The Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, New Orleans
November 21-24, 2009
Overall View of the 2009 Annual Meeting
Nonetheless, there were many encouraging signs of the society’s—and the discipline’s—ongoing good health. The SBL had 1668 participants in 482 sessions, said Manager of Programs Charles G. Haws. There were about 50 sessions per time slot, and approximately 2300 papers were submitted, he said. Praising the breadth and depth of the offerings, Haws added, “The annual meeting continues to advance critical scholarship in a range of disciplines including archaeology, classics, comparative studies, ethics, history of interpretation, and theology.”
Haws took questions from the program chairs at their annual breakfast on Tuesday, 24 November. Regarding the issue of childcare, which has been raised at several meetings, he said it was still under consideration. In response to a query about the maximum number of entries a person can have in terms of participation, Haws said it was officially two but acknowledged that quite a few conference participants had more than two slots after their name in the program index. However, the general feeling, he added, is that a conference is the best when more people are involved in participation and facilitation.
Several chairs commented among themselves that perhaps the rule of two should apply only to the number of papers presented and that scholars should be allowed to perform other duties and services at the conference like take part in a panel or chair a meeting or be honored with a book review. The procedural problem is that the deadlines for abstracts, the acceptance of papers, and the choosing of participants like panel members come at different times.
Haws encouraged members to register for the 2010 International meeting set for 25-29 July in Tartu, Estonia. “I’ve been told that Tartu is called the Athens on the Emajogi River,” he joked.
Question: What two instruments dot street corners and restaurant entryways in New
Lagniappe: Such a wonderful, useful, happy word! It means something extra, a bonus.
Book Review: Sin: A History
Anderson’s book investigates if sin is simply wrongdoing and examines its lingering effects over time. Anderson argued that sin takes on several metaphors in the Biblical text. It is first regarded as a physical burden. Perhaps this is because in an agrarian economy, that was how sin could be best understood. But gradually sin comes to be seen as a debt, Anderson writes, and like a monetary debt, it must be paid. Perhaps this re-thinking coincided with the development of a structured society with a market economy and money. Anderson argued that sin undergoes a transformation from a weight that an individual carries to a debt that must be repaid.
Calling this an evolution of Jewish thought, Anderson noted how the development of the concept of sin influenced the way the new Christian church understood the death and resurrection of Jesus. The ongoing grappling with sin throughout church history, Anderson said, led to penitential disciplines, charitable deeds, the practice of papal indulgences---and eventually to the Protestant Reformation.
The Cajuns were originally French and largely sailors by vocation. They worked the waters from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores Nova Scotia. Today, Cajun French is allowed in Louisiana schools.
God’s Glory, Moses, and God’s Faithful Presence
The context of the surrounding verses shows that Moses wonders if God’s presence still will follow the Israelites—especially after their (repeated!) sins of apostasy as told so far in the Biblical text.
Indeed, God answers Moses both graciously and positively. Moses does indeed learn God’s ways (as Deuteronomy demonstrates) and Moses does indeed see God’s glory (so much so that his face shines, Exod. 34:29, 30). God’s presence does indeed stay with his beloved people, the stiffnecked Hebrews (Exod. 32:3;33:3, 5; 34:9).
Here on a mountain, however, the lonely intercessor, prophet, leader, and pilgrim—Moses—and the magnificent, powerful deliverer from Egypt—God—chat. Their recorded meeting emphasizes God’s goodness rather than his justifiable right of judgment. In their meeting on the mountain, “Moses’ understanding of the concept of the Lord’s glory is enlarged and enriched to include God’s wonderful character,” Idestrom said. Truly, in revealing his glory, the Lord revealed his goodness and mercy—and these two made all the difference in Israel’s future, she concluded.
Bayou (bi-yoo): The streams and large bodies of brown waters crisscrossing Louisiana.
Creation in Color
Chicory: The roots of this herb are dried, ground, roasted, and used to flavor coffee.
Further Insights from Ecc. 12:12: Of Making Books there is No End
Longman, himself the author of many commentaries including Song of Songs in NICOT (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament series), noted that the early Christian scholar and theologian Origen started them.
