Thursday, November 30, 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival XII

Dr Jim West has done a cracking job with the latest Biblical Studies Carnival -- thorough, detailed, witty and very nicely structured. Many thanks, Jim.

Biblical Studies Carnival XII

Friday, November 24, 2006

SBL Annual Meeting General Reflections

A few random thoughts:

(1) I can't say that I am too keen on the extension of the meeting backwards towards Saturday at 9 a.m. I used to like the slightly more civilized start at 1 p.m., which enabled one to orientate oneself before getting into the fray. I was very rushed on Saturday morning, especially with a breakfast meeting too.

(2) Are the receptions getting a bit out of hand? I mean: are they losing their identity as receptions for a given university or publishing house and becoming instead free-for-all crowded boozing sessions?

(3) There are far too many sections, and too many overlapping sessions. The meeting encourages not just specialization but specialization within a given area. So if you are interested in the Synoptics (already narrow), you have the choice also of Formation of Luke-Acts, Book of Acts, Mark, Matthew, Historical Jesus, Q, and more. I think this tends to encourage specialized audiences, even cliques, in given areas. Each section has too many sessions and there are always huge overlaps. One of the biggest problem in the guild these days is over-specialization and the SBL Annual Meeting reflects and encourages that problem. It is something that requires some thought.

(4) Although the academic quality remains pretty good, the massive number of sections and sessions inevitably has an effect on the quality. I would like to see the meeting becoming more competitive. I was disappointed to hear a senior academic speak about the bar being set far too low for him to speak at the AAR. It would be a great shame if senior scholars came to feel the same way about the SBL.

(5) Is it time to scrap the Tuesday morning sessions? If it is desirable to shrink the meeting (above), perhaps Tuesday morning sessions would be a good way of beginning the pruning process.

(6) The chairing of sessions is, on the whole, very good, but there are still those sessions where presiders have just not thought through the practicalities of how to time a session. You have to be ruthless. In a two-and-a-half hour session with five speakers, it essential to begin on time, and to allow 28/29 minutes maximum for each speaker and out of fairness to each speaker, to make sure that no one part bleeds into another part.

(7) I witnessed more problems with room size this year than in previous years. This may be because section chairs are not estimating the size of their audience well (and it is difficult), or it may be because the estimates are not getting carried through to the organizers.

(8) I heard many superbly presented papers this year, but I also heard a good number that were simply scripts getting very hastily read, with no thought about communication with the audience. I would say that I saw more hand-outs this year than usual too, and that is something I like very much.

(9) All those things aside, it has to be said that the meeting overall is superbly run. Somehow, everything comes together brilliantly and the only difficulties are minor ones. The book exhibit always goes off brilliantly; it is rare for there to be technical difficulties; these huge American convention centres are surpirsingly straightforward to navigate. Overall, the SBL does a fantastic job, and perhaps we only notice the little niggly things because it does such a good job.

Update (Sunday, 19.38): there are some good comments below from Stephen Carlson and Alan Garrow. On reflection, I say let's keep the Tuesday mornings. Ending on Monday will result in the loss of Monday evening, the one night I actually get to do something relaxing!

SBL Day 5 (Tuesday)

The Tuesday morning of the SBL is, it has to be said, a bit of a damp squib. As a punter, one is best off when one has a latish flight and one has time to enjoy the last morning fully. But most do not. Some have already left by Monday evening. Many more set off on Tuesday morning without returning to the Convention Centre. No one likes being scheduled on a Tuesday morning. This year, I was able to get to about half of the final Synoptics Section before we needed to pick up our car to begin the drive back to Raleigh. First up in that section was Mike Bird, who did a nice job on the Gospels for all Christians theme, but with a special focus on non-canonical Gospels, arguing that these do not provide counter-examples to the Bauckham claim. Mike is a lively speaker, and his paper was easy to listen to, and I look forward to hearing more from this fellow biblioblogger in the future. Next up was an old favourite in the Synoptics (and related) sections, Jeffrey Gibson, who spoke on "A lack or Alas?" concerning the bread petition in the Lord's Prayer. Since Mike seemed to have left after his paper, and Jeffrey left after his, I feared rather for the remaining speakers, especially as there were only ten or so people in the audience for the session. It does seem a bit unfair that those who draw the short straw of the Tuesday mornings get such a poor audience. Is it time to scrap Tuesday morning sessions?

Our drive back was great, talking all the way and a great second visit to Cracker Barrel to boot. This was one of those SBLs that left me looking forward very much to next year's.

SBL Day 4 (Monday)

After our Synoptics Steering Committee breakfast, it was the SBL Forum Advisory Board meeting. Shortly afterwards I had a meeting of the Library of New Testament Studies editorial board, and next up was the Pauline Epistles section at which I was presenting a paper. Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that the topic of my paper was circumcision in Galatians. Since a few people at the conference asked me about my regular blogging on this topic, perhaps I should explain that one of my reasons for doing this this year, something I have not done in previous years, is that I did not get the chance to practise the paper in a seminar here ahead of time, so I had not had chance to get any feedback on it.

I was pleased with the way the paper went. It is now my habit on these occasions to present the paper and not to read it. I used to call this "extemporary" but since one definition of this is "Spoken, done, or composed with little or no preparation or forethought" (, this is not in fact a very helpful term. To present rather than to read takes, in my experience, a huge amount of extra preparation, not less. One has to make sure that one has all the key information in one's memory, and the structure and balance very clearly worked out. So I think I should talk about "presenting" as opposed to "reading".

That aside, though, I was happy with the reaction. I had a number of incisive and helpful questions, including from Victor Paul Furnish and Sharyn Dowd. And it was nice to have several friends present for support and encouragement, as well as a great audience. My Duke colleague Douglas Campbell chaired the session, the session also included Kathy Barrett Dawson, one of our Duke PhD students, talking on parody in Galatians. The other speakers were John Taylor on "we" language in Galatians, Benjamin Schliesser from Tübingen on faith in Romans, and James Ware on Paul and Job in Philippians.

I was so relieved to have my paper done that changing out of my smart clothes and into casual ones, getting a couple of beers and a steak at the Brew House, and spending time with three of my favourite people, this was a real highlight of the conference, all the more so in that we then went to see Casino Royale, as I previously mentioned. This was my third SBL Bond, with The World is Not Enough in Boston 1999 and Die Another Day in Toronto 2002. Let's hope there'll be another SBL Bond in 2008.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

SBL Day 3 (Sunday)

Sunday's breakfast meeting was the University of Birmingham reception and a great pleasure to see old friends. I was really annoyed last year to have to miss the Birmingham reception because I had another breakfast meeting at the same time. In fact Sunday was university reception day for me, and the three universities I have known, first Birmingham where I taught for a decade, then later Oxford, where I was student for almost a decade, and then Duke, my current university.

