Central States Society of Biblical Literature 2020

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Central States Society of Biblical Literature meeting (again). This was my 2nd year volunteering/observing at the meeting and was able to get some exposure to the world of biblical scholarship (especially to Old Testament)- a field in which I plan to pursue as a vocation, God leading.
SBL involves professors, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to present early versions of their research papers on various topics of biblical studies with papers ranging from discussions of beheadings and homosexuality around the area of Sodom, to Jesus being a "living constitution" in the Book of Philippians. For both years I've attended, it has been hosted at the beautiful (though quite progressive) Eden Theological Seminary- a seminary of the United Church of Christ in a St. Louis suburb.

Being inexperienced in the field of biblical scholarship, I heard many new (and some familiar concepts)- some of which may not be the groundbreaking research I thought it to be. Admittedly, many of the papers/talks were fairly boring. However, a few papers that sparked great interest made it all worthwhile.

Genesis 4 and Crouching Sin

"Revisiting וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשָׁל־בֹּֽו׃"- This paper/presentation was on Genesis 4:7b and won the student paper award for the event. I found this paper fascinating since I had just recently written a blog post on this exact same topic and had done an in-depth study on it. Naturally, the paper was not focused on the practical/expository elements, but on the Hebrew construction of the verse. This verse is one of the most notoriously difficult to translate verses in the Old Testament.
The paper argued that the import of a demonic metaphor from the word rabisu, was improper. When writing my own blogpost, I was not able to find any corroboration of this idea outside of the NIV Study Bible. Through this paper I discovered the origins of an idea that had made its way into a popular-level study Bible (and subsequently into my own study), which may not be accurate. Nonetheless, the message of this verse does not change.

Jesus, the Living Constitution

Another paper I found very interesting was, ""Live as Worthy Citizens, The Politeuomai Metaphor in Philippians". Much like the above paper, I had recently just discovered a closely related insight in my own personal study of Philippians in preparation for a peer bible study I led with church friends several weeks ago. 
While I am more interested in Old Testament, knowing a little Greek and having a more similar culture to the Greco-Roman one helped me understand this concept. Essentially, the Greek word, πολιτευομαι, literally means, "To live as a citizen of". A derivative word,  πολιτευσθε, is used in Philippians 1:27. Oddly, most translations do not reflect any of the citizenship idea that is associated with this word, instead translating this as "Live in a manner worthy". I had discovered this through my own personal study prior to the conference.
The new idea I learned was a potential expansion of this metaphor to Jesus himself. In Greco-Roman thought, people who lived their lives as citizens followed a constitution. The paper suggested that the metaphor of citizenship here (theologically, but not semantically equal to citizenship in Philippians 3:20- though the same Greek root word), implied that Jesus (being the embodiment of the Gospel in which one is to live as a citizen of) was a living constitution. I found this expansion of the metaphor to be fascinating and highly practical- in the same way a citizen seeks to follow the principles of the chief governing document, so Christians should closely seek to imitate the conduct of Jesus.

Craig Keener and Fruit of the Spirit

The main speaker for the event was the renowned, Craig Keener- a prolific scholar of the New Testament. He did his talk on the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. The main interest I had was not the main thrust of his paper (far from it), but a passing comment! Nonetheless, it opened my eyes to a more nuanced and specific understanding of the fruit of the spirit. 
The Greek word for fruit, καρπος, is singular in the case of the fruit of the spirit. This lead me to believe that the fruit of the spirit may not be talking about multiple different fruits, rather this could mean that all of the traits are one fruit or it refers to a cluster of fruit. Either way, if this interpretation is correct, the exegetical implications are the same- the fruit do not exist independently of each other, rather the Holy Spirit causes all of these fruits to bear together. I believe this is consistent with verses such as 2 Peter 1:5-8 and others which discuss a holistic character development of the believer, not individual traits in isolation. This is certainly not a new idea (nor did Craig Keener mention this directly). For me, being untrained as I am, found this an interesting prospect. 

More Disputes on Science's relationship with Creation & The Flood

A presentation that was interesting, though not necessarily agreeable was "The Genesis Stele: Sumero-Hebraic Theological History in Genesis 2-11". This presentation functioned through a metaphor: stele's discovered through archaeology often have two-sides. One is a purely factual representation of history, while the other side reflects the same narrative through a cosmological/theological lens. The presenter suggested the same could be said for the Book of Genesis.
The presented echoed many of the ideas John Walton in his Lost World series. Her desire to show how science and faith can be compatible is notable (and she attributed this as her calling by God). She suggested that the Flood was not a global event, but a local flood in Mesopotamia. She also suggested the events of the Tower of Babel were also a a localized event.
It seems these types of ideas are becoming increasingly popular. Personally, I do not know what to do with such ideas. These ideas are clearly not meant to say Scripture is mythological, nor to discredit biblical inspiration. Rather, approaches such as these attempt to take a middle ground between the overly-literal understanding of the Bible and a mythologizing approach. Again, I am not sure what to do with these approach and many evangelicals understandably have a lot of backlash against these types of ideas.

One point I did find interesting and agreeable was the approximation of a general area for the Garden of Eden, based upon rediscovery (through geosatellite analysis) of the Gihon and the Pishon. In general, there seemed to be good evidence for the early events of Genesis taking place in Mesopotamia. 

Job a Commentary on Law

The final paper that stuck out to me as interesting was "Look Again: Unveiling the Intertextual Dialogue between Job's Wisdom Discourse and the Law". Overall, this paper exposed me to current scholarly intrigue surrounding the Book of Job. The suggestion of the paper was that the Book of Job was written by Hebrews in order to be a theological story that interacts with the Law
While Job takes place very early in the Bible's chronology, Job in its present form was probably complied sometime after the time of Solomon (many, top-notch, high-quality evangelical study bibles say this, so this is not necessarily a progressive idea). 

It had never occured to me prior to this talk that Job was written by Israelites for the edification of Israelites. This may be tricky to understand at first since the events of Job take place in the Land of Uz among non-Israelites (probably Edomite-related peoples). The book may or may not be a real event- the genre in which it is presented is similar to a play. Either way, I would wholeheartedly contend this does not contest divine inspiration of Job. The events of Job could be completely historical, based upon a true story, or made up. Job is wisdom literature, not primarily a historical narrative. The question is not if Job is inspired, but how it was inspired.


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