2013 New England and Eastern Canada Regional Meeting
May 3, 2013 @ Andover-Newton Theological School, Newton, Mass.
Greetings from the Regional President, Ross Shepard Kraemer
| When I accepted the Presidency of the New England Regional SBL, I had no idea I’d have to write this President’s greeting for our website. Looking at last year’s eloquent statement by my predecessor, Harry Attridge, who is distinguished both in scholarship and demeanor, I felt somewhat at a loss for something distinctive to say. Fortuitously, in the past week, two articles in the New York Times focused my thoughts on the intersections between our scholarship on the Bible and the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world (including ancient West Asia), and the contemporary contexts of our scholarship.Some of you may have seen, either in print or online, the full-length feature article in, of all places, the Sunday Styles section (for September 16): “Turned Away: He Turned to the Bible.” The article profiles a young gay Harvard philosophy student from Witchita, Kansas, whose pain and frustration with anti-gay Christian arguments led him to post a You-Tube video where he delivers a lengthy refutation of claims that the Bible denounces loving homosexual relations. The Times specifically mentions the student’s use of mainstream academic scholarship such as that of Dale Martin (whose years at Yale now makes him a New Englander, at least for these purposes!).Only two days later, Karen King at Harvard made the front page of the Times with news of her forthcoming publication (in Harvard Theological Review) of a small Coptic papyrus fragment, apparently a dialogue gospel, where Jesus speaks of ‘his wife’ in the context, also apparently, of eligibility for discipleship and salvation. Responses to King’s commendably cautious presentation of this fascinating and provocative material came quickly. Papyrologists worry about the ethics of publishing papyri whose provenance is unclear. An evangelical scholar proposes that Jesus’ ‘wife’ is really just a ‘symbol’ for the church. A Jesuit priest asserts forcefully (a day or two later on the Op-Ed page of the Times) that this is not useful evidence for the marital history of the historical Jesus, on the grounds that if Jesus were married, the gospels would have told us so. King, of course, was quite forceful in her own insistence that this papyrus tells us much about some early Christians, and probably nothing about the historical Jesus, and most of us likely concur. Still, absent from this particular conversation in the public forum of the New York Times is a more nuanced scholarly consideration of, inter alia, the complex relationship between historicity and canonicity in early Christian writings.At a time when the educational buzz is all about STEM fields, and the Humanities are under fire both in many academic institutions, and in the larger public arena, these pieces hammer home the continuing importance of the scholarship and scholarly conversations that the Society of Biblical Literature, including, and perhaps even especially, our New England region facilitates and supports. As this year’s President, I look forward to working with you to promote scholarship on the rich sources for the study of the Bible, and the religions of the ancient Mediterranean, and to thinking together productively about our roles as scholars in the sometimes messy and contentious discourses outside our academic doors.
Ross Shepard Kraemer
- Greetings from the NE/EC Regional Coordinator, Shawna Dolansky.