SBL Debrief

Photo on 1-12-2015 at 7.28 amAs is usually the case, I return from the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature with a stack of new books (see picture for details), an entirely disoriented body clock, and an overall sense of gratitude for the opportunity to spend time with colleagues and friends (some of whom occupy both categories of significance). Rather than specify in details the schedule of papers, meetings, conversations, receptions and chance encounters that filled up the weekend, I offer just a few random comments on aspects of the conference that struck me: some entirely obvious, and others entirely random.

  • 25 minutes is not enough time for serious academic presentations and responses. Over the last several SBLs I have been involved in this has been the default ‘slot’ for paper presentation, and while it has its value in terms of (a) getting a paper written, (b) getting the argument and evidence into clear enough focus to be able to present it in 20 mins or so, and (c) being able to present your material to peers, the lack of sustained time for interaction and, where appropriate, critique continues to be frustrating. Of course, the shorter time slot maximises the chances for participation but it mitigates against the kind of scholarly conversation and interaction which I, for one, need. I know that the short time allocations are not ubiquitous across the sections, but if I had my way each 2 and a half hour slot would have no more than 4 papers.
  • there is delicate balance to be struck between presentation as speed-reading and presentation as ‘a chat about what you are working on’. The former mode of delivery predominates, but the latter is equally frustrating. In the session in which I presented, it was a pleasure to witness one paper in particular whose delivery was as interesting and, frankly, brilliantly executed as its content (and no, I don’t mean mine).
  • Atlanta is not a great venue: my own preference would be for AAR/SBL to be in San Diego every year, but if that isn’t possible, then I would be happy not to have to wander across a skybridge from one hotel to another ever again.
  • The exchange rate is a killer: coming from Australia, the weak $AUS against the $US meant that this was an expensive conference all round.
  • Baylor University Press are producing the best quality/price ratio books in the whole book display. I spent more time drooling at their stand than anywhere else and Carey Newman is to be congratulated on building a fascinating and high quality list of titles.
  • Walking around the Wipf and Stock stand caused me the same sense of ennui as walking the corridors of the Marriott hotel: the scale is impressive, but I could rarely actually find the book I wanted.
  • Mai Thai’s are bloody delicious, especially when combined with pork ribs.
  • Friends and conversation are more important than anything: so a big thank you to those I spent more than a passing ‘hello’ with: Michael Golding, Brad, Lazetta and Kharis Braxton, Robyn Whitaker and Peter French, David Horrell, Jenn Strawbridge, The Chester Crew and associates, James Crossley, James Harding, Andrew McGowan, Catherine Playoust,  Catrin Williams, Helen Bond, Anthony Rees, Richard Burridge, Hugh Pyper, Tiffany Wesbter, Michelle Fletcher plus several others that I have forgotten. In so far as the scholarly vocation is a call to collegiality (a non-negotiable in my view), I am grateful that the weird and sometimes wonderful world of biblical studies is full of such good colleagues.