Review of SBL Vienna

Review of SBL Vienna July 28, 2007

My family and I travelled to Vienna for the International SBL which was held at the University of Vienna.  We had a fantastic time as the university is in a great location for siteseeing, and the university itself is a sight!  Also, the weather was wonderful.  From what other participants told me, this was very well attended in comparison to last year’s.

I spent most of my time focusing on Paul-related papers, but I popped in on a few others as well.  William Campbell spoke on the concept of ‘learning Christ’ and ‘discipleship’ in Paul.  Bas von Os gave a presentation defending Malina and Pilch’s view that Paul’s Letter to the Galatians was focused on a Jewish readership almost exclusively – he did not seem to convince many, though in the area of history and sociology of religion he is well respected.  An evening lecture in the ‘auditorium maximum’ was given by Beverly Gaventa of Princeton where she defended and expanded the argument for an apocalyptic reading of Romans (which she articulated previously in an article in Interpretation Journal).  This was in the tradition of J. Christian Beker and J.L. Martyn.  Personally, I feel that her case is convincing.  On the evening of the last full day, it was a pleasure to hear an invited lecture by Gerd Theissen on Paul’s ‘self-dialogue’ in Romans.  Theissen argued that Paul represents in his own person a ‘plurality’ of Judaisms which he himself espoused throughout his life – diaspora, Pharisaism, zealous Pharisee, and finally a ‘messianic’ Jew.  In Romans, Theissen posits, Paul demonstrates arguments against each of these kinds of Jewish strands.  He labels the reasoning of each ‘justification by works’, ‘justification by faith’, and ‘justification by election’.  Paul argues against each one in Romans as he reflects on his life and looks forward to going to Jerusalem.  Also, Theissen preferred the term ‘ethical monotheism’ to Sanders’ ‘covenantal nomism’ for the unifying pattern of religion in Judaism at that time.  Overall, it was interesting, but I don’t think many bought into this very socio-psychological reading of Paul.  Nevertheless, it was an honour to hear Theissen’s thoughts and reflections on Romans.

There were a few sessions devoted to the theme ‘Jesus in continuum [with Judaism]’.  One session I sat in on involved papers by both Darrell Bock and James Charlesworth.  Bock spoke on the issue of what Jesus did and said that led him to be crucified.  Though Bock is always clear and provides a balanced, cautious, exegetically agressive and well reasoned argument, there was nothing really novel or new in this area – not a bad thing!  Charlesworth spoke on the idea of ‘loving one’s fellow person’ and how strands of both Judaism and early Christianity focused this outwardly (i.e. loving everyone and anyone), and groups that focused inwardly (i.e. more sectarian focus of loving only the ‘ingroup’).  If nothing else, Charlesworth is very lively and engaging – definitely a person worth listening to and easy to understand.  He combined good content with good presentation.

On a more personal note, I presented in the Paul group on the first full day.  Though I received positive feedback, I did have too much material prepared for the short space of time allotted to me.  I became that person that speaks very fast and skips over large portions of the paper to end on time – do as I say, not as I do!!  So, if there is something to learn, it is this: practice the talk in the time allotted and say the most important elements of the argument at the beginning!  Also, I had a handout and I think that helped.  For handouts, I try to have any major texts listed that I will dealing with (for convenience, fully written out) and a brief outline (so if people daydream or doze off they can come back!).

As for the book exhibition room – plenty of good stuff coming down the pipeline and there were many publishers there that we Americans don’t see a lot of (e.g. Peeters had good stuff).  SBL’s book list is growing and Brill and Continuum seem to be pushing more books in paper which is good news for prices!

As for the city, it is breathtaking with a rich history and amazing architecture.  It was fun to practice and learn some more German as well.  I feel like I learned so much in less than a well.

I will be posting some pics of Vienna shortly.

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