At one we had the third Synoptic Gospels session, this time a panel on Simon Gathercole's new book published by Eerdmans, The Pre-Existent Son. This was a session I organized relatively late in the day, beginning last March, when I was approached by Eerdmans. It seemed like a very good idea. The three respondents to the book were James D. G. Dunn, Rikk Watts and Deirdre Good. The fourth was to be Maurice Casey, making a rare appearance at SBL, but sadly he had to drop out last week because of health. The section sent its best wishes for a speedy recovery.

I took the first ten minutes or so of the session to introduce Simon and to summarize the book. Jimmy Dunn then took 15 minutes, and Rikk Watts and Deirdre Good also took 15 minutes each. We had a 5 minute (or so) break followed by Simon's 25 minute response to all three respondents, and then there was plenty of time first for more panel discussion and finally for views from the floor. First up from the floor was Richard Bauckham who said, among other things, that Jimmy Dunn conceived of monotheism in unitarian terms, and that he conceived of others' Trinitarian views as tritheistic. He also chided Rikk Watts for using the divine name in his presentation in spite of his claim to be using emic language. And he added that it is impossible to talk about these issues solely using emic language.

In spite of the interesting discussions, the thing that will remain with me for the longest will be, I think, Jimmy Dunn's strongly worded critique of his former student's book, which he accused of "wooden literalism", of "tritheism, ditheism or modalism"; and he said that Simon was in need of a "refresher course in hermeneutics". I am afraid that I could not resist adding after he had finished, "I am tempted to say: don't hold back; tell us what you really think." Simon defended his book bravely, and had not had either Deirdre's or Rikk's responses in advance, so he did particularly well on those.

I tend to find presiding a little stressful because you have to keep alert for 150 minutes and there is a lot to look out for and not just speakers, time and audience. So I always feel very relieved when it is over.

I went to the John, Jesus and History session next, a disaster of room allocation, one of several at the meeting. Its allocated room had only enough space for forty people, and Felix Just stood outside guiding people to the new room, also far too small, with people sitting on the floor, crowding into the doorway and so on. Sean Freyne was first up and talked about Galilee in John. Next up were Craig Evans, Richard Bauckham and Ben Witherington III. Unfortunately, I missed a lot of what they said because I was now sitting down in a chair and not on the floor and I couldn't stop drifting off, a very annoying habit when one is interested in the material. Actually, I think I heard most of Witherington's talk, which was a tour de force, arguing that Lazarus was the beloved disciple and the author of the Gospel, that Simon the Leper was the father of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, and that the Gospel owned the name of John because it was redacted by John of Patmos. It was the kind of harmonizing reading that I find implausible but entertaining to listen to.

Sunday evening was receptions evening, for me first Oxford and then Duke, both great places to meet old friends, and some new people.

SBL Day 2 (Saturday)

One of the changes in recent years is the arrival of 9 a.m. meetings. I can't say I am too keen on this innovation. That extra morning used to give one a chance to get everything in order before the serious business began. Now, the conference comes crashing in very quickly. Straight after my breakfast meeting, I dashed to the Convention Centre for the first time to catch the first Synoptic Gospels session. I prioritize Synoptic Gospels sessions because I co-chair the section with Greg Carey and I regard it as important to try to hear all papers in the section if at all possible. A particular highlight for me was Stephen Carlson's paper Luke’s Panel Technique for an “Orderly” Account, which I found pretty persuasive -- and very interesting. I hope he has the chance to publish this in due course.

I forgot to take my badge with me this year. In fact I don't remember receiving it. But it turns out that it is very easy to get a replacement.

Later on Saturday was a session I had put a lot of work into organizing, the second Synoptic Gospels session, this time on the Birth Narratives. The session was chaired by Loveday Alexander and was divided into two. The first half celebrated twenty years of Jane Schaberg's The Illegitimacy of Jesus, with Schaberg giving a review of the book and reactions to it and Gail Streete offering her reflections. Sadly, Amy-Jill Levine, who was to be the second respondent, was unable to make it to the meeting because of ill health. The second half was led off by David Landry, whose paper looked at Luke 1-2 as a "hostile takeover" of Matthew 1-2, developing the idea that Luke disliked Matthew's Birth Narrative and tried greatly to improve on it. There were two responses, one by Robert Miller and one by John Darr. I was particularly intrigued by Robert Miller's response, which confirmed a point I make in the first chapter of The Case Against Q, that the majority of those who accept the Q hypothesis do so because they have not given the Synoptic Problem any extended critical thought (note that I say the majority, and not everyone -- I know there are plenty who do, of course). Miller said that he had devoted a total of no minutes thinking about the Synoptic Problem over the last twenty years, a claim he repeated when pressed in various of the questions. Actually, the Q sceptics were out in force; I am afraid that I asked a question and so did Ken Olson, Jeff Peterson and Mark Matson.

John Darr's response had one particularly entertaining moment. Landry had extolled the virtues of Luke's birth narrative, denigrating Matthew's in the process. Darr began his piece by pointing out, facetiously of course, that Matthew's Birth Narrative provides us with a rationalization for giving and receiving Christmas presents, and that we should therefore celebrate his contribution.

It was a good session. I suppose that one thing that I found a little disappointing was that there was not as much dialogue between the two halves of the session as I had hoped. And I suppose us Farrer types slightly skewed the discussion at the end by asking all the tough questions on Luke's use of Matthew.

Speaking of Q, I did manage to get to some of the first Q section dealing with the Christology of Q, and which included a paper from Harry Fledderman.

Saturday evening was the Continuum (T & T Clark) dinner at Clydes restaurant, an enjoyable evening not least because I was lucky to be on a table with some great people. The food was OK and the wine was great. The dinner represented something of a move from former years when Continuum, like everyone else, had receptions. This was a more select gathering and, to be honest, a much more enjoyable occasion.

