Well, I’m finally home from San Diego. Lots I could talk about. This year’s meeting was as hectic as always (pretty much 9-9 every day), but was one of the better ones for me in recent memory.
First there was the hotel — not the one for ETS (for those traveling to San Diego in the future, the Town and Country Resort is not the place to be). My hotel for SBL was the Hard Rock Hotel, right next to Petco Field, just 2-3 minutes away from the conference center. Not only is that the perfect distance, but the hotel itself was awesome. When I first checked in, I learned I was a VIP. Right in the middle of registering the process stopped when the average-looking guy told me he couldn’t finish booking me in because of my status. He disappeared and a minute later an anything-but-average-looking woman told me I had to register at a desk hidden behind the wall, right next to a secret lounge with lots of leather. Those of you who know me have a perfect mental image for the word “incongruous” now.
My first impulse was to ask if they had misspelled my name. Then I presumed I was dealing with exceptionally clever marketing. (Trust me, this isn’t the normal conference treatment for biblical scholars or geeks in general.) I eventually figured it out when she started asking me about what I did and what my group was (Logos). I was a VIP apparently because I was part of a sizable group reservation. Back to normal . . . almost. Before I got my room key I had to pick the music I wanted to play when I opened my door and persuade her that I didn’t want to kick back in her registration nest with an adult beverage. I haven’t listened to popular music since the 70s, but didn’t want her to know that, so I let her pick something for me. I have no idea what it was. Didn’t matter since I turned off the jumbotron in the room where it was emanating from as soon as I got to where I belonged. I passed on the electric guitar rental (I kid you not).
Truth be told, I loved the room. Lots of normal items that didn’t look normal. It was something between the Jetsons and (I guess) what Mick Jaggar’s house looks like. The only problem was that there was no coffee maker. I don’t drink coffee, but I always boil water and make tea with those. It’s a staple. When I called downstairs for one, a girl answered: “Thanks for calling the Hard Rock Hotel, you’re rocking with Marcie, can I help you?” (See the note on “incongruous” above). While Marcie sounded wonderful, she couldn’t come up with something to boil water for tea. There were no coffee makers in the entire hotel. Plenty of booze in the room, but nothing to make tea. That isn’t the beverage of choice for rock stars, I guess. I had to bring a large hot tea to my room at the end of each day (from a diner on the first floor called — really — Mary Jane’s).
On to the conference itself …
There was a lot of interest in Unseen Realm. Granted, it’s still a bit of a secret, but the sampler at the Lexham booth had a lot of takers. I also handed out about twenty of the ARCs (“Advanced Reader Copies”) to scholars who have either followed the project or would understand what I was trying to do. The goal was, as noted earlier here, to obtain a blurb and the promise that they’d contact a journal to review the real thing once it publishes in March.
I got to an unusually high number of papers this year (I broke double digits for the first time in the last ten years). Several were super. It’s pretty rare that a paper gets a “wow” from me, but two earned that response this year:
Fallen Angels, Bastard Spirits, and the Birth of God’s Son: An Enochic Etiology of Evil in Galatians
“Bastard spirits” is an epithet for the Watchers in 2nd temple Jewish texts. This was one of the best papers I’ve heard in many years at this event. I had thought the paper would focus on Gal 3:19, one of the NT references where the law was delivered by angels. It wasn’t. Rather, the presenter (a doctoral student at Marquette) drew our attention to the line about the law being “added because of transgressions,” and then asked a simple question: just whose transgressions is Paul talking about? Everyone assumes that Paul refers here to Adam or humanity in general. The presenter proceeded to overview the evidence in 2nd temple texts (Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha) to show how Enochic Judaism preferred the revelation of Enoch over that of Moses (the law). He then pointed out (and everyone in the room likely knew this) that, for 2nd temple Judaism, the overspreading of evil in the world stems from Gen 6:1-4, not Genesis 3. He then asked whether viewing Galatians 3-4 from the perspective of the sin of the Watchers helps answer several problems in the text of those chapters that scholars have debated for centuries. He went through them point by point, showing how the Enochian material reframed those issues and provided coherent answers. The climax of the birth of the son of God marked a reversal of the wickedness brought to humanity by the sin of the Watchers. It was awesome. Those of you who have read The Portent, (and also its handbook) will recall Brian’s discussion of how the gospel of Matthew does the same thing – something I drew from a recent dissertation for the novel – also from a Marquette student. I’m obviously going to try and get a copy of this paper.
