Blogging SBL San Francisco 2011

I’m back from the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco, which I attended Friday, Nov 18 – Tuesday, Nov 22. It was an excellent meeting this year, though the one complaint I have is that things were quite spread out between sessions and the book exhibit. It was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel, where sessions were held, to the book exhibit. Not a big deal, but it does make it difficult to jump from session to session for those who want to hear only certain speakers.

A few highlights of the meeting from my perspective:

1) Genesis consultation launch: This meeting saw the first sessions of the new Genesis consultation I started and co-chair with Chris Heard. The first session at 1pm on Saturday was themed ‘Genesis and Theology,’ with myself, Terry Fretheim, Joel Kaminsky, and Tammi Schneider presenting papers; Walter Brueggemann served as respondent. We were amazed and delighted when 15 minutes before the session was even to begin the room was already full, with folk standing in the back.

The 'Genesis and Theology' session; looks deceiving, but between the room and the hallway there are about 120 people present!

This is something I had feared when first seeing the room; there were exactly 50 chairs, and all were taken. Jim Eisenbraun said he counted up folk and came up with between 120 and 140 in attendance. We later learned many came, saw the crowd, and left, but remarkably many also came and despite not being able to hear, stayed, no doubt in the hopes of touching the hem of the garment of either Brueggemann or Fretheim! The papers were all exceptional, and Brueggemann’s response was classic Brueggemann. What we all especially appreciated was his conclusion, carving out a new niche for Genesis studies going forward that doesn’t rehearse the traditional historical-critical questions but embraces, what he described, as four main features . . . all four papers, Brueggemann said, shared the following marks: ideological/theological, contemporary, bearing marks of contestation, and interest(ing).

The 'Genesis and Theology' presenters: myself, Terry Fretheim, Joel Kaminsky, Tammi Schneider, and Walter Brueggemann.

He juxtaposed this with earlier studies in Genesis, which would either parrot the biblical text or deal with issues of the numinous history of the text, enterprises which he called, if you read them, “boring.” This was truly a gift. We were also privy to a fun but brief exchange between Brueggemann and Fretheim; Brueggemann was pushing Fretheim on Fretheim’s idea that in the Jabbok wrestling match God had self-limited; Brueggemann rightly asked why not just say God is limited in some capacity. Would that there were more time for such a discussion!The second Genesis session was themed ‘Genesis 1: The State of the Question and Avenues Moving Forward.’ Again, a much too small room, and we had about 100 folk, standing room only again. Chris Heard opened with a paper surveying where Gen 1 research is now, and posing questions to our panelists for where things need to go. I presided over the session. Each of our panelists–John Walton, Bill Brown, Ellen van Wolde, and Mark Smith–have recently published seminal works on Gen 1, within the last two years. After Chris’ paper, each panelist received 15-20 minutes to address Chris, one another’s work, and the larger discipline of Gen 1 studies. There was some very worthwhile and interesting discussion about Walton’s view of ‘functional ontology’ and whether it is an either/or situation or a both/and in regards to material ontology. Walton argues that God is not creating matter but ascribing functions. Also some interesting conversation about method in biblical studies.The Gen 1 panel: John Walton, Mark Smith, Chris Heard, Bill Brown, and Ellen van Wolde.

What I found most interesting–perhaps because of the panelists we selected–is that the conversation focused almost entirely on historical/critical approaches and the ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment, which is no doubt appropriate and fitting, but I was surprised the conversation didn’t ever turn much explicitly to discussion of theological purpose, thrust, or image of God. This is not a critique, merely an observation. I had Walton, Smith, and Brown sign copies of their books for me, and also Terry Fretheim sign my copy of his God and World in the Old Testament.

Both sessions I have heard from various folks were quite well received, and the new Genesis consultation is off to a vibrant start and is one that, I think (and hope) will have a robust and bright future. Did any of you attend, and if so, what were your thoughts?

(I am also looking for someone with an audio recording of the Gen 1 session; I noticed several in the audience recording the session. If you have this, please let me know, as I’d love to obtain the file).

