For everyone asking- SBL stands for Society of Biblical Literature and AAR stands for American Academy of Religion. Bill has gone to this thing four years now, and I just returned home from my first.
What is it? I can't really say anything about the AAR side, but for the SBL side, as far as I can tell, it is a conference for all of the very smartest people who study the Bible (and associated texts) to get together and present papers on new, developed or re-thought information regarding the texts. Some of these papers are part of dissertations, some of them are part of books, some of them are ideas that a committee thinks should be brought to the table.
I am in no way equipped to give you a report on the papers I did hear. Honestly, I didn't quite get the hang of "how to be" in the sessions until Sunday morning. So it works like this. You look at the schedule and there are 2 1/2 hour blocks in which 4-5 related papers are presented and then there is a time for questions and answers. These blocks start on Friday and go until Tuesday morning. I stayed mostly in the sessions relating to the Gospel of John because that is what I am the most interested in, two of those were called "John, Jesus, and History" and "Johannine Literature." I went to a "Jewish Christian Dialogue and Sacred Texts" session and one "Intertextuality in the New Testament" session and another on ancient fiction. Bill went to sessions on Matthew and the Historical Jesus.
Gosh, I heard a lot of papers. My favorites were:
Sunny Chen: The Wedding Imagery of Jesus and Adam: The intertextual Connection of John 19: 26-37 and Genesis 2: 18-25
James Crossley: The Quest for the Johannine 'Jesus the Jew'
Chris Keith: Jesus as Galilean in the Gospel of John
Judith Stack-Nelson: Traces of Bread, an Absence of Flesh: Reading John's Bread of Life Discourse and Eucharistic Imagery with Derrida
Chris Porter: Total Recall: Recasting the Narrative Social Identity of a Community through the Narrative of the Gospel of John
Leonard Greenspoon: Laughing Our Way...to Understanding? (read by Stephanie)
Wendy E. S. North: John and the Synoptics: Evaluating a Method
Helen Bond: Response to the John, Jesus, and History session
Eve-Marie Becker: Beyond History: How the Fourth Gospel Transcends Ancient Historiography
Rafael Rodriguez: What is History? Reading the Gospel of John as a Historical Text
Anthony Le Donne: A Bending before the Breaking: A Case Study in the Flexibility of Memory and Ethnicity in the Fourth Gospel
Lest you think that I am super smart and kept up with these papers, let me disabuse you of that notion RAT NAO. (for any scholars reading this, that's not Greek, Latin or Aramaic, it's southern and phonetic. Read it out loud.) I have read a bit, and I have learned some of the language, but I was so overwhelmed and out of my depth at first, that I just kept my head down and sighed a lot. But, I didn't go to SBL to sight-see. I went to learn. So I picked up my head and started working really hard. Ya'll, listening closely and keeping up is tough when the people you are listening to are pretty much the smartest people in all the world.
I was wiped out each night when we rolled back to the hotel room. Bill would laugh and say "I know! It's exhausting, isn't it?" and then would proceed to stay up reading papers until two or three in the morning while I watched 30 Rock until I fell asleep. #truestory
There really is so much to say, and I will never get it all in, but I don't want to let it pass without noting some of the really wonderful moments.
Thursday night we got to hear Anthony LeDonne and Larry Behrendt interact regarding Anthony's new book and demonstrate what healthy and productive Jewish-Christian dialogue looks like. It was great, and one of the absolute highlights of trip for me was meeting Larry and his wife Stephanie. I LOVE THEM. We got to have drinks with them that night and they were at the blogger dinner the next night. We out-sat and out-talked that entire table. They are so kind and were just utterly delightful. I am so grateful that I got to spend as much time with them as I did. What a privilege. I learned so much and feel so enriched from those conversations.
I also got to meet a lot of scholars and authors whose books I have read- Chris Skinner, Chris Keith, Brant Pitre, Rafael Rodriguez, Anthony LeDonne- people Bill and I talk about regularly and who have had a huge impact on my study of the New Testament. All of these guys were so kind and never once made me feel that I didn't belong there. I even kept Anthony and Rafael late after the very last session asking questions which they were generous enough to answer.
Another major highlight for me was having dinner with Judy Stack-Nelson, who is a professor and writer and who offered to give me a reading list so that I can study up on literary criticism. We had a delightful time, and while I missed one of her papers, I did get to see the other one she presented- which was brilliant. I am a huge fan and can't wait to see what she does next. I feel SO grateful that she took time from her crazy schedule to hang out with me. (She also gave me her "set list." I asked her if she would send me a copy of both her papers and she pulled them out of her bag and handed them over. I mean, come ON.)
My one regret was that I saw Lynn Cohick twice and neither time did I find the courage to go up and thank her. The last time I saw her, we were standing in line right behind her and Bill pointed her out and I squeaked and started flapping my arms. Then she started a conversation with some publishers and I decided not to say anything because I wasn't sure I could keep from hardcore fangirling. And because I am a giant chicken. Next time I see Lynn Cohick I will thank her. I learned my lesson.
We met a lot of people. I should say, I met a lot of people. Bill knew most of them already and it was so much fun for me to watch him interact. I felt really proud of him. There were other people that we got to spend time with- Jordan Ryan, David Smith, Bas van Os. We got to see and hang out with Mike Morrell, which was like old home week. It was so great to see him again and get a signed copy of his book.
It was encouraging and uplifting and inspiring and I hope to do a lot more reading and study before the next time I am able to attend the annual meetings.