Search SBL

SBL Forum Archive
<< Return to SBL Forum Archive Annual Meeting Toronto 2002 Highlights

For those of you who missed Toronto, or even for those who were there but could only manage a few sessions out of the dizzying parallel array—Toronto was a success, a well-oiled, Canadian, snow-free success. The hotel staff were unflagging and helpful, the transport timely, and Conferon staff efficiently shepherded lost attendees. In general, this annual meeting was largely headache-free. Registration topped at 8,647 a close second to the Boston meeting.


The media buzzed around the James Ossuary. Obviously un-used to the spirit of academic debates, the local Toronto paper described the panelists as "pugilists." A more accurate description of what went on is that historians, exegetes, theologians, archaeologists, and epigraphers presented the subtle issues involved and expressed their reserve (except for perhaps one) about the context, origin, and exact dating of the ossuary. A rift arose between those who thought the inscription written in two different hands at different dates (up to several 100 years apart) and those convinced of a single hand and a single date. A definite frisson did ripple through the audience when Eric Myers, (also a past President of ASOR) accused Hershel Shanks and the bone box owner (seated, front row and center) of engaging in legitimation of unexcavated archaeological finds, and thus encouraging looting of sites. ASOR stands firmly against any discussion of an artifact of unknown provenance, such as the bone box.

Needless to say, the ossuary itself stands in the Royal Ontario Museum sadly deformed by its transit. A deep crack runs around three sides of the small trapezoidal box, and, as if in a fit of symbolic spite, courses suddenly upward, and splits the inscription in two—right before "brother of Jesus." Museum staff dilligently repaired the box with a dissolvable glue, though the gash remains prominent.

A link to the audio file of the Ossuary session is posted at the end of this article.

In the Westin Harbour Castle Jacques Derrida did not so much hold court as hold rapt his audience with a strikingly confessional start to the evening, with his eventual description of how he, an atheist, prays. With no intention of doing the master any discredit through newsletter-ese, we can simply say that Derrida described his experience of prayer as an attempt to "calculate the incalculable." It was an intriguing night facilitated and provoked with great ease and charm by Yvonne Sherwood, John Caputo, and Kevin Hart.

A link to the audio file of the Derrida session is posted at the end of this article.

A veritable multitude came to hear John Collins' Presidential Address on the Bible and the legitimation of violence. Collins presented a "geneology of the concept of 'the wrath of God'" and offered scriptural passages where God condones the obliteration of peoples and where "ritual violence" is connected to ideas of religious purity, land rights, and "chosen-ness." While Collins pointed out that most likely none of these violent events ever occurred, he did underline the ethical implications of their status as part of the Bible especially in the current context of September 11 and possible war in Iraq. Collins' advice to the Bible scholar was to note the diversity of approaches in the Bible (to relativize it); to admit the unethicalness of certain passages; and to show that certitude is an illusion. Collins offered the warning of another Irish luminary, Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Certitude leads to violence." Collins' paper will be printed in the first 2003 issue of JBL, as is tradition.

A link to the audio file of the 2002 Presidential Address is posted at the end of this article.

Other Voices, Other Rooms

The International Members' reception was "extremely well attended" according to Matthew Collins, SBL's Director of Congresses. Another well-attended function in the SBL suite was the Donor Reception. The size and vitality of each reception reflects on the good organizational health of SBL.

The Canadian Bible Society also added depth to the annual meeting with their Religious Rivalries session. This session was also audiotaped.

The SBL Author and Editor Reception was lively. Kent Richards thanked outgoing chair of the Research and Publications Committee, David Petersen for his leadership, and welcomed James Vanderkam to the new role. Overall, book sales at the SBL Store were good, comparable to past years. Abingdon Press was the first "Gold Level" sponsor of the annual meeting this year.


The Audio files linked below are in MP3 format.The have been divided for faster download.

Audio file of the 2002 Ossuary Session: Part OnePart TwoPart Three

Audio file of Other Testaments: An Interview with Jacques Derrida "On Religion": Part OnePart TwoPart Three

Audio file of the —2002 Presidential Address: The Zeal of Phinehas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence by John J. Collins

Citation: HJ5455531 , Eric Daniel Barreto , John Huehnergard , John Huehnergard, " Annual Meeting Toronto 2002 Highlights," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Dec 2005]. Online:


© 2021, Society of Biblical Literature. All Rights Reserved.