“So Shall Your Seed Be”: Paul’s Use of Gen 15:5 in Rom 4:18 in light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions
This paper was also epic. I know the author, David Burnett (I’ve encouraged his pursuit of this topic for graduate work), so a “precursor version” of the paper was available to me for Unseen Realm input. I’ll be inserting some things from this updated version, which has been accepted for publication in JSPL. The thesis is easy to understand. Genesis 15:5 is the passage where the visible Yahweh, the Word of Yahweh (Gen 15:1), promises Abraham: “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. . . . So shall your offspring be.” Everyone (except some strong 2nd temple Jewish traditions!) presumes that both halves of the promise are quantitative (i.e., are about the number of descendants). The paper argued, following Philo and a wide range of other 2nd temple texts, that the second part (“so shall thy seed be”) should instead be interpreted qualitatively (i.e., Abraham’s seed will be transformed into celestial beings — glorified, divinized). Note that there is no “counting verb” in the second half of the promise, only the first. Modern interpreters insert that, based on the first half, to make the whole promise statement quantitative. Ancient interpreters didn’t do that. The paper then took listeners/readers back to the divine council worldview to frame the celestial language (sons of God, stars of God) as the proper context for understanding the glorification of the believer, including how believers displace and reconstitute the divine council in the eschaton (see Rev 2:26-28; 3:24; Rev 22:16). This is something I’ve blogged about before and of course have in the Unseen Realm draft.
Other very good papers included:
The Punishment of the Powers: Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82 as the Backdrop for Isaiah 34
- The presenter is a doctoral student at Dallas Seminary. He did a nice job of showing how “the nations and their hosts” who are punished in the eschaton point to the lesser elohim over the nations.
Sacred Space in the Pentateuch
- This was one of several papers John Walton read this year. I got a copy from him afterward. I’ll ask him if I can post it. Not sure if it’s slated for publication. In that event, he won’t be able to permit that. Most of this wasn’t new for me, but there were a few great lines and clear explanations of the concept that I’ll be incorporating into Unseen Realm. John used the paper as a place for responding to some criticisms of his “Lost World of Genesis One” book, where he argues (coherently) that the cosmos of creation was cast as God’s temple. That leads me to …
Creation as Cosmic Temple
- This was actually a two-part presentation at SBL (two papers) in an ecological hermeneutics section. Both papers laid out how Eden, the Tabernacle, and the Temple conform to the creation narrative in Genesis 1-2, where the cosmos is (per the above) cast as the temple of God. Good stuff.
Naturally, these conferences are about meeting people and catching up with friends. I was able to have lunch with several folks who follow this blog and who have participated in MEMRA language courses. Meeting Brian Godawa for the first time in person was a highlight. We hung out a few times when we both weren’t at papers. If you heard my Portent interview with Natalina, you know at least one topic of discussion. Can’t say more.
Finally, for those wondering about what books I bought, the answer is zero. The discounts are good till year’s end. I’m waiting to see how the numbers shake out. I’ve got my eye on the ones below. The first two alone add up to two hundred dollars (at the discount price no less; high-end scholarly books are amazingly expensive). It’s always this time of year when I wish that nonsense about how I’m getting wealthy debunking ancient astronaut blather or am a paid government disinformant about UFOs was true. Where’s CIA and NSA when you need them?! Maybe I should have Marcie call the publishers.
Stuckenbruck, The Myth of Rebellious Angels: Studies in Second Temple Judaism and New Testament Texts (brings a tear to my eye as I type the title – Stuckenbruck is a leading scholar in this material).
Patmore, Adam, Satan, and the King of Tyre: The Interpretation of Ezekiel 28:11-19 in Late Antiquity (would be very handy for showing my take on Gen 3 / Isa 14 / Ezek 28 isn’t my invention)
L. Michael Morales, Cult and Cosmos: Tilting Toward a Temple-Centered Theology (he read a very interesting paper on Leviticus ritual and the tabernacle at ETS — yes, there are such things)
Lambert, Babylonian Creation Myths (the late Assyriologist’s compilation of the relevant tablets and exegesis of the stories)
Knafl. Forming God: Divine Anthropomorphism in the Pentateuch (not yet released; early 2015; good for two Yahwehs issue)
And, as has occurred before, I managed to get a free book this year: Guy Consolmagno, Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers’ In-box at the Vatican Observatory (UFO Religions fodder)