Bloggin' SBL 08 - Part 3

Today was the first actual day of SBL for me. It began bright and early at 9:00 with the first meeting of the Computer Assisted Research section.


Papers were presented by Patrick Durusau, James Libby, Gerald Donker and Kirk Lowery. All were interesting and well done, some more than others. This meeting was themed "Tools for Analysis".

The first paper was on the integration of semantic tagging into documents for defining genre-specific dictionaries. Imagine, for example, the difficulty of a computer for distinguishing between "Job" the biblical character and "Job" as a profession. By annotating our texts with dictionaries we can clear that up and make better search engines. Makes sense.

The second talk by Libby was on a tool for doing analysis of texts from multiple angles, taking into consideration all sorts of morphological, syntactical, discourse genre information. His analysis showed (perhaps surprising to some) that on a purely statistical basis two things that stuck out in my mind. First, various documents clumped together as you would expect; most of the Pauline epistles were similar (all except the pastorals), the narrative material was clumped together, the Johanines were clumped together and that Revelation was just weird. Second, and more controversial, if you take out genre-specific markers the pastorals ended up conforming quite closely to the other Paulines.

The next talk by Gerald Donker used some tools to perform a textual analysis of Athanasius’ witness to the text of the Apostolos (Acts, Catholic Epistles and Paul). This was followed by a general overview by Keith Lowery on how Emdros works. Overall it was definitely a worthwhile section.


Next was some quality time in the book exhibits. My favorite part! I’ll report some other time on that.

Afterwards came lunch where I tried out the little food setup that SBL supplies. Doh! That was too expensive and not that good. Will stick with Snickers and Pop Tarts tomorrow…or at least something else.

The Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics Section

This one started at 1:00 and was definitely a mixed bag. One was presented very poorly and (I think) was just plain wrong to boot, but I’ll be nice and not name names. Another was just boring and not very useful. Another was useful but a little boring. Out of it there were two that I enjoyed. The first was by James Libby, who had presented in the first group I mentioned earlier. His presentation was interesting in this section as well. The other was by Ronald Dean Peters and was interesting though unrefined (but he knows that as it appears it is a part of his dissertation and he is apparently just starting). But despite the unrefined nature of the discussion, it was still thought-provoking. One of his goals was to try to get us thinking about the Greek article as more related historically and sometimes functionally to the relative pronoun and not the demonstrative pronoun, which I think sometimes has its merits. Interesting discussion.

Cross, Resurrection, and Diversity in Earliest Christianity Consultation

This one was definitely the crowning meeting of the day. This began with a paper by Mark Goodacre on the dating of the NT documents. I tend to date at least Mark before AD 70, but he dated everything other than the undisputed Pauline epistles to after 70, and he had some interesting reasons for doing so. Most of his discussion seemed to be around the gospels, both canonical and the Gospel of Thomas. The content was good and the delivery was excellent.

The respondent was April DeConick who focused most on pushing Thomas back into the first century (Goodacre argued for the second). She also dated a number of things before 70, including the Didache. She also made a point of questioning our received critical tools, arguing that it is time to revisit their validity. She had several thought-provoking things to say.

This was followed by a paper by Simon Gathercole, which was entirely devoted to the dating of the Gospel of Thomas, which he put in the second century. His paper was not altogether convincing (even though I tend to agree), but he did bring up some interesting points. First his discussion was around the probable thought-processes behind the community behind the Gospel of Thomas. Though this is a bit speculative, much of his presentation made sense. The second part was an attempt to show literary dependence of the Gospel of Thomas on the synoptic.

The respondent to Gathercole was Stephen Patterson, who agreed with Gathercole on a number of points but focused his rebuttal on text-critical grounds. Unlike the texts of the NT gospels, the Gospel of Thomas has very little attestation. There are a couple of non-overlapping Greek fragments but the rest is preserved only by a fourth-century translation into Coptic. In cases such as this, it is a difficult to use source-critical tools for determining literary dependence.

This whole discussion was great.

People I Met

There were a few people that I met that I had at least a little previous contact with. First I met James Spinti of Eisenbrauns, whom (like always) I teased because their website lacks a referral program like Amazon.

I also met Mark Hoffman, the author of the Biblical Studies and Technological Tools blog. Nice fella.

At the last session I introduced myself to Mark Goodacre. We have had a little contact on the web so it was nice to meet him in the non-virtual world.

Thoughts on Groups and Paper Reading

I have attended a few SBL meetings before, but the last couple I spent almost all my time there manning a booth. This year I’m only spending time in booths to buy books. One thing I have already seen is that groups definitely have different cultures.

The CARG group appears to be generally those who have very strong backgrounds in biblical studies but not in technology, though there are exceptions. I seemed to feel a sense of camaraderie among them as they experimented with different tools to reach a common goal.

The CRDECC group (the last one of the day) was different. It too had a sense of camaraderie and the desire to reach a certain goal, but it was different. The CARG group was made up of experts in a field who were using the tools of another to achieve their ends. This later group was made up of those who were focused on their disciplines and masters of it. Though they disagreed on a great many things, they had that group feeling as they argued about dates, sources and redactions.

The Greek linguistics group was different. I didn’t have a feeling of cohesiveness in the group, nor was the level of sophistication there. In general it seemed like a much less useful (but not useless) group. I think that is definitely something they should work on.

Another thing I noticed (which I have noticed at past conferences, actually) is that there is a big difference between those who read their papers and those who present them. But that shouldn’t be any surprise. If they do it well, the presentations come off both more convincing and certainly less boring, and these things are certainly related.

That’s it for now. Good night!


Andy Kerr 2008-11-24 12:23:44


Eisenbrauns will, Lord willing, have a referral program one of these days. But it won’t work on the platform we’re currently using.

Andy Kerr

Mark Goodacre 2008-11-27 09:45:03

Hi; thanks for the comments on that session. Sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet.

Eric 2008-11-27 09:58:44

Andy: Yes, I talked to Spinti about your current platform. Best of luck on the migration!

Mark: It was good, at least, to be able to say hi in the flesh. Thanks for dropping by.