Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Adventures at SBL

Wow, what a weekend! To sum it all up would take a book-length post!

This weekend was the annual gathering of the Society of Biblical Literature and this year it was here in San Diego. That meant, of course, that I got to spend time with two of my nearest and dearest friends: Scott Hahn and Brant Pitre.

In fact, about a year ago, when we discovered the SBL would be in San Diego, Brant discussed the possibility of staying with Kim and me. So for the past year we've been looking forward to this in a special way. He was nice enough to bring a bunch of books recently given to him which he already had copies of. This is only a few of them--there were a ton of them!

Martin Hengel, The Johannine Question (J. Bowden, trans.; London: SCM, 1989)

Giuseppe Ricciotti, History of Israel (2 vols; 2nd edition; C. Della Penta and R. T. A. Murphy, trans.; Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1958)

Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993)

Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, Paul Between Damascus and
Antioch: The Unknown Years
(London: SCM; Louisville: Westminster/John Knox,

We got very little sleep, but we had a great time talking shop and goofing off until about 3am. (I'll have a little more about that later!) It was especially nice to talk without worrying that the cell phone would somehow drop out!

Scott and Brant were nice enough to offer to speak at the local parish where my wife is the Director of Religious Education. Suffice it to say, the parishioners are still on cloud nine. In my opinion, these two guys are the finest Catholic popular speakers around. Put it this way, I've never seen either of them give a talk which didn't end with the audience giving an extended standing ovation... and this event was no exception.

Of course, the amazing thing about these two guys is that they're so much more than just great speakers--they are incredibly impressive scholars. Brant's latest book is coming out through Eerdmans and Scott's will be published by Yale University Press. (While many people know Scott through his enormously successful books which are accessible to non-academic audiences, one can only fully appreciate his real genius once one reads his scholarly work [here is a sample])

On Friday I went to the Evangelical Theological Society and met Scott. We heard an extremely insightful paper on Elijah typology in Mark's Gospel presented by Warren Gage. Although I had recognized many of the parallels before, Gage highlighted a number of things I had never considered, including Herod's wife's role as the new Jezebel and the crucifixion scene as a reversal of Elijah's battle with the priests of Baal at Mt. Carmel. It was outstanding.

I then went to the airport to pick up Brant and Brian, a friend of Brant's who came to sell some material at the parish event. Brant and I headed back over to the ETS for a session on Scot McKnight's important book, Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory (Baylor University Press, 2005). So much could be said about that session--to say the least, it was stimulating. Scot was very kind and it was great to talk with him. Brant got up and made some very important contributions to the discussion. A number of people there recognized his name from his important dissertation, complimenting his work with words of high praise (including McKnight!).

That evening was the event at the parish. It was jam-packed. Kim did an awesome job promoting it and orchestrating things behind the scenes (...she does all things well!). Special thanks also goes to the pastor, Fr. Michael Robinson, for his support and to Monika, my cousin, who put a lot of work into making that evening a success.

On Saturday we arrived at SBL... and to hundreds of thousands of books on sale at greatly reduced prices. Not having to fly home, I didn't have to be concerned this year with being able to fit my purchases into luggage--which I suppose isn't necessarily a good thing! My one major goal this year was to find Crispin Fletcher-Louis' book, All the Glory of Adam, at Brill--a publisher with outrageously high-priced books. I knew I could get it for a discount if I played my cards right. It turns out that they only brought one copy of each book on sale. I found it, but I had a dilemna: I could either buy it for 25% off, putting it on reserve and picking it up at the end of the conference (thus saving on the book price and shipping), or I could wait and see if no one put it on reserve by the last day and purchase it for more than 50% off.

It was a gamble, but I chose to wait and hopefully save more than half off the sticker price. Very few people know how important his work is yet (shockingly!) so I thought the odds were it would not be picked up. I kept checking to see if it had been bought all weekend long.

Some of the other titles I picked up included:

Craig Evans and Bruce Chilton, eds., Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (Leiden: Brill, 1999)

Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007)

James H. Charlesworth, ed. Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Princeton Symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls (3 vols; Baylor University Press, 2007)

Loren T. Stuckenbruck, Stephen C. Barton, and Benjamin G. Wold, Memory in the Bible and Antiquity (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007)

Birger Gerhardsson, Reliability of the Gospel Tradition (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2001)

Paul W. Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (New Studies in Biblical Theology 3; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)

Craig A. Evans, Ancient. Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA:. Hendrickson, 2005)

Karen J. Wenell. Jesus and Land: Sacred and Social Space in Second Temple Judaism. (London: T & T Clark, 2007)

David Flusser, Qumran and Apocalypticism (Judaism of the Second Temple Period 1; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007)

Roger T. Beckwith, Calendar, Chronology and Worship; Studies in Ancient. Judaism and Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2005)

Later on Saturday, Brant and I went to the panel discussion on Richard Bauckham's seminal new book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. It was very stimulating and one of the highlights of the trip. I think I'll be processing it for a long time to come. (The Word is going around that Chris Tilling is trying to post the papers on-line... here's to hoping!)

Certainly one of the highlights was getting time in with Jeff Morrow, who recently earned his Ph.D. from the University of Dayton. If you haven't heard that name, remember it--he is an amazing young scholar. Jeff presented two papers at SBL, "Genesis 1-3 in a Liturgical Context: The Role of Liturgy in Christian Theological Interpretation of Scripture" (for an abstract right-click here) and "The Politics Behind Thomas Hobbes’s Early Modern Biblical Criticism" (for an abstract right-click here). If I had one regret about SBL it was that I missed these two papers. (Jeff, if you're reading, I'd be happy to get a rough copy somehow).

