Thursday, November 22, 2007

SBL San Diego: Random Reflections

I arrived back from SBL yesterday and made it in to work this morning for a supervision. I shall post later on some of the sessions I went to. Some general thoughts first:
  1. For me there was too much textual criticism this year. Four official NTTC sessions; two on editions (UBS5; IGNTP); two on textual issues in Mark; two on papyrology (which both included NT mss). With so much on we all had to pick and choose which sessions to go to, which meant some sessions lacked critical mass and some TC friends I barely even saw to talk to throughout the conference. It also meant there was not much time to go to sessions on subjects I teach.
  2. I was pleased that my own presentations (on Mark in Sinaiticus and P113) both went OK, with no computer problems. After last year's SBL I resolved to buy a decent laptop and learn how to do a decent powerpoint-style presentation. From this year I think I will resolve to continue with this style - with highly visual things like manuscripts it makes such good sense - although given the experience of some of presenters (two I went to had projection problems), I shall resolve in future to also have a decent back-up plan in case the technology doesn't work.
  3. I enjoyed meeting up with people to share meals with them. I had several organised before-hand and others organised or spontaneous at the conference. At last year's SBL I had the impression of meeting hundreds of people in a 'networking' kind of manner - many brief conversations which were generally superficial and publication oriented. So in repentance of superficiality I resolved this year to avoid all receptions and sit down for meals with individuals and small groups. On the way over I was praying about having ten substantial conversations rather than a hundred superficial ones. This may have been an over-reaction, but worked for me. So thanks to Rikk, Don, Dan, John, David, Simon, Tommy, Jan, Peter, Peter, Rick and Alanna, who shared themselves, and in some cases food, with me this time (I have the distinct impression that I have left someone out of this list so apologies in advance).
  4. I really appreciated some things in a new way. The militarisation of American society, the awesomeness of air-craft carriers, the attitudes to service of American waiters and waitresses, the Californian surf beaches (specifically the Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Ocean Beach - where I had a great breakfast on the pier; Coronado's bike path and the Silver Strand Beach - where I had a great paddle; and Imperial Beach - where I had an all-American breakfast in a greasy-spoon cafe). Thanks to the friendly bloke in the bike-hire place on Fifth Avenue for kitting me out with a great bike for the duration of the conference (the bike and waking up at 5am meant I was able to see a lot of San Diego and the surrounding beaches before the proceedings began in the mornings). I wasn't able to get to the more northerly beaches at any time warm enough to join in the body surfing (nor did I see any really tempting monster surf).
  5. This year, unlike last year, I took advantage of the weak dollar against the pound the spend a portion of my book allowance on some good books. Mostly general NT, commentaries, and things useful for teaching, and a large-print NA27 for my tired eyes.


  1. Peter, I talked with someone just after your Mark group presentation and he remarked how effective your use of Powerpoint was in calling attention to the features of interest in Codex Sinaiticus.

    I thought so too.

  2. I was curious about your comment "the militarisation of American society", and wondered if you could briefly elaborate.

    I wonder if what you saw was more indicative of San Diego than the US as a whole. San Diego has long been known as a Navy town, and is home to many, many military retirees.

    I completely agree that there was too much TC at the conference. I am in the process of looking at schools and areas of study for a future PhD. This was my first SBL, and I spent more time trying to get to them all. I should have spent my time instead speaking with people. I think that would have been easier had the options been fewer!

    Thanks to everyone for your presentations!

    Patrick Gardella
    Annapolis, MD

  3. Peter Head's presentation on the smallest identifiable fragment of the NT was simply brilliant and thoroughly entertaining.

    For those unable to attend, it was amazing to realize how much you could surmise from such a small scrap of text.

    Both of Dr. Head's presentations were methodologically exemplary.

    I admit my present thirst for codicology, but I suspect that non-specialists, even educated lay persons would have been delighted by the "smallest fragment" presentation

  4. In many ways, the Metzger tribute was very endearing. Ehrman's stories were worthy of Comedy Central....

    For those who weren't there, he took a story from the Metzger "tradition"--an anecdotal story of his life which was supposed to say something of Metzger's character. Ehrman applied some form critical technique to sort out whether the story were apocryphal, or what could have been the sitz im leben Metger or sitz im leben Princeton.

    The punchline, actually, punchlines, were priceless. Thanks Prof. Ehrman.

  5. The Metzger tribute may have managed to have a balance of Metzger perspectives. It featured two of his students (Holmes and Ehrman) who obviously adored him and his work.

    The fourth contributor was Harry Scanlin who had a personal and working relationship with Metzger, through Scanlin's capacity as president (I think) of United Bible Societies. Scanlin gave some interesting insights of a personal nature, as well as some insights in the workings of the UBS GNT.

