The first paper, "Gentiles Who Keep the Law: Paul's Law-Keeping Gospel," presented by Jason Staples (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), examined the second half of Rom. 2, especially from 2.14 onward, and reappropriated this section of Paul's epistle for the core (rather than the margin) of Pauline theologizing. Staples attempted in particular to bracket questions of what Paul could or could not have said, especially from the point of view of traditional "justification by faith" theology, and to first ask what's going on in the Pauline text. I always find this type of endeavor, no matter how successful, as a useful reminder to keep the horse before the cart. I am especially interested in the thoroughly Jewish recontextualization of Paul and his writings, and I'm less interested in efforts to portray Paul's as a "Law- (= "Torah-") free gospel." Staples did an interesting job at showing how important a role both Israel and the Law—the Torah—play in Paul's theological discourse. For what it's worth (admittedly, very little), the paper I've proposed for the 2009 SBL Annual Meeting in November, entitled "Pulling at Paul: Romans 15 and Constructing the Christian Self" and taken up with a rereading of Paul's cultic language in Romans, especially chapter 15, considers very similar issues.
The second paper, "The 'Circle of Grace' in 2 Corinthians 1," presented by Hans Arneson (in the Graduate Program in Religion, Duke University), attempted to untangle the vexing phrase at 2 Cor. 1.11b [ἵνα ἐκ πολλῶν προσώπων τὸ εἰς ἡμᾶς χάρισμα διὰ πολλῶν ευχαριστηθῇ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν; "so that many people would give thanks for our sake for the gift [given] to us by many" (?)] via a less complicated passage, the "circle (or "cycle") of grace" in 2 Cor. 8–9. In the latter text Paul presents the cycle as one in which the Corinthians receive "in excess" from God, and from their excess give to "the saints in Jerusalem," who in turn do not give thanks to the Corinthians but to God who gave the excess. Arneson applies this model to 2 Cor. 1 and interprets χάρισμα as παράκλησις, a point strengthened by the clustering of παρακλη- language in chapter 1.
The third paper, "Androgyny and the Rhetoric of Conversion: Galatians 3:28c and the Problem of Audience in Galatians," presented by Ben White (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), won an award as the best graduate paper of the meeting (if I remember correctly; my apologies if I've misremembered the nature of the honor). White explored recent considerations of "the pagan world of the Galatians" and though was ultimately unconvinced by them (esp. that the rise and/or popularity of the Imperial Cult provides the best reconstructed originative context for Paul's epistle) does agree that Paul is aiming at a pagan context. White exploits the third deconstructed pairing of Gal. 3.28 [οὐκ ἔνι Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ἕλλην, οὐκ ἔνι δοῦλος οὐδὲ ἐλεύθερος, οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ; "There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male and female"], and especially the unexpected shift from οὐκ ἔνι . . . οὐδέ in the first two pairs to οὐκ ἔνι . . . καί in the third to argue that this makes better sense—much better sense, in fact—in an ethnic, northern Galatian context. I have serious questions about this thesis, in particular whether such a short passage (and I agree that οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ is not ancillary but just as important as the previous pairings, even . . . Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ἕλλην) can bear such reconstructive weight. Still, also a very interesting paper.
The fourth paper, "Reception of the Pastorals in the Second Century: A Test Case Looking at The Acts of Paul and Thecla," presented by Jeremy Barrier (Heritage Christian University) argued against a literary or even direct oral traditional relationship between the Pastoral Epistles and the second-century Acts of Paul and Thecla. I'll be honest here; I read more of Paul and Thecla while Jeremy was presenting his paper than I ever have throughout the course of my life, so much of the presentation was even further from my expertise than the other papers. Even so, his discussion of oral tradition and his refutation of an oral relationship between texts was interesting. I do think Jeremy evinced some of the standard (but still problematic) assumptions about oral tradition that are endemic in biblical studies (more on this later, I'm sure), but he can hardly be faulted for making assumptions consistent with the state of the question. (If I'm being too cryptic here, let me just say—only minimally less cryptically—that biblical scholarship too easily reifies oral tradition and treats as a thing rather than as a process or [a] set of processes that contextualize and frame [rather than serve as sources for] written traditions. But as I say, more on this later.) Jeremy's PhD dissertation, a commentary on The Acts of Paul and Thecla, is due out later this year by Mohr Siebeck. Interestingly, he has changed his view precisely with respect to the question of a literary relationship between Paul and Thecla and the Pastorals since writing his PhD. I gently recommended that rather than trying to revise his monograph perhaps he should just publish it as is and then publish an article later in the year taking the most recent commentary on Paul and Thecla to task!
After the New Testament I meeting I attended the plenary session, and for reasons of professional courtesy I won't make any comments here about that. [comment deleted] I did lunch in the convention hotel, which is to say I payed too much for too little food and no refills on my soda. And since this is my first regional SBL meeting (I don't count the International SBL meeting I attended in July, 2004, which is nevertheless somewhat similar) I'm struck by (a) how small the meeting is, and (b) how many other conventions are going on at the same time and seemingly in the same space as SECSOR. I take heart, however, that the attendees of other conferences are looking at me just as cross-eyedly and askance as I at them. Hold on just a sec . . .
Oh yeah, buddy?! I'm not an MD; I'm a REAL doctor!
Sorry 'bout that. I'll write more later.