Reflections on SBL 2008

I just returned today from cold and rainy Boston. Now I am here in slightly warmer and slightly drier Durham, England. Its good to be back!

This year was very special and exciting for me for several reasons. In the first place, I did my Masters work in Massachusetts (on the north shore) and so it was nice to be in familiar surroundings. Secondly, I presented a paper in the new 2 Corinthians working group involving ‘theology in the making’. Finally, I interviewed for an academic post. I must say, though, that my experience in retrospect is very mixed. I will highlight the positives and negatives for me this year.

Negative – In terms of the sessions themselves, there weren’t many papers that I was excited to hear (in comparison to previous years). I think that SBL is getting too big and has become just a big shopping mall of groups and papers. I think it caters to the ADD-prone, but I long for something more intentional and focused. I was often left with the question – ‘what are the goals of these themed groups?’ and ‘how is the biblical-research guild impacted as a result of these sessions?’ One way to improve this problem, I think, is to have more focused topics (not just ‘Pentateuch’ or ‘Disputed Pauline letters’). Also, I had a respondent (Jerry Sumney) and I think that is more worthwhile because having ‘open questions’ alone is often unhelpful to the presenter (though not always).

Also a negative for me was the selection of books this year, though a couple of things caught my eye (and I will post more on those later in the week). Eerdmans especially seemed to have dropped the ball on a number of texts whether by selling out too quickly or by not having the book ready.

Thirdly, the weather was not ideal. Though it was nice to be able to walk through the ‘Pru’ and utilize the Barnes and Noble, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and Au Bon Pain therein, when I did make that quick flit across the street to my hotel, it was almost unbearable! I forgot what Boston was like in the winter!

Finally, given economic problems in the US, several of the jobs I applied for stopped their searches. There were very few NT posts available, and of those that pressed on, the competition was fierce. As I interacted with friends and acquaintances at the job-hunt stage, we all felt a bit down about the state of the field.

Positive – On the other hand, this was one of my favorite SBL’s for many other reasons. Firstly, I had some great conversations at IBR and otherwise. I had some very encouraging discussions and meals with several scholars I admire and respect. I supped with Ken Schenck who is a fellow Durham grad (who studied under Jimmy Dunn). I enjoy his blog and we share a common Wesleyan background. He has some exciting projects coming down the pipeline. I also spent some time with Steven Fowl who really impressed me as a humble man who has a good heart. I crashed the Ashland Seminary dinner and sat with David deSilva who continually impresses me with his sheer brilliance (and also a Methodist!). Be on the lookout for his new book on rhetoric in Revelation. Also I picked up his IVP book on the Sacramental Life which interacts devotionally with the book of common prayer. Finally, I had breakfast with Mike Gorman whom I enjoyed getting to know last year in San Diego. Mike also came to my paper and was very encouraging.

Now, truth be told, I only attended a few paper sessions because the jet lag really screwed me up. But, I really enjoyed the session on ‘Theological Interpretation’ which involved Walter Moberly, Markus Bockmuehl, Beverly Gaventa (chairing) and John Collins. I struggle to understand what this Theological Intepretation actually IS, and….the session made clear that many have this same concern. Joel Green sat in the very back and Bockmuehl managed to lob verbal grenades at him from afar.

In my own session on 2 Corinthians, I dealt with Paul’s cruciform ministry, theological epistemology, and his careful use of cultic (especially sacrificial and temple) metaphors. My respondent, Jerry Sumney, was firm in his critique, but he liked the direction I was going in. I am really honored to have had him as my respondent and his comments (which he gave me in written form) will help me in many ways to strengthen my thesis research.

I had the privilege of meeting several fellow bloggers (such as Matt Montonini and James McGrath) as well as running into many scholars and students from the UK who made the pond leap to Boston.

In terms of locale, I really appreciated having the food court and the affordable meal options which were really missing in San Diego.

Finally, I felt that my job interview went well and it was a good experience overall even though I am not sure whether I will make the final cut for an on-site interview.

NB: One pet pieve of mine is when I am talking to an acquaintance and he (or she) is pretending to listen while scanning around the room looking for other people he/she knows. In fact, a couple of times this one guy walked away from me while I was in mid-sentence. He neither apologized then (‘sorry to interrupt, but…’) nor did he come back! Wow, blown off big time! So, please – at least find a comfortable place to end the conversation before kicking us newbies to the curb! It is exactly this kind of environment that makes me tired of SBL.

I want to end on a good note, though, and say that SBL for me was a time of catching up with old friends, and making some new ones. That is invaluable. Also, I had some good Indian food.

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4 thoughts on “Reflections on SBL 2008

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nijay. I am living vicariously through others’ bloggings, since I had to stay home this year with a baby coming shortly. Yours is one of the most enjoyable reflections.

    The NT job market is never a fun topic, but it sounds especially bad this year. NT is where I hope to be when I finish up (in five years or so), but I’m also hoping my degree in Christian origins from a top history department may open some other opportunities up if I need them. We’ll see what things look like down the road. I wish you the best in your search.

  2. Great to meet you Nijay and have lunch. I mentioned you to Dunn and he gave the kind of chuckle that confirmed you are exactly the character I perceived you to be :-) I guess you and some friends helped him clear out his attic?

  3. Nijay,

    It was great finally meeting you in person. I’m looking forward to our paths crossing again soon.

    Thanks for all your help and encouragement.

    BTW- You will be featured in my SBL reflections II.

    Thanks for helping make SBL 2008 a memorable one.

    Blessings,

    Matt

  4. Glad I got to meet you at IBR, Nijay. I’m sorry we didn’t get more time to get acquainted. I should have crashed the Durham reception to get up with both you and Ben!

    Keep rolling. It’s exciting to see your articles coming out.

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