A commentary helps the Biblical text, Longman argued, for the text is not always clear in its explanation. The Biblical text, he added, is essentially clear in its doctrine. He went on to say that a translation is a commentary without the notes and that a commentary is an interpretation. “Christians need scholars to interpret the text,” he emphasized.
Longman gave several reasons to publish commentaries and to continue publishing commentaries. A commentary advances knowledge. It presents new methods and new insights. It should include competing interpretations. Additionally, commentaries can be geared to different reading publics: clergy, laity, and scholars.
Even the older and beloved commentaries continue to have merit and should not be shelved. Why? They were relevant to the communities they served and offer us a check on our culture, Longman concluded.
Boudin (boo-dan): Hot, spicy pork mixed with onions, cooked rice, herbs, and stuffed in a sausage casing. Good eatin’!
Dinah, Shechem, and Genesis 34 Revisited
Instead, Bellis favors abduction and argued for its plausibility based on a literary analysis. World literature contains many stories of a reluctant bride who is waylaid and abducted and persuaded to marry her abductor. The motif also carries over to sweethearts from different tribes who stage an abduction in order to force their families or tribes to let them wed and settle down together.
Bellis believes this is what takes place in Genesis 34—or at least what Shechem and Dinah intended. The clue for Bellis comes in verse 1 when Dinah “went out to visit the women of the land.” Bellis finds that to be an implausible and even laughable reason—and an indication that readers were not to believe it.
Bellis noted that cultures throughout the world say that when a girl marries a member of another tribe, “she cannot return home.” Indeed, the Biblical text leaves many questioned unanswered about Dinah and her life after the murder of Shechem by her vengeful brothers.
Crawfish: Sometimes spelled “crayfish,” these thoroughly ugly critters resemble small lobsters. Known locally and fondly as “mudbugs,” they live and grow in the oozy goo of freshwater bayous. Crawfish wind up in étouffées, jambalaya, and gumbos. Locals even like ‘em boiled.
Music in the Exhibit Hall
Barry, full of the kind of easy, musical life New Orleans fosters, kept the crowd happy, singing, and laughing. His joie de vie evidently runs in the family: his brother is Dave Barry, the famous humor columnist.
File (fee-lay): Ground sassafras leaves used to season gumbo and other Cajun favorites.
Book Review: Feasting on the Word
The editors mentioned the challenges of dealing with thousands of manuscripts and 800 authors. “We pulled in every debt we were owed” to get the writers, Bartlett joked.
The session was filled with much laughter and good will for a project well done and hearty relief that the project was done! The session meeting was the most delightful and collegial of my time in New Orleans. I was one of Feasting’s writers and produced six exegetical entries. It was a pleasure to meet my editors. The lectionary entries include four perspectives—theological, pastoral, exegetical and homiletical.
I laughed when I learned that Feasting on the Word was nicknamed at times Gorging on the Word, because of the overwhelming number of the essays received and reviewed. Taylor joked that she would go home and tell her husband not to say one theological word to her because she had heard them all!
Although the publishing house is distinctly Presbyterian, neither of the editors is. Diversity of writers also broadened Feasting’s scope and appeal. Bartlett said he hopes that any future volumes will include more people of color as writers.
Jambalaya (jum-bo-lie-yah): Louisiana chefs “sweep the kitchen” and toss what they find into a pot. They let it simmer—its good smell sure to draw a hungry crowd. Generally served atop rice, jambalaya combines beef, pork, fowl, smoked sausage, ham, and/or seafood with celery, green peppers, and tomatoes (of course!), and spices.
More Personal Observations
Proximity presented dangers, however. Easy navigation had its hazards. I saw two people fall on the pavement and sidewalk as they crossed Canal. Furthermore, New Orleans drivers resented the conference atendees who nonchalantly crossed Canal and stopped traffic—and were absolutely oblivious to it!
New Orleans (or at least the downtown) seems rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. The city is bustling and clean. Hospitality dominates. More than once I was escorted across a busy side street by a panhandler who crooned, bowed, and danced me to my destination. New Orleans certainly has its own craziness. My head snapped when a hearse with flamingoes on top and its sides festooned with tiles drove by. Nobody else’s head turned, however! Evidently craziness thrives in the Big Easy.