SBL Day 1 (Friday)

Going to the SBL Annual Meeting when you are living in the USA is a different experience from going to it from abroad. You don't have to deal with the jet lag, you get home much more quickly, and you don't have to go straight back to work when you return. And sometimes, you live close enough to the meeting that you can drive to it. Washington DC is about 250 miles north of where we live in North Carolina, and for the first time ever I drove from home, with a close friend who had been staying with us for a couple of days, to the meeting location. It was about four hours of actual driving, all very straightforward, especially as I didn't do any of the driving. It turns out too that there is a great place called Cracker Barrel every fifty miles or so, and you can stop off there for breakfast, brunch or lunch and get a good meal (and especially their raspberry lemonade). The only difficulty was finding our way to Union Station where we were to drop off our hired car, and then finding our way to the hotel from there. But I was still there in time there to meet an old friend at 7pm for an amazing dinner in a place called the Chop House, which served very, very good brewed-on-site beer and some very expensive food.

We were lucky to be staying in the Renaissance Washington, which was one of the main meeting hotels. I am ashamed to say that I didn't get to any of the DC sites, the monuments or anything else, during the four days of the conference. But my excuse is that I am saving that up to do properly with the family some time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Back from SBL

I arrived back in rainy North Carolina an hour or so ago after a good SBL, beginning last Friday and ending this morning. I drove up to Washington, DC with a friend last Friday and returned, leaving at lunchtime today. It turned out that it was much cheaper (and more enjoyable) to drive, hiring a car on Friday and dropping it off at Union Station, and doing the same in reverse today.

I hope to have some reports soon. For the first time ever (or since beginning blogging), I didn't manage to blog at all during the conference, in spite of having the blogging machine with me. Just didn't seem to find a spare minute. No doubt other bloggers have already begun their reports, though each time I met a fellow blogger they would say the same, that they had not yet had time.

My main highlights were -- I have to admit -- non-academic, going to see the new Bond film, Casino Royale, last night after a trip to the Brewery House, particularly enjoyable because it came just after having the session in which I was giving a paper this year. And Friday evening at the Chop House, where they brewed their own beer and served very expensive food, with one of my favourite people, was another real highlight.

As usual I tried to do too much, went to too many meetings, got up too early, stayed up too late, got too tired, but in the end found it all worthwhile and lots of it very stimulating academically. I will comment on those things later on.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

SBL Pauline Epistles Handout

I've uploaded my handout for my SBL Pauline Epistles paper on Galatians:

Already Circumcised? Paul's Letter of Rebuke to Apostate Galatians

Update (Friday, 11.36): some formatting issues fixed. (By the way, it is supposed to say "Paul's presents" and not "Paul's presence").

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Were the Galatians already circumcised? VII

This is the seventh post in the current series and it follows on from Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? I, Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? II, Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? III, Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? IV, Were the Galatians Already Circumcised V and Were the Galatians Already Circumcised VI.

If some of the Galatians were already circumcised when Paul heard news of the situation in those churches, what are we to make of Galatians 5.2, often held to be evidence that they had not yet submitted to circumcision?
Gal. 5.2: ἴδε ἐγὼ Παῦλος λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν περιτέμνησθε Χριστὸς ὑμᾶς οὐδὲν ὠφελήσει

Behold I Paul am saying to you that if you are circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
According to the standard grammars, Paul is here using a future more vivid condition (ἐὰν + subjunctive in the protasis; future indicative in the apodosis). The protasis here does not describe an unreal condition. Quite the contrary. So a cavalier argument of the kind often found in the commentaries, to the effect that Paul says "If . . ." and so the Galatians are not getting circumcised will not work. But there is a useful question to be asked about the tense of the subjunctive περιτέμνησθε here. If Paul had wished to speak about the possibility of the Galatians getting circumcised, one would have expected him to have used the aorist subjunctive rather than the present subjunctive, to have said, "If you get circumcised . . .", not "If you are circumcised . . ." In short, there is no good reason to see 5.2 as evidence against the thesis I am forwarding.

Nevertheless, I think the question being asked here is a useful one because it reminds us to use our imaginations about the situation in Galatia, and here I think it is necessary to make some distinctions that are seldom made in the literature. We need to bear in mind that we are talking about a sequence of events:

1. Paul visits Galatia and establishes churches there
2. Paul leaves Galatia
3. Paul's opponents begin to influence the Galatian churches
4. Someone in Galatia begins to travel to sends Paul news of what is happening
5. The Galatian arrives with news
6. Paul composes the epistle to the Galatians
7. The epistle begins its journey to Galatia
8. The epistle arrives in Galatia.

Now one of the difficulties Paul faced was that he could not phone up the Galatians, or email them, to find out about their current status at the point that he was writing (still less what their status would be after they had received the letter). Already some time has gone by between the news leaving Galatia and arriving with Paul. What this all means is that writing a letter like Galatians is a difficult business because hoping, guessing, praying comes into the conceptualization of the situation, and to some extent Paul has to hedge his bets. He is writing (6) just after stage (5) above, in response to news that is already dated (4), conveying his letter in the knowledge that the process in Galatia will have developed still further by the time of the letter's receipt (8). Some of the difficulties of interpreting the background of Galatians emerge from this. When we are reconstructing the background of Galatians, we are essentially using the letter to find out what the news was that Paul received, (4)-(5), something that is a little difficult because Paul is anticipating further developments, (4)-(8).

With that in mind, my hypothesis is that the news that Paul has received is that a substantial number of Galatians have been circumcised. We are looking at a process already underway at the point when the news left Galatia and began its journey to Paul. Paul no doubt hopes that the process has not progressed as far as it might have done by the time they receive the letter, but he fears that it may have done. The way he deals with this situation is always to talk about the process in the present tense:

1.6: μετατίθεσθε, you are turning away
3.3: ἐπιτελεῖσθε, you are completing in the flesh
4.10: παρατηρεῖσθε, you are keeping days and months and seasons and years
6.12: ἀναγκάζουσιν, they are compelling you to be circumcised

The implications are clear: those who are on this path, who are being righteoused by the law (5.4), are separated from Christ; they have fallen from grace. But Paul would not have written the epistle if he did not think that some kind of change of path was possible, some kind of reintegration of those who were sowing to their own flesh (6.8) into a community which, he hopes, still contain those who are "spiritual" (οἱ πνευματικοί, 6.1). Sadly, though, Paul suspects that his work in Galatia has all been in vain. He is once again in the pain of child-birth for them (4.19), an image that speaks of anxiety and uncertainty lest this birth is abortive. Paul's hope for a change of course is "in the Lord" (5.10) but the evidence that Paul lost the church in Galatia (see Paul's lack of travel plans in Galatians, Paul's loss of Galatia I and Paul's loss of Galatia II and related posts) suggests that the change of course in fact never took place.