2. Catching up: The more I attend SBL, the less I find myself in sessions and the more I find myself catching up with folk and making new connections. I had a number of appointments scheduled going into the meeting. Saturday morning I had breakfast with my dissertation advisor, Bill Bellinger. Always a joy to see him and catch up, and even more of a joy to see him later in the conference and learn that he and Brueggemann had been together on Baylor’s campus recently, and at the conference itself, and both times they spoke of me, with Brueggemann speaking highly of me and my work; given how influential he has been for me, this is truly affirming. Saturday evening I joined Bellinger with all his former dissertation advisees, as is customary every year, for a wonderful meal and time of conversation. An interesting development potentially arose from this meeting, and that’s all I’ll say right now, but I am hopeful for something significant in the (near) future re: it.

With Eric Seibert

I had lunch with my friend Eric Seibert, author of Disturbing Divine Behavior (if you haven’t yet, see my RBL review HERE), and as always some stimulating conversation re: the character God in the Bible. The more I talk with Eric and the more I use his book in class, the more appreciative I become for what he’s done, though I still stand by all my critiques in the RBL review; he’s asking the right questions, just answering them incorrectly in my view. I was also happy to see he had purchased my book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster, and had me sign it. Very cool!

I had an enjoyable meeting with Michael Thomson, acquisitions editor at Eerdmans, about my forthcoming book with them, An Untamable God. Michael has a great sense of humor, and I am deeply appreciative for his interest in the book. We hammered out some questions about tone and audience, which was my primary query. Now that those are clarified a bit more, I plan to start writing in earnest soon.

Chris Heard and I had supper Sunday night; two Genesis geeks together. What did we talk about, you ask? Mainly bad jokes and how forgiving scholars actually are (right Chris?!). Maybe I’ll share your viewpoint more fully when I’m tenured!

Monday night I was blessed to have supper with Terry Fretheim, who along with Brueggemann, are my biggest influences in how I approach the Bible and understand the character God. It was a truly enjoyable, natural conversation spanning many topics.

With Terry Fretheim

I was especially happy to hear of Terry’s positive assessment of my Jacob and the Divine Trickster (which he also cited affirmingly during his presentation in the Genesis session on Saturday).

Had the good fortune to talk to Walter Brueggemann a few times in the book exhibit; one time he especially praised the Genesis session, calling it “fun” and suggesting that in offering a response to such strong papers, he had to come up with something critical to say for each!

3) Books: I live in the book exhibit at these things. It’s where I run into the most people, make new connections, and of course, buy books. This year I bought two books and God two freebies from publishers. The freebies were Russel Pregeant’s Reading the Bible for all the Wrong Reasons (Fortress, 2011) and Thomas Long’s What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Eerdmans, 2011). I bought Philip Jenkins’ Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (Harper, 2011) and Matt Schlimm’s From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Language and Ethics of Anger in Genesis (Eisenbrauns, 2011). Started Jenkins in the airport during my 2 hr layover in Denver on the way back to South Dakota.

The highlight of the book exhibit, however, was seeing my book for sale with Eisenbrauns.

The Eisenbrauns booth, featuring Siphrut titles and a banner advertising my book.

They had an awesome banner with my book on it too. What was even more of a highlight was hearing from them that after the Saturday Genesis session in which I presented there was a run on them; by the end of the conference, they only had two copies left!

My book at the Eisenbrauns booth.

It was also pretty cool to sign copies for a few folk, including Bill Brown, who is a big name and has been quite influential also in my own scholarly pursuits, especially in the Psalms but also in Genesis.

Another highlight was catching up with old Baylor friends, including two with whom I stayed. It’s great we can get together at least once a year! And I was also encouraged in the number of folk who asked me–and I was surprised at how many actually did–if I had lost some weight. Imagine their surprise when I replied “yep, 85 lbs.”

4. Sessions: Aside from the two Genesis sessions, I only attended one other session in full: the Book of Psalms session commemmorating the 25th anniversary of the publishing of Gerald Wilson’s seminal The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter. Some great papers on the shape and shaping of the Psalter, as well as some very moving reflections on Wilson the man and scholar, as well as where Psalms scholarship has yet to go. Great session. Earlier I had popped into the Exile/Forced Migrations session to hear papers by Erhard Gerstenberger and Chris Seitz.

All in all a great meeting, and I’m really looking forward to SBL in Chicago next year!

And how was your meeting?

Going to SBL in San Francisco . . . ?

