Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A New Testament Text-Critic’s Experience of SBL 2014

San Diego 2014 proved to be one of the more academically rewarding conferences of recent years, mainly because I managed to choose the right sessions (and managed to avoid some reportedly disappointing ones). My strategy during such meetings is to attend some 'core discipline' sessions, that is, pure NT text-criticism, but also devote considerable time to related (mainly philological) areas and pick up some things that are useful for teaching in the general area of New Testament.

Here are my highlights (the abstracts can be found here):

  1. Though I don't think the Coherence Based Genealogical Method session on Saturday morning was of 'stellar' quality, yet it was the only session in which I presented and therefore a personal highlight. I thought it was a good step in developing a conversation on the CBGM. What came out for me is that there is a real question as to what the 'ontological status' is of the structures that the CBGM is after. Are they in any sense real if they are not 'history'? Or are they simply a reflection of the investigator's own presuppositions? Or what? Something to clarify, I think.
  2. Three outstanding papers in the Biblical Lexicography session on late Saturday afternoon. Trevor Evans had a clear and methodologically sound paper on καμινος, showing how useful the Zenon archive is for LXX lexicography. John Lee's paper was unexpectedly surprising. He described the patterns of use of και εγω and καγω in the Pentateuch and how there is a conscious differentiation between the two. There are all sorts of good reasons why this was to be expected and, as with Trevor's paper, there are prompts from the contemporary papyri, where we find constructions such as 'και καγω'. Jim Aitken on epigraphy was good, but I am very much with him already and therefore was confirmed rather than stretched by his fundamental point. Jim's work is a good example of how much primary work there is left to do. Michael Theophilos did something that initially I considered not to be very promising: using coinage for lexical purposes. Unlike inscriptions, the amount of text you can stick on a coin is arguably somewhat limited, without much syntactical context. Yet Michael presented a study on κτισης that was not only very sensitive to the actual artefacts, but fruitful too.
  3. The Sunday morning session on the 6th century Tourah Codex of the Psalms Commentary of Didymus the Blind was of outstanding quality. I learned much about the actual manuscript (a palimpsest papyrus with a carbon ink erased text and iron-gall ink upper text), about the type of commentary (transcript of lectures?) and how this papyrus could have been very close to the source. This feeds into the question of the 'quality' of citations from the New Testament, which is quite different from the Didymus works that are written to be more bookish than this work is. All great and exhilarating stuff, yet there was even more. Gregg Schwendner provided one of the highlights of the whole conference by reading a paper on the script, copying technique and copying process of this papyrus. This paper pushed the boundaries of conceptualising what copying is beyond anything I know of.
  4. The early Sunday afternoon slot reserved for an Editio Critica Maior session, which consisted mainly of progress reports (useful, but not mind-blowing). Still there was sufficient good material to be satisfying, Martin Heide on the Syriac of Revelation, Darius Müller on the Byzantine tradition, and especially Theodora Panella on a Greek Paul manuscript with catenae. Though it doesn't contain one of the more wide-spread catena types, its composition is intriguing. I am not sure if this is a manuscript with catenae or a catena manuscript, anyway, it was good fun.
  5. The late Sunday afternoon was another real blast, the Textual Criticism of Samuel session. Kristin De Troyer (this is how the surname is given in the program book, I had to correct myself from writing Kristin de Troyer) took us through some of the Hexaplaric marginal notes of Rahlfs 344, a nice clear minuscule. Most enjoyable. Anneli Aejmelaeus discussed the fragments and text of Rahlfs 845, which gave me a good impression of the ways of thinking and natural moves that are current in Septuagint manuscript studies. It is strange that the difference between a good and average presentation depends on a number of factors: level of engagement with the audience, proportionality of presenting discussion and data, selection of relevant topics and time devoted to each topic, and also the quality of thought. This was a pleasing talk in every aspect. Another memorable paper in this session was presented by Aejmelaeus's compatriot, Tuukka Kauhanen. He used a quantitative comparison to locate the (Latin) citations of Kings in Lucifer of Cagliari within the available Greek tradition. There was a lot of good work going here and it will be interesting to see any interaction with quantitative methods such as we are thinking about in New Testament textual criticism.
  6. The Monday morning I enjoyed the book review panel of Richard Hays's new book Reading Backwards (I had been to the lectures in Cambridge that are presented in this book and was curious what the likes of Francis Watson and Markus Bockmuehl would make of it), but in the afternoon I had time for one last philology session (again Septuagint stuff) with two mature papers that stood out. Chris Fresch presented on the use of αλλ η as it is used in distinction to other connectives (neat, complete, and convincing), while Peter Gentry discussed some Syriac colophons of Hexaplaric manuscripts. Of course I have a vested interest because a Greek version of some of these colophons appear in Sinaiticus. In this section I had a funny experience while listening to John Meade's paper on the Hexapla of Job. He discussed inter alia the Greek catena tradition of Job, and I did not have a clue what those looked like in practice. This worried me so much that I missed quite a bit of the argument. There is always a risk of losing the audience when you are talking about three or more different versions at the same time, since to the speaker the identity of and boundaries between these different items are more articulated than to the innocent audience, yet I should have been able to benefit more from John's paper than I did.
We all admit that an academic conference is not primarily about the academic content – there is so much more; renewing old contacts and making new ones, the conversations, the whispers, seeing people showing off, enjoying the meals and laughter, and perhaps even the opportunities to inspire some to be better scholars. SBL 2014 was a good year.


  1. Thanks for this, Dirk. (The 'De' is correct there from what I know.)

  2. Odd, I posted a comment this morning from my phone, but it didn't show up. Well, to recap...

    Dirk, thanks for posting this, I really appreciate hearing how the meeting went, and would love to hear any other stories both from you and the others. I would have loved to attend this year, particularly the ETC dinner, but could not make it.

    I think what you said about the primary purpose being non-academic is very true. I usually find that when I meet someone in real life, the last think I want to do is "talk shop." Their academic views and thoughts are usually readily available elsewhere in print (especially these days where everyone posts everything online) and if not, I can always email them. So it is easy to get their academic data at any time, but there in person, sitting in front of them, is the one and only time I can find out what kind of a person they are, who that person is behind the academic work. So I usually prefer to talk about all manner of other subjects, whatever else they've got going on in life, whatever it means to get to know them a bit. That's the part I like the most, I think. And furthermore, I think it makes me a better reader of their work too. I find I am much more likely to give a sympathetic reading or the benefit of the doubt, and much less likely to be unfairly critical or presumptuous of their motives, after I have had drinks and chewed the fat with a person. I wonder if the whole academy would be a better place if we just met in person more often.

  3. Dirk, sorry that my presentation was a bit opaque. In retrospect, I think I tried to present on too much. Live and learn, I guess. If you email me I would be happy to share an image of a catena manuscript with you. It was good to see you and perhaps we will see each other in Phoenix.

    1. I am not convinced you are to blame for my lapse, John. The whole thing started when you mentioned Ceriani and his facsimile. That brought back the memory of excitement when the folk at Oriental Studies here in Cambridge dug that one out for me from somewhere deep in the library. And that lead to me thinking about how a Job catena would look like and the shape of the Hexaplaric comments etc. By the time I resurfaced, you were already deep in your paper. And yes, please treat me with an image.

    2. Even still, Dirk, thanks for the feedback.

  4. Thanks Dirk, enlightening.

  5. That was me

  6. "me" as in "Peter Head"?

  7. Gregg Schwendner posted his paper on academia edu. Just thought I'd mention it.