I’m still in New Orleans, where, since Wednesday, I’ve been attending and participating in the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). The next conference begins tomorrow, the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). Before the latter begins, I thought I’d post some thoughts about ETS.

The two Israelite Religions sections for which I had the responsibility of organizing went well. There were six papers delivered. We averaged 37 attendees, up slightly from last year’s single section of fours papers (35 average). That means the new Israelite Religions consultation is a viable entity, so I’m thankful to all who attended. Here were our papers with a few comments:

Roy Gane (Andrews University): “The Unifying Logic of Israelite Purification Offerings within Their Ancient Near Eastern Contexts”

This was the first time I’ve heard Roy Gane. I was impressed with his deep knowledge of ritual texts within and outside the Hebrew Bible. The best thing I got out of the paper was his comment in Q&A about how the literary order of the sacrifices followed a consistent pattern moving from forgiveness to personal devotion (“Sanctification” in NT parlance) and how that informed the NT concept of discipleship.

John Walton (Wheaton College): “Demons in the Ancient Near East, Israel, and the Bible”

John’s paper was helpful to me in some ways I will detail in future posts. He created a taxonomy of terms divine beings in Mesopotamia and the Hebrew Bible, and then compared and contrasted the terms. I noticed that his taxonomy did not include the use of plural elohim (for all three classes he constructed), nor was the word “watcher” (ghira’ in Aramaic) accounted for. The latter is somewhat minor, but the former has importance. I’ll detail what I mean in the future, but for now, the benefits of his paper outweighed this oversight. I think you’ll agree when I summarize the content. John’s paper was far and away the best-attended. I’m thankful he agreed to participate. John is always worth reading/hearing.

Ronn Johnson (Northwestern College): “Variations on the Shema: How Multiple Yahwisms Played a Positive Role in Israelite Religion”

Ronn is a long time friend and out-of-the-box thinker. His focus was basically that many Israelites had very little exposure to and knowledge of the Torah (it’s not like today, when everyone has a Bible), and this resulted in odd and even errant understanding of Yahweh — but yet they could still be a Yahwist, in that their heart-loyalty to Yahweh (as opposed to Torah)was the issue. I think this idea reflects the reality of their life circumstances.

(yours truly): “Decision Making in Yahweh’s Heavenly Council: A Contribution to the Open Theism Debate”

I’ve linked to the paper for those interested. This one wasn’t written for publication; something I’ve been thinking about. For readers of my “Myth” book draft, the material will sound familiar. I like to vet ideas of mine at these events.

John Barry (Trinity Western University): “The Servant the Branch, Joshua the High Priest and Yahweh’s Council”

John is a friend and colleague of mine at Logos (he is the lead editor of Bible Study Magazine). He argued that the “servant” reference in Zechariah 3, a figure whose appearance is somehow related to the cleansing of Joshua the high priest, ought to be understood in light of the Servant in Isaiah. I’d not though about this before, so it was stimulating.

Rick Hess (Denver Seminary): “Personal and Social Ethics among the Canaanites”

Rick is a favorite scholar of mine. (Loved the Bert and Ernie tie, too, Rick). I’m thankful he accepted my invitation. His presentation showed us that the evil Canaanites (mostly focusing on the Amorites) were not that evil all the time. In many cases their ethics (drawn from their own textual sources) were similar to biblical standards and even were “better” (if that’s the right word). Q&A focused on why, then, they were targeted for kherem-extermination, and what Genesis 15:16 meant. I have my own view of this (it was about bloodlines and the belief in certain foreign peoples being descended from teh fallen elohim of Gen 6). Rick had an interesting comment in regard to the “why” though. He cited two studies on OT ethics that concluded that it seemed that the foreign peoples who resisted Israelite conquest (i.e., Israel’s national existence) were the ones targeted. Basically, this is a self-defense tack – resistance meant killing Israelites. Had they not resisted, Israel would only have dispossessed them, not killed them (and the conquest accounts do speak of victory without military conflict). This makes some sense and dovetails with my own view (the bloodlines idea includes the opposition to Israel’s presence as God’s seed in the land). I’ll have to give it some more thought.

I also heard severl other good papers on the earliest evidence for the existence of the books of the NT in a section devoted to NT textual criticism (Dan Wallace, William Warren, Stan Porter).

Other than that, it’s been good to connect a bit with scholar-friends (Carl Sanders, David Pettus, Bill Barrick, Mike Grisanti, Wayne House, George Gatis, Sam Lamerson, Gary Yates, and Ed Glenny come to mind just now).

Looking forward to SBL.