This year’s SBL conference in Baltimore was a spectacular experience. I have attended the SBL every year since 2007 (San Diego) and my young career has benefited tremendously from these conferences. It is such a great opportunity to share one’s own research, hear about the work of others, make connections, and enjoy fellowship with old and new friends. This year, I was privileged to meet for the first time in person several people with whom I have been in contact through e-mail for years. Many of the papers are a hit or miss, but I can highlight two of the good ones. As you might guess, I spend most of my time hanging out in the papyrology and textual criticism sessions and this year there were several excellent papers.
Brent Nongbri’s paper on the Christian Greek literary materials at Oxyrhynchus was fascinating. Brent’s papers are never dull and I always love hearing what he has to say, as he always brings fresh questions to old problems. (And his PowerPoints and handouts are simply the best!) He highlighted the various codicological features of the manuscripts at Oxyrhynchus and raised some interesting questions about the dates of papyri. One of the questions concerned the peak and decline of literary papyri. Copies of the New Testament peak in the 3rd century but drop off in the 4th. Is this due to random survival? Possibly. One statement that piqued my curiosity was this: The Schøyen Leviticus and Joshua, which have been attributed to Oxyrhynchus, might actually be part of the Beatty find (wherever that came from) because these two Schøyen manuscripts look a lot like the Beatty Numbers-Deuteronomy, and because they seem to have been bought in 1930, the same year the Beatty codices hit the antiquities market. I would love to see this developed further and I am sure Brent will say more about it in the future.
Geoffrey Smith and Alexander Kocar’s paper on the status of the Coptic manuscripts from Oxyrhynchus was also very interesting. Geoff and Alex are working on the Coptic manuscripts from Oxyrhynchus, which is a much-needed study. Scholars have often made the claim that almost no Coptic manuscripts were found at Oxyrhynchus, but Geoff claims that there is in fact a minimum of 370 Coptic manuscripts in the collection. The confusion lies in the fact that there are 274 inventory numbers, yet there are multiple fragments for each inventory number. Thus, there may well be more Coptic manuscripts than the minimum number given. What was exciting to me was Geoff’s statement that in season three Coptic manuscripts were found among dated Greek documents, which in turn may help us date the Coptic. This is truly exciting since the majority of Coptic manuscripts are not datable. There is a question whether the Coptic material will be published in the Oxyrhynchus series, which they have been granted permission to do, or in an entirely new series such as P.Oxy. Copt. I look forward to hearing more from Geoff and Alex as they continue to work on the Coptic collection.
My paper on amulets from Oxyrhynchus with New Testament citations was well received. I took the opportunity up front to describe briefly the structure of my doctoral dissertation, from which the conference paper was distilled. The paper generated fruitful discussion. One of the first questions came from Larry Hurtado who questioned the utility of these documents for the study of the text of the New Testament. His point was that if these texts are somewhat outside the main textual stream then they might not be that helpful. I acknowledged the marginal status of the materials in relation to the main textual stream (alluding to Peter Head’s claim that these are the “dangling ends of branches that go no further”) but stated that the patristic citations present the same problems. Many of the patristic citations are also outside the main textual tradition, and we deal with the problems of faulty memory, adaptation, etc. Thus, if we are going to cite patristic citations in the critical apparatus of the Greek New Testament, then why not cite an amulet that is genealogically significant? This point was well taken and Robert Kraft then commented that the study was needed and desired. Michael Theophilos noted correctly that there was a precedent for including amulets in the official Liste and I am glad he brought that up. The first chapter of my dissertation discusses Ernst von Dobschütz’s inclusion of amulets and ostraka and then looks at their removal during the time of Kurt Aland’s tenure as keeper of the Liste. Brent Nongbri wondered whether the cord or string in P.Oxy. 4406 (which I showed in a PowerPoint slide) was in fact a cord used to repair the papyrus. This is an extremely interesting question and Brent has provided me with parallels. In any case, I ended by saying that my interests are both textual and non-textual and that even if an amulet does not offer any value to the textual critic, they are still important for study and analysis. I heard from Malcolm Choat after the session that Roger Bagnall, who was in the audience, agreed with me and liked my paper! Well, if Roger Bagnall liked my paper, then I must be doing something right!
All in all, I had a very enjoyable conference. I had coffee with Malcolm Choat on Monday and learned about one of his papyrological projects that is going to blow the minds of papyrologists and textual critics alike. Yep, good stuff from that Aussie, who is indeed one of my favorite papyrologists. Or maybe I just like Aussies generally, because Pete Head, that beast of an athlete, is now also one of my favorite persons in the world!