Monday, November 30, 2009

SBL Annual Meeting 2009 1: Some Highlights

I think every year since I've been blogging I have done a little day by day report at the SBL Annual Meeting. One of the great things about the advent of twitter is that it has partly replaced that old function of blogging. This time last year, few, if any of us were on Twitter. This year, the hashtag #SBL09 produced hundreds of tweets and for many of us, it really added to the fun. It enabled real time comments on sessions of interest and each tweet is less than 140 characters, of course, so there are no great wedges of prose to wade through when one's time is already limited. I particularly enjoyed the phenomenon of getting a peak at other sessions that I'd have liked to get to but could not. It was also fun to interact directly with people in other sessions by commenting on their tweets. And you get a feeling too for where the "happening" events are (and usually I am not at them, preferring some little session with a cosy ten the audience). So for this year at least, the twitter phenomenon has transformed the online reporting and commenting on the conference. I look forward to more of the same next time. I hope the twitter phenomenon is not short-lived.

Given the tweeting of SBL, I won't do my usual day-by-day analysis. In any case, I've forgotten a lot of it already. We took a short holiday away as soon as I was back from New Orleans, and that has shunted any blogging firmly into this week, with the SBL already beginning to seem like a distant memory. But perhaps distance brings perspective. I'll make a few general comments and mention a few highlights.

The two most memorable papers I heard were not the best attended and were not at great big ball-room sessions. And both were, in a strange way, related. On Monday afternoon, Bob Cargill spoke about the Raphael Golb affair in the Computer Assisted Research Section. Although I knew most of the details already, it was fascinating to hear the complete narrative. It was one of the best presented papers I have heard at SBL ever. Bob had a wonderfully dramatic powerpoint with hundreds of illustrative slides. It was one of those rare presentations where you heard every single word. There was a dramatic moment, about two-thirds of the way through, when Bob had reached the point where Raphael Golb had assumed the identity of Lawrence Schiffmann and confessed to plagiarism. Bob paused and noted that, for the record, he thought that this was "despicable". There were about ten people at this session, and I think that that included the other speakers. This was a real shame and may say something about the serious problem of the proliferation of sections and sessions at the SBL, more of which anon.

The other really memorable paper was James Crossley's on N. T. Wrong. This paper was on the Tuesday morning, never a popular time, and it was in the Ideological Criticism Section. My desire to hear James meant that I turned up in time to listen to a fascinating paper on Raymond Brown's changing attitude to "the Jews" in the Fourth Gospel between 1960 and 1998, with apologies that I have forgotten the name of the speaker. The session was scheduled in one of those tiny rooms, but it was packed for James's paper -- standing room only. And as soon as he had finished, the entire room emptied. I felt really sorry for speaker number 3 -- that can't have been a nice feeling. But I was being a tart and needed to get to another session before flying back, so joined the crowd and filtered out without looking back.

James's paper was pitched exactly right. There were plenty of laughs, and the room appeared to be divided into those who new about the N. T. Wrong phenomenon and those who wished they did. James managed to get the measure of the man, quoting some of his most memorable materials, and integrating it with his now familiar critique of the conservative nature of the majority of bibliobloggers. I suppose that I was encouraged about the talk in part because it shows just how interesting and appealing the discussion of blogging can be in the SBL context, a good sign for the newly created blogging section. I felt that James's paper effectively celebrated a lot of what is great about blogging while Bob Cargill's paper, the previous day, had stared into its dark side.

And for those of you who weren't there: No, James did not reveal Wrong's identity. He did not even confirm that he knew who it was. No, those of us who asked questions and made comments also did not reveal Wrong's identity. Yes, it was all a little bit like Life of Brian. "I am not N. T. Wrong, and nor is my wife!" Well, no one quite said that, but they should have done.

Update (Thursday, 19.36): thanks to Jason Staples for the note that the person speaking about Raymond Brown and "the Jews" in John was Sonya Cronin.


Jason A. Staples said...

That paper on Ray Brown's attitudes towards "the Jews" in John was by Sonya Cronin, a recently minted Ph.D. from Florida State. She's got some really good work in the pipeline, too.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Jason. Post updated.