Friday, November 28, 2014

SBL Postlude

Last weekend I made my yearly pilgrimage to SBL, the Society of Biblical Literature. I don't think I realized how mentally tired I was when I left. I returned feeling a bit refreshed and thankful for all the blessings of my life.

In the academic Dean's role, I spend most of my time academic problem solving and whack-a-moling the unpredictable daily stream of minutia that is the stuff of an academic institution. IMO, a good Dean is a servant of the greater good. Wayne Schmidt has an amazing ability to see possible ways that the Seminary can serve the Church and the minister in the trenches. The Seminary faculty are excellent at enriching pastors and lay leaders in our programs with down to earth, practical insights with an underlying depth.

The Dean, as I see it, keeps the two in good communication--the vision and its implementation--and helps make it happen academically. He or she helps make the vision of the leader happen academically, while empowering the faculty to thrive. I've been with enough other academic Deans to understand why the average tenure is about five years. I saw a fellow Dean at SBL and had to smile when I saw that distant look on his face. :-)

But I digress. SBL is an odd animal. It is full of individual scholars at various stages of their academic lives. Some are trying out their wings for the first time, trying to build a resume, trying to get some scholarly street credit. There are papers, papers, papers. I suppose most of them are not too memorable. Many of them are preposterous. Sorry, I just don't think Mark was originally written in Aramaic.

But some are quite memorable. Sometimes you get to witness an event that people talk about for a long time. I probably arrived too late to catch the ones this year, such as the review of Bart Ehrman's new book, How Jesus Became God, or the smack down between N. T. Wright and Doug Campbell.

The book hall is both amazing and depressing. For me it's a chance to realize how far behind I'm getting with my particular areas of interest and to wonder why I would even think about writing another book when there is already such a torrent of ink, most of which is smeared. Of course I will anyway. :-)

I paused to ask what one thing I came away with this time. I think it's a commitment to finish in the next month a scholarly book on Hebrews I have been overdue to finish for way too long a time. I've made good progress even today.

It is always nice to see old friends, people who also speak your first language, the language of the Bible in history. I suppose about 60 or 70 percent of that language is not immediately helpful even for a minister. I don't know. You don't have to know Greek to comfort someone who is dying. :-)

Still, it's nice to be able to talk about the bottom part of the iceberg with individuals who are both interested and conversant with such things. It's nice every once and a while to be with friends who are so much on the same page with you that you can pretend that everyone else in the world is crazy.

It was nice. I didn't present, so I didn't have that pressure. There were plenty other meetings and activities. I spent some time with my sister Juanita and my brother-in-law Ed Garcia, who pastors in Vista. And who can sneeze at San Diego when it's freezing outside here in Indiana? I saw Skyline, looked across the border into Mexico, and flew home.

How sweet it is to come home after a long journey! Thanks be to God!


Susan Moore said...

I wonder -what was it like for you the first time you presented a paper or taught in a classroom? Also, I'm still not clear on the role of the responder, if you could elaborate on that.
P.S. It seems to me your iceberg is upside down! :-)

Ken Schenck said...

The first time I taught in a classroom was awesome. It was Greek, Fall of 1990. I could hardly sleep the night before. I had all sorts of crazy ideas swimming through my head, like having the students line up outside in imaginary boxes for each of the Greek endings, like a huge Hollywood square.

The first time I presented was at a regional SBL in Atlanta, 1991. It was a paper on Hebrews I had presented at Asbury my final year. I took the whole 30 minutes so there was no time for questions. Very nervous. Very anticlimactic... next please.

Most papers at SBL don't have respondents. That's usually for reviews of books or responses to senior scholars.

My blog is a mixture of iceburg material because it's whatever I'm thinking about. The classroom has to stay on topic more. :-)

Susan Moore said...

ok, thanks. I've never met you, but it's still hard to imagine you nervous!
I still don't see what the purpose is of responders, though. Isn't everyone who is listening a responder? Why not just have a question and answer period? With responders, is it supposed to be like a dialogue, or like a debate? Do the speakers know what the responders are going to say ahead of time, like the responders know what the speakers will say?

Ken Schenck said...

I went to a couple sessions this year where there were responders. In the first one, one person critiqued a new book fairly strongly. The author of the book had seen the reviews beforehand and so had a response to the response prepared. In another, a person was writing a commentary on Philo's treatise on the Ten Commandments and one person responded. In both cases there was also a time for Q and A from the audience. In fact, in the second case, all the papers had been put online for everyone to read beforehand.