Then might I suggest you join us for the inaugural sessions of the new program unit I chair (along with Chris Heard) dedicated to the book of Genesis. We have two stellar sessions this year.

Genesis 11/19/2011 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM Room:Fillmore – Renaissance Parc 55
Theme: Genesis and Theology
Christopher Heard, Pepperdine University, Presiding
John Anderson, Augustana College Divine Deception in Genesis: What and Whose Theology? (30 min)
Terence Fretheim, Luther Seminary Jacob’s Wrestling and Issues of Divine Power (Gen 32:22-32) (30 min)
Joel Kaminsky, Smith College Genesis 1-11: Reflections on the Theological Dimensions of the Opening of Genesis (30 min)
Tammi Schneider, Claremont Graduate University Where Do We Go From Here: Women in the Book of Genesis (30 min)
Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, Respondent (30 min)


Genesis 11/21/2011 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM Room:Sierra I – Marriott Marquis
Theme: Wrestling with Gen 1: The State of the Question and Avenues Moving Forward
John Anderson, Augustana College, Presiding
Christopher Heard, Pepperdine University Genesis 1: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going (30 min)
William Brown, Columbia Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
Mark Smith, New York University, Panelist (15 min)
John Walton, Wheaton College (Illinois), Panelist (15 min)
Ellen van Wolde, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Panelist (15 min)
Discussion (60 min)

Please, do join us!

Ron Hendel presenting at SBL 2011?!?! Did I Miss Something? (UPDATE!!)

Looking over the program book today and found this:


What Is the Future of Biblical Studies in Academia? Questions, Challenges, Visions
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room:Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Tracy Lemos, Huron University College, Presiding
Matthew Neujahr, Yale University, Presiding
Carol Newsom, Emory University, Panelist (10 min)
Ronald Hendel, University of California-Berkeley, Panelist (10 min)
Dale Martin, Yale University, Panelist (10 min)
Jacques Berlinerblau, Georgetown University, Panelist (10 min)
Elizabeth Castelli, Barnard College, Panelist (10 min)
Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Panelist (10 min)
Discussion (90 min)

After the kerfuffle last year between Hendel and SBL, I’m a bit surprised (but admittedly, pleasantly so; Hendel is writing the new Anchor Bible volumes on Genesis, and it would be a delight to meet him. I’ve always found his work on Genesis worthwhile).

Anyone have an answer? Did he renew his membership? (mea culpa if I missed something obvious).

UPDATE: He appears to be back, though I have not heard this from him. The test, however, is easy. Simply go to the SBL website, sign in, and search the member directory. I happened to just do exactly that, and indeed, Ronald Hendel is showing as a “full member.” And I am nearly certain that when I searched the same thing during the kerfuffle a bit ago a search for “Hendel” indeed brought no results. So, it seems he’s back. I’d be curious, though, to hear why. I’m glad to hear it, certainly, but just curious what has changed.

Reunited and it feels so good!!!


Actually, there is quite an easy check to this question. Go to the SBL website, log in, and check under member directory. I just happen to have done that just now, and note that Ron Hendel is showing at present as being a “Full Member.” And I am almost entirely certain that when this whole kerfuffle went on a bit ago I checked and a search in the same place for “Hendel” returned no results.


Looks like he’s back.


Reunited and it feels so good!!!

Actually, there is quite an easy check to this question. Go to the SBL website, log in, and check under member directory. I just happen to have done that just now, and note that Ron Hendel is showing at present as being a “Full Member.” And I am almost entirely certain that when this whole kerfuffle went on a bit ago I checked and a search in the same place for “Hendel” returned no results.

Looks like he’s back.

Announcing the sessions for the Genesis Unit at SBL 2011!

SBL 2011 will see the inaugural sessions for the new program unit on the book of Genesis (for more, see HERE). We will be holding two sessions, and as chair of the unit I am glad to announce them now.

Session One
Theme: Genesis and Theology

Christopher Heard, Pepperdine University, presiding

John Anderson, Augustana College, “The Unsettling God of Genesis: What and Whose Theology?”

