Right across from the host hotel in a large open area in downtown Wasington D.C. was the Circque d'Soleil. The more I thought about, the more appropriate I thought it was that it was there this weekend. The annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting also occured this weekend, as it always convenes the weekend before Thanksgiving every year. Its a remarkable event involving literally hundreds and hundreds of lectures, panel discussions, dialogues, tours, meals, films, and oh by the way huge book exhibits. To this meeting comes about 5,000 Bible scholars and scholar-wannabes every year. It is a true zoo.
You can come as a member of the SBL, you can come as a guest, you can give a paper if you are a seasoned veteran, you can give a paper if you are a recommended novice. The gamut is both daunting and impressive. Some of the best papers are by the doctoral students, some of the worst are by the grizzled veterans-- but not usually. Often the sessions are packed out with people sitting on the floor. Sometimes young scholars dissolve in a puddle of tears when the questions become too pointed or critical, sometimes scholars are given a rousing round of applause. Who knew that lecturing could stir such pathos.
You will hear everything from the sublime to the ridiculous to the infuriating. At one seminar you could hear a rousing debate about whether Mark 16.8 is really the original appropriate ending of that Gospel. At another you could here me advocating that the Beloved Disciple was actually Lazarus. At still another you could hear Richard Hays talking about whether narrative theory and narrative theology can describe and circumscribe the unity of the Bible. At still another you could hear me and Marcus Borg debating how to use the Bible across cultural and theological and temporal divides.
You can also go to the Smithsonian and see some of the very earliest Biblical manuscripts at a special exhibit in the Sackler gallery, including the Chester Beatty papyri--- p45 and p46 which include some of our earliest fragments from Galatians and the Gospels dating to around 200 A.D. or a bit thereafter. You could see Constantine's royal purple parchment of the Gospel, died in in rich royal hue. You could also go to the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress and see the brand new illuminated St. Johns Bible being meticulously written by caligraphers and hand illustrated. It was gorgeous and is taking seven full years for about seven people to produce on huge vellum pages (i.e. calf skin). Like I said, its a potpourri (and did I mention the books were for sale at 40% off and more?).
Best of all it was a time for renewed friendships and fellowship. Sometimes just when you are stuffed with Biblical ideas you then get to go to a nice Thai restaurant with an old friend (in this case Richard Bauckham) and sing "Bless be the Thai that Binds" :) A very good time was had by all, but we all came home tired and bloated mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.