I attended the first session of the Synoptics Section which was, unfortunately, pretty badly attended. Next door, afterwards, there was the best attended session of the New Testament Textual Criticism section I have been to, and it was the highlight of the meeting so far. It was something of an eclectic mix, with a panel made up of John Dominic Crossan, Tom Wright, Bart Ehrman and Dale Martin; Kim Haines-Eitzen was in the chair. The ostensible reason for the session was a review of two books, Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus and a book by Wright on Scripture, called something like The Last Word. All four speakers are fine orators and there was an extent to which the session was a battle between the four to produce the best performance and get the most laughs. Crossan was first and posed the question of Ehrman that there was more variation between the Gospels already, looking at them synoptically, than there was between the various texts of the Gospels. And he asked the repeated question about the distinction between the "Word of God" and "words of God". Second was Dale Martin who began by outing himself publicly as an amateur theologian, and who criticized Wright for making historical claims about what was in Jesus' mind, claims that had no place in responsible history. Next was Tom Wright, who defended his new 100 page book by noting that it did have oversimplification and that there was a lot more detail in some of his large academic books. Bart Erhman spoke last and gave a fine exhortation to taking textual-criticism seriously, chiding his NT colleagues for their ignorance, a point accepted, perhaps grudgingly, by everyone on the panel. There was a panel discussion, with a lot of talking past one another, and then there were questions from the floor.
I was left with the feeling that this was one of the more entertaining SBL sessions I had ever been to, and especially good in the textual criticism section. (By the way, the overall theme was the Authority of the Bible). But there was not, in the end, the kind of intellectual engagement between the panelists that would have made it truly memorable.
Tomorrow morning is the session of special interest in this forum -- a two hour discussion of what we think we are doing when we blog. Should be fun.
Update (2.01): Michael Bird (who was sitting next to Brandon Wason, and behind Stephen Carlson and me), has his reflections on this session on Euangelion. Unfortunately, I missed the end of Dale Martin's paper on account of being asleep.