I’m just back from the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting, which took place, this year, in Chicago. This is a professional meeting that always occurs the week before Thanksgiving, where professors of biblical studies from around the country (and less-so, around the world) come together for about four days to give and hear academic papers on an enormous range of topics related to biblical studies. Maybe 5000 or 6000 of them/us? The vast majority of people in that camp are themselves religiously committed in one way or the other (mainly Christian, fewer Jews); some of us are not believers but are simply interested in the Bible for historical, cultural, or literary reasons – although even most of us in that boat started out in our academic lives as believers.
I read two papers at the conference. One was actually at a meeting going on in conjunction with it, rather than part of it, the Biblical Archaeology Society Fest – where they bring in twenty scholars, most of the archaeologists, to discuss with the lay person crowd (maybe 150 or 200 people) what is happening in the world of archaeology and Bible. My talk was called “Jesus and the Other Divine Men,” where I discussed what ancient people thought about “sons of God” in the pagan tradition (and some in the Jewish), and then talked about how Jesus eventually came to take on divine status. That, as many of you on this blog know, is the subject of my next book.
My second paper was at the conference itself, at the NT Textual Criticism section, which is the group that is concerned with how to reconstruct the oldest form of the New Testament from our surviving manuscripts, none of which is perfect and all of which have mistakes. My paper was meant to introduce a new volume just edited by my friend Michael Holmes and I, the second edition of The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis. Originally this was a collection of essays in honor of Bruce Metzger (that is, a Festschrift), done in 1995.
The idea that I had for it, back then, was to have major essays on all of the important aspects of NT textual criticism that indicated “where we are now” as a discipline, by discussing the history of research over the past fifty years in that subfield, and giving up to date bibliographies. The subfields in the first edition were extensive. We had individual essays on 22 areas, written by internationally recognized experts, including ones on all the Greek papyri, the majuscules, the minuscules, etc; on the ancient versions of the NT in Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and others; on the quotations of the NT in the church fathers, whether Greek, Syriac, or Latin; and sundry articles on such things as the habits of scribes, the use of computers for reconstructing the text, and the use of the textual data at our disposal for understanding the social history of early Christianity (I wrote this final contribution myself).
In any event, the first edition came out in 1995, and now it is a pure museum piece. The field has changed a ton since then, both in what we know and in how we go about doing what we do. And so we – Mike Holmes and I (we were Metzger’s final two students) – decided to edit a new edition, and it has now come out. It’s a monster – over 880 pages – and includes expanded versions of the original essays, either by the original authors or by someone else, who edtied extensively the older contribution or, in most instances, wrote a new one from scratch; it also includes seven new contributions on areas that we did not have covered in the first edition (e.g., an essay on whether it makes sense to talk about an “original” text any more; the social history of scribes; the question of whether we should continue talking about text types; and others).
It was a good and lively session on the book at the conference. As it is, the book is scarcely affordable: it weighs in at $314! But the publisher, E. J. Brill will put out a paper back eventually, hopefully in about a year, at a more manageable $45 or so, we hope.
For the rest of the conference I did what I always do at these things: spend many hours talking with former students and old friends; browsing the book display, trying not to get too depressed by seeing all the books that I really should have read by now and, even worse, all the books that really should never have been written in the first place (LOTS of those!); and eating and drinking way too much. I did hear some other interesting papers, including one by my friend Charlie Cosgrove, who was a year ahead of me in my PhD program at Princeton Seminary and showed me the ropes back then, who read a paper on the earliest Christian hymns that have survived from the third Christian century (with musical notation!).
By the time it was over, I was completely conferenced out, and am now focusing my attention on turkey for a couple of days.