Thursday, March 19, 2009

SBL Southwest Meeting Roundup

The Southwest area regional meeting of the SBL (or, Southwest Comission on Religious Studies [SWCRS]) held its annual meeting March 7-8 in Irving, Texas. It was a good, energizing meeting, and Baylor was well-represented. A .pdf of the program can be found here. Here is a brief rundown.

My paper, "A Trickster Oracle in Gen 25:23: Reading Jacob and Esau between Beten and Bethel," was first on the docket at the meeting on Saturday morning. I was pleased with the turnout: about 20-25 people. Despite my battling a cold, which my son was kind enough to share with me (I knew teaching him to share would have some negatives to go along with it!) I think the paper went quite well. No one running for the doors shouting "heresy," and no one tearing-apart my reading afterwards---both of which I consider victories! The comments during the Q&A session and afterwards were helpful. I was pleased to see the paper had engendered some thought and conversation. Victor Matthews from Missouri State University was also quite affirming; his article on Jacob the trickster in Perspectives in Religious Studies from 1985 has been a great help, and my forthcoming article on divine deception in the Jacob/Laban narratives interacts with it at several points (I do not, however, agree with Matthews' understanding of the Jacob cycle of stories, which I address in my article). I look forward, though, to further dialogue with him on the topic. I also had the opportunity to speak with another presenter in my section (Nate Lollar from Abilene Christian, whose paper on conversational dialogue in the Pentateuch was quite good) later in the book exhibit, and he expressed his sincere appreciation for my interpretation, for which I am grateful. But one of the greatest feelings--and this took me back to my time at Duke, so this may only make sense to some of you--was when during the reading of my paper at various points several people in the audience would say "mmmm" or "mmm hmm." For those that don't know, at Duke that meant you had said something poignant or insightful. For fear of asking and being proven wrong, I'll just assume it has that same meaning here in central Texas!

It was then off to the 'complimentary' plated lunch, and some bantering with fellow Baylorites before their upcoming papers. The next section I attended focused on the Book of Psalms, which both opened and closed with a paper by one of my colleagues at Baylor; a 'Baylor inclusio,' if I may. Roy Garton's paper on the death of the psalmist in Ps 88 continues to interest me, especially his positing of a specific, hypothetical Sitz im Leben for this psalm within the worship context of ancient Israel. I too find Psalm 88 to be a terribly dark, troubling text, and to be fair, Garton's emphasis was on the psalm itself, yet I still struggle with this psalm's meaning within the overall metanarrative of the Psalter. Gerald Wilson's seminal The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter poses a possibility for me, which I asked Roy about, namely that Ps 88 has a double superscription: of the sons of Korah, which connects it back to Ps 87, and with the ethnicity "Erzahite," connecting it forward to Ps 89. Understood in this way, the compilers of the final canonical Psalter--for which there is indeed a final organizing principle, I affirm--likely saw the same difficulties we do with the psalm, and in making these editorial connections attempted to 'soften' its impact. Ps 89 too, though, is a dark text, albeit with some light at least. And I cannot help but think of Wilson's work on the metanarrative of the Psalter's five books, and the extension of it by Nancy deClaisse-Walford's Introduction to the Psalms, both which see Book III as lamenting the Divided Monarchy and failure of Israelite kingship. It seems to me both darkness and hope would be endemic to such literature; and hope is certainly what one gets in Book IV, with its movement towards and emphasis on the ancestral covenant (Gen 12:1-3), which I presented a paper on at SBL in Boston this past November.

W. Dennis Tucker, Jr. from Baylor's Truett Seminary presented what I take to be the beginning of an inquiry into anti-imperial rhetoric in the first psalms of Book V (Pss 107-110). His reading is carrying forward Erich Zenger's reading of such tendencies elsewhere in the Psalter. I was struck by several aspects of Tucker's paper, especially the implications these tendencies have in informing with greater precision the date of formation for the canonical Psalter (prior to the first century CE, with the Qumran material).

I then went to hear a paper by another one of my Baylor colleagues on wisdom intensification in the Dead Sea Scrolls. From there I decided to hit up the book exhibit, which was quite empty at the time. In the end, I only bought one book, and it is one I had already read: The Quest for the Historical Israel, ed. Brian Schmidt (with essays by Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar). I do, however, have a good-sized list for national in New Orleans!

That evening my wife, son, and I went out to eat, and then fell asleep about 9pm (my wife blames the overly-comfortable Marriott hotel bed, I attribute this to the fact that my 18 month old son was asleep about five feet away from us, and waking him up would not have been to our benefit!). Sunday morning I only heard one paper on the Psalms pesher from Qumran, which brought back fond memories of my work in the Nahum and Habakkuk pesharim a little over a year ago. I decided to take one final trip around the book exhibit, giving me the opportunity to talk one-on-one with some of the publishers there. The representatives from Fortress and Hendrickson were wonderful to speak with, and each was quite affirming and interested in the argument of my dissertation. I had a nice talk with Hendrickson also about one of two book projects with which I am helping my teacher, Dr. Bellinger.

All in all it was a very fine meeting, and getting my paper done right away on Saturday morning really helped me focus the rest of the day. Last year I did two papers within about two hours of one another, which was a nice mental exercise, especially given that one was in OT and the other in NT (yep, I'm bi-testamental). I look forward to next year's regional meeting, at which time I plan to be well into my dissertation and on the job hunt! Hoo-rah!

All the best!


  1. John,

    Thanks for this! I was sad not to be able to attend this year. Glad to hear the meeting went well and you enjoyed yourself.

  2. John,
    Great blog. I will look forward to your forthcoming posts. Likely we will see each other, if not in New Orleans, certainly at SBL regional next Spring. Thanks for commenting on my blog as well.

  3. John, have you read David C. Mitchell’s The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalms if you haven't do check it out.

  4. I have not read that volume (probably because it has the word "eschatological" in the title; these labels confuse me, and I'm not sure scholarship is entirely clear on what they mean. That, of course, is no excuse to ignore the volume!). Thank you for the bibliography. I will peek at it when time allows. Is it similar to Erich Zenger's views on eschatology and the Psalter?

  5. What's Erich Zenger's views on eschatology and the Psalter?

  6. Oh boy . . . the best I can do is say it involves an eschatological-messianic perspective dealing with YHWH as king.

    Here, though, is a relevant piece of bibliography:

    Zenger, Erich. "Komposition und Theologie des 5. Psalmenbuchs 107-145." Biblische Notizen 82 (1996): 91-116.

    OR, if you want to read it in English . . .

    Zenger, Erich. "The Composition and Theology of the Fifth Book of Psalms 107-145." JSOT 80 (1998): 77-102.

    It's a pretty mechanical piece, from my perspective. Maybe it can point you to some other places where he deals with the topic.