SBL Annual Meeting 2009 Highlights

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Just got back from the 2009 SBL Annual Meeting; I’m exhausted, but it was a fun and very productive trip. Some highlights (in no particular order):

1) The “Early Jewish-Christian Relations” section on Saturday morning. Though I don’t think any of the participants “nailed it” exactly, there was a lot of good material in this section. It definitely got the conference off to a great start for me. Probably the most important piece of data for me was Mark Nanos’ observation that all Paul’s citations of Isaiah in Rom 11 actually referred to the Assyrians and Samaritans in their original context—an observation that fits right into my thesis as to what Paul is actually doing. Nanos’ defense of a law-observant Paul has also given me more to think about—though I’d been exposed to his argument previously (and had not necessarily been opposed to it), his defense in person was more persuasive.

2) Getting to chat for about an hour and a half after that section with Nanos (who had not yet been exposed to my thesis on Paul) and Asha Moorthy (who had been at my presentation last year). I respect Nanos’ willingness to think outside the box and think he’s right on quite a bit. After hearing a summary of last year’s paper, his comment was something to the effect of, “Wow, I don’t like it, but you just might be right.” Anyway, the three of us had a very productive conversation, each of us problematizing/challenging some element(s) of the others’ work while also pushing it forward.

3) Getting to chat a bit with my roommate for the weekend (Steve Walton), especially about Acts (he’s working on a commentary on Acts at the moment) was quite helpful. I’ve got a couple projects on Acts on the back burner right now and was curious if anyone had addressed something comparable to my suggestions—Steve’s suggestions were useful, and it looks like both projects should be a go (one of them drew the comment, “well, I had thought I was the only person on the planet who had thought that, but it appears that is not the case”). Steve is a really good scholar, but he’s an even better guy, and I was glad to have been able to chat a bit with him and learn a little.

4) The discussion panel for Douglas Campbell’s Deliverance of God was quite lively, and Douglas gave a spirited defense of his work. I’ve had a pre-publication copy of DOG for almost two years now and can attest that the book is well worth the read, so I’m glad the section seems to have had the effect of demonstrating just how important Douglas’ argument is to Pauline studies. That said, I didn’t think any of the presenters adequately challenged Douglas’ exegesis of the first three chapters of Romans (instead dealing more with implications, etc.)—something I’d like to think I did in my presentation on Romans 2 earlier that morning. (My paper takes Douglas’ interpretation of Romans 2 head-on, in addition to challenging the traditional “justification” exegesis and that of E.P. Sanders.) One of Douglas’ more interesting comments in the section was that he felt the traditional exegesis of the first three chapters of Romans was more or less correct—his contribution amounts to re-ordering the parts, re-framing their place in the larger context of Romans. I’ve heard Douglas say more or less the same thing numerous times, but his summary of his exegetical thoughts in his presentation was especially good.

5) My own presentation on Romans 2 seemed to go fairly well, and the questions/comments afterwards were helpful (especially those of William Campbell and Beverly Gaventa), giving me an idea of what else I might have to deal with as I push this argument forward. Tom Wright also offered some help on a verse I couldn’t address in the presentation itself.

6) The UNC reception on Sunday night was especially helpful, as a conversation between me and Mark Given helped each of us realize how much our respective research might help the other’s. That discussion also helped prepare me for Gaventa’s question at my presentation the next morning, as well as giving a few more avenues to pursue in understanding the subtlety of Paul’s rhetorical strategies.

7) Dropping in on the first biblioblogger’s dinner (just to talk, not to eat) was another highlight, as I got the chance to meet a few really great people face-to-face for the first time. That was a definite highlight.

8) The food at Mona Lisa, a French Quarter Italian joint. It was by far the best food I (or any of the group I went with) had over the course of the conference.

9) Getting to see people I don’t often get to see (former classmates, professors, etc.) was great as always. I just wish there’d been more time to spend…

10) Tweeting SBL was a blast: reading others’ tweets helped keep me more aware of what was going on (and which sections were especially interesting), while tweeting also kept me more alert in my own sections. There was a definite camaraderie among those tweeting at the meeting, which also added to the social aspect of the conference. I also like that there is an online (searchable) record of interesting points from various sections, which might be useful in the future. Plus, tweeting from the platform after my presentation carried a little bit of a “forbidden thrill,” which made it even more fun and entertaining. Here’s hoping this becomes a regular feature of future conferences.

11) A door to potential future publication also opened in a surprising fashion; hopefully something materializes out of that. Ah, but preliminary exams loom first!

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