Major Problems with the SBL Paper Submission System

Categories: Biblical Studies

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Like many others, I submitted two paper proposals for the 2012 Annual Meeting in hopes that at least one of them would be accepted. Of the two, one was especially important for this year, as I have been waiting over six years for a call for papers that matched a particular article in progress that I plan to move forward with in the near future (post dissertation). This year’s Philo of Alexandria section matched that paper perfectly, so I excitedly submitted the proposal to that section first (just in case the system would allow me to submit more than one). I then submitted another paper to the Book of Acts section, the same paper (with some revisions) that I had presented at SECSOR in March.

I received an acceptance notice from the Acts paper around the deadline for being notified but never received anything from the Philo section. I delayed accepting the Acts invitation awaiting word from the Philo section, assuming that perhaps they were behind schedule. After waiting a few weeks, I finally got in touch with the chairs to determine the status of my paper proposal and was told that my proposal had “been withdrawn by the system” prior to the deadline and therefore had not been included in their program. Apparently, once the Acts section input my paper as “accepted,” the system automatically withdrew the Philo paper—before the Philo section chairs had actually made all their choices. I am extremely upset right now, as I have no idea how long it will be before another call for papers comes anywhere close to matching that paper, and I cannot believe that the system prevented it from being accepted. I’m even more amazed that the SBL did not provide warning that the system would work this way. I know I’m not the only one who submits multiple papers, and for the system to just throw out the other papers as soon as one gets accepted is really incredibly short-sighted.

I cannot believe the SBL would impose such a draconian system that would prevent people from having the opportunity to choose which paper(s) they would prefer to present at the SBL, and I cannot adequately express how disappointed I am that this system prevented me from the opportunity to present this paper. Had both papers been accepted, I was planning to upgrade my membership and registration from “student member” to “full member” in order to be able to present both papers (there is nothing against students—or as in my case, candidates—presenting multiple papers, only student members), but as it was, the paper I was more excited to present on wasn’t even given the chance to be accepted.

I know it’s too late to rectify the situation for me or do anything to make this situation right, but this system needs to be changed. The short-sightedness and ham-handedness of the SBL of late has been quite disappointing—the decision to restrict “student members” to a single presentation was a poor one, and we can’t even get a blind proposal review process like that used in every other serious field. I have friends who are scholars in other fields have expressed amazement at how the SBL lacks a blind submission process and surprise at how it has limited its student members. I’m afraid I’m pretty ashamed of my scholarly guild right now—these sorts of things certainly do not “foster biblical scholarship.”

Here was the abstract of the paper thrown out by the system:

Re-Mythologizing Philo: Plotinus’ Appropriation of Philo on Genesis in Ennead III 7
Plotinus’ treatise, “On Eternity and Time,” (Ennead III 7), reformulates and, in several places, outright contradicts Plato’s concept of time. When Plotinus finally unveils his own theory, he does so in mythological form (III 7.11.12–20), an unusual move within the Plotinian corpus. In this myth, the Soul, though originating in eternity, produces time due to its “hyperactive nature,” which is dissatisfied with the homogeneity which the Soul sees in the realm of Being, longing for extension, progression, and self-rule. The soul’s desire for extension ultimately results in the division of the unity of Being—“temporalizing itself and [producing] time rather than eternity” (III 7.11.30). Peculiarly, Plotinus breaks into the first-person plural form, concluding, “We made time as the image of eternity,” a conclusion that differs from the Timaeus’ explanation that time was the creation of the Demiurge.
Surprisingly, Plotinus’ explanation of time parallels closely with Philo’s allegorical reading of the Adam and Eve story, in which the Soul is deceived by its own desire for extension and and generation, resulting in the cycle of procreation and death. My paper argues that Plotinus’ understanding of time was indebted to Philo’s allegorical interpretation of the Adam and Eve myth, with Plotinus’ own myth effectively a re-mythologizing of the Genesis story as understood by Philo. The paper suggests that Plotinus was likely exposed to Philo’s writings (in addition to Numenius, who was himself likely indebted to Philo) while being trained under Ammonius Saccas in Alexandria, while this reading of Plotinus’ myth in Ennead III 7 also lends strength to the theory that Plotinus identified time as “Evil itself.”*1*
*1*Plotinus clearly makes this claim about matter (I 8.8.37–44; I 8.13.7–14) but not explicitly of time; John Simons, however, observes that, for Plotinus, time and matter are “different expressions of the same principle” (John Simons, “Matter and Time in Plotinus,” Dionysius 9 [1985], 56).

I am, however, pleased to be presenting the following paper in the “Book of Acts” section:

“Rise, Kill, and Eat”: Nations as Animals in Early Judaism and Acts 10
Acts 10 rather straightforwardly presents Peter’s vision as a revelation of God’s mercy towards the Gentiles, culminating in the salvation of Cornelius’ household. This is troublesome, however, as Peter’s vision does not appear to concern Gentiles at all. Rather, the vision ostensibly concerns dietary laws, declaring all foods to be clean. Why then does Peter immediately assume this pertains to Gentile salvation? How Peter’s animal vision pertains to the events immediately following has remained a problem in Acts scholarship.
As a way forward, this paper points to depictions of various nations as animals within Jewish apocalyptic visionary literature, most notably within the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch, where Israel is portrayed as sheep, while the surrounding nations are depicted as various types of unclean animals. Likewise, the visions of Daniel, 4 Ezra, T. Naphtali, and Revelation all feature hybrid beasts representing empires. In addition, the paper points to Jewish explanations of the food laws from the Second Temple period (such as that in Aristeas), which often suggest the forbidden animals represent those peoples with whom Israel must not mix.
In the context of apocalyptic Jewish depictions of Gentile nations in the form of animals and allegorical explanations for the food laws, Acts’ interpretation of Peter’s vision as primarily concerning Gentiles makes far more sense. What seems on the surface to refer to food is naturally understood within this genre as a reference to nations and peoples. Acts 10 thus makes use of standard Jewish apocalyptic tropes familiar to its audience but less familiar to literalistic modern New Testament interpreters.

Tags: Ammonius Saccas, Animal Apocalypse, creation, food laws, Gentile, John Simons, Judaism, Peter, Philo, Plotinus, SBL, sheet

3 Comments. Leave new

  • Eric Thurman
    April 22, 2012 3:33 pm

    I sympathize with your situation and agree we need a blind submission system. Not sure why the SBL system imposes a one-paper limit on student members, but I tend to think it is wrong too.

    That said, I’m still unclear about some of the details of your situation. If you submitted the Philo paper first, why was it marked for removal by the system? Shouldn’t the system have stopped you from submitting the Acts paper in the first place? From what you described, it seems that the system credited the Acts paper as your one submission–before you even accepted the offer. How did that happen? Seems like how fast or slow the group chairs act, a very arbitrary thing, played a role here. In any case, the system is clearly flawed in many ways. Thanks for drawing attention to this, and again, sorry about your situation. Hopefully your post will help get things changed.

    • Good question. I’ll amend the main post to make that clearer. Students could submit more than one—I submitted the Philo one first, just in case—but apparently once the Acts chairs input my paper as accepted, the system automatically withdrew my the Philo paper. As you said, too much is arbitrary (and apparently wasn’t considered by the SBL folks who put the system together) with the way things are now.

  • That’s outrageous, Jason. At the very least, you should have had notice that your submission was withdrawn in time for you to do something about it.


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