Monday, November 24, 2008

Post # 2 from the 2008 Boston SBL Meeting

The meetings have been rushing by, with little time for blogging. Now that my talk has been given this afternoon (Monday) in a session from 4:00-6:30pm, I can relax a little and post again. It was a very lively session, especially the last hour when Carleen Mandolfo, Colby College, responded to the papers, and when the audience had a chance to interact. My hat is off to the chair of the session, Mark Boda, McMaster University, for a masterly job in handling a very high-energy set of exchanges.

Yesterday (Sunday) was a day full of sessions for me. It started with a morning session from 9:00-11:30am on "Assessing Theological Interpetation." It was another very high-energy session, for at least two reasons. First, the panel included two scholars well known for theological interpretation (W. Moberly and M. Bockmuehl) facing off against Yale's John Collins, a well-known critic of theological interpretation. But second, both Moberly and Bockmuehl had some pointed critiques of their own of some current self-proclaimed theological-interpretation initiatives. For me, most memorable will be some of Moberly's pointed responses to Collins. Collins had objected to sustained efforts to make a theological appropriation of the Conquest in Judges. "It's just not time well spent," he asserted. Moberly has a doctoral student at Durham University who has just completed an entire thesis on this, so clearly there is a sharp difference of opinion. "Is the Conquest story really about the genocidal destruction of the Canaanites that we assume?" asked Moberly. Consider the movie, "The Titanic." Is it about a big ship hitting an iceberg and sinking? Or, is it about a love story set amid a shipwreck? In the book of Joshua, is not the conquest really just a backdrop for some key stories about Rahab and Achan? The case can certainly be made! And indeed, the former figure (Rahab) is a pagan prostitute who proves a model of loving-kindness. The latter is a key Israelite who proves to know nothing about the faith. Such a set of stories about such figures does anything but support Israelite ethnic superiority and conquest glory. Also, the exchange with the commander of God's army in Joshua 5:13-14 is key. Joshua's question, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" receives a clear answer: "Neither!" Again, this is not a story about using God to justify a manifest destiny ideology.

There were two other great sessions I attended yesterday, which I'll do no more than flag: a nice session discussing Ellen Davis' new book: Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, and a big session chaired by my friend John Ahn on exile / forced-migration, with great speakers such as Robert Wilson and Daniel Smith-Christopher.


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