Post ETS/SBL 2010 Musings
I returned yesterday from ten days spent in Atlanta to attend the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature yearly meetings. I am not a member of the ETS anymore, but since I could stay in Atlanta with my in-laws, I decided to attend to see some friends and go to some sessions. Given time and financial constraints, I don’t attend these meetings every year. Last one was in Boston in 2008. Some thoughts on the 2010 editions.
The ETS meeting
Though some at the SBL look down on the ETS, I found that some papers and meetings at the ETS, with about 2,600 attendees this year, are often of a comparable quality (whether good or bad) than at the SBL, and vice-versa. The main differences for me are that the ETS is, of course, more conservative (whatever that means) overall than the SBL, that is has one dominant theme (this year justification by faith), that there is not as wide a diversity of issues treated, that it feels much less international, i.e. more American, than the SBL, that it offers no free computer access (though I wished the SBL offered free wi-fi altogether), that many of the major European publishing houses do not come to the ETS, and, mostly, that the SBL tote bags are much nicer. But then, the SBL meeting price is also substantially higher than the ETS.
Though, like most attendees probably, I do not attend papers and sessions all day long, I did get to go to a few good ones. The panel review on Köstenberger’s book on John was interesting, especially since I have been working on John for over a year now. I also attended a paper on “Developing a Biblical Theology of Singleness” by my friend Barry Danylak. A very interesting work with sound exegetical, theological, and historical material. Barry is finishing his Pd. D. in Cambridge on this. Check his popular version if you are interested in this issue, which, given, the increasing single population, you should. The big ticket at the ETS was the debates about N.T. Wright’s position on justification, especially the plenary sessions by Wright, Tom Schreiner, and Frank Thielman, and the panel with the three of them on Friday morning. More on this in a separate post.
The SBL meeting
The SBL, with about 4,800 participants this year, was more grueling for me. First, because it was longer, but also because I attended quite a few sessions this year as well as various receptions. The longest day was on Saturday where I attended the Tyndale Fellowship breakfast at 7 am to finish with the de Gruyter reception that started at 9 pm (my thesis was published by them). I also attended the Swiss universities reception to have some news about them, the Durham reception where I was invited by John Barclay to chat about some writing projects, and the Vandenhoeck-Ruprecht reception to get a glimpse at their new projects. The last night I also joined the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog diner at the Hard Rock cafe since I often look at it and know several of its contributors. (The Diva lying down in the front is Peter Head!) I had a chance to sit across from Michael Holmes and talk about his SBL Greek New Testament. I also had a chance to see several friends and have a coffee or bite with them. I think it was my busiest SBL meeting so far.
On to the sessions. As was expected, some speakers, really put me to sleep (at the ETS too). One speaker with a rather larger crowd started reading his text with almost no transition at all after having having been introduced. Furthermore, I cannot count the number of times I heard something to the effect of “Well, I had prepared more but I am skipping some material.” Just skip the material and don’t say it. If you manage to transition somewhat smoothly, most people will not realize you are skipping the material they don’t know is on you paper and you won’t send the message that, really, you had an allotted time but you forgot to take it into account when preparing your speech. I some cases, I really thought that some people should not be allowed to present papers, just send us the pdf file since there are just being read anyway (see my post about this). On the other hand, I attended several good sessions on Philo twice, on New Testament textual criticism honoring E. J. Epp, on Papyrology and Early Christian Background, and on Acts.
The Book Exhibits
As is the case with many people, I spent quite a good amount of time at the book exhibits, both at the ETS as well as at the SBL. I always try to exercise self-restraint in buying books. Since I regularly go to the library of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, one of the best theology libraries in the world in my opinion, I do not need to buy books I know the library buys. (A couple of weeks ago I suggested the Library buys Campbell’s Deliverance of God, I just got a mail informing me it’s coming.) Furthermore, I know that a lot of the books on display are not indispensable. I mean, do we need another four or five commentaries on Romans or on Matthews in English? And that’s the sad part of the story. Some really good books are probably drowned in the sea of the rest, and some of a disputable quality emerge if only because of the name of the author or of marketing. I sometimes think that were I to write a proposal with the title “The Drama of Paul’s Dance with the Empire in the New Perspective” I would be welcomed with interest just because I would hit the fashionable hot buttons. Anyway. I also got a chance to talk to two publishers about my book on evangelism in the NT and the Early Fathers and got some interest, if only because the book is not actually going with the flow and is grounded in exegesis and history. I also dropped by the Accordance booth several times and was amazed at the kind of stuff I did not know I could do with it. I will definitely start viewing the podcasts.
All and all therefore, I am glad I went to the meetings, especially since I did not have to pay for a hotel and I flew with mileage. Next year I probably won’t go. It’s too far and I would have to pay.