Terence Fretheim, Luther Seminary, “Jacob’s Wrestling and Issues of Divine Power (Gen 32:22-32)”

Joel Kaminksy, Smith College, “Genesis 1-11: Reflections on the Theological Dimensions of the Opening of Genesis”

Tammi Schneider, Claremont Graduate University, “Where Do We Go From here: Women in the Book of Genesis”

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, Respondent

Session Two
Theme: Wrestling with Gen1: The State of the Question and Avenues Moving Forward

John Anderson, Augustana College, presiding

Christopher Heard, Pepperdine University, “Gen 1: The State of the Question”

William Brown, Columbia Theological Seminary, panelist

Mark Smith, New York University, panelist

John Walton, Wheaton College, panelist

Ellen van Wolde, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, panelist

Discussion (60 mins)

So, how’d we do? The steering committee is tremendously excited about this first year’s sessions (and also for the 2012 sessions, which are set, but I won’t reveal those until that meeting draws closer). And who is planning to attend?! Hope to see you all there!

Big News: New SBL Genesis Program Unit Begins in 2011

I have had to keep this on the DL for a while now, but just yesterday I received confirmation from the Society of Biblical Literature that my proposal for the addition of a program unit (at this point, we are a 3-yr consultation) devoted to Genesis has been accepted! I am the unit chair, and Chris Heard is co-chair. Also on the steering committee are Terry Fretheim (Luther Seminary), Tammi Schneider (Claremont), Mignon Jacobs (Fuller), and David Petersen (Emory). We have two sessions planned already for each of our first two years (2011 and 2012). While the schedule is set already, I will not reveal the program at this stage; I am still working on confirming that those who originally agreed to participate are willing and able to do so. But let me say this: if you can name a seminal living scholar on Genesis within the last 20 years there is a good chance they are on the docket! There are some big names that have agreed to participate, and I am delighted and excited the unit has been picked up and that so many scholars have expressed an interest and have helped make this unit–which has long been in both my mind and my heart–a reality. It will be a great SBL 2011!

UPDATE: Per Pat’s request, and it is a wise one, here is the description for the Genesis unit that will be listed on SBL’s site once the unit is added to the roster of other program units:

The Genesis unit promotes sustained and continued dialogue and scholarship on the book of Genesis from a variety of methodological perspectives, especially (yet not limited to) those approaching and treating the text as a canonical whole. It creates space for those working on Genesis to share their work in a focused place.

I think you will be quite pleased with the first two years of sessions we have put forward; I’m hoping for some packed sessions!



Keeping Busy . . . (the scholarly way!)

Here’s what I’ve been up to recently, for those that may be curious:

1. Submitting the dissertation for publication.  I anxiously await (positive) news.

2. Article submissions.  My ZAW piece is tentatively set to be out in the final issue of 2010.  I have articles with CBQ and NovT under review.

3. Book reviews.  The kind folks at RBL have blessed me with four books to review for their online (and possibly print) publications.  They are:
       -Brenner, Lee, Yee (eds.), Genesis: Texts @ Contexts
       -Walsh, Old Testament Narrative: A Guide to Interpretation
-Wallace, Psalms (Readings)
       -Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God

4. Prepping for classes in the Fall (redoing syllabi, tweaking lectures, etc.)

5. Working to finish the editing for my teacher, Bill Bellinger’s, Psalms commentary, forthcoming from Smyth & Helwys.

6. SBL Papers.  Of the two I am presenting at the upcoming meeting, I have one left to write.

7. SBL Unit Proposal.  Myself and Chris Heard are working to propose a separate program unit on the book of Genesis for SBL.  I have been overwhelmed by the folk who have expressed interest in the topic, and especially by the seminal scholars who have agreed to be a part and present thus far if the unit is accepted (Terry Fretheim and Walter Moberly, anyone?).

Ahhhh, the life of a biblical scholar.

Reunited and it feels so good… (or, AAR and SBL meeting together again)

I just received the following email from Kent Richards of the SBL:

Dear Member,

We are pleased to announce that on June 10, 2010, the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion signed a Letter of Intent that outlines an agreement to hold concurrent Annual Meetings beginning in San Francisco in the fall of 2011. These meetings will

  • Occur in the same city—though the venue will change from year to year;
  • Occur at the same time—the weekend before the US Thanksgiving holiday;
  • Feature a single, jointly managed Publishers/Software/Book Exhibit;
  • Feature a single, jointly managed Employment Center;
  • Feature distinct and separate AAR and SBL programs planned with open communication between the organizations;
  • Encourage the organizations’ members to attend each other’s programs and events at no additional cost;
  • Allow the organizations to pursue their unique, if sometimes overlapping, missions;
  • Enhance cooperation, not competition, between the organizations.

