2013 SBL Annual Meeting Diary

Now that the teaching for this semester is dying down, I have some time, at last, to throw together some reflections on my activities at this year’s Annual Meeting of the SBL. Without further ado…

Day One (November 22):

Arrival in Baltimore via plane, train, and automobile—driving from home in Kitchener to the airport in Buffalo (cheaper than a flight from Toronto) with a transfer in Detroit (that’s right, Detroit) and touchdown in Baltimore, then LTR to my hotel. Nighttime in Baltimore is a little scary. I disembarked the LTR in a part of town that was mostly boarded up and the people on the street looked a bit desperate. My hotel (the Quality Inn) was actually quite nice, but the miniscule size of their sign made it difficult to find. I capped off the evening with a drink and a meal with my York University colleague and SBL roomie Tony Michael.

Day Two

I began my Annual Meeting experience as many of us do with a visit to the registration desk (for name tag) and then a spin around the book display. I had a lunch meeting lined up with Jim Davila, co-editor of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, and had to grab a copy of the book, now finally available after much delay. I also put my name down for the display copy of Roelof van den Broek’s Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem, On The Life and the Passion of Christ: A Coptic Apocryphon (discussed previously HERE and HERE) at the Brill booth. Also placed in my bag were a few copies of my own books (Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate from Wipf and Stock, and the newly-released North American edition of Secret Scriptures Revealed from Eerdmans), along with Vernon K. Robbins’ Who Do People Say I Am? Rewriting Gospel in Emerging Christianity (Eerdmans), and Robert F. Stoops’ translation of the Acts of Peter (Vol. 4 of the Early Christian Apocrypha series from Polebridge). Also catching my eye, but not within my book-purchasing budget, were  Jewish Biblical Legends: Rabbinic Wisdom for Christian Readers by Joel S. Allen (Wipf & Stock), Jens Schröter’s collection The Apocryphal Gospels Within the Context of Early Christian Theology (from Peeters), The Canon of the Bible and the Apocrypha in the Churches of the East edited by Vahan Hovhanessian (Peter Lang), Thomas E. Schmidt’s The Apostles After Acts: A Sequel (an imaginative addition to the Book of Acts incorporating apocryphal material, published by Wipf & Stock), and the ambitious three-volume set Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture edited by Feldman, Krugel, and Schiffman (University of Nebraska).

A few hours later, I met Jim for lunch, accompanied by Brent Landau—both of us proudly displaying our new copies of OTP. Brent and I are working on the Christian Apocrypha counterpart to Jim’s volume, titled New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (information HERE). We invited Jim to lunch so that we could ask him for advice now that our project is in its editing stage.

Lunch finished, it was time to finally go to a session. I chose the Children in the Biblical World session as it featured three papers on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Justin King (“A Not-Quite-As-Early Narrative Christology of the Pre-Existent Lord, Creator, Teacher, Son of God, and Saviour in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas”) expanded on my own view of the text as presenting a Jesus who does not grow or develop over the course of the text, rather those around him change in how they treat him as they come to the realization that he is divine. Sharon Betsworth (“Where Have All the Young Girls Gone? The Infancy Gospel of Thomas and Girls”), in a noteworthy application of feminist biblical hermeneutics coupled with a “childist” perspective, noted the absence of young girls in the text, aside from the few vague allusions to “children” who are with Jesus (which could, but likely do not, include girls). Finally, Reidar Aasgaard, who has written much on the text, discussed “Challenges in Writing a Commentary on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.” Reidar is contributing a commentary in the new series, Kommentare zur apokryphen Literatur, by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, and sought advice from the audience about what to include in the volume and how to present the text’s complicated transmission history.

After the session, I met up with members of the AAR Religion and Film session for dinner in Baltimore’s charming Federal Hill neighbourhood, made a quick cameo at the Eerdmans reception, and then headed over to the swanky Harvard reception at the National Aquarium. I finished the evening with some drinks in Amir Hussain’s (editor of JAAR and recently seen in the Bible Secrets Revealed series) lavish room with a stunning view of the Inner Harbour. A busy but productive and enjoyable day.

Day Three

A bit hungover from the events of the previous night, I spent the morning leisurely walking around the Inner Harbour, which is not without its charms (the miniature red light district I stumbled upon not being one of them).

