SBL/AAR 2015: A Retrospective

Today is my first full day home from the 2015 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion. As is typically the case, I find myself in the aftermath experiencing a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration and, incidentally, in the mood to write a blog post (more on why at the end).

I gave two papers this year. One was on reading the death of Moses through first-century eyes and in light of the Synoptic transfiguration narratives (available here). The other was an intertextual analysis of some central themes in the Gospel of John and The Polar Express (available here). Both went well. I IMG_0698encountered some pushback on the Synoptic paper, but it was the kind of pushback that you want; several in the audience questioned parts of my analysis and offered some helpful avenues for further explanation that I’d not considered. Both of these papers happened on Saturday, more or less back to back, which made for a long day. But in retrospect, it was nice to not have them hanging over my head for the rest of the conference.
I also chaired a Christian Apocrypha session on Monday afternoon, where I got to hear phenomenal papers by Alexander Kocar (Princeton), Meghan Henning (University of Dayton), Andrew Mark Henry (Boston University), and Mark Bilby (Claremont). Tony Burke (York University) gave a response, and we closed with some discussion. I very much enjoy the Christian Apocrypha group at SBL, and not just because of my research interests. I like it because it’s relatively small, so you have a chance to get to know those who attend. And in the sea of humanity that is the annual meeting, a bit of familiarity here and there never hurts.

The book room is always a highlight, of course. This year there were actually two book rooms, on two separate floors, which was far from ideal. The “main” room upstairs housed the big publishers (Oxford, Eerdmans, Baker, Wipf and Stock, etc.), and the other room downstairs had the software people (Logos, Accordance, etc.) as well as a few other publishers (Notre Dame, etc.). I actually had no idea that the downstairs room even existed until late Saturday afternoon. I can’t remember ever seeing a divided exhibit hall like this, and I hope whoever organizes that aspect of the meeting will avoid similar situations in the future.

My goal this year was to avoid purchasing books that were not directly relevant to my teaching or research. I was actually able to avoid purchasing anything at all, but not because I didn’t find anything worth purchasing. Several publishers that I visited were interested in sending me on my way with gratis examination copies. From Oxford University Press I received a copy of Mark Noll’s In the Beginning was the Word, and from Baker I received Introducing World Religions: A Christian Engagement. And Fortress Press provided me with a new desk copy of a text I’m using next semester: Rhoads, et al., Mark as Story (3rd edition).

I also quite by chance ended up dining with Markus Vinzent on Sunday evening. We chatted for over an hour about his intriguing hypothesis on the origin of the canonical gospels, namely, that they are all in some form drawing from Marcion’s Gospel. He very graciously tracked me down the next day and gave me two of his books: Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament (Ashgate), and Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels (Peeters). I will look forward to reading through those and then, hopefully, posting some sort of review/engagement in this space.

One of the best parts of the annual meeting, of course, is reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. This year I was fortunate to be able to spend time with colleagues from graduate school, many of whom were giving papers or interviewing for jobs. I also got to meet in person several colleagues who were, until this weekend, only digital colleagues. Over the past two years or so Facebook and Twitter have clearly emerged as accepted and effective means of networking.

This leads to a question that I’d like to respond to briefly right now, but hopefully address further in a dedicated post at some point in the next few weeks. The question is that of blogging and other social media and the degree to which young scholars (graduate students, untenured faculty, etc.) should be involved, if at all. I attended the final twenty minutes or so of a session on blogging (James McGrath’s summary is here) in which several panelists argued that young scholars should not be blogging. Two reasons were cited: 1) it’s a time suck, and 2) it can attract controversy.

I agree wholeheartedly that social media can be an enormous waste of energy. Blogging in particular can demand long stretches of time that could be better spent working on other, more meaningful writing (journal articles, conference presentations, etc.). And I’ve also watched graduate students come close to committing career suicide with tweets, blog posts, etc. that aren’t particularly well thought out. Simply put: social media can be dangerous.

Yet at several points this weekend, even after attending the blogging session, I found myself advising younger colleagues to build up their social media presence. Because at least to some extent, many of the dangers of social media are avoidable ones. I say “to some extent” because there’s always some risk involved in putting yourself out there. And really, that is the case regardless of the medium: one could say the same thing about a book review, conference presentation, or journal article, and we nevertheless encourage these.

