Wednesday, December 05, 2007

SBL 2007 (p. 2)

Because of the venue change, & because of my brief meeting with Dr. Kelle, I finally arrived at 2:25pm where Jodi Magness was halfway into her lecture. I had heard many favorable reports about her, & have enjoyed her BAR articles & radio interviews, & I was delighted to discover they were accurate!

Whereas other speakers give lectures, she becomes the lecture. She possesses every good trait one could expect to find: brilliant (thoroughly knows what she's talking about), clear (not too fast, not too slow), lively (dramatic hand gestures & emotional tones), & something you'll probably not hear from any academician--she's just plain cute! (I'm a bachelor--I notice these things!)

The only problem for me was that the subject she was talking about was way over my head from a technical perspective!

"Was Qumran an Essene Community?"

"Although Flavius Josephus provides a detailed description of the Essenes, he does not associate them with the settlement at Qumran. Instead the identification of Qumran as an Essene community is based mainly on Pliny the Elder's testimony and on the association of the sectarian literature from the nearby caves with the site. Some scholars argue that the discrepancies between Josephus' description of the Essenes and the sectarian beliefs and practices documented in the Dead Sea Scrolls are so significant that the two groups could not be the same. These differences include the question of whether the Qumran sectarians included married members and women, and the fact that the word 'Essene' does not occur in the Dead Sea Scrolls (although some scholars have suggested equating this Greek and Latin word with similar Hebrew or Aramaic terms). In this paper I present a review of this debate, focusing especially on the archaeological evidence. I hope to show that this evidence supports the identification of the sectarian community at Qumran with Josephus' Essenes."

The next target of my adventure was all the way back at the Grand Hyatt. Thank you, God, for the grand weather during this entire conference-week! As you can see in the photo showing the layout (see p.1 in this SBL series), we were situated right along a harbor. The sun was shining, the temperature was comfortable (no coat or sweater needed, though I did wear one during the next 2 days because of the excessive air-conditioning in the hotels), & I headed northwest along the back-route by the water so I could soak some of it in.

It was a great day to be alive, & to be able to praise God!

At 3:45 I met Niels Peter Lemche, a brilliant scholar (Professor of Theology, Department of Biblical Exegesis, University of Copenhagen) who believes Moses was "mythical". I think of him as "Mr. Minimalism"; he's been very influential in that movement (one that in many ways resembles the Essenes at Qumran).

I've had several arguments with him (online & offline), & mentioned him in one of my books (p. 13 of "Evolution Science"), but I wanted to greet him in person to let him know that I respect him & admire his technical knowledge on Ancient Near East history despite our 180-degree-different views on theology (& science, for that matter). He graciously agreed to autograph my copy of Lester Grabbe's book (which contains one chapter by him, which I totally disagree with, of course).

I was actually surprised by how friendly he was; I had imagined him to have a more cynical, snobbish attitude in general--not to mention how I imagined he would react to me in particular in person. I was completely wrong (& glad for it)! And we actually agreed on something! We both agreed that the massive territory spanned by this conference was ridiculous, & that there should have been some sort of motorized walkway installed, like that at airports. I told him I regretted not being able to attend his session, which was a panel review of a book by Uriah Kim, "Decolonizing Josiah: Toward a Postcolonial Reading of the Deuteronomisitc History".

In the same general vicinity was a session where a long-time LMLK friend of mine, Rev. Jonathan David Lawrence (author of "Washing in Water"), was going to present a paper:

"Bible-Trek, Next Generation: Adapting a Bible Survey Course for a New Audience"

"Given the characteristics of the new 'Millennial Generation,' we might ask if traditional survey courses truly fit the needs and expectations of this new group of students. For instance, a survey course relying on lectures to deliver countless factual details will likely frustrate students who wish to question 'facts' and who expect their courses to be entertaining and relevant to their lives and careers. These challenges compound the difficulty instructors of survey courses face in balancing the desire to cover everything as completely as possible without overwhelming students with so much information that they miss the comprehension and opportunities for critical thinking we desire. This paper examines an Introduction to Old Testament which was narrowed to focus on five stories in order to emphasize close readings, interpretations, and analysis. It will discuss student responses, results, and the suitability for this new generation of students, as well as possibilities for adaptation to other areas of study."

Way back in 1998 (4 years before the advent of the LMLK Research website), he published what as-far-as-I-know may have been the first web page devoted to LMLK jar handles. It was part of his personal website hosted by the University of Notre Dame's domain (I checked--it's no longer there, but I archived copies on my computer for research purposes). The page was simple. One H2U handle photo (Tell Beit Mirsim ID# 1-115, 580) & 1 sentence (plus a copyright statement):

"Pottery handle with royal seal."