Were the Galatians already circumcised? VI

This is the sixth post in the current series and it follows on from Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? I, Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? II and Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? III, Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? IV and Were the Galatians Already Circumcised V.

I would like to turn next to a famous verse in Galatians and ask what it implies about how Paul is picturing his opponents:
5.12: ὄφελον καὶ ἀποκόψονται οἱ ἀναστατοῦντες ὑμᾶς

Oh that those who are disturbing you would mutilate themselves!
The image is, of course, of Paul's opponents cutting off their own genitalia in the process of circumcising the Galatians (NRSV: "castrate themselves"; NIV: "go the whole way and emasculate themselves!"). It's one of the most biting pieces of sarcasm anywhere in the Pauline corpus. Now of course (one hopes), Paul does not really want anyone to castrate themselves, but notice what he gives away in passing, that when he imagines his opponents, he imagines them with knife in hand. Perhaps he thinks of them as so busy at the work of circumcision that he hopes the "knife slips" (Jerusalem Bible). So in this rare glimpse at his opponents, Paul envisages them as circumcising, and not just "preaching" about it. There is a certain rather anachronistic, Protestant image of Paul's opponents as "preachers", as missionaries who are attempting to persuade the Galatians of their point of view, whose "sermon" can be reconstructed (e.g. J. Louis Martyn), and which the Galatians are currently contemplating, final decision still pending. But Paul's picture of his opponents' gospel involves action as well as words, compulsion as well as proclamation.

No doubt some will ask, though, whether there is any evidence in the epistle of Paul treating the circumcision of any of the Galatians as having happened. Is the image in 5.12 one of knives ready or knives already being used? In 5.3-4, Paul directly addresses those who have already undergone the knife, the circumcised males in Galatia:
Gal. 5.3-4: μαρτύρομαι δὲ πάλιν παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ περιτεμνομένῳ ὅτι ὀφειλέτης ἐστὶν ὅλον τὸν νόμον ποιῆσαι. 4 κατηργήθητε ἀπὸ Χριστοῦ οἵτινες ἐν νόμῳ δικαιοῦσθε, τῆς χάριτος ἐξεπέσατε.

And I witness again to every circumcised male that he is obliged to do the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are being righteoused by the Law, you have fallen from grace.
Paul is testifying here to every circumcised male. He is addressing the circumcised males among the Galatian churches to whom he is writing. When speaking directly to them, he gives a clear indication of their current status. "You have been separated from Christ . . . . you have fallen from grace"; the verbs (κατηργήθητε and ἐξεπέσατε) are both aorist indicatives. The act that has caused the falling away is envisaged as having already happened. The deed has been done. Paul thinks of their circumcision as leading not, as they no doubt intended it, as a means of separating themselves from the ungodly and becoming a part of God’s people. Instead, with characteristically clever irony, he turns this around on them. The act of putting off their flesh has in fact separated them from Christ.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Using technology in conferences presentations: some advice

With the SBL Annual Meeting on the horizon, here are some thoughts about the use of technology in conference presentations. These emerge partly from the fact that I am trying to make my mind up about whether to use powerpoint or not in my paper, and this is the advice I am giving myself:

(1) Only use powerpoint if it will enhance your presentation. It is quite possible that the presentation will detract from your ability to communicate clearly and effectively. What are you hoping to achieve by using it? Do you need to show images or diagrams? Is there some kind of representation of the data that the visual aid of powerpoint will help?

(2) If you use powerpoint, or any other projections from a computer, keep in mind that when you get there the technology may not work, even if you are well prepared and if there is a technical person on hand and everything else. Sometimes, nay often, an unforeseen technical hitch occurs. So if you are planning to use powerpoint, make sure you are not reliant on it. Make sure that you have a back-up plan, e.g. hand-outs are always worth preparing and seldom go wrong. Think of that happy comfort of knowing that you have your hand-outs all ready in your suitcase, and that all you have to do is make sure that the suitcase makes it with you. (And speaking of that, make sure you have your electronic back-up in your hand luggage or better, on the net, for when your suitcase goes missing).

(3) If you are planning to use your laptop for powerpoint, take a USB cable with you. You may get to the room and find a projector, a wire and no way to plug it into your laptop.

(4) Have a back-up plan in case your laptop goes on the blink. Take your powerpoint presentation on your flashdrive too, so that you can plug it into a PC in the room, or someone else's laptop, in case of difficulties. And take your presentation on a CD-ROM too just in case neither laptop nor flashdrive works with the PC in the room.

(5) You may lose your CD-ROM and flashdrive, so make sure that you have also loaded your presentation somewhere on the net, either by emailing it to yourself, putting it on Yahoo!briefcase, or whatever.

(6) If you are not using unicode fonts in a presentation that needs the fonts to be displayed correctly (e.g. if using Greek or Hebrew), make sure you embed your fonts in your presentation. This is especially important for (4) above, where you are using your flashdrive or your CD-ROM for the presentation. You do not want your carefully planned Greek diagrams to be gobbledygook because you've used a nice Greek font that isn't going to show up on the room's PC.

(7) If you are planning to use your laptop, make sure that you know how to toggle between your laptop monitor and the projector. Don't expect someone else present, even a techie, to know how your laptop works; that's your responsibility.

(8) Arrive at least twenty minutes before the session you are speaking in begins so that you can introduce yourself to the chair, warn him/her that you are planning to use some technology, and get everything set up and tested. Remember that even if you are last in a two and a half hour session, you may not have a minute to sort out your technology during the session, so it is essential that you arrive in plenty of time before the beginning. That way you know well in advance of the session starting whether or not the technology is working. You then have time either to relax in the knowledge that all is well, or to find time to compose yourself in the knowledge that it is not.

(9) If the technology is not working, grit your teeth and get on with your presentation without mentioning it. Ideally, do not mention it at all. If you must, mention once and once only that you had prepared a great presentation. If you do have to do this, use humour and don't be resentful. Your audience may feel a bit sorry for you if you can't show your powerpoint, but that's the end of it. They will not appreciate it if you keep going on about how great your presentation would have been if only you could illustrate it properly. After a while they will stop feeling sorry for you and will start feeling embarrassed before you.

Now this probably sounds horribly neurotic, but every one of the things mentioned above are the result of my own direct experience, either presenting, chairing or participating in sessions using technology, and I offer them in the hope of sparing someone somewhere some anxiety.

Were the Galatians already circumcised? V

This is the fifth post in the current series and it follows on from Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? I, Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? II and Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? III and Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? IV.

