind review process. In that process, not even the convener of the group would know whose paper is being reviewed until after the acceptance and rejection notifications had been sent out.

Here’s my point: If we as scholars cannot put together a good program based on blind peer review then that is our fault as a guild, and not something that should be blamed on students who are trying to establish themselves among our number. SBL should not be an old boys’ club.

Regarding point 3, I understand and to a large degree appreciate its spirit. But it seems to me to possibly have only certain kinds of faith commitments in view, whereas relentless application of the principle would cut the SBL program book in about half. Not only does SBL have sections that examine Christian interpretation of the Bible, it also has groups whose confessions of faith drive them to pursue hermeneutics such as “Queer Theory.” There is a theological presupposition behind both groups, and I wonder if the breadth of groups to which such a restriction might apply has been weighed sufficiently.

Motion 4 is tricky. I wonder if this isn’t moving in the wrong direction. Is it best to strive for a more ruthless separation of church and academy by prying these apart as much as possible? Or should the assumption be, instead, that having as many voices of practitioners speaking into our conversation will make for better outcomes?

In other words, it seems to me that if all our talk about the importance of diversity and hearing a plurality of voices is correct that we could move toward embracing a broad number of religiously affiliated affiliates rather than striving to cut ourselves off from them.

As a final note, I find it interesting that folks are so concerned about the over-theologization of SBL, that the place is losing its secularism. Being a post-conservative evangelical I have seen an equal and opposite reaction on the “right” side of the aisle, where the old guard seems flummoxed at times that a cadre of young evangelicals are trying to hold onto evangelical convictions while dispensing with inerrancy or while acknowledging that early Judaism wasn’t legalistic moralism.

I see in SBL and ETS a microcosm of what’s happening in both politics and the ecclesiastical worlds in the U.S.: there’s an increasing polarization of right and left even as a new generation wants to sit in the middle, mixing up and holding together things that used to define a person as belonging to one camp or the other.

I think we should be aware of the ways that what’s going on here might be mirroring movements elsewhere in church and in state and be careful that we not act in such a way as to try to hold fast to an old way of configuring the world that might be on its last legs. It may be that the future is to be found in joining together what generations thought must be kept separate.

SBL Motion

It has come to my attention that the following motion is going to be proposed for consideration at SBL this year, a response to recent dust-ups over what constitutes appropriate standards of scholarly activity in a religious-studies oriented context.

As I understand it, this is going to be recommended as one 4-part motion.

1. That the mission statement of SBL be emended to read “fostering  critical biblical scholarship.”

2. That only students who have been admitted to a doctoral program be  permitted to read papers at the annual meeting, and that those students  should have the approval of their doctoral advisers.

3. That the “core values” of SBL be emended to include the following  statement: “Public discourse in SBL should not be based on confessional  norms, but we welcome the participation of people of all persuasions.”

4. That  groups that  have doctrinal requirements shall not be eligible  for Affiliate status, but may participate in the “Additional Meetings”  category of the Annual Meeting.

As I understand it, there is a growing list of endorsers, some of whom with positions such as President or Former President of the Society.

SBL Sessions, Everybody’s Doing It

Since everyone else and their mom is posting where they’ll be presenting during SBL, courtesy of the online program, far be it from me to refrain!

Intertextuality in the New Testament
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM

Theme: Approaches Toward New Testament Intertextuality

Jerry L. Sumney, Lexington Theological Seminary, Presiding (2 min)
Alain Gignac, Université de Montréal, Université de Montréal
“We know that everything that Law says… “. Rom 3:9-20 as a narrative utilization of intertextuality that develops its own theory of intertextuality (30 min)
Discussion (7 min)
J. R. Daniel Kirk, Fuller Theological Seminary
Toward a Theory of Narrative Transformation: The Importance of First Context in Paul’s Scriptural Citations (30 min)
Discussion (7 min)
Jason B. Hood, Christ United Methodist Church
Summaries of Israel’s Story: Intertextual Pratice in an Overlooked Use of Scripture (30 min)
Discussion (7 min)
Jim Waddell, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
The Intertextuality of First Enoch, Paul, and the Gospel of Matthew: Modeling Early Jewish Messianic Systems (30 min)
Discussion (7 min)

And then this panel discussion:

From Dissertation to Publication: Advice from Editors and Authors
1:00 PM to 2:30 PM

Hosted by the Student Advisory Group

Brandon Wason, Emory University, Presiding
Claudia Camp, Texas Christian University, Panelist (15 min)
Jeremy M. Hutton, Princeton Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
J. R. Daniel Kirk, Fuller Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
Gregory Sterling, University of Notre Dame, Panelist (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Nothing like being on a panel that gives “advice”–yes, I get to tell people what to do. Awesome!