Two years ago, at SBLAAR18 in Denver, CO, I gave a presentation on the final morning of the conference. It is not a popular time slot, and usually filled with visitors on their way to the airport, luggage in hand. The virtual conference last day is a whole different experience. Safely at home, seated at my desk in the comfort of my home, I scroll through sessions and decide which papers I wish to hear now. The fact that some sessions are recorded for later viewing features in my final decisions. Recorded sessions can wait, for now.
At SBLAAR20, the final day’s early morning session features two colleagues, whose work I am excited to hear. Unfortunately, in the Zoom Webinar format, my show of support is not seen. There are ways to make the webinar format a bit more interactive, you can read about my experience in my blog, Tech in a Virtual Conference. Since it is not possible to view attendees, it is helpful when the Q & A is open to view. I don’t know why this is not a default setting in a conference that is closed to the general public.
I listened to three papers on intertextuality between the Hebrew Bible and New Testament Gospels. This is not an area I usually work in, but a few ideas caught my attention. I especially appreciated a paper given on the Passion in the Gospel of John (Jn. 19-21) as a reversal of Genesis 1-3. This caused me to think about the concept of redemption in Christianity. So much of the New Testament explores how Jesus, the Christ, has redeemed humanity, yet modern Christianity seems to act as if the world is getting worse and worse in anticipation of the next ‘coming’. There is a mixed message. If Christ’s redemption is complete, then it seems that humanity should be looking to a better, redeemed future, at least for Christians.
The Ugaritic Studies Session was a highlight, since my research intersects with Ugaritic poetry and ethical themes in Ugaritic epics. The first paper looked at the identity and background to Ugaritic and Mesopotamian references to cows as a love interest of deities. There was an interesting connection between cows, fertility, and the moon in these mythic texts, which brought me to discover a recent scientific discovery. The University of Tokyo published an article in 2016 on connections between the lunar cycle and dairy cows giving birth. This brings me back to my interests of engaging ancient literature interpretation with conversations being had in the modern sciences. Is it possible that ancient agriculturists noticed an uptick in calf delivery during a full moon? Did this encourage poets to make a scientific connection before its time?
The other two papers were closer to my direct area of study. Two presenters offered interpretations of the interaction between the Ugaritic Goddess ʾAnat and the Ugaritic Hero Aqhat in the Epic of Aqhat. The discussion across the two papers was similar, trying to parse out gender roles between the hunter/warrior goddess and the Ugaritic son on what seems to be a rite of passage. This discussion raised some interesting questions about how the ancient Canaanites perceived gender roles and how they imagined themselves as gendered.
My conference ended with a session on Myth & Myth Theory, in which I listened to yet another paper on the Goddess ʾAnat. This paper explored comparative relationships between the Ugaritic literature and its Hebrew Bible counterparts. The specific analysis centered on the character of ʾAnat in comparison with Deborah and Jael (Jdg. 5). The idea of the Hebrew Bible containing memories or echoes of ancient Canaanite ideology is not new, but the relationship is one that scholars are still trying to work out.
For me, on Pacific Standard Time, the conference ends now. It has been a long, long ten days of conferencing. And, I have a short list of recorded sessions I will return to next week as my schedule allows. Hopefully, I will get around to some final thoughts on SBLAAR20 in another blog. Be on the lookout!