In this post I would like to turn to two more interesting passages in the epistle. The first follows on from the discussion of 3.1 in my third and fourth posts. In 3.3, Paul goes on to write:
οὕτως ἀνόητοί ἐστε; ἐναρξάμενοι πνεύματι νῦν σαρκὶ ἐπιτελεῖσθε
This is usually taken as a question, “Having begun in the spirit, are you now completing in the flesh?” While I don't think that that can be ruled out, this may in fact be an exclamatory statement – “Having begun in the spirit, you are now completing in the flesh!” He is expressing his horror at what he has heard, that his converts, who had begun with him by accepting the Spirit that made them sons, are "now" sealing or "perfecting" their calling with the "flesh" of circumcision. As usual in the epistle, the terms for what the Galatians are actually doing are present tense, and suggest a process underway (more on this in a future post).

When attempting to get behind Paul’s rhetoric to find out what it was that he thought his converts were doing, it is worth asking the question whether he ever tells us anything concrete about their current practices. He says that they are being compelled to be circumcised, that they are completing in the flesh, and so on, but is there anything that relates to practices other than circumcision that might help? Well, it is worth taking another look at 4.10-11, where Paul writes:
ἡμέρας παρατηρεῖσθε καὶ μῆνας καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἐνιαυτούς. φοβοῦμαι ὑμᾶς μή πως εἰκῇ κεκοπίακα εἰς ὑμᾶς

You are observing days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that I might have laboured over you in vain.
The observance of days and months and seasons and years is a reference to the Galatians’ new found commitment to the Jewish calendar, beginning with the Sabbath and continuing with the celebration of other major Jewish festivals and fasts (though see Troy Martin for the alternative view). It sounds like the news that Paul has been given includes this key item, that the Galatians are now observing these works of the law. Its significance for our question is that it coheres with the view that the process of circumcision is already underway in Galatia, just as the issue of food laws had raised its head, to Paul's great dismay, in Antioch (Gal. 2.11-14). In Galatia, as in Antioch before, what Paul calls "Judaizing" is taking place, with works of the law like circumcision, Sabbath and food laws getting adopted by Gentile converts.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Were the Galatians already circumcised? IV

This is the fourth post in the current series and it follows on from Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? I, Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? II and Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? III. I break the development of the argument here to address some points made in comments to the third post by Mark Nanos. I am very grateful to Mark for his robust and forthright criticism of my view. To have Mark Nanos comment on one's thoughts on Galatians is a bit like having John Kloppenborg comment on one's thoughts on Q, a great honour.

Mark argues that Paul's use of ἀνόητοι does not so much depict not thinking as thinking the wrong thing:
I do not think that Paul addressing them as ἀνόητοι lends any support to your argument. It connotes shamelessness, that is, thinking wrongly from the accuser's (Paul's) point of view, and in that sense failing to think (meaning, to think correctly, with the accuser's way of thinking).The idea is that they are perhaps being effected by something since otherwise they would be expected to think otherwise (like the accuser thinks), not that they are not thinking versus thinking.
Well, Paul's charge of not thinking is consistent with the rest of the epistle. Paul depicts the Galatians as being compelled rather than making a willing decision based on rational thought. So for Paul, it is not that they are thinking the wrong thing, but that they are not thinking at all. Of course this is Paul's rhetoric, but as always we have to ask the question about what situation best explains the trigger for this rhetoric. I am arguing that what Paul insists makes best sense on the assumption that they have already done something drastic, not that they are only thinking about it. In other words, Paul knows that the Galatians are in fact thinking differently from him, but his depiction of them as ἀνόητοι (unthinking, foolish) functions as part of his depiction of the Galatians as not acting on the basis of careful thought that is consistent with their calling. This is why I begun this series with a post on 6.12, where Paul depicts the Galatians as acting under compulsion from others. He wants to suggest that they are not acting in accordance with the Spirit, that they are being neither consistent nor intelligent, that they are turning to another gospel under some kind of unthinking coercion. Now the actual situation on the ground in Galatia must have been rather different from this, but the point here is that the charge of lack of thought, of compulsion being enacted upon them, makes excellent sense as something aimed at people for whom circumcision is now becoming a reality. It is much more difficult to get it to work for a group who are, in the standard description of the Galatian situation, simply "considering" circumcision.

Mark also feels that 3.1 does not make sense on my interpretation:
I think this piece of evidence in Gal 3:1 works against your thesis that some of the Galatians to whom Paul writes have already been circumcised. If already completing proselyte conversion (circumcision), then this would eliminate that which Paul accuses the influencers here of doing, of "evil eying" the addressees; that is, of the influencers "envying" (=begrudging) the Galatian addressees for claiming to have the gift of the Spirit reserved for those who are circumcised children of Abraham. That seems to depend on the addressees not yet being circumcised, but being instead non-Jews who should not be entitled to have the Spirit and miracles in their midst.
I may be misunderstanding Mark's point here but it seems to me that the "evil-eying" or "bewitching" is something Paul depicts as already having happened, τίς ὑμᾶς ἐβάσκανεν (aorist indicative), "Who bewitched you?". They are not "evil-eying" those who have already been circumcised; in Paul's construction here, the evil-eying (past) precedes the Galatians' taking action.

Mark goes on to ask me a question about my interpretation:
A question for you, Mark, is how Paul can express in 5:10 that he is confident they will remain on his (non-circumcision) course (to stay on it after hitting an obstacle along the way, i.e., contemplating a detour; v. 7) if they have already become circumcised?
Let's have a look at what Paul says here:
ἐγὼ πέποιθα εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν κυρίῳ ὅτι οὐδὲν ἄλλο φρονήσετε ὁ δὲ ταράσσων ὑμᾶς βαστάσει τὸ κρίμα ὅστις ἐὰν ᾖI am persuaded concerning you in the Lord that you will come to think in no other way, but the one who is troubling you will face judgement, whoever he is.
5.10 says nothing about Paul's confidence that "they will remain on his (non-circumcision) course". Rather, he is here expressing his hope that they will (future) come to think like him, in other words that this letter will succeed in his task of persuading them that the course of action they are on needs to be turned around. One can see that he is thinking about this future scenario because his mind turns here also to the (future) judgement of the one currently troubling the Galatians. 5.7 ("You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth?") does not speak about "contemplating a detour". Contemplation is not what Paul is discussing in Galatians; he sees the act as currently taking place. But that, of course, brings us back to my argument, which will continue in the next post.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Were the Galatians already circumcised? III

This is the third post in the current series and it follows on from Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? I and Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? II.

