Saturday, November 20, 2004

SBL Saturday

Saturday, 16.13: Computer Assisted Research Group. I am disappointed to discover that there is no wireless internet access here, or at least nothing for free (rates in the Convention Center are $4.95 an hour or $24.95 a day). In the past the CARG has been a good place to come to do a bit of emailing, blogging or the like while listening in to a paper that in any case one has little hope of understanding. In fact, I can't see the bank of computers in here either that has always been a feature in the past. So the best option seems to be to jot some thoughts down in notepad and blog them later from my hotel room.

I met Jim Davila earlier today and was disappointed to discover that there is no chance this year of his repeating his science fiction feat of last year and blogging through the TV set. Shame.

11.30 there was the traditional meeting of the e-listers and a good chance to catch up with some old friends and meet some new ones. There were several cameras there and a group photograph, so look out for it on Jim Davila's blog and on the biblical e-lists in due course.

The first session I got to was the Synoptic Gospels Section's first meeting at 1 p.m. Greg Carey was presiding and there were four papers. The first was a fascinating presentation from Robert Miller, asking whether Matthew is telling the story of a virginal conception. I was familiar with the thesis already, having read his Born Divine, and also knowing Jane Schaberg's The Illegitimacy of Jesus which first developed this thesis. I still cannot make my mind up on whether Schaberg and Miller are right about this. But one of the things I admire about the way Miller presents the thesis is that he does so with full acknowledgement that it is possible to read Matthew as telling the story of a virginal conception, though he thinks that it is not.

The next speaker was Jeff Peterson from Austin School of Theology and his topic was "Dismissing the Sanhedrin". He picked up on the work of E. P. Sanders, Martin Goodman, Fergus Millar and others who have argued that we should not think in terms of one, concrete Sanhedrin with appointed members in the New Testament period, but should instead translate most occurrences of SUNEDRION in the Gospels as "council". I have long found this thesis essentially persuasive and have been constantly surprised that so few New Testament scholars appear to know of it, or to allow it to impinge on their studies of the Passion Narrative. I was delighted to hear Jeff moving this thesis to the foreground and encouraging Synoptic scholars to take it seriously.

Jeffrey Gibson then spoke on the Sign of Jonah. Jeffrey is always worth hearing, the delivery half the enjoyment. I read his paper on the plane on the way over and it did not make the same impact as hearing it delivered today.

I sneaked out after Jeffrey had spoken, not because I didn't want to hear Pamela Shellberg (one always feels so guilty about leaving just before someone else is about to speak), but because I wanted to catch Stephen Carlson in the Textual Criticism seminar. He was talking about "The Origin(s) of the 'Caesarean' Text"; I wish I was able to summarise his paper effectively here, but it was to do with stemmatics and cladistics and explained how he had used a computer programme to generate a Stemma for Mark 6.45--8.26. I dashed back to the Synoptics straight after that.

The CARG is currently in session. Although it is somewhere I often like to hang out at these events, not least because I have spoken here five times in the past, I am here primarily to hear Matthew Brook O'Donnell and Catherine Smith speak about the future of electronic synopses, which should be up next. This is a subject of great interest to me (what is there not to like about something that deals with both the Synopsis and computers?); also I am supervising Catherine's PhD dissertation in Birmingham, which deals with a related topic.

One of the striking differences about the CARG in comparison to many of the other sections is that speakers rarely actually read out papers. Because they are illustration-rich, they tend to "speak to" their topic. Now I've been wondering recently why it is that so many academics read out their papers so often -- it's the standard. I am toying with the idea of not reading out my own paper to the Mark Group tomorrow. My reason for wondering about this is that there is something absurd about writing out a paper and then reading out one's own voice, sometimes stumbling over the very words that one has written. Why not just talk about it? We all do this when we lecture all the time -- very few scholars these days read out lectures to undergraduates, do they?

I've asked a few people about this business of reading out papers and why it is the norm. One colleage said to me that it is for him a question of timing. Another said that it was fear. It was all about the importance of making sure that one does not say anything erroneous or silly. I think that that may be the best reason I have heard yet, but I wonder whether it's sufficient. I would say that audiences are sympathetic to people who give a paper extempore and understand that one is not going strictly on the record with every tiny nuance of one's speech. Well, I think I am going to have a bash at talking mine tomorrow instead of reading it. I will let you know if it's a disaster and whether I will be trying it again afterwards.

I have not yet had sufficient chance to get around the book exhibition. Anyone who has been to the SBL Annual Meeting will know how absolutely massive the book exhibition is. One of the problems (or delights) with going around it is that one meets someone one knows every few steps. That is a fun thing, but it means that I never actually get around to looking at all the books I want to. I'll have another go tomorrow.


Tim Bulkeley said...

Thanks for an informative and thoughtful report, not quite like being there, but...

On the reading papers thing, I have stoped trying. The result is usually good. It is always much more lively, I have made few bad mistakes! They have often been to time, and have always generated more response from the audience. Sometimes I even get a bonus, a good idea or phrase I can work back into the written version that finally goes off to a Journal. I'll be interested to hear how yours goes.

Anonymous said...

At UCLA's Center for Jewish Studies' events, about four-fifths of scholars will read from their papers. I'm vastly more engaged as a listener when I hear an extemporaneously given talk, although I wimp out out too when I have to give a presentation. I know I'm too late with my encouragement for your Sunday presentation. However, why don't you get a revolution going at the other conferences from here on out?

The teeming millions are eager to know how your talk went.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I infinitely prefer a paper to be read. When a carefully prepared paper is just used as notes for speaking, then IMO the audience will miss so much of the minutiae and the precision of one's argument that they might as well be getting the paper second hand.

John C. Poirier

Joe Weaks said...

Mark, just now getting around to reading your SBL blogging. The extemp presentation was superb. A striking clarity came across in your argument. Not just anyone has the confidence and presence of mind to duplicate such an effort.