Monday, June 27, 2005

Blogging from Singapore's SBL Conference

I arrived in Singapore yesterday without a serious hitch but didn't manage to reach the registration site in the Meritus Mandarin Hotel until fifteen past four in the afternoon, precisely fifteen minutes too late to get my materials for the Society of Biblical Literature's International Conference.

These, I picked up early this Monday morning. (But where's the AAR?)

The Tsuanmi triggered by December 26th's massive undersea earthquake off the eastern coast of Banda Aceh missed Singapore, but the destruction is on everyone's mind here and has been integrated into the conference's themes. Consequently, there are a fair number of talks on the book of Job as theodicy. Other talks focus on distinctly different aspects of Job. Yesterday's opening convocation, for instance, featured an evening presentation by C. L. Seow, of Princeton Theological University, on "Job's Curse."

My Hebrew skills were just barely good enough to follow the ambiguities that Seow was pointing out in the text of Job, but I understood his main point, namely, that the character Job is perhaps being portrayed as doing something more disturbing than cursing the day of his birth. He may, more broadly, be cursing the day of creation itself.

Rather startling, if this is the case, for Job doesn't seem to incur any special disfavor with God for cursing God's creation. It might, however, explain why God 'defends' himself later in Job by speaking about the things that he has created and plaguing Job with such rhetorical questions as "Where were you when I made the . . . ?" (Leviathan, Behemoth, whatever . . . you fill in the blank.)

Anyway, this morning after obtaining my SBL materials, I attended several talks in the Greco-Roman World Section.

Michael Tilly, of Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz spoke in German about "Die griechische Bibeluebersetzung als Zeugnis der Kulturellen Begegnung," which translates as "Greek Bible Translation as Witness to Cultural Encounter." His talk was on the not-too-surprising point that the Hellenistic cultural context shaped the Septuagint translation but that the Hebrew original also shaped the style of translation, which was not 'normal' Greek. I'm probably not doing Tilly justice since my German-listening skills are a bit rusty.

Wen Hua Shi, of the University of Durham, England spoke about "The Crucifixion of Jesus and 'Noble Death,' with Special Reference to the Death of Socrates and the Maccabean Martyrdom." We know about some of this from Jerome H. Neyrey's work. Shi's intention was to contrast Paul's understanding in 1 Corinthians 1.23 of the crucifixion as an ignoble death with, for example, Plato's presentation of the execution of Socrates as a noble death. In itself, this isn't especially surprising either, but she went on to make the claim that the early Christians were aware of the contrast.

Following Shi's presentation was a talk by Marco Frenschkowski, of the University of Duisberg, Germany (though I believe that the presider mentioned that he had moved to another institution). Frenschkowski spoke on "Gender Studies an Ancient Magic." His basic point was that while we find presentations in ancient literary texts (especially novels) of female 'witches' practicing magic by casting spells, we don't find much evidence in magical texts for the existence of female witches. This raises a double-edged question: did many female witches actually exist or did their presence in ancient literary texts act as a form of gender construction?

Frenschkowski admitted to not knowing about the answer to the former but held that the answer to the latter would be "yes" regardless of the existence of witches. So, the question is not quite either/or.

What intrigued me, however, was Frenschkowski's remark that ancient magical spells very often begin with an appeal to the power responsible for the creation of the cosmos.

I was interested because Seow in his talk on "Job's Curse" had -- as noted above -- spoken about Job cursing the day of creation. In light of Frenschkowski's presentation, I have to wonder if Job isn't being presented as performing magic. It is a curse, after all, and what is a curse but a type of magic? Black magic, even.

I posed this as a question, and Frenschkowski mused on it but didn't seem to give it too much weight . . . so I won't either.


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