It is both possible and wise to limit the amount of time you spend engaging in social media, as academia requires that you commit a substantial portion of your energy to other, more scholarly pursuits. But I do think that social media can be a valuable tool for the young scholar, if used carefully and with an acknowledgment of its limitations. More on that in a future post, I hope (the previous four paragraphs are little more than a knee-jerk reaction to the question, so please read as such and mind the gaps).

For now, time to enjoy another cup of coffee. See you next year in San Antonio!

York Christian Apocrypha Symposium 2015, a Retrospective

This year I had the privilege of giving a paper at the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium, a conference on apocryphal literature put together by Tony Burke and Brent Landau at York University in Toronto.

The conference itself was relatively IMG_0354small —  19 presenters and a handful of others in the audience — and it was therefore a nice change from the utter enormity of the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, which has grown to the point of being almost unmanageable. Quite a few of us live-tweeted the presentations under the hashtag #YCAS2015. And James McGrath was diligent about live blogging all of the sessions, which you can access below:

Panel 1; Panel 2; Panel 3; Panel 4; Panel 5; Panel 6

Notes on Bart Ehrman’s keynote address on forgery are available here.

And an overview of the final panel on the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is available here.

IMG_0351As it turns out, this was actually the last year for the York Symposium, at least in its current form. There will be another symposium in 2017, in Ottawa, under the auspices of the newly-established North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature (NASSCAL). The current board of this exciting new group has some fantastic ideas for future initiatives, and I would recommend joining if you are interested in the Christian Apocrypha.

*The first photo is of the last panel of the symposium, on the reception of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Pictured from left to right are Brent Landau, Carrie Schroeder, James McGrath, Mark Goodacre, and Janet Spittler. The second photo is of Tony Burke introducing Bart Ehrman before his keynote.

SBL/AAR 2014: A Retrospective

The SBL/AAR annual meeting is always exhausting. A combination of too little sleep, too much walking, possibly forgetting about a meal or two, schmoozing, and thinking too hard all day is enough to wear anyone out.

Yet we press on, because for many of us the annual meeting is a highlight. It is a time to get together with old friends and to meet some new ones. It is a time to browse (mostly) beautiful books, dreaming that you may one day be able to afford some of them (I’m looking at you, Brill and Mohr Siebeck), and purchasing others because you’ve forgotten that they are always cheaper on Amazon. It is a time to sometimes catch a glimpse of a scholar whose work essentially changed everything about how you understand your field.

This year my beloved spouse Tweeted and Facebooked about my adventures in San Diego using the hashtag, #BibleNerdConference2014. I love it, because in my view, it captures the spirit of what the annual meeting is all about.

Conferences are where nerds go to feel normal. Those of us who spend the majority of our teaching workload in general education courses sometimes need a reminder that there are others out there who are ridiculously interested in what we do, or at the very least, that there are people out there who understand why we do what we do.

We need to spend time in an environment where you can overhear casual conversations on textual criticism, ancient material culture, or the newest trends in research on the Apocalypse. We need to be in a room that erupts in laughter alongside us when someone cracks a clever joke about Rudolf Bultmann or the Synoptic Problem (especially if it involves Q — let the reader understand). We need to spend time in a giant bookstore that is filled with books that don’t make us angry (looking at you now, Barnes and Noble).

So now that NerdFest 2014 has come to a close, we look forward already to next year in Atlanta. See you there.

Obligatory “Most Popular Posts of 2013” Post

Another year in the bank (almost). And that means that it’s time again to look back and see why people continue to wander to this blog that (let’s be honest) has seen better years. So without delay, I give you some of the most posts of 2013, none of which were written in 2013.