One of the weaknesses of many readings of Galatians is that they imagine the Galatians "contemplating" or "thinking about" the message brought by the influencers, as if they have listened to a series of sermons and have now retired for a fortnight to meditate on the practical application to them as individuals. Whenever anyone attempts to describe the background to the epistle, it is usually construed in terms of this Galatian contemplation, and it is thought that Paul is speaking directly to people still in the process of thought. This supposed background is problematic. The letter does not sound like it is addressed to groups of people who are thinking about taking action. Indeed Paul's very criticism of them is that they are not thinking at all:
3.1: Ὦ ἀνόητοι Γαλάται, τίς ὑμᾶς ἐβάσκανεν, οἷς κατ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς προεγράφη ἐσταυρωμένος;

O foolish Galatians! Who has evil-eyed you, before whose very eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?
This key verse comes after Paul’s chapter-long discussion of what happened in Antioch and Jerusalem and marks the point at which Paul is resuming his direct assault on his former converts, for the first time addressing them directly as “Galatians”. The word he uses to qualify "Galatians" is ἀνόητοι, usually translated "foolish", but meaning something like "unthinking". He uses the term again in 3.3, οὕτως ἀνόητοί ἐστε; ("Are you so foolish?"). Far from thoughtfully engaging on the possibility of circumcision, the Galatians, in Paul's rhetoric, are not thinking at all. Whether Paul's characterization of them is accurate or not, it hints that the basis for Paul's criticism is not intention but action. It is not that they are thinking about circumcision but that they are getting themselves circumcised.

The point is further clarified by Paul’s attempt to get the bottom of what has happened here. After calling them foolish Galatians, Paul goes on to ask, in the standard translations, "Who has bewitched you . . . ?" The reference is to the practice of giving someone the evil eye (See Mark Nanos, "The Social Context and Message of Galatians in View of Paul’s Evil Eye Warning (Gal. 3:1)"). Paul is attempting to explain what the Galatians have done in the light of the ancient world’s notion that they are victims of someone’s evil eye. In other words, Paul is attempting to make sense of what is going on in Galatia by appealing to magical practice. His rhetoric illustrates his conviction that they are victims who are being cajoled into making a decisive step. We will turn next to evidence that that illustrates how the Galatians were already "Judaizing".

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Jacques Berlinerblau on the SBL

Jacques Berlinerblau’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, What’s Wrong With the Society of Biblical Literature? (Nov. 10 2006) is attracting lots of interesting comment among the bibliobloggers. See Stephen Carlson on Hypotyposeis for relevant links, and now add also John Lyons's on Reception of the Bible. I am finding the comments of the bloggers, as so often, more interesting and thought provoking than the article itself, which is a bit too grape-shot in its approach to want to present a precise and coherent critique of the SBL. There are so many points at which the author simply throws out a grenade and runs away, that it is difficult to choose only a couple of points for comment. Nevertheless, here are two to add to the other bibliobloggers' comments. First, I am surprised by this point:
Consider that the most popular and widely discussed books about the Bible are almost never written by biblicists . . . On the level of serious scholarship, I find it quite telling that some of the most influential studies — the ones that get reviewed in the major journals of opinion . . . . are written by professors of English and comparative literature. To give a recent example, Harold Bloom has released a quirky, unforgivable, but deliciously provocative book entitled Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine. In 2006, as far as I can tell, it has generated more media commentary than any other work of scholarship focused on the Bible in the past year.
But this is nonsense; what about Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, which has been everywhere, radio, TV, the bestsellers lists? I even found myself talking about it to one of my neighbours the other day when he brought it up. (Cf. Danny Zacharias on Deinde for similar thoughts). And the massive interest generated by the Gospel of Judas shows the media and the public's thirst for interesting new discoveries that relate to early Christian history, and of scholarly involvement with that.

My second comment relates to this passage, already isolated for comment by others (including Stephen Carlson and John Lyons):
Another problem: Under the mistaken assumption that it is an academic society like any other, the SBL has encouraged scholarly specialization. In so doing, it has always favored philology and archaeology, all the while avoiding the more capacious domain of hermeneutics. The study of how Scripture has been interpreted across history, and in contemporary society, has traditionally held little interest for a society that places a premium on the examination of ancient languages and artifacts. But the study of hermeneutics really forces one to be a generalist. It is a diachronic enterprise through and through.

Let's say that you are interested in studying depictions of Queen Jezebel in music and art. You will need to know about descriptions of her in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin (if not all three). You will need to know what the learned rabbis and fathers of the church had to say. Then you will need to look at renderings of the queen in, say, 16th-century France and 20th-century Ethiopia. In other words, you will need to abandon any pretense of being a specialist.
I think this misreads the strengths and the attraction of Wirkungsgeschichte. One of the things that is so enjoyable and intellectually stimulating about reception history is that it is a collaborative enterprise. You do not have to be an expert on 16th century French renderings of Jezebel to be an expert on 20th century Ethiopian ones; indeed, you could organize a conference in which you get together a variety of scholars with different expertises to discuss Jezebel, and you could engage, each bringing something different to the table. Let me illustrate. I am not at all an expert on the reception history of the Passion Narrative, but I do know a bit about the Passion in twentieth and twenty-first century cinema. At a really stimulating conference in March 2005, I was lucky enough to talk about the Passion in film as one small part in a larger gathering at which there were experts on music, art and a variety of other things, all towards an appreciation of the Passion across history. I was not excluded from talking about the Passion in contemporary film because I didn't know about the Passion in eighteenth century European music. That the study of reception history is a growing concern at the conferences is quite clear, SBL included, and I repeat that one of its attractions is its collaborative, inter-disciplinary nature.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Were the Galatians already circumcised? II

This is the second post in the current series and it follows on from Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? I.

One of the features that has often been remarked upon in Galatians is its lack of thanksgiving at the opening of the epistle. This is in direct and marked contrast to every Pauline epistle:
Romans 1.8: "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world . . . ."

1 Cor. 1.4: "I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way . . . "

2 Cor. 1.3: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble . . . ."

Phil. 1.3: "I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . . ."

1 Thess. 1.2-3: "We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith . . ."

Philemon: "I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints . . .
The thanksgiving, straight after the standard "grace and peace . . ." is always present (and in the Deutero-Paulines too, Col. 1.3ff, Eph. 1.3ff, 2 Thess. 1.3ff) and its absence only in Galatians makes its readers sit up and pay attention. There is clearly something pretty serious happening in Galatia if Paul is not able to bring himself to offer thanks. Bear in mind that he faces other tough situations in his letters but still gives thanks. In 1 Corinthians, one of the members of the church is living with his father's wife (1 Cor. 5.1-13) and is commended by other members of the church. Paul thinks this is abominable and pronounces judgement. Yet he still has plenty of time to give thanks at the beginning of the letter. In 2 Corinthians, he has all manner of difficulties about his own reputation and authority to deal with, yet even here he finds time for thanksgiving, albeit in relation to God's comforting of Paul and his companions (2 Cor. 1.3-7).