A colleague arranged to bunk three miles away in the home of a former dean. The dean gave these directions: “Take the trolley three miles straight and get off at the cemetery.” A Louisiana cemetery is worth a visit. In New Orleans, tombs are above ground; times of floods and hurricanes produce stories of floating caskets. In typical New Orleans flamboyance, many of the mausoleums are gaudy, and many portray a lighthearted view of death.
Joie de vivre (zhwa-d-veev): A joyful and serendipity attitude toward life.
Dinner at Antoine’s
Well, the waitstaff was too friendly and casual. Waiters interrupted our four-way conversation regularly. They served from the right and removed from the left, instead of the other way around. I ordered a main dish with a sauce and the waiter spilled it on the tablecloth. In other words, the service was sloppy.
Sadly, the food was only OK. Antoine’s was not five-star. Yes, my main dish was very tasty, but the baked Alaska the four of us nibbled on looked like brown cardboard and tasted about the same.
Sadly, the match box with humorist Will Rogers’ marvelous praise indicates Antoine’s needs a polishing. Rogers writes: “Let me tell you, brother, when you have a famous eating place in New Orleans, it must be some place because they know how to eat, and what to eat.”
The Cajun culture predominates southern Louisiana. A notable feature is that the men cook—and enjoy it. Cooking equals hospitality. The food, often very spicy, takes a day to prepare and an evening to celebrate.
Pentecostalism, Testimony, and Psalms
Possible reasons for this ongoing trend are the uncritical adoption of the evangelical approach to theology and hermeneutics, and a socieo-economic shift among Pentecostals from the lower to the middle or upper economic class, he said. The Pentecostal movement has become distanced from its earlier cultural roots, he added.
Ellington linked these observations to a brief study of testimony in the Psalms. He found that testimony is in the forefront of ancient worship. The command to or practice of recounting God’s works comes in Psalms 9:1; 19:1; 75:1; 78:3-4; and 96:3. In Psalm 96, worshipers tell of the Lord’s salvation day to day.
Psalm 145:4 likewise embraces testimony as a central act of praise, Ellington argued, because “one generation shall laud your works to another and shall tell of your mighty acts.”
Red beans & rice: Traditionally served on Mondays in New Orleans, this dish combines red beans cooked with ham or sausage and seasonings and served piping hot over rice.
Nancy R. Bowen, of the Earlham School of Religion, shared tips on writing and mentioned her personal writing style in her well-received presentation.
Drawing laughter, Bowen said she hates to edit and hates to redo what she writes. She drew more laughter when she confided she avoids words like obfuscate. Over the years, she’s come to recognize her own writing process. It may involve isolation, reading trashy novels, and doing other things to make the assignment go away.
These tactics produce guilt, and guilt eventually leads to tackling the project. Usually it takes her about a week of deprivation and agony before she’ll take pen in hand, she joked. Her humorous talk made this woman, who has won a string of awards and is well-known among women Biblical scholars, human. With a smile, she ended on this solemn and cautionary note: “Write well. The world needs good writers.”
Bonjour, mes amis: Good day my friends.
Robin Gallaher Branch
Robin Gallaher Branch is Professor of Biblical Studies at Crichton College in Memphis, Tennessee and Extraordinary Associate Professor in the Faculty of Theology at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. She received her PhD in Hebrew Studies from the University of Texas in Austin in 2000. She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for the 2002-2003 academic year to the Faculty of Theology at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. The Fulbright turned out to be one of the happiest experiences of her life. She fit in so well with her new colleagues in the Faculty of Theology that she was asked to stay on for a finite appointment through December 2004. Her academic career so far includes these accomplishments: She has presented over 52 papers at US and international academic conferences; published over 50 book reviews; published 49 articles in books; published 19 articles in academic journals; and delivered over 150 guest lectures. In August 2009 Hendrickson Publishers published Jeroboam’s Wife: The Enduring Accomplishments of the Old Testament’s Least-Known Women. An unexpected and very rewarding award came in January 2009 when Mason YMCA in Memphis chose her for its Spirit Award for 2008; the award cited her work (specifically original plays based on stories from the Bible) with middle-school boys in an after-school program.
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