  1. Using Scrivener with Bibliographic Software — This is the single most read post on this blog, receiving more hits per day than every other post in this list combined. “Scrivener“, for the uninitiated, is one of the greatest pieces of word processing software in existence. Without it, I would still be stuck in the drafting stages of my dissertation. If writing is a part of your livelihood, you need to take a look at Scrivener. This post was intended for academic authors (like me) who use Scrivener in conjunction with bibliographic software. The title is somewhat deceptive, I suppose, as the only bibliographic software I talk about in the post is Bookends, another “must-have” for (mac-using) academic authors. I hope that the amount of traffic to this post means that people have found it useful!
  2. Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness — In second place we have an entirely non-original post from almost three years ago. So far as I can tell, the reason this post is so popular is that 1) the image I have posted is one of the higher quality ones out there and 2) a few people “pinned” this post, causing it to shoot up the ranks in Google image search. Click on the link above if you have no idea who Ron Swanson is or why you should care about his pyramid of greatness.
  3. The Shadow of the Galilean (Review) — This post receives pretty insignificant traffic for most of the year, but it peaks toward the middle and end of the fall and spring semesters (when papers are due). I think I’ve mentioned this phenomenon before. My guess is that I am not the only one who assigns it for reading in a college-level New Testament class.
  4. Why Writing a Dissertation is Harder than Having a Baby — Like post #2 (above), the content of this entry is also largely not my own work. I posted this in the fall of 2010, just over a year after entering the doctoral program at Marquette. Since that time, I have written a dissertation and watched my wife give birth. I continue to find the post amusing, but I now question the accuracy of its central claim.
  5. How to Write a Paper Proposal — This is the oldest post on this list, written in the summer of 2010. As the title implies, it’s about how to write a paper proposal. I’m not entirely sure that I was qualified in 2010 to write a post like this. Truth be told, I still have some doubts. I leave it up because about once per month I receive a kind e-mail from a stranger telling me that they’ve had a paper accepted at a professional conference and that they used this post as a guide. To me, the central points in it are 1) be bold, 2) be clear, and 3) be concise. Come to think of it, those are pretty good pieces of advice for graduate students in general.
  6. Dissertations, Fonts, and Wasting Time — And finally, a post about one of the greatest time-wasters that continues to taunt ranks of graduate students like myself: choosing a font. This post was written almost exactly two weeks before I began writing my dissertation (I know that because I wrote it on the day before my daughter was born). It originated as a sort of “aha moment”/confessional. You see, I love fonts, and at several points during my graduate career I became convinced that most people cared as much about fonts as I do. Hence, I spent an inordinate amount of time agonizing over which typeface to use for which paper. Does Garamond seem to flashy? Does Gentium Greek go well with Palatino Roman? Ugh. I remain convinced by the wisdom offered at the end of the post: nobody cares. The ironic thing is that people who find this post typically do so with search strings like “what is the best font for a dissertation” or “most impressive dissertation font.” As long as it looks nice (i.e., isn’t too big and has serifs), it just doesn’t matter. You will note that when I spoke of my love for fonts earlier I did so in the present tense (“I love fonts”). You see, I continue to live with my addiction. I still love fonts and I will, on occasion, allow myself to indulge. But then I snap back to the mantra that I used to overcome my tormenter: “Do your work. Don’t be stupid.”

Thanks as always for reading, and best wishes to you and yours in this new year.

Recapping SBL 2013

This post is tardy, as I returned home from the SBL meeting in Baltimore a week ago. But with the Thanksgiving holiday beginning right after I got back, this is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit and organize my thoughts!

As usual, the conference was a healthy combination of exhilarating and exhausting: papers to see, a paper to give, friends to catch up with, crab cakes to eat (we were in Baltimore, after all), and books to buy. And speaking of books…

The book room is always one of the highlights of SBL. My approach to the spread has changed over the years. When I first started attending, I would buy anything that looked interesting to me. Then, as I began to approach the dissertation stage, I restricted myself to books that were only directly related to my dissertation research. Now, as I troll the aisles, I’m on the lookout for books that might inspire future research projects as well as resources that may be valuable in the classroom. This year I found myself talking with several publishers about their products, sharing with them what I liked and what I wished they did better. All of them, I think, were happy to listen to feedback.