    The third contributor certainly gave an alternative perspective of Metzger. Princeton Seminary OT Prof. J. Roberts gave us the impression that he respected Metzger, but didn't especially like him or adore him. Roberts expressed his beef against Metzger for allowing a three-person committee to unilaterally revise final readings of the respective NRSV committee, and such like. His contribution also gave us some personal insight into the making of the NRSV. In the end, I doubt that his presentation allowed us to appreciate Metzger much more.

    Of great regret, however, was that Gordon Fee, who was originally slated to give his part in the "Memorial Session in Honor of Bruze Metzger," was ill and unable to attend.

    I don't have any special insight into what Fee might have said, and we can only hope that perhaps he will give us his thoughts in a future publication. Fee already gave a short, but insightful comment to this blog shortly after Metzger's death.

    No doubt, however, Fee's presence would have brought us an even deeper and more nuanced appreciation of Metzger than we already have.

  6. Patrick,

    Thanks. Obviously this sort of thing is very impressionistic, and San Diego is where we were, but it actually started with two things in Chicago airport (hence geographical diversity). First, a large sign saying that the airport authorities supported "our military" (something I have never ever seen in a public notice in the UK). Secondly, several service personnel travelling in uniform (again, other than Ghurkas, I have never seen this in the UK).
    Then in San Diego I was impressed with the public nature of the Naval Installations in very central locations (not to mention the four aircraft carriers on display in the bay - I guess they are pretty difficult to hide!). On my bike rides I went past the general Naval base, an anti-submarine warfare naval base, a Naval Air base, an amphibuous warfare base (actually two of these I tried to cycle through on a short cut, but couldn't persuade the guards to let me through, but that is another story). The UK presumably has these, but I am sure they are hidden out of the way somewhere. I also can confirm with my own eyes that all those movie scenes with people in uniform jogging along the beach in time to a chant actually happens.

    Oh, and I also ate at a restaraunt which had a sign saying they would give a free meal to any serving military staff for Thanksgiving.

    So that was the basis for my comment on "the militarisation of American society", reflecting the prominence and centrality (and support) of visible military installations and personnel in ways ratehr distinct from my experience in Australia and the UK.

  7. Also thanks for the positive comments. I appreciate that.

  8. Let me anchor the discussion of American militaristic society with textual criticism at SBL....

    Among the great presentations we had, I especially enjoyed Ulrich Schmidt's painstaking sleuth-work on trying to track down the lost Utrecht Harmony. Apparently, it went missing sometime in the mid-1940s, amidst the war and its aftermath.

    The story, in all its fascinating detail, went much longer than anticipated, apparently. So Schmid had to skip some really interesting details. I look forward to reading the paper in its entirety, should it be published any time soon.

    One line of research which opened up multiple other inexhaustible lines of research was that perhaps the harmony ended up in the possession of an American soldier, with the hopes that someone some day might open up grandpa's old footlocker and find the manuscript tucked away in the attic. Apparently, we know details of which army unit occupied the pertinent district. However, I got the impression that Schmid really thinks that the document went missing before the Americans showed up, or was destroyed in the process.

    Nonetheless, if the document is buried away in some G.I.'s attic, perhaps an appeal to America's militaristic society might be fruitful. There is a certain subculture in America which celebrates American military history at a popular level. Notices in publications such "Military Times" might draw due attention, especially since such notices would probably list the army unit. An article might even be written about the military situation in the town prior to the occupation to justify including a discussion of the Utrecht Harmony. Such articles with an alternative perspective are highly valued in such magazines.

    The article or notice would attract the attention of remaining soldiers who belonged to the unit, and this would stir up discussion among old army buddies. Of course, many of those old heroes have gone on to receive their reward, but a younger generation of pop historians are very keen on this stuff as they avidly research their grandfather's life during the war.

    Because of the intensity of this American pop sub-culture, one could imagine that such an approach could possibly be productive, if the document was carried off by an American soldier.

    One wonders, however, how likely such a thing could have been "smuggled" back to the U.S. I know, for example, that my own grandfather could only manage to "smuggle" back a French coin and a German coin inside his gasmask at the end of World War I (!), apparently at a considerable risk of prosecution if he had been caught. I would presume that smuggling anything would have become much more difficult in the Second World War. American militaristic society wasn't prone to plundering defeated enemies.

    On an "apologetic" note, may I be the first to say that America's militarism could never have been accomplished without Europe's own military initiatives in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. :)

  9. I was immensely disappointed at not being able to attend the IGNTP session due to space considerations.

    The room was cramped, and all the seats taken, with no room to sit down, even on the floor.

  10. I would love to know how much your 'book allowance' is...