Thursday, November 22, 2012

SBL-AAR 2012 (Chicago) – Reaction of a Recidivist

Last week I visited my 12th Annual Meeting of SBL. As usual, it was a huge conference, with more than 10,000 scholars attending. The venue, McCormick Place, is probably the largest convention center of North-America, and its size occasionally resulted in the feeling “Hey, where is everybody?”

Three things struck me in particular during this conference.

The first point is that, for me, SBL-AAR has become the place to meet my colleagues and friends from abroad. The individual and business meetings I have been in were actually at least as important to me as the academic sessions. If you want to arrange things with your colleagues, SBL-AAR is the place to do this.

A second point I noticed was the lively character of the sessions on textual criticism. The crowds drawn to these sessions were large, and the presentations were generally good. This was also the case in the “Constructing Christian Identities” section – here, the study of the second century leads to new insights and progress of the field. Unfortunately, I have not been able to attend the other groups I am always stimulated by: the sections on Early Jewish and Christian Relations and on Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity. In my experience, these groups ask the questions that I am most interested in. Their questions concern the textual transmission of the writings we study and the socio-religious contexts out of which these writings originated.

The third point I want to share here regards a disappointment. I was rather disappointed with the book exhibition. For those of you who haven’t ever attended an SBL-AAR: the book exhibit at these meetings is huge. It may be regarded as the Frankfurter Buchmesse for Biblical and Religious Studies. Among the thousands of new books, I could hardly find any really exciting material. It amazed me to see how many new commentaries have been published on Romans, on Luke, on Mark, how many introductions to Paul, to the NT in general and to the historical Jesus were presented here. A certain fatigue got to me. It made me realize that many of us spend our time and energy on rewriting (or unwriting!) books that have already been written, sometimes even long ago. The good news is, that it also made me realize that I was looking for that one book I could not find. And now you may wonder about the subject of that book. If I will be given the time, you might actually get to see the result at a future SBL Annual Meeting...

And thus, in the end, I return from Chicago satisfied and full of plans.

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