Last year I left with five books and a pamphlet. This year I came away with the following:

  1. From the Accordance booth, I picked up the Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha module. It was a total splurge, and slightly superfluous; the OTP aren’t really on my current research radar, but I do hope that they will be in the future. I have been really impressed with the collection so far. Like all Accordance modules, it is well done.
  2. From InterVarsity Press, I picked up Andrew Louth’s Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology. Definitely not related to my research, at least not directly. This was a purchase for the classroom. I have realized lately that I have an inadequate understanding of nearly all things Orthodox, so this past weekend I was in search of a resource that would help me fix this.
  3. From Wipf & Stock, whose products I am drawn to more and more every year, I picked up two books: Margaret Ramey’s The Quest for the Fictional Jesus and Steven Walker’s Illuminating Humor of the BibleThe first is intended to inform one of my assignments for next semester, a book review of a fictional “Jesus novel.” And the second is meant to feed my interest in biblical humor, an interest that I attribute to a paper of Bruce Longenecker’s at SBL a few years ago.
  4. The award for the publisher who drew the majority of my attention goes to Eerdmans. Seriously, I spent an hour at their booth and I left wanting more. I ended up picking up Tony Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealeda new introduction to Christian Apocrypha; Vernon Robbins’s Who Do People Say I Am?another book on Christian apocrypha that is somewhat similar in aim to my own research; Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective, because I’ve heard good things; and Andrew T. Lincoln’s Born of a Virgin?because I just can’t help myself.

One of my biggest regrets is that my list of purchases from Eerdmans does not include Richard Bauckham’s much-anticipated Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical ScripturesI have been looking at pre-publication proofs of this book for what seems like two years. For some reason, it has taken a long time to complete. And for what seems like the past two years, every time I’ve seen a copy of the proofs I’ve said to myself, “The minute I can buy this book, I will.” Well, that didn’t happen, but not because it’s a bad book. To the contrary, seeing the completed product makes me want one even more. No, the problem last weekend was the size of the book — I had a terrible backache for the bulk of the conference, and I simply could not imagine adding this massive tome to my bag and trucking it through the airport. Amazon to the rescue, I suppose.

Next year in San Diego!

Books at SBL

The book room at the SBL is always a highlight of the conference. For the past couple of years, I have attempted to restrict my purchases to those books that are directly related to my dissertation. Last year, I failed miserably. This year, I was more successful. Here’s what I came home with:

From the Wipf & Stock booth:

Reidar Aasgaard’s The Childhood of Jesus: Decoding the Apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas — As I am writing about an infancy gospel (arguably the best infancy gospel), this one was a must have. I had encountered it a few times in the early stages of my research, and after I heard it referenced a few times in the course of a single session, I decided I should pick up my own copy.

John H. Hayes’ If You Don’t Like the Possum, Enjoy the Sweet Potatoes: Some Principles for Travel Along the Road of Life — John Hayes was an OT professor at Emory while I was in seminary there. He has since retired (I believe). This, in short, is a sort of memoir: a collection of short essays covering a variety of topics. It offers, as the subtitle implies, “some principles for travel along the road of life.” One of the chapters is entitled, “Give People Enough Rope and They Will Hang You.” Obviously, not dissertation related.

D. Mark Davis’ Left Behind and Loving It: A Cheeky Look at the End Times — I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this book. It was an impulse buy. But, it was situated right next to what is perhaps my favorite work of theological humor, Tripp York’s The Devil Wears Nada. We shall see if Davis measures up. Also, not dissertation related.

From Baker Academic:

François Bovon’s New Testament and Christian Apocrypha — I have used this book countless times, but I have never been able to own it, as it was published previously by Mohr Siebeck. Now that it is available through Baker, I have my own copy!

From Baylor University Press:

Richard B. Hays and Stefan Alkier’s Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation — I walked by this book at the Baylor Press booth probably 15 times before I pulled the trigger. I had seen an announcement about its release somewhere, and it certainly seemed interesting. I was hesitant to purchase it, however, because although I find Revelation interesting, I have never had any real impulse to do any work in it. Then, I attended a session on Monday afternoon during which this book was reviewed. The conversation that ensued in the session brought up many points that are related to the methodology I’m developing in my dissertation, so I was convinced to add this little tome to my stash. I read pieces of it on the train ride home, and I’m now very thankful that I decided to pick it up.

From Mohr Siebeck:

A small pamphlet with details about Christoph Markschies and Jens Schröter’s Antike christliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung — An exciting revision and expansion of the long-acclaimed Hennecke-Schneemelcher Neutestamentliche Apokryphen. I had a chance to peruse one of the volumes, and it looks fantastic. Unfortunately, because it is a Mohr Siebeck publication, the pamphlet is all I can afford (it was free). Hoping that the Marquette Library will be quick to add this to its collection.