I figure it’s always helpful to hang out with people who know more than me, and the annual American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature meeting gives me a chance to be a small shell floating around in a sea of smartness. The smartness is often highly concentrated on narrow subjects, but it’s smartness, nonetheless. I’m more of a generalist, so I always enjoy hearing people who are experts in a particular field.
This year’s meeting is being held in Atlanta, where ten or fifteen thousand people hustle between meeting rooms in the Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott hotels when they’re not standing in line for coffee or looking for a place to eat before 8:00 in the morning.
This morning I attended a three hour session on “Meals in the Hebrew Bible and Its World,” particularly during the Achaemenid (Persian) period. It had an archaeological bent, as most speakers used material finds of different pottery types and varying percentages of animal bones to talk about various social settings and class signaling in the southern Levant (I warned you things are specialized here). To attend that one, I had to bypass three other sessions I wanted to attend.
This afternoon I started out in a session on “Women in the Biblical World: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Class in Biblical Literature.” I heard Naomi Sternberg of DePaul speak on questions of virginity, gender, and genocide (why were virgin girls sometimes spared and sometimes not?), and Wil Gafney offer a womanist reading of Zipporah’s circumcision of son Gershom, which halted God’s efforts to kill Moses.
Others followed before I bugged out to a session on Genesis, where I heard about a postulated fourth son of Noah, and an argument for a “more coherent J,” one of the four main sources behind the patriarch. After that, a session of six papers on various aspects of the Psalms, some more interesting than others.
In the meantime, AAR and SBL’s attempt to stay on the cutting edge of cultural development was evident in two designated bathrooms I ran across near meeting rooms on the third level of the Hilton. They weren’t single-stall facilities, but clearly marked as “Unisex,” indicating that all genders or gender-preferences are welcome at the same time — one area in which there’s no particularity at all.
My comfort level wasn’t quite ready for that, so I found another one.