The question that this raises with respect to Galatians is what has happened that has caused such a negative reaction on Paul's part? The common explanation, that the Galatians are contemplating circumcision is not adequate to the task. What Paul in fact appears to depict is a scenario in which the Galatians are being circumcised. He is responding to reported group actions rather than individual contemplations. Notice what replaces the thanksgiving, what sits, in Galatians, where the thanksgiving would be expected to sit:
1.6: Θαυμάζω ὅτι οὕτως ταχέως μετατίθεσθε ἀπὸ τοῦ καλέσαντος ὑμᾶς ἐν χάριτι [Χριστοῦ] εἰς ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον

"I am astonished that you are so quickly turning away from the one who called you in the grace [of Christ] to a different gospel."
Paul is astonished at what the Galatians are doing, turning away, departing from the one who called them – as he characterizes the situation – to a different gospel. Paul's astonishment is easier to understand if he is reacting to news of a process already underway than if he is reacting to news about the Galatians merely considering this step. Paul is expressing shock here, shock that they are turning away, abandoning his Gospel. Something tangible has happened. Something troubling and decisive has been reported to Paul. Turning away to a different gospel is rhetoric more compatible with action underway than action contemplated. In the next post in this series, I will be looking at evidence that Galatian contemplation is not what Paul is describing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Were the Galatians already circumcised? I

This post begins a series in which I am looking to explore a controversial reading of the background to Paul's epistle to the Galatians. It is related to three recent related posts, Paul's lack of travel plans in Galatians, Paul's loss of Galatia I and Paul's loss of Galatia II, which in turn built on previous posts entitled Does Galatians post-date 1 Corinthians?, Does Galatians post-date 1 Corinthians II, Does Galatians post-date 1 Corinthians III, The Jerusalem Council: Gal. 2.1-10 = Acts 15, The Jerusalem Council: Gal. 2.1-10 = Acts 15: Response to Critics.

My thesis is that Paul's loss of Galatia was already practically inevitable at the point when Paul was composing his epistle because a substantial number of the Galatians were already circumcised when Paul heard the news that was the catalyst for the epistle. He is not writing to them to dissuade them from a course of action that they are merely considering. Rather, he is rebuking them for submitting to a course of action already well underway in the churches. The case for this is cumulative and results from a careful re-reading of Paul's text. I aim to take several posts to attempt to establish this, so I am afraid that I will be asking for my readers' patience as I develop the case. In this post, I would like to look at an important verse:
6.12: ὅσοι θέλουσιν εὐπροσωπῆσαι ἐν σαρκί, οὗτοι ἀναγκάζουσιν ὑμᾶς περιτέμνεσθαι, μόνον ἵνα τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ Χριστοῦ μὴ διώκωνται

Those who want to make a good showing in flesh, these are the ones compelling you to be circumcised, only in order that they might not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Now virtually every contemporary Bible translation takes ἀναγκάζουσιν as a conative present, "they are trying to compel you to be circumcised", but this is one of those cases where the translation is conditioned by the prior reconstruction of the situation of the epistle. [For those who need refreshing, the conative present is, in Funk's definition, "used to refer to an act attempted but not achieved (in present time)."] Because commentators assume that Paul is trying to dissuade the Galatians from being circumcised, they resist the force of what he appears to be claiming here, that the Galatians are being forced to be circumcised. There is in fact nothing in the epistle that suggests that we are dealing with attempted rather than actual coercion, and there is a good deal to suggest that Paul is describing compulsion.

The language of compulsion has an important parallel earlier in the epistle. When Paul is relating the incident at Antioch, presumably included in the epistle because it evokes for Paul a very similar situation to the one that he is now faced with in Galatia, he uses the same language of compulsion. In 2.14, Paul challenges Cephas before them all with, “If you, a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to Judaize?” (Εἰ σὺ Ἰουδαῖος ὑπάρχων ἐθνικῶς καὶ οὐχὶ Ἰουδαϊκῶς ζῇς, πῶς τὰ ἔθνη ἀναγκάζεις Ἰουδαΐζειν;). Now if there is a parallel here between the two occasions, in both the Gentile Church (Antioch / Galatia) is being compelled to Judaize (withdrawing from eating with Gentiles / circumcision) by a third party (Peter and those from James / the influencers in Galatia). In the Antioch incident, the “Judaizing”, specifically involving the compulsion to avoid mixed table fellowship, has already taken place. Likewise in Galatia, the compulsion to Judaize, this time represented specifically in the demand for circumcision, was already taking place.

But just how prevalent is the conative present in the New Testament, or indeed anywhere in Greek literature? Since it is, by necessity, determined by context, this is a tough one to judge, but I cannot find a single example of ἀναγκάζω being used conatively either in the imperfect or the present tenses. Outside of Galatians, ἀναγκάζω occurs in Paul's letters only in 2 Cor. 12.11, γέγονα ἄφρων ὑμεῖς με ἠναγκάσατε ("I have become a fool but you forced me . . .") where it is aorist and clearly used of successful compulsion. There is an alleged conative imperfect use in Acts 26.11, καὶ κατὰ πάσας τὰς συναγωγὰς πολλάκις τιμωρῶν αὐτοὺς ἠνάγκαζον βλασφημεῖν ("And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I forced them to blaspheme"), but it is unnecessary to translate the imperfect ἠνάγκαζον here with "I tried to compel them to blaspheme". Rather, Luke's pre-conversion Paul was compelling them to blaspheme, i.e. he was compelling them to call on the name of the Lord (cf. Acts 9.14, 21 – those who are persecuted are those who “call on his name”), which, from that pre-conversion perspective from which Luke's Paul is speaking, is constituted as "blasphemy".

But what about other cases? BDAG gives one other alleged example of a conative use of ἀναγκάζω, again in the imperfect, Ps.-Pla., Sisyphus 1, p. 387B, συμβουλεύειν αὐτοῖς ἠνάγκαζόν με, which it translates as “they tried to compel me to make common cause with them”, but again the conative sense is unnecessary, indeed puzzling. In George Burges's translation, this is the context: "For our rulers had a consultation yesterday and they compelled me to consult with them. Now with us Pharsalians it is a law to obey the rulers should they order any of us to consult with them”.