Sometimes I think I may have over-complicated the subject with what-is-now over 600 pages of material on the LMLK Research site, & looking back at his page reminds me of how wonderful it is when stripped down to its bare essentials.

Actually this was a sub-page supporting an "Archaeology Slide Show" he wrote, "What Can These Crack(ed) Pots Tell Us? A Survey of Biblical Archaeology". I'll quote just the LMLK paragraph (he originally had hyperlinks over the phrases I'm showing in bold):

"Different periods and regions often have their own distinctive shapes and styles of pottery. For instance, here is an example of imported pottery from Greece, * from about 1400 BCE. Here is pottery from Israel from the early Iron Age, * about 1200-1000 BCE. Here is later Iron Age pottery * - from about 1000 - 600 BCE, the "Israelite" period. Here are some examples of Philistine pottery,* also from the early Iron Age. As these examples show, some pottery was plain and undecorated, while other types were intricately painted and shaped. Some pots even had special identifying or ownership marks like this one, which had a stamp-mark on its handle which has been identified as a royal symbol. These markings have been found at sites involved in the defense of the Kingdom of Judah in the 7th to 6th centuries BCE."

We've corresponded sporadically since 2002 (April 2nd, to be exact), & after previewing the LMLK Research website (which had just been launched a day earlier), he encouraged me to attend these conferences:

"If you get a chance sometime, you ought to come to the ASOR or SBL meetings. ASOR is of course focused on Biblical archaeology, but there's lots of lectures on that topic at SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) as well."

So it was nice to finally shake his hand & thank him for his encouragement, but bittersweet because I wanted to attend another Jodi Magness lecture, which was at the beginning of a session including Bruce Zuckerman. I had hoped to attend another lecture by Rev. Lawrence on Monday, but alas, I ended up choosing to stay in a session with David Noel Freedman. But for the record, I'd like to mention it here:

"Water, Water, Everywhere: Jewish and Christian Bathing Practices in India"

"Recent discoveries in Israel and Transjordan have prompted much discussion of the origins, development, and interrelation of Jewish ritual bathing and Christian baptism. One unresolved issue is the degree to which Greco-Roman bathing influenced Jewish and Christian practices. Since it can be difficult to definitively distinguish Jewish, Christian, and Gentile occupation at archaeological sites, another way to explore these connections is to consider how Jewish and Christian bathing practices developed outside the sphere of Greco-Roman influence. For instance, there were strong communities of Jews and Christians in South India in the early centuries of the Common Era. An examination of Jewish and Christian practices there offers a useful comparison to practices elsewhere. This paper will focus on the Jewish and Christian communities of Cochin, on the southwestern coast of India, as a case-study in the interaction between these communities and a larger culture which also emphasizes bathing rituals. Drawing on published reports, site visits, and interviews to be conducted in the Summer of 2007, it will examine the development of these practices how they have been influenced by their surrounding culture, and will consider some of the challenges and difficulties inherent in such an approach."

Again in the same vicinity, I saw another, more-recently acquired LMLK friend, William M. Schniedewind (UCLA Chair, Dept. of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures; Kershaw Chair of Ancient Mediterranean Studies; Professor of Biblical Studies & Northwest Semitic Languages). It seems incredible to me that in these 5 years, I've progressed from someone completely distant from academicians, to someone who can walk up to true VIPs in Biblical academia like him & Dr. Lemche, & basically chat like as if we're on the same intellectual level, when I know more-than-anyone how little I truly know. What was also neat was that he actually remembered me & recognized me on sight (we've met a couple of other times over the past few years) even though he was in the midst of chatting with someone else!

Here's the paper he gave (which again, I would've loved to have attended, but Dr. Magness totally won me over earlier in the day):

"Rethinking Inner-biblical Exegesis and Biblical Criticism in Light of Orality & Textuality"

"A discussion of how scholarship on orality and textuality can illuminate the way we do Biblical criticism and study inner-biblical exegesis."

I told him it was great to see him again, but I was in a rush to see Jodi Magness again; nonetheless, I just had to stop & show him something I was carrying with me in my duffle bag--a Rosette handle replica produced by modern artisan-extraordinaire, Kris Udd. He was definitely impressed, & showed it to his friend too. I handed him a color printout of my Zayit-Stone Inscriptions drawing, & hoped I could make it to see Dr. Magness in her entirety this time...

G.M. Grena

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