Wednesday, July 01, 2009

SBL International Meeting in Rome: Day 1-2

This is my second report from SBL in Rome. I will offer only scattered and personal impressions at this point since I have not bothered to take any extensive notes on my computer. The first day there was the opening session highlighting the centenary of the Pontificial Biblical Institute that hosts this year's conference. Maurice Gilbert read his paper.

Unfortunately, the hall was too small so some people like myself had to sit in the stairs. Moreover, the sound was not very good, and, to be frank, the paper contained too many dates and persons to keep up the interest. Things got better as time went on. The last two respondents had more interesting reflections, one of them had been a student there, and the other reflected on the significance of the PBI for Catholic theology. It is clear that the PBI has meant tremendously much for the Catholic Church, not least during the era of the 2nd Vatican Council, when the Church began to turn away from its previous anti-modernist perspective.

After the opening session there was a great reception with cake. You find a big picture of this event on the SBL site. The quiz for today is to find me on that picture (probably impossible unless I give you a clue: I had a yellow shirt).

On the SBL-site webmaster Sharon Johnson, by the way, has linked to this blog and Mark Goodacre's who is also here reporting from the conference. Mark delivered a paper today on testicles in 1 Cor 11:15. Five years ago Troy Martin suggested in an article in JBL 123/1 (2004):75-84 that περιβολαιον in 1 Cor 11:15 means "testicle." Mark, however, argues that the lexical base for Martin's case is not strong enough to justify this interpretation. Did I wet your appetite? Go to Mark's blog where you find abstract and handout here. Make sure to also follow his travel diary!.

Today (the second day) I stayed home in the morning preparing my own handout for Saturday. I arrived at the PBI at about 10 AM and went to listen to Julio Trebolle in a session on textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Unfortunately it was a very bad room with a lot of noise from on-going construction, so I went after his presentation. Then I came to the Pauline section and this room was perfect. Unfortunately I had just missed Mark's paper on the testicles, but three of the subsequent papers on various other topics related to 1 Corinthians were very interesting:

"Kuriakon Deipnon: When Utopia Becomes Real" by Soham Al-Suadi, University of Basel; "The Story of the Lord's Supper in Corinth: A Narrative-critical Reading of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34" by Marilou S. Ibita, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven; "No Cursing in the Church: Anathema in the Corinthian Congregation (1 Corinthians 12:3) and the Letters of Paul" by Kenneth L. Waters, Azusa Pacific University. I was convinced by the two former, but the latter was completely unconvincing, i.e., that αναθεμα in 1 Cor 12:3 means “a placating sacrifice offered to a god or gods" and not "a curse." Afterwards I pointed out to Waters that it is clearly an oral performance standing in stark contrast to the confessional formula, "Jesus is Lord" in the context. (Cf. also Gal 1:8). I also pointed out that he should at least mention, and preferably discuss, the textual variation; the Western and Byzantine text has Ιησουν αναθεμα.

In the afternoon I went to a paper by Daniel Johansson who is actually from my hometown but is now a PhD student under Larry Hurtado in Edinburgh (I met him there recently when I was lecturing). Daniel's paper, "The Application of the Title 'God' to the Lamb in the Book of Revelation" was the best I heard today. He made a persuasive argument that the title “God” is used for Christ in Revelation, both implicitly and explicitly. The crucial evidence for his thesis is Rev 7:10. In contrast to the traditional understanding of this verse he argued that it should be translated: “Salvation is to our God, the One sitting on the throne and the Lamb,” that is, the entire phrase “the One sitting on the throne and the Lamb” is in apposition to “God.”

Then I also picked up a few books at the book exhibit. The one I am most pleased with is Carlo M. Martini's dissertation on P75 and B from 1966 which was published by the PBI. This book from 1966 was unused and uncut and I bought it very cheaply. Later in the evening Walter de Gruyter (the publisher) hosted a reception at the Biblioteca Casanatense celebrating the publication of the two first volumes of The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (EBR). As I went up the stairs I saw a poster and realized that this important library holding many old MSS had just had an exhibition on the topic from the roll to book, which ended a few days ago (sob).

Anyway, the main hall of the library was completely breathtaking. The library opened in 1701 and the collection of Cardinal Casanate (1620-1700) of 25.000 volumes became the first nucleus of the library. Today I think the library has some 600.000 volumes, and many old MSS. I don't have the Kurzgefasste Liste with me but I suspect there are also GNT MSS here (I know that there used to be in any case). The whole event this evening in fact started with a librarian giving an introduction to the library, but in Italian! I think maybe a handful of people (out of hundreds) could actually understand what she was saying, but she seemed unaware and the organizers (de Gruyter) did nothing to intervene and ask if someone could translate. She spoke for 30 minutes, and it was not even easy to hear what she was saying in the large room although I understand a lot of Italian.

In any case, I appreciated Stephen Pisano's response most. He had been asked to give a review from outside. The other panelists were editors. De Gruyter had also produced an offprint with sample articles and to my surprise I found not only articles on the reception of the Bible but also of biographical nature, other with archaeological focus, yet other common in Biblical encyclopedias in general. For example, an article on Kurt Aland was there, written by Eduard Lohse. However, the one in BBKL on-line is far more superior. From my perspective it was just interesting to read what Lohse had to say about Aland.

On the other hand, the articles in the encyclopedia that are really focused on the reception of the Bible are all the more useful. For example, the article on Abraham, cols. 16-72 divided into subsections like Hebrew Bible/OT, NT, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Ecumenical Discussion, Other Religions and Current Religious Movements, Literature, Visual Arts, Music, Film, is quite impressive, written by a number of different experts in respective fields. So, the first impression of this work is mixed. On the one hand there is indiosyncracy and embarrassing lacunae (for example the Genesis Apocryphon is not mentioned in the article on Adam, as Pisano pointed out). On the other hand, there are some very thorough and important articles that will have to be consulted in the future.

Finally, I am sorry to announce that two papers in the Working with Biblical Manuscript session on Friday have been cancelled, those by John Flanagan and our own Peter Head. On the other hand, one additional paper has been inserted in one of our sessions, so we still have twelve. Hopefully there will be no more cancellations, but I am a bit worried since I have not yet seen some of the presenters, Heide, Leonard, Small...

Now it is time to take a shower before bedtime ... I don't have time to tell about my visit to St Peter yesterday, but it was very nice to go there again.


  1. Ahh…I'm disappointed that Peter cancelled. Is everything OK? I will miss his humor…though I may be one of the few!

  2. I wonder why he couldn't have someone else read his paper. After all, the paper was about letter carriers.

    Is everything OK? I don't know. Has it ever been? ;-)

  3. Typo Alert:
    Appetites should be whetted, not wetted.


  4. Biblioteca Casanatense
    Ms 165 = GA 395
    Ms 715 = GA 853
    Ms 1298 = GA 1987
    Ms 1395 = GA 1840

    GA 395 (12 th c.) seems to be the most interesting, since it is a palimpsest. 395 to be sure is the "Obertext". What has been written underneath is unknown according to the Kurzgefasste Liste. There is a chance to uncover a new ms, though likely not biblical. But anyway, have a try Tommy!

    Ulrich Schmid

  5. Thanks so much Ulrich. The librarian has agreed to show us the MSS. She actually only came up with MS 165 and I will now tell her to bring forth the other three as well. We will try to look at that text underneath and see what we can come up with. We have Rick Bennett with us (I think) and he can bring his whole array of Accordance stuff and may be able to assist if we can identify a few words.