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San Antonio was my fifth annual meeting. I had not "prepared" for it as I had in years past (poring over the offerings in the schedule to highlight the sessions I wanted to attend, orienting myself to the layout of the conference sites—I hadn't even looked at a map of the city). In my third year of grad school, with a teaching load, I simply was too busy this year to plan ahead.

In some respects, then, my sense of arrival was similar to that of the young woman from Harvard Divinity School with whom I shared a seat on the shuttle ride from the airport: not knowing what to expect and a little wide-eyed. San Antonio, without the benefit of preparation, was a total surprise.

It soon became clear that the biggest surprise—for everyone, prepared or not—was the rain. I hadn't thought Texas had a monsoon season, but apparently we were in the thick of it. Survivable, certainly, but increasingly inconvenient as the puddles formed and the river (at first just a trickle wending through the Riverwalk) rose, and rose. Luckily, I had remembered to pack an umbrella, but my shoes were another story. Next conference: Scotchgard.

My ill-preparedness found me mixing and matching the sessions I attended throughout the days of the conference, tracing a haphazard path both between and during the various session blocs. This proved not as difficult as it had been at some conference centers of years past, but still I had to forego several interesting-sounding offerings because they were inconveniently far, often at a hotel across the street—and did I mention the rain?

During my treks to and fro, I had time to think about years to come and the mixed blessing the coming split of the SBL and AAR conferences will be. Fewer people to dodge and weave through, certainly, and smaller conference venues to navigate—these are positive goods, without a doubt. But the sweet irony of having so many scholars in one place is that, while it makes rapid travel difficult, it also gets one spoiled for choice. Every time bloc becomes a tantalizing mix (at least for a dilettante like me). My interests—theology, Bible, hermeneutics, pedagogy, Judaica—cut across the AAR/SBL divide, as do my friendships and collegial acquaintances. I wonder how, in years to come, and on a meager budget, this widening divide will be overcome.

My solace in these dark ruminations was my pride as I heard panel after panel of excellent papers, often delivered by my friends from my current and previous schools. Seeing a young scholar whom you know well presenting and holding their own amongst the more "established" names is a curious feeling—like you suddenly see an old friend who is now a movie star; there's a moment of dissonance where you try to make the two halves fit, and it leaves you grinning. At least, it did me. The feeling that, after (for some of us) years of coming here, we are finally beginning to have a place—to be listened to, to belong. Again, expectant and a little wide-eyed, but heard and (more often than not) respected as one of the guild. This year was a fine turning point in that regard.

So now, looking back, my feelings are deeply mixed. It is hard to forget the overwhelming feeling I had during the whole trip—so many people, so many sessions, so many books, too much to look at and take in (everything is bigger in Texas, they tell me). Balance that against a growing sense of place, of belonging, of having a stake in this crazy, changing, splitting, ever-recombinating guild of ours, and the overwhelming feeling becomes manageable, at least somewhat.

Now, back at home, unpacked and back in the grind, I find I am looking forward to next year. Yes, it will be too big, too many people, too many books—but finally I feel allowed to say, "This is us, this is what we do, and in a small way, I am a part of it." The grind pales in comparison to the show. As W.C. Fields once put it (so I've heard), "All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia." Exactly. Running from session to session, hearing old friends and making new ones, a little more a part of the action—glad to be in the thick of things at last, rain or no rain.

David Dault, Vanderbilt University

Citation: David Dault, " Reflections on San Antonio," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Dec 2004]. Online:


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