official and authoritative report on the EXTREMELY VITAL Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Baltimore

official and authoritative report on the EXTREMELY VITAL Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Baltimore November 25, 2013

I just got back home from my trek to the annual major nerd geek fest called the Society of Biblical Literature meeting (“SBL” to insiders), where biblical scholars and doctoral students gather once a year, some to mark their territory, others to claim pack dominance, and still others to obsess over their intellectual inadequacies. In my case, all three simultaneously.

Some scattered thoughts.

So many people, each a different story, each believing what they believe in their own way. Respect.

So very life-affirming to see old friends and laugh together over old and new. (Names withheld to protect the innocent.)

I made some new friends, and, like each year, met some students struggling with how to hold together a familiar faith with new paradigms–sometimes prefaced with, “If anyone knew I was speaking with you, I’d be in big trouble.” No I’m not kidding.

Did a podcast interview with Randal Rauser, which should be up soon.

Shout out to my homie publishers I met with: Katya Covrett (Zondervan), Jim Kinney (Baker), Robin Parry (Wipf & Stock), Michael Thomson (Eerdmans), David Congdon and Dan Reid (IVP), Mickey Maudlin (HarperOne), and Kathy Helmers (my agent).

Major shout out to my friend C. L. Seow for giving me a signed copy his magisterial Job commentary  (volume 1). Now I am better than the rest of you.

Met Desmond Tutu’s daughter Mpho. Cool.

SBL should switch it up and stop giving us free tote bags. How about an iPad. Mini. With retina display. Throw in a smart cover.

T00 many papers that were too boring and too long. A little effort, please. Earn the right to take up our valuable time. Though also a lot of fine moments.

Baltimore taxis are expensive.

It was fun walking through the cavernous book display area, which if done right would take weeks. Not sure what the square acreage is, but it’s probably

1/10 of a Saturday morning SBL coffee line. Doesn’t have to be Starbucks folks.

larger than the ground Jesus covered his entire lifetime. I’d love to know what the total gross receipts were for the 4-day conference.

Thanks to Ray Van Leeuwen, Benj Giffone, David Lamb, and Peter Radford for riding together in my old van and not even once complaining about the sagging ceiling.

Judging by the crowds, academics drink coffee or alcohol. Nothing else.

Definition of hell: a zillion academics trying to get to their meetings with one slow functioning elevator. Biblical scholars break several commandments while waiting.

Those name tags they give us make me feel like a licensed dog–but if I take it off, how will anyone know who I am? One of many pressing philosophical crises attendees face.

Few things stress me out more that maintaining eye-contact with someone whose name I forgot without too obviously glancing at their name tags, only to do so and see the tag is flipped around to the blank side. “Name-side-out” tag wearing is a common courtesy, folks. What are we, animals?

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  • As a side note about the SBL, is it a good estimate that some 60% to 80% of SBL members are not Christian? I’ve seen that number estimated by Michael Patton

    Then again, maybe Patton estimates everyone not in his tribe as “non Christians.”

    • The article was from Dan Wallace, who occasionally posts on Patton’s blog. Also, it was from 2009. Even 4 years can make people a little less dogmatic (which is very true of Patton, though don’t know with Wallace).

    • peteenns

      I can’t imagine this statistic being verifiable–or even relevant For one thing, there are many Jews (of various persuasions) in SBL. I expect many SBL members not to be CHristian.

  • Mick Pope

    Usually your posts stretch my brain in new and interesting directions. This one just made me lol. Txs for the travel log

  • I’m not sure much is being offered in this recent article at The Economist, other than making fun of discussion & debate amongst evangelicals in regards to inerrancy, but it might be of interest to you, Pete. It talks about THE major debate at SBL, that of inerrancy.

    They probably knew it was all YOUR fault. 😀

    • Aaron

      ” Mr Lamoureux is a prominent member of the “evolutionary creation”
      movement, which credits God with creating Darwinian evolution and
      overseeing its workings (a view shared by, among others, the pope).”

      I LOVE when The Economist does stuff like that. “Among others” didn’t have to be there, but that just makes the sentence.

  • Don Bryant

    Very funny. Once you have been outed by the evangelical mafia, things connect in ways we wish they wouldn’t, even in conversations at SBL. I just viewed the movie “Hannah Arendt” and witnessed the price she paid for stepping outside the boundary markers. She wouldn’t be outraged in the way others wanted her to be. She simply wanted to understand.

  • Aaron

    Wow, two conferences in Baltimore? Technically that makes you a resident, and you need to file a tax return. Did any of you venture outside of the green zone to check out the city?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Thanks Pete for the enjoyable summary. Elevators – will they never learn?

    And Scott, thanks for the reference to the Economist article. It is difficult to know how helpful (not in the sense of how accurate) articles like this are. It does seem that what is afoot may indeed get larger sooner rather than later. Two of the most important observations made in the article (if people can get by the obvious jibes and easy point scoring etc.) are:

    “…… a bang-up-to-date, and distinctly political, dispute hummed along underneath the scholarly sparring: what to do about core principles threatened by new facts.”

    “This is a dispute between conservative Christians, not an outbreak of soggy, believe-what-you-like European deism. Much is at stake.”

    • James

      I read in the 40s and 50s mainline churches were led by pastors schooled in science and historical criticism yet their congregants remained largely conservative–six day creationists, etc. Now, evangelicals are debating these points and some are arriving at more thoughtful conclusions, but have their congregants budged? And many young people are still turning to something else no matter what their leaders say. Meanwhile, secularism and pluralism are challenging the faith increasingly. Are we doing our best thinking and fighting our best battles on the right fronts? Maybe the pollster can help!

  • Benj

    This report may be official and authoritative, but it certainly isn’t inerrant: I did complain about the sagging ceiling, unfortunately. I was happy to be a tent pole, however.

  • Joy_F

    “Judging by the crowds, academics drink coffee or alcohol. Nothing else.”

    From most of the Linguistics conferences etc. I have been at – you are exactly right. Why is that??

  • Lise

    I found it to be the biblical equivalent of Comic-Con which is fitting since it will be in San Diego next year. It should be less cold. Again, so nice to meet you.

  • scott caulley

    a few additional thoughts on the AAR/SBL meeting: the problem with the reversed name tags lies in the design of the lanyards. We need name-both-sides tags. Thanks to Wipf and Stock and the others for sponsoring; but the sea-foam green color of the tote bags is pretty bad…. maybe consider thermos-brand travel mugs (those years when I don’t need a new tote bag). Privilege future venues which offer more (many more) reasonably priced restaurants in the area. And don’t schedule the conference when there is a home football game at the stadium next door. The line at Subway was bad, but the one at Jimmy John’s was ridiculous. Add another Starbucks kiosk, for crying out loud! Just sayin’.

  • brianleport

    Great meeting you in person this year!

  • Juniper

    I couldn’t go this year but have plans to attend next year’s SBL annual meeting. The thought of the book displays is enough to give one the vapors.