Friday, December 6, 2013

SBL 2013: Initial Reflections on Baltimore

Washington Monument, Mount Vernon, Baltimore

George Peabody
This year's Society of Biblical Literature meetings had just about the right mix of good sessions and good conversations with friends and acquaintances new and old.

In the past, I would have included good new books as an essential component of any successful SBL, but this year I found that the sheer size and scope of the exhibit hall had a stultifying effect on my purchases, and that N.T. Wright's 1700 page Paul and the Faithfulness of God plugged a hole in my wallet: I wandered through the Fortress Press display several times, tempted by the sale on Wright's newest massive 2-volume tome, and thought to myself, "When will I ever have time to read that?" It turns out that the question is a useful one: It came to mind again when I encountered Francis Watson's newest important 500-page book on the Gospels, and Dale Allison's final book on Jesus. I would like to read both some day, but of the four important Watson volumes already in my possession, two are still unread, and I won't have time to read Allison—let alone Wright—during the next five months. This time around I wish that I had spent less time wandering through the exhibit hall and more time attending sessions.

In addition to stimulating papers and conversations, another highlight was my Monday morning hunt for the statue of George Peabody (pictured above) that figures in Knight's Castle, a 1950's era children's book I am reading to my daughter. (Remarkably, the book makes no mention of the statue of a much more famous George, right beside it.) When Shoshana saw the picture, she said we should take a family trip to Baltimore.

I hope to comment on individual sessions presently, but for now I leave you with a few lines from C.S. Lewis that I read the night before heading out to Baltimore:
"Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn't stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower—become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations." - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 81. 
Replace "artist" with "scholar", and you have it about right.

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