The Pauline Epistles section was a lengthy three and a half hours in what appears to be a fairly typical arrangement at this conference, in contrast to the SBL Annual Meeting where two and a half hours is the norm. William Campbell, in one of his famous elegant striped jackets, was chairing the session. Jeffrey Peterson from Austin Graduate School of Theology was first up, talking about Wisdom and the Cross in 1 Cor. 1-4. As it happens, we managed to catch him for a photo earlier this week in front of the Constantine Arch (above). That's me next to him.
I was on second, at 9am, on the topic "Does περιβόλαιον mean “testicle” in 1 Corinthians 11.15?" (Handout (PDF) here). The point of the paper was to investigate an article by Troy Martin in JBL 2004 that made this claim, and to find it wanting. I was pleased with the reception of the paper and several useful comments and questions. For the first time at a conference too, my family were present, and it was nice to have their support, if a little unusual to see them present when I was talking about a rather sensitive topic (I quoted a large section from Martin's intriguing summary of ancient understandings of anatomy and sex).
Third up was Janelle Peters (Emory University) on "Practice Makes Perfect: Corinthian Veils as Stoic Kathekonta". There was a thirty minute break, again as seems to be standard at the SBL International, and the session continued with Soham Al-Suadi (University of Basel), "Kuriakon Deipnon: When Utopia Becomes Real", Marilou S. Ibita (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), "The Story of the Lord's Supper in Corinth: A Narrative-critical Reading of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34" and Kenneth L. Waters (Azusa Pacific University), "No Cursing in the Church: Anathema in the Corinthian Congregation (1 Corinthians 12:3) and the Letters of Paul". All of the speakers read their papers, most sat down. I was not too keen on the idea of sitting down so stood up to address the room, and did my usual thing of presenting rather than reading.
My first impressions of this, my first SBL International Meeting, is that it is a bit like a cross between the SBL Annual Meeting and the British New Testament Conference. Or perhaps the SBL Annual Meeting and one of the SBL Regionals. It has all the marks of the SBL Annual, with formal sessions, presiders, 30 minute papers, the SBL brand, with the same kind of program book, badges and so on. But the scale is very much smaller. In our session, one of the more popular ones, there were 30-45 people across the three and a half hours, where there would have been many more in the Annual Meeting. I noticed far smaller audiences in some of the other sessions as I walked around. The book exhibit is like that of a smaller conference; the major players were there but they were often on one table, with just one rep.
Because of the smaller numbers here, one could go along to the almost adjacent restaurant, Abruzzi's, and easily get a seat; there was no need to walk a long way, even if there was that same experience of spotting people you know coming to the same restaurant, or walking down the road past you and waving.
The Pontifical Biblical Institute itself seems to be an ideal location. It is easy to find, in the centre of Rome, and has (of course) a famous history. Some of the rooms were a little more like classrooms than the conference rooms one is used to at the Annual Meeting. One of the rooms, where the Psalms / Writings group was meeting, was a delightful wooden affair straight out of Indiana Jones. And there is a bar / snack bar open for business throughout, the thirty minute breaks giving everyone long enough to grab a drink and a snack during sessions.
No doubt my impressions will develop over the coming days. So far it has been a positive and enjoyable experience and I would definitely recommend the event to others thinking about coming in the future. On a personal note, the overwhelming feeling at the moment is relief to have my paper done, with time now to enjoy the conference -- and more of Rome -- in a more relaxed frame of mind.
Update (23.39): On Evangelical Textual Criticism, Tommy Wasserman has an excellent and thorough report on his experiences of the conference so far. Thanks too to Sharon Johnson for adding a link to this blog and to Tommy Wasserman's posts on the main SBL Site.
Update (3 July, 00.19): The SBL Site has a nice picture of our session on its main page. You can see me on the far right of the picture.