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After spending Saturday listening to lectures at this weekend’s Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Boston, my ears are tired. And, I have a renewed appreciation for how my students must feel when I’m trying to introduce a concept they’ve not previously encountered.

Some lectures left me scratching my head because I just didn’t get the point the speaker was trying to make, assuming there was indeed a point. There were others I struggled to understand through heavy German or Hebrew accents. In some cases, I understood well enough, but left wondering why anyone would bother spending good time on such esoteric thoughts.

Then again, maybe if I’d understood what they were saying better, I wouldn’t question the value of their enterprise.

Maybe.

I heard one lecture regarding instances in which Paul refers to himself with feminine, motherly metaphors. For example, in 1 Corinthians 3:2 he complains that he had fed the Corinthians with milk (like a nurse?), but they refused to grow up. In Galatians 4:19, he complains that his “little children” are putting him through the pains of childbirth all over again.

The speaker suggested that Paul’s imagery drew from Roman notions of what it meant to be a mother or even a wet nurse, one who could not exercise full control over children, but who could continue to have influence. All of that seems straightforward and generates some intriguing thoughts, but when the speaker kept using “queer” as a verb and said Paul retained the right to such queering in communicating his intent, I had more trouble following her train of thought.

That was nothing, however, compared to keeping up with a speaker who talked about “Metonymies of Empire,” focusing on the Book of Revelation’s image of Rome as the harlot Babylon. Most of the lecture was devoted to an examination of Dea Roma, a goddess whose name means “strength” and who was the personification of Rome. Rome’s essence was masculine, he said, but its personification as Dea Roma was feminine. However, Dea Roma typically wore a man’s military attire, complete with a sword or spear (as on the back of this coin). This, the speaker summarized, revealed Rome as “a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man.” When the author of Revelation then compared Rome to a harlot, he added another layer, describing Rome as a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man, then stripped of her manly attire and dressed as a prostitute, or “Babylon in triple drag.”

And you thought academics were a boring lot.

I could tell you more about lectures I heard on understanding the image of God as function vs. capacity, on Job’s “theo-aesthetic” view of God, on applying Foucault’s theories of power to 1 Samuel 16 – 2 Samuel 5, or on applying social dominance theory to the same text and coming up with a Greek tragedy, but I doubt there would be much interest in those or the several other topics I sampled today.

I think I’ll just ruminate a bit longer on some social-scientific perspectives of David and Jonathan’s friendship, and call it a night.

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