MWSBL 2017

The annual Midwest regional meeting of the SBL was held this past weekend at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.

Obviously I just kept thinking: this is where Rudy went!

I don’t have much to say because I was “that guy”: showed up for my first presentation, had lunch, did my second presentation, and left. Like a jerk. But to be fair, on the front end I forgot about the time zone difference so I got there an hour late. On the back end, I had to get back to Chicago for birthday shenanigans!

I was upset to get there late because I missed Loyola PhD candidate Najeeb Haddad’s paper on Mark, “The Pre-Markan Apotheosis and the Markan Resurrection: Mark 16:1-8.” However, a scholar who attended complimented the paper and Najeeb’s delivery. On the other hand, I got to have a nice conversation with Edmondo Lupieri, Charles Cosgrove, and Richard Choi about ancient Greek musical scales and the notation they used to record music. Cosgrove mentioned a group called Lyravlos that apparently does a good job of interpreting the music. There evidently exists a third century Christian hymn out there performed by the group if you feel like searching.

My first paper was in the Apocalyptic section. Russell Sisson presented a paper, in quite the seminarial style, on what I might call the anti-apocalypticism of Q (a hypothetical source for Matthew and Luke) and Jubilees, a pre-Christian Jewish re-writing of the Torah. Both appeal to the image of Noah (the Flood) and Lot (the destruction of Sodom) to describe the final judgment, but more as an appeal to repent than as a predestined outcome for certain groups. I enjoyed the session quite a bit.

My paper was on Isaac Newton’s apocalyptic dualism, applied more narrowly to time. I argued that the appeal to Absolute Time vs. Apparent Time in the Principia may go beyond theoretical duration vs. practical measurements of duration, as it is interpreted by scientific Newton scholars. If Absolute Time can be identified with the spiritual or heavenly time of Newton’s apocalyptic writings, then it may radically alter how we read some parts of his physics. The reception was warm and I got some excellent questions in response. I also have to thank Gabriele Boccaccini for letting me borrow his laptop for the slide show!

By the way, LUC doctoral student Scott Brevard also gave a paper in the second Early Christian Gospels section, entitled, “Spirits Unclean and Foreign: The Divided Demonology of Luke and Acts,” that I was sad to miss.

At lunch I joined the Loyola table (along with George Heider of Valparaiso), where I got to meet LUC’s new OT guy, Tom Wetzel (I’m a bit out of the loop as an adjunct who lives on the other side of town…). I also noticed that, of the four LUC grads at the table, I was the only guy. The other doctoral student in my cohort was a woman, but they haven’t had a NT woman since her, six years ago. Get it together, Loyola!

In the first afternoon session, I presented in the Early Christian Gospels section. Loyola was basically running things in ECG this year, because in the later section new NT faculty, Christopher Skinner presented a paper rooted in one of his larger projects on Johannine ethics, “Ethics in/of the Johannine Literature: Recent Scholarly Opinion and Prospects for the Future,” and in Sunday’s session LUC alumnus Olegs Andrejevs presented, ““This Generation” in Q: Engaging a Phantom Opponent.” They must be doing something right up there in Rogers Park :).

In my session, Bob Burcham presented on “Time in the Fourth Gospel: History, Theology, and Message,” although I think he changed the title for the presentation. It’s important that he commented on how different perceptions were prior to the resurrection from after it, so that the division of time cannot be collapsed or ignored. I presented on the testimonial character of John’s excessive use of oida in John 9, and how it allows us to read the note about kicking confessors of Christ out of synagogues as less religious persecution, more under-the-table witness intimidation, a common trope in forensic literature of the time. The questions were great (we went a bit over time), and Teresa Calpino pointed me to potential avenue of investigation that I hadn’t considered (so thanks, Teresa!). After me, Bruce Brooks presented on a metric he’s developed to differentiate word usage in order to argue that John 16-17 were added later than John 15. It was intriguing, but I would want to look more closely at his methodology, and my question about how to measure the significance of differences between measures (comparing John 15 and 16 gives 0.54, John 16 and 17 gives 0.43, but 15 and 17 gives 0.46 – why is this a reason to pair of 16 and 17? Are there margins of error, and how do we construct them?) went unanswered, although it is easy to misunderstand a question when you’re put on the spot.

I wish I could have stayed longer, because I enjoyed the few hours I was there.

Excellent Address of the Problems with the Academic Field of Humanities

A friend shared this on facebook, and I wanted to share it here (and there). The author and winner of the Truman Capote Award, Kevin Birmingham, discusses the impact of adjunctification on scholarship – in his case in literature, but many of the patterns he notes occur also in biblical and theological studies.

Working at more than one school? Check. (Up to three at a time so far).

Median pay of $2,700 per course? Check. (Although Loyola Chicago does pay more and goes out of its way to create a good environment for its adjuncts, at least in theology).

Donations going to athletics rather than faculty? Not at my current schools, but as a graduate of a Big Ten school (MSU) and an SEC school (UGA), I’ve definitely seen it — Saturdays where the library was not open because they could not afford the staff to manage a flood of drunk football fans; religion classes taught in uncomfortably small, outdated classrooms while the university spends thousands repairing the grounds after tailgating. Most athletic programs lose money for the school, and even with a high profit football program like UGA or MSU, they yield a net loss when the money is distributed to other athletic programs and infrastructure. They will never want for money due to a simple restriction of flow: athletic money is athletic money, but academic money is not just academic money — it’s also athletic money when the football team (or basketball team) needs it. The counter-argument is that athletics draws in undergrads in a competitive market and alumni donations (when they are not made directly to the athletic department). I would appreciate greater transparency on this, though, and greater scholarly critique.

All of this warrants further discussion down the line, but the end result is that the current career model in the humanities depends on producing too many PhDs in the field, only training them/encouraging them into faculty positions which there won’t be enough of, then building a surplus pool of adjuncts who are cheap and who can be let go at a moment’s notice if the school needs to shift money away from the department. This is not accidental or simply the result of a bad economy (10 years ago). While I knew this going in, I’m also lucky to have other options. Few others are, and the more undergrads and grad students know about the academic field before they spend the years and money becoming qualified to work in it, the better.