Saturday, 12 July 2008

SBL in Auckland

After a week of listening to academic papers in Auckland at SBL, I thought it was time to blog again (being a bit of a novice at this high-tech means of communication).

The week in Auckland was very stimulating.  The papers that I particularly appreciated were in two areas: those that unpacked more on the background of the Graeco-Roman world of the NT (an area of growing interest for me), and those that examined literary theory and its impact on hermeneutical methodology.

When it comes to the NT world, the good papers shone light on how the social world of the recipients of NT letters shaped their understanding.  I heard great papers on the relationship between Cicero and 1 Corinthians 1-4, or Paul's caricature of his rivals in 2 Corinthians 11:20 as "parasites" within a patron/client relationship, of coins that helped to interpret the Bar Kokhba revolt.   But at other extreme, there was some papers that I would put in the realm of parallelomania or, as one participant said, belonging to the realm of Hans Christian Anderson. 

On the issue of literary theory, I was encouraged to look more at Speech Act Theory - and its relationship to sensus plenior and the dual authorship of Scripture - an excellent paper.  I was also entertained by a paper on Psalm 23 - read through different literary theory - whether feminist, deconstructionist, post-colonial etc.  The "entertainment" of this paper certainly helped confirm to me the bankruptcy and subjectivity of many such methodologies (although I am not sure that this was the presenter's intent).  

I came away from the conference with three impressions:
1.  Very few presenters thought about the communicative effect of their papers.  Although an academic paper is not entertainment, any presenter must always think about delivery as well as content.   It was good to be a student again and to be reminded that sitting through 7 or 8 hours of lectures in a day is quite an ordeal, and it is the teacher's task to be concerned both for content and for pedagogy.  Those presenters at SBL who put a fair bit of effort into the "packaging" of their delivery actually communicated.  It always astounds me that those who teach children and teenagers must have formal educational training, whereas this is not required for the teaching of adults.
2.  I was really pleased (is it OK to be "proud"?) to belong to a group of people from PTC who are concerned for serious scholarship.  John McClean's paper on Pannenberg was a real highlight - both for delivery (amazing 3 dimensional powerpoint) and for content.  Rachelle Gilmour's paper on suspense in 1 Samuel 9 was clear and well argued.  Peter Lau's paper on Boaz helped me understand much more about the levirate laws and Boaz' virtue.  I did not get to Maureen Miner's paper, but I heard great reports.  For a little college, we can be very pleased to be part of a developing community of scholars.
3.  There is an amazing (and alarming) breadth in the faith commitments (or lack thereof) among those who are involved in academic Biblical studies.  I was reminded again of how blessed we are in  Sydney (and other places too!), where there is an environment which values both faith commitments and academic rigour.  The need to defend the faith is just as real, if not more so, at the more academic end of the spectrum - and this will only be done well as we continue to take seriously the interpretation of text against its original setting.  There is much work to do in this area.

It's good to be back home to the warmth of a Sydney - but a great week of meeting people and being educated and challenged in Auckland.  It was a week well spent.

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