Reflections from the Society of Biblical Literature’s Annual Meeting

— By Luke Heintschel —

JPCatholic’s motto is Impact Culture for Christ, and we strive to do just that in all of our departments. One of the ways we try to accomplish this goal is by impacting academia. The Society of Biblical Literature is an academic society of professional biblical scholars. At their annual meeting, scholars meet to make connections, buy books, and present their research to one another. The vast majority of those in attendance have doctoral degrees in biblical studies, archeology, theology, and other relevant fields.

Last year’s conference was an astoundingly amazing experience for me. I’m just studying for my Master’s degree, so even attending is pretty out of the ordinary for folks like me. But I’d like to offer some reflections on my experience.

Friday

On the first day, I attended some sessions hosted by the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR). There were very interesting papers regarding worldview. I did take issue with the whole idea of “worldview” and the implicit philosophy behind it, but I won’t delve into that here.

Most notably for me, was Jamie Grant’s paper, entitled “The Psalter, Worship, and Worldview.” He discussed the importance of “covenant” when discussing biblical worldview. He talked about praise, prayer, and instruction as a response to God’s interaction with Isræl. He said that

“YHWH reigns absolutely, and the psalmist believes that this should be our worldview. … There is then an intellectual and moral challenge: how well do we live in accordance with our worldview?”

He portrayed song and sacrament as the medium of worldview communication and lifestyle formation. It was a fascinating paper!

At this session, I got to connect with some scholars for whom I have a great amount of respect. Not the least of which was Andrew Swafford and Matthew Ramage (both teach at Benedictine College). Matthew Ramage’s work, Dark Passages of the Bible attempts to integrate Biblical Studies and Theology, with St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope Benedict XVI as guides.

Saturday

On Saturday, the famous book exhibit opened. It was glorious. It consisted of two huge exhibit halls (each about the size of a football field) filled to the brim with the most recent academic scholarship from publishers such as Brill, Mohr Siebeck, De Gruyter, Baker, Wipf and Stock, Zondervan, and many more.

Saturday was also a big session day. In the morning I got to hear Nicholas Perrin’s paper in the Historical Jesus session entitled: “The Grain of Truth Behind the Parable of Salt.” In it he argued for a priestly significance to Jesus’ Salt sayings. Also in that session was the first of three papers presented by one of the professors here at JPCatholic: Dr. Michæl Barber. Barber presented a paper entitled “Did Jesus Expect to Die: A Test Case in Allison’s Methodology and a Response to His Critics.” In it, Dr. Barber argued that much like Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, etc, Jesus did expect that he would be killed. I thought it was convincing (though controversial in the SBL atmosphere), and no one really pushed back, so perhaps others thought the same.

The next paper I attended was by two of my professors: Michæl Barber and John Kincaid. Their paper was “Where the Juridicial and Participatory Unite: Christ as a ίλαστήριον [hilasterion] and the Cultic Dimension of Pauline Justification.” Then I attended another IBR session with Scott Hahn, Craig Bartholomew, and others.

That evening, I had the opportunity to attend a dinner sponsored by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the St. George’s Center for Biblical and Public Theology, in honor of  Craig Bartholomew’s work.

Sunday

On Sunday, I attended another paper presented by Dr. Kincaid: “The Saving Righteousness of God at Philippi: Paul, Polycarp, and the Question of δικαιοσύνη [dikaiosune].”

I was glad to see that it sparked a bit of conversation. He had a bit of push back, but from what I heard, people liked the paper. Ben Blackwell presented in the same session: “Paul and Rome: the Thematic Relationship between the Acts of Paul and Luke’s Acts Reconsidered.” I greatly enjoyed his paper as well.

Sunday night I got to connect with some more scholars whom I admire: Scott Hahn and Brant Pitre to name just two. Monday was also a fun day. I missed John Barclay’s response (to which I was greatly looking forward) to reviews of his book Paul and the Gift (which I hear was the number one best seller in the book exhibit); but was very happy to have met and connected with him in passing between sessions.

Monday

My professor Michael Barber presented his final paper for the Synoptic Gospels Seminar: “Jesus’ Vow at the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels: A Study in Divergent Narrative Strategies.” Again, there wasn’t a lot of pushback. Perhaps that means it was well received.

Then, I got to hear Mark Goodacre’s paper building upon and critiquing Francis Watson’s book Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective. It was called “What does [the gospel of] Thomas have to do with Q? The Afterlife of a Sayings Gospel.” In it he agreed with Watson’s dispensing with Q (as is Goodacre’s modus operandi), but had disagreements about the gospel of Thomas’ place in the vacuum left by Q. It was fascinating.

Immediately after, I rushed to another Historical Jesus session, where Brant Pitre (whose new book Jesus and the Last Supper was allegedly the number two best selling book at the conference) presented “Beyond the Criteria of Authenticity: Where Do We Go From Here?.” In it he presented a methodology for assessing the authenticity of historical claims within the study of the Historical Jesus:

  • Context: How does the claim/source compare with the Jewish context within which Jesus lived
  • Coherence: Is the claim historically plausible given what we know about Jesus
  • Consequence: How does the claim/source compare with the early Christian movement

That evening I had dinner with Brant Pitre, John Kincaid, Ben Blackwell, Andre Villanueve, and others. This AAR/SBL was a huge learning and growing experience for me. I look forward to the future when I won’t stick as tightly to my professors and the scholars they run with, and make my own connections. Given how young I am in my career, I tried not to branch off too far, plus I wanted to see how people I trust act in academic and scholarly settings. I enjoyed riding their coat-tails, so to speak. My professors never cease to amaze me in how well they perform in their field.