I rejoined the Annual Meeting for the afternoon session on the Christian Apocrypha. This year we had only one session, but it was packed with seven papers. This forced the presenters to limit themselves to only 20 minutes for their paper and question period. It was an unfortunate state of affairs, but one that the presenters handled with aplomb. As it turned out, we lost one of the presenters, thus allowing us a little extra time at the end of the session for additional discussion.

The first paper was John R. Markley’s “'But the Story of the Infant Was Spread Abroad in Bethlehem': The Relationship between Mart. Ascen. Isa. 11:2-15 and Mark’s Gospel," which brought some much-needed attention to Mart. Ascen. Isa., one of the more neglected CA texts, despite its apparently very early account of the incarnation of Jesus. Enrico Norelli has done much work on this text (including a critical edition for CCSA) and recently developed further his argument for the shared use of testimonia by Mart. Ascen. Isa. and the Acts of Peter 24, a discussion that has bearing also on the creation of Luke’s and Matthew’s infancy narratives. The second paper in the session was Eric Vanden Eykel’s "A Virgin Shall Spin and Bear a Son: Reconsidering the Significance of Mary’s Work in the Protevangelium Jacobi." Eric drew an interesting parallel between Mary’s spinning of the temple veil and the Moirai, the Greek goddesses of fate. Just as the Moirai spin the fates of humanity, Mary spins Jesus’ fate into the temple veil, which is rent at his death. Rounding out the session were Cambry G. Pardee’s "Speeches in the Apocryphal Acts of Peter," Catherine Playoust’s “'It Was I Who Was Revealed to You in Your Land' (RevMagi 19:4): The Journeys of an Omnipresent Being," Debra Bucher’s "Baptisms and Vegetable Eucharists in the Acts of Philip 5–7," and Phillip Fackler’s "Jews, Israel, and Adherence to Jesus in the Gospel of Nicodemus."

The session segued from the papers to a business meeting, during which we spent some time sharing stories about our departed colleague François Bovon. I began with a reading of my blog post from earlier in the month and this was followed by reminiscences from some of François’ students, including Ann Graham Brock, Brent Landau, and Nicole Kelly. We decided that our sessions for next year will focus on celebrating François’ work, both in the Christian Apocrypha and his other major research area, the Gospel of Luke.

The day finished with an appearance at the University of Toronto reception. It was nice to reconnect with Canadian colleagues, but the reception was somewhat lacklustre compared to others—one free drink and a bowl of nuts just doesn’t cut it. Moved by hunger, I headed out into the night in search of food and then went back to the hotel for an early night.

Day Four

The main business for my final day was the lunch for the steering committee of the Christian Apocrypha Section. Brent Landau and I were voted in as the Section’s co-chairs for the next few years and the committee, joined by a few other interested scholars, discussed plans for the future, including mounting a Facebook page and reinvigorating the Section for next year.

After lunch I made a quick stop at the book display to pick up my reserved copy of van den Broek’s book along with a Thomas A. Wayment’s The Text of the New Testament Apocrypha (100-400 CE). My thanks to Brice Jones for alerting me to this book via Facebook (and sorry for grabbing one of the last few copies from his own eager hands!).

Before heading to the airport, I stopped in on a screening of Zeke Piestrup’s new film “Apocalypse Later: Harold Camping vs. The End of the World.” You may remember Camping for his failed prediction that the world would end May 21, 2011. Piestrup was hired by Camping for a series of interviews in the last two weeks leading up to the apocalypse. The footage from these interviews was transformed into this documentary, which included also contextual interview footage from Bart Ehrman, John J. Collins and others. It was a fascinating documentary. And it demonstrated Piestrup’s affection for Biblical Studies (he’s a former student of Bart Ehrman). Those in the room were particularly chuffed at seeing footage from last year’s SBL Annual Meeting. In the end I wasn’t sure if Piestrup wanted me to feel compassion for Camping’s failures or anger at him for inspiring so many to donate their possessions to his cause—probably both.

My 2013 SBL Annual Meeting experience came to an end with another long journey home, this time via Chicago (!). On the bright side, the hours spent on planes  and in airports allowed me time enough to devour van den Broek’s Ps.-Cyril book (more on this anon). By midnight (nine hours after leaving the Baltimore Convention Center) I was once again at home, already thinking about a paper to propose for next year.

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