The advertising for these conventions will use the city name, the year, and will identify the SBL and AAR as hosts. For example, the first of these meetings will be known as “Annual Meetings 2011 San Francisco, hosted by the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.” This name will appear on the registration gateway, on signage at the meetings, on promotional materials, and on other common elements.

A Conventions Management Committee, consisting of the Executive Directors and staff members from each organization, is developing operating policies and procedures that expand on the considerable detail that already exists in the Letter of Intent. Each year the Committee will review the most recent meetings with an eye toward making improvements in subsequent gatherings. Nine concurrent meetings are being planned for 2011 through 2019. Beginning in 2013 the organizations will begin operating on a seven-year planning horizon that includes a mechanism by which the organizations can, on an annual basis, extend the seven-year agreement for an additional year. Dates and venues of the first three concurrent Annual Meetings are as follows:

  • November 19-22, 2011 San Francisco
  • November 17-20, 2012 Chicago
  • November 23-26, 2013 Baltimore

We believe that concurrent meetings will serve the interests of our members, will help to advance the many disciplines and areas of study we represent, and will maintain and advance the critical inquiry that characterizes the work of our societies. We invite you to join us in building this exciting new future.

This is very fine news in my view; I lament the divide between our two disciplines (Bible and theology, to be terribly reductionist), and while I don’t believe this will change the way either practices its craft, it will be of great value for us to be able to attend one another’s sessions and maybe, just maybe, talk to one another.

3 for 3: THIRD Paper accepted for SBL in Atlanta

See  HERE and HERE for the other two.

Ok, this is getting crazy!  First, yes I am patently aware I am only allowed to do two papers.  To be honest, I never expected all 3 to be accepted.  But, news came today from Konrad Schmid that my paper on Gen 32-33 (which I presented at the regional meeting two weeks ago; see abstract HERE) was accepted for the Pentateuch program unit.  I am quite pleased, and surprised . . . not because of the quality of my paper but because methodologically it is not about Pentateuchal composition.

I have yet to make my final decision as to which two I will do; there is no question that I will present in the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures section.  At present I am strongly leaning toward withdrawing the Isaiah paper and presenting in the Pentateuch section.  That is a fine, and important, group of folk with whom I would be fortunate to be involved.

How about others?  Have you had papers accepted?  If so, what is the title, and what unit?

SECOND SBL 2010 Atlanta Paper Accepted!

I heard news this weekend while at my regional SBL meeting that I have now had a second paper accepted for the upcoming national meeting in Atlanta (see HERE for the first acceptance).

This paper is for the Formation of Isaiah unit.  Here is the abstract:

The identity of the servant in the book of Isaiah has been a long-standing issue of debate within scholarship.  Various identities have been advanced, no doubt a result of the ambiguity latent in the biblical text.  This proposal suggests, though, that recognizing the ambiguity is the entire point of the text.  Understanding ambiguity as a purposeful literary mechanism that is able to communicate meaning while still shrouding it, I will argue that the ambiguity surrounding the central characters in this text, as well as who is speaking, makes sense within the global context of the book of Isaiah as a whole.

Isa 52:13-53:1’s reticence to reveal any clarity concerning the “many,” the “nations,” and the “kings” anticipates the remainder of Isa 53 as well as the entire book.  This blurring of the lines through the poetic employment of ambiguity will be seen to foreshadow the fulfillment of YHWH’s universal expectations concerning the servant, who after chapter 53 is known only in the plural, in relation to the nations (cf. Isa 2:2).  The kings will be shown to communicate YHWH’s sole kingship, a central tenet of the book.  Through this realization the text seeks to communicate to the reader that both Israel and the nations are called upon and compelled to utter the question of 53.1: “Who has believed our report?  Upon whom has the arm of YHWH been revealed?” and through their answer make a conscious choice to become a part of YHWH’s servant people. 

Many of you may not know this, but before my current interests in Jacob, Genesis, deception, and OT theology . . . . I was an Isaiah guy through and through.  The servant texts–especially 52:13-53:12–was my baby.  I’m looking forward to revisiting the topic again at the national meeting.