Monday was a late start for me. I had intended to go see Herb Hain’s presentation, “Genesis on Stage: The Story of Isaac as a ‘Divine’ (Greek) Comedy” in the Performance Criticism section, though I did not make it. I did, however, go hear Brian Jones of Wartburg College give a paper on Job’s “Hunter-Warrior God,” but it was not what I expected. This is not a critique of his paper as much as it is a critique of my expectations!
From there I grabbed lunch at the Sheraton with two Baylor colleagues and then headed to the Book of Psalms section at 1:00, where one of my colleagues, Roy Garton, was presenting his paper entitled “The Death of a Psalmist: A Structural Analysis and Literary Reading of Psalm 88.” The paper has intrigued me since I first read it some two years ago, and I have heard it now 2 or 3 times since. Roy is a master of handouts, always making very colorful and fancy charts. I often razz him by saying one of two things, both of which I think are hilarious (but probably more so if you actually know him): 1) that his first publishing venture should be a collected volume of only his handouts; 2) that if he ever has a festschrift, I will gladly submit a colorful handout for it! Roy is a proponent of the historical-critical method in Hebrew Bible studies, but don’t worry . . . I still consider him a dear friend!! Seriously, though, this is a very fine paper, and he has only strengthened it as time has passed. I stayed for this entire session, hearing a paper also by fellow blogger Art Boulet. Truth be told, I was a bit puzzled at Boulet’s devoting of the early bulk of his presentation to refuting Davidic authorship of certain Psalms/the Psalter. I suspect for many (most?) in the audience this was unnecessary. There was also a paper on Ethics in the Psalms, and I was intrigued to hear that the topic for the Book of Psalms section for the 2010 SBL meeting in Atlanta is the Psalms and Ethics. I’m not so sure I know how that will turn out, but I am curious . . .
I was also glad to be able to talk with Joseph Kelly, who blogs at kol ha-adam, at length before the session on various matters, including having children while in a Ph.D. program, my paper the following day, applying to Baylor, etc. We also had some good discussion afterwards, and I (re-)introduced him to my teacher Bill Bellinger. I don’t know if that helps or hurts his chances to be associated with me (wink!).
The next session I attended was the Pentateuch session at 4. Again, I was running late, but I really wanted to hear the papers by Bruce Wells on ‘The Story of the Hated Wife in Genesis and in Deuteronomy,” and by Calum Carmichael entitled “Jacob’s ‘Red, Red Dish’ and the Ritual of the Red Heifer.” Wells argued that the Hebrew “hate” (sanah) here most likely means the demotion of a wife or banishment from the household, which the male could do without grounding the demotion in any sort of misconduct of the wife. During the Q & A session, one audience member asked a question I also had: is it not possible that Leah was demoted by Jacob because of the deception occurring on the wedding night? Certainly Laban is the one ‘blamed,’ but Leah hardly seems to be an unwitting participant. Wells replied he would have to give that some thought. A very fine question in my view. And the final paper by Carmichael was a delight. For those unfamiliar with Carmichael’s work, he is quite creative in trying to tether specific biblical laws to specific biblical narratives. His central argument is that the narratives come first, and the laws arise from them. His paper specifically looked at the odd text in Num 18-19 about the red heifer and how it is informed by the birthright episode in Gen 25:27-34. Carmichael argued that the “red” (edom) stew Jacob is cooking up was interpreted by Esau to be blood, given that Esau had returned from the field famished, unable to find any “meat with blood.” This is hardly a new argument, and I remain unconvinced the text supplies any warrant to speculate or psychologize as to Esau’s train of thought at the moment. Carmichael did, however, highlight an interesting connection immediatley after the red heifer text in Num 20, noting the text concerns Moses and Edom, and the text records something to the effect of “Thus says your brother Esau.” Where I did agree with Carmichael, though, was on a few points of general interpretation of the passage: 1) Esau is portrayed unflatteringly as an animal with prey when he returns from the field; 2) the birthright can’t be undone because of the oath Esau swears; 3) Jacob (deceptively?) fails to name the true contents of the dish of red until the very end, revealing it is merely a pot of lentils.
All in all, another good day of papers. But I am always surprised at how physically and mentally draining it is to sit and listen to papers all day. I now have a greater respect for my students!
After supper with colleagues again we headed to the oldest bar in the US (and no, I didn’t drink, because I don’t ever drink . . . for those who are curious). It was a very cool atmosphere; no lights, just candles. I, however, took off early and headed back to the hotel room around 9 or 9;30 so I could review my paper for the following morning. After reading through it and making a few simple edits, I also read through some of my dissertation to insure I would be fresh on the topic. Then, off to bed . . .