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Two Conferences in One Week: Part 3

April 26, 2007

This is part three of my thoughts on the two conferences I attended last week. After spending time with the Emergent Village for the first half of last week, I attended the Society of Biblical Literature New England Regional Meeting on Friday (April 20, 2007). The differences were — as to be expected — pronounced. However, I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those unfamiliar with the New England regional conference of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), the conference is a one day affair that runs from about 9-5. There are usually two section blocks (with four to five sections going simultaneously), and two plenary sessions (one of which is the presidential address). If you compare the New England conference to other regions, you’ll see that this quite small. However, when you consider that Harvard, Yale, Brown, (and of course, Brandeis) are in this region, it becomes evident that conference is usually quite strong. I tend to learn more in one day at the regional than I did at the two day WESCOR out on the Pacific Coast. This years conference had a morning section followed by a plenary panel discussion on teaching the Bible. After lunch, there was the presidential address and the second sections block. The complete program can be found here. I’ll only be highlighting the papers and sections that I attended and found notable.

I was giving a paper in the “The Torah in its Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Context,” and so I naturally attended this section. The first paper was by my adviser, David P. Wright. His paper was “The Dependence of the Apodictic Laws of the Covenant Code on the Laws of Hammurabi.” This is an outgrowth of his earlier work (dating back to at least 2001) on the relationship between Hammurabi’s law collection(HL) and the Covenant Code (CC). While his earlier work focussed on the intense interrelation and unique parallel ordering of casuisitic laws of CC and HL, he is finding similar connections with the prologue and epilogue of HL as well. This is very interesting and points to an international flavor of the Levantine scribal elites in the Neo-Assyrian period (when Wright dates this material based on several factors).

The second paper in the section was Kristine Henriksen Garroway, who presented “Adoption in Ancient Israel? A New Reading of Exodus 21:7-11” Her paper and delivery were slick. She attempts to explain the CC אמה law in Ex 21:7-11 with the “daughter adoption” phenomenon in the Nuzi documents. The similarities are interesting, but I am not convinced that there is a conduit for this kind of cultural diffusion. It is clear from the Amarna, Ugaritic and Hittite letter corpora that there were very different ideas of how marriage worked running around in LBA. While she attempted to draw lines down to the Elephantine documents, the similarities weren’t tight enough to point to the cultural diffusion she speaks of.

Finally, my paper was on the meaning of the three prohibitions placed upon the Nazirite in Num 6. I see the three prohibitions as working together to assure that the man or woman under a Nazirite vow does not inadvertently undergo a cultic status change. The material come from the fourth chapter of my dissertation which focuses on the Nazirite as one who has undergone a temporary rite of cultic transition. I’ve given four papers at regional meetings but this was the first one where I poorly managed my time. While I edited ruthlessly, I still ran long. Oh well, some days you have this….

The plenary panel discussion featured Dale Martin of Yale, Ross S. Kraemer of Brown and Eugene V. Gallagher from Connecticut College speaking on “Teaching the Bible.” This is the second year that the NE regional has attempted to provide discussion on how to teach. I think this is a good trend and one that I hope they continue (even as I’ll be moving out of the region over the summer). Dr. Martin spoke of how to teach the Bible in theological education, essentially how to teach in a div school or seminary. His information was informative but nothing that I hadn’t already discovered in my years at seminary — biblical scholars need to spend less time on the historical critical method and more time teaching folks how preach the text. Dr. Kraemer’s paper was on teaching Jesus in film. I have wanted to do a similar class and found her information quite helpful. Technology is developing so fast in regards to streaming media that a class like this is now much easier to do. Finally, Dr. Gallagher spoke of how biblical scholars are perfectly poised to teach more general classes in religion at small universities. Once again, his points and references were quite useful and left me feeling more prepared for the job scene than I had previously thought. Of everything at the conference, this session probably provided the best hands-on information for me.

In the afternoon, a protracted lunch conversation with colleagues from Brandeis brought me back too late to really speak of Dr. Kimelman’s paper. In the afternoon session, I wound up jumping around between the “Historical, Archaeological and Social Issues in the First-Temple Period” section and the”Treaty Language and Imagery in the Hebrew Bible” section. I also wanted to hear Bruce Herzberg of Bentley College speak of “Samson’s Moment of Truth,” but for some reason that section reordered its papers. Since he’s a Bentley, I might just drop him a line to find out the gist of his discussion.

The first paper I attended was Mark Leuchter’s “‘The Prophets’ and ‘The Levites’ in Josiah’s Covenant Ceremony.” I have bumped into Mark at several conferences as well as Brandeis’ library. He is a complete stud — insightful, prolific and funny. His paper used the change of “prophets” in 2 Kgs 23:2 to “Levites” in 2 Chron 34:30 as a springboard for discussing the historical probability that the bulk of pre-exilic prophets were in fact Levites, associated with (former?) cultic locals. The argument is fascinating, and I can’t wait to read his published version of his thoughts in this regard.

The second paper from the afternoon that I attended was David E. Bokovoy “שמעו והעידו בבית יעקב: Invoking the Council as Witnesses in Amos 3:13.” David is a fellow Ph.D. student at Brandeis. His paper concerned the use of the plural imperative both here in Am 3:13 and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. He sees YHWH addressing the divine council (either divine or angelic) in these instances. David also ran long, but rather than just summarize of the cuff like I did, he just talked really fast. His excitement for this material is palpable, and he is planning on writing his dissertation on divine council imagery.

The last paper of the day that I attended was Kevin A. Wilson’s “Early and Late Elements in the Priestly Layers.” His paper consisted of using unique linguistic elements in Ezekiel to help date the Priestly Traditions and Holiness School strata of the Pentateuch. This is down and dirty work that needs to be done alongside of the textual dependency approach to these sources being done by Israel Knohl, Jacob Milgrom, Jeff Stackert and others. It was interesting in meeting Dr. Wilson, because his name was so familiar. It took the two of us a few moments to realize that I know him from his blog, the Blue Cord. It’s nice to put a face with a name and realize that the folks you read on line are actual flesh and blood.

Despite being such a short conference, the NE regional once again showed that the scholarship in this area is top-notched. Additionally, the conference contained a conversational atmosphere which was ironically lacking from the Emergent Village “conversation” earlier in the week. While to some extent this is comparing apples to oranges since I have friendships and camaraderie with these folks that haven’t been fostered with Emergent Village types, it is nonetheless an interesting statement.

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