What we have here, in Galatians 6.12, is an indication of the situation as Paul sees it, based on the news that has come to him, and he depicts the scene in the Galatian churches as one in which his opponents are forcing his converts to be circumcised. In future posts in this series, I will attempt to show how other evidence in the epistle points to the same conclusion.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Surviving SBL

On Sean the Baptist, Sean Winter asks for tips on surviving the forthcoming SBL Annual Meeting and on Reception of the Bible, John Lyons has some excellent advice. The DC meeting will be my ninth consecutive SBL and I must admit that I am one of those who really enjoys the meeting. Here are few of my own thoughts since Sean asks. Several of these overlap with John's comments:

(1) Find people you like spending time with (and who like spending time with you, I suppose!) and your experience will be ten times more enjoyable than otherwise. I have heard some people say that they find the SBL a bit of a maze and rather overwhelming. I have never found that, and perhaps because I have been lucky enough to spend time with people whose company I greatly enjoy. The intellectual stimulation will often come more from those small gatherings with friends over a beer than it will at the sessions.

(2) Don't be over ambitious about how many sessions you can get to. I used to treat the SBL a bit like the way I used to treat the Christmas Radio Times and TV Times when I was a kid -- so much packed in that I hardly had five minutes spare.

(3) Don't feel obliged to stay for the whole two-and-a-half hour session. Several times I've got stuck in the world's most boring papers by accident because I was interested in the paper before it or after it. Unlike the BNTC, where one is encouraged to be loyal, you are allowed to be a tart at the SBL. People arrive and leave as papers begin and end. I remember my first SBL in 1998 and just as I was finishing my paper, loads of people started arriving so that they could hear Joel Marcus who was up next.

(4) Try not to burn the candle at both ends, socializing until late when you have a breakfast meeting. To be honest, I am talking to myself here. I walk round the SBL perpetually exhausted because I don't have the discipline to go to bed early when I have to be up at 6 for a breakfast meeting. Yet it seems necessary to arrange the breakfast meetings because it's one of the best ways of guaranteeing a slot to arrange a meeting.

(5) Speaking of the breakfasts, here's something I wrote in my blog a little over a year ago:
Talking of breakfast, here's a tip for those at SBL on a budget (as I have often been in the past): get to one of those great American breakfast buffets and eat to your heart's content. Don't be put off by earnest looking professor types who only visit the buffet once. Keep going for as long as you can. Eat so much that you won't want lunch. You can then make it through to the evening when you'll be just peckish enough to enjoy something else. In fact you might even be invited to one of those receptions where there's lots of food in the evening too, and on days like that, you've only bought breakfast and the budget is looking healthier than it might have been.
Birmingham never gave me enough to travel, and so troughing my face at breakfast was my standard survival strategy. And the American breakfast buffets are great, though for Brits it can be a little off-putting to see Americans putting their fruit on the same plate as their sausage and bacon, or worse, putting corn syrup on their scrambled egg.

(6) And speaking of the receptions, they are a great way of meeting people, and can be fun. They are held by publishers, universities and others and are often generous in their invitations, so (once again) be a tart and get yourself invited to a reception.

(7) On the question of reading your paper, I have outspoken views which I have blogged in the past and will no doubt blog again in the future. The gist of my concern is this: far too many people simply read their paper out at SBL sessions, sometimes in the most inarticulate way imaginable. The particular problem is speed-reading. People write their fifteen page screed and decide that they are going to read through the whole lot if it kills them, whether or not it fits into the time. Part of the difficulty here is that sessions are not always well chaired, i.e. they are not always ruthlessly chaired.

Academic strife in the UK

Today's Education Guardian has an interesting and somewhat depressing feature on the morale of British academics:

Two-thirds of academics want to quit, poll shows
Alexandra Smith
Thursday November 2, 2006
Nearly two-thirds (62%) of UK academics have considered quitting Britain to work overseas or leaving academia altogether for a better job in the private sector, new research reveals.

The biggest gripe among lecturers is bureaucracy, with one in three respondents saying they spent at least 16 hours a week on paperwork, the research by the University and College Union (UCU) shows.

The survey of more than 1,000 lecturers in UK universities also revealed that 47% have suffered ill-health because of their job and 55% would not recommend a career in higher education to their children.

The UCU said the report, released today, was proof that universities needed to act now to ensure that current and future lecturers were not forced out of the sector or put off altogether . . .
I find it quite a depressing read because enough of it rings true from the experience of some I know. Being a professional academic is such a prize because one gets the opportunity to devote one's career to what one loves doing, but the increase of administrative responsibilities for British academics squeezes further and further the amount of time one has for teaching and research. As far as I am concerned, I did not leave the UK because of stress or pressure or unhappiness in my job. Quite the contrary -- I was very happy in Birmingham and miss it very much and would happily have spent many more years there. I left because I had a good offer elsewhere and fancied a challenge and an adventure. Nevertheless, what this report says does to some extent echo my experience of university administration in the UK, which contrasts radically with university administration in the USA (or at Duke, at least). I would spend many hours every week in Birmingham on paper work and administrative jobs that could and should have been done by support staff, but were not because the support staff were overworked (and perhaps underpaid too). To take just one example, I was post-graduate admissions tutor in our department during the last couple of years I was in Birmingham and a large part of that job consisted in circulating the same forms around to different people, filling in those forms and writing many emails. It is not the academic decision-making that I am talking about, which must always involve academics, but the nitty-gritty of repeated form-filling and paper chasing, work that is increasingly getting devolved to academics because of the paucity of support staff to do those tasks.

I think that one of the problems in UK academia goes back to the fact that the computer revolution arrived at the same time that the Thatcher government were making their cuts in higher education. Academics coped with the difficulties by absorbing a lot of the work traditionally done by support staff, now that they had their own desktop computers. What higher education needs is some serious investment in order to free up more time for academics, and at the same time a lessening of the unnecessary elements of bureaucracy that take away some of the joy of working in higher education, a job that really is, on the whole, such a great privilege.

(I should make clear that I am fully aware that my own experience is unusual and skewed by the inevitable differences between working in an excellent British (largely) state-funded university and an excellent US private university.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival XI

The latest Biblical Studies Carnival is up:

Biblical Studies Carnival XI

Michael Pahl is the host and he has done an excellent job, drawing together a range of great posts from a variety of blogs, with succinct and stylish comments.