Other highlights of the conference involved getting to meet some of the following people for the first time:

1. Michael Bird, co-contributer to Euangelion and author of one of the best new books on the historical Jesus, Jesus and the Gentile Mission (stay tuned for more of review of that one!). Michael is just as great in person as he is on the web. It was a real pleasure to get to know him a little better. He talked a little bit about the work he is doing on Messianic studies and it sounds great. Bird is an unstoppable force out there. In addition, to his work on the concept of the Messiah he has 5 other books in the works and they all sound fascinating.

2. Chris Tilling of Chrisendom. On Sunday night Brant, Chris and I had an impromptu get-together at the lobby of the hotel which lasted until early in the morning. It was a lot of fun to talk Scripture together. He discussed his dissertation with us and--wow!--it sounds like it is going to make a huge contribution to the field of Pauline studies. Reading his blog, you get a sense for his ability, but he's really got some incredible ideas. Move over N. T. Wright... Pauline scholars are going to be blown away by this guy.

3. Mark Goodacre, a.k.a., the "blog-father" of Biblical studies. He was very kind, charming and friendly--it was great to speak with him. Goodacre's work on Q has had a massive influence on me--and on other scholars. In the Richard Bauckham seminar, discussion of the two-source hypothesis (Mark-Q) could not be maintained without at least a reference to his work. I found that fascinating. Q is no longer an unquestioned assumption in the mainstream of Gospel studies and that is largely due to Goodacre's important critique. Yet it was clear that despite his success he remains extremely accessible and friendly to those of us just starting out.

4. Craig Keener, author of two of the most comprehensive commentaries you'll ever find--one on Matthew and one on John. If you haven't got these on your shelf, shame on you. In my opinion, they are an absolute must for any scholar.

5. Mark Giszczak, a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament over at Catholic University. Mark blew me away--a great guy, a gifted doctoral student, and--low and behold!--the author of a great blog, Catholic Scripture Student. (Check this paper on theological hermeneutics out!) If you're not aware of him, add him to your favorites. I know I will! (P.S. Mark, if you read this, sorry again about ditching you at dinner. I will definitely make that up to you!)

6. Richard Burridge, author of the seminal work, What are the Gospels? I just finished reading his book a second time through prior to SBL (I think his work is critically important), so it was a little surreal when I saw a man with that name on his name-tag pass by me on the street. He was very gracious and kind and it was great to put a face to a name.

7. Jim West, author of the Jim West blog and founder of the Biblical Studies on-line group. It was a real treat to get to meet someone I read on the internet all the time. I think he made me laugh out loud each time I talked with him--a well-read scholar and a great guy!

8. James Crossley of Earliest Christian History. Crossley was on the panel discussing Bauckham's work. I only spoke with him briefly but, like Goodacre, he was extremely kind. His critique of Bauckham was by far the best-written of the bunch.

9. Christian Brady, the Targuman. We only spoke briefly but he was very kind, learned and engaging. I clearly need to read his blog more often and add it to my blogroll.

10. Justin Smith, a student of Richard Bauckham at Saint Andrews. Justin described his dissertation project, which advances the genre analysis of the Gospels put forward by Richard Burridge and the work on ancient historiography done by Byrskog and Buackham. This looks to be a tremendously significant work in a very important area. It was great getting to talk with a man who is about to make a key contribution to the field.

11. David Mills, editor of Touchstone Magazine... a brilliant, kind and hilariously funny man with a lot of knowledge and experience.

12. Mark Strauss, author of one of my favorite books, The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: The Promise and Its Fulfillment in Lukan Christology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1995). We had a brief conversation about Davidic Christology. It was really great to get to talk with him. He actually introduced me to eminent scholar Max Turner, who directed his dissertation work (and who is also working with Chris Tilling!).

13. Robert Cargill, a Qumran scholar who put together the "virtual tour" for the San Diego Natural History Museum's Dead Sea Scroll exhibit. Cargill was in line behind me Tuesday morning before the convention doors opened (and I found out whether or not I had gambled successfully on that Fletcher-Louis title). Cargill did an excellent job presenting a balanced view of the site for the museum. You can read his blog--Virtual Qumran--here. Cargill is also the biblioblogger blog of the month over at You can read Jim West's interview with him here.

It was also greet to get time in with old friends, Alan Padgett, Rob Corzine, Matt Leonard, and Rodrigo Morales (who was just named the new Scripture professor at Marquette--congratulations, Rodrigo!).

Oh... and Tuesday morning, the last day of SBL, I got to the convention center early so I could be ahead of the mad dash for the book tables. I got my Flether-Louis at 50% off.

I love going to SBL!

And last but not least here's a picture of Brant and me with Chris Tilling at about 1:30am after our incredible conversation in the lobby of the Marriot.


James Crossley said...

Ah, the kindness is just a front! Seriously, good to see you.

Anonymous said...

I like the last photo- very nice of you and Brant? But who's the git in the middle again???


It was really a pleasure to meet you. I hope we can have a longer chat in Boston.

Anonymous said...


Too bad I didn't get to go to SBL this year. It would have been nice to talk to some of you again. Maybe next year........

Chris Tilling said...

It was GREAT to meet you both! Thanks for the honourable mention, here! And ignore that West chap.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

Michael, It was good to meet you and thanks for mentioning my blog. I'll swap links with you if you like. I'll go ahead and post a link to your blog today! I'm sure our paths will cross again. And by the way, I'm an OT student, not NT.


Jeremy Priest said...

Sounds fantastic! I'm exhausted and exhilerated by just reading what it was like! I like reading Tilling's blog and his posts about SBL were fascinating too. Thanks for passing on the experience!

Anonymous said...

Most of your readers probably will never meet you guys, but that we'll regognize you, who's r to l in the photo?