2015 SBL Diary: Day 2

Day two of the 2015 SBL annual meeting began for me with the “Blogger and Online Publication” panel, a welcome change from Christian Apocrypha (mostly because I don’t have to take any notes! I can sit back and just listen). Funny enough, the first paper, by Rick Brannan, did discuss Christian Apocrypha and even gave a shout out to the More New Testament Apocrypha Project; funny enough, I missed that one. I did catch Christian Brady (aka Targuman)’s “The Life of a Blog from Cradle to Maturity.” He discussed mixing personal and professional aspects of his life on the blog, mentioning in particular the account he posted of his son’s sudden death and the comments (some very cruel) that he received about it.

Brady was followed by a three-member panel—with Bart Ehrman, Wil Gafney, and Lawrence Schiffman—on the benefits and challenges, rewards and hardships, of academic blogging. Ehrman is a reluctant blogger; he doesn’t particularly like blogging but does it for charity—he raised $100,000 last year alone. His output is quite striking: he writes a 1000-word post three or four days a week and, because he is a fast writer, manages to whip out a post in twenty minutes (though in that time I think James McGrath can do three posts and one or two song parodies). Schiffman has a different approach: essentially, he writes a paper and then gets his daughter, a social media expert, to carve from it a series of posts. All three of the speakers (Brady, Ehrman, and Schiffman) mentioned the problems they have encountered with trolls but dismissed their impact by saying that they just ignore the trolls and they go away. This opinion was countered by Wil Gafney who noted that, as a minority and a woman, the problem of trolls is much more acute. After spending much of her 15 minutes discussing this and other problems encountered by women bloggers, a member of the audience, who had commented on Gafney’s blog in the past, asked why she had blocked him. Gafney recalled that he had called her scholarly credentials into question—a frequent form of attack against women and minorities. I wondered, did this guy not hear a thing she said? Another topic of the session was whether or not graduate students should blog. All members of the panel agreed that it is best to wait until tenure, in part so that students can concentrate on their studies and so that what students and junior scholars say online does not interfere with employment opportunities. For more on the session, see James McGrath’s account HERE.

Next up was the Christian Apocrypha Section planning meeting. The steering committee had a quick discussion of the proposed sessions for 2016: an open session, a book review panel (which has not been done for the CA section in the executive’s collective memory), a joint session with Digital Humanities, and a session of papers organized around a particular theme (the theme is still undetermined, but some suggestions were violence, healing, and artistic representations). We also have a joint session with Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism planned for 2017 and we will be co-ordinating with the SBL International planning committee for representation at the Berlin meeting.

After lunch I managed to catch a portion of the “Extent of Theological Diversity in Earliest Christianity” panel which discussed two recent books on the topic of “Orthodoxy and Heresy Reconsidered”: Robert M. Royalty, The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity (Routledge, 2012) and Paul Hartog, ed. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis (Wipf & Stock, 2015). I have not read either of the two books, but will be keeping an eye out for them. Royalty began the session with a discussion of his book. He finished with a statement about the modern use of language of division, saying that his book focuses on the origins of such language, but, in light of  ISIS, the Paris attacks, black lives matter, and the rhetoric about these events used in the presidential campaign, perhaps we can start talking about how it might end. Hartog’s volume features essays presented at an invited session of the Patristics and Medieval History Section of the Evangelical Theological Society. He summarized the essays, occasionally mentioning each paper’s shortcomings. I was able to catch only one response to the books, the one by Judith Lieu. She was largely favourable about Royalty’s book but was not pleased with Hartog’s. She characterized it as driven by anxiety over the continuing effect of Bauer’s thesis and criticized it for not articulating Bauer’s thesis fully, for not providing any new analysis of the primary texts, and for demonizing the scholars who support Bauer.

After Lieu’s response I scooted over to the Jewish Christianity/Christian Judaism panel to catch Brent Landau’s paper “The Epistle of James to Quadratus: An Apocryphon with Jewish-Christian Traditions?” Brent is working on a translation (the first ever in English) of the epistle for MNTA vol. 2. He presented his provisional translation of the text (extant in three very recent Syriac MSS and another in Armenian) and reached out to the group for suggestions about where to situate it. There has been some discussion about the epistle drawing upon a Jewish-Christian source about the early Jerusalem bishops, but most scholars think the letter derived its information from Eusebius. The last paper I attended for the day was Anna Cwikla’s “Magdalene, Mother, Martha’s Sister, or None of the Above? The Mary in the Dialogue of the Savior,” presented at the session “Maria, Mariamne, Miriam: Rediscovering the Marys.” The all-female panel was a welcome sight, and it was amusing that two of the five presenters were named Mary. Cwikla’s paper noted the absence of nicknames in the named interlocutors of the Dialogue (e.g., “Judas” rather than “Judas Thomas,” etc.) and wondered what this might mean for the “Mary” of the text—perhaps identifying the precise Mary was not important to the writer.

I accepted James McGrath’s invitation to attend the Bibliobloggers dinner held at a pub near the conference hotels. This was the first time I had attended this event, and did feel a little out of my element—many of the people seemed to know each other well. I was happy to find myself sitting next to Michael Kok of Euangelion Kata Markon, whose book, The Reception of Mark in the Second Century (Fortress Press, 2015), I endorsed. I also met F. Daniel Kirk of Storied Theology and the Lectiocast podcast series, Daniel Gullotta, and a few others whose names I wish I could remember! Unfortunately the pub was very noisy and did not make communication easy.

My final stop for the night was the University of Toronto reception to catch up with Canadian friends and meet a few new ones. After a 30 minute conversation with a clearly stoned grad student, I had had enough socializing and decided to head back to the hotel for an early night.

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